Month: September 2012

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

“Ignorant American.”

“I hate America.”

“Stupid Americans.”

You have probably heard phrases like this before. If you aren’t an “ignorant American,” I’m sure that you have heard how the rest of the world hates America, how our country lacks culture and substance, how we are a nation full of people who know nothing outside of their own world, who spend their days thinking of money and die unfulfilled.

Oddly enough, as it seems to me, it’s not the rest of the world who despises America so whole-heartedly (yet some parts of the world do, as there will always be people who hate another simply for their nationality, gender, religion, or race), yet sometimes, it is Americans themselves, bashing the country that gave them life, freedom, happiness, a land full of prosperity and opportunity. Most often, it is spoiled students who don’t feel like they got their deserved lot in life and instead of joining the rest of the world and making a change, they choose to take it out on the land that takes care of them, whining and complaining like brats.

Is everyone happy in America? Does every American belong there? No, of course not. Some people who are born there, just as anywhere else, don’t find it their cup of tea for a plethora of reasons and move to other beautiful places like Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Asia. This is all well and good. Wherever you want to go, that’s the great thing about planes, people. But to bash your own nation? This will not make foreigners like you more. It makes them wonder what’s wrong with you, that you could be so disloyal to the place that took care of you.

I love Florence. I feel like it is a piece of my home. I hope that one day when I take my kids here, I remember it as vividly as I do when I sleep in my apartment next to the Duomo and that I can smile when I think of the short amount of time that I was blessed enough to spend here. But I also remember that it was my American school that sent me here, a glorious opportunity at that.

And I have many other pieces of home too– down the coast of New Jersey where I spent the best three years of my life. Back in the countryside of Jersey where I grew up, which still felt like home even when I moved there knowing no one after my parents got divorced and life made a 180. No matter where I go, whenever I go, America is home.

The States has its problems. Our political system makes a mockery of itself, more people vote for American Idol than they do for the President, we grossly overspend and overuse. I’m not denying any of this or any more of the laundry list of problems anyone can attest to. But America isn’t the only country with problems. And making it the scapegoat for yours won’t fix your life, either.

So students abroad, I’ll tell you this. You don’t have to bash the place that you will be returning to in a few short months to get foreigners to like you. You don’t have to run around toting an American flag all day, but while you are learning the beauty of another culture, don’t be ashamed to share a little of yours too. It is the people that make up the United States, not the grass that grows there. Remember that next time someone says something nasty about the place you, and I, were born and raised, and show some respect.

A Day in the Mountains of Norway

The next morning, Trygve, Turid, Kristin, Sissel, and I drive to their beloved cabin in the “mountains” (when to me, this entire country is a mountain) which is somewhere in the wilderness between Bergen and Voss. I’m a little confused when I see the cabin across a river, but when we park on the other side, Turid explains to me that to get to the cabin we have to hop a guardrail, walk a little downhill and then cross a short bridge and some rocks to get there. Wearing my nicest jacket and a borrowed pair of Wellies, I actually laugh aloud when I think of a real estate agent in her heels 20 years back telling Turid and Trygve, “And here we have the romantic entranceway of… a river…”

Trygve, Sissel’s tall and quiet brother, is the stereotypical strong and silent type, only speaking when spoken to and taking on all his fatherly duties with a quiet confidence. He lights the wood stove as Turid, a teapot-looking woman with a permanent smile on her face puts some pastries on the table, called “shillings” (they look a lot like cinnamon rolls and only cost a shilling back in the day). Kristin gives us a little tour of the modest cabin, showing us how her parents have expanded the cabin over the last 20 years. She shows us all the bedrooms, in which Turid has handmade the quilts.

When Turid and Sissel go outside to sit on the deck and drink tea, Trygve, Kristin, and I go for a hike, which seems to be a favorite activity of this family. As Trygve marches forward, I chat with Kristin, who at first glance is stern and dignified and may intimidate me just because she is a teacher of English and German at a high school in Bergen. Her hair is usually pulled back and she speaks in a tight British accent, as she got her Masters in English in York, England. But within five minutes of talking to Kristin, she’ll tell you how she literally has an apartment stuffed with books she loves and how much she adores teaching, even if she’s living in a village in Thailand and waking up at 5:00 am everyday, as she did a few years ago when she taught English abroad.

In the first leg of the hike, we go through a gate and pass through an old farm, which wraps around one side of the lake that the cabin overlooks. A little hoard of sheep blocks our way, which someone has oddly locked on one part of the bridge, but they scatter as soon as we start to walk through. Going up the all-uphill first half of the hike reminds me a lot of Colorado with its rolling hills surrounded by mountaintops dotted with snow and ice. Waterfalls are all around us on the tops of some of the mountains. As pretty as it all is, it feels good to finally collapse in a heap by the wood stove before driving back to Bergen on the little wraparound roads.

That night, we walk next door to Trygve and Turid’s son, Andreas’, house, where he lives with his wife, Katrina, and their two blonde children, Sandra and Guru. We have a traditional Norwegian dinner of tacos and Spanish wine (well paired, as my teacher, Giancarlo, would say). I start to see how American/Norwegian/or anything else doesn’t really matter over a bottle of wine and well-deserved meal after a long day, because no matter what the continent, everyone can smile about the same things.

An Outing with the Fam

When you’re a stubby brunette with an obnoxious laugh, it’s easy to feel out of place in a sea of white-blonde heads on tall beanpoles in Bergen, Norway. Luckily for me, by some miraculous mix of fate, my grandmother was born in Norway and her brother, Trygve, and his family still live there, making for some interesting family vacations.

So while everyone else in my study abroad group danced on tables in Munich, Germany, for the first weekend of Oktoberfest, I got on a plane and headed to the underdog of Europe. I was happy to discover that the weekend I visited wad the first three days in weeks that it hadn’t rained. And let me tell you, rain is not what you want in a country where you wear jackets in July.

On Friday, when Trygve was at work, where he owns a printing press, and his wife, Turid, works for an environmental group, my grandmother, Sissel, and I took a bus into Bergen. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway to Oslo and is only a short ride a way from my family’s house about fifteen minutes outside of the city.

Bergen is not very reminiscent of a big bustling city like New York or Milan. Instead, water flows in and out of it into  fjords (like a large river), and the city itself is dotted with thatched roofed colored buildings in red, yellow, blue that are older than America. We got dropped off in the city center, which is right in the middle of the daily fish market next to the marina.

Vendors hassle us to buy crabs, shrimp, and fish with their eyes and scales intact. We try some reindeer, elk, and whale, which surprisingly all taste basically the same and remind me of salami, just a little thicker. My father back in New Jersey used to tell me that one of his favorite memories of his sole trip to Norway when he was ten-years-old for Trygve and Turid’s wedding was the bustling fish market and an old man with no thumb chopping fish next to his stand and yelling at little kids as they stared.

This all makes Bergen very storybook, especially when the sun is shining and the boats are coming in. Even though it’s a cool 40 degrees Fahrenheit today, quite colder than my home in Florence, the sun warms us up quickly and soon we are dropping layers behind bushes and buildings to pick up later.

Sissel and I take the cable car up to Mount Floyen, which seems to be a favorite spot for hikers and bikers, even though it’s like an eighty degree angle. At the top, we look over Bergen and soon trample through the forest to the wooden troll statues that are scattered amongst the trees, covered in moss and ivy. As I huff and puff on the trek back down Mount Floyen, my 76-year-old grandmother parades down in her Norwegian sweater like she was born here or something.

After having lived in Bergen for 20 years, Sissel didn’t see much else for herself and packed her bags to see her uncle in Brooklyn for what was supposed to be six months. At some kind of dance, she met my grandmother, Sal, a stout, loudmouthed Sicilian who ran around with a gang. Once she made him dump his other girlfriend, they married and had three boys, including my father, Anthony. Sissel has since forgotten most of her Norwegian (and many words have changed over time anyway), but she stays true to her wandering ways with at least three trips a year to places like Utah, Barcelona, and Alaska… basically anywhere she can get a ticket.

My grandmother and I shop a little in the shops of Bergen soon after, although I’m sad to see that the krone (pronounced chrone-a) is currently kicking my dollar’s ass. Norway has free healthcare and college tuition, but their taxes are through the roof with a whopping 25 percent sales tax.

That night, Trygve, Sissel, and I drive to my great-great aunt’s house, which is perched on a mountain a little more into the countryside. Like everyone else in Norway, she lives in a wooden house that overlooks a fjord. She’s well-dressed for an 88-year-old and especially lively as she nudges us inside and hands us little knitted slippers to wear on her wood floors before she serves coffee and apricot cake in a living room full of photos and flowers.

Back at home, Trygve, Turid, Sissel, Kristin (their daughter who lives in the apartment upstairs) and I sit around a table in the living room by the fire reading books and sipping tea. It’s literally the sanest family time I have ever been a part of (ours at home usually consists of someone screaming and/or throwing an object within the vicinity) and, thinking of it now, no one even turned a television on once.

Just Another Night with Vogue

Being that everything that I brought to Florence is worthless enough that I will probably be leaving it here, I was not very well equipped for Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, which takes over the streets of Florence, Milan, and various other big cities throughout the world to celebrate fashion; yet another one of Italy’s artistic masterpieces. Fashion Night Out is kind of like a street fair; where big-name designers like Armani and Gucci and lots of other stores which have clothing that is worth more than my life open up their doors until late (11:30 pm) to showcase the season’s newest designs.

Even if you show up with like ten euro (as I did– didn’t want to tempt myself…) to be there in itself is insane. The streets are pure pandemonium, crowded with people in their best outfits, decked out in heels, stumbling around with champagne glasses on the cobblestone from the last store they visited. Models covered in body paint and designers making surprise appearance intermingle on the sidewalks and inside the stores with security guards in suits hanging out around them.

Walking into stores that I usually don’t even bother to look at in my $30 dress from Century 31 (literally the nicest thing that I own– my life is sad) with a champagne glass in my hand and looking at such beautiful things is kind of like being in a museum in Florence since clothing is more like real art than a piece of fabric here. However, I’m reminded who we are and where we come from when we can’t get into one store because we’re not on “The List” and we get yelled at for taking pictures when we thought no one was looking. Whoops.

In Florence, fashion is art, and everyone from designers to the lady next to you walking to work remind you of this everyday. It’s nice to see things so well-made and so intricately designed that vary greatly from the standard Northface and Ugg boots that we get back in the States. I think that one of the coolest things about it is that even though the stuff I’m seeing on these racks is beautiful, in Florence, you don’t need that kind of money to make something your own. Italians could put on a pair of sweatpants and make them chic by strapping on a pair of heels and some pink sunglasses. It’s a quiet confidence, a noncommittal care, that makes Italy and maybe Europe as a whole different from the States.

Back home, even if I see something kind of cool that I do actually like, sometimes I feel like I’ll stand out too much from the skirt-and-tank at the bar or the yoga pants-sweatshirt in class. Plus, the inspiration is missing, too– at home, what do you have to be inspired with? The girl next to you in a Victoria’s Secret hoodie? Or… the other girl in a Victoria’s Secret hoodie (that probably cost $50)? In Florence, not only are you inspired and awed by the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the David, but you are inspired by the ordinary people with ordinary wallets and extraordinary attitudes. (And extraordinary closets).

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Venizia, la Citta di Amore

Sitting on the Florence for Fun bus at 8:00 am with a small Italian man with a major cigarette problem was not the best way to start our day in Venice. Luckily for us (and all tourists, really) this does not make this place any less cool.

The only way to get into Venice is by train (since, um hello, the city is on canals). After the short train ride there from our three-hour bus ride from Florence, we emerged from the rather royal-looking train station to see a fistful of traffic… of boats. Instead of clamoring to find a taxi outside of Penn Station in New York City, we stood there and hopped on line to get on a taxi boat, which is pretty nice what really is a taxi. Standing in front of Canal Grande, the main canal of the city, is actually a little unnerving. On the one hand, the image is very familiar, yet on the other hand, you’re in Venice and you’re surrounded by grand palaces that dot the Canal.

Our little angry Italian tour guide shepherded us onto the taxi boat and pointed out some of the key sites, which mostly consist of beautiful buildings and architecture that are extremely gaudy and gold and romantic, like Santa Maria della Salute and Ca’ d’Oro. I’m sure you have seen loads of pictures of Venice that are photoshopped nicely with gondoliers and couples and pinks and reds and blues and greens. Well guess what. IT LOOKS JUST LIKE THIS. My pictures look the same as the ones on the postcards, because this city is friggin gorgeous. It’s hard to tell what’s someone’s apartment and what’s a restaurant and what’s a palace. Unlike other cities, when you see buildings falling apart and their scaffolding coming loose you don’t think, “Ew, gross.” You think, “This place is sick.”

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I can’t really imagine what it would be like to drive my little boat to the grocery store and park it in the garage… that’s in the water. Obviously, it’s insanely expensive. But it also seems to be a little inconvenient and inefficient to me, and the fact that this city functions at all is really a mystery. When there is high tide (which seems to be pretty often) the city workers set up giant tables- literally folding tables- for people to walk across as they gander in St. Mark’s Square or wherever else. When you have an apartment on the ground floor, you have to either seal up the entire bottom half of your door or have some really sick steps. If you have a baby in a carriage, fuggetaboutit. You’re better off in… well not Florence either… I dunno, maybe Jersey?

Walking through this city retains its romanticism in some ways, like when you see gondoliers in their red-striped shirts lounging by their gondolas and little dogs wandering around. We were lucky enough to get on a gondola for a decent price (usually it runs for about 90 euro for 45 minutes), and even though we heard that being a gondolier is a great honor and you can only do it if it’s been in your family for generations, our own gondolier said he is the first one and was confused when we asked, and he also doesn’t really like it because “the hours are long and he really doesn’t have time to hang out with his girlfriend.” When we asked him to sing for us, he said that he only sings in the shower, yet all of us were welcome to join. The romanticism continued to fade when he chugged his Gatorade from behind us and then accidentally knocked it into the water with his foot. Go figure.

Piazza San Marco (the main square) is neat too, with the romantic Basilica di San Marco and Palazzo Ducale and the super cool Winged Lion, which is the symbol of St. Mark (the city’s patron saint). When Napoleon crushed this city, over 1,000 lions were taken in an attempt to crush Venetian pride, but as a Venetian mason was hired to do this, many lions were “accidentally” overlooked (according to Florence for Fun information).

We also got to see a glass blowing demonstration. Sounds lame, right? Yeah I thought it would be too. UM NO. COOLEST THING EVER. Davide, a guy who sort of looks like a modest lion himself, heated up the glass in the furnace and then sculpted a horse in like thirty seconds with the hot glass. I need to learn to do this.

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Sometimes when I go on Facebook and whatnot and I see what my friends are doing at the bar, I’m actually a little sad and I miss them and just being with all these people at home, doing what I do best (running around like a maniac). But then I take pictures like this and I just feel like a jerk.

See a Wonder of the World for Fourteen Euro

As the rest of our group headed off to the Amalfi Coast for the weekend, my roommate Andrea and I set our alarms for 10:00 am (yes, this is necessary) to hop on the train to Pisa for the day. After paying a measly seven euro each and missing a train (this is a learning process, people) we got to Pisa, which was only about an hour away by train. When you drive as much as I do, an hour seems like an obscenely long time. But when someone else is driving and you get to gander at the Italian countryside, it’s really quite pleasant!

Anyway, Pisa is an odd place. When you’re in Italy you kind of expect cities to land in a few different categories– ancient, beautiful cities like my Firenze (it’s nice to feel like “it’s so good to be home” when you’re studying abroad), modern, expensive cities like Milano, and picturesque countryside towns like Lucca that ooze romanticism and make you want to skip. Pisa is not like any of those. It’s a little dirty and there isn’t too much going on.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that there’s a couple nice sights in Pisa that don’t include one of the Wonders of the World. But I’ve never heard of them and I forgot my travel guide that day. So instead of trying to see it all, Andrea and I bought a map for 1.50 and crossed Fuime Arno (the main river that crosses the city) and walked the mile-or-so to the Square of Miracles, which houses the Leaning Tower and a couple of other buildings no one really cares about.

The only miracle in the Square of Miracles is that there is a fair amount of green grass, one of the only spots I saw in the city, that is actually quite cozy in the sun and seems to be a good place for tourists to lounge after they took their photos. It’s pretty pleasant for such an ugly city, really.

The Leaning Tower, which is mobbed with tourists in stupid positions (myself included) and their significant others laying on the grass trying to take their pictures, can be climbed if you’re willing to pay up and stand in a really long line. Otherwise, you can try to read the information poster on it, but nowhere on it that I saw does it explain why the damn tower, which was built in 1174, leans to one side. So I’ll tell you why.

In good ol 1174, the Tower’s architects didn’t realize that the soil was unstable and the three meter foundation would be insufficient. Uhh, whoops. After the first three stories were done, the ground sunk some and the Tower began to lean. While Pisa was at war with other republics, construction stopped for about a century, which was for the best because it let the soil settle. When construction began again, the engineers built the upper floors with one side higher than the other to compensate. Each year, it leans about a millimeter more, and in my own uneducated opinion, that baby is doomed.

Spend the fourteen euros and the few hours of your life is this picture is worth it to you–

(I think it is).

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To the Motherland

Back in August, as the days leading up to my plane ride to Florence came about, my own family relations at home in New Jersey grew more and more complicated (because God forbid we all fight at a time that isn’t inconvenient). Someone close to me in my own Italian family began to hate me more and more, and I couldn’t help but regret my decision to fly to Italy, just a bit, in a few days because I felt like as much as I wanted to escape this person and their various methods to hurt me, instead, I was heading to what I felt like was “their” country. I felt like I was intruding in their life when really I wanted to create my own.

But since being here, living next to the majestic Duomo is this city surrounded by Renaissance art and architecture, traveling to places like Capri and Pisa and Venice every weekend, I realized that this isn’t a place that belongs to anyone that lives in the States. I feel silly to think that these people who wish nothing but the worst for me also have no real connection to this country– as much as they would like to think they are a part of it, that they understand the culture and their lives, they have never even been here. If anything, they are a part of the overstated Italian-American culture, which literally has nothing to do with Italy. These people I was so afraid of have never been here and probably will not set foot on this land before they die. They don’t understand the fine art and the modest love, the humility and the sunshine.

I may only be a kid. I may not understand too much and mostly, I’m just musing here the best that I can. But I will say this– for this time, I live here. I breathe this air and I see these places and I eat this food. This land is mine.

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Things Your Advisor Didn’t Tell You

When you are studying abroad, locals don’t really like you very much. Vendors will lie to you about how much something costs, police officers will lie to you about offenses… the world is full of lies. Sorry to be the one to break it to you. But, here is something you may not know. Not only does your host country lie to you, but your ADVISOR has lied to you. Once again, sorry.

Before I came abroad, people gave me loads and loads of advice, many of which I meticulously listed like some kind of maniac. I packed according to these seemingly well known rules, planned my trips, organized my schedule. And then as soon as I got here, I realized all of these people were mostly wrong.

Okay, to be fair, everyone is different, and different advice works differently for different people. At the same time, I’ve only been here for two weeks, so you probably shouldn’t trust me anyhow. But for me, and maybe you, too, here are a couple tidbits of advice that will make you want to pull your own hair off once you cross the pond.

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1. Don’t overpack. Well first of all, overpacking is a pretty broad term, but I’m guessing these people mean “Don’t bring a ton of shit.” So when I came abroad, I got to the gate with my two measly suitcases, and noticed… everyone else had a lot more than I did. Crap. Now that I’m here, I see that in some miracle, my roommate brought an actual appropriate amount of things to wear and actually looks nice for class while I am sitting in the back of the room with a holey t-shirt and shorts. This makes me sad. So if you’re not planning on spending a lot of money to shop (Um, I have clothes, I really didn’t need more) then bring an appropriate amount so that you won’t feel compelled to buy more.

2. Follow (this) list of clothes. On the many packing lists I saw all over the Internet, people would list like five t-shirts, one dress, one set of pajamas, seven pairs of underwear… Umm WHAT? Luckily, I caught on the absurdity of this before I got here, but really? I change my outfit like four times a day, and I like it that way. It’s the little things in life people. So don’t rely too much on those Internet packing lists. For instance, at home, I never ever wear jeans and instead wear leggings. So why would I bring three pairs of jeans to Europe? I’m sorry, but the best fashion in the world will not make me want to stuff those babies on my legs.

3. Have your parents send you money each month/week/etc. What are you, twelve? First of all, if your parents are anything like mine, they seem to be on another planet most of the time. I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do is let my parents control the money I’M spending. I can see it now. Mom: “Really? You need a new bag? Why? I don’t get it.” Um, shut up mom. Plus, you’re TWENTY-YEARS-OLD! You might as well learn how to budget before you, oh I don’t know… graduate college?

4. Don’t plan trips before you leave. This is a NOT GOOD IDEA. Seriously. Yes, you will meet new friends who will be really cool and will want to plan trips with you. But let me tell you something– if you try to book Oktoberfest in any month after August with your new bff, there will be no spots and you will be spending the weekend in your dorm. Alone. So book the musts- maybe one or two (especially big festivals like Oktoberfest, and for Italy people, the Amalfi Coast)- before you actually hit the road. This will make you feel like you’re well on your way, too, which is nice.

5. This is a real school. I don’t know what colleges you guys go to (clown college, maybe?) but I have never gotten so little work in my entire life. I think the last time I had to do a bs worksheet was before the fifth grade. Don’t get me wrong here, classes are interesting and sometimes boring, just like classes at home. But you won’t have a panic attack every time you look at the syllabus and spend hours upon hours writing papers and presentations and reports. Instead, you will spend hours upon hours traveling the WORLD!

6. You will be homesick. Okay, to be fair, I’m two weeks in, so this will probably change. Anyway, during the summer, I was obscenely bored at home. I figured that once I got here though, I would miss it and make it seem like a utopia in my own head. Um, NEGATORY. I feel like I never lived there at all. It’s a really nice feeling to forget about my boring hometown for a bit. I try to forget about home as much as I can. I miss some of my friends and family, but I know that a day in the very near future will come when I will see them again, so I really just feel like I’m on vacation.

7. You cannot sustain a relationship here. Have you ever gone on vacation and not hooked up with someone? Uh, probably, unless you’re a huge slut. Like I said, this is like vacation, and thanks to Skype/ Email/ WhatsApp/ Phones/ Snail Mail/ Texting/ etc., it doesn’t even really feel like you’re away from them at all. Don’t end your relationship just because you’re going away for a little while. It’s not worth it because hooking up with locals doesn’t suddenly make you a citizen of the world– TRAVELING THE WORLD DOES.

8. Prepare for culture shock. I think that saying this is actually a stage of culture shock, which is when you eventually get really depressed and hate your host country for a bit because it’s so different from your real life. But if you have half a brain, you have probably realized that being a student studying abroad isn’t very much like being a real local. For instance, here in Italy, I speak English most of the time (even if I speak in Italian, vendors talk back to me in English… frick), I go out during the week (well, other students do, I have class at 9:00 am every day), I see American sorority girls in Lily Pulitzer dresses and Tory Burch sandals, and I cook sad meals that feature cheap pasta and bad wine. I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t as close to a “real Italian experience” as we would like to think. Don’t get me wrong, it’s crazy fun to be a student abroad and you learn a lot about yourself even if you think you won’t. But being a real Italian when you have been a ditzy American for the last twenty years? Yeah, no.

9. You’ll know your way around by day three. Uhh what? I still get lost in my college town sometimes. Even though I’m not too far into my living here, I really can’t imagine being able to give anybody directions without a map in my face (and even then) by the last day I have here. Jeez, I hope I can find the airport.

10. If you’re careful, you won’t get sick the first few weeks. In our group of about twenty, I think fifteen are sick right now. These are not good odds. As of right now, my dear roommate Andrea is passed out in a pile on her bed and sneezes so much that I told her I’m just going to make a recording of me saying “Bless you.” Let’s consider here– you’re in a foreign country, you’re in a city, you have many roommates, you’re eating food you have never had and you probably don’t know what it is, you regularly sleep on buses, and you drink on days that end in “Y.” I’m pretty sure you’re gonna get sick. Bring Theraflu. SERIOUSLY. You’ll be happy you did.


So that’s all I have for now. Like I said, I’ve only been here for two weeks, so who knows if any of this stuff will change for me. I’ll keep you updated. CIAO!

Ruins, Pizza, Men

Amalfi Coast– Day 2 and 3

The night of Positano, Andrea, Rosie, Claudia, Claire, and our other roommate Lucy walk to the hostel, which is where the other half of our group apparently lives in luxury. We have a buffet dinner and grab some happy hour drinks, filling up on Coronas and shots. The bartender makes Lucy and I “special drinks,” which seem to be just Sex on the Beach. The wines and beers running through us makes it easy to sit on the rooftop bar and talk as we over look the lights of Sorrento until Andrea calls me.

“Come down here to the dance party!” she says. Expecting a packed group crowding the DJ, we take the elevator down only to see an exuberant Claire and Andrea rocking out to themselves next to a DJ who kind of looks like he wants to go home. We dance with them for awhile, shooing away the creepy Italian boys until Lucy, Claudia, Rosie, and I walk home only to have Andrea and Claire stumble home an hour later.

The next morning, we get on another bus to go to Pompeii in Naples, which we are told only has “men, pizza, and ruins.” A little Italian man named Franco who is dressed in a Hustler shirt and hat gives us a tour of Pompeii, a huge city originally of 15,000, in which 3,000 suffocated under the ash of Mt. Vesuvius, which is visible in the distance along with a little crater at the top which was busted off from lava. We see the sauna, the little homes, and the very first red light district, which is full of stone beds and erotic pictures on the walls that foreigners could point to for the girls. After a couple of cheap souvenirs, gelato (as usual) and some pizza, we are told there’s nothing else left in Naples and we stretch out on a nearly empty seven-hour bus to go home sweet home– Florence.

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Dancing in Sorrento, Spilling in Capri

I’m standing with my feet on the edge of this cliff in Positano. Looking down at the water, I feel like my heart is about to jump out of my bikini, especially when I think about jumping my whole self from this stupid cliff. Unfortunately, it all looked a lot less daunting from the ground. I consider counting to five, but I feel like I’ve already been standing here an embarrassingly long time. I turn my brain off, close my eyes, hold my breath, plunge. This is the moment where I feel my feet tingling at the free fall, out in the open air, that I realize cliff jumping is very reminiscent of studying abroad. 

Amalfi Coast– Day 1

After a seven-hour red-eye bus ride from Florence to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast with Bus2Alps, Andrea, my roommate and Italian partner-in-crime, and I collapse on our sad-looking twin beds stuffed in a room along with a set of bunks in Hotel Londra, which kind of reminds me of a place people in hiding might go to. However, since it’s 2:00 am and we have to wake up in four hours to get on a bus to Capri, the little beds with the grandma covers might as well be my king bed in Long Branch, New Jersey. About a half an hour after we collapse, our then-unknown roommates from Rome stumble in as well and crawl into their bunk beds.

The next morning, we get up around 6:00 am and stumble onto a bus to get to the marina in Sorrento and to take us on the ferry to Capri. As usual on these trips, I want to sleep so badly on these few precious moments of downtime but I can’t help but keep my eyes open to spot the little pink-yellow-blue houses pressed together and perched on the edges of cliffs. By the time we are on another boat after landing in Marina Grande in Capri, I’m wide awake as we circle the tiny island.

We sail past the Blue Grotto, the Green Grotto, and many of the other grottos (although I still don’t really get what a grotto is) as well as a tiny fisherman statue on a large cliff which welcomes visitors to Capri. Soon, we can see the Rocks of Faraglioni in the distance. Seeing them on various postcards is one thing. But actually sailing through the Love Rock and seeing couples kiss under it, hoping the promise of eternal love from it is true, is quite another thing altogether.

Back in Capri, we hike up an obscene amount of steps, where I can hear students mumbling, “I need to stop smoking,” to Anacapri, which the top of the island. Here, homemade sandals and limoncello are made for touristed-out prices. We hop on a nearly-vertical chairlift for a measly seven euro, in which an Italian man literally pushes you onto a one-person chair with a rusty iron bar to keep you in as you float to the top. We breeze by little cottages and gardens, stray cats and Virgin Mary statues.

Here, we peer over the edge to see the straight-down drop, which goes straight down. One sneeze and you are done for. We can see a 360 degree view of Capri, making the island seem like a tiny place, yet nonetheless colorful. I can see people heading to the beach and eating some gelato and walking hand-in-hand, reminding me that this is a place that people save up for years to visit, to get married. Here we are on a whim and it’s obvious how lucky we are.

Claudia and Rosie, two other study abroad students we met earlier in the day, meet us at the top of the island. Rosie and I hop a “FORBIDDEN” sign (in which an Italian attendant helps us actually open the gate) and we scramble through some brush onto a small beaten path which takes us outside of the initial fence and truly on the edge of these cliffs.

Later, we take a “topless taxi,” basically a convertible, down from Anacapri back to the marina and the beach at the bottom. Andrea, myself, Rosie, Claudia, and Nick, another person we picked up on the way, hold our breath as the little taxi zips through the tiny streets that hug the sides of the mountains. The toothless taxi driver either has to pull over when another car comes by or squeeze by anyhow (his usual choice). All the while, vespas speed by in and out of the cars. Making it out alive, we sit on the rocky beaches and cool off in the blue-green water, so deep yet clear that I can see the schools of fish parading by.

That night, our group goes to a restaurant in Sorrento, where we walk to from our hotel on the even tinier streets. The owner, a fat Italian father which his shirt undone to his belly button, gives us his homemade vinaigrette. While we wait for our meals, we quietly explore the sitting area outside, which borders a tiny garden and well with little icicle lights and a woman singing in the corner.

After dinner, we walk to the Olde English Inn, an outdoor bar. Even though we’re operating on four hours of sleep, everyone gets more alive from wine and beer and the big dinner and soon we are dancing to 90’s hits. One of our roommates who we have befriended, a sweet blonde girl named Claire from Minnesota, ushers the tall Italian men to dance with us with a smile always on her face. We all drift easy, squished on the dance floor, until the booze wears off and we are wishing for those grandma beds in the hotel a few blocks down the road.