As I have not yet tied the bow up on my studying abroad experience, it was an adventure of a life time. Taking in every little moment, walking till you can no longer feel your feet, waking up early and going to bed at dawn. The girls I shared my experience with hold a part of my heart forever. We shared some of the first moments that took our breathe away, laughs until we cried, and stories of our dreams and passions. For that, I will forever be indebted to them for their friendships.
Once getting home you have hundreds of thousands things swimming in your brain. All the people you want to see, the things you may have missed. You even start planning your next adventure over seas before you even get home! You reflect on how the adventure made you feel and how you, as an individual want to change. You learn so much about yourself, and at least for me, vowed to make positive personal change/improvements. I wanted to start to enjoy every moment, not wish the days away, do things because I want to not because I have to and so much more. One large thing that I took away was my career/future job/work, whatever, it doesn’t have to be my whole life. I want to love what I do and feel fulfilled with my work, but my work doesn’t have to be my soul piece of fulfillment and happiness. Yes, my family and friends with be a large source of my happiness, but I will have my career to support my love of adventures and making memories that you will never forget.
This past semester I struggled implementing my goals that I vowed myself too when I arrived home. I found myself saying yes to things I really didn’t want to say yes to, and wishing my days away. Yet, it was a semester filled with exciting beginnings: putting on the CMU 2016 Career Fair and walking away with multiple offers and accepting an internship with Domino’s headquarters. I inducted a little into my business fraternity, and embarking on a Nationals Cheer journey on Small coed, where we walked away with a 5th place finish and making CMU history. Yet, when there are highs there can also be lows and we can’t let those lows over shine you highs. Lows like stress, family sicknesses, overworking, no sleep, not taking time for yourself etc.
This spring semester I am going to work to improve upon my goals and work to better myself. I have the amazing opportunity to be a teacher assist in a leadership theory class. Where I will be working with the 2016 Leader Advancement Scholar Cohort to help them expand their leadership knowledge. An opportunity that rolls together my passion of leadership and mentoring/teaching.
On Wednesday we finally made it Venice. It’s a trip we’ve planned on our own. Our first trip without our class. We hoped on the train (a long train ride at that), burned skin from Via Reggio and all, we made it to Venice. The moment you walk out of the train station it was like you walked into a different world. It was beautiful! So many peopled warned us that it was going to smell and it wasn’t as cool as they thought it would be, the streets would be dirty. With that information we were kind of nervous! Yet, in the moment we walked out of the station we knew that all the things that were said were so so wrong. It was gorgeous!
We had a simple plan for the day: walk around and see as much as we can, eat seafood, take a gondola ride, and find out if the city is really sinking. And that is what we did! We walked around and saw some beautiful churches, many stores filled with Vancian glass (one of the products they are known for) I got myself a Vancian glass ring J. The other product that they are known for is there homemade masks that all of Italy uses for a holiday/festival similar to Halloween. After walking around for a very long time in the crazy heat we found a restaurant that had tables overlooking a canal. We had walked past it a couple times just from getting turned around and the plates coming out looked AWESOME. We were very very excited and didn’t hesitate to make this our “big” meal of the day. Olivia Jenna and I ordered the pasta with seafood. The menu didn’t elaborate much farther than it saying pasta with all kinds of seafood, which we assumed was whatever fresh they had in the kitchen and Angie ordered a salmon pasta. The food came out fast and the plates were beautiful! Not only did the sea food pasta have a big swirl of pasta decorated with tons of clams and mussels and a little octopus on top with shrimp and squid. It had a bright red already glazed (in something delicious not butter they don’t really do butter in Italy) sitting there for us to crack open.
Given we found out that out of the three of us really didn’t know how to crack open a lobster, myself have only two experiences. 1) At my mom’s birthday when I was in like 5th grade we cooked lobster for her party and I cracked one lobster and felt so bad, because I picked him out only earlier that day. Then the second time my family and I were in Maine of vacation where I got to again, pick out the dang lobster, listen to it hiss in a pot and then had to crack it open and try to forget that I had chosen its doom. Ok, yes I may be being a little dramatic, but all my memories with lobster, yes, delicious the cracking part was my least favorite. Yet, today I had no other choice to ask my dad to crack it for me (sorry about the lobster rant). Getting over the full lobster, and getting over that we were going to have to use our hands to be able to get the dish “all cracked open” before the cows came home (utensils made it to hard haha we were kind of a mess). After the prep phase of our dish we dug in and it was the most amazing dish I had yet eaten in Italy.
After dinner we only had two more things to do on our list: gondola, and find out if the city was sinking. We figured that the gondola was next. Right by the restaurant was a dock for the gondolas later finding gout that each boat is essentially its own family tradition gondola boat driver’s boats have family tradition. It all happening very fast we were on the boat and on our way!! The gondola driver guy was very nice and spoke English, which was very nice, because he pretty much gave us a tour telling us about all the different building and which historically famous person lived there and the ages of all the bridges and even confirming to us that not only is the ocean rising but the islands are actually sinking. They are sinking because the islands are made out of sand and they are putting/building up so much it is compressing the sand rock which is causing the island to shrink and go under water! The gondola ride was amazing and felt like a dream!
Afterward we walked around the more touristy places and realized we were even more burned than we were when we got there and we decided it would be in our best interest to now head back to Florence.
The next day Thursday July 9th we went to class where we had lecture and were taken to a Sicilian bakery where we learned about arenchini, cannoli, and granita. Arenchini, which is a cone like shape made with rice and stuff with anything from rague sauce, eggplant and mozzarella, squid, or cheese. Cannoli, a fried pastry dough filled with a ricotta filling! Granita is pretty much a shaved icy with flavors in it like lemon, strawberry, watermelon, and coffee. I got lemon it was very very good.
After class we headed home to take a nap the heat and sun we had gotten the past couple of days was hitting us hard and we hadn’t been drinking enough water. For some reason when we got into the apartment o couldn’t sleep, so I cleaned up the apartment and came to find that my burnt chest had little blisters ALL OVER IT!!! As I cleaned and sweat (freaking hot and no AC) the blisters grew. Let’s just say I don’t like it and I had to call my mother to double check. She confirmed to me that I would be all good and needed to just leave them alone, which was really hard!
That evening we had reservations at Ganzo our schools all students lead restaurant, to partake in a themed dinner. Themed dinners are a 6 course meal under a certain theme, tonight was traditional Tuscan dishes. Long story short the dinner was awesome and here are pictures from each course… we were spoiled.
Friday July 8 was another chill day after dinner at ganzo we explored the town till late. We woke up and found an American Diner for breakfast! I got an omlette that was amazing and an actual cafe americano!!
After breakfast we came back with plans to get our papers squared away and travel plans together for Switzerland. Instead we came back to a whole different adventure when I decided to change the outlet I was using…. long story short no more electricity nor wifi and that led to multiple flights being climbed (we live 6 flights of stairs up and box is down stairs) it wasn’t fun…we finally called and had someone come help us because nothing we were doing was working. The gentleman comes in looks at the box on the first floor looks at this random box at the very very top left corner unlabeled and flips it and the electricity came on…. of course right. I was just happy the lights were on. Only for time to pass a little longer and i tried a different socket and POP!!! I blew it again… had to walk the stairs AGAIN and climb to try and reach to box flipped it climbed upstairs and they weren’t on… went down and flipped it AGAIN!!!! and thank the lord they turned on… I threw away my adapter here’s the culprit….
The next big adventure came right the next day bright and early. This time it was specifically with the class we are taking. As a class we are headed to Pienza and Montepulciano. The focus of the trip was wine and cheese, awesome right?! Our first stop was Pienza. It is an adorable little town somewhat on top of a hill there were a few steep climbs but nothing extravagant. The architecture was mainly a gothic style with “a lot of symmetry” according to Giovanni our professor. One thing I thought was particularly interesting regarding the architecture was that everything was measured from an individual’s body. Whether it was their wing span or the length of their foot, it wasn’t “set in stone” like it is now a day. So the arches and pillars had no exact measurements! The church was beautiful, but this tiny quaint little town was the start of another day of amazing views!! My group was responsible for doing a presentation of the landscaping of Pienza and Montepulciano. We had to observe and focus our trip on the landscaping, which was not a hard task what so ever. The buildings and towns are wonderful, but what truly takes my breath away are views, the hills with olive groves, vineyards, and golden wheat everywhere. This area of Pienza and Montepulciano is known for its views, it is known to have been an inspiration to artists from the renaissance and still today in modern photography. With the temperatures and soil conditions perfect for growing olive trees and grapes for vino it makes for their label of having some of the best in Italy.
The main reason we were in Pienza was for pecorino cheese (sheep cheese). After walking around the very small town and looking in a bunch of cute little shops, looking the view, and getting the architectural and historical low down from Gioni. We had to meet him in the cheese store where we tried three types of pecorino cheese (more like different flavors and ageing locations). One that was aged in straw, one aged in a cave, and one aged in sun dried tomatoes. They were all surprisingly different. The location of the aging played into how dry it was how, salty, and how fast the cheese matured. My favorite was the cave cheese. It was soft of the outside rim and a dryer on the inside with some “pockets” they called it. Very yummy. We then headed to Montepulciano were we got to see the beautiful views the city on a “hill” (actually a mountain…), which felt like a mountain with a capital “M” MOUNTAIN to walk allllllllll the way to the very top in the crazy heat with plans to get to lunch at a wine cellar. Where after a wait we got to have a wine tasting!(my first wine tasting!).
We then headed to Montepulciano were we get to see the beautiful views the city on a “hill” , which felt like a mountain and walk allllllllll the way to the very top in the crazy heat to get to lunch at a wine cellar where we got to have a wine tasting!(my first wine tasting!).
On the hike, other than the views and the fact that my thighs were burning from the climb, and my shoulders from the sun the views were stunning! On the way up the mountain we found out that this city was were Eclipse from the Twilight saga was filmed!Even though the hike, literally, had just began. We continued to walked up and up and up and up and up some more. Then up again it was NUTS!!!! We visited a beautiful church and at the top (which we FINALLY made it to ) a castle with an adorable park on the outside.
After what felt like forever waiting in the park it was time to go to the wine cellar where we walk into this tiny little win shop. I’m thinking there is no way this wine tasting is going to work in here with 30 students! We walking in further and there is this tin spiral stair case that goes down and down and down. And as we go down further and further it gets chillier and chillier. Then all of a sudden BAM! It’s a wide open HUGE wine cellar with GIANT! barrels of Chianti wine (the DOCG wine they are famous for). The pictures truly explain how the lunch and wine tasting went. The room was amazing, the lunch was amazing (we got awesome lasagna), the barrels were amazing, there was also a tomb (random I know, but the owners of the tomb hid refugees and apparently a mother and a father from a high ranking family were buried there.)The whole experience in Pienza and Montepulciano was truly an unforgettable one.
After what felt like forever waiting in the park it was time to go to the wine cellar where we walk into this tiny little win shop. I’m thinking there is no way this wine tasting is going to work in here with 30 students. We walking in further and there is this tin spiral stair case that goes down and down and down in the earth and it get chillier and chillier. Then all of a sudden BAM! It’s a wide open HUGE wine cellar with GIANT barrels of Chianti wine (the DOCG wine they are famous for). The pictures truly explain how the lunch and wine tasting went. The room was amazing, the lunch was amazing (we got awesome lasagna), the barrels were amazing, there was also a tomb (random I know but the owners of the tomb hide refugees and apparently a mother and a father from a high ranking family were buried there.
I feel like that is where I hit my wine knowledge mile stone, where I actually know how to “properly” taste wine and finally having red wine that is good! To top it off when we returned to Florence we adventured to a new part of town finding a restaurant with enormous margaritas and great quesadillas ( i know weird fod choice when in Italy but it was a nice change). Then to end the night sitting at the Duomo at night still awe struck by its beauty. (PS, Florence at night is like Florence at 8 am, people are all out walking around with friends and strollers, at like 12:30pm kids are still out walking with their parents no big deal because they could be walking home from dinner it’s super bizarre.) All the streets and squares are completely lit, it’s very safe which is AMAZING so going to the Duomo at 12:30pm from dinner is completely safe and wonderful, because it’s not packed with tourists and blazing hot. (Yes, I’m cool enough to be annoyed by the tourist, because I now know my way aroundish and totally live there haha)
Well the tired is sinking in we’ve been so go go go. I haven’t really realized how much we’ve done till today. We woke up and went to class where we learned all about Tuscany food wine and culture (shocker right) it was fascinating! We start the class with some Italian. We worked on introduction conversation today: How are you?–> Come stai?, goodà bene, and you?–> E tu?, not bad/so soà casi casi, what is your nameà come ti chiami?, my name is_____–> Mi chiamo Kate. Then we talked about the Tuscan Estrusans history and their impact on Italy they were the start of the mediteranian diet of mainly wine, fish, oil, and grain. In the frescas on the walls they were able to figure out what they ate (old paintings on walls). We also talked about the main cooking traditions of both north and south Italy and what they are known for! He paired each with a fascinating story which made things so clear. Then we talked about the best and most appreciated wine in Italy called Montalcino. Then we went into the history and impact of the Medici “mea-di-chi” family on Italian culture and society. We shaped up to days lecture with conversation on how Italian cuisine has effected French cuisine, the renaissance (rinascimento) of Italy, and the resurrection (Risorgimento) of Italy. It was the period were cooks and artist worked to inspire Italians to come together and fight against invaders and become one. Where in 1861 they became a country!!
Then we moved into the next part of class going over seasonality and taking our new knowledge to the market
to take pictures as well as visit a bakery were we tasted three kinds of breads. 1. Tuscan bread, which is bread with no salt (made to make crispy and put bruschetta on, or a salty meat. Oil and spices like you get at Italian oven isn’t a thing here it’s like something Americans decided was Italian) 2. Schiacciata, which is a very salty bread, 3. Coccoli fritti (its fried salty bread that you cut in half and put prochutto (a thinly sliced meat) and cheese it was awesome!!. After Jenna and I went to the market and went to get fruit and I ate the best peach I have ever eaten!!! After we went to get lunch and sat and had a great time. The pictures say enough…
Later we ventured to the Ponte Vecchio, which means Old Bridge” in Italian – it is the most famous bridge in Florence and undoubtedly one of the city’s most illustrious landmarks. It was beautiful and nothing of what I expected. The bridge is know for its high high end jewelry. To actually stand there and realize that there were stores lining both sides of the bridge that were selling jewelry so expensive i could pay for almost a full semester of my college education with. Let that fact sink in for a second…
We than stumbled upon the Uffizi Gallery (we decided not to go in yet so when we go we can spend more time) The plaza center of the Uffitzi had tons of crazy talented artist everywhere. You continue to walk and this is what we found.
We all started to hit the wall tired and were regretting not taking a siesta we tried to get to Gonzo (the school restaurant were we have tokens for) for dinner but they were closed. So instead we found this sweet restaurant called.
Not feeling great after today. It was a long hot one we are realizing we need to drink A LOT MORE WATER!!!!
Well…. My feet are so swollen!!! We have walked and average of 8 miles a day while we have been here and 20 flights of stairs… Just let those numbers sink in 18,450 steps… but i burned off this beautiful breakfast.Today was our first day of class and it was awesome. It’s going to be a lot of work but we are going to learn a crazy amount of information about food wine a the culture of Italy thats for sure. Yes, pinch me it is exactly like it sounds we have lecture and a lab every day.
For example today we had lecture and he took us to the market and taught us all about different foods and how we are going to be learning about seasonality (what foods are in season is very important knowledge in Italy as it is healthier and cheaper). He showed us the famous lampredotto “lamp-ray-doe-toe” stand (a sandwich filled with the fourth stomach of a cow!!) Lampredotto is the most tender stomach of the cow as it is the last stomach that digest their food. They cook it in a broth and put it in a sandwich like a pulled pork sandwich and they put a spicy oil sauce and a sweet oil sauce on it with lots of salt on the best ciabatta bread I’ve ever tasted. I ate it! And it was pretty good!!
We then walked to the second floor of the market where they had a bunch of little “kiosks” as they called it, but really they are just a bunch of little store fronts (like a mall food court with some of the best freshest food in Florence. We walked around and got to taste fresh mozzarella (nothing can compare). We then went to the school facilities and set up everything we needed for class and booked our first mini trip (educational field trip not with our class) to Modena and Parma for this Saturday we are very excited!! Afterward we went back to the market to actually shop for our first meal to make at home! We walked around and tried to piece together a good meal.
We deciding to get a chicken breast and these beans which we ended up not really knowing how to cook and we wanted the get a zucchini ( I messed up and grabbed a cucumber/ cetriolo in Italian, I totally had no idea) but we found out that cucumbers where in season and they were bomb!! We also bought a bottle of sparkling red wine (sparkling wine is very popular we even met a man eating the lampredotto stand who showed us/recommended sparkling water with a regular red wine to stay hydrated in the crazy heat we decided he was genius!! The other popular white sparkling wine is called prosecco). We walked home and made dinner which turned out very good. We still don’t know what kind of bean we ate but we tried baking them, then sautéing them and even boiling them and they like wouldn’t cook! We figured out we think we have to take the very tough waxy outside off and just cook the inside bean. We just ate them like edamame and it worked out great. The chicken also turned out great with the fresh olive oil and herb salt mixture we also bought.
After a successful dinner we got the news that Olivia’s luggage had made it and we went to pick it up!! After bringing her luggage home we though I was necessary to celebrate so we got gelato and then walked to one of the bridges to watch the sunset which was beautiful. At this point were exhausted but went home and tried a famous drink called lemoncello, which is like a lemonade liquor that is very very sweet and strong. Along with that I learned how to play eurcher!!! It was another huge and long day!
Well today it has almost been a week since I left last Wednesday and it was my first full day in Florence Italy. Yesterday we got here around 4:30pm after two not bad flights. The first flight from Dublin to Munich wasn’t too bad but we started to notice English was no longer the first language. There was a group of middle aged German speaking, what seemed like they all traveled together to Ireland and were going home They seemed absolutely fascinated by us three English speaking girls… who knows. Then arriving a little late into Munich and slightly panicked that we were going to miss our flight to Florence we got off the plane as fast as we could only to find a very kind gentleman holding a sign that said florenz (we at first though it was a last name but realized nope he was here for us) he was from there our little babysitter through our tour of the Munich flight runway as we got into a large van and were driven across the runway (meeting some wonderful Irish women going to Florence) to be directed through customs then back out to the van to be driven to the runway to get on the plane early like a celebrity it was pretty cool.
We then made it to Florence and got off the plane to find it wasn’t just hot it was HOT!!! And it wasn’t planning on getting any cooler for as long as the forecast would show.
We got inside to find Olivia’s luggage got lost and then to find FUA (Florence University of the Arts) booth right there we filled out some info got a backup emergency phone and filled some paperwork out then they drove us straight to our apartment and carried our luggage up which we found out was all the way up 6 flights of stairs!!! Not just any stairs like super steep cement stairs that never end (I no longer have to worry about gaining weight here). Our apartment key is an old 1800’s looking key with a tiny body and a big intricate head that opened our 4 pronged dead bolted door (which was very comforting) to find an awesome apartment! It is huge two large bedrooms 5 beds and living room a kitchen and a large bathroom. You could literally raise comfortably a family of 5 and it is beautiful!!
We all passed out after getting settled and walking around the city. Which we got our first Italian dinner and glass of wine our waiter was very nice and really was helpful in learning the hot to appropriately handle dining in Italy. After we walked around had my breath taken away by the Duomo (not to mention I can see the top of it from our Apartment bedroom window)
and starting to figure out our baring in a very confusing city (road wise). Then on our way back to our apartment we found a gelato shop right close to our apartment the Marco Ottaviano il Gelato Gourmet all I can say is WOW ice cream has not a standing chance against gourmet gelato it was unbelievable. All four our us (Olivia Jenna and Angie our new roommate from CMU) had a little moment as we walked out of the show each with two flavors of gelato for let me mention only 1,50 euros! (so, like $2) and all starting trying each other’s and geeking out about how good they were.
We then made it back to our apartment and found out we only have scalding hot water in our shower which was a little adventure trying to cool down and clean up. We then settled in and got ready for today lol.
So now that I am caught up I’ll tell you about today we woke up early to try and find our way to our FUA Orientation which took a little while and we got kind of lost but we made it there and we were still on time! Orientation was very informative and made me realize how tired I was. The orientation continued as the “coach” for the fitness course showed us around the city to all the FUA facilities. They don’t have a campus like CMU their colleges (fashion, journalism, cooking, culture, and food wine and culture/pastry school which is us called apicious) and of course our class building is the farthest FUA building but hey a good morning walk is good we decided burn off the expresso and pastry breakfast. But this coach guy walked crazy fast and expected a huge group of college students trying to remember where they were going and look at this city we just got to, to keep up. It didn’t goes to well. All the facilities looked awesome and the culinary school and restaurant look ligit and top of the line. After we took the tour we were set free.
We walked around and peeked in some shops and looking for lunch food, we stumbled across an awesome shop sat outside and ate a delicious pizza right across from the central market. After our first Italian gourmet oven baked pizza our waiter was a very nice Italian gentleman who was very helpful in our attempts to learn Italian. The owner liked to keep saying monto bella, and chaio bella. We then came across a very nice leather jacket store. The guy standing there was so not just nice like please buy something but truly kind and wanted us to just try things on “for fun for fun” understood it had to be the right jacket and the right fit he even said at any time he’d give us a 70% student discount!! He picked out and perfectly fit us on his first try it was quite impressive. We then quick walked through the market (a different one was recommended to us so we didn’t shop)
is was crazy the amount of fresh food and meats was mind blowing I’m not even sure if I would know where to start to figure out how to figure the place out to make a dinner it was slightly intimidating. We walked back to our apartment all the way up the crazy stairs to our apartment cooled off (it is crazy hot here and it was supposed to be the coolest day all week) and laid down we all passed out in our little siesta (some stores close between 1 and 3 they don’t really call it a siesta and not all shops close) we decided that siestas are awesome and necessary in the heat. Once we all woke up and got our heads together we walked to the student life building to figure some logistics out with the Olivia loosing luggage thing, got that all taken care of and set off to see the river that separates Florence the north side and the south side. We live on the north side and we were quick to find out that the south side has more money. We crossed the bridge and walked through the same close buildings of a town it was just soo quiet the whole part of the south side we explored it was so quiet.
We kept walking and the incline started. We came across the famous steps that we haven’t learned the name of and started to climb part of this mountain now as we are profusely
sweating and tired from these stairs we made it to the top and the most beautiful view of Florence appeared and it made all of us speechless we stood there and stared at if for a very long time before deciding we were hungry again. We found a very authentic Italian restraint which let us use our English to Italian dictionary!! I order an amazing pasta dish and had the best red wine I may have ever tasted it was a Merlot and was heaven (I thought of my dad the whole glass and how much I knew he’d love it but dad don’t worry I got the name and I’m making a list of my favorites to bring home to you. I enjoyed it for the both of us) the day was starting to where on all of us so gelato was in order at our new favorite little shop that we are now owners of our for gelato punch card!!! Since we are living here now (super crazy to say!) We walked back all the ay up to our beautiful bird nest apartment and took our way to hot showers and are ready to take on tomorrow our first day of class!!!! Were all way to excited!!