Read about my trip to Florence, Italy where between my weekend travels throughout Europe, Italian language courses, fashion marketing internship and Tuscan wine tastings on the weekends, I'm not sure if I'll ever want to return to "The States"...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fiesole



Friday afternoon I was bored because I had been in Europe for 6 weeks already but had not yet left the country of Italy. Now, I know that Italy is probably the best place possible to be “stuck” for 6 weeks, but I knew I wanted to do something adventurous to make the most of my time here before I travel for the next 8 weekends in a row. I googled “things to do in Florence” and found a website that recommended some good day trips from Florence. Since I had already done most of them, including Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa, I decided to look up Fiesole.

Fiesole is a small town that was just a twenty minute bus ride from il centro where I live. Laura, Ally, and I hopped on the bus number 7 and figured we would just ride it to the end. Once we arrived in Fiesole we wandered around looking for “il ufficio di turista” and were “helped” by some Italian woman who forgot to take off her grumpy pants before coming into work that day. We came to Fiesole mostly for the hiking that the website recommended, so armed with our 90s look of gym shoes and sweatshirts tied around our waists (Spinks even had a fanny pack), we headed off for the most advanced course. I wasn’t aware that Fiesole was known for its views, but we got to the first terrace and were rewarded with the best view of Italy I have ever seen (see picture above).

The trip was definitely worth it especially because my buns are feeling the burn today. I would say that we are going to go again but I only have one more weekend in Florence for the rest of the time I am in Europe! Ahhh the rest of my trip is going to fly by!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Andiamo all’Opera e Apperitivo


Last night our school had a field trip to see the Opera. Of course I had to go because we are in Italy and I love theatre and my dad put it on his list of things for me to accomplish while abroad. Even though it was a great experience, I think I’ll stick to musicals from now on. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t understand a word they were saying (even though they had subtitles for us-in Italian) but I must be more partial to the happy singing and dancing in crowd pleasers such as Wicked.

All the actors had beautiful and powerful voices but the show was about 4 hours long and I had maxed out at around 2 ½. We were given a synopsis to read before the show so when it came to the final act I already knew the main character was going to sniff some flowers that were given to her “anonymously” and die from the poison her arch nemesis had put in them. I did not, however, know that this woman must have been some type of cat because she literally died 9 different times. They took the phrase “encore” to a whole other level. Once the woman had taken her final breath after her fourth dramatic faint to the ground, the whole audience was uproarious with applause. “Bravo! Bravo!”

After the show, my roommate, Marissa, and I decided to treat ourselves to some gelato. Unfortunately we arrived right as the shop was closing but since we had been there before, the generous Italian gelato shop owner gave us free waffles with nutella. Theatre and free dessert in one night=successful evening.

While on the subject of food, tonight we stumbled upon one of the best deals in Florence. Every Wednesday at this cooking school in town, they have all you can eat apperitivo plus one glass of wine for four euro. We piled our plates high from the buffet with food from all different regions. I was thouroughly enjoying my Spanish soup until I found out that “tripe” is not a type of fish like I though, but actually cow’s stomach. Vile. Other than that, my meal was delicious which was obvious from the fact that our group did quite a bit of damage on all the food they had laying out for us in the buffet. I also met a guy who is American but had been living in Italy for almost two years and he’s only a little bit older than us. I might be following in his footsteps…

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When in Rome...





This weekend we went on a field trip to Rome with our school. From Thursday to Sunday I did absolutely nothing but tour famous sites and enjoy the Roman nightlife. We saw more churches than one ever needs to see in a lifetime, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and so much more. My diet consisted solely of pizza, gelato, and McDonalds. Yes, I had McDonalds in Italy so this week we have decided to cleanse our bodies and live off of salads every day.

The first night we got there we went on a Colosseum Bar Crawl. I was expecting to get a great view of the Colosseum between each bar but the title was actually pretty deceiving since really we only met at the subway next to it and took a bus to our other destinations. 15 euro though for an open bar and a free t-shirt made the night worth it. I also got to meet up with my friend, Kate, again and we had a really good time.

After waking up at 7am the next morning to catch the subway before the “public transportation strike” started and being packed in like sardines because everyone else had the same idea, we went on a tour of the Vatican. St. Peter’s Basilica was absolutely beautiful and the video I posted here doesn’t quite do it justice. You can also get a glimpse of how our knowledge of all these famous monuments has blended together after having art history shoved down our throats since we have been here from the conversation Spinks and I are having in the background. We also decided to climb the basilica and got an AMAZING view because the weather was perfect just as we reached the top.

After going to lunch and spending 25 euro at the biggest tourist trap I have ever seen for a plate of lettuce and four measly raviolis, we decided to take a siesta to get ready for our second night out in Rome. While getting ready after our nap with six girls in one room, we apparently were making too much noise because our Italian hotel neighbor knocked on the door and asked us if we could please be quiet because, “We are trying to make a baby.” Now, I’m sure that’s not quite what he was trying to say and he merely got confused in the translation but we all just stared at him for what seemed like five minutes of awkward silence until he closed the door before bursting out laughing. Hopefully our laughter didn’t interrupt him “making his baby”.

We went out to Campo di Fiori which was this big open square that looked like a fairground with a generous mix of American and Italians all socializing both inside and outside the bars. Most of the bars had English names so we were surprised to make some new Italian friends. I also ran into a friend of a friend who was studying in Rome and found out that one of my best friend’s from high school, Mike Barry, was also visiting Rome that weekend from his school in Barcelona. After going on a wild goose chase for his phone number, we were able to meet up the next night in Campo again. He decided I was bad luck though because when we went to an ATM to get cash out, the machine ate his card. I was forced to call the Italian operator where I just kept repeating “Mangia la carta!” until we figured out there was nothing we could do until Monday when the banks open. Luckily he had an assortment of cards on him so we were still able to enjoy ourselves when we got back to the bar.

After waking up before 8am for the third day in a row after going out the night before, we packed up our things to hop on a bus to go to these amazing fountains outside of Rome. We went to two different places that had once been the houses of incredibly wealthy Romans who owned amazing properties with gardens, statues, fountains, and some of the prettiest views of Italy I have ever seen.

Overall, Rome was amazing. I’m still happy with my decision to study in Florence but I’m sure I will definitely be back there again before the semester is over. Starting in two weeks, I am going to be traveling almost every weekend which makes me nervous that I am going to find someplace I will like better than Florence, but at least I know that Florence has already become my “home” because of the relief I felt when we got off the bus today. Enjoy the pictures!
video

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

High School Reunion

My friend, Kate, from high school is studying in London this semester and unfortunately we were unable to meet up while I was there. Luckily she came to Florence this week. My other friend Danielle, who went to Viator and goes to Wisconsin with me, is also here in Florence so the three of us went out to dinner together at this restaurant called The Golden View. The name doesn’t lie because the restaurant is right on the Arno river which runs through the center of Florence. Our server was loving the three smiling American girls so he treated us very well. He immediately brought us aperitivo which is a traditional Italian pre-dinner sparkling white wine. We ordered a bottle of white wine for the table and he surprised with a second bottle for free since he thought we were “strong enough” for it. At the end of the dinner he then brought us limoncello which is a super sweet lemon alcohol which is supposed to help you digest the meal. I have no idea how that is supposed to work but it tasted like it was a straight shot.

The picture I am going to post as soon as either Kate or Danielle put it on Facebook is the three of us with our waiter, Alessandro. When Kate and I went to the bathroom he gave Danielle a note that said “Will you go on a date with me?” and then she was supposed to check the box for either yes, no or maybe. How suave.

We had a lot of fun just sitting and talking about high school and it made me feel really old but it was nice to catch up like that in a foreign country. Every little piece of home I can get here is treasured. It’s weird but a lot of Florence license plates start with CW and those are both my dad and brother’s initials so it always reminds me of my family. By the way, that was your not so subtle hint to come visit. Felice Martedi Grasso!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Viareggio Carnevale



Carnevale is the coolest thing ever. Why don’t we have it in America? Basically I just witnessed the best parade I have ever seen or will ever see again in my entire life.

The day started bright and early since we had to be on the bus ready to go at 10am. Luckily I was able to break my fast with a delicious chocolate croissant that my roommate purchased for me at the “secret bakery” they discovered last night. Apparently there are a couple of these secret bakeries in Florence and you have to know where they were since there is no sign on the doors but you just kind of knock and tell them what you want since there is no menu. Shady yes, but quite delicious. Next time I’ll join them for the adventure.

Since I love wearing costumes and have no shame when it comes to dressing up, I decided to don my newly purchased Carnevale mask on the walk to the bus, at 10am, in a city that is no where near the parade. Apparently I was rocking the mask look though because this cute little old man made me “aspetta” while he dug around in his pockets for something. After putting what looked like a piece of foil (aka trash) in my hand he wished me a “Buon Carnevale” and walked away. I opened the trash foil and inside I found a little plastic ring. For some reason I thought it was so cute so in leiu of Valentine’s Day I put the ring on and wore it for the rest of the day.

Anyway, after taking the two hour bus ride to Viareggio, Italy, we stopped just outside the city for “lunch”. This lunch was bigger than any Thanksgiving meal I have ever eaten in my life. It started with bread served with this delicious tomato pesto sauce, then mini quiches, then white bean soup, then lasagna, then this huge plate of meat (but grilled veggies for the vegetarian-my one chance to breath during this meal), then finally it was rounded off with the traditional Carnevale dessert called “cenci” that tastes kind of like funnel cake but crispier. The whole meal was delicious, of course, but incredibly filling.

After they stuffed our bodies with wholesome Italian food, we were all given these rolls of paper that you can break off and blow into to make a streamer. This translated into hours of endless fun and a whole lot of mess. Equipped with our masks, streamers, confetti, and noise makers, we headed into town for the parade. Viareggio is right on the coast of Italy and I’m sure it would be amazing to visit in the summer because it was right on the beach. We all got our tickets to get into the parade and that is when the fun began. Carnevale is kind of like Halloween except that most people aren’t wearing a costume of a particular character but rather they are just dressed up in ridiculous outfits. Most people had on some shade of neon colored wig and crazy amounts of face paint. We pushed our way through the mob of neon haired Italians and we able to get front row views of the most amazing floats ever. The people of Viareggio have these huge wharehouses where they spend all year making these floats. They were HUGE and so detailed and the people riding them looked like they were having a blast. Each float had a different political meaning which was interesting to see because Obama was featured on several different ones. There was music blasting and people throwing confetti everywhere the whole time and basically the whole town was in chaos. I saw one man stand on his porch and just dump what must have been 10 pounds worth of confetti onto the crowd below. The whole experience was so fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve posted some pictures here but they really don’t do the floats justice for how spectacular they really were. video

Saturday, February 13, 2010

View from the Top.



This morning I woke up to an absolutely beautiful day in Florence. Spinks and I decided we would take this opportunity to climb the Duomo since it usually gets cloudy later in the after noon. After walking the entire .1 mile it is from our house to the Duomo, we waited in what we assumed was the line to climb it with about a million other tourists since it was a Saturday afternoon. After paying the admission fee, we started our climb. Let’s just say I got my work out in for the day. 436 steps to the top is what the sign said at the bottom and we walked every single one of them. It was a good thing it was so crowded because that meant we got to take a lot of breaks while everyone filed through the microscopic staircase.

About half way up there was a detour to walk the perimeter of the inside of the church. I completely forgot about my fear of heights until we got there and realized there was nothing between me and the 100 foot drop below but a plate of glass. The church is gigantic so this was a really cool view. Plus we were right next to all the ceiling art which was so detailed. We continued our ascent until all of a sudden there was a holdup in the line because people were using the same staircase to get down from the top as they were to go up. 50 people jammed into one tiny landing while speaking about 20 different languages was not a fun experience.

After one last staircase that was so vertical I was literally hitting my knees on the step in front of me, we finally made it to the top. As I am poking my head out of the staircase and smelling the much needed fresh air I hear someone go, “Emily Wood?” Here I am, on top of the Duomo in Florence, Italy, half way across the world from school when all of a sudden I run into two of my friends who were rho gammas with me at Wisconsin. Such a small world. After snapping a picture together for evidence of this coincidental encounter, Spinks and I stopped to marvel at the view. It was absolutely stunning. We had our roommates stand on our balcony so we could see them which was really cool. Not only could we see them in our nearby apartment, but we could see what must have been all of Tuscany. We didn’t stay up there too long because I, again, was getting scared of heights. My feet are getting numb just writing this and thinking about the experience again. I’m such a wimp.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fare Shopping

Fare shopping literally means to go shopping in Italian. Who knew that shopping was a universal word? Today for my Fashion Marketing and Merchandising class we literally did nothing but window shop for an hour and a half. Obviously I was thoroughly enjoying our breakdown of Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and Ferragamo’s window displays. Unfortunately it only made me sad that I was unable to afford their new spring collections but it was still nice to look at. Spinks and I are going to the outlet mall tomorrow though so hopefully we can find a little something for ourselves within a reasonable price range. However, I did receive 200 euro cash the other day from school for applying to my program early. I totally forgot that I was gong to receive that so it was quite a pleasant surprise. I am going to put it towards an extra trip to some wonderful European destination of whatever my little heart desires.

Other than that, this week hasn’t been too exciting. I am in love with my job though. It’s so great to be getting some real world business experience and I am honestly thinking about applying for jobs in Europe for after graduation. I can move to the lake George Clooney lives at in Italy and “bump into him” all around town and impress him with my newly acquired Italian language skills. Sounds like a plan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wine Tasting


Tonight Laura and I went to a wine tasting class through our school. It was a five euro refundable deposit which means as long as you show up to the class you get your money back. Free wine? Do you really have to ask?

My whole life I have grown up around red wine since my mother loves it but I always thought it was gross. I just started liking white wine when I came to college, and by white wine I mean Franzia. Since being in Italy though, I have actually started to love it. The class was so interesting because he taught us about the different regions and what makes each one special. I have posted a Tuscan wine map here if you want to check it out. He also told us why people do all the things they do when they get bottles of wine to test them such as spinning your glass and holding it up to a white background. Here I was thinking that all the customers of the restaurants I’ve served at were just being pompous and obnoxious (which I think some of them still are) but now I know you can actually tell a lot about a wine just from the color. By the way, my Microsoft word just tried to correct the way I spelled color to colour and it keeps changing my dates to the European way with the day before the month. Weird that my computer knows I am in Italy because it’s not like I have internet here...

Anyway, basically the wine class was a huge success and now I can enjoy red wine with my mother when I go home. Parents, if you are lucky, I may even bring home a couple of Tuscan bottles for you to enjoy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Athleticism at its Finest


Last night I got a taste of the contrast between American and Italian sporting events. It started out with the Rome vs. Florence soccer game. Our entire group of about 20 was all decked out in purple jerseys and scarves to cheer on our new hometown team, Fiorentina. Spinks and I paid an extra 5 euro to get the “official” team scarf so it’s definitely coming home with me to hang in my apartment next year. We got to the game and realized it wasn’t that much different from an American stadium. We even got hot dogs and beer. The only difference is that we needed our passports to get in (super sketchy) and that the entire crowd was screaming in Italian the whole time. It was so cool because I’ve been to a soccer game in America and obviously it was no where near as exciting. The only words I could understand from the Florentine’s screaming behind us were the swear words so obviously they get pretty passionate about the whole thing. Right as the game started I felt like I was staring at a mass of bobble head dolls because the entire stadium was bouncing in their seats in anticipation as they sang Fiorentina’s song in unison.

I’m not usually into soccer because I prefer sports where the scoreboard changes more frequently but this game was so cool. Unfortunately, the final score was 1-0 Rome which was disappointing because I’m sure the crowd would have been insane had Florence won. When Rome scored, their section of fans went CRAZY and they had fireworks going off and everything. Florentines started throwing lit cigarettes into their section which, after an unfortunate incident where I walked into a women’s cigarette at a Cubs game, I know would not be fun to have land on you.

As soon as we got home from the soccer game, we headed straight to a local “American” bar to watch the Super Bowl. It was nice to watch the game because even though I’m loving Florence and haven’t gotten homesick yet, I’m still kind of “America-sick” so I was enjoying the atmosphere immensely. I stayed up way past my bed time for a Sunday and was exhausted at my internship today but it was worth it after the adventurous weekend. I put together a calendar of the rest of my trip with travel plans and everything and this whole experience is going to fly by so I’m glad I had a jam packed weekend. A domani!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Made in Italy


Once again, its Sunday morning in Florence. Since Spinks and I missed going to church at the Duomo like we had planned, we decided we still needed to experience some Florentine culture since it was absolutely beautiful outside. We headed over to the San Lorenzo market which, conveniently enough, is located on our street. We set out in search of some authentic Fiorentina scarves to wear to the soccer game we will be attending this evening but ended up making a rather large impulse purchase instead.

San Lorenzo market is supposedly one of the best places to buy leather jackets in Florence. Even though we were unaware of this fact, we stumbled upon this spitfire old woman who hooked us up with some mighty fine leather wear. Italians are known for having no problem being very touchy feely and I can attest to this fact after she figured out my size solely by touching different parts of my body. After commenting on our figures by telling me I should be very proud to be “full figured” in both my top and bottom (thank you, Mother) and Spinks that she is definitely not one of the one in 5,000 people that is perfectly proportionate since her shoulders and waistline are about four sizes apart, we both walked out with our brand new, beautiful leather jackets. We actually ended up getting the same one which if funny because we have completely different body types but mine is brown so as not to contrast my lighter features and hers is black which works with her dark hair and eyes. This is all what she told us so hopefully she knows what she’s talking about because we spent what could have been next month’s groceries on them.

After donning our new Euro style jackets, we met up with our roommates and headed over to The National Italian Chocolate Festival. Basically we walked around this huge tent with all these different chocolate vendors and sampled whatever we could get our hands on. The picture you see here is me chowing down on some delicious chocolate covered strawberries (my favorite) while modelling my new coat of course.
Tonight is going to be a long night with lots of athletic events to look forward to. Help me cheer on Florence’s soccer team by yelling, “Forza Fiorentina!”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Leaning Tower of Pisa


What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Italy? Often an image of Pisa’s famous leaning tower pops into one’s mind. This tower has been strewn across my school books for as long as I can remember and I knew that my trip to Italy would not be complete without the stereotypical picture of a tourist holding up the tower. So today we decided to go there, pretty much for the sole purpose of capturing the image you see here.

We hopped on the train around noon today and after cruising along for an hour with some rowdy Italian high schoolers, we were about to get off on our stop. The train conductor came around to check our tickets and all seven of us very narrowly avoided having to pay a 40 euro fine for not having our tickets “validated” before entering the train. That would have put quite a damper on the whole experience. Once we go to Pisa, we literally had no plan except to go around and ask some locals, “Dov’รจ the tower?” while making the leaning shape with our hands. Apparently Pisa is quite a small town because it was about a 5 minute walk from the train station to the tower.

Once we got there, after the initial shock of knowing that we were actually looking at The Leaning Tower of Pisa, we realized there wasn’t much to do but take pictures with it. The tower is not nearly as big or as leaning as you would think and it was hard to get a good picture with the literally hundreds of Asian Tourists blocking our view. After taking all seven of our individual pictures holding up the tower from every angle possible, we decided we should fork over the 15 euro to climb it. Unfortunately, because of mass quantities of the aforementioned tourist group, the tickets to climb were sold out. Instead we just looked around at all the tourist gift shops and tried to bargain with the vendors just for fun. I got a pretty sweet mask for Carnival next weekend which I had to dig through hundreds of mini Pinnocchio figures (who is apparently a native of Pisa) to find. Other than that we basically just got lunch and went back to Florence. Moral of the story: if you are in Italy, Pisa is worth the day trip, but don’t ever go there on vacation because you will run out of things to do after approximately 90 minutes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Faccio un Stage

Stage is the French word for internship that they use in Italy, pronounced “stahj.” I thought it was an appropriate title for this blog because I am now officially a working woman, in Italy. This is unbelievable. I’m working for Laura Gucci. Yes, Gucci, as in the famous designer’s ex-wife. She is the number one rated female entrepreneur in the world and my desk is about four feet away from her. Her latest project is heading the FCEM which is a French acronym that basically translates to World Association of Female Entrepreneurs. The FCEM is having a huge conference in Florence this October and basically my job is to help plan and promote this big event. I’m working on translating press releases from Italian to English (with a little help from wordreference.com) and I even get to put my own little spin on them.

My other big project is to put together an excel list of all the contact information for the women that will be attending this event. She literally handed me a cutout from Forbes magazine listing the top 10 most influential business women in the world and told me to find all their email addresses. She even scribbled a few names on the bottom of the sheet to add to the list, one of which was Hillary Clinton. It’s not like I can exactly look up Hil’s number in my personal address book so I’m thinking this project is going to take me awhile. Maybe they will fly me in for the event after this internship so I can meet all these amazing women! I’m so excited about this job and I’m sure it is going to be an amazing experience. I’m off to bed now because I am absolutely exhausted because the last few days all we do is run errands, take classes, intern, eat big Italian dinners and of course still fit in time to enjoy Florence’s nightlife. Buona notta….

Check out the website for the company at pirene.it and click on the British flag on the top right corner to translate the page to English.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Un biglietto per l'autbus per favore


Monday morning. First day of school or in some cases, first day of internships. I found out from our internship coordinator that I have to take a bus to work. A bus? By myself? In a foreign country? Thanks to my mother passing down her neurotic traveling genes to me, I couldn’t concentrate during my morning class knowing that I had to catch this bus. The professor let me leave 10 minutes early to make sure that I wasn’t late for my first day. So much for letting me leave early though, because I arrived approximately 40 minutes later than I was supposed to.

I had the lovable old lady who works the front desk at my school write down exactly what I needed to ask for at the “tabacchi” to have the correct bus tickets. “Posso avere due bigletti per l’autobus?” I successfully get my tickets and after a five minute walk during which I continue to give myself away as an American because I am holding a map under my nose, I find the bus stop. Or so I thought. Here I am, standing patiently waiting for the bus, anxious to begin my new job, when I see my bus coming. I was so proud of myself that I was standing at the right place at the right time until all of a sudden I realize the bus is not stopping and it continues to fly right by me. I feel like I am back in first grade on the day we had a substitute bus driver that didn’t notice my poor little seven year old body waiting for her to pick me up for school and whooshed right past me, leaving me stranded and crying on the side of the road. Knowing that I am now going to be late for my interview while trying not to cry since I am currently 21 and not seven, I run back to school to have the loveable old lady again write me word for word directions on what to do when I finally get on the bus.

Attempt two: This time I know to stick my hand out to wave the driver down. Again though he drives right past me so I proceed to chase him down (in my work heels) to what is apparently the real bus stop half a block away. I jump on the bus and quickly try to tell him where I am going and ask him to tell me when to get off the bus in my broken Italian. Thankfully he was nice enough to agree so I sat down right up front so he wouldn’t forget about me. After clutching on to my bag for dear life the entire ride because I was sitting next to an oversized warning to watch out for pick pocketers, he tells me to “scendi l’autobus qui.”

I hop off the bus and look for the address of my building which is 155. I look across the street and see 145 and then the rode ends. Great. I continue to walk along the side of what can only be described as a country highway where crazy Italian drivers are going at least 50 mph (km per hour in this case) six inches from my elbow. I am right in the middle of the beautiful rolling Tuscan hills but it is hard to appreciate it since I am completely lost. I was walking around long enough to have the same bus driver drive by again and ask me if I was ok. Obviously I wasn’t but I finally called the office and got directions in Italian. Not very helpful, but eventually I found what I was looking for. I arrived at a large gate where I have to be buzzed in and walk what feels like a mile (again, in my work heels) down a dirt and gravel path. I finally arrive and it turns out that even though my boss speaks English, the three other girls in their late 20s that work for her speak about as much English as I speak Italian. At least this will help me achieve my new year’s resolution to be fluent in Italian by the time I come home.

Hopefully my interview was successful and I will be starting full time tomorrow. I’m really excited about it because it sounds too good to be true that an opportunity like this was given to me. Buona giornata!