Spring Break series

Ciao!

Over the 10 days of Spring Break, I traveled through 7 different countries and visited 4 major cities–WHEW! I spent over 48 hours total on a bus, and have over 848 photos on my camera. And now, I have ~1 million things that must be done…or so it seems.

So, my Spring Break series is on its way slowly but surely! I’ll share some highlights, stories and pictures from my experiences in Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris (and Versailles) through a four-part series. Here’s a small sneak peak of what’s to come:

As exhausting as this trip was, it was downright the most amazing experience of my life!

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Song lyrics to live by while abroad

For centuries we’ve been told this message in film, music, literature and all kinds of cultural expressions conjured from ancient times to the Grand Tour and beyond: going abroad will change you. I don’t know how much I’m undergoing change versus how much I’m just rediscovering who I really am and what values are truly important to me…but all I know is that I am the purest form of happy that I’ve been in a long time, and I hope the mentalities I’m [re]learning never fade.

I can feel my life-balance being restored. I can see a glowing aura return. There is passion, curiosity, self-confidence, love and generosity surging through my body again with an intangible force that can’t be reckoned with. For once, I feel complete for accepting that I am incomplete.

This blog began with a post that told my story through three songs which guided my initial journey here. Now, at about the half-way point (/cry), I’d like to highlight a few song lyrics that have really struck me when hearing them over the past few weeks. These–especially the last one, in my travel-lovestruck opinion, are words to live by while abroad…and hopefully beyond:

“Just for Tonight” by The Tonight Life

I’ve had enough of
wasting my time on
trying to make up my mind.

Tonight’s the night that it all comes alive,
’cause kids like us our hearts will never die.
My mind is always spinning
and I still don’t know the meaning,
sleeping dreaming talking breathing,
oh my God it keeps repeating.

“The Cave” by Mumford & Sons

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

“Bottled Wind” by Polar Bear Club

So let me tell you once and not again
Are we half asleep or walking dead?

I’ll tell it and be done,
Sinking is how swimming isn’t sunk

“Come Talk to Me” by Peter Gabriel

Whatever fear invents, I swear it make no sense
I reach out through the border fence

“Master of Art” by Laura Stevenson and the Cans

until I am a Master of Art,
Until I have done everything.

And we’ll move to it away,
Won’t break our fingers when we wake up
And we’ll stay inside a shape,
And we will never ever worry
Never ever worry, yeah.

“Reasons Not to Be An Idiot” by Frank Turner

So get up and get down and get outside.
‘Cause it’s a lovely sunny day,
But you hide yourself away.
You’ve only got yourself to blame.
Get up and get down and get outside.

“Miles Davis and the Cool” by The Gaslight Anthem

Now honey, put on your red dress,
and your diamond soled shoes.
Climb on down from that window,
climb on out of your room.

My how the years and our youth pass on.

“I knew Prufrock before he got famous” by Frank Turner

Life is about love,
last minutes and lost evenings,
About fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
And help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.

After all the loving and the losing,
For the heroes and the pioneers,
The only thing that’s left to do
Is get another round in at the bar.

What time is it?

mind = blown

I had a silent 5-second heart attack this morning when I looked down at the time on my laptop and noticed that my midterm was not in an hour and a half, but in half an hour…meaning I don’t have some time to study and drink coffee first, because I need to leave in 15 minutes. Isn’t it only 10:30? Not 11:30? I thought in a minor panic.

I mentally added 6 hours to 5:30 about a dozen times, and even popped up Calculator to make sure my sleepiness was not interfering with this simple addition. Yup, 11:30. What the hell? So I looked up the current time and date on the Internet, for both Florence and NYC. 5:30am in NY, and…10:30am here. 5-hour difference–WHERE IS THE OTHER HOUR?! I was starting to feel relieved that I still had adequate time before my exam, but I was also starting to feel absolutely mindblown. NON CAPISCO PERCHE! DOVE E’ LA ALTRA ORA?! (Yes, sometimes I naturally think in Italian when excited or panicked now…it’s kind of cool).

Then I started panicking again, because it dawned on me that it might be Daylight Savings Time–which yes, restores logic and sense, but also means that I needed to leave NOW for my midterm exam. So I quickly looked up Daylight Savings Time, and saw that it indeed was DST…but just in the U.S.–not here. Our turn comes over the night of March 23rd.

I guess that makes sense…

And I guess I’m only 5 hours in the future now…for only two weeks though…

…I’m really glad this exam has nothing to do with the concept of time.

Daily Failtales: Week 5

Why did I eat that?

Today, I went to the annual gastronomy fair in Florence–a trade show of culinary delicacies that infuse the science, art and consumption of food and drinks. (I might go into detail about this in a near-future blog post). Anyway, the place was swarmed by food snobs and buyers in the food industry, but visitors could pay a 15 Euro entrance fee to also access all these fancy samplings of products. So, I skipped breakfast/lunch and made it my mission to make the most out of my ticket. I figured, why not try everything?

WRONG THINKING. Sure, some of the unfamiliar tasted fantastic! But when handed a fishy product on a toothpick, my instinct was “Do not eat this.” I ate it anyway. And then I suffered.

As soon as I put that fish in my mouth, I looked at Heather with this forewarning look of DON’T DO IT. I couldn’t bite into it again, and I could not tolerate the accumulation of horrible fishy taste sitting in my mouth. As I slid towards the wall and frantically searched my purse for a tissue, I noticed bystanders notice me holding back gags. I managed to somewhat subtly spit out the fish into a tissue and toss it away, but THE TASTE WAS STILL SO POTENT. AND SO HORRENDOUS. I couldn’t even tolerate to swallow the tainted saliva in my mouth. I looked at Heather very seriously and said, “We need vino.” So we quickly sought the nearest wine stand. Of course the vendor took her jolly time opening the wine and schmoozing with the wine snobs in front of us. I was dying.

My stomach has felt weird for the rest of the day. Non mi piace. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

LESSON LEARNED: Trying new things is part of traveling, but sometimes it’s ok to trust your instincts about not trying food that you suspect you may have a PHYSICAL AVERSION to.

A seriously NOT OK miscommunication

I really enjoy mingling with locals and attempting to converse with them in Italienguish. It generates the most fun, interesting and cultural experiences, but it also lends itself to some of the most mortifying mistakes.

Last night, Heather and I were playing poker at our regular hangout, and had a couple different groups of Italians join us at different points. After a while of playing and talking with one of these groups, one of the guys pointed to my ring and asked if I am married. He then jokingly asked if I am hoping to get married while I am in Italy. (Well, I thought he was joking). So I jokingly replied, with exaggerated facial gestures soaking in sarcasm, “รจ possibile!” and laughed…except he didn’t catch on that I was joking.

I did not know the translation for “I am joking/kidding/playing,” but Heather tried to see if in English he’d understand “She’s just playing.” He and his friends understood “playing” not in the context of the tone of our conversation, but in the context of the subject of our conversation: they understood it as I am playing around with men in Italia.

That one took a moment to clear up. Good thing they weren’t creepy.

LESSON LEARNED: Either don’t be sarcastic while speaking Italian, or learn how to say “I am joking.” Better yet, if someone asks if you’re married, just say SI! ๐Ÿ˜€

I’m not crying…

I went for a glorious 7-mile run yesterday…but ran into an issue. The cool air was making me sniffle, and the pollen was making my eyes tear. These were especially affecting me during a part of my run when I was charging up a steep hill–“charging” as in using every ounce of might in me to slowly ascend up the hill like Wile E. Coyote failing at acceleration. As the tourists and Italians atop the hill looked down on me, I realized that I did not only look like I was struggling to run up the hill, but the sniffles and teary eyes additionally made it appear that I was crying. They were probably like, “Poor, fat American girl…too out of shape to run up the hill without crying.” ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

LESSON LEARNED: Well, not much I can do about this one…

Adventures in Assisi

March 3, 2012 - I decided not to look up anything about Assisi before boarding the train, so that everything I saw would be a complete surprise and adventure. That's the way to do it.

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When we arrived in the Assisi train station, we looked out at the medieval city up on the afar hills. The castle on top seemed so high and far away that we had some doubts about reaching it, at first. There was one desolate road that went towards that city, so we started walking, unsure of exactly how long and direct this journey would be.

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...It was a beautiful walk.

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(Photo credit: Heather Ayvazian) As we entered this medieval city, every winding layer of road we climbed only became more and more impressive. I kind of felt like I was climbing up the city of Gondor, except with an atmosphere of warmth instead of gloom.

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This was my first visit to a Tuscan countryside area, and it truly was picturesque.

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I love Italy ๐Ÿ™‚

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As we approached the top of the hills, we ventured off a main road and through a dirt pathway that lead us through the woods and up to the castle. Along the way, I spotted so many intriguing encounters, like this.

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STORM THE CASTLE!

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Feeling on top of the world.

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Rocco Maggiore

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oh hai there ๐Ÿ˜€

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Rob the Majestic

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I love feeling like I'm in Robin Hood...

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Basilica Papale di San Francesco

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...The most incredible sunset I've ever seen.

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And that concludes my adventures in Assisi...

Ho biscotti per tu!

Maybe Monday’s cooking class inspired me to try baking Italian cookies on my own. Perhaps I’ve passed by too many bakeries pervading the smell of fresh pastries. Or maybe my mind feels like embracing International Women’s Day (“Festa della donna” in Italia) tomorrow. Whatever the cause may be, I am going through a baking frenzy.

I’ve been having the itch to bake ever since my Monday cooking class, when we made cantucci di prato (what we generally view as “biscotti” in America–and something my family often makes) from scratch. Then yesterday, Anna, the sweet elderly lady who lives in the apartment below us, came upstairs to bring us a jar of homemade meat sauce and a package of pasta. (Is she the cutest thing ever or what?!) Our “grazie” and smiles could barely do the “thank you” justice, though, because she doesn’t speak any English and we are still just learning Italian. That’s when I decided I have a good reason to bake!

So I gathered a few basic ingredients to make a simple almond butter cookie, because it’d be quick, easy and simple. Then I felt like getting fancy by adding in variations–chocolate in the center for some, a coating of beaten egg with sugar and vanilla extract for some, a topping of sugar for others, and I left a good amount plain. Overall, I was dissatisfied because they tasted too sweet and buttery in my opinion (probably because we don’t have measuring cups, so I was just eyeing everything). Luckily my housemates really liked them, so at least they’re being happily scarfed down ๐Ÿ˜€

But today, the baking frenzy only intensified. I decided to go all-out and recreate that biscotti we made in class. So I ventured out to gather everything I needed–from almonds to an orange to yeast. I had a blast jamming out to tunes in my apron as I handmade the dough on our kitchen table and infused my own variations to the recipe we learned in class based on my judgment–more orange grind, almond extract, more vanilla extract, and a couple other variations. They came out pretty damn good! (Still not as delicious as yours, Aunt Marianne). I decided to be fancy and top some with melted chocolate, too. I can’t wait for it to harden so I can go deliver a plate to Anna!

8 Distinctions between EU soccer vs US sports games

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about soccer fans: in a negative light, their aggression, violence and crazy antics; in a positive light, their energy, loudness, and undying loyalty. Well, I’ve witnessed the latter to be true.

Yesterday’s Fiorentina vs Cesena soccer game is one of the most cultural experiences I’ve encountered while in Florence. Sure, there are plenty of similarities between professional American sports fans and these European soccer fans: wearing the team’s gear, tailgating before the game, cheering and heckling. But these soccer fans are just so much cooler!

Anyway, here are some of the overall key distinctions I found between this pro Italian soccer game I attended versus pro football and baseball games I’ve attended in the United States (Note: This is only based on my impressions of this one game I’ve attended! So some observations might not be a great representation):

Credit: zimbio.com

  1. More affordable entry. I don’t know if prices skyrocket towards the end of the season, but the soccer ticket prices I saw here seemed really affordable to me. Mine was 7 Euro, not for a bad spot either. I suppose some prices of the best seats can be somewhat comparable to baseball price tickets, but they still seemed mostly cheaper overall.
  2. More hardcore entry process. There were several steps to enter the stadium. Along with the typical procedure of entering at your gate and having purses checked, we had to get our tickets stamped and enter through a barred gate one by one then show identification to match our ticket (passport, license, etc). I was a little nervous when my bag was being checked, because I got pulled over to the side thanks to my little bag with make-up and feminine products. Apparently that security guard found lipstick and tampons to be suspicious? The female guard was called over and helped me out, though.
  3. Lack of cameras. Fans are not allowed to bring cameras into the stadium. I don’t know if it was this Firenze stadium in particular, or if this is a standard, but I was intrigued. At first, I found it kind of disappointing, unnecessary and fascist. But in the end, it was kind of nice. The crowd was all about experiencing the game rather than documenting it. Also, there were barely any TV/broadcasting cameras recording the game, which is also very different from what you’d see at pro (and even college) games in the US.
  4. No one cares about your seat number. At least in our section, the only people who bothered to seek out their row and seat number were the American students who had clearly never been to a game like this before. People just sat anywhere in the section, and a substantial amount of people preferred to just stand behind or sit up on the railings. I ended up standing up there for a bit too…it was a very casual atmosphere.
  5. Eat/drink before the game. Like at American sports games, tons of people were outside drinking beers and eating outside the stadium before the game (except replace grilling burgers with buying gelato and panini). Then during the game, I observed very few people buying food or drinks inside. At the start of the game, there were some men I saw drinking beer, but then that was it. It was very different from American games, which constantly have people getting up and down to grab food and drinks. Only one drink vendor came around only one time, too.
  6. Undying energy of the crowd. Going along with the notion of no eating/drinking during the game, the Fiorentina fans were just so incredibly energetic. At US sports games, sure we cheer, we heckle, we chant now and then…but we often wait for the queue of a song or a digital banner to tell us to do so, and still it isn’t always loud and clear. Too many people are just quietly sitting and eating their hotdogs. But this crowd was AWESOME. There was a nonstop energy of flag-waving, cheering, ridiculously unified chanting instigated by one section of a crowd and carried out throughout the stadium, and even unified motions like jumping to them. I’ll admit that I have sometimes seen this at some sections of NFL or college basketball games, and that maybe those pro American sports games just have so many more people that you could never except such a massive energy…but man, was that cool!
  7. Ghetto bathrooms. When I entered the stall, I wondered if I accidentally entered the guys’ room, because I swear there was basically a urinal below me. A low, sink-like thing with no toilet seat. Not sure if this is relatively standard or just a Firenze stadium thing, but I felt compelled to include this nonetheless.
  8. Noticeably unbalanced gender ratio. There seemed to be a significantly greater number of males at the game than females. Lots of groups of guys–both young and old–and lots of fathers/uncles with sons/nephews. The nice thing is, they are all so ridiculously focused on the game and their bro experience that they didn’t seem to hit on the girls like you’d expect at least a few creepy Italian men to do! ๐Ÿ˜›