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!