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February2010

21 Feb | Kristie Serrano | No Comments

Sunday, February 21, 2010 | Florence, Italy


               

My Social Psychology professor started off the week with a pleasant surprise. I have a cultural interview report due by next class which requires me to interview an Italian person, compare both American and Italian culture, and explain the psychological processes that create the similarities and differences. For some reason the hardest part of the assignment was finding an Italian person.

All week I couldn’t coordinate a time with anyone in Florence and I was leaving for Sorrento and the Capri Islands from Thursday to Saturday. When I traveled to Sorrento, I met fifty-two year old Gino Rocco and his wife Maria Rocco, who own the Chaplin Irish Pub. Gino and Maria have been married for twenty-three years and have two daughters in their early twenties.

They have traveled as a family to Australia, Thailand, Venezuela, Mexico, the Bahamas, Texas, Florida and England. The girls are expected to take over the business and hopefully get married soon to Catholic Italian men. That being said, Gino is aware that his daughters are not in the mindset of marriage and has accepted it. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know such a great and lively couple.

Getting to Sorrento was an adventure in itself. We had the option of taking two trains; one took five hours while the other took three. We decided to take the five our train because it was a lot cheaper. Unfortunately there are two train stations in Florence, and the one that was close to our apartment only had the fast train available. Since we only had ten minutes until the train left, we sucked it up and paid for the fast train.

It ended up being a nice experience because the train was a lot more comfortable than the slower train and it was a lot quieter. They even gave the option of buying snacks on a trolley. We got off in Naples, since there wasn’t a direct train from Florence to Sorrento. Word of advice, don’t stay in Naples very long. The train station is a very sketchy place, very poorly marked, and I was grateful to be traveling with people while I was there.

The train from Naples to Sorrento was about an hour and we had to stand for most of it. It didn’t take very long to find our hostel, which ended up being a lot nicer than we expected. It looked like a hotel minus the huge beds and instead replaced by bunk beds. For our first hostel experience, I feel very spoiled.

That’s when we met our friend Amanda. She is from Melbourne, Australia and has been traveling off and on by herself for eighteen months. We asked her to come have dinner and gelato with us and the bonding began. After spending forty-eight hours straight getting to know her, it feels really weird not having her around now that I’m back in Florence. Hopefully we’ll keep in touch with her and I’m looking forward to all of the other people I’ll meet in the many future hostels I’ll be sleeping in.

Sorrento was deserted and most of the restaurants were closed. Gino explained that most people went on vacation for the winter. While we were exploring, I bought some lemon drops, since Sorrento is known for their lemons. They were the best lemon drops I’ve ever eaten and I’m struggling to maintain self-control so I don’t finish the whole bag too quickly.

The next day we planned on taking a fairy to Capri, but the skies were very angry. It was drizzling on and off, so we changed our plans and decided to go to Pompeii. When we got to the train station, we found out that not only were the trains on strike, but also the buses and the fairies until one o’clock. We had no choice but to wait, read and take naps back at the hostel. We don’t wake up until two, and get to Pompeii at three fifteen. The ruins of Pompeii close at 5 and they were going to stop selling tickets at 3:30, so we made it just in time to explore.

The weather was now perfect and walking through the ruins was mind-blowing. Everything was extremely well preserved by the ash, and the history of the place is very interesting. The civilization that lived there was far advanced for their time (Rachael read that the volcano erupted in 79 A.D. so they built, enjoyed and lived way before that.) When we walked around there where a lot of dogs just lounging around with collars on. Chelsea explained that the dogs were up for adoption and roam around Pompeii all day. We also saw the Pompeii Theater, the Pompeii coliseum and the Pompeii brothel.

We didn’t have a lot of time and ended up staying about an hour after they closed. Pompeii made the whole trip worth it and was my favorite part. I hope to go back and explore it more at some point since I still have to go back and see Capri. When we finally left Pompeii, two of the dogs followed us through part of the city and waited until we got on the train before they left. They were too adorable and I would have taken them home in a heartbeat if I didn’t already have three dogs back in Florida. We stayed one last night in Sorrento and said our goodbyes to Amanda early in the morning.

When I got back to the apartment I started working on my cultural interview report right away and then had a heart attack because I didn’t have a printer. Everything was closed by then, so there was no use in worrying about it at that moment. We decided to go dancing at Twice to relieve stress and found a lot of people we knew already there. It was a lot of fun, but after a couple of hours we were very hungry. Our friend Brendan suggested we go to a secret bakery that he knew of. It was a really long walk but absolutely worth it. I ate a fresh little pizza and a croissant filled with custard for three euro! That is unheard of and I plan on going back the next time I’m up at two in the morning.

When I woke up today, I only had one goal and that was to find an open Internet cafe. To my delight, I walked five minutes and found one. Although it was pricy for printing one piece of paper, it’s better than a failing grade! Everything is usually closed on Sundays, so I’m very grateful that I was able to print out my paper. After reflecting with my roommates on everything we did, I decided that the theme of this week has been overcoming obstacles and making the minor setbacks into great successes. I love how one moment can completely change the trajectory my life and I’m excited to experience the many adventures that next week will bring.

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14 Feb | Kristie Serrano | No Comments

Sunday, February 14, 2010 | Florence, Italy


       

Happy Valentine’s Day! I woke up to a wonderful and unexpected surprise this morning. My sneaky roommate woke up early today and bought everyone cannolis! Granted, I completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day but it was a delicious way to start the day none-the-less. We didn’t do much today except meander the congested city. It seemed like everyone in Florence was outside, filling every open store and crowding the piazzas openly showing affection. My favorite part was seeing a little boy dressed up as a tiny warrior, happy as can be holding his sword and shield.

Now that my professors have finished reading the syllabi in all my classes, the learning has begun. I really enjoy the small classroom feel. My professors make an effort to learn my name and each professor implements different and unique teaching style.

On Monday, I was able to go out and observe how people interact for my Social Psychology class and compare that to American culture. My Body Language and Communication class uses theater methods to further explore and understand exactly what our body movement is expressing. All of my classes are challenging and require a lot of reading, but the material is very interesting.

This week has not been my luckiest in terms of getting into my apartment. On Tuesday my roommate and I decide to get a bagel at Mama’s Bakery. I didn’t bother getting dressed since it should be a five-minute excursion. I throw my coat over my pajamas and since I can’t find my shoes, I put on my bright green flip-flops. While we’re eating our delicately put together avocado and prosciutto bagels, my roommate realizes she forgot her keys and her phone.

This is bad news because I assumed she had hers so I didn’t bother grabbing my keys or phone either. It’s 12 in the afternoon, so our two options are either waiting for our other roommate Chelsea, who gets out of class at 2:30 or walk 20 minutes away to interrupt her class and take her keys. We decide to go find Chelsea.

While we’re walking there, I notice that everyone that walks by keeps looking at my feet and my roommate thoroughly enjoys it. When we found Chelsea’s class, she was conveniently painting by the door, so we call her over, she laughs at my flip-flops, and gives us the keys. We then decide to get groceries at the fresh market, since we have nothing for dinner. We notice the 11-pound nutella jar and decide to buy it. Overall, this ended up being a successful day.

The next day, I finally decide to get epically lost after walking my friend to her hostel. My friend had told me to go straight and I’ll eventually get to a street I recognize. Two hours later after going in circles and calling my roommates a million times, I finally find this road. It was a very frustrating process and to top it all off it was snowing outside.

I decide to just stay at the library since in an hour, I get to go to a mask painting shop with my roommates. The mask painting work area was incredible. It was down in a basement with dull lighting and decorated with already finished masks that exceed anyone’s imagination. The place just felt magical and you couldn’t help but be inspired to create.

I worked until the very end trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Luckily my roommates were very patient with me and all of our masks turned out beautiful. Unfortunately, I hadn’t eaten for six hours so I was ready to inhale a horse by the time we left, but that experience was a great end to an otherwise tiresome day.

On Saturday we woke up around 8am and decided to go to Sienna! It was the first time we had taken the train and it was really exciting. Sienna is about an hour away and somehow I managed to get comfortable enough to sleep there and back. Sienna is a quaint little city and I have no idea how, but we were able to get from the train station to the center of the city.

My roommate Chelsea had been there before and she pointed out that different parts of the city were different districts. We were in the porcupine district and there were porcupines above a lot of doors and used as decoration. There was snow on the ground, which made portions of the city very slippery. Especially when we were on anything marble, like outside of the baptistery and the dome.

We hadn’t really eaten anything, so we entered this place called Pizzaland. Best decision ever. The people who worked there were very friendly and the pizza was wonderful. They also had French fry pizza and Duff beer, which was very entertaining. We stopped in again when we were heading back home to try their nutella filled panzerottos.

The best part was going into the museum and being able to climb up to the top to get a 360-degree view of the city. It was so beautiful and I wanted to sit there all day, but a storm was rolling in. We paid 10 euro to enter the Dome, the Baptistery, the crypt and the museum. The architecture and art in all of them were unbelievable and paired with the history made it that much more interesting. Finally exhausted, we stopped to get a cappuccino before we headed home.

 


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7 Feb | Kristie Serrano | No Comments

Sunday, February 7, 2010 | Florence, Italy


      

When I try to think back to the twelve days I have spent in Florence, my mind goes into a whirlwind of memories, bonding and disbelief that I’ve been so lucky. This is my first time traveling to Europe in general and my senses are happily on overload.

First of all, everything seems to be in a miniature size. My favorite shrunken objects are the teeny tiny cars. My least favorite shrunken objects are the narrow and confusing roads. I haven’t found a speed limit sign anywhere and there are way too many one-way streets. My roommate also pointed out that red lights are conditional for mopeds or motorcycles. They never stop! Surprisingly, I haven’t witnessed a vehicle accident yet.

 

Also, the squished looking buildings are very deceiving because everything looks small from the outside, but somehow is very spacious once you walk it. My apartment is a perfect example. I had to struggle up the narrow steps with my luggage, but once I managed to enter the door I was in shock at how big the apartment actually was. The Italians are wonderful at utilizing space. My kitchen has a washer in it and when I use my bathroom the sink is basically in my lap!

Before school started my roommates and I explored all over the city. We discovered the Fresh Market, which has absolutely everything we need to cook dinner, and as the name suggests, it is very fresh and healthy. I hate cooking, but I really lucked out that two of my roommates are very good chefs. If no one is in the mood to cook, then we roam around to find a Tratoria. And if we’re feeling extra lazy, we have Mama’s Bakery that has amazing bagels and pastries or the pizza place with 2 euro slices about 5 steps away.

My favorite food by far has been eating gelato in between classes or spreading nutella on everything possible as a snack. We finished a tub of nutella in two days, so next time we plan on getting a much larger jar. In the south part of the market we ended up finding the Wild Boar statue named Porcellino and rubbed his nose for good luck. I’m pretty positive it’s been working. I also really enjoyed exploring the Uffizi Museum and look forward to the many museums Florence has to offer. All of my roommates are majoring in the arts, so they explained a lot to me and showed me new ways to appreciate works of art.

Trying to get around Florence has been an adventure in itself and I think I’ve gotten lost enough to finally know enough main roads to reach my destination. Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici is on the opposite side of the river than my apartment so everyday I get to walk over the beautiful bridge which is one of my favorite things to do. It is kind of a hassle that it takes me about twenty minutes to get to class, but the scenery definitely makes it worth it.

Unfortunately the first day of class my roommate set our alarm wrong, so the morning wasn’t as pleasant as it could have been. (I got a free cookie later that day, so it ended up being a great first day of class.)  All of my classes are small and very intense. The professors are very passionate about teaching and I really feel confident that I will learn a lot and experience a variety of different teaching styles. I’m really looking forward to all of them and already have a field trip planed to the Serial Killer and Death Penalty Museum for my Psychology of Crime class!

I haven’t really experience much of the Florence nightlife except for going to a discotheque called Space. It was mostly Americans that went and being a person who thoroughly enjoys dancing, I had a great time. It’s a great place to meet other study abroad students.

So it doesn’t feel right not to mention that I was blessed to meet three incredible people right away. I really couldn’t have asked for better people to live with. We are all on the same page when it comes to traveling, studying, living conditions and eating habits. There is a ridiculous amount of bonding that happens every day and every night and we all had an instant connection. I feel like I’ve known these girls a lot longer than twelve days and every day I’m grateful to have them to share everything with. The late night talks always take a lot longer than intended but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. They make my soul shine to its brightest beam.

I think today has been my favorite day of all. We were able to indulge ourselves at the Chocolate Festival in Piazza Santa Croce. Chocolate art is not only delicious but also very creative. On the eclectic side, there were chocolate tools, chocolate animals, chocolate kabobs and chocolate teeth (an actual mold of a jaw with teeth) as well as the normal chocolate truffles and hot chocolate.

It was basically happiness everywhere you looked. Then we headed to the viewing tower next to Il Duomo and took pictures of the most incredible and breathtaking view of Florence. We climbed 414 steps to get there, but no one was complaining once we got there. It was the perfect way to end an already wonderful day.

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