59 Hours but Who’s Counting?

There’s definitely a strange feeling in our small hotel room in Menaggio, Italy. After a week of finals, napping in the sun, long walks, eating outside, and last night’s goodbyes, my friends (with the exception of Lainey) have left Florence, met up with their parents, or flown home. I thought I had it all together, but as I passed through the Piazza de Reublica for the last time this morning I couldn’t help but be that crying girl walking through the streets of Florence pulling a suitcase and headed for the train station. Without question, these were the best 10 days of my trip. I’m incredibly glad to end things on a high note but thats making it much harder to say goodbye to the place I never thought I could truly consider home.

Last Thursday the warm weather and sunshine came and it didn’t leave until we woke up this morning. On Saturday I finally made it to Cinque Terre, a collection of five small beach towns on the Ligurian Sea connected by hiking trails and a train line. We awoke at 5:40 AM to meet at the train station at 7:10 for our 7:40 train. Despite our exhaustion, we were pretty pumped (after a cappuccino or two) to get exploring. In the first town, Riomaggiore, we had breakfast and found our first great view of the coast. We waited over an hour for the train to the next town which was great because it gave us time to soak up the sun!

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This view reminded me of Chapel at Camp Tecumseh. Beautiful. 

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We skipped over Manarola and headed to Corniglia where we started my favorite part of the day, a 1.5 hour hike to Vernazza up the side of the cliff. We got incredible views of the sea and the town of Vernazza as we hiked away. The clear skies, blue water, warm air, and pastel buildings really felt like they were too good to be true. Mid-hike we found an adorable Oasis with a yard to sit, rest, and fill up your water bottles. For the first time in Italy we were able to lay and enjoy the warmth without jackets. After resting and playing with the owner’s dog, we finished the hike, grabbed a quick lunch, and headed to the most anticipated town: Monterosso al Mare home of the beach. The nine of us laid on the beach for hours talking, laughing, napping, and soaking in the rays. On the beautiful, warm afternoon there were tons of people out in bathing suits, even the Italians. Cinque Terre was wonderful for its simplistic beauty. The entire day was full of moments that took my breath away and I was incredibly happy we waited until mid-April to visit, especially given this hard winter.

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On Sunday I woke up and ran for 60 minutes. That’s right, I ran for 1 hour! For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 2 Modern Family episodes, the trip from West Lafayette to Indy, or bus ride from Florence to Pisa Airport. I may have forgotten to mention this, but I’m running a half marathon in mid-June. Now I am four weeks into my training and I’m really proud of my perseverance to run through mobs of tourists on painful cobblestone streets! Very proud but excited to finish training on paved, secluded paths in the US.

After my run I went to Boboli Gardens to study for finals with my friend Shea. She and I had a blissful afternoon reading over Psychology notes, people watching, sun bathing, and eventually meeting up with other friends from our program. I’m not sure how I will ever be able to study indoors again after the incredible finals week I just had. Hopefully as a senior I will be able continue the whole blissful finals week thing.

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FINALLY FINISHED AN OIL PAINTING!

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are a blur of tests, trips to the market, long walks around the city, naps in the grass, and a night with the Italian Beetles Cover Band. They were blissful, warm, and too incredible to put into words right now.

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Shea and I with Ringo

On Thursday I took an oral Italian exam and became a Senior in college by noon. In celebration, Shea, Kelsey, Katie, and I took our last trip to the leather market and got gelato. Afterwards Shea and I found a small beach on the river where we spent a nice, quiet hour taking it all in. Then I got to meet up with my friend Kristen who was in town with her mom and aunt from Sevilla. We only had two hours but it was great to see her and show her the major sights and marked so she could take her mom!

Thursday evening was the much anticipated and at the same time dreaded farewell dinner. My entire program, including teachers, got all dressed up to have one last sit down meal together. It was crazy and full of hugs, funny stories, speeches, and pictures with our teachers. Afterwards we embarked on our last night out. First stop, the carousel in the Piazza de Republia. The carousel is there year round and though none of us had ever ridden it, we had all decided we needed to do it before leaving Florence. We rode it twice around and despise the stares and photographs taken by people in the piazza, it was a blast and one of the best euros I’ve ever spent. The next stop was the Duomo where we sat on the steps and drank a bottle of wine. A group of Koreans asked if they could get pictures with us, so of course we had to get one with them! After about an hour by the Duomo we headed to our favorite bar, Salamonca. It’s located right below my apartment and has been the CAPA hangout ever since my roommates and I went there to get free wifi back in February (yeah I know we’re so cool). We danced the night away and really went out with a bang.

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Lainey, Katie, and I with our Art teacher, Jamie

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Shea and I with our Cinema teacher, Guido (he told us we’re the favorites)

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Ghibellina 90

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Bartering Queens

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Friday was full of final things. We ate ate lunch at Viola’s where she makes homemade pasta of the day with wine and bread for €5, had gelato while sitting on the bridge, drank wine while watching the sunset at Piazza Michelangelo, took pictures in front of the Ponte Vecchio, ate a final pizza dinner and went to Danny Rock where we had our CAPA welcome dinner and everyone met up to say our final goodbyes. I still cannot believe I’ve said goodbye to the people who have literally held my hand through this incredible journey. When my mom came in February, Lainey and I didn’t think we would ever make friends and now I’m trying to figure out a way to get to Boston to see Shea or Pittsburgh to see Kelsey, Annie, and Becky because I can’t imagine sharing this life changing experience with them and never seeing them again!

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Shea, Kelsey and I

 This morning I said goodbye to my roommates and Ghibellina 90. I met Lainey and we slowly walked to the train station while trying not to cry (failing) and telling stories about our last days in Florence. We traveled to Lake Como for a quiet weekend before we leave early Tuesday morning. Como is surrounded on one side by the Swiss Alps and the others by Italian mountains filled with my favorite pastel houses. This afternoon it was cold and rainy which matched our somber mood so we got warm and watched Pitch Perfect in bed. After a delicious pizza dinner in our hotel we’re both ready for bed and a day of wandering (hopefully not in the rain) tomorrow.

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In less than 60 hours I’ll be on a plane across the Atlantic! The next time I post, I’ll be on my couch in West Lafayette with Bogey on my lap. I’m incredibly excited but also can’t quite fathom that I’m actually going home. When I moved to Florence I couldn’t picture myself feeling comfortable and now I can’t picture myself in America. Now we’ve traveled so much that I feel like I’ll return to Florence as usual on Monday and start another week. It’s hard to believe the last time I was in Indiana there were still Christmas lights on many houses and I’m going home to finals week and Taylor’s graduation!

I hope you all had an awesome week whether you were celebrating Little 500, Grand Prix, your last week abroad, or any other great thing in your life! I can’t wait to tell you all about my 22 hour trip home and what it was like to see Keaton, Riley, my mom, and dad again!

Ciao!

And THAT’S When I Saw Will and Kate

After a short stint in Florence packed full of homework, quizzes, long runs, sleeping, scrapbooking, cleaning, and packing I left again for the most anticipated trip of my study abroad voyages: LONDON. For those of you who don’t know, my best friend and cousin Taylor studied abroad in London and I feel in love with it through her blog, pictures, and stories. I also knew i had to visit the land of the Harrys (Harry Potter, Prince Harry, and Harry Styles), the Spice Girls, and Keaton and Riley’s favorite Peppa Pig! It was one of the first trips I booked back in January and the one place I couldn’t leave without visiting.

In the time since spring break I realized that none of my close London friends would be in town this weekend and Lainey opted to spend the weekend in Florence. I initially panicked at the thought of canceling my most exciting trip. However through the encouragement of friends and family I decided to jump into the unknown and travel alone. I am so grateful for their kind words because this weekend was one I will always remember as one of the bravest things I did in Europe.

I flew to London from Pisa so Lainey decided to join me for a trip to the Leaning Tower on the way out. Everyone told us there was really nothing to see in Pisa other than the tower and they were correct. Lainey and I took an hour bus ride to the airport, transferred busses to the city center, walked to the tower, took touristy pics, and returned to the airport in under three hours without hurrying. I’m definitely glad we did it on the way to the airport instead of taking a whole day to go, even if we didn’t get the best weather. While trying to snap the ultimate tourist pic, I made some Italian friends who were kind enough to join me in my picture. After a little prodding they were also kind enough to let me take one alone.

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Due to our short trip and flight delay I had about five hours to kill in the tiny Pisa airport. This was the perfect opportunity to finish reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which I had begun rereading in anticipation for my pilgrimage to his homeland. I finally arrived in London at 12:15 expecting to get right on a shuttle and into bed. WRONG. I quickly experienced the meticulous British while waiting over an hour in the line at customs. I made it on the 2:30 AM shuttle and headed to my friend Holly’s. Despite their travels, Holly and her roommate were kind enough to let me stay in their apartment. Holly left for Dublin at 4:30 AM so we had an hour to catch up and say our goodbyes until next fall in Bloomington (depressing, I know).

Determined to not waste a single moment, Friday morning I was out the door by 11:15. With Starbucks in hand (REAL COFFEE!) I headed out for my first Tube experience. I traveled to see Big Ben because no matter where I spent the day, I wanted to have that breathtaking ‘I’m really here’ experience. Between the Tube, phone booths, accents, and Big Ben, I couldn’t help but grinning like an idiot as I snapped pictures and selfies (the first of many). Then I was off to meet a friend Megan for lunch at Borough Market, the home of some deservingly famous grilled cheese. The market was AWESOME, clean and full of fresh prepared and raw foods. It was much more like a giant farmer’s market than the markets here in Florence. AND everything was labeled in ENGLISH! I didn’t expect to be so shocked to understand signage and be able to have conversations with the sellers’

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After leaving Megan and her friends I set out to start the extensive To Do guide Taylor was kind enough do make me. First stop, King’s Cross Station to Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. I didn’t have time to do the full studio tour so I HAD to get the picture running my cart into the wall. In line I met a man who got his Masters in Business at IU and we talked about how great Kelley is, IU basketball, and my experiences abroad. His daughter was about 11 and DECKED OUT in Hufflepuff stuff (at least somebody wants to be a Hufflepuff) and may have been more excited to take her picture than me. Next I went to Kensington to Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, and TAYLOR’S APARTMENT. I also wandered into Jamie Oliver’s (the Food Revolution guy) Cooking School which was pretty cool. I wandered the Palace gardens and took in all the history that took place there and knowing Kate, Will, and their adorable royal family would someday live there. It was big, elegant and beautiful, yet modest so exactly where I would imagine my favorite royals living!

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I ended my day visiting Harrods and Piccadilly Circus. Harrods is what everyone says it is and more! I loved wandering the food halls and toy palace but my favorite was the pet shop. I can’t believe the amount of money people will spend on pet accessories! Harrods was even bigger than expected, I was there over an hour and only visited three floors! I followed the map from place to place and still got lost! Before heading back to Holly’s I stopped by Piccadilly Circus to see if there were any last minute musical tickets for sale. No such luck but it was probably better I got sleep anyway. For dinner I stopped by Taylor and Holly recommended, Nando’s a place with a great chicken pita and fries. The waiters were so nice and obviously pitied me for eating alone. This was great because my food was extra fast and I got great advice about what to order!

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London Day 2 started early with goals to be in line for the Matilda the Musical Student Rush Tickets by 9:00. After an hour of waiting in the cold, I missed getting tickets by three people… I decided to spend the rest of the morning wondering around Covent Garden where the theatre was located. There were so many cute shops and they were pretty empty so the workers talked to me about my travels and the differences between Italy and London and America. Determined to see a show on the West End, I entered the Book of Mormon ticket lottery at 12. While waiting to find my fate I found Chipotle! I forgot how much I had missed my beloved chicken salad and can’t wait to have it again in two weeks!! After an enthusiastic yet unfortunate loss, I started Taylor’s master waking tour. I started at Big Ben and headed to Westminster Abbey. Then I spent about an hour wandering through St. James Park on the way to Buckingham Palace. The sun was shining and I loved wandering, people watching, and soaking up the beautiful weather. After Buckingham Palace I decided to take a double-decker bus back to Covent Garden to find Neal’s Yard and explore a little more. I got the front seat on top and felt a little motion sick at the end.. Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t have these in America…

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As you can see, in London I mastered the delicate art of asking strangers to take my picture. Choosing the right person who will 1) not steal your phone 2) not be annoyed 3) take a decent picture can be surprisingly difficult. There were definitely times when I stood in the place I wanted a picture for a good five minutes looking for potential photographers! I digress…

After some more shop exploring I tried the Mormon lottery once more. While i was waiting this time i checked out the M&M Store. It was pretty cute! I didn’t win the lottery took this as a sign I wasn’t supposed to see a show and decided to go shopping instead! London is famous for Topshop and Primark which are their versions of Forever 21 and H&M. Topshop was a little too edgy for my liking but I loved Primark. It is HUGE and overwhelming but fun to dig through clothes, figure out the sizing, and muddle through the insane crowds of people everywhere. Sadly thought my Primark adventures I lost my sweatshirt (and I hadn’t told my mom before this moment…). I spent a half hour retracing my steps and looking everywhere for it but there was literally no hope. Purchases in hand and a little embarrassed I headed back to Nando’s for a late dinner.

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I efficiently packed my life back j to my backpack to fit on what could be my last Ryanair flight. In the morning I headed out around 8:30 to catch my airport shuttle. I thought security was tight entering London and it was even tighter leaving. After watching my perfectly packed backpack being completely undone, I had to leave behind my makeup and toothpaste, two things I’ve carried on in 4 countries with no problems. I guess it’s a good thing I’m only going to be here for two more weeks be because I couldn’t go much longer than that without brushing my pearly whites!

The trip back to Florence was exciting and depressing at the same time. I know these last two weeks are going to be a blast but I also know they’ll fly by between trying to finish bucket lists, study for finals, and spend time with my friends. At the same time I am so excited to come home! I can’t wait for the hugs, reunions, wifi, and English! The weather is supposed to be incredible next week! I think it’s Italy’s apology for giving us one of the hardest winters in recorded history. That being said I’ll be spending as much time outside as possible and make no promises about the frequency of my blogging. I’ll try to post once more but if I don’t I’ll fill you all in when I get home on April 23, or maybe the 24th after I’ve slept!

Oh sorry did I say I saw Will and Kate? Oops!

Easter Minus the Bunna

Keaton Smith is famous for many things including his love for the Illini, mad belly-drumming skills, and knack for changing words. Over the years Keaton has created new names for many friends and family members and for some reason they stick. Among his most widespread name creations are Channy Smithers, Juju-S, Big-T-Uh, Bogey Wogey Bear, and of course the Easter Bunna. This was my first Easter without my family, the first one where the Easter Bunna couldn’t find me and it just wasn’t the same.

Lainey and I headed to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy for our four day Easter weekend. We had two misconceptions when booking our trip: 1) We thought there would be Spring Break worthy beach weather and 2) We thought we would actually visit Amalfi. This was also the first and only trip we booked through the student travel agency, Euroadventures. Their trips are pre-planned and mostly pre-paid so we were excited for a pretty stress-free weekend.

After a 7-hour bus ride we arrived in Sorrento, Italy where we stayed in a private ‘bungalo’. I use this term liberally because in America we call them trailers or campers. Regardless, our residence included a bed and warm shower (for the most part) so we decided to forget about the spiders, smell of Grandma’s attic, and mysterious heater (that we figured out how to turn on the third night).

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On Friday we took a train an hour north of Sorrento and through Pompeii to Naples. Naples is famous for two things: pizza and the mafia. Like ducks in a row, we marched through the dirtiest streets I’ve ever seen to the pizza place from Eat, Pray, Love. The line at said pizzeria was insane so we opted for the less crowded, less authentic place across the street. After lunch we made our way back to the train to go to Pompeii. Unfortunately Pompeii closes early on Good Friday so we spent the afternoon and evening exploring Sorrento instead. We definitely felt defeated and a little scammed that first night and realized maybe we were meant to go to Naples so that we could tell everyone we know to NEVER GO TO NAPLES!!! I’ve never gotten out of my car in Gary, Indiana or the rough parts of Chicago but after visiting Naples, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea. So moral of the story, if you want to go to Naples, Italy, DON’T.

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Saturday we set out for the small island of Capri where we were ready for a ‘short but tough’ hike. Our hiking guide, Bruno, was a 70-year old Italian priest who spends half the year in Idaho and half leading tours and officiating weddings in Europe. He was the head of Gonzaga’s study abroad travel agency for 20 years and one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. From the coast, Bruno led us up a couple hundred stairs to the town center of Capri. By the end we were all sweating and out of breath while Bruno was laughing because we had no clue that the best was still to come. After a short rest we headed up the mountain at Capri’s center. Here begins the hardest physical feat I have ever completed in my life. For roughly an hour we climbed (sometimes on our feet sometimes on our hands and knees) up a narrow path through trees, rocks, and bushes. When we reached the top we were DRENCHED with sweat and ready for an awesome view. Sadly we weren’t greeted by a view at the top, but a hazy fog instead. We quickly realized we were inside a cloud! It was pretty cool but also very scary to know how high up we were but not be able to see more than a few feet ahead. At the hike’s end we stopped to eat our lunch before heading down to the Blue Grotto. We weren’t allowed to take a boat inside because of choppy waters but some people swam around it. Given the mid 50s temperature, I settled for dipping my toes in. To return to the port we took 1000 stairs (literally) then rode the ferry back to Sorrento in an exhausted daze. After a long, cold walk home I finally figured out how to turn on the heat in our bungalo! Tired and warm, Lainey and I were in bed by 9:00.

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We woke up Easter Sunday and went to mass at a small church near our hotel. At mass there were no bright, flowery dresses or talks of the Easter Bunna. Instead, the altar was decorates with yellow, white, and pink flowers similar to a float at the Rose Parade. I wish it had been acceptable to take a picture, but this is an unacceptable practice when trying to act like the locals. Mass was in Italian, but once again I was moved by the realization that Catholicism is truly identical no matter where in the world you are. I switched off between reading words from the program in Italian and reciting the prayers I knew in English. Easter mass was much shorter in Italy as everyone has to get home for their Easter feasts, sadly we weren’t invited. I was very glad we chose to go to mass because it finally felt like the Easter season and the small church was the first one in Europe that actually felt like a church and not a museum.

After mass we took a bus to the beach town of Possitano. We were hoping to spend the day laying on the beach but settled for sharing a bottle of wine in a beachside restaurant instead. The view was incredible from the pastel colored houses on the mountain to the blue waters. You have to stop and ask yourself, how do you end up living a simple life in this beautiful place? For two hours, Lainey and I talked about life at home and Florence, the looming end to our program, God, Easter, and everything in between. I’m always amazed that Lainey and I can still find things to talk about after all this time but we still seem to learn new things about each other. After a little photo shoot on the beach, we headed back to Sorrento for an Easter dinner with some girls from our trip. There were palms and holy water on the table for an Easter blessing. As the lone Catholic, I was asked to bless the table and did it St.Toms style getting everyone nice and wet. Dinner was the best seafood pasta (homemade with fresh seafood for 1/8 of the cost of the one in Rome) I’ve ever tasted! Full of food and Easter joy we called it a night.

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On our final day we headed back to Pompeii to see the ancient ruins of what was once the Italian Las Vegas. With Bruno as our guide, we learned where the casinos, performance halls, brothels, restaurants, and high rise hotels were located. Bruno even did reenactments of the people dying instantly and being casted in lava. You can now see hundreds of these people whose perfect remains have been found though restorations. Bruno was definitely the savior of our trip and kept our spirits high even when it felt like everything was going wrong. He told us stories about leading trips, running marathons, life in Idaho, and our ‘hooligan’ tour guides. Bruno even made our 10 hour (intended to be 6 hour) bus ride humorous by having the bus driver pull over and making the people complaining go to the bathroom on the side of the highway.

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Scarf Crew

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At 2:30 AM we finally arrived back in Florence. This meant I had 60 hours to write 4 reports, sleep, go to class, do laundry, repack, take a quiz, and leave for my solo trip London (hence this delayed post). London was grand and I can’t wait to tell you about it in my next post!

So This is Real Life

The decision to stay in Florence for most of March was probably the smartest of my trip. After spring break I had all but forgotten what life in Florence is like. I love how simple things are here, how everyone takes their time, how strangers smile and say ‘Ciao!’ when you pass on the street. Most of all I love all the ‘me’ time I have here.

Back in January, being alone anywhere in public or private really freaked me out. I was afraid that if I stopped talking, smiling, or doing I might have a panic attack about my decision to leave a perfectly wonderful life at IU for the unknown. Slowly that fear subsided and I grew to love alone time for the first time in my life. Some of my favorite moments are the ones when I’m running and see the sun hit the Arno in the most spectacular way or the man at the market gives me a free strawberry with my fruit or a woman asks me for directions because I look like a local (not an Italian local but a local none the less). I love wandering the streets, finding a new running path, and exploring new shops all by myself. These little memories that are uniquely mine are a big part of what has made the last 11 weeks so special.

Though the last few weeks may have been boring according to any map, they’ve been incredibly simple and pretty blissful. The last two Saturdays I re-hiked to Fiesole like we did our first Friday in Florence. It’s shocking how different the hike feels after 8 weeks. Everything is so much more familiar now and the small winding streets of Fiesole seem less extreme than they did in January. Walking around I don’t feel like I have to take pictures of every cute shop or side street. This makes me realize I’ve forgotten what a lot of America like. Never thought that would happen..

Last weekend I hiked with two girls I barely know, Grace and Chelsea. It was a warm, sunny day and I had an awesome time getting to know them better while enjoying the rolling Tuscan hills. This week I went with the girls who have become my crew here, Shea, Kelsey, Annie, Becky, Lainey, and Kelly. We have a great time together and they remind me a lot of my friends at home. We’ve all become Florence experts in our own way and its fun to share our tricks. For example Becky is the queen of the outdoor markets so she tells us about the best vendors for fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and pasta. We’ve all made a vow to use the markets as much as possible in our last month because we know we’ll miss them when we get home.

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Last Thursday was one of my favorite Florence days. Annie, Becky, Lainey, Shea, and I took a picnic to a beautiful view in Florence. It is similar to Piazza Michelangelo but lacks all the tourists. We ate, basked in the sun, listened to music, and even got some freckles. Afterwards Shea and I went to the Boboli Gardens which belong to the Pitti Palace. The gardens are huge, well manicured, and a great place to lay in the grass for a few hours. That night we watched our friend Katie teach Irish Step Dancing at a local Irish pub and even learned some moves ourselves! My excellent coordination and fluidity of movement really mixed well while I was dancing so I think I’ve found my calling if business doesn’t work out… NOT!

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Friday was our program trip to Sienna and San Gimignano, two small Tuscan hill towns. Sienna is famous for this bi-annual horse race that takes place in the city center. The city is broken into 13 (I think) zones each named after an animal. You belong to the zone you’re born in and can never change even through marriage or moving to a different zone. Each zone has a horse in the race and gets huge bragging rights for winning. Our tour guide said she says she is from Tortoise, not Sienna, when people ask where she’s from! For lunch in Sienna we had a traditional dish of thick spaghetti. The noodles were very good but the thickness of a straw which made for some interesting bug analogies as we ate…

San Gimignano is very small but full of little shops and ancient towers. It is also home to one of the most famous and delicious gelato shops in Italy. The line was long but worth the wait! I’m holding out on gelato now because I’m afraid nothing will compare!

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As you can see, my life post-spring break has been pretty chill. Luckily (knock on wood) it has been consistently in the mid 50s for the last couple weeks. Hopefully it will continue to warm up! This weekend a lot of my program is headed to the Amalfi Coast for Easter. When we booked the trip in January I think we all thought we’d be going to warm, sunny beaches where we could work in our tan. Unfortunately it’s about the same weather there as here so the skirts and sandals are staying in my closet where they’ve been all semester… Regardless of the weather many of the locals say Amalfi is their favorite place in Italy and I can’t wait to see it! We return on Monday and then I’m traveling to London on Thursday! London was on my MUST SEE list when coming here so I am pretty pumped!

I get a mix of emotions when I realize that 4 weeks from now I’ll be back in Indiana. There is definitely an end of the year feeling in CAPA and we’re all hurrying to do the things we’ve wanted to do all semester. It’s sad to see things end just as I feel like they’ve finally clicked into place. At the same time I can’t wait to see my family and friends at home. Sometimes incredibly difficult to be away for this long and I can only imagine what it will feel like to see my family at the airport! Knowing its the final stretch is making it easy to live it up every day and appreciate how blessed I’ve been this semester! I know it will be hard to see pictures from IU basketball celebrations and Little 500, but Florence is right where I’m supposed to be right now. I’ve learned an independence and comfort in my own skin that I can’t wait to share with everyone at home! Until then, I’ll keep exploring, taking pictures, loading up on carbs, eating Nutella like I’ll never see it again, and trying to speak Italian. Ciao!

Friendfest 2013

As quickly as it began spring break is over and now I’m back on the big red couch at CAPA taking advantage of the heat and fast wifi. After 10 days of pretty constant travel, it is so nice to be back at home in Florence. I’m staying here this weekend and can’t wait to catch up on sleep and maybe do a little exploring. Say a little prayer for me that this rain, rain will go away!

Barcelona was so much fun and such a whirlwind, I’m not sure where to begin. Lainey and I left our Sevilla hotel Thursday at 5:40 to catch a 6:00 AM bus to the airport. By 10:30 we were in warm, sunny Barcelona. We went straight to our hostel, Fabrizzio’s Guesthouse. It was very small but the owners were very nice and served free breakfast 24 hours a day (FREE FOOD!!!). After dropping off our stuff and touring the hostel we set out to find coffee and the beach!

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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf

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Found the beach!

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Lainey and I with Fabrizzio of Fabrizzio’s Guesthouse

Later we met up with IU friends Murphy, Marissa, and Sarah. Murphy and Marissa are studying in Barcelona and Sarah came to Spain for IU’s spring break. After checking Sarah into her hostel we headed out for tapas followed by sangria at a cool warehouse looking bar! Since we were exhausted we called it an ‘early night’ and got back to the hostel around 1:30.

 

Yes, we ate all that popcorn…

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In the morning we met Megan, another IU friend studying in London. She was with three friends and they flew in as early as we had the day before. We found lunch and then headed to the beautiful apartment we shared for the rest of our trip. After a nap and a little exploring, Murphy and Marissa cooked us a wonderful dinner. Before we went to the clubs we were joined by another IU/London friend, Holly. With our crew finally all together, our day was perfectly complete!

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The view from our apartment

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Strawberries in Barcelona = Magic

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Women in Business Crew!

Saturday morning we set out on a day full of sightseeing. First stop, Park Güell, a mosaic park created by Gaudí. The vibrant colors and details in everything from the benches to the towers were made even more beautiful by the warm sun! There were times during the day we took off out jackets and were sweating in tank tops (quite a change from Paris a week before)!

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One of many “WIB Pics”

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Holly and I on top of the highest point of the park

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Yeah, I know we’re really pretty…

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Next on the tour was Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral began by Gaudí in 1883 that is still under construction! Murph said its supposed to be done in 2020 but there’s no way it will actually be completed by then.

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Spaniards LOVE Smurfs, my mom would be in heaven!

After the Cathedral we went to Murphy’s favorite sandwich shop. We waited an hour and a half for our sandwiches but they were will worth it (or we were so hungry dirt would have tasted good)! We ate on the way to the beach and got there just in time to watch the sunset.

Our last stop on the Murphy tour was an outdoor market where they had delicious fresh and dried fruit! We pretty much crawled back to the apartment because we were so tired. After a quick nap we rallied and clubbed once more! Discotecas are a blast for a weekend but I require too much sleep to live the Barcelona life longterm!!

On Sunday it was time to head back to our respective countries, even Lainey and me. I am so glad my friends throughout Europe are loving their cities as much as I love Florence. It was great to exchange stories and learn about life in other countries. Our reunions were so special and made me incredibly excited for an awesome Senior year together back in Bloomington!

I’m still not quite caught up on sleep from our travels but our spring break was well worth the exhaustion! For all of you wondering, Lainey and I made it through 10 days without separation and both lived to see the end! I can now say Lainey knows me better than almost anyone else in the world and I am so incredibly lucky to have her as a friend and travel partner!

I hope you all enjoy your spring breaks as much as I enjoyed mine! Now that it’s mid-March, hopefully the Italian skies will clear up so I can experience some of this warm, Tuscan sun before I leave in less than 6-weeks! I’m excited for the rest of my European adventures including Sienna, the Amalfi Coast, London, and Cinque Tierre! I know I’ll be home before I know it and can’t wait for the many reunions to come!

Easy to Please

I can’t hide it, I LOVE SPAIN!

Sevilla is a small city in southern Spain full of bull fighting, flamenco dancing, small stone streets, and kind, helpful people who speak no English. The city reminded me so much of Florence in its charm, beauty, and size.

When we stepped off the plane on Monday afternoon it was pouring rain. The rain gave the air an incredible humid, beachy feel and I immediately fell in love. Then we started seeing palm trees, Spanish architecture, outdoor restaurants, and fountains and I was like a little kid in Disney World…

After our busy Paris trip Lainey and I were exhausted and planned-out. We made a couple rules on the way to our hotel:
1. No Museums
2. No Churches
3. No Agenda

Result: Blissful Sevillian Adventure

The first thing we did upon arrival was find food at the Burger King across the street from our hotel. As big Diet Coke fans we rejoiced at the sight of a self-serve fountain, the first one we’d seen in Europe.

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That night we went to a Sevilla futbol match with our friend Kristin. It was America Night so all American received a free scarf all for only €5!! A squad played American Football during halftime to a soundtrack of Sweet Home Alabama and American Pie. The lengths Eurpoeans take to please Americans amazes me. The night was full of laughter, enjoying the warm air, and catching up.

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Tuesday we slept till 11 then celebrated when we found Dunkin Donuts and realized we could order iced coffee without developing a case of hypothermia! Well caffeinated and happy we met our IU friends Greg, Jake, and Katya. Jake and Greg were also traveling for Spring Break and Katya was an incredible tour guide. She took us to beautiful and intricate Plaza de Espana. Despite the cloudy skies we decided to squeeze in a rowboat and let Jake and Greg take us on a little ride. They were excellent drivers and only crashed once! Of course we had to laugh at the boats full of girls who lacked their rowing talents (aka what we would have done without the boys…).

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After our cruise and a stroll through a couple parks we went for tapas! For those who didn’t take high school Spanish, tapas are like mini appetizers that you get for the table and sample as a meal. Katya also introduced us to a delicious drink called tinto that’s made of red wine, lemon soda, and ice. Lainey and I have discussed at length various methods of integrating tinto into IU culture.

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Tinto!!!

 

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This little girl would not get off the sidewalk and her dad was poking her with an umbrella…

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After a quick lunch with Greg and Jake on Wednesday, Lainey and I set out wandering. We walked random streets, moseyed in and out of shops, and left the map in my pocket. At the end we found these giant stairs where people were sitting and enjoying coffees and ice creams. We laid on them for an hour saying nothing and basking in the sun. I was overcome by the beauty of the city, the warm weather, and my luck at being able to travel Europe.

Later we met up with Katya and our friend Kristin for more tapas and tinto! I was so excited to finally see Kristin. We were on the same Target team at IU, work at the UCSO together, and will be spending our summers together interning at Kohl’s!

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When it got to chilly to sit outside anymore, Lainey and I headed back to our hotel to pack for our 8:00 AM flight to Barcelona. Here we’re with Alpha Gam and WIB friends Murphy, Sarah, Marissa, Holly, and Megan. This is the weekend I’ve been most excited for so far and I can’t wait to tell you all about our adventures together!!

In an Old House in Paris…

…all covered with gold, lived Marie Antoinette and her dairy farm.

I feel like my European life moves in fast forward. My day trip to snowy Bologna, midterms, and weekend in Paris were over as quickly as they began. Study abroad is the definition of live in the moment because that’s about how long you stay in one place.

On Thursday afternoon Lainey and I left warm, sunny Florence for a bitterly cold Paris. After a bus trip, plane, another bus trip, metro ride, and short walk Lainey and I arrived at our hostel. This was our first real youth hostel experience and it was quite interesting. You share a room with strangers, three showers with the whole place, and warn water with nobody because it doesn’t exist. Needless to say we took a vacation from good hygiene in Paris….

On Friday morning our IU friend Greg met us and showed us around the hip, young village of Montmartre where our hostel was located. We went to Sacre-Coeur and saw the Moulin Rouge (cue me singing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ to Greg, Lainey and anyone else in earshot).

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We ate a long lunch before Greg headed off to spring break in Spain (no worries we saw him again today). Afterwards Lainey and I walked to The Louvre to find our friend Mona and had many adventures on the way! We waited to go until the evening because on Friday nights everyone under 26 gets in for free!

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Mona was very nice but pretty small. The Louvre was not very crowded so we got very close! Many people had told us this would be almost impossible. After a significant amount if cultural enrichment we grabbed McDonalds for dinner and headed back to the hostel.

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Lainey and I got up early on Saturday morning for a free walking tour of the major attractions including Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Eylesses, and the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately for us it was FREEZING, our tour guide was an enthusiastic spitter, and the rest of our group doddled like lost ducklings so after an hour we decided to go off on our own. We saw all the sights, stopped for crepes (DELICIOUS!!!), shopped around, and went to the Eiffel Tower! One of our favorite things was a Mercedes Benz showroom we wandered in. For its 250th Birthday Mercedes made some SWEET custom couture cars including a snakeskin convertible and the velvet car Lainey posed with! By the end of the day our feet were aching from waking and numb from the cold so we decided it was time to head back.

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That night our friend Kelsey came from Florence to meet up with us. For our two nights all together we were able to switch from our 4 person mixed dorm to a 3 person private room meaning two things: no random roommates and OUR OWN SHOWER! Lainey and I may or may not have walked into our new room singing ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin…

On Sunday we traveled 30 minutes outside of Paris to Versailles where the French Monarchy lived until the French Revolution. The Versailles Palace was incredibly massive, intricate, and over the top in every way. Outside there were acres of gardens with well manicured bushes and fountains. It was a beautiful (almost warm) sunny day and the gardens were full of happy visitors enjoying it!

One of Versailles’ most famous inhabitants was Marie Antoinette. Since she wasn’t a huge fan the whole royalty thing she spent her time adding on to the Versailles estate. Her enhancements included a private home, new gardens, a dairy farm, and vineyard. Kelsey, Lainey, and I had the most fun at Marie’s dairy farm which was complete with pond and additional home. While at the farm why would you ever walk the five minutes to your private home or the ten minutes to the Palace? It was all beautiful but if I were a starving French woman and I figured out Marie was building a dairy farm, I probably would have revolted and chopped off her head too…

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By the time we got back to Paris the sun was gone and the cold was back. We found macaroons at Laduree (the French really know how to do sweets!) and rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top was wonderful but we could only stay up long to take a few pictures because of the cold.

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First thing Monday morning Lainey and I headed to the airport for our flight to Sevilla, Spain. I LOVE it here and can’t wait to post all about it! Have fun and enjoy your March snowstorm!

This is What Dreams Are Made Of

After coming up with the title of this post I’m half tempted to type out the lyrics to the whole song from the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Lucky for you, I’ve given you just enough of a tease that now you’ll either sing the song in your head or look it up on YouTube..

I’ve procrastinated writing about the last week because it was so great I don’t know how to put it into words! Last Thursday my mom arrived in Florence, marking her first trip to Europe. In five days she got a whirlwind tour of my beautiful city and we ventured to Rome.

Thursday was the first of our two days in Florence. After checking into our hotel, I showed Mom the Duomo, CAPA, my favorite restaurant across the river, and the Piazza de Republica where all the shops are located. Luckily, all of these places are pretty spread out so we had plenty of time to catch up. While serving as tour guide, I was surprised by how much I know about the major Florentine landmarks!

We took a break for a short nap before heading back across the river for dinner at the locally famous Gustapizza. It was so good I may have to go back once a week. On the way to dinner Juju took lots of pictures but I was able to get one of her by this adorable car.

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We called it a night because Mom was tired and we had to get up bright and early to meet Lainey at the train station for our trip to Rome. After a nearly four hours on the train we got off the train and were greeted by warm weather and sunshine. We found our hotel and quickly set out for the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. The Trevi Fountain was definitely worth the hype. It’s beautiful to begin with but when you think about the work that went into each small detail and how long it must have taken, the Trevi Fountain seems incredible.

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Next stop, The Spanish Steps. Since it was a beautiful day we stopped to rest on the steps and take part in one of our favorite pastimes: people watching. We encountered the largest crowds yet in Rome and it was really fun to check out some of the interesting characters we were sharing the city with.

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Who puts characters in their gelato?

After shopping around the Spanish Steps we went back to the Trevi Fountain to see it at night and find dinner. At dinner I ordered seafood pasta and was surprised to find an entire lobster on my plate. The Pasta of the Day ended up being the most expensive thing I’ve ever eaten but it was delicious! #sorrydadImage

The next day we overslept Mom’s silent alarm and hurried to Vatican city around 11. We expected to meet large crowds but barely waited in line to buy our tickets! Per Taylor’s recommendation we opted for the audio tour. Thank goodness because it kept us as entertained as any of the artwork in the museum. Our personal favorite times where when the guide would tell us that something was very famous (duhh that’s why its in the Vatican Museum…). The Sistine Chapel (which is in the museum) was incredible and I can’t believe in a little over a week The Cardinals will meet there to choose the new Pope!Image

Couldn’t resist a little “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” with the Pharaoh himselfImage

Learning so much about our lion friend

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We found Florence..

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..and Juju found a puzzle!

And now comes the time when I cannot write anymore so I will tell you a story with my pictures! With a little Wikipedia they will all make sense!

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 Outside of St. Peter’s Basilica

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It wouldn’t be a trip without the flat family!

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So sad we didn’t see the hole in the roof of The Pantheon…

DAY 3: Ancient Rome

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We started the day at the Roman Forum. Your good pal Rick Steves was kind enough to share his expertise with us so we actually knew what we were looking at!

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The Israelites were forced to build The Colloseum and this Arch because they wouldn’t worship Roman Gods. Lainey and I wanted to help.

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We had to have a Roman Forum orange so I was chosen to crawl under the fence by the bathroom, climb on a radiator and pick an orange without being deported. Mission successful!

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Then I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to peel said orange. And it tasted horrible! 

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Takin a little Roman Bath

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Smith Women in Roma!!

Exhausted and a little smarter, we returned to Firenze. This time my mom joined us in the sigh of relief that comes with arriving home after a whirlwind weekend. The next day Mom and I slept till noon before heading to the leather market and Piazza Michelangelo.

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I am so incredibly grateful my mom was able to join me in Florence. I have to thank my dad, Stephanie, and Syd for making it possible! Her short visit was the highlight of my trip so far and I cant wait to see her and the rest of my family in April!

It seems like my mom took the beautiful weather with her because it has been all clouds and rain since she left… Next week is midterms so this weekend will be full of studying and writing papers. Don’t worry, I have time to fit in a short trip to Bologna tomorrow!

A week from today Lainey and I leave for our marathon spring break to Paris, Sevilla, and Barcelona. Our week will be full of IU friends and I CAN’T WAIT!! I’ll keep you posted on our adventures throughout the week but until then..

Ciao!

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Home Sweet Home

Some of my adoring fans (Grandma Jane) were a little concerned about my lack of blogging in the last week. Rest assured, I am alive and still loving Florence! Last week there was no trip to prepare for and several times I found myself saying this is my real, every day life. When I arrived five weeks ago I really couldn’t see myself ever feeling truly at peace or comfortable here because everything is so very different. However, during my kind of boring week I realized I have found a life, community, and (short-term) home in Italy.

On Wednesday night my roommate Olivia and I went to the apartment of 6 girls in our program and celebrated what will hopefully be the first of many Wine Wednesdays. There were 14 girls in the apartment and we had a great night relaxing, eating pasta, and enjoying cheap but delicious wine. These are my favorite kind of nights full of laughter and getting to know new friends.

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Table for 12 anyone?

After getting home and talking to my mom it was pretty late so my roommates and I decided to stay up and try to find one of Florence’s many secret bakeries. I know your asking yourself Chandlar, what is a secret bakery? All of the coffee bars and restaurants buy their croissants and other treats from bakeries who make them fresh in the middle of the night. Starting at 1:00 AM you can knock on their door (or window in our case) and buy a fresh treat. They’re secret because they sell pastries without permission from the shops and keep the money. The warm croissant with cool chocolate filling was well worth the lack of sleep I got that night! It was so good Lainey and I found another one with a group of friends on Thursday night.

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I know I look demented but I was SO EXCITED!

On Thursday my roommates left for Prague, leaving me feeling a little like I was living in Risky Business. Friday Lainey and I met up with Marissa, Marykate, Anne, Alex, and Shari Ann for a hiking trip to the nearby wine region of Chianti. After an hour bus ride we arrived in a ghost town where everything was closed and nobody spoke English. After asking a travel agent (who spoke only Italian) for hiking directions we learned all hiking trails were closed until tourist season.

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We were looking at a map at the bus station when a woman named Monica approached us and asked if we needed help, in English. Monica told us she was a tour guide from Germany who hosted vineyard tours and wine tasting in Chianti. She gave us her card and pointed us toward a hill we could climb to explore Chianti a little.

We set out on an adventure and quickly realized how beautiful the vineyard filled hills were on the sunny afternoon. Within 10 minutes Monica stopped us on the road and offered us a wine tasting in her old friend’s vineyard. We eagerly accepted and agreed to meet her an hour later.

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Found a park!

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I’m living a fairytale

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After roaming a little, we met up with Monica and Fernando. Fernando is the 74 year-old vineyard owner who has lived made wine all of his life. His grandfather bought the vineyard from German monks. We spent two hours in Fernando’s home tasting his Chianti wines and learning about his family and life in Chianti. It was a fairytale afternoon and by far my favorite thing I’ve done in Italy.

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Fernando and Monica

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The barrels of aging wine in the cellar

 

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View of Chianti from the vineyard

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I love Chianti

The rest of my weekend was spent alone relaxing, cleaning, running, and reading. I spent 48-hours speaking only to my mom on the phone for 12 minutes and felt more relaxed than I’ve been in a long time. It was great to take a break from the hustle and bustle to have some me time before Rome, midterms and spring break.

Last night Lainey and I found a restaurant to play the IU game. We ate American food, drank Coke Lite, and watched IU beat Ohio State. Lainey and I agree the game felt a little unreal because we were the only ones there who cared about basketball at all. Hopefully we will find some other IUBB fans to watch games with in March!

Life Goes On, In Color

The theme of Venice Carnival couldn’t be more true when talking about our weekend. In only 36-hours we got soaked, basked in the sun, got lost, found fun, and made friends from all over the world!

After a quick 2-hour high speed train ride I arrived in Venice on Saturday morning with Lainey and our new friends Annie and Becky. Venice is a small island with no roads. The only modes of transportation are foot, bike, or by boat through the canals that penetrate the city. I thing we all expected to leave the train and be greeted by a little man in a striped shirt rowing a gondola. Much to our dismay, we left a warm, sunny Florence for a freezing, rainy Venice. Not only was there no little man, all gondolas were covered and stored for the day. Despite the overcast sky, we could tell we had arrived in a truly beautiful city. I immediately noticed the canals in Venice were an aqua blue, not the brown of the Arno in Florence.

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One of the many canal bridges in Venice

When we got to our hostel we were cold, wet and tired. Fortunately our room was nice and warm, a luxury that kept us sane throughout the day. We talked about our plan for the day and made a decision: despite the weather we were going to keep our spirits high and have fun. We weren’t going to sit in our hostel all day because of a little (or a lot of) rain! So out we went.

First Stop: A mask shop. Carnival is all about the masks and costumes. Even in the crummy weather everyone was wearing a mask or other elaborate costume. We spent a half hour trying on masks of different sizes shapes and colors. The women in the shop helped us pick out the perfect ones and offered us ‘A special deal just for you!’. We quickly learned you never pay face value for anything in Venice because every shop owner is ready and willing to give a ‘special deal’.

Masks in hand, or on face I should say, we headed to San Marco square where the Carnival festivities were located. We quickly learned Carnival was cancelled for the day because of weather BUT there were still some fun locals in costume dancing and playing music. To escape the cold we wandered into random glass and gift shops around the square.

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Found a glass squirrel for my family and the Alpha Gams!

After exploring we were ready to dry off and eat. We found a local dive (courtesy of Rick Steves) where we stayed for a couple hours and met our friends Dean, Mitch, and Tripp who were also staying the weekend. Image

The masks never come off!

Determined to beat the rain, we walked around in search of a little nightlife. We struggled to find bars and clubs on the little island but found two places with good music. While out and about we made friends with people from Belgium, Hungary, France, England, South Bend (Yeah Hoosiers!), Italy, and Spain. It was awesome to hear travel stories, get advice, and learn about life from so many people with such different backgrounds. We even met a woman from Florence who called us her little babies and watched us like a mother hen for the night.

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I woke up the next morning to an Indiana victory over Michigan and a sunny sky and knew it was going to be a great day. We started the morning with breakfast from our hostel. Since we are poor college students, we took the opportunity to horde any packaged food at the buffet to eat for lunch. This brilliant idea will serve us well during our European adventures.

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I’d say we did pretty well for ourselves.

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New Day, New Venice

After packing up we headed back to San Marco for Carnival festivities. We had no idea what was going on up on the main stage but we squeezed through the crowd and took in the costumes, music, and craziness around us. Image

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In need of a break from the commotion we headed to the even smaller island of Murano to see some of Venice’s world famous glass blowers. We watched a demonstration, did a little shopping, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. For all of you wondering how I fared in all of these glass shops, I only knocked over one thing: a Santa rowing a gondola. Sadly Santa lost his oar and we quickly left the shop.

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Before heading home to Florence we took a break for lunch on a bridge by the train station and reflected on our adventures. The beauty of Venice really brought home how incredibly blessed I am to be here. At least 10 times a day I have to pause to comprehend exactly where I am and celebrate that I am living the dream.

With that, I leave you. Have a great weekend and don’t forget to live it up no matter your location or weather conditions!