Monthly Archives: January 2014

You are browsing the site archives by month.

That’s Bologna

Last Saturday, we decided to take the train to Bologna for the day, the largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. Filled with good food, beautiful churches, and a vibrant population, it made the setting for an absolutely perfect day of exploring. But why visit Bologna, you may ask?

It’s got the oldest university in the Europe.

Established in 1088, L’Università di Bologna is one of the oldest universities in the world. Even today, Bologna itself feels like one huge college town, with various faculties dispersed throughout the city. At night, the piazzas and streets were packed with all kinds of young people meeting up with friends. But this also means that you can easily stumble upon old public libraries, still serving as study spots centuries later.

IMG_7467

A public library off Piazza Maggiore that we found at the beginning of our day.

From 1563 to 1803, the first official home of the university was the Archginnasio, which now contains the main city library. Its hallways are covered with the over 7,000 coats of arms of former students.

IMG_7483

The Archginnasio also houses the beautiful Anatomical Theatre, built in 1637 to house some of the first cadaver dissections. Butchers used to come to the lectures to help cut up the corpses.

The university also means that Bologna has traditionally been one of the most liberal cities in Italy, with strong history of political activism. In fact, as we walked around, we came across a protest in front of the Justice Building .

IMG_7512

And, of course, street artists have their own political message to make.

IMG_7459

It’s the best city to walk around in the rain.

Luckily, we arrived in Bologna on a stunningly clear day. But if it were to rain, we would have been set. Porticos cover almost every sidewalk in Bologna, and the wide walkways contrast with the narrow sidewalks I must squeeze through in Florence.

It’s a gastronomic capital.

Bologna, and the larger region of Emilia-Romagna, is the birthplace of lasagna, tortellini, parma ham, parmesan, tagliatelle, basaltic vinegar, and––of course––bolognese sauce. The rich and hearty dishes that Americans often associate with Italian cuisine are native to this region, and the two restaurants we visited didn’t disappoint. For lunch, I had some handmade torteloni; for dinner, I went with the classic tagliatelle alla bolognese. (Regarding restaurants, I highly recommend Tre Santi and Quadradimezzo.)

It’s cheap to visit.

By train, Bologna is only an hour away from Florence, and our round-trip tickets cost us less than 20 euros. Once there, we visited churches, wandered streets, and visited public buildings, which meant we paid only a nominal amount in entrance fees.

The main squares were filled with all kinds of street musicians––and music is the best kind of public good there is!

Getting lost is an adventure within itself.

We had a list of places we wanted to see, but we also left some time to wander through the streets, explore alleyways, and then try to figure out we were on a map. But this enabled us to discover things we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

The best views are from up high.

Bologna’s skyline is dominated by two tours––Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda––which are among the few survivors of the original 200 that once towered over the city. The story goes that two rival families competed to build the highest tower, with construction beginning in the 12th century.

IMG_7555

Today, you can climb the Torre Asinelli, which at 318 ft (97 m) is the fourth highest tower in Italy after those in Cremona, Siena, and Venice. We climbed over 500 steps of this narrow, slightly leaning tower to get to the very top––and oh, that view!

IMG_7560

When you don’t know the history, it’s sometimes just as fun to invent it.

I tore out pages from my guidebook to bring along, but often we would we wonder about the stories behind other  buildings or statues that we came across.

IMG_7479

Take the above statue. When you don’t have access to Wikipedia, sometimes you have to do with your own storytelling, like about the time when Thomas Jefferson visited Bologna and subsequently scandalized the public by writing risqué romance novels. Later, the city decided to commemorate the visit by building a statue in his honor. (After all, he kind of looks like TJ, doesn’t he?)

Of course, even the guidebook can’t always help you. According to my guidebook, the Abbazia di Santo Stefano contains a basin with Lombard inscriptions from the 8th century. However, we weren’t quite sure what basin contained the inscriptions, so we took pictures with both.

There’s art everywhere.

Speaking of which, churches contain some of the great treasures of Italian art. Where else can you ponder the works of Renaissance greats for free?

San Petronio is gigantic, touring above the main square. But my favorite church was San Domenico, a grand airy church begun in 1221 to house the body of St. Dominic after his death. The inlaid wood panels in choir area were spectacular, each portraying a different scene from the bible in mesmerizing detail.

The Sanctuary of Maria della Vita contained some stunning terra-cotta statues of the Compianto sul Cristo Morto.

Anywhere is great with the right people.

Overall, I had a wonderful day exploring Bologna––ducking into courtyards and savoring every bite of my pasta. But the truth is, what really matters is finding the right people with whom to explore.

Next Saturday, it’s off to Arezzo to tour its famous antique market. But that’s more for next time!

They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words…

I finally uploaded a slew of photos from my camera on this rainy Friday morning. So, what better way to catch up then to show it through pictures?

For example, I found all the photos I took with paint-covered fingers when we decorated scarves for our City of Florence class.

IMG_7423

Landon, me, Janhvi, and Julia B. in the art studio

IMG_7424

Demonstrating the different techniques we can use to apply the stencils to the fabric

IMG_7425

My scarf in progress

IMG_7427

IMG_7433

The finished product!

I also found some snapshots of the different places we’ve found while exploring Florence, such as this church we stumbled upon during a walk:

IMG_7440

Look at that fresco!

IMG_7439

Or the amazing graffiti you’ll find on walls throughout the city:

IMG_7443

Or the buildings themselves:

IMG_7452

Or the time we spent a whole day at museums. Our first stop was the Museo delle Piedre Dure, where they showcase the traditional Florentine art form of creating elaborate designs by inlaying different kinds of semi-precious stone:

We also went to the Museo di San Marco, where you can peek into the former cells of monks:

And lastly, I was reminded that there’s no better view of Florence than from Piazzale Michelangelo.

IMG_7454

Coveting the Handmade in Florence

Once again, I’m participating in the Berkley Center’s Junior Year Abroad Network this semester, where I’ll be posting two academic blogs on my experiences here in Florence. I’ve included my most recent blog below, although the original can be found here.

Enya playing in the background and hands covered in paint, I put the finishing touches on my work—dabbing red and blue paint on the stenciled flowers that I had painted on the scarf. As part of a fieldtrip for our “City of Florence” class, we were crowded into an artist’s studio in Oltarno, the neighborhood of narrow streets that lies on the south side of the river in Florence. The studio itself was eclectic. A nude cartoon baby statue sat near the front window next to a gigantic traffic light. Canvases in various stages of work leaned against the walls next to containers of half-used tubes of oil paint.

At Villa le Balze, the “City of Florence” class provides students with the opportunity to further explore aspects of the city itself. Last Friday, this kind of exploration took us to Le Zebre, a small shop owned by a couple that specializes in handmade garments and accessories. After touring their shop, we had the opportunity to create something of our own by using stencils and paint to decorate a scarf.

In a time dominated by huge department stores that demand cookie cutter mass production, it is refreshing to find artisans who put time and thought into each work. Art requires a type of patience that seems increasingly hard to find in our automatized and factory line world. This makes handmade works even more of a treasure.

Florence, after all, is a city of art. Every year, millions of visitors flock to the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Bargello, or one of the many museums in the city to gaze at the famous works of the Renaissance masters. Yet I found it surprising to discover how much the tradition continues to thrive.

After our time in the art studio, a couple of us wandered the streets nearby, ducking into the tiny shops and workshops that line Via Romana. In a store called Reciclò, we met an artist who constructs innovative pieces of furniture out of salvaged parts from eBay—a bedside lamp made out of a retro hairdryer, a chair made out of a Vespa, a table constructed from sea wood. The artist took the time to talk to us, showing off his various creations and recommending a flea market in Arezzo to visit. Further down the street, an artist named Gianni Silvestri encouraged us to not only look but also touch his oil paintings. In another boutique and workshop, an artist named Chiara invited us to come back for a jewelry making class.

Repeatedly, I was struck by the openness of the artists and how willing they were to listen to our questions in halting Italian and to let us to peek around their studios. They were proud of their work, and they wanted to share it in whatever way they could. Quickly, we figured out that if we stayed in the shop long enough and attempted to speak Italian, they would return the efforts. In a specialty chocolate shop, another customer commented to the owner in Italian that we wouldn’t understand because we spoke English. After responding in Italian that we could—somewhat—understand, the owner graciously warmed up to us, describing the different types of chocolate and giving recommendations on what she liked best. At the end, she asked for our names, and we promised to return again.

Globalization may be changing the kind of products we use and how they are made, but there remains value in the kind of handmade work that can never be replaced by mass production or factory lines. It’s the difference between receiving something off a shelf and knowing personally the individual who made it. The latter requires patience, skill, and care. It necessitates love.

And that, after all, is the beauty of art.

A public art installation in Florence, depicting a modern take on some of the iconic figures in Renaissance art.

A public art installation in Florence, depicting a modern take on some of the iconic figures in Renaissance art.

Getting Acquainted

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so I thought I’d take the time to quickly update what’s been going on.

On our first weekend here, we ventured out into Florence to acquaint ourselves with the city. From the Villa (and from my apartment), it’s pretty easy to get into the city center via bus.

IMG_7329

Alan, our director, gives the story behind Ospedale degli Innocenti, which was originally a children’s orphanage.

We also found the public library in Florence, where many Italian students go to study and hang out with friends. (It looks quite different from the libraries that I know!)

IMG_7331

First up-close view of the Duomo!

First up-close view of the Duomo!

And, of course, this isn’t Florence without stumbling upon a statue or two.

IMG_7337

Sorry for the nudity, Grandma! It’s in the name of art!

IMG_7339

IMG_7334

IMG_7344

I also got my first gelato of the semester at a place near Piazza della Signoria.

IMG_7341

Over the weekend, I also moved into my host family’s apartment. More photos of that later, but it’s been a wonderful experience so far!

The outside of the apartment building

The outside of the apartment building

During orientation, Alan took us on a “walking tour” of Fiesole. Turns out, it was more of a hike than a walking tour, but that’s just semantics. We hiked up to Piazzale Leonardo, where Leonardo Da Vinci famously tested out his flying machines.

On Sunday, we had some time to get lost in the city, armed with a map in hand. One of the highlights was crossing the Arno right at sunset, when the sun casts a beautiful golden glow over the buildings.

Last week, we began our first week of classes, a fairly condensed schedule since we only have class four days a week. After my Italian class every morning, I have some combination of the other three courses that I’m taking this semester: a government course on EU Identity and Globalization, a history course on the Late Renaissance, and another government course on Italian Politics since 1796. In between, I get some reading done in the library or music room at the Villa.

On Wednesday, I tagged along with the Art History class to visit the Bargello and Uffizi––two of the great art museums located here in Florence. Last Friday, we took a group field trip to meet local artists and paint our own scarves for our City of Florence class, a 1-credit course that encourages us to get out and explore an aspect of the city.

Over the weekend, Julia and I decided to jump right into sightseeing, pulling off an exhausting 12-hour day at Museo dell Piedre Dure, Museo di San Marco and the church, and several more hours at the Uffizi. I also bought a student annual pass, which will hopefully allow for many more museum visits over the next several months. We put it to use on Sunday, by going to visit Michelangelo’s iconic David at the Accademia.

A doppo!

Benvenuti a Firenze

I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I signed up for this. And I mean that in the best way possible––I never imagined that on this Tuesday morning* I would be sitting in an high backed leather chair in a 100-year-old library, sipping my tea with a view of Florence and the Villa gardens. I savor these moments because they are accompanied with the scary realization that I don’t know when else I will be treated this well again. After you spend days wandering around the winding streets of Florence, is it only downhill from there?

Philosophical waxing aside, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days as I’ve settled in, adjusted to the effects of jet lag, and began classes for the semester. I’ll write more on that later, but first it’s time to recap how I got here.

I left San Francisco on an early 6 o’clock flight to Chicago on Wednesday morning, before connecting to my transatlantic flight to Frankfurt. Luckily, despite the weather woes that plagued most of the United States, I managed to make both of my connections. My flight in Chicago was delayed two hours––a nerve-wracking experience when your connection is only two hours to begin with––but we managed to make up enough time in the air so that I was able to reach my gate in Frankfurt with time to spare.

I finally arrived in Florence early on Thursday morning, after watching the sunrise over the peaks of the Alps. When the plane broke through the cloud cover to land in Florence, I was captivated by the rolling green hills and farmland of the Tuscany countryside. So this is it, I thought to myself.

I collected my luggage and got a taxi to Fiesole by myself, as the two others who were supposed to have been on my flight had been delayed elsewhere. The taxi driver raced up the winding road to Fiesole, which lies on a hill above the city of Florence. He’d repeatedly accelerate madly to try to make a green light, then laugh and look in the rearview mirror to see my reaction. “Vroom, vroom,” he laughed at me, as we sped through a narrow one-way alley. I nervously laughed and gripped the side of the car.

Finally, we arrived at Villa le Balze itself, whose name literally means “Villa of the Cliffs” after the cliffs it is situated on.

IMG_7313

Street view of Villa le Balze

IMG_7309

After arriving, I met the Villa staff, processed some paperwork for my permit to stay in Italy, and got a tour around the grounds themselves. Exhausted, I then promptly fell asleep as I waited for the others to arrive.

Around lunch time, I met Taylor, who will also be doing a home stay this semester. (There are only three of us out of the group of 14.) After having some lunch, we decided to explore the gardens. Of course, my camera was in tow:

Afterwards, we decided to walk further up the hill towards Fiesole, where we heard there was a fantastic lookout. And indeed, there was:

IMG_7319

IMG_7321

At dinner, we had our first group meal in the dining hall as everyone struggled to stay awake after days of travel.

For me, it’s strange to be embarking on this whole experience of study abroad once again––thrown into a whole new group of people after I had been so accustomed to other eight with whom I lived, studied, and traveled in Turkey. Once more, I’m living amidst unfamiliarity, with a group, a country, and a language that I don’t quite know. But at the same time, it’s exciting to embrace this change one more time.

Ciao!

* At the time I’m posting this, it’s currently Thursday evening. Unfortunately (and fortunately), it can be hard to find time to figure out how to upload all the photos to WordPress when one’s days are filled with class and afternoons are filled with exploring Florence by foot.

On the Road (Airway?) Again: Countdown to Firenze

It’s strange to be leaving again.

My huge purple suitcase is once again stuffed with a semester’s worth of stuff. I’ve got my system down at this point. In fact, I hardly unpacked at all during the two weeks that I’ve been home. It only took several hours this afternoon to throw everything back in, replacing the shorts and dresses that were my staples in Alanya with clothing more suited for the rain and cold of a Firenze spring.

With my bags all packed, I’m now utilizing every outlet in my room as I charge up all the electronics for the travel marathon that commences tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., which is when I need to leave my house in order to make my early morning flight out of San Francisco. From there, I’ll stop in Chicago and Frankfurt before finally touching down in Florence on Thursday morning. (That is, if everything goes to plan!)

Over these past couple weeks, I’ve been so busy savoring my time with family and friends that I haven’t really had much time to reflect on all the wonderful experiences I had in Turkey last semester. And so, as I’m preparing to leave for Italy, it’s not California that I’m starting to feel homesick about, but Alanya.

I unpacked my duffel bag this afternoon to find the picture frame that my Turkish host family gave to me at our last dinner in December. Next to it, I found the beautiful blue, loopy scarf that my host mother had knitted for me. I am incredibly thankful for the charming people and culture that welcomed me to Turkey––encouraging my attempts to make conversation with my broken Turkish, cooking endless amounts of food and sweets, and inviting me into their homes and businesses. I hope that my experience this semester amounts to even just half of that.

I’ll be actually living with a host family this semester––something that both excites and terrifies me at the same time. While last semester I went to my host family’s flat for dinners and hung out with my host sister in town, now I will be living, sleeping, and eating with my new Italian host family. I’m excited to explore and have time away from the Villa in this sense, since that physical separation between home and school was absent in Turkey, where we did everything in the same building. I cannot wait to have my own Italian family, but I’m nervous about the logistics of living in a stranger’s home.

That being said, I cannot wait to explore the city of Florence itself and to touch and feel its centuries of influence as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I cannot wait to rome its streets, capture its words on paper and its beauty in photographs. I splurged on a couple of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides for Florence and Italy, and I’ve been pouring over the photographs and drawings. Though they take up several precious pounds in my suitcase, I hope to try out some of the self-guided walking tours for myself. And then, there’s some places that I’ve already bookmarked. I can’t wait to picture the Medicis at home in Fiesole, explore the bizarre taxidermied collection of the Museo Zoologico La Specola, or marvel at Renaissance art.

I’m truly thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have to continue my adventures abroad in Italy. I hope to build off my one semester of Italian to become somewhat conversational in this beautiful language. I hope to learn not only about what Italy meant in the past, but what it means today in global politics. But above all, I hope to have time to wander and savor the country and its people.