Monday, April 25, 2011

Fate? I Think So...

Now I know what you're all thinking-that's not THE Rick Steves, is it?? Oh, but it is! My dorky travel tendencies were in full swing Easter Sunday when an old American lady in the crowd pointed him out. After the celebrations, I told Maureen and her family that we absolutely had to find him and get a picture with him. Maureen's dad (who is also a HUGE Rick Steves fan-he even has a RS backpack and money belt) said, "If I know Rick Steves, he'll be by the back door, like his books say," and sure enough, when we went around to the back entrance of the Duomo, there he was!!

I introduced myself, shook his hand, and was super original in saying, "I'm such a big fan!" We had common ground to talk about because his daughter is a junior at Georgetown (I knew her name and everything, I'm such a stalker) and in fact many of my students are friends with her. When he found out I worked for the Georgetown program he asked me for my card (!), to pass on to his son, who started a new weekend travel company for study abroad students (which I already knew about). So I gave Rick Steves my contact info (which he has in his pocket) and told him to have his son contact me. Does this sound like fate to anyone else? This means one of two things: 1) I should be working for my travel hero, Rick Steves, or 2) I should be marrying his son. At least I have options!

Meanwhile, Easter in Florence is quite the production. Before the mass, there is the "Burst of the Carriage" in the main piazza, which begins with oxen carrying in a giant carriage that will later be lit with fireworks. It is a fusion of Christian and Pagan traditions that dates back to the first crusades. Maureen and I kept wiggling toward the front for a good view of all the costumes, white oxen, flag throwing, religious ceremonies, and fireworks. It was such an exciting experience to participate in this extremely important tradition for Florence.

Traditional costumes

The oxen carrying in the carriage

Blessing of the ceremony and the crowd

We thought we were being gassed,
but it was just part of the show

The fireworks rounded the bottom of the carriage
and worked their way up to the top

Sometimes it sounded like gunfire

And we kept yelping and ducking in terror

Easter mass inside the Duomo

Easter Sunday lunch with Maureen and her family,
as well as Hope (another student) and her sister

Piazzale Michelangelo

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I hope tomorrow is like today

Two weeks ago was La Settimana della Cultura, in which all state museums were free, so I took advantage of some free time during finals week to explore some new sites in town. One of them was Villa Bardini, an estate that has been turned into a museum with differnent exhibitions and a beautiful garden. The two exhibits were "The Nineteenth Century Seduced," about how artists during that period were influenced by many 16th century artists such as Caravaggio (my favorite), and a fashion exhibit of dresses by Roberto Capucci, who specialized in geometric, colorful designs.

The Villa gardens were beautiful and afforded a close-up view of the city, perhaps even better than that of Piazzale Michelangelo.

Just a goofy man wrapped in an Italian flag

The sky made for some lovely photos that day, including this one off the Ponte Vecchio...

...and this one of sunset at the villa.

And then, before I knew it, the semester was over! I had gotten to be pretty close with many of the students and was emotional (what else is new?) about them leaving. I even cried at the farewell banquet, which was held at the villa.

Students enjoying free wine...too much?

Anna Maria, the director's wife, and Giuditta,
our Business Manager, in the kiddie corner

Hilarious shot of students with Linda,
our quirky, British art history professor

The last couple days were spent clearing out the villa and enjoying what little time we all had left together in Firenze. The last night we splurged and ate at Il Latini, where we ordered the infamous Fiorentina steak (they brought practically an entire cow to the table on a platter). This is the kind of place that rolls old school, treating its costumers at every turn. While we were waiting for a table outside, they brought us small glasses of white wine and pecorino cheese. Then, after dinner, they brought us biscottini and Vin Santo, followed by Moscato wine, and finished off by Limoncello. And even after all this free treatment, they still knocked more than 50 euro off our bill! It was quite an event.

That night we stayed up almost until the break of dawn hanging out, watching people pack, and being sappy. Some of the students were so sweet-they gave me a bottle of Chianti and a beautiful leather journal in which they each wrote me a special note. They had me crying in no time. That is what this job is all about-making a difference for the students. I'm going to miss this group so much-they were my first in the villa and I have a feeling they will always be closest to my heart for that very reason! This place is so lonely now without them.

Many of the students flew out that morning, but some of the girls were still around because they were traveling after the program. We got lunch at our friend Pino's sandwich shop, climbed the Duomo's tower, and got a ridiculous caricature done by an old Italian pervert.

That's me on the bottom right, can't you tell?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where the light is

So much to blog, you guys, I don't know where to start! I've been so busy the last couple weeks with the end of the semester. Here's some of the stuff we've been up to lately. Above is a photo of Maureen and me at the Fiorentina v. AC Milan game (yes, we lost). The day after that, Letizia stopped by for lunch and a relaxing afternoon bro-ing out at the villa:

Some cops trotting through BROboli gardens,
as we re-coined it on a field trip to Pitti Palace

A couple shots of lunchtime at the villa:

Ryan made it a point to one-up himself every time he sculled.

Anatole's delicate espresso-carrying tactics
were the daily highlight of lunch.

Alex & Maureen doing their Turtle dance
(They call me Turtle for good reason:
I have a bright green jacket.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

P(isa) is for Photos

Letizia's back to the land where it is seriously NOT OK to put ketchup in pasta (those French people sometimes, I swear) and so for our reunion, we spent a day together in Pisa eating with her family and having a hilarious photo shoot at the Piazza dei Miracoli. Click the panoramas if you'd like to see them bigger.

I'd like to thank Letizia's camera's awesomely cool 3-shot panoramic setting, which allowed us to create these fun optical illusions.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Have your cake and eat it too

Gio, along with two of her friends from her master's program in Bologna, came to lunch at the villa last week. We spent the afternoon chilling at the villa, shopping in the market, eating gelato, and then watching the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo, one of Florence's famous look-out spots. It was truly a lovely day.

Taking in the view from the villa's South Terrace

One of the most stylish salesmen I've ever met,
teaching us a variety of scarf-tying styles
with the utmost finesse at the San Lorenzo market.
My favorite was the "triangle manner".

Looking over our shoulders during
the hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo

Gio and friends, as we enjoy the sunset over Firenze

What a spectacular view!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bro-in' Out

In order of appearance: Anatole, Coerte, Adam, Alex, Alex, me

The weather is so stunningly fabulous these days that we spend all our free time bro-in' out on the terrace. Sometimes sunsets or guitars are involved. It often ends up just like this: me and the boys, or the brotherhood, listening to music, looking out over the center of Florence and watching the world go by.

Unfortunately, this morning I was reminded bright and early by the incessant pounding and hammering outside my window that they're starting construction on this terrace today. Time for a relocation.