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An Unforgettable Farewell

5 Jul

My last night in Florence was more than anything I could have asked for. It started with my favorite pizza from a small  joint called Gustapizza. It is owned by a few Italians from southern Italy. Let me tell you, they know how to make pizza. With each bite, a new flavor is discovered by my palate.  The combination between cheese, tomato, and dough was majestic and impossible to replicate. After I inhaled my dinner, a small group went to the Arno River dam and watched the sun set. The hues of orange, pink, and blue were captivating. I have not seen a sunset that beautiful in a long time. It was almost as if Florence was trying to tell us arrivaderci and safe travels home. As the sun sank into the water beyond, a colorful firework display was put on for the festival of St. John (patron saint of Florence). I enjoyed the view as my Florentine family and I shared our future plans and other intimate discussions of that nature. When the fireworks ceased to illuminate the sky, our small group became large as the remaining members of the program joined us for one final farewell. It was extremely heartbreaking to see everyone’s somber faces at the thought of leaving. As the girls cried and hugged each other, the men, including myself, shook hands and tried to be manly about saying goodbye but we all knew that if capable we would be crying like the girls. Our group became intensely close over the past six weeks and it showed right before we said our goodbyes.

After many pictures, hugs, and tears the first small part of our family decided it was time to depart. As they walked away a small part of my heart left with them. I knew I would see them again but not under these circumstances and not in the same euphoria that Florence had created. Florence was a fantasy land for all of us and when we meet again we will be in the real world. Like rain running of a leaf, members of my family trickled slowly away.  I decided to depart when the group got about half of its original size. My roommate Joe and I decided to walk one last time through the streets of Florence. We walked and talked and enjoyed the emptiness. We gazed in awe at the Duomo, walked like an Italian (which means extremely slow) through the Piazza Repubblica, dropped our jaws in front of the Palazza Vecchio, and took in our last breaths of Florence on the Piazzale Michelangelo. We relived all of our memories and experiences as we walked.

Our journey ended on the Ponte Vecchio, where we sat and watched the river flow. We sat there for some time and I reflected on everything I learned in Florence. I learned that sometimes it is good to walk slow and take in your surroundings. As an American, I have been programmed to always be in a hurry. However, Florence has rewritten some of my code and I now move about to enjoy the scenery and not just to get to a destination. Another lesson learned is to appreciate the past. It was eye-opening, to say the least, to cross a bridge or visit a building that is 500 years old. Lastly and most importantly, I learned to talk much quieter. I have been a loud unobservant American my whole life and Florence has taught me that not everyone wants to hear what I have to say. So when you talk to someone make sure they are the only ones that can hear you.

I want to thank everyone who assisted me in Florence and Florence itself for such a wonderful farewell. To my Florentine family, I give you this “If you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find if you give it time, you will wave hello again.” -John Mayer


“Memories last forever, never do they die, Friends stick together and never really say Goodbye” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

19 Jun

As my program in Florence comes to a close, I look back on my time here and realize that there is one aspect that makes all of my memories so special;  the people. Every memory and every laugh revolved around someone in our group. Whether it was a witty pun or reminiscing about past experiences, I could always count on someone to make my sides split. It then occurred to me that these rag-tag group of people would not have existed had it not been for the unity and comradery that Florence attracts.

We all came from different backgrounds. From engineers to liberal art majors and from Greeks to non-Greeks, Florence united us all. It brought out the best in each person and as our group integrated into Italian culture so did each of us into one another’s lives. As our group began to explore unfamiliar territory in Italy we began the same journeys in ourselves. I know that I have become a more reflexive person since my arrival. I focus on how others make me feel and how each experience makes me who I am. Each new adventure allows me the pleasure of looking back and saying I learned something about myself. Each of us was encouraged to step out of our comfort zones and as we did we evolved into a family. Every memory has strengthened our Florentine family and brought us closer. From the late nights on the Arno River to the sunrises over Florence, I have bonded with each member of my study abroad group. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that many of us would have never crossed paths at Purdue. I am so grateful to have made so many wonderful friends and I have Florence to thank.

Florence has shown me that change is never a bad thing and every memory is better when it is shared with someone else. As I walk the streets of Florence, I usually listen to music. It seems as if my iPod knew exactly what to play at each moment, and as I thought about what to write, a quote from one of my favorite songs chimed in my ear. “Turns out it’s not where, but who your with that really matters.” Although this quote implies that we are somewhere stale and boring, our group would not be what it is today without Florence.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

29 May

1)    Traveling with 11 people is way too many!  It’s frustrating keeping track of everyone and staying happy. The max number to travel with is 6; even that is pushing it.

2)    Have maps before you depart!   No one knew the layout of Venice and when we arrived at 11PM no one was around to help. Always map the distance from the train to your hostel  to determine the best way to get there.

3)    It is so much easier to travel in the morning than at night.

4)    Have a game plan. We went on this trip last-minute and it would have been better if we had outlined a few activities.

These are just some of the lessons learned from our weekend trip to Venice.  Here’s the story…

It is a warm Thursday night and classes are over for the week. I begin the trek back to the apartment when I was asked, “Would you want to go to Venezia & Verona.” I excitedly reply, “OF COURSE!” Little did I know that the next 24 hours were going to be the most stressful and intense moments of the weekend.  Friday began with an amazing visit to Siena and San Gimignano. Both cities had so much to offer. I enjoyed the world’s best gelato as I was captivated by the view from atop one of San Gimignano’s towers. The rolling green hills surrounded by small houses and farms were quite amazing. In Siena, I was able to withdrawal money from the oldest working bank in the world, had the most delicious ham and cheese pizza to touch my tongue, and stood in the Piazza del Campo. If you do not know what it is, Google it because words do not do it justice. Seriously, I’ll wait…beautiful right? Anyway, I was on cloud 9. The beauty of both cities filled my soul up, I was smiling, and it was only Friday.  

As our Tuscan tour came to a close fatigue began to set in. I was extremely tired and slept the entire way back to Firenze. When I awoke, we had arrived and our train for Venezia was leaving in 3 hours. I quickly packed a small bag full of clothes and we were on our way.  My first impression of this city was beauty through water. The walk from the train station to bus stop was filled with colorful buildings and canals, almost as if they were there waiting on us to arrive. This is where the story begins to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. After one hour and few confusing phone calls to the hostel, we got the correct bus and bought tickets. As the bus pulled up a moan escaped everyone’s mouth as we collectively noticed that the bus was packed and had no room for the 15+ people wanting to board. As we crammed ourselves on, I realized we had no ideas which stop to get off. Everyone glanced back and forth waiting for someone to make a decision. After 15 minutes on the bus, we agreed to get off and find someone to give us directions. By this time it is midnight and no one is in sight. I walked across the street to a hotel and ask the receptionist. He reluctantly decided to draw me a map with no road names and no landmarks. I have seen better maps on an etch-a-sketch. With map in hand, we began our walk.

Eleven Americans walking in a foreign country at midnight is not a good idea. A few girls in the group gave looks of concern and as we continued to walk. After two hours of walking we decided we were lost. After a couple of harassing yells from passing cars and a decrease in group morale, two Italians with backpacks approached.  I asked if they could help us and they said they were from out-of-town and that they were headed to the same place. A sigh of relief escaped my lips and I asked if we could accompany them. So started a 1 hour walk filled with broken conversations. Unfortunately, were still lost. We finally called the hostel and put the Italians on the phone. Soon, we headed to a new rally point. The receptionist, who was actually the security guard of the hostel, agreed to meet us. Finally, we caught a break. As he pulled up on a bicycle, he began yelling at me. He ridiculing us for not speaking Italian and for not coming better prepared. I decided to keep my mouth shut and take his verbal abuse. When he finished he said that he was going to take us all to the hostel. So finally at 2:30AM we arrive at the hostel. The night from hell was over…or so we thought. We get to the hostel and they got our reservations wrong. We only had one room reserved for 3 people. We had 11. Our group being exhausted, frustrated, and pissed off just wanted sleep. We agreed and the day was finally over.

 The rest of the weekend went amazing. We all had a wonderful time seeing glass blowing on Murano and the Piazza San Marco. Verona was equally amazing. We visited the supposed house of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and were allowed to enter an old Roman Arena. The weekend was definitely worth the trouble but we learned a lot. In thinking back, there is one lesson that stands out.

5)      When your Study Abroad Advisor mentions lessons 1-4, LISTEN!

More to Sights than Seeing

21 May

A flash of bright light and a surge of wind strikes my face as I emerge from the dark corridor below. It is slightly chilly but the heat from the suns rays warms the surface of my skin. I take a few more steps up and feel goose bumps begin to populate the back of my neck. I peer into the distance. The view from the top of il Duomo stuns me for a moment and I feel as if Firenze is at my fingertips. This was my first time seeing Florence in its entirety and I have to say, it was majestic.

After this initial reaction, I began to think about where I was. That’s when it hit me like a train. The reason my view was so beautiful was not because of what I was seeing but rather the history behind what I was seeing. I began to wonder how many people have seen this view. In the over 8 centuries since the Duomo was complete, how many have stood where I stood, breathed the same air, and felt the way I felt at that moment. We are all very different I am sure, but at that moment we were all the same. All of us stunned. The longer I stood there, the deeper I fell into thought. I thought about how the Duomo was built, the material they used, you know engineering stuff. I was finally released from my thought when I was asked by a nice couple from Washington to take a picture. I agreed and they thanked me as I began my descent back to the ground.

I thought about my view from the Duomo for many hours that night. I began to have an appreciation for the time, effort, and lives of those who worked so hard to give me the opportunity to experience such a breath-taking view. I realize now that sight-seeing is not taking pictures and talking about beauty. It is about the emotions attached to a painting or monument and the history of what you cannot see. I never understood why art was so popular. My bias toward art quickly dissolved when I saw the beauty of the Duomo. I felt humbled at that moment and I am ready to learn more of what Firenze has to teach me.

The Rookie Traveler

9 May

As I sit here and write my very first blog entry, a lot of thoughts race through my mind. My program in Florence, Italy begins in less than twenty-four hours! I have been getting ready for this trip all semester, but somehow I feel like I am not very prepared. I am pretty sure this feeling stems from my inexperience in travel. I have never flown, never been outside of the United States, and have never been completely removed from a society I have lived in my entire life. Although this nervous feeling manifested from inexperience, I am extremely excited.

I have wanted to go to Italy since I was a little kid. My hope is that the other students are as excited as I am. Well, I need to continue packing. I will continue posting throughout my trip but do not worry, the topics will be much more interesting, I promise.  Ciao.