Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Piano, piano, but run fast girlfriend…

At times, I have found myself so overwhelmed and homesick, that I question whether studying abroad was the right thing to do. Never in a million years, prior to leaving, would I have ever thought that this would be the case. It’s not where I am that makes me uneasy, it’s what I left behind and what I am unable to recreate here. I have never lived a day without playing soccer, or riding horses, or even my dogs. (My parents are going to be offended they didn’t make this list, but skype is keeping us pretty well connected!) The bottom line- the experience of studying abroad provides you with a new appreciation for all the people/animals, places, and activities that you tend to take for granted at home, making very clear the things that you hold closest.

Piano, piano- slowly, slowly. That’s the motto for life here in Italia… Don’t rush your everyday routine because you will inevitably overlook some of the most charming details of life. (i.e.) By worrying so much about the things I don’t have, I came very close to ruining what I do have- an opportunity to live life in a new way every single day… Not until I was able to recognize this, could I begin to fully seize all that this little city with a big heart has to offer.

Running has played a very important role in all of this and has allowed me to view parts, in and around Florence, that a person wouldn’t necessarily get to see on an ordinary basis. I typically run a little after sunrise (around 6:30 am), mostly because crowds mob the streets during the day and you WILL get run over or get stuck behind the adorable old lady with her bread. This time, when it’s just me and the cobblestone, has been that which has allowed me to build the deepest connection with the city and its intricacies.

Running in the late afternoon is a whole other, much more amusing, story however. This is when you get a real taste for the “the people.” I always laugh, because no matter what, you are going to get your fair share of catcalls and people that really just want to talk to you. The other day, I was walking back from the park in a Red Sox hat and carrying a soccer ball. I heard “Ragazza! Ragazza! You are from Boston. Talk to us!” Against my better judgment, I turned to face the old man standing in front of his restaurant, with several other younger guys surrounding him. I talked with one of them, while the others kicked my ball about the street. In the end, I came out with free pizza for the rest of my time in Florence. This just proves that the smallest everyday activity can be a cultural experience in one way or another.

Why I’m bothering to mention this- today is exactly 30 days from when Rebecca and I return home and we certainly have a lot left to see and lifetimes of knowledge left to learn.

A presto,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Amsterdam and Paris

Amsterdam, Amsterdam… The Dutch have really got it going on, work hard, play hard type of people. Out of the many cultures I was able to experience over the past few weeks, I was so impressed with this one in particular. The people are proud of their country and their city and the sense of national pride is unmistakable. The population as a whole is highly educated, but easy going and welcoming at the same time.

The Dutch capital is absolutely the most beautiful city I have visited. Multicolored gabled houses line the quaint canals and each little neighborhood is different from the next. Bikes, bikes, and more bikes… They’re a whole cultural phenomenon in their own right. I’m thinking that we really need to step up our game in the creativity expended on bike decoration in the US.

We stayed very close to the center of the city in a hostel called the Flying Pig, haha, definitely not the highlight of our sleeping accommodations. I ran every morning in a park that seemed to be quite the exercise hotspot at 6:30 a.m… who knew? I noticed that people run really, really fast there. Either that, or I’m a lot more out of shape than I think.

Museums in Amsterdam are a must go. The Rijks Museum is Holland’s top museum and contains many of the masterpieces from the Dutch golden age. I totally snuck a picture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. I couldn’t resist. We also visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.

Paris. I thought I was going to fall in love with this city. I’m not saying that I didn’t like it, but it fits the stereotype as seen in every movie and written about in every book. Yes, the Mona Lisa is tiny. It’s a masterpiece, but it really blows my mind that so many people go to the Louvre specifically to see this work, when surrounding it are so many treasures from every period and country in the history of art.

In Paris, we had a very interesting group. I traveled there with Becca and Allie. I went to high school with Allie and when we found out we would both be in Florence this semester, we reunited. Two guys, who also went to high school with us (they are studying in Barcelona), met us in Paris and we all stayed together most of the time. It was really a blast from the past because I haven’t seen them since we graduated. I forgot how much fun they were. The picture from left to right goes: Sebastian (we call him Sabby, as we have since 1st grade), Becca, Allie, me, and Matt.



Monday, April 5, 2010

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!

What a good Easter it has been! It’s the first one in a long time I haven’t spent with my family, but I had good friends and good culture to celebrate with instead. That’s another blog for another day though because I have so much other stuff to talk about.

I want to give you a recap of our amazing “Grand Tour” spring break. We visited four cities in twelve days: Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. I’ll just talk about Bear-lin and Praha in this blog, though, because I have a nice 7 hour bus ride from Sorrento back to Florence ahead of me and I’ll need something to keep me busy… rough life, I know.

We did so many things in all these cities that it would be impossible to recount everything. I’ll just tell you about a couple cool things we saw/ did in each place.

Prague was absolutely gorgeous. It has a very quaint atmosphere with a melting pot of architecture ranging from Gothic to Cubist. The people were extremely friendly and hospitable. We were definitely spoiled by out hostel in this city. We had our own apartments with the people we were traveling with, including a kitchen, a TV, and the best shower I have EVER experienced in Europe. Fun fact: Fifteen Czech Koruna is equal to about one Euro. It’s really, really weird to hold a one thousand dollar bill in your hand… sort of like Monopoly Money. I’ll take Park Place, please.

This is the view from near the top of Prague’s Petrin Hill, which rises 130 m above the left bank of the Vltava River. This area is covered in parks and is mostly used for recreation. You can see Prague Castle and the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral at its heart. Prague Castle is one of the biggest in the world and the home of the Bohemian Crown Jewels. The Kings of Bohemia, the Holy Roman Emperors, and the presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have had offices here for hundreds of years. To the left is an interior view of the St.Vitus Cathedral.

Below are two pictures of the Lennon Wall. It has been covered over the years by John Lennon and Beatles inspired graffiti and lyrics. The wall itself was once blank, but became a place where angry students, under the communist leadership of Gustav Husak (1969-87), would write their grievances. The movement associated with these youths was known as “Lennonism”. Communist authorities were deeply bothered by the movement and described those associated with it as alcoholics, deranged sociopaths, and agents of Western capitalism. Today the wall continues to be decorated, the original layers long lost, and represents the youthful ideals of “peace and love”.

I don’t even know where to start with Berlin. It is one of my favorite cities that I have visited. I love history and to me this place is a giant 20th century (and beyond, really) history book. Go here and read about it: I can’t explain one thing without explaining the rest, so it’s easiest to read it on your own.

The Brandenburg Gate (below) was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II to represent peace. It was completed in 1791. Ironically, the gate was incorporated into the Berlin wall during the communist years. Today the classicizing structure stands as a happy reminder of the unification of East and West Berlin in 1990.

The next picture down is of one of the remaining parts of the Berlin wall, which separated East and West Berlin. After WWII, the victorious parties split the territory into four sectors. Those of the Western Allies (the US, France, and Britain) formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin. The later founding of two separate German states fueled Cold War tensions and culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall, which completely separated east from west. Westerners were able to pass back and forth under strict regulation, while it was almost impossible for easterners to pass to the western side.

Berlin is filled with fabulous museums. The Pergamon Museum houses two fascinating installations from the ancient past: the marble Pergamon Altar and the glazed brick Ishtar Gate. The Pergamon Altar dates from the first half of the second century BC and depicts the battle between the giants and the Olympian Gods. The reconstruction is comprised of thousands of fragments excavated from the acropolis in Pergamon.

The reconstruction of the famous Ishtar Gate resides in the same museum only a few rooms away from the Pergamon Altar. It served as one of many inner gates to the ancient city of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered its construction around 575 BC and dedicated it to the goddess Ishtar. The part of the gate housed in the Pergamon Museum is only a small sample of a much larger work. There are many golden bulls, lions, and dragons scattered in museums all over the world, including a lion in the MFA in Boston.

Amsterdam and Paris next time!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

We Pellegri-joined!

Midterms done… spring break here we come! Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, but these weeks have been really busy. Becca and I took a little pre- spring break trip (6 mental health days in all…oops) to San Gimignano and Rome to meet up with the Pellegrinaggio group from Merrimack. The Pellegrinaggio, or pilgrimage in English, is an organized trip to Italy, led by Fr. Jim Wenzel, which focuses on exploring Merrimack’s Augustinian roots. I went on the same trip last year and had a wonderful experience.

We were really looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, especially Fr. Jim and Kevin “K-dawg” Salemme. Kevin was a last minute joiner and this year’s co-leader of the trip. We know him quite well because I work for him in the media center and he is a professor of photography in the Fine Arts department, where Becca and I both have jobs in the slide archive (or at least I hope we do by the time we get back).

In San Gimignano, we stayed in the Augustinian convento with the rest of the Merrimack group. This gorgeous Tuscan hill town is one of my favorite places in all of Italy. Its small and winding streets are packed with history and the views from outside the fortified walls are breathtaking, particularly at sunrise.

In the convento, there is a central cloister into which all the rooms look down upon. The building is extremely difficult to heat, given its age and plan, and it can get very cold inside.

Our large group of over thirty people ate in the huge refectory, or dining room, at three long tables along the walls. Loretta is the very sweet and fantastic cook that provided us with some of the tastiest food I have eaten in a long time.

Attached to the convento is a small church. Inside, the Italian artist Benozzo Gozzoli completed a very beautiful fresco cycle of the life of Saint Augustine. Photographs of all the scenes can be found at Merrimack on the second floor of the campus center along with other photographs chronicling the path that the Pellegrinaggio follows through Italy (all of which were actually taken by Kevin).

The week was a blast and it wouldn’t have been complete without a little wacked out weather along the way. There was one day where we accompanied the group from San Gimignano to Lecceto, a very remote and uphill location, to visit the cloistered Augustinian sisters. A snowstorm that was apparently highly underestimated came along and dumped about 4-5 inches of snow in about two and a half hours. In New England this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but to the poor Italians, it was a lot like the blizzard of ’78. When we attempted to leave, it was still snowing and our bus got stuck, so we had to walk back up the hill to the monastery to wait for the “fire department” to get the bus down to the main road. This excitement made a lot of time for some group bonding and actually added to the experience.

Today we are in Prague, or Praha, which is the first leg of spring break. From here we will go to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. So far, it has been unbelievably fun and I'll be able to write as the trip progresses.

Ciao, Sbohem (Czech), Tschüss (German), Doei (Dutch), Au revoir (French),


Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Must Read Weekend

So, I don’t think I could make the sequence of events from this weekend up if I tried. On Friday morning, my five roommates and I took an early train to Perugia, where we stayed in a hostel for the weekend. When the guy came around to check our tickets on the train, I went to get mine out of my pocket and flung my credit card out by mistake. Obviously, the credit card landed in between the seat and the wall to which the seat was bolted. I thought, “Oh that’s okay, I’ll get it in a second when the TrenItalia man goes away.” However, when I went to get the card out of the crack, I couldn’t find it. We searched for the duration of the ride, but still no luck. There was literally a 4x4 inch space where it could have gotten wedged. One of the train attendants even tried to leverage the armrest away so that we could at least get a piece of paper down into the space. Unfortunately, the only thing that was accomplished was the poor man puncturing a hole in the side of the cheap plastic wall. When it finally came time to get off in Perugia, I still had no credit card and my sense of humor was headed downhill.

You can imagine that when we got on the wrong bus that took “the long way” to our stop, I was not pleased. And when we found ourselves out in the middle of the countryside and walking a mile down a dirt road to our “hostel”, both my language and thoughts were not very friendly. Lets just say there would have been a lot of “beeps” if they were played on TV. At the end of the “road”, this is the sight we were greeted with.

Jenn, who planned the whole thing, told us the hostel was a little away from the city, but I never imagined it was this far away. After the initial shock of realizing we were going to spend two days in farmhouse wore off, we actually had a really enjoyable time. There were two other people staying there with us, plus the two owners. One of the girls was from the Netherlands and was staying in Italy to study Italian. We made good friends with her and, for some reason, we thought it was a super duper good idea to sign up for a wine testing at 11am the next morning, which was… I bet you can’t guess… a good three-mile walk from the “Perugia Farmhouse”. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous day and the scenery was breathtaking.

The small farm where we tested at least five different wines and three different types of grappa had this service where people could bring their four gallon jugs and have them filled with their preferred wine. It was a very strange sight, sort of like a wine gas station. The specialty wine of this particular farm was called “L’arringatore” (which means speaker or orator) because, as our guide said, “If you drink a lot, you talk a lot.”

When we wandered back to the farmhouse, the sun was hot, so we laid out on the grass and took naps. That night (last night) everybody just hung around talking and making dinner.

Today was our final morning and I decided to go off to a farm to go horseback riding. For me, who rides nearly every day when I’m home, it’s really hard to be without horses for as long a period of time as four months. Seriously, I tear up every time I see a horse or talk about riding because it’s an activity that consumes nearly ¼ of my life. So, when the opportunity to go riding came up, I took it. Let me say, it was about as unpredictable as the rest of the weekend.

When I got to the farm/ barn to ride, no one spoke English, but they did ask me if I was a good rider and I was able to communicate back to them, in Italian, that I was. Good thing I wasn’t lying because they literally threw a horse my way and off we went, me and two good old Italian cowboys. They asked me if I wanted to “run” and I said, “Sure, let’s canter (which would be the appropriate word in English).” Well, scratch that. We were flat out “running”/ galloping across the rolling Umbrian farmland. I was having a lot of fun and was only moderately alarmed at how this was all going down, until my horse gave a particularly hard flick of the head and snapped one rein (you know, the part that attaches to the horse’s head, sort of important for steering and stopping and minor things of that nature). I really didn’t panic because I’ve been riding since I could walk and have seen worse (I think). Once I was able to bring the horse to a stop, the guys were pale faced, but yelling, “Brava! Brava!” We did a makeshift fix and carried on. Looking back to 8 hours ago, I’m happy that I made it back to Florence in one piece.

Nonetheless, our time in Perugia was very enjoyable, though not in the way we had expected. I’m happy to think that no one will ever have quite the same experience as we did.

Ciao Ciao,


Friday, February 26, 2010


There is just nothing better than the original, especially when it comes to art. Florence is filled with some of the most beautiful art works of the Renaissance, like Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Primavera, and Ghiberti’s baptistery doors, with which Michelangelo was so impressed that he called them “The Gates of Paradise”.

These days, a visitor to Florence is bombarded with replica after replica, so much so that one can forget about the superior beauty of the actual thing. Take the David for example. The original is currently housed in the Accademia Museum. However, reproductions are everywhere and range from the sculpted copy in the Piazza Signoria (where the original once stood), to aprons screen printed with the image, and everything in between.

I bring this up because I just recently revisited the Accademia after many years. I am reminded that, no matter how good, a copy can’t do justice to the hand of Michelangelo, especially when it comes to the colossal David. Some of the most stunning nuances of style and execution are lost, even on the quite convincing copy that stands in the Piazza and frequently fools many tourists. I just thought that this was an interesting point to keep in mind. Off to Perugia this weekend!



Friday, February 19, 2010

Cultura, Cultura, Cultura!

Here are just a few things about life in Italia. I make these comments with the utmost love because things here are just different, and you can’t qualify them as better or worse.

Cultural notes, etc.:

· Italians do not appear to use notebooks. The only notebooks available are filled with graph paper. I have no idea why.

· There is a bakery on every corner.

· Florence is mostly comprised of four groups of things in this order: shops devoted to food, clothing stores, churches/ museums, and hotels.

· Italians walk like they drive: aggressive. If you want to make it in this town, you better be walking with a purpose.

· Bikes, vespas, and cars all coexist and operate on the road together. Though it’s not legal, bikes frequently go against traffic. Smart cars are nearly square and frequently park perpendicular to the curb in parallel parking spots.

· For a foreigner, trains are the best way to travel the country on a budget.

· There are (almost) no bagels here.

· There are no commercial food chains other than the occasional McDonald’s.

· Blondes are a hot commodity.

Living in an Italian apartment:

· Be prepared to cook like you have never cooked before. We have a gas stove. No problem… until you want to use it. There isn’t a pilot and the burners are very temperamental to light. You may, or may not, nearly light your hand on fire the first few times.

· The oven only cooks on the top. Plan accordingly.

· The washer holds a maximum of one outfit. Each load takes 2.5 hours to do and even after it has finished, you have to wait until the door actually wants to open (what!?!?!). Needless to say, there are no dryers and you do actually line dry your clothes. It’s not just in the movies. Love it!

· You can always see your neighbors. Without fail, I see an old man open his window every morning and stare down at the street for at least ten minutes. Occasionally, he will see me as I’m making tea in the morning and just watch as if I’m the weird one. I swear that one of these days, I’m just going to yell, “Ciao!” and see if he responds.

Things I’m super excited about:

· There is a café called “Mama’s Bakery” that sells bagels… and cream cheese… and American coffee. I dearly love espresso and cappuccino, but sometimes I just want drip coffee with cream (as opposed to milk).

· I have found, by our definition, a supermarket. Otherwise, you go separately to your baker, your butcher, and your produce guy.

o Some interesting things about the supermarket: it is always mobbed, you pay for bags, and you always pick up fruits and veggies with plastic gloves to put them in the bag.

· The Duomo is real. It looks that beautiful all the time and is, in fact, not a blow up toy about to be popped at any moment. I don’t ever let myself walk by without looking at it because there will one day soon where it will no longer be on my route to class.

· Almost everyday, and especially at night when all the buildings are beautifully lit up, I have an epiphany about how lucky I am to be here. It always seems unreal that this city is my home.