My parents, sister, and I began with three days in Venice, which is utterly unlike any other city in the world - amazing simply for its sheer uniqueness: narrow alley-type streets, winding canals, charming shops and restaurants on every corner. Thank goodness for maps, though they didn't always do us a whole lot of good; we got lost on a number of occasions. Once, around 10:30 p.m. after a concert, we discovered that the streets flood when the tide rises at night, meaning you have to wade in water up to your knees to get home! Piazza San Marco was totally flooded as well, and as we made our way through it, we passed someone taking full advantage of the situation by navigating in a canoe. Thanks to a few wrong turns, partly trying to avoid the water and partly out of disorientation in the dark, we didn't make it back until almost midnight that night. Moral of the story: don't stay out too long after sunset in Venice! It was, however, quite the adventure.
Highlights in Venice included a gondola ride down the canals; a concert featuring Vivaldi's Four Seasons; visits to two of Venice's islands, Murano (famous for glass-making) and Burrano (famous for lace-making); stops in several churches, including San Marco and the church Vivaldi attended; and lots of gelato.
Ever the tourists, we managed to squeeze in visits to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Vittore Emmanuele II monument, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore and multiple other gorgeous churches, the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori Le Mura, where Paul is buried. One of our days consisted of a tour to Pompeii, the Amalfi coast, and the charming little towns of Positano and Amalfi. A fun event in Rome itself was going to a concert of highlights of opera arias with some ballet.
Next and final stop was Florence, where I'll be camped for the next four weeks of my study abroad program. We saw a lot of the main sights, the highlight for me being the 463-step climb to the top of the famous Duomo for breathtaking panoramic views of the city with Lindsey.
Mmm...delicious. I haven't eaten this many bread products in a long time. The pasta has been amazing - particularly sea bass ravioli, penne with prawns and shrimp in a tomato cream sauce, and pasta in a pesto sauce. So far my favorite flavors of gelato have been coconut, pistacchio, and dark chocolate (so yes...I've eaten a lot of gelato).
All of these enormous, incredibly ornate churches have at times overwhelmed me with their grandeur and majesty. I have felt very small and very inadequate in them, and I understand why I need an intermediary before a God who inspires, and is honored with, such beauty. I have been reminded that God is holy and set apart beyond what I can even comprehend. For many of these places, the intermediary is a somewhat impersonal priest sitting in a wooden box ready to hear confessions, but in one of the churches was written across the top: "Credi nel Signor Gesu Cristo e sarai salvato" (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved). I thought that was a pretty cool reminder of the hope I have, and that I can stand in these beautiful places with confidence.
One of my favorite things was the Sistine Chapel, which was absolutely amazing. (Unfortunately, pictures weren't allowed.) I think I could have stayed there all day just staring up at the ceiling. The perspective and illusion of three dimensions were simply phenomenal.
The formal study abroad program officially starts tomorrow morning with orientation and language placement tests. It will include Italian classes at a local language school every weekday, with some afternoon "field trips" and cultural experiences. I'm staying in a large apartment with a host mother and seven other international students, two of whom are in the same program as me. We'll eat breakfast and dinner here, and go for lunch on our own. With pizzerias and cafes on literally every corner, I'm quite sure I won't starve! The city is very charming and easy to walk around.
Since my two years' worth of college Italian was two years ago, I'm a little rusty but am gradually adjusting to hearing and seeing it everywhere. There is, of course, still a lot of vocabulary I don't know, and I'm far more comfortable with reading and writing than I am with conversing. My brain doesn't seem to process fast enough to hear accurately, translate to English, think of a response, and translate back yet, though I assume that will start to come more easily. I'm hoping that this trip will be a generally grand adventure that I can grow from in many ways. Updates will hopefully be coming semi-regularly; until the next one, arrivederci!