Il fine del viaggio.

I had my last two exams yesterday. I start summer school in four days. Tomorrow I’ll spend 16 hours and 49 minutes travelling back to the real world.

Yesterday in Italian class we learned the word for “bittersweet,” dolceamaro. But I prefer to think of my current emotional state in terms of a concept we discussed in my comparative literature class last year. When discussing the Odyssey, my professor told us that the Greek word “nostalgia” translates to “the pain of homecoming.” I’m writing this on my last day in Florence on the couch from which I can see the Duomo, and that’s what I’m feeling right now. I’m starting to get choked up. I know I have to go home where I belong – I want to go home. But I know I have to sacrifice something to do so.

I originally intended for this post to be a countdown of the top ten or so things I’ll miss about living here, but I can’t do it. I can’t attempt to organize that. I can only try to describe some of them.

I’ll miss going to mass in a world-famous, completely overwhelmingly beautiful cathedral and feeling connected to my faith in a completely different way because I can fully appreciate the concept of “wonder and awe” as a gift of the Holy Spirit. I’m really, really going to miss waking up in the morning to the sound of its bells.

I’m going to miss my three-day school weeks and the extra time that gave me to actually read for fun.

All the books I read for fun this semester, in order of reading them.

I love how so many shops here are owned by families or individuals, not big companies, and how you can really get to know the people working there in a way I’ve somehow never done in the States.

I’m going to miss Giovanni. So much. (I’m also going to miss the availability of a shop filled with pastries right next to my apartment just in general, but it’s probably a good thing for my waistline that we’re separating.)

I’m going to miss my photography class, sort of. It was five and a half hours long and usually felt like torture, but I have some beautiful shots now and chances are slim that I’ll continue the art at home.

Then there’s the beauty of Italy in general. The architecture that makes you feel like you’re in a movie when you walk down the street. The landscapes when you take a bus or train anywhere else. Those are things I’ll miss.

And of course I’ll miss the language. That’s one of the reasons I studied here. I love speaking Italian. It’s beautiful. I’m nowhere close to fluent, but I’m conversational, which makes me feel so cool. I know I’ll probably lose it after a few months back home because I’ve decided to drop my Italian minor to make my senior year workload more bearable. This makes sense and it’s a pretty useless language anyway, but… man. I am really going to miss it.

Of course I’ll miss the food. It’s delicious. And it’s fresh. And it’s unique. In the U.S. I can get pizza and eggplant parmesan lots of places and some might even be good…but will I be able to find a place where I can get spinach and ricotti tortolloni in walnut sauce? Linguine in creamy truffle sauce? Italian cuisine is not all about cheese and tomatoes. It’s about simple ingredients combined in brilliant ways. I can cook some of it, sure, but I’ll miss its constant availability here.

Most of all I’ll miss my freedom. (Ugh….I’m SO sorry this is turning out so cheesy. Am I entitled to a sappy post on my final day?) We have an independence here that comes from the structure of the program itself – LdM doesn’t even schedule Friday classes because they expect students to travel so much – and from the size of the city, where everything is pretty much walkable and available to us. When going to a fancy restaurant or an authentic hole-in-the-wall or a karaoke bar or whatever just involves walking five or ten minutes, it’s so easy to just do whatever you want. And I’ve made so many friends here to do that kind of stuff with, which makes me so very happy.

I know I’ve been incredibly blessed by this opportunity. I can’t even believe that it’s been real. I lived in Florence. I traveled to France, Monaco, Switzerland, Scotland, Greece, the Czech Republic and all over Italy. I met Neil Patrick Harris.

I’ve tried, but I really can’t analyze what it’s all meant to me or how it’s changed me as a person. Maybe when I get back I’ll be able to sort that out. But right now, the only thing I can wrap my brain around is that this whole semester has been so incredible and I am so, so grateful that I was able to experience it.

Arrivederci, il mio corso di cucinare!

Last night was my final cooking class! So sad. We chose a menu last week and then were put into groups to memorize recipes to prepare for our teacher and another one to judge as our final exam.

Appetizer: bruschetta.

Primo piatto: linguine al pesto.

My team’s beautiful eggplant parmesan!

With roasted potatoes!

And a chocolate torte!

After class I took a picture with my teacher, Michele, who I will miss SO much. He’s hilarious and has taught me so much!

“Yeah, okay, but I haven’t shaved today….just let people know that if they see this. I could have looked better.” – Michele, accepting my request to take a picture

Since I’ve been negligent the past few weeks about posting my cooking class pics – and because I’m already missing the delicious food – I’ll share some of my class’s greatest hits.

Sicily

Fried vegetables. Delicious and beautiful!

WONDERFUL CALAMARI.

Penne alla Norma, a fantastic pasta dish with eggplant.

Cannoli siciliani, of course.

Snack day (after our written exam)

Sandwiches with mortadella – or, as we called it in America, baloney.

Macedonia, their (much more fun) term for fruit salad.

Campania 

Pizza! I’m so glad I learned how to make this! It’s so easy. I’m definitely going to do it at home.

Our class’s first eggplant parm.

Pasticiera napoletana, a cake made with ricotta. And in this case, slightly overcooked. (Let the record show that I was NOT on Team Dessert that week.)

Zeppole – little fried cookies that taste like funnel cake topped with cherries.

So there’s one last food post for the folks back home to drool over….and for me to drool over when I’m separated from such weekly delicacies.

I’m all done with exams, I’m almost entirely packed, and I’m sort of – pretty much – ready to go home in ONLY TWO DAYS. Expect a sappy post tomorrow. You had to have known it was coming.

Odio questa settimana.

This week is weird. I’m oscillating rapidly from “I want to be home right this second” to “I never want to leave” to “why I am focusing on any of that; I HAVE EXAMS TO STUDY FOR” and back again and ultimately I don’t know how I feel and I never end up studying.

On Monday I crossed off the final item on my list, trying the famous blueberry steak at a restaurant called Acqua al 2.

And today I walked around the market to buy some final souvenirs. So I don’t have any left to buy, I don’t have any restaurants or tasks or trips left on my bucket list, and by noon tomorrow I won’t have any classes. So in a lot of senses I’m done with Florence.

Except that I’m not, because I love it here. Walking around the market today was so relaxing. This afternoon I needed a study break (after like 20 minutes of studying…sue me) so I walked to the smoothie stand that’s recently been set up literally a minute’s walk away from our apartment. I stood in the sun and chatted with the woman there in Italian as she prepared a fresh, delicious smoothie for me and then walked back and chatted with Giovanni a bit. There is something so beautiful about all the little things in my Florentine life.

But then again, there’s the fact that I miss home a lot. Today in Italian we had to discuss what this semester has meant to us (I can’t even articulate that in English) and talking about the fact that we’re almost on our flights home is making me wish I could go to the airport this second. During the day I want to experience everything I can here before leaving so I’m happy but then as soon as I’m in my apartment for the night I get weirdly restless. My mind won’t stop firing off things to pack and errands to do (charge my iPod! Charge my American phone!) and running through my travel itinerary again and again.

The fact that this is exam week is adding even more anxiety to the mix, because I feel pressured to enjoy my final days here and studying doesn’t exactly fit into my plans too well. So this whole week is so confusing.

2 classes down so far! Here’s the photography final project I presented last night.

(Luckily my exam tonight consists entirely of preparing eggplant parmesan…but I swear I have real studying to do, too.)

Buono, migliore, il migliore.

Good:

Visiting a great leather store on a friend’s recommendation, in which you locate the perfect purse with which to check off item 14 of your Florentine bucket list. A picture of this purse is approved by your roommates and your mom, so you return to the store to obtain it.

Better:

Asking if there’s a student discount and being told that one can be created for you.

Best:

Realizing that after the discount and factoring in birthday money and the $50 cash you just won in an online survey towards this purchase, you’ve only been set back $8.10 in American bucks for a handmade Italian leather purse that’s worth about $200.

I WIN AT ITALY.

I usually don’t resort to emoticons, but this calls for a smiley! An ecstatic smiley at that.  😀

Gli ultimi giorni….aaaiiiiii! Che triste!

I’m getting so sad to leave!

All of these “lasts” are starting to get to me. This was our last weekend here. Yesterday Morgan and Melissa and I ate our last dinner at i Tarocchi, home of the delicious pear and cheese pasta I posted about a while ago.

Appetizer of mixed crostini – pesto, bruschetta, mushrooms and liver pâté (which I’m surprised to say I actually really like).

We all got sentimental on our last piece.

It was tragic!
(Also tragic: my hair, my face in general here.)

The problem with these last trips, last meals, last whatevers, is that they’re constant reminders of the fact that this is actually ending.

It’s hard to cope with the fact that I’ll be leaving my friends and the life we have here – the possibility to drop everything and go have a picnic 20 minutes away or book a weekend trip to another country if we feel like it, the 3-day school weeks, the opportunities to talk to locals in a foreign tongue everyday, the food (!), the art, everything.

The thing about studying abroad (on our program, at least) is that it’s so fundamentally not real. There are tourists who travel here and there are people who move here to work, but neither of those situations are anything like our odd bubble of Americans let loose in Europe for four and a half months. We have this weird freedom that is nothing close to anything we’ll ever be able to replicate – and on top of that we all have each other, which just makes it that much more unique.

I’ve done so much here and I’m so, SO grateful for this opportunity and all the experiences I’ve had. But the final month of it has really seemed to fly by and it’s sad to realize that this incredible period of my life will be over in a matter of days.

One of Melissa’s pics from a day we decided to walk around the gardens of a palace on a Friday afternoon since we don’t have any classes scheduled then…in other words, exactly what I’m talking about.

Solo una settimana e due cose della lista rimangono!!

In the past few days I’ve crossed so many items off my Florentine bucket list!

I tried a renowned trattoria named Mario’s and found it to be worth the hype.

I got my picture taken with Giovanni, our favorite cafe owner!

I saw the leaning tower of Pisa! This plan has been in the works forever. Scheduling and weather issues have thwarted previous attempts at a day trip there, but I’m delighted to say I finally got to go – and with one of my best friends, too. My friend Devan from high school is studying in Florence, too, so this afternoon we met up for a fun day of catching up and being tourists.

Every time I hear someone talk about a trip to Pisa, I hear things like this: “There’s literally nothing to do there besides see the tower;” “Pisa wouldn’t be remotely worth visiting if it weren’t for the tower, and that’s only because it’s leaning;””You can do Pisa in an hour maybe.”

So I was picturing a crappy, run-down little town with nothing of interest except a tower. What I got instead was this:

Pisa was surprisingly lovely! Sure, it doesn’t have much to do, but there were nice shops on the main street and it was sunny and pretty and not even sort of the dilapidated wasteland I’d somehow resigned myself to expecting.

We saw the tower, of course. The experience was very much like seeing the Eiffel Tower in that it felt bizarre actually being in front of something that iconic in person.

We’d almost gone on Tuesday since we had the day off, but realized there’d be thunderstorms…but yesterday the forecast called for “abundant sunshine!”

It was great fun to catch up, talk a lot about camp and theatre in general, and eat very delicious snacks.

The best cannoli I’ve had in Italy!

Yesterday I crossed off two more items! First I went to gorgeous Fiesole for a picnic with Morgan and Melissa and our friend Julia. We got delicious panini and wine from a sandwich shop that I’ve visited several times since first crossing it off my list a few weeks ago, and we visited the amazing local bakery there for amazing cookies. It was sunny and fun!

SO GOOD.

And last night I crossed off one of the more difficult items: performing a 90s Italian pop song at karaoke night at a bar! I’ve never done karaoke before, but we checked this place out earlier in the semester and saw some Italians perform this gem (which is about a Vespa) and I vowed to learn it and perform it one day.

Morgan, my fellow classmate in Advanced Italian, was going to accompany me but she felt sick last night and couldn’t. So Melissa bravely volunteered to take her place and teach herself the Italian! She listened to it about five times in our apartment with the lyrics pulled up to learn them all and she ended up performing like a champ!

The guy roped us into performing a Katy Perry song first, which our friend Haley joined us for. I was fine with that because a lot of my life is my own personal Katy Perry karaoke session anyway. And when “50 Special,” our Italian song, came on the Italians there cheered for us and sang along! It was awesome!

AND HOLY COW GUESS WHAT. One week from today I will be in America!!! I have two items left on my list and I’m glad to check them off, but I’m starting to get sad by all the “lasts.” Last day trip by train, last trip to Fiesole, last time at the restaurants we love. I really love my life here and while I’m so glad that I’ll be home soon with all the people I love, it’s so sad to contemplate that I might never be back.

But that’s how it goes. I have seven days left to live it up!

Il spuntino perfetto.

Now that the semester is almost over, I think I can confidently state that my greatest accomplishment in Italy has been the invention of one of the world’s most delectable confections.  Interpret none of this as hyperbole.

I’m choosing to record this here so I can one day look back on the delicious days of eating this particular snack.

Here’s my secret process.

Step one: assemble your ingredients.

You’re going to want Italy’s greatest export, Nutella, and a packet of the chocolate chip variety of Piú cookies. “Piú,” for those of you out there who lack linguistic flair, means “more” in Italian. They’re called “More” cookies. This is the Italian marketing equivalent of the slogan “Bet you can’t eat just one!” They’re betting me that. And they’d win that bet.

(Note: do not use the shortbread variety. While delicious, their consistency is more suited to accompanying cannoli dip.)

Step 2: smother cookies with Nutella.

Smother, smother, smother. You want your tongue to bask in the creamy goodness.

Step 3: enjoy everything about it.

Step 4: pour yourself a delicious glass of milk to accompany your heavenly snack.

*Not pictured – steps 5 – 10: set a limit for yourself; crave cookies beyond the limit; remind yourself that “piú” means “more;” cave in to the slogan and eat more; become overcome with shame; vow that you are gonna work out so hard every day after you return to America. 

Happy snacking!

Notte Bianca!

As mentioned in my previous post, last night was Notte Bianca. The name is apparently an idiom here that means an all-nighter, and it’s a fitting description. Today is Labor Day, so they celebrate by keeping stores open until 6 a.m. the night before. I’m not sure if anyone is bothered by the fact that their commemoration of Labor Day makes them labor more in advance, but then again, this is the country in which I had to come into class on the weekend as fallout from a celebration of “liberation,” so I give up trying to analyze these things.

All I know is that Notte Bianca is a giant party for those not working. The streets are filled with people of all ages and there’s music and stands with food and drinks and it’s insane.

There were so many people!

There was salsa dancing by Santa Croce!

There were balloons!

There was a lot of music!

There was a marching band that played "When the Saints Go Marching In!"

It was a crazy experience, to be sure. Sadly our plans for today didn’t pan out because of bad weather (SERIOUSLY, GET IT TOGETHER, FLORENCE. I HAVE 11 DAYS LEFT HERE) so the day’s pretty much been dedicated to making study guides in the apartment. But I believe the weather is supposed to clear up, so I have high hopes of checking more items off my Florentine bucket list soon!

L’ultimo viaggio.

Unless some crazy opportunity presents itself for next weekend, this past weekend’s excursion was my final big trip of the semester. This was my second school field trip – this time to Lake Como, Italy, and St. Moritz, Switzerland.

It was odd to leave Florence when I have so little time left here, so I wish I could have taken this trip earlier in the semester. That being said, it was pretty sweet.

We went to Como (the city on the lake of the same name) first and wandered around the fancy streets. It was really cute and warm and filled with fancy shops. We had a good lunch but did not see any of the celebrities who live there, though I saw a somewhat convincing George Clooney look-alike.

After that we headed to a place called Cadenabbia to catch a ferry to our next destination. It was like 85 degrees, which was not pleasant, but the views kinda made up for that.

The ferry took us to a place called Bellagio, “a stunning town ranked as one of the most beautiful in Europe,” according to our itinerary.

View from the ferry.

I’m about to sound like a really pretentious jerk, but I think I’ve been to too many beautiful places in Europe to really be blown away by Bellagio. It definitely had a gorgeous location, but the rest of the city didn’t strike me as more spectacular than Paris or Monte Carlo or even Florence. It was really pleasant, but I was expecting to be stunned.

Look at the snow in the background and the people sunbathing in the foreground.

From Como we drove up to St. Moritz, Switzerland, and by “up” I mean “the altitude changed significantly enough that we then saw snow.” We went from 85-degree, sunny weather to this:

Which I was okay with.

Well, now the tropical scarf looks stupid.

Switzerland is easily the most beautiful place I’ve visited, because the views are – here I can use this word freely – stunning. It’s not something you can describe to someone easily, either; with other trips you can say what you did (“We took a tour up to Loch Ness!” “We saw the Eiffel Tower by day and night!”) but with Switzerland you just sort of babble (something like “It’s so pretty – just the mountains and the lakes and – it’s actually insane, it doesn’t look real…it’s so cool.”)

We took a walking tour the next day, which was sadly rainy (but it made me really appreciate all the gorgeous pics I got in Interlaken the first time around.)

St. Moritz's leaning tower actually leans more than Pisa's but for some reason no one cares.

And we ended at a shop to try Swiss chocolate!

The highlight of the trip, though, was easily the 3-hour train ride on the Bernina Express. Because as I mentioned, the best part of Switzerland is the views.

Do you require proof?

Look at me, being on a train!

It was quite magical. The very long ride back, however, was not so much, considering we got back two hours later than anticipated. Though we had the small comfort of some good ol’ Americana in the form of a very tacky American-themed rest stop on the way back.

Anyway, I have to go, because tonight Florence is a giant, pre-Labor Day party. It’s called Notte Bianca and I’m excited!

I problemi burocratici e la Festa della Liberazione.

Let me tell you all about a little thing called a permesso di soggiorno, or permit of stay.

Despite the fact that we have a student visa, we study abroad students are also required to obtain the permesso in order to stay in the country. No one is sure why. Upon first arriving we had to fill out a bunch of paperwork and fork over something like $50 to begin the process. A month or so later we were assigned appointments to go provide our fingerprints and show some documents. I have no class on Mondays and a 9.5-hour gap between classes on Wednesdays, but my appointment was during a class on a Tuesday and I couldn’t get it moved. Of course.

After that we were to receive a text message giving us an appointment time to pick up the permesso, and we were told that all we’d have to bring would be the text. I went to meet my friends Morgan and Courtney there to get it a few weeks ago upon receiving my text and was told that I shouldn’t bother. They’d spent about half an hour attempting to negotiate with the man there, who’d scoffed at their text messages, saying, “What am I supposed to do? Hold up your phone?” He told them to come back when they had their receipts of payment.

So we went back the next time we had free and were immediately asked (by the same guy) for the text and the receipts. When we gave them to him he said he couldn’t give us the permesso, we’d have to come back between 12 and 2:00 to get it.

This was frustrating. But we did it the next time we were free, arriving right at noon. He gave us all numbers and we stood around for a while. Finally we asked him if there was a specific place to stand and he told us that the 12-to-2 window was just when they assigned numbers. They wouldn’t start calling numbers until 2:00.

This was very difficult to deal with, as we all had class that afternoon. But he’d taken our receipts to give us numbers, so we couldn’t come back any other day, so we returned at 2:00 and again asked if there was a place to stand. The guy said it wasn’t really 2:00, it was 2:30 when the process would begin. YOU CAN’T TRUST THE SYSTEM.

Anyway, I finally got the friggin’ thing and I was only slightly late to class. Now I have an official permit to stay in the country for 16 days. That seems useless….although some people aren’t even getting their fingerprints taken until the week they leave. Which means they won’t receive their appointment to come pick up their permits until two months after they leave the country. Because that makes sense.

So that was irritating. But the next day (yesterday) was a national holiday called Liberation Day, so we had no class! Although we have a mandatory makeup day tomorrow, so I call shenanigans on their concept of liberation.

I spent most of the day alternately reading Angela’s Ashes and napping, though I accompanied Morgan to Giovanni’s cafe to take some pictures for a photo project she had to do. It was an odd experience because Giovanni asked us for a favor as well – before we even asked him about the pictures. He served us our pastries and then asked us to handwrite a large stack of business cards for him, since I guess he’s run out. For our trouble he gave us a bottle of Fanta to split. Looking around the cafe, I noticed the large amount of handwritten signs for the first time and wondered if they, too, were completed by frequent guests in exchange for half a Fanta. Giovanni’s a tad eccentric.

Today after classes I went on a very successful souvenir-buying spree, ate a delicious panino from the very awesome Oil Shoppe, and have plans to start studying for finals and visit the Boboli Gardens. Tomorrow I’m hopefully going to finish my final project for photography and this weekend I’m going on my final school trip to Switzerland and Lake Como. And next week I need to prepare for finals for real.

IT’S SO DIFFICULT TO FOCUS ON SCHOOL STUFF WHEN I JUST WANNA ENJOY FLORENTINE SIGHTS AND FOOD AND SHOPPING.