Una bella gita: Bologna and Tuscany

My past two weekends have been spent going on day-trips first to Bologna and then to a tiny village in Tuscany named Buonconvento. I knew that before coming to Italy that one of my priorities would be to try and travel around the country as much as I could. Because there is such a convenient train system, it has been much easier than I expected to plan short trips.

A nagging impulse of wanderlust is somewhat of a prerequisite for a prospective study abroad student; to draw back the curtain of familiarity to reveal a wealth of new experiences. One of which is without a doubt being faced with a sharper degree of independence.

Traveling without any type of supervision has been a little strange in that there is no teacher or parent to hold your hand or to keep you on schedule. While this may involve getting lost (temporarily), it has allowed me to really take my time to explore the place that I’m in.

I didn’t have any idea how Bologna would compare to Florence before going, but after spending the day there I noticed that the energy of the city was unique unto itself. Bologna is more provincial and spread out, with its portico-ed  promenades and neighborhood streets dotted with restaurant after restaurant. It exudes a humble charm. On the other hand, the combination of Florence’s staggering architectural masterworks and narrow alleyways lends itself to a more eclectic sort of chaos.

The next weekend we exchanged our modern train for another mode of transportation prized more its form than its function: un treno a vapore. Taking a steam train from Siena to the tiny Tuscan village of Buonconvento for the day was like something out of a movie.

It’s impossible to not become swept up in the romanticism of such a place, which appeals to sensibilities that stand directly opposed to those of the modern world.  I felt like a disguised observer to a time-honored ritual as the town was filled with Italian families out for their relaxing Sunday.

We later had the chance to enjoy a traditional Tuscan feast. Eating and socializing in the Italian atmosphere par-excellence was an unforgettable time. The rhythm of lively conversation punctuated with delectable plates of food seemed both orchestrated and impromptu at the same time.

On the train ride home, I was struck by a feeling that I was starting to become more in tune with the Italian way of living. And looking out the window at the Tuscan countryside passing by, I allowed myself to melt for a moment into the fantasy of it all.

-Kate

Forza Viola!

One of the most vibrant cultural pastimes in Italy is the game of socceror calcio. The national obsession with what is popularly known as “the beautiful game” is a real one and is something I was hoping to see first hand during my time here. Luckily I had the chance to go to see Florence’s soccer team, La Fiorentina, play at the city stadium. Going to a soccer game is a big production so myself and the other students attending were happy to be accompanied by former Holy Cross Italian foreign language assistant extraordinaire, Rachele.

The walk to the stadium in a mass of purple-clad fans and the climb to our seats took on an almost ritualistic character. Many Florentines make the trek to the match with children in tow and there’s a palpable camaraderie in the air.   As the game begins, there’s intermittent chanting and singing from the opposing fans with the majority of the crowd joining in.

La Fiorentina dominated the field scoring three goals with each being met by standing up to cheer the name of the goal scorer and chant “Forza Viola!” The atmosphere was overwhelming, and I can see why such passions can flare in the midst of the historical rivalries and athletic skill that have come to define Italian soccer.

L’università di Firenze

My feelings about where I’m at in my study abroad experience so far is that everything is becoming more familiar as the initial shock of my arrival is wearing off. I’m getting to know my host family more and have a better feel for the city. Even though this is part of the natural progression of things, it’s still hard for me to believe.

One of the things that I was the most apprehensive about before going abroad, and is a big concern for most students, was what college would be like in another country. I knew that I would be attending an Italian university alongside other Italian students my age, but it was impossible to picture what that would actually like. It’s quite the daunting task and seems even more intangible before arriving in one’s host country.

For the first part of my semester, I’ll be taking an Italian literature course and meeting with tutors weekly for that as well as for two additional religion courses that are slated to begin in early November. The University of Florence’s campus is scattered across Florence and the location of the classroom’s building depends on its respective department. My literature class happens to be a pretty quick walk from my host family’s home through a quiet part of the city.

The prospect of heading into a foreign school and into an unknown environment was definitely nerve wracking. My expectations for my first day of classes were a tad low because I didn’t want to overestimate my Italian language prowess. I walked into the classroom and a part of me was expecting that I would not be able to understand what the professor would be saying. However, after the first hour I noticed that I was able to comprehend more than I initially assumed I would be able to, although it did require a lot of concentration to keep my head from spinning.

When your class is entirely in another language it is difficult to get away with daydreaming without completely missing the points of what the teacher is saying. As a result of this, I have to shift my brain into a different gear in order to follow along and to take notes in Italian.

I think I also went into the class with the assumption that I would need to mentally translate everything into English so that I could actually get it. However, one of the things that I have noticed with learning a language is that there comes a point when one just knows what some words mean without having to complete any mental gymnastics.

This doesn’t mean that I’m in any way fluent in Italian, but I think it does mean that I’m starting to reap some of the benefits of being immersed in the culture of the language I’m trying to learn.

 

Meanderings through Siena, Pisa, and Cinque Terre

In the weeks leading up to the start of my classes at the Università di Firenze, I’ve had a little bit of extra time to go on a few excursions to some beautifully surreal locations nearby Florence. I think that one of the strange things about traveling is that it’s often difficult for the mind to reconcile the image of a place with the place itself. I’ve logged a fair chunk of time imagining myself traveling through Italy to the extent that now, when I’m actually here, it feels dreamlike. I can’t count the number of times that myself and the other students here with me have asked each other versions of “Is this real?” and “Are we actually here?”

I recently visited Siena, Pisa, and two of the small beach towns that make up Cinque Terre. I thoroughly enjoyed each trip, but there was something about the medieval city of Siena that particularly spoke to me. Its history was so palpable; the air was heavy with it as I walked up the narrow, cobblestoned alleyways and crossed over the threshold into the main cathedral. To say it was like stepping back in time would oversimplify the experience, it was more like having a nagging intuition that the past and present were somehow happening in tandem.

One of the events that Siena is famous for is Il Palio, a horse race that takes place twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. Although I did not have the opportunity to time my visit with the spectacle, I did get to spend some time admiring the Piazza del Campo.

I first caught a glimpse of it at the end of a small side street which then magically opened to reveal a massive space lined with cafes and restaurants. And sitting at the edge of this sloped piazza, with a prosciutto filled panino in hand, I couldn’t help but feel validated in my romantic predilections about Italy and excited for the months to come.

-Kate

 

 

 

 

My First Week

After an overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany and then another connecting flight I finally arrived in the Florence airport around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Walking off the plane I was filled with nerves as I mentally prepared myself to meet my host family and imagined what my life would look like here. But, in my state of anxiety and sleep deprivation I walked right past the baggage claim to the main part of the airport. If anyone else has ever made this rookie mistake you’ll know that after exiting the secured area you’re not supposed to reenter.

Alas, I had no choice but to sneak back in so that I could retrieve my luggage by timing another traveler’s exit through a set of automatic doors with my own entrance. I knew with living in a foreign country would come the necessity of having to think on one’s feet, but I wasn’t expecting my arrival to be quite the comedy of errors that it turned out to be. As much as I wanted to emulate the cool confidence of a veteran traveler on my first day in Italy, I’m fairly certain that I instead modeled myself after a true idiot abroad.

I found myself outside my host family’s apartment building, flanked by two more than sizable suitcases, after a short taxi ride from the airport. All of my prior fears were quelled when after ringing the bell I was greeted by an older couple who would put anyone’s Italian grandparents to shame. Before I even saw my room, I was given a heaping serving of lasagna and a bowl of gelato.

The next morning I met up with the other five Holy Cross students who will be here with me in Florence, and we managed to find our way to our language school without getting too lost. I’ll be taking Italian classes there for the whole year, but my university classes don’t begin for another two weeks. Until then, I’ll be exploring the city and trying my best to acclimate to life abroad.

A presto,

Kate

The view from the Piazzale Michelangelo
Il Ponte Vecchio, or “The Old Bridge”, over the Arno River
La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

A Soon-to-be Stranger in a Strange Land

It’s truly surreal that the time has finally come for me to begin my year abroad.  Packing up my life into a few suitcases isn’t a completely foreign thing for me, as I usually make an end of summer trek back to Holy Cross from Seattle, but now my final destination will be even farther away. In less than 24 hours, I will be en route to Florence.

My last few months at home have been spent participating in a ministry internship funded through Holy Cross at a local cathedral , spending time with my friends, and practicing my Italian (much to my younger sister’s annoyance).  I’ve always held a special affection for Italy and its culture after visiting there with my family when I was a kid.

At the risk of sounding overly romantic, I can remember being fascinated by the history of everything and how tangible it all was there. Looking back, I think that having that opportunity to travel informed my passion for studying comparative religion now. I’m so looking forward to continuing my studies in a place where I’ll get to experience spirituality through a different lens.

It’s impossible to not be filled with uncertainty at this point with all of the unknowns on the horizon like how I’ll adjust to living in a new environment and to attending an Italian university. But behind all the anxiety I may be feeling now, there’s also an excitement for what lies ahead and a willingness to heed this call to adventure.

A presto!

Kate

I can only assume he’s mourning my departure
Giant suitcase packed with nothing but the essentials…
Coffee mugs for my host family are ready for their lengthy flight
My last Washington sunset for a while