My 21st birthday in Italy

They say your 21st birthday won’t feel special in Italy, where you can already legally drink. But my wonderful friends and family made this one hell of a birthday! ๐Ÿ˜€

First, I was given the greatest gift of all, which was for my family to come visit for the extended Easter/birthday weekend. (My birthday actually fell ON Easter this year). We were disappointed that it rained their whole stay, but it was still something very special to spend time together here in Italy. We even went to Siena to visit a winery, which I can blog about in a later post.

On my “Birthday Eve,” as Chelsea calls it, my family took Heather, Chelsea and me to local restaurant called Osteria dei Centopoveri, where Chelsea’s uncle and cousin work. (If you’re ever in Florence, I HIGHLY recommend this restaurant. It’s off-the-beaten-track but has some of the best food I’ve tasted in Florence along with fair prices and a cozy family-run atmosphere). We did the Italian-style dinner — several courses and lots of wine! My primi piatti of a homemade gnocci dish with lobster is possibly the best thing I’ve ever consumed.

Salute! ...To good company and good times ๐Ÿ˜€

After a couple hours of eating this extravagant and madly-delicious meal, the lights shut off and “Zio Claudio” and his staff surprised me with a birthday cake celebration. I was so touched by their kindness. With a smile gleaming on my face, it suddenly really did feel like my birthday. I was already so stuffed, but I managed to have a couple bites because it was SO GOOD.

Then, Claudio and his staff kept the celebration going with champagne! This restaurant and Chelsea’s family really live up to the heartwarming-and-generous-Italians stereotype. Then, Zio Claudio brought us shots of a strong Italian liquor that I can’t remember the name of. All I can tell you is that it BURNED, and somehow induced a hot flash. It definitely fit the occasion, though.

After dinner, the birthday surprises and spontaneous celebrations continued at our favorite local bar, Joshua Tree Pub…which truly is my “home away from home” in Florence. I intended to just stop by for a couple drinks with my family, but around midnight my friends started piling in until we accumulated a pretty big group in the back. Then, at midnight, the music lowered and the bouncer/bartender who we’re good friends with, Paolo, came in with a little cake that had a lit candle stuck in it, and the bar was singing me happy birthday. (Paolo is the cutest thing ever). I couldn’t believe it, and couldn’t have possibly asked for a better birthday celebration! The cake was followed by shots on the house, cheers and hugs from the other bartenders, and then an extremely fun night of good friends, good drinks and good times at one of my favorite places in Florence.

Whoever said that your 21st birthday won’t feel special in Europe was wrong…I can’t thank my family, friends from home and friends in Italy enough for making this one of the most special and memorable birthdays I’ll ever have ๐Ÿ™‚

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Hallo, Berlin! (Spring Break: Part II)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

  • Part I: Ahoy, Prague!
  • Part II: Hallo, Berlin!
  • Part III: Hey, Amsterdam!
  • Part IV: Bonjour, Paris & Versailles!

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Welcome to BEARlin! ๐Ÿ˜€ …We saw these silly bears all over the city.

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This was actually my first impression of Germany…spotted in the LADIES’ restroom on our way to Berlin.

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We arrived in Berlin on a rather gloomy evening, which made the city feel so dark and creepy that it was almost surreal. It actually reminded me of a rainy day in NYC though, except much more deserted and eerie.

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Berlin was the only city where we stayed in a true hostel–a space for travelers to communally share a temporary living space with. Our room was shared among 16 girls, set up as a little labyrinth of bunk beds. The community shower wasn’t particularly delightful, but it was a good experience to have as someone traveling through Europe.

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Our hostel had an AWESOME reception space though, which was also just a public bar.

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Cheers! This hostel reception space was a great place to mingle with other students traveling on this Northern Europe Loops trip, and with other travelers in general.

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Lubzer is the best beer I tried on this trip — and it was cheap on draft in Germany!

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Maps are indeed necessary when traveling. And my navigation skills truly elevated from city to city! Practice makes perfect ๐Ÿ˜‰

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We took the Metro in both Berlin in Paris. The European public transportation is GREAT–at least in these cities. Clean, frequent, organized and very accessible.

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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Oh hai

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WWII history surrounded us everywhere. At one point, we were even standing where Hitler killed himself. Cue goosebumps.

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The only Nazism-style building that remains.

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Berlin Wall

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Checkpoint Charlie

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This is one of my favorite things we saw on our tour through WWII history. It’s an underground monument outside Humboldt University, where the great book burning took place. The monument is a library of empty shelves built underground that is inaccessible, and only viewable through a small transparent piece of ceiling walked upon on the street above. It represents the absence of those books that were destroyed.

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On a lighter note, Berlin ended up being really fun despite the melancholy moments of dark history! And speaking of making history, this is possibly the most hilarious picture ever taken of my friends and me.

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I started “The Great Cartwheel Race,” which attracted a large audience of onlookers, and a group of Italian tourists also outside the site who decided to partake.

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“CARTWHEELS IN EVERY COUNTRY!!!”

Ahoy, Prague! (Spring Break: Part I)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

  • Part I: Ahoy, Prague!
  • Part II: Hallo, Berlin!
  • Part III: Hey, Amsterdam!
  • Part IV: Bonjour, Paris & Versailles!

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Architecture / City

Prague is truly full of stunning architecture. Not only will the historic sites impress you, but also the residential & commercial buildings as well.

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The famous clock tower. We had an AWESOME walking tour leader, Filip, who is honestly my favorite European I've met yet. He is young, quirky, and really brought the city's history to life through his animated storytelling. It was very amusing to hear him mock the clock tower, though, because of its anticlimactic "show" that happens every hour, which people come from all over the world to see and are always just like "oh" when it's over.

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The Old Town Square

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"Frodo, watch out! NAAAAAZGUUUUUL!"

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Very possibly my favorite building I've seen in Europe.

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To the castle we go!

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City by day

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...And city by night

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Czech out the people & culture!

I wasn't sure if I was looking at a soldier or a LARPer...

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The classic old dude playing accordion-like instrument with monkey ๐Ÿ™‚

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I have no idea what instrument this guy was playing, but it was awesome.

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I LOVED the people and culture of Prague. The Czechs are extremely friendly and communal. And they say "Ahoy!" as a greeting, which is badass. I would like America to adapt this pirate lingo.

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The Czech currency is crowns instead of euro, and will make you feel like an absolute 'baller. I only took out 40 Euro (~$52), which equated to 1000 crowns. It came in just one bill. Madness.
P.S. I did not mean to flip you off in this photograph -- I apologize.

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Marionettes were EVERYWHERE. This is one of the creepier ones I encountered...

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Absinthe is huge in Prague. If you've seen Eurotrip, you know all about "the green fairy" behind the craze of this bright green beverage. I had never seen it before, but it was a major component of every bar and liquor shop.

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Beer is by far the greatest drink of Prague, though. Apparently, Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation! Pilsner Urquell is one of their major beers, and all beers were generally cheaper than water where we went ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

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Nightlife in Prague

Prague has excellent nightlife. Whether you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere, a jolly pub to drink some beers, or a crazy club with good dance music, the city is full of great locations to have a great time.
We happened to be there St. Patrick's Day weekend, so we kicked off Spring Break with some green beers!

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On our first night, we partook in a major Pub Crawl that brought us to four different locations. It felt really silly traveling in this giant mob of young people from place to place, but it was a fun experience to try.

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Cheers!

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I am on the hunt for the kind of Electronic/Techno/Dance music that I heard in Prague. It was unlike anything I've ever heard because it had a noticeable influence of polka beats under the music (which may sound weird/corny, but it was very well done, very unique, and very enjoyable!)

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The next night, we czeched out a five-story club -- the largest dance club in all of Europe!

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At an AWESOME Irish pub we found on St. Patrick's Day, we asked for tequila shots. The bartender asked "silver or gold?" and I had no idea what that meant. He then explained that silver is taken with lemon, while gold is taken with cinnamon and orange. I said I wanted silver, but with salt and lime, and that I had never heard of the latter. "Aaaah, you are American, huh?" he replied. Apparently, tequila with salt and lime is a very American thing, and tequila with cinnamon and orange is something that most Americans don't know about. We eventually tried it...I didn't like it. But the Olmeca brand (also a tequila I've never heard of) was wonderful!

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After checking out the five-story dance club, Heather and I ended up going back to that Irish pub that we loved so much. It was late at this point, but it was still really energetic in there. We met some very friendly people from Dublin and conversed with them a bit. Then, the bartender who had served us the tequila earlier that night emerged next to us, now dressed in normal attire because his shift was done. He introduced himself as Jacob, joined us, and we were welcomed to stay until the wee hours of the morning. He introduced us to a shot of Absinthe lit on fire--which I guess is part of the Prague experience, but a pretty awful one! The alcohol literally burns down your body and leaves a terrible aftertaste. It's no wonder why he kept laughing to his friend, "I can't believe I'm having this!" One of the interesting parts of our conversation with Jacob was about Czech's attitudes towards Americans. We explained to him that we're constantly warned about Europeans' disdain for Americans. His instant response was, "What? We LOVE Americans!" And I must say, of everywhere I've been in Europe, Czech Republic is by far where I felt the most welcomed and accepted. What a great culture and great people.

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Our last night in Prague ended when the sun was rising...We truly made our short time there matter. Two hours after going to bed, Heather and I were woken up by the girls sharing our room in the hostel (who were also on this "Northern Loop of Europe" trip). "Wake up! We have to board the bus for Berlin in 10 minutes!" That was the quickest getting-ready/packing job I've ever done.

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John Lennon Wall

In my opinion, the John Lennon Wall is a must-see if you go to Prague...

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We all took a turn contributing something new to the wall... I put up lyrics from a Scranton, Pennsylvania-based indie band I love, Tigers Jaw, and sent them a picture of it on Facebook with a "Welcome to the John Lennon wall!" caption.

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"POW!"

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Sending lots of love from Prague! โค

My prospective Italian husband made the big move

Let me begin this post clarifying two major points:

  1. The four-part Spring Break series about Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris is indeed on its way (better late than never, right?)–but I must delay it un po’ more because of the absolutely uncanny occurrence that fate bestowed upon me last night.
  2. Yes, I acknowledge that today is April 1st, but no, this is not an April Fools joke–contrary to what you may suspect. This actually happened.

Allora, it was about 1:30am and Heather and I were on the hunt for a kebab after a lovely evening with some friends at our beloved local pub on our street. The late-night food places in our area generally are closed at this hour, as we’ve unfortunately discovered. But I was fixated on this kebab. We ventured towards the Duomo–where nightlife is always still hoppin’–to seek any of those Mediterranean fast-food places that would hopefully still be open. We were on a mission.

One phone call instantly aborted this mission.

-“Ciao Chelsea, whatsup?” I answered to a call from my housemate.
-“Liz, where are you?” she asked in a dead-serious tone.
-“By the Duomo.”
-“Guess who I just ran into.”
-“Luca the First!” I jocularly exclaimed, and laughed at our inside joke.
-“Yes.”
-“WHAT?!”

(To fully appreciate this story, you’ll have to read the background story about Luca I in one of my first blog posts, “Day 4: Prospective husband? Si.” Back in January, on the first night that my housemates and I went out in Florence, we met an Italian who showered me with compliments and passionate declarations of love in the way you’d stereotypically expect an Italian guy to do. As American girls who had just arrived in Florence, it was hilarious to see the stereotype already come to life. That night was left to rest without any exchange of contact information, leaving us only with a good story and never-ending inside jokes about my prospective Italian husband. (Since then, I’ve also captured the eye of two more Lucas–Luca II who liked my red dress, and Luca III who said “I love you” at “Disegno video giorchi” (“I design video games”). But Luca I is the one who my friends and I continually reference in jokes).

-“You’re kidding.” I was overcome with disbelief. It was only a few hours ago when I had casually used the “that is danger” remark that we often jokingly use in reference to our initial conversation with Luca that first night. We have spent months joking about the unlikely idea of just happening to run into Luca I in the large city of Florence again. Not only did it happen, but he actually recognized my friends and remembered me.
-“Where are you?” Chelsea asked. She and our other housemates she was with apparently all took Luca and his friend to that local pub on our street, where they were expecting to find me. I told her where I was, and she told me they’d be there waiting. The pub was technically going to close soon, although, they always stay open later on weekend nights–especially for regulars.
-“I’ll be right there.”

“Abort mission!” I yelled to Heather, as we instantly turned around from our kebab hunt and headed back to the pub as I filled her in on this freak incident. I was so excited, but also a little nervous, and overall just completely flabbergasted. We were utterly in awe. I’m still amazed.

Walking into the pub was unreal. As soon as I entered, I saw him in the back sitting with the group of friends, and suddenly reached an even higher level of overwhelming disbelief. Usually I greet the bartenders and other regulars I know, but my mind couldn’t acknowledge anything else in the room. When I joined the group, I looked at Chelsea and the other girls, and we just burst into laughter.

Unlike when we first met, this time I could speak and understand a little Italian. So, we were able to communicate a little better–but still with a struggle. I tried to tell him that I was surprised he remembered me, and that I am glad we met again, and that we are still just friends though. When you only know a little vocabulary and a limited ability to form sentences in another language, the “conversations” can get really funny. In order to prevent the conversation from going dead, you either end up repeating the same content a lot, or you end up making random comments on anything you notice and are able to express a a comment on. For example, our conversation consistently came back to how surprised we both were, but with random interjections like “In America, il tuo orrechino significa che, uh, ti piace ragazzi–non ragazze” (In America, your earring signifies that you, uh, like guys–not girls.”) Again, when you’re desperate to form sentences about something relative to what’s present, some funny and random remarks will definitely be made.

A little later, my prospective Italian husband made the big Italian gesture: he bought me a flower from one of those damn flower guys. Mamma mia…

Daily Failtales: Week 2

Continuing from my Week 1 recap of Daily Failtales, here’s some more funny little tales of fail from this past week or so:

Casually strolling through the Strozzi, nbd

Credit: italyguide.it

My Architecture class takes place in the Strozzi–the same building Day 1 of orientation took place in. Hmmm, this looks different than last time, I thought as I wandered into the Palazzo Strozzi for my first class. I obliviously strolled through an enormous, lavish room that reminded me of Mr. Darcy’s mansion in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. As I looked around for any doors or stairwells, the construction workers inside looked at me. Oh shit…I’m not supposed to be in here, am I? Realizing my error, I hurried out the open door on the opposite side, puzzled. DOVE IS MY CLASE? I thought, as a construction worker at this doorway shooed me away. I then joined a student in walking to the Strozzi common building next to the Strozzi PALACE of Florence that I had just casually strolled through.

LESSON LEARNED: If the building’s interior looks like a palace, it very well may be. So do not continue walking through.

Mouse Maze

The grocery store around my corner is set up like a maze. It begins with the produce, and takes you through a one-way adventure of zig-zagging isles until you finally reach the cashier at the end. While purchasing my food, the employee was trying to tell me, in Italian, that I needed to weigh my produce before. Non capito, and I didn’t know what to do at this mid-purchase moment. There was someone behind me in line, so I said, “I’ll just go put these back then?” and hastily did this awkward speed-walk/jog/gallop through the damn maze of isles until I finally reached the produce section at the start, put back the bananas, and hurried back to the cashier to finish my payment. Hopeless.

LESSON LEARNED: Weigh your produce before paying.

An unintended walking tour

My textbook-purchasing errand involving four different copy stores and bookstores somehow turned into an unintended 2 to 3 hour walking tour all over the city of Florence, thanks to a few wrong turns and some unexpected traffic areas to get around. On the downside, I was carrying around what became a heavy backpack, and the heel of my boot broke on a cobblestone street. But on the upside, I had the fortunate experience of wandering into the final scene of the 1991 version of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves–minus the fighting. (Your movie tastes must be infiltrating my brain here, mamma). I have no idea what church this is, but it has such a beautiful medieval look to it!

LESSON LEARNED: Keep getting lost in Florence, but wear better walking shoes.

That time Chelsea caused a Fiasco

Chelsea, Heather and I finally built up the courage to check out a local bar on our street last Friday night, which we had been very curious but very intimidated about. “Ciao,” a tall, gorgeous Italian man standing outside the door greeted us as we walked in. We ordered beers at the bar and took a seat in the corner, slowly getting acquainted with the place. “Yeah, I can definitely see this is as a good go-to place by our house,” we were agreeing, feeling quite comfortable and pleased with the atmosphere. [Cue fiasco].

Brawny, I think I found your next spokesperson for a brand image makeover.

Apparently the table was wobbly, and with a little kick, Chelsea accidentally clonked the table enough to knock over the beers. Heather’s lap, the table and the floor were soaked in birra. The locals looked at us. The three of us looked at each other with that “Oh shit” look, and before we could get up to seek paper towels, that gorgeous Italian man appeared out of nowhere holding a giant roll of paper towels. “May I help?” he asked. Where the hell did he come from? we were all thinking.

“You know,” he said while beginning to wipe up our mess, “you didn’t need to spill your beers to get my attention.” He then introduced himself (in perfect English!), and we found out that he is one of the owners–Paolo. We conversed a bit, telling him that we are students here and whatnot. A little later, he brought us [very undeserved] drinks on the house…but asked that we drink them instead of spill them.

LESSON LEARNED: No crying over spilled beer–it might lead to something good.

Is this lotion?

Heather kindly ran some errands for me today. Personal products can be confusing to purchase when you can’t read Italian, though. She picked up what looked like a bottle of body lotion, and tried asking the barely-English-speaking employee to make sure. Apparently, it was lotion to be used for–errr, intimate purposes. The old lady behind her gave a strange look. “Ooooooh!” Heather laughed, “no, no.” So she picked up another one, which the employee nodded to.

At home I started rubbing it on my skin and instantly knew something was off when a clear, kind of sticky fluid came out. “Ummmm,” I said to Heather–not wanting to sound ungrateful for her running my errands, “this doesn’t feel right.” I inspected the container. “Detergente fluido,” I read. “Detergent? Did I just rub detergent on my arms?” We laughed about it and typed up a bunch of the text on the container into Google Translate (one of our dearest friends here in Florence), and gathered that it’s some kind of cleanser for the skin–but not soap. Honestly, I don’t know what it is!

LESSON LEARNED: Italian translation for “lotion” is “lozione,” and “intimita” means “intimacy”–as in for-sexual-purposes.

Superbowl MONDAY: Only the hardcore survive.

I experienced the most American Superbowl while in a foreign country last night.

Chelsea and I knew we'd be packing our jerseys the moment Big Blue made it to the Superbowl ๐Ÿ˜€

Madonna's half-time show briefly united our mixed bunch of Pats and Giants fans

The Superbowl was like a mass summoning of American people and spirit last night. Bars airing the game required reservations–some of which were already sold out over a week in advance. Five of my housemates and I (4 Pats fans; 2 Giants fans) ventured out in the cold at about 11:45pm to The Clubhouse–an “American sports bar” that bartender Matteo had so kindly given us the grand tour of when Chelsea and I bought our tickets last week.

Coronas, wings and football. 'MERICA!

The venue had a lively atmosphere, with a good balance between a cozy, old feeling and modern, clean look. The TVs are rather small, but we landed a spot right up at the bar in front of a screen. What we really appreciated is how, well, American the owners managed to make it feel. Already, the room was swarmed with Americans all gathered in the wee hours of the night to celebrate our cultural holiday. But in addition to that, they served wings, hotdogs, hamburgers, buckets of beer, and colored shots to match the teams. They also broadcasted ESPN America so it was good coverage in English. (Commercials weren’t shown, but they did show flashbacks inbetween–like that other time we beat the Patriots at Superbowl :)). Other than the gorgeous Italian bartenders, who seemed to be amused by our passionate heckling and yelling, it was like we really were back in the United States.

I would LOVE to spend some time talking about how awesome my Giants are and how they have, at this point, completely annihilated the Tom Brady / Patriots dynasty. But I shall refrain ๐Ÿ™‚ …That was an incredibly intense fourth quarter, though, which apparently lots of Americans here couldn’t power through to. When we arrived before 12:30am kick-off, the bar was packed: it had dwindled down to only a few hardcore groups of fans by the 3:45-4am end-time, though–a small but mighty crowd which still produced more noise than a fully-occupied room. The celebration in the bar was followed by a small rush of Americans all about the streets of Florence–some rejoicing, and some silently hating Chelsea and me for rejoicing.

Waking up for classes this morning wasn’t so lovely, but it was well-worth it!

Day 4: Prospective husband? Si

(Written January 29th)

Before I begin this story, I would like to say that this, or anything like this, would NEVER happen to me in America.

Last night, Saturday, my housemates and I went out to a bar for the first time here. We walked down to the hoppinโ€™ nightlife zone near the Duomo around 11:30pm to meet up at a local bar with some Marist friends. Cars may be a luxury we donโ€™t have now, but the ability to walk anywhere in ~15 minutes or less and see amazing sights on the way is an even greater luxury, in my opinion. Walks at night feel safe if you stay on the well-lit roads crowded by groups of young friendsโ€”mostly locals, but also students from all over the world. In fact, I love this atmosphere…it’s so alive.

When my housemates and I arrived at the bar, it was PACKED, but soon cleared out to a very comfortable size. We brought our drinks back to a table and kicked off our first girlsโ€™ nightย out in Florence. At first there were mostly foreign studentsโ€”especially Americans–but the place was mostly full of locals after that wave of students left for una discotecha (a dance club). My group of friends and I ended up befriending one of these locals, Lucaโ€”the cute Italian guy who squeezed into the seat behind me to sit at a table with his friends. Luca and I had briefly greeted when I initially scooted in my chair for him, but he ended up rotating to our table before we knew it. Chelsea asked him a question about the Euro to dollar conversation rate regarding the framed display on the wall that we had been puzzling over for a while (weโ€™re the cool girls), which he kindly explained to us. That conversation was quickly diverted, and before we knew it Luca was showering me with compliments and asking me out for shopping or whatever I want to do tomorrow.

At the table, we couldnโ€™t communicate too well because he spoke very little English and I barely speak or understand any Italian [yet]. (However, the many โ€œbellasโ€ and the eventual โ€œLisabetta, I love you!โ€ were quite clear). As flattering and unexpected of an experience as this was, my favorite aspect was having the opportunity to truly try conversing with someone who speaks a different language. Thankfully Chelsea helped with the translating, but Luca and I managed to converse a little on our own, too. For example, he was expressing to me how when Italians go to New York and cannot speak English, then the New Yorkers are often impatient with them; whereas in Italy, Italians have much more tolerance for Americans attempting to hurdle the language barrier. (Well, at least thatโ€™s what I think he was saying). Luca was very passionate and sweet, even just casually talking with us, and didn’t give off any bad vibes that you’d maybe suspect. My friends all approved of him sitting with us and answer our questions about Florence and his life, while charming me in between. Gottaโ€™ give him credit for putting up with our sloppy mix of English, Spanish and Italian.

So today my new Italian lover and I went shopping and picked out my wedding dress in a bridal shop we passed.

JUST KIDDING, MOM. I actually had been quite clear with him throughout the night that I wasnโ€™t interested in seeing him the next day or in giving him my number, which my friends also helped emphasize. Again, didnโ€™t feel threatened or sketched out by him at all, but still not advisable…especially on only the fourth night in Florence. He tried. โ€œOooh Lisabetta, porque?!โ€ โ€œMi dispiaceโ€ (โ€œIโ€™m sorryโ€) was all I could say. We both laughed…you could tell he was kind of just pushing my buttons to be cute after a while, even when he knew his White Knight efforts were ABSOLUTELY HOPELESS. He almost bought me a rose from one of those damn flower guys, too. Now I get why thatโ€™s actually a business…

At one point during the night, the bartender put on a fun song that all the locals were singing along with and kind of dancing to. Chelsea asked the owner for the name of the song, which is “Ai se eu te pego” by Michel tolo. My housemates looked it up on YouTube today, with the English translation of lyrics, and declared it Lucaโ€™s and my song.

“Wow, wow

You’re gonna kill me that way”