Thursday, February 25, 2010

and the fail award goes to...

Um, me. Obviously.

Failblogger here did not photograph herself in the new jacket or the purchases made today at H&M. SORRY! SORRY! SORRY! At any rate, I will be wearing The Jacket and two out of three new shirts this weekend in Rome, so you are likely to see pictures when I post those. My apologies, for real.

I had class all day from 9 AM until 2:30 PM...when I got home I was STARVING, so I whipped myself up a fancy lunch of an apple with vanilla yogurt and a bowl of brussel sprouts (thank you Gillian, my new obsession). Sam and I hit the streets after that, searching for clothes to wear in this newly-warm weather. Oh, Italy, why so humid? Found a few good deals; paid about 30 euro for a light dress and a couple of tops, suh-WEET.

Dinner with the roomies....I made bruschetta! Gillian put together a kind of veggie lasanga/casserole/pie that my hungry tummy fully appreciated. And for dessert....KINDEREGGS! (And nutella crackers and coffee, later on.) We all avoided packing together for a few hours, but we finally got down to business. I'm all ready to go!

Tomorrow morning we depart at 7 AM for ROMA until Sunday night. I'm sure I'll be blogging/uploading photos upon our return that evening. Until then....arrivederci!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

okay, yes, more food, BUT ALSO OTHER THINGS.

It was stupid of me to make promises to diversify the blog on a Tuesday, the day before my cooking class. Prepare for some pretty serious food pornography; if you are hungry, or if you ate a salad for lunch, close the page, walk away, and come back after you've eaten something sufficiently delicious to assuage your jealousy.

This morning. despite the fact that I had no class, mind you, I set my alarm for 9:30 and woke up accordingly, so that Gillian and I could go exploring. We were kind of just walking, kind of headed for the Santo Spirito market and vaguely wondering if we could find this mysterious restaurant that Gillian swears will change our lives...if only we can find it.

It was actually warm today in Florence. Like, I put on my peacoat over my Rumblin' Tumblin' Reptiles t-shirt and I was sweating. This is the reason I finally snapped and bought my leather jacket (sorry, no pictures today...tomorrow, I promise!). It cost me an arm and a leg, but it is beautiful, and it was worth it. I needed a jacket lighter than the peacoat, but equally as stylish.

We eventually made it to Santo Spirito, a kind of alternative piazza across the river, named for the church also located there.

The market itself was kind of a bust, more of a flea market than anything else. If I ever need any super-cheap-but-questionable clothing, I'll head there. It was neat to see, though, and it was definitely a change from the catcalls of the San Lorenzo market...which I just realized I have yet to photograph for you. AHHH. So much to share!

They did have pretty flowers, though.

The piazza itself is really beautiful too, in a more understated way than most of Florence.

This bike was decrepit and sad, and I kind of liked it.

Typical. That bike is occupying the entire sidewalk while Gillian walks in the street.

This Is Italy: Vespas Everywhere.

We also met my friend from the plane, Beth, for a nice lunch at a little trattoria in San Lorenzo called Sergio Gozzi or something along those lines. I paid less than 5 euro for a perfectly sized bowl of pasta that was amazing, by the way; the atmosphere was also way more authentic than anything else I've experiened (except for Vineria, in Pisa). It was quiet, packed mostly with Italians (before a huge and conspicuous group of Asian tourists filed in as we were leaving) who were drinking wine, and having the kind of four course meals typical of Italy. Beth also took me to THE MOST AMAZING SHOE STORE EVER, where I fell in love with a pair of brown ankle boots, but after the purchase of my leather jacket, I couldn't justify another splurge.
After naptime, I went to the API office to find out if I would be able to make it to the opera tonight. My cooking class doesn't end until 8:30...and guess what time the opera starts? You probably guessed it. I was planning on going, but cooking ran a little late tonight, but by the time I got home, all sweaty and a little crazed, I didn't much feel like dressing up and running across the city in my heels, so here I am blogging for you.
In cooking tonight, we were studying the Emiglia Romagna region, which is where such gastronomic delights as Bologna and Modena are located, directly north of Toscana. We started by preparing a lasagna pasta from scratch!

1 egg for every 100 grams of flour does the trick.

After mixing, roll thin, then cut into small rectangular pieces.

Michele allowed us to sample a white wine with our meal. I took a photo because I actually really liked it! Note to self: find and buy this wine.

For our antipasti this evening, we had an affetatti misti, or mixed meat, with bruschetta (needs no explanation). The bruschetta was simple, made by chopping fresh tomatoes and mixing them with olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, and oregano. The bread was toasted and then rubbed with garlic. We sampled three different kinds of salami from the Emiglia Romagna region. I'm not a huge meat person, but it was a nice, simple start to the meal, and the bruschetta was uh-may-zing.

Our primi piatti was lasagne al forno: the previously-mentioned fresh lasagna noodles with a ragu sauce, a bechamel sauce, made from flour, milk, and butter, and parmesan cheese. The ragu was made with a sofrito, base, of onion, garlic, celery, and carrot, before adding white wine, ground beef, and peeled and chopped tomato. Michele told us that a ragu is better the longer it is allowed to cook, and then eyed us with disdain as if it were our fault that the class is only 2 and a half hours long. The bechamel gives the lasagna a creamy component, without adding more cheese.

Once again, our secondi piatti was, you guessed it...veal. This time, scaloppene al aceto balsamico. BALSAMIC VINEGAR, my love! The veal was given to us in very thin slices, but we pounded them a little thinner after removing any excess fat. They were then coated in flour and fried on both sides in butter. After they had all been cooked, all of them were returned to the pan to be boiled in white wine for a bit. After the sauce had thickened, Michele added balsamic vinegar to the pan. Mmmmmm. I must say though, after the loss of my veal virginity, I have had it three times in three weeks. A little excessive, methinks.

I wasn't initially super excited about dessert, a panna cotta, or cream custard. After all, it didn't involve chocolate of any kind. It was very simple to make: we simply heated cream and sugar with a little vanilla and added gelatin right before it boiled. I personally ladled the cream mixture into individual little tins to be refrigerated. After our meal, we removed them from the tins and topped them with a fruit mixture made from lemon, sugar, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries. The verdict? BEST DESSERT EVER, no lie. It was so light and creamy and fresh...the perfect end to such a heavy meal.

Promises for tomorrow:
1. Photos of my new leather jacket.
2. Photos of new clothing I plan to buy at the H&M and Zara sales with Sam.
Also, I added a link in the sidebar to the photobucket I created. If you are friends with me on facebook, you have already seen these photos. The link is for the benefit of those who are not. Feel free to look through the albums, which I am still in the process of uploading.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

a treat for all of your senses.

It has been brought to my attention, and I myself have noticed, that this blog talks a lot about FOOD. Eating and cuisine is a huge deal here in Italy, and I am not lying when I say it was definitely a top 3 reason factoring into my choosing Florence. I wanted a city, a country, where I could imagine eating the local cuisine for four months and not getting tired of it. I wanted to be tested, challenged, pushed to try new things, and in my four weeks here in Florence (WHOA, when did that happen?) I would definitely say that that has been true. Case in point: I am eating eggplant right now. Booyah.

However, food is not the only thing going on in my study abroad experience. I want to give a well-rounded view of how I'm spending my days and nights, so I am making an attempt this week to diversify the blog a little. We actually discussed writing through senses other than sight today in my writing class; I will try to apply that philosophy to the blog from now on.

This is kind of a lame way to open up my diversification, but I forgot my camera while I was out today, so no photos for you of the firetruck that felt the need to stop in the middle of a busy street, put up the entire length of its ladder, and have a fireman climb it for no other apparent reason than to cause gridlick. This is a song that has essentially been the soundtrack to my Italian life. It plays a lot in clubs, but I have also heard it playing in the markets and shops around town. Enjoy!

In other news, I may be going to see my friends Laura and KJ playing in the soccer "championship" against other study abroad programs tonight, just to mix things up a bit.

There is also always the option of going out to a club and being sexually harassed. Oh, Italy, how will I ever leave thee?

Monday, February 22, 2010

the walking justifies the buffet.

Today, I had set my alarm to go off at 9 AM, despite the fact that I had no class. Clearly I was deluding myself. I hit snooze and slept until 10:30, but I got going pretty quickly after that. Put laundry in, showered, ate, and was out the door by 11:30 to do some shopping. I hit what felt like every freakin' boot store in Florence, searching for anything that was reasonably priced, in my size, and not repulsive. I came up empty handed. I intend to try once more on Wednesday, but after that I'm throwing in the towel and having my mom ship me a pair of boots from the US.

The nice thing about Florence is that even while you're huffing about, completely frustrated at the lack of attractive boots, you run across things like this, which have a calming effect:

This is an outdoor museum located right next to Palazzo Vecchio. You heard me right: an OUTDOOR MUSEUM. You aren't allowed to eat up there by those statues, and they have guards there to make sure you don't. It is still so weird to me to be walking and just come across ancient pieces of art. Spend a day just walking around Gainesville and you are likely to come up with little more than empty Natty cans and discarded Alligators.

After my fruitless search for boots, I bought some groceries and headed back to the apartment, where I made a quick lunch. I then went to the library to make copies of this book I need for a paper. I spent about three hours there and got NOTHING done (oops). It is so hard to concentrate in this country! I'll be paying for that as soon as I get done blogging.

My roommates and I were hell bent on having sushi tonight for dinner, but it turns out that every sushi place in Florence is CLOSED on Monday for no apparent reason, so we settled for the aperitivo place across the street from our apartment.

I had a glass of prosecco, or sparkling wine.

Great spread!

We love this place because it is only 8 euro for a drink and unlimited access to the buffet, which is one of the best we've seen as far as aperitivo goes.
Like I said, now I'm off to procrastinate some more before finally settling down to do my Italian and writing homework. Wednesday, Gillian and I are planning to go exploring on the other side of the river to try and find this restaurant she ate at with her parents the last time she was here. We are also going to hit up the market at San Ambroggio, which is similar to Mercato Centrale, which is where we usually go, just to try something new.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

today is someday.

My mother is one of the biggest optimists I know. Though we are alike in many ways, this is not one of them. I can't stand her sunny, bright answers to all of the problems that I allow to bog me down; sometimes I just want to wallow, dammit, and she refuses to let me. I take for granted that I have a mother who gives me sound advice, support, and the money I need to do the things I want. After all, she and my father have obviously sunk a lot of money into this little adventure of mine, and on days like today, I am not acting appropriately thankful.

Today, offering me advice when I was feeling grumpy about certain situations that are not going exactly as I planned, I shut down, refusing to allow her to try to help me...because we all know how well I accept help. But after getting off of Skype with her, it was very clear to me that she was right. There is no point in sitting around my adorable Italian apartment, allowing myself to feel bummed because my friends may not always want to do what I want to do or because I may not get to take one weekend trip that I REALLY want to take. After all, I can find solutions to many of these problems if I would just look past the dark and stormy negativity...and the ones that I can't necessarily fix aren't work getting in a huff over.

So after getting off of Skype, I got dressed, grabbed my books, and went off to the library like I was supposed to, ignoring the fact that though it had been gorgeous earlier in the day, rain clouds were now gathering over my head. When I discovered that the library was closed, I decided to just walk. I walked a long time. I walked to the river and back, kinda-sorta looking for a place to plop down and do my reading, but mostly just walking, because I live in Florence, and I feel like I'm taking that for granted. There are so many things to see and do here, and I don't have the time to waste, moping around because things don't always go precisely as I plan them.

In the spirit of this new attitude, I decided to do something I've been talking about doing for more than a week now. Every time my roommates and I walk down Via Nazionale, we pass this little bakery that has MOUNTAINS of chocolate and almond scones in the window. Every time we walk past it, we always say that we will break down someday and buy one. Well, today is someday. I only have four months here, and I'm not going to waste them by putting off the things I want to do until "someday."

Other things I really want to do in the next couple of weeks:
1. See a movie at the Odeon theater.
2. Go to the markets at San Ambroggio and Santo Spirito.
3. Buy a pair of black boots and a leather jacket.
4. Go to the paperback exchange by il Duomo.
5. Get Indian food with the roomies (or sushi. I'm not picky.)
6. Plan our overnight trip to Verona.

P.S. The verdict on the scone? Mediocre. But at least I don't have to torture myself walking by that bakery anymore.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

italy's practical jokes.

I feel that it was inevitable. From the moment they showed us the picture of the World Champion Gelateria at orientation on the second day of the program, I knew that I was destined to find it. Despite the fact that API led us to believe it was in Florence, we disovered its true location: a small town in the Chianti region called San Gimignano, also known for its medeival towers and atmosphere.

We took the train from Santa Maria Novella station in Florence to...

We caught a bus from Poggibonsi.

We immediately headed for a restaurant after arriving in San Gimignano. I ordered the pesto pasta (delicious!) and we all split a bottle of red wine. We were, after all, in Chianti, Italy's most famous wine region. Sam and I downed most of it, and I was definitely in a good mood after lunch. Our next mission at this point was to find the Gelateria!

Of course, not one thing can go entirely smoothly for us here in Italy. We found the gelateria with ease (it was right around the corner from where we had lunched) but it was closed...until March 7. What a cruel, cruel joke.

We found consolation gelato next door. It was good, but tasted like sloppy seconds. We are already planning a trip back to San Gimignano to get the real thing. We will not be thwarted by Italy's penchant for throwing wrenches into our carefully-laid plans.

We were kind of at a loss for what to do in San Gimignano after our gelato bust, so we just wandered a little bit. Fit in a workout here and there.

The view from the town down onto the vineyards surrounding it was absolutely stunning. I couldn't really capture any truly great shots, because the lighting was kind of weird (due to the storm that was rolling in...more on that later) and because the details were so small. But take my word for it: if you ever have an extra day in Tuscany, San Gimignano is worth it just for the views.

When we got bored with wandering, we did a bit of shopping! Sam and I each purchased a bottle of San Gimignano's best (Sam thought she was getting red, but we both ended up with white. Whoops.) and then I also purchased a little dish that had been hand-painted in the city. Cute.
At this point, the wind was picking up, and it was starting to rain. I, always being prepared, had an umbrella on hand. But Sam and Gillian decided to purchase some cheap umbrellas from a shop on our way out of the city. You see how that decision turned out for them.

The umbrellas turned inside out within MINUTES of their purchase. Sam later stuffed hers angrily into a trash can, haha. While all of this was going on, we were attempting to figure out when the next bus would take us back to Poggibonsi. While we waited, nearly freezing to death, we made up songs, played ISpy, and generally complained about the weather. We were all extremely glad to see the bus when it finally arrived. Unfortunately, the train was about as cooperative as the weather. It ended up being delayed 25 minutes, meaning we spent over an hour at the train station, just staring at the wall and wishing we could be asleep.
An exhausting and somewhat frustrating day, but as usual, made better by wine, gelato, and our own ridiculous antics. Stay tuned for San Gimignano, part 2....I have a feeling you will all be made quite jealous by my ranting and raving about the world's best gelato.

Friday, February 19, 2010

alaina's [postponed] thursday top ten.

I'm feeling a little grumpy today, after last night went SO badly, and the weather this weekend is screwing with all of our plans, so today's top 10 is going to be:

Top 10 Things I Hate About Italy
[Warning: There may be some profanity below.]
1. MEN. MEN MEN MEN MEN MEN. Just as an anecdote, I was innocently walking down the street last night with a cup of beer in my hand, when some drunken Italian decides that it would be HILARIOUS to just knock it out of my hand for no apparent reason. Fortunately, he got his comeuppane when Sam's friend Elaine, who has lightning quick reflexes and a taste for vengeance, tossed her beer into his laughing face, drenching him. Things like this happen with surprising frequency. Men think it's hilarious to touch you, harass you, and generally annoy you, and then they want to take you home with them. Then there are the street vendors, whose sad attempts at sexual harassment are nearly as pathetic as annoying. I could probably write an entire entry about how fed up I am with the male gender here, but I'll spare you. I don't know what kind of American idiots have conditioned them to think that this is okay, but the next Italian that messes with me is likely to get a boot up his ass.
2. Weather. It was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS outside yesterday, when I had class from 9 AM until 2:30 PM. Today, when I have nothing but plans to explore the city, it is pouring rain. Tomrorow, when we wanted to take the train to San Gimignano, it will be pouring rain. Sunday, when we were planning to stay inside and study all day, it will be lovely, sunny, and warm. This is Italy.
3. Sidewalks. I cannot tell you how many times I have had my life recklessly endangered by some lazy Italian who does not want to share the sidewalk, forcing me off of it into the road to be hit by some wayward Vespa being driven as if it had been stolen. They are narrow, slanted, paved with uneven and wobbly cobblestones, and generally covered with dog poop. This does not make for an enjoyable walking experience.
4. Doing laundry. The lack of dryers here is way more of a pain than I could have ever imagined. It feels like every time one load of laundry has dried on the rack, it's time to do another one. It is an endless cycle that I'm trying my hardest to appreciate for its cultural value, but failing miserably.
5. Tiny kitchen. Unless you and three of your closest buddies have ever been hungry all at the same time and trying to prepare a meal in a room the size of a broom closet, you cannot understand.
6. This is probably a nitpicky complaint, but the size of the milk containers. I am CONSTANTLY buying milk because they refuse to sell it in gallon sizes (yes, I am aware that they do not use our system of measurement, but it is my personal opinion that someone should add something larger than a liter to the metric system, if only so that they can sell milk in that size).
7. Showers. Honestly, I took showers for granted in the US. I have never been a huge fan of sitting under a stream of water for an endless period of time (unlike some people I know) but here, I have yet to take a shower that lasts longer than 5 minutes. It is incredibly difficult to shave AND wash your hair in that span of time. Kudos to the Italians; I don't know how they groom themselves in these medeival conditions.
8. The euro. Or honestly, the dollar. Why did Italy have to change from the lira system? If they hadn't, I'd pratically be swimming in all of the leather jackets and boots that I could afford [hyperbole].
9. Train strikes. Apparently the public transportation system workers are striking at odd hours this week, for God only knows what purpose. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that specifying the hours of your strike is an ineffective way to fight the man. But it does make my life a little bit more difficult, since I'm unfamiliar with the train schedule.
10. The weird store hours. It's mostly irritating on Sundays, when nearly everything is closed. The afternoon "siesta" time can be bothersome as well, if you only have a small window in whih to complete your errand....and the store is closed.
Well, now that I've shared that joy with you, I'm off to wait until the rain stops so that I can go to the Academia Galleria to see the David. If it ever stops pouring.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

free dinner? yes, please.

This is rapidly disintegrating into a food blog peppered with chatter about the occasional day trip. It seems like I talk/think about food way more often here than at home, but I guess that is just a symptom of Italian living.

My friend Mary invited me to dinner tonight with a faculty advisor for the James Madison University Florence study abroad program. Apparently the woman, Peggy, is good friends with Mary's parents, so the woman invited us over to catch up and talk about our programs.

We started with a couple of glasses of red wine while Peggy finished prepping dinner. I was personally very impressed with the spread. Please keep in mind, however, that this sense of awe is coming from a girl who routinely eats instant oatmeal and diet coke for dinner back home.

Our antipasti was freshly made bruschetta.....yumm.

For primi piatti, Peggy made a salad with onion, tomato, chickpeas crouton-y type things, balsamic vinegar, cheese, and olive oil.

Our main ourse was chicken breast made with some kind of balsamic vinegar marinade and sage. Forgot to photograph it, WHOOPS.

Peggy picked up some pastries from a bakery for dessert. I got one with strawberries.

Dinner was DELICIOUS, and I was quite happy to have been invited. Peggy said that she also usually has the JMU kids over to her apartment for dinner about once a week, and invited us to come, which I'm excited about. I'm always up for meeting new people here.
It's Thursday, and I'm already skipping my weekly top ten post. My bad. I'll do it tomorrow, I promise.
Tonight, Sam and I are going out to "Nutella Night" at a club called Twice, which we've been too many a-time. I'm not usually a fan of this club (it's full of career creepers), but any place that is giving out free samples of nutella and nutella shots all night has won my approval for at least a few hours.

P.S. My roommates and I are singing Lady GaGa right now. We are soulmates; I knew it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

veal, and goat cheese and pesto, oh my!

Be advised: Deliciousness ahead.

So I had my cooking class again tonight, and we actually got to do most of the cooking tonight. The previous two classes, we had mostly spent doing small tasks while watching the instructor doing most of the heavy lifting.

Tonight, we made an antipasti (that I failed to photograph) called involiti di bresaola. It's a cured and salted beef, thinly sliced almost like salami, with goat cheese and arugula mixed together and rolled up inside. Just a quick bite to whet the apetite. My first taste of goat cheese...I wasn't floored, but I did like it.

My group had spent most of the evening preparing ossobuco milanese (shin of veal, Milan style). The veal was coated in flour, then browned on both sides in butter. After simmering in white wine for 10 minutes, we continually added beef stock to the pan, refilling it as it boiled off. Eventually, we also added tomato that had been peeled and chopped.

A girl in my class, Grace, and I prepared the gremolata to top it with. Made of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic, we put this on top of the veal in the pan about 5 minutes before we served it.

One of the other groups prepared a torta di cioccolato, obviously a chocolate cake which the teacher later topped with cacoa powder. It was made with a similar base to the hazelnut cake last week, with sugar, butter, flour, and egg whites. We also used very good quality dark chocolate to flavor it. Hot from the oven...

After the antipasti of the bresaola, we feasted on linguine with freshly made pesto. The pesto was a little creamier and a little stronger than I prefer, but it was still delicious. I wish I could try to make fresh pesto here, but without a blender or a food processor, it is definitely going to prove difficult. Good thing I can buy it freshly made at il centro mercato.

This is what the veal looked like after it was fully cooked and ready to eat....

My own little slice of chocolate heaven. Tasted like a super rich, dark chocolate brownie.
It is strange how my tastes here are changing. I eat way more fresh vegetables than I do at home, and way less meat. The only times I actually eat meat are in my cooking class (don't worry Mom, I'm eating eggs and beans at home to get my protein in). I've also started cooking heavily with extra virgin olive oil, and I've eaten more tomatoes in the past three weeks than I have probably in my whole life before it. I've become absolutely obsessed by balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella is my new best friend. The coffee pot is almost constantly brewing a cup for someone in the house, oftentimes me. It's strange to think about returning to a world where these things are not my normal habits, and I will be interested to see how many of them stick.

Tomorrow, I have my first quiz in my Italian class, which I am finding it hard to take seriously. I am trying very hard not to allow my cockiness to get the best of me and do some actual studying tonight. I also have a character portrait as well as my major writing assignment for my Travel Writing class, and a paper on the Pazzi conspiracy for my Medici class to consider. Sounds like it is going to be superfun busy weekend for me...
We are planning to go to San Gimignano at some point this weekend, if only to experience the WORLD CHAMPION GELATERIA located there. Even though we were lied to and told it was in Florence, we decided that a short train ride was a small price to pay for the deliciousness that this little hill town promises. My roommates and I are also going to the Academia museum on Friday, to finally get a look at Michaelangelo's David (and other works of art...which I know nothing about.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I've been feeling like a total bum the past couple of days, overeating and not getting much done. I plan to change this tomorrow...I think I'm going to spend the night in and just rest. I don't feel much like going out.

Like I said, nothing much really happened today, except that I ate excessive amounts of cookies. Oh, and I booked a quick trip to Innsbruck, Austria for the first weekend in March, for the low, low rate of 69 euro, round trip. We also booked a weekend trip to Barcelona at the end of April, and I'm trying to figure out if Amsterdam is a possiblity the second weekend in March.

Apparently I'm just as boring in Florence as I am in Gainesville. Sorry! More interesting post tomorrow, I promise, since I have cooking again tomorrow night :]

ETA: Change of plans...I decided I am going out after all. Hopefully it won't be too late of a night. Don't know if I'm up for that, but I decided I'd rather regret going out than staying in.

Monday, February 15, 2010

weekend in venice: one thing after another.

I put off doing this blog all day because I was unsure about where to begin and how to approach this trip. I went in expecting a BLAST; we were going to Venice for Carnivale for God's sake. But after the first day, I was dazed, confused, exhausted, hungry, and generally frustrated with the entire city of Venice.

It started at 5 AM on Saturday morning, when I woke up, showered, and ate breakfast before boarding the charter bus. Not to start off completely negatively, but that bus had so little leg room that my legs started falling asleep within minutes of boarding. Not wishing to listen to the odd music playing over the stereo system when we boarded ("ABC" by the Jackson 5, anyone?) I put in my headphones and attempted to sleep.

I woke up, completely disoriented when we stopped for a "bathroom break" at a gas station about an hour and a half outside of Florence. I should have foreseen that the mob of 300 API students at that gas station was mere foreshadowing for the weekend ahead, but I pushed my way through the crowd to order what *looked* like a delicious spinach panini of some kind. Though ridiculously overpriced, I was starving. Still in denial after the first few bites, I realized about halfway through the thing that it was disgusting, and I tossed it. When we finally arrived at the Tronchetto, or dock where we would depart to get to Venice, it was around 10:30 AM, and I was already feeling the hunger pangs.

This isn't the actual boat I ended up riding; mine was much larger. But either way, the ride over to Venice (which is an island city located in a large lagoon, by the way) was absolutely GORGEOUS. It was sunny, and though a bit chilly, we were all glad to be off the bus. After docking at the pier, however, we all realized this trip was going to be quite different than we had anticipated.Me, Laura, KJ, and Sam riding on the roof of the boat to Venice.

At the dock, HORDES of crazy tourists, sporting masks and crazy costumes, swarmed everywhere. We were supposed to have a two hour tour of Venice at this point. Locating our guide was difficult, since she was about 4'10" tall and completely invisible in the crowd. Her amusing solution to this problem was to carry a bright green umbrella over her head, like a beacon of hope to her flock, lost in a sea of people. After following the guide for over an hour and learning absolutely nothing due to a) the noise of the crowd and b) the tour guide's own inanity, a little group of us decided to ditch the tour and get some food.

By this point, I was completely ravenous, and not happy about it at ALL. I'd like to think that so far on this trip I have been pretty laid back and haven't had an issue going with the flow. There was absolutely no flow to be had in Venice. I was near hysteria at this point. Every restaurant we tried to enter was either too full to accomodate us, way overpriced, or had no place to sit. The crowds were messing with my mind and I was nearing my breaking point...and it showed. We finally settled on an "Italian" restaurant run by a group of Asians. Enough said. I paid over 15 euro for an underwhelming meal of pizza and diet coke, but I devoured it all.

Gondolas we passed on the initial part of our tour.

Masses of people in Piazza di San Marco, Venice's major square.

People wearing attractive garbage bags on their feet to protect them from the minor flood.

Feeling a little better at this point, four of us decided to do the most touristy thing possible and overpay a gondolier to cart us around Venice for about half an hour. Even though we paid way too much and didn't really "learn" anything, this half hour completely changed my afternoon. Away from the crowds, on the canals of Venice, I finally CHILLED OUT and was able to see the city and not just the up-close-and-too-personal-faces of one million tourists flooding the city.

Us and our gondolier, Carlo.

Carlo, hard at work.

Every view from the gondola was gorgeous.

After disembarking from the gondola, we had a little more time to kill before taking the boat back to the Tronchetto. Laura decided that purchasing some confetti would be a good idea, and would get us more into the "Carnivale mindset." We got a little carried away.

Later, we waited on the pier for API to take us back to our buses. The irony of the scene below caught my eye and I couldn't resist taking a photo.

Our hotel in Mestre, located about 5 - 10 minutes outside of central Venice by train, was very nice. Exhausted beyond all measure after waking up at 5 AM and walking around the city all day, I conked out for about 2 hours before rousing myself in hopes of finding one of the famously delicious seafood dinners that Venice is known for. On the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we walked a couple of blocks to a place called...l'Ostarica...or something like that. Though Americanized (they gave us plates for our bread, which was warm and salted, unlike any other bread I've had in Italy, as well as huge portion sizes...not that I'm complaining) it was quite good. I ordered the linguine with seafood. Check it outtt.

Finally, something had gone right for us in Venice. This moment of joy, however, was disrupted when the man at the register became enraged at us for daring to ask for the check to be split among our credit cards, when a group of girls had done the same not ten minutes before. We spent atoubt 15 minutes at the counter, listening to him scold us under his breath, and then cheerily asking us to "come back soon" despite the fact that we obviously knew how displeased with us he was.
Sam and I were planning, after dinner, to take the train from Mestre back to Venice to see Carnivale at night time (and just to have a chance to wear our masks). Yet again, though, Venice decided to kick us while we were down. The automatic ticket machines refused to sell us a ticket, and the ticket tellers themselves had gone home for the night. Frustrated at this point beyond all belief, we decided make our own fun at the hotel.

We felt much better after the purchase of wine and excessive amounts of chocolate. We then retired to our hotel room with our roommates and proceeded to watch the Olympics, making fun of their names and respective sports, and discussing our own childhood Olympic dreams.

Trains be damned, I was going to wear my mask somewhere!

The next morning, we were supposed to be packed and ready to get on the buses at 10 AM. After waiting in an excessively long line for the breakfast at the hotel, my roommates and I were a teeny bit late getting downstairs. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, you decide) due to a "mortal" accident blocking the roads, the buses were late. This later affected us greatly, reducing the amount of time we had to spend at the islands we were supposed to visit, but we were happy at the time not to have missed them completely.
Back to the Tronchetto, we boarded the same boat, bound for the Venetian island of Murano, famous for its glass blowing.

Gillian's bag, stuffed full of food stolen from the hotel breakfast buffet, just to get back at Venice for all that it had put us through so far.

We were given a glass blowing demonstration upon our arrival in Murano, which was quite interesting. The glass blower was obviously very talented, and we were assuredly wowed.

He made this horse, as well as a vase.

After being given all of 15 minutes to look at the gift shop of the glass factory, we were hustled back onto the boats, and took off for the island of Burano, which is famous for its lace-making as well as its brightly colored houses.

I could have spent all afternoon here. Much less touristy than Venice or Pisa, it was home to the kind of true Italian restaurants where I feel like I could have gotten a legitimate, authentic Italian meal. Of course, we were given only 45 minutes, enough time to pick up some postcards and scarf down a sandwich, hoping to avoid the same kind of starvation that had occurred the previous day in Venice.

Reluctantly, we all returned to Venice for a couple hours of free time. Surprisingly, the city was MUCH calmer on Sunday than Saturday, even though it was the last official day of Carnivale. We actually got to see the city, getting ourselves lost in a few of the city's smaller alleys.

Yes, that is indeed a doorway that I am touching with the top of my head.

Looking back on the weekend, it is easy to remember its pitfalls, disappointing and frustrating moments, but overall, I had an excellent time. I definitely think, though, that had we gone on any other weekend, the excursion to Venice could have been one of my favorites.