A Travellerspoint blog

Last Friday Night

Nothing Keeps You Sober Like a 5-Course Dinner

Yesterday, for dinner, my host mom started by serving us eggplant parmesan, with bread of course. It was light, she claimed, because she grilled the eggplant instead of frying it - I'm not looking for light, so I was glad that it was still equal parts cheese and eggplant. The second course consisted of baked chicken and stewed mushrooms, and bread, and for dessert we had peaches with mint and sugar. Throughout the course of the meal, she refilled my wine glass, and so when Catherine, Kelsey and Sara asked if I wanted to go out, I thought "why not?"

We carefully planned our route: Kelsey and her roommate walked to my corner, so once it was me and Kelsey her roommate could cross the Piazza to meet her friends. Kelsey and I then picked up Cathy (who lives 3 blocks from campus, and somehow it has taken her 30 minutes to get to school everyday so far), and wandered down to Il Duomo to get Sara. So far, I had not been catcalled a single time, but the nighttime is very different from the day time. We were hollered at by several men, some in groups or pairs, some on their own; men in cars, men in trucks, and one man driving a tour bus honked at us. Reassuring, on some level, because after dinner I had to take a quick fat nap before going out. In any case, all of a sudden, I was this girl:

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Once we found Sara, we headed over in the direction of Il Duomo. A bit of background on this monolithic monument (from wikipedia):

"The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is the cathedral church of Florence, Italy. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival fa├žade by Emilio De Fabris. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence, whose archbishop is currently Giuseppe Betori."

Blah blah blah... all that you really need to know is that it was funded by the Medici family, the most powerful family in the history of Florence, and is an architectural masterpiece... which is now surrounded by tourist bars.

We migrated into the Piazza del Duomo, and were shocked by the beauty and size of il Duomo at night! I will post photos up later today, of il Duomo both during day and night, so check back! We went to a restaurant first, and ordered a round of drinks. When we got the bill, only Catherine was tipsy, but all of us owed 7 Euro for the weak drinks. Then we went to a cheaper bar, and ordered another round, and dropped another 5 Euro. As a point of reference, I haven't spent 12 Euro on food since I have been here, and none of us were getting anywhere. So we decided to head home. 2 girls in the Piazza were so blotto that one was lying on the ground. They had their host brother, who I knew from the meeting, pick them up, but I was upset! At the end of the night, I didn't have much money left, and I wasn't even buzzed, and these girls and others like them were what gave the University, and the rest of the world, a bad impression of people like me. I woke up this morning, and was far too hungover for how sober I was last night. Moral of the story? Drinking in Italy is amazing, because really cheap wine is better than what we get here, but getting drunk only works if you are either willing to shell out the big bucks.

Posted by Traveling Spoon 02:08 Comments (0)

Starting Real Life?

Host Family, First Bite of Pizza, Classes

Well Jim (Head of SUF Student Life), you're probably fertile at this point, because your pants have been on fire since day 1. All that stuff he said in the meeting to terrify us yesterday? Not true. Total bull. I met my host family yesterday night, and I totally lucked out! First off, we were told that it may be up to 30 minutes by bus away, but I can see campus from our kitchen porch - we are less than a block away. Secondly, they warned that everything would be smaller than we were used to. I figured NYC was good preparation, and then I arrive to a giant apartment, with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms... the only bigger apartment I saw in New York was where Alan, the best friend of Jack (one of the kids I nanny for), lived. Clue? I'm 99% sure he's the heir to the Kohl's department store fortune. We were told no shoes, she walked right in. We were told so many things, but my host mom is amazing. Her 40 year old son is nice (he has a lot of fish tanks in his room...). My roommate is amazing. And dinner? Well... I'll get there.

First, we were served a few cups of white wine while we unpacked our things. Our room is cute, with two twin beds in matching pink-rose coverlets. We each have a headboards embroidered by our host mom. Chelsea's, my roommate, has two dogs. Mine has an ultra realistic cat (complete with sassy "leave me alone" face) and a squirrel-deer. Its a squirrel. Kind of. We each have a dresser - her is sponge-painted blue and green, and mine is a dark wood dresser -half an armoire for our hanging clothes, and a shelf. My shelf has my travel books, and the crappy novels Mike got me from Borders, and then two small skeleton stuffed animals and a golf ball from the Jersey Shore, my journal and a few other things. The bed isn't the most comfortable, but it does the job. Chelsea is super sweet. She is from Franklin and Marshall, and she is an Art History/Business major.

SO DINNER! First, we had more wine, and then a heaping bowl of pesto pasta, covered in cheese and served with rustic bread. The pesto was definitely homemade, and the pasta might have been as well. After she cleared our bowls from the table, she dressed a salad of fresh shoots (pea shoots? something?) with the greenest olive oil I have ever seen, and salt. Delicious! The greens were so soft, but had a little crunch to them, and the dressing was very simple and was delicious with the fresh greens, and more bread. After that plate was cleared, she brought out homemade meatballs in homemade sauce, and more bread. For dessert, she pulled a giant chocolate mousse covered in mini-meringues out of the frigo, and cut me a wedge. When in Italy, I recommend tasting everything, but you might also want to know the phrase "Grazie, c'e delisioso, ma sono pieno!" (Thank you, its delicious, but I'm full!).

Today, I woke up bright and early (8:30). It was the first night of sleep I got that felt restful, but I also had a horrible dream. First, my dad and I were attacking each other, and then suddenly my dad climbed a tree and Mike and I started attacking each other. In my dream, I was not sympathetic towards the fact that I was also attacking them, I was mostly annoyed that they were chasing me. But a quick continental breakfast pretty much cleared my head, and I headed to the Villa Rossa for course registration. I got all my classes! I'm taking Family and Gender in Contemporary Italy, The Practice of Eros, A History of Witchcraft, Patterns of Modernity in 20th Century Italian Literature, Masterpieces of Art, and Visual Culture Past and Present: Representation, Gender and Identity in Renaissance Italy (and today...). No, that really is the name of the last course.

After that, Catherine and I wandered around and I tried pizza from this little shop:
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And then we saw some more amazing buildings:
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Finally, we got a little lost. Then I looked up, and peaking out from behind another building was "Il Duomo", the world's largest keystone dome!
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Posted by Traveling Spoon 06:45 Comments (0)

Firenze! Firenze!

The Layovers Were Completely Worth It!

I made it! Here's a recap of the last 72 hours:

I left Manhattan for JFK Airport. I tried to go the cheap way - the 1 to the 2 until 42nd street, then the plan was to get the E and connect to the Airtran... well, the E never came, so Mike and I hopped in a cab and told the cabby to book it. Can I just say I have the most patient boyfriend in the entire, ENTIRE universe? After a tearful goodbye at the airport, I met a wonderful fellow traveler named Catherine from Skidmore college. We navigated through security and made our way to the gate - 3 1/2 hours before our flight! We waited on the floor, and I popped an anti-anxiety pill in time for it to kick in for the flight, bought a mess of energy bars (at $3 a pop, no less) and borded the 747 to Frankfurt. I actually felt fine, calm enough and not horribly miserable, and just read my caterer-by-day-solves-murder-in-the-meantime book until I got sleepy (we were still on the runway). I zoned out, somewhere in between sleep and not, until a tray of unappealing dinner was put under my nose. Needless to say, I did not partake. It was pretty bumpy though, so I slipped another 1/2 a tablet, and the next thing I remember, I had a tray of unappealing breakfast under my nose - turns out, we were landing in 35 minutes!

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Once in Frankfurt, we just had to sit around. Diverted by an Italian strike, we had to make a French detour. There weren't enough chairs, so I sat on the floor with a few other people - I still hadn't met a single person from Syracuse on the Syracuse trip! After another wait, and another 1/2 a tablet, we boarded a plane to Nice. I was determined to stay awake and fight the jet lag, so there are some awesome photos from over the Alps!

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Upon arriving in Nice, we met up with another section of the trip, and got our luggage. Let me say, I thought I had packed too much - a rather large suitcase, strategically packed (thanks mom!) to the brim. I had nothing to worry about! In Nice, I saw girls with 3, 4 giant suitcases, which they proceeded to haul onto carts. All of the students then boarded the busses (with all the suitcases too, which wouldn't fit solely underneath) for a 6+ hour ride down the Riviera and through the mountains. Gorgeous! Before the sun went down, I managed to snap a few photos, but when it was dark, everything looked the same: dark ride up a mountain, peak, ride down a mountain into a valley that was dotted with orange streetlights, and back up another hill. We stopped at an Auto Grill - the Italian version of a rest stop - where I had my first Italian panino and bibito (grilled sandwich and spritzer). It was delicious! Eventually, I fell asleep, and woke up to our tour guide alerting us that we were officially in Firenze!

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In European cities, unlike the US, the outsides of the city are the most dangerous, poor parts; and Florence is no different. There were no mini-vans and Hockey moms the first few blocks, but rather mini-coopers and 5 street walkers (I'm not kidding). As we drove into the city proper, however, the atmosphere changed. Within the ancient medieval walls (which is now a large street), the city is amazing. The color scheme is mostly cream, tan, rust, olive; most of the buildings are plaster with shutters and tile roofs, and the streets are more like Boston than New York (or at least more like the West Village than Morningside Heights). We got to the Hotel, got our suitcases and crashed.

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At 8am (which felt like 2am, and I had only slept a little in the last day anyway), I woke up and rushed a breakfast, before we headed to La Villa Rossa for a day full of administration - keys, internet, and all sorts of other details. It was horribly unorganized, and everyone was half asleep! When I and a small group of new friends - Kelsey (also from Skidmore), Catherine, Anita (Williams), Njeri (Williams) and Sara (UDenver) - left campus in search of vino and gelato, I had my first real interaction with a real Italian! We wandered into a supermarket, and I managed to buy a 3 Euro bottle of Prosecco, and ask the cashier where the nearest gellateria was. It turns out that it was closed, so we hit up a pasticeria for some amazing butter cookies. Back at the hotel, I crashed through dinner, and woke up for a meeting for students staying with host families. So far, Syracuse had been pretty good, if a little hectic, but the head of their student life department lost my confidence in that meeting.

A panel of host families and the Italian director of the program sat behind him, and told us stories of how close they were with their students, how they loved having them, how one mother they knew had even been flown to America by a former student for the student's marriage. Lovely! Warm! Inviting! Then the student life guy got up. He proceeded to list about 100 things we should never do, some of which were common sense (help clean up after dinner, don't wake up the whole house if you get home late) reasonable cultural differences (Europeans don't snack, its strange to them if two parties eat in different rooms) and then a whole load of generalizing, extreme demands and stories that seemed meant to scare us into behaving (newsflash, I already behave...mostly). These included, but were not limited to:

- All Italians only wear slippers inside the house. None wear shoes, and wearing nothing is viewed as rude and unacceptable.
- As they aren't responsible for feeding us after breakfast on the weekends, we were told to "clear out" while they ate, so they didn't feel obligated to include us in the meal ("take a walk or something, just get out")
- If you have problems, "don't tell your parents"... he sounded totally like a pedophile...
- The best? "We had a kid last year who came home drunk, and tried to use his keys to get into the apartment below his by accident. The guy in the apartment thought he was being robbed, so he stabbed the kid. Dead." No, I am not kidding. He threatened bad behavior with stabbing.

And then he told us it would be the best experience of our lives, that we should relax over dinner and watch TV with them afterwards, and "really become a member of the Italian family". Good job, champ, I now was afraid of my host-family-to-be, and thought you were a complete douche (excuse my French).

But today was great! I got my syllabi and am going to meet my new host mom and roommate in about 25 minutes. So far I know that my host mom is French by origin (Liberte! Fraternite! Equalite!) and has two grown sons - a 39 year old who doesn't live with her and a 29 year old who does. She lives really close to campus, apparently, and loves cooking, music and movies. Sounds great! As for classes, I am going to take 6, or maybe 7 (the extra is a weaving class, don't judge my crazy course load), and I register tomorrow. All's well that ends well!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 08:14 Comments (1)

Goodbye Irene, Hello iPod Problems

The Hurricane that Never Came and 10,000 Songs I Can't Access

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She was the most popular girl on Facebook, including a status from my calculus teacher from high school that simply read "Irene slept over last night...Bitch." Ah yes, art school...

In any case, today is glorious! This morning, I headed to my local Mac store for a new battery, a new iPod cord, and an adapter kit for my laptop (I can now charge in the UK, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, China, North America (which I take it means the US, Canada and maybe Mexico), Japan, Korea and Continental Europe. I think its interesting that colonization clearly has a lasting impact - Hong Kong and the UK share the same bizarre plug - and that North America all shares the US plug... but maybe I'm reading into that too much). Then it was off to the bank to have boring and yet extraordinarily important discussions about money. FYI, the exchange rate is currently 1 euro = 1.4537 dollars.

Post-bank, I decided to head over to the cobblers... if I can only bring 4 pairs of shoes, they will be my favorites and I would like to have them in perfect shape before I go. 3/4 need work - My boots need small seals around the bottom of one side, my flats need some overall repairs done, and my lovely roommate who wore my black and gold heels to several sorority events (their colors are black and gold, how could I say no?) must hold her weight differently than me when she walks, because the tips of the stilettos are now worn in such a way that my ankles cave out if I wear them. Alas, when I hauled my armful of shoes to the cobblers, a small sign indicated that he will be on vacation until tomorrow (who knew cobbler's make good enough money for prolonged vacations?). There is another errand for tomorrow.

Eager to put my mac purchases to good use, I tried to re-work an iPod a friend of mine gave me, and pull her songs and music off. I checked 4 different programs to pull it, but no free version was worth my time, so I purchased a Senuti (iTunes spelt backwards :p) account... only to find she had ripped her music and Senuti couldn't move it for me. So I restored it, put my music on and moved on with my life (and lost 3 seasons of 30 Rock).

Posted by Traveling Spoon 11:09 Comments (0)

Srsly?

3 Pairs?

3 Pairs???

3 Pairs???

Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:40 Comments (0)

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