Thursday, May 19, 2011

Florence in 500 Words

If you would have walked up to me a year ago and told me that one day I would spend an entire summer living in Italy, I would have thought "No way, not me!" Then on May 16, 2011, I woke up to my first full day in Florence, Italy. In Mt. Pleasant, you hear trains in the background. In Florence, you hear Vespas. Florence is A-MAZ-ING. Just walking around the twisty, cobblestone alleys of the medieval-looking streets in downtown Florence, you feel like you've taken a time machine back into the 1500s. You have this overwhelming sense of a place just craaaving to be discovered. That feeling right there is the MAGIC of studying abroad! Five other CMU students went to Florence with me. We didn't know each other before we left. However, once we arrived in Italy, we felt like family instantly! We were discovering Italy together and sharing our excitement at the same time, which made for a very exciting, high-energy experience that none of us will ever forget. My apartment was literally a stone's throw from several of the school buildings, a small market, a pizza shop, the plaza, the gym, an ATM, the library, the river, a computer lab, and--believe it or not--Leonardo Da Vinci's grave! I was placed into an apartment with two CMU girls, a girl who plays soccer for Indiana State and even a girl from Switzerland! We did everything together including weekend trips to visit nearby countries. We did one weekend in Barcelona, Spain, a long weekend in Croatia and several trips to Rome, Pisa, Venice and the Italian beaches! My first class was right next to The Duomo--an enormous, grand cathedral built in the 1200s. You really just cannot grasp the size of the Duomo until you're walking down the street and it's on the horizon--I wish someone snapped a picture of my face the first time I set eyes on it. My professors all spoke English very well--one was an ex-pro soccer player even! He was hands down hilarious and took us on super exclusive field trips. I kept a daily blog so that my family and friends could share my experience with me. Here's one excerpt from my blog: 

"At the end of the day I turned to Lauren and said, 'I bet when you met me in class in 2009 you didn't think you'd be backpacking it to Barcelona with me in 2011!'" –After our trip to Spain.

The students did not have cars. No cars meant walking everywhere. I liked the feeling. It felt like I was a part of the city since I was always on foot with everyone, instead of passively seeing it through the windows of a car. Going to the market meant purchasing only what you could carry on your back. It gave me a real sense of that "old-world" culture I wanted to get out of my study abroad experience. At the market, I would usually buy cheese tortellini then go home and cook it over our match-lighting stove. It was the best pasta I have ever had! And you better believe the most savory, melt-in-your-mouth lasagna can only be found in Italy!
In Florence--and most other major cities in Italy--all the Italian folks speak English. Before I left, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to communicate my needs, such as purchasing food and a finding a bank. I went to Italy without speaking a lick of Italian. All I had was an English to Italian translator app on my iPhone. By the end of the summer, I had learned plenty of basic Italian. There was a ton of other American students in Florence from universities all across our country.  I honestly met students from almost every single state. Going to Italy was the best thing I have ever done for my character and growth as a person. It really changed how I view the world and all the AMAZING people in it. I still dream about Florence all the time and I miss it so much!!!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weekend and Day Trips

Over the summer my roommates and I went to:

Barcelona, Spain
Split, Croatia
Rome, Italy
Venice, Italy
Pisa, Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy
Portovenere Beach, Italy
Viareggio Beach, Italy
The Siena Palio (Horse Races) in Siena, Italy
Montepulciano, Italy
and various areas around the hills of Tuscany

P.S. We went through an awesome student travel agency called Bus2Alps for the majority of our trips!


Lauren and I walking out the door!

Standing on top of Castle Montejuic looking out at the Mediterranean. 

 One of the cathedrals in Barcelona! Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.

Barcelona was a complete mix if super modern and super old. This photo captures that well.


This photo of Vernazza won 2nd place for the 2011 Study Abroad Photo Contest! 

Oh, it's leanin', tell ya what.

Jumping off the boat into the GORGEOUS Adriatic Sea! Me, Katie, Matt.

Cliff jumping!

Our hostel!

Alyssa and I (and the rest of the gang) eating dinner beachside in Split, Croatia.
All of us hanging our feet off the edge of the deck boat that we took on an island hopping tour.

When we first got on the boat.

Hanging out with the gladiators at the Coliseum!

This is the restaurant with best lasagna EVER.

Call me crazy, but I even have the address:

"Trattoria Tritone" 
Via dei Maroniti, 1
Roma, Italy
Inside the Coliseum!

The Vatican!

Outside of the Pantheon--a grand temple dedicated to the Roman gods.
Inside of the Colosseum.

Ruins from the Roman Forum.

David Guetta concert!

Guess who else was in town?!

Trevi Fountain.

Inside the Vatican.



At the Siena Palio--the famous horse races in Siena! THIS IS A BIG DEAL TO THE ITALIANS. The race itself is only 90 seconds long and it's one of the biggest events of the year! There are 17 small districts in Siena. It's all about the pride and the bragging rights for the district that wins! Sometimes the Siena Palio is also held in the fall. If it occurs while you are in Italy that semester/summer, you must go!

Check out the intensity!

 Watch the race!

The race starts at about 1:30 seconds on the video above.

Here is another of the race with the cheering instead of music:



Every single inch of Venice is drop-dead adorable and picturesque.