A Travellerspoint blog

Greg Briggs Does Florence

Father-daughter bonding time? CHECK.

Dad was here this past weekend! It was awesome - we wandered around, exploring and enjoying the sunshine, delicious porcini mushrooms and drinking tons of Chianti! DSCN1458.jpgDSCN1455.jpgDSCN1453.jpgDSCN1446.jpgDSCN1444.jpgDSCN1438.jpgDSCN1437.jpgDSCN1435.jpgDSCN1433.jpg Somethings don't change - I still love babies and French Bulldogs.DSCN1430.jpgDSCN1427.jpgDSCN1424.jpgDSCN1422.jpgDSCN1421.jpgDSCN1420.jpgDSCN1407.jpgDSCN1404.jpgDSCN1403.jpgDSCN1397.jpgDSCN1390.jpgDSCN1391.jpgDSCN1388.jpg

Posted by Traveling Spoon 02:04 Comments (0)

WHO'S A WINNER?

I am.

I WON THE TALENT SHOW! Syracuse has apparently had a talent show for many years, but last year they widened it to all American schools in Florence, and opened it to Italian students. When I initially heard about it, I had a cooking show booked for that night, and seriously considered learning how to make pasta instead of participating. Somehow, I still walked out of the office on the set list...

Fast-forward to two weeks later: I had put down that I would be singing 2 songs, an original and "I Found A Boy" by Adele. When I was told that we had a 5-minute cap, I realized that doing both was going to be impossible, but which to choose? "I Found A Boy" definitely showed of my voice better, but its not an original. As far as accompaniment, I was also kinda screwed because I couldn't find a karaoke version of it... then again, I didn't have a guitar to play an original with, so the prospect of forgetting the whole thing and making tagliatelle sounded pretty delicious.

On a side note, language barriers are the funniest things ever. My host mom frequently says "you and chelsea are delicious" which I assume is supposed to mean that we are good boarders, but we still laugh every time she says it. She also uses the word "uneducated" instead of polite, so when I offer to do the dishes after dinner, she yells "YOU ARE SO EDUCATE" at me... love it. Perhaps my favorite? My host brother now says "Oh my gosh!!!" whenever his mom does anything sassy... for example, my 60-something host mom will yell "LA BRUTTA" (the ugliest) at the woman on the game show we watch during dinner, and my 40-something host brother turns to me and Chelsea and exasperatedly says "oh my gosh" as if he were swearing something fierce. After all this confusion, me and Chelsea thought we were pretty safe using American colloquialisms at the dinner table, without fear of them understanding - SO NOT TRUE. We were discussing that we thought we were getting fat, and Chelsea muttered "more cushion for the pushin'" and my host mom burst out laughing. Good times, good times

Anyway, the guy at Syracuse managed to find me a guitar from one of the judges, so it was settled that I was performing an original.

The night of, I was surprisingly calm - I had no idea about what I was up against, so there wasn't any point in getting stressed. Besides, I mostly just wanted to do it so I could perform, because I miss it a lot. When I got to the Palazzo Giovane (a courtyard in a church with lights and a stage, a little bar off to one side and a bunch of seats). When I met the judge who's guitar I was borrowing, he was shocked at my name because his mother was named Thea as well. He passed over his Martin (I WAS SO EXCITED TO HOLD THAT GUITAR!!!) I had to wait through most of the show, there were some poets and a few girls performing pop songs (one did Amazing Grace) and a few boy-bands, a Bollywood dance number and a guy who did a light show (should have been at a rave). I was getting a little nervous, but when I got up to perform, I was so happy to be there. I wasn't expecting to win - I thought I didn't do all that well, so when I sat down I mostly was happy to have gotten to sing with a beautiful instrument.

After the acts were all done, the judges deliberated - I played an acoustic version of Remix to Ignition with my friends so we could pass the time. The judges began by calling up the three semi-finalists: a poet from NYU who I didn't really like all that much, a male duo who sang an acoustic Single Ladies (LOVED THEM) and then me! I was actually shaking in my boots... they were going to do an audience applause test, and as the kid who was always chosen last at dodgeball, standing in a line in front of a crowd with only a guitar to protect me from the blows was terrifying. The first girl got some applause - a "nice try" if you will... I was clapping for her too, as best I could while holding the Martin. The audience went nuts for the second group, and I was sure that I wasn't going to win. When they finally pointed to me, though, I was deafened. It went on and on: my friends were in the front row stomping and cheering, my host family jumping up and down and screaming, people I didn't know hollering. It was amazing. Everybody should get to hear that at some point in their lives. The judges eventually agreed with the audience, and now I will be spending Thanksgiving weekend in Morocco!

Check out my Facebook for photos and videos!

Posted by Traveling Spoon 01:08 Comments (0)

The Last 10 Days - Part 2 of 2

Sienna and A Weekend in Firenze

After the crazy-busy week I had last week (fitting a wine tasting in between tests and papers... and there is really no way to work after the tasting, so it mostly entailed cramming before the degustazione), I decided to go with the school to Sienna. A note on school field trips - "all-school" trips we are paying for with our tuition so its totally worth going to all of them, while "optional" is normally extra but still might be worth going on. Sienna, Assisi and Ravena were all-school trips, and the cool thing is that Syracuse takes you to rather remote areas that are known for art or a Cathedral or something, and gives you a walking tour of the famous monuments.

Sienna is another city in the region of Tuscany, and for many years it rivaled Florence in many ways. It has always been smaller, but is arguably also the home of what we consider modern banking. Its built on 3 hills - this is important because it dates Sienna back to before the Romans (if the city was built by the Romans, they could build in fields without worrying about attack, so generally the cities on mountains are older than cities in the campagna, or countryside). There is a giant white cathedral with some FANTASTIC inlaid marble floors that depict scenes from the bible (I'll upload the photos Personally, I didn't enjoy Sienna as much as Assisi or Ravena, though that could have been for a variety of reasons. The whole city is pretty much done in browns, which makes the narrow and winding streets seem gloomier than they should be. We also got split up into groups for some reason on this trip, so I couldn't hang out with Kelsey and Catherine (boo hoo!). It might also have been that our speaker was one Professor Hatfield. This man is pretty much the epitome of teachers I don't like. I took his first class with him, and dropped it like it was a hot coal - even though he's boring and old and has shocks of white hair spurting out of all sorts of places that it doesn't belong, he somehow still manages to speak like a valley girl (EVERY SENTENCE HE SAYS HE INTONES AS IF IT WERE A QUESTION. "I think thats funny looking?" "I'm stodgy and smell like mothballs?"). He also lost me on that first day because he made some crucial errors:

1. When you start your first class by saying "I don't do questions" and explain that "I never have time to get through the slides" its reasonable. When you then continue to say "And at any rate, when I was in college I hated hearing all the idiots in class ask their dumb questions, I came to hear the professor speak", you have qualified yourself as a jerk.
2. You cannot, on the first day of an intro to art history lesson in Florence, say "The renaissance happened in spite of the Medicis, not because of them". I have a limited-mostly-from-PBS-documentaries-that-stream-on-Netflix knowledge of art history, but even I know that is a blatant oversimplification... they funded half the major projects in this city!
3. Putting piazzas all over the city is not a form of checks and balances. Do you even know what checks and balances are?
4. Okay. He's the deal. When Florence became a Republic, the adjective one uses to describe it is republican. Democracies are democratic. These words exist so you can use them, and because its incorrect to say that a Republic is democratic.

In any case, after Sienna, I spent Saturday resting and relaxing, before a dinner party that my host mom threw. I got to sing in front of a maestro of the Florence Orchestra! The set list included Autumn Leaves, Can't Stop Thinking 'Bout You, I Found a Boy, Let it Be and Angel from Montgomery. After singing, the maestro told me I have amazing control and command of my voice, and is great for jazz. He also told me I have beautiful hands and that it was a shame I was engaged (I'm not engaged) because his son would adore me (sorry, ain't no way thats gonna happen).

The next day, I explored Florence! I woke up after 10 (I don't really remember what time :p) and packed my backpack up with all my books and headed out to meet friends. First, me and Kelsey met up in Piazza Savonarola (the square that my house and the school are on). We walked towards Il Duomo, and to get there you have to go through another square that had a big festival in it! There were all sorts of things, I didn't really see what it was celebrating, but I think it was about local artisans. There were a bunch of bakeries and a few farms (I tasted a really good apple) and there was a honey farm – I bought a little jar of honey, but I couldn't read what kind of flower it was. I can't wait for a cold day where I can make a pot of earl grey with milk and this honey, and wear fluffy socks! On a side note, the weather here is AMAZING. We have had 2 days of rain, and other than that its been cloudless and in the mid-eighties every day, normally with a light breeze. Its a bit disorienting because its October, but I'm loving it! There were also a bunch of ceramics at the festival – some were really beautiful, and I wanted to buy so many things (I didn't get any pottery because the only piece I would have been willing to shell out for was a big, shallow pasta bowl, and there wasn't one).

After a quick cappuccino with Kelsey, we met up with Catherine and her roommate and walked all the way across Florence. Normally, I stay on my side of the Arno (the river that bisects the city), but we crossed it today to go see this museum. Kelsey, Catherine and Alex had to go for class, but with my museum card it was free for me too, so I figured I would check it out too. The museum ended up being closed for really weird hours, so we turned around. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio, which is a really famous bridge that is lined with jewelry stores, and ate lunch at this little pizzeria. I had pizza with onions (and thought of you) and there was an accordion player who serenaded us with music while we ate. After that, I lugged my backpack (my back was already killing me by then... wanna come over and give me a massage?) and we went in search of a yarn store. We are starting a twice-weekly Stitch and Bitch – knitting, drinking Prosecco and listening to music – on Tuesdays and Thursdays!

Then I went to the library and Skyped with my mom and dad for the first time. It was so nice to talk to them! We talked about classes and then about when my dad comes to visit in 2 weeks – I am taking him to an agri-tourism place in Chianti so we can farm and stay in a bed and breakfast – and then about how I have NO idea about what I want to be when I grow up. After ECPAT, I'm pretty sure I don't want to work in human trafficking directly, I may want to do law, but being here for some reason really makes me consider going to grad school to become a professor in my field. My parents were actually surprisingly supportive of the newest idea – they think its a “niche-market” and that if I want to, then I could totally make a life for myself out of it. Eh... I'll figure it out in time! Then I worked on a presentation I have on Thursday for one of Matthews-Grieco (the really intense one) classes – I am arguing that the man-culture and woman-nature imagery we have come to understand can be seen clearly in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus... jeeze I love my major!

Posted by Traveling Spoon 01:04 Comments (0)

A Mandatory Wine Tasting

Between Parts 1 and 2, and PS could Italy be any cooler?

The middle of the week was a mess - after the trip to France, I had a lot of work to catch up on. I wrote a paper for my History of Witchcraft class on Agrarian cults and Popular Christianity, a paper for my Patterns of Modernity in 20th Century Italian Lit. on the theme or rebirth in Giuseppe Ungaretti's poetry (in Italian, no less), and studied and took a final in my Italian Practicum. To celebrate the end of the Practicum, we had a wine tasting with Diletta Frescobaldi, of the Frescobaldi Vineyards.

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Her family has been making and selling wine for some 700 years from the Chianti region of Tuscany. We learned about the role of wine in Italian culture (its important), and how to taste and rate wines against one and other. S. Frescobaldi says there are 3 parts to a tasting - not to be confused with drinking. First, the eyes: you hold the glass of wine at a 45 degree angle to check the color and clarity. This give you indications about how the wine will taste and feel in your mouth. Then, the nose: you swirl the wine around the glass, and sniff it. She recommends doing that 3 times, to get all the scents that you will get from the wine. The longer the scent stays in your nose, the more "pungent" or "intense" the wine is. Finally, the mouth: take some (some amount between a sip and a glug) into your mouth. Through the corners of your lips with the wine still in your mouth, suck in some air. This air helps the wine decant, and makes the flavors stronger. Tilt your head back to feel how the wine is swallowed. Even after there isn't wine in your mouth, she recommends breathing in again to get the flavor - does it taste like fruit? Chocolate? Vanilla? Herbs? Earth? Each wine grows in a different area, and as such each has hints of other flavors. You also should pay attention to the mouth-feel - does it linger on the tongue? These flavors and feels are how one pairs a wine to the meal: Match the intensity to the food, contrast the flavors. What does that mean? If you are eating a steak au poivre, you want a rich red, so that neither the flavor of the meat nor the wine gets lost. But which red? Pick one that has warm flavors and maybe cleaner undertones, as opposed to a spicy flavor, to juxtapose against the meal.

We tasted 3 wines, a white from the North-East region, a Chianti from the Frescobaldi vineyards and another red from Sicily (if I can't go in body, I will taste Sicilia yet!).

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I personally liked the Chianti the best - its one of my favorite wines to begin with, and the Frescobaldi is really delicious. We tasted them individually, and then with cheese and bread. S. Frescobaldi was even nice enough to pose for a quick photo with all the newly-converted winoes!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 02:39 Comments (0)

The Last 10 Days - Part 1 of 2

The French Riviera

Hello all! Sorry I've been out of commission, the work load last week was ridiculous - 2 papers, a final for a short class and 2 take home tests! Anyways, I'm gonna do a run down of the last 10 days of traveling and working (skipping over the hours in the library) and post a few photos. There are way more pictures in the Traveling Spoon gallery if you want to take a peek!

Last weekend (jeeze, it really has been too long) was the weekend that I was supposed to go to Sicily with the school, but the trip got cancelled. We only found out the Monday before, so we scrambled to put together another trip. Originally Sara, Catherine, Kelsey and I wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast, but we were too late to book seats with any of the tour companies around here. There are 3 main ones: Florence For Fun, EuroAdventures and Bus2Alps. They offer overpriced but really easy trips to the fun destinations that all the American students in Florence want to go see. On Wednesday night, after doing some more research, I found a EuroAdventures trip to the French RIviera, so we booked it quick. Last Thursday after classes, the four of us stopped at a grocery store for some snacks and then headed over to the train station, where we boarded a coach bus with the rest of our travel group. The group was about 30 people, 12 of whom were from the same school - some Catholic college in Washington state that I had never heard of (they were surprised that I didn't know who they were... apparently they have a good basketball team... which means nothing to me). We brought wine in boxes (here they have them in liter sizes and in juice boxes!) and cheese and prosciutto and bread and salad; as soon as the bus was on the highway, we dug in! Its worth mentioning that the pre-packaged salads here are some of the most complicated things I have ever dealt with (second only to trying to set up wifi on my computer anywhere). First, you have to flip the whole container upside down and pop an internal dressing cup into the lettuce, then you have to pull of a plastic film that holds the mini-fork and napkin to the bottom, then you shake it all around and THEN you take the lid off. Needless to say, we didn't know any of that, and opened it and ate dry lettuce with our hands. The bus had a DVD player, and for the first stint we watched The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds... I had forgotten this scene, and I got a good chuckle out of it on the bus:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NBLvwE7DU0

After a quick stop at the AutoGrill (the chain of rest stops on the Italian highways) we watched the Dark Knight... Heath Ledger, you are missed. May you rest in peace forever. We arrived at the hostel at around 1:30, and promptly were assigned to a room for 8 - the 4 of us, a pair of girls who traveled together, and 2 loners. One loner I affectionately titled Phlegmy - she hacked up a lung ever 20 minutes all night, woke up at 7 and started playing a game on her iPad (we switched to our own room, just the 4 of us the next night).

Friday we started off the day with crepes!

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After breakfast, the whole trip went to Monaco. For those of you who don't know, Monaco is a Principality on the French Riviera. It is one of the richest districts in the world, and also one of the most beautiful. We happened to arrive during the International Yacht Show, where the largest personally owned yacht (575 ft, complete with 2 submarines, a tennis court, a basketball court and who knows what else) was docked. We walked up to the palace where the Prince and Princess of Monaco live, and got some amazing views of the 1/2 mile wide nation:
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We also saw Princess Grace Kelly's tomb, in the national CathedralDSCN1121.jpg DSCN1127.jpg

And I found another mosaic of my boyfriend... (sorry I'm such a goudie)
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Then we headed back to Nice. That night, we ate at a traditional French Restaurant. I had a fish soup, served with chunks of crusty French baguette and homemade mayo (I actually ate it with a spoon, and no I don't think that's weird or gross. Homemade mayo is the nectar of the Gods - its smooth and creamy and lemony and garlicky and delicious, and I will figure out its secrets and learn how to make it), followed by a roasted chicken quarter covered with mushroom sauce and big chunks of mushrooms, ratatouille like you wouldn't believe, and for dessert nommed on Profiteroles (little puff pasteries, stuffed with vanilla ice cream, drowning in hot dark chocolate ganache). I must say, it was delicious, but I have absolutely fallen in love with the simple food of Tuscany. The French use a lot more butter, instead of olive oil, and most things have a sauce. In Florence, we eat more roasted meats and potatoes and vegetables, heart-warming and stomach filling pasta and fresh fresh fresh fruits and salads.

Saturday, we went to Cannes (where the film festival is every year) and although it was cloudy, we lay on the beach with a bottle of champagne and some pate and baguette. Catherine and I even managed to swim out to a buoy! After a long day at the beach, we had a delicious Moroccan meal - I had a chicken tagine with onions and raisins over potatoes. In case you were wondering, the Tagine actually refers to the dish that the meal is cooked in. It looks like this:

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We went out later that night, but 8 Euro for a drink is more than I can stomach, so it was a pretty short night for me. The third day, we spent some time wandering around Nice, and then headed to Eze in Monaco where there is a famous parfumerie - soaps, perfumes and eau de toilette galore! Its a beautiful little provincial town, complete with all the things one would expect to see from this region:

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Then we headed home, were I got to take a nice, hot shower and go to sleep in my bed. A weekend well spent!

Posted by Traveling Spoon 02:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

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