Monday, January 28, 2013

I wanna soak up the sun, in Barcelona.

Oh, how to describe Barcelona.  Are there even words?  In short, I loved it.  Barcelona was the most alive city I have ever experienced.  The people were more friendly (probably because I looked very American, still), the food was amazing (paella, seafood galore), and the weather rivaled that of sunny California. But words truly could never describe the beauty of the city, you have to go to understand what I mean.  The most memorable part of the city?  The sun.  I know this sounds silly, but the sun is so strong there, it almost changes your mood when you sit in it.  The fact that Barcelona is right by the beach might help a little.  For me, who hates the cold, the strength of the sun was absolutely magical and made me happy.

The trip started off with a long day of traveling: bus ride from Florence to Pisa, flight to outside of Barcelona, bus ride to Central Barcelona.  After sitting for hours, I was ready to explore.  We checked into our hostel, which seemed clean but a little crowded (this was my first hostel experience, and it was, well interesting but tolerable).  Dropping our stuff off, it was time to explore.  The weather as I said before was amazing, warm.  I wore a light sweater and jeans, that I ended up wearing the whole weekend (finally no need for my dreaded north face rain jacket!) After wandering for a few hours, finding mostly souvenir shops and American fast food, I realized I should have researched the area I was staying in a little more.  Although we were right near the water, our hostel was right next to the area known as La Rambla: a gorgeous and famous street with tons of people and street art, but also the most touristy area in all of Barcelona.  After a quick lunch of... McDonald's (I know this should be a crime; a minor setback in my cultural excursion-after not finding any lunch spots cheaper than 10 euro, my cheeseburger and fries were delicious and only two euro) we finally wandered into my favorite location in Barcelona: the most amazing outdoor food market, selling everything including fine chocolates, fresh squeezed juice, cups of french fries, and live seafood.  They even had little tapas bars throughout the market selling various lunch meats on baguettes.  I was in love. The food was so fresh; the people so friendly.  I could have stayed in that market for hours.

That night, excited to experience the night life in Barcelona, my crew and I were set to go out at 11 and meet some people our age.  Boy, was I surprised on what I found.  Not a crazy night life with people in their twenties walking from bar to bar, no.  We walked into our first bar, and were greeted by the stares of old people eating their dinner.  And by old, I mean like 80.  Eating dinner at 11.  Like I said, I should have researched a bit more before traveling, lesson learned, after a drink I called it a night.

The next day was probably my favorite day here in Europe (Florence needs to prove itself, I kid; Florence is perfect as well).  We started the day with a tour that I was dreading (walking, walking), but ended up being so enjoyable.  The tour gave me the background of Barcelona that actually allowed me to understand the culture and the city.  I learned about which movies were filmed in Barcelona, where to go and where to avoid, and bits of the language (Catalan is spoken, closer to French than Spanish, craziness!).  I also took my favorite picture of the most adorable father and son, which showed the happiness of Barcelona in a single shot.  LOVE.

That night I learned to make paella.  I usually am not the biggest fan of seafood, but this paella was magical; full of calamari, shrimp, clams, and mussels.  I was a little hesitant about taking a cooking class, but it was the best experience.  Our chef took us to the market once again, we bought the ingredients to our dish, he explained the significance of each ingredient, and we finally walked to the restaurant.  While he prepared the paella in front of us in a large flat pan, we ate various types of tapas and drank multiple glasses of sangria.  In short, a good night.

Leaving the sunny Barcelona was hard especially returning to the cold of Florence, yet I was happy to be back at my home.  My home away from home.  Loving it here, come and experience the love. Also come to Europe to prevent me from taking pictures similar to the one below.  Can't help it.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Simplicity and Surprises: Siena and Soccer

This weekend was eventful for me, and such a blast.  Where do I start?  Siena first.  A common saying here in Italy is "When Siena cries, Florence laughs" explaining the rivalry between the two cities that dates back almost a thousand years.  The saying for my Sienna trip yesterday should have been, "When Siena cries, Corinne cries".  No, I didn't physically cry, but I easily could have.  I'm not the biggest fan of cold (I hate it with a passion), and I especially am not a fan of cold and wet, which unfortunately describes the weather of our day trip perfectly.

Our trip to Siena was filled with fascinating art and architecture; I'm beginning to wonder if any city in Italy is ugly. I'm assuming no.  Siena had a pleasantness that Florence lacked, a simplicity and a quietness that you won't find in the busy streets of Firenze.  No one seemed rushed which is so beautiful compared to the hustle and bustle of America.  My one and only complaint, was the horrible, horrible weather.  As I stated above, it was so cold.  When we arrived it was snowing, which is actually a rarity in Italy, so apparently it was a treat.  For me it would have been a treat if I was wearing a parka, ski pants and snow boots.  The snow turned into rain, and I realized I wasn't going to enjoy the outdoor tour very much.  This was partially my fault, aka I thought I'd be okay wearing my leggings and a rain jacket. Chilled to the bone, I took shelter in anywhere I could find, which actually led me to one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had (you have not had real coffee until you've been to Italy), a delicious lunch of proscutto and funghi pizza, and 13 euro gray suede knee high boots (I basically cried of happiness finding such a steal). Overall the little surprises I found throughout the city made my Siena trip worthwhile.

After a cold bus ride home, a quick dinner, and going dancing last night, I woke up late this morning feeling a little groggy and a bit sore.  But there's no time for tiredness when I had a soccer game to go to (Florence v Naples)!  The Florence soccer team's colors are purple and red, which reminded me of home and James Madison.  Unfortunately, I don't wear purple too often and almost have no JMU spirit gear (I know, shocker), so I was at a bit of a loss on what to wear.  Deciding that it wouldn't matter since my chances of meeting an Italian soccer player were zero to none, I just focused on dressing warm, learning from my mistake from the previous day.  After a long walk, my group and I made it to the crowded stadium.  What did I enjoy most about the game? The fans.  I thought fans in the United States were intense. Nothing compares.  These fans are die hard.  And really mean to the opposing team.  I had the pleasure of sitting in the Florentine section that was right next to the Naples section.  The only thing separating the two rowdy groups was about 30 policemen. The Italian fans were very rowdy, very funny, very loud, and very drunk.  The majority of my time spent at the game was watching the crazy group of Florentine men shouting obscenities at the Naples fans and flicking them off.    They also like to rub their stomachs as an insult, not really sure what it meant it was one of their favorite gestures. It was actually unbelievably entertaining.  There was such a camaraderie felt throughout the stadium, I couldn't help but join in on some of the cheers, although I had no clue what I was saying.  It was such a fun game, although it was raining the whole time, again.  But my day was topped off by another stumble upon, finding a real supermarket, with everything from mousse (which I desperately needed and gave up on finding) to chips (which I have been craving).  The market was only a 15 minute walk from my house, and definitely worth it.

The weekend was a success and I can't wait for next weekend, BARCELONA.  Hopefully it'll stop raining, because this weather is limiting my ability to copy italian women (I have worn a Northface and Bean boots for the past two days- AMERICAN; no black pants with heels, the weather is cramping my style literally).  Maybe I'll just suck it up and buy a Burberry Trench (hi mom).

Overall, I believe I am beginning to understand enjoying the simple things each day that define Italian life.  Come to Italy and enjoy these simplicities with me.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dreaming of Florence, Oh and Gelato

Florence is the prettiest city I have ever been.  Hands down.  Whether you have a taste for old or new architecture, Florence is truly enchanting.  I have yet to travel to Paris, but Florence at night takes on a whole new level of magic.  Watch out Disney World, I'm pretty sure Florence has you beat on the whole magical feeling.

Last night I decided to venture out (with my roommates of course, Florence isn't the safest place at night) to find this famous gelateria.  I know you're probably thinking, 'Corinne has been in Florence for a full week and has not even thought to get a gelato!?'  I know, I know.  What was I thinking.  As I ventured out, the night cold and wet, I admit I was almost dreading walking around.  Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been very friendly to me aka raining and freezing.  When it rains in Florence, it literally pours.  But to my surprise, Florence at night takes on a new vibe, that's inviting and warm.  Walking down the street it was almost as if I was seeing a whole new city, the reflection of the lights illuminating the street giving the buildings a soft glow.  The hectic sounds of traffic were quieted and the stores looked brighter and more colorful.  As we walked through the streets in awe, I realized Florence was still very much alive.  

Unlike Americans, many Europeans like to shop at night which I find strange, and as I strolled into the more busier area of central Florence, the city came to life.  Vendors were busy selling their various street food, which included some sort of bread and toasted walnuts. Men and women with children walked briskly from store to store with bags and bags of clothes.  Older couples strolled slowly down the sidewalk.  Vendors were busy trying to convince anyone to buy their leather goods. So alive; I loved it.  

As a kid, when asked 'what's your favorite food?', I would always respond, ICE CREAM! (says a lot about me as a child), and I knew my first gelato would life changing.  Before I knew it, I was standing in front of 'the best gelato in Firenze' according to my host mom.  Entering it looked like any other Gelateria.  In Florence, they display the gelato like candy in a window, sculpting the creamy goodness into beatuiful waves of pure deliciousness.  I decided on the basic chocolate and stracciatella (similar to chocolate chip).  As I placed the first bite in my mouth, done.  Gelato is different than ice cream, in that it's a thousand times better.  Honestly, it's the creaminess.  I highly recommend it.  Before I knew it, my small cup of gelato was gone, sadly, but I was satisfied. 

Walking home I couldn't help but wonder, what is it like to live in Florence?  Florentines walk around everyday like it's nothing, but how can you get used to a beautiful city like this?  My deep thoughts on life were then interrupted by me stepping in a large puddle. It really needs to stop raining.

Enjoy the pictures I took, and come to Florence!


Monday, January 14, 2013

Not So Lost or Found

I was contemplating on not writing today, but decided to be productive, so here I am, writing about being sick in Italy.  I guess I was banking on not getting sick, I pride myself on having a strong immune system and a healthy lifestyle (cough, cough literally)  I was pretty sure I was not going to get sick. BUT, I was wrong.  Whether it be from my lack of sleep or my increase in alcohol consumption (it's part of the culture, mom and dad!)  I definitely felt it.  As I groaned in my bed, I realized I should just stop complaining and venture out to find this so called american doctor.

Our program gave us the number for an English speaking doctor, and I was skeptical.  I called cautiously an a beautiful English voice was heard over the line, I sighed with relief.  Not only was he able to understand me, he texted the directions just in case, "across from the H&M."  That obviously wouldn't be a problem finding for this girl.  As I zipped up my puffer jacket, I contemplated on putting on my vans, but decided to still make a vain attempt on looking italian, a sick coughing italian.  So I put on my leather boots and was on my way.

The doctor was easy enough to find (1 point for Corinne for not getting lost!), and I stood outside the large building and rang the bell.  I was buzzed in, looking like an idiot pulling the door with my whole body weight (1 point for Italy). PULL TO GET OUT PUSH TO GET IN, heads up for anyone going to Europe.  I looked to my left and saw the scariest elevator ever and decided to take the stairs, as I wheezed to the top I decided not to judge elevators again. The doctor was a very helpful english man with a beautiful accent.  Leaving, I preceeded to ask him where I could find the pharmacy and orange juice.  Very helpful. Assuming his secretary was of the same nature,  I asked her if she thought I should take the elevator down, she just stared, I said "lift?" Long stare. Okay "Buongiorno"* I said PULLING the door and taking the stairs once again.  

*Side note, apparently it is rude to say ciao to someone you have never met, I just learned this.  Now I understand the looks of confusion from my loud CIAO.

Another thing I have learned from being here for a few days, don't expect to find anything you need ever.  It is very difficult to find shampoo and conditioner where I live.  It also took me the whole week to find orange juice (nature's cure for anything) and water bottles.  ALSO, wine is cheaper than water, which normally would make me a very happy girl, except when you're sick. Last thing, Italians barely eat breakfast, eat lunch around 2, and eat la cena at 8 or 9 (stomach currently grumbling).

 Here is a picture of me and a ginormous water bottle which was only .8 euro (!). Come to Italy and we can learn together (and bring me some dayquil).


Saturday, January 12, 2013

My first disaster, in Gucci.

So today was interesting.  I definitely wouldn't say the best day ever.  The best part of the day definitely  was my pomodoro and prosciutto sandwich. But my adventure for the day was to the Gucci Museo.  Honestly walking up to the museum itself is intimidating, a dark stone building that screamed expensive, but I was confident that I didn't hold myself as a confused American, so I strolled up to the door, not knowing about the disaster that was to follow.

Starting with a positive note, the museum was beautiful.  Every piece of Gucci clothing was well designed, with pieces from the 1920's all the way to pieces worn months ago.  My favorite part of the museum held the evening gowns worn by and made for Cameron Diaz, Blake Lively, Evan Rachel Wood, and Salma Hayek.  These gowns were flawless, with sequins and feathers yet looking perfect.  As I stared at each gown, only guessing the value, I kept wanting to try on each gown.  As a celebrity, when Gucci personally designs a gown for you, that's when you made it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures in the museum, which begins my tale of the disaster in Gucci.

Walking in the museum there is no direction on where to go, so I just stood there waiting for someone to direct me.  Finally, noticing my obvious confusion, a well dressed employee helped me to the desk and I paid for my entrance.  As I began walking through the first floor of the museum,  I cautiously took a few pictures and began to enjoy myself.  Then some rude woman yelled at me for taking pictures, I knew it was too good to be true.  From that point on I was followed by a security guard through every room, not sure if they just wanted me to be watched but they sure weren't following any of the other people walking from room to room.  Finally making it through the museum, I sighed with relief, knowing I wasn't being followed.  I decided to grab a coffee in the cafe.  Once again getting in trouble for taking my coffee away from the counter, THERE ARE NO SIGNS, I guess it's just assumed you know what to do.  At this point I just wanted to leave, my poor attempt to fit in failed miserably and now I just wanted to be a tourist and eat a Big Mac, because I obviously wasn't Italian and they made sure I knew.  Finally strolling out I was relieved, so you might say to yourself, that's it, Corinne is fine, but no.  Next thing I know the security guard is calling me telling me I need to go back inside.  I should have just ran away but then I probably wouldn't be in the comfort of my home, I would be in some Italian jail crying.  So I just followed him inside, confused.  I was hoping he wouldn't take me back into the cafe, I was already embarrassed.  As he thoroughly searched my bag, I realized he thought I stole something.  At this point, I was completely done with Gucci.  Lesson learned.

As I finally escaped the prison of pretentiousness, I was the most obnoxious tourist on the planet.  I almost threw up the peace sign in a few photos. Super Asian American style.  Then it began to rain.  I decided it was time to go home.  Tomorrow I will look more Italian.  Today I'm that confused American that takes a lot of photos and talks louder than everyone else.  Proud to be an American.  Born in the USA.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Italian Fashion: First look

So I am currently in Italy. First off, Italian Fashion is insane. Yet I kind of expected it from the women. Which, when people say Italian women wear a lot of black, they weren’t kidding.  Italian women wear almost all black, which, may be because it’s slimming or it looks classic. Either way, Italian women are very image conscious. Which works for me because so am I.  My attempts to look like Florentine women seem to be working based upon the multiple people speaking to me in Italian.  I may have went a little overboard today with the outfit.  Black boots (which I just purchased from H&M, and my host mother disapproved of, apparently H&M is for poor people and she would have preferred me to spend the remainder of my income on boots that must be beautiful but would probably make me cry, 300 or 400 euro ain’t in Corinne’s “I’m in college and in Europe” Budget.), Black skinny jeans, and a black sweater.  I did add a few pops of color (my pink scarf and leopard belt), which made me feel a little less like a poser.  Hopefully I will blend in perfectly by the end of the semester.  Perfetto. 
         Now the women aren’t the forerunners of Italian Fashion.  I do believe they’re well dressed, however men’s fashion represents beyond well dressed.  I know European men tend to dress nicer but I have never experienced fashion that is so beautiful on men.  The men are beautiful.  As in beautifully groomed, beautifully put together, beautifully dressed, truly perfetto.  Men aren’t afraid to wear a silk scarf with a tweed overcoat and green dress pants with light brown leather shoes.  Fabulous doesn’t even begin to describe it.  And they still look extremely masculine, not a trace of femininity which adds to their attraction and perfections.   I sound like a psychopath obsessed with Italian men, but it truly is a shame I’m too timid to stalk these men and take their picture. 
         These men and women, Florentines, are every age, young and old.  However, as in every country, not every person dressed well.  Some may just not care about fashion, some may not know what fashionable truly is, not that I do but I hope I’m close.  These Italians tend to be the stereotypical Italian that is brand obsessed.  For some reason Italians are very brand obsessed, and I’m sure would not understand the simple concept that expensive doesn’t mean fashionable, cheap fashion can be the best and most put together.  Italians would shoot me if I accused them of wearing something cheap, they like caro this caro that.  Expensive, Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Tifffany, Louis Vuitton, and why not when you live less than 5 minutes from each, walking distance (via della vigna nuova).  This unfortunate obsession affects both men and women.  However, all together from what I have noticed, Italians fashion sense rivals the best in the world, much, much better than Americans. No offense.
         That’s it for me here, my neck is currently cramping up since there is no real place to sit and write expect the comfort of my twin bed, I hope to write about the food soon, as long as my fingers don’t get so fat that I can’t type.  Food is dangerous.


Understanding Dolce Far Niente

This represents what I am looking for, the pleasures of doing absolutely nothing.  Not starring at a screen or looking for something to entertain me, but actually loving life and just living.