Monday, May 12, 2014

Now that I've had some time to adjust, I can recount my journey here, which was, to say the very least exhausting. My flight left at 4:10 pm, US time, and arrived at about 6:00 am, Amsterdam time (midnight at home). I was told prior to leaving the US that I needed to collect my bags in Amsterdam, go through customs, and then recheck them - however, they never showed up and I was sure they'd been lost. After speaking with people at the service desk, I waited awhile longer - almost an hour after I'd landed I went back to service desk, frustrated, only to learn that my bags were automatically transferred to my flight to Florence. From there I proceeded to wander around the Amsterdam airport (I somehow managed to skip customs in both Amsterdam and Florence...) hungry, dehydrated and running on no sleep, thanks to my horrible anxiety about flying. 

After eating a croissant and some fruit, drinking water and a large cup of coffee, I boarded the small plane to Florence. A short hour and a half later, we landed at the airport where, thankfully, I had no problem getting my bags and connected with three other MSU students on my trip. I found the driver waiting for me quickly and was soon on the way to my host family's home on Via Cardinale Leopoldo.

The Leoni-Trevisan family home is absolutely incredible. I had been expecting a small Italian flat, only to be ushered into a three story town home with stone steps, wood floors and high ceilings, protected by a locked iron gate. All the windows are very large and fill all of the rooms with natural light, accompanied by dark green shutters on the outside - there are no screens. Every room is filled with art. Our bedroom contains a wooden armoire, two small beds with white quilts, a table and two chairs and a dresser, and is so much roomier than I had thought it would be. Words cannot do this home justice - once I've spent more time here, I will take some photos of the interior in order to show how truly beautiful it is. 

Upon arriving around noon I met my host mother, Christiana. She immediately brought me outside to their backyard, offered me a seat, and within a few minutes she brought me a mug of coffee on a little white plate with a spoon, and I spent the afternoon reading I Am Malala and taking in the view - their home is across the Arno high up on a hill, offering up an incredible view of the entirety of downtown Florence. Later in the afternoon I met the rest of the family: Christiana's husband, Ricardo, and their two children, Tomaso and Julio, both of which speak very little English (Christiana and Ricardo speak it pretty well, making the transition a bit easier). Once Jenna arrived after a series of travel difficulties we sat down to a dinner of pasta, veal (I think) and boiled potatoes, all of which was delicious.  

We began our morning today around 7:00 am, and had a piece of bread with homemade apricot preserves and a cup of coffee. Jenna and I couldn't figure out how to open the door, and Julio, the younger son, laughed at us and then showed us how to open it, only for us to walk outside and have the same problem with the gate that opens up onto the main street. Julio must have suspected as much, as he soon popped his head out of the window upstairs, pointed and shouted "Button!" He must think we are idiots.

Today was my first real day in the city, as yesterday was spent unpacking and familiarizing myself with my home for the next six weeks. Jenna and I were able to figure out the bus system (although we ended up not paying because we weren't sure how to..) and took it to the Arno, then walked across the bridge to Piazza Santa Croce where we met our class in the heart of Florence. Professor Francese took us on a walk around the main part of the city until our IAH class began, which is focused on art in Florence during the Renaissance era and the Humanism movement in theology and is team taught by Professor Francese and an Italian professor. Afterwards, Professor Francese bought all of us sandwiches and gelato - mine had salami, some kind of cheese and balsamic vinegar on it, and my first gelato here was half chocolate, half hazelnut. All delicious, of course. 

Then we had a break for about an hour before moving into our Italian class, during which we just hung out in the piazza, people-watched, and talked to an artist from the UK who was doing a participatory artwork at a gallery down the street. Once class started, very few English was spoken, even in ITL 101 - I feel like I've already learned so much, and my background in Spanish has been very helpful in terms of picking up the language relatively quickly and pronouncing words well. The Italian class is by far my favorite of the two. My professor, Daniela, had no idea what social work is when she asked what we were studying, which is a bummer, but I suppose I also have no conception of what social services are like it Italy yet.

After class ended we all decided to buy some bottles of wine and sit in the large gardens back on our side of the river for the first part of the evening, but Jenna and I ended up searching for adapters for our laptop chargers instead - my computer had been dead until just about an hour ago. We weren't able to find one downtown so we decided to go buy a bottle of wine to split and meet up with the rest of our group. We spent awhile trying to find them - and found adapters on the way, thank goodness - but eventually explored our side of the river together. We found ourselves in the Giardino delle Rose after climbing many, many steps and steep streets. I cannot even describe it, so I'll just share the photos I took. After a long walk back to the bus stop, we made it home, I finished my homework for Italian (I cannot even fathom how I am about to do homework while I'm here), and we discovered that the first floor of our host family's home is actually a b&b when we met a man from the Czech Republic who is staying here with his wife!

Sitting down to dinner with the family, we had pasta with a rose-colored sauce that tasted like fresh tomatoes, fried cheese with pomodoro sauce, bread and salad, and some sort of gelato for dessert with caramel and coconut in it. We had wine with the family tonight also, which was fun, and it's clear that we are becoming more comfortable with the family and vice versa; the table was filled with laughter for a better part of dinner. Ricardo helped Jenna and I practice some Italian, and he was very excited to learn that our families are from Abruzzi (me) and Sicily (Jenna). 

To think that this was only the first day of six weeks - I already feel such a connection to this city and its people. Ecstatic to see what the rest of this week brings and so extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to come here (thanks mom and dad, I love you and miss you). I'll add a separate post in a few minutes with some of the photos from today! 

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