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Rome(ing) Around the City Again

Pardon my puns. It may be bad, but it is true. This last weekend I went on a field trip to Rome with one of my classes, “Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini.” I had gone to Rome about five weeks previous, but with my study abroad program. The first trip, we hit the highlights of the city including the Pantheon, Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. We sadly, were unable to make it to the Vatican or to the Borghese Gallery, both of which house some of the art I was most interested in seeing in Rome. Thankfully, I knew I was going back to Rome for my class! In the class, we thoroughly discuss the styles of the three artists mentioned. Michelangelo is known for his works in Florence and Rome during the High Renaissance. Arguably, he can be considered the figurehead for the Renaissance and Mannerism is developed following his style. Caravaggio and Bernini are known for their work in Rome that shaped the Baroque era of the late 1500’s to 1600’s. Personally, I prefer the expressionism of Bernini and Caravaggio for their tendencies to more exaggerated motion and figures. I suppose this is why I also happen to love the rise of Modernism in the 19th century (think revolting against previous norms in art a la Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, etc.). Regardless of the kind of art you may fancy, I believe this weekend’s art would have appealed to anyone.

My roommate, Kate, and I are in this class together, so we left for the train station in the morning together on Saturday. Our train left at 7:38 am and arrived in Rome a little after 9 am. We visited three churches in the morning to begin the day. Every place we went to had some significance for our course. The first church was San Pietro in Vincoli. Michelangelo carved a tomb for Pope Julius II that was placed here. It was never completed, but the most recognizable statue is his Moses. The second church was San Luigi dei Francesi. This church was created for the French Catholics residing in the area. Caravaggio’s first commission from the Catholic church was here in a chapel dedicated to St. Matthew. A cycle of three paintings was commissioned, one of them being the famous The Calling of St. Matthew. The last church we visited before lunch was Sant’Agostino. It had another painting by Caravaggio in it, Madonna di Loretto. 

After lunch, we visited the Vatican. We went to the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel, and to tour St. Peter’s Basilica. This was amazing. If anyone has ever been to see this, you’d know what I mean. Regardless of your faith background, it is awe-inspiring. The letters written below the drum are about 9 feet high, the huge canopy over the alter is about 7 stories high, and the dome is the highest in Rome. Coming from a faith background, this place was significant to me as it is deemed the seat of modern Christianity. I honestly was overwhelmed with emotion. The piece playing in my head during this time was “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem. Although, granted, this piece was written over 100 years after the completion of the basilica. I teared up twice.

Sunday, we went to the Borghese Gallery in the morning. Here, I presented with my roommate, Kate, over Sacred and Profane Love by Titian. In this gallery are amazing works by Bernini. His Apollo and Daphne, David, and Rape of Prosperina are all presented here. The sculptures invite you to walk around them fully. They are sculpted with heightened drama, emotion, and motion. They are amazing and beautiful. The details are divine and delicate. It is amazing that they were once whole blocks of marble.

We walked to three churches for the early afternoon: Santa Maria della Vittoria, San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, and San Andrea al Quirinale. The first has Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, the second is remarkable for the facade by Borromini, and the third was closed when we tried to visit it. The group split up for the afternoon until we met back up again at the hotel to catch our train. I ate pasta carbonara, Rome is known for this, and went to the Trevi fountain again after. The day was long, again, and I enjoyed my time. We crammed a lot of things into the two days we were in the city, but I was happy to see what I wanted from not getting to a month or so ago.

This weekend, I’m off to Paris! This is going to be one of the highlights of my semester because I am going to spend a lot of time in the Louvre and seeing art! Ah! I can’t wait. My art history nerd self is going to have a heyday. There are only 21 days left abroad (where did the time go?), but I am making the most of my time left!

Family Fun

My family came to visit me last week! Two members, my mother and brother, made the long, transatlantic journey to spend a week in Italy. Honestly, I didn’t realize how much I missed them until they got here. My missing someone isn’t an active, mournful missing in which I am full of grief. There isn’t this homesickness invading my thoughts or miserable wishfulness. Instead, my missing someone is wanting to share these experiences with that person and wishing he or she were here to enjoy these experiences together. This goes for my boyfriend, my family, and my friends from home. I love sharing what I am doing in Florence, but would love to have them here to do them with me!

To have family here and share in this Italian experience, for however brief, was wonderful. It did feel strange, I admit, when they left and I didn’t go home with them. It felt wrong, almost, for me to say and them to leave. This isn’t a vacation for me, like it was for them… I live here. They were just visiting. It was surreal that one week ago we were exploring churches and watching the sunset together from a picturesque view. Although I am sad they left, I truly want to make the most of the one month I have left. I am going to make this city my own. It finally feels like it now as I’ve grown accustomed to Italian and navigation, right in the last thirty days. This is a short post, but I just wanted to say how happy and thankful I am for my family and how eager I am to be reunited with loved ones at home!

Below are pictures from what we did together!

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We climbed to the top of the bell tower and the cupola of the dome of the main cathedral of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. This picture is from the top of the bell tower.
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View from Piazzale Michelangelo
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Pompeii ruins
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The Isle of Capri is easily the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Italy.
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Capri waters

Moher, Missed Flight, Midterms…Madness

I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to keep up with blogging. I have a hard enough time posting pictures for friends and family to see on Facebook, so I honestly am not sure why I didn’t foresee this struggle. Almost four weeks ago, I went to Rome. It was everything and more for my nerdy, history-loving heart. Since it was close to a month ago, I’ll forgo telling stories about it, except that I cried when I saw the Pantheon, somehow was in a Pride rally, and ate my fill of a buffet breakfast for two mornings in a row. The Italians do not hold breakfast in the same regard as Americans (or Irish or British) do. Bacon, how I miss thee.

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Back to Ireland: It was magical. From the kindness of the people to the beauty of the landscape, I am in love. The people are marvelous. Dublin and Galway were the two main cities I visited. Dublin was a hub and full of life. I enjoyed being able to speak English again. The accents were fabulous and the kindness of everyone was tangible. After a touring day in Dublin and a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, we went to Galway. Galway is latitudinally across the country on the west coast. We took a detour to see the Cliffs of Moher before venturing to the city though. They are absolutely gorgeous. Florence isn’t the greenest place on this earth, so to bear witness to such a marvelous site of nature was restorative to my soul. Once we explored and took pictures there, we went to Galway and ate lunch and walked around the city. Galway is traditional. People walked by speaking Irish as well as English. Although the language of Ireland is Irish, most people speak English due to the influence of England. It was amazing to walk by groups of people and hear the traditional language spoken. The group of girls I was with also ventured into jewelry stores after lunch to purchase Claddagh rings, as they were first created in Galway. Even though I’m not Irish, I bought one! That evening we returned to Dublin and had more pub experiences, complete with Guinness! Now here is where the fun truly begins: missed flight.

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I left for the London airport from Dublin early in the morning at 3 am on Monday. (Sunday was a free day for me and I explored around the city and went shopping) My flight left about 30 minutes late though, so I rushed through security and all but sprinted to my gate. Of course, the gate closed right as I arrived around 8 am. Therefore, I trudged back from whence I came and rearranged my flight for the great price of 100 pounds! 100 pounds, unfortunately is roughly $140, and my flight wasn’t leaving for another 11 hours. I was miserable, stuck in a dingy airport (Stansted is not like Heathrow), and needed to study for midterms. Only one free hour of wifi was available though, so I had to budget my time wisely. I was tired, hungry, poor, and in sore need of a shower. To the best of my ability, I studied for two midterms the next day, budgeted when I could eat, and tried to drink lots of water. Time passed so slowly. Eventually I was able to get the plane and made it, but of course, this was also 30 minutes late. My Pisa arrival was pushed back even further, and I still had to take a bus to get back to Florence from the Pisa airport. When all was said and done, I made it to my apartment at 1:30 am, promptly took a shower, ate leftover pasta, and fell asleep for a few meager hours before I needed to take two midterms the next morning.

It was a mistake to travel right before midterms. Of course, I realize that now, but I didn’t know I would be back so late. My original intentions were to get back to Florence early in the afternoon, take a nap, and study into the evening. Life doesn’t quite work out just the way we want, and I spent my day in the airport studying poorly. Although I wouldn’t change my Ireland experience, I regret leaving a day later than most people. At least my midterms are over, I improved with each one, and my professor knew my story. She actually asked me what was wrong with my eyes during the first exam. Apparently I looked terrible and she wasn’t afraid to comment on it.

Life lesson: Don’t travel before midterms, give yourself plenty of time for layovers, and bring a piece of technology, because you never know if you’ll be stranded for 11 hours and need some way to entertain yourself.

Kate (the Great) Date

My roommate, Kate, and I get along very well. We love the television and book series Outlander, are are enamored with Downton Abbey, and are major art history nerds. That being said, we are in an art history class together on Thursdays at 9:00 am. Our courses are 2.5 hours long, but only occur once a week. In these classes, we learn about various works and then go on-site to see them firsthand. Last week, for example, we went to the Bargello museum and viewed some of Michelangelo’s early sculptures we discussed not thirty minutes previous.

After class is over, Kate and I are both hungry. A shared look passes between us and we know that we’re about to hunt for something good. Two or three weeks ago, we ventured across the Arno river, about thirty minutes away, to get legendary American bagels. I feel so un-Italian when I admit that I get American food once a week, but then I remember the variety available back in the States. It isn’t uncommon to eat Mexican food one night for dinner, but feast on Chinese food the next. This fact makes me feel better, and also a little spoiled in the way we get such a mish-mash of cultures at home. Anyway, we chose different bagel sandwiches and cried a little inside.

Last week, we went to another American place and got ourselves some brunch at a local cafe specializing in American breakfast foods. Although it is American food, Italians frequent here, too. Our waiter, therefore, knew both Italian and English. Most shops in Florence employ people who know basic English as this city is filled with tourists and study abroad students. English is generally the common language for transactions, unless, of course, you are Italian. It is nice to be in a restaurant where Italian is the predominant language, and this little cafe is just like that. It is called La Vespa and is charming and quaint; similar to local brunch places in Kansas City. I had a breakfast burrito and Kate had a traditional egg, bacon, and toast combination platter. Again, we cried inside at the taste of home. It was absolutely delicious.

Afterwards, we went to a cafe called La Menagere. Again, this place is frequented by many locals and visitors alike. It is a cafe, bistrot, restaurant, flower shop, and even has a space for live music. Needless to say, it is large and beautiful. It faintly reminds me of Anthropologie from home. There are colorful couches interspersed with real tables and chairs for seating, and there is a lower level in addition to an heated patio outside. Although laptops and homework set us apart as Americans, we brought both to cross some schoolwork off our agendas. At normal bars (in Italy, a cafe/coffeeshop is a bar), one goes to the front to order and generally takes the espresso or drink there, if by yourself, but this cafe has waitresses milling around to take your order. We both ordered cappuccinos and settled in to work on our assignments.

That’s just a taste of what my Thursdays are like with Kate. She’s a marvelous lady, enjoys alone time just as much as I do, and is one of the kindest, most understanding humans I’ve ever met. Abby and Kate Dates on Thursdays are something I look forward to every week. Making friends in Florence was something I was nervous about, but having a roommate turn into a dear friend is a relief. I am grateful for this experience and for Kate!

Garden Teacher

No, I am not taking a horticulture class as I study abroad. The title of this post comes from my art history professor. She introduced herself by having us repeat her name back to her and then asking if anyone knew what her name meant. Only one student in this class is fluent in Italian, so he was the lone soul who answered for us. As it turns out, her last name means “garden.” She told us if we ever forget her name or how to pronounce it, we can simply call her Ms. Garden. Something as basic as this introduction shows me that I will enjoy my time in her class. All three of my art history classes are taught by her and I can honestly say I am eager to be in the lectures.

Every art history professor I’ve had the fortune of taking a course with is passionate about what he or she studies. Each is obviously an expert in the period that he or she has chosen, but all of them desire for this expertise to be worn off on his or her students. My professors teach me to look critically at a work of art, to go past the aesthetics and examine the work from a social, political, etc. context. She has this passion, but it means even more abroad because she is from and continues to reside in the city housing the art she is passionate about.

In my second class with her last week, she told us that she has learned so much more about the world through the lenses of art history. She told us she is not a wonderful historian, but has understood history by reading the images, the art. She has understood science and politics through the context of art history. She told us that this subject is a vehicle to understand the past.

Yesterday, in my first class of the week with her, we took a field trip to the church we were just discussing in the classroom. Our classes are two and a half hours, so we have the time to take excursions into the city. What other experience is like this? My professors at home lecture over images of works of art or architecture projected over a screen, but here, my professor highlights the frescoes by Giotto as we walk through the church, points out the wooden beams as we wander underneath them, and has us pay attention to the stones used in the columns as we touch them when we pass. I feel so fortunate to be here.

In the second class of the week with her yesterday, we continued to discuss Giotto. She told us that her professor gave her a 29 out of 30 for some project, and when she asked the professor why she was marked down, she was told it was because she was too passionate. She then told us that she does not like to say she deserves anything, but she felt that she deserved the 30 out of 30 because to be passionate about what you do and learn is good. She said she was angry and believes her professor is wrong. She said that we, as art historians, do not need to be passionate about what she is passionate about, or cool with what she is cool about, but to be passionate about something. That, she said, is what marks a good art historian.

And then she proceeded to tell us about one of her favorite frescoes and explain what makes her passionate about it, jokingly, with hopes of making us passionate about it, too.

Ciao!

A Little Pisa My Heart

I’ve been a wanderin’ all around the Italian countryside for the past two weekends. Here’s the rundown from last weekend:

Venice:

We took a bus here on Friday, February 5th. I honestly don’t remember how long the bus ride was, but it was long enough for me to wish there was an in-transit food service. We got to Venice, parked the bus, and went with our group to the ferries/water buses to get to the main square. It was a chilly day with the breeze, but it was sunny, so we warmed up nicely. Going through the main canals between islands was lovely on this huge boat. I kept my eyes peeled for the library Indiana Jones goes to in the third movie, but I had no such luck finding it. Sadly. We disembarked the bus, and walked to San Marco’s square. At this point, my friends and I started freaking out at the sights because Carnevale was in full swing. People were dressed up in extravagant, detailed costumes posing for pictures with tourists. Confetti and masks were being sold from every vendor, and despite the chill, we felt warm and happy to be a part of this day.

We found lunch at a hole-in-the-wall pasta shop with our tour group. The shop gave us a container of pasta (whichever kind we wanted) and a drink for 6€. I bought a dense alfredo fusilli that caused my fork to break as I was digging out the noodles. A worthy sacrifice. So tasty. We then followed our group to a glass blowing demonstration. I marveled. I oo’d and ahh’d and couldn’t afford a single thing in the storeroom. But by golly, I can say I touched real Murano glass. Everything for sale was truly beautiful though. The intricacies of each piece were astounding and I marveled that someone made every detail by hand. I was impressed, to say the least.

We were free for the rest of the time to do what we wanted, so my group spent time finding masks to purchase and then taking fun pictures throwing confetti. Our day was made when multiple photographers started taking our pictures, too. We felt famous, so we grinned even wider and giggled even louder. One even took a polaroid of us and let us keep it. I now follow him on Facebook. Our group took a side trail to San Marco’s as well. Entering the church was an experience. Truly, I felt the presence of the Lord and I cried when I was in there because I was so overwhelmed with the splendor. I remained quiet and wandered over to an alcove where I prayed and gave to the offering so I could light a candle, although I’m not even Catholic.

Here's a small group of us throwing our confetti in our masks.
Here’s a small group of us throwing our confetti in our masks.

After this, we went to dinner (which wasn’t that great, but Margherita pizza is hard to mess up), and continued to wander the city. At night, Venice is much calmer, and I enjoyed walking along the narrow, winding streets over bridges, past old buildings and through alleyways. This city is vibrant and unique. It didn’t feel like a real city, rather something Hollywood created. All these different islands are connected, and I was impressed I didn’t get lost. It was a unique day and I appreciate the time I spent in this one-of-a-kind floating city. We left late in the evening and got back to our apartment in Florence around 1 am where we fell blissfully asleep and decided to not leave until late the next day.

Here's a sample of the bridges and canals common to Venice.
Here’s a sample of the bridges and canals common to Venice.

Pisa:

We slept in on Saturday. No way were we getting up early after our day in Venice. On our own, we went to the train station and figured out how to buy our tickets. I am proud to say that I can now travel by train through Italy. The train ride to Pisa was about an hour long, so we were there in no time. We disembarked and worked out way towards the Leaning Tower. Since we’re poor college students, we decided to not climb the tower and instead took classic tourist pictures. I’m not even sorry about them.

Here’s my tourist picture.

My roommate has a friend in Pisa, so he met us at the tower and took us to lunch. We ate sandwiches with bread made from fried, salty dough. Wow, those were tasty. Again, it was a hole-in-the-wall place known to locals. I was thankful for him, too, because he helped translate for us. Generally, pointing works well, but having a bridge between languages is better for more in depth communication. He gave us a free dessert sandwich with nutella and marzipan. I spilled a part of it on my jacket. Oops.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about Pisa. The Leaning Tower is obviously a huge draw to the city, but besides that, it is a sleepy, Tuscan town. Again, in all honesty, I loved it. The fact it was quiet and small made me content. It felt homey. I was pleased to wander around this city without the stress of tourists everywhere. At the tower, there were plenty of visitors, but it wasn’t crowded. Also, I could see sky and the roads were wider, so I felt less claustrophobic than I did in Venice.

I commented to my friends that this is a city to raise a family in. It is sweet, small, and sleepy, but does have a draw to it for some reason or another. It is my kind of place and I felt at home.

All in all, it was a good, first weekend of travel. I’m glad I can say I experienced each city and look forward to visiting many others. I’m loving every bit of what Italy has to offer!

First Four in Firenze

Phew! I’ve made it to my new Florentine home. Here’s how things have gone down in the past four days. First of all, it is Saturday around 6:30 pm as I type this, and I got here Wednesday morning, and this is the first I’ve been alone. As an introvert, it is nice to decompress with this time and write.

Tuesday:

  • Woke up and drove to MCI to catch the 7:30 am flight to Atlanta
  • 5 hour layover for international flight, drank too sweet of an iced latte, prepared for take-off
  • 8.5 hour flight to Paris, sat next to a Moroccan student going home from his study abroad experience

Wednesday:

  • Landed in Paris at 5:40 am, navigated around the MASSIVE airport (this sucker is gigantic)
  • Flight from Paris to Florence, landed around 9 am Florence time
  • Transported back to the apartment and climbed the 88 stairs (with my luggage) to my new home for the next 3.5 months
  • Took a shower, unpacked, and napped before orientation in the evening, realized I had been up for almost 22 hours
  • Began to navigate and withdrew Euros from the local bank, in awe of casually walking by the Duomo everyday (teared up)
  • Orientation and dinner in the evening, first Margherita pizza and it was so good
  • GELATO
  • Sleep, finally
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This is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as Il Duomo di Firenze, also known as the Duomo. I walk by this every single day.

 

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My first meal in Florence, Margherita pizza.

Thursday:

  • Tried out my Italian to order in a coffeeshop, mine is poor, thankful for people who understand minor bits of English
  • Espresso and chocolate croissants may be my new favorite things
  • Orientation with ISA
  • Explored the Mercato Centrale by San Lorenzo for fresh fruit and bread and meat
  • Ate fresh mozzarella and pesto open-faced sandwiches
  • Walking tour of Florence, fan-girled over the art and architecture everywhere
  • Dinner at a heavily trafficked American restaurant, must branch out to the non-American places
  • GELATO
  • Wandered Florence at night, slowly getting my bearings
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My delicious and beautiful breakfast.

Friday:

  • Walked to the Arno and ate a delicious chocolate croissant for breakfast, along with an espresso (new classic)
  • Orientation at the university, fan-girled over the school and my classes
  • Ate lunch at a panino shop for €5, absolutely delicious, will frequent here twice a week, can save other half for later
  • Hike to Piazzale Michelangelo, walked into my first basilica of the semester, San Miniato al Monte (cried here)
  • Wandered around Florence, walked into boutiques, found a gelato place that was filled with locals, good sign
  • GELATO
  • Planned weekend trips with roommates
  • Welcome reception in the evening in a Renaissance palazzo
  • Wandered to find a little dinner place, ate delicious tiramisu, went promptly home to sleep
  • Didn’t fall asleep until 2 am
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Here’s a beautiful view of Tuscany from the mini hike.

Saturday:

  • Woke up at noon, got ready to meet a friend for wandering/shopping
  • Walked Florence alone and got to where I needed all by myself, proud big girl moment
  • Bought a Florentine leather bag from the market by San Lorenzo
  • Met some girls to plan the weekend trips
  • Ate other half of panino in bed to decompress and listened to American music
  • Typed up this post and will now peruse the Italian Netflix selection

Ciao!

One Week (Left) in America

In precisely one week from now I will be on a transatlantic flight to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Considering it is rather late in the USA right now, I will be closer to landing in Paris than I was to taking off. Who would have thought I’d be typing that, huh?! In all honesty, this opportunity doesn’t feel real; despite the fact my Four Year Plan prominently labeled this semester “ABROAD” since the second week of my freshman year of college. Again, it does not feel real despite the fact I started packing last week. It is also regardless of the notebook in my purse filled with lists ranging from photocopies I need to make, varying packing lists, to-do lists, and a rough schedule of weekends abroad. It does not feel real, although it probably does to the friends who I have pestered with questions for the past month. Even though my Pinterest has been accumulating articles such as, “The Top 15 Things You Need to Bring (or something to that measure) to XYZ” for months, I am in disbelief that this is about to happen.

(Can you tell I’m a planner?)

Before I leave, there are plenty of tasks I need to complete, such as finishing a few loads of laundry, make those pesky photocopies, finish packing/cutting down the wardrobe I want to, but don’t need to, lug with me, and even take the MCAT. “Oh, wait,” you may be thinking, “The MCAT, doesn’t that make you a person wanting to become a doctor?” Well, yes, you are right, in fact it does. Although I will graduate with a B.S. in Biology, Pre-Med emphasis, one of my minors is Art History. Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the famous Renaissance period, only seems logical.

In high school, I enrolled in a humanities course to fulfill a graduation requirement, and had little to no perception of the world around me in terms of art. Little did I know it would revolutionize not only the way I view the world, but myself. The class was taught from an interdisciplinary approach as a Debate/Speech/Art History/English teacher co-taught with a history teacher. Humanities combined sociology, anthropology, art, and world history. It was in this class that I began to examine the relationship between humanity and the creation of art.

Art is not merely an aesthetically appealing painting by Van Gogh (whom I dearly love) or a soaring cathedral, although this provides a good deal of value to our modern sensibilities. Rather, art is a response to and even a reflection of a society’s culture. We can examine the surviving art from different periods to catch a glimpse into the past and learn more about a particular society’s values, norms, religion, politics, etc. Many do not realize art has this intrinsic, revealing power, but the three semester survey course challenged me to dig past the visual and apparent What? and search for answers to the question Why? After this course, I finally saw myself as a person who was more than science or math, but someone who was, and still is, after the answers to Why? 

I truly don’t think it will be real to me until I walk down the Florentine streets and see the daily life intertwined with art with each step. History will come alive and I don’t think I will get over it. My studies for the past 5 years will culminate with this experience. Then, then I will know this is real.

But first, I have to get through this one week in America and really finish packing.

Ciao!