Arrivederci

And so it goes, the final blog post. As most of you know, I am back in America, and my status of “exotic Italian world traveler who obnoxiously posts pictures” has been downgraded to “that one girl who won’t shut up about her life in Italy and still obnoxiously posts pictures.” I have been putting this one off partly because I am enjoying being in the comforts of home, and partly because I don’t want to accept that this semester is over and say my final goodbye. 

My best friend Cara made me a book before I left full of sweet and astoundingly witty pages and pictures. I was rereading it last night, and came upon the statement,” Kaitlin’s not actually going to Italy, she’s just going to hibernate for a while because she’s so over it all.” 

While it contains the perfect tinge of college girl exaggeration and sarcasm, I don’t think I realized how true this was until I returned home. Before I experienced Italy, I was in a rut. In my faith, in my friendships, in my school work, in everything. Cue Elizabeth Gilbert’s, “I just wanted to marvel at something.” But I did, and was ready to experience every cliche in the book. And I marveled, and marveled, and marveled. 

Image

And now that I’m home, I marvel even more. Did I really drink champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower? Did I really walk across the Ponte Vecchio daily? Did I really live that cool, casual, capuccino-filled life? There’s so much about the past 4 months I will always miss and treasure.

Pomodoro, Mozzarella e Rucola paninos from Cafe Santa Trinita. Dried fruit from the fruit stand. Museum Wednesdays. Aperitivo. Family dinners on the rooftop terrace. Chianti wine. Street musicians. African monkey sellers. “Ciao, bella!”. Not tipping. Cobblestone streets. Speaking broken Italian to those who speak broken English. The Duomo bells. The carousel in Piazza Della Repubblica. Cooking classes. Long meals.The piazza in front of Santa Croce. La Carraia. Secret bakeries. Late night trip planning. Cioccolata calda. Taking trains. Taking planes. Ringos. Il Teatro. Afternoons in Boboli Gardens. Piazza Michelangelo at night. Or any time. 

And my friends. I guess I figured I would make friends while abroad, but I didn’t know I would meet my life-changing, best friends. You all showed me how to speak up, explore, love, and always look for the next great adventure. Thank you for bringing out a little more of the version of myself I strive to be, and for loving me when I was not. Like when I was hangry. (Angry out of hunger) And let’s be honest, that’s a lot. I love you all, and while I am sorry our goodbye was a panicked and desperate run for my life in the London airport, it just adds to the collection of memories we will never be able to explain to those at home, thus always connecting us to one another. 

To those at home, I owe so much thanks to you as well. Thank you for your Skype calls, endless Facebook messages and emails, travel money, blog feedback, letters, support, and love. Thank you for listening to my stories even when I ramble and receiving me upon my return as if nothing ever changed. It was the peace and reassurance I had from home that gave me the confidence to explore the world, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so. 

I’m convinced that travel can warp time like no other. It convinces you that you have all the time in the world that is your oyster, that time is standing perfectly still at home, yet jam-packs years’ worth of personal growth into a scrawny semester. At the beginning of this journey, I promised myself I would seize each and every opportunity presented to me in pursuit of feeling alive and amazed. And I feel I stayed true to that. No, not all of these things turned out perfectly and many mistakes were made along the way, but these are the memories I’ve learned to love most. While I was in Florence, I honestly was terrified that my happiness had peaked- how silly that was! Regardless, I wrote myself a little note so that I would always remember how I felt while there:

I can’t believe I only have a few days left in Florence. I have never been more happy or free in my life. With my friends here, I feel like I am completely myself and I haven’t felt that way in a long time. Florence has changed my heart in ways I didn’t know were possible. Everything in my life was just put on hold and God decided to give me a very evident and amazing breath of fresh air through this city to realize His grace. I don’t have to settle! I don’t have to be passive! There IS an abundant life to be had and it is here and now and extends into the future! God created me at just the right time with the right passions and looks and strengths to fulfill His perfect plan. If He can take me to another country and show me things I didn’t even know I would or could love, what else does He have planned?!

 

And with that, I’m ready for what’s next, knowing that I will always have a piece of Florence within myself to keep me wondering, marveling, and never again over it all. This summer, I will be interning with my favorite ministry in a new city, and I just can’t wait to see what this great adventure has in store! Thank you all for following this blog and baring with me through the past few months. And hey, maybe look out for another blog in the future! Xoxo 

Image

Advertisements

On Beaches, Beauty, and Bliss

Hey, y’all! I’m technically back in the big US of A, so I’m allowed to say that now! However, I’m way too jet lagged and sentimental to put together a goodbye blog post, and I wanted to update on the last few weeks first anyway!

The beauty of Italy never fails to amaze me. Even up until the end of the semester, there was not a day I didn’t wake up and think how lucky I was. In the last few weeks, Florence finally learned what sunshine was and the weather was to.die.for. My last two were spent soaking up the sights and friendships around me.

One of the most exciting things that has happened is that I got to reunite with one of my best friends, Mary, in Florence! We have stayed close since 6th grade, even though we went to different high schools and colleges. God has blessed me so much with this girl because it always seems that we are on a very similar walk of life. Case in point, she is studying in Ireland this semester and got to visit Europe over her spring break! We had always dreamed of traveling Europe, and it was unreal getting to do it together!

ImageImage

I spent the last few weekends crossing off the rest of my Italy bucket list. First, the Amalfi Coast. I spent 3 days visiting Sorrento, Capri, Positano, and Pompei aka HEAVEN! This was prime location for a girl who loves boats, beaches, and warm weather.

In Capri, we rode a speed boat around the coastline and were taken by canoe to see the Blue Grotto. Then, we hiked to the top of Anacapri for beautiful views from above and rode a chairlift to the very top to see even more. We had an amazing seafood lunch, and I even got custom made sandals from a local shop!

ImageImageImage

Next, we spent a day on the black sand beaches of Positano. It was so nice to relax all day, eating paninos by the water (definitely different from Floridian beach food!) and taking a boat to cliff jump and swim.

Image

Image

 The last day, we got to tour Pompei. There was so much more left of the city than any of the other ruins I have seen. It was so interesting to see the remaining frescoes and mosaics!
ImageImageImage
 
The following week, our school hosted a goodbye dinner before the craziness of finals ensued. It was good to have everyone in one place and enjoy being together! I am so blessed to have made amazing friends this semester.
ImageImage
 
 
 
Image
 
To take a break from finals, I traveled to Cinque Terre with my friend Lindsy and her friends that were visiting. It poured all day, causing the hiking trails to be closed, but the rain could not prevent us from having a great day in such a beautiful place! We enjoyed taking the train between the towns (okay, and getting lost between the towns…) and ate the best pesto I’ve ever had!
ImageImage
 
Okay, so have I mentioned that Florence is the COOLEST CITY you’ll ever go to? 2 more reasons why I love the place I live:
1. Notte Bianca. Meaning “The White Night,” it gets its name from a night in which the city has so much to do that it will awaken all of its residents. Dance parties, grafitti competitions, shop events, and musical performances could be found on each winding road. The coolest performance I saw was one that happened in front of Pitti Palace,one block from my apartment. It started with an opera singer and was followed by dancers and a man on a bicycle hanging from a crane in the sky, ending in fireworks. (Yeah, that was confusing. You would have to see it to believe it!)
ImageImageImage
 
2. Tuscan villas and their hospitable owners. I was invited to visit my friends’ photography teacher in his countryside home, and not 2 seconds after my friend said, “the only thing that would make this day better is Italian boys showing up,” they did. And invited us to join their Labor Day BBQ in their villa. You only live in Italy once, right?
ImageImageImageImage
And thus concludes the most random post yet. Prepare yourselves for a much sappier goodbye post!
 

The Hills Are Alive!!

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Travel to Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg, of course! That’s right, 3 days, 3 cities and 2 countries made for one crazy weekend! I left Florence Thursday night with my friends Joanna, Kayla and Monica on a trip with Euroadventures, a tour company that plans trips for study abroad students. It was a group of about 30 students studying in Florence with 2 guides.

We were on the bus for, oh, you know, 13 hours overnight traveling to our first stop, Budapest. When we signed up for the trip, the idea of seeing so much in one weekend definitely overshadowed how much time would be spent on a cramped bus. It was a sleepless experience, to say the least, but I did enjoy driving through a variety of beautiful scenery. Just when I think I get the hang of Europe’s picturesque qualities, they surprise me all over again!

We arrived in Budapest at 9 am, each with identical sleepy “get me off of this bus” looks in our eyes. Thankfully, checking into our hotel and changing our clothes did wonders for everyone’s mood and we were as ready as we would ever be to start exploring the city. The first thing about Hungary is that they use the forint as currency, and 1 euro is about 299 forints. (1 US dollar=230 forints) I felt like a high roller carrying around bills worth thousands of forints!

Our day began at a local indoor market and continued on a walking tour for several hours. I’m pretty sure we saw all of the main sights of Budapest jam packed into one day. It was such a cool city, I just wish I had been a little more awake for it! My favorite part was the overall aesthetic of the city, giving it a medieval feel with castles and rich colors. We hiked to see amazing lookouts and even got to see the baths! Oh, we also ate the best falafel and hummus I’ve ever had. Not sure if they are known for that, but we’ll go with it.

ImageImageImageImage

The next morning, we set out for Vienna, Austria! We drove for about 4 hours (nothing in comparison to the night before!) and then arrived in the bustling city. Being music lovers, Jo and I decided to do our own thing for the day to make sure we got to see everything we wanted to see. After wienerschnitzel, we conquered the metro system (This was an accomplishment because everything was in German) and made it to Mozart’s house. This was seriously a dream come true and it was heaven for a music geek like me! We got to see where he lived, some of his unfinished compositions, and even the room where he composed “The Marriage of Figaro,” which I played in high school! 

On a musical high, we also got to see HaydnHaus, the home of Haydn and Brahms. Seriously so cool! It made me miss my grandmother so much and wish she could be there with me to see it.

We also got to see the palace where Franz Ferdinand lived. The grounds and building were absolutely breath taking- my camera had a field day!

IMG_0825IMG_0832IMG_0851 IMG_0856 IMG_0894 IMG_0904

IMG_0865Our final day was my favorite by far-Salzburg! We signed up for the Sound of Music tour and I could not contain my excitement (or stop singing, for that matter). The witty tour guide took us on a bus ride all around the city to see the different sites where the movie was filmed. We saw the “I am 16 going on 17” gazebo, Von Trapp House, the Abbey, the lake, the trees the kids climbed on, and so much more! This was accompanied by so many fun facts about the filming and real story, I was loving it! Of course, the Alps were the main attraction and too stunning for words, and I had to get my Julie Andrews picture!

IMG_0912 IMG_0918 IMG_0969 sa1IMG_1015IMG_0966

These last few weeks have been insane, and I am trying my best to update everything! However, I’ve come to the realization that I will never be able to capture every moment on camera or in words and that I should start to sit back and enjoy it.

I am officially in the single digits of how many days I have left here and it is so bittersweet. I am determined to make the most of my last week and will eventually get to sharing it with y’all:)

White Houses and Blue Water

It’s no secret I’ve always wanted to go to Greece. After shifting my plans from studying in Thessaloniki to Florence, Greece immediately made it to the top of my list of “must sees” in Europe. Those who asked why always got my classic response of, “I just want to see the white houses on blue water!” And while it seems like a superficial answer, it was completely true. In my mind, Greece was a place of exquisite beauty and contagious joy. In reality, it was just that.

My friends Kayla, Chelsea, Ashley, and I booked a Costa Cruise months before Spring Break. At the time, I was ecstatic to finally have my Grecian plans solidified, but the excitement was quickly laid aside as I planned other trips and was focused on life and school in Florence.

You may be thinking, “Costa…that sounds familiar.” Let me just put it out there that this was, in fact, the cruise line that sunk in recent years, and is related to Carnival cruises. These fun little tidbits of information were enough to mask my giddiness with anxiety for the whole first day of traveling. We took a train from Venice, checked in, and were all of a sudden sailing away from the Italian coast. 

I had been on two other cruises before and found that I could barely tell the boat was moving. This experience, however, proved to be almost the exact opposite. The boat rocked up and down over the rough seas, causing us all to feel a little seasick. This also sparked the beginning of the endless Titanic jokes, in which we were kidding, sort of. 

After a long night of rough seas, we finally ported at our first stop, Bari, in southern Italy. It was such a quaint little town by the water, and we were so happy to finally see the sunshine! 

Image

The next day, we ported in Katakolon, or Olympia. This is where the first ever Olympics took place! Amid a rainstorm, it was so cool to see the ruins and pretend like we were Olympic athletes!

ImageImage

The next stop on our journey was Athens. I have to admit, it wasn’t until we reached this city that I actually began to believe I was in the exact place I had been dreaming about for so long. Walking up the steps of the Acropolis, taking it all in, I felt such exhilaration and peace, not only in the fact that I had finally reached Greece, but in how and when God brought me there. We took the open-air, hop on hop off bus all day to hit all of the main points in Athens. It was a beautiful day and I finally got the sun (burn) I had been hoping for!

ImageImage

 

The next stop, Santorini, was my absolute favorite port. It was everything one would imagine Greece to be, an exotic island serenely aligned with-you guessed it- white houses and blue water. Creeping up to the island in our tender boat early in the morning was breathtaking and something I will always remember. Something else I’ll never forget? Riding a donkey through the windy hills of Santorini! It was simultaneously nerve wracking and hilarious as all of our donkeys were herded up the hills, and each seemed to have a personality that matched our own. (Mine was determined to be in the middle of the action, making as many donkey friends as possible on the way up. Unfortunately, this also placed me in the middle of the action of Kayla’s donkey pooping on my leg. Go figure.) 

After that once in a lifetime adrenaline rush, I couldn’t stop there. So when I was offered a treatment in a “fish spa,” I immediately agreed. This meant having 200 fish chewing away at my feet at one time, something that should probably be added to the next season of Fear Factor. 

ImageImageImage

 

The last stop on our journey was Corfu. It was also a cute medium sized town that had a perfect Greek essence. We climbed a fortress for some amazing views, shopped in the city, and finally had authentic Greek gyros!

ImageImageImage

It is so hard to sum up all of the amazing things that happened in a blog post! I can’t believe I only have about 3 weeks left in Florence and am already getting sad as I approach the beginning of the end! Traveling has been exhausting but I am so excited to be headed to another fun destination tomorrow! Love to you all!

 

While You Were Hunting Eggs…

I was watching an explosion! Yes, it was fully intentional and the craziest, most unique Easter celebration I’ve ever attended. (Sorry, Easter Bunny!) This morning, I was awoken by the ringing of the Duomo bells, and my heart exclaimed one thing: “He is risen!” Those of you that know me well, know that it takes a lot for me to think something positive within the first few minutes of waking up, and I would never complain again if the majesty of the Duomo bells served as my alarm for the rest of my life. I got dressed and walked to the church to meet up with my friends for Easter mass. It was sprinkling on and off all morning, typical Florence weather, but that did not prevent the crowds from coming to see the traditional “Explosion of the Cart.” I’ve included a source to explain exactly what it is, because I’m not so sure where to begin!

On Easter Sunday every year, Florence celebrates the religious holiday in a very special way. The Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart”, dates back over 350 years. An elaborate wagon built in 1622 and standing two to three stories high is pulled by a pair of oxen decorated in garlands through the streets of Florence to the square between the Baptistry and Cathedral.

This tradition finds its origins in events that are partly historic and partly legendary. A young Florentine named Pazzino, a member of the noble Pazzi family, apparently took part in the First Crusade in the Holy Land in 1099, where he gave ample proof of his courage (he was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem and raise the Christian banner). When he came home, he brought back three flints from the Holy Sepulchre that he received for his act of courage. This reliquary, today preserved in the Church of SS. Apostoli, lies behind the Florentine celebration for the Resurrection of Christ.

Today, the ceremony still bears a strong resemblance to the way in which it has been celebrated for centuries. Starting around 10am, a priest rubs Pazzino’s three flints together until they spark and light the Easter candle; this, in turn, is used to light some coals which are placed in a container on the Cart and the procession delivers the Holy Fire to the Archbishop of Florence before Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo. The cart is accompanied by drummers, flag throwers and figures dressed in historical costume as well as city officials and clerical representatives.

The Cart, properly rigged with a suitable arsenal of fireworks, then awaits in front of the cathedral. From the cathedral’s altar, at around 11 am, when the “Gloria” is sung inside the church, the Archbishop uses the fire to light a dove–shaped rocket (called the “Colombina” and symbolizing the Holy Spirit) and this in turns flies out down a wire to the outside of the church and collides with the Cart in the square, setting off a spectacular firework display to the cheers of all, the Explosion of the Cart ensues! If the complex ritual proceeds smoothly and all of the fireworks go off, good luck is ensured for a good harvest for this year as well as for the city and its citizens – so we hope for a wonderful explosion of the cart every Easter!

 

We stood outside the Duomo and watched the parade processional and the cart, pulled by 2 white oxen enter the piazza. The mass was broadcast outside, so we could hear what was going on inside but still watch the setup for the explosion. While I was expecting an all-at-once explosion, it was more like a fireworks exhibition that went on for quite a while and included a variety of booming spectacles. 

ImageImageImage

 

It was as good of an Easter as I could have had away from home! Hope you all have a blessed holiday and get to spend time with your families! Speaking of which, I have been so MIA on my blog lately because my family was in Italy last week! I have been so busy with research papers that I haven’t uploaded the pictures yet, but they are on the way. Tomorrow, I leave for my spring break cruise in search of some European sunshine-I’ve been told it exists, we will see! Have a great week! 

From Paris, With Love

Paris is for lovers. Why yes, the number of couples frequenting the romantic city was staggering, however, it did not leave me with the awkward middle school single girl sadness. It’s completely acceptable to just be in love with being in Paris, and I got it BAD, my dear readers. I hate to be incredibly cliche, but it may even be more perfect than portrayed in the movies. The moment I stepped onto the well-groomed pavement lined with antique street lamps, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be in the group of little girls walking in two straight lines from Madeline or a sensational stage performer from Moulin Rouge. Either way, Paris left me in a Casablanca-like craze.

I left Thursday night (not having Friday classes is a study abroad must!), accompanied by my friends Chelsea and Lindsy, flying Ryanair into the Beauvais airport. From there, we took a bus ride into the city for our Parisian adventure to begin. We arrived pretty late, and had to immediately figure out the metro system to get to our hostel. Thankfully, two girls that knew their way around and spoke English happened to hear our woes of being lost and directed us to the right place. Our hostel was a neat place, definitely not the accommodations we had in Barcelona, but it would do and the breakfast would later make up for it! After checking in, our rumbling stomachs told us we needed a bite to eat before bed. Trying to find an open restaurant in a city we didn’t know at all proved to be a challenge, but after settling in an open bar, we begged and pleaded the kitchen staff to make us hamburgers even though they had already closed. I know what you’re thinking- you just arrived in PARIS and want a HAMBURGER? Sometimes a girl just needs some familiar food from the homeland! And let me tell you, not sure if it was my desperation or homesickness speaking, but it was probably the best burger I’ve had. 

The next morning, we woke up for breakfast and were delighted to learn that the French drink their coffee out of bowls. In comparison to the tiny little espresso cups the Italians have, I considered this a caffeinated feast! And, of course this was accompanied by bread covered in Nutella, yoghurt (which I have still not convinced myself to like-it tastes similar to sour cream!) and fruit. Image

Then, we set out for Versailles! Our student visas got us free admission, which was awesome! (Okay, truth: it was supposed to be for students with a 6 month visa or more, but I think my Southern Charm just blew the ticket taker away 😉 )

The outside was clearly gorgeous, and the inside was so prim and proper I just wanted to take up residence as princess immediately. Everyone was so courteous and polite as they passed through the exhibits-the French are definitely quieter people than Americans or Italians! 

ImageImage

 

The gardens were equally as amazing and almost reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. We also got to tour Marie Antoinette’s house, which was very characteristic of her quirky personality! Image

It was SO COLD in Paris. The temperature was probably at about 0 degrees celsius the whole time, but it felt much colder because of the wind and moist air. You know how it feels the day before it snows in North Carolina? That’s pretty much what it was like the whole time in Paris. Let’s just say I pretty much wore every article of clothing I brought on the trip at the same time for 4 days straight.

You absolutely cannot go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel tower, right? I had always seen pictures of the iconic building, but didn’t really know what to expect from the experience. Let’s just say it surpassed my expectations immensely. When Lindsy and I got near the Eiffel tower for the first time, we started jumping up and down and screaming, “WE’RE IN FRANCE!” You know, just to make sure everyone knew we were Americans and potential targets for mugging. 

Image

 

The coolest thing about the Eiffel tower is that you can ride to the top. You can either go to the first observation deck or all the way to the top. I’m the kind of person that likes to do something or not at all, so you bet I got on the elevator (which I have an extreme fear of) to ride to the top. It was absolutely amazing and an experience I will never forget. Not to mention, at every hour on the hour, the tower sparkles and you can drink champagne! ImageImage

We planned our visit just perfectly so that we could get pictures during the day and after it got dark. Unfortunately, I had a camera mishap and it is not working, so most of the pictures on this blog post are stolen from Lindsy! 

Image

That night, we enjoyed a great dinner near the Eiffel tower because we just had to see it sparkle one more time! I had French Onion Soup, which was so good!

 

When we returned to our hostel, we met our new Slovakian roommates and settled in for the night. The next day, we hit all the rest of the major sites we wanted to see, including Musee D’Orsay, an impressionist museum, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the lock bridge and Moulin Rouge. It was unreal getting to see all of them in person!

ImageImageImage

The next day was our last morning in Paris, which we dedicated to visiting the Louvre. It was very crowded and overwhelming, especially trying to see the Mona Lisa, but still worth it! 

ImageImage

I ate a Nutella and banana crepe before leaving, then it was back to good ole Florence! I am in Florence this weekend enjoying a much-needed weekend of relaxation and writing research papers! 

 

When in Rome

This past weekend, my program took us on a trip to Rome! Unfortunately, it rained a lot of the time and I had an awful cold for 2 days, but that did not stop me from seeing as much as possible! 

Trevi Fountain:Image

One: You’ll return to RomeImage

Two: You’ll fall in love Image

Three: You’ll get married

The Colosseum

ImageSt. Peter’s Basilica

ImageThis statue is only dressed up during important spiritual times-the resignation of the Pope!

Image

My favorite part of the trip was an excursion to Tivole and Villa D’Este on the way home. The ancient ruins and fountains were gorgeous and are known to be some of the most beautiful sites in Europe! (And we were thankful it didn’t rain!)

ImageImageImage