Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sunshine, art history, and too much gelato

Where do I even begin? I had originally intended to update this blog about once a week but I am quickly discovering that every one of my days so far in Florence have been so eventful and jam-packed with little stories that I can't possibly fit one week's worth of material and photographs into one blog post. I'm still trying to figure out this blogging thing.

Italy is slowly but surely stealing my heart with its beautiful city, art history, friendly (and very, very curious) locals, and lovely language. Now that I have been here for more than two weeks I am starting to become used to being a Florentine art student, and I'm thinking that 3 months is not enough time to spend here. The entire city is full of inspiration and new ideas-  how can one possibly live 5 minutes from the Piazza della Signoria (by the famous Uffizi museum) and not want to unleash your inner artist? The whole city is filled with so many stories and so much history: I'm actually living in the Renaissance!

Piazza della Signoria, a square filled with famous sculptures such as the Rape of the Sabines, Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, and a copy of Michelangelo's David.
It's very amusing to me how curious and friendly Italians are (despite stereotypes of how local Italians are rude- I have certainly never experienced this). They are especially kind and sympathetic to me when I try and speak in my elementary Italian. Just last night I was sketching by myself in the Piazza della Signoria when an elderly local artist came up to me to see what I was drawing. Aside from receiving drawing tips, I ended up practicing my Italian a good bit and making a good friend. We also got into an interesting conversation about different cultures as he was especially interested in my Chinese heritage.

However, just as others who have studied abroad in Italy have warned me, I am discovering that Italian men are much more forward than Americans, and sometimes they have really strange ways of approaching someone they find attractive. Most of the time they just really like to stare, but from time to time my friends and I will end up swapping stories about weirdos who try to hit on us and/or get our numbers. One of the slickest moves I've come across was when this Italian cashier almost tricked me into writing down my number while I signed my credit card receipt. Also, for some strange reason Italian men like using lyrics from "Call Me Maybe" to pick up American girls- um what? I find most of it really funny though, so it's not really a problem when my friends and I can get a good laugh out of it.

Unfortunately though, I must have gotten too excited and overestimated myself since my first day in Florence sooooo for the past week I have been sick- probably from going out too much and exhausting myself- typical. Luckily my friend Ruth Le came to visit me and keep me company with Tiffanie while I was feeling like a total poophead.

Being smiley poopers

I'm almost totally recovered now though! But it seems like the rest of the school has caught the sick bug  after me so I just need to be extra-careful about taking care of myself from now on.

And now we finally get to the part that I've been wanting to tell everyone about- traveling!!! I cannot even begin to describe the beauty and unique atmosphere of the places I've visited so far, which are Ravenna and Cinqueterre. So maybe I'll just do a less writing and bombard you with pictures, which are probably a much better reflection of the towns than my words can ever describe.

Last Saturday, while I was still semi-sick I decided to go on a tour to Ravenna to see the famous mosaic churches of San Vitale and San Apollinare with Professor Helen Watterson. One of the many perks of being SACI student is that we get free art history trips every weekend. For example, I'm planning to go to Pisa this Saturday :D

Learning about art history in freaking San Apollinare, is this real life?

Helen Watterson is incredible: not only is her knowledge of Florentine art history incredible, but even in her 50s her energy level far exceeds our group of 20-year olds. And just so you have an idea of how exhausting the trip was, we all had to be at the Florence train station at 7am for a 6 hour round trip, we visited at least 8 different churches/baptisteries/Dante's tomb/museums within 7 hours, and we walked literally all day under the sun until we headed home around 6pm. Towards the end of the day my friends and I could barely feel our feet and (as you can see above) everyone- with the exception of Helen- was desperate to sit down. And if that wasn't bad enough, Helen apparently woke up around 4am that morning for a 3 hour jog right before the field trip. She's like a walking energizer bunny brimming with art history. Non capisco!

My friends and I being totally exhausted/eating our first Piadina (a delicious local flatbread sandwich) for lunch

The cathedrals, however, are absolutely gorgeous. I can't imagine what it would be like to worship there on a regular basis: the ceilings are so intricately decorated, and everything is built to such a majestic scale. Going to Ravenna was definitely a huge treat for me, especially since I took a year of art history with Dr. Euler in high school. Being able to see the the cathedrals and baptisteries that I only read about in textbooks in person was quite the experience and extremely humbling.

My favorite by far was San Vitale (shown below). I was completely unprepared for the incredible sense of awe and insignificance that hit me when I entered the cathedral, and I could tell that everyone else was just as struck by wonder. I'll let you see for yourself, although the pictures (photo credit to my apartment neighbor Paige,) really doesn't do San Vitale justice at all.

The amount of gold and the richness of the art/mosaics is overwhelming

The ceilings actually go on forever

This past weekend, my friends and I decided to go visit Cinqueterre through Euroadventures. Cinqueterre is this small town that my friend Erica insisted I had to go to while I was in Italy, so I knew I had to take advantage of the warm weather while it lasted to travel there. Also, Cinqueterre is right along the coast and had beautiful beaches, so how could I possibly resist? 

I have had so many amazing moments since arriving in Florence, but I honestly have to say that this was by far the best day I have had in Italy so far. Cinqueterre is composed of 5 tiny tiny towns- hence the name cinque (meaning five) and terre (lands): RioMaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. In the 8 hours that we were there I visited all the towns except for Corniglia because we wanted as much beach time as we could get in Monterosso. Here are some of the first views that greeted us as we arrived:

This was one of the first towns that we visited, I believe it's called RioMaggiore

Being in Cinqueterre is literally like walking in a dream

Even the colorful laundry made us smile :)

Cinqueterre must be one of the most romantic and quaint little towns that I've ever been to. I swear it was made for lovers: first there are all the pretty colors of the buildings, the beautiful golden sunsets, amazing pesto sauce and white wine, and then of course you have the gorgeous beaches. The dark sand is so clean and brilliant it actually sparkles, and when you walk it looks like there are little flecks of gold flashing in the sunlight. There is even a street of love, called Via dell'Amore, which is a 15 minute path along the cliffs of the mediterranean sea. It's literally the street of love because tourists and lovers have written all sorts of lovey dovey notes along the whole entire walk. There are even areas lined with fishermen's nets or fences, and tourists will place locks on them if they believe that they have found love that lasts. 

Cute no?

But my friend Jane and I don't have Italian significant others so we made our own lopsided heart in the Via dell'Amore =)

Viva i romantici!

The colors decorating the town are amazing: the whole time we felt like we were walking in a storybook. It makes me wish that Los Angeles could be just as colorful instead of being all brown and gross and smoggy- I'm sure people would be much happier and cheerful! I wish I had a better camera so the sky wasn't so washed out, but at least you get a taste of how brilliant the colors are in Cinqueterre next to the blue ocean and green mountains. The view is absolutely breathtaking! I must have taken at least 10 pictures of the same view.

This is still along the Via dell'amore

We had heard from our tour guide that the specialty of Cinqueterre is the pesto sauce and white wine, so my friends and I somehow wandered on top of a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean sea and decided to eat there. (And if you look closely enough at the picture below you'll see what I mean by the ridiculous guy girl ratio in SACI that I mentioned in my previous post ;)) The waiters were quite taken with all of us, and one of them was so excited that I spoke Spanish! At this point, my "Italian" turns into Spanish so often that being allowed to speak real Spanish for once is like taking a huge breather- it's a language that I can actually understand and use fairly well.

Our lunch group, and note the gorgeous oceanfront view behind us

Trying to be artsy while waiting for our food

Lunch finally! A local pesto dish with grilled vegetables and a glass of reallllllly delicious white wine :)

My apartment neighbor Lindsey and I splitting our yummy yummy lunch

I don't think my friends and I could have picked a more perfect day to go: it was about 80 degrees all day, sunny, blue skies, and the mediterranean ocean was SO warm! After lunch we took the train to our last stop, Monterosso, which is where the beach was. It was my first time touching the mediterranean, and unlike the grey Californian beaches, the ocean was actually bright blue and sparkling!

Aside from being super crowded and touristy Monterosso was perfect. I also noted that the people here are usually much more fit than Americans, and it's probably socially acceptable to have "tramp stamp" tattoos in Europe since so many people had one. Some guys even had belly button piercings, which I thought was wayyyyy weird, but I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

That pirate flag makes me so happy, in addition to many other aspects of Cinqueterre :)

Jane and I taking a mini break from the beach to get gelato! Mine was mango (of course,) and coconut

Well this has been quite a lengthy post, but I hope all the pictures made up for it! I'm having a lot of trouble condensing so much fun and adventures into a concise blog entry, and I just had to share all the wonderful experiences that I've been blessed to have. I miss everyone back at home tons and tons, so I hope you receive the buckets of love and Italian kisses that I'm trying to mentally send over from Europe right now :) Here's to too much gelato, not enough coffee, and 3 more months of Italian adventures!

Con tanto amore.
Kayee :)

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