Monday
04/02/18

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.

Monday
03/26/18

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.

Thursday
03/01/18

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 tonight..so I might need a lot of luck today!

Saturday
02/24/18

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=”http://blogs.honors.buffalo.edu/madelinec/files/2018/02/DSC00125.jpg”> 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!

Thursday
02/08/18

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!