Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Today marks the final week of my stay in Firenze. I know I said I was going to keep up with posting, but I've grown lazy and my travel euphoria is making its descent (so yes, I'm still alive - no one has to go Liam Neeson on me). I don't know what day I'm on, but I can count the number of days I have left in Europe: 10 (on the 11th I head home). It has been a journey not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I'll get to the nostalgic rant when my trip comes to a close, though; there will be plenty of time for that.

I just had an intense déjà vu that I'm not sure where it came from. Hm. That's not important. What is important is to record the events of the past, I don't know, week and a half maybe? I suppose I'll begin with Roma...

Ahh, Roma. Now that's a city I could fall in love with (never as much as London, but it's up there). The five-hour bus ride didn't seem so long because the countryside in Italy holds some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Sunflower fields, sprawling vibrant meadows, rolling hills. It is divine - I wouldn't mind frolicking in them one day. I could actually enjoy the views this time as I wasn't drunk or hungover. I certainly learned my lesson from last time. Some people can do that - props. I'll take a good night's sleep and some fresh eyes for a new adventure.

We arrived in Rome around noon, and I was surprised to see a city that looked so similar to Firenze. Tall buildings towered over the narrow streets, and it was actually quite small. I expected this giant city all wide with the Colosseum in plain view, but it looked relatively normal when we stepped off the bus. I decided to tag along with some new people because there was some turbulence in the apartment, and I had planned on meeting a ton of new people while I travelled anyway.

The sky looked troubled, but I decided not to take my umbrella, believing the sun would conquer the clouds. Always listen to your intuition. Three girls from the program and I decided to go on a hunt for food and found a street full of restaurants. Unlike Firenze, the hosts were incredibly aggressive. Some followed us down the street, persistently pleading us to eat at their restaurant, some offered free services if we chose their restaurant, and some would just tear apart neighboring restaurants, claiming their food was fresh and superior to the others. All we wanted was some cheap, delicious pasta to hold us over until dinner. We finally went back to one that had decent prices, and the host offered free bruschetta. How could we resist?

We sat down, perused the menu, and waited for the server. After he attended to us, we asked about the bruschetta we were promised. He became hostile quickly and refused to give us some because one of the girls didn't order a dish, even though the rest of us did. The debate escalated quickly to the point that a cappuccino was chugged and we told him to cancel the order because we were leaving. Yeah, we know this isn't our home and things are done differently, but nobody had to get chewed out. That's when round two of our hunt commenced.

A heavy drizzle began with only two of us having umbrellas - at least someone was smart enough to listen to the little voice saying, "Just in case it rains..." We roamed - ha! "Romed"- around for awhile as the sky darkened and thunder boomed around us. This definitely wasn't just a typical rainstorm. We quickly headed back toward the meeting place and found a small pizza joint. It ended up being cheaper than expected and quite delightful. Being the cheapskates we are, we decided to find a bench or something to sit at as it costs extra to sit at a table in/outside restaurants. We found a short wall to plop on, and then it hit. The torrential downpour with gusts of wind and lightning strikes crackling one after another. The trees and the two umbrellas we had gave some protection, but we were definitely on the Strugglebus trying to eat our pizza. These tiny flower leaf things kept flying into my cappuccino, too, but I managed to enjoy my lunch.

It was fun to hang around and get to know other people on the program because many of us just stick to the people in our apartments. Although it's convenient, it's refreshing to see some new faces. We made light of our rain troubles and met up with everyone else to begin our tours of the Vatican City. This, by the way, is the smallest country in the world. I can officially say I've been in two countries at once. Anyway, the Vatican Museum is incredible to say the least. So much art and history are held in this ancient edifice, and it's an experience that simply cannot be described. I'm not an expertise in the arts, but I do appreciate the beauty of such stunning artifacts.

Our next stop was to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I was itching with anticipation to see this. We learned about this incredible work of Michelangelo's in my honors arts and humanities class, so I definitely felt a greater appreciation for it than many of the other pieces I had seen since being in Italy. Pictures are strictly forbidden, but they wouldn't have done it justice anyway.

Never have I experienced such a connection to a piece of art in my life. I shuffled in amongst the dozens, maybe hundreds, who had also traveled all this way to view the ceiling. I gazed up, wide-eyed. My jaw immediately dropped as the fresco swam into my vision. A warm tear rolled down my cheek as this experience enveloped me. Another warm streak and another followed. It's one thing to read the Bible, but it is a most divine experience to gaze at its scenes artfully crafted by the hands of Michelangelo. The world had stopped in that moment, and I could see the roots of my faith so clearly.

The tour continued on to St. Peter's Cathedral - the largest in Italy - where its size was incomprehensible. I knew it was enormous, but my mind couldn't quite fathom it. I finally realized it was because the edifice was so proportional that the size of each part simply couldn't be understood. This was gorgeously puzzling, and I adored every minute. I'm not Catholic, but I wouldn't mind attending a mass in there.

We were then released for free time. I didn't buy anything because, honestly, souvenirs are overrated. I always look back and wonder why I bought that keychain or mini model of some monument that sits on my shelf collecting dust. Instead, I've learned to absorb the experience and take some pictures. Plus, I'll have wonderful stories for my friends and family that a magnet or postcard can't tell.

From the Vatican City, we headed into the heart of Rome to our hotel rooms, which were roomy, comfortable, and best of all, had air conditioning! It took us quite some time to figure out the electricity because the hotel key had to stay in a small slot by the door in order for it to remain on. It was strange. However, we had a spacious bathroom with a real tub we could take normal showers in. I napped in our bit of spare time, then we all headed to our scheduled dinner. Pizza was on the menu, so I wasn't complaining. A full belly later, I was ready to go to sleep. One of my roommates turned on the TV, and what did we find? The Hunger Games! I was a little too excited to watch it in Italian, but I soon found my eyes heavy and took the card out of the slot to turn the lights out. I wanted to be energized for day two.

The Colosseum was first on the agenda after a scrumptious continental breakfast (those are the absolute best, might I say!) The walk was shorter than it appeared on the map, and I thought it would be more... colossal (so punny! I know, I'm lame. Just accept it). Nevertheless, I stood in awe of the ancient arena. Our tour guide was fantastic! She didn't give us the lesson we get in history class, oh no - she gave us the dirty details of the place, and I loved it even more. We were allowed some time to explore the second floor, where many pictures were taken and a lap around the entire thing had to be done. I could've spent all day there, but of course, there was plenty more to see.

We went to the house of the Vestal Virgins, saw the place where Caesar was cremated, and looked over Roman ruins. So many facts flew my way, and I attempted to snatch as many as I could. The more you know, right? Our tour ended, we sadly departed from our lovely tour guide, and one of my new friends knew of a place a friend highly recommended (no pun intended; you'll see why in a minute). She knew it was atop one of Rome's seven hills (see?) we just had to go apparently. We asked our tour guide for directions and she pointed out the way on the map, but warned us we'd likely get lost. Not only did we NOT get lost, we found some of the best views in Rome. Where did we go? To look through the keyhole on top of Aventine Hill. It is famous for its view of the Vatican. If you look it up, you'll see what I saw, but naturally it's even better in person.

After my friend and I looked through the keyhole, we found a perfect little park on the hill that overlooked all of Rome. We sat for awhile and chatted about our experiences in Italy so far. We had some similar struggles and a similar personality, so it was fortunate we met. This was the part of traveling I loved. After sufficient time baking in the sun, we wandered around some more before heading back to the hotel. Dinner was in a few hours, so I took a bit of time to relax.

Dinner was delicious again with a few different courses that left me with a food baby. Many of my peers were planning on going out to bars, but I really wanted a preview of the Trevi Fountain before our tour in the morning. Expecting it to be at least a bit less crowded, my new friend and I waddled up and down the steep streets of Rome to make a few wishes. When we arrived, we were disgruntled to find a swarm of tourists snapping photos of the majestic fountain. That didn't deter us, though because it was just magical. I could've stared at the massive marble structure all night, but after almost an hour, we were ready to head back to the hotel.

I hung out in my friend's hotel room because I didn't really want to go to sleep or be in my room alone. Again, the TV was turned on, and what did we find? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! In Italian! Needless to say, we were unnecessarily giddy and watched the last half of the movie. Once it finished, I returned to my room and snuggled into my bed.

My final morning crept upon me quickly, and I shoveled down another free breakfast. I had to stock up for the last day before heading to our final tour. We walked all over Rome, visiting the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. At the Trevi Fountain, our guide told us how to properly make a wish, and I realized I'd done it all wrong the night before. My picture was perfect the night before, except it wasn't right. I redid everything the correct way, so we'll find out if it comes true. Obviously, I can't share what I wished for, but we'll see if it's granted in the future.

Once we were released for the remainder of the day, I met more people I hadn't previously encountered and decided to tag along with them. We ate lunch, and I found they were a bunch of goons like me, filling our meal with laughter and warmth. Afterward, we all headed back to the Pantheon to get a look inside since we couldn't beforehand (a mass was underway). It was magnificent as most of Rome is, and we headed to the Trajan Tower next. Here, a few of us parked and chatted for about an hour. It really is a unique experience to share this entire adventure with others, even for only a moment. With only about an hour until our bus left for Firenze, we soaked in the last sights of the Eternal City on the way to the hotel.

Drained, we retrieved our luggage, and reclined in exhausted silence awaiting our departure. Finally we boarded the bus and were ready to head back. Unfortunately, two of our people understood the time to be an hour later than the scheduled time, so we had to wait an extra thirty to forty-five minutes for them. In the meantime, an anomaly happened. Another fierce thunderstorm appeared overhead; not only was it more intense than the first, but large hail crashed down from the sky. I hoped the lost sheep would find their way soon, which they did.

I found it peculiar that we were being seen off in the same way we were greeted. I enjoyed the raging weather and watched its progress as we drove into and out of it. We returned to Firenze safe and sound with cloudless skies just as we left it. The weekend was certainly one of my favorites, and I hope I can return there one day. For the meantime, I'll be celebrating my last week of classes and my time here. Then, I'm off to Paris and, finally, home.

I can't say I'm not excited and ready to go home. I can't wait to see my family and friends and snuggle in my cloud. I also can't wait to move into my new apartment with some of my best friends. What an eventful summer. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Buonanotte! This girl needs to study for finals...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 29: A Turnaround

I've had some bumps and bruises during my time in Firenze, but things are beginning to look up.

Monday was one of the best days I've had here, and it was very unplanned and simple. One of my roommates was going to retrieve her phone, and I asked to join because I planned on roaming around anyway. She wanted to go to Museo Galileo, and I thought it sounded interesting, even though it wasn't one of the free sites included on our museum cards. I just wanted to explore anywhere new. We picked up her phone at the school, stopped to get her a panini, and made our way to the museum. Thankfully, it wasn't packed as I had expected, and I was pleasantly surprised at how intriguing the place was. It was full of nautical instruments, ancient globes, and other gleaming gizmos that would be any inventor's dream.

I was glad that the other roommates were in Paris because we could take our time through each exhibit and not worry about rushing anywhere. This was the experience I had been wanting here without worrying about what five other people wanted to do or were complaining about.

This great bike exhibit explaining the origins of the bicycle and hands on activities dealing with space and physics completed our tour. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much. It was nice that the museum wasn't overwhelmingly large, and visitors were sparse. After all of the walking, though, we were ready to grab some food.

Lorena and I headed to the restaurant where I had eaten previously with our program director and other roommates because she desperately wanted some Carbonara. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and our server was quite cheeky. Many of the Italians are; I love it. That is actually defining factor of my personality, but I usually stay quiet because I'm always afraid of offending someone. You never know when people will take offense to something, and my sense of humor is certainly an acquired taste.

The food was just as scrumptious as the last time, and we were ready to continue on our spontaneous adventures. As we walked out of the restaurant (I never remember the names, just the locations), Lorena pointed out the doors across the street. We're almost certain we found the apartment the Jersey Shore stayed in when they were in Firenze. We'll have to watch that season to be sure, but I think we found it. I have a picture, and I will certainly be comparing it to the one seen on the show. Unfortunately, their wild behavior contributes to the awful stereotypes us Americans get, but I will admit it's entertaining.

After our revelation, we headed to the Fortezza (fortress) because it looked interesting. It turned out we couldn't actually go in, but we parked in the grass outside of it. A bunch of people were napping or relaxing, and we figured why not? I'm not sure how long we stayed there, but it was blissful. The air was fresher, a pond twinkled behind us, and everyone just kept to themselves. I will certainly be going back again to study or just take in the scenery. It would be perfect for a little picnic date; where is my Italian stallion?!

On the way home, we stopped to get Lorena a smoothie. Unfortunately, the juice bar had literally just closed, so she said an iced coffee from Astor would suffice. Little did we know, we'd get more than just an iced coffee. Free Korean aperitivo! That's right: chefs in training cooked some classic Korean dishes, and we got to sample them without paying a cent. It was delicious, and the Korean chefs were very hospitable and kind. It made me want to travel to South Korea, so that may be in my future travel plans.

A full belly and some exhausted feet later, we hiked up the eighty steps to the apartment. I relaxed awhile, then decided I wanted to go for my first run in the city. I thought for sure I would land on my face because of the cobblestone, but I found my awareness has increased dramatically. I felt like those superheroes who have just discovered their powers, and the world looks completely different. They can maneuver around obstacles stealthily like a badger and sense incoming objects from miles away. That has become my life. Okay, maybe I'm not that advanced, but I'm definitely more aware of what's going on around me, and I don't trip as often; that only happens when I have a little too much wine.

The night was beautiful, and it was exhilarating to finally exercise after being a slug most of the time. I'm going to try some yoga tomorrow night because I'm certainly not hitting any clubs before we head to Rome. Being drunk and hungover in the same day is not a goal of mine (been there, done that).

The next day (yesterday), I attended my two classes and napped - world's most interesting story. Lorena then asked if the roommates and I wanted to eat dinner at her new friend's place. Free dinner again?! Count me in. His apartment was modest and had an antique collection that he sells from. Four of his friends were also in our company, and I was apprehensive that they were born-and-raised Italians, but after awhile, we all had enough wine, good food, and great music that diminished the language barrier. They could all speak quite good English so communication was possible and fun. I received an odd compliment from one of the guests. He pointed to my nose and asked if I was Greek. I'm usually apprehensive about it because the bridge rises first instead of dips under like a typical American nose. He claimed that mine was most beautiful and rare, though, and that everyone else's was insignificant at best. I'll take it. I love how Europeans appreciate the natural beauty in people and not the plastic Barbie wannabes that litter the U.S. - all the more reason for me to move to Europe.

The night was wonderful, and I'm so thankful we got to spend time with some natives because that's what I've been wanting all along. Risotto, pollo con birra (chicken with beer), Sardinian cheese, and lots of wine. That sounds like a good time to me. I crave more of these authentic experiences, and I'm hoping the next few weeks bring them. I wonder if I can get any Italians to start saying "Strugglebus"...

I did randomly run into a member of my honor fraternity today. What are the odds?! Neither of us knew we were in Firenze at the same time, and I couldn't have been more shocked. She and her boyfriend have been backpacking around Europe this summer and are moving to London later this year (Yeah, I'm really jealous...). We got to talking and decided to run around together. I was initially planning on going to a museum, but obviously plans changed pretty quickly. Instead, we climbed up to Piazza de Michelangialo. This was lovely as I hadn't made the climb yet. The sun was in a prime position for pictures, and I loved having some great company. Their adventures sounded incredible, and I still can't believe we ran into each other. I showed them my apartment, from which they departed to eat dinner and explore more.

I need to study for an exam tomorrow anyway, make dinner, and catch up on this thing. I've been slacking, and I'm well aware. I'll try to keep up for the last half of my trip at least. This is my point of reference for all of the stories I have to share when I get home, which I can't say I don't miss. I think it's just my friends I really want with me; if it weren't for them, I'd probably never want to leave Europe. I still plan on moving here when I graduate, so that gives me three years to peruse my own country. I really can see why foreigners aren't fond of Americans, though. Truthfully, I'm not either now. That's a rant for another time, though. It's time to actually study (you know, because I'm "studying abroad"). Buonanotte!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 27: That Small City Life

Florence is growing on me. I'm not in love with it, partly because some of the experiences I've had have been less than pleasant. I had a migraine yesterday - something I haven't had since my junior year of high school. Of course, it would happen while I'm out of the country. I am thankful, however, that I was at home and could sleep, even though I'd done that all day. I'm always on the Strugglebus in this city, I swear.

On the plus side, many of the girls have made fabulous connections that get us into clubs as VIP with free bottles, drinks, and shots. Last night would have been prime had I not just battled that monster migraine, felt severely dehydrated, and had a leech on my side half the night. In other words, my night was less than fabulous. Attempting to satiate my thirst with alcohol is one of the less intelligent decisions I could've made. It did absolutely nothing and left my mouth feeling even more like sandpaper than before. Having a guy who wasn't really my type all up in my business didn't help, either. I finally just told him I wasn't really interested and that I wanted to find an Italian - not another American!!! - he just brushed off the comment and continued his pursuit. If there's one thing in this world that ceases my lady juices from flowing, it's a clingy guy. Throw some traveling in there, and he's in the negatives. Just no. I'm adventurous and independent, and if I'm already not attracted to you, you might as well give up the chase.

I don't mind the prodding from the Italian men because they're accustomed to the word "no". For instance, this would only fly in Italy:

Italian guy walking behind us: What time is it?
Us: One.
Italian guy: What?
Us: One!
Italian guy: Oh, time for sex!
Us: No.
Italian guy: Awww...what's your name?
And so on...

I kid you not; that is how it went down. I think they just cut to the chase in the glimmer of a hope that some woman might just agree. You'll never know if you don't ask, right? The guys here crack me up. Although, I haven't found my Italian stallion yet, and I only have three weeks left until we leave Firenze. Time will tell, I suppose.

I've been feeling the pangs of homesickness, which I haven't been willing to admit until now. I haven't been able to communicate with my friends and family back home as much as I would like, but I'm thankful for the times when my sister is available to FaceTime or I open a Snapchat. Being halfway done with the program is reassuring. I love my classes and getting to know the culture, but it's still tough being away from the people I love. I know I'm being a total wimp, but it certainly takes a lot of energy to turn your life upside down, even if it is only for a few weeks.

After a little rest and relaxation today, I'm ready to embark on some new adventures tomorrow (or later today, as it's now early morning).

*I would also like to lament the passing of Cory Monteith. Waking up to that headline on my phone was devastating. I remember watching Glee from day one and falling in love with the show. I could escape into the world of McKinley High when my own high school days were dark and dreary. Cory brought such light to the show, and I always admired the relationship he and Lea Michele shared on screen. May he rest with the angels above.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 20: Misery (Maroon 5 Ain't Got Nothing on Me)

As I got back from Venice on Saturday night, a slight burning began to develop in my throat. I told myself repeatedly that I wasn't getting sick, as I was the only one in the apartment who hadn't experienced some kind of ailment (besides my heartache for the UK). I had just said earlier that day that I hadn't gotten sick yet, either. I knew I jinxed myself right at that moment, too.

After adding a load to the washing machine for the first time, I turned in early because I wasn't feeling too well, expecting a nice deep slumber. Nope. I tossed and turned as my searing throat ensured I wouldn't reach my full sleeping potential. Throughout my frustration, I could hear the washer going and going and foggily wondered why it was taking so long, but it wasn't a huge concern of mine as my health was deteriorating through the night.

I awoke before the rest of the girls from what little sleep I could manage and immediately went to go lay my clothes out (dryers are quite rare here). When I opened the door, my hand retracted momentarily; I didn't remember having a shirt that color. I leaned closer and came to a horrifying realization: the colors of my clothing had run together. What were once white or nearly white were now a grayish lavender. In my incapacitated state of mind the night before, I had moved the dial to the wrong setting, washing my clothes in hot water. It was one of those mornings when you hate your life and all you can do is shake your head and either want to laugh because you're beyond tears or crawl in a hole and end up like Gollum. Can anyone say Strugglebus?

I FaceTimed my sister for some kind of support, but our conversation was short-lived because of the time difference. Distraught, I laid out my clothes anyway and hoped this would become funny in the next few days or weeks. At the moment, however, I just really wanted a shower, a bit of food, and to feel better. Sleep was pointless as it was less painful to keep myself occupied than battle this stupid virus.

The Saldi, or July sales, had started so I'd planned to go shopping with my roommate that day. Despite both of us not feeling well, we went out for some retail therapy. I was successful in finding some new shorts and sunglasses at H&M, but we soon became tired after this escapade. Some aching crept into my muscles, but I quickly shooed it away and pretended not to notice. Some gelato could cure that, right?

My belly was happy, but my bank account was reprimanding me. This was the first time the language barrier had really done a doozy on me. I told the woman behind the counter "cono piccolo", to which she nodded and motioned me to scoot down the line. She then asked which cone I wanted, which threw me a curveball. I thought I had already indicated which one I wanted. I confusedly pointed at the smaller looking one, but that was actually the bigger one and got charged double what I normally pay for my daily fix. Clearly, my day was just a bundle of fun. I muttered a disgruntled "Whatever" and proceeded to enjoy my gelato - menta and ciocolata. The flavors were magical, so I cared less about how much I paid for my cone.

When we reached our building and ascended the eighty steps to our door, I found myself far more weary than usual. The aches came on stronger, and I finally accepted that I had a fever and some nasty flu symptoms. Into bed I crawled. My condition worsened to the point where I probably could've cooked an egg on my skin. I couldn't even sweat. I lay there for hours, melting into my sheets in absolute misery. Finally, a spark of hunger got me up. Like a newborn lamb, I wobbled to the kitchen and boiled some noodles. Though the sun was setting outside, a new light crept into my health. My energy gradually returned as I ate my dinner. I then moved to the couch and finally began to perspire. After approximately an hour, my dewy skin relieved me of my fever and the aching was substantially less.

I topped off the night by FaceTiming a friend, which helped me see some optimism. I must have acquired some 24-hour flu somewhere, but this illness definitely wasn't joking around. Being sick while out of the country is definitely worse than being sick at home. I just hope I don't have to deal with a round two of this nonsense.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Day 18: I Have a Lot to Write About!

I'll just start with my most recent escapades because those are the freshest, and I'll put the rest in their own posts.

We took our field trip to Venice this weekend, and might I say, I did something really stupid. I went out the night before, and was not only drunk on the bus at 7:00, but also was hungover in the same day. Lord help me.

I did meet a nice German guy at Blanco and attempted to make the best conversation possible over booming music and 4th of July clamor - yes, Italy celebrated 4th of July for us Americans. It was a nice gesture, really. The club had cute little fireworks and everything. I shook my head, however, at the girls from the U.S. saying they wanted hot dogs and hamburgers. Seriously, how can those wretched foods even cross your mind when you're eating some of the best cuisine in the world? Sheesh.

Let me tell you about the bartenders at Blanco. I was drunk off of a mojito and a sex on the beach. That's it. I'll admit I'm a lightweight, but I'd say that's excessively strong. I'm not complaining because that's less alcohol I have to buy, but dang! I was feeling really good. I would've stayed longer if it weren't for a friend's emotional breakdown. This was a blessing in disguise because I hadn't even packed for Venice yet. We didn't get home until about 3:30-4:00 and didn't head to bed until 4:00-5:00. A lot of it was a blur, hence the broad range of times.

Anyway, I awoke in what seemed like two minutes with an ten-minute warning from my roommate. This is when I shot out of bed and began throwing clothes and toiletries into my duffle bag very disoriented and attempting to fight the sluggishness off. I wouldn't really find out what I packed until I reached the hotel that night, but I did alright for being slightly intoxicated still. A long walk in the chilly morning helped a smidgen, but not much. I plopped down into a seat of my own on the luxury coach and struggled to find comfort. All I wanted was a bed and a glass of crisp water.

After managing to wane in and out of sleep for about an hour, I finally sat up with the sad realization that I was definitely awake with no hope of heading back to sleep. I sat miserably, feeling my organs drying up like Spongebob in Sandy's dome home. "Water...water..." was all that repeated in my head. The good Lord above was watching because, within ten minutes, we pulled into a gas station for a bathroom break and food run.

I imagined this glorious chugging was about to happen where I would empty the bottle and toss it aside like a champion. Yeah, it turns out I drank it like I normally would because my swallowing reflexes were barely awake. Either way, that water was the elixir of life.

I snoozed contentedly afterward, and the ride passed by in a heartbeat. Venice looked a lot different than I had envisioned. It was very industrial on the outskirts. The colorful buildings you see in the magazines are more where the tourists go. Did you know it's comprised of over 180 islands? I sure didn't. Did you also know it feels like it's 180º (Celsius or Fahrenheit, whichever you prefer) in the summertime? My logic of it's northerly position on the map and high heat capacity of the water backfired. If it wasn't for the beautiful water, I may have thought I somehow ended up back in Florida. My white pants and light sweater did not help in the least.

We took a large ferry from the port to San Marco, a.k.a. tourist central. We were given an hour for lunch before our scheduled tour time, and I had one of the few meals I haven't been crazy about since traveling to Italy. I needed sustenance after the previous night, so I didn't care too much. I was just glad I didn't have to pay for the bagno, and it was cooler in the restaurant than outside.

We met back at the square, where our tour began. A few things would have made this trek through Venice much more enjoyable if:

1) I wasn't suffocating in my clothes,
2) the tour guide's voice wasn't so soothing (I was falling asleep while standing at some points; how is this even possible?!),
3) I bought the sunglasses I had wanted in London,
4) I didn't go out the night before, and
5) my camera wasn't dead, and I was forced to use my iPhone 4 (though reliable, not the best for quality pictures.

Don't get me wrong - it was very informational, and the city is beautiful. However, I was on the Strugglebus. For hours. Not fun. I was thankful when we got time to wander for an hour so I could travel under the shadows of the tall, winding edifices like a vampire. My goal was to avoid the blazing ball of fire that I was sure had targeted me at all costs.

We finally reconnected at the square as evening approached and prepared to board the ferry once again. I don't understand how some people get seasick. The rocking of the boat gave me the sense of infancy, being rocked back and forth, back and forth. I was lulled to sleep several times as the sparkling turquoise waves of the Adriatic brushed up against the boat. Marvelous.

Once we were back at the port, we hopped on our bus and headed to the hotel. It was a gorgeous little place furnished with red and gold. I was quite impressed. I stayed in a room with my current roommate at the apartment and another girl who lives in the apartment. My plan was to freshen up before dinner, but I overslept once again and rushed around an hour later to look less like a sewer rat and more like a proper dinner guest. I gave up very quickly and headed out the door grumpily. I was under the impression my roommates hadn't tried to wake me up, when actually my unconscious self had taken over decision-making. I swear my unconscious self has a complete mind of her own sometimes.

Dinner was delicious, and I drank more water during my four courses than I probably drank this whole week. I obviously need to work on that. I made conversation with some other girls from the program, and they seem to be sharing many of the same experiences as us. When dinner was finished, some of them went to explore what little nightlife existed while I relished a warm shower and snuggly blankets. I then proceeded to get the best night's sleep I'd had in weeks.

The morning brought rejuvenation and a free breakfast. I couldn't have been much more content. I stuffed my belly full of croissants, breads, coffee, juice, cheese, and sliced meats. I needed to stock up so that I wouldn't have to spend time or money on food later; we had a busy day ahead.

Our first destination was our ferry to Murano, where we observed and learned about glass blowing. It was an enchanting experience. The glass makers are so skilled, and it gave me a new appreciation for the work and passion put into glass making. I bought my first souvenir as well - a handmade glass ring. It took forever to find one that fit because my fingers are so slender, but I was finally successful after browsing a tiny shop within Murano. I couldn't stop staring at it because it was so unique. It was a good buy.

We headed back to San Marco, where we had several hours of free time. Everyone wanted to go on a gondola ride, but I only wanted to explore the city. That's when an important realization hit me: this is my trip. I paid for it, and I need to do what I want to do. Instead of following the crowd to spend an arm and a leg on a boat ride that I would rather spend with a boyfriend or husband in the future, I did what any adventurer would do. I flew solo. Yeah, I know that's how Taken happens, but I needed to do something for me. There's nothing more lonely than feeling alone in a crowd. Being alone doesn't necessarily have to mean being lonely, so I decided to hang out with myself.

I make quite good company. I stopped in several stores, gazed at the historical architecture, and appreciated the culture surrounding me. My roommates are interesting people, but I feel out of place. It's truly much more uncomfortable than being on my own because their values sync more with each other, and I find myself feeling like I'm in high school again. Girls just annoy me - at least the ones who just act like the stereotypical girl. I'd much rather have guys for company because they're simpler, make better conversation, and don't focus so intently on the superficial things. The ones I hang around are like that at least. I think that's what's so difficult about staying in Florence. In London, I met the greatest guys. They were intelligent gentlemen who weren't afraid to venture into something greater than the typical tourist. They were there for the experience like me, and that's what was beautiful about those people. I hope I can find a buddy like that here because I'm missing my people back home - not really home itself - but my sister and close friends who I can be genuine with. They're what make life so great, and I was hoping for more of that here in Italy. I guess I just need to start doing my own thing and stay true to myself. I know it's cheesy, but it's true. I'm not going to go out and sleep with some hot guy just because he's foreign, and I'm certainly not going to throw my money out on alcohol every night.

That's why I'm not out tonight. Plus, I need sleep, and I feel under the weather. My immune system has finally taken its turn to break down as almost everyone in the program has gotten sick already. I'm trying to battle it psychologically, but I'm just exhausted in every way at this point. Strugglebus.

Speaking of the Strugglebus, I'm currently on it. I left my €17 towel in Venice and had to dry myself with a dirty cardigan after I took a shower tonight. What a way to end the weekend. I need to go scour the city tomorrow to find another one. Just fabulous. Luckily, the July sales are going on so I can probably get one relatively inexpensively. Pray for me!

I'm going to remove my clothes out of the washing machine now and lay them out to dry. Ciao, Ciao, C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-iao!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 9? Maybe?

Last night, my roommates and I wanted to go to Flo Nightclub. We were pumped up, looking smashing, and ready for a great night. We called a taxi, which cost a good €20, so it wasn’t cheap by any means. Prepared for a fabulous night, we descended the steps to the bouncer, where he spoke a string of Italian, naturally. Seeing the vacant looks on our faces, he quickly realized we must speak English. He then asked our age, which are in our early twenties, but he was quick to throw out there was an age limit of twenty-five to enter because of an event. He recommended we try Blanco because that would “fit our ages more”. Bewildered, we glanced at each other and inquired the reasoning behind this. He shrugged us off, and we just stood there confused and aggravated. We begrudgingly retraced our steps and complained for awhile until we decided it was no good to do so and decided to try this Blanco place the bouncer referred us to. We called another taxi, expecting a five-minute ride to this club like the bouncer had said, but made it there another €20 later. 

The place looked nice: the decor was chic, the lights vibrant, and the outdoor arrangement of moderate size. We walked up to the entry and found no fellow partiers there and more strict security. Admission wasn’t even free. It turns out, there was a beauty pageant happening for another twenty minutes. We asked to use the bathroom, and truthfully, it was all we wanted at that point because our night was sour so far. After several minutes, the bouncer finally allowed us in, and we were able to relieve ourselves. We were forced to wait until the fashion show was over, but that didn’t look like it would happen anytime soon, so we sat on some couches bored. While I was still in the bathroom, the attractive DJ apparently was also fed up with the wait and socialized with some of the girls on the couch. When I arrived, they told me of this interaction, and I was intrigued. He returned shortly and beckoned us to follow him. Our night was beginning to look up.

We went to the bar and ordered drinks (Tequila sunrise, please!). The bartender caught my eye with his fashionable hair and tattooed arms. This was going to be a good night. My drink was tastefully strong, with the flavors all dancing around my mouth as I sipped it. After watching the remainder of the fashion show - Miss Toscana? - we were ready to get down. The DJ arranged for us to have our own table and a free champagne bottle. I’m sure we would’ve had a much different experience had we stayed at Flo. This was the life. 

I was feeling fabulous after finishing my first drink and was ready for my second after letting the first absorb into my bloodstream. People were beginning to arrive, and the beats left us swaying more than contentedly. I missed going out, and it definitely felt great after our first week of school. Unfortunately, I had to stumble to the bathroom every ten minutes, but otherwise, it was a great night.

A bit of drama ensued after the club was shutting down, and some of the girls wanted to ride home with the DJ. Two roommates and myself let them go because we were just watching out for our own safety. We are in another country, after all. Luckily, a free shuttle was available, but it took several minutes of waiting in a chilly drizzle for it to arrive. The bus dropped us off at the Arno so we could walk the rest of the way home; I love that Florence is a walking city. If the U.S. was like that, we probably wouldn't have so many drunk driving accidents or obesity problems. Drunkies and fatties - what a proud country. 

More to come!