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.