Every semester, HC JMU has a writer studying abroad write a series about her adventures. Follow around senior writer, Morgan Gabaly, on her trip through Italy this semester in her twice a month articles titled “My Semester Abroad!”
Thank God for universal symbols or I wouldn’t have been able to find the bathroom in time before my bladder had burst! Today has been a time ticking sort of day. In Germany, it is 2:22 p.m. but in Virginia it is 8:22 a.m. and I’d still be in bed if I were in Harrisonburg. Living off of two hours of sleep will soon catch up to me. The layover cannot feel any longer; two more hours and we say “auf Wiedersehen” Germany and “ciao” Italy.
The children behind us are keeping us awake, along with the quiet murmurs of other people’s conversations in languages I can’t even begin to eavesdrop on. People seem to be quite ordinary here, though the one thing that stands out is that no one seems to be rushing. Lines take time to get through even if you’re the second in line and many people walk slowly. For someone who lived in New York City this summer, I need to slow down. I’m tired, disoriented and ready to board my plane. With that being said, “danke schön” to Germany for your lovely hospitality during my 3-hour layover visit!
Exit the plane, find baggage claim, wait, wait longer, retrieve my bags, find my trip advisor, taxi to my home-stay. Like a zombie, I am just doing all the motions. Every emotion from sleepiness to anxiety to nervousness to extreme joy came and went within an hour. I think I even cried while I marveled out the taxi window. I blame the relief of having my baggage safely arriving to Florence allowed for my joyous tears! My roommate and I keep laughing and pointing and reading at all of the foreign scenery our eyes are consuming.
A €30 cab drive and we finally get to our street, smack dab in the city. We ring our home stay doorbell and a gentleman carries our bags up four flights of stairs. A small man carried two girls’ four large suitcases for a 3-month stay in Florence up four flights of stairs! Clearly his generosity probably made him suffer the next day with a sore back. Meeting our home stay mother and her daughter was overwhelming along with the 14-year-old, blind-in-one-eye Beagle’s loud barking.
The unpacking part is horrible but the fumes of freshly made tomato sauce brewing for our welcome pasta dinner makes us more impatient with getting ourselves situated. We eat and chat at the dinner table in their beautiful dining room. Mozzarella balls and sliced grape tomatoes, pasta, and salad decorate the table.
Having slept for maybe five hours, we wake up ready to start our orientation at JMU in Florence. Getting lost has to be a common thing for foreigners here. The narrow roads and the distraction of beautiful architecture everywhere is a tourist’s worst nightmare! It’s a long day and soon to be a long night. It’s the first night out and we JMU girls want to get to know the nightlife! Overdoing it is usually what American girls do in Florence. We overdo it. The most amazing part is nonchalantly meeting up at the Duomo before our night’s escapades and passing the (fake) statue of David while trying not to trip on the beautiful cobblestone streets. Street gypsies throw lights in the air while others walk around with roses to sell.
September 6 and 7
First day of class and my resulting nausea and heartburn from the night’s purchases of alcohol and late-night pizza are everything but pleasant. The beauty of the city keeps my disoriented self in check along with the fact that I have to be presentable and somewhat awake for our 8 a.m. Italian class. Our professor, Susanna, is beautiful and extremely patient with me and the other half-clueless 101 Italian students. Susanna rarely talks in English. Second class is “Dante’s Commedia.”
Of course we only get a taste of what the course will be like during the hour and a half introduction. The day goes on and the night follows. A bunch of us girls meet at the Santa Croce to nonchalantly sip on wine atop the church stairs. Although we probably don’t blend in with the Europeans doing the same activity, we feel as if we belong. Then onto an Italian nightclub. We are off to meet one of the girl’s friends, an alumna from JMU, at the nightclub where she works. We also got together with her the night before at an American bar called “The Lions Fountain.” Upon entry, we all take welcome shots and get to the dance floor. The night ends late and the next day begins very early.
Italian at 9 a.m. Our small group meetings follow and then the rest of the day is left to ourselves. All we do is plan here! Making dinner plans with each other is absolutely in order. After finally deciding on a sushi restaurant, we rest up then meet at 8 p.m. to walk to Kome. What a cool place! Sushi, edamame, miso soup, sashimi, and more are set on a conveyer melt on the curvy bar. The plates have different designs that indicate the prices of the sushi (from €2.50 to €7.50). Full and ready for some vino, the seven of us decide to get a couple bottles and enjoy the scenery. What a different experience it is to sip wine out of a cup on the streets of Florence! We walk and we are all of the sudden staring at the Ponte Vecchio Bridge or we wander and there is el Duomo. It is so unreal — and so beautiful.
Our Trip to Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre day trip is absolutely incredible. Cinque Terre, meaning “five hills,”,consists of five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We take a train from La Spieza and venture off into three of the villages. A recommended drink: white wine. Upon our arrival to Monterosso, we buy sunscreen and personalized bottles of white wine. Finding lounge chairs is way too difficult. Our American selves think we can just grab a chair and sit…not the case. You pay for sun beds or umbrellas or you lie on the hard, rocky sand close to the stairs for free. We pay. We soak up the experience by sipping our wine, sharing stories, swimming and taking pictures. I am in the clear blue water and start laughing out of excitement! Looking around me at the hills and the architecture, I am speechless. I just keep thinking, “Holy crap…I’m in Italy!” What a beyond perfect day.
Flea Markets, Flea Markets, Flea Markets!
It feels like an all-day affair. First breakfast then going from the Santa Spirito antique flea markets to the Mercato Nuovo leather markets — I was all marketed out. Fruit stands have everything from dried mango to the Coca Cola gummies my brothers and I used to beg for when we were littleTapestries, kitchenware, jewelry, bags, olive stands, everything. I find a bag my mom and I have been dreaming about for months. Dark Italian leather with a wide strap holding a boxy shaped tote. A-maze-ing. Finishing up the day, three other girls and I go out for a relaxing meal. A good time with good wine. The service was actually not bad but did get rather obnoxious. Our meal begins by getting approached by either the owner or the manager of the outdoor restaurant called Caffe Storico Letterario at the Piazza della Repubblica. He recommends wine and talks to us about our studies. He first speaks in Italian followed by the English translation. The waiter, and what we would refer to as the male host, both make sure our experience at the restaurant is a unique one. Craving something sweet, we go to a small gelato place called The Black Ba,r right beside the front of the Duomo. SO. GOOD. I get a waffle cone with Nutella and I don’t regret a single bite.
An Oxymoronic Trip
Everything is oxymoronic in Italy to us. Our school days are rarely school days and more days of adventuring, our “light lunches,” as the signs outside the lunch cafés say, are far from light and our everyday experience is far from normal. After Italian and Dante’s Commedia we end up getting lunch at the Santa Spirito Square: margherita and vegetarian pizza! A few girls accompany their meal with white and red wine. Having the option is such a treat! Now my roommate and I are relaxing waiting for our 8 p.m. dinner with our host family, followed by a night at a wine bar with the other girls studying with us.
What can I say? Just another day in Firenze!