A Last Hurrah in Split, Croatia

Posted by Madeline on June 7, 2018 in Brac Island, Croatia, Split, studying abroad, travel

A few weekends ago (April 26-29) my roommates and I went on a Bus2Alps trip to Croatia. We looked into organizing it ourselves, but it was hard to find affordable transport. Bus2Alps was cheaper to use with what they provided, so we just used them for transportation and accomodation. Our bus left at 9 pm Thursday, arriving around 10 am Friday to Split! Our seats didn’t recline much, and there was barely any space, so I didn’t sleep well at all! The 27th was my friend Rachel’s birthday, and she’d found a guided kayaking and cliff jumping tour for us at 3. Until then, we decided to go to the beach, which was nice since I didn’t have much energy! The water was so clear there, and saltier than the water I’d been in in Italy (Sicily and Viareggio) somehow. We sunbathed, played volleyball in the water and listened to music. When it was time, we started heading for the kayak place. They drove us in a van to a rocky beach -it was really uncomfortable to walk on! And we put in our kayaks, I was in a kayak with Lucy, Rachel with Jesse, and Roselyn with Daniella. Our guide was alone, and took pictures as we went along. It took about half an hour to get to the cliffs. We parked our kayaks at a small beach around the bend from them. Getting out, we saw a starfish in the shallow water, and asked if we could pick it up:) Our guide said it wouldn’t hurt it and we were just preparing it for high tourist season!!

It felt so funny to hold..slightly prickly, and when it moved I almost wanted to drop it because it felt so strange. After we’d passed it around for everyone to hold, we put it back off to the side and continued to the path to the cliffs. There were little prickly plants that we stepped on and put our hands on climbing over the rocks, which was slightly painful! When we made it out to the edge, we went to the lower rocks to jump first. It was exhilarating to jump off, I hit the water with a smack and water went in my nose. The water felt so good though, refreshing! We swam to the wall, where there were low enough rocks and grabbing spots to lift ourselves back up to climb back to the jumping spot. Next, we went to the higher level, about 7 meters I think the guide said.

After a few rounds, we were ready to keep going. Staying somewhat close to the mainland, we passed between small rock outcroppings and finally glimpsed the bay where we’d go to shore. When we paddled in, a few families were at the little beach watching their kids play in the water. They were really excited by the kayaks, so our guide let them get in one and paddle around a bit!
While our guide loaded up the van with a tiny help here and there from us, we watched the sunset over the water. It was so calming and peaceful, I felt good surrounded by friends in such a beautiful place enjoying the moment.

The next morning, we took a ferry to the nearby island of Brac. The ferry ride made me nostalgic of times when we took a ferry across Lake Champlain as a kid. I loved seeing the changing landscape from the ship as we went by.

View of Split from the Ferry

The hour long ferry ride brought us to a quaint marina and town filled with white cottages with bright clay red roofs.

Incredibly clear, turquoise waters greeted us when we went down to the shore. For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant we found that said they were the best in the town. I was skeptical since that’s a common, often false advertisement. Looking at the menu though, it seemed good, and the customers food appeared so as well, and they praised it. So we sat. One girl in our group said to the waiter how the food was good, but still inexpensive. He shook his head, saying not really. He said in the center of the town you could get the same dishes cheaper, but here, they prepare the food properly, and truly follow how it is meant to be, such as using the best cuts of meat, etc. It was nice to hear his honesty..he could have simply nodded and smiled, but he took the time to explain the importance of how we had truly paid for quality.
Lucy and I took an earlier ferry back than the rest of the group, since we wanted to explore the city of Split more. We’d heard of Diocletian’s Palace, but didn’t know anything more besides Game of Thrones had some scenes filmed there. After speaking with a guide, we found out that most of the central square of Split was where the Palace used to stand, but had been filled in with buildings for the people to live. We meandered around, enjoying the absence of cars, narrow streets archways, and marble walls. What I really liked was that Split felt very different from Italy. When I’d gone to Barcelona, the ancient buildings looked just like those of Italy’s, similar to what I’d seen in Rome. The wide use of marble for building, and those bright red roofs I think were what really set it apart. It also didn’t seem as touristy as I would have expected since they had this large, beautiful palace, right on the sea, and the popularity of Game of Thrones. But as Lucy and I went to the museum, it seemed as though they could have benefited from some tourism to bring in money for upkeep and repairs. On the lower level below the city, the old cellar or basement of the Palace, there were leaky areas, crumbling walls and it just seemed to be deteriorating overall. I did have fun making some friends back home who are lovers of Game of Thrones jealous though!

Our last day, we hopped back on the bus. In an hour we reached Krka National Park. The bus ride down to the main area made me sad we weren’t there longer to do a true hike into the vast wilderness we could see as we wound down the weaving road. We only had time for a walk down to the falls area and hanging out there a bit before re-boarding the bus. The falls were very beautiful though, and we walked on a boardwalk through what was like an upscale swamp -a mix of trees, plants and water, but the water was clear to the bottom with mesmerizing whirlpools.
I’m so glad I went on this trip, for a bit of a last hurrah with my roommates for the semester, and to be there for my friend Rachel’s birthday!


First Trip Outside of Italy

Posted by Madeline on April 22, 2018 in Barcelona, studying abroad, travel

So unfortunately, the wishes of my last post did not fully come true, as last weekend I went to Barcelona and it rained almost the entire two days we visited! To note, of course on Sunday morning when we left, the weather forecast was sunny and 68… perfect timing!! Ah well, we still had a good time and made the most of it! Flying in on the lovely Ryanair, our already late-night flight was delayed an hour, so by the time we got to our airbnb it was almost 2am! My roommate, Jesse, and I went right to bed since we wanted to get up and rolling early the next day. Before our planned 9:30 visit to La Sagrada Familia, we stopped at a place called Granier Cafe to grab a little breakfast to go. They had a deal offering 3 muffins for 1.50 euro, and the muffins were called Magdalenas,so it was fate! They were light, moist and lemony, and we ended up getting them the rest of the mornings of our trip!
La Sagrada Familia was really cool to see outside and in. With construction still going on, the outside is slightly harder to appreciate with cranes and structures blocking the full cathedral though.

Inside felt more modern with the tree-like structures stretching to the ceiling and geometrical stained glass windows moving through the colors of the rainbow with each progressing window. We enjoyed reading the signs about Gaudi too, with his goals to make a bright, inviting church to encourage people to come worship. Jesse and I talked about our own feelings on religion, and how it can be hard to figure out what we believe.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Guell at 1pm. Since it was only about 10:30, we decided to walk there, stopping at a viewpoint of the city along the way and then a supermarket for snacks. We arrived at the park well before 12 and sat on a bench to eat our crackers and cheese. With so much time to spare, we walked to stand under these arches of a cave built into the hill where a 4 man band was playing. Two played guitar, one played a mix of hand held instruments, while another drummed or danced. Their unique energy and style was fun to watch. Right around our time to line up for our time slot, it began to rain, then pour. That made me unashamedly pout, but thankfully the monument part had a covered area, and then the rain let up a bit when we went to see the mosaics.

On our way out, a wall of checkerboard mosaics framed the stairway down and I liked the individual mosaics and altogether as a pattern. It reminded me of quilts.

By the time we left, we were both veeery ready for lunch. We knew we wanted paella, so I googled and found a place near another spot we wanted to see. The restaurant, La Fonda, was right off a famous street called La Rambla, where there are many touristic shops, but it’s a beauriful, wide-set street with two lines of trees surrounding the central walking path.

The restaurant ended up looking much fancier than I’d imagined, but it wasn’t too badly priced for us to split a skillet of paella with clams, calamari, shrimp and pork. It was nice to get a small break from Italian food, even though I love it, don’t get me wrong! But I enjoyed having a different type of food. We sat next to an older couple that I don’t think said a single word to each other the whole meal. Once they left, Jesse and I both commented on how sad that was to see! We both agreed we never want to end up in a relationship like that. They looked miserable, we both hoped it was maybe because of a fight rather than how they are all the time, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t the latter. Next, we stopped at the market nearby along La Rombla. The covered space had many vendors, some selling fruit -whole and in cups to go, or smoothies, others with meats, fish, crepes, nuts, burritos..more than I can name! I got a cup of mixed fruit, while Jesse got one with just mangoes -I think I should have done the same because hers were so fresh and sweet, whereas my mix didn’t seem quite as good! Then we shared a kabob of strawberries drizzled in chocolate:)

Quite exhausted and wanting to get out of our damp clothes, we headed back to our airbnb. We climbed into bed and set our alarms for 1/2 an hour. When they went off, we shut them off and woke up about 2 hours later!! I felt so groggy for the rest of the night! Intelligently, before we fell asleep, we’d made reservations at Taverna Can Margarit, suggested by our airbnb host, for 9 pm. It was right in the neighborhood, (Poble Sec) only a 5 minute walk from our place. Jesse and I went along with a girl named Remyah. While waiting for your table, they offer you a glass of their house wines in barrels in the front room. Their wines seemed thicker and sweeter than the wines I’ve had in Italy. It was a cool idea to hang out and mingle with a glass of wine before dinner. The decor of the place reminded me of a cabin. Where we sat, there was a wood beamed overhang in a large yellow room with wooden, wicker-like chairs, and more wooden antiques hanging on the walls. Jesse and I shared a plate of rabbit stewed with onion and garlic.
The next morning, we hiked up tons of hills and stairs to reach Montjuic Castle, a military fortress with views of the sea. We didn’t really feel like paying to go in, and weren’t sure if it would be worth it, so we walked back down, heading to Granier Cafe once again. I ordered a coffee along with the Magdalena and another pastry I wanted to try for only 2.60 euro! We sat by the window, and while we sat, a little girl with a Mickey Mouse umbrella and her little rain boots on the wrong feet, walked by. We waved, and she waved back, then continued back past us along the window to wave at all the other people sitting behind us! Her mom smiled and rolled her eyes, turning the stroller around to go grab her! That made my morning:)
We got on the metro to go find some of Gaudi’s houses. We saw Casa Battlo and Mila, both with the unique wave-like style outer walls with round windows. Casa Battlo had more mosaics and bright colors, so I liked that one better. It started to rain again, so we chose to give up on site-seeing and shop. We didn’t find anything good, so we stopped and went for nachos and tacos for lunch. Then we felt we had to try the churros at a bakery, and they came as a stack of them to dip in a cup of something in between hot chocolate and pudding!
Jesse and I both love soccer, so we decided to head to a bar to watch the Barcelona vs. Valencia game. We guessed at a stop to get off from the metro, then googled ‘sports bars near me’. I randomly chose Dow Jones Bar. We sat down to watch the game since the bartender was watching as eagerly as the customers. At half time I ordered a June Bug and tap water, the first time I’ve had free water in Europe!! It was fun to watch the game at a relaxed bar, and comment on the game with Jesse. At the end of the game (Barcelona won 2-0 btw) Jesse’s friend, Maddie, who’s studying abroad in Barcelona met us there to show us around a bit before dinner. She showed us the gothic district we hadn’t been able to find earlier and the port area, then we went to a tapas bar: Pepa Tomate. We shared dishes of bread with a tomato and garlic juice sauce, mushrooms in a wine sauce, spinach fritters with honey aioli -my favorite, grilled lettuce hearts in lemon vinaigrette and wok vegetables on rice noodles. After dinner, Jesse informed us that her dad was paying for our meal, what a nice treat!
We decided we also wanted crepes for dessert, so we found somewhere nearby that had giant foot-long crepes:) We walked and ate, as Maddie showed us Plaza del Sol, where she said people just go to sit on the stones at night and drink beers.
For our last night, we decided to try out the famous night life of Barcelona. We went to a club called Boulevard -a multi floor club with many different rooms playing different types of music. We met three guys from Finland who we hung out with the rest of the night. They were pretty funny and one was a hilarious, but pretty decent dancer! Around 3, I was getting tired and wanted to leave. Some of my friends still wanted to stay out, but I convinced one to come back and then the other two followed! We ended up going to bed at 4 in the morning and waking up at 8:30 for our travel I felt out of it the whole day, and went to bed at 8 that night!!
Overall, it was a really fun trip, but one thing I realized is that I shouldn’t judge a place so much by pictures on social media. Before I went, my image of Barcelona was so different because all that was in my head was an unrealistic city full of mosaics and bright colors. It’s easy to forget that the little blurbs on social media are only tiny parts of places that don’t begin to make-up the overall picture and feel of the whole city. My expectations of Barcelona were a little too high, which made my adjustment to reality harder. I still had a great time, but I now know I need to be careful about how much I let social media influence my presumptions since you can’t base your expectations of an entire city off of a few pretty tourist attractions.


Rain, rain Go Away!

Posted by Madeline on April 12, 2018 in Lucca, Pisa

Besides just being a nuisance, and depressing my mood, I realized when talking to my friend, Lacey, the other night, that there are even more reasons why the rain puts a damper on the day here. Back home, we basically drive everywhere, so the worst part when it rains is running to and from the car. Here, we walk EVERYWHERE. So, when it rains, you have to deal with it your whole 15-30 minute walk to wherever you’re going, or simply choose to not leave the house! Also, half the time, the umbrella does not keep you fully dry, so you end up with wet shoes and pants, maybe part of your jacket. And we’ve been having LOTS of rain this semester :/
With my rant over, Florence has had some glimpses of amazing weather. Bouts of 60s and 70s with loads of sunshine, which I can feel a complete change in how I feel: motivated, awake, happy to be alive, and wanting to go out and do, do, do! I love those days. It’s shocking how much impact the weather has on my mood and feelings. This past weekend was one of those good weather days. It was perfect, as I was visiting Ubaldo (the family friend’s friend from past posts) who showed me around the small cities of Pisa and Lucca nearby his home.
I arrived by train midday Saturday, where we began a walk through Pisa -across the same Arno River that runs through Florence, along the street: Via Borgo Stretto with loggias on either side, and my favorite part: no cars! In the older section of Pisa, most areas are solely pedestrian access, which made it so much easier and enjoyable to walk than Florence. I also liked how the buildings were shorter, so the streets felt less claustrophobic and the sky and sun were more visible. We went to lunch at a fish restaurant (Pescheria), L’isola Dei Gabbiani owned by a friend of Ubaldo’s. I had tagliatellini with tomato and snapper and a dessert with mascarpone and pineapple. Oh, and white wine, which Ubaldo told me is usually paired with fish.
After, we continued to Lucca. We started with a walk up along it’s walls that wrap around the small downtown area of the old city center. I had pictured the walls to be old and medieval, completely of stone, like a fortress. My image was really off! The walls were much more natural, the outer part was stone, but the paths for walking and biking were more of a dirt trail or pavement on soil, with a grassy park area outside the walls.

We passed people biking, families with kids walking or couples strolling in the sun’s soft afternoon rays. A nice setting for a “passeggiatta” (walk). We walked down off the walls to see the downtown area. Just as in Pisa, Lucca’s city is pedestrian-only with small, beautiful streets of fancy shops and nice restaurants. Ubaldo told me the city was historically quite wealthy. He said families used to marry off their first daughter to a son of another rich family, and the second daughter often became a patron for a church that the father had sponsored the construction. It did appear to still be doing well, for it was clean and well-kept. My favorite part was the circular piazza in the center: Piazza Anfiteatro, located inside a restored colosseum, giving it the circular shape.

We made our way back up to the top of the wall for a drink and apertivo to hold us over until dinner. I had a glass of prosecco and they brought out a tray of small bites. The fresh air and simply sitting outdoors felt so wonderful. That’s one thing I miss living in a city. Although it got chilly sitting there, I was content and felt relaxed outside. Walking back to the car, the colors of the setting sun were mild and gentle. It felt like the setting of a movie.

At home, Ubaldo started making Risotto al Nero di Seppia, rise with squid and squid ink! –Earlier at lunch, I’d mentioned that my dad had tried squid ink pasta on one of his past trips to Italy. Ubaldo asked if I wanted to try it, and I said sure, if he was okay with that. As I figured he would, he agreed, saying it’d been a while since he’d made it!– Before starting to cook, he turned on Spotify and poured a glass of wine with a small bowl of an equivalent to chex-mix, his own little apertivo! The rice was really tasty, but was definitely turning my whole mouth black because when I used my napkin, it came away with black smears! Next, his neighbor Pauola, who he considers his local mom, made us carciofi fritti (fried artichokes) that looked like chicken wings! They were surprisingly good, and nice and chewy! He said he’d forgotten to get dessert, but had some Pana (cream) flavored ice cream and an apple pie another neighbor had made him. I happily agreed. And finally, we finished with a small glass of limoncello, a strong bitter and sweet liqueur that I can only take in small sips!
The next morning, we stopped for the Italian style breakfast of a croissant and cappuccino, on our way to the beach. He took me to a somewhat wild beach at the Marina di Vecchiano only reachable by car. I loved how the distant violet-blue mountains trickled down the landscape to meet the water’s edge.

People were also using the driftwood that had collected on the sands to build teepees! We walked up and down the water then sat for a bit on a log and talked some more. He asked what I plan to do as a nurse, and I explained I didn’t know yet. I talked about how I like the idea of being involved with maternal and newborn health and nutrition to give children their best shot at a healthy life. But I said I’m also interested in geriatrics because I usually enjoy the elderly, but also I’m passionate about taking care of people at such a delicate stage of life, and learning how to treat them in a safe way. I told him how I didn’t think my grandma received good medical care at the end of her life. It was horrible to watch her suffer, and I think some of her suffering was partly due to or accentuated by the choices of those in charge of her care. Because of that, I have an interest in learning more about how to treat the elderly in a way that the horrid side effects of drugs do not outweigh the apparent “treatment”. He listened, and advised me to have an open mind, and simply try to keep learning and gain more experiences to figure out where I belong.

We then returned to his house, where we had lunch at his neighbors’: Gigi and Nina, along with his two local “parents,” and their son, Luca who is Ubaldo’s good friend. Gigi and Nina invited us for Pasqua, Easter for them was that Sunday because they are Orthodox. Although they spoke in Italian during the meal, Ubaldo at times translated for me, or they asked me a few questions that I responded to in my basic Italian. Even in only sharing a few words with them, they felt so welcoming and kind; putting their hand on my shoulder or smiling. I hugged each of them goodbye and gave the typical Italian two kisses on each cheek. I hope to see them again someday.
Our last event of the weekend was to see the cathedral and oh so famous leaning tower of Pisa. Ubaldo’s friend works there, so he gave us a tour of the church along with some history, and then we climbed the tower.

We sat at the top enjoying the view for a bit, before heading back down. And as many of my trips include, we stopped for gelato at his favorite place in Pisa, La Bottega del Gelato (bottega=shop), even though I was still quite full from lunch! I asked what his favorite flavors were and he said pinoli, pine nuts. So I ended up getting Pinoli and Pistacchio, and we sat up on the wall of the river: “at the best bar in town,” Ubaldo said.


It Usually is the little Things

Posted by Madeline on April 2, 2018 in Florence, Rome, Sicily, Uncategorized

My mom arrived later Friday evening, so our visit basically started Saturday morning. We started off in Florence, so I could show her around the place I know best! Mostly, we walked around and I showed her some of my favorite sites: Michelangelo Square and Chiesa di San Miniato, the San Lorenzo Market, Basilica della Santa Anunnziata, Gelateria La Carraia and Semel (panini shop). Every morning we started off with a cappucino at different bars in Florence and each place we went (mom was struggling with me not having coffee in the apartment since she drinks a whole pot herself at home!!!) That was one of our favorite things during the whole trip, just sitting, enjoying each other’s company with a nice caffeine kick of course:)

Our coffee spot on the patio of our airbnb in Marina di Ragusa

Our last full day in Florence, we rented E-bikes (powered with a motor when you pedal) to go to a winery in the countryside around Florence. The idea sounded fun and relaxing, but actually biking in the city was confusing and stressful with cars and trying to find the bike paths! Even out of the city, there were still cars whizzing past us which was not entirely our idea of a peaceful bike ride in the countryside as we had thought.. We still enjoyed the scenery though, at stops along the way and at the winery. The winery itself was refreshing to feel more in nature and have a quiet afternoon.
Tuesday morning, we left for Rome with an early wake-up call for an 8:40 train. Our first stop in Rome was a bar because at that point mom was really needing the cappuccino by the time we got there!! Then, our first official stop was at St. Peter’s Basilica, to the end of the line wrapping around the whole square. We really didn’t mind the 45 minute wait in the beautiful square, comfortably standing in sunny 60 degrees with fountains and statues to look at.
We wandered about the church, and mom got to see Michelangelo’s La Pieta, an incredibly emotional statue of Mary holding Jesus, although it is slightly harder to admire with the wall of glass preventing a closer look. We continued to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Colosseum and our last stop was Trevi Fountain. Back at the train station, we found our cabin for the night train with two bunk beds. The beds actually weren’t that uncomfortable, but our conductor kept knocking our door to give us blankets and breakfast and check to see if our cabin mates came in, which they never did. We also didn’t sleep as well worrying that at each stop someone might be coming into our room!

Top bunk for me!

After our on and off sleep, we watched the scenery, mainly the glistening sea for the last leg of our trip in the morning. Finally, we reached Siracusa, where we met our bed & breakfast host, Maria (a friend of Salvatore who lives in Ragusa). We dropped our bags at the room and went to the market for lunch: a huge, rich panino that kept us full until 9 that night!

Then we wandered about Ortigia Island (the oldest part of the city of Siracusa) seeing churches and the bright blue sea!

Pretty restaurants along the coast

Small beach tucked between cliffs and the dock

Cute random shop with my cute mom in front

Thursday, we were looking for a bar to stop at on our way to the archaeological park. An older man walking by and said, “You look lost,” I looked at mom and then said, “Well, we’re looking for a good cafe, do you know one?”
He said, “Yeah up here across from my apartment there’s a good one,” and he waved us to follow. He asked where we were from, then said he was from Conneticut, but had been living here 25 years teaching English at a university. At his gate, he pointed us across the street and said if we needed anything, we could come ring his door! An unexpected act of kindness from a random stranger.
After coffee, we continued up the hill to the park. The park had two sides: Greek and Roman. The Greek side was amazing, with caves built into the hill -a waterfall flowing into a pool in one of them, the theatre where they used to perform and views of the sea.

Next was the Cave of Dionisus -which later when we met up briefly with Salvatore, Stefania and Francesco, Francesco explained that the cave used to hold slaves and Dionisus had a small hole at the top where he could listen in to see if any slaves were planning an escape!

Opening of the Cave of Dionisus

The Roman side was interesting to see its theatre as well, but was not as impressive as the Greek.
That night, we planned to go out for dinner because I really wanted to try fish. We checked the restaurant we were going to, but it looked empty, so we decided to look for an apertivo. We found a small shop selling local meat and cheese products with a sign for apertivo. We stopped in and ordered our glasses of wine and got a board of samples of their products, but it was big! We didn’t feel like eating a full dinner after, so we debated, and decided to just go grab two pieces of cake for dessert -a nice alternative!
Friday morning was a bit rushed as we prepared to leave on a train to Ragusa at 11. Planning ahead, we got a panino at the market…the craziest I’ve ever seen. The panino maker, Andrea, was so fun to watch. He had an art with the ingredients, as he sniffed and chopped and tossed them together,
so entertaining to watch him at work. As he made the person ahead of us, I decided we wouldn’t get meat because the sandwich was huge. Expecting to have the same as their’s, but without the meat on top, we were shocked when he went to the back to slice a different cheese, laid it out and put pulled mozzarella dipped in lemon juice with herbs and sliced orange on it, then wrapped it up and put all THAT on the panino!! Mom and I were just laughing in amazement.
Then we ran into Maria at the market who said she’d spoken to Salvatore that morning and he’d meet us at the station in Ragusa! At that point I worried we might not be eating the panino for lunch considering the hospitality I’d received from him on my last visit! I was right, as he drove us to his home and offered us a special torte of the Easter season, lamb, cheese made that morning, a pear and wine. He then put a bunch of tomatoes, the rest of the cheese, a pear and two bananas in a bag for us to take along to the airbnb!
I finally got some fish for dinner that night on a recommendation from our airbnb hosts to go to Il Delfino.
On Saturday, I was determined to swim! On our way out, Nello (the father of the family of our airbnb) said buon giorno, and asked if we were going out for lunch today. He didn’t speak much English, so I explained in Italian that we had food at home for lunch, but we were going to walk at the sea and I wanted to try to swim! He asked some other questions in Italian, slowly, and I was able to respond in a way we could understand! It was exciting and I felt proud 🙂 Outside was warm, but the breeze was a bit cool, but I eventually got in anyways..I was determined!
That night, we went to dinner at their second recommendation: Trattoria da Carmelo. Walking to our table, we saw the couple who arrived earlier in the other apartment at our airbnb! They also didn’t speak much English, but we both laughed and said hello (caio)! We ordered a Sicilian specialty with bucatini and sardines, then a plate of mixed grilled seafood. Our neighbor came over before they left and said “molto buono,” gesturing how my Italian teacher had taught us for yummy: twisting the pointer finger at the corner of the mouth. -Again I was excited to understand!
Our last day was a slight wash with packing and it was so windy out!! It was not enjoyable and tired us out to be in it! A little before 3, we went to the main house of the family to return a plate and offer them the many leftover tomatoes we had from Salvatore. Nello, Giovanna (the mother) and their son (didn’t catch his name) were finishing lunch, and Giovanna waved us to come inside. The son spoke the most English, but still not very much, and Giovanna couldn’t speak any, so most of our communication was me deciphering their Italian and gestures! Giovanna offered us a “dolci di Pasqua,” a cake with ricotta, lemon zest and cinnamon on top..delicious! She pointed for us to sit, but mom said no, trying not to put them out of their way, and then she continued to pull mom over to sit down!! They offered us pepsi, wine, beer and coffee. So we also ended up with a little wine and two espressos! Mom and I both truly enjoyed the family and how content they seemed -Nello was kind and accommodating for me during our conversation, so I could understand, the son was friendly, and Giovanna was a character fitting the welcoming Italian mother I’d pictured in my head. Our main host, Valeria, wasn’t there when we left, but she had been really nice and energetic on our arrival! A happy ending to our adventurous trip.
Today has been a bit of a loss, as I figured it would be. Getting used to my mom not being here when she was for a week straight is hard to adjust to, so I felt a bit depressed and unmotivated! Tears were on and off most of the day, but getting back into the flow of my Florence life and school will help me settle in again.


Friends Forever

Posted by Madeline on March 26, 2018 in Florence, studying abroad, Uncategorized

Last week, one of my best friends from home visited me. Even though she told me not to worry, I still stressed about trying to organize the best week possible for her little stay in Florence! Right before she arrived, we had two perfect sunny warm days in a row. The day she got here was cloudy and cold, which eventually turned to rain for multiple days of her time here! That made it even harder to plan, but we still managed to do a lot, thankfully. Her first night, we went out for dinner, had some pizza and wine, and caught up on what we’d been missing in each other’s lives for the past two months. We had a great time laughing and telling stories; reconnecting with good friends is wonderful.
Monday I have class 10:30 to 5:30, but I asked my professor if Katherine could visit Santa Croce Church with us since I suggested for her to see it anyways. He kindly agreed, as long as I introduced her at the start of class! Santa Croce was beautiful. The space was huge. Front and center was the alter, with the wealthiest families chapels filling the spaces closest to it, all immaculately decorated as well. We visited the burial monuments of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, speaking about these brilliant minds who came to rest here.

Stunning Santa Croce alter

That night, after much debate over staying in or going out, my roommate Jesse pushed us to just go! I’m glad she did. We met up with another roommate of mine, Rachel, at Il Rifrullo for apertivo -this awesome thing in Italy where for the price of a drink you also get small snacks or in some cases like Il Rifrullo, a buffet! The owner greeted us and took our orders. I asked what he recommended since I was thinking about trying a typical Italian negroni. He told me if I didn’t like bitter (which I don’t) I should probably go for a spritz instead! He went through the list with me and brought me a sample of the elderflower syrup used in the Hugo Spritz! He was so nice and I ended up ordering that one, it tasted a lot like a gin and tonic to me with my inexperienced taste. We sat by the fire talking, eating great food and drinking our fun cocktails -low key how I like it! We also each snagged a chocolate pancake sandwich for the road!
Tuesday, after Italian, we took a long walk up in the outskirts of Florence, past villas with yards and stone fences that we peered over. On the road we passed more cars than people and found views of Florence I didn’t realize existed.

I saw us in the mirror for cars to see around the bend, so I took our picture. A nice old school selfie

Wednesday night after my cooking class we walked to the Arno River to sit on the bridge and watch the sunset! Then when Jesse finished her class, we went for gelato (a must).

Thursday, it rained a lot, so we tried to go shopping, but just didn’t want to be cold and wet anymore!!
Friday, for Katherine’s last night, Rachel and Lucy joined us for apertivo again:) at a place called Serafini. Another tasty buffet, and we all got aperol spritzes. We sat outside in covered seating with little fires for warmth. They shut down promptly at 9, so we headed home!
Most mornings we stopped for coffee before I headed to class. We usually stopped at the News Cafe since it’s right across the street from where I have my Italian class, so I could stay to the last minute, and Katherine could wait for me there for my class to end:) We also enjoyed the little french bulldog, Gordan, the barista’s pet!
Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:40 (I think it was) to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes, but I was so glad for the time we had together. It’s nice to know that however long it is until I see her again, we’ll pick up right where we left off.


Italian Generosity

Posted by Madeline on March 10, 2018 in Ragusa, Sicily, studying abroad

A few weeks ago, I sent a WhatsApp message to a family friend, Elisa, who grew up in Sicily to ask when a good time to visit the island is. Not directly answering my question, she responded that she would contact her friends in Sicily and other parts of Italy to see if I could stay with them! This first act of kindness at first made me nervous, if I accepted, I would stay with people I’d never met before -would it be weird? awkward? I was unsure. After she emailed her friends, one named Ubaldo emailed me about visiting for an event in his town (mentioned in my last post). The night before I left I started getting nervous. I was overwhelmed by his gracious offer to be his guest at a luncheon, a dinner party and being given a place to stay in his home –which even further, ended up being his own bedroom, while he slept on the couch.– That night I worried about receiving such acts of kindness, I’d never experienced such generosity, so I felt this pressure of worrying I’d be a burden, of not being able to repay him, and to be a good guest. My parents reassured me that the Italian culture in general is a welcoming one, they often will take friends of a friend as their own.
I first thought about making this blog post after my trip to Sicily this past weekend, where I stayed with another of Elisa’s friends, Salvatore and his family. I realized that I’m unsure if this type of hospitality and graciousness exists in US culture. Perhaps it does, but I’ve never witnessed or heard of it happening. I felt a need to recognize and share this because with both of my stays, I felt so well-cared-for and comfortable. I truly admire this aspect of Italian culture, and want to try to incorporate it into my own actions, to make others feel as blessed as these people made me feel. On the bus ride back to the airport Sunday, my heart felt so full thinking over the past few days.
The trip began with stress as Florence received it’s first snowfall since 2010. Since they don’t have great methods to deal with it, public transport can get messy. I went to the train station extra early in preparation for fewer and slower trains trains to Pisa for my flight. After waiting 1.5 hours, I finally got a train, and arrived to Pisa early for my flight by hours. Then, without explanation, my Ryanair flight got delayed an hour. I texted Elisa’s friend Salvatore right away because the delay would make me miss the last bus from Catania airport to Ragusa. He said he would contact his sister in law in Catania for me to stay there for the night! Again, I don’t think this would happen in the US.. When I got to the Catania airport, he gave me his sister in law, Alessandra’s number, who told me the bus stop to get off where she’d meet me. My lovely bus driver did not drop me off at the actual stop, so Alessandra and I called and walked around trying to find each other, with the added difficulties of my poor Italian, her not speaking much English, and it was dark! Somehow we found each other, greeted with a hug and two kisses on the cheek, and began the walk to her place. She had one daughter, Angela, about 5 years old, who was very sweet and brought me water and towels up to my loft (it was a very cool apartment!!) Alessandra had to leave early the next morning to take her to school and go to the gym, so I didn’t get to see her before I left for Ragusa. That morning, I wandered about the Catania fish market, Pescheria, and sat in the warm sunshine on the sidewalk contentedly eating a spinach torte I bought for breakfast.

Catania Pescheria Market


I continued from there to find the bus station, and first went to the train station where they pointed me across the street. Across the street, I had to ask someone else because I still didn’t see it, and they walked me to a point where it was within site. I bought my ticket for 11 since I’d missed the 10 am bus I’d planned on by about 15 minutes. I sat down and thought about how I’d figure out where the buses actually left from since I didn’t know that either! I tried asking the ticket man, but couldn’t hear him. Then an older, slightly strange man I sat near showed me the way. I was glad for that, but was annoyed that he talked nonstop to me in Italian, and did not pick up on my cues of not understanding hardly anything he said, even after I’d told him, “Solo parlo un po di italiano”! Thankfully he left after giving me a flower, a Rome magnet and his number, which I will not be using.
At last, I reached Ragusa where Salvatore’s wife, Stefania, met me at the station and drove me to their house. After meeting the rest of the family: Salvatore and two sons, Mario and Francesco, and having lunch, I saw Salvatore’s farm out in the countryside. Way up on a hill, he has 22 horses, a pig, a few cats and a dog. The view was incredible of the hills and fields all around and below.

Panoramic View from the top of the hill

Next, we went to the nearby town of Monterosso where he grew up. We saw his friends at the pharmacy and a bar, then went to a bakery to get bread for dinner and he got me chocolate biscotti (cookies) to take home with me! On the ride home, he let me try some of the warm bread and called me a “buona forchetta,” literally a good fork in English, which they call someone with a good appetite (I’d had a 2 course lunch with dessert, sugar coated almonds at his farm and now bread)! I took it as a compliment:)
For dinner, they had friends over to celebrate Stefania’s birthday that was a few days before. Two little boys of the families were very interested to learn about me and play chess! It was really fun to play and talk with them, and see how excited they were to spend time with me.
The next morning, Stefania, Francesco and I went to Ibla, the oldest and lowest (also called Ragusa Inferiore) part of Ragusa. We walked about the beautiful architecture and a small park, and went into a church. Afterwards we got gelato!
In the evening, Stefania drove me to the sea, 15 minutes from Ragusa. It was a calm night, slightly breezy, but comfortable with light blue skies. We walked right by the water on the sand, then back to a piazza where families were about with children playing and others watching on.

Piazza of the Marina di Ragusa

Stefania asked if I wanted gelato, and I said maybe I’d try a cannoli since I heard Sicily was the only place to get a true one! Boy was that a good choice, best cannoli I’ve ever had -usually I don’t even like them! Back at the house, Salvatore informed me that I’d be going with his nephew and his girlfriend to a party that night! He said I’d have appertivo (wine served with a light array of food) there, but I still got to try some of the pizza he and Francesco had for dinner:) One was arugula with prosciutto, the other: a Patapizza, pizza with french fries on top! Salvatore also poured me a small beer and gave me a pear and nuts from trees of his farm. His nephew, Mario, (a family name) and Valeria picked me up at nine and we headed to the bar/lounge. I met all their friends, and tried to speak slowly in English and asked a few questions in Italian. The language barrier was difficult, but I got to listen a lot and still talk about some simpler subjects! They poured wine, the appertivo buffet was set out, later we had cake, and the birthday girl opened presents. After, we stopped at a bar in the piazza of San Giovanni in the city center. I didn’t have anything since I didn’t want to risk getting sick as a guest!
On my last day: election day, Stefania went to vote in the morning. Once her and Salvatore returned, we left for a different beach, in the town of Pozzallo. We walked along the beach together and I picked up a few shells. Then we met their friend from the pharmacy (the same one from the other day) with her daughter and son. We got lunch at a shop near the beach and had Spaghetti Frutti di Mare and gelato afterwards, even though I couldn’t finish my plate!

Gelato with Olga

A perfect ending before we sped back to make my bus from Ragusa! We hugged and kissed goodbye, I thanked them, “Grazie mille per tutti!” and said I hoped to see them again. I wasn’t just saying that, I truly do.


Crazy Weather

Posted by Madeline on March 1, 2018 in Florence, studying abroad

This week has come and gone so fast, I think partly due to my trip Sunday to Monday morning. A family friend back home put me in touch with some of her friends in Italy. One of her best friends, Ubaldo, lives in a small village called Ripafratta, with only 800 people living there! He invited me for an event Sunday, “Salviamo la Rocca di Ripafratta,” to save a castle on a hill in their town that is deteriorating. A family owns this castle, but does not have the money for the high cost of reparations, so Ubaldo is the vice president of a group attempting to figure out how to save this site from destruction. After taking a tour of the town in freezing rain and wind, including a flour mill, underground water channel and church, we went to a luncheon nearby. A typical three course meal was served; primo, secondo and dolce. A man sitting down the table from me sang a few times randomly throughout the meal. Ubaldo informed me the man wasn’t drunk, he’s just like that! Later, the woman sitting next to me, Elena, requested him to sing for me. So, he looked me in the eyes and belted out some sort of love song, it was entertaining for sure! We headed back to Ubaldo’s house and had tea to warm up along with his neighbor.

Tea at Ubaldo’s house

The cold and snow that Italy has been struck with this week is apparently a wind from Russia that only hits every 5-7 years..lucky me!! The tea helped warm me up and Ubaldo lit a fire. His house was so cozy, bright and open with a mustard yellow living room, an arched doorway and pieces of art all about. We talked for a while, then left for his friend’s birthday party in Pisa. I had fun, but it was a little tough because they mostly spoke Italian, which I didn’t mind, but at that point I was tired out from the day!
The next morning, we woke up early, so I could catch a train back to Florence in time for class. We had coffee and a cookie that he said was nicknamed “ugly, but good,” which was perfectly accurate. We stopped at a cafe on the outskirts of Pisa for a cappucino and cornetto. We both got one filled with chocolate, yum! At the train station, we hugged goodbye, and I thanked him for all his generosity!

I was quite tired the rest of the day. In my Palaces class, we visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti funded by the Arte della Seta Guild and built by Brunelleschi. The Ospedale was the first orphanage built in the world, and it still functions today. They have nurses for babies until they turn 1, then they look for a family to adopt them. The museum held many pieces of art made for the Ospedale, often featuring the Madonna and multiple children around her, or referencing Herod killing many innocents in his attempt to kill Jesus.

It was cool to learn that girls were taught to read and write here, a rarity at that time!
In my Quarters of Florence class we saw the inside of the Duomo. My classmates and I were surprisingly underwhelmed..the outside is so ornate and beautiful, yet the inside was simply white and gray, with only the dome featuring a beautiful mural.

Besides that, I am now waiting to figure out whether my trip to Sicily will work with the snow we’re getting! As I write, it is snowing in Florence, and the government shut down all schools for the day. At home I would be rejoicing, but here, when it snows they don’t know how to handle it! I need a train from Florence to Pisa for my flight out of Pisa I might need a lot of luck today!


Rome, Classes and Stories

Posted by Madeline on February 24, 2018 in Florence, Rome, studying abroad

This past weekend, I traveled to Rome on a guided trip by two LdM professors. I had to wake up so early for the trip I could actually talk to people at home because they hadn’t gone to bed yet..crazy. I wasn’t sure if I’d like Rome because I knew it was a big city, and I usually associate big cities with ugly -imposing buildings, gray, dirty. But Rome was not this way at all, I actually found it quite beautiful. All the buildings had the lovely authentic architecture that is so pleasing to the eye.
I loved how I would be absentmindedly following the group, then we’d turn a corner and be struck with a historical monument or building -this happened with the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, or all of a sudden you’d glimpse the Coloseum in the distance. We visited multiple fountains (Neptune, Trevi, Quattro Fiumi and Barcaccia). I enjoyed the combination of fascinating statues with a story behind them and the water spraying into a peaceful pool at the foot of the statue.
href=””> Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi,
Fountain of Four Rivers[/caption]

Fountain in St Peter’s Square

I’m also not big museum person, but the Vatican was incredible. It didn’t really feel like a museum, more like a huge church because of its long arched corridors and domes, and frescoes painted directly on the walls and ceilings.

There was a lot of neck-craning that day, especially in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s mind boggling to think about Michelangelo painting those images right up close, not truly being able to see what he’s actually doing. And then there’s the giant Basilica with every single detail organized and coordinated. And when the choir started singing in St. Peter’s my heart felt so full, the music emanated all around the room.
I had heard that on most Sundays, the Pope gives a blessing at noon. I was curious what it would be like, and to see and hear the Pope (I mean it’s the Pope!!) So, two friends and I broke off from our tour early to go see. We stood in St. Peter’s Square, conveniently during a downpour, looking up to the window where a red tapestry hung down. Everyone in the Square expectantly watched the window, and as soon as he appeared, everyone cheered. The blessing was completely in Italian, so I didn’t catch much besides the greeting and goodbye, and I did proudly pick out “fratelli e sorelle,” or “brothers and sisters” during the 15 minute speech…but it was a cool experience nonetheless!
On Monday I was tired from the full weekend, not helped by my straight 7 hours of class with only a half hour break to scarf down a panino. But I snagged a macchiato from a vending machine at school -yes you read that right, my school has vending machines that make coffee in every building 😮 -so that helped get me through!
Every time I have my history classes though, I’m more excited about Florence. There is so much history here, and to be able to have a lecture then go see the building, or even better, have the lecture right on site where we can see in physical space and time the aspects of what we’re learning. This is the first time I’ve ever truly enjoyed history.
Now, a cooking class on the otherhand, I knew would be a blast. In my Contemporary Trends in Italian Cuisine lesson, we made Calamari Ripieni di Pappa al Pomodoro con Pure al Nero di Seppia, aka Calamari stuffed with Tomato Bread Sauce with Squid ink Mashed Potatoes! We were literally given the whole calamari body and had to clean it (pull off its skin, pull out the insides and a bone, and cut off the head!) Some girls in my class were slightly overdramatic about the process, so their annoyance fueled my ability to be nonchalant.

Yesterday, Lucy and I struck out to see the Sant’Ambrogio market and get a panino from Semel, a place recommended by a Florentine. At the small shop, with cozy brick interior walls hardly larger than a store front with a single counter and six stools, I ordered Acciughe con le puntarelle e l’arancia: Anchovy with chicory and orange. I’m always nervous to be adventurous, especially since just on Tuesday I tried a lamprodotto (cow stomach) panino that was disgusting..but this time it paid off!! The owner asked if we wanted a glass of house wine for a grand total of 1 euro, so we happily agreed. In the doorway, hung a boxed shelf that looked like it was meant to hold mail or trinkets, but was actually to hold the wine glasses of people eating outside! Sometimes it’s the little things..

My last bit will be about a shopkeeper of a small produce store on the corner of my street, just feet from my apartment, named Maurizio. I first learned his name after an assignment to ask an Italian a somewhat useless question from my textbook, and I chose to ask him. It led to a conversation that I partially understood and exchanging our names. He is actually the only Florentine I have met so far who does not speak solid English, but I’m glad because it helps me practice! When I went to the store, a father and young son came in, and the son went right up to a shelf holding piles of chocolates. Maurizio asked him which one he wanted, the boy pointed to one, and Maurizio handed it to him and patted him on the head. It was so sweet:) I think that’s a nice little story to end on!


Still Exploring

Posted by Madeline on February 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I last posted, just like they warned us at orientation, time is flying!
Unfortunately, last Wednesday, I came down with a cold that I am only now just getting over! Because of that, the past week has been tough to balance wanting to keep exploring Florence while resting to get healthy. I ended up needing to visit the doctor this Tuesday to get medication! Thankfully, that seems to be working.
Last Friday night, my friends and I walked to the Fiorentina Stadium (30 min walk!!) for the biggest rivalry of the season; the Fiorentina vs Juventus Calcio (soccer) Game at 9 pm. Sadly, we weren’t in the super hyped section across the field where people were standing, cheering/jumping and waving giant flags the whole game. In a small section in the corner, the Juventus crowd was just as mighty despite their small crowd -waving their flags and jumping and cheering with gusto. Although Fiorentina lost 2-0 and it was freezing that night, it was still fun to see the Italian spirit for their teams!

Saturday, two of my roommates and I took a bus to the small hill town of Fiesole. The bus ride itself was beautiful looking out the window as we climbed higher and higher above Florence. We began to see the countryside on the outskirts and more green fields and hills. When we got off, we had to search a bit for the hiking path that led to lookouts of the city and vineyards or farms. The sun was shining bright which was lovely to feel, but not so great for photos, so I didn’t get many from the trip! All about the walls of the city surrounding tiny roads barely wide enough to fit cars, there were small paintings of parts of Fiesole hanging up, I’m not sure if there was a specific purpose for them or not. There was also some sort of vine climbing over the yellow-tinted walls, which I loved the look of.
Just today actually, my roommate and friend Lucy and I wandered around across the river. Before walking to the renowned Michelangelo Square with a beautiful outlook over all of Florence, we walked up a different road and ended up at the back end of the Boboli Gardens behind the Palazzo Vecchio. We didn’t enter –it cost 7 euro; not bad, but we had other plans for the day– but we got to see one of the few sections of city wall that still remains, and the fortress.

Lucy being a dwarf in the fortress doorway, although she didn’t really need to crouch down for that effect…

On the way up the hill, there were beautiful stone walls and some lovely tiled steps that I had to get a picture of!

After crossing down the hill, then back up the next for the Michelangelo Square, we made it to the top where other tourists were about taking pictures of the view…I joined in to snag a couple myself.

It was a bit overcast today, so the city seemed like it had a thin mist covering it. It was cool to be unable to make out everything quite so clearly from above, when you didn’t notice at all on the ground.
And to wrap up the night, Lucy and I traversed back across the river for a tasty dinner at Il Guscio, where we shared a plate of risotto made with pear and gorgonzola, and tagliatelle with rabbit and black olive ragu. Two very different flavors, but both delicious and interesting!
Also, just to brag a little, I had gelato two nights in a row this week:)


First week in Italy!

Posted by Madeline on February 8, 2018 in Florence, studying abroad

This first week has been quite a whirlwind of emotions. When I got to my apartment last Tuesday night, I was the most homesick I’ve ever been. I was exhausted from my lack of sleep on my overnight plane, and the long periods of sitting, waiting and wandering airports.
When my LdM guide brought me to my apartment around 8-9pm, it was completely different than I’d imagined. It has a very simple modern look with lots of white (walls, furniture, etc.) and tile floors. Everything kind of hit me at once..I was not at home and would not be home for a long time, I was living in a foreign country, in a city with people I didn’t know! The next few days, though, as I hung out with my roommates and explored, I began to feel better, even happy and relaxed. And now, I feel settled, even though I may get a wave of sadness seeing a picture of my mom, realizing there’s a six hour time difference between me and home, or just thinking about how far away I am. But it’s worth it.

One morning, I was on my own. I walked past the baptistery of the Santa Maria del Fiore (what most know as the Duomo), then paused and turned back. I realized I’d never actually seen the whole structure (the cathedral, dome and baptistery) yet. I walked slowly around it, just taking in its grand scheme and intricately designed walls. I couldn’t help smiling, with the sun shining (there’s been rain almost every day!) and simply feeling amazed and grateful.

I don’t think any picture can truly do it justice, but it at least gives an idea!

This past Sunday was the first Sunday of the month, in which some public museums in Italy allow free entry. My friends and I first had a picnic lunch at Cascine Park (about a 1/2 hour walk from our apartment) then walked along the Arno River to the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. I felt a little guilty, but I didn’t love the artwork at the Uffizi. I think its because the Renaissance style was to paint almost only human subjects, and a tonnn of Jesus and/or Mary depictions. Although I appreciated the talent, effort and scale of the works, I didn’t necessarily find them to be incredibly interesting and beautiful in the sense that I want to stare at them for a long time. I actually enjoyed the design and structure of the Uffizi museum itself more than the art it contained!

Although we were tired after spending hours walking through the vast Uffizi, we went to the Accademia to see the David. In person, it’s incredible how large, smooth and accurate the statue is. Especially after walking down the corridor with the unfinished statues that are bumpy and halfway carved out of the rock, it’s impressive to imagine the process to the finished work.
Also, yes, the food here is AMAZING. If I had the money to eat out every night, I would, but I’ve still had some delicious pasta, paninis and gelato:) and of course coffee.
One part I didn’t expect to be quite as difficult as it is, is adjusting to city life. I’m so used to open spaces, few people and lots of nature, but that is not the case here. The streets always have people and cars zooming about, and I’m still working on learning the layout of the city! I can’t wait for when I know exactly where I’m going without a map.
Overall, I’m enjoying my time here, and my first days of classes have been great so far!