Thursday, December 10, 2009


Today is the day. Within the next five hours I will have boarded a plane and will be on my way back to the United States of America! This day is as surreal as the day I arrived. Early this morning the other girls, Mama Lo, and myself say goodbye to my roommate Jenny as she got into her cab and headed to the airport. Looking at the street and seeing the exact place I stood three months ago getting dropped off in a cab, wondering where the hell am I!? In a few hours I will have a new memory of that place as where I said goodbye.

This semester has been one of the most amazing in my entire life. I met so many people, learned so many things, and came into contact with aspects of culture I will never forget. I now have an endless bank of interesting stories and sites I have seen, a plethora of knowledge on things like Donatello or the temperature Pomino Bianco should be served, and connections throughout Europe!

Last night the undergrads met on top of the city at Piazzale Michelangelo to say our goodbyes. Needless to say it was a tiny little cry festival. We have all gotten really close this semester. Yes, as a group of ten girls we have had our ups and downs, but in the end after spending three months thousands of miles away from anyone you love with ten other people in the same situation- you get pretty close. Though we will all see each other in the near future in Harrisonburg, this experience and this city is what ties us all so closely forever. Our little Florentine family-ten sisters!

I am going to miss this place more than I can even grasp at the current moment. Mostly the little things- the cobble stone roads that have nearly broken my ankle fifty times, the bright blue skys, the weeks of rain, the river that we use as a compass, Claire always sitting at the front desk ready to help you with whatever problem you may need to tackle that day, Alessandro's curious looks throughout the Caponi, bargaining at San Lorenzo in Italian, walking everywhere, seeing everything, and especially embracing a new culture and lifestyle. I am going to miss it so much. What a bittersweet feeling. I miss everyone at home and can't wait to get back-but I also never want to leave!

Yesterday I rubbed the snout of Il Porcellino. It is a bronze statue of a boar located in the Mercato Nuovo, and the story is that if you rub its nose you will return to Florence. I can't wait until I do.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Un Settimana!!

This past week was a blink of the eye. Everything is full speed ahead and at this moment in one week I will be getting ready to board a plane back to the United States of America. This experience has flown by, at times felt like parts of it would never end, and now we're approaching the close of our journey. This is scary, exciting, sad, happy..if you have ANY emotion to throw onto the list, do so, because it probably describes how I and the rest of the girls here feel right now.

Now we can focus on the last four days that were filled with classes. museum visits, and as usual-great food! This may have been one of the most 'normal' weeks we have had so far. We are pretty much professionals at being JMU students in Florence at this point- we arrived to classes on time and came prepared, we showed up to museums that we could never have found two months ago when we were asked to, we even knew how to bargain with the locals to knock a few euro off of a shirt we've been eyeing. So as we went in and out of the classroom lectures and visits this week each of us knew this would be one of the last times it would happen in Florence. Knowing that there is only one more week left really gets you to appreciate your experience and forces you to really soak things in. Though some students may feel like if they go into one more museum they may explode, it is a great feeling knowing that you may have been exposed to 'too much' of a good thing(like museums).

Yesterday, we got to go through the inside of the Piti Palace with Professor Sidsel-Vivarelli. She is, hands-down, my favorite art history professor I have had so far. She knows just about everything there is to know about all of the art in Florence and she is so talented at sharing that knowledge with her students. She keeps us all interested, speaks energetically, and with great passion for the subject. She is very encouraging when it comes to exams and papers and she knows exactly to push you a little harder when you have been slacking off. Just wonderful. After our visit to the Piti Palace, where we saw the king's throne and the queen's bedroom, I decided to have a delicious lunch. I went to the market and grabbed some enormous fresh spinach(roots still attached), a hunk of delicious mozzarella, plump red tomatoes, and a bottle of Sangiovese from a wine shop nearby. lunch ever. After stuffing myself with deliciousness and washing it down with a tasty glass of wine I was ready to head to another museum. We were going to the Alinari National Museum of Photography. It was filled with just about everything you might want to know about photography. It had a detailed representation of the history, technical procedures, equipment, cameras, processes, and many examples of work by famous and lesser known photographers. Something that was really interesting was the museum was also set up as a blind exhibit. They had railings and sand paper paths on the floor so a blind person could lead themself around the exhibit. Then below many of the pieces and displays there were replicas made of things that felt similar to how the photograph looked. Either it was a raised representation of someones face, or things like bubble wrap, fur, textured cloths..things of that narture that show how the photo looked. All of the information was written in brail and there was even an audio guide to help inform people. It was really heart warming to see a museum reaching out to someone its impact may never have reached had they not put forth a little extra effort to communicate it to them. It was lovely.

I am having the time of my life here being exposed to things I may never have seen or known had I not chosen to study abroad this semester. I am loving this time and am so thankful that I had the chance to have this experience. I am excited to go home in one week to see my family and friends, but I am beginning to anticipate a new sort of homesickness when I leave this newfound paradise.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Finito il viaggio

This past weekend was our last jet set weekend European adventure ! I am sad that this is true...minus the hours spent in airports, trainstations, and aboard buses :) This weekend eight of us, incuding my flatmates sister, left Florence for a fun filled weekend in the Netherlands and Belgium. Which means in the past seven days I have been in four countries. Madness.

We started out early Friday morning, 3:35 a.m. to be exact, by boarding a bus to the airport that would take us to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Then we were to ride a bus from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. After arriving at our pleasant little hostel in the Redlight district of Amsterdam(which was probably the most Rated R district but it was really safe), we decided to explore the city! There were canals everywhere. I haven't been to Venice, and with all of this traveling that has been going on I don't see it happening in the near future, but I would definitely compare the two cities. It was one of the most beautiful cities I have seen so far. If you look at the example I have on the right side of this blog of the buildings I think you'll have the same feeling. It was like we were in a city sized amusement park, everything was so surreal. The majority of the activities there focused around having fun and eating food, it was pretty crazy. On Friday night after a long day of traveling and exploring we set off on the metro to the Van Gogh museum. On Friday nights they have a live band and some other activities scheduled so it was more than just a museum visit. Walking around this four story building filled with works all by the same man was mind blowing. His sketches done in his letters were my absolute favorite. I know I would love to get an envelope with a masterpiece on the back of it- and he did that all of the time!

The next morning we split into two groups, some to the Rijks Museum and the group I went with headed to the Anne Frank house. I had heard mixed reviews about this museum. I thought it was represented perfectly. The building remains unfurnished and pretty empty, but whoever designed the layout and chose artifacts for the exhibit did a great job. You went through Anne Frank's time in the house, how her family got there, what they did while there, and what happened to them afterwards. We climbed the 'leg-breaking' stairs and read all about her life and experiences. It was terribly depressing and I feel like I learned so much more about the holocaust and how people in hiding really felt. The most heart breaking part was one of the last rooms, the attic, where you entered to find a large, sad portrait of Anne's father Otto, the only survivor from the family after they were arrested and torn apart. There was a video of an interview with him playing from the sixties and he spoke of how hard it was for him to first read Anne's journal after losing everyone he loved. It was a really sad and inspiring afternoon. There was an 80th Birthday photo wall at the end of the exhibit that had a quote by Emma Thompson: “All her 'would haves' are our possibilities and opportunities." I thought that was the best way to take possibly the worst thing that ever happened and bring it into a positive light.

The rest of our day in Amsterdam was spent wandering- in markets, having lunch, then heading once again for the train station to begin our four hour journey to Charlevoix. We were to stop in Brussels for an hour or two then head to our final destination near the airport. Brussels was a beautiful town There weres chocolate and Christmas lights everywhere. I had a waffle from a vendor at the Christmas market and it was the doughiest, crispiest, most wonderful waffle in the world! Then we jumped back on the train(out of the freezing rain that I forgot to mention was the star of our entire weekend!) and headed to our hostel right near the airport. After a shuttle, plane ride, bus ride, and walk home I was ready to pass out! I love the feeling of coming home, especially when that home is Florence. Everytime we go away I miss it more and more, there are only two weeks left and I intend to spend everyday of it in this city enjoying it while I can.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turchia Giorna Felici!

Happy Thanksgiving! It's been a very long and eventful day. One that I am very thankful for.

We started out this wonderful Thanksgiving day by heading to the Academia. The Academia is full of masterpieces, like many of the other museums we have been to this semester. The one that draws the most attention of course is the David. Our professor took us all around this enormous statue and referred to things she has told us in past lectures and gave us lots of new things to consider as we were just feet away from this valued work. After our lecture about the David and a few other objects were finished we were able to explore the museum on our own. I chose to attend the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition. It was one of my favorite exhibits I have seen to date. It had a great atmosphere and his photographs are so lovely. When we left the Academia I grabbed a quick bite to eat, finished a paper, and headed to the next museum! We visited the Art and Illusion Museum near our Italian language school. This museum was unlike any of the others so far. The thing that really stood out above the rest was at the end of the tour we got to play with things and experiment with 3D illusions and physicaly touch and experience them. It was a pleasant change because normally in the museums around here everything is either behind bulletproof glass, guarded, or has a very loud and annoying alarm if you get too close. It was really fun and a change I appreciated.

This evening we were lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving with our entire program at our school building in Santo Spirito. Barb, our Faculty Member in Residence, and her husband Mark invited us all over for an amazing dinner. Each of the girls chose a side to bring and they brought the turkey! It was an evening filled with fun, laughter, food, and being stuffed beyond belief at the end of the night. It was so nice to celebrate with everyone and have a little piece of home and the holidays here in Florence.

Tomorrow a little over half of the group is heading to Amsterdam and Brussels for the weekend. We have lots of fun plans and I can't wait to get some more pictures for everyone to enjoy. Thanks for keeping up with my trip thus far, I really appreciate all of the comments and encouragement from everyone back home!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bonjour Paris!

Last weekend all of the undergrads from the Florence program packed their bags and headed for a mini-holiday in Paris, France! We were scheduled to meet with the JMU study abroad London Program and students from the Salamanca program. Traveling every weekend can be pretty tiring when you spend about seven hours just getting somwhere..but it is definitely worth it!

We arrived extremely late in Paris on Friday night, so we really only got to see the metro and our hotel room. But early the next morning we woke up and headed straight for the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful day and seeing something so enormous shooting into the bright blue, fall sky was amazing. The London program had a few museum visits and lectures planned that were completely optional for their students and also the students from Salamanca and Florence. On Friday the majority of the Florence program, including myself, decided to tag along.

Our first stop was the Musee D'Orsay. This enourmous museum on the river was jam packed with everything from Impressionists to Art Nouveau. I even stumbled upon a painting by Manet that I have had a recreation of hanging on my wall since high school! I was amazed by this museum. Next we headed over to Notre Dame which is definitely in the running for greatest churches I have ever seen-and at this point in my study abroad experience I have seen a lot of churches. After being in awe for about an hour we ended our day at the Louvre. Rounding the corner at night to find this enourmous glass pyramid was just breathtaking. There were so many amazing things to see beneath this amazing the Mona Lisa which was surrounded by crowds of people and guards. The London faculty were giving lectures and mini tours and it was really great to hear what they had to say, and how it compared to our professors in Florence. They're all so knowledgeable and interesting! To end the day some Florence and London students chose a nice little French restaurant to have dinner...and I ate snails! Much better than I would ever have thought.

On Saturday it was one of the girls birthdays. We tried to meet up with the group but got so wrapped up in looking at window Christmas displays in Paris that we missed them by a few minutes! So we decided to enjoy the city on our own. We went to a grocery store and each grabbed some food for lunch-I chose brie, a granny smith apple, a baguette and a bottle of cider! From my food and wine pairing experience I though this would be the perfect combination to consume on a crisp fall day under the Eiffel Tower. It was magical sitting beneath the multi-colored leaves eating delicious food and enjoying the view of the tower. We did a lot of walking around that day as well, enjoying the streets of Paris. There was a Christmas market in a popular part of town that we decided to go to. There was at least a mile of venders selling everything from giant bars of chocolate to hot spiced wine to dancing Santa Clauses. It was defnitely a sight to see. That night we went out to dinner close to our hotel for a birthday celebration then rode the metro to the Eiffel Tower so Victoria, the birthday girl, could pop a bottle of champagne during the light show!

On Sunday, we wrapped up our adventures by visiting a few museums and exhibitions, headed to a beautiful Basilica on top of the city, had a crepe and a French beer and we were set to head back to Florence for another week of school! Traveling on the weekends sure makes this trip fly by, but it is totally worth it and I really feel like Florence is becoming my home. Only two and a half more weeks though..Ahhh! Better get out and enjoy THIS city while I can :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Frescobaldi: Pomino e Nipozzano

Yesterday we took and exciting trip out of Florence to visit the Frescobaldi estates Pomino and Nipozzano. They are on the outskirts of Florence high in the hills. It was a beautiful bus ride through the hills of Tuscany. Fall is in full swing! Even the leaves on the vines were bright yellow and orange.

When we arrived at Pomino we had a private tour around the estate from Diletta Frescobaldi, our professor and member of the family. We saw everything from tumbler that seperates the juices and the skinsto the grapes in a many month long hanging process for Vin Santo to a Italian sized pick up truck filled to the brim with black and green olives! The air smelled so delicious up there. Pomino is one of their smaller estates but it was extremely beautiful.

After a short visit to Pomino it was off to the estate that made Frescobaldi a household name- Nipozzano. We actually go to walk through a few of the vineyards which were on fire with yellow leaves, the smell was indescribeable. Very fresh and earthy- Fall. When we drove to the hill top castle where the wine ferments and the olives are crushed it was like a fairy tale. Diletta even took us into her family's private cellar where they keep their birthday bottles. Each time a new Frescobaldi is born 100 bottles(girls)/300 bottles(boys) of wine from that year are set aside and are available forever in this cellar for the recipient to do with as they wish. Diletta was missing ten bottles! Ha. They are used for special occasions normally. We walked throughout the estate, the house was enormous and beautiful! After walking through quite a few rooms and looking at tons of family portraits we entered one room that was more exciting than all the rest. It was an enourmous formal dining room, table set and all. We got to have a formal tasting.

We tried three different wines, one of which we had already tried in class. This tasting was one none of us will never forget. When else will you be able to say that you sat down in an estate with the God only knows what generation of a 700 year old family!? Diletta is so knowledgeable about her family's history and about all of their wine. It was great.

I am heading to Paris this afternoon after my museum work class(that starts in 20 minutes!!) so get ready to hear all about my weekend adventures in France next Monday :) Ciao

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quando a Roma...

This past weekend the entire undergraduate program took a weekend trip to Rome! We were up bright and early on Friday morning and headed to the stazione treno to catch a fast train from Florence to Rome. I decided at that moment fast trains are the best form of transportation ever...there is leg room, comfy seating, a table in front of you to rest your book(or to fall asleep on), and the time compared to l'autobus-era veloce!

The first thing we did was check into our hotel and freshen up a bit before meeting Federico Pelligrini, our guida turristica. This tour guide would be withus for the next two days taking us through the ruins, into the Pantheon, and into St. Peter's Basilica. At times he was a bit longwinded but he was full of information! On Friday we walked past the Piazza Venezia(also known as the wedding cake building), saw where Julius Caesar was killed(which is now filled with stray cats), into the Roman Forum, through the Coliseum, and into the Pantheon(where a bird had flown through the oculus and was stuck flying around in circles for almost twenty minutes!). It was a day jam packed with history and tourists!

On Saturday we had to meet Federico at 7:45 a.m.(which is pretty early when you are still exausted from exploring the day before) and he was wide awake as ever! This was the day we would be exploring the Vatican City. We had to beat the lines, hence the early wake up call. When we arrived in this seperate country within a city and to the enormous building the lines had not built up too much...yet. Within a half an hour of arriving the line stretched farther than the eye could see! Luckily, we got in and began our adventure. There were a few modern art displays, nothing we spent too much time at because we had bigger fish to the Sistine Chapel. This room is supposed to be completely silent, which is pretty hard when you have hundreds of excited tourists and students whispering to their friends about how amazing this is. While straining your neck(poor Michelangelo) staring up at this beautiful creation you realize how talented and dedicated this artist was...while getting shoooshed by the museum workers over a loud speaker followed by "Silenzio" in an almost God like voice coming from this masterpiece. Pretty bizarre. And amazing of course! Once we finished exploring all of the masterpieces of the Vatican Museum and falling in love with the Sistine Chapel we headed to St. Peter's Basilica. This church was enormous. Gold lined the ceilings and walls, statues everywhere, and ceiling high mosaics that looked like paintings on canvas! Within the Basilica Papale di San Pietro there is Bernini's Canopy that sits half the height of the building directly above St. Peter's tomb. This was one of the most amazing pieces of art I have ever layed eyes on. I remember studying it in GARTH in Duke Hall back in Harrisonburg and thinking it looked pretty cool...but when you are in arm's reach and can see the miniscule detail it is enough to make you faint. I absolutely loved it.

It was a long day and we saw a lot, what I just told you was hardly even a taste of what Rome is really like. After Federico released us a little past 2:00 p.m. on Saturday we were free to 'rome'. The rest of Saturday was filled with fountains, statues, ruins at night, and a complimentary glass of 'sexy wine'(strawberry wine) from a local restaurant at dinner. They actually had James Madison University listed on the wall of University's that had visited we weren't the first Dukes to stop by.

On Sunday morning it was time to see the Pope! He comes out every Sunday morning at noon from the Vatican and recites prayers and does blessings(in more languages than I could count!). I went with Colleen, one of the girl's from our group, and we had an awesome experience. It's not everyday you get to see such an influential figure in such a gorgeous place. The train left back to Florence on Sunday afternoon so for the rest of the day we visited the Spanish Steps, the Piazza Republica, a few more churches, examined the street art...more than you probably wish to hear about! Rome was amazing, I can't even imagine doing and seeing everything we did in less than seventy-two hours. But we did it, and it was extraordinary!!