Tuesday, May 25, 2010

goodbye, florence.

A summary of my three days in Alicante, Spain requires really only one photo:

I literally did nothing but lay on the beach, eat, sleep, and the occasional crossword puzzle. Now that's my kind of vacation! I walked away with minimal sunburn (it's hard to get your whole back, doing it by yourself), feeling very relaxed and ready to face the difficult week ahead of me.

On the other hand, my time in Florence can barely be summed up in the thousands of pictures I have taken since January. How is it possibly May 25 right now? When I booked this flight seven months ago, all the way back in November, I really thought this day would never come.

In this entry, I will attempt both poignancy and humor...but it could get a little mushy. Bear with me.

I have moved before, and we all know that it is quite a sad experience to pick up and leave everything you know behind. I would never claim that I "know"' Florence. It is a city full of so many surprises, both modern and historic, that it would take years of exploration to truly conquer it. In these past four months, though, I have come to know my cozy corner of the city, and leaving it, as well as my experiences here, behind is proving to be more emotional than I had expected.

As much as I have enjoyed my time abroad, I have on occasion found myself wishing I could go home. Wishing that I lived in a place where asking for directions wasn't such a trial. Wishing that I could just get a freakin' iced coffee, not a caffe americano. Wishing for my own room. Wishing for my car back. Wishing I was with my friends back home as they celebrated Gator gymnastics victories and 21st birthdays.

As big as all of those details seemed at the time, it has taken all of four months for me to realize that what I've learned here far outweighs the cultural discomfort, homesickness, irritation, and frustration that I experienced here.

The experiences I have had in Florence (and elsewhere!) can never be replicated. That was why I decided to study abroad in the first place! When else would I ever get the opportunity to pick up my life for four months and live in a foreign country, with relative financial security? Answer: Never.

Leaving this part of my life behind is only slightly more difficult than leaving the people I've met along the way (mostly because I know it's an inevitability that I will see them again). Not to get all emotional and affectionate, but living together in a foreign country will bond you, no matter how different you may be. And let me tell you, differences abounded in our little dysfunctional Palace family.

But these girls have seen me laugh and cry, they've dealt with me drunk and hungover, consoled me, self-conscious and emotional, and more. Together, we have traveled all over Italy, exploring its culinary gifts, ancient ruins, and cultural history. Together, we took Barcelona by storm, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I cried as each of them got into cabs and drove to the airport, leaving me here, alone at last.

This experience has taught me more about myself that I thought. Even though this was one argument I used to convince my slightly reticent father to let me study abroad, I never imagined the kind of soul-searching I would have to do while living in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Stressful? Living in Italy at 20? Really?

The truth is that a lot of issues came to the fore while I was here. I had to confront my problems with food, self-esteem, and self-worth, as well as my feelings about alcohol, dating, and my friendships back home.

Being here introduced me to a lot of new interests, and rekindled some of my old ones (writing, for example). I learned the basics of a new language, and though far from fluent, my parents can attest that I am competent enough to navigate the complexities of Italian travel (and restaurants).

I didn't know what to expect, coming here. I kind of walked into this semester thinking that it was going to be all fun and games, all partying and playing. Honestly, most of it was. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been truly upset in the past four months.

Walking away from my life in America and into Italy gave me new appreciation for the things that I have back home, while also allowing me to emotionally separate myself from problems I have been dealing with. Coming home, I feel more emotionally complete, more mentally prepared to handle problems that come my way. And I will credit that to living with four complete strangers, and the necessity of developing patience when living in a country where there are essentially no traffic laws and no one knows what a clothes dryer looks like. [Exaggeration.]

Tonight, I will board a plane bound for London. From there, I will fly back to Tampa, where I will be reunited with my family and friends.

While part of me is not ready to come home, and probably never will be, while it is incredibly sad to turn the page on this chapter of my life, I know that what I've learned here and experienced here will be with me for the rest of my life.

And not just because I'm a compulsive photographer, or because I blogged about all of it along the way.

But because when you get to know another foreign country as I have come to know and appreciate (though not necessarily understand) Italy, it is a lesson that is impossible to forget.

So thank you to my parents, who supported me (both in financing and encouraging this whole shenanigan) throughout these four months...and through the planning stages, dating all the way back to April of 2009. Thank you to my friends for not forgetting about me while I was gone. Thank you to my Florence roommates who got more than they signed up for when I was assigned to be their roommate. Thank you to Sergio and Mario for being the only Italian men I could trust.

And thanks to all of you for reading. It's been real.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

update from paradise.

I'm a little bit in love with Alicante. First of all, they have a Subway, so I was able to eat my first veggie sandwich in over four months. Second, this city has the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, hands down, bar none. The sand is soft, the water is SO blue, the sky is cloudless, and there are endless palm trees. Need I say more? The only thing that went awry today was the lack of attention I paid to my rear end as far as sunscreen goes. Whoops.

Pictures from Spain tomorrow. For now, I'll finish off The Week with the Parents edition of the blog.

Wednesday, we traipsed out to Pompeii, the excavation site where an entire city was buried after Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD. It remained covered until 1700's, I do believe, and even today is not fully excavated. I distinctly remember having a book about Pompeii as a child (my mother corroborates this. She herself is fascinated with the city and tried to get us kids excited about it, as well. Apparently her plan worked, since I still remember the book 15 years later).

I honestly don't remember what most of these buildings are. Couldn't tell you if my life depended on it.

This one is famous, though. It was a house with this mosaic in the entry way that reads (in Latin) "Beware of Dog"

They also restored a lot of gardens as they would have been back in the days of Pompeii.

This one's the amphitheater. It held over 20,000 people which was a big deal back in those days (but coming from a school with a stadium that can house over 90,000, it takes a lot to impress me. Kidding.) This was used for gladiator fights, and was apparently shut down once upon a time after a fight broke out between fans from opposing cities. Good to know that the human race has evolved...not.

Teeny tiny doorway. I would have hit my head a lot living in Pompeii.

This was in the Teatro Piccolo (Small Theater) which was reserved for musical performances, readings, and the like. There was also a larger theater that we didn't get to go in.

Wednesday night, we returned to Sorrento from Pompeii starving, so we decided to head town to the Marina Grande, where our B&B owner had told us we could find some good seafood restaurants.

We got there a little early (read: before 7 PM), so we had to kill some time while we waited for the trattoria to open.

As soon as I saw Trattoria Da Emilia, I remembered that it had been recommended in one of the guidebooks we had picked up here. It did not disappoint! My mother and I split a plate of spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and pesce alla griglia (grilled fish). The grilled fish actually turned out to be...a whole grilled fish. With its head and bones and everything. And even after being warned about sneaky, dangerous fish bones, I still managed to swallow one. Whoops.

After dinner, we went to Gelateria Il Davide, which is apparently rumored to be some of the best gelato in Italy. I totally envy whoever's job it is to hand out that title, by the way. Can you imagine just wandering around Italy tasting all of the gelato you can get your hands on?

Well, I don't know if this is REALLY the best in Italy...I've been to so many places...maybe if you let me try a few more flavors I'd be able to decide...

That is banana, crema di nutella, and "Oreo" flavors. I'm predictable. I definitely wouldn't say it's the BEST gelato I've had in Italy, but honestly, at this point, I think it would be impossible to decide.

Thursday, we had to catch a train back to Naples around 4 PM, so we tried to take a quick trip to Amalfi which ended up being even shorter than we anticipated. We didn't get off to the quickest start that morning, and then the bus ride took WAY longer than anticipated.

Note to readers: If you are ever travelling the Amalfi Coast by bus, be prepared to fear for your life. Drivers apparently have little to no concern for human life as they take hairpin turns that leave you looking over the edge of a cliff at nothing but water at breakneck speed. They also have no concern for the width of the road as they speed by cars, motorcycles, people, and even buses going the opposite direction.

Legit, the only pictures I took in Amalfi. We were there for all of an hour and a half, but did manage to get in a quick tour of the paper factory, for which Amalfi is famous. They make their paper out of cotton instead of trees, even to this day. I, of course, had to get a pretty piece with some dried flowers pressed into it.

After a bit of a disaster catching our train in Naples, we did manage to arrive in Pisa safe and sound that night around 11 PM. We spent a few hours Friday in Lucca, then taking the necessary touristy shots of the Leaning Tower of Pisa upon our return (but you'll have to ask my Dad for those shots...I didn't take them on my camera). We killed more time by having some pizza and gelato before the parents saw me off on my train to the Pisa airport, and they returned to their hotel for their last night in Italy.

In spite of all of the mishaps (read: stolen wallet, missed trains, etc.), I hope that the parents enjoyed their week in Italy as much as I enjoyed spending it with them. Great food, great company, great sights, great country...what more could a girl ask for?

Friday, May 21, 2010

the blues.

I'm currently sitting in the Pisa airport, waiting for my flight to Alicante, and I have the fastest internet connection I have had since I got to Europe! It only took me about 10 minutes to upload all of these photos. Hot damn.

As promised, the Sorrento installment of The Week with the Parents. Also as promised, cats. Lots and lots of cats.

This fella was the B&B Welcome Wagon, always sitting on top of one of the cars as we were returning home from one of our daily adventures.

On Tuesday, the parents and I decided to do the island of Capri, since the weather was BLISSFUL, not a cloud in the sky, and not a sign of rain: the first day of its kind since my parents had arrived in Italy, if I'm not mistaken. Both Florence and Rome had nothing but rain for us, so at the first sign of sun, we took to the water.

Check out that sky! This was in Sorrento, on the way to the Marina Piccola ("Little Marina") where we caught our hydrofoil to Capri.

Waiting to board...

I actually read my book most of the boat ride there (whoops), but took some photos when we docked.

I have seriously never seen such beautiful blue water.

As soon as we landed in Capri, we went to buy tickets to see the Blue Grotto, which is (I think) Capri's major tourist attraction. At any rate, it's supposed to be gorgeous. Inside, the light refracts off the blue water and turns the inside of the whole cave an incredible shade of blue. But of course, our bad luck came through: due to rough seas and high tide, no boats were going into the Blue Grotto that day. Boo!

The boat took us around the entire island, though, which was fun. Here's me and Mom on the boat.

The Lover's Arch...you are supposed to kiss your significant other (or a friend) as you go under for good luck.

And here is Mom holding Dad in the boat as he leans dangerously over the rail, trying to get a picture of something. Typical.

After our tour was over, we grabbed a quick lunch before heading to the city of Anacapri, located on the other side of the island. The bus ride there was crazy. Combining the insanity of Italian drivers with steep cliffs that plunge directly into the Mediterranean is never a good idea.

In Anacapri, we went to see the Monte Solaro, which has an amazing view of the city of Capri and the coast. Wanna know how we got there?

By chair lift.

There she goes!

It was a little chilly on the way up and down, but the view was pretty incredible. And though I have taken many modes of transportation these past months (plane, train, automobile, boat), I do believe this was my first journey by chairlift.

You know, just chilling.

At the top.

Matching [tourist] hats. Awww.

Thennnn I decided I wanted to do a jumping picture.

Then Mom wanted to play.
We took our boat back to Sorrento around 4 PM on this monster of a ferry.

We spent the rest of the afternoon eating, shopping, and generally relaxing before headed to bed early. Our plans for the next day included visiting the excavation site at Pompeii, and everyone knows that you can't go visit ancient ruins on anything less than 8 hours of sleep.

Pompeii installment tomorrow (hopefully). Plane takes off in just over an hour (hopefully).

Only 5 days until I land in Tampa! How did that happen?