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.


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!


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!