“Not as Isolated as I Thought”

Things have been good so far. I’ve fed a baby lamb from a bottle, seen something absolutely disgusting come out of a sheep and nearly lost one of their dogs.

The dogs are my favorite part. They got so worked up when a lamb gets away from the herd that they practically fall over themselves having a conniption and are almost too enthusiastic to do anything about it. Apparently they used to have a really good farming dog, but it died, and they got these two together which meant it was difficult to train them because whenever the dad scolded either one of them, the other thought it’d done something wrong too and stopped working.
I’m very excited to get on the horses. They’re the friendliest group of horses I’ve ever seen. The whole herd comes across the field to greet me when I step under the fence. Unfortunately, they need to get their shoes on before I can ride them, so I still have to wait a couple days.
Right now I’m sleeping in the big house with the family, because the dad was worried I’d be lonely if I was out in the cabin by myself. That might’ve been true because right now the guest house is empty and it’s a ten minute walk from the house. There’s a gravel road that goes out past the house and the farm to the guest house and then out beyond around the lake. I took April (one of the dogs) out for a walk with me and enjoyed watching her sprint among the moors chasing birds until she vanished out of sight. Not knowing her name, I yelled “Dog!” until she came back around, feeling very Audrey Hepburn. By the end of our walk, we’d worked out a better system and by that I mean she was so tired she thought about listening when I told her to come back to me. When I turned around though, she followed immediately and herded a group of rams off the property in excitement.
It seems having a useless animal is the highest form of compliment an animal can get on the farm. The dogs are clearly having the time of their lives. They were useless enough, however, that I got to be a herd dog in the evening and went into the pastures with the sheep and their lambs to herd/wrestle/get trampled by the group as I tried to move them out of the barn and out of doors.
I’m having a little problem with the life of the sheep. I asked if they were used for their wool and Steve (I don’t know/can’t pronounce/don’t have the right alphabet to know his real name. This is the younger brother. He’s cute, very nice, speaks fluent English, has a great sense of humor and lives here with his girlfriend. And he looks like a Steve, though his name has a rolled H (yes, that’s a thing) and a couple r’s masquerading as other consonants) laughed in my face. They’re raised for their meat. He used to work at a slaughterhouse and now their older brother works there in Akureyrei.
They have over 1,000 sheep with lambs right now and I’m telling myself that it’s fine because they wouldn’t be alive without the farmers and they have a really good life and they don’t have to feel the pain of getting sick and dying, as they probably would have to in the wild/they wouldn’t be alive in the wild. Sheep 394 is my favorite. He’s a little black lamb who lets me pet him because I also feed him from the bottle.
All of the farmers got sad because one of the lambs died, which surprised me, because they’re raising the animals to get killed. But I guess they see it as giving them a good life or else don’t think about the death of the animals, since it happens off the farm. I also feel gross about the idea of a breed animal, but I’ve been observing the sheep and am fairly convinced they’re not that smart, as they will trample their own young to get food/lose them a couple times a day and panic/will walk right off the edge of the wooden feed thing and topple over on their heads.
Sometimes the lambs will hop up onto the rack where the hay is put and wander down, which produces widespread panic among the dogs. The newly born lambs are the funniest, because they sit and shake over the trauma of what’s just happened.
The people are good. I like the dad, Steve and Ran the best. Steve and Ran are perfectly fluent and seem funny. Unfortunately, all of the jokes are told in Icelandic. Dinner last night was a little rough, with them, their mom, their older brother, their cousin and Steve’s girlfriend, all speaking very animatedly and humorously in Icelandic. I was too tired to know if it would bother me normally, so I went to bed.
An eye mask is clearly the most necessary thing. Even with cloud cover, it’s so bright here that electricity is unnecessary. All of the hot water in the house is geothermal and I was told to “shower for however long that I wanted” though I couldn’t figure out how to get it beyond warm and it smelled like sulfur. Through my window cover, my eye mask and a pair of shorts that I wrapped around my head, the brightness was enough to wake me at 8 this morning. I’m not sure when the sun “goes down” but it was perfectly light at 1:30 this morning, when I woke in disorientation.
Icelandic is such a specific language that they don’t translate it for the television. I wonder if this is why all of the young people are so good at English. They have subtitles, which the adults watch, but if they want to listen to sound, it’s in English.
The farm is actually less isolated than I thought. By that I mean it’s off the road. When I say “the road” I do think I mean the only one that goes through Northern Iceland, but I could be wrong. There are also at least seven other farmers around because Steve says they have partial shares in the lake. Land is very Icelandic here. They have a couple “split-owned” areas which seems to just mean they can each use it for whatever/whenever they want. Ran was out of the house most of the day yesterday because in Iceland the “government” (and they put that in quotes, not me) pays for mentally disabled people to be taken care of one to two weekends a month, so that their parents can get a break. Steve and his dad were also out of the house until late yesterday because they, along with the rest of their all-male, all-farmer’s choir, were singing in a hot spring.
School is different here. They have “high school” from 6-16 and college from 16-20. Steve’s graduating class was 6, of which he was the only boy, and he says the entire “high school” isn’t usually more than 60 people.
Food was fine. Ran apparently know I don’t eat red meat, though her dad thinks that’s stupid. We had pasta, salad, and something that was probably ground beef, though I ate it anyway. They drink coffee at all hours and gave me a “classic Icelandic snack” which was dough fried in sheep fat. Breakfast this morning was anything that I could find, so I had cereal and went out to help the dad feed the sheep.

This is April. (That’s the spelling of her name, though even that I can’t pronounce it correctly)

This is the view from the hiking trail around our farm and still, technically part of our land, I believe. The house is over in the little crook of the lake and the mountains are visible from my bedroom window.

These are the horses. The palomino is my favorite already because he’s the prettiest and he follows me everywhere.

In Which We All Run into a Bridge

Budapest City Park

Thermal Bath in Budapest (Not the big one)

I didn’t write for a while because my family was here. My parents came out for two weeks and my aunt and uncle came out for one. It was the easiest two weeks I’ve spent in Italy and so, naturally, there are no good stories.

Skipping ahead, I came home to find Paldo had been shaved, Donatella’s laundry was hanging to dry in my room, and there was no toilet paper to be found. Donatella and I have also become engaged in a silent battle over my window, in which I open it all the way and she shuts it saying that she “thinks I’m cold”. I’m pretty sure I’m not cold, but maybe Donatella is right.

When my parents were here, I told them of my plan to go to Budapest and my mom said, “that’s so cool, I just read an article about how American women sometimes get snatched out of taxis and are never seen or heard from again” (Thanks, Mom), so I had that to think about on the way over. Actually the way to the hostel was fine. I took a shuttle from the airport that got me almost to the exact right place. My flight was more of a problem. About five minutes into the trip from Munich the stewardess came on the intercom and said, “We’re running a bit short on oxygen for this trip. If anybody starts feeling lightheaded or nauseous PLEASE say something”. I thought this was weird, because if they had extra oxygen to give out, why not start with that? But nobody passed out, so I think Lufthansa airlines is going to call that a win.

My hostel is great. It’s the most social place I’ve stayed at yet. There are drinking games every night at 9 (which my tiny liberal arts college did not even remotely prepare me for) and then one of the staff members took us to a bar and then a club. Actually, I was originally worried the hostel would be too social for me. When I checked in the woman at the desk gave me a wristband with the hostel’s address on it and said that it was “in case I needed help getting home” and I felt like I’d accidentally leveled up on a video game I only partially understood how to play.

If I was going to do my study abroad trip again, I’d spend more time traveling alone. It’s not hard to make friends in a hostel. There are all sorts of interesting people here, a doctor, a philosophy PhD, a journalist, a soap vender and many many students.

On my long walk of the city, I came to one of the bridges with a railing low enough and flat enough for people to sit on. The only problem was it came to about my shoulder, so I had to run jump and splat onto the side to get up. Then I stayed up for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the view of other tourists sprinting into the side of the bridge on either side of me.

I think if Vienna and Prague had a love child, it’d be a lot like Budapest. I like it a lot and also I’m a little upset that cities in Europe have started to remind me of one another. I’d like every place I got to feel completely unique, but it’s hard when you’ve been traveling around a lot. It’s so easy to travel in Europe that I think it’s a little too easy for the novelty to wear off. I understand now the people who travel to European cities and spend their time partying all night and sleeping in until the afternoon. When you travel a lot it becomes more about making the experience right for you, not just experiencing the place. For me, this means enjoying the parks more. When I first got to Europe I didn’t want to be anywhere that didn’t feel unique to the cities. Now I go further away from the centers, trying to see what places are like for the people who live there and not just the tourists. There are some lovely parks in Budapest.

My friends are coming out tomorrow sometime.I almost wish I was going to be here the whole time by myself. I think it’ll be harder to talk and meet new people with them around, but I’m sure it’ll be nice to have friends here too. Tonight the hostel organized a very cheap cruise that we’re going to be taking for two and a half hours down the Danube River.

Ninja, Fire, and the Polizia

The last three days of spring break got pretty wild. There’s something sweet about the end of something, even if it’s just a break. For me, this meant caring less that all of my clothes were dirty, spending less time on my own and more time enjoying the city with friends, and going clubbing. The story itself is pretty funny. I hate checking my coat at clubs so I timed my departure from the hostel perfectly (or so I thought) and arrived at the club at precisely the time I said I would meet my friends, so that I wouldn’t need to wear a coat. Unfortunately, one of the girls was still putting on her makeup and the group I was meeting hadn’t left the house left, which was twenty minutes away. Retreating into the marginally warmer train station, I waited for the better part of an hour as they struggled to get out of the house, got out at the wrong train station, and then got lost.

Finally, we found each other and went into the club. The music was terrible. When we got there almost nobody was dancing. Everybody was looking around a little uncomfortably, so I suggested the group of girls I was with start playing Ninja. For anybody who doesn’t know this is a very silly looking game where you try to slap one another’s hands. Before long other people started to join in and for a while it was just people playing Ninja on the dance floor. Then when we started dancing we’d already mingled with one another so it didn’t seem nearly as awkward. I went in halfway with another girl to buy shots for ourselves and the girl whose birthday it was and was very unprepared for the bartender to pull out a lighter and set all three drinks on fire. We had to drink them really quickly to stop the straws from melting. One of the girls spilled her drinks as she was trying to finish it and set the entire bar on fire. I came home sweaty, tired, and having had a thoroughly good time around two in the morning and tried to quietly situate myself in a hostel room full of five other sleeping people.

Continuing with the theme of poor traveling decisions, Owen and I realized that the overnight train ticket we’d bought was actually from Vienna to Venice, and wouldn’t get us to Florence at all. So the next morning we walked to the train station to try and fix our mistake. We couldn’t get refunded for our ticket, but the cost of a second overnight train ticket from Vienna to Florence was cheaper than a ticket from Venice to Florence would’ve been so we took that. The night train felt very much like Harry Potter, with separate compartments of 6 chairs each. Each chair reclined so far that you could lie down completely if there were only three people in the car. Owen and I were in a car with a very nice African guy, who talked to me a little bit, before we turned off the lights and went to sleep.

We were brutally awakened at 1 in the morning by the Polizia (Italian police) who slammed the door open to our compartment and flashed on the lights, demanding to see all of our passports. Disoriented, confused, Owen and I scrambled for our passports, but they hardly even looked at them before turning to the man next to us.

“Do you have a permit of stay?” the polizia demanded.

“It’s in Rome,” the man replied, looking uncomfortable. “I have to go pick it up.”

“That’s not good enough,” the polizia replied.

And then, so fast the man barely had time to grab his backpack (and forgot his phone charger in the outlet) they removed him from the compartment and forcibly marched him from the train. I saw him on the platform, being led away by the police, and I wondered if they were going to deport him that night. It was a very disconcerting experience, both the startling way in which they’d woken us and the swiftness with which they’d grabbed the man next to me. I asked Yuli later, who’d been sleeping in a compartment a few cars away and she said the police never came into her compartment. I wondered if they’d only come into our car because there was a black man in it and I hardly knew how to process that thought. I still don’t entirely know how. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced because it felt like I was seeing a snippet of a life that didn’t belong to me whatsoever.

Grounds of the Belvedere Palace looking out on the city of Vienna

Belvedere Palace in Vienna

Large statue to Maria Theresa in front of the Natural History Museum in Vienna

Votive Church in Vienna. One of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in. The stained glass is incredible and it’s so cold inside that you can see your breath even when it’s warm outside.

Another picture of the Votive Church

Rearing Horse Statue in front of the National Library in Vienna

Deadsprint to the Wrong Train

For having absolutely no information, Owen and I have been doing pretty well. Today we went sprinting from one platform of the train station to the other, trying to find the FlixBus that would take us to Vienna. We got so desperate that we started asking random people on the side of the bus station where the platform was. With just a few minutes left to go,we ran back inside the train station where a woman told us, “There isn’t a bus that goes to Vienna.” There was a train though, so we sprinted to the platform and toward the wrong train. Catching sight of the departure time, we redirected ourselves onto the train in front of it at a dead sprint and into first class. “Do you think this is the right train?” I asked. And Owen replied, “I don’t care. We’re staying on it.”

Traveling has had its ups and downs. In Munich Owen and I went to a concentration camp, which can only be described as the most horrible place I’ve ever been in my entire life. I didn’t write a blog post for a while because I didn’t think I could do one without making it too dark. The tour was 5 hours from start to finish and by the end of it I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from hearing all of the things that the prison guards had done to the people there. It’s the only thing I’ve ever experienced where my imagination of the sort of horrors that people did to one another was actually better than the truth of what happened. We walked through the entryway and then through the place where the people would be stripped of their clothes and given numbers and then into their living quarters and finally down the yard to the gas chamber. Horrible isn’t even a sufficient word. I walked through the facade of the chamber, trying to picture the moment when people realized the showers weren’t going to come on.

There have been some really good times here as well. Salzburg, Austria has been my favorite place on this trip. I’ve been here for the past two days roughly recovering from that. It’s beautiful and reminds me a lot of Prague. It’s been mostly cloudy but occasionally the cloud cover will retreat, smacking us in the face with the Alps. They look like they’re two buildings away and they’re HUGE. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg so there’s everything from a sound of music tour to a playing of the movie every night at 8 pm in the hostel lounge.

Salzburg has also been my favorite place because of the people. Two nights ago I was sitting in the hallway (I needed an outlet and the only one was outside the women’s bathroom) and a group of young Pakistani guys came out of their room and invited me to have drinks with them at the bar below. We stayed down there for hours, laughing and drinking until the bartender kicked us out. He played the song “closing time” to get us to leave, something I hadn’t realized was on my bucket list until it happened. And even then, we just went into the dining room of the hostel and continued to talk.

Austrian and German beer may in fact be the best in the world and I’m only saying that because I liked it for the first time in my life. Like all things, I’m sure it tasted better because I wasn’t paying for it, but I had pizza and beer the next night for dinner (and Snickers for lunch) and I liked it then too.

Most surprising about this trip for me has been how much my legs hurt. It’s amazing how walking can do that to you. I think it’s the repetition of the motion because I went for a run yesterday (all I had was my pajamas, so the Austrians stared at me like I was nuts) and nothing hurt untilI started walking again.

After our hectic morning, Owen and I are off to Vienna. We’ll be there for roughly two and a half days and then we’re taking a night train back to Florence. Neither one of us is quite sure why we thought that was a good decision, but that’s what we’re doing.

The gates of Dachau concentration camp

Salzburg, Austria

Good Ideas, Worse Ideas and Poor Execution

It’s the coldest winter they’ve had in Florence for ten years. Enzo keeps laughing during dinner and saying, “and it’s the semester you and Owen are living here!” We find it slightly less amusing. My morning run up to Fiesole was not improved by a couple inches of unplowed snow on the road. “But Becca,” someone will say. “Isn’t it a bad idea to run along the side of a road in the snow and the ice when you almost get hit a couple times a run without ice?”

Yes. The answer is yes.

But I wanted to run. My rationale for running in the ice was that the reason I almost get hit on normal runs was that the drivers weren’t paying attention around turns, but that they’d be paying more attention in the snow because they didn’t know how to drive in it… I’m not saying this is smart. I’m just saying that’s what I told myself. It turned out to be a safer run than I’d expected. All of the cars on the road had already spun out and were being dug out, or else had already been abandoned, by the time I started up the mountain that morning.

Starting yesterday morning, it’s Syracuse University’s spring break. I got up 1t 4.30 and was waiting for the cab outside the house with Owen the specified 7 minutes before it was scheduled to appear (We both laughed about the strange arbitrariness of that time). Neither Owen or I was particularly confident about our odds of making it to Germany together. Although our ages are about 12 and 13 apart (Owen is older, though slightly) together we’re both about 6 years old.

We made it through our first two flights unscathed and then went to the bus station to wait for the final leg that would take us into Heidelberg. When the bus arrived, however, we learned that we’d bought tickets for 12:30 am instead of in the afternoon. Owen and I heard this, sprinted to the parking ticket pay station to try and buy tickets, realized we couldn’t buy tickets there, and did the walk of shame back to the original bus driver and bought tickets from him.

It was not warmer in Heidelberg. Owen and I went immediately to the hostel where we added more layers (Owen had on a record breaking 6 shirts on) and went back out. I took us confidently in the wrong direction. When we figured it out Owen said, “It’s half my fault. I should’ve realized that when you said, ‘I think we have to go forward and left’ we really should’ve gone right and back.”

We got pastries for lunch. My six second opinion is that Germany has better bread and pastries than Italy, but Italy has better coffee and pasta. Apart from the fact that Germany revolves primarily around the production of meat, I’m not sorry to have different food options. Owen and I aren’t even sure what you can eat in Italy if it’s not pizza and pasta.

After lunch we split up for a bit and I found my way up one of the wooded side mountains to overlook the city. I get the feeling it would’ve been very pretty if the sun had been out, but it was snowing and dark. I met Owen back at the hostel around 6 and lay on the top bunk watching cars pass outside the window. I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke to Owen flashing the lights on and off like we were having a bomb drill.

For dinner we walked to a German restaurant and I endured the cringe of the waiter when I asked if they had anything vegetarian. We went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back, sharing the .18 of a travel toothpaste that I have. We don’t have towels either, so when I showered in the morning I showered with my duvet cover and came into the common room to try and avoid the woman who was hacking up phlegm into the bathroom sink. She followed me in, opening the window (It’s freezing outside) and continuing to hack out the window onto the ground. So I’m ending this post by leaving and going to find somewhere better to sit while I wait for Owen to wake up.

Which Way do you Open a Door that Says Push?

Before I left for Italy, my parents said they wanted me to show them all around my favorite places. They bought tickets for after spring break so that I’d know the city well enough to feel like it was my own. After two months in the city, however, I’m guessing they would change their minds. I’ve started a new type of walk. Instead of walking to Piazza Michelangelo or the Duomo or any of the other, obviously beautiful, places, I’ve been walking toward the train station. The further you go in that direction, the worse the city gets, and I love it. The streets aren’t trying to be anything, they’re not forcing you to acknowledge their cultural significance or their beauty, they’re just there. I don’t feel bad just listening to music when I walk there and if I find something that I think is beautiful it feels more my own because it’s not the sort of thing that people come halfway across the world to see.

One street in particular, reminds me of a street in New York City. It’s near the train station with the fastest moving cars and the most sound pollution and it’s my favorite. To get there I have to walk through a square of dead grass and around several construction sites and I love that too.

When I first got to Florence I mocked the Americans that searched for bits of the USA here. There is an American Diner that Owen and I pass sometimes and we used to laugh about how stupid it is for someone to come here and get American pancakes or American food. But now I get it. I’m not homesick, exactly. I’m still not entirely sure what the concept of home means to me. But I do miss things about the United States. I miss feeling aware of everything that’s going on around me. I miss being able to understand subtleties in conversation or behavior.

Not most of all, but at least equally, I miss being able to open doors. The “big dumb American stereotype” has to be at least partially based on observation because it seems like no Americans can figure out Italian doors. Maybe, I’m projecting. I’ll just say, can’t figure out Italian doors. They never open the direction I expect them too. While out to dinner with a couple of friends, we started laughing about the fact that the door had “PUSH” on the door, written only in English, because only an American wouldn’t be able to figure out the door. Then, on the way out, we saw a woman who couldn’t get the door open and had to help her out. I think part of the problem is that there isn’t a lot of consistency in the way different cafes and restaurants operate. There is clearly the way that Italians have typically done things, but Florence is a touristic city and some of the places have switched to a more American way of doing things, and others are somewhere in between, so it’s difficult to know what you’re supposed to do in one place or another.

The Antichrist of Snow White

As you can probably tell by the title, it’s been a little loud in the house recently. It’s a strange complaint coming from a twenty year old, I know, but this is the sort of household where if you took the sound level down a couple decibels Helen Keller would say, “oh, that’s loud.” If I had one wish I would ask that from the hours of midnight and six in the morning nobody answered the phone (Donatella takes every phone call from six inches away at a shout), nobody turned the television up to the max volume while cleaning the kitchen, nobody came home screaming their hello to the dogs and nobody came in my room for a box of stamps, or credit cards, or clothing. On a week day the hours of 1-5 am are usually safe and on a weekend it’s usually quiet from 3 in the morning until 8.

Most of this comes from being in the house – Donatella and Enzo don’t seem to care at all about waking each other up, so I suppose I’m not surprised they don’t care about waking me. But there are difficulties for Owen, living outside the house as well. His shelter house is a gateway to another patch of yard. I don’t think he’d mind that Enzo has to go through it sometimes if he didn’t also let the dogs into his room. Also, Camilla performs a ritual barking routine right outside of his door for half an hour every morning. Camilla makes me feel like whatever the Antichrist version of Snow White is. She barks all through dinner, causing Donatella to shout her stories even louder into my ear. Two nights ago she accidentally spat a piece of chicken onto my leg, which bounced off and onto the floor, where Paldo immediately snatched it up. I haven’t been spattered with dog food yet (she feeds them by fork during dinner), but it’s less because of what she’s doing and more because of my reflexes. Say what you want about me, but after getting spit in the face five or six times, I really start to learn my lesson.

My ability to cope with all of this and to take it with good humor comes and goes, as does my ability to cope with everything else. Most nights it’s fine. Some nights it’s really funny. For example, last night, a movie about a female journalist captured in Afghanistan came on the television and Donatella – instead of translating the words into English, shouted translations of the action, which we could obviously all see. In one moment where the taliban are killing one of the French soldiers Donatella announced, “They poison!” “They cut throat!” as Owen and I watched the soldier flail around on the screen and then announced in a voice of quiet shock and dawning comprehension, “Ah, they kill” which sent me and Owen into almost hysterical laughter because what did she think was going to happen when they cut the guy’s throat?

And truly, Donatella is an incredibly loving person. She seems to be happy all of the time and only wants the people around her to be happy as well. Living in this house has taught me that there is a maximum to how loud you can listen to white noise before the sound actually hurts your chances of going to sleep, in addition to slowly discovering which of my shirts work better to shield my face from the light outside my door. But it’s okay. I’m learning quick forgiveness and working on the ability to feel irritation without letting it affect my day or my experience. The second of these two things, I believe, is extremely important, not just for traveling, but for life in general. It’s a good thing too, because before Europe, I think I pretty much sucked at it.

For example, yesterday Donatella locked me out of the house. It wasn’t that I didn’t have my key, I didn’t have a key to the inside door (there are two front doors). Donatella broke the outside lock and locked the inside one because she thought her walk with the dog would only be ten minutes. It was actually something closer to an hour and a half. But today it’s mostly funny and it taught me that I can’t text international phone numbers, so hey, at least we’re going somewhere. Not being able to fall sleep will be funny too, as soon as I get more than five hours. It feels as though this has been a particularly loud week so the hope is that that’ll be sometime between now and when I get to Rochester.

The Leaning Tower of Nutella

It’s interesting seeing the ways in which living with a Florentine family has impacted my view of Italy. From dinner conversations, I have unconsciously began to pick up some of Donatella and Enzo’s prejudices about the other parts of Italy. The stereotype of the south (which I don’t believe, but am just sharing) is that is dirty, full of crime, and full of disease. We watched a comedy about that in my Italian class. They also have a lot of prejudice against Pisa. When Owen and I told them we were going there for a class trip Enzo said, “You really don’t have to go there.” And when we told him we would only be spending a couple hours in the morning he said, “That’s more than enough” which is in stark contrast to what he told us about Rome – that you could spend a full week there and not see everything that there is to see.

Our trip began, middled and ended in the rain. I would’ve been more upset if not for Owen’s umbrella, which is fast becoming my favorite thing in Italy. He bought it for 4 euros (maybe less, he’s pretty proud of his haggling on this particular item so he might protest that he got it for 3.50 instead) and it’s in worse shape than my dumpster jeans. In actuality, I think he gets more wet using it than he would without one because the ends flap down like the sides of a bonnet and splash water everywhere like the ends of a free hanging tarp.

From the leaning tower of Pisa, we took a bus to Carrara, which was introduced to us by the guide as the place which defied all Italian stereotypes of having “good food, friendly people and altogether nice things”. Despite his lukewarm introduction, the trip was actually pretty cool – not because of the town, which people pretty much only care about because it’s Italy’s (and maybe the worlds?) biggest exporter of marble. All of the great Renaissance sculptors came up to the quarries to select their marble, including Michelangelo.

We split into smaller groups and got into Land Rovers, with guides that drove us up the mountain and down into the quarry. It was a crazy ride. We were slammed from side to side over the bumps, with the bumper of the car sometimes dipping over the edge of the cliff as we went around turns, so that the driver had to back up just to keep moving forward. The ground was slick with mud and it was pouring down rain, giving the impression that we were driving into the clouds.

Soaking wet and covered in mud, our group bonded more than we had in any classroom setting, huddling together under the few umbrellas our group had (no, not Owen’s) in a futile attempt to stay dry.

After another hour and a half drive home and the walk to our house, Owen and I couldn’t handle going out for dinner, so we bought Nutella and had that for dinner in our rooms. I think Enzo secretly likes us more because we don’t go out. It makes it seem like we’re ‘on his team’ instead of Donatella’s. Also, it sounds like all of their other students went out a lot – Donatella said they went clubbing 4 or 5 times a week, which only sounded terrible for me and Owen, who will probably go to a club once in our whole time abroad.

They say the leaning tower is leaning 4 1/2 degrees, which seems like a wild understatement

This is the passageway up to the top of the baptistery in Pisa

“Hell is a Place in Which you are Constantly in Fear of Running out of Toilet Paper” – Pope Francis

It’s been a weird day. The morning started with Enzo’s mother hitting on Owen. She spent the night at the house. “Bello. Bello. Bello,” she said the moment she saw him, the meaning made unmistakable by Donatella who helpfully put in, “She thinks you’re handsome.” In case it wasn’t clear, she called him “bello” a couple more times and then started trying to set him up with her seventeen year old niece. According to Owen, the most awkward part of the whole ordeal wasn’t the sheer number of times she called him handsome, but was the way she watched him eat his morning cereal.

It also appears that I’m being haunted by the ghost of toilet paper rolls past. For anybody that hasn’t heard about my Statia experience by now, I spent a summer on a very small island panicking over dwindling toilet paper supplies. I’d be lying if I said toilet paper security wasn’t at least part of the reason why I’d chosen to come to Italy over some other place. But it appears you’re never safe. I assumed Donatella noticed the dwindling supply of toilet paper in the cabinet so it wasn’t until the last roll was used up that I asked her if there was any more stored somewhere in the house. Not realizing that the cabinet was empty, she thought that I just hadn’t been changing the roll. It wasn’t until we were both standing in front of the empty cabinet that she understood. “Oh, Enzo will have to go out tomorrow,” she said.

But he didn’t go out tomorrow. He went out two days later. In the interim time we rationed napkins from the dinner table and I fulfilled one of my early predictions and had to use the bidet. It wasn’t great. Even more confusing for me, is why Donatella keeps her clothes in it.

I really like my host family. I think I don’t say that enough. It’s true that today Donatella knocked on my door and when I said “one second” she came in anyway and had a conversation with me while I was shirtless. But the imposed familiarity isn’t all bad. She talks to me sometimes the way my real mom does. “Did you get in a fight?” she asked, a few days back, when she looked into my bedroom which was strewn with floors and a tangle of blankets from where I’d fallen out of bed. “Yeah,” I replied. “The clothes won.”

She also likes to joke about me being “Queen of the House” whenever they go. Her and Enzo went out tonight and she knocked to tell me they were leaving. “You can throw a party now,” she said. “Go crazy!”

Behind her, Enzo put in, “But don’t forget we’re coming back” which seemed a lot like what my actual dad would say in that situation as well.

Owen and I went to Bologna yesterday. It was exhausting. Mostly because we’re still refusing to pay for a bus. So we left the house around 7 and walked an hour to the train station before taking an hour and a half train into Bologna. Again, the train ride was probably my favorite part. Bologna was nice, bigger than I was expecting, but my favorite part of visiting the city was by far the market, where I bought ten items of clothing for as many euros. One is a pair of jeans that feels like actual torture against my skin, but the other things aren’t bad. I got a couple new shirts out of it anyway and a lucky pair of jeans that fits – though it is mildly bedazzled.

My time management skills when walking continue to be poor. As our time in Bologna came to an end, I took out my phone to see how far I’d wandered from the train station (having walked to it already to make sure I could find it, before wandering off again) and google maps said I was 35 minutes away, which was deeply unfortunate given the fact that our train left in 20 minutes. So I sprinted the rest of the way back, with two bags of clothing flopping wildly in my arms.

These pictures are all from a beautiful walk I found in Fiesole that leads me to an actual forest/park.

Just because I have a mild concern that you’ll forget my face.

Time Permanence

I know I haven’t written in a while. It’s not because there isn’t very much to say. It’s almost that there’s too much to say and I don’t really know where to begin. Every day feels like an activity here – not in a bad way, just in the sense that I feel like I’m doing so much. The components of my days are nearly always the same, but the pieces are always different. Running days are my favorite. I’m still running up to Fiesole every other day.  On those days I wake up early in the morning so that I can run and shower before class. Often those are the most tiring days because, even though I don’t go looking for it, I often end up walking another ten or so miles just from getting around and having breaks from class and from classes that meet outside the SU building. On other days, I go walking for a couple hours after school. I’ve started to resent the Duomo a little bit (I know that’s a strange thing to say, but it’s true). It’s just everywhere that I look and it’s the cut off of new and exciting territory to a 40 minute walk home down very familiar streets. When I’m tired I both look forward to and hate the sight of the Duomo.

So I’ve started taking less popular roads, finding my way down less nice, but different streets, which I prefer. Yesterday, I walked about two hours the opposite way down the Arno, which started off as a pretty nasty street walk and turned into one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Florence yet.

Technically, I think this was one town out of Florence, but it counts. The sign said “Girone.”

I wish the WiFi worked better here. Sometimes it’ll hold steady for an hour or two and other times it’ll flicker about 30 times in a ten minute period, often deciding that it has no connection after all. I had a call with one of the editors from Tor (my summer job), which I thankfully took over the phone instead of the WiFi because both the internet and the power cut out halfway through, leaving me to take down notes sitting on my bed in the dark.

I’m very comfortable here. In fact, both Owen and I have noted the way in which we’ve adjusted the the Italians’ late dinners. Neither one of us needs more than one lunch now, to make it until 8 or 9 for dinner. I usually have a bagel and egg sandwich from the SU store sometime around 1 or 2 and then an apple around 4 or 5 and I’m hungry, but still very much alive, by the time dinner rolls around a couple hours later.

What’s been strange for me lately is the idea of permanence. Although I’m very much enjoying my day to day life here, I’m also very aware that there isn’t very much time before it ends. (Okay, there’s a fair bit of time, but it doesn’t feel like it. Spring Break is in two weeks, and I’m pretty much not counting the entire month of March because Owen and I will be traveling for 2 weeks and then my parents will be here for the next two. After that it’s just April and then Owen and I start traveling again). In case, I haven’t mentioned this already, Owen and I have planned our post-school trip through Spain, Belgium and Paris for just under two weeks. Then I’ll fly home and he’ll come back to Italy to show his family around.

Although I really like it here and think it’s super cool that I get to live in Italy for a semester, I’m happy about how quickly it’s going by. It’s hard, I think, to fully be in the moment when you know something is coming to the end. I realized that nothing’s been permanent since I got to college. Every semester has breaks and every summer job ends when schools come back around. For the past three years everything has been moving at an incredible pace and I think it’s hard sometimes to really experience the moment when in the back of your mind you’re always aware that it’s going to end. It feels to me like an empty box just waiting to be checked. You might not want to finish what you’re doing, but because you know that you’re going to have to check the box at some point, you want to do it now to be finished and onto the next thing. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for a time when the only person who gets to decide when things end is me.

These pictures are from another walk I took up through Fiesole.