The Prodigal Sun Returns

Well, after a mostly disappointing June, summer has finally arrived in Vancouver! It has been hot hot hot for the last few days, which I have taken as a glorious change. To make matters even better, I just had a lovely four-day weekend as a result of Canada’s birthday (the first one I’ve been at home for in a while!). I spent it sweating it out in hot yoga (it seems redundant, somehow, to go to hot yoga in the heat), shopping, cooking and eating, and then belatedly realizing I need to do more homework…six more weeks until this ball and chain I call my undergraduate career finally ends.

I think one of the highlights of my weekend – other than the three pairs of shoes I unexpectedly purchased on Saturday – was taking a macaron class. I love these scrumptious  and wickedly expensive cookies, so it was really interesting to see how they’re made. It turns out it’s this complicated procedure of whipping for a million years and then squishing with great care, and includes buying a bunch of equipment I don’t have, but I think I’m going to have a go this upcoming weekend. Mine will probably look like malformed blobs, but that’s okay. I’ll just close my eyes as I eat them.

Image

That evening, I went for dinner with my sister at Banana Leaf, where we devoured a nine-course tasting menu and then took a walk along beautiful English Bay.

Image

Image

I live in such a beautiful city. I celebrated my favourite country’s birthday yesterday by wandering around a very crowded downtown, eating gelato and a smoked salmon taco and laughing madly at the huge amount of pot-dealing vendors in front of the art gallery. Only in Vancouver could you find multiple varieties of pot cookie all in the same place.

It’s back to the grind this week, unfortunately, but perhaps the sun will make it a bit more bearable. I’m currently in the midst of a 30-day incredibly sweaty hot yoga challenge that’s simultaneously making me feel super healthy and giving me spaghetti legs. Day 12, here I come!

Oh, and I had to write poems for an English class. I thought I’d publish my feeble attempt at a sonnet. I have so much more respect for Petrarch and Shakespeare now – sonnets are bloody hard.

Summer (I know, so inventive)

At last the summer days are here: the heat
Caresses cheeks, warms rain-chilled hearts, the days
Stretch long, slow and languid: yet still they beat
Their breasts and moan for dark to keep at bay
The sweat upon their skin. Always they sigh
For cold, forgetting summer will soon leave.
Forget instead your sunburned face: pass by
The sand tracked in: embrace the short reprieve
From dark. Trail watermelon down your chin,
Abandon raincoats for the touch of sea,
Count freckles on your lover’s nose, let in
The calm of blue and cloudless skies, and be.
Summer is the sun’s kiss, who loves you well –
So peace, hush now – and melt into her spell.

Advertisements

Return of the – Jedi? King? Nah, it’s not nearly as exciting.

Well, it’s been a while. My usual response to this is to let out a flood of apologies for my absence, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear it. Suffice to say that taking five 400-level courses is enough to throw a girl off her game for a semester, and I attribute the remaining quietness to the same reason I take three hours to wake up in the morning. These things are inexplicable. Nevertheless, I think it’s time to kick my own butt a little and resume blogging about my relatively mundane and occasionally exciting life.

I’ve been pretty busy in the last while. Between my last post in Berlin (and I definitely had a nostalgic moment leafing through that) and now, I have: survived the previously mentioned courses from Hell and moved into my final semester of school, taken trips to California (again), Portland, New York, and Maui, booked flights to Greece and Turkey as a grad trip, attempted to change hair colours and failed, created the glory of lemon cheesecake ice cream, rediscovered my great love for Vancouver in the summer and consequentially been disappointed that we’ve turned back to rain, eaten a ton of food (of course), and taken up creating puddles of sweat on the floor in hot yoga. Wow, when I put it that way, I don’t feel so bad.

Things have somewhat settled for the meantime, though. Currently, it’s just plugging along with this semester and looking forward to finishing my undergraduate classes forever on August 16th (yes, it’s a count down) and hopping on a plane to Europe once more. In October, I officially graduate, move to California, and become a real person – eep! I thought it was far off in the future, but it’s creeping up on me much more quickly than I intended. Four months to go…I predict some panic brewing in the future. On the bright side, a long-distance relationship will then become a gloriously normal short-distance relationship, so there’s that to look forwards to.

Speaking of which, my boyfriend did visit me recently, and he brought the sun – it was beautiful and we were able to do a lot of exploring, which was great.

Italian Day on Commercial Drive

Italian Day on Commercial Drive

IMG_1985

Making meatballs!

IMG_8362

Quarry Rock

photo

Perhaps I’ll go back and update this with some of the other adventures I’ve been on – we’ll see how exciting my life is in the next while. Probably not very. However, I’m determined to return to frequent updates, even if it’s only posting a picture of my Wednesday lunches out and rants about how I dislike the lengthy assignments of my computer networking class.

Brrrrrrrrrr-lin

When I tell the Europeans that I’m Canadian, their first response is: “Oh, so you must be used to this cold then. This must be nothing.”

My response? “Actually, I’m a Vancouverite…we’re wimps.” I have been freezing my butt off in Berlin for the last two days and simultaneously loving it and wondering if my toes are still there.

My last days in Geneva were balmy compared to Berlin. We wandered around the Old Town area, saw the Jet D’eau (the tallest water fountain in the world), checked out the crypts under the cathedral, looked at a lot of watches that we couldn’t afford…that sort of thing.

20121213-234828.jpg

20121213-234834.jpg

20121213-235213.jpg

20121213-235245.jpg

One of the areas I quite liked was Carouges, an older, artsy neighbourhood of Geneva. We also went to go see the UN building, which had this enormous chair with a broken leg sitting right outside. I kind of wondered what would happen if a giant attempted to sit on it. Overall, it was a great and enormously international city.

20121213-235411.jpg

20121213-235422.jpg

20121213-235454.jpg

I’ve found Berlin to feel very different. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that Berlin feels that it’s brimming over the edge with memories. I actually have liked it a lot, despite the fact that there is snow everywhere and I can barely feel my fingers at the end of the day. On our first day, we went on a tour that touched upon most of Berlin’s biggest monuments and areas. It was actually really interesting, and I think I understood a lot more out of the city’s history than if I had simply wandered around on my own.

20121214-000647.jpg

20121214-000731.jpg

20121214-000906.jpg

20121214-001016.jpg

20121214-001115.jpg

We also discovered an amazing chocolate place that we’ve now been to twice – it used to be the chocolatier for the royal family. Today was full of Christmas market shopping. I am probably lucky that I only have one backpack, because if I didn’t have a space constraint I would’ve bought an extraordinary amount of stuff. Instead, I had to cry inside and walk away (and buy myself things that can fit in my stomach, instead…)

20121214-001415.jpg

We also went to go see the government building, which was pretty cool. You got to walk up this dome at the top, and I’m sure if it hadn’t been covered in snow it would’ve been a great view. Instead, I got to study the icicles pretty closely and guess at what half the city looked like. It was still worth it though.

20121214-001752.jpg

20121214-001902.jpg

20121214-001909.jpg

I’m pretty tired now, but one more week before I go home! Tomorrow is a bit more of Berlin, and then off to Copenhagen, where I’m hoping for a few degrees higher in temperature. (I’m funny, aren’t I?)

Marshmallowifying

It seems that every time I take a trip, I lose track of time in the last month and my poor blog suffers for it. I really want to do a post on what I was up to in Italy for the last while, but I’m also really excited about where I am right now, so I think Italy will have to wait for a few days – perhaps I’ll do it when I’m sitting in an airport.

Friday was my last day in Italy, and while it was bittersweet, yesterday I set off with a friend for Geneva, Switzerland! It took us almost the entire day to travel from Prato to Geneva due to some train complications, but we made it here in the end. It is very distinctly winter here – I felt like I had passed into some mystical winter wonderland when our train went through a tunnel and emerged in the midst of hugely majestic, snowy mountains. It was absolutely magical. No other words for it.

Today we went on a cheese and chocolate tour that passed through Bulle and Gruyères, two towns about an hour or two from Geneva. It may have been the best money I’ve ever spent in my entire life. Geneva is surrounded by mountains and water, so we got to drive through and see these beautiful towering peaks all around us. I didn’t realize how close Geneva is to France – it’s only half an hour drive in some parts to the Swiss/French border.

20121209-224944.jpg

Our first stop was the Nestle/Cailler chocolate factory in Bulle, where my friend and I nearly made ourselves sick with the amount of chocolate we ate. This morning, I would’ve sworn on my Macbook that I could never get sick of chocolate…and then I ate the equivalent of five bars of chocolate in about five minutes. The tour was very cool though, they had an explanation of chocolate that moved you through these crazy decorated rooms, you were able to taste the cocoa beans and see how they made the chocolate, and then taste all the chocolate you could hold in your stomach.

20121209-225340.jpg

20121209-225356.jpg

20121209-225418.jpg

After that, we headed to Gruyères, which is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. We had a delicious cheese fondue lunch, which was also possibly the most cheese I’ve ever had in my life at one time.

20121209-225607.jpg

20121209-225618.jpg

The views from Gruyères were breathtaking.

20121209-225743.jpg

20121209-225827.jpg

20121209-225920.jpg

20121209-230019.jpg

20121209-230118.jpg

After we got back to Geneva, we went to check out the parade for L’Escalade, a festival they hold in early December to commemorate an attack they repelled. There was a large parade with people in medieval dress holding fire and whatnot – it was pretty cool. There were sheep and everything! Unfortunately it was so busy I had a hard time getting a good picture, and then we got extremely lost coming back to our hostel and spent over an hour wandering around Geneva in the dark. It’s pretty cold here, hence the marshmallowifying I’m doing to myself – I wore six layers today. It was quite impressive, I doubled my size. I’m pretty sure if I fell over there’s no possible way to do damage to my upper part as it was so wrapped in sweaters and jackets. The things I do to stay warm.

How I became an olive oil snob

It has finally happened: when I return home, I will no longer be able to buy the grocery-store olive oil that I was happily purchasing before. Thanks to Italy, I have become an olive oil snob. Farewell, money!

I’m kidding (kind of). What has finally pushed me over the edge, you ask? On Friday, I had the very cool experience of going to both an olive grove and an olive oil press. We visited this beautiful farm where they were shaking down the olive trees and then gathering up the olives that fall on the ground. It was extremely cool to watch them – they use this electric hand-type thing, for lack of a better description, that vibrates the trees and olives go flying everywhere like popcorn.

20121105-142552.jpg

20121105-142607.jpg
The farm itself was situated in these rolling green hills. It was like looking at something out of a picture.

20121105-142748.jpg
After we visited the farm, we went to the actual press, where they squeeze the olives to get the oil. They have these massive wheels (they remind me of medieval torture devices, somehow) that squish the olives into a paste. The paste is layered onto round boards and then pressed down to squeeze the oil out. We were able to taste it – it’s this funky green colour but it was the best olive oil I’ve ever had in my life. Apparently, if olive oil is yellow, it’s old. It’s supposed to have some green in it, which I definitely did not know.

20121105-143032.jpg

20121105-143043.jpg

20121105-143100.jpg

20121105-143108.jpg
I think that may have been one of my favourite things I’ve done in Italy so far.

We also went to Siena on Thursday, which was pretty cool. It had a different feel from Lucca and Assisi – more commercialized, somehow. I was really interested in how Siena is divided into different districts, and as you walk through the city you can see the little signs on each street corner displaying which district you’re in. Sometimes you can be walking on one side of the street and the other side belongs to a different district.

20121105-143314.jpg

20121105-143333.jpg
I really enjoyed the Piazza del Campo, where they hold the Paleo, or horse race. It’s a very large seashell-shaped square, which forces you to sit looking towards the city hall. I was very impressed when I looked closer at the street around the square and tried to imagine ten horses hurtling down it – I’m not sure if I’d be excited or scared for my life.

20121105-143733.jpg
We also saw a pretty impressive cathedral (the Duomo di Siena). The outside of it was very richly decorated with statues and such. Inside there was a room that had just opened to the public with these really colourful frescoes, which I thought was really beautiful.

20121105-144007.jpg

20121105-144110.jpg

20121105-144035.jpg

20121105-144143.jpg

The rest of my weekend was mainly homework. Crunch time is upon us! We have a break next week, though, and we’re going to Sicily, so I have something to look forwards to.

Italian Adventures

Wow, I can’t believe it’s Halloween today! It definitely doesn’t feel like it. I think it may be because we’ve been having pretty summer-like weather (up until last Friday), so I’ve been blissfully pretending it’s June, and now it’s very cold so I’m convinced it’s already December. I’m not quite sure where fall went. We’re going to have a potluck and small Halloween party tonight, though, so that’ll have to be my little slice of autumn.

It’s been a pretty eventful last week and a half. The weather was gorgeous last weekend, so we went to Viareggio, a beach about an hour away from Prato. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was sitting on a beach – in shorts! – in late October. It was blissful.

20121031-122244.jpg

The beach was really quiet, which was nice – I’m assuming because it’s low season for tourism. We made sandcastles and slept in the sun like five-year-olds.

Our field trip last week was to Lucca, which is in Tuscany. I really liked it actually – one of my favourite things was the city wall, which encircles the old part of the town. It’s this wide stone wall that you can walk or bike along, and on the sunny day that we had it was really nice to just take a stroll. I didn’t quite realize how much I missed trees and greenery until I saw the park and unconsciously breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight of leaves.

20121031-122811.jpg

20121031-122853.jpg

20121031-123000.jpg

We explored the city for a while afterwards. To be honest, it looked like a lot of the other Tuscan Italian cities I’ve visited – lots of little windy streets. On a side note, we also found a candy stall, which made us extremely happy. They don’t seem to have candy in Italy, but I’m not complaining because they more than make up for it with other things. (I am also majorly freaking out because today is the last day for gelato. WHAT BLASPHEMY IS THIS.)

20121031-123404.jpg

20121031-123414.jpg

20121031-123442.jpg

20121031-123511.jpg

We also went to see an opera performance in the evening, which was very cool. Puccini, a famous opera composer, is from Lucca, so it was a collection of some of his music. I’m always very impressed with opera singers. I feel like they would be very good at raising the alarm in an emergency.

The next day we went to Pisa, where we saw the leaning tower of Pisa (of course). It’s actually way more leany (I’m making that a word) than it looks in the pictures – you can’t quite capture the way it actually looks like it’s going to fall on you. Most of the pictures are on another girl’s camera though so I anxiously await my silly tourist pictures of trying to push the tower over. I also saw the cathedral, baptistry and cemetery, all of which were very interesting.

20121031-123932.jpg

20121031-124003.jpg

20121031-124016.jpg

20121031-124049.jpg

It was a nightmare coming home from Pisa, though. First, the trains were delayed, so we waited for almost two hours at the train station. When the train finally came, there was a huge crowd of people bustling and jostling to get on, and when we finally got on and sat down we realized that one of my friends was missing her purse. We saw a man outside the train with it and ran off the train to go retrieve it, but he wouldn’t give it to us. Turns out he was the police and saw some girls steal it, so we missed our train and ended up having to go sit in the police station for a few hours to cool our heels and give a statement. It was extremely confusing at the time because only one of the police officers spoke English and we couldn’t understand why we were standing in the pouring rain waiting for him to give it back. They were very nice to us, though, and we eventually managed to get home (about eight hours after we left Pisa…) It was awful, but now I can say I’ve been in an Italian police station. Not something I want to repeat, though.

The weather’s changed for the colder (much colder), so I’m hoping it doesn’t rain for our field trip to Siena tomorrow. Crossing my fingers!

Assisi

As much as I fell asleep reading about Saint Francis of Assisi and his neverending pontification about God, I have to admit I really loved his hometown. Assisi is this beautiful place located in Umbria, perched on top of a mountain (or it felt like that, anyway) with a consistent gorgeous view and cute little winding streets. The view was almost overwhelming – everytime you looked around, you’d see the huge green mountains or catch a glimpse of the towns below. It didn’t hurt that it was a sunny day, perfect for exploring.

20121019-131438.jpg

Getting up was a bit rough, as we had to be on the bus by seven in the morning, but I think most of us just passed out on the way there. It’s a few hours from Prato to Assisi, so we got there at around 9:30 and were greeted by a cold foggy morning. Luckily, our first stop was inside the Basilica of Santa Maria.

20121019-131705.jpg

This was a huge church – just the angel on the top was the height of three or four people. I thought the coolest thing about it was the fact that it housed another, smaller church inside of it. This church belonged to Saint Francis, and it was tiny compared to Santa Maria, but richly decorated with art. We also saw the chapel where he died. It’s amazing the amount of work they put into preserving all of these things.

After that, we headed up to the medieval part of town, where we saw the Basilica of Saint Francis.

20121019-132245.jpg

20121019-132328.jpg

20121019-132357.jpg

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but it was very impressive. Frescoes everywhere, some of them better kept than others, but all of them beautiful. We also got to see the tomb of Saint Francis. I felt a little sacrilegious because I kept on looking at it and wondering what would happen if the lid suddenly lifted.

We had a break for lunch, and after some delicious pasta (I swear pasta and pizza are going to be forever ruined for me at home) some of us hiked up to a castle sitting on top of the town. The view was spectacular – so worth the climb.

20121019-132656.jpg

20121019-132718.jpg

20121019-132747.jpg

20121019-132819.jpg

20121019-132837.jpg

20121019-132915.jpg

The second half of our day was mostly concerned with Saint Clare, who was the first woman to follow Saint Francis. We saw her church and place where she lived, which just happened to be on the bottom of a giant hill. We were so glad to see our bus when we had to trek back up.

20121019-133108.jpg

20121019-133136.jpg

20121019-133151.jpg

20121019-133219.jpg

Overall, it was a really busy day, but I liked Assisi a lot. I thought it was beautiful. I also finally figured out why my camera was taking really low resolution pictures – I had somehow managed to put it onto some kind of web format mode, where it was lowering the resolution of everything. I’m pretty sad that a good third of my pictures aren’t that nice for printing, but at least I fixed it! I was so happy to sleep in this morning though, and I’m looking forward to a nice lazy day of running errands and doing homework.