Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Beginning


At last, without further adieu, I present... my very first post from Florence.

I hope to record a lot on this thing, mostly for the sake of my own memory. Some days I may need to resort to a bullet-point list of the days activities, but for the most part I intend to be as descriptive as possible! Hopefully. We'll see. 

The voyage here was actually pretty pleasant. A little exhausting, but it went without a snag. Didn't miss a connection, didn't lose anything (can you believe it!??!), and I actually really enjoyed the six hour layover in Heathrow. I wandered through the international terminal, took a nap next to a large group of obnoxious, but charming swedish pre-teens, and read quite a bit of my Italian book and "Wine for Dummies". I also splurged on a 2-pound (four dollar tall latte) at Starbucks, and a ten-pound (twenty... dollar...) alarm clock, just in case my phones didn't wake me up for the 6:30 am train from Milan. 

Magically, I found my way to every place I needed to go, including in the Milan airport. The hostel was great too. I was warmly greeted by two Japanese girls and an English dude who were staying there. The lady who ran the hostel was so matronly, it was wonderful! She helped me call a cab in the morning, even after I had to wake her up at 6 am to give her the key and to check out. Eek. 

Even the train from Milan to Florence was an enlightening experience. I was able to assist an Italian mother and daughter who asked me if the train went to Rome. I said, “Roma dopo Firenze.” Which means, “Rome after Florence”!  Simple, yes, but I was just glad I was able to say something that she understood. She must’ve thought I was, or spoke Italian because then she and her daughter started speaking to me, but I could only understand some of it. The mother went to buy them some refreshments, and while she was gone an English couple came and asked the girl if her mother’s seat was taken. I was able to translate and helped resolve the issue. Apparently there are assigned seats on the tickets, and the Italians were in the English couple’s seats.

Lugging my enormous orange suitcase and unassumingly heavy duffel around was not fun. But I made it, and that’s what counts! I arrived about 5 minutes early for orientation. There I met my roommates and our advisors and other helpful/authoritative people. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better bunch of roomies. I feel like I have something huge in common with each of them and the four of us just sort of click. Four is good number to have in an apartment, and so far it’s been working really well.  They’re extremely bright, and collectively I think we realize the potential of this opportunity and intend to make the most of it. We all chose “international roommate” as opposed to “American roommate”, but since there weren’t

 enough internationals to house us with, they grouped us together. Each of us has been out of the country several times, and I think we have a pretty good grasp on what and what not to do to avoid being your typical American tourist. I’ve been trying to weed out the clothing in my wardrobe that seems even slightly American… The real benefits will come once we refine our language skills. One of the girls knows about as much Italian as me, and the others never took it, but are picking it up quickly because they’ve studied other languages.

The school and faculty seem excellent as w

ell. I was really worried that I’d be attending an American founded school filled with American students abroad… but no! The school is very international, and has had some impressive guest speakers, mostly from the fashion world - Vivian Westwood, Ferregamo, and Moschino, to name a few. The school has about 30% Italian students, and the rest are from a variety of countries around the world. I’m desperately hoping my Mixed Media and Printing on Textiles courses are with Italians and other Europeans.  

Amazing. I’ve written 5 paragraphs and I haven’t even gotten to our apartment, the wine tasting in Chianti, or the food!

Our apartment is the exact one I found on Google Earth- an arched doorway on a smaller street just east of the church of Santa Croce.  It’s spacious, it’s bright, it’s airy. It’s also on the third floor, which is only accessible by a never-ending series of uneven and winding stairs. The apartment far surpassed what I expected. We have two bathrooms! And all of the furniture is from Ikea. We’ve been having some electrical issues though. Two of our outlets didn’t work when we arrived, and a fuse blew last night. Also, the mosquitos (zanzare – sounds so menacing!) are brutal. They seem to be even more stealthy and harder to catch than the American ones. According to one of our roommates, le zanzare are repelled by mint mouthwash, so we’ve been dribbling drops of Listerine on our skin before bed. God, I can’t wait until they all die. Chilly autumn come sooner!

Gelato. Prosciutto. Cheeeeeeeessseeeee. I’ve had gelato everyday since we’ve been here. It’s interesting to see how the prices vary depending on the location. One gelateria charged 4 euro for a small cone, while one a little further out was only 1.50 euro. Prosciutto and good cheese is so affordable. Last night we bought sizable portions of brie, taleggio, and the creamiest goddamn gorgonzola I’ve ever tasted, each for only about 2 euro each. The prosciutto is excellent and also only a couple euro for a somewhat large package. And the mozzarella and tomatoes are divine! Insalata Caprese done right!

Chianti is only about a half hour bus ride from the city. The entire Arcadia program, about 25 of us, went on the trip. We first went to Greve, then Castillina (really beautiful), and finally to Il Palaggio, a historic vineyard that produces Chianti Classico, Chianti Riserva, three varieties of olive oil, and some other varieties of wine.  One of which is a desert wine, typically a “holy wine” called Vinsanto?. I couldn’t stand it. The strong alcoholic scent of it made me feel nauseous. The Chiantis were pretty good, and they presented t

he wines with foods ranging from pecorino (sheep’s cheese) with chutney, bruschetta, prosciutto, olive pate, and a Tuscan bread soup (amazing!). At last, I can drink wine openly, and do so with class. Plus, I finally know what I’m doing. We practiced “tasting” the wine. Swirling, looking, sniffing, gurgling, etc.

Me with giant historic barrel of Chianti Classico:

We had quite the adventure Saturday evening after orientation when we attempted to find the cell phone/internet venue we had a coupon for. We were so caught up in getting to know each other and got so sidetracked by sights, shops, and old buildings, doorknockers, and balconies, that we ended up walking in the opposite direction of the store. It was a good time regardless. Later that evening, after an unsuccessful quest for a good pub to watch the Italian soccer game in, we finally found some fun spots to hang out including a Latin pub called Salamanca. 

Us lost:

- From left to right: Sarah, Margaret, and Signe (Sig-nee)

FYI, Italians don’t drink to get drunk, and I think that’s awesome. I’m not really a big fan of drunken stupidity, and much prefer it when people can carry on a good conversation when they’re out.

Yesterday we went up to the top of the Duomo, but were able to walk around the building on the terraces that they open only one day a year. Which was yesterday, obviously. It was amazing, I got some fantastic photos.

Along with a bit too much clothing, I brought my cynicism to Firenze. And I am directing it at American tourists. As of yet, I love everything here, except the tourists. Yes, I know. I’m a tourist. I’m American. I’m occasionally obnoxious, ignorant, awkward, and arrogant. But I hope to keep all of those things in check. Half of the Americans I see are students like my roommates and me, but I just can’t stand them. It’s hard to explain. I think a number of reasons contribute my resentment. Some of them are just obviously not making an effort. Others are, but eventually I see through them, and then somehow I end up feeling like a fraud myself. Someone who studied abroad told me that when you meet Americans abroad, you share some sort of kinship or “fraternity”. I feel the complete opposite. I want Florence for myself and my roommates. This is completely irrational, I know, but I can’t help wishing it were that way. I’m being possessive of a city that I’ve been in for… 5 days. Perhaps I’m being over eager to really “assimilate”, and maybe a couple months from now, American company will be comforting or something. But I doubt it. I guess the most positive thing I can take from this is that I need to do my best to avoid perpetuating the stereotype and to really make an effort to absorb everything from the culture.

Finally, today was our first day of class. I only have Italian on Wednesdays, and I found out I was placed in the highest level! It was pretty intense, but I think I can keep up. There will be some shifting around but I sort of hope I stay in the more challenging course. When the teacher asked me how long I’ve been studying Italian, and I said only one semester, she was impressed and said that I spoke beautifully for just one semester. This was all in Italian, of course.

Tomorrow I start the hard ones! Mixed Media and Printing on Textiles will be taught in Italian!


  1. Christinaaaaaa!!!
    Love the blog. Missing you
    One thing though, you shouldn't lie and say things such as "Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better bunch of roomies." I could think of three better ones. But love hearing about everything you've done, especially the gelato part!!! Be safe


  2. Hey Chris - Dad & Maria commenting. Maria first: I loved your first post. I can actually "see" the places you are visiting and I can almost taste the wonderful wine, food and gelato. Buonissimo!! Hey, you're planning on coming back to the States, right? Enjoy your stay, learn everything they teach you and keep updating your blog so that your dad & I can enjoy Italy with you.
    Dad: What a wonderful opening blog. Words can't describe how excited and proud we are of you. I'm very pleased at your effort to be considerate towards the Italians. Just be yourself. The Locals understand that there's a few "schifosi" from other countries. I can't wait to see you. Save me some wine & cheese. Love, Pops.

  3. Sounds so amazing! It's 5:30am here and I'm rushing around trying to get things done before I leave in fifteen mins, so I can't respond in detail, but HOW GREAT! I'm so happy for you and proud of your Italian and it sounds affordable and DELICIOUS there. HOW long can I stay for??? :D

    Great writing, btw. Really fantastic.

  4. Wow Christina, Your Mom sent this to me tonight and I loved that she shared that with me. It sounds like a wonderful, amazing journey you are on honey. Have a great weekend. Hugs and Kisses Aunt Kathy