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Last-Minute Memories from A Semester Abroad

Fiona:  “It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in California, ignorant of the everyday bits of life that make Florence special. I love living in Florence. I love Italy. I’ve made friends and good acquaintances here, American and Italian.

I’ve been locked away indoors the past two weeks scrambling to work on final projects for all of my classes. I don’t think I’ll be able to see much of Florence these remaining few days; it’s the sacrifice I make to salvage my academics this semester — it’s been tough balancing this adventure with schoolwork when the outside world is fascinating.

I won’t make this blog post my final good bye to Italy.

I’ve just had so many thoughts go through my head these past many days. In some ways it’s a pity I’ll be leaving just as I feel I’ve gotten the hang of things here, but there are also things I’m excited for when I return home — seeing friends, my boyfriend, and dogs. Getting to mountain bike again, and take the liberty of sleeping in. I’m excited to have access to certain foods too, like good Mexican food and all the gluten-free things that await me at home.

However, I’m also aware of the things I’ll lose; I’ll lose the freedom of stepping out my front door and entering a city of adventure. I’ll miss being able to take a stroll around the city and stopping by my friends’ apartments to say hello or have some tea. I’ll miss seeing my Italian buddies around the city in restaurants and my neighborhood Tabacchi (a small store that sells stamps, loto tickets, cigarettes, candy, water and the like), from which I’d manically buy stamps and water bottles.

I drew on a postcard and gave it to the Via dei Macci Tabbachi store owners yesterday. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter. I’ll be trying to draw little things for my Florentine buddies before I go.

I’ll miss laughing at the creeper Italian men with my friends, and maybe even the gypsies (only a little).

What I’m counting on is that I’ll take with me the things that matter. I’ll keep the moments, stories and the things I’ve seen.

View of the Arno out of the Vasari Corridor.
View out of the Vasari Corridor (the hallway that runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio).

Elizabeth: “Studying abroad in Florence has been one of the best times of my life, and I know it will be for many many years to come. I’ve tried new foods and drinks, learned to live without a connection to the internet every minute of the day, and I feel like I’ve gained more knowledge about myself and how I work.

When I first arrived in Florence on the 26th of January, I was so scared and nervous that I wouldn’t fit in with everyone else on the trip, all I knew for sure was that I had Kaitlin with me. I’m so happy that we were able to go through this experience together, and I know that we both learned a lot about each other and shared experiences we will never forget. Kaitlin and Devin, our new roomies, were also friends before coming on this trip, and I think that is why we all got along so well. Although Kaitlin and I have different ideas of fun from Kaitlin and Devin, I feel like we still have so much fun when we’re together. I couldn’t have asked for better friends on this trip.

I also met 3 amazing new people, Lily, Megan, and Rachel, whom I absolutely adore. Kaitlin introduced them to me, and since then, the five of us have been hanging out whenever we can, whether that be having late night deep conversations or laughing along to silly movies. Along with my new friends, we found a new home for our studying, and new acquaintances with the people who work at MUG, our favorite cafe. Dealing with our love for flavored coffee and hamburgers, they have created a warm and kind place where we can go to study or have fun. I’ve met lots of fantastic people other than the couple I’ve mentioned on this trip too, people I would love to keep in contact with and reminisce with over a cappuccino and a croissant.

Leaving Florence will be difficult, I’ve grown to love the feeling of having a home away from home. The giant and impossible to maneuver around groups of tourists, the umbrella salesmen, and the men that stand outside restaurants shouting at you to come in, all things I hate hate and will not miss when I’m back in California, in no way outnumber the great times I had here. I’ll save my favorite moments for my next post.

Dealing with jet lag, homesickness, getting physically sick, and sadness during this trip all made me stronger as a person. I’m so glad to get back to my family, friends, job, and school back at home, but I know I will not be the same person they saw leave, and I’m so glad of that. I’ve changed for the better, and I’m proud! “

san miniato al monteBrigitte: “On Sunday morning, I met another student and we walked up to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants, but ended up staying in the main nave and attending mass for Palm Sunday. It’s a good walk uphill and has a great scenic view from the top. The inside of the church is beautiful, the floor is very interesting to look at and the ceiling has detailed designs. It’s one of my favorite churches I’ve visited.

After church we bought pizza at Gusta Pizza and walked around the antique/flea market in Piazza Santo Spirito. There were some very interesting old items and handmade goods being sold. Later in the day we met again to go back to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants. We found the service in an area behind and below the main altar. The voices of the monks were beautiful, it was an awe-inspiring experience.

view from San Miniato

Before class on Wednesday two other students and I went to the Boboli Gardens. We sat on the grass and had a picnic with another scenic view of Florence. We talked about the trip and how it has changed us. The sun was out and it was a perfect time to get some fresh air. picnic at boboli gardens

My roommates and I had a special dinner out since the program is close to ending. All four of us went to a cute restaurant on the side of Il Duomo; they had delicious food. It was strange to think back to the very beginning of the program when we were just settling. We discussed the program ,and how it will and already has affected us. It made us a little sad to think how it’s coming to a close.

dinner with roommates

My mom has arrived in Florence! I am planning on showing her around to the tourist sites and hidden gems of the city, in between class and homework. I’m glad she gets to experience the city that has been my home for the past 11 weeks. After the program is over we will travel and have more adventures together for another 4 weeks!

I’m sad to have this program end, I’ve had so much fun and learned a lot through it all; but I still have one more week to enjoy it!”

Visiting the Cinque Terre

Photographs by: Elizabeth M.

Cooking Classes in Florence

Written by: Fiona O.

Hello!

I’ve been wildly busy; my days are filled with schoolwork, friends, food, some sleep, skyping my mom and boyfriend, photography and blogging, weekend trips, and Florence. I’ve finished blogging about Rome! I have Switzerland left, Vinci, Bologna and Prague, as well as the second soccer game, San Gimignano and Siena. I pour my heart and hours of time into my blog, which is why the posts are flowing
s l o w  and steady.

Anyway, today I had my second cooking class at In Tavola! So much fun!!Here’s the link to my first cooking class.

Ingredients! (Those are gluten-free cookies, an adjustment made just for me  ).

My classmates with one of the chefs (the guy on the very right).
My Nor-Cal people: (L-R) Katerina S., Elizabeth M., Kaitlin J., Cameron F., and that one chef-guy. On the left are some of the So-Cal girls also studying abroad with AIFS.
Preparing the eggplant Caprese salad ingredients.

Mixing the gluten-free gnocchi at my table.

Then rolling them out into strips and chopping them up into little pieces!
Fun fact: the gluten-free gnocchi won’t stick to each other like the regular pieces will.
Our instructor Francesco instructing.

The gluten-free gnocchi and eggplant Caprese at my table!!

Elizabeth M. and Cameron F.’s hand trying to ruin her gnocchi-modelling.
Potato Gnocchi in Sugo al’Aglione (Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce).
Francesco demonstrating how to roll up the chocolatey dessert mix that is called “Sweet ‘Salami’.”
(It’s made of sugar, egg yolks, butter, bitter cocoa powder, sweet liquor, and crumbled cookies. They substituted the cookies for gluten-free ones!).
It’s wrapped up in foil, and its shape resembled a piece of salami. It is typically frozen for about 2 hours (but in the restaurant’s super-powerful freezer it only took 20 minutes).
My gluten-free “Sweet Salami” !!
It tasted really good! I had Elizabeth M. taste-test the difference between my gluten-free sweet salami and the regular one — mine tasted chocolatier and she liked it better.
The brave, gluten-free-Italian-cooking AIFS classmates at my table, including Katelyn C., Katie G., Carly B., Jackie P., and Ayla B.
Kaitlin J., Katerina S. and Elizabeth M., my dinner buddies!
I really like the AIFS cooking classes, and the efforts the restaurant (In Tavola) made to adjust to my food-needs was really awesome. I had a great, gluten-free vegetarian dinner with my AIFS people.
The restaurant did remarkably well tolerating me poking into every group to snap pictures and following Francesco about to listen to his instructions to other groups. We ate dinner below the restaurant like last time (see the previous Italian cooking class post here). We even all received little recipe menus afterward, just like last time 🙂
It’s a fun experience — I definitely recommend taking an Italian cooking class, especially through AIFS! Just let AIFS/your program know before-hand if you have any dietary-restrictions 🙂
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Definitely take one!
  • Don’t wear black/clothes you’re worried about getting dirty. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.
  • Don’t walk home alone afterward if it ends late in the evening!!! Have someone walk you. I walked with some AIFS girls that live near my house this time.
  • Bring a jacket for when it gets cold on the way home.

Amalfi Coast: A Weekend in Southern Italy

The Amalfi coast in the region of Campania is one of the most visited areas in all of Southern Italy, and it’s easy to see why after spending a weekend in the beautiful towns of Sorrento, Capri, Pompei & climbing up Mount Vesuvius.  

This weekend, we took a group of 57 students from different programs down to the Amalfi Coast: NCSAC (our Northern California Study Abroad Consortium), SDICCA (our San Diego & Imperial County Community College Association), and Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.  Our hotel was located in the little town of Sant’Agnello, just next to Sorrento, with a gorgeous view overlooking the bay.

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It was a short bus ride and a steep walk down the staircase built into the cliffs to get the port of Sorrento on Friday morning, where we took a ferry over to the island of Capri.  By 11:30 am, we were relaxing on a private guided boat tour around the island, enjoying the spectacular views of the many grottos and  the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the island.

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After the boat tour, the students split off into different directions to explore the island.  While some people enjoyed the freshly squeezed lemon & orange juice slushies known as granitas in the center of Capri Town, others took the bus over to Anacapri and rode the chairlift up to Monte Solaro, the highest point of the island.  After enjoying the views from the top, one of our students made a new friend while waiting for the bus to go back down to the Marina Grande port.

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On Saturday, everyone was free to explore the surrounding area on their own, so a big group of students headed off to the train station trying to decide where to go first.  A few students decided to visit Naples for the day, with a stop off first to check out the ancient Roman ruins at Herculaneum.  Other students decided to take advantage of the sunshine and visit the towns of Positano & Amalfi, where they spent the day relaxing on the beaches.

Sunday morning we set off for our guided tour of Pompei. Our guides showed us around the highlights of this ancient ruined city, from the preserved amphitheater to the Casa del Fauno, one of the villas that still has its original mosaic-tiled floors.

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After eating one last delicious Napoli-style pizza, we hopped back on our private bus and made the winding drive up to the summit of Mount Vesuvius.  Once we arrived, we strapped on our hiking shoes and trekked up to the very top of the volcano, admiring the views of the gulf of Naples and staring straight into the mouth of the beast that destroyed an entire town in 79 AD.

It was a long and action-packed weekend, and by the time we arrived back at the Naples train station everyone was looking forward to being back in Firenze.  Within a few hours on the fast train, we’d left behind the Amalfi Coast and were back in the heart of the Renaissance, exhausted but content at having seen such a beautiful region of Italy.

 

Capodanno Fiorentino 2014: A Florentine New Year

In order to understand why Florence celebrates their own Capodanno, or New Year’s, on the 25th of March, we must go back into history to the year 1582 when the invention of the Gregorian calendar changed the landscape of European history.  Although the beginning date of the new year was shifted to the 1st of January by the new Gregorian calendar, Florentines continued to celebrate their “new year” on March 25th, a date which undoubtedly was not chosen at random: it’s exactly 9 months before Christmas.

This date also coincides with the date in which the Catholic Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.  What does that mean for the city of Florence?  Well, the Basilica di Santissima Annunziata will be at the center of the day’s festivities, with particular attention on the fresco inside the church that represents the Annunciation.

According to legends, the artist commissioned to paint the fresco could not paint the face of the Virgin.  An angel then went to help him and completed the painting of Mary, therefore it is the painting itself that gives the church its name and which is still preserved inside.

During the Florentine Capodanno (New Year), a historical parade will wind through the streets of the city center, starting at the Palagio di Parte Guelphi through Piazza Repubblica, the Duomo & finally on to Piazza SS. Annunziata to give white lilies as homage to the miraculous portrait of the Virgin Mary.

Despite a decree from the Grand Duke Francis III of Lorraine issued in 1749 that officially changed the start of the New Year for Florentine’s to January 1st, the city continues to celebrate this traditional day 250 years later.

 You can catch all the excitement at 3:30 pm starting from just behind Piazza Repubblica.  The historical parade will wind through the main squares of Florence, finishing at the Basilica di Santissima Annunziata at 4:15pm for the homage of the lilies.

Sunday Carnevale in Viareggio

Written by: Fiona O.

Carnevale di Viareggio is a large-scale parade of floats and masks that occurs every year in the Tuscan city of Viareggio. It’s considered one of the greatest celebrations in both Italy and Europe.

I went on the AIFS day trip to Viareggio to see the Carnevale parade. The floats were extraordinary, and have always been very political in nature, often depicting famous people and politicians.

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The first float was so amazing! It was John Lennon’s head. One of the most amazing things about the floats, aside from their size, is how mobile they are. This float began with Lennon’s head cradled in his hands with a black and white background. As the music began playing, Lennon lifts his head and looks from side to side as everything explodes with confetti, movement and Beatles’ music. It was spectacular!!!
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The floats are huge — a bit of the 3-story building is visible next to this float. Each float played its own music, and large groups of dressed up people and dancers moved along between each huge float.

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Excited and dressed like a girl for Carnevale!
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Another amazing float. The shaman could move his head and hands, as well as blink. The butterfly pillars spun around crazily too.
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The crowd. That’s where the floats approached me from where I stood. That’s a 3-story building next to the shaman float, which gives you an idea of scale. The floats travelled a loop, so they moved down the street, then turned and came back along another street.
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One of the dancers in the parade.
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A giant voo-doo doll.
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This was so cool! The scale of it was just incredible. It makes you realise how almost all large-scale things are rendered digitally in movies — I can’t imagine how much effort went into constructing an actual, huge, mobile model of a robotic spider. Really loud techno/electronic music played, and the people on the float danced a little techno routine.

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I’m honestly not really sure what this is about.
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This float is definitely very political. Just consider the camouflage colours, painted face, and expression of the soldier in the tank. Anyway, this was a super cool float. It was so mobile; the helmet, hands, eyes, tongue and hair all moved. It’s erie to have the huge floats loom down over you.
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 The people on the floats were very dressed up too.
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This scary thing coming along the other side of the street. It was breathing smoke.
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Creeper Shot #7: Just chilling with an admirable tuft of texture.
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That devil float made it around to my side of the street. He’s dressed as a puppet master (his mask could come down over his entire face as well) manipulating (what I presume to be) politicians in a boxing rink. The pope was depicted as one of the puppets hanging off the back of this float.

 

Creeper shot #8: This looks like the same guy as in #7, but I’m 70% sure it’s not. The hair is a tiny bit different.

 

All I can work out is that Immigrazione= Immigration.
Omosessualita = Homosexuality. I have to admit that I’m very entertained by how willing the Italian men are to dress up like this.
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I’m not sure what the message is here, but this was such an awesome float. The guy could fold his wings and duck his head, to where he wasn’t that visible. Then he rose up while spreading his wings.
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Creeper shot #8: This guy’s carrying some figurines.
 

Figurines like this one were carried along on the back of a single, dedicated \ person.
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They Hysteria float — the lady (dressed in the colours of Italy) basically just screams (there’s a sound track). A scientist and psychologist are on either side of her. Again, I’m not sure what the message is here, but I interpreted it as representation of Italy’s (social and political) problems that are understood neither by the scientist (who studies physical bodies), nor by the psychologist (who studies the mind).
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This thing was pretty intense — it’s eyes, jaw, head and arms all moved. It just leered creepily over the crowd.
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Poseidon appeared. He could both sit and stand upright.
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Creeper shot #9: A cute soccer-playing child with that hair cut I need to photograph.
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I ran off to explore and found the beach!! The mountains in the distance were such an unexpected sight!
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Me by the sea shore of the  Mediterranean Sea.
Tips for Viareggio:
  • Bring layers! It may be warm for a while, but the temperature drops in the evening.
  • Ride the ferris wheel! I didn’t do this, but some classmates had a great time (and a great view).
  • Walk through/along with the parade. You see everything faster this way, and get to dance around and stuff (I didn’t do this, I stood in one spot).
  • Take sunglasses, it can get sunny.
  • Don’t let the kids throw confetti at you — they tend to scoop it off of the ground.
  • Go run over to the beach! It’s so gorgeous.

Venice: The Island of Burano

While most people are familiar with the beauty of Venice & the island of Murano (where the famous Venetian Murano glass is made), not many people find out about Venice’s other island, Burano.

With its colorful houses and hand-crafted lace industry, this island is definitely worth exploring if you have the chance.  Check out some photos below of Elizabeth H., one of our AIFS student ambassadors, as she discovers the tiny town of Burano.