Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

School in Florence

For all my readers, my friends and family, I would like to point out the "follow by email" feature on the right side of this page. If you type in your email, you will be notified when a new post is up -- rather than checking this blog every day incessantly/never/when you remember/sporadically. Just thought I'd point that out!

So this post is about my school, mia scuola! I finally got some pictures of my school in Florence -- Richmond University. It's on Via Maggio and less than a 10 minute walk from my home.

As mentioned before, I have 2 weeks of an intensive Italian language course. I have 2 more days left, and a final -- and I'll have earned my 3 credits. I'm ready to start learning about other things Italian (besides the language).

Start by entering into the abyss on the left.

… and you will see this.

Enter the code and the gates shall open. It's quite fun! :)

Pictured below is the beautiful courtyard. If it rains, that middle area will be full of water. I'm sure it'll make for a beautiful photograph though! I was in awe when I first saw the school.

I then go up these stairs every morning to my classroom.

This is my classroom and professor, who has two Ph.D's. The boy in the corner is actually an Italian, interning with the school. There are about 15 students in my class, which makes for very conversational and interactive learning. :)

Here they attempted to make it look like a candid shot. (If you look carefully, I don't think it worked.)

So this has been my center of learning since I've been here! Every day, from 9am-1pm.

Feel free to post a comment below if there's anything in Florence (or about my study abroad life) that you'd like to see! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where do I live?

To start off, I would like to proudly announce and point out my banner photo of Florence. See that beautiful view? That's right, I took it! Now that I'm actually here, I don't need to use other people's photos for my blog ;)

And now,

What you've all been waiting for -- my home stay
I live in a apartment-type complex with an older, retired lady who speaks just about as much English as I do Italian. In fact, her English-speaking skills are probably better than my Italian-speaking skills.

I'll share the story as I guide you to my temporary home through pictures.

(You can take a look here to see where I live, in the context of the city.)

So -- welcome to the street alley of Borgo della Stella! On the left, you'll see a door with the number 7. That's where I live! Excuse the construction that is currently going on every day, starting at 7am. Lots of renovation is being done in this area. Perche? The apartment complex building has been here since around 1450 --( yes, the year). So extra little help is always wanted here and there, now and again.

The first key will get you through this door. I live in a very authentic and local area of Firenze.

You are immediately greeted with stairs. 

Then more stairs...

That is the entry to my home. 

For obvious privacy reasons (even though I have permission), we've skipped right through to the entrance of my personal abode. This glass-looking door doesn't shut, but rather flips in and out.
When you go in, the bathroom door is on the right, and the bedroom's on the left. We'll save the bathroom for another day.

If you start at the top left and work your way to the right, envision a panorama.
Upon moving in, a cat also lived here. She was sick, dying of cancer, and my host mom/grandma would take her to the vet every week. The cat basically lived in the laundry room and did not move much. On day 2, this cat was apparently euthanized, after living with my host for 16 years. Quite a beginning to my move here.

Hope you all enjoyed this little tour of my home!

Stay tuned for photos of my school, my laundry experience, grocery shopping on my own, and interesting encounters!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Exploring Siena: Leaving the Guided Tours

Be prepared to sit down and read/browse/enjoy for a while. Feel free to grab coffee and make yourself comfortable. The following pictures (or in other words, journey I’m about to take you on) will be a walk-through of my amazing day on Saturday, condensed from about 300 pictures!

First off, this was a day-trip, provided by my program. About an hour away from Florence exists the lovely town of Siena – which is still touristy, but has an off-the-beaten-path feel to it. Paid €5 to reserve my spot, which then becomes refundable if you actually participate (aka free transportation).

When I first looked at the itinerary (arrive at 9:30, guided tours until lunch, then another tour until 3, and 2 hours of “free time”) – I immediately knew that this wouldn’t work. I didn’t know my program would take us to Siena and already had my list for self exploration and places I didn’t want to miss. I predownloaded apps on my phone (walking guides, maps, historical information) to aid my understanding of what I would be seeing.

I did things the legit way, got permission from the staff, and left the group early on. (I wasn't trying to be a rebel -- no one I asked wanted to join me). Having done research mainly that morning, I headed towards the ticket booth in the main piazza. For €13, I obtained admission to the Torre del Mangia – the tallest structure in Italy at the time it was built (1338-1348) as well as the Museo Civico.

I climbed up about 5 different types of steps, and kept thinking I was there -- until more steps appeared from your peripheral vision.

Oh, the joy and freedom of traveling alone! It was so freeing, for lack of a better word, and I could fully enjoy the atmosphere and being in the moment at Siena.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Castello di Verrazzano

Before I get ahead of myself, I wanted to share this amazing video my amica, Amma, made of my packing. Check it out here.

In just less than an hour by bus from Florence, the Chianti Classico area contains a somewhat hidden Castle of Verrazzano and winery. It's a common spot for tourists (so not that hidden), but still a nice get-away. Our program allowed us this optional trip, in exchange, the payment: a meal ticket. I thought it well worth it.
Here's some pictures "on the way" to the bus stop. 

On the way there, I was able to see the Italian countryside. Those bus drivers are absolutely crazy! I felt like my life was endangered whenever we made sharp turns on a hilly, dirt road. We made our way up to the hilltop and had an amazing welcome to the Castello di Verrazzano.

The Chianti Classico area was the world's first grape growing and wine producing area to be officially proclaimed. The castle itself was the birthplace of the family Verrazzano -- same descendants of the navigator Giovanni.

Such a beautiful view! I will have lots of inspiration for painting…
They make their own wine (from their grapes) and olive oil. They also had rosemary and persimmon -- all very natural and organic.

This plaque explains how this castle is where the navigator Giovanni originated from.

I always have mixed feelings about guided tours. I found it quite difficult to take photos without 20 million people in it.. but I managed. The castle was magnificent, and I wish I had a full day to thoroughly take amazing photos to show everyone the beauty of this place. The picture below is of the historical cellars.

After the tour, we prepared for the wine tastings.

We tried 3 of their best wines, and a Vin Santo dessert wine with Tuscan food. They tried to teach us "wine appreciation" - how to swirl it, smell it, look at it, and taste it. (If you ask me, personally, I think the main purpose is to build the anticipation of sipping wine.) We then compared the difference with tasting the wine after having, say, bread and olive oil. Personally, I liked the taste of the wine without the contamination of food. However, the saying is that where there is wine, there is food. And vice versa. That probably means that I don't know how to appreciate the taste, perhaps?

Before the wine tasting, of course. Everyone's cheeks were flushed after the wine tasting. ;)

Buon appetito!

I hope to be posting soon about mia casa e escuela. (My home and my school)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Slowly adjusting = overwhelming

Nobody really tells you what to expect when you study abroad. We all go through different experiences, feelings, and adjustments. I, for one, am slightly struggling with balancing me, myself, and I/my attitude with the other 109 people here. It's kind of difficult to spent practically your entire day in "group" activities. I think that's what makes it feel like I'm in a vacation tour group, living out of a hotel.

We started our 2-week long intensive Italian language course (3 credits) and we had to get books at a local bookstore, called the Paperback Exchange. The Espresso book below was 21,50 €. We need another workbook, but I went later and they were sold out. I'll check back at the end of the week.

We got our meal tickets this afternoon: the red ones work for up to 14€ meals at 25 different ristorantes/trattorias around Firenze. They provided 21 of these to last until February, and 26 breakfast ones (worth 4€).

The sheet below is one of several that my professor gave to us. Anyway, he thought that knowing these gestures would be quite helpful in Italy. 

Below are the 5 Esselunga cards I received with my meal tickets. Esselunga is a huge indoor supermarket/grocery/store place with a lot of everything. 
The chart for equivalency:

1 Esselunga = 1 meal ticket = 3 breakfast tickets

I'm thinking to trade in my 14€ meal tickets for more Esselunga. Simply because I won't eat meals that cost that much everyday, and can eat pizza for 2€ and spend the Esselunga card.

Other goodies I got:
My class schedule, which is two weeks later, after the intensive Italian course. The shaded-in parts are my classes.

My home stay that I get to move into -- tomorrow! So excited. It's the X on the map, below the Arno, and a short walk from the school. Also, literally next door is the amazing gelato place I had on my list to try, the cheapest, best, and most authentic gelato in Florence starting at 1€. It's fate!!!

I also got my Richmond student ID card and my museum card. Finally. 
I am SO excited to start exploring Florence more!

So, every day for 2 weeks, we have an Italian language class from 9am-1pm. There is a half hour break, and I went to a nearby market (San Lorenzo) today and got a notebook for my Italian class notes.
Here's how to say, Can I buy a notebook? in Italian (because they store them in the back behind the counter… you cannot reach them.)
"Posso comprare un quaderno, per favore?"
It is so, so rewarding to practice your Italian. Italians always welcome the fact that you try to speak their language (even if you butcher it), and they will help you out.

This had the most pages, and they are blank -- perfetto. Although 4,50€, I felt comfortable splurging. I realized later that it's made in France and the pages are so, so soft. I can't stop touching them!

I'm finally recovering from jet lag, exhaustion, and from being overwhelmed. 

What'll be coming up: (because there is so much to talk about)
*photos of Florence: school, classroom, home stay, the city
*the food -- what it's been like culturally, and pictures… 
*culture differences (& just, you know, inadvertently breaking the law…)
*Italian people

Sunday, January 19, 2014

First full day in Firenze.

I finally got to rest. My brain is still on vacation mode, so it's difficult to even take this all in.
Our orientation was at 10am, so my roommate and I (in the hotel we're staying at) took a quick trip up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I have all these plans of things I want to do, and this is one of them. I've been quite independent and assertive throughout this trip, so I'm lucky if anyone agrees with me to do things. :)
It was so, so beautiful, and there was very few people. I love the times when I get to break away from the giant group of 109 students. I feel like it's like being around a high school setting - constant chatter, excitement, and discussion. 

We didn't get lost once and found our way up these dinky little steps.

The view was already beautiful going up… (across the bridge on the south - which looks like north in this picture) is where our hotel is.

Here is the piazzale.

 In the back, you see the "Old Bridge" -- Ponte Vecchio. On the right, the Duomo, which means cathedral. So gorgeous and bright in the morning!

This is one I took of my temporary roommate, Catherine from Connecticut. We both chose home stays and both of us are the only ones that "happen" to be the only home stays that do not have a roommate.

It all still seems surreal and like a dream. I cannot wait to get watercolor paper or a watercolor notebook asap to start painting Florence from all over town! Surprisingly, I've only met 2 art majors so far, neither of them are super into painting (more of drawing). Hoping I can find a buddy so I won't be the loner artist on the street painting. ;) So glad that I brought my paints and brushes.

Now we're rushing back to make it in time for orientation…

Crossing the San Niccolo bridge that I mentioned earlier...

We were free to figure our own lunch, and I had my handy-dandy list that I had done research on before. The name of the restaurant was Baldovino (the only restaurant I had written down for Florence) and of course, as all my meal places are, the one euro sign to indicate its lower price. Since no one else had other specific suggestions, we headed down Via di San Giuseppe. We almost based it because it was so small and dark…

I was hesitant that my suggestion was being used, but it ended up being great and cheap. The menus were not in English, as you can see, but I got to practice my Italian. 

"Posso avere…" means "Can I have…"
"Posso avere il conte per favore?" means "Can I have the bill?"
In Italy, it is considered rude for the check to be brought to you, because it implies that they want you to leave. So, it's common practice to ask for the bill, or you'll be sitting there for quite a while!
One of these pizzas was 6,50 euro.

We had a walking tour of the city, and of course, the Arno was beautiful. 
Sorry that these are horrible phone pictures, but I'm looking forward to having the time to simply go around Florence at all times of the day and having photo shoots!

This is after a walking tour of Florence. I know this city is going to just amaze me more and more, and I'm so excited to update everyone on everything Firenze!

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