Orientation

Our orientation for school took place in a hidden building next to the Duomo.  You had to walk past the ticket office for the Baptistry and Campanile and to an old looking building that was very modern inside, all glass and metal.  Orientation started at some obscene time that was still the middle of the night for us, like eight in the morning or something.  They had pastries out for us, but there were so many hungry people that they were gone pretty fast.  The first morning was a safety orientation.  Like about pickpockets and not to walk alone at night if you’re a girl (a rule that I flagrantly disregarded).  After orientation, Emily, Polly, Nicole, Daniel, Rachel H. and I walked around the Duomo and had pizza at a place called Pizz’A.  We walked back across the Ponte Vecchio and got gelato again.  Then, I don’t know, I guess we all went back to our apartments and fell asleep. The second day of orientation was about our neighborhoods.  I will never understand why we didn’t have this orientation first.  All we had to eat for three days was chocolate wafers, pasta with meat sauce, and crackers with Nutella.  They told us about how our apartments work, what Vape is, what settings were best for our washing machines, not to walk around at night.  They also introduced some of the teachers.  I don’t think any of mine were introduced but they all seemed really nice. After orientation Emily, Polly and I walked to Gilli, which is the oldest caffe in Firenze (since 1733).  It’s very fancy looking in there, with gold railings and mountains of candy displayed in the windows.  In the displays inside the caffe there are all kinds of sandwiches and pastries.  I’m not really sure what I got, but it looked like this:

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I got tea, but Em and Polly tried espresso, which is Italian coffee.  They let me have a sip.  Nope.  Just no.  I’m sorry, but no.  It’s the strongest stuff in the world and I was practically choking.

At Gilli, as in most Italian caffe, you have to stand at the bar with your drink and pastry, because if you sit at the tables outside, a meal that was only €1,50 will end up costing €4,50.  Don’t ask me why, Italians do crazy stuff.

After we had lunch, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio to the Oltrarno, the neighborhood across the river (oltrarno is Italian for ‘beyond the Arno”).  We walked up to the Palazzo Pitti, one of the Medici palaces.  We wanted to go into the Boboli Gardens but they were closed because of rain earlier that day.  So we went through the costume gallery instead.  It was basically a bunch of different kinds of clothes from 1800-2000.  It was fun to look at even though all the descriptions were in Italian.

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Views from the Ponte Vecchio:

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We walked around Oltrarno for a while.  It’s a lot quieter than the city center, where the Duomo is, and hillier, and it has more trees.

Also it has this view:

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We walked back across a different bridge to Santa Croce, which is one of the most beautiful churches in Firenze.  What’s interesting about it is that on the facade there’s a Star of David, because the designer of the facade, Niccolo Matas, was Jewish.  We sat on the steps in front because we were tired from all our walking.

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Later, we finally got a tour of the grocery stores in the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood, where my apartment was.  Our grocery store was called Conad.  It is a cramped place, with small sections for produce, bread, meat and dairy, and entire area dedicated to pasta, and some household supplies.  We also had the Vivi Market, which is the import market where they have stuff like peanut butter and soy sauce.  Surprisingly we almost never went there.  So Rachel H., our roommate Erica, and I all bought groceries and realized that we would have to take them up eight flights of stairs.  But at least we had food.

Map of my apartment!

As promised, I have drawn a floor plan of my apartment in Firenze.  I think it got weirdly elongated in width but that’s ok.  It makes our bathroom look bigger than it actually was.

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Arrivals

I won’t lie, I was pretty freaking scared when I left for Firenze (Italian for Florence).  My family met Emily’s family at LAX and we were all sitting in the International Terminal before security and eating Panda Express.  Part of me was like, I really want everyone to come with us and another part was like, Can we just go?  But we all sat crammed at this little table in the corner and talked about how excited we were and I was running everything I had learned in my Italian class the summer before through my head.  When we went through security and I couldn’t see our parents waving anymore, I really wanted to cry but I thought that might freak out the TSA people.  Our parents are all about getting to the airport obscenely early, so Emily and I walked around the duty-free shops and all the souvenir shops.  I probably got a travel magazine, and Em bought People Style Watch.  On the plane ride there, this guy sitting in front of us got drunk, and he was sitting in the emergency exit seat, so I couldn’t sleep because I kept imagining him grabbing the lever for the door and all of us getting sucked out of the plane before I ever made it to Italy.  Our TVs didn’t work, so we spent the first hour of the ten-hour flight going through People Style Watch magazine and either loving stuff we saw or making fun of people, because it is amazing what people will wear sometimes, and I wrote in my journal, and I guess we watched a movie or two on my computer.  I don’t remember what else we did, because there’s no way that all took ten hours. So I was basically catatonic when we got to the airport in Frankfurt, like I literally don’t remember anything about it except there was a tram to take us to a different terminal and we could see the exit and I could kind of see the street outside, and I was like, I wonder if all European cities look like that, which I realize is kind of stupid because airports are always in the middle of nowhere.  I think it was raining. There’s always that amazing burst of energy on the connecting flight to somewhere.  It was only an hour or an hour and a half, so Emily and I were basically bouncing off the walls and talking about all the things we wanted to do and what our apartments would look like and who our roommates would be.  The whole time we were wrestling each other to look out the window and we were like, Is this Italy Is this Italy? And then we began descending, and I wish I could have recorded the sound Emily and I both made.  It was like a high pitched gasp and a sigh at once, kind of Disney-princess-like and definitely a sound I’d made while watching Pride and Prejudice.  We were practically sitting on each other to see out the window at this point, and I was trying to see the Duomo, but I had no point of reference for where to look, so it just looked like we were descending into a sea of red roofs. The sun was just beginning to go down when we landed, and I don’t know what it is about Europeans, but something I learned while travelling is that there is always a mad rush to get off the plane.  Always.  We were pulled along the current of people to the baggage claim, and I just have to say that the baggage claim was terrifying once the carousel started moving.  There was yelling and hoping my bag didn’t get taken, and I was hoping so hard that I almost took the wrong bag and hit a woman in the knees with it before I realized it wasn’t mine.  We met a couple other study abroad students there, but none in our program yet.  We didn’t really have to go through customs, because we said we didn’t have anything to declare, mostly because it would have sucked if they were like, “Nope, no Clonopin allowed.” People from CEA, our study abroad program (pronounced cheya in Italian) were outside the airport to help us get taxis.  Emily left first, because she lived in a different apartment.    I was like, NO DON’T LEAVE ME, but it was okay because my taxi showed up about ten minutes later.  I was with one girl who talked a lot and another girl who didn’t ever say anything, so I guess I was kind of in the middle.  They dropped me off first.  I lived on via delle Belle Donne, and the taxi driver was like, “Do you know what that means?”  and I was like, “The street of…” and he said, “The street of BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!  You’ll fit in perfect there!”  So I was totally flattered.

Another CEA person was waiting for me outside my apartment.  ImageShe had an envelope that had my keys and information about the apartment, like how to use the washing machine and how to use Vape (vahp-ay), which was a mosquito repellant thing (both mosquitoes and repellent ended up being a problem).  Right next door to our door was the Le Belle Donne, which is an osteria.  I’m still not sure what the difference between an osteria and a trattoria is, but we had an osteria.

So then the fun part.  Pulling a forty-pound suitcase, and eighteen-pound suitcase, and a ten-pound backpack up eight flights of stairs.  We were on the top floor of our building.  Technically that is the fourth floor, because the ground floor doesn’t count, it just has the mailboxes and the entrance to the kitchens for the osteria underneath us.

So this lady that was supposed to be helping was constantly standing on the landing above me, watching me carry up the smaller suitcase, then drag, Oh My God, I mean like a freakin game of Tug-O-War, my giant suitcase up eight flights of stairs, and she was all like, “It’s okay, just take your time.”  And never offered to help.  (Incidentally, Emily only lived on the second floor and had an elevator.) The apartment was beautiful.  Honestly, if I had a choice of where I could live when I move back to Firenze (fingers crossed), I would go back to that apartment.  It was so beautiful!  And I feel so bad because I never took any pictures of the inside!  I’ll draw a map.  But to describe: the floor was all red hexagon tiles, the table in the kitchen was big and wooden, there was a marble-topped island in the kitchen and marble-topped counters, a small fridge (I learned later that the refrigerators in Italy are really small because everyone buys their food fresh.  There’s no reason to keep it in the fridge like Americans do.  I think we should start doing that [re: moldy tomatoes I found yesterday]), and a huge cabinet full of pillows and blankets–that cabinet would save us from freezing later.  There was also a Welcome Bag on the table, with pasta, Bolognese sauce, crackers, and chocolate wafers.

One of my roommates, Rachel, was already there.  She had gotten the single room, so I was like Dang it! because I’ve never had an actual in-my-room roommate.  But I love the room I was in, because I had this view from my bed:Image

So then I unpacked.  There was a huge wardrobe in our room, so I took half, and took two of the four drawers in the chest of drawers.  I had, of course, brought about seven books to read over the course of the semester, so I set those up on top of the chest of drawers.  I swear to you, everything was marble-topped in that apartment.  There was a little cabinet next to my bed too that was helpful for storing stuff.  I am an organizer.  I can’t do anything else until I have settled everything where it’s going to be for the next four months. Anyways, skip ahead, Rachel and I decided to walk around, so we walked out in what we assumed was the general direction of the Duomo.  We lived in a really narrow-street area, they were more like alleyways, and it felt so historic and European.  Suddenly we walked around a corner and out of an alleystreet and bam, there was the Duomo.

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We met up with Emily and one of her roommates Nicole, and walked to Piazza della Signoria, where Michelangelo’s David stands in front of Palazzo Vecchio, as well as several other statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is filled with ancient Roman statues like The Rape of the Sabine Woman (Giambologna) and Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa (Cellini). They’re kind of violent, those Romans.

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We walked around to the Ponte Vecchio, which is this beautiful bridge (there will be a history lesson on all these places later) and got gelato at a place right across the bridge.  They arrange their gelato so beautifully.  It’s in these wavy mounds with a piece of whatever the flavor is, like a slice of pineapple in the pineapple gelato, or a thin strip of chocolate in the chocolate gelato.

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We all got really tired really quickly then, and decided to go back to our apartments.  We parted at the Duomo, where Emily and Nicole kept walking north, and Rachel and I headed back to our alleyways.  We weren’t totally sure which streets we were supposed to be going on, because there are so many tiny ones, but all roads lead home, I guess.  My last memory of the first night there was turning around to look back at the Duomo.  It’s so bright at night.  They have spotlights or something on it constantly, so it just glows white and is so beautiful.  Like this.

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Beginning

The story of “Drag Me Through the World” does not begin in Arcata, or South Pasadena, or even Florence.  It starts in Budapest.  Our guide’s sister was with us on our tour of Eastern Europe, and five or six of us were sitting in the boys room before dinner because they had a heater, and I said to Alex, Chelsea’s sister, “So were you just visiting Chelsea and got dragged on this trip?”  I guess I phrased it like that because in my family there is a lot of getting dragged to places going on.  Like, my brother and I never really know where we’re going until we get there.  Anyways, Alex was like, “You wouldn’t exactly have to be dragged on a trip like this,” and Tom said from the corner of his bed like a disembodied voice, “Drag me through the streets of Krakow.”

This blog will tell the tales of the places I travelled to in Europe last fall.  After re-reading my journal that I kept there, I realize that the stories I’ve already told do not nearly convey how amazing it was, and I know that written word and pictures still doesn’t do the place justice, but until I can drag my family back with me, it will have to do.