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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Voglio restare a Firenze per sempre

At this point, I am so behind on my blog posts that there is no way to catch up. With this being my last week in Florence before I travel elsewhere for two weeks, so many things are running through my head. Just as a quick update, between my last post and now, I have traveled to Cinque Terre, Paris, the Amalfi Coast, and the Tuscan countryside. And in between all of those weekends, I have enjoyed every minute of my weekdays in the city.

Right now, I have absolutely no desire to return to the States. Yes, I miss my family and friends terribly, but I have come to love every little detail of Florence. It is my home, and one semester just isn't enough time to live here. I just love it too much. I kills me to think that this is my last Tuesday in Florence; just that little thought creates the biggest lump in my chest. I am having so much trouble coming to terms with the fact that I will be back in the States in three weeks.

I don't think all of this will hit me until I'm back. I feel like I'm so used to traveling and whatnot that my life here seems so normal and casual. I'm surrounded by students who have been going through the same thing as me, which adds to the normalcy of it all. But this experience has been more than I could have ever hoped for! I feel like once I return, it'll really hit me how incredible every single moment was. I'm fully aware that I've fallen in love countless times this semester: with new cities, experiences, food, friends, and just LIFE in general! There is so much to be thankful for. I expect this summer to be quite difficult, and I think it will be worse of a culture shock than I felt here. Because thinking about it, when I got here, even though it took time to adjust to living in a new culture, there was always the notion in the back of my mind that this was temporary. Once, that was comforting. But now, that makes me incredibly sad. Since I don't know the next time I will be here, it will be difficult for me to assimilate back into life in the States. I just can't let go of Florence! I have fallen in love with Italy, and know that I will live here once again later in my life. I've learned to love so many things about Florence: the accordion man I pass on my way to class, the lively musicians in Piazza Repubblica, saying hello to my friend the Duomo every day, waking up to a melody of bells from the churches that surround me, hearing "ciao, bella", the wine, the cobblestone, being able to walk everywhere, being surrounded by languages other than my own, late night pastry runs, markets, museums, gelato...the list really goes on and on indefinitely.

I call three different places home: Seattle, Orange, and now, Florence. I have grown in so many ways this semester, and feel like a different person now. It will be extremely difficult to board my plane on June 3rd...who knows, I may just miss my plane and stay here forever.

With this being finals week, and with my lovely parents coming to Florence tomorrow, this will be my only post for now. Perhaps in the coming weeks, I will have a chance to post pictures from my adventures over the past month! But this week is so crucial, because I have to use every second to soak in as much Florence-goodness as I can.

Voglio restare a Firenze per sempre!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

London and Dublin

I honestly cannot believe it has been one month since spring break. These days continue to pass by faster and faster! I'm finding that there is just not enough time in the day to sit down and write this blog, so forgive me if this is a short update!

Tower Bridge in the distance
After my lovely weekend in Rome, I flew to London to spend time with my dear friend Rachel, from Chapman. Melanie was also in London, so the three of us were reunited for three days! Rachel was our lovely tour guide in the freezing weather, and I enjoyed every minute of my time in London. We hit most of the major tourist sites, and found time to relax and catch up with each other as well. It was so great to hear about Rachel's semester abroad and see her home! It's crazy to think that we all met freshman year, and now we're living in different countries!

Our days were packed with sightseeing; Rachel made my short time in London amazing! Double-decker buses, cider, Harrod's, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, the show "Once", Big Ben, Abbey Road, Borough Market, men with gorgeous accents...the list goes on and on!

Abbey Road
Dancers taking over Buckingham Palace!

After my short stay in London, I ventured up to Dublin to stay with Lauren, another friend from Chapman. The city that greeted me was beautiful. Even though Dublin is large, it had a small town feel that I really liked. And the people! Literally everyone I met was so kind and friendly. I felt the same way in London, and it became so clear to me that people just aren't friendly and welcoming in Florence. At all. Being in different countries provided me with a much-needed change of pace.
The colored doors of Dublin! I'm obsessed.

Floor plan of the Guiness
Library at Trinity
My first day in Dublin, I went to a modern art museum with Marie, then we visited the Trinity campus. We were able to see the Book of Kells and the library, both of which were amazing. Later that day, we met up with some friends to take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, and we got a free pint at the top of the seven-story museum, so I couldn't complain!

Since I was only in Dublin for two full days, we decided to take a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who visits Dublin! When I think of Ireland, I think of green, rolling hills, and that's exactly what I saw. The landscape of Ireland is breathtaking, and even though it was cold and windy, I was so happy the entire day. The bus driver/tour guide was so friendly and knowledgeable. I learned all about Irish folklore, which is centered around fairies. I had no idea that this was such a big deal in Ireland, but it is! We made many stops throughout the day, with the main attraction being the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs themselves were so beautiful, but it was quite chilly!

Cliffs of Moher
Me, Marie, and Lauren
I hope you've enjoyed this quick summary of my spring break. I wish I could have spent more time in these cities, but I know I'll return someday. After such an amazing week where all my plans went smoothly, I was relieved, happy, and tired when it was all over. And you know that feeling you get when you return home after a trip? That's the feeling I got when I got off the bus in Florence. Such a special place to call home.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Break, Part 1: Palm Sunday

It's been a while since I've posted, and for that I apologize! Life has been so busy, with midterms a few weeks ago, then spring break, and now I'm settling back into my school schedule. Florence continues to be amazing, and more and more I feel myself falling in love with the city. Little things make me appreciate the beauty of life, and what a blessing it is to be here.

If I were to write about spring break in one post, it would probably be the longest post anyone has ever seen! I'm going to break it up into three posts, one for each place I visited. I feel fortunate to say that everything went according to plan, I traveled safely, and I had a truly amazing week.

My first stop for the week was back to Rome! This time, I was traveling alone. I've traveled alone before, so I don't have a problem flying by myself, or getting from point A to point B alone. But this weekend was different because I was staying in Rome by myself for the whole weekend. I was a little nervous to be completely by myself, but it turned out to by one of my favorite weekends so far. It's difficult for me to put into words what a life-changing weekend it was. My weekend in Rome showed me how independent I can be, and also how kind, generous, and welcoming people are. I am grateful that I traveled alone, because otherwise I would not have had the same experience.  There were many moments that took my breath away, moments that gave me chills, and moments that made me cry. This weekend reconfirmed for me that everything happens for a reason. From my experiences to the people I met, it was clear that everything happens for beautiful reasons.

View of the entrance to the Vatican Museums from my convent
I stayed in a convent that was literally right across from the entrance to the Vatican Museums. It was an adorable convent filled with Italian-speaking nuns, and I greatly enjoyed my time there. I didn't have any issues finding my way around, and barely used my map. I felt like I really knew the city, even though I had only been there once before. Saturday in Rome was filled with me wandering and stumbling across beautiful sights. I found that I really enjoy being by myself, because the only itinerary I had was my own. Traveling alone provides such a strong sense of freedom and flexibility that I really like.

Describing the Palm Sunday mass is near to impossible! Since this was such a personal and influential day, I can't bring myself to explain every detail. It was an amazing day. I know I use that word a lot, but this day truly fits the definition of amazing, which is:
1. Causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing
2. Startlingly impressive

My Sunday started bright and early. I arrived at the entrance to St. Peter's square around 6:30am, even though the square wouldn't open until 8am, and the mass wouldn't start until 9:30am. Once the barricades were removed and people were allowed into the square, it was so chaotic! Just picture families, individuals, groups of nuns, priests, and little old Italian ladies running into the square to find a good seat. It was insane!
The Swiss Guard
During the time before mass started, I met an amazing couple from Montreal who "adopted" me for the mass. I am so blessed that our paths crossed, because it was such a privilege to meet and talk to these wonderful people.

Luke and his wife, who "adopted" me for the mass! What beautiful people!

Papa Francesco, preparing to begin the mass
As for the mass itself, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. Like I said before, I am unable to find words to properly describe how much the day meant to me. What an incredible time to be in Rome, for Pope Francis's first Palm Sunday mass, so soon after he became Pope.

The procession that began the mass was made up of people carrying their palms from the Vatican to the center of the square. During this time, the choir was singing and the organ was being played. Once Papa came into view, the crowd went crazy! But once the mass started, I was amazed at how quickly the crowd quieted down. To be in a crowd of thousands of people is one thing, but to experience that crowd becoming completely silent for a prayer, or not taking their cameras out for the remainder of the mass, just...wow. I was so struck by how even though there were so many picture perfect moments, people refrained from taking pictures because they knew that mass was a time to worship and praise. It seems impossible that so many people could become so quiet, but that made the mass so much stronger and more meaningful for me. I was very touched by the focus of the crowd, because even though people of various nationalities who spoke different languages surrounded me, we were all gathered for the same reason. To feel completely in solidarity with so many people was such a unique experience. 

One of my favorite pictures from the day. The blessing of the palms! 
After the mass, Pope Francis started to make his way through the crowd in his Popemobile. I was about two people away from being right against the barrier he would pass by, so I was very excited! Apparently people never know exactly where his car will drive, but I was blessed to have him drive right in front of me, and even stop directly in front of me. Everyone around me was yelling "Papa! Papa!", so of course I joined in! During his procession, there were a couple moments that really struck me, but it doesn't seem right to type them out here. Overall though, it was amazing to see the excitement of the crowd as he passed by, kissing babies and shaking people's hands as he went. He is a man clearly full of love and happiness, with an infectious smile! I was overcome with emotion at one point and completely lost it; I don't think I've ever cried that much from happiness!

Even though his back is to the camera, I don't care! Papa Francesco was right in front of me!

The mass was definitely one of those things that you have to experience for yourself to truly understand its meaning and significance. Palm Sunday had a great impact on me, and is still all I can think about, even two weeks later. Life is a beautiful thing, and God is so good! 

So incredibly happy :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Roman Holiday

Gregory Peck didn't show up to spend the weekend with me, but regardless, I had an amazing holiday in Rome! 

We happened to be in Rome the day after Benedict XVI left. We just missed him! I'm sure if he had been in town, though, he would have loved to hang out. These signs were all around the city:

"You will always be with us. Thank you."
For the short amount of time we were in the Eternal City, we got so much done! Here is a list of the big ones:

1. Colosseum: we were blessed with a beautiful day for our visit to the Colosseum. The magnificence of the structure was even more stunning with a blue sky surrounding it. There were many "pinch me" moments, because I couldn't believe I was actually in the Colosseum! Ah, so amazing!

2. The Forum: Such a peaceful place amid the busy city. From the small details of crumbled pillars to current excavations, from hidden fountains to restored gardens, there were endless things to see. What a beautiful place to wander and get lost. 

3. Altare della Patria (also known as the Wedding Cake)

4. Spanish Steps: I could only think about Audrey Hepburn the whole time we were at the Steps! All I was thinking was "Audrey sat THERE!" and "Gregory Peck came down the stairs THERE!" I was in Audrey heaven. So happy.

5. Trevi Fountain during the day...

6. ...Trevi Fountain at night!

7. Pantheon

8. The Vatican Museums: So beautiful! I took quite a few pictures here, but forced myself to turn off my camera, otherwise I was going to end up with a full memory card and an empty battery before I even got to St. Peter's. I really like this picture, though, because even though literally everything was picture-worthy, I was drawn to the ceilings and their intricacy.

9. St. Peter's Basilica: So much happiness! Breathtaking on both the outside and on the inside. I feel blessed to have been there. 

10. The Sistine Chapel: Pictures aren't allowed in the Sistine Chapel for copyright reasons. It was incredibly breathtaking, and I'm sure pictures wouldn't even do it justice. My visit to the Sistine Chapel was amazing, and I had to fight the strong urge to just lay on the ground to take in all that was above me. 

11. Mouth of Truth: Yet another Audrey moment! I just had to visit this, which is from Roman Holiday. And again, like many times throughout the weekend, my only wish was that Gregory Peck was with me! 

Throw in the discovery of more delicious gelato, a hole in the wall restaurant where I experienced my most authentic Italian meal yet (and it really is an experience, not just a meal! We were at the restaurant from 9:30pm-12:30!), and this is how we spent our time in Rome. A beautiful Roman Holiday, indeed. I can't wait to return in a week for Palm Sunday!

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Fashion Week!


I returned from a weekend in Rome yesterday, but before I share about that, I have to write about my trip to Milan last weekend! So bear with me as I rewind to last week.
February 22-24th found me in Milan with five of my friends. We took a high speed train up north, where snow, freezing temperatures, and Fashion Week awaited us. In an attempt to switch up my posts, I'm going to give you my Top 5 for the weekend!

1. I will never forget walking up out of the Metro, turning around, and being met with the beautiful Duomo of Milan. We didn't realize that our stop was literally in the main piazza, so we were pleasantly surprised! It was an amazing sight, made even better by the falling snow.

2. We spent a lot of time wandering, both in central Milan, and also outside of the touristy areas. I love exploring, and what a better way to do it than with amazing friends? Our wandering was filled with lots of window shopping and trying not to look at price tags. We also wandered to another part of town where the buyers go to purchase new clothes from showrooms. We had to walk across a bridge called "Model Bridge" (as told to us by a model that we met in one of the stores) because so many models come across the bridge to get to this fashion area. What was nice about this area was that it wasn't crowded with tourists. More of a hidden gem, and it was nice to get away from the main part of Milan to see this area. So worth the walk!

3. I think it's safe to say that each new gelato place I visit makes me say "This is the best gelato I've EVER had. It's the best so far!" But in all seriousness, we found a gelato shop that was the BEST. You can kind of see it in the picture, but there is chocolate coming out of faucets that they use to fill the bottom of the gelato cones. Pure genius.

4. On Saturday night, we celebrated with an early birthday dinner, since we knew we wouldn't be able to grab dinner the next day. When we first got there, it was pretty empty, but within minutes all the tables were full and people were waiting to be seated. Almost everyone in the restaurant was Italian, which is such a good sign! No one wants to eat in a restaurant flooded with tourists. I enjoyed a delicious pizza and Peschella wine, as well as fresh bread. At the end of our meal, the girls told the waiters that it was my birthday; one of them serenaded me with an Italian rendition of Happy Birthday, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I could get used to the Italian cheek kisses!

5. The highlight of my birthday was attending mass at the Duomo (also known as the Milan Cathedral). This building was breathtakingly beautiful, and in such a different way than the Duomo in Florence. It is a Gothic cathedral with huge stained-glass windows, thousands of carved figures, and beautiful mosaics. This cathedral also has one of the nails from the Crucifixion of Christ, which blows my mind! I truly cannot find words to describe how just being in the cathedral made me feel, so I clearly am unable to describe how amazing mass was for me. I am incredibly thankful to have to opportunity to attend mass in different cities. I am so filled with joy every time I step into a new church! Pure joy.

There's my Top 5 for the weekend! It was hard to narrow it down, but you get the general idea. I am so blessed to have shared the weekend with such a beautiful group of ladies!

Next up: Rome! I'll give you a taste of my Roman Holiday in a couple days. But for now, goodnight!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Out of the City

By the time Monday (February 11th) rolled around, I felt like a different person compared to the week before. While I still feel like I am overly anxious and paranoid at times and struggle to use my Italian, I am actually starting to feel like I live here. I am trusting my instincts and feel more confident every day. Even little things, like stopping to get groceries on my way home from class, make me realize that I'm settling into a routine. With each passing day, I grow more accustomed to smelling like cigarettes (my hair...my clothes...ick) because almost everyone smokes, avoiding eye contact with creepy men, sidestepping the dog poop that people just leave on the sidewalk, and also sidestepping the tourist groups.

Speaking of tourist groups: there are so many of them, all the time! They are EVERYWHERE. It's amazing to acknowledge that I live in a place that people come from all over the world to visit. Sure, there are tourists at home in Seattle, and sure, prospective students roam the campus in packs at school, but this is so different. Literally every day, I pass by tour groups, all taking pictures of the places I have the privilege to walk by every day. It reminds me how lucky I am to be here, and that I need to appreciate every moment, no matter how small.
Looking at a calendar, I realize what little time I have here. At first, I thought to myself "I'm here until June? Great, that's so much time!" Now I realize that the weekends seem limited, and trying to decide where to travel is stressful. Melanie and I have a couple trips planned, but we're trying to figure out what our next steps should be. I don't want to look back and regret not having traveled as much as I could have. I need to get over my fear of the unknown and just DO IT. I can't wait to see where the next few months take me!
San Miniato

On Wednesday, I went to Basilica di San Miniato al Monte with my "Lost Symbolisms and Secret Codes in Art" class. We took a bus to the other side of the Arno and up to a high point that overlooked all of Florence. It was my first time on the other side of the river, and it was so different than what I'm used to seeing. The other side of the Arno was calmer and slower paced. We drove through winding roads with big houses, some blocked by trees and gates. Very different than what I'm used to in the city, with no space between buildings and no trees at all. After walking up the stairs to San Miniato, a breathtaking view awaited us. I promise I took the picture below, even though it looks like it came off a postcard!

Now that you've seen the lovely view of Florence from San Miniato, it's time to make your mouth water! On Thursday, I started off my Valentine's Day with a delicious meal in my cooking class. We made fresh pasta, pesto, and mussels with a breadcrumb-garlic-parsley topping. It was ridiculously tasty, and I can't wait to make these dishes again!

To continue my Valentine's Day in the lovely city of Firenze, Mel and I paid another visit to the chocolate festival (don't judge), and went to dinner with our friends at Gusta Pizza. We finished off the night with a stop at a hole in the wall gelato shop. Happy Valentine's Day to us!

The highlight of this weekend was a trip to Siena and San Gimignano. As much as I love the city I live in, it was nice to escape for a day with Melanie and Sarah.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I am accustomed to being surrounded by green. When I moved to California, I realized just how important that environment is to me, because SoCal doesn't have much of it. And now, being in Florence, I am experiencing the same longing for green. That's why I am so happy we got out of the city. Just being in open space calms me down, and I felt my anxiety floating away the longer we were there. A picture doesn't do the view justice, though! The picture to the left is from Siena, which was our first stop on Saturday.
We spent half of our day in Siena wandering through the streets, in no rush at all. It was nice to get lost in the quiet streets. We felt loud when we would talk because everywhere was so quiet, especially compared to Florence. I feel like this stop in Siena was much needed. I would love to return, with no specific itinerary to follow, and get lost again.

Duomo di Siena
 Our second stop for the day was in San Giminano, which is a walled medieval town. The atmosphere was very different from what I'd experienced in any city so far, and that partly had to do with the architecture. The medieval style of the buildings and towers made me feel like I had been transported back in time. This town is situated on a hilltop, and is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. It provided many opportunities for me to realize how beautiful life is, and how incredibly thankful I am for everything I have been blessed with.
While we were enjoying the view and taking pictures from a higher point in San Giminano, I met a family who also call Seattle home, but have been living in other countries for years. It was so nice to meet someone from my home, and to talk with them. I don't know what it is, but meeting someone who is from the same place as you means so much. It made home seem a little closer than before, and was even comforting. What are the chances that I would meet people from Seattle while in San Giminano, on a random terrace?? Everything happens for a reason, and I feel blessed to have met them.
I can't find the right words to describe our visits to Siena and San Giminano. Beautiful doesn't cut it. Peaceful doesn't cut it. For me, it was something entirely beyond those words. It was a long day, with lots of walking, but I was happy and content by the end of it.

Ciao for now!