Friday, September 23, 2011

I DID fall in love in Italy

Before I left for Italy, friends and family kept saying “what if you fall in love in Italy and never come back?!”  I always just kind of laughed and said that if it happened, I’d be really happy but I wasn’t going to hold my breathe.  I wanted to go to Italy without any expectations so I had no chance of being disappointed. And more importantly this was a trip for me and about finding something that I felt like I have been missing… a time to do a little soul searching and be able to be completely happy with myself and my life, just how I wanted it to be. I made my trip so unexpected that I didn’t even know what I wanted to see while I was there. My sister asked me “what are you most excited about and wanting to see?” At first this question made me nervous because to be honest, I didn’t really have an answer (and I’ll always look up to my sister and the thought of telling her “I don’t know” about anything kind of scares me).  I wanted to see anything and everything I could in the 9 short weeks I was going to be abroad. When I first got to Europe I thought I wanted to see as much as possible including France, Spain and any other great place.  What changed my mind?  Well the first week we were there my roommates Amy, Jennifer, Kim and I were all huddled in a restaurant escaping the rain trying to plan our travels for each of the free weekends we had.  Jennifer and I were talking about trying to go to Barcelona or Paris.  That’s when Kim chimed in and said “You know, I think its my goal to see as much of Italy as I can while we’re here.” My initial thought was “Pshh, how could you not want to see Barcelona or Paris?!” But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.  Why wouldn’t I want to know Italy on a more intimate level? And since that moment, that became my traveling abroad goal. While I was in Italy, I traveled to Rome, Verona, Lake Garda, Venice including Murano and Burano (twice), cinque terre, Pompeii, Capri, Positano, Sorrento, Viareggio, Lucca, Vinci, Milan and Lake Como.  I can say that there was something special that I enjoyed about each of those places, all differing in so many ways while maintaining the same culture and general flavor of Italy. And then there was Florence…

One of my first days in Italy

Burano- My all time favorite gem of the country

Vernazza in Cinque Terre


Us girls in Pompeii

Me atop the Duomo in Milan

When I first arrived to Florence, I didn’t quite understand what all the buzz was about. It seemed great but exactly what made it so great wasn’t all that apparent to me. Starting with my travel photography class, I stated capturing Florence through my camera lens.  Slowly becoming more and more acquainted with the city from a perspective that was a lot more creative and intriguing than that of a tourist.  Moving to Florence was somewhat similar to dating a new boyfriend. I began to find all the small beautiful things about the city. Fun architectural details, cute little leather shops and beautiful people that were simply living their daily lives in their natural habitat. 

Most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.

My photography class

One of my photos for my final. Its a self portrait. Can you find me? :)

Then I took art history, which was one of the best decisions I could have ever made.  I learned all the little details about Florence and its history, knowing where it came from, what it was famous for and why.  Two and a half hours of art history lecturing can be so boring but I was like a sponge in that class. I just could not get enough.  Learning about the Renaissance period, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and the Medici family was so fascinating and now I completely understand why Italians are so prideful- I even support it! I loved all the museums each holding something special to the city whether it was a painting, sculpture, political, scientific or a fashion related piece.  I would boast about all that ish too if I were Italian. 

Sneaky sneaky... captured the David!

Me at the Picasso, Miro and Dali exhibit

Moving into my last three weeks, I unexpectedly took a Mediterranean Diet cooking class.  I was trained under the strict instruction of a Florentine woman named Vittoria who believed that “we should always eat food that makes our body happy.” She taught us how to make pasta and pizza from scratch along with many other dishes from the Mediterranean area, like Greece. Before coming to Italy, I wasn’t particularly the biggest fan of pizza and pasta but I have to say that living here and eating the freshest pizza and pasta you can imagine would change anyone’s mind! 
My final test: Spaghetti all arrabiata made from scratch

My professor Vittoria and her granddaughter Irene :)

Where I did my grocery shopping

Outside of class I got to know the places and people around me. Of course already being a fan of gelato, I made it my mission to find the best gelato place in town (I had more than one favorite of course).  I made friends with the owner and frequented it maybe more than I should have.  I learned to open up again to people I don’t know and to trust people knowing they are worthy of being trusted. I made some of the best friends in Florence.  One of the most amazing things about the people I met is that we could have absolutely nothing in common and everything in common at the same time. So many of the people I met there have touched my life forever and I would thank them everyday if I could.

Last day in Florence outside one of my fave gelato shops... had to get my final fix! :)

the beautiful Baptistery and Duomo

BEST pizza everrrr at Gusta Pizza

Although the language was something I didn’t pick up as much as I hoped, I tried and I loved listening to Italians speak. I'll never forget laying on the beach and listening to the people around me talking and thinking that it sounded more like music than racket. Their language is so much prettier than ours.  Even my professors abroad tried to make English sound better… “After you cook-ed the vegetable-za…” I loved it!

I could go on forever about all the things that I loved about Florence and Italy but I won’t…

With all this being said, if your question is the same… “Did you fall in love in Italy?”  Then my answer is simple. YES. I may not have fallen in love with any one Italian but I fell in love with a culture so rich of life, love and beauty.  My roommate Jennifer and I always said, “My heart is happy” because of all the great things that Italy made us feel.  This past year was one of the hardest that I have experienced and I have to thank this experience for reawakening my soul to rediscover how much I loved life just as before.  I’d fallen in love with life again in Italy and leaving was one of the hardest things for me to do.  I promised I’d be back again someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later, and if not, than most definitely to marry the second love of my life, my future husband… whoever he may be (and he better love Italy too). ;)
Me outside the front door of my apartment. 44 Via San Gallo
I miss you everyday.

Florence, Italy
Photoshop my face to hers and a question mark to his :)

Ashiee B

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New culture. New conjugations. New craze. CROATIA.

The last weekend that I was living in Italy and Europe in general, I decided to make a trip across the Adriatic Sea to the beautiful country of Croatia.  Before I ever left for Italy, my sister and I talked about traveling to Croatia together sometime in June.  But since my sister had just moved down to San Francisco, our plans of going together werent going to pan out. Since I'm a highly determined person, once I put my mind to something, its hard for me to let go of it. And going to Croatia wasn't about to be an exception.  A few weeks before my tentative trip, I waltzed into a travel agent on my street in Florence to plan my trip.  There I made friends with the owner and he helped me plan my trip including trains, ferry and all that good stuff.  Since I was traveling alone, I wanted to figure out all of the logistics before I left.

Friday August 29th at 4am, I started my journey.  I had to catch a train that would take me from Florence to Ancona which is on the Eastern side of Italy where I needed to catch the ferry to Split, Croatia. Let me just tell you now that this was the LONGEST traveling day of my lifeeee! Once I got to Ancona which was about 5 hrs later, I boarded my 6 hr ferry to Croatia. When I was waiting to catch the ferry I overheard a few people speaking English in the sea of Italians.  I went over to the guy and asked to make sure if I heard them correctly. "Excuse me, do you speak English!?" Thats when he said yes and that they were going to Croatia as well and that I could join them on the boat. PERFECT!

Jim was traveling with his wife, Holly and her mom, Carol. He had just traveled in Africa and hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.  Talk about inspiring.  He was the same age as my dad and had a daughter my age so we had a lot of fun chatting.  They were from Scottsdale, Arizona but used to live in Oregon.  They took me in under their wing and made sure that I made it safe everywhere that I had to go. I seriously have them to thank for getting me to where I needed to be. We had to transfer from Split to another Island called Brac (pronounced Brach) where I was staying in a town called Bol.  I missed the last ferry that went directly to Bol so I got on the ferry with them and went to Supetar and planned to catch a bus. When I got off the boat, I almost missed the one and only bus that was going from Supetar to Bol.  Jim and Holly were in Croatia for a wedding of a family friend and knew a relative who was nice enough to help me get there because he obviously spoke Croatian.  I didn't have any of the local currency because they dont use the Euro in Croatia and almost got kicked off the bus! I was seriously about to break down in tears when an elderly woman in the front seat looked at me and said that she would pay for my ticket.  I started to think that if there is a God, he was looking out for me and my safety.  Once I made it to Bol, I checked into my hostel and met the guys that worked there and went to dinner with them.

Holly and Jim 

Me and Holly right before I almost got kicked off the bus

The name of my hostel :)

Steve, Ben, Rai, Will and I

The Croatian currency... this is equivalent to $51

My first full day of being in Croatia, I decided to spend it on one of its most notorious beaches called Zlatni Rat which means "Golden Horn" in English.  Thats when I found out that Croatia was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, not overrun by tourists and had so much to offer a traveler.  The beach was made of little tan pebbles instead of sand and jetted out into a tip where thousands of people were sunbathing. I joined the masses (without sunscreen) and decided to work on my tan. I laid out there for the majority of the day listening to music and dipping into the water whenever I needed a little cool down.  The sun in Croatia is drastically different from the sun in Washington as I'm sure you can imagine, so I turned a lovely shade of purple for the remainder of my trip. Perfect.

 My breakfast on the beach

Walk along the beach to Zlatni Rat

Croatia is known for water sports

Me with Zlatni Rat in the background

Windsurfing lesson

Crowded Zlatni Rat

Fresh fruit on the beach :)

The next day I woke up somewhat early to catch another boat to Jelsa on the Island of Hvar. I stayed at a bed and breakfast in the quiet town of Jelsa for the next two nights.  After checking into my room, I wondered around the town to see what it had to offer. Not a whole lot but I knew that Hvar town wasnt too far away and could potentially have more.  I opened my guide book that night to read about what I could do and found a company that offered sea kayaking for the day for only $60. Done deal! The next morning I caught the bus out of town and decided to sea kayak the day away, wearing a hat to shield my purple burnt face from the sun.

My room in Jelsa

Sea kayaking

Kayaking around the cruise boats

The kayaking group with one of our guides in the red! :)

The group was fairly small and full of nice travelers. Two honeymooners from New York, an older couple from Ontario, Canada and a guy my age from England. We toured around the island before heading to a little cove where we got lunch and had time to snorkel.  I had fresh pasta with fresh tomato sauce and of course tried snorkeling for the first time. I absolutely loved it! The next hour or so following was spent kayaking back towards town past all of the cruise ships that were in town.  This part of my experience in Croatia was my favorite.


Posing with the cacti

Sunrise on Jelsa

I spent the rest of the day cruising around Hvar before I had to catch my bus back to the quiet town of Jelsa for the night. Once I got "home" I cracked open my book to read a bit and then fell asleep.  In the morning I caught yet another ferry back to Split to spend the rest of my trip.  I toured around the town including Dioclati's Palace where I did the tourist rub on his big toe for luck and then spent the rest of my day in a beach chair sipping on a beer and finishing my book. Ahh traveling is heaven! :)


Getting my good luck in

Inside Dioclati's Palace 

Old portion of the palace with a new portion

View of Split from the ferry back to Italy

Croatia was a land full of completely different people, completely different culture, language, currency and climate but it was beyond amazing and I would love to visit it again someday if I have the chance.  Next time I'll bring a friend, my family or maybe even lover. I'll just have to wait and see.

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