Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of Endings and Goodbyes

January 1, 2009

First of all, Happy New Year!! This post has been a LONG time coming... I've already been back in the states for 3 weeks! But I wanted to write something to close out this blog on my wonderful European adventure, so here it is, a wrap-up of my last week in Italy and finally returning home!
On Monday I turned in my long history paper. Not surprisingly, he didn't show up for our appointment at noon even though I waited and waited. I went to his class and, big surprise, there was no one there! Pretty desperate, I went back to his office at 4pm and thankfully he showed up saying, "Oh, did we have an appointment today?" Idiot. We ended up talking for a good hour (in English thankfully!) about random things, none of them related to my paper of course. Toward the end I tried to make it very clear that my grade should not be based on the quality of my Italian but rather the historical content of my paper. I left a little unsure but glad that I was almost done.
Tuesday, December 16th was sort of a big day... I turned 21!! While it was less meaningful in Italy, where there is no legal drinking age, I still wanted to celebrate. It was hard not being able to spend it with all my friends and family back home, and a little disappointed that I couldn't go to an American bar, but I still managed to have a good day. Way back in September, after I got out of the hospital Gabi, Justine, and Carly had given me gift certificate for a massage. I had been lazy and hadn't used it yet, so I decided to make an appointment for my birthday. On after I'd called did I realize I'd lost the gift certificate! But with the appointment already made, I decided to just pay for it myself and enjoy it. So I spent my afternoon at the spa, getting my anxiety-inducing massage and also adding a hair cut at the end. Later that evening I got semi dressed up and went out to dinner with Carly and Gabi in centro. I had almost forgot how pretty it was all lit up at night! We got a bottle of wine, and after two glasses I was already buzzed, which just goes to show how low my alcohol tolerance has dropped! After dinner we of course got gelato, though not at our favorite place : ( We didn't stay out too late since we were all pretty tired, so I went home a year older feeling much the same as before.
Wednesday was our arrivederci Padova day. I met Gabi in centro and explored the Christmas markets in all the piazze. We both realized that as often as we'd been to these places around the city, we had never taken photos or really stopped to appreciate them. So we wandered the city, stopping at Basilica di San Antonio and Prato delle Valle with Santa Giustina, buying last minute souvenirs and gifts along the way. It felt good to say goodbye to the city properly and not just pick up and go. I tried to imprint everything I could in my mind so I can remember it in the years to come. We treated ourselves to one last gelato from our favorite place, Venchi, and walked past the "Pedicure" sign above the study center one more time. After a while I had to go pick up my paper and grade for my history class. I was expecting around a 26 or 27 (out of 30), so I was shocked when he handed me the grading form with a 30!! I can't ask for better than that! Obviously I was very pleased : ) I met back up with Gabi and her tandem partner for a cappuccino and then went back to her apartment (for the first time actually!) and we cooked our traditional dinner, pasta with zucchini and mushrooms. It was so nice to eat a home cooked meal, and it seemed fitting to eat something that we always made when we were living in Rome. I had to go home early though to pack since I still had a lot to do and I was planning on leaving the next day.
I went to Lucca first and spent one last night there so I could say my goodbyes. That was one of the hardest things because I'd grown so close to them in my time there and I really don't know when, or if, I will see some of them again. What I mean is, although I know I will go back and visit in the future, I don't know when and I don't know if the older generations will still be there. I'm just so grateful to have met them and got to know them. I really do consider them family and love and miss them already.
From Lucca I hopped on the train again to Rome. Managing on the trains wasn't as bad as I thought. People kept offering to help me with my bags and I was able to sit in a seat with my luggage right next to me to keep an eye on. It was entertaining, though, to see peoples reactions when they realized that all that stuff was mine! Anyway, I finally made it to Rome, coming full circle. It felt right to leave from the city I had begun in. Carlo, who was kindly hosting me for a night and taking me to the airport, greeted me at Termini enthusiastically of course. I met his Russian girlfriend, Nastia who was very pretty and nice, too, and then he took us to an enoteca, or wine shop, where he chose a yummy red for us to share along with some munchies. I was extremely exhausted, physically and mentally, so I went home after that and went straight to bed.
The next morning, December 20th, bright and early, Carlo came to pick me up and drive me to the airport. On the way we passed the Coliseum and several churches I visited... It was really a bittersweet feeling since I was so ready to go home and see my family, but I really had fallen in love with Italy. We made it to Fiumicino Aeroporto with a little time to spare. I had to pay for my third checked bag as expected, but was delighted when I wasn't charged for my other two bags being overweight (which they totally were!). I said goodbye to Carlo, my best Italian friend, and made my way to my gate. I was too excited to really be sad; I'd been counting down to this day for so long and it had finally arrived!
The flight to Philly was long - 10 hours to be exact - time which I tried to pass by watching movies since I can't seem to sleep on planes. My itinerary had changed, too, so instead of having three flights (Rome -> Philly -> Denver -> Oakland) I was flying directly from Philly to Sacramento! My domestic flight was delayed a couple hours, but we eventually got going on another long flight - this time 6 hours. I ordered wine on the plane as my first experience being 21 in the states, and was quite disappointed when they didn't card me! The time passed slowly but I really couldn't mind since we were so close! Arriving in Sacramento and seeing my family was surreal, something I'd been picturing in my head for months. My dad had made this really cute sign saying "welcome home" and "happy 21st" and hung it on the garage door and my mom had made me a cute funfetti birthday cake!Having been back for a while now, it's been hard to readjust but also great to be back with family in a familiar environment. I'm starting to miss my life in Italy already though, and I'm looking forward to making it back there asap in the future. This experience was that of a lifetime, and I'm so grateful for it. For the rest of my life, I'll remember my 6 months in Italy, forever la dolce vita.

Thank you to whoever took the time to read this blog. This will be the final post of what I will personally cherish in the years to come as a record of my travels, challenges, and adventures.

Much love,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A City of Star-Crossed Lovers

December 15, 2008

While London was my last big trip, I still had one place in Italy left to go: Verona! So Sunday I hopped on the train to spend the day in the city best known as Shakespeare's setting for Romeo & Juliet. The city was absolutely beautiful! It's small size and character just make it such a charming place. It's full of beautiful churches, bustling piazze, tall towers, and lovely gothic buildings. All in all I really enjoyed my day in Verona, I just wish I had had more time to explore the city!
My first stop was the huge Piazza Bra', filled with the countless stalls of a Sunday market selling food and goods. However my eye was instantly caught by a strange, modern, white arc sculpture ending in a pointy starburst. Bordering the piazza on one side is the grand columned Palazzo Barbieri, Verona's City Hall, and adjacent is the magnificent 1st century A.D. Roman Arena, one of the most important and best preserved Roman ampitheatres ever built. It's actually in incredible condition, inside and out, and resembles a mini Coliseum. In fact, during the summer months world famous operas are performed there. My first sign that Verona is a city for lovers was found actually found here ; someone had wrote "Ti amo principessa" in the sand in the middle of the arena : ) Here I also bought a VeronaCard for 10 euro, which covered the entrance fee to all the places I went that day! From the piazza I walked through the narrow cobbled streets to my first chiesa of the day, San Fermo Maggiore. The church, built in the 11th century, is quite unique in that is has both an upper church, in gothic style, and an older, lower church in Romanesque style. The upper church has a great ribbed vault wooden ceiling, while the lower, almost underground church has frescoed walls and columns but is a little less ornate. Also of some interest, the upper church holds the tombs of the last descendents of Dante Alighieri (author of "La Divina Commedia"). Although not breathtaking, it was certainly a unique church. As I mentioned above, Verona is perhaps most famous for its association with Romeo & Juliet, which it is very aware of and has used it to their advantage as a tourist attraction. My next stop, then, was the Casa di Giulietta... Yes, they have turned a building into the house of a mythical character for the sake of tourism : ) Actually, despite all its lack of authenticity, it's actually a fun sight to see. It's just sweet and charming, and really gives off a romantic vibe. The walls of the covered entrance are covered in notes and scribbles by couples declaring their neverending love for one another with that timeless S + M = 4ever formula.
Inside the courtyard is a statue of Giulietta (or Juliet, as she is probably better known as) whose left breast is supposed to bring you luck when you touch it! There's even a balcony, surrounded by green ivy, supposed to be the very same balcony Romeo climbed to when Juliet whispered the famous line: "Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good-night till it be morrow." The house itself was even set up to seem as though it was lived in by the Capulets. Here and there relics from the play, like paintings (including a replication of "Il Bacio" by Francesco Hayez - from my art history class) and costumes, which remind the visitor whose house it is meant to be. The souvenir shops next to the house of course sold a variety of heart-emblazoned trinkets, making me feel as though I'd just walked into a store run by Cupid! One of the stores was actually quite cute and original; it offered a sort of embroidery service in which you could select a blank item, like an apron or towels, and have the sewers personalize them right there on the spot! And of course, many of the available items were heart-shaped : ) After getting my dose of love and romance for the day, I explored the central piazze for a bit. Piazza Erbe was very pretty with statues, Madonna Verona's fountain, the baroque Palazzo Maffei, and surrounded by little restaurants and cafes. In one corner there is also a lovely tower called Torre del Gardello. Normally the square serves as a lively marketplace, but for the Christmas season the stalls moved elsewhere (see next). Walking underneath the Arco della Costa you come to the adjacent Piazza dei Signori, there was a wonderful German-themed Christmas market called Christkindlesmarkt, full of stalls selling yummy treats and Christmas trinkets and decorated with trees! The square also has a couple palazzi, including Palazzo del Capitano with its overlooking tower. In the corner of the square is Verona's famous Torre dei Lamberti, rising from Palazzo del Comune and towering above the nearby brick buildings. Of course I climbed the seemingly neverending stairs to the top and was rewarded with gorgeous views of the city and the bustling piazze below. At this point my remaining daylight was slipping by quickly, so I had to pick up the pace. Next I went to the nearby basilica of Santa Anastasia, which happens to be the largest church in the city. I fact, connected to the main church is another sanctuary, large enough to be its own church! The gothic church, finished in 1481, is quite large, but the highlight for me was the fresco of "San Giorgio e la Principessa" by Pisanello which we studied in my Storia dell'Arte class. It was way high up at the top of an arch so I couldn't see it up close or get a good pic, but it was still pretty cool to see the real thing. The ceiling was also very pretty with a painted pattern spanning its entirety. There was even a cute nativity for Christmas! I kept going with the churches and made my way to the Duomo. Compared to the extremely ornate Duomo in cities like Milano and Siena, this one could be considered plain, but I found its simplicity to be quite pretty. The Romanesque facade features a double level porch, a side porch and apse area, as well as a tower rising in the back. Inside was also nice, with chapels and paintings lining the sides. The altar was interesting in that it was round and surrounded by columns; the dome above the altar also featured lovely paintings. This church feautured 2 paintings I was familiar with from my class, although I had not studied them closely: Tiziano's colorful "L'Assunta" and Liberale da Verona's detailed "Adorazione dei Magi".
The sun was beginning to go down so I decided on my last 2 things to see and was on my way. This time I walked along the pretty Adige River, past the stone Ponte Garibaldi with Colle San Pietro rising up in the background behind it, and Ponte della Vittoria flanked by statues on either end and with Castelvecchio in behind it. My plan was to check out another church, San Lorenzo, but when I got there the gate was locked even though it should've still been open for another half hour.
So I moved along and made it to my last stop for the day, Castelvecchio, a large and impressive stone castle, complete with embattled bridge and moat! Connecting the castle with the opposite side of the Adige River is a unique, wave-like brick bridge, Ponte Castelvecchio. In a small little piazza to the right of the castle is a simple white arch called Arco dei Gavi and benches providing a great place to enjoy the view of the river and bridge. I unfortunately didn't have time to go inside the castle, where there is a museum of Veronese art, but I was at least glad I got to see the exterior. I wish I had had more daylight to check out a couple more things, but I think I did pretty well considering and saw a lot of the city. I'm so glad I was able to fit Verona in at the end, especially now that I know what a charming city it is! So now that my travels are over, the bittersweet feelings about leaving can start to sink in as I run around trying to pack and finalize things. With only a week left, my days are surprisingly full with little down time, which I'm sure will make these last days here go by extremely fast!

Only 5 more days!!!!!!!!!!

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