Well, we have arrived in Prague. Everything went off without a hitch, aside from packing stupidly and getting my bag to find that my shaving cream had exploded. Luckily, it was in an outside pocket, so my clothes were spared.
We are staying at the Czech Inn (ba dum tiss… Think about it.) It’s certainly nice, and the WiFi reaches everywhere, which is not always the case. We are in an 8-person mixed room tonight, meaning that it’s both genders. I was a little nervous about this at first, but it seems we are getting lucky. So far, we’ve met Marcello, who is from Brazil and is taking a couple weeks working his way through Europe before heading to London to study English until September. We also met a nice couple from Argentina, who are backpacking for two months before spending a month in Spain with the woman’s relatives. Rachel was thrilled that she could finally put her Spanish skills to use.
When we arrived today, we were a little stressed out, mostly at the prospect of being here for six days. It seemed like a good idea when we booked all of this, but upon arriving, we began to think about things like how we would be living out of a suitcase, how the weather is different from the Italy weather that we packed for, and whether there would be enough (free) attractions to keep us occupied. After a few minor breakdowns (typical Elisa and Rach) we have set our sights on the next 18 days and are determined to make the best of it.
I mean, how ridiculous is it that I’m stressed about spending six days in a city that most people would be ecstatic just to visit for a few hours? I’m almost kicking myself already for being so silly.
Now that that’s over with, a few words about my homeland. (Am I allowed to call it that if I don’t even know how Czech I really am?)
Today we walked around for a few hours, finding the main square and the National Museum. The language is incredibly different from anything I’ve ever encountered, and I’m beginning to wish that America wasn’t so darn pigheaded about its language so we could at least be exposed to these languages. Tomorrow we’re planning on heading to the Prague Castle and taking a tour of that. Amazingly, our hostel has a huge buffet from 8 - 12, so we’re planning on sleeping in and eating late enough that we can make it count for lunch! Three cheers for being broke.
I’m not done commenting on Italy and all of its glory, so don’t get confused if some posts about gelato and Tuscan cuisine get mixed into the adventure tales. I just can’t resist detailing every last event!
Today marks our last day in Florence and, much like the experience as a whole, it feels incredibly surreal. Just a month ago, Rachel and I were frantically packing our suitcases, dreaming about the trips we’d taken and the Italian food we’d eat. Now the month is over and I am so blessed to have had this experience.
Today started normally, with Rachel and I getting up and walking the two miles to class, only an hour earlier- we wanted time to study before our final. Class went normally, with me understanding about 80% of what was discussed- only this time instead of a discussion out loud, it was me discussing my thoughts on my final exam. Class ended normally, except the Sandra kissed me Italian style, once on each cheek, and wished me a good rest of the summer. By 12:15, the time Rachel and I usually would’ve finished class and grabbed lunch, we had started packing and cleaning our apartment, walked to our favorite panini place, and were seated comfortably along the river eating a large helping from our favorite gelato place. It was then that it truly hit me that I’m leaving this wonderful city.
They say that studying abroad teaches you many things. I always kind of rolled my eyes at that: of course it’s going to teach you a lot! You’re living in a foreign country! How could you not learn a little bit about the culture? It’s so much more than that though. For your convenience, I’ve made a list of corny but overwhelming true things I’ve learned during my month in Florence.
Well, that’s all I’ve got time for right now. We’re heading to eat Gustapizza one last time (I think this makes five over the course of the month), and to watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Florence posts, lovely people, because I’ve enjoyed writing them. Next up: Prague posts!
I know that I’ll come back to this beautiful city someday. Until then, Firenze, you have my heart.
I figure since I’m halfway through my third week of class, I should probably tell you guys about my class!
For the past few weeks, I have spent two and a half hours Monday through Thursday learning about the history and sociology of the Sicilian mafia. It is extraordinarily interesting! Of course, like an subject, it has its dull spots, but for the most part I love going to class. I fear that I’ve become that girl that talks way too much, but I can’t help it! (I prefer to think that I’m just ensuring my good participation grade).
I could go on all day about the things I’ve learned, but mostly we talk about the implications of things that have happened in Italian history. For example, Sicily is the prime place for mafia history, because throughout history it has been ruled by many different countries, none of which gave a crap what the Sicilians did as long as they paid their taxes. This is why the mafia was created: the mafia kept the people in line, protected those that helped them, and extorted or killed those who crossed them. Eventually, drugs and Americans got involved and everything went to hell, but I just think it’s so cool that the origin of brutal organized crime started off as a group that wanted to protect its citizens and keep order in its town.
I’ll stop before I start to bore you guys.
My professor, Sandra, is a boss. (Not a mafia boss, I don’t think. But she’s awesome.) She has many catch phrases that Rachel and I have taken to using in every day conversation. Each morning, she starts class by asking us if we had a wild and crazy last night, and that is also her response when we don’t answer her questions. (Though this is usually because we can’t tell if the question is rhetorical or not.) She also says “What does this mean?” approximately 87 times a class. With Sandra, there is always a deeper meaning, an explanation behind every act, every murder, every word. She also frequently says “Attention” not to bring us back into the discussion, but rather to mark importance on a certain fact or date. It’s hard to explain. All of these traits have made Sandra a winner in our eyes.
The class is mainly discussion, and based around the 500 page monster that we have to read every night. Each question is feebly answered by a student who vaguely remembers reading the story but can’t remember specifics. It probably doesn’t help that a good majority of the names get butchered by us, because none of us know Italian much at all. Sandra is a good sport though, usually just laughing and correcting our pronunciation before forging ahead in a mainly one sided discussion.
Besides participation, our grade is based on a midterm (which I’ve already taken and earned an A on - can I get a what what?) and a final exam, each of which is made up of three short answer questions and one essay question. Another portion of our grade is a pop quiz, which we took yesterday and found to be, as Sandra said when she was passing it out, “a stupid, stupid quiz.” Lastly, each of us has to do a presentation on a different topic related to the men of honor. Mine is next Tuesday and will talk about pentiti, which are men that have been initiated into a mafia family, but have since turned state’s witness.
Speaking of that presentation…. I should probably start working on that, since I leave for Rome tomorrow morning and will be there until Sunday night! Look forward to a post about the Vatican City and many other sites as I try to do as the Romans do. :)
This weekend, rather than taking one long trip somewhere, Rachel and I took two one-day trips, on Friday and Sunday, and spent Saturday in Florence.
Friday, we went to Venice. It was amazing, of course, and pretty warm. We did the classics: took pictures of canals on canals, took the water bus to Murano, the island of blown glass, and took a gondola ride! Our man was Paolo, and he was awesome. (Also one of the first Italian men I’ve seen wear a wedding ring. No correlation there though.) One of my favorite memories from the trip was seeing him paddling the boat, whistling to us, and checking his email on his iPhone.
It was sad, however, hearing about how Venice is essentially dying. Very few natives are staying in the city, but instead choosing to live on the mainland and commute in every day. Basically, the city is becoming a big tourist trap. Still, it was gorgeous, and the concept of a city built on water was enough to keep us in amazement all day.
Saturday, on our day in Florence, we took advantage of the lack of morning activities and slept in. We pulled a classic Rach and Elisa for lunch and got Gusto Pizza (amazing!) and then gelato on the way home. Then, through our school, we had the opportunity to attend a historical soccer game. These games are tradition in Florence, where the four corners of the city play against each other in pursuit of the prize cow. The neighborhood we were representing, Santo Spirito, is actually where Rach and I live, south of the Arno River! (Not many students travel south of the river often.) The game is, to put it briefly, incredibly bizarre. The only visible correlations to actual soccer/football is that there were two teams and a ball involved. Other than that, it was basically 54 men kicking the crap out of each other. Seriously. Youtube some videos.
Our team pulled through and won 3-0 (though how, I have no idea. The rules were not easily picked up) and it was fun to see the Florentines and their blatant pride for not only their neighborhoods but for their city as a whole as well.
Finally, on Sunday, we travelled to Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands”. It’s five cities connected by hiking trails and trains, and they are BEAUTIFUL. Stop right now, open a new window, and google some pictures so you have a good idea of exactly the beauty I was surrounded by all day. None of the pictures I took did it much justice.
One of my favorite parts was the bounty of pesto (my favorite food) just waiting to be eaten by me. The first thing I had was this awesome focaccia bread with pesto on top- amazing. Rachel rolled her eyes several times because of the happy sounds and the seat dances I was doing.
After finishing our snack with some gelato, we head up the hiking trail from the 4th to 5th town, or Vernazza to Monterosso. The trail was certainly exhausting, but the trail and the views were so beautiful that we hardly minded. It took about two hours and by the time we were done we were more than ready to eat again. This time I had pesto lasagna, which was unique and delicious. Naturally, we got ourselves some more gelato and then just wandered around the town before meeting the group at the train station to end our day.
I plan to write much more in the next 11 days, while I’m still in Florence, so I won’t be posting every blog post to Facebook. So be sure to check back frequently and I’ll start talking more about day-to-day life in Italy rather than just my weekend travels!
Now that I am rested up from my weekend and have a midterm to procrastinate studying for, I suppose I’ll detail my weekend for you people.
Thursday night, our bus took off for the Amalfi coast, which is a beautiful region in southern Italy. We went with a company called Bus2Alps, which was awesome. They employ young adults, usually college students on break or freshly graduated, to lead trips from Italy to all over Europe. Our leaders proved themselves to be fantastic when the first movie they popped in was “Horrible Bosses” followed by “The Lincoln Lawyer”, and they only went up from there.
Unfortunately, the bus ride was rather long, and we didn’t reach our hostel until nearly 3 am. Luckily, I had gotten a couple hours of sleep on the bus, but when my alarm went off at 5:45, it was still a rough morning. We started Friday by catching the ferry to Marina Grande and going straight to a private boat tour of the island. Or as I like to call it, Lots of Cliffs and Water. Really, though, it was gorgeous. We even saw the Lover’s Arch, made famous by a Dolce and Gabbana ad! The legend goes if you don’t kiss someone as you go through, you’re doomed to 7 years of bad luck, so I quickly planted one on my friend Jenna’s cheek.
After the boat tour, we climbed what seemed like, or actually could have been 1000 stairs to the city of Capri, where we were rewarded with a granita (a lemon and orange juice drink) and a breathtaking view.
Next, a bus took us up to the town of Anacapri, which had many adorable shops full of jewelry adorned with fire coral and bottles of Limoncello. We grabbed lunch (the most delicious pizza I’ve had yet) and then rode a chairlift up to the peak. The 15 minute ride was fun, and after I took my shoes off to avoid a disaster, I enjoyed the unique transportation and asked myself many times whether this was really my life. The pictures I got from up there are just as the title of this post says: worthy of being pre-downloaded wallpapers on any computer. We finished the day with more of the little shops and then a packed bus ride back down to the Marina. That night we ate at a wonderful restaurant called Il Leone Rosso, where we treated ourselves to an appetizer of fried calamari, wine, our entrees, and some delicious desserts. After a quick visit to a local club, we called it a night and got some much needed sleep.
Saturday was much less eventful. We literally just laid on the beach all day. Mostly, I read for class and watched the adorable little Italian boys on the chairs next to us. Every once in a while, we would brave the scalding hot rocks (yes, rocks. Not sand. Gravel.) to get to the ocean and cool off. It was such a wonderful and relaxing day. That evening, we went to another hostel for their buffet and then headed to the rooftop bar for a few overpriced drinks.
Finally, on Sunday we boarded the bus and stopped by Pompeii. Our tour guide was so quirky and witty- as a tour guide myself, I appreciated him so much! My favorite part was when I asked him how long it had taken him to learn all that he was sharing with us, to which he replied “My family has run this business for over 50 years. When I was little, this was my amusement park”. How cool!
After one last pizza (totaling three in as many days for me) we hopped back on the bus and headed back for Florence. I’m happy to report that coming back to Florence felt like coming home- scary to think I only have a few more weeks in this wonderful city.
After our midterm tomorrow, we will be acting as true tourists, hitting up the Uffizi Gallery and climbing to the top of the Duomo and Campanile. Friday we’ll spend the day in Venice, and Sunday in Cinque Terre. I’m excited to cross those two cities off of my “to do” list!
Yesterday, Rachel and I set out for our first day of shopping with one thing in mind: a genuine Italian leather purse. For Rachel, it was a necessity- she stuffed it to the seams for our flights over. The lining was ripped and the zipper was broken. Yes, that poor Target purse had seen it’s day. For me, though, I just wanted a big one that I could throw a notebook or eventually my iPad into and head to a meeting or to class. Both of us succeeded!
The market is technically called the San Lorenzo Market, and spans several blocks with vendors selling leather bags, belts, wallets, jackets; you name it, you can find it. There are also clothing, linen, and souvenir stands, but mostly it goes purse stand, purse stand, purse stand, wallet stand, purse stand, jacket stand… You get the point. We wandered through part of it right after class yesterday, when I fell in love with the purse I eventually purchased. After coming back to our flat and resting for a bit, we ventured back to Via dell’Ariento.
I was fortunate in that I walked into the market with an exact picture of the type of bag I wanted in my head: I wanted both short handles and a long strap, a zipper across the top, and a dark, neutral color. Each stand, I could walk up to, look for a minute, and know immediately whether the bag I wanted was there or not. Thank goodness my picky shopping habits aren’t always a bad thing! I ended up buying the bag I fell in love with that morning, a beautiful forrest green monster with dark brown leather accents and silver zippers. Isn’t it awesome? With Rach’s help, I got it for 25 euro less than the price.
Rachel’s search, however, was not as straightforward. The overwhelming number of purses and stands made it a tricky process, but eventually we got it narrowed down for her. We found one she liked at a stand, marked 49 euro, but the guy offered 35. We promised him we’d be back, and kept moving. After looking through the rest of the market, she decided it would be a worthy though inferior replacement for her beloved Target bag. (I help her through the process friends, never fear. The bags have been switched. She’s coping.)
We got to experience firsthand the aggressive selling style of many of the vendors. We avoided buying from most of the really creepy ones, thankfully, but still had to endure their comments walking through the market. Some of my favorites were:
"Are you two basketball players?" (The Italians ain’t got nuthin’ on us heightwise)
"You look like Shakira. I give you free jacket!"
"I love your rosy cheeks. How are you today?" (This one was whispered terribly close to my ear. Cue the shiver up my spine and the urge to elbow jab.)
Lastly, I also fell in love with a beautiful leather jacket. It was cool, because after expressing my belief that my shoulders were too wide for any of his jackets, one vendor motioned for me to follow him back into his full shop. He pulled out a lovely brown jacket and asked if I was a swimmer (Apparently swimming breeds noticeably massive humans, like myself.) I pulled it on and for the first time, a leather jacket allowed my man shoulders to move freely. It was love.
While I admired myself in the mirror, he promised that he didn’t want to be too pushy or talk too much, but told us the story of how his shop started as his grandfather’s and the jacket I was wearing was unique to his shop. (Many of the vendors buy in bulk from one company, which is annoying because that means they all carry the same products.) I know, I know, all of the vendors have a story about how their shop has been in their family for generations blah blah blah… the story made me really like him! Don’t blame me for having a heart!
I had a mini heart attack when I looked at the price tag and saw the number “416” staring back at me. He must’ve seen the horror on my face, because I assured me that he would give me a deal, meaning half that. While that certainly is a deal, 200 euro is a big purchase for a poor student like me. (That’s around $260.) I asked if he would be willing to give me the same price if I came back in a couple weeks: he promised he would and told me what days he worked so I could come back in for it. Forlornly, I took off that exquisite jacket, but not before snapping a picture so I could remember it lovingly.
Isn’t she a beaut? I figure if I resist getting gelato twice a day like I have been, I’ll save enough for her! And maybe it’ll fit a bit better too…
Well, that’s all for now. Tomorrow we head for the Almalfi coast. I can’t wait to play on the beach and hear the story of Pompeii! It should be a great weekend.