The inevitable theft incident…check.

Well, I made it until I only have two weeks left in Europe to have my stuff stolen…

This weekend I was in Munich, Germany for Springfest (which was absolutely incredible–shall blog about it next time I have time). Maybe the perfectness of the weather and the amazing experience made it too good to be true that something bad had to happen. Sometime in the ~45-minute time of leaving the festival tent and walking back to the hostel with my friends, the clutch inside my gym bag went missing–credit card, debit card, driver’s license, school ID cards, health insurance cards, ~200 Euro, and a bunch of other less-important cards…gone. (I had them all on me because I figured it’d be safer on my body than in my empty hostel room–especially since I haven’t seen any problems like this all semester).

Luckily I noticed right when I got back to the hostel, so I was able to cancel my card accounts before they were used. And luckily my passport was still safe. And fortunately I have really supportive friends and family who did what they could to help the situation and calm me down. I know, it’s “just money”–but it’s upsetting in a panicking sense to lose all my money and access to money while still in a foreign country for two more weeks. And just the matter itself is upsetting…You think you’re being careful with where your belongings are stored on your body and who’s walking around you–but yeah, someone delicately opened your bag and took your clutch, maybe even while conversing with you as a comrade.

😦

But with every bad person you encounter, there’s gotta be 100 good ones you meet too. I won’t let this taint my sentiments towards my travels.

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The longest walk [down one street] ever.

Today we finally have that gloriously beautiful sunshine that’s we’ve been missing for weeks. The umbrella guys turned back into flower guys, and all peace is restored.

So, I’ve been spending every minute of my day outside that I can. While I briefly wait for my laptop to charge back up so that I can do work in the piazza, I thought I’d share a quick story about today.

The San Lorenzo leather markets take up a few streets lined with vendors selling their leather goods, scarves, trinkets and all sorts of souvenirs at their booths. Usually these streets are so congested with tourists and other pedestrians that it’s easy to duck into the crowd at any time. I often do this method when I don’t feel like dealing with the stares and comments from many of the Italian male vendors lining the streets.

Credit: sjdoesitaly.wordpress.com

Well, the sunshine put me in a great mood today. When I turned the corner and entered the first street of the market, I immediately got a friendly “Ciao.” So I politely smiled and said back, “Ciao.” A few steps later, the next vendor greeted me, “Buon giorno!” Well, I just said hi to that last guy so it’d be rude to just ignore this one, I thought. “Buon giorno,” I replied. A few steps later and again, I get a “ciao.” Then a “hi” from another. Followed by a “ciao, bella” from the next. And as I am automatically responding to each of these individual vendors as I walk through, I suddenly understand why this felt so weird and abnormal: I was basically the only person walking down the street. Where the hell is the giant crowd? It definitely was awkward enough to implement the duck-into-crowd-and-disappear strategy.

I must’ve turned down the least popular street at an odd moment of little pedestrian activity. At this point I was only maybe halfway through the street. Shit, I’m gonna have to say hi back to every damn person now. “Ciao, bella!” “Ciao.” “Buon giorno!” “Buon giorno…” “He-llooooo” “Hi.” “Aaaah, bella” [shakes head and blushes]. I think they noticed my enthusiasm dwindle as I progressed further on. By time I got to the end of the street, I was laughing, and even some of the vendors were laughing because they saw how absolutely ridiculous this whole episode was. It was the longest walk down one street ever, and the most hilarious one too.

“Bella, bella, you want umbrella?!”

Apparently the Archbishop recited special prayers for Italy’s much-needed rainfall last week: apparently it worked.

My friends and I have been fortunate enough to experience NO rainy days since our arrival in Florence in late January. Maybe it drizzled once or twice, but other than that we’ve had nothing but clear skies.

Now, we’ve had nothing BUT rain for days! I was so happy to have my family visit this weekend, but we were so disappointed that it rained miserably their entire stay! (We of course still loved being able to spend time together in Italy — but the rain definitely dampened the trip and stopped us from doing all we’d do).

Today the rain is back again in full force. Natalie and I swam to our 12:00 class, splashing through the cobblestone puddles. “Why did I wear white pants today?!” screamed Natalie as we dodged umbrellas left and right. Our entire class sat through the two and 1/2 hour lecture cold and soaked.

At least the damn flower guys who transform into umbrella guys are probably having a few good days of business, hitting up all these tourists splashing through the streets like lost ducklings who don’t understand water or traffic. I feel like I encounter vendors at every corner of this city. “Bella, bella, you want umbrella?!”

With only about one month left in Florence, I just hope the rain goes away soon and stays away. So far, the forecast shows rain for as long as we can possibly view in the future…and in a city environment like this with tons of amazing outdoor places to spend our time, the rain really is a problem.

Maybe the Archbishop would be willing to recite a special prayer for the Mets this season 😀

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. 😦

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, “è 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! 😀

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.” 😦

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

Daily Failtales: Week 4

The awkwardness of running out of things to say in Italian

I’m getting better at holding conversations in Italian–or at least in a mix of broken English and broken Italian. However, my speaking abilities and vocabulary is still very limited. And most of what I know how to say is meant for an introductory conversation–my name, my university, what I study, how old I am, how long I’m in Florence, how I like Florence, what I like to do, etc. Likewise, I only know how to ask a limited number of introductory questions, too–your name, how you are, what you do, how old you are, etc.

A classic Scott Pilgrim & Ramona moment of awkward smalltalk and then abrupt silence.

So, once I burn through everything I know how to say, there is always this awkward, silent ending to the conversation. Even worse is running into the same predominantly-Italian-speaking people who have already had this conversation with me. It’s like an exchange of “hi,” “how are you?” “bene, grazie.” And then that’s it. I literally don’t know how to say or ask anything more that wouldn’t be either repetitive or ridiculously random and frivolous. So the conversation just dies, and we’re left awkwardly staring at each other kind of nodding our heads. Then I just casually turn around to my friends, or shrug a weak little “Allora, ciao” and walk away. Real good socializing.

LESSON LEARNED: Prepare some new, interesting conversation-makers in Italian before going out to places you frequent.

That time I [un]successfully bargained for heels.

I had been on the hunt for a pair of black heels–black heels that could go casual or fancy, weren’t too high, were 60 Euro max, and had thick enough heels to rough the cobblestone streets. I found them. They were 80 Euro. After clearly stating that they were beyond my price range, trying them on at the shopkeeper’s insistence anyway, and spending a long time pretending I didn’t like them that much, I got offered a special deal of 60 Euro: BAM, in my budget.

I was so proud. My friends thought I had gotten pressured into the purchase, until I told them I was just bargaining him. Then they were proud too. I felt awesome, in awesome heels, with an awesome talent for bargaining Italian shopkeepers.

Then I wore them out for a second time, on a longer journey than the first night I wore them. And what the hell!? My heels felt like they were going to break off at any second. They were sticking to the street and then jarring in random directions, and I felt and probably looked so awkward. Now I’m determined for them to feel right, just for the sake of my dignity 😥

LESSON LEARNED: Succeeding at bargaining yields no success if the product sucks in the first place.

NO CREEPNG

So, the manager/bartender of the pub down the street who I’ve befriended decorated the pub with a bunch of random masks for Fat Tuesday. One of them was this absolutely horrifying clown mask of a creepy looking joker with a terrifying smile and popping eyes. I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was GLARING at me. I kept telling my friend that it was going to give me nightmares. So he covered it with a paper towel, and then from his perspective behind the bar, the joker’s eyes seemed to be creeping on HIM now.

So, the next day I made this sign for him. The words say “No strisciante” which means “no creeping” …except he told me that I apparently translated “creeping ” as in a worm creeping along on the ground. He laughed at my mistake, but still hung up the sign by the creepy mask nonetheless 🙂

LESSON LEARNED: Google Translate can be wonderful, but will not always yield the translation you’re really seeking.

Italian Haircut

I didn’t intend to get bangs, but I got them. This experience I blogged about yesterday: “Pulled an Audrey Hepburn: My New Italian Haircut

LESSON LEARNED: When getting a haircut from someone who speaks a limited amount of your language, either bring a picture, or truly go in with the attitude to let the hairdresser do whatever he/she is envisioning. And remember, it’s only hair 🙂

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 😦