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!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vecchio Mano

Time is flying. We have already been here for over two months and exactly one month from today I will be back in the United States!! I am feeling like a true Florentine at this point. We got a new roommate on Saturday and Mama Lo referred to me as an 'old hand' when introducing me and I took that as a huge compliment!

After my super eventful last week this one seemed a little more low key. A few less museum visits, not as many horses, and a lot more sleep! I have heard lots about the infamous swine flu striking Virginia with its mighty hamfist and something similar seems to be going around in Firenze. Mama Lo returned from Rome last weekend with a bit of a stomach virus and 3 out of 8 people in this house have a serious cold! I have been tossing back the clementines like its my job for a tad bit more of that Vitamin C. It was pretty bad earlier in the week, but at this point people are beginning to recover...hope it doesn't hit me in Rome this weekend!

This past weekend was pretty exciting, I had a photo shoot with Diana('12) one of the girls from the program. The grafiti is a great, colorful background that can really spice up any photograph. On Monday there were lots more colors when we visited the Modern Art Exhibit in the Palazzo Pitti with my Museum work class. The pieces were in extremely diverse frames but it was hard to notice behind the mounds and mounds of dried acryllic. There were mountains, oceans, clouds, boats, everything and anything abstractly pasted with globs and globs of acryllic paint. When standing up close you could see the movement in the artists hands and when standing at a distance the scene began to come together with a very blurry, underwater feel. It is always fun seeing modern art in Florence...anything within the past 200 years is a rare find, and something as recent as 2008 was a great treat! The feelings and emotions shown by the strokes are something you would never see in a work byBrunelleschi or Michelangelo.

The rest of the week seemed pretty normal, classes here museum visits there, accordian players on every corner(normal for Florence anyways). I won't be able to blog again until Sunday night or Monday morning because tomorrow morning we will be leaving for Rome. I cannot wait to see so many amazing pieces of art and, of couse, the architecture! I am so excited, and I can't wait to share all of the photographs and memories I will bring back to Florence with me :)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chi lo sa? Mi piacciono i capelli.

Things never seem to slow down over here in Florence Italy. There is always tons to do and see! Seven out of the ten undergraduate students are traveling this weekend, some in Venice, others in Prague, another visiting family somewhere close by! Me, I am enjoying the Florentine lifestyle this weekend(and saving a little soldi :) ) This past week was pretty jam packed full of awesome! I had over three museum visits, attended some extra events for fun, and yesterday I went to the largest horse show in Europe!

On Wednesday night JMU gave us the option to attend a lecture given by Bob Shrum, an American political consultant, a political analyst for 'Hardball', he has worked on many presidential campaigns, and been published in many national publications. This event was hosted by the Democrats Abroad organization. So after Food and Wine Pairing, a few undergrads, Mark Stern(the Faculty Advisor's husband) and the entire graduate program headed over to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. The building in which the lecture was held was beautiful!! This Renaissance Palace was enormous and the room in which the lecture was held, Sala Luca Giordano, was enormous and had frescos occupying the entire ceiling and mirrors with amazing paintings across them running down the entire right side of the room. It was gorgeous. The title of the lecture was "The Obama Administration: One Year Later." Once we got there the organization waved our cover donation because we were students and allowed us to participate in the reception before the lecture began. It was really fun being at an event like this, full of people interested in American Goverment. Once the lecture began many of us were sad to hear Bob Shrum discussing mostly the election results of last Tuesday rather than a recap of Obama's first year in office, which is why the majority of us were attending. All in all, it was still pretty interesting and it turned out to be a really fun evening out with both the undergrads and grads from JMU.

On Thursday, I had three art history classes in a row! If I were in Harrisonburg I may have griped and moaned about sitting down in a lecture hall for that long staring at slides, but because I am in the Art History capital of the world I was ecstatic! First, we went with Professor Sidsel-Vivarelli to the Capella Medicee which was by far my favorite building I have seen to date. The hundreds of feet high ceiling of this chapel was beautiful. The walls leading to the ceiling were made of all dark marble- deep greens, blues, purples. It was unlike anything we had seen so far, the colors were so dark but with the light of day pooring in it lit the room up and you could see all of the detailed marble work and it was amazing. After leaving the Capella Medici we stayed with Professor Sidsel-Vivarelli and followed her to the connecting Basilica di San Lorenzo. Both of the museums are part of the same bulding but one is a state museum and one national museum(I think I got those right). So they are seperate museums and seperate tickets. The Basilica di San Lorenzo was equally as enormous and just as gorgeous, but there wasn't as much of the unique, deep colored marble we had just seen in the Capella Medici. It was still extraordinary. At the end of the day we went to the La Gipsoteca dell'Istituto d'Arte. This was all the way through the Porta Romana, the gate leading out of Florence, but directly on the other side of Florence's walls. We arrived with Professor Auf der Heyde just as classes were letting out of this Art Institute, kind of a high school for students pursuing art. La Gipsoteca is a private, educational museum within the school. There are lots and lots of plaster casts inside with everything from the David to the Ghiberti doors. Everything is actual sized plaster casts so this room was enormous. Seeing everything so much closer than you could normally stand to these masterpieces, because they were only copies, was unreal. You could examine David's toe nail or study Neptune's trident within a few inches. These plaster casts are used at this Art Institute to teach studying artist about the shadows cast by the different parts of the human body. For hundreds of years artists have been taught this way, before moving to real live models they must master the drawing of plaster casts because the shadows are so apparent on the stark, white figures. It was really interesting to see how an art school operates outside of the United States and how they trained the masters of the past and probably the masters of the future!

Finally, we get to the largest horse show in Europe that I attended yesterday! Mama Lo knew I was staying in Florence for the weekend so she invited me along with two students from her Center, Le Rose. Le Rose is a center that Mama Lo helped start about twenty years ago, it is located at a beautiful ranch just outside of Florence. Monday through Thursday special needs adults come to Le Rose and participate in everything from cermaics classes to horseback riding. Gorky and Zoe were the two students who were coming to the show yesterday and both avid horse lovers. FieraCavalli 2009 was enormous. There were tents, and when I say tents I mean buildings, hosting horsing events and stalls holding the thousands of horses, that never seemed to end. There was an entire section devoted to food, there were outdoor shows, indoor shows, even horses trotting up and down the streets with the people. It was raining and it was still jam packed! We saw horses dancing, bowing, jumping, rolling, neighing, running, was all there! Even the World Cup for barrel racing, sadly the stands were too full and we couldn't see over the enormous fences. Gorky is one of the most outgoing people I have ever met, we went into a saloon with a live country music band and no one but professional line dancers on the dance floor(and yes...we're still in Italy) and he took over! He grabbed myself, Mama Lo, Zoe and led us all onto the dance floor and he was the life of the party! Kids and adults followed suit and before you knew it the floor was full of people without a care in the world. It was great to see so much positive energy started by one person. We were at FieraCavalli 2009 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.! We had so much fun, I'm not even a big horse lover and it was one of the best days I have had so far! When we arrived home at around ten I was beat, so I had some dinner and hit the hay! I had a great night of sleep and now I am off on my next adventure in Florence that you should look forward to hearing about in my next blog post to come in a few days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sanguino Viola!

The past few days have been filled with many new experiences and even more beautiful sights than before! Even though I have been in Florence for over half of the semester things are definitely not getting old.

On Sunday afternoon, the day after Halloween, it was our first time at an Italian futbol match!(that's soccer--if you didn't already know) Florence's home team 'Fiorentina' was playing against Catania, a team from Sicily. The stadium was pretty empty when we first arrived, though we were about an hour early. We explored the giant stadium and checked out the locals who were decked out from head to toe in purple Fiorentina gear. This would have shocked us but since we are all so used to seeing this much purple at home football games at JMU this aspect was nowhere near 'new' to us :) The fans began to pack the stadium and a few minutes before the game began sections of the stadium that were recently soulless were filled to the bursting with screaming fans! Throughout the game we heard all sorts of chants, songs, phrases from both teams. It was a home game so the majority were from fans of Fiorentina. We were accompanied by Alessandro's, the Director of the Florence Program, daughters who were more than willing to translate many of the sayings and gestures that the two sets of fans were throwing at each other. Most of the things would require a long washing out of the mouth with soap and a not-so-gentle slap on the hand. These Italians do not take their pride for their team lightly and was defiitely easy to see! In the end Fiorentina was victorious over the Sicilians with a 3-1 victory!!

Monday we had a pretty normal schedule of all of our classes. Italian to begin the day where we were ironically learning about hand gestures and the ways in which Italians use them to communicate. A few of the girls and I were still a little curious about some of the gestures from the futbol match and asked Mossimo, our professor, to translate them...he laughed and laughed and we got yet another lesson about the colorful language/gestures Italians use to defend their team and express their pride.

Today, I only had one class! It was museum work and we learned all about the dangers involved in preserving artwork. Things like fire, water, heat, humidity...crazy people who decide to attack masterpieces with a hammer?! Yes, there are lots of things that go into protecting these works of art and I got to learn all about it today! After Museum Work was over I ran home threw my camera battery into the wall to recharge, made a delicious sandwhich-panino integrale(wheat bread) with mozzarella, tomatoes, and cucumber!! fresh, cheap, and delicious!- then headed out to attend the City as a Classroom course in which I am not enrolled :) Today they were visiting the Boboli Gardens behind the Piti Palace. These gardens are not like American gardens-they're huge!!! There are statues, grottoes, beautiful buildings, and amazing views in every direction! We climbed up and down hills, past fountains, into rose gardens...everything was gorgeous. It would take more than just a few hours to see it all, but in the short time we did have I had a wonderful time and loved everything I saw. I love the fact that I attend classes I am not even enrolled in and have such an amazing time! Florence is awesome. Greatest time ever. Don't forget to leave any questions or comments that you might have. I have really enjoyed all of the feedback I have been recieving and would not mind some more at all!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scherzetto o Dolcetto

Happy Halloween to all of those back in the States! It's been an amazing day and it's only 6:30 pm(and it's also already dark outside...) Halloween in Italia isn't quite like the Halloween we Americans are used to. Of course, it is breaking into this culture-on our way home we saw a few pint sized skeletons running around their Mamas and Papas on what I assumed to be a bit of a sugar high. The best costume I have seen so far was a young 'lad' wearing devil horns, holding a pitchfork, and wearing a kilt? Yes, in Italy. It was definitely a site to be seen :)

This morning we rose with the sun(okay...not with the sun, It's Saturday here so 8:30 am is kind of early!!) Mama Lo was extremely generous and offered to take us to the hot springs that are about an hour and a half outside of Florence. She sent us off to the Paneficio for some panini then to the market to grab some meats, cheeses, and some of the most delicious tomatoes so we could have a little picnic after our swim. My three other roommates- Jordan, Alexa, and Jenny- and myself all worked together in a sort of assembly line making these sandwhiches before rushing out of the door to enjoy a beautiful day. The weather here is comparable to that of Virginia's- completely unpredictable! A week ago it was just about freezing and today we had our lunch sitting in the sun in our bathing suits! Yes, it is October 31st here as well. Strange and awesome!

We rode squeezed into Mama Lo's car listening to country music, her favorite, filled with so much excitement...we'd heard a lot about the springs earlier in the semester and we never thought we'd actually have the chance to go! Driving through the hills of Tuscany in Autumn is definitely something everyone should experience once in their lives. All of the colors-fire engine reds, neon oranges, and sunflower yellows- fell from the trees in the afternoon breeze and coated what was left on the grape vines. Absolutely beautiful.

When we finally arrived at the springs we were definiely ready to hop right in. The only thing making anyone the least bit weary was the warm smell of deviled eggs that surrrounded the springs and sticks to your body for hours after. The spring is rich with sulfur and it smells pretty intense but is great for your skin and hair!! After a quick wardrobe change-and a pinch of the old schnozz- we waded into the pools closest to the source of the naturally hot water and it was near boiling! Moving a few pools from the source, about twenty feet, the water was much more bearable and was like a hot tub. It felt amazing.

Right beside the hot spring runs a river, whose water is the temperature it should be at the end of October. Mama Lo and I walked out of the hot springs over a short, rock-piled wall into the fresh river water. It. was. freezing! We dipped completely under the freezing water and then returned to the section that hosts the hot springs. Glorious! She explained it's good to shock your body like that sometimes-good for the heart! After wading around with all of the girls for a while it was finally spa time. We reached into the corners of the river, the hot spring heated section, and grabbed the dark grayish-brown mud and rubbed it over our entire bodies!! Yes, it also smelled like hard-boiled eggs. We weren't the only people crazy enough to do this. Apparently people come from all over, most from Germany, to wade in the springs and enjoy an afternoon mud bath. You stand in the sunlight and let the mud dry until you can just about flake it off in chunks of shell that have conformed to your body! Then you're ready to go. We chose to rinse by standing under the man made pipe that sends the water shooting through the air from the spring into the pools, almost like a scorching hot shower. After the mud bath your skin is so smooth and extremely clean looking. This was something I would definitely suggest to anyone who has the chance to try and would definitely do it again myself!

After bathing in the sun and scarfing down our panini it was a little past three and time to roll. On our drive back we stopped by the tiny, tiny, walled in town of Monteriggioni. You could walk from wall to wall in about three minutes flat. We had a cup of afternoon tea and poked our head into a few leather and soap shops that were really interesting and even more so cute! After a quick stroll at sunset we had to leave the town. Continuing our drive there was the smallest amount of light left so we stopped by the wonderful ranch where Mama Lo works(I will blog more about that another time) then drove through the Porta Romana back into Florence and were finally home. It was like a breath of fresh air, literally, when getting out of the car filled with five women reaking of boiled eggs...but the day was definitely worth it! Tomorrow we will be attending a soccer(futbol) match, so look forward to seeing pictures from and reading about that later :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mercato di San Lorenzo

People everywhere, "Ciao Bella" can be heard from every booth in site, and the food is splendid! There is a place in Florence called the San Lorenzo market and when anyone is looking to buy high quality leather, even better food, and have an extremlely entertaining afternoon- this is the place to go.

It is located just a few streets behind the Duomo, this market runs for at least a kilometer. There are collapsable stands that come down each night that hold everything from baby Italia sweatshirts to silk ties to hand made leather jackets. All at reasonable prices I might add. Last weekend before Scott, my boyfriend, made his long journey back to the United States I decided to take him to one of Florence's hidden gems. We walked through the market for two days! Of course we came back the second day to explore the food market which is an adventure in itself.

The food market is an enormous two story building filled with stands just like the outdoor 'leather' market. Inside you can find wine tastings, butchers handing out slices of meat and cheese, fresh fish(everything from salmon to sword), fresh chickens(feet and feathers included), fresh meat, fruit, veggies-everything! Just walking around and seeing where all of the best restaurants in Florence come to collect their ingredients and main courses for that very night was something magical!

We visited one butcher, whose picture you can see on the right side of this page, who spoke solely Italian(like everyone else in this market). He felt terrible for making us wait five minutes while he sliced kilos and kilos of meat for a man who must have owned a local store becuase there is no way that amount of meat could be for personal use! So while we waited and continued to hear "Cinque minuti" and "Mi dispiace" over and over again from this kind man, he continuously would slice off an extra piece of salami or prosciutto and send it our way! The prosciutto melted like butter in your mouth. I, with a semester of Italian 101 under my belt and half a semester in Florence, tried to communicate this with him. "Il prosciutto e il burro in il mio lupo", I said. Of course, I am constantly confusing the words 'mouth' and wolf becuase of the Italian good luck saying 'In boco al lupo' meaning 'In the mouth of the wolf'(to which the encouraged party replies 'Crepi!' meaning 'The wolf will die'). So I ended up telling him, "The prosciutto is butter in my wolf." Boy, did he and his female assistant get a kick out of that. She laughed and nodded like she understood. One of my many lost in translation goof-up stories that I will tell for years to come. When this wonderful interaction finally came to an end we had eaten a delicious Salami Piccanti panino with local lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes that were to die for and I had learned a thing or two about giving compliments in Italian!

Going to the market is one of my favorite things to do in Florence and it is something I would do again and again! A girl has to eat(and wear leather) after all! Speaking of eating I am about to head over to the Palazzo Caponi, JMU's school in Florence, to get some work done and grab a delicious pizza from Gusto Pizza right across the street! Mmm... Ciao!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


It has been over a week since my last blog post or picture upload. Things sure haven't stopped moving at a million miles a minute since I last stopped and took a breath to update you on my amazing adventures. The transition between midterms and fall break happened so suddenly I was on a bus to the Pisa airport at three a.m. last Friday night before I knew it!

We received an entire weeks break after midterms(which I am still enjoying). I chose to spend the first five days in a beautiful island off the coast of Italy known as Sardegna. This island has a much warmer climate year round than that of Firenze and I was able to enjoy the miles upon miles of white beaches and crystal, teal waters. Sardegna has a wide mix of Italian and Catalan influences in their food, culture, and in their language. When arriving at the Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the Old Town of Alghero it was not an uncommon theme to hear the owner talking to guests in an almost hybrid of the two languages! I have been studying and improving my Italian in Florence for over a month now and it was getting pretty good, so I was extremely blindsided when the owner greeted me by saying, "Hola!"

My boyfriend Scott, an '08 Alum from JMU, was lucky enough to excort me on my journey to this picturesque island and was reminded many, many times that his girlfriend was a photographer when I threw him before the camera exclaiming, "Come on! You'll love to have this picture" It sure was fun to have a friendly model at your disposal in such a gorgeous place.

We saw so many things over the last five days and I don't want to leave anything out so I will try to fill you in on some of the more exciting experiences. Our first few hours in the old town were filled with a nap and a stroll around the city that lead us into some of the most beautiful places in the world. Alghero is surround by sixty foot high walls rising out of the sea shooting salty sprays high into the air when the waves finally collide. The sunset past the remains of the protective walls and giant watch towers throughout the city were breathtaking. After a long walk and soaking in the beautiful sites it was definitely time to catch some Z's. We grabbed a local pizza, bottle of Sardinian wine, and tryed to find the most entertaining thing on the television that provided us with a hearty stew of the world's languages. We settled on watching Dirty Dancing, in German of course.

Our first full day at the beach consisted more of a two to three hour walk to Maria Pia that is known for its clean, white sand and wall of pine trees surrounding all edges. I discovered my favorite smell that day- a mix of fresh, salty seawater and the deep, hot smell of pine trees baking in the sun. I could have stayed there for hours, but this was the coldest day of the trip so we had only enough courage to stay for a short visit.

On Monday, we were able to visit some of the world's most famous sea grottoes- Grotta di Nettuno. Neptune's Grotto was not unlike Virginia's local caverns while inside. Stalactites and stalagmites gripped the cave in every direction. The only huge and diversifying differences would have to be the mouth of the cave that looked over an endless sea, the warm sunshine pouring into that same entrance, and the six hundred stair descent down the cliffs of Capo Caccia that hosted some more of these insanely beautiful views I know you can't be tired of hearing about! It was an amazing place that I am so glad we were able to visit.

The next two days consisted of shopping the local markets, eating the biggest sweet red plum I have ever seen, tasting some wine out of a local man's enormous stainless steel wine tanks, soaking in the Sardinian sun for hours on end, swimming in the clear waters and jumping over hundreds of sea urchins that lined the beaches, tasting some of the local cuisine consisting of everything from crab filled hush puppies to full-bodied shrimp, followed by main courses of crab spaghetti and fresh calamari! Being young and on a budget we only ate at a restaurant two of the nights, but we ate like kings both times for a reasonable price! The rest of the time we visited the market right across the street from our Bed and Breakfast and tried lots of the local meats, breads, and cheeses or we would go to a great little Pizzeria down the street and pair it with a Sardinian red! Mmm, getting a mix of the Italian and Catalan foods all in one beautiful little town was something I never expected to experience and am so glad I did!

In the end I left Alghero with an appreciation for the intertwining of cultures and languages, a bit more color in my cheeks, and a camera card full of memories and pictures I can't wait to share with everyone here in Florence and back in the USA. Alghero, Sardegna was an awesome place to visit and leaving Florence for so many days(five feels like a lifetime in Italy, soaking in so many new things sure does extend time) really made me miss the place! This study abroad experience just keeps getting better and better, and to know that traveling just a measly three hours can expose me to a whole new world continues to enhance my appreciation for my time here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fiesole: Paradiso Italiano!

It is midterm week! I have been busy reviewing the passato prossimo for Italian, memorizing the process of wine making and reassuring myself that I know which food accompanies which wine in the best way, writing papers on the masterpieces that are in my own backyard...okay, so midterms here are a lot more fun than back in Harrisonburg-but a girl still needs a break! Hence the name of this post's title.
Yesterday, I luckily had no classes and was able to work as much as I wanted studying all I needed to know for my Italian midterm(that I am pretty sure I aced this morning) and the seven page paper I needed to write for my Italian Renaissance class. In the middle of the day the 'City as a Classroom' course was taking a trip to Fiesole, the ancient hilltop city situated right above Florence. The great thing about the study abroad program is even if you aren't enrolled in a certain class, whenever that class visits a museum, goes to a historic site, and even visits a beautiful small town outside of Florence all of the students in the Florence Program are allowed to attend. So for my study break...I went to a class I am not even in! Talk about funny, could you see a student doing that back in Harrisonburg or anywhere else in the world!?

I met up with the class at the train station in Florence and we took the number seven bus out of the city streets and into the rolling hills of Tuscany! Within a minutes we found ourselves surrounded by greenery and ascending some of the most gorgeous hills I have ever seen. When we exited the bus we found ourself smack dab in the middle of Fiesole. The air was so different there! Not that Florence smells terrible or anything, but the fresh air in Fiesole was so amazing. You could smell the trees, the fruits, and the breeze was so much more crisp than in Florence-only a few kilometers below. Breathing in this fresh air got us all excited and in the mood to explore.

Our first stop in Fiesole was the Roman ruins that the town is well known for. We arrived at three o'clock in the afternoon and sadly the museum and grounds were closed to this historical monument. There were no signs as to why we could not enter, everything was just locked up and closed without any posted reasoning. It didn't stop us from climbing to a high spot and getting an aerial view of the ruins and discussing them from a distance! It might have been a little odd and not as much of an up close experience we were hoping for, but we sure made the best of what seemed to be a bad situation. So instead of spending our first hour in the city examing the Roman ruins we began our walk around the ancient walls a little early. We climbed even more hills with paths that were marked very clearly and at every peak was another breathtaking view. Who knew Florence was so big! Looking down on our home town of the past month was so astonishing. We were seeing it with new eyes...the eyes of mile high giants! The Duomo was so tiny from up there, and the Piazzale Michelangelo looked like an anthill compared to our newly disovered hilltop town.

The walls outside of the city were surrounded by hundreds of olive trees, lemons, berries, flowers: you name a color and it was represented on this Tuscan hillside! I decided to pluck an olive off of one of the trees(probably breaking a rule or two...but hey! when else would I be able to taste an Italian olive straight off the branch?) I had heard rumors about how gross this was, but me being the 'dive-right-in-get-all-the-experience-I-can' type of girl that I am I decided to try it for myself. Let me tell you, that olive was the most acidic, bitter thing I have ever tasted! I spit it over the ancient wall of the city and had a few of the girls in the program spinning around, confused, and asking, "What was that noise? What did you just do? Are you ok!?" It was a good, funny experience, but one I think I will leave in Fiesole.

After completing our walk around the city walls, weaving in and out of the gorgeous residential areas, illegaly trying Italian produce, and taking some beautiful pictures, our day in this ancient city was about to be over. At the end of our journey we had the chance to see some of the local sculptures perched outside of one of the main buildings in the city, took in a few more breaths of the heavenly air, and jumped back onto the number seven bus to retutn to our current hometown. Once I arrived back in Florence, I hurried home to complete my studies before another one of Mama Lo's famous dinners. (We had a spicy and delicious pasta with red sauce that is definitely one of my new favorites)

I hope everyone is enjoying my blog. I just wanted to remind you I would love to hear your comments on my experiences, questions you have about them, and I definitely have lots of answers to questions about truly having the JMU study abroad experience! Ciao and Grazie!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mamma Mia!

Wow. Last week was so jam full of awesome that I forgot to blog :) I'll try to fit everything in without making everyone quit halfway through! First, we have midterms next week-so imagine all of this excitement happening with papers coming back to me, classes, and reading galore.

This week we had the pleasure of attending I Ristoranti d'Italia and I Vini d'Italia with our world renowned professor Diletta Frescobaldi. Well maybe she is not world renowned but her family sure is. They have been making wine for 700 years. In the family's archives they have letters from kings asking to try their wines! The cool thing is that this isn't even the story I am trying to tell you right now!

So we go to this giant event in an old Florentine building. The building has ceilings five stories high, old bricks poking out of the arches that go all the way down the what was currently serving as a lecture hall and presentation ground for Italy's top 100 wines and Restaurants. We got to try all of the wines. :) Of course, we 'tasted' them. On the first day of class Diletta reminded us that 'tasting' and 'drinking' are two very different things. We had the chance to taste wines most of us will never have had the chance to try if it wasn't for this class! Studying abroad in Florence gives us so many oppurtunities! Just being abroad in general is a life changing experience, but getting to go to events like this one is something I had never even dreamed of. The tasting was amazing. We were all armed with a notebook and pen to take notes on these wines-hints of cinnamon, high tannon, dark ruby color! What did you think...we were just drinking the day away!? No way, we were there for class...this was our homework! I love Italy.

That was a great day. Now I will tell you about my very first vespa experiene. My dear friend Sophia{blog shout out: What up girl! :) } sent me a package a few weeks ago for my birthday. It had not arrived and I was geting a little concerned so I asked Claire-the nicest woman in the whole wide world- about why it was taking so long. Turns we were supposed to send out packages to the Palazzo Caponi(our school) instead of our homestays or the package would end up kilometers away and we may never see it! Well...that happened. When the package finally arrived Mama Lo found the post notification on the ground near the mail box and saw the address was a more than an hour walk away from the house, but only fifteen minutes by motorino! Mama Lo volunteered to drive me there- 'if I was brave enough'. Hell yeah I was brave enough! Was she kidding?! A chance to fly through the streets of Italy on the back of a motorino! This birthday package turned out to be way more exciting than Sophia had ever planned. We flew through the Florence, weaving in and out of cars(everyone drives Mercedes Benz around here, even the buses are Mercedes Benz-madness!) flying down the opposite lane when no cars are coming. The driving laws are a little different here, polizia didn't even turn their heads! It was thrilling.

When we returned home we saw the door was open into the beautiful courtyard of the building directly across from ours. Whenever the thirty foot high, gorgeous wooden doors are open you can see beautiful plants, flowers, and statues everywhere. Well at this moment the doors were open-guarded by two police. Mama Lo speaks fluent Italian and asked them what was going on. It turns out one of Italy's most famous antique dealers had passed away and this was the auction of his estate. We were allowed in. We walked through this mansion with masterpiece ceilings, long hallways of some of the most beautiful architecture I have seen in Florence- and THIS was just the building. There were giant paintings and statues, leathers and fabrics, even a little hyrbrid carriage-bicycle for a child pulled by a bronze dragon. It was like visiting a private museum right across the street from our house!

Well now I need to get back to reading some Art History before my midterms next week-maybe I'll read about a piece that is just across the street!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sabado In Assisi

Yesterday was our day trip to Assisi. This town in the region of Umbria was the home to both Saint Francis and Saint Claire. Assisi is full of all kinds of history and some of the most beautiful frescoes I have ever seen. We were lucky enough to have a local tour guide, who himself lived just over the mountain behind the more populated area in Assisi. He was so knowledgeable and wasn't afraid to make some jokes along the way to keep us all on our toes wondering what we would get to see next! Our first stop was at the Basilica of Saint Claire where we got to see the crucifix that had spoken to Saint Francis in his earlier years. It was extremely crowded. Sunday is actually Saint Francis day and our tour guide told us that everyone that was in Assisi that day were trying to avoid the even larger crowds of the next. We then entered the lower level of the church where the actual body of Sain't Claire is kept. We had a similar experience while we were in Sienna in the Church of Saint Catherine and we would have another within the Tomb of Saint Francis later in the day. After leaving the church we passed a gypsy dressed as an angel sitting at a table signing what seemed like autographs with a bright yellow quilled pen. That was followed by a man dressed like Jesus asking for money from whoever walked by. Some of the things people do to make money gets pretty weird around here! We were also lucky enough to stop off at a store with its own piece of history. They had a printing press that was used during WWII to make fake documents for the 300 jewish people in town. They had originally been hiding in the church in town, there was a hollow room between two levels that was a secret for years, but they couldn't be kept there forever so a man decided to give them all identification so they would be saved from the nazis coming through the town. It was extremely interesting and just reassured us of the impact that Saint Francis had on this town. The next site was the Temple of Minerva, which was transformed into a church in 1539. The outside had a very Roman feel, columns with not much color, very beautiful but not very decorative. On the inside it was amazing. It was decorated from wall to wall, ceiling to different from the outside. our guide told us the the person who decided to make the church this way was to show that sometimes people can look very normal, uninteresting, and plain on the outisde but within they would be more amazing than you could ever imagine. I really enjoyed that. After walking through Assisi for a little while longer we finally arrived at the Basilica di San Fracisco. We were all so looking forward to see some of the more famous frescoes in the top of the church, but it was closed due to some sort of politcal event, all of the police around the building never did tell us what was going on. We were able to see many of the paintings of Giotto and others in the lower level of the church as well as the Tomb of Saint Francis. This was a little different than those of Saint Claire and Saint Catherine-Saint Francis' tomb was huge! We were told that he had requested to be buried outside of the town of Assisi out of respect for Jesus, because he was not buried within the walls of his own town. Later on after his burial they built a tomb around him, then the basilica around that...which eventually became part of the town of Assisi many years later. It's a really great experience seeing the way that Saint Francis(and the others) still affect people today. It's a very quiet, spiritual experience that affects everyone very differently. When we left the church we were free to explore the town and grab some lunch. I picked up a great panino from a smaller area of town and searched for some gifts while my mouth fell wide open at almost every corner, either because of a beautiful view or another amazing piece of architecture. When it was finally time to return to the bus, on my walk to the parcheggio, I noticed the upper doors of the Basilica di San Francisco were open! I basically sprinted to the doors and got to see the frescoes I wanted to see more than anything! I walked around the church in awe for as long as I could then ran to the bus, arriving still with a few minutes to spare. It was a really great day and I am so happy we had the chance to visit such a historical and beautiful town.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Italia e no la Tartaruga!

Things are moving SO quickly now! My roommate described last night at dinner(another AMAZING dinner of salmon and white sauce pasta, salad, and homemade shepards pie-hey Mama Lo is English, who cares if we're in Italia!) when we were first here a little over three and a half weeks ago time was moving so much slower because we were so stimulated by all of these new things-the culture, the art, the people, the architecture. Now we are beginning to settle into this environment, it is becoming our daily lives and the weeks are FLYING by! One of the girls keeps reminding everyone of how little time we have left and we all have to snip at here saying, "There are still two and a half months!" But she has something there, when you are in such an amazing place and even your classes are fun time sure does fly!
This past week I have spent the majority of my class time in museums. Our Italian classes taught by the professors at the British Institute are so full of information by the time I look at the clock there are only five minutes left. I am learning more here in three weeks than a whole semester at JMU! I do not mean to put down the classes at JMU, but it is kind of hard not to do your Italian homework here when you can walk into any market and practice how to order something, to ask what someone likes the best, to tell them you don't like their cheese! It's also hard to ignore your Renaissance Art History professor when you walk outisde of your door and see works by the greats right in front of your face everyday! The hardest to ignore is the great wine and food here when you are learning how to pair them and the culture and history that comes with wine tasting! It's so amazing learning a languagethe history, and the culture in its very own country. This experience is one I am so blessed to be able to have and I intend on taking full advantage of.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Corri La Vita

Today I particpated in the Corri La Vita. This Run for Life is put on in Florence every year by the Italian Cancer Society. It began this morning at 9:30 am. We got to the Piazza dell Signora and it was packed. This square is huge, there are giant statues everywhere-and you could hardly move. There were people from all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, half of Florence was there! It was very different being at such a large event in a different country. Normally you could listen to the speeches people were giving and promoting the cause, but in Italian, it's pretty hard to intrepret what exactly was going on. Throughout the walk there were so many people with pictures of their loved ones affected by cancer attatched to their shirts and even babies and dogs were wearing the Corri la Vita shirts! Though I couldn't understand very many words people were saying, knowing that we were all there united for the same cause was really a special experience. In addition to my shirt I drew the breast cancer ribbon, heart, and initials of my good friends mother who recently passed away from breast cancer. I thought a lot about her today and how strong she was and how terribly difficult cancer can make your life. It is something that can affect anyone at anytime and I was proud to dedicate my day to her.

Monday, September 21, 2009


This past weekend eight of the girls from the group decided to head to Munich for Oktoberfest that started on Saturday. We had all day to spend in Munich on Friday, so six of us decided we needed to visit Dachau the concentration camp.

After arriving in Munich(an 8 hour bus ride from Florence) we took a train and a bus out of the city to Dachau. We each checked out an audio tour of the grounds and ended up splitting up as we wondered the grounds. I ended up walking around the majority of the day by myself and the silence allowed me to really experience the memories around Dachau. Appropriately the weather was extremely dreary on that day, it was getting cool and the clouds were about to burst with rain at any minute. Listening to the accounts from survivors on the audio tour in the places where these things happened sent chills down my spine. Seeing the exact place where so, so many people were tortured and murdered was the saddest and most nauseating day I have ever had. There was a documentary film that we were able to watch and we were able to learn a lot about the history of the Holocaust and about how Dachau was started. The amount of people who were involved in making all of this happen blew my mind. I have no idea how anyone would ever support something like this and let it get as far as it ever did. This day showed me how cruel some human beings can be and that it takes more than just the victims to stop something. During the documentary the prisoners who were saved said they would not let the lives of those lost go unforgotten. Seeing how these people were locked up for months with barely any food, water, or any contact with another human being is beyond my imagination. It was so unbelievable. Awful. I truly cannot even express this in words.

Below I am going to post a link to firsthand accounts of one of the survivors to give you a sense of what I experienced that day:

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Ciao ciao! It's been a few days since my last blog...I've been so busy! Today I had a few the Uffizi Gallery! I got to see artwork by all of the greats. One of the girls on the trip even cried when she saw her favorite artist's work. It was amazing. I'm a tad bit exhausted though..I turned 21 yesterday!

My birthday started off on the best note(I am in Italia, how could it not!?) My three roommates planned a few suprises at dinner with the help of Mama Lo. They all knew I'd been dying to try limoncello, so they pulled out a bottle after dinner and Mama Lo unveiled the most delicious apple crisp that she "just whipped up" So good! After dinner the girls and I decided that the striking of midnight was going to take place in a bar called Bee Bop. On Tuesday nights they have a live Beatles cover band! It was about a thousand degrees in the bar but it was the most fun I have ever had(until Wednesday night :) ) I know some people think it isn't a big deal turning 21 in another country, but let me tell you that I am a zillion percent sure it was way more fun than being in the states!

Yesterday-the actual birthday- I went to all of my classes and after the last class, food and wine pairing, Barbara and Mark Stern(the faculty advisers) had myself and all of the students up to their apartment for cake and prosecco! The cake was yellow layered with mousse and the most delicious chocolate icing. It was so nice of them to do that for all of us on my birthday. After that set of festivities were over we all went back to our homestays to get ready and go out for a big Italian dinner. We went to a restaurant called Dante's. They love JMU students! We had all of our drinks for free and the chef made us some of his homemade pasta on the house! It was so, so, so delicious. The owner even came out and brought us a bottle of limoncello and told us to come back whenever we want that they'll always treat us really well there. It was an phenominal start to the night.

After dinner we decided to go out and paint the town purple. We visited a few bars, ran into many Americans, and I ended the night by touching every building on the way home saying, "Uh! Michelangelo could have stood here! Rafael! Boticelli!!" The girls found it pretty amusing-thankfully.

This evening 8 out of the 10 girls are hopping onto a bus for 8 hours to Munich for Oktoberfest!Munich is acutally Monaco in Italiano, much prettier in my opinion) It doesn't officially start until Saturday so we are going to visit museums and explore a different side of Europe all day Friday. By the homework for Food and Wine Pairing: try at least three different beers the same way you would smell, taste, and describe wine and report back to the professor on Monday. No problem :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cibo Cinese in Italia?!

It's Saturday night! And I'm in-writing a blog :) There is a reason for this of course. Today was an amazing day(and long day) in Siena, Italy! The bus left the Florence train station at 7:50 and arrived in Siena at 9:00. When we first arrived in Siena I had my first experience with European public restrooms. You have to pay! I'm sure everyone reading this blog is thinking, "Geeze Angel, get a life! Didn't you know that?" And the answer to that is no I didn't, but it was sure fun learning. I didn't actually use the bathrooms at that moment(I went to a 'free' one in museum we entered later that day) but I got some entertainment from Mark Stern, a JMU faculty member accompanying us on our trip, who told me a story of walking past an Italian bathroom earlier in his years and hearing a german woman yell out, "These darn filthy Italians! who do they think they are!"(accent and all)..he said even though you pay for the bathrooms, they definitely aren't the cleanest.

Our first stop was at a cafe where some students grabbed a late breakfast then we met up with an old pal of Mama Lo's(my housemother).Her name was Christina and she would be leading our tour through Siena For the morning. We went through different churches, cathedrals, and saw some of the most breathtaking views in the entire world. Siena is a medievel town that has many contradas(small towns within the city) that rival each other throughout the year and especially during the big horse race! They are each named after animals, everything from giraffes to porcupines-and our tour guide, Christina, was born and raised a catepillar! No joke!

We were lucky enough to see something rare while we were there. The Owl Contrada had just won the big horse race and it was the first time since 1979 that their horse and jockey won! Their banners flew throughout their town as a reward. Apparently, when a contrada wins they celebrate non-stop for two months. There was even a wall sized banner of the jockey and his horse crossing the finish line on the border of the Owls and their rival town, just to rub it in their face! The coolest part of these horse races is that they have it in the huge square in the middle of Siena. There are just regular buildings and brick-and unless the tour guide had told us I would never have guessed that was where the races were held. They bring in tons and tons of dirt and fill the huge area around the square with over a foot of dirt for the big event. Mama Lo has been to the event before and she said it was amazing!

After we arrived home from Siena I grabbed a quick gelatto. It was the third gelatto of my study abroad experience and by far my favorite! It was cookies and nutella mixed with cream of milk....uuuuuh! I can't even explain. There is nothing better in this world for only one euro!! While the girls and I were walking out of the gelatto place we saw a girl our age with her friends and apparently she had not eaten her gelatto fast enough because it was running down all sides of her hands and onto her bright yellow jeans. It was crazy. What a waste of gelatto!

Now that our day together was breaking off-some people parted to take naps, some went shopping- I decided to explore a part of Florence I hadn't yet entered. I ended up walking around for about two hours and went all the way to the end of Florence and saw the city's gates. They must have been at least fifty foot high wooden doors. They. were. huge.

On my walk home from the gi-normous gates of the city I spotted an economico(cheap) italian chinese restaurant. A few of the other students, including myself, had vocalized our curiosity about this sort of food so I grabbed a to go menu-in italian- and brought it home. My roommate Jenny skyped some fellow students and invited them on our little chinese-italian adventure and we all decided to go. When reading a chinese menu(in italian) and you see something called 'spaghetti con pollo' that can really freak a person out. It turned out to be pretty good. The soy sauce that came in a dixie cup with suran wrap over the top was salmon colored, thick and tasted like vinegar. It was pretty strange. But when in Florence eating chinese as a curious JMU student would do and eat it! The whole group then came back to our flat and we had a fun dinner with the 2.20 euro bottles of wine we found in a cute shop on the way home. It sure balanced out that soy sauce.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. I am going to post some pictures of Siena on the right side of my blog for everyone to oo and aaaa at...Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Awentura di Note

Ciao! Third day in Firenze and first day of classes! The day started out kind of slow. The girls and I decided to go out on the town last night and it was pretty interesting...we came in pretty late and had to wake up pretty early-hince the late start.

We decided to meet at the- what we have named- the "Four Seasons Bridge". There are lots of bridges in Firenze, the most popular tourist area being the Ponte Vecchio, which is just a bridge over from last nights meeting place. There are only ten students studying abroad this semester in the undergrad program{all girls...suprise, suprise-JMU=lots of girls :) and of course, everyone's wonderful} Six of us live on one side of the river(nearest the school and the Santo Spirito Church) and the other 4 live on the other side(nearest the Duomo and the British Institue of Florence-where out Italian classes are held...) Anyways, we decide to meet on the next bridge over from the Ponte Vecchio at 22.30 because our dinner didn't end until around 21.45(I'll get into the fabulousness that is our dinner everynight in a little bit) This bridge being the "Four Seasons Bridge" because during a war long, long ago(don't hate me for not remembering which one) they bombed all of the bridges except for the Ponte Vecchio, and this particular other bridge had two statues at either end, each representing the four seasons. The bridge was bombed but the majority of the statues remained and they were pieced back together when the bridge was rebuilt..they're beautiful.

So, back to the meeting each other for a night on the town story! My three other roommates and I were running a little behind and arrived at 22.40 and no one was there. We used our newly acquired cell phones from the program to contact each other and see what was going on. The group of four from the Duomo side of the river were a little lost and just minutes away, the other two from our side of the river were having gelatto and waiting for us on the opposite side of the same bridge! Needless to say, we were all safe and ready to explore after we solved the mystery of where each other were. We decided to walk to Santo Spirito where there are a number of restaurants and what we thought a local hang out might be-boy were we surprised at what we saw! The steps of the Santo Spirito church were covered in people around our age hanging out, they had dogs, bicycles, was like a party on the steps of a church! We really enjoyed walking around and people watching for around an hour, we even had the pleasure of sitting on the front steps of the church and getting to know each other since it was just the second night. The night that started out so disorganized turned into a pretty entertaining adventure.

Now I'll back it up a few steps and talk about my homestay and our amazing hostess! There are quite a few of us living in a gorgeous flat about four minutes from the school. The view from my window is on the pictures posted on the right hand side-check it out! There are five huge bedrooms here and an apartment connected that Loraine has vistors like us staying in. There are four JMU students, a german student, and an Italian man in the apartment. Then our hostess, Loraine Trapman, has her own room and she has an extra room where her daughters stay when they visit. We have dinner with Loraine four nights a week, Monday-Thursday, and we eat breakfast here everyday. Breakfast consists of cereals, fruits, teas, coffee-simple things we can grab on our way to class.

The dinners are unbelievable. First of all, each night we eat by candle light because Loraine loves how it sets the mood for our intimate Italian family meals. Last night we started with pesto penne. In Italy they start with a pasta dish, not salad. Next, comes the salad, bread, and the main course. We had melanzana de parmigiano-eggplant parmesan! The food is so much different here than in America, everything isn't so heavy and prepared in a rush. Plus, everything is fresh and only sold seasonaly from the market places. The meals are delicious and one of my favorite parts of the day. We sat from 20.15-21.45 last night eating and talking!! Meals here aren't just about stuffing down a quick hamburger and running off-it's about enjoying the wonderful food as well as the company!

This blog has gotten much longer than I expected and I am planning a nap before dinner because we are all going to the opera tonight at 21.15 with Mark Stern and John Scherpereel-two of the JMU faculty working with the program. I hope you're enjoying hearing about my adventures and I know there are so many more to come!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Bells are ringing in the distance, the tall windows reaching to the top of our-must be- 20 foot high ceiling are wide open forcing the cool breeze to blow the shear fabric of the colorful curtains against my back as I sit on a gorgeous bed in a giant room while my roommate jenny tries to cure her jet lag with a quick nap before our eight o'clock dinner with Loraine and the others...surreal? amazing?

First day in Firenze. Feels like I am dreaming. People write some cheesy blogs sometimes(like this one) and now I know why. This city is gorgeous, straight out of a movie. Gelatto stands on every corner, vespas crowding the streets in what I could easily mistake as a welcoming display of this insanely interesting culture. I even saw a women sitting with her barred windows open, dressed to the nines(giant earrings and something I would compare to a queen's attire), smoking a cigarrette ..and there were um, I don't know, nine chandeliers in there! I even saw a blue diamond the size of a babies foot on sale at the Ponte Vecchio. This place is like a fairytale no one could ever imagine.

Perhaps all of this surreality and amazement I feel is the fact that I have only slept about 4 out of the past forty-hours...but I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A little over a week

It's a little over a week before I leave for the big trip. Everyone else has started classes and I am making my last rounds to say goodbye to close friends and family members before leaving for the semester. I am getting so excited! Feeling a little nervous about packing(too much, too little, what if I forget something!) so I am taking the advice of some friends who have studied abroad the past few years and am planning on packing light-to accomodate for all of the great stuff I am going to get while I am there :)