What I’ve Learned About Italy So Far…

Tuesday, August 31, 2016

11:30 PM

I’m trying to mix up the style/format/content of my blog posts while I’m in Italy, so bear with me! I’ve been in this wonderful country for almost one week. I learn something new every day, and I figured I’d share what I’ve learned so far…

  1. Pedestrians do not have the right of way on the streets.

It’s crucial to be alert. I almost got hit by a car a couple times in Italy (sorry, Mom and Dad; I’m alive though). The cars, busses, and bikes move quickly and rarely stop to let pedestrians cross, even at crosswalks. I have to remind myself that I’m not in Vermont, so I have to look both ways at every street and make sure it’s safe to cross.

2. Food & drink are not cheap.

I thought for some reason that food and drink would be cheaper in Italy. I’ve discovered that’s not the case. You’ll still pay 10-20 euros/person/meal. Some places have cheaper options, but on average, it’s still expensive to go out to eat. I’ve only paid for a glass of wine once, and after spending 7 euros on one glass, I’ve concluded that I won’t be buying drinks that often.

3. The market is the place to go for fruit & veg.

I went to the Mercato Centrale Firenze today to pick up some groceries. It’s very cool. Fresh fruits and veg, meet, cheese, oil, and everything in between can be purchased at the market. I spent about 15 euros there on a container of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, two garlic heads, and a bunch of asparagus. Although the food is laid out in a way that makes you want to touch it, the vendors will become angry if you do so. Instead, you have to point at what you would like, and they will get it for you with plastic gloves.

4. Super markets have reasonable prices.

I can’t find $3 evoo or $1 butter in America! The super markets here are much smaller, and the produce isn’t as good as it is in the market. However, there’s still a lot to buy. And if you shop with a list, your budget stays on track.

5. Florence itself is fairly small (area wise).

I walked around Florence four times today. Two out of those four times I was doing a tour. I was shocked at how small the heart of the city is. From my apartment (perfectly located), it takes about 5-10 minutes to walk anywhere & everywhere: the Duomo, the Arno River, Marist Italy buildings, the market. I’m hoping to explore outside the main city soon. It is stunning everywhere you look.

6. Cabs are very safe.

Cabs are more expensive here, but they’re very safe. We’ve been told to take a cab if we’re out late, and it won’t cost much in a group.

7. Cash is the best way to go.

A lot of places don’t accept credit cards in Italy. Therefore, cash is the way to pay. I started with 200 euros and am currently at 100, so I’ll have to take some more cash out soon. Hopefully the fees won’t be too bad.

8. Nights in Florence are precious.

Florence looks completely different at night. Totally different vibes when everything is lit up. There’s live music, people sitting outside eating dinner, and students like us wandering the streets.

9. It’s still possible to be homesick in such an incredible place.

Today was the first day I felt a little homesick. I’m having such a fun time, but I want my friends and family to be here to enjoy this experience with me. Luckily, I’m making a new abroad family, and I’ll have visitors throughout the year.

10. People care about the environment.

People don’t litter in Florence! The streets are clean, and people don’t use extra water or electricity. Helps make the city look even more remarkable.

Tomorrow I register for my permit to stay! Fortunately, I can sleep in until 9. xo ~e.

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Our view from dinner on a terrace tonight

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Destination: Home

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

We are in our apartment in Firenze! The anxiety and anticipation bottled up among us during the four hour bus ride from Tuscania to Florence was palpable. I can’t believe this will be home for nine months. It’s so exciting.

Jillian and I are all unpacked in our room. We share an apartment with Sarah and Megan. We have two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a small living room. It’s very vintage looking, and we have cute tile floors. Although we don’t have a balcony like some of our abroad mates, we do have windows overlooking a gorgeous view of the Italian streets. I will do a photo tour of our apartment soon. We couldn’t have asked for a better freshman housing gig!

For dinner, Amelia (a girl from my hometown) and I went to an Indian restaurant after wandering on the streets for ten minutes. We practiced speaking Italian with our five days worth of vocabulary; we actually scraped by! We ordered our food, got a to go container, and paid the bill (26 euros- no tipping in Italy). The only mistake we had was ordering a coke instead of rice. It was funny, but we did get the rice eventually (riso).

I had an awkward racist encounter on the walk back to our apartment. A man came up to me and said “Nihao” while making a mocking gesture with his hands. I kept walking straight, but it took me by surprise. Hopefully I won’t be faced with more of those unnecessary racial comments. There’s not much you can do in those situations.

Tomorrow we will tour our new city that we don’t know much about. No more eating out every meal; we have to go to the market and cook in our apartments! I am looking forward to that after I understand where/how to buy produce. Home will always be America because that’s where my friends and family are, but home now is in Florence where I will make a new study abroad family. xo ~e.

Italia Day 4

Monday, August 29, 2016

11 PM

It’s late, and we have an early morning tomorrow, so it’s a short post tonight. The wifi here is still not strong enough to add photos to my blogs, but I will get them up ASAP! So many fun shots to show.

Today was my favorite day yet of orientation. We got up early and took a bus to Tuscania for a busy day of activities! We had an hour and a half of a full-immersion Italian class first. It was a real class, at a real school (Lorenzo de’Medici Tuscania), with a real professor. It was challenging, but I did my best to follow along, earning a “Perfecto!” from the professor after individually reading a list of verbs and their conjugates. I didn’t miss those while studying Chinese! Afterwards, we did a scavenger hunt in Tuscania. It was so much fun. We had to ask Italians to take photos of us at each destination. The first one was at a fountain, the second one at a gelateria (we got gelato too), the third one at a pharmacy (I asked for band-aids in Italian written on a sheet of paper), and the fourth one at a tabacchi (sort of like a convenient store in Italy).

We had two memorable moments during our scavenger hut. The gelato employee at the gelateria asked how long we would be in Tuscania for and if he could come clubbing with us tonight. In addition, a non-speaking English stranger gave us directions, but they were incorrect, and he had the decency to track us down and physically walk us to our next destination. He had the most adorable 17 month old girl.

After my group’s scavenger hunt, we had a five hour break. We ate gnocchi and drank white wine outside in the shade at a restaurant. Then we walked around without an intention of arriving at a certain place. That’s the best way to explore. We ended up getting coffee at a bar. I had my first macchiato; it was so strong, but I forced myself to not add sugar! We also went into a shoe store after siesta (it’s a real thing in Italy… Stores are closed normally from 1-4 PM for lunch/naps). The clothing and shoes was 20 euros or less! I got a cheap pair of sunglasses (5 euros) that looked like Ray Bans.

Lastly, we had a cooking class with an Italian instructor. He taught us how to make pasta and pomodoro from scratch. It was so fun and fascinating. The fifteen of us enjoyed the meal we made after. For many, that was their first time actually cooking in the kitchen! Luckily, it wasn’t mine (thanks, Mom & Dad).

We got back to our hotel around 7:30, and we all went down to the beach to hang out and watch the sunset. Those who took a dip got stung by jellyfish larvae! I was already in my PJs. Tomorrow we return to Florence and move into our apartments! We have another Italian class before then in Tuscania. xo ~e.

Word of the day: Io vorrei (I would like)

Italia Day 3

Sunday, August 28, 2016

5:30 PM

A little more downtime this afternoon! We are on Day 3 in Italy, and we’re all starting to feel the jet lag. I woke up this morning at 7:15 AM to run with Colleen (a soccer player). We both haven’t exercised in a week or two (shh…), but we managed to run two miles in twenty minutes! We ran around the little town we are in. It reminds me a lot of my relatives’ house in Florida- residential yet small and quiet. Most Italians are friendly towards us, but I can tell that some of them must think “Stupid Americans.” One guy did say “Buon giorno” to us on our run, and we did our best to say it back correctly with a smile. We ended up getting lost in the area, but we eventually found our way back to the hotel for a quick shower, croissant, watermelon, and cup of coffee.

Instead of orientation meetings this morning, we went to a museum in Tarquinia. As my family knows, I am not a huge museum person. I like looking at various exhibits for 10-20 minutes then leaving before an hour has passed. However, we had a tour guide today, so we had to stay for an hour and a half. It was challenging to understand him with his Italian accent, and it was very hot. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t super intrigued by the tour. Many of us used the time to take photos, sit down, and chat. We did look at the stuff there and admired the architecture. I’m hoping to have a greater appreciation for art (and museums) by the end of the school year.

We ate lunch after the museum at a local restaurant. They served each of us a large bowl of salad and a large plate of pasta! We were all so relieved to have some greens on our plates rather than the pasta and pizza we have been served every meal since we’ve been here. For dessert, we had gelato. I tried blueberry, coconut, and lemon.  It was delicious! I loved it and can’t wait to try more. Quality gelato is something I’m definitely going to miss in America.

We were going to visit the Necropolis of Tarquinia, but our timing got messed up, so only those who really wanted to go went. I was so tired that I just wanted to go back to the hotel to rest! I napped and Facetimed my mom (and Kiara) before swimming in the ocean and lying on the beach for an hour. It’s a tough life.

We have an academic meeting in half an hour then another dinner out! I miss my friends from home and family but am appreciating meeting new people. Everyone’s at college and figuring out their new routines, classes, and friends. It’s an exciting time for college freshmen; I’m glad I get to be a part of it! xo ~e.

10:45 PM

Dinner tonight was one of my favorites so far. We started with bruschetta before moving on to pasta, caprese salad, and chocolate mousse (tasted like Cool Whip drizzled with chocolate syrup). They served us red wine tonight, but I couldn’t tell you what kind. It’s taken me two hours to finish a glass over dinner, and I have no problem with that. Learning to drink the ‘correct’ way.

Our group is getting more and more comfortable with each other. We’re laughing at the dinner table like old friends, being loud on the bus, and accompanying one another to the toilette. Our study abroad friends will always be the ones that we will share these fond, Italian memories with.

Tomorrow we have Italian and cooking class in Tuscania! xo ~e.

Word of the day: scusi/scusa (excuse me; sorry)

 

Italia Day 2

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It’s 2:30, and we have a break right now; I’m blogging from the beach! Orientation never had a more beautiful view. It is hot, but the ocean breeze is refreshing. We’ve had meetings since 9 AM, but I feel good after a nine-hour long sleep. At breakfast, I had my first European coffee, and it was delicious—dark, rich, and naturally sweet! Other than the coffee, they served bread and croissants. That seems to be the breakfast norm in Italy. I may have to make myself eggs and eat yogurt and fruit when we get to our apartment!

For our meetings, we did some icebreakers, introduced ourselves, and discussed our hopes and fears for the year. We just had lunch—pasta and pizza! We have one more meeting, and then we will have a longer break to relax on the beach before going out to dinner tonight. xo ~e.

11 PM

The rest of the afternoon was great. We had an hour long discussion with our RAs about things we wanted to discuss with someone other than an ‘adult.’ After that, we all went to the beach! We swam in the gorgeous (and warm) ocean, refreshed our summer tans, and played volleyball with some local Italian kids. That was very fun. It reminded me that it is possible for people who don’t speak the same language or come from the same background to get along with each other and bond over something simple: a game. It’s moments like these that make me excited about living in Italy for nine months.

We went out to a restaurant in Tarquinia called Girardengo Ristorante. I can get used to these four meal courses (after I start running, that is)! They had two bottles of white wine at each table, and most of us drank a glass or two. It’s nice being able to drink in an environment where wine is appreciated throughout a whole meal, and there isn’t pressure to binge drink. It was a wonderful welcome dinner, and we all toasted to each other for deciding to come to Florence for our first year of college. Everyone dressed very nice. We’re a nice looking group of freshmen!

It’s been another long yet fulfilling day, so I’m ready for bed. I’ve had good luck with beating jet lag! xo ~e.

Word of the day: grazie (thank you)

Italia Day 1

Friday, August 26, 2016

We made it—all 46 of us! In twelve hours, we traveled from JFK to Italy. We left behind our family, sense of familiarity, and our high school lives. Now we anticipate adventure, learning, and an appreciation for a new culture. The feeling I feel is blessed.

We are currently at our hotel in Tarquinia, and I am blogging from my hotel room. We flew 8 hours from JFK to Rome. At Rome, we ate near our gate (the food on the plane was not very good) and talked to each other. Our flight from Rome to Florence was brief—only half an hour including departure and landing. Flying across Italy is absolutely spectacular. It was clear during our flights, so when I looked down, I saw lots of vineyards, pools, trees as well as fields and squares of what looked like dirt. The houses are different shades of yellow, and most of the roofs are a tint of red. It’s exactly like what I’ve seen in the pictures only better because it’s not a picture.

We were only in Florence for an hour in the airport. We were greeted by Marist Italy staff and other members of our program who flew from other destinations. We all hopped on a bus and fell immediately to sleep. We were exhausted from our flights! The bus ride was four hours to Tarquinia, but we stopped for a bathroom break at a little gas station. When we got on the bus, we all fell back to sleep!

Once we got to the hotel, we got our room assignments. They paired us alphabetically by last name. I’m in a room with a girl from New Jersey and a girl from Long Island. Our room is quite large (and air conditioned), and we hope to have a restful sleep. Before dinner, we walked one minute down to the beach! It’s gorgeous. There are chairs with umbrellas with a panoramic view of the ocean. I unfortunately packed my bathing suit in my checked bag, but I’m hoping I can borrow from a friend. For dinner, we ate at the hotel. They served us pasta, potatoes with olive and rosemary, chicken, caprese salad, and lemon sorbet. It was quite the welcome meal!

We’re excited to be in Italy yet eager to be in Florence where we can fully unpack and familiarize ourselves with the city before classes start. However, I am going to enjoy these next few days of orientation, despite the long meetings and awkward ice breakers. Our group seems to be very diverse; we have people coming from all over the world to spend their first year of college in Florence. There’s even a girl from Taiwan who I can practice my Chinese with! Everyone is friendly and easy to talk to. This type of setting forces us to talk to each other because there aren’t too many of us, we’re all in the same place, and there’s not convenient access to wifi (culture shock)! It’s fun getting to know new people though and discover why they chose to do this program too. I think we’ll all have an incredible year together.

So not a bad first day in Italy. I’m finally starting to believe that this is home for the next nine months! Ciao for now! xo ~e.

Word of the day: ciao (hello; goodbye)

The Day Before Departure

The nerves are deeply settled and the adrenaline is running high. Tomorrow I’ll be flying thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to spend my freshman year of college in a foreign country.

When my family and I sat on Quillen porch in Maine this past weekend, my dad remarked, “It’s easier just to leave rather than to think about leaving. Thinking about leaving drags the process out.” This sums up how I’ve felt about my trip to Florence recently. I’ve thought about it so much and have already said so many tough goodbyes that now I just want to leave and begin my adventure. No more tears. No more thinking about what could go wrong. Time to hop on that plane and not look back.

I can’t wait for this year ahead. I’ve never been to Europe before, and I know there will be so much to learn in and out of the classroom, so much to soak in, and so much delicious food to eat. This is quite the way to begin a college career. I’m excited to meet my classmates and locals all over Europe. However, I’m going to miss my high school, friends, and family more than I ever have.

I’m going to try and blog every day about my experiences in Firenze, and I hope you’ll follow along. Here’s to an unforgettable freshman year! Buon viaggio! xo ~e.