The Game Plan

My photo
Florence, Italy
So this is a handful of what I think I know... 1. Hands speak volumes. 2. Wine is cheaper than water. 3. Life is slower paced. 4. Food is AMAZING. 5. Italian men love all women and don't hesitate to say it loudly. My adventure begins Jan 12 in Florence, Italy, as a student at SACI (Studio Art Center International) having come from American University, in Washington, DC. While our nation's capital may have a plethora of monuments and history, it's nothing compared to standing a few feet away and gazing up at David, or so I've been told. (I'll let you know.) I continue my European exploration with my twin sister when our semesters end. We plan to take our backpacks into and over as many countries and borders as possible before landing for a few weeks revisiting Madrid. I hope to use this blog as a personal journal to keep track of my travels, but feel free to read along! Al prossimo anno! :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

So Roma

Lauren and I took our first big trip of the semester to Rome the weekend of February 17. It began on a Thursday night as we took our first train in Italy, which turned out to be lovely. I had desperately wanted to travel like Harry Potter with our own little cabin, and we did! We took the 4-hour slow train (which costs half the price of the fast train), which went by super quickly- maybe thanks to our decision to sip on some box wine.

Rome is spectacular. Our first day consisted of mainly the Vatican City. We climbed St. Peter’s Basilica to the top and from there could see all of Rome. It helped that the weather was wonderful- blue skies and 65 degrees, allowing us to see for miles in every direction. We also decided to go in the Vatican Museum, which was a great call.  Not only does the museum end with the Sistine Chapel, but, the museum was fabulous in its entirety. It has open courtyards throughout, a Gallery of Maps, work by Leonardo de Vinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio as well as Donte’s pinecone! I wasn’t really sure how important the pinecone was, but our lovely tour guide, Francesca, almost cried when she saw it. She’s also a Donte fanatic, but either way it was super neat. Francesca is a friend from American, studying in Rome, and let us stay with her all weekend.
St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican City

Later, we happened to pass by the Pantheon, nbd, on our walk home from grabbing coffee with some friends.

That night we met up with my friend Greg, and Francesca took us all to Trastevere, a narrow street lined by bars and restaurants where many of the local Italians go. Highlight of the night: chocolate shots- chocolate shot class, bailey’s, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream.
Saturday I would say was the best day. Greg, Lauren and I started off with the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. Only last week did I re-watch Gladiator, but walking through the largest arena of the ancient world and thinking of all that happened in that arena was crazy. With so many gladiator impersonators around I almost felt as if I were there! (jk) The Roman Forum is what really blew my mind. It’s ruins upon ruins that seem to never end. Since it was the center of public life in Rome for over 1000 years, there were some signs that distinguished what things would have been but a lot of it was just there. You can walk over and around almost all of it, which is why we could just sit on some ruin for lunch.

Roman Forum
The Borghese Gallery was next on the agenda, but for this museum you need to call and set an appointment. Since our appointment was at 5, we had time to walk across Rome at our leisure. We passed through Piazza Navona, which had a huge fountain in the middle, tons of street artists, and a live band playing as we passed through. I would say it was my favorite piazza that I saw in Rome. We also saw Scholars, (the legendary bar where all the Americans go), Bulldog (Cancun crew- we had a drink inside for everyone) and passed by the Spanish Steps.
Villa Borghese is the beautiful and HUGE park where the Borghese Gallery is located.  I would have loved to spend more time there, definitely a highlight on my agenda if I ever make it back to Rome.
The final ‘must see’ in Rome we were told was the Trevi Fountain. You can hear the water from blocks away and as you turn the corner the most enormous and magical fountain stands in front of you. We sat on the steps in awe for over an hour sharing a bottle of wine. We were sure to uphold the Trevi myth by throwing coins over our left shoulder with our right hand- 1 coin to return to Rome someday, and 2 coins for love. It was the perfect end to our weekend. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just a Thursday

Thursday is typically my longest school day, starting class at 8 and going basically from class to class until 7:30.  BUT, this past Thursday was pretty amazing.  
Starting off with Illustration class, we had a guest speaker, Roberto Innocenti, an Italian illustrator and winner of The Hans Christian Andersen Award which is the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children's books. It was absolutely amazing to get to talk with such a successful and talented illustrator, with so many unbelievable works. Over 70 years old, and having to be translated by our teacher, he was still able to show us the book he’s working on right now which was super neat to see his process, sketches, etc. Check out some of his stuff!
The Adventures of Pinocchio, published 1988

The Last Resort, published 2002

Nutcracker, published 1996

From there, I went with my drawing class to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, which contains many of the original works of art created for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiora aka the Duomo. I love field trips with classes because you never have to pay for it your self. My teacher is also ridiculous. He insisted we get a class photo so he could email it to all of us (below). He's originally from England so has an intense accent but other than the accent he is exactly what you would imagine an art teacher in Florence to be like. He's very intellectual about the drawing process and is all about drawing from within and feeling the movements and motion. It's pretty hilarious.

Drawing class at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo 2/10

Finally, in photography, we went to an old insane asylum on the other side of the city that now serves as a home to squatters and research labs. It was sort of too late when we went and got dark within the hour, (which yes, made it even more creepy than it already was) so in terms of getting good shots, we were limited. But, it was super interesting. Most of the buildings were locked, but in the past classes have been able to get inside where they found old x-rays, test tubes, and forensic labs. We were only really able to walk around the buildings but were able to talk with a bunch of the squatters. There were also SO many stray cats and dogs living there. The Italian government pays for the squatters to live in these broken down places and provide electricity and water for them. Though it comes out of the Italian tax money, it keeps them off the streets and from living within the main city, so they figure it's a better solution than kicking them out. Though it was a very interesting place to go and somewhere I would have never known to go on my own, I don't think I'll be visiting again on my own and especially not at night. I only brought my film camera, so unfortunately I'll have to wait till I get them developed to give you an idea of what it looked like.
To end the day, and because the only way to do it in Italy is with wine, we attempted a wine power hour. Quite the success.
All-in-all, it was quite the Thursday.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To be Italian...

1. You push, not pull.
It's taken me till about this week to get used to the idea that you have to pull all doors to exit a building, and push all doors to enter. It's a sure sign when you're in a restaurant that you're American when you make this mistake. It's so instinctive to just push as you exit, that I guarantee you'll make it.

2. Business Hours
Never what they say they are. Most shops are open in the morning for about 4 hours, close in the afternoon, and then reopen in the late-afternoon/ night. This in-and-of its self is different than most 12-hour or 24-hour shops in the states. Additionally, for any given reason a shop can close down for the day or for few hours. Maybe they got hungry, it's someone's birthday or friends are in town and that warrants closing down.

3. No open container law.
The first night I was here and we walked around the streets sharing a bottle of wine, I felt so unsure if we were actually allowed to be doing that. Being here, I've realized that EVERYONE does it. It can be early in the morning and people will be sipping away at a beer in the middle of the street.

4. Residential vs. Business Addresses

Walking down the street and trying to find a store at Via Oruolla 13, you may think you're on the right track when you are following numbers 3 then 5, 7, 10... 83? The residential system is on an entirely different number system then the business'. If the numbers are in concrete on the street walls, then that's the business numbers, but if they're in blue and usually on an acrylic slab, then those are the apartments and houses. This is can be very tricky and annoying if you aren't aware of this.

5. On time is 10 minutes late.

6. Weigh your own produce.
I still get this wrong. For every vegetable or fruit you want you have put it in a bag, weigh it on the scale, and get a sticker for it. If you forget, they'll send you back and make you do it.

Now, breaking away from everyday cultural differences, a really neat tradition I found is this idea of "love-locks."

Thousands of young lovers go to the Ponte Vecchio bridge and attach padlocks to a bronze bust and the railings around it. It is said to represent the 'unbreakable bond uniting them." A few rules for attaching a lock...

1. You must put the lovers name on one side of the lock.
2. You must immediately throw the key into the river once locking the lock.
3. Overly large locks and chains are frowned upon.

Beginning about a decade ago, the tradition began to be frowned upon by the city because it was scratching and denting the metal, and creating huge clusters that the council officials did not enjoy. They removed some 5,500 when they finally gave up because more locks were appearing faster than they could take them off. It's unknown how this romantic tradition began but remains today. Looks like love conquers all. :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

San Miniato al Monte

So the whole posting everyday thing I realize is a bit too ambitious. I'll just say that I'll try my best.

To start to describe the food and how wonderful it is seems like a waste of time. I knew Italy was known for its food before I came, and to say that now that I’m here that it’s not always on my mind, I’d be lying.  Everything from the pizza to pasta, gelato and croissants, paninis and prosciutto, are some how, so much better than the same foods in America. It’s impossible to explain why they’re so delicious, other than that everything is so fresh here. The central market is absolutely wonderful. It’s only a block from my apartment and everything is extremely cheap. Stands sell fish, meat, cheese, bread, vegetables and fruit. This orange was literally the size of 2 of my fists, and growing another orange inside of it. Pizza is a huge deal and comes with just about anything you could ask for on it. It’s always a personal pan pizza, and although it is huge, it’s super thin crust. With all this said… in order to not gain 100 pounds while I’m here, and to still be able to enjoy all of the deliciousness, I found the most beautiful place to run. (see below)

San Miniato al Monte 2/4/11
Last night we walked to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, known as one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy. It sits atop one of the highest points in Florence so the views are unbelievable. We got there around 5:30 which was while the sun was setting. If anyone knows me they know how much I love the sky and sunsets. It was unbelievable. There are also chanting monks every night within the Basilica, a real cool think to hear and experience.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Sad Day

This was my post from Wed... opps. 
Susan, my roommate as I mentioned in my first post, left for the states this morning at 5 am.  She can’t hear out of one of her ears and it hasn’t gotten better for the past few weeks. No one can give her an answer of what it is and three ear doctors later the ear specialists suggested she go home and figure it out. We’re hopeful she’ll be back within the week, but for now just Rich and I will have to hold down the fort. Get better and come back to us soon Susan! <3 

On top of that, the peanut butter I brought from the states is now gone! Don't get me wrong, peanut butter is sold here but the jar about 1/3 the size of a normal peanut butter jar is sold for about 5 euro which is around $7! I can't bring myself to pay that. Susan plans to bring 2 monster jar when she comes back... which is just another, of course minuscule reason, I can't wait for her return. 
Good thing this all happened on Wednesday because it's now Friday so it's tragedy of the past. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Myth Busters

So the myth IS true!... I really don't think anything compares to standing in front of the David. Walking into the Accademia yesterday with my drawing class, turning the first corner of the museum, the enormous David stands astoundingly tall at the end of the corridor, below a huge overhead sunlight. He  looks perfect, so smooth, and flawless, and about 3 times bigger than I had ever imagined it.

It was extremely fortunate because my drawing class went to the Accademia for class and spent 3 hours drawing him. Though that may seem like a ridiculous amount of time for any non-drawer, having been in class for 3 weeks now, and used to drawing the same model for hours on end, sketching the David was wonderful. I contemplated posting what I drew next to the picture, but then rethought that idea.

David is a must see in Florence. Though you'll hear a constant "NO PHOTO" from the many guards, as you can see, you can definitely find loopholes around that rule.

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Made it!

So… I made it! It’s been almost 3 weeks since I’ve arrived and as much as I swore to myself that I would keep up with this blog, the lack of Internet we’ve had in our apartment has made it extremely hard. Still without Internet, I won’t let that keep me from keeping a record of my experience because Italy truly must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Everything from the language, the people, the food, and the buildings are so unique and exciting. As much as I love America, I will not have any trouble living in this city for the next few months but I see leaving being more of a challenge than anything.
My apartment!
I definitely lucked out in terms of my apartment. Arriving at SACI’s main building in the afternoon having sat in Frankfurt airport since 4 am that morning, I was not excited to lug my 2 suitcases, large and heavy backpack and messenger bags through the cobblestone streets of Florence to find my apartment. The 3 people I travelled with from the airport all got their living assignment and were all at least 20 min away, handed a map, and told to go explore to find it.  However, I was assigned the apartment 2 doors down from the main building, which was and has been amazingly convenient.  As close as I was, getting into the apartment was a whole different story.
It takes 3 doors, strange Italian keys, stairs, a long hallway and a whole bunch of hidden light switches to successfully get inside my apartment… no simple task for a newbie to Italy. Needless to say, I’ve now mastered the process and can be in and out in about 2 min compared to the 20 min it took the first day.
I was first to arrive, but soon enough I heard Rich from Skidmore at the end of the hall struggling to get in as I had a few minutes before.  I was not expecting a male roommate, and I secretly prayed that I wouldn’t be the only girl in the apartment. Unfortunately for Rich, he’d be the odd gender out because Susan from MICA arrived a few hours later, our final apartment mate. Other than Rich being the only guy with about 8 girls the majority of the time, we’re all getting along really well.  
Rich had studied at SACI for a late Spring term last year so he was able to show me around a bit when we first arrived. I was in complete awe as we walked through the streets. Everything was just as I had expected but real and so much better. All the roads are cobblestone, their aren’t a ton of cars, and when there are cars they’re all mini. Vespas zoom past on any street, every other shop is a Gelataria, wine shop, meat shop or leather store, and each tiny road is surrounded by brightly colored apartments with interesting window shades and flower pots. To my surprise, we walked down 2 blocks and the Duomo stood tall before me. I could get used to this.
Pisa and Lucca Trip 1/29/11
Although classes have started, I’ve visited Ravenna, Pisa, Lucca and the Medici Villas, experienced the night life in Florence, had real Italian food, have learned some unusual Italian ways, explored my fair share of different types of wine, and have met some really neat people, for this first post I think I’ll end it here. I want my plan to be to (try) to post a picture each day to help me keep track of my experience. Days with nothing too exciting I may write about the old man that sells me fruit at the market, or a recap of a class I have yet to describe. Italy has already proved to have enough to explore and experience to keep me busy and in wonder for the next 3 months.
Ciao for now!   

Monday, January 10, 2011


Charli the Stowaway

It's the night before it all begins, and though I'm tremendously excited, I have a feeling tomorrow will be a long one. I have 2 transfer flights before I get to Florence, (supposedly Wednesday morning) however, each city I transfer at is having a snow storm as I speak. :/

Alexa left tonight making the whole thing seem much more real. She won't be back in this house for another 7 months... same for me starting tomorrow morning. Though I am soooo ready, having been packed for days now, the goodbyes I've been saying for the past month are now, actually, goodbye. Know that I will miss all my family and friends an unbelievable amount but hope to see many overseas! Ciao!