Monday, June 27, 2011


Clearly... I haven't posted in awhile. I think the lax schedule and endless amounts of free time have just been wearing me out.
On a completely unrelated note, I've begun to notice that Europe has heightened my sense of sarcasm. If I'm being honest, it's totally changed my perspective on a lot of things, and I think I can already tell that certain facets of my personality have changed  It's not often that you can see and feel yourself growing and changing, but I consider it a great blessing to have some notion of it right now.  I'm changing the way I relate to people, getting out of old ruts and bad habits, learning all about the world, and becoming more and more open to new experiences as each day passes. The feeling is remarkably liberating, although the part of me that aches for home is also getting bigger, so there's a bit of a war going on in my psyche at the moment.  Pretty soon I will be so full of emotions that I'll explode!
Where to start...
I don't think I made it to our day on Capri, and I would certainly be remiss if I didn't spend at least a little time elaborating on it, because it was possibly the best day of my life.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2011
We started out the day with a boat ride. A 45 minute, windy, rocky boat ride during the vast majority of which I slept; this was due in part to my proclivity toward motion sickness, and partly to my aversion toward watching awkward couples attempt to be lovey-dovey while their foreheads knock against each other because of the waves.  Needless to say, I was more than happy to disembark from the cruiser and begin my day in paradise. I wish I had adequate words to describe what the atmosphere of the town of Anacapri felt like. Just know that nothing I can ever say will do it justice, and if there's one place in the world that I would pay any price to go back to at some point in my life, it would be Capri. Everything is breezy, and mostly white. There are linen shops and baskets brimming with seashells and overflowing flowerpots and quaint benches and fruit markets on every street.  The people are all friendly and will talk your ear off (most speak passable English) if you'll let them. The cobblestone streets wind around the top of the island like little ribbons on top of a wedding cake. There's so much to see and do; it's impossible to experience it all in one day.  The first thing we aimed to do was get our handmade sandals. We shopped and put in an order to the precious Antonio Vivo, who promised to have them made around lunchtime. By then it was around 10:30am, so we took the opportunity to explore what we could of the island. We walked and shopped some more, and bought fruit to eat as we walked. The boys bought this HUGE lemon (the size of a canteloupe) and we all took turns tasting it. By itself, the lemon was naaaasty, but a small piece eaten with a cherry tasted rather like pink lemonade.  We had fun experimenting with different tastes after discovering the delectable cherry-lemon duo, and also we had fun getting lost in the meantime. Our group was not one to gripe, though, and we made it back to the town with only a few laughs and sore feet.  Allison, Wade and I decided to grab lunch at a little cafeteria (BEST salad I've ever eaten), while Maggie and Matt ate some leftover pizza they'd brought and finished up the fruit. Next we picked up our shoes, and explored this huge villa/castle thing that, as a result of my tragically tardy posting record,  I can't remember the name of.  It's not important. We didn't even go inside because it cost 15 Euro and we were already over-budget because of the shoes. However, we did make a lifelong friend in a young and feisty black lady who took pictures for us.  I think in a previous life she was some kind of magazine photographer, because with an air of complete professionalism, she kept yelling "Get it! Love the camera! Show me sexy!" and annoying all the Asians around us.  Her name was Cassie and she was from New York. Also, her bikini kept almost falling off and making the boys feel awkward, but that's beside the point. After that energetic experience, we made our way to the chairlift, which was my absolute favorite part of the day. It took around ten minutes to make it all the way up to the highest point on the island, and we were suspended about 50 feet in the air the entire time, in a rickety little wooden chair with nothing but an iron bar across each of our laps to keep us from falling to our doom.  I was actually convinced at first that I would hate it, what with my history of severe acrophobia (had to google that one), but once I got used to the slight sway from the breeze, it was completely enjoyable.  I was alone with my thoughts to observe and contemplate the beauty of the island.  I took time to pray, and just sit in awe of God's creation. When we made it to the top, there was a perfect little cafe and we all got cappucinos and put flowers in our hair.  We sat on comfy bench swings and just talked and laughed and marveled at the fact that we were practically sitting in the clouds. I never wanted to leave. Eventually we had to, because the last boat left before sunset, but I couldn't have been more reluctant. We ate dinner later that evening in Sorrento, after picking up Dillon from the hotel, and then we ended the night with a game of hearts (as usual), and hit the sack. I was exhausted in the best way possible, and certain that nothing could ever live up to that day.
Regarding the last day of the trip I have very little comment, except to say that I never thought I'd get so tired from walking DOWN stairs (over 500 of them) to the beach, or so miserable while traveling in a place as beautiful as the Amalfi coast and Positano.  It POURED the entire time, I had on white pants, we had to ride this awful, tiny boat in the middle of the storm, and I kept singing "Jesus take the wheel" in my head.
Compared to Tuesday, our Wednesday might as well have been straight out of Dante's Inferno.  But we made it safely back to the villa and dried off, and were excited to realize how much the villa had started to feel like home. For the next week, we attended classes in the morning, and had several fun activities in the afternoon. My personal favorite was the afternoon we went horseback riding. I especially enjoyed watching Allison get hit on by our trail guide and resident horse expert, Fabio. He kept coming out of nowhere and smiling at her awkwardly. At one point, when she was first getting on her horse, the lady that had been helping her stepped out of the way suddenly and Fabio appeared, shoving her tiny little hiney up into the saddle with a grin and some incomprehensible Italian words. Allison was not impressed. I took lots of pictures and although it was a little drizzly, the panoramas we saw of the Tuscan countryside were breathtaking.  My horse's name was Skipper, and he was as ornery as the day is long. I complained at him for being too stubborn and he immediately stopped in the middle of the trail and started taking a dump. I griped and scolded him for eating the grass and he started messing with the tail of the horse in front of him.  As I said, he was a character, but we became friends eventually. I also enjoyed the afternoon we spent drawing at the Pitti Palace with Mike Weismeier. He used to be a cartoonist for Disney (some of his more notable projects include Beauty and the Beast, Pocahantas, The hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Fantasia 2000), and as part of our humanities class we got to take a few hours and go around learning how to sketch like a true artist.  I think Hannah would have been much better suited for the task; all I did was attempt some crooked-looking urn things and get really frustrated at how awful I am at making art.

We've also taken many different field trips into Florence in the last few weeks. Here's my list of my top 5 favorite things I've seen:
1. The David at the Accademia

2. The Birth of Venus and Primavera at the Uffizi

3. The statues of Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day in the San Lorenzo church
4. The statues of 2 of the Medici dukes in the San Lorenzo church

5. Fra. Angelico's Annunciation at San Marco Museum
Google them if you haven't seen them. They're amazing, and I couldn't take pictures of most of them, although I snuck my camera into the Accademia and the Uffizi. 

Tomorrow I will try to tackle the Casentino and Siena/San Gimignano trips.

Goodnight for now.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Days Twelve to Twenty

Friday, May 27- Day Twelve
We started the day waking up early to catch the sunrise over the island while sitting out on the hotel terrace. There were too many clouds to see it clearly, but I really enjoyed the spiritual experience of watching the sky light up and turn from dark blue to light blue to pink to orange. Several of us went back to sleep for a few ours, and then we all ate together in the heavenly breakfast room. Mom would have loved it. I put up pictures on facebook cause I felt it was warranted. There were wicker chairs and white linens and an amazing view. The breakfasts in Europe have so far been mostly disappointing. Options include rolls that are hard as bricks, ham and cheese, cereal with warmish milk, some potent fruit juice, and a bowl of fresh fruit.  I usually stick to fruit, with which you can't really go wrong with unless you get a bad apple. At first I liked to eat a breakfast roll with a little butter and ham and cheese, but then we started having to eat sack lunches every single day, and they ALWAYS consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich (with no other toppings--I'm pretty sure Dad would've straight up not eaten it), a bag of weird Italian chips, an apple, a water, and some kind of chocolate. Needless to say, I don't think anyone will be able to pay me enough to eat ham and cheese after this trip, although the ham(proscuitto) here is admittedly a lot better tasting than normal deli meat that we have at home. Anyway, after breakfast, we left and rode the lift back up to Taormina to see the old Greco-Roman amphitheatre that's located there. We didn't spend a whole lot of time there, but the view was breathtaking. Allison, Maggie, Matt, Dillon, Wade and I were happy to point out the cross at the top of the mountain that we'd climbed the night before, and everyone was jealous that we'd had time to hike up to it. We ate our sack lunches in what is most definitely the quaintest and most beautiful city park I've ever seen. I'm using a lot of superlatives and absolutes here, but I honestly am not exaggerating; everything was just so perfect! I posted pictures of this park on facebook, it's the one with all the stone castle-looking structures. The weather has also been really divine since we've been here, except for one day in Positano, and I'll get to that later. So the six of us wandered around this incredible park for like an hour, and then we rode back down to Baia Azzura and got on the bus to Agrigento. It was a 3 hour drive, and we didn't even have time to set our stuff down in the hotel before we began our tour of the ancient temples.  There wasn't much left of any of them, except the Temple of Concord, which had apparently been used as a church in the 13th century, so it was better preserved. The temple of Zeus was pretty cool because we saw remnants of these HUGE 'giants' that had stood around the walls of the temple. The pictures on facebook don't do them justice. They were MASSIVE.  We had an amazing view at one point of all the temples lined up across this hill outside the city, and I wish I could've taken a good picture of it. But it was just something you have to see in person. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable and spoke English well, but was sometimes hard to understand because of her heavy Sicilian accent. We got some great gelato while we were there, picked some almonds fresh off the trees, and then went back to the hotel for dinner around 7 and then played cards and went to bed. 

Saturday, May 28- Day Thirteen
We got to sleep in a little on this day because we didn't leave the hotel until 930am. We packed and got on the bus which took us to the Agrigento museum. This was my least favorite part because we had the same hard-to-understand tour guide and almost all she did was talk about large ancient pots called craters that really had no impact on anything we were studying. I did learn a lot about the ancient art style periods, which was cool.  We went to the Scala di Turchi, or Turkish steps, for lunch (which of course consisted of the normal sandwich, chips, etc.). It was really really windy and Amanda and I opted to lay on the beach for a few hours, during which I started work on a sand castle that ended up being incomplete cause I got tired of building it.  We left the Scala di Turchi slighty sunburned and ready to hit the bed.  Unfortunately it was really difficult to sleep on the jerky bus ride to Palermo, so we didn't have an opportunity to nap before we had a loud and energetic supper in honor of Jenna's birthday, after which we had some fun talking in one of the girls' rooms and then headed to bed.

Sunday, May 29th- Day Fourteen
This day was the halfway point on our trip, and I think the point at which it became almost completely normal and expected to see incredible things. I was uplifted by our devo in the morning, and entertained to see the reactions of the people around me as they tasted the strong wine we had for communion.  Immediately after the devo, we left the hotel at Palermo and drove to the cloister of the Benedictine monastery and cathedral in Monreale, a 15 minute trip. We were assigned to write about two of the tops of the columns we saw in the cloister, and it was really interesting because there were probably over 100 columns, and each one had a unique top. I wrote about columns that featured Zaccheus and Daniel in the lion’s den. We ventured into the cathedral and were immediately a little embarrassed to be the only tourists to walk in the middle of Sunday Mass. There were a lot of people lingering around the doorway, though, so we didn’t have to work too hard to blend in, although I’m pretty sure we were the only people obnoxiously taking pictures. But I don’t regret the episode of tackiness because I got good pictures and was able to experience the grandeur of an Italian Catholic Mass without having to participate.  We once again ate sack lunches after seeing everything there was to see in the few blocks around the cathedral and cloister (including a pretty awesome vista at one point) and we even got to interact with a little Italian girl and her father who knew some English. Our next stop was a place back in Palermo, called the Cappucin monks’ crypt, which was perhaps the most macabre thing we’ve done so far. The walls were lined with decayed bodies, mostly of monks, but some of the townspeople apparently thought it was fashionable to preserve yourself in some way and leave your body to hang in the crypt so your family could come visit you. They said that the two children positioned in a rocking chair together were from the same family, and the other members of the family would come on Sundays and hold their hands so they would be able to ‘join’ them in prayer. It was pretty sobering. One guy had a quote above his body that read “I once was what you are now, and I am now what you will become.” I still get shivers when I read it.  It was outside this crypt that we first came into contact with the American navy guys who were stationed at Palermo. They were really happy to meet other Americans that they hadn’t been on a ship with for 3 months, and it was fun for us to talk with them and compare stories. We then took the bus over to the Palermo cathedral, which was closed, so we took a little break and then headed over to catch a glimpse of the Teatro Massimo, the place where the family in the Godfather Part III gets shot.  None of us were overly impressed, but both buildings were fun to see and pretty on the outside at least.  We were much more impressed when Kyle surprised us by taking us on a ‘sight-seeing’ train through Palermo. The thing was huge, red, really obnoxious, and barely fit our whole group; also, it ended up being less of a sight-seeing tour of Palermo, and more of a train ride in which we danced to LOUD American music and waved to everyone we saw.  Some of them laughed at us and some looked annoyed, but we were surprised at how many started dancing with us! They would be walking down the street and hear the music and we’d be dancing out the sides of the train (which was totally not enclosed except for a roof) and they’d just start busting a move. The young navy guys throughout the city were especially excited by it, and several tried to get on the train with us, although like I said, there wasn’t even room for our entire group, much less five more huge navy seals.  That might have been the craziest thing we did on this trip, and I loved every single second of it.  We finally met up with Robbie and Mona after our train ride, had some dinner in separate groups, and then got on a night boat to Naples. I didn’t really like the experience. I won’t say more than that for fear of offending delicate sensibilities. It was just not the most pleasant thing to sleep in a TIIIIIINY cubby-hole-esque room while the ship churned back and forth all night. Needless to say I was relieved when we disembarked the next morning.

Monday, May 28th- Day Fifteen
The first thing we did upon arriving in Naples was to visit the Grand Café Gambrinus  for a pastry and cappuccino, both of which were divine. We went on a bus tour immediately afterward with a guide named Giuseppina, who was 7 months pregnant. I promptly fell asleep and missed the entire thing. BUT the National Archeological Museum, the place we visited next that was also guided by Giuseppina, was amazing and I absolutely loved the artwork we saw and the sneak peek of Pompeiian artifacts we got to experience. I bought a print of one of the frescoes found in the neighboring city of Stabia, of a young lady on a green background wearing a dress with flowers all around her. It’s called “Flora” or “Primavera,” depending on which scholar you ask, but I really liked it because she’s turned away from the painter, and therefore we’ll never know what her face looks like. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and mysterious at the same time. After that we picnicked in a garden near the Pompeii site, and then went on a four-hour tour of it with Robbie. I honestly can’t decide what my favorite part of the trip was because I loved it all and was SO happy throughout the entire thing, but if I had to pick, Pompeii would be up there in the top few for sure.  Coincidentally, the impressions of people’s bodies as they died had the biggest impression on me. The city and archeological findings were phenomenal, but the fact that so many lost their lives in an unthinkable way was really staggering. I took lots and lots of pictures there, but I didn’t load all the ones I took on facebook, and I would’ve taken more had I thought I would have enough camera battery for it. I was sad to leave, especially after our final excursion down to the “Villa of Mysteries” which was the most intact house they found, and included a huge fresco of a cult ritual that they think indicated that it was the home and meeting place of the cult of mysteries, or the cult of secrets, that worshipped weird things and did all sorts of crazy stuff.  Robbie took 10 or so of us down there, explained the fresco and showed us around, and then bought us all some amazing granites from one of his friends who had a stall outside the villa; it still amazes me how many people Robbie knows, especially when it seems so random. This guy was the only person selling things outside the Villa of Mysteries, and Robbie just happened to be BFFs with him, so he even gave us all a fold-out souvenir thing of Pompeii.  Anyway, next we picked our luggage up off the bus and took a train to Sorrento, where we ate a REALLY awesome dinner that included an entire plate of fried yummy things, a huge pizza (which I only ate a fraction of), and a piece of Coach Burks’ birthday cake. It was awesome, and we wandered around Sorrento and shopped a little bit before heading back to what was the nicest hotel we’d stayed at. It was called the Hotel Astoria, and everything about it was cute and quaint and really comfortable. Also, I got to room with my friend Amanda Herren rather than the people I had been rooming with, so it was a lot of fun.
More later. I'm pooped.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Days Seven to Eleven

 I really have fallen down on the job as far as journaling, and it has to stop. I want to remember every detail as best I can! And I'm sure if you care enough to read this then you've been curious about what's been going on in my life the last two weeks.

Go back with me to Sunday the 22nd of May. Not last Sunday, but the one before that. Day Seven. Our day started with an insanely long trip to church(at least an hour, mostly walking) and then half an hour of waiting for the rest of our group to show up. There were pastries and cappucinos waiting for us when we got there, though, so it definitely wasn't all bad! We worshipped at the local Florentine COC, made up mostly of HUF students and affiliates, but meshed with several natives and some families of various origins.  The service was conducted in Italian AND English, which was interesting to say the least. There was an Italian song leader and an English one, and they switched off every other song. The sermon was given by an older man who was American and visiting Florence because his son is the director of the Bible school here in Florence, the one that teaches English using the Bible and operates in the building me and several other people called home the first week we were in Italy. After church, one of the Avanti Italia workers (girls and guys who teach at the Bible school) led us to a restaurant called La Movida where we had our first taste of REAL Italian pizza! Needless to say, it was amazing. That afternoon I did most of my souvenir shopping, and I admit I'm pretty proud of the things I found for everyone. We got back to the villa around 5, had a short devo in the basement of the villa with some of the Avanti girls and several Italian kids, and then we listened to the most amazing concert by a professional pianist named Antonio Acunto. I was enthralled the entire time. It was so soothing, and I was exhausted, but at the same time it was moving and exciting and emotional and I wasn't even tempted to fall asleep. It lasted about an hour, and then we had refreshments (CREAM PUFFS) and talked with Antonio and his.... male friend. I'm just gonna come right out and say he was totally flaming. Great musician, though. 

Monday, May 23:
This day was fun because we had free reign of a huge chunk of Florence all morning and we all got so much more familiar with it. I'm falling more and more in love with it every day! We were given pictures that showed small details like door handles and roof tiles and we had to go find them all over the city. It sounds like more work than it was, because most pictures included a general location, and all our locations were within one square mile of each other. But we saw a ton of interesting things and learned a lot. I was the navigator on my team. I'm proud to say that if there's one thing Dad has taught me well, it's the importance of knowing how to read a map, and I'll even go as far as to say I'm pretty good at it. So the scavenger hunt was a success, and we went almost immediately into an onsite class experience after lunch, which consisted of a tour of the Duomo and its baptistry, and a visit to the museum of the Duomo. It was amazing and we had a great American lady as our tour guide. After our class was done, it was time for dinner. We ate pulled pork sandwiches (and I thought of you, Nathan!) and buffalo chicken wings at a place called The Clubhouse. Then we called it a night and made the long trek back to the villa without so much as a gelato because we were so dang tired. Usually when we walk around as a group, Kyle (the assistant director) or Robbie will buy us a granite (pronounced gra-NEET-uh) or a gelato cause they love us and we have a seemingly unending HUF budget. But considering what we're paying to be here... I'm not gonna question it.

Tuesday, May 24- Day Nine:
We participated in a service project we called the "Sentieri Project" which basically consisted of most of the group cleaning trails at a local wildlife park place. It's about the size of a standard national park in the US, and there were 3 groups of HUFers and Italian students who worked together to remark and pick up the trash off the trails. They walked about 5 miles that morning; I happened to be picked to help with the cooking of the picnic food, so I didn't get to walk around. I did do A LOT of work that morning, though. We had hamburgers and hot dogs and chips and chocolate cake and it was all amazingly American. Sometimes we eat so much Italian food that it's nice to get a taste of home. Also most of the bread here is hard as a rock and I feel like I'm going to get TMJ from trying to rip it apart with my teeth. And Mom, if you're reading this, I'm always careful with the front ones. :)
We also eat a lot of fruit, which is really nice. Fresh fruit is always available at the villa, and I love the variety we've been exposed to. That afternoon and evening we had classes and then supper and then we packed for our week long trip to southern Italy. I had no idea what I was in for when I loaded up my backpack that night, but I did say a prayer of thanks when I realized it would be my last night in the Bible house! As of right now (Wednesday, June 1st) I officially have my permanent room in the villa and I could not be more excited!

Wednesday, May 25th- Day Ten:
We had a full morning of back-to-back classes because we were not going to have any classes other than onsite experiences on the trip. It ended with a chilling video/reenactment of the eruption of Vesuvius and subsequent destruction of Pompeii. It definitely got me excited to visit the site. After classes and lunch, we headed to the airport in Pisa, caught a flight to Catania (one of the main cities on Sicily) and then a bus to Baia Azzura where we checked into a really nice hotel and I shared a little room with Sara. It was like the good ole times in Searcy 106A. That night a group of us explored Baia Azzura and jumped in the freezing water on the dark rocky beach. We also climbed this huge rock out in the middle of the ocean and the 8 of us who went sat on the top of it and sang some hymns while we looked out at the twinkly lights of the city on the shore. The boys were very nice and helped us girls climb the rocks in the dark while wearing our slippery sandals.
It was probably not the safest thing to have done... but the experience was 100% worth it. I'm finding more and more that facing my fears usually brings a good deal of personal growth. I love it. Our week-long adventure began with a wonderful, peaceful night with new friends.

Here's a map of Italy and Sicily: 
You can kind of see Taormina a little ways north of Catania on the coast, and Baia Azzura is a teeeeeny town just below Taormina on the coast. 

This one you can see the cities we visited a little better. On Friday we took a bus to Agrigento, which is on the southwest side of the island (about a 3 hour drive), and then Saturday we drove to Palermo (about a 2 hour drive and from there we took a boat ride back to the mainland. More maps when I get to Monday.

Thursday, May 26th- Day Eleven
Our first free day on the trip! I had no idea how much fun the entire week was going to be, but at the end of Day Eleven I didn't think it could get any better. I spent the better part of the day lounging on the beach and getting tan with Allison Park and Maggie Rothe; remember those names, cause I spent virtually all my time with them this last week, and it was awesome! We thought there would be shopping available, but Baia Azzura was too small to have many options, and at first we didn't think it was worth it to spend 3.50 Euro on the lift-ride thing up to Taormina. Also, the beach was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel and it was absolutely irresistible.  I didn't take any pictures on the beach cause I was self-conscious of myself in a bathing suit, but I had a lot of fun regardless. We rented 3 lounge chairs and an umbrella for the day for 15 Euro (split 3 ways was 5 Euro each), turned on an iPod and just chilled. And by chilled I mean roasted; I got sunburned pretty badly on my back which made carrying around my huge pack a majorly painful ordeal for the next two days.  After sunbathing til about 3pm with only a break for a light lunch of vegetarian pizza, we went back to the hotel, showered, and ended up making the trek up in the egg (our nickname for the lift) to Taormina for a very expensive dinner. One thing that's really annoying about eating out in Europe is that you have to pay a cover charge to even sit at a table, and a half liter bottle of water is THREE EUROS, sometimes more. It's ridiculous. I had some really amazing seafood linguine, and I think it was the best thing I've eaten since I've been here. We took a bunch of pictures and I wore the outfit I got one of the first days we went shopping in Florence. Taormina was my favorite little town we visited until I saw Capri, and even then it's still a close second.  EVERYTHING was so quaint and perfect! I absolutely had a blast and the tiny winding streets continually took my breath away. I would live there if I could. Also, one of the landmarks of the trip happened in Taormina in that I had my first cannoli of the trip! IT WAS AMAZING!! Almond cream and powdered sugar and amazingness. Matt Mead and I nicknamed them "the big white ones." After that, our group took a loooong hike up to the top of the mountain to the highest point in town and it was ROUGH. We were walking up the roads that are switchback-style and it took forever, and I didn't have good shoes on, but it was SO worth it! We made it to this old church with an amazing view and we stood in silence and awe for several minutes before we noticed an old stone staircase leading up to the spot we were standing that would have cut our journey time in half. Needless to say, we took the shortcut back down the mountain and made it safely back to our hotel where we played some cards and went to bed. 
And now I'm dizzy and need to go to bed. More later, I promise!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day Eight

The days of writing long, detailed posts may have come to a close. I know I'll want to write about what exactly happened the last two days, but it'll have to be when I have more time. Today we had no time. Tomorrow I may have more!
Quote from Daniel Barnett: "Man. I'm dead as a whale." 
He actually said 'dead as well,' but he sounded like a hick when he said it. 
We laughed a lot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day Seven

No time to write tonight. 
We got back to our room at 11:30 when we usually get here around 10 or 10:30, so I'm exhausted and I need to sleep so I can be functional tomorrow for our Florence scavenger hunt. I'll edit this update and add more details, but here's a quick review of the day: Church, shopping, and a piano concert.
The end.
More later.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day Six: ... all creativity in post titles has flown out the window

I. Am. So. Tired.
All the time.
That's a lie. When there are exciting things going on (i.e. our trip to the market and subsequent picnic), I can focus and stay awake without a problem.  But man, give me ten minutes of down time and I'm ready for a nap. It really stinks that we don't live with everyone in the villa, cause none of our stuff is over there so when we have free time, none of us have a bed to take a nap in or our computer to play on. Lindsey and I started taking our computers with us in the mornings, but it's been way too much of a hassle to keep track of.
Today we had an exhilarating experience in the Saturday market here in Scandicci. Because we live in a sort of suburb of Florence, we get to take part in some small-scale things that you wouldn't have easy access to in the city. This market was huge to us, but nothing compared to the everyday markets in Florence. Vendors come early Saturday morning to set up in a parking lot just a few blocks down from the main square. There's hot food like you would see at a fairground (Italian style of course), plenty of fresh produce stalls, clothing, jewelry, cookware; you name it, there was a stall for it.  Mona, our Italian teacher and the wife of Robbie (the director) used our outing today as part of an Italian assignment in which we were supposed to interact with various Italians in practical situations. We were each given 2 Euros and a little slip of paper with a specific food on it, of which we had to buy 2 Euros worth and bring back to the meeting place where we would combine everything and have a picnic. I got assigned black olives, and the little group I walked around with located them really quickly. I was surprised by my own bravery in talking with the man at the stall, and a little proud that I asked for and got what I needed and was polite and understandable the entire time. At least I'm pretty sure I was. After the other 3 people in my group found what they were looking for, we walked and shopped for about an hour til we met back at the park to have our picnic. I bought a pretty shirt with roses on it and a surprise for my mom and/or sister. 
The picnic we helped create was a HUGE success. I ate a little of everything, and fell in love with almost everything I tried. Especially the fresh mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and coarse Italian bread. The produce here is almost indescribable; it tastes sort of pure, and it's unlike anything I've had in the states. Normally I am not an olive, cherry, pear, or raw tomato fan, but today I had good-sized servings of all and LOVED every bite! Basically I'm in love with Italian cuisine and should probably marry it.
After the picnic, a group of girls and I went to the big Co-op two tram stops down from us and we shopped for and found several necessities that we had been lacking. After that, we came back and had our first Kinesiology class, and it made me excited to start running again while I'm here. Our teacher Coach Burks is pretty chill about everything, so I'm not worried about what grade I'm going to make in the classes he teaches. Really I'm not worried about any classes except my Biology. It's gonna be pretty rough.
When we got done with Kinesiology, we all went to the Scandicci square and ate at a trendy little shop called La Bottega. In Spanish, "bodega" means "wine cellar" so I'm thinking the name has some kind of wine connotation, but I can't be sure.  We had these great wrap-type things called Piadinas. It was like a Subway line where you pick what you want from behind the glass, only everything was way better. My wrap had this amazing flour tortilla (almost as good as Ted's but not as thick) and was filled with grilled chicken, some garlic tomato sauce, and grilled zucchini and artichokes. It was AMAZING. Along with it we had fresh cut french fries and water. My friend Keeley and I shared a white nutella crepe for dessert. Let me just say that white nutella may be the most amazing invention since pasta. That's an exaggeration, but really. THIS FOOD IS SO GOOD. I hope my Conditioning Activities class (aka running) will help me keep the pounds off my thighs. Anyway, after that, we came back to the Bible school early so we could talk to families and boyfriends. right now I'm so exhausted I could faint. But I need to remember all this later, so I'm trying to be thorough.

Now for pictures:

On the way down the hill to the Scandicci market!

Triumphant picture after we finally found Allison's little espresso cups she got assigned! From left: Sam, me, Allison

Matt and Maggie, the other members of the group

Tuckered out after our morning of shopping and speaking Italian

Our group! From left: Matt, Maggie, Allison, me


On the tram to the Co-op

At La Bottega

Me and Keeley with our crepe! Hooray!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day Five: The importance of group dynamics

We've had a lot of issues with gossip lately. I'm trying (not as hard as I would like) to keep myself from being involved in such discussions, or at least  not contribute if I do happen to get involved.  I think it's surprising that I'm just now beginning to fully understand what it means to compromise my faith for the sake of fitting in; this is such a middle school youth group type of topic that it leads me to think I either retained very little of what I learned in youth group, or my religious education was seriously lacking. *Sinful* sounds so much harsher when I see it on the screen, but once I start thinking about it, I can't ignore the fact that gossip is a sin.  I think it's is one of the sins that people look past way too often, and it's made all the more difficult by the devil, who helps us trick ourselves into thinking that it's not that bad. I am praying for strength to be different even if it means alienating some of my new friends.
Today we had a lot of down time. We learned the art of falconry at a farm on the outskirts of Scandicci, and that took all morning.  We had a normal lunch and then all of us took naps til the movie marathon about the Medici family and the history of the Renaissance. It was really interesting, but I think the lack of something to do at every second of the day sapped some of our energy and we were all falling asleep. When I started to nod, I just acted like I was stretching my neck from all the hair-whipping I did last night at our little dance party. Everything about this trip is laid-back and low-stress. It's like the best vacation I've ever been to. I think maybe that's why the classes feel so out of place.
It's 11:45 here now, so I'm going to bed.
Buona notte!