Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Good Luck, Bad Luck, and The Chaotic Streets of Venezia.

The past two weeks have been, interesting to say the least.  A lot of good, a lot of bad.  The ups and downs of Italy I suppose.  Honestly the only thing that's currently on my mind is the fact I will finally be seeing my parents in a week, and I'm ecstatic.  I can't wait to see their familiar faces and honestly, shop with my mom.  It'll also be nice to show them the beautiful city of Florence and cough, not worry about money, cough.  In short, I can not wait for them to finally be in Italy, SO EXCITED. Now for a short explaination in the title of my post, starting with my food tasting last week.

One of my favorite classes I am taking here in Italy includes Wine Tasting.  I know you're all probably reading this thinking, wow that's the life.  Honestly, it really is, we taste two to three of the best wines in Italy during each class.  I'm spoiled I know.  Another highlight of our class is our teacher, Diletta Frescobaldi, who is actually Florentine royalty (not really but, her social standing in Florence is about equal to royalty).  You may be wondering why is this JMU professor royalty? Well she's not just a professor but part of the biggest wine producers in Italy, if you don't believe me, google it (you can also purchase her wine at Costco, Nipozzano Chianti Rufina).  So why am I bragging about her so much?Well it creates an interesting backdrop for my tale.  The Frescobaldi Family has not only many vineyards, but also a few restaurants, one of course being in Florence.  For one of our classes we were able to go to her restaurant and have a three course meal with three wines paired with each dish.  In short, my paradise.  My love of food combined with my love of drinking was ultimately fufilled when we ate artichoke flan and anchovie pasta (both sound not appetizing, but were oh so appetizing).  Paired with two red wines, I was very content.

I was hoping that perhaps I would end the day with a nap, but unfortuantely that is not quite what happened.  After a restless night of half sleeping half shivering from my fever, I woke up the next day knowing something wasn't quite right with my stomach or the meal I had the day before.  Long story short, I was in bed for 5 days with the most terrible stomach flu or food poisoning.  After a visit to the doctor and a lot of gatorade, I was feeling better, however timid to eat anything but toast and tea.  I decided to celebrate my departure from my room after 5 days with a pair of leather shorts from Zara.  Sometimes all you need is some retail therapy.

After some recovery and lots and lots of sleep, I was ready for my last group trip to the beautiful city of Venice.  I really had no clue what to expect from the city, of course I knew they didn't really have roads and they were famous for their gondolas, but other than that I was a bit at a loss (I kept imagining The Italian Job, such a good movie).  Arriving in the city after a long and sleepy train ride, I was greeted by sunshine.  I love the sun, especially here in Europe; it is always welcomed.  The train station opens up to their main canal, which in the sun looks brilliantly blue.  The small streets boarder the canal and large bridges connect each island to each other.  The city itself is very picturesque, from a far.  I say this because, sure, if you edit the picture taken from 100 feet away, Venice is perfect.  But if you look up close, the city is pretty dirty.  There is a lot of trash in the water.  Still beautiful just a little, grungy?

After a long walk through winding roads up and down about 10 bridges, we made it to our hotel.  The hotel was quaint, cute.  Once again I am overly thankful in the fact that I wasn't staying in a hostel. Gross.  The hotel was nice.  And was in a very central location.  We began our first day with a quick lunch of pizza with a fried egg (lately I have been craving fried eggs and this pizza was nothing short of delicious) and a tour of San Marco, specifically the Doge's Palace (a king like figure in Venice, that ruled during the early days of Venice).  The tour was interesting however the Doge himself seemed kind of pointless; he had no real power or position, he was a sort of figurehead I guess.  After the tour, I did quite a bit of window shopping (Venice is ridiculously expensive).  Since I had such a large lunch, dinner time rolled around and I was barely hungry, but a few of us were eager to have a true Venetian cuisine experience.  We found a less touristic side of of Venice and sat down for a drink and some seafood tapas alongside the canal.  In short, a perfect end to a beautiful day.

We started the next day with another tour.  I definitely enjoyed the second tour more; it was a short walking tour through true Venice, no tourists, little crowds.  Venice is characterized by little charms (such as candlelit votives throughout the city) that make the city mysterious and quaint.  After the tour a few of us decided to take a water taxi to the island of Murano, known for its' glass.  I decided the water taxi is definitely one of my least favorite forms of transportation (to me it resembles deep sea fishing, aka sea sickness).  We reached the island and it was amazing the difference.  The buildings were more colorful, the people seemed more friendly, and the men also looked better.  I wondered if I stepped into an alternate universe, so pretty.  I was set on seeing someone blow glass so the first hour was full of me searching for someone to make a glass pony for me.  Finally I found a large glass shop that offered a glass blowing demonstration for 5 euro.   I sat down quickly in the back of this store and the man began to make a glass pony, blowing glass, sculpting, heating, repeat; in short, I was amazed.  He must have noticed my child like joy because after the demonstration he motioned for me to come forward in front of the audience.  Super excited and a little confused, I stood in front of everyone, awkwardly smiling, not really knowing what to expect.  Next thing I know, he's handing me the glass blower and telling me to blow.  After a good deal of blowing (I was supremely out of breathe and it reminded of when I used to play the trumpet and got really out of breathe....embarrassing), I successfully created a limp ugly glass balloon.  But I was content.

After quite a bit of walking, mostly into stores that sold the exact same jewelry and vases, my feet were beginning to really hurt.  This was mostly my fault, well all my fault.  I am set on wearing heels everyday here in Italy, and it's gotten to be a bit of a problem especially since I can no longer wear flat shoes without pain going through my legs, guess I just have to buy a bunch of heels when I get home.  But the black booties I wore were giving me terrible blisters and I was ready to return to the hotel.  Eager to show my independence and confident that I could make it back alone, I bought a ticket to the ferry back to the mainland.  After missing the first ferry, I was still confident in my directional ability, standing in front of the crowd ready to board the next boat.  As it approached, people began pushing and I couldn't quite tell if I was boarding the correct ferry, whatever, I thought assuming that all ferries go to the same place anyways.  Well. I was wrong.  As I attempted to ask a random italian if the ferry went to my hotel, a kind french couple sweetly said to me "This ferry only goes to the train station."  I literally laughed out loud.  The train station was a 45 minutes walk from my hotel.  Still set on making it back I smiled and thanked them, and got off the ferry.  After about 15 minutes of walking, my feet were killing me.  I approached the 100th bridge with little caution and a large bit of annoyance.  Walking down the steps of the bridge I glanced at my map for the trillionth time, only to feel both of my heels catching the edge of the stair.  I'm sure you can assume where this is going.  Down.  Flat on my face.  In front of probably 30 people.  As a laid sprawled out on the bottom of venetian stairs, I realized I caused quite a hold up on the stairs.  I slowly attempted to get up, sure that I broke both of my legs, and several people helped me to a nearby bench. Holding back tears I thanked them and slowly wobbled back to my hotel.  After laying in my bed feeling sorry for myself and moaning about my bruised shins, I watched Harry Potter in Italian and decided tomorrow would be a better day.

After a full breakfast, our group went to Peggy Guggenheim's house, which holds hundreds of famous works by Picasso, Rothko, and Pollock just to name a few.  I always feel a little intimidated in a place like that, not really sure what I am supposed to be looking for in each painting, but I did enjoy the backstory of Peggy, look it up. She was quite the player. After a meal at the Hard Rock (the food is gross in Venice, and the nachos and Hard Rock hit the spot; nommy) I was ready to go home.  Another sleepy train ride and I was back in Florence.

Currently it's freezing here.  A bit of a downer.  Also, I am procrastinating any and all papers I need to write by writing here.  It's hard to believe I am going to be home in less than 3 weeks.  I am beyond excited.  I want chick-fil-a, chipotle, and my bed.  Little things like that make me excited to be home.

I really want to enjoy my last few weeks here, and am overjoyed to show my parents my city.  Miss you all.  Can't wait to see you when I return to the States! (Enjoy the Venice selfie).


Monday, March 11, 2013

On an Evening in Roma.

Oh where do I begin? Rome.  I absolutely loved Rome.  Every aspect of the city really just called to me.  Roma e un citta belissima.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I really enjoyed the city.

After a quick and sleepy train ride we arrived in Rome around 10 am.  My first impression of the city wasn't too good, a bunch of grungy stores and a single McDonald's, but hey never judge a book by its cover.  After a bumpy bus ride, we arrived to our hotel (YES, no more hostels for me!) and checked in.  I was overjoyed to see my bed with clean sheets, a TV, a mini fridge and my own bathroom (oh the things we take for granted).  After freshening up a bit, and a quick lunch (where I people watched- mostly at some very attractive priests, why?) we started our guided tour.  Our tour guide Fedrico, definitely added to the positives of my trip.  He was friendly but stern and reminded me of the perfect Grandpa, throughout the trip he referred to me as his assistant and I just laughed it off (secretly overjoyed my adopted grandpa liked me).  We started the tour at the Roman Forum.  The significance of the Forum is often overlooked by many who visit Rome, but after explaining how Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed, Fedrico just about brought me to tears (either he's an excellent story teller, or, which is more probable: I cry too easily).  I was touched seeing the small tribute of flowers that Romans still place at the alter where Julius Caesar was cremated.  Italians respect and honor their traditions and history, it's very inspiring.  After leaving the Forum, we walked down the street (a very busy street that apparently Mussolini had constructed so he could have a view of the Colosseum from his balcony; selfish man, big surprise) to the Colosseum.

From what I heard before going to Rome, the Colosseum was going to be a disappointment.  Prepared for a letdown, I walked into the interior of the Colosseum, and to my surprise, it was magnificent.  I loved it.  Part of me was imagining the Lizzie McGuire concert (if you don't understand the reference, I pity you)  and part of me was enjoying the vast amount of history surrounding me.  Our guide continued to explain what went on in the Arena, which if you saw Gladiator you're pretty set on the historical background, and then it was picture time!  Fedrico had to force us to leave after a 30 minute photo shoot (honestly I could have stayed there all day taking pictures, it was fascinating).  We then headed to the Pantheon, which was the most perfectly constructed building I have ever seen (the height of the building is exactly the length of the width).  Although the Pantheon was absolutely stunning, it was getting late, Corinne was tired and hungry aka grumpy.  I had a quick meal of penne pasta with a spicy red sauce and following my pasta binge, I was exhausted.  After quite a bit of contemplation, I decided to stay in and sleep instead of going out; it was the best decision I had ever made. So sweepy.

 After waking early and refreshed, we headed to Vatican City.  I knew that the Vatican was its own country, and I was pumped to get another stamp on my passport, except my tour guide kindly reminded me they no longer give stamps on your passport in Europe (which I should have known based on my lack of stamps so far- how are people going to know that I'm a world traveler?!).  We had a quick tour through the Vatican Museums, and unfortunately we couldn't see the Sistine Chapel due to the fact cardinals were preparing for the election of the new Pope, so exciting. After, we enjoyed a quick lunch which at first seemed like a great deal: chicken, spaghetti carbonara, salad, and potatoes! all for 12 euro!  But after some lousy service, a small portion size and a ridiculous charge for service and bread, I realized it was a tourist trap.  Grumbling and forking over more than I agreed to, I left the restaurant a little bitter.  My mood was instantly cured by some amazing coconut gelato, beautiful weather and being in front of St. Peter's Basilica at such an important time (I was secretly hoping to get interviewed, look ma I'm on TV, but no).  Although we had to wait about 45 minutes to get into St. Peters, but it was definitely worth the wait.  The church was breathtaking and so beautiful, the frescoes, the marble statues, and the mosaics were breath taking.  My favorite piece was definitely the Pieta, which was perfection, I actually learned some crazy person thought it was so perfect they attacked it with a hammer.  Hence the reason it was behind glass, which made me really sad. The church itself was a tearjerker but really made me proud of my faith and the talent of the humankind, like seriously, the Renaissance men had perfection on lockdown.

After some rest, a dinner at an amazing panini place, and a fantastic cannoli with chocolate chips, we headed to the Trevi Fountain, which was so pretty at night.  The water looked so clear and blue and it was just one of those moments you know you'll never forget.  After some white wine and interesting conversation, I went to bed completely content.  The next day was a free day, and without our amazing tour guide, I was a bit at loss what to do.  We first decided to head back to the Trevi Fountain for some more photos ops and I looked around for my Paolo (Lizzie McGuire reference number 2), a bit disappointed only to find rude Indian men asking if I wanted my picture taken for 20 euro.  After some photos (taken for free), we headed to the Spanish steps.  I was overjoyed to be back were my dad once was in the military.  I walked up and down the steps a bit at a loss on why they were significant, but I was still happy to be there enjoying the sun.  I then unfortunately had a quick lunch at McDonald's (this is becoming a bad habit; I understand) and some cannoli flavored gelato; we headed back to the hotel and made our way back to the train station, and by 6 we were back in our rainy home, Florence.

The weekend really was amazing for me, but now I need to get back into the swing of things.  I plan to be productive in my last few weeks in Florence (especially with my workout schedule, all this Italian food is killing me!).  I am looking forward to my trip to Venice next weekend, and my mom and dad coming the following weekend (!).

I really am starting to miss friends and family, but I am happy to be here for a few more short weeks!  Miss you all.