Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Taste of Florence, Italy

Another weekend, another city. Another Sunday spent trying to memorize the streets and sights of a new place that I am quick to fall in love with.

Ah, Florence. With your artwork on every corner, your narrow cobblestone streets, your beautiful churches and your historical charm. Florence is what you imagine when you picture Italy. Full of street art, gelato, leather jackets, and colorful houses that seem to float above the water. A group of about fifteen of us packed up our bags after our Friday Italian class with Magda and walked down to the Lugano train station to board a train to Milan, and then another train to our final destination “Firenze”. After a trip full of late trains, getting on and off a few wrong trains, and eventually getting on a “high speed” train that our Eurail didn’t cover and we had to pay an extra 18 Euro for, we arrived in the beautiful city of Florence. Full of energy and excitement we navigated our way to our hostel, clutching our backpacks close to us because of all the Italian pickpocketer stories we’ve been told (Dad you’ve trained me well). When we were checking in we met a young guy named James. He looked just like a Florence native, with a pea coat, scarf, and gelled hair, but like us he was just another American trying to look the part-he was actually from Connecticut. He has been living and working in Florence and told us about a bar crawl that would be going on downtown that night. We took note and went up to our rooms, got unpacked and ready for our first taste of an Italian night out. A term we have gotten to know well while in Europe is “aperitivo”, which is more or less like a happy hour and a chance to socialize and relax before dinner. We found an excellent aperitivo place called Kitsch close to our hostel and had a drink and a buffet dinner for only 8.50 Euro! Everyone tried a fun different drink, Michelle and I tried “Pink Marilyns” and felt like we were in Sex in the City, and made at least three trips back to the buffet for pasta with meat sauce that tasted like Hamburger Helper.. real authentic Italian. The boys let us order their drinks for them but after one sip of his pink drink Tyler decided he just couldn’t do it and ordered a big manly beer. James from Connecticut met us at Kitsch and after dinner we all went to a bar called Red Garter to continue our night. It was a Karaoke bar, and it didn’t take us more than 15 minutes to get up on stage.  Carla and I sang a beautiful rendition of “Where is The Love” by the Black Eyed Peas and stayed on stage for the next song which was “I Like Big Butts”. Keeping it classy, America. Michelle and I sang “Party in the USA” and substituted “U-S-A” for “Florence I-taly”. The crowd went wild. I think I finally found my calling and it’s to be a professional karaoke-er. What do you think Mom and Dad? We had so much fun, met lots of characters, got free champagne, and ran into about five girls from Tech who are studying abroad in Florence! Seeing faces from home in a city so far away made the world feel like a such a small place for the first time since I’ve been here. After Red Garter we continued to another bar not far down the street. On our way Michelle spotted a cute Italian boy, called dibs on him, and ran up to talk to him. In Italian, he asked her for her name. In Italian (about the one phrase we know) she responded my name is Michaela. In Italian he said his name was Georgio. After trying to communicate in broken Italian for a minute or two, she said in English that she was going to a bar. He responded in English that he was too. Then he said he was from New York. Michelle said she was from Virginia. Georgio was really George and Michaela was really Michelle. Once they both realized they were American the magic disappeared pretty quickly. We spent the rest of the night dancing, Michelle and I bartended, and making new best friends from different parts of the world.

We rose and shone bright and early on Saturday morning, we wanted to see it all during the short time we had in Florence. We saw the Duomo, which was a completely different style than the Duomo in Milan but equally impressive architecture. They started constructing it in the late 1200s and it is designed in a Gothic style. We went inside and it was massive. The artwork on the ceiling of the dome was so so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine someone painted every last detail… it’s easy to appreciate, but at the same time hard to imagine every last effort that went into the artist’s work. Seeing all of these incredible pieces of art makes me wish I was an art history major, or at least had taken some art history classes in college. After admiring the Duomo we continued on to The Ponte Vecchio, which is “Old Bridge” in English, but everyone calls it “Gold Bridge” for all of the jewelry stores in the area. What a beautiful area! We took in the busy scene of locals on bikes, tourists posing for pictures, gelato shops on every street, and the Arno River shimmering in the background. We walked around, had a pizza lunch, a few girls bought some bracelets and souvenirs, and treated ourselves to gelato. We checked out the famous leather, scarf, and jewelry markets. Along the river there were lots of padlocks locked to different railings. Later we read that it was connected to the idea that by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river, the lovers become eternally bonded. So romantic!

We went to The Accademia which is the art gallery that is home to The David by Michaelangelo. The museum was very cool. Mom, I guess all it took was one trip to Europe to get me interested in art galleries. It was a relatively small museum and really enjoyed seeing all of the paintings, sculptures, and various musical instruments that belonged to the Medici family. The highlight of the museum though, as you may imagine, was absolutely The David. Michelle and I turned a corner and all of a sudden there it was in all of its glory. It truly is a masterpiece. Michaelangelo was only twenty-six years old when he began sculpting it!

After spending about two hours in The Accedemia, we explored a little more on our own, finding different plazas and piazzas, churches, statues, parks, and tributes to great artists and scientists such as DaVinci, Gallileo, and Machiavelli. Then it was back to the hostel for a quick and very necessary nap before another Firenzian night.

A few friends of ours from Virginia Tech are studying abroad this semester in Milan, and they were in Florence for the weekend and staying at our hostel. We met up with the girls and did another round of aperitivo at Kitsch- loved that place. We then all came back to our hostel and went to the bar downstairs. The twenty of us basically took over the basement bar. We had so much fun talking, laughing, dancing on the empty dance floor, and catching up with Milan girls. After staying at the Plus Bar till about one am, some people decided to go out to a club called Space. I somehow got separated from Michelle and the group of girls I was with, and the last I had heard I thought we were going to a bar called Twice. I found David and we were off in the rain to find Twice. We found Twice, and no one was there. We tried to find Space, but instead we just got very lost. We wandered around in the rain for a few hours, only getting farther from Space and farther from our hostel. We would walk into bars and I would get my camera out and zoom in on a picture of Michelle’s face and ask the bartender if they had seen “this girl”. No such luck. Around three am we finally waved down a taxi and got home safe, sound, and soaking wet. I guess there is only one way to look at nights like these, and that it is part of the experience. Things I Learned: life is more difficult without a cell phone, always keep a map of the city I’m in in my pocket, don’t split up from the group, and that even if I follow all of the rules, things like this can still happen. You just have to accept that things won’t always go according to plan and that’s part of the adventure and you have to choose to embrace. Michelle and the girls made it to Space, but got lost on the way home. They didn’t get home till around seven in the morning. Florence, you and your confusing streets.

I wish we had more time to get to know Florence better, only one full day was definitely not enough. There was so much more to take in! More sights to be seen, more stores to be window shopped, more artwork to be admired, and more gelato and nutella covered waffles to be enjoyed. But I loved the short time that we did have there. Our life in Europe is a whirlwind, and I love it.

Lugano is beginning to feel more and more like home. Room 13 of the Montarina feels like my room, dinners with the 43 of us at the Montarina’s pizzeria feel more and more like family dinners. And a beautiful home it is to have. Michelle and I wake up to palm trees outside of our window every morning and Lake Lugano sparkles at us on our walk to and home from class. Today was our last day of Consumer Behavior with Brinberg. I can’t believe how quickly that class went by! This also means that Brinny will be leaving us- abandoning us!- to go back to The States tomorrow morning. We’ll miss you so, Brinny! Today in his honor we all dressed up for class in classic Bringberg attire- a button down shirt with a pen in the pocket, jeans with a belt, white socks, and loafers. He was definitely surprised by the classroom of mini me’s waiting for him when it was his turn to teach after Italian. We’ll miss you until April Brin!

We still have a final project for Consumer Behavior that’s due on Friday, so there is work to be done this week. But it’s only a four day week and on Friday we leave for the first stop of our three-country trip: Dublin! We have a ten-day break and we’re going to Dublin, then London, then Paris! It’s going to be another amazing week in Europe. Feeling lucky to be here and ready to take on the world.

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