Ciao Bella!

25 cities, 5 countries, several walking tours, countless memories and a new place I was able to call home for four months. What once was a distant possibility became reality. I had always wanted to study abroad and thought about studying in Ireland or Australia because let’s be honest, speaking English would have made things a lot easier, but I am happy to have chosen Florence, Italy as my host city.

Jamie takes a ride in a traditional gondolaFlorence is a unique city in that every day you are walking the same cobblestone streets that artists like Michelangelo, Donatello, and Galileo had once walked before you. Walking to class you are able to pass medieval palaces, churches, and museums filled with masterpieces. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is filled with history around every corner, and through all its history from the Medici family to the contemporary street artist, Clet Abraham; Florence is still thriving with its local artisans, food, and culture.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would never be able to fit in as an Italian with my blonde hair and blue eyes but I didn’t let that stop me from trying. I bought myself a leather jacket, some weird chunky shoes and tried my best not to trip on the cobblestone (only fell once). I acted like I wasn’t lost, pretended I knew things about wine, and tried my best to pronounce ever consonant in the Italian language.

Over time I really did begin to know my way around and was even able to give people directions in Italian. I started to sneer at the tourists that were walking too slow and stopping to take pictures every second completely denying the fact that I too am a tourist. I began to enjoy meals lasting several hours with friends and even felt a little rushed if our food came out too quickly. For anyone that knows me, that may sound a bit shocking considering at home I often choose a seat with a clear view of the kitchen doors.

It’s easy to take things for granted while walking through the streets of Florence. After awhile, you forget how amazing it is that someone is playing music in every piazza you walk through. You forget how fun it is to walk through the Mercato Centrale for fresh groceries, as it becomes something to check off your to-do-list. The cathedral bells that ring at the worst hours end up being something you will miss, and the street vendors…well, no one is going to miss them.

What I will miss the most is the lifestyle of studying abroad. It’s not often that you can travel to another country every weekend, or order a five star meal for just 12 euro. I’m going to miss all the friends I’ve made, my roommates, and all the fresh food you can eat. Living in Italy allowed me to fully experience another culture and that can’t be done in just a few weeks.

So thank you Italy for teaching me to stop and smell the cigarettes and salute to the semester of a lifetime.

Why Visiting an Italian Salon is a Must

Before going to Italy, I scrambled around for weeks picking up all the little things I would need once I got here. I stocked up on Advil, cold medicines, makeup, hair-products, practically everything to make sure that they would last me three and a half months. As I was packing up all the ‘necessities,’ my dad looked at me and said, “It’s Italy…not a third world country.” In other words, you can buy these things when you get over there. They have pharmacies, they have cosmetic stores, and most importantly, they have hair salons.

Jamie takes a ride in a traditional gondolaFor me, three and a half months without a hair cut would be comparable to those little shih-tzu dogs running around with their hair covering their eyes. So, when it began to get a little out of control, I walked into one of the first salons I saw and asked for an appointment. I got shut down. The salon was booked for months but they kindly referred me to a salon down the street that took walk-ins.

Once I arrived, the owner led me to a seat and asked if I’d like any tea; afraid that I might have to pay for it, and too embarrassed to ask if it was free, I declined. Next a woman came up to me with different aromas and in her best English, asked me to choose one. Again, I tried to decline, as I didn’t come for perfume; however, she explained to me that it was all part of the process. So I chose one and she began to perform what I can only describe as aromatherapy. I got an entire face and neck massage and at the end she placed a white flower shaped object in front of me and walked away. I looked at it, and then looked at her, and she gestured for me to pick it up. I was thinking that maybe it was food but luckily before it got anywhere near my mouth, it unraveled into what I realized was a moist-towelette.

Next, three of the hairdressers came up to me and studied my hair, and I mean really studied it. The man started by walking around my chair grabbing certain pieces and saying something to the two women in Italian. Then all three of them had their hands in my hair speaking to each other very quickly in Italian. I can only imagine what they were saying to each other. “What took her so long to come in?” “Her hair is so blonde, do we even have blonde hair dye?” “Should we try to ask her what shade she’d like? She hasn’t understood us so far…” It felt exactly like that scene in The Princess Diaries where the stylist had no idea what to do with the awkward Mia Thermopolis’s mane.

After they finished, one of the women said, “Allora, come with me.” She put the dye in my hair to highlight it, but she did it a little different than I am used to at home. I was so terrified that when she washed it all out that I would be platinum blonde or something horrible. I kept my mouth shut though mostly because I really didn’t know how to ask her for one thing and didn’t want to offend her while she was holding dye to my head. After all Italians aren’t known for having great temper.

With dye all over my hair, I was shuffled back to the male hairdresser who brought me to another room to wash my hair. He actually spoke very good English and asked me where I was from, what I study, and about the book I was reading. Again, he had me choose a shampoo and at that point I just said whichever because with all the scents surrounding me, I could no longer differentiate between the two. For the rest of my time at the salon, he was the one to work on my hair. He cut and styled it and actually listened when I said, “just one inch off the ends please, no more.”

I was having so much fun being pampered that I had completely lost track of time. It was two thirty and I was supposed to be in my Italian Crime Fiction class by three. With my hair still wet and half-cut, I told him I had class soon and he promised me that he’d be no more than ten minutes. Unfortunately, ten minutes Italian time is like 30 minutes real time. It was 3:06 and I was practically sprinting to class. I strolled into class 20 minutes late thinking well at least my hair looks good when I awkwardly find my way to my seat. Luckily for me, my Professor also follows Italian time and at 3:20 when I arrived, he hadn’t even taken attendance.

My Big Fat Greek Vacation

Spending spring break in Greece consisted of ruins in Athens, sunsets in Santorini, kayaking in Corfu, and gyros everywhere in-between. The week-long adventure started in Athens where I was able to see in real life what has been in every history book of mine since high school – the Acropolis. I must say it looked much prettier without the stick figure doodles and meaningless scribbles from students over the years. The Acropolis, meaning “highest point”, is an ancient citadel that looks over the city of Athens. Inside the Acropolis is the Parthenon dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the ancient Athenians considered as their patron.

Visiting the ParthenonLater that day my friends and I did a little shopping, sat down to a traditional Greek dinner of fried cheese, salad, meatballs, and Moussaka, and then snuck our way on to a nightlife tour (shh!) where my sister and I celebrated our 21st birthday.

Jamie's GyroThe next stop was the picturesque island of Santorini where we were able to watch sunsets over the white buildings each night and also where I tried my very first gyro. I’m not sure which was more breathtaking – the views or the gyro.

If you don’t know what a gyro is, let me enlighten you. First, you choose chicken, pork, lamb, or beef, which is thinly sliced off of a vertical rotisserie behind the counter, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and french-fries all for under three Euro. So if you weren’t hungry before reading this post, I’m sure you are now.

The days in Santorini were spent doing more shopping, fish pedicures, where small fish eat all the dead skin off your feet (suddenly not so hungry anymore?), and a tour of the red and black sand beaches where we soaked up the sun that Florence had deprived us of for so very long.

SantoriniNext stop – The Pink Palace in Corfu. Yes, it is really called that, yes, it really is pink, and no, it does not resemble a palace in the least. This hundred-year-old party hostel was sort of like a resort in the way that it was on the beach with activities like ATVing, cruises, and kayaking to sign up for. My friends and I signed up for a Kayaking ocean safari in the Adriatic Sea, which ended up being my favorite part of the entire Greece trip.

Kayaking in CorfuThe main attraction of the Pink Palace experience is the toga party they throw for their guests. Each guest dresses in their pink sheets that are all tied differently. Around midnight, the Greek employees clear the dance floor to perform a show for the guests starting with two big guys dancing a traditional Greek dance. After they finish their dance, a man called Dr. George comes out to entertain guests by doing crazy tricks like lifting tables with his mouth, lighting things on fire, and smashing plates on guests heads. Madness.

I’m sad to leave my big fat Greek vacation behind but it will be something that I will never forget – unless I got a few too many plates to the head that is…