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

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Arno 30 Years Later

Ponte Vecchio

Arno e Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze
I like the difference in the foliage in the second one. Obviously there's new life in the foreground, but also note the height of the palm tree on the left side about three buildings in.

Diversity Diary #5

I have a list of cultural topics I need to write about and bits and pieces jotted down, but I've gotten behind. I apologize for stacking two on top of one another. I'll try to do a better job of sprinkling them in.

Yet another thing I didn't expect to find drastically different: restaurant eating experiences.
From not realizing drinks and food are ordered at the same time to forgetting tipping isn't customary here, I've made my fair share of first-timer mistakes. I think we all have. But I'm learning, in more ways than one.
I can now make it through ordering and consuming meals with minimal and recoverable stumbles.
But a skill I didn't expect to gain at Italian eateries? Patience.
My family can attest to this: I am the most impatient restaurant goer you'll ever encounter. Or rather, I was. Growing up (and even as a legal "grown-up"), I had a hard time waiting around at restaurants. I could wait for the server to take our order, I could wait for the drinks and food to be served, and I could certainly wait for dessert. However, once my plates were empty, I was ready to go. I would sit on the edge of my chair and tap my foot impatiently.
"Are you done yet? Can we go now?"
"Hold on, Lyd! I'm not done eating, and I haven't even asked for the bill." My mother and father would take turns hissing at me.
"But I'm dooooone," I'd obnoxiously whine.
Although I'm proud to say I'm largely over my whining days, the patience never came with age.
Well mother, father and sisters, you'll be proud to know the patience came in Italy.
Second only to their lack of tipping, the one of the most notable differences is bill-delivery. In the US, a waiter/waitress often arrives at your table to clear your plates and conveniently leave your bill (having already asked about dessert before you finished your meal). This worked out great for me since it often took "we haven't gotten the bill yet," off my parents list of reasons we should remain at the dinner table. In the states, a bill has a very clear message: "Thank you for dining with us. Now please pay and exit as soon as possible so other patrons can use this table. Have a nice night." Sitting for too much longer begins to feel like you've overstayed your welcome.
In Italy, you don't get a bill until you ask. Servers seem perfectly content floating by your table checking if you need after-dinner wine, some coffee or a dessert. Even when I've refused all of the above, they simply smile and move along.
In Assisi, Amy and I sat and talked for more than an hour after dinner before I even glanced at the time. I never feel rushed out of a restaurant. It's a nice change that has taught me to relax, digest and chat.
It's not until I am exhausted or have exhausted all talking topics that I ask "Posso avere il conto per favore?" Sometimes I even wait for my dinner companion to ask.

Diversity Diary #4

Although "PDA," or public displays of affection, are not uncommon in the states, I am always taken aback by seeing the same here. In the US, it feels like a high school trend to me. Couples seem more aware that they will be judged for excessive PDA. It's just a given.
But what I've seen at home is mild compared to how open the PDA is here.
Maybe it's the areas I've visited or maybe seeing it just feels wrong and more vulgar in a historical setting.
From teenagers practically consummating their relationship in a fortress in Orvieto to a couple seemingly trying to trade tongues in a piazza in Siena, I've seen more than I ever wanted.
I've seen infinitely more public lovers quarrels here than I have in the states.
Someone said they think people are just more passionate here. I disagree. I think Americans can be just as passionate; we're just not as comfortable displaying it for all to see.
I shouldn't say it's wrong; that's exactly the opposite of what a diversity diary is trying to achieve. But it's certainly different.


27 Feb. 2012  San Lorenzo
I spent most of my day inside bent over books. I have a midterm this week. I did take a short break to get lunch and to walk to San Lorenzo and scope out bags for Jenna. The weather was a great energy boost. After Wednesday I can spend all the time I want under this sky.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Colorful Lentils

I'm sorry I haven't posted about my kitchen attempts in a while. I've just been pretty boring in my "cooking," if you can call it that. Pasta and salad. All day every day. So it was time for a change.

My cooking adventure for the day was inspired by this. I headed to Billa this morning in search of all the ingredients. Being unable to find about half, and then later being too lazy to use anything but the stove top, I put a "new spin" on the recipe.

  • yellow and red pepper
  • red onion
  • lentils
  • pesto
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder
  • thyme
  • cheese (it's not labeled — some sort of mozzarella relative I would assume)

1. Wash veggies

2. Slice and dice veggies
3. Sautee!

4. Heat Lentils

5. Drain and put in bowl

6. Heat pesto and pour over lentils

7. Add veggies, garlic powder and thyme
8. Top with cheese and enjoy!

Only other tip: Don't add too much olive oil. It's a little (very) challenging to drain.
For being a guess-and-add approach, it was far better than I expected. Worth giving it a try for yourself!

My sentiments on Sundays

I've decided to take a new approach to Sundays.
I want to try to redefine Sunday as the start of my week instead of the end of my weekend. Here's my theory: How I start my week tends to be indicative of the rest of it. Keeping Monday as the kickoff to the week will get me nowhere. Who has good Mondays? Consistently? No one.

I've had a fantastic Sunday ergo I should have a fantastic week. I woke up at 10 a.m. I could have slept in, but I still got 9 hours of sleep and didn't want to waste my day. I put the load of laundry I did overnight on the drying rack and realized I had washed all four pairs of my jeans. The goal was to prevent them from staining other clothes a grayish blue as they did my camisole. Girls from other apartments have experienced similar problems with their washers: despite how many times I've washed these clothes at home without bleeding, everything here seems set on being the same gross shade of gray-blue. Well I kept my clothes their respective colors but left myself with no presentable pants for the day. Yoga pants set the mood. I ate my daily dose of yogurt and granola, took all my nutrition supplements (you're welcome, mom) and cleaned the apartment while dancing to music and letting fresh air pour in through the open window. It felt like the end of April. I slung an empty backpack over my shoulder and walked to Billa with a spring in my step. I returned home lugging a backpack plus two bags' worth of food for the week: pasta, yogurt, milk, various fruit, pesto and veggies — lots and lots of veggies. The 99 Cent store is still out of basil and oregano, and I refuse to pay any more than a euro for either, so it looks like the next few days may be a little bland and definitely basil-less. At least we're not out of garlic powder. Heaven forbid.
I made myself a salad with my home-mixed Italian dressing, then gathered my homework and headed to school. For the past four hours I've been spread out at a table, listening to The Fratellis and doing homework, but mostly chair-dancing embarrassingly to the music. In between head bobs and too-loud foot tapping, I sorted out all of the information I need to get for scholarships, caught up on emails and read several news articles.
In line with the rest of the day, I am going to finish it up with trying to make a lentil dish for dinner, Skype with my parents and reading.
A fantastic, productive Sunday.

Here's to an equally great week. I hope yours is as well. Next week, try taking advantage of your Sunday.

Sunday skies

26 Feb. 2012  looks like rain
I've had an incredibly productive day thus far. After cleaning the apartment, doing my grocery shopping and having lunch, I walked to the school to get more work done. Between going to Billa and the school, the skies had darkened significantly. By the time I made it to Palazzo dei Cerchi, it was windy and beginning to drizzle. I've been working for almost two hours on various items on my to do list. I refuse to look outside, but I'm hoping whatever storm was starting will be gone by the time I'm done here. I have no umbrella... I don't even have a hood.
Yet still, rainy days in Italy will always trump rainy days in Ohio or Michigan.


Saturday was day of glorious weather in a string of clear blue skies, slight breezes, lots of sun and temperatures in the 60s. We met at the train station at 9:45. I was running late and worried I'd be the last one there. I was surprisingly the first. I expected a pretty big group: Kristy, Bethany, Amy, Erika, Megan, Maria and Kelsey. The first to show up was Kristy's friend Laura, who I met while making pizza Thursday. I didn't realize she was coming but was excited to travel with new people. Erika, Bethany and Amy showed up to make five of us. We had no idea where the rest of the girls were but had a train to catch. Of course Erika had to get her coffee from McDonalds. I paced outside, knowing we were cutting it close. We power walked toward the platform until we saw a group in front of us practically sprinting for it. We followed suit. And good thing too, because the door practically closed on Erika as she darted onto the train. All for some McDonalds coffee and a hashbrown.
The ride to Siena was about an hour and a half. We stepped off to find ourselves going up a series of escalators and slanted moving walkways. Up and up and up. We couldn't believe how many there were. We counted ten on the way back down later.
We emerged on a busy street with no idea where to go. First we ran across the road to what we thought was a park. It turned out to be a well-landscaped parking lot. We wandered through the streets aimlessly, hoping to see the bell tower of Palazzo Pubblico, but no such luck. We kept walking until it felt like we were about to merge onto a highway, then took a left and headed uphill. With a few more gut-feeling turns, we found ourselves walking along a tall brick wall — the outside of Fortress Medicea.

This is incredibly overexposed but stupidly the only
photo I took. You can at least see what it is.
We walked through the park and passed a fountain.

We crossed the street to a small caffé in hopes of purchasing a map. I looked at the price: €6? No thank you. I joined the girls outside, standing by a railing taking pictures. Oh look, that's Siena across the way over there. Somehow we had taken quite a detour. But I can't complain. I might be outside of Seina, but I'm in Italy.

We made our way over to Basilica of San Domenico (the brick building dominating the left side of the picture above), which wasn't as far as we thought. There were no pictures inside, but it was another pretty church. Unfortunately I have to admit they've all started to blend together.

We walked onward and found a small hole-in-the-wall deli. We didn't hear much English coming from inside, which is my sign that we should eat there. We ordered sandwiches in Italian. I got sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant and asiago cheese on a baguette and three mozzarella balls — basically mozzarella sticks but far better. We walked to a ledge, which we proceeded to use as our table for lunch while we looked at San Domenico from yet another perspective.

Still mapless, we zigzagged through streets, darting left or right when we found a sign that pointed us in the direction of the Duomo. The stripes immediately distinguished it from all other duomos I've seen thus far. Bethany gave me a quick lesson about the church. In art history, she learned the goal for this church was to surpass the Florence Cathedral, but a Florentine essentially came to Siena, patted them on the backs and said "Nice try, but you won't do better than us. Might as well give up while you're ahead." (Or at least that's how Bethany put it). Part of the church stands unfinished and has been transformed into a parking lot. It's a little sad, but still impressive. Oh, more things I'm missing out on by not being in art history class.

Siena's Cathedral

Then we headed to Il Campo, the political center of town.
I really wanted to climb the bell tower of Palazzo Pubblico. Amy and I convinced the others to join us by telling them it was "only 102 meters," which we knew meant over 500 stairs.

We arrived at 3:18 p.m. The tower closed at 3:15 p.m. That is just my luck. I was actually pretty disappointed. Instead we got gelato and sat in the square.

Strawberry and chocolate gelato
This kid was adorable. He had on the world's greatest poncho.
Since I didn't get to climb the tower, we walked back to the duomo, which had a place to climb and see a view. Upon returning, not only did we find out it was €6, but just as I convinced everyone the price was worth it, they too were closing. I admittedly huffed like a 5-year-old. All I wanted to do was climb and see a view!
So we worked our way back to the fortress, hoping it would be open. We discovered it was actually a giant park, completely free and open. We watched the city turn pink as the sun set behind us.

We left the park on the opposite side and realized we had emerged very close to the train station. We weren't sure where it was exactly, but we recognized a building we had seen before our giant loop through the outer edge of the city. We laughed at ourselves and found a place to eat.
I had gnocchetti with gorgonzola cheese and saffron fondue. It was a small portion, but delicious.

While we were waiting for her to pick up our money and bill, she brought us two dishes of tiramisu on the house! It was very kind and delicious. We split them between the five of us, asked for directions to the train station and found our way to the top of escalator city. This was just the start:

We got home around 10 p.m., happy with our day. I almost felt like I hadn't done anything, but then I realized it's because I'm used Lydia-Amy style of seeing a city, which means see everything and climb every stair. I ran over the list of things I saw and did during the day. It was a nice change of pace.
Laura and I walked home together. I made some tea, did some laundry and fell alseep within the first five minutes of some Netflix movie.

Photo of the Day

25 Feb. 2012  I am a serious dog
I love laundry hanging out to dry. I think it is so quintessential Italy. The dog staring seriously out at the view just adds to it. I took this while we were sitting on a ledge looking out over the city. Or rather I was sitting with my legs dangling and everyone else was standing behind the ledge, feet firmly planted on the ground. It was a good day in Siena.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Una Settimana nella Vita di Lydia

Florence is warming up, and I'm loving it (as is everybody in this city). Good weather ergo good mood ergo good week. Great week, rather.

Monday isn't memorable. I spend the afternoon working on a project with Jess for European Issues, but other than that the day was nondescript.

We were blessed with a cancelled class Tuesday morning. Fabio told us last week, but we had forgotten. After Italian and lunch, I went to Practicum. There are eight students in the class divided into three groups. Our grades are based on one five-minute documentary, which we spend the semester filming and editing. Caitlin, Glenn and I are in a group together. Our original idea was to look into the daily life and work of Paolo Penko, owner of local goldsmith shop, Penko. We have since taken the assignment in a different direction. Paolo makes Pinocchio figurines, which can be seen in every medium throughout the city. There are Pinocchios everywhere. It turns out the character was actually born in Florence near Santa Croce! So we decided to look into the history and legend of Pinocchio while showing Paolo's relationship to the character he makes so often. During class we wandered around Florence finding random Pinocchios to take B-roll of, which wasn't a hard task. We ended up in an American bookstore, where Glenn read us a Pinocchio picture book.

I found the full story of Pinocchio with every page written in Italian then English on the facing page. I came back later to buy it. It should be an exciting way to learn some more Italian.
I also saw this on a bulletin board in the bookstore. I wonder if they'd take a 22-year-old college graduate next summer. Wow that's weird to say.

That evening Bethany and Caitlin's friends Tyler and Ryan came over for dinner. We made mexican food. I had a tortilla with some sort of red beans that were cheap at billa, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and salsa. YUM.
Then we met several people at a bar in Piazza Santa Croce. As we walked out of our apartment several masked people reminded me it was marti gras. I was too lazy to climb back up to our apartment to get a mask, so we just went to the bar. We talked and laughed and a few danced. We started looking for Fullup, a dance bar supposedly near, but we ended up walking in a giant loop. By the time we found and entered fullup, it was midnight and I was exhausted. I went home and crawled into bed. My roommates and others trickled in hours later to sleep or gather their stuff and head home.

Most days I have been getting up around 8 or 8:30 a.m., doing some morning stretches and yoga, taking a longer shower, eating a good breakfast, reading a book, etc. It's been nice. I feel so much more prepared for the day. Wednesday I rolled out of bed around 9:30 a.m. I felt far less productive, but it was still a good day. After classes, I donned a dress and followed Caitlin to Ash Wednesday service at St. Mark's English Church. We couldn't find it at first, but stumbled across it a couple of minutes before service started. I grew up Catholic but haven't been to a service in years not counting funerals, weddings and baptisms. Religion has become more of a personal thing for me. I'm more spiritual than anything. It works for me, and I think that's what religion should be about. Going back to church was strange, but I wanted to support Caitlin. I was surprised to find I remembered most of the prayers and responses. After the Gospel and readings, the priest gave his sermon. It hit home for me a lot more than I was expecting. He talked about how society today is always looking for something or someone to blame. If someone did something wrong, blame it on a neurosis. If something didn't happen the right way, blame it on an external factor. He noted that sometimes the blame really does fall on someone/something else, but it shouldn't be the first conclusion. It has become just that. He said something along the lines of "No thanks. I'd rather take control of my own life than blame it on everyone and everything around me." There were some more religious tones sprinkled in there, but that's what I took home with me. The more I thought about it, the more empowered I felt.
I need to stop blaming my actions on character flaws or bad days and instead reign them in and take control of my own life. I'm the driver, not a passenger. I believe this is a mindset everyone should at least consider. I don't want to tell you it will be the best choice for you, but at least mull it over. It's worth a shot.
Afterward, Caitlin and I walked down the street to the infamous Gusta Pizza. I've heard a lot of buzz about it, and since GoogleMaps told me we would be very close to it, we decided it was the perfect place for our dinner date.
It's everything you've been told it would be. The environment felt very Italian from the delicious smell to the clear lack of English-speaking taking place. The man who took my order could understand English, but I like trying out my Italian on someone who doesn't automatically change to English upon realizing I'm American.
Caitlin got the namesake pizza: Gustapizza. I got a margherita pizza. It was incredible and well-worth the walk. I knew I'd be coming back again.

We walked back over and along the Arno, Caitlin being classy and drinking wine from her plastic cup. We talked about friends, life and Florence. Just another wonderful day in Firenze with my wonderful roommate.

Thursday I woke up feeling not so hot. I had a vicious stomachache that could only be calmed my remaining curled under my blankets in the fetal position. I did just that until around 1 p.m. when laying flat and therefore standing didn't make me feel like someone was twisting a knife into my core. I missed Italian, but I wasn't going to miss the rest of the day. It was in the upper 60's!
I showered, prepared for the day and went out on a walk by myself. I took a couple new 30 Years Later photos, which I'll add later. I wandered across the Arno, where I saw things I pass often from a new perspective:

I walked around for about an hour before making it to Kristy's place, where Bethany, Michelle and her friend Laura were meeting to make dinner. I arrived just before they started making pizza.
Laura did most of the work. I can only take credit for some slicing and laying out the pre-made pizza crust. She made the sauce, which made the pizza. It was a mixture of sautéed onions and peppers, olive oil, pasta sauce from a jar, pure tomato sauce, tomato paste, spices and at the last minute, pesto.

Michelle was really excited about the pizza...
and also wanted it to look like her head was on a plate.
Glenn and Kevin joined us to eat, conveniently arriving as we pulled the first pizza out of the oven. We devoured two, then made a third with just the pizza crust, sauce and whatever veggies we had left. We were out of cheese.
Then the night took an unexpected turn, and we decided to watch Pocahontas. Much to I think all of our surprise, we watched the whole thing, singing along loudly and poorly. We cleared the table and played cards, still listening to Disney songs and many 90s/early 2000s songs I'm ashamed to admit I've never heard. Curtis and Marissa joined, and we all played a while longer until I was nodding off to sleep and headed home. Michelle and Laura walked with me.
Then when I got home, I had a sudden burst of energy and a strong desire to clean. I turned on Dirty Dancing, started a load of laundry and turned this....
into this....

Feeling much better, I curled up in bed and fell asleep before I even got to see the final scene.

Today (Friday), I woke up around 10:30 a.m. I showered, cleaned some more and ate breakfast. My roommates are gone in Poland for the weekend. As much as I like them, it's nice to have the place to myself. I can do all my laundry without fighting for space on the drying rack!
Around 12:30 p.m. I went to the Ghibellina girls' apartment. Maria, Megan, Kelsey and I went exploring. We walked down the Arno, looking at a few shops. We crossed the river but paused to sit on the bridge for a few minutes.

Then we grabbed some gelato and headed for the dam on the Arno river.

The goal had been to sit out on the dam and eat gelato, but it was long gone by the time we got there. I'm not upset about it. We laid on the river for about an hour. Bethany and Amy joined us after a bit. I read my Kindle, and Maria played some tunes on her iPhone.

There was a black dog running around on the dam. He swam in the Arno for a bit and kept running around from person to person. We never figured out who he belonged to.
We saw him along the edge of the river playing with a stick, or in reality, a branch. I looked over a few minutes later to see him trotting along the dam with it in his mouth, tail wagging furiously. He was the happiest puppy ever. So cute.

We all just kept saying how unbelievably happy we are. We reminisced on how Deb told us we would become a "Florence family." It's amazing how quickly we did. These people really are my family. After some mushy exchanges of "I love you guys," and "I hope we keep hanging out back in Kent," we got up and walked back up to the road. Since we were on the other side of the Arno from our house, I decided they should all be introduced to Gusta Pizza too!
This time I got the pizza of the day: melanzana, pomodoro e mozzarella!

It was just as fantastic as Wednesday's. We walked around for a little bit and then parted ways. I went to San Lorenzo with Megan and bought a wallet. The aluminum one my parents kindly sent me broke.
Megan bought some scarves, and then we headed back toward Santa Croce. As soon as I got home, I changed into athletic shorts and opened a window. It was a liberating experience. I sat in the dining room enjoying the fresh air, before washing dishes and starting yet more laundry.
I was going to meet up with the girls or go over to their apartment for a while, but I didn't hear any set plans and decided to just hang out alone for the night. It's a nice and much-needed change.

So all in all, my week was a lot of walking, pizza, friends and sun. What else do I need?

Tomorrow I'm taking a day-trip to Siena. I'm off to get some sleep before I have to meet everyone at the train station tomorrow!