Italy blogs I love

Awesome. Definitely worth reading.

Girl in Florence

When I first came to Florence, Italy – long before I ever decided to start writing this blog, I used to absorb myself in different blogs based here as inspiration. While now I tend to read a variety of both Italian and English ones, at the end time my Italian wasn’t so great and I was looking for perspectives similar to mine. Namely combing through stories of people who had started a new life, new job, new love in Dante’s hometown. I appreciate the local blog-o-sphere more than ever and want to share the love :-).

While some of the blogs I read in the beginning haven’t remained, after all many people have come and gone in this sometimes transient city. A product of life in a place that isn’t at all easy to actually live-work-support yourself.

Here is a list of blogs that I read on a regular basis…

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Just a Thursday Void of Thoughts

If I’m up this late, I might as well write before bed. I’m trying to write more, though this crazy “vacation” I’m on as my boyfriend likes to call it isn’t much of a vacation. More of a how-many-people-can-I-see rally that has lasted for a month so far. Plus working on top of it isn’t splendid, though I’m happy to be making back the money I spent on my flight over. 

My days are filled with family, friends, work, and writing. I’m trying now to make something of this blog and may move it to my own domain pretty soon – just like Jess Dante, a friend who certainly knows her blogging better than me. And I’ve hit the point where it’s happening – instead of latenight searches on Youtube for New England or Boston or Ragged Mt, I’m searching Duomo, Firenze, picturing myself there again. 

So I guess that’s it then, a restlessness that emits a hungry growl everytime I plant my feet on the same soil for more than a month now. Really? Am I going to live my life like this forever? Always wanting a ticket booked. Always wanting to run, fly. I’m hoping one day those wings will stop twitching and I’ll be able to sink down into a calm again – but I honestly don’t see that happening anytime soon. 

Another Take on the “Creepy” Italians

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© 1952, 1980 Ruth Orkin / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery

I am sick of hearing you girls complain about it.

“They are so rude,” you say to me as your roll your eyes with a look of disgust. You continue to complain, onward and upward about how horrible your day has become because of this incident. That you feel unsafe here, that you hate this country because there are no “normal” people. That you can’t believe someone would treat you like that. You sit there, with your makeup done up, with your wedges (no heels, you can’t handle the cobblestones) crossed one over the other, with your mini skirt on and your top too low, and you balk.

For many, one would believe something horrific just happened. That you were sexually abused in the street, that you were flashed, that you were grabbed, that you we’re called some slanderous name because of your outfit.

But no, this outburst was simply because three men walked by, looked at you, and mumbled the word “bellissima.” Or, “very beautiful,” “lovely,” “gorgeous.”

Before many comment saying this is wrong, saying that Italians are scary, that they are too forward, creepy, they go too far and grab you on the dance floor and you’ve been in horrible situations, yes, I understand that this can happen – but this is not what I’m talking about. Because before anything gets serious, on those first few days as you explore the city, this will happen to you – you’re going to be called beautiful. Simply given a compliment, and I am still baffled as to why this upsets you.

Take this in stride. They are not getting in your way. They are not bothering you. Usually it is a mumble, as you pass by, as they pass you at a table. Usually there is no harm, these people simply are appreciating beauty. Today, it is the beauty held in your face, your smile, your hair, your curves, your walk.

Someday, you will wake up and do your makeup – complete with wrinkle cream and push up bras, merely comfortable shoes (your feet can’t handle anything else anymore) and your hair colored to match what it once was.  You’ll walk out on the streets (or if you’re lucky, you can visit the cobblestones once more) and you’ll look straight ahead and you’ll desperately pray that someone notices, that you hear that familiar whistle. You’ll look into the eyes of the passerby instead of down at the ground by their feet, and you’ll plead with their faces to give you that look that you once became used to so many years ago. You’ll hope that they do not just look at you, but they see you in all of your beauty.

*Also – if you would like to see the truth behind that iconic picture, click here. The story may surprise you.

The Prouty and Why I Push Myself

They had already gotten ahead of me – tires spinning on the concrete, the smell of pine flying by my face at fourteen miles per hour. I could see the three of them rounding the corner, my two uncles and my cousin – legs pumping on their bikes, charging through the New Hampshire back-roads as I struggled to catch my breath from the last hill. They were going to drop me, obviously. I hadn’t trained in years, nevermind months; and as I looked down at the frame of the Cannondale bike, as I felt my calves burning from the over-under pull, as I heard my breathing catching in my throat, scraping in my lungs, I was wondering why I had decided on mile ten to do fifty, instead of the twenty, or the thirty-five I had registered for. But then as I looked up at the surrounding mountains, as I crossed over the bridge and looked down on the river below, I remembered:

Because the pain in my legs is nothing compared to the pain that Jay had as he tried to sit up straight and joke with us only months before, even though he had lost weight, and the pain couldn’t be reduced by the medication. Because the wheezing in my lungs is childsplay when I think about Jean, struggling to walk up the stairs to her bed, needing to drain her lungs of fluid every few days. Because I can push just that much harder, I can go up one more hill because my “struggle” is nothing when I think of those I loved that had to go through so much with this horrible thing called cancer. My legs, are fine. My feet can do one more turn, my heart can do one more hill for them. Becuase I am healthy, I will ride for those that aren’t. Because I can push myself, I won’t stop when I am “tired,” I won’t complain that I am “sore,” I won’t refuse to ride because “my butt will hurt.” More will hurt if I don’t. My soul will hurt. Because nothing I do, no pain that I go through riding a bike, will ever compare to the pain that I saw in their faces, to the pain I felt when I could do nothing to help them. So I will ride until my legs give out. I will ride until my lungs can’t take it anymore. I will push myself up over that next hill, and the next, and the next. I’ll go that extra mile because I can and they couldn’t. I won’t quit. I’ll never quit.

For more information on The Prouty, you can follow the link! Thank you to all who have supported me in this ride, as well as my past – especially the Pan Mass Challenge. Everyday, we’re closer to a cure!

http://www.theprouty.org

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I Guess, I Should Write

I was sitting in her office, the New Hampshire afternoon light streaming in through the small window on my right, illuminating her face, her graying hair, her weathered face. And she had my words in her hand, with pencil marks instead of red ink – for some reason that stuck with me. Maybe because it was less harsh, more a comfort, or a little push in the right direction, instead of a big, glaring “NO” on my margins. 

But what she wrote was not what I was used to – and what she said took my breath away. 

“This is what a writer sounds like, Lisa,” her eye contact was serious behind her glasses, and she leaned into me, a small upturn of the right side of her mouth. Meredith Hall, a New York Times bestselling author, was telling me that I was good. I was good at the same thing she was good at. And she asked me what I wanted to do after graduation, only a few months away, and asked if I wanted to write, would I want to write, I should write. And I told her I wasn’t sure, that I didn’t think I could produce a book, make money, build a career. But she was adamant about it. Get a job as a waitress, she said. Write everyday. 

She believed in me. And after two years setting my writing aside, after barely reading, barely writing, focusing on travel, on experience, on adrenaline, I think I need to start again. I think I need to turn this into something. 

We’ll make it work.

“You have a plan”

they whisper, subconciously, insinuating the predetermined life

school, college, job, marry, kids

marry.

with the love of your life on one knee and looking up at you asking for forever

and you knowing that it is right and perfect

but what is perfect?

because perfect to me was breaking the rules, kicking out of the prision of “get a real job” and coming up out of the ashes of an incinerated career and flying like a pheonix into the land of wine, of cobblestones, of amore.

And I found it. I found what they were telling me to find for my entire life and I kissed the right way and laced my fingers into his and danced in the middle of piazzas and among the hilltowns and through vineyards laced with grapes that make the entire world’s faces flush. 

But it wasn’t right, apprently. It is the wrong place, wrong time, wrong life to live. Because I didn’t follow the rules.

And now, like criminal, I’m being punished. Because the human being that I love is from another piece of land, because he does not like football, because he wears “gay” scarves and has a “strange last name” and is more intelligent than you because he speaks three or four languages, because you can’t handle other people coming into your country and making it better…you say no. 

No I can’t be with him. No I can’t stay with him. No he cannot work. No you cannot lie. No he cannot get papers. You have to pay thousands to get papers, you may not get them. He could be a terrorist. He could be a spy. No.

And now because of my own government being so corrupt and so intolerant and so backwards from what it originally was for, I need to lie. 

My marriage is forced. My life is on fast forward. My morals are strained but my heart is happy. 

But instead of the fairytale one-knee proposal with a gorgeous ring and visions of lace and satin, beautiful vistas and champagne, my wedding discussions are of us sitting on the couch, his forehead wrinkled in worry, grasping my hands in his and promising me that someway, somehow, we will make this work the right way. 

But right now it’s the only way our corrupt governments will allow us to love. 

Don’t see the history, see the story

Walking through Palazzo Ducale, I read the words on each information tablet – while others pass by with merely a glance as they listen to heavily-accented english spilling facts into their ears through a headset. Like trail horses, they follow – immediately behind eachother, merely looking at what is pointed out, touching what ought to be touched, seeing what ought to be seen. But I stand there, silently, infront of one of the bocche dei leoni or the Mouths of the Lions. These slits – carved into marble and styled as faces, served as slots to slip confessions in the cover of Venetian darkness – a 15th century tattle-tales dream. Here is an interesting part of history. But as I reach out and touch the worn stone, cold as the water of the canals outside and smooth as the guilded gold upon the ceiling of the palace, my mind does not think history, or artifact. Instead, I am transported centuries. 

She crosses the silent bridges, only illuminated by torchlight and the green waters of the canals below shimmer in the flickering flames. The boats are moored and most are inside but she scurries through the narrow pasageways and through the grand square of San Marco. Entering into the palace, she trips going up the stairs as her heart beats faster and grips the banister with one hand as she clutches the piece of parchment in the other. Folded with the name in, she isn’t sure if the ink has even dried yet – but doesn’t dare take the time to look and in the evening firelight, she isn’t sure if she’d even be able to make out if the sentences were smudged. Finally turing the last corner, as the last torch illuminates the long open-aired walkway she turns toward the face, the stone face, mouth agape as if horrified as to what her next intentions are. The eyes of the lion stare straight ahead, hard, deadened in it’s stone entrapment, ingesting the worries and fears of the Venetians on some days, and their betrayals on others. 

Her hand shakes, her breath quickens and she reaches out a shaking hand with the folded piece of parchment. The edge grazes the opening and she retracts, bringing the letter close to her heart, she breathes in deeper – it echoing in the empty room. Then, abrubtly she pushes the letter through the slot, through the mouth of stone, afraid that at any moment it may spring to life, look into her eyes, scorn her. But it, of course, remains motionless, pallid. Her fingers linger on the bottom lip, the rough surface still cold with the onset of her touch. Her face hardens and she turns away – her shoes padding softly on the marble floors. 

And now I stand, looking into the same eyes, touching the same mouth- my fingers in the position hers were so many years ago, and instead of looking, I can see her. And instead of touching, I can feel her desperation. My heart reaches out to someone, though she is simply a ghost echoing through the corridors of a Palace in a sinking city. Image

Tipping in Italy

When studying abroad or simply traveling, there are certain things that your school, program, or the internet may tell you that aren’t necessarily true. Who made up these info sheets for you guys? Sometimes I wonder if the writer has even been to the places that they’re writing about, or are they simply stealing information from other sources on the web. Because there’s a certain rule that I was even told before flying over the big blue ocean to Italy that really doesn’t hold any water – but I only realized it when I got here and met the people that were getting cheated. 

Fact: Though waitstaff and bartenders do get paid more than in the US, in Italy, tipping is still nice to do – and most importantly, appreciated. Many believe that in the tourist areas the “coperto” or cover charge is in replacement of tipping, and even after excellent service on a 200 Euro bill, get up and walk out with (hopefully) just a thank you. However, that cover charge does not usually go towards your excellent waiter as it should, but simply to the owner. 

 

It has been the case for years that it has been said that tipping isn’t mandatory and I’ve even heard that it is deemed ignorant and rude to tip in some areas. But in most cases, especially in the tourist areas of Italy, a tip is appreciated, if not expected. These people run themselves ragged serving thousands of customers in the high tourist season and truly do not make that much. 

Tipping should simply be the same as in the states. These people are not millionaires off of a waitstaff salary – and bartenders here maybe earn half of what bartenders do in the States. So when you get an amazing Spritz or Bellini, or a Florentine steak cooked to perfection (meaning rare, guys! anything more is a tragedy), throw a few extra Euros on the table. Especially if you’re a regular, the service after tipping becomes substantially better. 

Behind the Mainstream Study Abroad – Moments that are worth Duplicating

Sitting in my apartment, I can hear tourists pass by on the Florentine street outside my window. Some complain about the rain, others comment on how beautiful the Duomo is. Some girls pass talking about day trips they’ll do while they study here, while others scoff at the fact that there’s a Subway Sandwich shop across the street. “Are you kidding?! When there’s an amazing Panini place right around the corner?!” All the conversations are varied, yet so much the same – living or visiting this beautiful city and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. But sometimes, I wish I could tell them that they need to stop and step off the main path. Adventure. I wish I could share some experiences that are my favorite – but if you’re reading this – maybe you can recreate these moments.

 

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Sunrise somewhere: Before the tour groups step off their busses, before the restaurants open up their doors and unfurl their tablecloths out into the summer air, stroll the streets of dawn.

We woke when it was dark out and crawled out of bed, fumbling in the unfamiliar hotel room – donning jeans, a sweater, boots that I thought would make me fit in while I was in Italia. Caitlyn looked at me and questioned this decision, is it worth it? I responded with a resounding yes. I had done this before. We stepped outside our hotel – a small canal silently greeting us, a red rowboat sleeping peacefully in off-season air. And then we began, a walk through twisting and turning streets of dormant shops and ornate doors to come up upon the Grand Canal of Venice – just in time to see the golden sunset begin to shed light on the City of Bridges. Below us, the only boats were of the Venetians – Gondoliers uncovering their golden gilded boats, their striped shirts contrasting upon the rose and faded walls of an exhausted city. But in this moment, senza touristi, it became alive again. The real Venice; radiant in life instead of a travel book.

Conversation without Social Media: Turn off your phone when you travel. The person next to you could change your life.

I was lost in Rome, again, but managed to find a bus stop that seemed to point me in the right direction of the Vatican, I hoped. It wasn’t too crowded – not like rush hour when you are pressed up against other bodies, all just desperately clinging onto the bars and handles available. Now, in the evening chill, I stepped lightly into the orange bus and faced forward, beginning to search for signs that confirmed my arrival at the heart of Catholicism. He was quiet at first, and maybe it was my outfit that gave me away, but when the bus came to a stop at the next station, he patted my wrist. “Due piu” he smiled at me behind thick-rimmed glasses. Two more stops until the Vatican. When he realized I could speak minimal Italian, his face brightened, his brown eyes swam and he began teaching me the landmarks that were passing by the window. He spoke about the beauty of women when they don’t wear makeup: “that is when they look most beautiful, when they first wake up in the morning,” and as the Vatican came into view, he grinned, told me to drink the water from the fountains in the square and sent me off. A true Roman, he will be in my memory forever.

Adrenaline: Do something that scares you:

“I can’t wait,” I had boasted as we rode through the Swiss Alps. I saw the guide’s eyes flicker to my face in the rear-view mirror. I loved heights and adrenaline. I had seen my friends jump before, but canyon jumping was new to me – and as we pulled up to the bottom and saw another jumper fall gracefully into the crevice with a loud WHOOP, I was terrifyingly ecstatic. And the higher we climbed up to the platform, the more nerves began to creep into my system. The tremors in my legs began as I was fixed into the harness. I stepped out onto the metal grate with the guide. His smile was trumped by the sheer drop off behind him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and as I turned to face forward, I looked around. The Eiger was to my right – in the setting sun, in all of its glory – a Swiss Alp towered above us. Below, so, so far below, the river crashed over the rocks, daring me to jump, daring me to try and fly. Split second decision, my muscles moved, my feet left solid ground and I was falling, falling so fast, so far, my stomach clenched, my heart raced, it was too far, too fast, a free-fall like a bird soaring, and then the rope caught – swung me through past those that had already jumped, and back again. I could breathe, and as I looked up from where I had just come, I gave a “whoop” of my own. No roller coaster will ever compare.

Delve into other cultures: Break out of your comfort zone to begin to understand others.

“Here, I cannot speak with a girl like this,” he says. His dark brown eyes squint into the Moroccan sun, searching the horizon for the next surge of water from the Atlantic. I don’t understand what he means. I lean forward to look at him closer and the nose of my board settles into the water. He turns and glances at me and then back to the water, his dark brown shoulders glistening with droplets of salt water.

“If I want to speak with a Muslim girl, it is secret. No one can know. Here is one. Turn,” he leans toward me and pushes at my leg, eyes still on the ocean. I look out, see the swell, and obediently turn and lie on my blue and white surfboard, chin hitting wax, resting my eyes on the golden Moroccan sand with Mounir’s board and back to my left. Still sitting, his muscles ripple as he balances.

“That’s stupid,” I say over my shoulder. “How can you talk to them in private if you don’t know them?” The sun is hot. He chuckles and tickles my foot.

“Paddle.”

“I couldn’t be Muslim,” I say as I feel the wave build behind me. He laughs again and takes hold of the back of my board, one hand resting on my calf, he pats it twice. The earthen scent of Argan Oil from his skin drifts towards me on the breeze.

“No…you are too strong….paddle,” he reminds me.

I sweep my hands into the water and under my board, pushing. I hear the wave crashing to the right of me. I feel Mounir push me forward.

“Stand up!” he calls under his French/Arabic accent. The wave carries me from him, surging me toward the beach. I can feel the board bouncing on the tumult. My hands push up against the board, my muscles tense, legs bend. I stand and shift my weight, easing the board into the side of the wave, gliding it down the stretch of water. I push against the water, up and down, pumping the board parallel with the wave until it breaks. I glide to the shore with the foam, jump off, feel the grit of the sand under the soles of my feet. I turn toward the horizon, raising an arm up to shield the sun. His silhouette gives a thumbs up as the ocean glistens behind him.

Run, hike, bike, climb – while you are still young enough:

“You won’t last in jeans,” I tell the guys as they stand in front of me. It’s autumn in the Swiss Alps, about fifty degrees, and I’m in a tank top and shorts. “It’s too rough and you’ll be sweating in about fifteen minutes.” But they were stubborn and came anyway, and as we started our ascent, the hike grew steep and they started stripping layers. I hated to say I told them so. But it didn’t matter – because they were doing it. We talked as we hiked, getting glimpses of the snow-covered alps on the other side of the valley – with the town of Interlaken nestled before us. I learned about the group, their time abroad, their home life, what sports they played, and we stopped to take pictures along the way. It grew steeper, and sweat started pouring, the banter stopped, for we needed to breathe and muscles ached. We climbed up into the mountain pastures, collected water from a hollowed out log used as a basin for the spring water used to satisfy the thirst of the cows that grazed there in the summer – their bells chiming in an unorganized harmony. When we reached the summit, I turned to the group and was met with smiles and astonishment as they looked out over the lakes and mountains. “Thank God I did this and have the ability to do this,” one said to me. Take care of yourself and challenge yourself – for sometimes the best views are at the other end of a climb.

Summer is a’comin!

The street musicians are back in the cities and the coastlines are warming up, flowers are blooming and outdoor seating in the piazzas is popping up as quickly as the tulips; summer is coming, and Europeans couldn’t be more excited.  Stepping off the plane for a summer in Europe is exciting, stupendous, astounding, breathtaking, and sometimes a little annoying because of things you may miss from home – but seriously, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best summers of your life.

The heat of the summer is inevitable in Europe – especially in Italy, and other more southern areas. Regardless of where you are, there are ways to beat the head (even if you don’t have AC where you’re staying). Eat lots of frozen treats – granitas and gelato in Italy, for example. Have a fruit smoothie with locally grown fruits. Staying hydrated isn’t usually a problem in the cities (or even the little towns like Interlaken, Switzerland) because of the numerous water fountains located around the area. Some, like the one in Piazza Signioria in Florence, even have sparkling water as an option. This water is either glacial or at least pretty cold and much better than spending your money on bottled. Take advantage of it.

Also, make sure you stroll at night – when the city comes alive after the sun has set. Dress up for it and sit outside the bars or in the outdoor seating areas in restaurants (no open container laws usually!) and enjoy the summer night surrounded by the beauty of Europe. Take the high road and go to a vantage point above the cities as well. Most illuminate their most coveted monuments so a view of the cities at night is just as beautiful, if not more so than the day. Plus, the heat has resided so you may even enjoy yourself a little more. *Side note – in some cities at night, the mosquitoes are out. Prepare yourself by bringing repellant or at least a lotion to cool the bites afterwards!

Make sure to hit the beach at some point. Most Europeans do during the summer to beat the heat as well. Difference is – most beaches are paid here – meaning you throw a couple Euros their way, and you get to be treated like royalty with beach lounge chairs and your own umbrella. Usually this cost also includes showers (because the seas are pretty salty here) and sometime of changing area and food shack. Though different, it’s cool to feel welcome and fit in on a beach here. If you really miss just lying on the sand with your towel, you usually still can on a small area of “free beach” but it definitely isn’t as nice as the others.

But most of all, experience the European lifestyle as it is in the best season to see it – when everything is bustling and booming, and the European citizens are happy that the long winter is over. What you may miss with barbeques and Fouth of July parties, you’ll get back with food festivals in piazzas and beauty that is insurmountable. Good Luck with the flight over, and we’ll see you in the city!