A Weekend of Stairs & a Beautiful Tuscan Golden Retriever

The treacherous Duomo stairs
The treacherous Duomo stairs

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My accidental Italian flag colored flavors
My accidental Italian flag colored flavors

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Goldens are my favorite
Goldens are my favorite
A cute, random door on the vineyard.
A cute, random door on the vineyard.

Recovered from my last trip, I threw myself into my schoolwork. Around this time, I had been feeling pretty behind and that my classes were much more difficult than my friends. Not only was this stressful and frustrating, but it seemed unrealistic for me to devote so much to schoolwork, while also immersing myself wholly in Italia. I missed my rents, friendies at Homedrix, and pets, all to snuggle and talk with when I get overwhelmed, especially with people who really know me. I try to do as much as I can everyday, but I get tired, distracted, and want to relax. I should be looking more in advance, but I have just been going day by day. I did homework all Thursday the 26th and stayed in, instead of going out with friends, so I could pack for the school weekend excursion and have the luxury of getting the room all to myself.

The next day, Friday the 27th, I woke up early in order to catch the bus for the school-organized weekend trip to Pisa, Florence, and to a Tuscan winery. We arrived in Pisa, blessed with good weather. Seeing the Leaning Tower and the buildings surrounding it made me feel like I was walking onto a movie set. The grass was unbelievably green and the architecture was sparkling. Pisa is a very small city, and seemed to mainly dominated by tourism. In cities with so much tourism like this, I always wonder how many natives stay or if they are driven away in search for less activity, annoying visitors and pestering retailers. If it was me, I know I would be irritated with all of the bothersome stands set up selling the exact same low-quality knick knacks. Walking around Pisa was wonderful, with great weather and beautiful buildings, but it was much smaller than Rome. I had a delicious panino for lunch that I got to create, kind of like an Italian version of Subway. Then after lunch, before we were supposed to meet back up with the school group, my friends and I took cheesy pictures in front of the leaning Tower and then climbed up it!!

I have to be honest and say that some parts were frightening and I felt very crooked. Seeing the molded steps from 500 years of people going up them however was pretty amazing. They were curvy and slippery, which also made it a little treacherous to walk up them. The walk up was fun, but the view and being at the top was so neat. I loved seeing the little cars and people walking around, but since it is “leaning” walking around the top of it got a little disorienting and scary too.

That night, after our half day in Pisa, we were in a town between Pisa and Florence, which I still am not sure of its name to this day. After dinner, my friends and I ventured out from the adorable “President’s Hotel,” where the school had arranged for us, and walked to a tiny gelato shop. One flavor with bits of cookie and chocolate was heavenly; it was tasty in the most unusual way. Some of the girls in my program had met more people on the trip, so we hung with them and chatted in the card room. Meanwhile, the main entry hall had an older Italian man DJ-ing/singing as other elder italians sat and drank wine! It was a very loud get together. Italians sure do know how to be loud if anything.

Our hotel rooms were tiny, with 4 beds crammed into half the size of my bedroom at home. I expected as much, considering space is a luxury in most of Europe. Not only did this trip provide us with somewhere nice to stay, they provided an ample buffet breakfast and delicious sit-down dinners too! It was nice rely on someone else to prepare the meal. This and we got to dine with different people than you’re used to. I met several new students at AUR through this trip, which is hard to do here, since it’s not like opposite of the Hendrix bubble. Everyone does their own thing here and lives off campus in various apartments. Finally, I was able to sleep and rest before we headed to Florence the next day.

It seemed like we woke up unreasonably early (it wasn’t too unreasonable), but we got to sleep in the comfy charter bus on the ride there to Firenze. We took a walking tour around the main parts of Florence, so we were able to see all the main sights. Then we could decide what we wanted to do after that, so my friends and I went to the Centrale Market. This place was amazing and had several different options of what to eat for lunch, but I decided on a bowl of prawns, calamari and anchovies (I hate anchovies). The only downside was how long it took for me to get it.

Because we wanted to do different things – soon to be a reoccurring theme in all my travels – my group of friends split up into two. My roommate Josie and I both had been dying to climb up Brunelleschi’s il Duomo, and I had trouble believing my other friends didn’t want to do that even though the line looked long. We only had to wait for about 15 minutes and then we purchased our tickets, which also go us into the Bell Tower, Baptistry and the underground ruins beneath the main cathedral. Going up il Duomo was a dream come true!!! As you climb, you get a better view of the fresco (The Last Judgement by Federico Zuccaro) on the dome’s ceiling. The colors and details are so amazing to see up close, and I personally loved getting to see the descent into hell part of the work. The figures and subjects in this section are super disturbed and bizarre. I wish I could find a better picture, or I took one that did it justice. Many I know would complain about those 400 and something stairs, but they weren’t bad until we reached the actual curving parts of the dome. People were trying to go up and down the miniscule, slippery, and railingless stairs at the same time. It got way too hot and claustrophobic, thankfully the view made me forget all about those stairs. Finally – we had made it. The view of Florence from above is stunning. It far exceeded the Leaning Tower’s view in my opinion (il Duomo is much taller to be fair). I love getting all these opportunities to see my art history book and lectures come to life, as corny as that may sound. Italy truly has allowed me to geek out over all of its architecture and art.

After we took pictures, gazed and gawked some more atop il Duomo, Josie and I decided to descend the 463 back down. We chose then to make to very questionable decision to climb the Bell Tower immediately after we finished il Duomo. In a crunch for time, I know we didn’t have much else of choice, but my calves were screaming for a different alternative once we hit the first 100 stairs of the Bell Tower. Again, the view of Florence and this time, il Duomo, were flawless. However, we were both woefully exhausted after this extremelly cultured workout. The rest of the afternoon was just as satisfying, but less tiring. Josie and I dipped into the Bapistry, walked across Ponte Vecchio, snacked on some tasty gelati while resting in Piazza dei Piatti. I loved visiting Florence, and I knew I was to have to come back at some point to visit the Uffizi and the Accademia. This afternoon was also super fun because I got to hang out with one of my roommates who I never spendt time with one on one. I laughed so much and throughly enjoyed her company! Josie – if you’re reading this (I don’t know if you do..) you rule.

That night we had more pre-planned dinner, which I didn’t really mind, but others complained about…and then had a relaxing night in the hotel. Our next day was to be more laid back, visiting an authentic Tuscan vineyard and doing a wine tasting there. The drive there was looked like it was straight out of an Italian travel magazine. Getting out of the bus, I immediately noticed (of course) that there was a golden retriever there. Having one of these magnificent creatures myself, I am always drawn to them, which of course makes me miss my own dog. This one however was not as cute as mine, but still pretty darn adorable. I could have just stayed with him the rest of the day. Our day went onto to entail a tour of their grounds, turned out it was a vineyard that only hired women, a short cooking lesson with a woman who doesn’t speak any English, a wine tasting and lesson about wine, an amazing five-course dinner, and then the most frustrating event that occurred to me thus far during my time abroad.

I got a call from my bank, saying that my account had been wired into, despite me having my debit card on my person. This person had been doing little transactions with it, just to make sure it actually worked, then started pulling out large amounts. Seeing this on my phone and having them tell me about this was super upsetting and irritating. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do about this. Of course my parents helped me, but it was just the worst because we were on the bus ride home when all this happened. I had to talk to the bank, but I could barely hear the lady due to all 50 of my noisy peers. After I did as much I could where I was, this drive home was still filled with frustration and very sore muscles. I wanted desperately to be home, not sitting on the same seat, and to be done with this bothersome bank fiasco. I will let you know what happened it in the next post! Heh

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