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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Back from the dead

Er, so I may have taken an unanticipated hiatus. Sorry about that. Life got a little insane, I went a little more insane, and before you know it – poof! A month and a half goes by.

Well, no point bemoaning the inevitable. I’m back in school now, my internship being donecompletefinito and put behind me. I never have to think about statistics. Ever again. (Now that I’ve said that, the stats gods will come down and smite me with their wrath and I will discover that I actually have to take a missing stats course or something). Looking back, my summer was a good one – perhaps busy and stressful, but also one in which I made some good friends and learned a ton. It all works out in the end. Of course, it’s much easier to say this now than when I was working away at 2 AM, cursing my choice of major. Everything is nicer in retrospect. It has definitely been refreshing, though, to not be working full-time. I took a few weeks to relax a bit, see my friends and family, and just unwind before everything started up again. I went camping, I made some food, and I let the little workers in my head rest. Temporarily.

It seems weird to contemplate, but even though I’ve only been home for a few weeks, I’m already in the midst of organizing my next trip – this time to Italy! I am actually really excited for this, as I’ve been planning this for almost two years. I’m visiting Prague and Vienna for a few days each and then spending two months studying in Prato, which is located near Florence. We learn Italian, we read amazing things like Dante’s Inferno, and in general I get to immerse myself in literary geekdom for a while. It’s going to be fantastic. I’m a little apprehensive about travelling by myself in countries that speak another language, but I think it’ll be a really good experience. Plus, apparently there’s a hugeass castle in Prague that has my name written all over it. (Not literally. Though that’d also be pretty cool). I had my first Italian class today, where I learned how to tell people what my name is and how I’m feeling. Useful things to know, right? I can’t ask directions to the best pasta place, but I can tell people who I am.

I’m going in three and a half weeks, though, so there’s lots of preparation to do before then. I’ve been a bit conflicted – simultaneously extremely excited and rather melancholy as I’ve been travelling so much this year that it’s been stopping me from seeing the people I love. But now’s the time to do it, before I get chained to a desk for the rest of my life, and I’ll be better for it. Travel does so many things, but I honestly believe it opens up your mind, heart and soul, and gives you the capacity to appreciate what you have even more. It’s one of the best things in the world. I travel because I’m passionate about it, and I just have to trust that when I come home┬áthose who love me will still be there.