No biggie, just whipping up some fruta del mar

This one is for you, Nana and Grandpa.

I was randomly REALLY craving some fruta del mar, and didn’t think I could hold out until our heavenly Christmas Eve feast. Suddenly, I was overcome with an intense surge of motivation and ambition [that I really should be applying to my schoolwork instead of cooking/blogging right now but oh well] as an epiphany dawned upon me: I’ve watched and helped you make it enough (and certainly have eaten it enough) that I could absolutely just make it on my own! So, I did. And it was an excellent decision.

Obviously not nearly as good as the family's, but it was still molta deliziosa! Next time, I will splurge on all the necessary seafood ingredients, buy one more lemon, put a little less onion/celery in the ratio, and let it marinade longer!

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A month…ALREADY?!

I cannot believe that I’m already one month into this journey…

On the one hand, it does feel like I’ve been here for a while: I’m settled in to a place that feels like my home and my city. I’m a regular at a grocery store, a convenience/wine store, the corner caffe, and the bar down the street. I’ve bonded with a couple professors. I’ve befriended locals. I’ve said yes to a myriad of new experiences–from attending a discothèque, to cooking handmade pasta, to taking a flaming Sambuca shot, to attempting to read an Italian book, to playing poker with Italians and more. I’ve learned more information about Renaissance history than my brain could possibly retain. I’ve mastered the art of walking cobble-stone streets in heels. I have a running route around the Arno. I rarely need to use my map. I spend free time sitting at piazzas and sites without the urge to take pictures, but just to enjoy the atmosphere and read. I can form sentences in Italian and am–for the most part–past that helpless deer-in-the-headlights phase. I successfully bargain with shopkeepers. I prefer Italian bars over American student-packed bars. I’m confident and comfortable, and am often mistaken for a local because of it. And I feel like I’ve done laundry about 18 times already.

But on the other hand, there is still so much to do, see, and taste! I have visited some churches, but have yet to enter most of the major sites–the Duomo, Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, etc. I haven’t completed one sketch yet. I haven’t met enough new people. I still get lost (in the sense of taking indirect side streets towards an intuitively correct general direction). I’ve only traveled outside Florence once so far. I’ve only been to a handful of bars. I’ve only dined out a few times. Hell, I haven’t even eaten gelato yet.

Yet, every day and night is full of rich experiences.

These weeks and days are flying by faster than I’d wish. I’m making sure to make every day count, but that still does not leave me with nearly enough days! I did, in a sense, unfortunately “lose a week” from being so sick. And the recent Ice Age of Florence lasted up until only several days ago. But the other factor is that I’ve just found a few favorite places to go, things to do, and people to see–enough to regularly keep up some extent of repetition. This is repetition I enjoy, that still holds its aspects of unexplored excitement. But for now on, I’m making an extra effort to really seek something truly new each day, in addition to what has become familiar. This week, I shall climb the Duomo, visit a photography museum, enter the Baptistery, go out to dinner, try a new bar, buy a ticket to see a Fiorentina vs Cesena soccer game, and speak more Italian. And it all starts now… Off to the Central Market for the first time (finally) to gather some delicious fresh ingredients for a [hopefully] delicious dinner tonight 🙂

Silhouettes on the Arno River

The Arno River is just a few blocks of walking away. I often walk by during the day to enjoy the beautiful view and people watch. It’s a perfect running location, too–well, at hours when there aren’t too many tourists. On a recent gorgeous day, my friends and I walked around the Arno at sunset. Bella, bella, bella.

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Piazzale Michelangelo

The Piazzale Michelangelo is the perfect place to see a breathtaking view of Florence. It’s located up on a hill across the Arno River, and is far worth a walk or bus ride over.

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Heels are not suggested for this visit 😛

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Sunset is my favorite time to visit this square

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You can view some of the countryside, with what remains of the third set of the Roman walls

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And you can see a beautiful, panoramic view of the city of Florence

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And you can see a lovely view of the city's outskirts and mountains in the distance

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The square is not only a major tourist spot, but also a hangout for locals who were walking around and drinking wine on the steps.

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My favorite view is actually from the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, which is just a quick detour away from the Piazzale Michelangelo and a little higher up. I actually prefer sitting outside the church more than Michelangelo's Square...I'll be blogging about the church soon probably.

Daily Failtales: Week 3

Less language-barrier/cultural-differences fails than usual! Yay!

The Fall of Elisabetta, 2012 A.D.

You’ll find that stairs in the old structures of Florence can sometimes be awkward to walk up/down, and that stairwells can feel a little too narrow and dim. Well, when walking down one of these narrow, dim stairwells of awkwardly-spaced stone steps, I clumsily managed to slip or trip. This was at the top of this series of stairs, so I had quite a tumble ahead of me.

As soon as I felt my body falling forward, my instant reaction was LEAN BACK. (Last year I broke my two front teeth, and have been traumatized about rebreaking them since). So, I gracefully leaned back and knelt down, sinking back my weight towards my legs and backside–the only split-second option I had to prevent gravity’s beckoning of my teeth to concrete. Alas, I slid down the stone stairs on my shins, then quickly popped back up to continue walking on. It hurt quite a bit, but sacrificing the shins was far worth preventing another dental disaster.

Good thing it's not sundress season yet...

The I understood, please? 🙂

I’ve finally become more quick and natural with speaking Italian in shops, restaurants and with locals. (Still can neither speak much nor well, but I’ve graduated past the deer-in-the-headlights stage for sure). When I meant to ask for the bill for our table at a restaurant (Il conto, per favore?), I accidentally–and very confidently–said “Il capito, per favorte?” (The I understood, please?) …Such an ironic verbal mistake to make, since I clearly did not understand what I was saying.

Architecture student wannabe-student

Not gonna lie, my architecture class in Florence makes me feel far more sophisticated and artistic than I actually am. While I produce plenty of digital art and multimedia on the computer, I am quite challenged with actual hand-drawn sketches. When visiting sites in my class, though, I seem to forget the latter. And apparently I add really useless annotations too. Any students glancing at my notebook or trying to copy from behind me must think I am really special.

Heather spotted this in my notebook, and couldn’t help mocking me (well-deserved) and taking a picture.

I’m not as stuck-up as I seem

While in a store browsing some items, I noticed an Italian gentleman who kept looking over at me. While I was indecisively mulling over a potential purchase, he came over and greeted me, “Buona sera.” Then he continued to speak to me–a little too-quickly for me to translate his Italian or even understand the gist of what he was saying. So I just shook my head and walked over to the other side, where he followed me to. Then I kind of just shook my head again and crossed my arms saying “No,” like you sometimes have to do when someone is hitting on you. Finally he walked away…behind the cashier desk. He was an employee–not some random Italian guy hitting on me.  I felt mortified for being so rude and seemingly stuck up when he was just trying to help me 😦

Venice (Part V): Carnival Weekend

Venice, Italy

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Venice and the Carnevale

Last weekend was the opening weekend of Carnevale di Venezia. It is the major annual event that begins a couple months before Easter and lasts until Fat Tuesday–the Tuesday before Lent. Carnevale is most known for its incredible costumes and masks. The original meaning of the masks is that everyone would use the period of the Carnival to “mask” their social classes–so the rich could behave poorer, and vice versa.

Many people compare this celebration to Mardi Gras in the United States, but I felt that Carnevale is much different from that Mardi Gras that I know. The festivities have a greater connection with its history, and the emphasis is more oriented around family and culture rather than a LETS GET TRASHED AND GO CRAZY attitude. It was an awesome experience, full of energy and rich with culture.

Ciao! The city of Venice was dusted in snow on the opening morning of Carnevale--very unusual weather! The lagoon was partially frozen too, for the first time in ~50 years!

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A crowded, energetic St. Mark's Square

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The entire city was decorated for the spirit of Carnevale

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While we restrained from splurging on a gondola ride, it was nice to see them operating despite the cold weather

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Always look up!

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The streets were FULL of vendors and shops filled with displays of beautiful masks to purchase for the Carnival. The shopkeepers took lots of pride in the fact their their masks are authentically made in Venice, rather than imported or whatnot. ("NOT FROM CHINA--MADE HERE!")

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Ready to mask myself with my first souvenir from Italia!

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The stage set-up in St. Mark's Square mimicked an old theatre

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My favorite photo.

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The emcees on the stage got us dancing in the piazza to all the Italian hit songs!

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When off in the sidestreets of Venice, Chelsea and I heard a deep drumming from a distance. Following the sound led us to this awesome drum performance. This performance represents what is probably my favorite aspect of Carnevale--that so much of the festivities is created BY the people FOR the people. Carnevale is not dependent upon hired entertainers--it's the people themselves who provide the entertainment with their awesome costumes, spontaneous music performances and everything else. It's an awesome energy and spirit 😀

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The Flight of the Angel

The opening of Carnevale kicks off with “the flight of the angel” ceremony, in which a [very brave] woman descends from St. Mark’s Campanile.

The bell tower rang as the "angel" prepared to take her "flight" --How thrilling!

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She's ballsy.

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...So graceful

Crazy Carnevale Costumes

One of the coolest parts of Carnevale is seeing the amazing costumes that attendees wear. Everyone can buy a mask, but these full costumes are something really special. I tried to catch as many shots as I could!

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Well, that concludes my Venice series! Florence life is hopping, so I have lots to catch up on for sharing. Ciao for now 🙂

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Venice (Part IV): Burano, “The Island of Painted Houses”

Venice, Italy

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Burano, “The Island of Painted Houses”

Meandering through the little pathways of the tiny island of Burano in Veneto is like walking into a fairytale land. As the nickname “The Island of Painted Houses” suggests, Burano is the picturesque small town known for its brightly-colored houses lining the canals. (Burano is also known for its lace products, which I didn’t even tempt myself with by avoiding the beautiful lace shops). Even with the gloomy weather, Chelsea and I were overcome with little-kid spirit as we joyously ventured through this compact town of colors.

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We had fun losing ourselves in a town too tiny to get lost in 🙂

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Chelsea cartwheeling through the quiet, quaint pathways. There is something about Burano that will bring out the little kid in you.

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Too chilly for boat rides, but it must be beautiful in the spring weather!

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Residents' laundry hanging from windows and lines. The neighborhood was so silent that it was almost spooky--like a ghost town. Perhaps it is simply because of the cold weather. I couldn't help wondering what the lives of these residents are like, though...living in such an incredibly small town that is constantly visited by tourists. I wonder what their sentiments are towards the visitors, and I wonder how much of their time is spent on the island of Burano versus other places in Veneto across the lagoon.

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I could wall-kick my way up some of these pathways 😛

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There is one main street of the city, lined with adorable shops and caffes.

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Many of the window displays and shops were full of masks for Carnevale.

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NEVERLAND! "I will never grow up..."

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Ciao! 😀

Check back for Venice: Part V about the Carnevale.