My photo
I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I am not dead.

I’m writing this with two purposes:
1. To finally start my study away reflection paper.
2. To update my blog with a promise to still write about my final month in Italy.
I honestly haven’t had the emotional strength or the time to sit down and process the first four months of 2012 in order to do either of those things. But realizing Sunday that one month ago I was sitting in Piazalle Michelangelo saying “see you later” to some of the greatest people I now have the honor of calling my friends — my family — has forced me to do just that: think.
And with that comes my energy to hopefully start writing about April in Italia!

As of yesterday I have been back in the United States for one month. Even as a Journalism major, I don’t think words will ever be able to capture the life-changing experience I had in my four months abroad. I miss it every day.
From a week exploring Greece with some of my best friends to a weekend in London with my parents. From a new Italian city every weekend to jumping off a canyon in Switzerland during another. Nothing can compare — yet. I think that’s the most important thing for me to keep in mind as I try to resituate my new self into a life in the midwest. The best advice I got while there came from a lifelong friend who backpacked through Europe last summer: “Keep having the time of your life (but don't let that make you think you wont once you come back home:))” That’s always the biggest hurdle to overcome for any study abroad student. I didn’t peak in Europe. I just began to climb.
Nor is Europe over. It never will be. My Italian semester will always be with me. A month after returning, I can see it became a part of me without me realizing it. Italy is what allowed me to be my own rock.
It is in the way I approach challenges with a newfound confidence. It rests across Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania with my CCI Florence Family. It is in my enthusiasm for life. It is in my sturdy independence. It is in the pasta sauce we learned at Il Tavolo that I still make on a weekly basis. It is in every single one of my “certo” and “prego” responses when I hear “thank you.” It is the memory of feeling free I draw to the surface of my mind every time I’m overwhelmed. It is the snapshots of clarity that flash behind my eyelids in moments when I know who I am.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Why am I so behind? Here's a summary of my life for the past couple of weeks.

26 April 2012  Boboli Gardens
Today was my very last class for the semester. I have to exams and a paper left. I can't believe how fast it's gone. I still have many of my mom's pictures to take. I got one today and headed to the Boboli Gardens to find two more. I spent an hour walking around them and didn't find either. I can't believe how expansive the gardens are.

25 April 2012  Fiesole
I have wanted to visit Fiesole all semester. I finally got to Wednesday on Italian Liberation Day when we didn't have school. Jessica, Kate and I took the bus up to the small town on a hill for dinner and the sunset. It was so peaceful. 

23 April 2012  Finals
The title says it all.

22 April 2012  Venice
We had about three hours of free time Sunday. It started to storm for it. I couldn't even be mad after the two gorgeous days we had despite a forecast of rain. And even storming, this city is beautiful.

21 April 2012  Venezia
In between a couple of visits to churches/museums, I got to wander through the city. I never stopped being amazed by it. I don't think I ever will be.

20 April 2012  Gondola
It stopped raining. I was in Venice. I rode in a Gondola. What else do I need to be happy?

18 April 2012  Rain, rain go away. Come again when I'm in the USA.
This is the only picture I took between my weekend trips, but it's a pretty accurate description of the entire week. It just rained and rained and rained.

15 April 2012  Pompei
And this lovely weather was the perfect cap to our rainy weekend in Amalfi. It may have been from under an umbrella and while looking like a wet rat, but at least we got to see Pompei and Mount Vesuvius. 

14 April 2012  Reggia di Caserta
We were supposed to go to Positano today. Due to the thunderstorms predicted for the entire day, we switched our itinerary. We saw a castle and ate a meter of pizza instead. Fair enough trade.

13 April 2012  Capri
This wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we headed to Capri.

11 April 2012  Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
For class today the Italian composition class took us to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. They told us about the area in Italian. I only caught about 25 percent of it. I wish I could speak Italian well. It started pouring as we walked back home — a good preview of our 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rita in Florence 30 Years Later

This is one of the coolest pictures I've gotten to do. I think in 30 years I'll send my child (or perhaps niece/nephew) to Florence, then go visit them and start making a tradition out of it.

I'm so glad my mom got to come back here. It gives me hope that I will one day too.
Although I'd like if it could be sooner than in 30 years.

Piazzale Michelangelo

Welcome to Italy, Mum and Dad!

Sunday was an early start. Very early.
We had a flight to catch at 6:30 a.m. from an airport an hour outside of the city, which meant a taxi at 4 a.m.
Jay made me the English tea I had failed to drink all weekend. It was fantastic and now part of my daily routine. Despite the caffeine, the travel was largely a blur. I sat between my parents on the way to the airport and was practically lulled to sleep by the street markers rhythmically disappearing underneath the car in front of me.

The airport was far more busy than we were expecting. We started to get worried as we waited in line to check in. We had assumed the weight limit would be the same or close to what it was for their flight from the US. I was wrong.
We were 7-8 kilos over the 15-kilo weight limit for each of their 50-pound bags. (And they gave me a hard time for two 50-pound bags for four months) The charge was £20 per kilo overweight. It would have neared $500 in fees. Instead we ended up doing the same thing I did in Greece: pay for an extra suitcase instead of extra weight. We were going to be cutting it close. We ran around the corner and found the cheapest biggest bag we could. It was a rolling duffle for £40. Perfect. As my mom and I threw stuff from suitcase to suitcase in a tornado of clothes and belongings, my dad ran across the open area to a scale, frantically weighing one at a time for 1 pound.
He’d come hurtling back with our verdict. “One more kilo in here! Give me another one.”
With some random stuff shoved into our carry-ons (My mom took one of my boots on the plane. Only one), we ran back to the check-in counter. The man let us line jump, and we reweighed our luggage. 15.4, 14.7, 14.9.
Close enough.
Even better, my mom had already paid for a third bag for me when she bought the tickets. I only brought my backpack for the weekend, figuring it would save us stress and money. It still did.
On to security! I hopped from one foot to the other, anxious to get through in time, but we did. We ran all the way to our gate, barreling down the final empty hallway only to practically run into the long line to board. We stood around for 10 minutes before walking outside and up to the plane.
We took Ryan Air, which is a free-for-all for seats, but my mom and I found some next to each other. I settled in with my cough drops and bottle of water and dozed for most of the flight. We landed in Pisa around 9:30 a.m., welcomed with Ryan Air’s customary triumphant landing music I had heard about.
My parents resituated our luggage again and shoved our carry-ons into our newly acquired duffle as I went to buy bus tickets into town. I snacked on the banana I bought as I led them out to the bus stop, asking a couple times for directions to the right one. The bus arrived soon, but we were nearly the first one to sit down. Thank goodness, because we were more of sardines than passengers. People were trying to get on by pushing against the wall of people inside with all the force they could muster. Eventually the doors closed on these people and we were off.
When we got to the train station, we walked to the end to drop off our luggage. It was about €3 per bag for the day if I remember correctly. Relieved to be rid of our extra weight at least for a little bit, we headed toward the Leaning Tower of Pisa! It was nice to know the way this time, after having been there in January. Before we got too far, the first order of business was caffeine. We all needed it.
We took a pit stop in a small café that seemed to be the only one open for three cappuccinos and three pastries.

As we approached the Arno, I could hear shouting and cheering. We got closer and saw there was some sort of race going on. A few people were scattered along the wall
Some people who appeared to have finished the race/run were jogging back to run alongside people in support. We walked along trying to stay out of their way.

My parents kept noticing small things, like the shutters on the windows and the plants sitting on balconies. It was cool to see them have similar reactions as my CCI family and I had when we came here for our first trip this semester.


We rounded the corner to see the tower. It’s still just as startling. I’m walking along simple Italian streets and expect to find another one around the corner at the end, but am instead faced with the famous landmark.

I walked around as my parents read signs about the tower. They followed me eventually around the church. We slipped inside the church to find a mass going on! There were several other tourists standing quietly in the back behind the rope that blocked off the aisle. I hadn’t gone inside any of the buildings before, so I’m glad I got to this time. It was really cool to see, but I felt weird. I can’t imagine sitting through church with people watching it behind me.
We walked out and around the baptistery, where we found a place to sit on the grass.

We were exhausted, but I reminded them we had a lot more in store for today, so we better get it together. We walked down the long line of souvenir stands. My mom picked up a few presents for Lorraine and others, and I bought a couple things I missed getting last time.
My parents took the obligatory Pisa pictures before we headed to lunch.

We went back to the same place I got pizza last time. It was just as good. My parents liked it too. My dad said he wasn’t expecting it to be good based on how it looked. It proved its worth.
Don’t judge a pizza by its appearance.

By now we were pretty much done with Pisa. And I was really excited to get to Florence. We decided to take the bus back to the train station just to save time. 

In the end, I’m not sure the bus made a huge difference. The waitress pointed us in the right direction to find the stop, and once there I asked a man at a food stand where to buy tickets. He told me on the bus.
We waited for almost 10 minutes. When we got on I asked him how to pay. He said something about “finito,” and directed me past. I was a little confused, but sat down. I guess that means we pay at the end.
But we didn’t reach that point. About three blocks away from the train station, the driver pulled to a stop and opened the door. He exchanged a couple of words I couldn’t hear with someone standing outside, then without warning bolted. He literally just darted off the bus and took off running — sprinting. The man outside didn’t seem fazed. He just stood around as he was before we pulled up. I looked around at people on the bus. They looked equally confused. I waited a minute or so, but didn’t see any sign of him. “Guess we got a free ride,” I shrugged and led my parents off the bus. It was the strangest thing. It didn’t even cross my mind until now that it was actually April Fool’s Day. What a coincidence.

We walked the rest of the way to the train station. My cough was starting to sound worse, so my dad bought me some cold medicine and cough drops before we caught our ride back to Firenze! My parents napped most of the hour ride, and I dozed off a couple times myself. We got into Santa Maria Novella around 2 p.m. Still plenty of day left! The wonders of waking up at 3:30 a.m.
My parents showed me their address, and I was surprised to realize I actually knew where the street was. I checked with some police just to make sure and took them a couple of blocks away to their Italian home!
They were staying at an apartment owned by Barb’s brother. Barb is the woman my mom backpacked with 30 years ago. The place was absolutely gorgeous and gigantic. It had three bathrooms, two of which had lofts inside of them with desks or beds above, two full baths, an entry way, living room, kitchen, dining room, laundry room (how strange to not have your washer in your kitchen) and the best part: a rooftop terrace.
The entire CCI family could have stayed there. It’d be a little cozy, but we like each other well enough. Just give us a couple of air mattresses.
My parents admitted defeat and took a nap. I took a shower instead to refuel. Eventually we got back out there. We walked into town and around the Duomo. I showed them my school and my apartment before heading up to Piazzale Michelangelo. I wanted to do it that first day, but I didn’t suggest it because I figured they were too tired. My mom actually proposed the idea! My dad wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but we talked him into it. We stopped at Gelateria dei Neri, and I spent everything I had left in my pockets to buy three gelatos.
I hadn’t walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo in about a month. I wish I had time to do it more often. It was beautiful as usual. 

We took our photos and stood around looking over the city. I pointed out everything I knew on the skyline.

Mumsie made friends with Pinocchio
Soon hunger got the best of us, and we walked back down to the city. After a quick pitstop in my apartment, I took them to Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe.
It was delicious as usual. My dad didn’t get exactly what he was looking for, but he had all week for incredible Italian food.
After dinner we walked to Meta so they could have some food for breakfast. I wanted to walk around more, but we were all tired and my dad told me my cough was beginning to sound like the Bubonic Plague. I couldn’t really argue. Over the next week I realized I could literally part a path for me through crowds with the sound of my cough.
I led them to the Duomo, and we said goodbye at the intersection for their street. They were off to Rome for Monday and Tuesday. I wished them a safe trip and walked home.

It was such a great first day in the city. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did! How could anyone not? We’re in Florence!

Diversity Diary #11

I turned in my diversity diaries this morning, but I realized I never included these videos in an entry.
Last week, Nicoletta showed us these videos last week. It started out with a comical video of Englishmen going to Italy.

This reminded her of another instructional video about Italian hand gestures. This is an actual study done on body language Italians often use. Some are obvious, some are fun and some are apparently offensive. We had fun watching them. If you have a few minutes, feel free to be entertained!

London 30 Years Later (almost)

My mother actually didn't go to London until her second trip to Europe in 1984; so in all actuality this is London 28 years later.
But I still worked hard to acquire 15 of these pictures, so I'm counting them in this project.
My parents were in London with me. I met them there for a couple of days before escorting them back to Italy, where they stayed for a week. Besides the obvious joy of getting to see my parents, it was really cool to take these pictures with them. We got to base our itinerary on the photos. My mom finally got to see what she did to me with her crazy pictures. My dad was impressed by how well I've gotten this process down to an artform.
"Wait. She was two more steps this way I believe.... YES! The third point there lines up with that street post."
It was a lot of fun!

London Aquarium (and now, the London Eye)
This is probably one of my favorite photos of the project thus far.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square
I'm still convinced my mother was standing in the middle of the street to take this picture. I couldn't get it lined up right on either side of the intersection. I told her she knew I would be there 30 years later, and she must have had a death wish for me.

Trafalgar Square

Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus

Glasshouse Street
This took a while to find. Thankfully I could zoom in to see the street sign. The construction messed this one up a little bit, but I'm still glad I found it!

Right down to the blue car.



My mom snuck in this one!

Westminster Abbey

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower Bridge

London Day 2

Jay spoiled us again with an incredible breakfast. Coffee, juice, fruit, biscuits and scones with clotted cream.
I had never had clotted cream or even heard of it, but it was really good. My dad kept saying how unappetizing the name sounded, but then again we have sour cream, which sounds just as bad.
We got ready and took the tube to the London Eye, for which we had 10 a.m. tickets. We waited in the line for less than 10 minutes. About halfway through the length of the line, security was checking bags. They waved my dad and I to the left of the barrier that split the line into two. After we passed, they closed it off, leaving my mom on the other side. She ducked under and followed us. We completely bypassed the other side of the line. It was like fast track tickets at Disney World. We literally walked straight onto the capsule.
And up we went!

For those who happen to not know what the London Eye is, imagine a large-scale ferris wheel with giant glass eggs as the cart. Each egg capsule holds about 20 people I would estimate. It took about half an hour to go all the way around.

It was a pretty grey day, but I feel like that's how England is supposed to be. As we started, we could see Hungerford Bridge. The rest of the city folded out behind it as we climbed higher and higher.

Hungerford Bridge

When we reached the top I looked at the capsule next to us. At first I laughed — I feel like they looked so ridiculous. Then I realized I was standing in the same thing and giggled to myself harder. 

I collected myself and looked out at the view again. Parliament looked magnificent. I wasn't really prepared for seeing all of this before I came. I was more focused on geting to see my parents. I hardly even thought about all of the iconic things I'd be seeing. Everything became so much more breathtaking this way.

We got off the eye as security systematically walked in with mirrors to check under the bench to make sure no one left anything threatening. With our ticket we could see a "4-D experience" for free. Why not? We filed inside and shuffled along with the crowd. The show was about five minutes and basically a time lapse of the London Eye being lifted into place followed by a montage of nifty celebrations and such happening in the capsules and on the eye as a whole. 3-D birds flew at us, smoke machines filled the air with grey smoke and I think there may have been some glitter or bubbles. It was touristy, which was expected, but neat.

We went back outside to meet Jay. He was going to come with us to see the Guard Change now that we had the right day. We had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of crowds to work our way through, so we started power walking to Buckingham. We got to The Mall, the road that leads to the palace, and were walking alongside the procession of the guards. We were walking pretty briskly so we could get ahead of them, but they certainly weren't strolling along. My mom stopped to take a picture and video of them walking by, but Jay and my dad and I kept going. We reached a wall of people before we were anywhere near the palace. There was no way we'd be seeing it.

I zoomed in, raised my camera above the crowd and snapped a quick picture. It was the closest I got to seeing anything.

I wasn't too upset about not getting to see it. It certainly would have been something to see, but it wasn't on my list before I got there, so no big deal. I didn't need to let it get me down.
We eventually relocated my mom and worked our way back toward where we came.
Jay was heading to the hospital to see his partner, Liam. We walked as far as Parliament before parting ways. Here my mom and I took our photos in front of the telephone booth — necessary of course.

Then I dragged my parents back and forth from corner to corner to get several 30 Years Later pictures. Parliament was so much more ornate than I had even realized from a distance.

We walked across the street to see Westminster Abbey, but decided not to go inside because of both the price and our time constraints. There was a lot to go back to from yesterday.
It was still impressive from the outside.

We walked back around Parliament toward Westminster Bridge. We started to go over when I remembered there was a 30 Years Later picture from down the road to our left. My dad waited around while I power walked to find the right spot. My mom followed behind me.

I kept thinking I had it, but it was always a little farther down. I was determined to get this one because I knew the London Eye, which was obviously not around in the 80s, would now take up a good portion of the picture. It would be a great comparison shot. 
Eventually I did get it though! (Check out the next post)

Mumsie and I walked back to find my dad, stopping a couple of times for pictures such as this one:

And people wonder why I'm weird. We walked back to meet my dad, then hopped on the tube to the Tower of London!

We got there in time for the 1:30 p.m. Yeoman Warder tour. We walked under arch of the Middle Tower and waited for our guide.

There was a trebuchet to the left right inside the entrance.

The crowd was pretty large by the time our tour started. The guide stood on a platform and started to tell the history of the Tower. He spent a lot of time trying to get loud responses from the crowd, which made me lose interest pretty quickly. He herded us under the Byward tower and made a stop at the Bell Tower. He told us that a lot of the guides and their families actually live inside the tower today, which really surprised me.

Byward Tower
Next we rounded the corner to Traitors' Gate, through which traitors/prisoners entered the Tower by barge.

Our tour guide standing in front of the Traitors' Gate
The guide continued to focus a lot on engaging and entertaining the crowd, but not with topics relevant to where we were. He spend about 10 minutes asking everyone which country they were from then cracking a joke about it. One or two would have been entertaining, but he just kept going. He had completely lost me by now.

I followed the group up a set of stairs, then left to wander around on my own while my parents stayed to listen.

Under the grey sky and next to the stone buildings, the grass of the Tower Green and blue of the Gaoler's House doors popped out of the scenery.

At the site of the execution block sits a contemporary memorial in remembrance those who died there. A poem wraps around the base: ‘Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies’.

The tour ended inside the Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, the burial place for some of the Tower's most famous prisoners, include Ann Boleyn.
We walked back outside to explore on our own. The sky was looking more and more foreboding, so we went inside the Waterloo Barracks to see the Crown Jewels.

Not surprisingly, we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside. Maybe I just don't have the right perspective here, but I found the entire exhibit garish. It's a disgusting display of wealth. I understand the romanticized idea of monarchy and queens, and it's great in theory, but it doesn't make sense to me. Political connotations aside, I don't think I'll ever understand dumping so much wealth into a crown when citizens could benefit from that money. This certainly isn't exclusive to monarchs; it's how government seems to work everywhere. The crown jewels are just a such a visual depiction of the phenomenon. Maybe I'm just missing something.

We walked around a little more before grabbing a small lunch inside. It was cafe-style and subpar, but it stifled the growls coming from my stomach. Next we climbed up to the inner curtain wall of the Tower.

From here we could see the Tower Bridge and begin the East Wall Walk. It links the Salt Tower, the Broad Arrow Tower, the Constable Tower and the Martin Tower all together.

I was hoping to get to the top of at least one of the towers, but a gate blocked every single one. 

Still, the view of the city from where we were was pretty great.

It was getting pretty late, and we still had lots of things to see, so we left the Tower and walked over to the Tower Bridge.

If we had had a little bit more time, I would have loved to go to the top of the bridge. (Of course)
I'll do it next time, for sure.

After a few minutes out on the very windy bridge, we took the tube to Piccadilly.
First we made a quick pitstop at Covent Garden, where Jay thought one of mom's pictures was. 

We couldn't find it, so instead got gelato where my parents had Thursday. It was among the better gelato I've had this semester, but it's no Gelateria dei Neri. While we were enjoying our gelato, I looked closer at the picture that was supposed to be in Covent Garden. I realized I could see a street name if I zoomed in: Glasshouse Street. We pulled out a map and eventually located the street near Piccadilly Circus.
We finished our treat and headed that way where we were supposed to meet Jay anyway. Along the way, we passed the Wyndham's Theatre where we saw "The King's Speech" the night before.

Piccadilly was incredibly busy, making my 30 Years Later mission more of a challenge than usual, but my mom trailed behind me in circles as I searched for her photos.

My dad stayed behind to wait for Jay. I got the photos I needed in the square, but I was determined to find the one for Glasshouse Street.
I found it pretty quickly, but not where the photo was. An entire block of it was closed for construction. I was about to give up, but I decided it was worth a shot to go around the block and up one intersection farther. My mom followed reluctantly, scolding me for making us late, as I half ran down the road.
I rounded the corner and almost squealed with joy to see the intersection. There were actually two photos taken at this spot, but construction made one of them impossible to retake. I have no idea what the significance was or why mumsie decided to take a picture of that, but not Buckingham. But at least she wasn't standing in the middle of a busy intersection to take it this time.

Satisfied with my recreation, we hurried back to meet dad and Jay.

From Piccadilly, Jay led us to Soho Square where we had dinner reservations at a Thai restaurant. I'd been craving Thai for weeks. I was so excited I practically skipped there.

I have no idea what this is, but we passed it along the way. It made me laugh.
The thai food was even better than the expectation I had worked up in my mind. After dinner we walked over to Palace Theatre to see the display for Singin' in the Rain Jay had told us about.

We grabbed a cab home, and I took pictures out the window.

The driver dropped us off at the end of the block, and we walked back as night fell.
I had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. for our flight to Pisa, so I just packed and went to sleep.

It was an awesome introduction to a city I hope to see plenty more of in the future.