Florence: an evil place that steals your heart and enriches your soul

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SO I have successfully navigated an Italian supermarket, with the word “scusi” (excuse me) under my breath the entire time, had gelato twice a day, multiple days in row while justifying it with the fact that I walk 3 miles to school and back, plus walking for food and getting lost, averaging about 12 miles a day. I have washed some clothes and hung them on the towel warmer to dry. Attended and loved class, my Italian professor is fantastic. Paired paprika Pringles with a 4-euro pinot noir (they go wonderfully together p.s.). Indulged in real pizza, fresh pasta, and warm Panini (panino is singular and the plural form is Panini, sorry America we are saying it wrong). Let me tell you, I am being spoiled for the rest of my life. The cappuccinos are 1.5 euro and they are incredible and beautiful and it will be a battle with Caribou to hand over $5 for my decent at best coffee when I am home.

It has been 5 days since I stepped foot in Florence (Firenze in Italian). I have crossed many bridges. Literally. The river Arno runs through Florence and to get to school I have to walk down my street and then past two bridges until I reach the third bridge, the one I cross over, as it is the most direct route to school. My school is in a palace. No joke. However, it is not quite like the one you have drawn up in your head. It’s a palace by historical standard, not based upon how many princesses have lived there. The classrooms are huge and slightly dusty, but the material I am learning is wonderful.

My days are rich and filled with delicious food, long walks, laughs with friends, beautiful sights and a cozy apartment to come home to at night. The apartment is not very big, but I think it is perfect. After climbing 8 flights of stairs, I open the door to a sweet kitchen with a couch (my living and dining room). The ceilings are so cool! They are made of exposed wood and make me feel as though I am living in an Italian cottage. The light fixtures are pretty neat too. My kitchen has a chandelier and my bedroom has lights with red shades, giving my room a pinky glow. My apartment has 2 bathrooms and 2 showers! Yay! Everything is new and works wonderfully. Also in my room I have a window into the staircase of my building. I have exchanged several glances and prolonged eye contact with the lawyer who lives across from me. Note: he always wears sunglasses…the anonymity is somewhat intriguing.

The 25 minute walk to school is pretty tolerable when I’m surrounded by a culture of absolute charisma.

May I never keep my eyes down and become too familiar with the awe that encircles me.

I will update weekly now. With stories and adventures and pictures. Until then, know that I am doing well. That I am happy and that I am always hungry, for pasta, gelato, new ventures, a different vantage point, feelings of warmth, home and the desire to carve my own path.

May my appetite never be satisfied.

Ciao for now! I love you all and your support and kind words.

Thinking of you always.

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The Dumo which lives about 3 blocks away from me

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My breakfast. JEALOUS? you should be.

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Every street looks this quaint. It is remarkable. 

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The entrance to my school!

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My school’s courtyard and one of the classrooms which is straight ahead in this pictureQ

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The staircase leading to the rest of my classes

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Gustopizza is life and is right next to school, uh oh

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Just admiring Ponte Vecchio you know, casually

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Ponte Vecchio at night

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Across from school. This building has a beautiful fresco (wall painting)

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The Dumo at night featuring Gelato

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I don’t think this needs a caption

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The river Arno and Ponte Vecchio, a better picture  without me obstructing its view

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do and don’t order cappuccinos after a meal, EVER

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SO the majority of people I have talked to on my trip all have step counters (or whatever they’re called) you know the things that measure how many steps you’ve taken that day. So I am constantly hearing, “OMG Michelle we just walked 500 steps to the gelato shop, that’s so crayyyy.” I don’t have one of these magic little devices. Here is how I measure the distance I covered in the day: my feet are sore, my back aches, I’m thirsty, my leg cramps, my hair looks like the handy work of some nesting birds and my mind cannot comprehend the beauty and awe that my eyes absorbed in just a few hours.

Roma is a city full of rich history and modern culture. It is difficult to describe the feeling of walking a block down from your hotel, turning a corner and seeing Roman ruins next to an immense church, across the street from Michelangelo’s first (but not final) resting place, which is next door to a selfie-stick and adapter stand. My amazement is not in short supply here in this city. I walked all over Roma seeing the Trevi Fountain, several beautifully old and detailed gothic and baroque churches, the Pantheon, the Prime Minister’s home and many wonderfully carved obelisks placed all over the city that once served as coordinate markers for people who didn’t have access to Google Maps 600 years ago.

Next stop? Vatican city. Wow. This place was amazing. We walked all through the Vatican seeing enormous paintings from Raphael that were breathtaking. I learned so much about the history of different paintings and their creators from my tour guide who also happens to be the painting professor at my University I will be attending in Florence. When I entered the Sistine Chapel I felt humbled. Michelangelo truly captured life and faith in his work. The chapel is gorgeous and each painting tells its biblical story so well and intricately. Lets just say my neck hurts A LOT, that ceiling is too incredible not to stare straight up at for half an hour.

It is the year of the jubilee (an event the occurs every 25 years in which Catholics make a pilgrimage to the Vatican to walk through the Holy door, which is closed to the public at all other times). This is a special jubilee since the last one was in 2000, the next one shouldn’t have been until 2025. It was really special watching women and men of absolute faith enter through the threshold, kissing it and praying as they entered, you could feel their joy and love radiating.

As I exited the Vatican I walked out into the square where the Pope gives mass on Sundays at noon, the Christmas tree still up and decorated with a nativity scene at its foot, a vision of holiday spirit that gave me a sense of comfort.

Finally I went to the Colosseum and Roman ruins. It was insane to think about the people and lives they led 2,000 years ago as I snapped pictures with my picture taking device (something I’m the ancient Roman people could have never imagined, as they pushed criminals off the sides of buildings or buried them alive). As I walked through the city ruin’s streets and looked up at the arches and amphitheaters standing with incredible detail and towering height, I kept thinking to myself how awesome people are. Thinking about the perseverance it required to build structures such as those I saw, and then the nonchalant nature of the next couple generations to just pull down these gorgeous buildings to build new homes and churches. In many of the churches I entered, the columns within would not match because the constructors of the buildings used columns from the colosseum or the old senate house etc. SO cool.

The metro in Italy is, how should I say it… simpler compared to London? It is just not quite as modern and lovely as the Tube. Another three course meal for dinner (which I have had every night, covered by my program). Here is something I learned from these 3 course meals… pasta, all covered in red sauce and meat, is an APPETIZER in Italy. Yeah, needless to say I have had pasta, then meat, then dessert every night and am feeling satisfied and grateful. However, don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I am 85 pounds heavier, I cant help it! It’s the Italians and their delicious food… and wine!

It hasn’t been without its tribulations, but I think I am finally settling into life abroad. Today as I was walking through the streets of Trastevere a little girl all dressed up fro carnival (a celebration for children similar to that of Halloween but for a month long period… lucky little kiddos) ran up to me. Throwing her fist into the air with the biggest smile and sweetest laugh she released her fingers and a cloud of confetti rained onto my jeans, down my shirt and into my surprised hands. It was a small, silly gesture that made me so happy and welcomed in this beautiful country.

I leave for Florence tomorrow morning and will finally be able to settle into my apartment with my roommates! Myranda, Kiersten and Duvi are the lucky ladies who will be my roomies in Florence and I couldn’t be happier to get to know them and feel our friendships grow! It’ll be wonderful to establish myself somewhere and actually go back to school, I know! Crazy right? But I actually miss the routine of school work. For instance I am very excited to learn about Italian renaissance architecture, which is one of my classes!

 

Ciao for now famiglia.

 

Ps, I begin all of my posts with “SO” because I have realized that is how I begin most of my normal conversations and that way it really does feel like I am talking with you and catching you up on my life instead of talking AT you.

 

Much love and enjoy a few of favorite pictures from my little Roman exploration!

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Raphael’s last painting, very dramatic and beautiful

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Michelangelo’s sculpture of Jesus up close and personal

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One of the many obelisks all over Rome

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Bird’s eye view of ancient Roman ruins

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Only 1/5th of what is left of the original Colosseum 

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Gorgeous church 

Didn’t see the Queen, but London treated me like I was her Majesty

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3 of London’s favorite things all in one picture!!! A telephone booth, Big Ben and me!

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My HUGE fish and chips and mushy peas (green thing that looks like guacamole but tastes evil)

 

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Look Mom, I made friends!!!

 

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Weird ducks, scary eyes, too friendly for comfort or a prolonged photo..

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Kensington Gardens

SO after a few tears, an oddly delicious shrink wrapped airplane meal and standing alone in Heathrow airport for 40 minutes looking for my ride, I arrived in London! After discovering that I forgot my adapter, I made friends with my roommate, Vanessa, who graciously let me charge my phone. Two other girls, Grace and Leanne, who flew with my roommate from Dallas, Vanessa and I set out on our first mini exploration of our much greater adventure. We walked all through Kensington Gardens, stopping to see many very friendly birds, monuments (Peter Pan, Princess Diana’s fountain etc). We got back to our hotel and spent the night in, going to sleep at 9 pm. Jet lag hasn’t been too bad, it’s just been stranger to convert my current time to that of home, thinking about what I would be doing at that time back in the States and what my loved ones are up to.

On Tuesday (the 19th), I woke up at 8 am and was on a tour bus by 9 am. We traveled all over, learning fun facts about London’s biggest staples. We saw Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Covent Gardens, London Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey  and all the streets in between. Our bus dropped us off in the center of London and we walked our way around the city successfully, eating and laughing along the way. We used the Tube with success, only one wrong train was caught… We got back to our hotel at 7 pm and headed out to a local pub to have a “traditional English kitchen dinner”. I got fish and chips (image included) the fish was huge, but oh so good on a blistery cold night in London.

This morning (Wednesday the 20th) I boarded a bus to take me back to Heathrow and off to Rome at 6 am. And after a beautiful flight through the clouds and over the alps I have arrived in Rome (my temporary home for the next 5 days). The view out of my hotel is stunning. Wonderfully tall and colored buildings surround the alley my window is above. Each terrace has a lush garden and trellises that would make Romeo jealous. I opened my window to get some fresh air and with the fresh air came the voice of an elderly woman yelling Italian from her window to her pals on the street as they yelled back, I smiled, deciding that they must be yelling about how incredible their city is and how rich their culture feels, and not about what was for dinner or wether they had seen her cat lately.

I will update my blog after my travels in Roma (as the Italians say). Until then, it is nap time and of course pasta time after that, ciao!

Here’s to getting lost a few more times and finding myself again in a new country. Thanks for everything London, give me all you got Roma!

Love and miss you all. Wishing you were here to experience everything with me.