Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Around the World in 10 Days

Being gone ten days with no time to write makes it hard to keep up with a blog. Instead of giving you a play by play of our travels I thought I could give you an overview of the trip: my favorite things, the main points that I want to share (and remember) to characterize where we went, and a little bit of my thoughts about a new universe that I found while in each place.

It was a great trip. After I spent a day in Rome, I flew to Copenhagen and met up with two of my cousins from New York. From there, we developed our plans as we went and surprisingly things turned out perfectly. We spent 2 days in Copenhagen, 2.5 in Berlin, then 2.5 in Amsterdam. We never felt like we didn’t have enough time and we usually were about ready to leave when it was time. I think that the things we chose to do were perfect. We took the train twice and stayed in a friend’s apartment in Copenhagen (Which was so wonderful!) and hostels in Berlin and Amsterdam.



-Seeing all of the Vatican Museum.

-Being able to connect the art in Rome to what I just spent the past month learning about.

-Knowing more about some of the works than the electronic listening guide told me.


-Just as in Italy, all pasta and pizza. (Getting meat in Copenhagen and Berlin was so refreshing)

-Crosscrossed with bus lines that are helpful but jumbled.

-Even if you get lost you will find yourself in a majestic, ancient, probably famous location. Don’t worry, I only got lost a few times: I saw Roman sights that I simply didn’t mean to.

-Covered in an amount of tourists that was unrivaled in Copenhagen, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

I was only in Rome for one day. The fantastic thing was that somehow the lines were practically nonexistent. You should have seen me booking it toward the Vatican Museum, trying to speed past people to save even a few minutes in the huge line that I expected, and my immense confusion when I then walked right in and got my ticket. It was great because I got to see the Pantheon, San Pietro’s Basilica, the entire Vatican Museum (and of course the Sistine Chapel!), the Colosseo, the Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps all in one day. But the one thing that was not perfect was that I was alone. I think that is the part that I couldn’t handle for an extended period of time. I did not really mind a day and a half by myself but I have friends that have been traveling by themselves for weeks or even months. Eating alone. Traveling from hostel to hostel and place to place. You meet others of course but there is a limit in how much you can really get to know them.

Is that why people get married? No one wants to sit alone for the rest of their life? At this stage in my game I have friends and family to always sit with and be with. I have ALWAYS lived with someone. But soon I’ll be graduating, running off to the world, getting a job and my own apartment in a new place. I might live alone, I might start eating alone. And later in life all my friends will have a husband or wife; a family, or be far away. So won’t I need a best friend that promises to protect me from aloneness if only I will do the same for them?



-Denmark’s National Gallery.

-Traveling around with a native person from Copenhagen and beginning to feel like a native too.


-While in Copenhagen we stayed with a friend from Copenhagen and we hung out with her and her friends. They had a humor and understanding of the world that was very similar to ours.

-Everyone speaks perfect English that they learned in school and from shows like 90210 which are subtitled instead of dubbed.

-Even if no one is in sight, a Dane does not cross the street when the walk light is red.

-Cars are unbearably expensive because of the high environment taxes so almost all Danish people ride bikes.

-Wins ‘Best Dressed’. Most young adults share a hip fashion style. Black leather jackets are common. Great shoes (everywhere we went had shoes that I prefer to the selection in the US).

-Voted against using Euros when they were first adopted, and therefore still use the Danish Krone. The conversion rate of 6 Krone to 1 dollar was difficult.

One of the first things that our Danish friend brought us to see in Copenhagen was Christianshavn. In the 60’s, a group of hippies took over an abandoned military base in Copenhagen. They made homes there and their own community. Since they wanted to be self-contained they created their own businesses and their own way of life. And they are still there: those hippies and their kids and maybe even their grandkids. Recently they even got power and plumbing. You cannot buy property in Christianshavn but you can walk in, look around, shop, and have lunch. They do not allow pictures inside because they want to protect the drug trade that goes on there.

While I was there, I kept thinking about what it could possibly be like to grow up in that community. The children there do go to public school past kindergarten (Christianshavn has its own Kindergarten) but the rest of the time they are surrounded by a very specific lifestyle and I assume a very specific life philosophy. Do they get rebels that refuse to live so freely like that? Do the kids grow up just as radically as their parents? Every person is already influenced by their parents but imagine being shaped in the same way by an entire united community.

It’s like growing up in an Amish community… but entirely different.



-The Berlin Zoo, which has more species of animal than any other zoo in the world. It was almost empty, the monkeys were fascinating, and I think I squealed at every different cute little rodent or catlike animal.

-The Tophography of Terrors exhibit, Story of Berlin museum, and the DDR museum: all three combining to give us a complete picture of the history of Berlin, the history of the Holocaust, and the history/ experiences of the Berlin wall.

-The East Side Gallery: a stretch of the Berlin Wall that still stands and was painted in sections by artists from around the world.


-Has a very distinct identity as a country especially intensified by its history.

-Filled with art, whether music on the street, graffiti, old warehouses serving as workshops for artists, bars hosting improv bands, or art museums.

-Great over ground (S) and underground (U) subway systems that reach all corners of the city. They tell you at the platform what and when the next train will be. Unfortunately the tickets, although working the same way as in Italy, cost double as much.

-Those of Berlin generally have a darker, more punk hip style. There is less of a unified trend than in Copenhagen but I did not fit in with my dresses and flats.

-Live on staples of hearty meat, thick wheaty bread, potatoes, and pickled green things (similar to what we found in Copenhagen). Much of the city is overrun by American stores and restaurants, and you can find any style of food there.

Most of us have grown up in a country with a fairly clean, proud history. Slavery was definitely a very bad thing, and something that we still cannot write off as completely behind us. Vietnam gave us a taste of loss, and the war that we are entangled in currently has not been smooth sailing that we can brag about. But imagine being on the losing side of both WWI and WWII. Not just losing World War II but causing it and being responsible for the murder of millions. When the war was finally over Germany thought that they would never be able to clean up their country from the destruction of the war. Since most of their men had been killed, the women of Germany had to clear the rubble away so that the streets could be used again. Germany struggled to get its economy up and running. And right after that, other countries come in and divide Germany’s land among themselves, splitting one of its largest cities and its families right down the middle. How must that feel? Berlin is a very beautiful and complex city with an expressive culture. They clearly have great pride for their country (as we experienced with the World Cup) but how does their past tie in? How would we be different people if our pasts were filled and spilling over with the history of Germany and Berlin?



-Riding bikes for 3 days around the city!

-Anne Frank’s house

-Getting too many free Heineken’s at the Heineken museum and actually enjoying them.

-The Van Gogh museum.


-Seemed to have the most bikes and the most developed system for bike traffic—we’re talking lights and lanes for bikes (although they had large degrees of this in Berlin and Copenhagen). My cousins and I only almost died about twice each.

-Set up like an extending radius instead of a grid system.

-There are many large canals (larger than in Venice) flowing around the city, filled with moored and traveling boats.

-Even though their team wore white, red, and blue in the world cup game that we watched there, every Amsterdamer wore obnoxious orange. (Berlin still wins ‘Most Spirited’).

The things that most people know about Amsterdam are the prostitutes and the weed. Pot is not legal but it is sold in ‘coffee shops’ and you can smell it frequently wafting down the streets as you walk by. Prostitution is legal and I was taken aback every time I looked into a window and saw the girl posing there in her lingerie. In the red light district these two leniencies were very obvious but otherwise (maybe to others ‘because of this’) it was a beautiful city filled with drifting water and spindling brick buildings each claiming their own small style in the tight, tall space they had.

While we were there, we frequently wondered about how life was different in Amsterdam because of the weed and prostitution. Was their more cheating on wives? More accidents involving high people and bikes? Freer sexual activity? And was this freer possible lifestyle better?

And what do these places have in common?

-smoking at atrocious levels (but obviously they would not make that judgment). When we found ourselves in a huge space filled with benches and tables crowded with all ages of Germans, we did not expect the people around us to smoke so much that the screen seemed hazy. When we collectively stood up with a roar at our single goal the 20-something in front of us was on his 4th cigarette out of the 5 that he completed during the game.

The other nice thing about my cousins is they listen to me blabber on about what I am learning and seeing and what I want to share with others. And in the end I found that they shared my same desire to summarize the cities, to announce the foreign jewels of our travels. I simply love my cousins. It was hard to part ways.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Renaissance Man

I'm out on the front lawn again, Florentine sun shining through the memory of last nights thunderstorm. The grass is dewy, the frogs in the fountain are quiet, and the turning black, marble statues watch me with infinitely open eyes. I'm done with my 50 page paper, done with my 2000 page book. It seems like it really has been continuous, I'm not done when I stop writing or reading because that's only one chapter and even though the chapters are oh so thick, I still have more to go before the last page.
But I'm done. I'm out on the lawn and I'm done.

When I first learned that I was going to Italy this summer I was kinda embarrassed to tell people. Paying money instead of making it? And paying to learn about Galileo, the Renaissance, a language I don't know and never will? You may be reading and disbelieving, but can't you understand where my trepidation came from?
It was about two weeks ago, sitting in my honors seminar class (wow, nerd), and I was healed; I was confident in my experience. We were talking about "Renaissance Men". The term usually means someone well versed, someone with many talents, someone multifaceted. And the term stewed and boiled and I stopped paying attention. Renaissance Man. I am a Renaissance Man. Spot on.
It's taken me a very long time to chose my major compared to most other college students. And in a way, I was forced to make a decision that I did not want to make... plus I ended up choosing the most open, accommodating major out there. Most college students decide their majors quickly, some even before they arrive on campus. Then, once trapped on a path, the only other types of classes are requirements. When I took creative writing and econ, music composition and great books, Sociology and Political Science, I felt almost stupid: I was flailing around. But discussing the value of having deep knowledge in other areas made me feel... great. I knew that I could be a Renaissance Man- how's that for a major?
In Italian, the literal meaning of Renaissance Man is "Universal Man". Perfect, huh?

I've learned some things about Italy and in turn about home... my Gli Stati Uniti home, that is. I want to share them with you. Although I am leaving here soon, you can imagine yourself living here. Imagine a new life. Get on a plane, a boat, a hot airballoon, a dream...
-Gas is very expensive here. I have yet to buy some so I cannot really claim expertise but I think it's up in the teens of Euros per gallon. This, as well as the fact that the streets here were all made before cars were (and therefore very small and usually one way), means that the cars here are all very small. I don't think that the horrible maroon family van that I drive at home would fit down any street here.
-In Florence, there is also a law that only people who live in the city can drive cars there. This and gas prices means lots of motorcycles. Now I have been told by some certain guys friends here that I am not allowed to call them motorcycles: They are vespas. All I know is that here they are smaller and don't have big shiny pipes all over and big black leather seats and flames down the sides. Italians call them motorinos. But the point still stands: There are no stereotypes about motorcycle riders here. Any common person can ride a motorino: a business man, an old man, even a woman! A female can drive her own motorino- no submissive back seat necessary. And there are no handlebar mustaches and no leather fringed chaps here either (Thank God). I've found this to be true, even more so, in Paris. It must just be Americans. No wonder we have a bad rap.
-Cars check. Motorcycles check. Sidewalks: this difference took a while to hit me. After walking for about a week in Florence and around Sesto, I realized that the sidewalks are so difficult because they are not their own entity. In the US the sidewalks are flat and wide and not surrounded on all sides. Here they are stuck onto the sides of buildings like an afterthought, small enough for one person to walk abreast on the tilting stones, until you have to step into the street to avoid the huge metal grates around each window (which then means you are a sitting duck in the middle of a Florentine street). Plus, people don't clean up after their dogs (dogs which walk in the vicinity of their owner instead of walking on leashes). They say here that stepping in dog poo is good luck (but even so I avoid it at all costs).
-One of the most annoying things here are business hours. It's not that stores are not open late, it's not that stores don't open early enough, it's not that they close in the middle of the day, it's not that they are only open some days of the week, it's all of the above. ALL. I do not understand.
-Restaurants seem to be a little more regular although they open much later here that in the States. It is the way that restaurants run that is the biggest difference. If you're getting coffee or something to go, sitting at one of the cafe's tables will cost you more. You do not tip. But at a sit down place you pay either for the bread or the table (about 2-3 euros a person usually). You also must pay for water because if you want any it comes in a sealed glass bottle (about 2 Euros a bottle). Food is pretty averagely priced- Pizza is very cheap and you get an entire pizza (and I'm not talkin crappy personal sized). The pizzas are very thin crust; the cheese on them is usually amazing. They take very little time to cook and at many restaurants here they will bring out your food as it is ready (no waiting for every dish to be cooked before they deliver them). Almost all restaurants here have great pasta and pizza.
-My last item is PDA. Public Displays of Affection for those of you
behind the times. Now, I am hesitant to put this on here because this might be universal in hotspot travel places. But, in general, I have seen much more PDA here than at home. Like I said, I think
it could be caused by the overload of cutesy couples on their cutesy travels together. Plus, just the fact that Cutesy Couple A is doing it makes Cutesy Couple B more likely to do it. And what do they care anyways? We're all just strangers here, right?
There you go. Now you can imagine yourself with your present/future Significant Other living in Italy. You can be Cutsey Couple C. Awwww.

I'm leaving tomorrow at 7:10 for Rome. I get off the final train at 9:45. I made a reservation at a hostel (which I can hopefully find). I plan to meet up with two of the Opera students that I met here (and who left yesterday morning) at the Pantheon at 11am. I'll spend the day crushing every piece of Rome I can into my pocket and then I'm flying out the next afternoon (18th) for Copenhagen. I get in around 4pm and I am meeting up with my cousin's friend (who I have never met) in the train station at 5:30 to pick up keys to her apartment. I will then proceed there by myself- she'll be back later. The next morning my two cousins are flying in from New York. They are crazy and I love them: hopefully I'll tell some stories in the next week about our adventures together. I am also supposed to be meeting up with another friend from Michigan State but very few details have been hashed out about that.
I fly out of Amsterdam on the morning of the 27th for Madrid so we'll have about 7 days to hopefully see Copenhagen, Berlin, and Amsterdam. I get into Madrid around noon and have 4 hours to take the train to Salamanca and meet my fellow UMich students and my host family (which I currently know nothing about... let's just hope I have one).
So that's the plan. I'm just telling you so that when I describe what really happens it will be that much funnier. I also want to ask, of those of you who have been to Rome, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, or Salamanca-- what do I need to do in these places? Those of you at home with guide books are also free to help me out. I am guidebook-less and hoping to avoid the "you didn't go to the ______ when you were in ______?!?" blowups when I go home.
I'm done. I feel good, confident. I've learned so much. I've met wonderful people. I've made a new home in this new Universe. I am a Renaissance Man.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


In every place that I've traveled to so far, I have climbed a very tall object (usually towers but the Duomo in Florence and I'm counting the Mountains in Cinque Terre) to see the view.
Quiz: Name the Italian landscapes below. Choices (out of every place that I have visited so far, in order): Florence, Siena, Pienza, Cinque Terre, Venice, Prato, Pisa, Lucca, Bologna.

My day:
7:30- Get up. It is already light outside. I live with 4 other girls in the biggest room in the Villa. Although we each have an alarm, it is still very hard to get out of bed.
8:20- Eat breakfast. Breakfast is served from 7:30-9:30 Monday through Friday.
Every day we have bread with our choice of either nutella,
homemade jam (strawberry or raspberry), or homemade peanut butter. The bread comes in loaves very unlike those in America- you have to cut them with a big knife. The peanut butter is amazing- basically peanuts cut up into little pieces until they become spreadable.
Fruit is always present- I suggest putting the peanut butter on the rare bananas or the plentiful sweet green apples. The kiwis here are pretty normal- although I have am thoroughly harassed because I eat them with the skin on. I avoid the blood oranges. I've tried each of the three cereals that are offered- one tastes like Special K, the other Frosted Flakes without the Frosted, and the third is basically granola with dried fruit and raisins which is surprisingly good and very filling.
8:45- Leave the Villa. Hope that we didn't leave anyone behind.
9:00- Validate our train tickets and get on the Train. In Italy you buy your train and bus tickets at a convenience-type store ahead of time. At the train station or in the bus you swipe the tickets at a machine to stamp them with the location, date, and time. If you are caught without a validated ticket then you can be fined up to 50 Euros.
9:30- Meet our Art and Culture professor in Florence. (No worries, she does not think that I am a TOTAL idiot anymore.) We spend the morning (or the afternoon on some days) listening and scribbling in our little notebooks as we walk around onsite. We each have a receiver that hangs around our necks as we flock around our professor like a little hoard of tourist ducks. Sacrifice fashion for knowledge. We. Are. Honors!
We do try and dress like locals- which means no flipflops and no shorts (for guys and girls). When we visit churches dresses and skirts need to be long enough, and our shoulders have to be covered.
13:00- We're back in Sesto at the Villa for lunch, just taken either the train or bus back. At this point I am usually sweaty and ready for a nap. It is 7am in the US.
Lunch always starts off with soup: any and every type of soup goes. None of them have been gross... yet. The day we had split pea soup I almost refused- but I ended up having two full bowls once I tried it. After the soup usually comes veggies and hopefully meat. We eat a lot of carbs around here and when meat is served there is a mad dash toward the food. Battle of the fittest. We end up trading the meat for the next week or so for precious commodities like shampoo, museum passes, power adaptors, and gelado. Not really. But speaking of Gelato- we eat gelato almost everyday. For the first two weeks or so I never had a repeat flavor. Many times I don't know what the flavor is but they always end up being pretty darn good.
14:30- Attend our Galileo class taught by our other professor. For two hours we discuss the details of anything that could possibly be connected to Galileo. Very rarely our Art class will also be at the villa for two hours if we do not go into Florence.
17:00- Spend one hour in our honors seminar. It does not count for credit but is mandatory. Luckily it's usually pretty interesting. Yesterday we got into an argument about whether Galileo was a jerk or not.
19:00- Dinner is usually pasta. I do not complain. We've seen many repeats of styles, unlike the soups, but they are all very good. Everything here is very fresh and homemade by the Villa's cook.
Dessert forks at each place setting make us really excited. When there is no fork we will wait for a long time after we eat until we are absolutely sure that no cookies or surprise desserts are coming. You never know when a dessert will show up, and it's better to wait an extra ten minutes than possibly miss it!
My favorite dessert has been homemade vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries. I could eat that everyday, all day. I had tiramisu for the first time: I hope to be having it again. I gave carrot cake another chance and it really proved that you can make amazing dessert out of vegetables.
19:40-(hopefully before) 1:00- homework. We have about 50-110 pages of Galileo reading a night; usually a one-pager about a topic that we pick out from the reading to comment on. For almost every seminar we have a one-pager due on a topic chosen the previous day. We have about 100-200 pages of Art reading a week. So far we have had two 4-5 page Galileo analysis papers and two 500-1000 word Art reaction papers. We still have a 6-7 page Art research paper, 4-6 page final Galileo paper, and a written Galileo exam before the program ends on the 16th of June.
I am more busy here than I am at UofM. Plus it is even harder to work here because the opportunity costs are so much higher. Every moment I spend reading or writing I could be wandering the Villa gardens, or Sesto, or Florence, or Italy instead!

But I truly am trying to make the most of being here. I cannot turn down an experience, even if that means setting my school
work aside.

-For example: Last night I had 100 pages of Galileo reading to do but I went into Florence from 20:00-23:00 to watch a concert that the UofM Opera students who are also staying at the villa had been preparing for the past few weeks. They sung all of their pieces in Italian, the little church was a perfect Italian venue, and the Italian Opera singer was so Italian Diva as well. I could never turn down music, let alone Italian Opera.

-For example: This past weekend I ran on 5-6 hours of sleep so that I could go to Pisa and Lucca from 8am to 9pm on Friday and Bologna from 8am to 8pm on Saturday. Let's just say that my Sunday was terrible.
I loved Lucca especially- the city is still surrounded by its old brick walls. We walked the circumference of the city on the walls. All of the local people run and bike under the rows of green trees. Imagine living in a fairytale land, guarded against the harsh bustle of the world by your own private walls.
It truly felt like we were the only tourists there (which is a very foreign feeling).

The weekend before, we went to Venice (6:30 am Friday- 8pm Saturday).
I loved that the whole city was just perched on the water. Imagine never driving a car- instead you took your boating test when you turn 16.
Imagine your whole life being interconnected with bridges.

So far all of my travels have really allowed me to get a feeling for where I am. I feel satisfied with the amount of time that I have spent in each place. Not only have I gone into many museums and about a billion churches and cathedrals (I am a nerd through and through), plus seen amazing birds-eye views, but I have explored the towns like a native. It is a great feeling- to really get to know so much of Italy.

Speaking of those views: The first picture is from the top of the Duomo in Firenze. The next two were taken from the Leaning Tower. In the one below the swath of green trees marks the walls of Lucca. Venice is surrounded and swallowed by water in the looming distance and the entire view from Cinque Terre was just beautiful, stretching sea. Siena is the next one with that pink tint. The final city (before the fail tourist picture of me holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa) is Bologna which I thought was the most modernized city that we've seen (if you can even call it modernized at all). Bologna has wide sidewalks covered with overhead arches. Maybe you can see the line of that main street taking up space as it cuts through the city.

I am learning about the progression of art through the Renaissance. I am learning about mathematics and science, intention and lies. I am learning how to think in military time, how to avoid cars in the streets of Florence, how to use public transportation, how to listen to opera. I am learning to live another life. Even with the homework; the lack of sleep, it is whirlwind beautiful and unbelievable.