Island Getaway – Venice, Murano, and Burano

Whenever anyone asks where I’m studying, I tell them “in a small town about an hour north of Venice.” Since I’m so close to Venice, or Venezia, as the Italians call it, I knew I had to spend at least a day in the city. We had shortened classes on Friday, so I was able to take the 1:15 pm bus from campus to Castelfranco. Then I walked about 20 minutes to the Castelfranco train station. I had a map with me, so I knew how to get there, but I ended up tagging along with some nice Italian girls who were headed that way. I ordered my train ticket in Italian and took the 2:46 train into Venice. Ordering in Italian is always fun, not only because I get a sense of personal satisfaction, but because it usually makes the person I’m talking to happy as well! I got to Venezia St Lucia at 3:30 and bought a 24 hour Vaporetto pass for 20 euro. This was a great investment, since I used the Vaporetto several times during my stay. The Vaporetto is basically like a subway system, but it’s with big boats on the canals. There are different lines and stops, and it takes longer than trains, but it was really cool to experience.

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I was in Venice for Carnevale, which is the huge Mardi Gras-type celebration leading up to Lent. There were people dressed in elaborate costumes, but I didn’t notice anything that really seemed specific to Carnevale, other than all of the tourists wearing masks. I took a boat on Line #1 all the way down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. The trip there was beautiful and so picturesque. I walked through the square and bought a few souvenirs. I walked to the Rialto Bridge and looked in the shops there. I crossed the Rialto Bridge and took the Vaporetto from Rialto Mercato to Ferrovia (the train station stop) and then to Zitelle to get to the hostel. The Vaporetto system was pretty easy to navigate. The only confusing thing about it is that the boats aren’t always used for the same route, so the stops aren’t posted on the inside of the boat, which means you have to constantly be aware of what stop you’re at. This was difficult at night when the signs weren’t lit up, or during the day when it was foggy and I was inside the boat rather than standing out on the deck. I got a tuna and onion pizza at a place by the hostel – Ristorante Pizzeria da Sandro. It was fresh and warm and so nice to eat after being out in the cold night.Image

ImageImageImageImage^you know I’m all about that cat graffiti

I traveled by myself this weekend, so I booked a bed in a 14 bed female dorm at the Generator Hostel, located on the island of Giudecca. I had heard complaints from other students about how far away it is from the main island, but I was only there for one night, so it didn’t present a problem for me. The hostel was great. There were only 6 of us in the dorm, so it was spacious, and my bed was really comfy. I wasn’t disturbed by any snorers, either – what a blessing!

Image^the Grand Canal at night

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^view from outside the hostel

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^the hostel

I checked out around 9:30 and took the Vaporetto to Murano, an island known for its artisan glassware. I got there around 10:45. I somehow helped two different groups of people with directions while on the Vaporetto. I saw a free glassblowing demonstration. The artist used two different techniques – he blew the glass into a vase shape, and then he used tools to make a different piece of glass into a horse. I don’t really like the glass animals that much, but it certainly takes talent to create them. I wandered around some more and ate a light lunch at a cafe. I got an egg and tuna tramezzino, which is a light Italian sandwich made with soft white bread cut into triangles. I also got a frittella, but I think it was zabaione, which is the eggnog flavor. My favorite is crema.

Image^I stood in line for a glass-blowing demonstration here, but you had to pay for it, and I wasn’t interested enough in glass-blowing to pay for it. I found a free workshop instead. But I loved the glass flowers on the archway of this place.

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I went to the glass museum. It was under renovation, so they only had 5 rooms open. Because of the limited exhibitions, everyone got in for a reduced rate of 5,50 euro. The museum had really old glass vases and little bowls from thousands of years ago. Each room had information about how glassmaking evolved during a particular century, with pieces created using those techniques. One thing I found really interesting is that African tribal necklaces are sometimes created with Murano beads. I was so surprised that a tribe all the way in Africa would import beads made in Italy. I always assumed that those necklaces were made with beads or objects produced in the local area. After the glass museum, I bought a crema frittella at another pasticceria in order to get rid of the zabaione memory.

Image^pretty glass flowers in a windowbox

ImageImage^sculpture by Simone Cenedese

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^some of the oldest glass artifacts in the museum

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^beautiful glass chandeliers

Next, I took a boat that went directly to Burano. It was packed with people. Burano is a fishing village with brightly colored homes, and it is also known for its lace. I went in a store where a guy painted colorful crafts depicting Burano. I bought a piece of wood painted to look like a Burano home, complete with little fabric clothing hanging from a clothesline. I kept walking and saw the leaning bell tower. There was a lace museum, too, but I didn’t go in. I bought a lovely burgundy lace scarf at one of the many lace shops. I was looking at the scarves because they were so pretty and the lady who worked there drew me in and had me try some on. I loved the burgundy one and figured it will be fun to say I got it in Italy! I wasn’t planning on buying anything else, but I saw a dish towel that had a different design and was cheaper than most of the other ones I’d seen, so I added that to my collection.

ImageImage^can’t wait to hang this up! maybe as a Christmas ornament, but I think it’s too cute to have out only one month out of the year!

ImageImageI saw a crepe stand on my way back to the Vaporetto stop. I didn’t have time to get one in Paris this year, so I bought one with Nutella and bananas. It was so yummy. It was a windy, drizzly day, so a warm crepe really hit the spot. I left Burano around 2:45ish, and there was a huge influx of young people as I was heading out. They were all drinking and rowdy and must have come in on the same boat.

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^the leaning bell tower on Burano from the Vaporetto

I took the 4:26 train back to Castelfranco and arrived exactly one hour later. I planned to get back in time for the bus to Paderno – much cheaper when traveling alone than taking a taxi. Venice was the perfect city to visit from Friday to Saturday. Buses don’t run to Paderno on Sundays, so I didn’t want to pay for a taxi on my own, and I also wanted to have a low-key day on campus to catch up on sleep. I had enough time to walk through Castelfranco slowly. There is an old moat and the remnants of a castle are in the center of the town. I spent some time in a bookshop while I waited for the bus – time in a bookshop is never time wasted! I still don’t really know the area surrounding campus very well, so it was a struggle to find my bus stop while the bus was zooming through the dark Italian streets, but I made it back! Missed dinner, and Diego at the tabacchi had already put away the sandwich stuff, but he was kind enough to give me a roll and slice me some turkey – I made sure to say “grazie mille” to him!

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^clocktower in Castelfranco

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^castle walls in Castelfranco – you walk through them to get to a nice shopping area

Venice was really pretty, and though it wasn’t my favorite city so far, my bank account disagrees. I definitely bought more this weekend than I have during any other! Now I have class from Monday to Wednesday, and then I’m leaving for Rome on Wednesday night, and I’ll be there for four nights! But first – an Italian quiz and a marketing exam! That’s right, I am doing some studying here!

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Lake Bled and Ljubljana

I have always wanted to go to Slovenia. My mom’s father was born in the US, but all of his older siblings and his parents were born in Slovenia. We still make potica, a traditional Slovenian bread, at Easter and Christmas, and so I always thought it would be cool to travel to Slovenia. Slovenia borders Italy on the east, and it’s pretty easy to get to, so I was thrilled to be able to go there this past weekend (Feb 14-16). Getting there and back involved a lot of planning, but it was worth it. There’s a shuttle service called GoOpti that brings people from various areas in Europe, (including Venice, Bologna, Munich, etc.) to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Basically, you tell the shuttle service the earliest or latest time you can be picked up, and then they tell you 24 hours beforehand what time they’ll pick you up. To get to Mestre (train station in Venice), we had to get a cab from Paderno to Bassano, and then a train from Bassano to Mestre. There were 15 of us total, which we were able to break into two cabs – an 8 person one and a 7 person one. When we got to Mestre, we ate dinner and then waited for the shuttles. I was in one that had room for 8 people, but there were only 7 of us. We ended up picking up a Slovenian girl at the airport. We were confused because we waited at the airport for 15 minutes (while our friends in the other shuttle were already on their way to Ljubljana), assuming that the last passenger wasn’t there yet. But we actually waited 15 minutes so that the driver and the girl could have a smoke break…

The drive to Ljubljana was about two and a half to three hours. We stopped at an AutoGrille and the girl and I ended up talking. She asked where I was from and I told her “Connecticut – it’s near New York,” which is my go-to answer. She was on her way back from a business trip in Napoli. She was really nice and we chatted about the weather there (with her converting from Celsius to Fahrenheit on her phone) and she taught me a few Slovenian words, which I promptly forgot. It’s awesome to be able to travel to other cities on a fairly low budget, but I am definitely appreciative of how much more streamlined travel is in the US. My Slovenian friend took a plane out of Napoli at 3, got on this shuttle at 8, got to Ljubljana around 10:45ish, and then had to drive an hour to her house. I’m tired just thinking about it!

We finally got to the hostel and met up with everyone else, who had been there for about an hour without us. We stayed at Hostel Celica – a former prison! I booked a room with three beds, ensuring a stay in a former cell! I was with Caroline and Cassie, and we had a great Valentine’s Day in our jail cell! Definitely my most memorable Valentine’s Day yet! (We also went to Asolo for my Italian class that morning, and I ordered gelato – my favorite gelato place thus far – and a sandwich and a surprisingly good smoothie with carrots, apples, and oranges. I also got a little heart-shaped donut, which the guy behind the counter proclaimed was a “present” and that I didn’t have to pay for it. The spirit of love was in the air!)

Image^Cassie, Caroline, and me

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^the hostel

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^a lot of graffiti in the neighborhood

On Saturday, Caroline and I woke up at 7 am, ate breakfast in the hostel, and headed off to the train and bus station. We bought tickets for the 8 am bus to Lake Bled. The bus ride lasted 80 minutes. The bus stop wasn’t very clear, but we got off at the right one! We headed down the hill to the lake and decided to walk around it. There was some snow on the ground and the path was really icy in some places. When my mom went to Lake Bled, the trees were green and it was very summery, so it was weird to be here in winter. It wasn’t any less beautiful, though! We stopped in a souvenir shop that had a lot of great stuff that was made in Slovenia. We both bought little good luck witches to hang up and I bought two ornaments (not saying what they are because one of them is for Mom – hi!). The lady who worked there was really nice and spoke great English. She wrote down some words on a post-it for us. Hvala = thank you, dober dan = hello, and na suidenje = bye. We never quite mastered that last one. She told us that “hvala” is just like “house” – hmm, not exactly!

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We walked over to where the wooden boats were to see if they were going out to the island. A guy appeared out of nowhere and told us that the boat would leave soon and that there was time for us to get coffee if we wanted to. Caroline and I went to the cafe right across the street and got two pastries to split – a classic Lake Bled “cream slice” and a chocolatey version that tasted like tiramisu and cream cheese. It was good, but I loved the cream slice!

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Image^the cafe we went to

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We heard a woman speaking in English about the boat ride, so I said we were going on the boat, too. She was from Croatia and her boyfriend was Brazilian. She was so fun and she kept referring to Caroline and me as “girls.” “Shall we go, girls?” She told us that the island on Lake Bled is the only island in Slovenia. She said the Croatians make fun of the Slovenians because there are plenty of islands in Croatia. The boat guy rowed all of us out there without the help of any motors. We got to the island and were given 30 minutes to look around, which was not enough. We climbed the 98 steps to the church. Apparently if a groom can carry his bride up all 98 steps, then their marriage will be successful. I read that four out of five grooms succeed 🙂 We bought tickets to go inside the church and rang the bell three times for good luck. We also went to the top of the clock tower (only 90 steps!) and saw the inner mechanisms of the old clock. It was a pretty view, but the windows were barred and hard to see out of.

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^photo taken by an extremely stylish Italian gentleman with the coolest blue glasses I’ve ever seen

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ImageImageImageImageImageWe walked back down to the gift shop, which was full of a ton of cool stuff. I bought a heart-shaped pin with the Slovenian flag on it to proudly affix to my backpack. I really wanted to get potica in the cafe, but we didn’t have time. We got back to shore and the boat guy didn’t say anything about how much the boat cost, and he wasn’t collecting money. We also didn’t see people paying him. We were confused and slowly started walking away, and then he shouted “Girls!” so we went back and asked him how much we owed him…it was weird! Our Croatian friend bid us adieu – “Bye girls!” and we walked back to the main town area for lunch. We didn’t find many places to eat at, so we got “toast” (grilled ham and cheese) at Cafe Peglez’n. The Slovenia-Slovakia Olympic hockey game was on and we saw Anze Kopitar score.

ImageImageImageImageImageWe took the bus back to Ljubljana and headed into the old town area around 3 pm. We crossed the Dragon Bridge and I got a picture with one of the dragons since Mom really wanted me to. The dragon is a huge symbol of Ljubljana. We walked through the Saturday market, but most of the booths were already packed up. We got some yummy, thick hot chocolate at a cafe by the river. Then we looked around the main square and did a little bit of shopping – some weird, young, “hip” store, a 4 or 5 floor H+M, and Zara. We looked at some art in the town hall. Bought water bottles for 66 cents! A steal!!

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^the main square

Next, we headed up the hill to Ljubljana Castle. It took a while because there wasn’t much signage and a few of the paths were blocked by fallen trees. There was lots of damage to the fences and some trees were completely uprooted. We took our time heading up and took pictures of the city from above. I loved all the red roofs. The sun was setting as we hiked up the hill, which made for a beautiful view. We got to see the colors of the sky change and the lights of the city come on.

ImageImageImageWe made it up to the castle despite nearly being blown off the hill by the wind. A lot of the areas seemed to be closed, but we got some pictures on the viewing terrace, saw a weird art installation of a melting piece of ice, and got a picture inside the nobility prison.

ImageImageImageThere is a banquet hall in the castle and it had a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. We saw couples dancing – what a fun place for a wedding or party! We asked some employees where we could get inexpensive, authentic Slovenian fare, and they suggested the restaurant in the castle – Gostilna na Gradu. We assumed it would be expensive, but the ladies we talked to said they had food starting at four euro. The restaurant was beautiful. Our table was in a room with glass walls, so we could see the castle surrounding us. We got half a liter of the house white wine – it was delicious. We ordered pasta filled with pumpkin, bacon, herbs, and cream of local cheese and then as a starter we got some sausage and potatoes. The waiter wanted to bring us the pasta first, which was fine with us. But before that, he brought the wine, water, and a plate of bread with some spreads – a smooth cottage cheese with some sort of added flavor that made it a light green color, and liver pate! The liver pate was way better than I was expecting, and the cottage cheese spread was delicious. Next, we had our pasta, which was amazing. The sausage was good, and we really liked the wine as well. It was a really fun, delicious meal in a unique setting. We felt very mature, but we kept our discussion as immature as possible so that we didn’t feel too old. 🙂

ImageImageImageImageImageWe took the funicular down the hill because we didn’t want to dodge our way around the fallen trees in the dark. The man operating it said that just last week, Slovenia had a freak ice storm – one of the worst in the last 100 years or something like that! We went back to the hostel and met up with everyone else in our group. We attempted to go out to the pubs by the river but everyone got distracted by a gelato shop!

ImageImage^posing with some graffiti

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^the Triple Bridge at night – the middle bridge is older than the outer two, which were added to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the river. designed by Jože Plečnik, who designed a lot of the buildings and bridges in Ljubljana

On Sunday morning I woke up at 7 again, got breakfast, and left by 8 to head to the Tivoli Gardens. It was a bit of a walk, especially with my heavy backpack. There was a tunnel to get there under the main road. The gardens were nice, but seemed like more of a park for walking your dog than the beautiful, relaxing gardens I’ve seen in Florence and Verona.

ImageImageImage^you can see the castle on the top of the hill

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^little model of Ljubljana

I headed to the flea market by the Breg – river bank. I bought a light green and gold bangle for six euro – originally seven. “For you, I take six. No lower.”

ImageImageThen I walked up to the City Museum to meet Caroline. We paid five euro to get in. Slovenia and Ljubljana used to be part of the Roman Empire. There were parts of an old roman home. We saw the world’s oldest wooden wheel – found in 2002 in some mud in Ljubljana, dating back to 5200 BC! So cool! The museum was really modern, with most of the information on touch screens. There was an interesting exhibit on the economic, political, and cultural history of Ljubljana, but we accidentally went through it backwards, which made it harder to retain information. Marshall Tito was a very important leader for the Slovenians.

ImageImageImageImage^I think the big eagle on the wall used to hang above the Town Hall

We got “burek” for lunch because other people in our group recommended it to us. It’s basically warm, flaky, phyllo dough with cheese or meat inside. Caroline and I both ordered the cheese kind, and I finally found a place with peach Nestea! Burek and iced tea, as the Slovenians intended it, I’m sure!

ImageImage^I love this building. I took pictures of it all weekend

We got picked up by the shuttle service at 1:30. On Friday, we drove through Slovenia at night, so we didn’t see any of the countryside. On Sunday afternoon, I saw more of the damage caused by the ice storm. There were hills covered in trees that looked completely stripped of their branches. We were hoping to make the 4:08 train at Mestre, but we arrived at 4:05 and didn’t have time. Getting back was messy – a combination of late trains, switching stations, and so many people in our group – but we made it back in time for dinner! I had a great time in Ljubljana. It was pretty inexpensive, the city was beautiful and easy to navigate, and almost everyone spoke English really well and was very friendly.

Image^beautiful Slovenian landscape!

I’m spending Friday afternoon and most of Saturday in Venice for Carnevale! I hope to have a blog post about it sent out on Sunday. Thanks for reading!

Britt in Barca! (soft c)

I had an amazing time in Barcelona! It was never on my list of places to go, but I am so glad I spent some time there, and I would love to go back. It’s my favorite place I’ve been so far this semester! We got to Barcelona around 2:30 pm I think. We took a bus to our hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn, and checked in. This was definitely the nicest hostel I’ve been to so far. It opened last year, and there are different locations throughout Europe. It was by far the youngest and “hippest” hostel I’ve been to. We had a room of 4 bunk beds with two strangers. I had top bunk again, which I don’t mind, because I’d rather fall onto someone else than have the person on top fall onto me! (Irrational, I know.) Also, my bed had a bedrail and a curtain this time, so I was basically living like a queen. We each had our own outlets, too! Can life get any better than that?! The only down side of this hostel were the showers. You had to press a button about every 30 seconds to turn the water on, and it was unpredictably freezing or scalding each time. I guess the discomfort is a good way to save water…

ImageWe went out to look around and explore. Our hostel was right by Placa de Catalunya, which was a great central location. After passing up two authentic tapas places, the group decided to stop at a restaurant that had an English speaking guy out front recruiting people inside…I vowed to eat authentic food after this point! Around 8 pm, I got dinner at one of the earlier tapas places I saw. Erica and I split some bread with tomato paste, and I got a baguette with cured acorn ham. There were Spanish people eating there, which made me feel good about its authenticity!

ImageImageOn Saturday morning, I meandered around the old city. I walked down La Rambla, which is a long street full of vendors – mostly of souvenirs and flowers. I stopped in at the market – La Boqueria – and bought some chocolates to munch on throughout the morning. I bought a piece of fudge, a grand marnier truffle, another chocolate thing, and then something that looked like a little pot of coffee. I could taste the alcohol inside the coffee pot filling.

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The Spaniards believe in water fountains!

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Placa de Catalunya during the day

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I got to Placa de L’Angel at 10:50 because I wanted to do the free Sandeman’s tour that started at 11. I love walking tours – I get to see so many places that I wouldn’t have known about, and the history behind a city is really what makes it interesting to me. Our tour guide was a young British guy named Tommy. He was really passionate about Barca and encouraged people who were interested in learning more to talk to him.

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This is the same height as the tallest castell ever built – more on that later!

Our tour took us through parts of the old city. We started by seeing four columns that used to be part of the Temple Roma D’August. The temple used to be a massive structure, especially because the community it served was very small. The columns were excavated and there was an apartment complex built around them. They were tucked inside a tiny doorway, and I would never have known to peek in there! Next, we saw the Catalan municipal building – flying just the Catalunyan flag in the back square that we were standing in. People in Barcelona identify with Catalunya more than Spain, and there were Catalunyan flags everywhere – gold with four red stripes, symbolizing a historical figure who stuck four fingers in his opponent’s bloody wound and then dragged them across his gold shield. Parts of the old city are still intact below the streets. They’re accessible by going to the city museum. I didn’t have time to go, but I definitely want to next time I’m in Barcelona! The town square also had a bell tower for St. Agnes, the patron saint of breadmaking. I think people used to pay their taxes here, and they would often pay them in grain, flour, or bread, so that’s why her bell tower is here…if I remember correctly!

ImageImageImageImageWe saw the Catedral de Barcelona and a letterbox made by Lluis Domenech i Montaner – a father of modernisme. We also saw some cool murals Picasso designed – but his friend actually carved them, because Picasso refused to come back to Spain for political reasons. We walked down Carrer Petrixtol, which was full of cute shops and cafes. Tommy recommend the hot chocolate and churros here, so that is on the list for next time!  We also saw the church of Santa Maria del Pi. Then we went to the old Jewish quarter. There are many sad tales of oppression in the history of the Jews in Barca. They survived the plague because of their wall and their forced curfew, but others blamed the plague on them, leading to further persecution.

ImageImageImageImageImage^This is what remains of the wall that separated the Jewish community from the rest of the city.

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^bomb damage from WWII

Our group got a little split up as we walked through a huge parade. We were there during the “Festes de Santa Eulalia” – a woman they tried to kill 13 times? There were castells (human towers) being built, tons of drummers, and awesome tall costumes that people were wearing while marching in the parade. Edit: Our tour guide told us that the towers were called “castells,” but someone commented on this post and said that they’re actually called falcons. A quick Google search brought me here and I guess falcons used to be popular in the early 20th century and are now experiencing a revival during the Saint Eulalia festivities.

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We had a little break to grab some food. I bought a pastry at a nearby shop. It was a “creu de St. Eulalia.” Obviously I had to get it to truly get into the spirit of the festes de Santa Eulalia! It was really yummy. It had an almondy paste inside, kind of like Kringle, and some cherries on top. I walked to a nearby square to see castells being built – human towers that I’ve only seen in pictures. The six or seven year old who climbs to the very top is the only one who wears a helmet! He or she sticks four fingers in the air for the stripes of the Catalonian flag. Edit: I thought the 4 fingers in the air for the flag was a kind of romantic, fun idea, but the same commenter I mentioned earlier said that the gesture is called an “aleta” and it only serves to indicate that the tower is completed.

ImageImageImageImageNext, we saw Santa Maria del Mar – built in only 60 years, a huge feat! Tommy told us that the arches in that church wouldn’t be able to be built by hand today because we don’t have the same access and numbers of human craftsmanship. The arches could be built, but with steel reinforcements. There was a mass grave near the church. Tommy told us more about all the violence that has befallen Barcelona in its past. We ended at Cituadella Park – the old military cituadella that used to be here was even bigger than the park and zoo located here now. The tour concluded here. I tipped Tommy and had him mark some of his favorite places on my map. I didn’t get to many of them, but I plan on coming back sometime! I especially want to go to Marsella – a bar where Hemingway used to get drunk on absinthe. Maybe I would write some really good blog entries after going here? I walked through the Park Ciutadella. Rested my feet and used the free wifi for a few minutes!

Image^the mass grave with Santa Maria del Mar in the background

ImageImageImageImage^this building was designed by the guy who made the letterbox

ImageImage^this fountain was one of Gaudi’s first public works

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After leaving the park, I started walking to La Sagrada Familia. It was a far walk, so I took the metro. When I exited the metro and turned around, I was amazed to see the church looming in front of me. I walked all the way around it but didn’t go in because the line was really long and I wanted to go to Park Guell before it got dark. Seeing Sagrada in person was really cool. I had seen pictures of it and never thought I’d be interested in seeing it, but the details were really interesting. I took the metro to Vallcarca and followed the signs towards Park Guell. It’s located up on top of a hill, so I hiked up the road and took four openair escalators up to the entrance.

ImageImageImageImageImagePark Guell was so fun and different. It was designed by Gaudi in 1900. I paid eight euro to get into the “monumental zone.” It would be free at 6, but it was 5:20 and I wanted to watch the light change over the city. I loved the terrace with the mosaic benches. I followed the map to see all of the different areas of the park – the gardens, the massive columns, and the mosaic lizard. I stayed at Park Guell for quite a while. People streamed in at six, when it was free to get in. It started to rain as I headed back down the hill.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageI took the metro to Diagonal after deliberating what to do next – see two Gaudi buildings or go back to the hostel? I decided to walk down the Passeig de Gracia to see Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. Casa Mila was under construction, so I didn’t see anything. I continued to walk in the rain to Casa Batllo. I didn’t realize that it was a museum, but I paid the 18,50 euro to get in. The expensive student “discount” was so worth it. Casa Batllo was one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited. The building was constructed for a rich family in the early 1900s. They occupied the main two floors and then there were two smaller apartments on the other floors.  Gaudi drew a lot of inspiration from nature, so there were very few straight lines in the apartment. The first staircase was supposed to be symbolic of an animal’s spine, according to the audioguide. There was beautiful stained glass and curved walls and doors to give off an ocean vibe. The main room had a window looking out over the Passeig de Gracia because the original owner wanted to see and be seen. I went out on the terrace of the main apartment and saw pretty mosaic work. Gaudi recycled and used mosaic pieces from other broken objects.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageThen I went upstairs, through the “lightwell,” to see the attic rooms. Gaudi was ahead of his time, designing air/ventilation and drainage systems, and coming up with a pretty, simple, and sturdy arch. There was a room at the end of the hall where I got to sit down and watch an artsy video of the front of the house coming to life. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before, and there was an awesome soundtrack to match. Then I went out on the roof to see the mosaics and roof design from above. I kept thinking about how glad I was that I paid to go in and see everything. I stayed until it closed at nine. There weren’t many people there, either, since it was a rainy Saturday night. I bought a little mosaic lizard at the gift shop. I plan on tying a ribbon around its tail and making it a Christmas ornament.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage^the lightwell

When I left the museum, it wasn’t raining anymore. I walked all the way to Butipa, a pork sausage place near our hostel. I was so deep into my exploration of Barcelona that I hadn’t eaten anything since the pastry I ate during the tour! The restaurant was a lot smaller than I was expecting and I walked past it by about ten minutes the first time. It was marked on a map I got from the hostel, and I didn’t realize that the little dot marking it was actually on a side street. I got a “Buti-kini” – pork sausage with ham and cheese, and I got onions on it, too. It’s a play on words with “Bikini,” which I think is what they call ham and cheese sandwiches here. It was delicious. Finally got back to the hostel around ten pm and slept easily after a long day of exploring!

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^Placa de Catalunya at night!

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We had eight beds in our room at the hostel, and six people in our group, so there were two strangers. One of them had the loudest/most animalistic snore I have ever heard in my life, and I’ve spent many a vacation listening to my dad snore in my grandma’s living room! My enemy’s terrible snore woke me up at 6:20 am and I couldn’t fall back asleep. Rather than succumb to the emotional breakdown about to befall me, I googled “what time does the sun rise in Barcelona” and saw that it wouldn’t until 7:54 am – plenty of time to get dressed and walk to the beach!

ImageI got up and walked through the still dark city, all the way to the Christopher Columbus monument and the Rambla del Mar. There was a bridge from the city area to the other side of the pier, but it wasn’t connected when I got there. A city worker pressed a button that made a piece of the bridge move and connect around 7:40 am. I crossed to the other side and took more pictures. It was very relaxing. The sky was beautiful. It would’ve been nice to see the actual beach, but I didn’t want to walk all the way there! There was no one else around, and it was nice to experience the quiet sunrise. I headed back around 8:30. I bought some colorful Barcelona coasters at a souvenir stand.

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I ate breakfast at the hostel and then walked to Casa Batllo so I could see the outside of the building during the day. It was colorful and so different from other buildings, but it definitely had Gaudi’s signature look – easy to recognize after even one day! I walked back to the hostel to check out and then got some hot chocolate (it’s really thick and rich) and a pastry thing to dip in it at Farggi – not one of the mom and pop coffee shops I was hoping to go to, but it seemed a little bit like an Italian version of Starbucks. I figured that an Italian visiting an American Starbucks would be a very authentic American food experience, so it was fine for me to go to Farggi. Plus, there were other Spanish people eating there, which always reassures me.

ImageImageImageAt 11:30 am Sunday morning (Feb 9), we started our return journey to Paderno – by bus, plane, bus, train, and then taxi – the pains of living in a small town. Got back in time for dinner, though! I absolutely loved my time in Barcelona, and I am so glad I made the decision to go there! If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around for this lengthy post!

Rain in Versailles

One of the great things about CIMBA is that we have two long weekends and one travel week built into our schedule. While that does present challenges in the classroom, since our classes and exams are so packed together and intense, it is great to have time to travel! When I got here, I thought I had so much time to go to different cities, but I’m already on week five out of twelve, and I’ve planned almost every weekend away! However, my mom keeps reminding me that I’m seeing more than I would if I just came here on a vacation, and I am sure I will be back one day.

Before the travel weekend started, we had a delicious gourmet dinner in nearby Castelfranco. Three gourmet dinners are included in the price of our tuition. I didn’t take any pictures, but my friend Rachel did. You can read her blog post about our fantastic dinner by clicking here!

We had no class on Thursday and Friday, so everyone in our program booked flights or trains leaving on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. CIMBA organized buses to the airport for us. I left Wednesday afternoon at 5:15 for Venice Marco Polo Airport. We took a cheap EasyJet flight to Paris CDG at 9:05 but took off and landed earlier than expected. I was pleased and relieved to find that my travel backpack fit in the bin with plenty of room to spare! No extra fees for me! Woohoo!

I was traveling with twelve other people. One of the girls booked us two vans to bring us from the airport to our hostel, Hostel Caulaincourt, located in Montmartre. The van I was in dropped us off at the bottom of a very lengthy set of stairs. When we got to the top, we saw the other kids in our group waiting for us. Their driver had been nice enough to drop them off on the street at the top of the stairs! Then we walked up even more stairs to get to our room. We had two rooms with six people in each. The bunks and lack of space actually made me miss my tiny hostel room in Florence!ImageImage

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ImageI woke up early Thursday morning, ate the complimentary breakfast in the hostel, and headed off to Versailles! I went to Paris in 2009, so I had already seen many of the museums and monuments that people were interested in going to. I decided to travel on my own for the day, and I loved it! I walked to the nearby Metro stop, Lamarck-Caulaincourt, and bought a ticket for four euro and twenty cents. I had to get on a train at Paris Saint-Lazare to go out to Versailles Rive-Droite. Once I got to the station, it was about a twenty minute walk through the town to reach the Palace.
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ImageLuckily, my mom had warned me that morning that there might be a strike at Versailles. Because of the strike, the Palace opened later than expected. This didn’t derail my plans too much, as I had been planning on spending my morning in the free gardens. It’s so cool that they’re free to get into, because there were many joggers and walkers. It’s amazing that people who live in the area get to start their mornings with a jog in the gardens of Versailles! Maybe I would get into jogging if I lived here! Haha, I still totally would not.

ImageThe gardens were nice, but I would love to see them in the high season. Because it is winter here, the statues were covered, the fountains were off, many areas were under construction, and the secret garden areas were locked up and only visible through a gate. My time in the gardens also directly coincided with the time it rained that day. The two construction areas I noticed are going to be really great when they’re finished. One garden is getting new sculptures and brought back to the grand scale it once had, which was destroyed by a storm. The second area is the Latona Fountain. It is currently disassembled, and it is being restored back to its original condition. Different artisans and craftsmen are refurbishing all of the parts.

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ImageImageImageI walked all the way to the beginning of the Grand Canal and ate lunch at La Flottille. I had a croque-monsieur. It was yummy and, most importantly, warm, but it wasn’t as good as the one my mom came back to the hotel room with in 2009. That one was made in a tiny shop and it was big, smoky, and gooey.

ImageImageAfter eating, I headed up to the Palace. I thought I might be able to get in for free if I showed my Declaration of Stay from the Italian immigration police, but I was not able to. I paid 15 euro to get into the Palace. I grabbed an audioguide contraption and started with the Andre Le Notre exhibit. He designed the gardens at Versailles. 2013 was the 400th anniversary of his birth, so they celebrated him throughout the year. There were a lot of big pictures of the gardens he’s designed – many impressive ones other than Versailles. I walked through the staterooms. I thought they were interesting to look at, but so opulent that there was almost too much to focus on. I finished looking around in the Palace around 3:30.

ImageImageImageI wanted to see Trianon and Petit Trianon as well. I bought a ticket for 7,50 euro to take a little tram (“le petit train”) all the way to Trianon. It would’ve been a far walk, and I wanted to see as much as possible before closing time two hours later. I was able to get in for free at both Trianon and Petit Trianon. Trianon was constructed from 1687 to 1688. It was intended to be the recreational residence for Louis XIV and family. It was still a very ornate building, but much simpler than the Palace was. Image

 

 

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ImageI caught the tram to Petit Trianon, which was part of Marie Antoinette’s private estate. This was my favorite building of the day. The grounds were filled with gardens, sculptures, and other cool areas near the Queen’s estate that I didn’t have time to explore. Petit Trianon was beautiful. It had a lot of pastels and earth tones. There was one room that had mirrors that could rise up from under the floor (by a pulley system) to cover the windows and offer privacy. One of the curators started locking the doors before closing time and I got locked in the pantry. After finding no alternative exits, I ran to the door and jiggled the handle. Luckily, she heard it, and came running back to let me out. When I left Petit Trianon, I was able to take the tram again. It was the last stop of the day and I was glad I didn’t have to walk all the way back to the Palace.

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ImageImageI left Versailles around 5:30. I bought a strawberry macaron on my way to the train station. The ride back to the city was so nice. I find train rides relaxing and peaceful. I saw the Eiffel Tower piercing the gray sky in the morning, and I saw it lit up at night on my way back. I wouldn’t have minded staying on that train all night!Image

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The next day we left for the airport (Beauvais this time) at 8:30 am for our 12:10 flight to Barcelona! I will be posting about that next time. But first – the duty free shop at Beauvais had a weekly pack of Nutella. How convenient! Ciao!Image

platonic Love In Verona

On Sunday morning, February 2nd, I took a bus to Verona with 14 other people. We were able to set it up with a local bus company so that we could pay 20 euro round trip and leave and return directly from school. Verona is about an hour and a half away from Paderno. We arrived a little after eleven and walked with a lady from the bus company. She speaks English fairly well and I think she likes practicing with us. She led us to the tourist office, where we all picked up maps. Then we headed to the arena.

ImageAnfiteatro Arena is in the center of Verona. It is a huge arena that still holds concerts. It would be incredible to see a band perform there. It usually costs six euro to get in, but it was the first Sunday of the month, so we got in for one euro! What a deal! We saw a cage where they used to keep the animals and we climbed to the top to get a good view of the city.

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The river flooded up to this line – “17 Settembre 1882”

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Next, we walked to Juliet’s balcony. A lot of people were excited to see Juliet’s house, but it doesn’t really have any Shakespearean significance. Shakespeare set Romeo & Juliet in Verona, but it didn’t actually happen there, and I read that Juliet’s balcony was built in 1936 as a way to make more money. One couple kissed on the balcony after they were urged to when their friends yelled “Baci! Baci! Baci!” I did rub the statue of Juliet for good luck. You have to rub her breast, and it’s shiny from so many people touching it – we have seen many people do this at other statues too, and it is certainly not good luck to do this at every statue you see!! The whole bus group split up here. I spent the day with Cassie, Carolyn, and Kenneth.

ImageFor lunch we went to Cafe Mezzaparte. I got pizza but I wasn’t impressed by it. I still like Gusta in Florence and Vero in Plainville more! The restaurant was right on the square, so I think it was a tourist trap.

ImageImageAfter lunch, we walked to St. Anastasia. It was pretty, but we didn’t go inside beyond the ticket booth. Then we went to the Duomo. We paid two euro and fifty cents to get in. It was so ornate and beautiful, and I liked it more than the Duomo in Florence. There were eleven chapels – secondary altars. There was also a side door with a tomb and another little church area.

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St. Anastasia

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inside the Duomo

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crypt/tomb behind a side door – curiosity pays off!

We took pictures on the Ponte Pietra, crossed the Adige River, and hiked up to a beautiful vantage point at Castel San Pietro. I was extra out of breath due to my cold (my sneezes and coughs echoed mightily in the Duomo). We took lots of pictures and admired the view.

so chivalrous with his umbrella!

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ImageImageNext, we headed back down and walked to Giardino Giusti. Kenneth really wanted to go here since he loved the Boboli Gardens in Florence so much. I want to go to one in every city, just because they are so relaxing and a nice change of pace from sightseeing within the city. The Italian man working the ticket booth was really nice. We got a student discount and paid five euro instead of seven. We were the only people in the gardens. There were mazes made of hedges and some nice statues. We walked through the wooded areas to a pretty gazebo and higher up to a balcony with a lion’s head carving for a window. The views weren’t as good as we were expecting, but it smelled so calm and spring-y!

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I wanted to go to Castelvecchio, too, but we didn’t have time, since people wanted to leave at 5 pm instead of 6. We planned to at least walk past Castelvecchio, but we must’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. With that wrong turn, we saw a gelato shop. I ordered ciaccolata and quella (Nutella and Hazelnut). I ordered in Italian and I asked what “quella” meant in Italian. It rained all day, and I sacrificed holding my umbrella up for eating my gelato in relative comfort, though I got back to the bus freezing and wet. Overall, I had a nice time in Verona, and with great people!

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Me, Carolyn, and Cassie

 

Dinner with an Italian Family

On Friday night, I had the awesome opportunity to eat dinner with an Italian family! CIMBA works with the Italian school to have an event called “Add a Seat to the Table.” I met another CIMBA student, Alex, downstairs at 7:15 pm and we were greeted by Lorenza and her friend Anna, both students at Istituto Filippin, the school we live at. Lorenza’s dad was waiting for us in the parking lot, and we drove about to their house, about 25 minutes away, in Galliera Veneta.

Alex’s grandparents are Italian, so I was excited to find out that he speaks Italian well! Lorenza was a great English speaker, and I suspect that Anna is good as well, but she was very quiet. When we got to Lorenza’s house, we met inside the front door by her two friends, Veronica and Martina, and her mom. Veronica goes to school at Filippin with Lorenza and Anna, but Martina goes to an international school, where all of her classes except Italian are in English. She has been speaking English since the age of five, and she is fantastic at it. She has no noticeable accent.

Lorenza’s home was beautiful. It is only 12 years old and was built for her family. Her dad makes elastic that is used in Dolce & Gabbana, Franklin & Marshall, Converse, and Diesel products. Their house looked like it belonged on HGTV. It had vaulted ceilings, lots of open space, white walls, marble (I think?) floors, and glass or translucent door panels. The whole effect was airy and clean. We ate in their newly finished downstairs. It was NYC themed, which I found amusing. There were NYC plates and napkins, NYC curtains, and a chic skyscraper wallpaper on one wall. During dinner, Alex and I ate with just Lorenza and her friends. I had a great time with them. They are all fifteen and were fun and talkative. Veronica is quite the goofball – she sang a few words to each song with the utmost confidence, although if you strung together all of the words she knew it wouldn’t even make up a chorus!

*Note: WordPress and I are not getting along today, so click on the image to see it full size!

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Veronica and Martina

Me, Martina, Lorenza, Alex, Anna, and Veronica

Me, Martina, Lorenza, Alex, Anna, and Veronica

First we had antipasti, and I had a glass of sparkling white wine with it. The parmesan cheese was really good. There was another kind I loved, but I don’t know what it was and didn’t think to ask. Next we had lasagna. After that we had some hamburger and veal, with sides of zucchini and mushrooms (fungi in Italiano).  Her mom also brought down some crinkle cut french fries, which really hit the spot!

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white wine I had with the main meal

For dessert, we had different kinds of frittelle – the proper Italian name for those cream puffs I love! There were three kinds – crema, the custard one I tried at the local pasticceria; a lemony one (so delicious); and zabaione, which had an eggnog-ish flavor. We also had some little gelato balls. This was all paired with some dulce red wine. I noticed that it paired well with the dessert, but I still like my white wine better! I also told the girls about the Nutella frittelle at Pasticceria Alpina. Martina didn’t know about them, and I was proud to teach her something about Italy!

lemony frittelle and unknown dessert!

lemony frittelle and unknown dessert!

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gelato balls

I even had some coffee - the weakest kind they had, with a lot of sugar in it!

I even had some coffee – the weakest kind they had, with a lot of sugar in it!

During dessert, Lorenza’s parents joined us, and we talked (through Lorenza) about my major, the weather in the US, and Alex’s Italian family. Lorenza mentioned that she and her classmates always notice when the American students are outside in shorts and t-shirts. I explained to her that this is very warm for us!

We somehow got on the subject of cute American actors. Veronica says that there are no cute Italian actors. According to the girls, every woman in Italy is in love with Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. The girls also love Channing Tatum. Veronica googled “young and hot American actors” and came up with Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, and Justin Bieber (they didn’t all agree on him!). It was fun to giggle with them and get a sense of what it’s like when they hang out together. Not very different from some American girl hangouts!

Lorenza told me that her mom liked my accent, which I found surprising and very flattering. A friend of mine is living in France for the year, and she said that contrary to what people think in the US, many Europeans actually find an American accent charming. Lorenza and her parents could also tell the difference between mine and Alex’s accents – he is from Dallas, Texas. I was surprised by that as well, since his accent is not heavy at all.

Lorenza and her dad

Lorenza and her dad

Lorenza's mom, Lorenza, and Veronica

Lorenza’s mom, Lorenza, and Veronica

Anna’s parents came to pick her up and stayed to chat a while. It seems that when American students are visiting, everyone wants to come by and hang out! I had a great time but was ready to go when we left, since we had our last day of Saturday classes the next day. I got home at midnight feeling nice and full – which is pretty rare here at school! I am looking forward to my next “Add a Seat” experience.

Weekend in Firenze

Hi everyone! I’ve been wanting to update all week, but just have not had the time! On Monday, group C started LIFE – Leadership Initiative For Excellence. I had heard that it was really difficult but worth it in the end. Going in with expectations that it would be really hard and stressful actually helped me, since it was never as terrible as I thought it would be. It was definitely challenging, but I’m proud of what I did and everyone here thinks I “came out of my shell,” even though any of my friends and family would be surprised to hear that I was ever in a shell!! On Wednesday, January 29th, we graduated from LIFE and then went to a local pizzeria. I got the Bassanese – basically regular cheese pizza with asparagus on it. It was really good and we all had a great time relaxing and having fun after a few long days of LIFE!

During LIFE, we were instructed mainly by two trainers, and they were helped by two trainers’ assistants. After graduation, we were all sort of standing around, and I jokingly said to one of the assistants – we’ll call him Mr. L – that I thought he could still improve on his assistant skills, and he laughed and patted me on the back and then leaned down (a pretty big distance haha) to my head and said “ciao.” His cheek was right in front of me, so I just thought “Oh, I’m supposed to do the Italian thing and kiss it.” Immediately after, I wondered if that was what I was supposed to do, but oh well!! He didn’t seem offended and I have no idea how he reacted. In retrospect, it was pretty ballsy, and I wasn’t even under the influence of any Prosecco! Of course, all of my friends at the pizzeria that night loved the story and I have to admit I am still amused by it.

Before LIFE started, I spent the weekend in Florence – or Firenze, as they say here. Two full buses of people in my program left for Florence on Friday, January 24th, at 5:30 pm. We were dropped off at a train station right outside of Florence, in Prato, around 9:15 and then we took the train into Florence. My travel group this weekend was made up of Barb from Iowa State, Kenneth and Nicole from KU (both in marching band!), Branon from Purdue, and Phil from Alabama. First we went to our hostel, Hotel Pensione Ottaviani, to drop our stuff off. It was a short walk from the train station, and we quickly realized why it was so inexpensive for us to stay there. There were six beds in the room and they all touched each other. There was also a tiny shower in the corner of the room, which was basically unusable since you could see completely through the doors. Two of the boys showered in it on Friday night and we had to keep our eyes averted the entire time. I was cracking up, as Kenneth was updating us on what was happening “Ok…look away…towel is coming off…stepping into the shower…keep your eyes averted…closing the door…”

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We walked around and saw some of Florence by night: Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, and a nice shopping area. We also stopped for some chocolate at a place called Gilli. I got a dessert called a “fedora” – it was cakey on the bottom, with a creamy and kind of fluffy middle, and some chocolate on the top.

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On Saturday morning, we were out of our hostel by 9:45 am and we went out in search of breakfast. Then we walked to the Duomo and the cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore). We went inside and took pictures and looked at the elaborately painted inner dome.
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Then we headed to see Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria del Academia. Michelangelo finished David in 1504. The statue stayed in its original place, outside the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall), but was moved to its current spot in 1873. I learned that the museum was built specifically to house David, which is so cool! The museum was humid and temperature controlled to preserve all of the art. There were also some of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, which were really neat to look at. I had seen pictures of David before (including a postcard in my mom’s study abroad photo album, which I remember being scandalized by!), but I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed by it! The sculpture was so tall and smooth, and it’s incredible to think that someone created it by hand.

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the David replica

After we left the Galleria del Academia, we got lunch at a cafe near the Piazza di Santa Croce. When we finished eating, we took pictures of the David replica and then walked past the Uffizi Gallery and across the Ponte Vecchio. I really wanted to go to the Boboli Gardens, which are located right behind the Pitti Palace. We paid 10 euros to get in, and our ticket also allowed us to go to the Porcelain Museum, the Bardini Gardens, the Museo degli Argenti, and the Costume Gallery, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to go to any of those other places. The gardens were so beautiful and peaceful, and I’m glad the group wanted to stop there. We stayed for about two hours and admired the landscaping, sculptures, and fountains. There were also some great views of the city from the top of the gardens.

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Me with the Ponte Vecchio in the background

ImageImageImageImageAfter leaving the gardens, we hiked to the other side of the city and headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see a view of the whole city. Our vantage point allowed us to view Florence as one would on a postcard. I was seriously out of breath by the time we made it to the top, and was happy to reward myself with some gelato! There was an Italian man singing American songs, and he was pretty talented. He drew quite a crowd, and it was nice to hear some familiar songs. We watched the sun sink a little bit and bought some souvenirs from the vendors. I had my eye on a dish towel with the main landmarks of Florence on it all day. I saw it at one stand for four euro, another for three fifty, and then at this piazza for three. Waiting pays off! Satisfied with the picturesque view, we completed the much easier journey down the steps and hill and walked back over to where we were earlier to get dinner at Gusta Pizza, a place I had heard rave reviews about from a few different people. It was only six, and Gusta didn’t open up again until seven, so we killed some time at the Friends Pub, drawn to the idea of sitting down, relaxing…and using some free wi-fi. I ordered a Spritz, which is a popular Italian drink, but I didn’t like it very much. It’s made with Prosecco and aperol, and it was too bitter for me. I think there is a kind with another flavor, but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to go for it again!

ImageImageImageImageAt seven we headed to Gusta and ordered our pizza. They only had eight items on the menu, which made it nice and easy to decide what to eat. I ordered the Gustapizza, figuring that a pizza with the name of the restaurant in it must be good. It had cherry tomatoes, rucola (aka arugula), mozzarella, and ricotta. It was amazing. I know that a lot of Italian pizza has a very thin crust, but this was a good combination of fluffy and light. It was so good. Everyone was glad we went there, and I’m proud to say I am two for two on people enjoying the venues I researched!

ImageThat night, we went to the Red Garter, a popular American karaoke bar. I’m really not that big on nightlife, so I was fine with this place, as I think it was a lot less crazy than some of the discotheques my friends went to. When we got there, there were already a bunch of CIMBA people hanging out and singing. We had a good time and were actually in the minority there. The crowd seemed to be made up of mostly Australians and Brits. We eventually went back to the hostel and rested our tired feet!

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Branon, Nicole, and Barb singing!

On Sunday morning, we walked to the train station and purchased our tickets for later in the afternoon. We had to be at Prato by five, and so we bought tickets for the 4:10 train so that we wouldn’t have to wait in long lines of CIMBA students later. We wanted to see an old library in San Lorenzo, but it was cold. We mostly just walked around and looked at the sights. I wanted to eat lunch at a nice Italian place, but it was hard to find anything open, and we eventually settled for The Old Stove, an Irish pub. Next time I travel, I am definitely going to make a nice list of places to eat and the hours they’re open, since you can’t take that for granted in Italy! We also saw some sort of Florentine parade!

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The library was closed, but the building housing it also had this cool courtyard!

ImageI met up with a friend from high school, Alex, at the train station around 2:30. He has been studying in Florence for three years now, and I thought it would be cool to catch up. We walked to Giubble Rosse, one his favorite cafes, and I had tea and tiramisu. Alex is friends with the people who work there and is going to exhibit some art there in a few months. I was very impressed by his Italian – he speaks Italian all the time now except for when he’s in class. I also met his boyfriend, Emiliano. We walked around the city a little bit and they had me rub the nose of a boar statue for good luck. I wouldn’t have known about that tradition without them, so that was fun! Then we went inside the Palazzo Vecchio and saw a room that I’m pretty sure not many people get to see. It was hard to understand Emiliano but I think he may have sweet talked some people into letting us see it! It was basically a big ballroom, and Alex said that it’s been used before for fancy receptions with Italian celebrities.

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I kept looking at my phone to check the time, since I wanted to make my train, but Alex has really embraced the slow, relaxing, Italian lifestyle…and I missed it. So I had to pay 45 euro to take a taxi to Prato, where the bus was picking us up. Not being able to use my train ticket, which only cost two euro fifty cents, was a very sad moment! Thankfully, the scenery on the drive was pretty, and the driver spoke English. Luckily, I got there with time to spare, and when I can’t feel that 45 euro shaped hole in my pocket, it will be a good story to tell!

I took a ton of pictures, but the Internet connection here is way too slow to upload them to Facebook. You can view them here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0kh3f3537k5o53c/8RyuyY5gg_