Follow Me to Firenze!

Chianti, April 30, 2011: Well this is it. My last excursion of my semester in Florence! My friend and I decided it would be a nice way to round out the “Italian” experience if we traveled to the heart of Tuscany where they are famous for their olive oil and wine.

We went as part of a group that gives you sort of a “package deal”. After a 1 hour bus ride we started with a 2.5 hour hike through the vineyards and olive orchards in the Chianti valley. It was absolutely gorgeous! I apologize for so many distance landscape shots but everything was so beautiful I just couldn’t stop clicking my camera! After the hike we headed to lunch which, staying true to Italian tradition, took us over 4 hours (!!) to get through. 

Overall it was an absolutely fabulous day and an excellent way to round out my time here in Italy. 

Cinque Terre, April 9, 2011: When we arrived in Cinque Terre and got off the train this (picture 1) was the view that greeted us. It literally took my breath away! The sun was sparkling off the water, the waves were breaking on the rocks, the ocean was an unbelievable blue-turquoise color—and that was just the view from the train station! 

Cinque Terre is a national park about two hours north-west of Florence. It is made up of five beach towns (cinque=five, terre=lands, original I know). We arrived Friday afternoon and spent the night in Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns, in a 15 euro a night hostel with an incredible view (picture 2)! 

The next day we hiked around the park and visited the 4 remaining towns. They were all beautiful and we had a wonderful time exploring them all but we unanimously decided that “our town”, Riomaggiore was our favorite. At the end of the day we took the train back to Riomaggiore and had dinner there. Afterward, we still had some time  before we had to catch our train back to Florence so we ended up wandering around the rocky cliffs of Riomaggiore. There we stumbled upon and deserted pebble beach where we proceeded to skip stones into the ocean, climb giant rocks, and take a million pictures until it was time to go. Oh! And I got to watch the sunset over the ocean for the first time in forever! Needless to say, it was an incredible trip! 

Bagnoregio, April 2, 2011: Wow, it’s April already! I can’t believe my program ends this month! Everyone told me that study abroad would go by quickly but this is ridiculous—I feel like I just got here! Right when I feel like I’m really starting to get the hang of living here, I have to leave. Well, no sense wallowing; I just have to fit as many adventures into my remaining time as possible.

This past weekend I went to this tiny town located on top of a mountain. There is only one path that leads into the city and there are no cars allowed on it. All the resources in the town—every bit of food, scrap of toilet paper, and piece of furniture—has to travel over that bridge and up what becomes an increasingly steep path. The photo of the donkey is a tribute to Pasquino, a donkey who used to carry goods up and down the mountain in the olden days (now they use Vespas). Taped to the wooden donkey’s butt (ass’s ass?) was a limmerick in Italian that basically said: 

There once was a donkey Pasquino. He was tired of carrying wood. He became a politician and among other donkeys he made a career.

I guess even before the Berlusconi fiasco Italians weren’t big on politicians.

I hope you all enjoy the views! 

Vatican City, March 27, 2011: On Sunday we some how managed to drag ourselves out of bed early again and made our way to the giant line leading into the Vatican Museum. We waited in line for almost an hour and a half but luckily for us it was a gorgeous day and a premium people watching spot. Also, we didn’t mind the wait so much because it turns out that on the last Sunday of every month, the museum is free (usually a 12 euro entrance fee). Here are some of the highlights, which include the front of the museum, the ridiculously long line, the map room, the garden area, a traditional Swiss guard, and last but definitely not least, the courtyard of Saint Peter’s Basilica where literally thousands of people were gathered, awaiting the brief appearance of the Pope. 

Rome, March 26, 2011: Hopped on the train around 6:30 on Saturday morning and spent a grand total of 24 hours in Roma! Apparently since Rome wasn’t built in a day, that means you can’t see all of it in a day either. We did manage to make it to most of the main sites but we missed out on some of the less popular destinations like the giant stone foot, the stone head that bites the hands of liars, and an old piazza that’s just supposed to be really pretty. Above, you can see pictures of the Colosseum, ruins in the Roman Forum, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (the first king of Italy), the Trevi Fountain (during the day and at night), the ceiling of the Pantheon, and finally the view from the top of the Spanish steps at night. After our exhausting but exciting day of site seeing we headed to a “traditional Roman” restaurant that turned out to be super Italian and adorable and, surprisingly, much cheaper than it would have been in Florence! 

Palo Alto, March 14, 2011: For those of who you haven’t heard, I just wanted to let you know that we had to put Hazel down this past week. Here is a small photo tribute to her beautiful memory—a legacy that will last in our hearts forever. 

Budapest, March 13, 2011: Our final stop and what turned out to be the highlight of the trip—Hungary! Budapest is seriously one of the best places I have ever been!! It was absolutely gorgeous, everyone we met was so helpful and nice, there was a huge design and art scene, the food was amazing, and everything was really cheap! What more could you ask for? We were only there for a little over 2 days and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of this city. We also stayed in the best hostel in the world. The decor was so funky and cool and the girls that ran the place were super helpful and made sure we had everything we needed. They even hosted a free dinner for all the guests one night! 

Prague, March 10, 2011: Next stop, Praha in the Czech Republic! Even though this was the coldest city we were in, it was still beautiful and a ton of fun. The architecture was so diverse and really interesting. Among other things, we visited the famous 600+ year old Astronomical Clock, Prague castle, this skeleton church from the 1400’s, and the John Lennon wall. We stayed in a very nice hostel, filled with Ikea furniture, which contrasted pretty heavily with our last hostel’s decorations! They had a common kitchen, a foosball table, and a guitar and piano for guests to play. 

Amsterdam, March 07, 2011: First stop on the Spring Break Extravaganza tour: Holland! Land of windmills and wooden clogs. Oh and apparently bicycles too—Amsterdam could give UC Davis a run for their money! We stayed in this funky little hostel covered in graffiti art, went to the Van Gogh Museum, found a bunch of hidden art gallery shops (I guess that’s what happens when you hang out with kids who go to art school!) and watched multiple sunsets over the canals. Even at that we felt like we only covered half the city! Never the less, an excellent start to what would turn out to be a perfect week!

Florence, Mar. 4, 2011: It’s SPRING BREAK!! I’ve successfully made it through my Italian midterm, my first project and presentation in graphic design, and a critique in photo. Above you can see the final product of my project for graphic design. I think I’ve seen enough of Caravaggio’s Bacchus to last a lifetime. 

I won’t be able to upload photos while I’m away on spring break but I’m sure I’ll have some great ones to share with you when I get back. I hope all of you back in the States are doing well and I just wanted to let you know that even if I don’t respond right away (or at all…) to your emails, I still really love and appreciate getting them—they always make my day!