Well, my semester abroad is very quickly coming to a close and that thought honestly makes me feel nauseous. And that doesn’t even count that a few days after returning home that I’ll be going up to the freezing cold of Kent, OH for my college graduation. Or that I’m still not sure what I’m doing with my life after graduation; I have an internship lined up, but what about long-term? Yeah, I’m already stressed enough about having to leave Italy without adding the fear of graduation and what comes after. I’m not freaking out, you’re freaking out. I keep trying to take my professor’s advice of taking one thing at a time, or another professor’s advice to “stop stressing,” but everything seems to have been piling on for months and now I’m completely buried and didn’t notice it until now. I guess I’ll slowly have to dig myself out.
In the past month, my best friend came to visit for a weekend, I took a school trip to the Chianti region and wasn’t allowed to have any wine, went to the Uffizi Gallery twice, the Accademia two more times, went to Bologna, saw an opera, designed a magazine, showed my family around Florence, and went to Venice and Vincenza with my family. It’s been a lot less traveling than the previous months, but I’ve loved being able to see more of Florence. And now I’m even more sad that I have to leave.
In order to make the move less painful, I have decided to make a list of things that I absolutely will NOT miss about this boot-shaped country.
MOSQUITOES. It’s December, so why are they still here? When do they die???
STAIRS. Stairs, stairs, everywhere.
NOT HAVING A DRYER. I understand the reasoning behind why there aren’t dryers, but drying racks take FOREVER for my clothes to be ready to wear.
THE LACK OF ICED COFFEE. As a self-proclaimed addict, this was (and still is) still tough for me.
THE LACK OF STARBUCKS. This goes off #4 but is still important to note.
THE LACK OF ONE-STOP SHOPPING. I really miss Target.
THE LACK OF AMERICAN FAST-FOOD. This speaks for itself.
Not sure why this turned out like a Buzzfeed article. Maybe I’m just a spoiled American, but I honestly didn’t think I’d find myself missing so much of my Americanized culture.
(Disclaimer: The past few months have been amazing and the list is literally just to make the switch easier. When I get back, I’ll probably end up missing everything I thought I wouldn’t miss. Not mosquitos though. I’ll never miss the mosquitos.)
In all seriousness, studying in Florence has been the most incredible experience of my life. (WARNING: Major cheese coming up.) I will forever be grateful for this city, the people I met, and the places I’ve been. Adjusting to this semester hasn’t been easy and there have been quite a few bumps in the road, I can honestly say that I have grown so much in the past few months. I’m not crying, you’re crying. I am more confident, less likely to take shit from people (sorry, bad word, whoops), and have a better vision of the path to take to happiness. I’m becoming proud of the person I am becoming and I have this semester to thank for that. I’m still me, an extremely anxious bean, but I’m growing, sprouting if you will (bean pun lol), to become a better version of myself. 2019 better watch out. Thank you to all my friends and professors, and thank you Firenze.
Hot diggity-dog, I have been one busy bean! Buckle in and grab some popcorn; this will be a long one.
Since we last spoke, I have visited 5 new cities and 2 new countries. Traveling has absorbed my weekends, but now I finally have a few weeks where I get to stay in my newfound home of Florence…that is unless I get the travel bug again and make my bank account cry.
The weekend after my panicked day in Munich, I went to Rome on a school organized trip which means I was lucky enough to be accompanied by two of my CCI (College of Communication and Information) professors and my itty bitty CCI cohort of +3. Fabio, the Kent State Florence CCI director, lives in Rome…meaning he was able to give us the full inside scoop of his favorite city.
In our short few days, we visited the Pantheon, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Aventine Hill, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Cinecittà Studios, Domus Aurea, the Jewish Ghetto, Vatican City, and Trevi Fountain. While Rome was incredible at every turn, the best part about the city was being able to hang out with my tiny CCI family. We spent our short four days laughing, learning, and just generally enjoying each other’s company. I feel guilty thinking about how fast the semester is zooming by and that I’ll soon graduate and start missing our little family. (In case y’all see this: Erin, Kalib, Mel, Fabio, and Francesca…I love you guys a whole whole lot.)
The next weekend I went on the only trip I had booked before arriving in Italy. My roommate, Arin, and I had been planning this visit since we first found out we would both be studying in Florence. We didn’t really have anything planned for Santorini besides taking pictures of every single view. And when I say every single view I mean: Every. Single. View. Literally everywhere made us gasp with wows.
However, arriving in Santorini took MUCH longer than expected due to the wonderfully cheap airline known as Vueling. (If you can avoid flying with them, PLEASE do and avoid the headache.) Our flight left from Rome on Tuesday morning and was supposed to land in Santorini a couple hours later. We were flying over the Greek islands (we could SEE Santorini beneath us) when we heard our captains say that there were technical issues with the plane and we would be landing in Athens. Not knowing the fate of our Greek adventure, we stayed in the airport in case there was a flight to Santorini coming up soon. In the time that we could’ve explored Athens, we slept in the freezing airport where they gave us food vouchers…which was when we knew that we’d probably be there for a while. 8 hours later…I repeat…EIGHT HOURS LATER there was finally a flight to Santorini. We got to our Air Bnb around 2am, exhausted, and immediately fell asleep. (We stayed in Perissa, which is on the southern part of the island. I HIGHLY recommend staying here! There were very few tourists, we were near the Black Sand Beach, and transportation around the island was super cheap and easy. Our Air Bnb was incredible as well. They were super accommodating to our initial travel issues and helped us book a boat tour around the island.)
On day 1 of Santorini, we slept in, ate breakfast by the pool, and took a bus up to Oía. We walked around all of Oía, taking pictures at just about every few steps.
Day 2 was the day we booked for the boat tour. We boarded the large pirate-ship-looking boat which took us to a volcano island, a hot springs island, Thirasia for lunch, and then to a port at the bottom of a cliff in Oía. The goal was to get to the top of the cliff and watch the sunset from this Greek paradise. There were 2 ways to get to the top of the cliff: 1) walk up the steep steps, or 2) ride a donkey up while thinking about your potential death and possibly plummeting down the slippery rocks. For the small price of only €6 we chose the potential death option. (Our legs were very tired.)
We somehow survived (it was a miracle) and it was then that I witnessed the most incredible sunset of my life. After making it back to our Air Bnb, packing up our belongings, we got dinner than went to the airport. We were about 6 hours early for our flight to Athens, but we had planned on spending the night in the lil Santorini airport. Arin saw that there was a flight to Athens leaving immediately. After a quick chat with the lady at the information desk, we were put on the flight meaning we sprinted through the airport in order to make the flight. (It was seriously like something out of a movie.) We got to Athens and slept on the same benches we had napped on just a few nights prior. Santorini itself was paradise, but the travel there was something of nightmares. That weekend I ate my body weight in chicken souvlaki and tzaziki and I’m completely ok with that.
After my panicked solo adventures to Pisa, Lucca, and Munich, I decided it was time to do an entire solo weekend to Amsterdam. This somehow took less pep talks from my mom since it was at the top of my bucket list, but still sent me into a panic as the weekend approached. I luckily had no issues with travel and very little plans for the weekend. I had a list of things that I thought would be fun to do, not planning to even do half of them and somehow ended up checking every single thing off. The only event that I booked ahead was visiting my boy, Vincent, at the Van Gogh Museum. I spent the entire time trying to hold in my tears from seeing an entire museum dedicated to one of my favorite artists. The rest of day 1 in Amsterdam consisted of going to the Anne Frank Huis, Bloenmarkt, The Avocado Show (my Uber driver thought I was weird for going here), the I Amsterdam sign at the Rijkmuseum, and just walking around the city. I had the best time traveling at my own pace and being able to see what I wanted to see.
On day 2, almost everything I did terrifies me and I’m still not really sure how I convinced myself to do these things. The day started with going to Starbucks because I missed iced coffee and it was pumpkin spice season (neither of which exist in Italy). I then did scary thing #1: went to the Sex Museum. I’m not really sure that I enjoyed this experience, but it was suggested to me by some friends so I thought “why not!” They later asked me how I liked it so I responded, “Well…I would’ve liked it better if I wasn’t there alone,” leaving them shocked that I even went to Amsterdam alone in the first place. Tip: If you go to the Sex Museum…GO WITH FRIENDS!!! It would be more fun. After spending 10 minutes in that strange world, I did scary thing #2: got my ear pierced. This wasn’t the worst thing since I already have tattoos and piercings, but sometimes thinking about a needle going through my cartilage makes me nauseous. Then I relaxed a bit and did a canal tour around the city which led to scary thing #3: coffeeshop. Some random dude started talking to me which led to scary thing #4: going to a show…not really sure how or why this happened but it did and it was weird. After a very weird panic attack, I left and went back to my hostel.
Day 3: Got Starbucks again then went to the Jewish Cultural Quarter. I visited the Joods Historisch Museum and the Portugese Synagogue. This synagogue was once the largest synagogue in the world, is one of the few buildings that is completely intact from the 17th century, is home to the largest Jewish library, and somehow survived World War II. I then went to the Moco Museum and saw the work of some of my favorite artists in one place (Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein). There was also a Banksy exhibit which shows the mysterious artist’s work without his permission, but was interesting anyway. I then went to Vondelpark to take in a bit of nature before going to (yet another) Starbucks, mainly to charge my dying phone. The last stop on my bucket list was Foodhallen which is essentially a giant food court except the food is good. And I mean like really good. I decided upon healthy nachos from the Fento stand before heading to the airport. After going through security and a last minute gate change, it was announced that the flight was delayed 2 hours (because Vueling is the freaking best, right?). Despite transportation complications, my Amsterdam solo trip was definitely one to remember and I decided that I would be perfectly fine living there for the rest of my life.
As the second CCI trip, I had high hopes for Milan. Although I’m not very involved in fashion, I was excited to witness one of the fashion capital’s of the world. Milan, however, was not very excited to see me. The whole two days I was there was rainy and cloudy and the people appeared too pretentious for my liking. The exhibits we saw were amazing, I enjoyed the international mixture of food, and the artistic value of the city was amazing. So why didn’t I click with Milan?
We first visited the Armani Silos, housing up to 40 years of Giorgio Armani’s work. Frowned upon by Fabio, our little CCI crew went to Five Guys for lunch, satisfying a much-needed American craving. With about an hour left of our lunch time, Melanie and I zoomed through the Museo del Novecento, wishing we could stay longer to stare through the layers in each painting. To close off day 1, we went to the Prada Fondazione, a contemporary art museum funded by Prada. The exhibits we visited were very strange and conceptual, as contemporary art typically is.
The next day we went to the Triennale Design Museum which I expected to be a whole museum on design as a concept. Instead I found the exhibition to be based around products made in Italy. The tour was still extremely interesting, just not what I expected. My favorite part of the museum was definitely the bookstore where I found a whole section of books on graphic design, typography, and type design. I let my inner design nerd out…and spent way too much money in this bookstore.
In our last bit of Milan free time, we decided to check out the new Starbucks, the first Starbucks in Italy. (Don’t tell me that I have a Starbucks problem; I already know.) However much to our surprise, the “Reserve” seemed to be a super fancy version of our cozy American coffeeshop. We didn’t even make it inside; there was a line outside the gated garden which made us decide to go to a smaller, cheaper shop and take a look inside the Galleria. This was basically just an elite mall housing luxury shops. I’m not sure what I expected with Milan, but whatever I witnessed wasn’t it.
Since Milan was only a Friday and Saturday, my CCI friends and I took a train to Perugia on Sunday. I’d never heard of Perugia before arriving in Italy, but I quickly learned that the city is home to a chocolate factory and hosts an annual chocolate festival. So of course I knew I had to go. Despite the rain, we had a wonderful, chocolatey blast. We went around the city like kids in a candy store, filling up on chocolate samples and even buying some to take back.
As much as I love it, traveling so much recently has sucked the life out of me and the money out of my bank account. It has also somehow made my Florence apartment seem more cozy and I am more excited to spend the next few weekends in what I can now confidently call my Italian home.
Made a quick trip to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest!
After the invigorating feeling from traveling on my own to Pisa and Lucca for a day (and many, MANY pep talks from my mom), I decided I would take a trip to Oktoberfest and see what the fuss was all about. Everyone assured me that this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and that I’d have the “time of my life!” I booked the trip (through a travel agency for American students studying in Florence) on Monday night, left Friday night around 11pm, arrived Saturday morning around 9am, and left Saturday night around 10pm. Leading up to departing, I was partially excited and mostly not sure what to expect.
So how, you may ask, is the best way to enjoy Oktoberfest when you have anxiety?
Going to Oktoberfest didn’t give me the feeling of freedom and power that I was hoping. Instead, I found what seemed to be a hyped up frat party. As someone who has never been to a frat party or had any intention to ever going to one, this realization disappointed me. Upon entering the festival I was instantly reminded of that scene from Shrek where Shrek and Donkey go to Lord Faarquad’s town to see if they would give Shrek his land back. Shrek and Donkey watch wooden dolls perform “Welcome to Duloc” before the machine takes their picture. That picture is a visual to my reaction to Oktoberfest throughout the day. As someone who recently turned 21, the old lady hidden inside me constantly reminded me that I’m too old for this.
On the 8 hour bus ride to Munich, I noticed another girl that was traveling alone and made a mental note to stick with her throughout the day. I told her this at the McDonalds we arrived at at 8:30am where we were told to get breakfast and change (if needed). Many of the girls put on their dirndls, and the guys had their lederhosen. I didn’t plan on dressing up because I was only going for the day and the outfits were EXPENSIVE. I’m talking at least €100 for each. I was also very quick to notice that Munich is a whole lot colder than Florence, so I was very happy in my jeans, boots, and cozy sweater. (NOTE: If you plan to go to Oktoberfest but don’t want to purchase the outfit, don’t worry. I was most definitely not the only person not dressed up.)
Anyway, when I told the girl I would “awkwardly follow her around because I was going alone” (my actual words; why am I like this?), she laughed and told me she was meeting people who had already grabbed a table in one of the beer tents. After a long time of searching and pushing through people, we finally found her friends who were already very drunk. Note it was only 9am. There wasn’t room for me to sit, so I stood in the aisle between tables in a large crowd of people who were very intoxicated and very pushy. I quickly lost track of how many times I was groped by random men. As someone with anxiety whose anxiety worsens when surrounded by drunk people and crowds, this was not the ideal situation for me. On the other hand, I didn’t know where else to go so I kept standing while being constantly pushed and ordered a liter of beer which is unsurprisingly very heavy. The girl’s friends seemed to be having fun, but I couldn’t get over the fact I had never been more uncomfortable in my life. Just about everyone in the tent sounded American, not really making the festival feel like an authentic experience. Finally, some people eventually got up from the table which luckily gave me room to sit, helping soothe my anxious mind only a little.
One by one, the girl and her friends left the table leaving me alone, still surrounded by a constant wave of people. Then a girl with who looked like a 12-year-old (she swore she was 30) from a different table noticed me sitting alone and asked if I was American, telling me that she was from Switzerland. She invited me to sit with the people at her table. At this point I was halfway through my beer and was starting to feel it, so I joined her. She somehow persuaded me to stand on the bench with everyone else and I felt like I at least looked like I was having a good time. Every time a security guard passed by our table, we would all sit very quickly because we had watched dozens of people’s wrists be grabbed before they were dragged outside. These security guards were NOT messing around. They seemed annoyed to be there and even more annoyed that no one was following the rules.
While sitting with the Swiss group, I mostly just observed what was going on around me. I noticed that almost every guy was drinking with the intention of getting with a girl, while almost every girl was just looking to have a good time. I’m not sure if this was just because so much of the tent was filled with Americans, but it was extremely disillusioning especially just days after the results of the Kavanaugh case back in America. I found it absolutely disgusting that all the men thought they could take advantage of the women. I guess that kind of thinking is what added to my anxiety, but that’s the downside to being raised in an ethical household. I tried to comfort every girl who was crying over some guy, and made sure to ask every girl if she was ok when I saw she had trouble standing. Out of spitefulness, I didn’t do anything helpful for any guy. That’s my little bit of payback for everyone that tried to hit on me when I was very clearly NOT INTERESTED (I shouldn’t have to write it on my forehead).
Once I finished my second beer and had eaten two pretzels (one salty, one sweet), a girl sat next to me who seemed nice enough and started talking to me. She told me a “secret” that she didn’t really like the guy she came with. She also took out her Juul and started smoking (I seriously thought for a second that this thing was a USB drive), prompting a guy nearby claim that he would give her €10 for two hits because “he hadn’t seen a Juul in 3 months.” She said ok, leading to at least three more people asking if they could have some. Trying to make her lotsa easy money, I lied to everyone that the first guy gave her €30, so they’d have to top that if they wanted any. She then bargained the price with them, but I think by the end she had made €50 and still had most of her pods left! We laughed about how desperate people can be before she left the table.
So then it was just me and the Swiss people again. I told myself at the beginning of the day that I would only have two beers because I absolutely did NOT want to be sick on the bus ride back to Florence. So, I got up to go outside to get some fresh air, not realizing that I wouldn’t be back allowed inside. Then I found the girl from my bus, quickly lost her in the crowd, then looked around to see that I wasn’t even in the area of the tent anymore. At this point it was about 3pm, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to get into another beer tent, so I bought a postcard to add to my collection and walked around the festival. I bought a bottle of water (HYDRATION IS KEY!) and ended up outside the festival grounds. I just wanted to sit and enjoy my water, so I sat on the curb outside the gate and watched as police officers directed dozens of drunk people towards the exits. Soon a man sat a lady on the curb next to me. He poured water onto her head and made her drink some. The man motioned to me that he couldn’t hear and that she was having a panic attack…or at least that’s what I thought. The lady was crying at this point and a group of people had begun to surround her. I tried holding her pinky finger in a small attempt to calm her. Another deaf man signed something to me and I asked the group to give the lady some space. I know that when I’m having a panic attack, I need room to breathe and I hoped this would help the woman. Someone from the group told me in broken English that she had just had an asthma attack, so I backed up because asthma is not my expertise. It was then that I noticed that everyone in this group was deaf and signing to each other. Some people crouched next to the woman, comforting her and helping her in the ways that I wasn’t able to. Once the woman wasn’t crying anymore and was breathing normally, the group gathered up their things and left through the exit. I sat on my curb for a few hours, entertaining myself by watching people stumble out of the festival, hoping the woman was ok.
Around 6:30pm I decided that I was getting bored of people watching, so I reentered the festival. In an attempt to escape people and be alone, if only for a short amount of time, I decided I would ride the ferris wheel. From the very top I could see the entire festival which was pretty incredible and much larger than I had previously thought. The sun was also setting while I was on the ride which probably made riding the ferris wheel the best part of my day. When I got off the ride, I bought another bottle of water (HYDRATION!!!) and went back to my curb outside the festival where I watched another constant stream of people teeter and totter towards the exit. One guy was so close to making it out then had to lean against a tree for support. Unable to walk on his own, a security guard went to check on him who then alerted the paramedics to help him. Drink responsibly, kids.
While on the way to leave, I watched a woman leave the festival with a man almost chasing after her. Once she was outside of the gate, the man turned around and realized I had been watching. He then shrugged and started walking towards me. Oh yikes. My entire body tensed up and he definitely noticed. He asked me why I was standing like that, to which I responded that I was cold. He smiled in that scary way that creepy men do and tried to push me to follow him, telling me I should go dancing. I guess he thought this would warm me up while also allowing him to get in my pants? I told him, “no thanks,” and quickly shook him off my arm. The encounter wasn’t the worse thing to happen, but I kept thinking about men preying off of women who are alone. Can creepy men PLEASE just leave me alone???
I met back up with the group from my bus, and luckily everyone arrived on time. One girl couldn’t walk on her own, so her friends essentially had to drag her to the bus. I was worried that she would throw up on the bus, making the small breathing space smell awful. Fortunately, she was able to get everything out before getting on the bus. Not so fortunately, as soon as the bus started moving I quickly needed a bag myself…yay for motion sickness combined with alcohol and not eating enough!!! Exhausted lil me was able to sleep most of the way back to Florence.
Overall, Oktoberfest wasn’t the worst or best experience. In what was essentially a Drunken Disneyworld, I was unable to get out of my head and the fact that alcohol is a depressant certainly did NOT help. It felt more like I was doing something to check it off a list, rather than going to actually enjoy myself. Not the experience I was hoping for. As someone who doesn’t enjoy beer, crowds, or crowds of drunk people, I’m not sure what I was expecting.
I’m actually doing a pretty ok job keeping up with this blog! Go me!
Despite loving Florence, I am still finding it hard to get used to the bustling movement that takes place in a city. Florence is nothing like teeny-tiny Louisville, KY and I seem to be reminded of that just about every day. Luckily, Florence is based pretty centrally, and just about anywhere in Italy is just a train ride away. One night a few weeks ago I booked a day trip to Pisa and Lucca for the next day. Before arriving in Florence, my anxiety kept telling me there was no possible way that I would go on a trip by myself. What if I missed the train/plane/bus? What if I got lost in the new city? What if I got kidnapped and wasn’t able to alert anyone? In an attempt to battle my anxiety and enjoy some much needed time alone guess who went on my little day trip? You guessed it! Me, myself, and I.
I checked the train departure time at least a million times before going to sleep the night before my journey (8:45am). There could be no possible way I could miss the train if I knew for sure when it was leaving the station! I woke up at about 8am and got ready to leave, feeling totally confident that I would make the train (at 8:45am). While walking to the train station to get to my train on time (which left at 8:45am), I checked the train ticket on my phone. Even though going to sleep I was positive I knew when the train would leave (8:45am), the ticket told me that the train would actually leave at 8:28am. (In case you weren’t aware, 8:28am is DEFINITELY NOT the same time as 8:45am.) With fear in my eyes and shakiness in my hands, I started speed walking even faster to the train station. At this point it was about 8:25am and I knew I would most likely miss the train, but still had some hope that I would hop on at the last second in some sort of triumphant victory. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I made it to the train station at 8:31am, and had missed my train that left at 8:28am (NOT 8:45am). My only goals for the day were 1) to get on the correct trains and 2) see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and by 8:31am I had somehow already failed one of these. Instead of going to the bathroom to hide the world from my upcoming panic attack (which is what I really wanted to do), I opened the TrenItalia app that I had downloaded the night before in a strike of genius and bought a new ticket for a train that would leave at 8:50am. I made it onto this train and even though I had wasted €8,60* for a ticket I didn’t use, I was still extremely proud of myself for making it through a stressful situation that my anxiety thought would prevent me from having a good day. The moral of the story is to a) make sure to check the CORRECT time of your train ticket and not ingrain the wrong time in your head, but if you do miss your train then b) it isn’t the end of the world and it is super easy to buy a new ticket, so c) don’t let your anxiety prevent you from doing anything.
*I have since learned that train tickets last for a few hours after their departure time. So, I could’ve used the ticket I already had to make the 8:50am train instead of buying a new ticket. Whoops.
I made it to Pisa and fulfilled my second goal of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (And guess what? It was really leaning! Wow, amazing!) Hoards of tourists surrounded the cathedral and it’s bell tower, doing the most basic of the poses to make it appear as though they are holding up the tower. I hung around the groups of people, watching pictures being taken while also listening for any English-speaking people that could take the same annoying tourist picture for me. I got my picture, went back to the train station, and got on board for my ride to Lucca. (There isn’t much to do in Pisa besides see the Leaning Tower, and Lucca is close so that’s why I did both in one day.)
Lucca is a city much smaller than Florence and feels like more of a village than a city. I walked around for a while, ate the best gelato I’ve ever had (SO FRESH), and people watched for a few hours. Aside from my morning mishap, it was a nice, relaxing day spent alone.
A major perk of being in Florence with my school is that there are free activities organized for us. We can chose whether or not to sign up for the events, and of course I’ve signed up for all of them. I attended a “Tasting of Typical Italian Products” where we met Pino in what appeared to be a basement cellar, but he later explained to us that it used to be attached to the prison across the street. (Side note: Pino is also the owner of Salumeria Verdi, also known as Pino’s Sandwiches where you can find a variety of delicious sandwiches with the best meat. I went there later in the week and had the Turkey Best…SO GOOD!) We tried different olive oils, balsamic vinegars, cheeses, salamis, and prosciutto. I also found that I really do not enjoy prosciutto, especially since week one (read First Days in Florence to find out why).
Another activity I participated in was Rafting on the Arno River. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this because some people speculated that it would be like white water rafting. But, the Arno River doesn’t have the strongest currents so I wasn’t sure how that would work. When we arrived, we strapped on life jackets and climbed into large inflatable rafts. Our guide instructed us when to row forward, backwards, or stop. He also kept telling us to splash and ram into the other raft which was…interesting. The experience was very relaxing because we were mainly just floating down the river, but it was really neat to see Florence from a different perspective. The best part of the night actually happened afterwards when all the Kent students got gelato and watched the sunset over the Arno.
I also went to the Gelato Festival! While this event was not organized by the school, as a lover of gelato I knew I had to go. A friend had messaged me earlier that day and asked if I wanted to go and my reply was something along the lines of “HECK YEAH!!” So, we hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo where there is the most amazing view of Florence. You can really see the whole city from up there and it was incredible. We then stuffed ourselves with all 19 different flavors from strawberry red pepper to lemon and basil, and voted on the best one. My favorite was the tropical basil because WOW!
The day after the gelato festival was my 21st birthday. Turning 21 in Italy is a strange occurrence because in America, 21 is the age where you get to drink alcohol. But in Italy, that age is actually 18, so turning the “Alcohol Age” in Italy actually happened years ago for me. Nevertheless, my roommates and I had booked a day trip to Venice because I knew I had to celebrate somehow! We walked around the city (SO. MANY. BRIDGES.), ate amazing seafood, and of course, rode in a gondola. While in the gondola, we kept saying how magical it felt and compared the ride to the “It’s a Small World” ride in DisneyWorld. It was seriously so magical. Our gondolier did happen to sing a little bit in his black and white striped shirt, and we also witnessed another gondolier actually say “Mamma Mia!” because there was a moment when he thought he would run into a building. (This was my first ‘mamma mia’ sighting in Italy, so I was very excited.) But dang, not sure how any other birthdays are going to be able to top VENICE!
On a very different note, I have also become overwhelmingly aware that my time abroad is going too fast. I still have so many cities in Europe that I want to visit while I’m here, and I seem to be quickly running out of weekends to go. (If anyone has any tips for going to Amsterdam, Lisbon, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Madrid then please let me know!) I find myself constantly researching to plan trips, then become anxious and close all the tabs and shut my laptop. Anxiety is SO not my friend.
Lastly, getting addicted to iced coffee was really bad on my part because good iced coffee is so hard to find in Florence. While I keep searching for tasty iced coffee, sips of espresso will have to do.
Long time, no see! Since my last post, I have started classes, eaten my body weight in gelato, pizza, and pasta, and seen some pretty cool things. I am (thankfully) no longer sick from what I believe was food poisoning, and now I get to fully enjoy Florence and everything she has to show me!
I have already found a cafe that I love (Caffetteria delle Oblate) that has a beautiful view of the Duomo, good coffee, and free Wifi. I’ve been here a few times to do homework and just check out the sight. It is also on the top floor of the library, so it’s typically bustling with other students trying to work. This makes it a great place to meet local people and practice my Italian (when I’m better at it and more confident, at least).
While Florence is a beautiful city, everything around me is just that…a city. It is nothing like what I am used to, coming from horse farms in Kentucky. So my first weekend in Florence, my roommates and I ventured across Ponte Vecchio onto the other side of Florence to the Boboli Gardens.
Even though I hadn’t been in Florence for a full week yet, the greenery and Tuscan views were extremely refreshing. For hours we explored the gardens, frequently posing for pictures throughout the plants that were more photogenic than we ever would be.
One of the greatest things about studying abroad is being able to travel on the weekends. This past weekend, my roommates and I visited Castiglioncello, a small town surrounding the Quercetano Bay. While places like Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast attract lots of tourists, Castiglioncello seems to exist solely to the Italians.
Our hotel was built into the side of a cliff overlooking the water, had complimentary breakfast, surprisingly comfy beds, and (the best part) air conditioning. We spent the weekend getting sunburnt, eating the best seafood (at Bagni Quercetano and Ristorante In Gargotta), and seeing the most incredible views.
Maybe it was being able to escape the life in the city, or maybe it was that I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the ocean, but I realized that I was the most relaxed in Castiglioncello since arriving in Italy.
My weekend at the beach seemed too good to be true, but I’ve had some amazing experiences in Florence as well. A friend and I visited Santa Croce, the main Franciscan church in Florence. The church is home to the tombs of many geniuses of Florence such as Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, and Machiavelli. It is decorated with frescoes that have been damaged by floods – the most recent in 1966, but still remain beautifully elegant.
We also found ourselves at the Gucci Garden. Just near Palazzo Vecchio, the Gucci Garden is actually not a garden. Instead, it is a part museum, part restaurant, part boutique showcasing the history and art of Gucci.
Behind every corner was a new pattern, product, or item for me to stare in awe at. The fashion merchandising friend that I arrived with was amazing with being able to see such a big name brand. But, the “art nerd” in me was blown away by the fashion items that appeared as art pieces. Florence may be the birthplace of the Renaissance, but there I have already seem so many more art movements in the few weeks that I’ve been here. And I’m excited for the many more that I will see.
I’m still getting used to the tiny sidewalks, non-Americanized ice coffee, and the constant stream of tourists that seem to always be right outside my apartment building. But I hope I never get used to always being surprised by the beauty and art of this city.
While the majority of my first few days in Florence have been a dream (mostly because the jet lag makes it feel like I’m not really awake), the past 24 hours have been somewhat of a nightmare. My travels to Florence contained an 8 hour layover, followed by a 7 hour flight, as well as other less daunting layovers and flights. I finally arrived at my new home around 7 pm Sunday night. Monday and Tuesday contained scheduled orientation sessions for school where we learned about what would be offered by Kent State University as well as various walking tours where our professors taught us about the city.
It was around 3 pm on Tuesday when things started going downhill. I had just finished eating lunch in my apartment when I realized I had a stomachache. I quickly ignored it and rushed downstairs to where I was supposed to be meeting a group of people to go get our SIM cards. After waiting near the Duomo for a few minutes, I realized that I really really didn’t feel so good. I started speed-walking back to my apartment, dreading what would come next. When I was about 20 feet from the front door of my building, I couldn’t hold it anymore and got sick next to a gutter close the Duomo. I think I really surprised the unfortunate man sitting in a chair at a cafe near the gutter, who received some of the splash. Trying to contain my embarrassment, I apologized to the man, hid my face, and rushed into a nearby cafe that I knew had a restroom where I could clean myself up. Once I was content with my washing job, I climbed the 61 steep, steep stairs up to my apartment where I quickly explained what happened to my roommates before spending the next 8 hours on the bathroom floor. But honestly, thank goodness for my amazing roommates who went to the pharmacy for me, contacted my parents asking for advice, and constantly checked on me with glasses of ice water.
Since I’ve only recently begun to feel better, I did miss out on some group activities with the school and others of friends wandering around the city. But, missing out is also starting to apply to other instances as well. Seeing Instagram posts of all my friends back in Kent, moving into new apartments and beginning their senior year is causing the FOMO to hit hard.
On a slightly more positive note, while the sickness fades away, I can finally be excited again about exploring Florence and experiencing all this beautiful city has to offer.
If you’ve had a conversation with me in the past few days, then you know that I have been extremely stressed. Not because I’m leaving the country for four months, and not because I won’t be around a familiar culture, but because of the anxiety that packing and traveling has placed on me. If you’re anything like me (a procrastinating perfectionist), then packing for a long period of time is your worst nightmare. All week, I have been sorting and organizing everything I want to bring, then packing, weighing, and repacking because my luggage was over the limit of 50 pounds. I’ve been terrified that I forgot to pack something, and even though I’m leaving in less than 24 hours, I’m still tempted to unpack and repack each piece of my luggage.
The overthinker part of me even convinced me to pack extra items “just in case.” I’m bringing 2 boxes of Kraft mac & cheese in case I get homesick, as if I won’t be surrounded by incredible pasta as it is. I also somehow keep forgetting that there are people currently living where I’m going who also wash their hair (shocker!), so I probably don’t need to bring 5 bottles of shampoo.
As excited as I am to go on this journey, I am also incredibly nervous that something will go terribly wrong and I won’t be able to enjoy the experience to the fullest. I’m sure that once I arrive, all my worries will fade and I will be ready to take on Florence! (I just have to get there first!)
NOTE: Since I haven’t actually left yet, I’m not sure if I’ve done a sufficient job packing, but I plan to update this post throughout the semester to make sure that everything worked out ok.