Sunday, December 13, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I visited Bocconi University today, which is a presitigous business school here in Milan. I thought it might be a little intimidating, but the people were very friendly. Our official meeting was in a room that was totally white with a long glass table and tile floors. Very cold, unfeeling, and business-like. I had coffee afterwards with 3 DU students. It turns out to be a good thing I chatted with them, as I was able to disabuse them of the notion that their grades from Bocconi will come back to DU as pass/fail. Darren in particular looked a little nervous upon hearing the news and kept asking clarifying questions. Since they are directly enrolled in an Italian school, the assessment is very different from the U.S. version. Their entire grade is based upon one final exam. I think Darren will be studying a little harder for the rest of the semester!
Early flight and long travel day coming up. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
For some reason the Uffizi Gallery put me in a bad mood. Maybe I was already grumpy when I went, but I definitely was upon leaving. I’m just not big on crowds and disorganization, and this place had plenty. I rented an audio guide, and the guy had a smug way of way of saying “if you’re in the right room, you will see . . .” Jerk. How am I supposed to know if I’m in the right room when nothing is marked?! What, should the painting of the Madonna tip me off, because those are pretty much everywhere!
Sorry, had to vent a bit. And this is a stereotype, but it’s holding true. Asian tourists are quite pushy. I was cut off more than once by one of them, and the only time I saw one of the Gallery guard people get excited and yell was when an Asian girl started to pull food from her bag and eat it. Right in front of Botticelli.
The Christmas Market cheered me up, though, and so did a little shopping. There is a huge open market in Florence with stall after stall of scarves, leather jackets, purses, jewelry, you name it. I resisted buying any leather jackets or boots, although every vendor assured me they would give me a "special discount." Sure. The most important purchase I made was on my way back to the hotel, when I came across an electronics store and got an alarm clock. I've been missing that the entire time. In fact, I overslept this morning because I apparently didn't set the phone alarm correctly. I decided I couldn't risk that in the morning since I have such a tight schedule.
Here’s the sturdy German meal I had for dinner at the Christmas Market. I had to restrain myself from running to the French crepe stand instead, where they were making fresh crepes with Nutella and bananas. But maybe Tuesday . . .
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Don't you love words that are almost the same in other languages? "Perspectivo" came up during an art history class that I sat in on the other day. Well, now that I've had dinner and I'm in my sweatpants, I have a little better perspective than when I posted earlier. The silver lining to my day: I learned a lot about the Italian train system; also learned a lot about public pay phones (and how few there are); and the journey landed me in Siena, which is a beautiful city. I haven't seen much yet, but I look forward to exploring a bit tomorrow. I arrived too late today to meet with the second program I had an appointment with, so we are meeting tomorrow at 10am (luckily they were flexible). Afterwards, though, I'll have a couple of hours before I catch a train to Florence.
Perhaps days like this are inevitable when one is traveling. They seem to be for me. Best Day Yet was quickly followed up by Worst Day Yet.
This morning it was cold and raining. I had breakfast at the hotel then took a taxi to the bus station with plenty of time to make the 11am bus to Siena. Taking the bus was Lindsey’s idea (one of the Umbra staff members). When she heard I planned to go by train, which is a 3-hour trip involving 2 changes, she went online and found a bus that goes directly in only an hour-and-a-half. Lindsey wrote down for me exactly what to tell the cab driver to get to the right place, the name of the bus company (Sena), and the time of departure. She told me I would buy my ticket on the bus.
I arrived at 10:40am. It wasn’t clear where the bus would leave from, so I asked someone who looked official. He pointed to the left side of the waiting area and said (I’m guessing anyway – it was in Italian) – “Probably from here. Maybe from over there, but probably here.” Not feeling extremely confident, I waited nervously in the cold, looking around for some clue that I was in the right spot. 11:00am passed, and though there were many buses that came and went, I hadn’t seen one called Sena. There was a girl with a suitcase who was also waiting, so I asked her if the bus to Siena was coming. She said yes, but it was late. I was momentarily reassured, but it was a full 40 minutes before it finally arrived, and the whole time I was standing in the cold, feeling nervous about whether I would make it and whether someone would try to steal my bag. Enormously relieved to see the right bus, I put my bag in the lower compartment and climbed aboard, grateful to be leaving. Then I realized the driver was taking tickets. Everyone around me had a ticket, and I did not. When he got to me, I showed him my money and asked if I could buy one. No, he shook his head, clearly annoyed, and pointed across the street, saying something in Italian. I could make out “ticket office” because it’s close to the same word in Spanish. I asked if I had time and he said “2 minutes.”
By now my adrenaline was pumping. I ran across the street to the train station, which was my best guess of where I would buy a ticket. I tried the automatic machine but it was only for train tickets. I stood in line at the ticket window while the people ahead of me took their sweet time, chatting and laughing and moving at an excruciating pace. When my turn came, the person at the window told me I couldn’t buy a bus ticket there; I needed to go outside – something about “taxi.” So I ran outside and found a little booth next to where the taxis line up and wait. The woman behind the window was on the phone, signaling me to wait. She at last finished her conversation, I bought my ticket, ran back to the waiting area, and the bus was gone.
I did not cry. I just didn’t know what to do. I thought about calling Lindsey and staying in Perugia for another day, but realized that, regardless of how I got there, it was crucial that I get to Siena in the hopes of getting my bag. I went back to the train station and bought a train ticket to Siena. There is no direct route so it involved two changes. The next train left in 25 minutes.
My next thought was that I needed to call Amanda, the IES Director in Siena, to tell her that I was late and find out if she could help me with the bag. I walked up and down the train station but couldn’t find a phone. I started to panic. The reality that my bag was gone – and everything in it, including prescriptions, clothes, make-up, everything – was sinking in, and I felt helpless and I hated the bus driver for his meanness.
And then I saw a puppy. A little, fluffy, black-and-white fur ball sniffing the ground. I knelt down and he immediately came to me and started wagging his tiny tail and pawing at my knee. He chewed at my hand and licked at my face and by the time his owner came to retrieve him, I felt like I had been healed. I was calmer and knew that it would be ok, I would see my bag again, and I could figure this out.
Right now I’m on the third train – the one that finally goes to Siena – and I still don’t know if I’ll see my bag again. But I’m still struck by how that puppy communicated to me the presence of God. It was as if God knew exactly what I needed for comfort and strength in that moment to keep me from falling apart. I think He does know me, and I think He does care that much about the details of my life that He would send a puppy at the moment I needed it the most.
It’s been a cold, anxious, uncomfortable day. But thank God I’m not alone.
P.S. I wrote this on the train, but now I'm at the hotel in Siena. It stinks like cigarette smoke but I made it, and I have my bag.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Tonight, I had what may spoil pasta & prego for me. Spaghetti alla Norma. It’s spaghetti with marinara sauce, eggplant, and ricotta cheese. But ricotta like I’ve never had it before – shaved. Delicious. As Michelle so aptly put it, these people have food figured out.
I learned that bread made in the Umbra region is terrible because they don’t use salt. Why not? Because in the 1500’s there was a tax levied on salt, and to protest, the people quit using it. To this day, they won’t. I don’t think we know what a memory is in the U.S.
Such a wonderful night. Aperitivos first, then a long dinner, then a digestivo, and then a glass of wine just to make the evening last a little longer. Thank you, Umbra Institute! This has been the best day yet.
Yep, I like this town. Unfortunately, the fog was really thick today, so I didn't get to see any of the breathtaking views that it is famous for. I'm hoping that tomorrow I'll get to see a little on my way out of town, but the forecast is calling for rain. There's a reason there are high and low tourist seasons.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Feeling reinvigorated after a wonderful, long-lasting lunch and a laid-back visit to the Accademia Italiana. They have me scheduled to sit it on another class this afternoon, but the director just suggested I go shopping instead. I like these people. :)
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I am exhausted, but before I crawl into bed and collapse, I wanted to post a couple of pictures from today. I managed to find the IES Rome office. It should have taken about 30 minutes to walk there and I allowed for an hour, and it worked out perfectly. They promptly put me in a cab and took me right back to the neighborhood where my hotel is to look at one of the student apartments. Good meetings, nice people, and afterwards I was able to see one sight in Rome - St Peter's Basilica, in Vatican City. Pictures don't do it justice.