Firenze, the heart of Tuscany


Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

My birthday was June 9th: for the second year in a row, I spent it away from home with friends instead of family. Last year, Colleen and Jackie baked me a cake in our tarantula-infected home stay, followed by a day of gelato and museums in San Jose and a dancing dinner on the edge of a mountain. While it was not quite as crazy as last year (we all were sickūüė¶ ), my birthday weekend was just as special an experience.¬†

Along with Colleen (to recap, my room mate from AU and DC who is also my room mate in Rome) and Kathy (friend from AU, another Rome program), I headed north to Firenze. Also known as Florence, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site for the history in every step of its streets and the museums that call it home. Unlike Rome’s overabundance of quite Roman ancient history, Firenze has a distinctly¬†medieval¬†and Renaissancy feel to it. I was glad to get away from the monotony I had started to feel in Rome’s museums because Firenze just was so different in terms of style.

It makes sense: Florence was the true birthplace of the Renaissance art movement, and was home to many of its most famous artists. Early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, we lined up at the Uffizi and the Academie to see some of the art. I was blown away at the progression of art over time, and the Uffizi was just¬†magnificent. It was unreal to see things like the original Venus rising out of the ocean. At the Academie, I was simply expecting to see the David. It was a bonus to see all the other sculptures and busts that followed Michelangelo’s style over time.¬†


Copy of the Rape of the Sabine Women in a piazza in Firenze, original on display in the Academie

The aesthetic of the Renaissance carried into the sculptures displayed throughout the streets and the building styles. The best view of the city was from looking at the city from Piazza Michelangelo, a wide open space across the river from main town that is up dozens of stairs. In a large square courtyard of the old home of the de Medici family sits a replica of the David. All around are views of Tuscany and the city itself, from the dozens of church spires, the Duomo and the famous bridges. 



The Duomo from Piazza Michelangelo

After a day and a half of museuming Florence and seeing the streets and markets and churches, we made the decision to splurge on the hour train ride to the biggest tourist trap in Europe: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is really nothing going on in Pisa other than the Leaning Tower, and the building it was built to complement: the Duomo and its Baptistry. To make it worth it, we took literally hundreds of the most ridiculous pictures, but we also really just hung out and ate gelato on the greens. Colleen brought it up first, but the tower really is an extreme fail on the otherwise outstanding history of Roman engineering and building. It took nearly two hundred years to be built, and started leaning when less than half was done Рand they just kept building. For context, the Egyptians may have had slave labor, but nearly a thousand years earlier they built the Pyramids perfectly from the sand up Рno leaning necessary. 

Anyway, the brightest point in Pisa was the stunning church right in front of the tower. In my opinion, it was much more beautiful than the Duomo in Florence which was all we had heard about before coming. The mosaics inside were more complex and detailed, and there were far fewer people running around inside. I’ve been to a lot of churches since I arrived in Italy, and Pisa remains in my top five for sure.¬†


Sunset at Pisa


Pisa Duomo

Knocked off the Uffizi, Pisa and Florence from my list in just three crazy full days. My last weekend in Italy is going to be staying in Rome, making sure I haven’t missed any places I wanted to go, from the local beach to Galleria Borghese and other wide open park spaces in the city like Villa Doria. Its been a whirlwind month, and its hard to believe that just next Wednesday I’ll be stepping into London to begin my ‘transition’ home via an¬†english speaking country!


Venezia: the City of Masks, the City of Water

I didn’t realize it was possible to be worse with blog updates than I was in India, and yet here I am with about ten days left in Italy with just one food post to show for it. I have been up to far more than that suggests, from wandering Rome at night with my friends eating copiously unhealthy amounts of gelato, to exploring the scavis of churches underneath the city, and spending the weekend seeing more of northern Italy via train.¬†


This weekend, I vacationed in Venezia (Venice) with my friend Kathy. She also has spent the first summer semester in Rome, but at another university program. It was definitely a more low-key trip than Florence. We simply spent the days wandering the canals and streets from end to end. Our hotel was just one bridge over from the train station, and perfectly located to get lost from. Compared to most of Italy, Venice was amazingly signed towards the major points; La Ferrovia (the train station), Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square.



San Marco Square

Its hard to believe that I already had midterms last week. I have gone through some extreme bouts of homesickness (21 days until America, not that I’m still counting), compounded with developing rather awful allergies for the first time in my life (shout out to the car pollution in Rome) and a sinus infection: it just was not fun at all.

In Venice, we had barely a cloud in the sky or really much to worry about it. I got to window shop on Rialto Bridge, water bussed through the Grand Canal and around the harbor, both in early morning and late night, and even got to lay out in the sun for a bit. The weather has really turned into summer, hitting at least 80 degrees every day with a sun beating down that I swear is stronger than in India. Wearing sunscreen everyday, I’ve burned three times already – and I burned once in all my time on the Indian subcontinent.¬†

The highlight of our trip, for me, came in the form of a water bus adventure to the islands of Murano and Burano. It took about half an hour to get there, but it was so worth it. Murano is world renowned for its glass factories – and we got to observe a master at work. Burano, its twin island, is more known for its lace – which for me was not quite as amazing as what I saw a few years ago in Brugge. Anyway, these islands were much quieter compared to the packed and stuffy streets along the Grand Canal in Venezia proper. The canals were postcard worthy, and the harbor was a perfect place to kick back in the sun for an hour or so.


Burano with Kathy


Freshly made glass dolphin in Burano


The weekend had to end too soon, sending Kathy back to finals on the Tiber River and me to papers and presentations for finals next week. The four hour train ride back was nearly as beautiful as the city of Venice itself, going through the Dolomite mountains and hills from Venice to Padova (Padua) to Bologna and Firenze. Then we had almost two hours uninterrupted of the Tuscan countryside. A weekend well spent. 


Expect from more posts in the next day or so catching up on my travel while at AUR, a post of churches and saint relics I’ve visited, a summation of my classes and maybe a monster collection of the adventure my mom, Aunt Allison and Aunt Elizabeth had (almost a month ago?!).


AU Abroad: vote for my pictures!

Every semester, AU Abroad offers a photo contest for students who are abroad. The winners receive Eaglebucks to spend on campus. In my case, it’s a way to fund my growing caffeine addiction. If you have a free moment or two, please spare a vote for my pictures!ūüôā

Vote here for my black and white elephant photo!

Elephants at Dubare

Elephants at Dubare

Vote for my sunset in Hampi photo!

Sunset at Jain Temple in Hampi

Sunset at Jain Temple in Hampi

Culture Shock: From India to Roma

It has been just over two week since my long and drawn out departure from Manipal. These last two weeks have been everything that reverse culture shock was promised to me. Unlike most of the Alliance girls, I did not have a destination of the United States or elsewhere in India upon the end of the program. I am in Rome. And while I have had the time of my life here, I have become physically and mentally exhausted from trying to adapt and change to the Italian way of life. 

The best part of my arrival in Rome was the subsequent arrival of my mom and two aunts to visit and travel with me for about ten days before I moved into my Trastevere apartment. It was incredibly bizarre to see such a familiar face in yet another unfamiliar country. Without my mom to lean on and listen to my seemingly never-ending word vomit about India and Manipal and how amazing it was, I’m not quite sure I would have been able to move on and live in the moment of my quick European summer semester.¬†

I arrived first to our apartment, and claimed the biggest room for me and Colleen. But move in was just the first of what has become a very long first week at American University of Rome. Adjusting to living with more than one person again, relearning how to budget cook, the at least 30 minute commute to classes using public transportation, the constant fear of pick pockets, longer siesta closings. I’ve also had to figure out how to figure out how to have a balanced diet while staying a¬†vegetarian¬†– there are very many fewer options since leaving Asia.¬†

The weather has been killing me. While historically Roma is supposed to be miserably hot and sunny (just like India!) with a bit of a dusty wind (sound familiar?) the entire European continent is cold and rainy and its thrown by body until even more of a loop. In India, I wore long kurtas and the salwar khameez to be respectful of cultural beliefs, but in Italy I’ve been burying myself in layers of sweaters and jackets to stay warm.¬†

The culture of Italy has also been a little shocking to me as well. I knew going into India that being a fair skinned, blonde woman was going to make me stand out. Very. Clearly. In Italy, I was not quite expecting to still stand out for simply having fair hair. While my brunette friends can walk the street un-harassed, when I join them we seem to attract more and more unwanted attention. No one really acts on it, but the vocalizations are just unnecessary. Its frustrating because I can’t really do anything to stop it, whereas wearing traditional clothing in India around Manipal kind of made the locals let us fit in.¬†

There’s been another adjustment to make: life back in the big city. Rome, especially where I live, reminds me a lot of DC and tons of other small European cities with its narrow cobblestone streets. There is constant noise outside my window, and we have to put the apartment on complete lockdown with like war thickness shutters to protect from thieves, and mind Italian quiet hours. These apply to everything from talking loudly to running the washer, flushing the toilet and taking a shower after 10 PM.¬†

Now that I’ve travelled to another continent, I have begun to realize just how exhausted I am of travelling. I want to just sit in my backyard in the sun (!!) with a book and no more classes to take. I have just a month in Jersey before heading back to DC. The sense of staying, not having to jump from place to place and live out of just a suitcase and a backpack, is one I crave. I cannot wait to get back to the US on July 8th, and yet can’t wait for the adventures I still have to find before then. I get to spend the summer studying in Rome with two of my best friends – Colleen & Kathy. As my dad would say, “Who’s luckier than me?!”¬†