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:
SCAVENGER HUNT DAY!!!
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!