Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More spring break posts and a Switzerland post will hopefully be done this weekend! I probably could have written some today, but I hung out with some high school kids/helped them practice English and visited Montalcino, another small Tuscan town, with Eric instead!

Beautiful day in Montalcino.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

7 hours until my bus for Florence leaves, to get me to the train station in time for my 8:20 train to GENEVA, SWITZERLAND. From there, I will be heading to Interlaken with a friend to go HANG GLIDING.

Expect more spring break pictures and FLYING pictures when I return!!

Pisa & Budapest

Saturday found Hannah and I lounging around the Leaning Tower of Pisa as we awaited our flight to Budapest. Said tower, we realized, is really Pisa's only point of interest. You need at most 20 minutes to experience this city.

What was interesting was that the scene in front of the leaning tower was probably better than the tower itself. Here's a game, how many people can you spot taking a picture with the tower in this photo?
Hannah and I in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

A few hours later...

We've made it to Budapest!!

Our first night's sights and tastes...

Hero's Square
Hero's Square

Sirloin with sweet bread/potato dumplings and the most delicious strawberry jam.

The next morning, bright and early, we ventured into the warm, mineral baths with the rest of the Hungarian families, couples, and old men playing chess.

Szechenyi baths

Followed by a breakfast of langos, a delicious delicious pastry similar to a funnel cake, but better, and with whatever toppings you would ever want...

The rest of the day was spent walking ALL over the city, and seeing such sights as these:

Castle across the pond from the baths.

The second largest synagogue in Europe.

The inside - this synagogue used to be part of the ghetto, and out back there was a memorial to the thousands of Hungarian Jews who died in WWII.

St. Stephen's Basilica

Inside, with so much gold. We also saw St. Stephen's hand.

Parliament, on the bank of the Danube.

View of Buda across the river from Pest.

Matthias Church, on top of Castle Hill at Fisherman's Bastion.

Another view of the church.

Me, Hannah and Ari on Castle Hill with a view of Pest behind us.

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion

Parliament and Chain Bridge at night.

Buda Castle

Pancake with chicken paprikash, aka a Hungarian enchilada.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Parlez-Vous Français?

No, I don't speak French. Or Hungarian, or Spanish, or Catalan...so instead I will just stare back at you with a completely dumbfounded look on my face, va bene? Va bene.

Ok so I tried a little harder than that (except in Hungary, I actually could not even begin to figure out that language), but that's not an incorrect picture of how my week in Budapest, Paris and Barcelona went. Luckily my travel buddy Hannah speaks French very well, so she acted as our translator in Paris, while my other friend Erin and I put together our six and four years of Spanish, respectively, to try to manuever our way around the mainly Catalan-speaking city. Who knew Spanish wasn't the primary language in Barcelona? Not us. The trip was bookended by trips to Pisa and Milan, in the country that is feeling more and more like home every day.

Along with new languages, it was a week filled with new foods, people, attitudes and sights. At this point in my adventure abroad, I found myself comparing these new experiences to my life in Italy, rather than to my life in the states. The relief I felt upon arriving in Milan, consequently, was overwhelming. How is it that Italy and the Italian language are this comfortable to me now? That when I heard Italian being spoken in a foreign country, I picked it up the way I would pick up English? It's incredible to me that I am at that point in my Italian studies, and I am beyond grateful to even have the opportunity to connect with another culture on as deep a level as I have.

So, here's some quick thoughts on each of my destinations before I bombard you with pictures of the week:

A similarity shared between Budapest, Paris and Barcelona: as a group of American girls, we did not get stared at/pointed at/yelled at hardly as much as anywhere in Italy, if at all. Pleasant, pleasant surprise.

Budapest: Magical castle fairy-tale land - that is the way I described it to Stella when I got home. But actually, that is the most accurate description of this city...there's a castle district and I took a bath in a yellow palace. However, there's also a strange juxtaposition between the awe-inspiring mixture of the east and the west, and the overbearing feeling of isolation and desolation present as one walks through the streets of this ex-communist country. Also, to go off my first point, it seemed as if Hannah, Ari and I were never even given a second thought when we passed anybody on the street. The city isn't a huge tourist hub, so I'm not sure if it's because of this or in spite of it that we felt almost invisible. As I mentioned before, the language was indecipherable, which led to some funny bouts of hand gesturing and blank staring. Luckily, the majority of the people we encountered spoke at least some English, so we were able to get around without any major problems.

Except that one time we missed our flight to Paris...oops. After realizing we were on-time at the wrong terminal, an hour of wrong buses and frustrating directions later we were being told that yes, there's five minutes to take-off, of course you missed your flight. Fortunately, there was another one a few hours later instead of the next day, so we got to spend the day in the airport! So fun!

Paris: The first word that came to mind as a took my first look at the Seine was "romantic". I had always heard that about Paris but never really believed it, but that is not the case anymore. Maybe it's the architecture or the people or the low, soft lighting on the streets, but this place surpassed every expectation I had of it. Especially when it came to the stereotype that Parisians aren't the nicest of people and refuse to speak French to foreigners. This I found to be completely untrue, even the opposite. People went out of their way to be nice to us, and would either speak in a mix of French and English or ask which we would like them to speak in. The only exception was one older man who we asked directions from. A typical grumpy, respond-in-English kind of person, I found it funny that he was so exactly like the image I had of all Parisians.

Barcelona: Sun! Warmth! Gaudì! Barcelona in a nutshell. We got to meet up with Evan and her sister for dinner and breakfast while we were there, and it was generally just relaxing and slower-paced, seeing as we had walked ALL over two cities in the previous four days. I learned a lot, about the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudì and his amazing, surrealist, expressionist and avant-garde work, and about the history of Catalonia - a region of Spain I didn't know existed until I arrived in it. It is partially autonomous from Spain, and carries a huge sense of identity. The language, a mix of pretty much all romantic languages, but mostly resembles French, was also an interesting surprise. And the food, amazing. Tapas and paella and stuffed churros were wonderful.

Milan: Sufficiently exhausted and with screaming feet, we arrived in Milan for our last night of the break. Surprisingly, there was a pretty big St. Patrick's day crowd so we got to listen to a live Irish band, drink green beer and Irish car bombs and pretend to be Irish with the rest of the Italians. Besides the Duomo and the Galleria right next to it, there's not much to boast about Milan. It was just a great transition back into the Italian culture and language while still experiencing something new!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring Break Spring Break!

Is finally here! The four papers, two presentations, three midterms, one final and one allnighter I had over the past two weeks completely wore me out. But, sleeping in today only to wake up to go to a chocolate festival I think has rejuvenated me just in time to leave for Budapest tomorrow. And see the leaning tower of Pisa, which Hannah and I plan on doing before our plane leaves out of Pisa.
Additionally, to reward ourselves for our hard work over the past two weeks, Evan and I tagged along to our language partners' pickup soccer game last night. Hooray for having real Italian friends and feeling like I actually have a life here.
I'm not sure when/if I'll be able to post over the week, but hopefully I'll be able to get some writing in. Arrivederci!

Bologna, finally...

This is totally out of order, but I had to get something down about Bologna, considering it was my favorite trip so far. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what it was that I loved so much, but I think the young/artsy feeling was similar to Charlottesville and it just felt so cool. Also Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world (founded 1088) and is filled with college students, street musicians, creativity and colorful buildings!
Accordion player.
Typical Bolognese street.
Our night and day consisted of:
-Almost having to register ourselves with police station because we did not have our passports to give to the hotel. thank God for internet!
-Three hour dinner at Osteria dell'Orsa (the stuffed pasta I posted a picture of, bruschetta, wine and cheesecake). This place had such a cool atmosphere, long wooden tables with benches, sort of like more legit picnic tables, and was packed all night.
Me, Evan, Brooke and Sarah at dinner.
-Wandering around what seemed like the "corner" for Bolognese students. Crowds everywhere, but also something new: groups of friends sitting around in circles on the ground in the piazze around the main street. The occasional guitar was a perfect touch to the scene.
-Taking in the Piazza Maggiore - huge, filled with performers and sun. These guys were my favorite:
Piazza Maggiore.
-Archaeological museum, yay something other than religious paintings! And I got to see a mummy.
-A visit to the Archiginnasio of Bologna, the first building to include all the departments of the school in one place. It is covered in "graffiti" of the students' family crests ALL over the ceilings and the walls.
Anatomical theater at the Archiginnasio, with skinless statues.
Family crests.
-Seeing the largest zodiac sun dial at the Cathedral di San Pietro.
-Touring a reconstructed house/government building at one of the many Palazzos around Piazza Maggiore.
-Ghiardini Margherita! My favorite part of the day. Main park in Bologna, swarming with college students having picnics and throwing frisbees, and LARPers! (live action role play) ...apparently this is an international phenomenon
Ashton, Sarah and I playing soccer.
-Lasagna alla Bolognese in said park. Delicious.
The group at lunch.
-Watching a group of college kids in ridiculous costume run back and forth and back and forth a busy street, causing a huge crowd to gather and certain impatient drivers to become angry. It was so random and great.

-SPRINTING from the train station to the bus station in Florence to catch the bus home to Siena. Alas, we were one minute late. Made fools of ourselves for nothing...

Carnevale, part 2

Saturday afternoon and evening, after our day in Florence on Friday, a group of us CETers and Christina headed to the coastal town of Viareggio, about a two hour train ride from Siena. It is known for its Carnevale celebration, so witnessing the closing parade on the last weekend of its celebrations was a must.

Carnevale of Viareggio!

Streets of Viareggio (palm trees!)

Very different from Venice, Viareggio exhibits a lot of politically inspired floats and has more of a "state fair" kind of festival feeling. Families, street food, music and rides were the norm.

A lady bug throwing confetti :)
-THE BEACH. Although it was a little chilly, it was bearable and amazing. How I missed the water.

-Green wig. Yes I did buy one, and yes it was the best decision of my life.

-Floats. Not even sure if floats is the best word for them. Mechanical and HUGE, they were the most impressive "floats" I've seen in my life. Take a look:

The day before this trip, the school took a field trip to Florence in order to visit the Salvatore Ferragamo museum. Pictures weren't allowed, but suffice it to say that it was the coolest school field trip I've ever been on. We got to see molds of some of the most famous stars' feet, and checked out a huge range of his works, including the stilettos and wedges he patented. The store above the museum may as well have been an extension of the museum, considering how immaculate (and expensive) it was. Fun fact: he was one of the first people to tie celebrities and fashion together, as all of the biggest stars of the post WWII period went to him for shoes (Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, etc.)

The next few hours were spent in the San Lorenzo market and at the Ponte Vecchio.
Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Evan and I.

I've still got so much to see in Florence! The market needs to stop drawing me in for hours every time I go...seriously.