Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Abroad #1 Breaking the bloggosphere ice...

I spent last weekend with a dear friend of mine, Kala, whom I met on an amazing adventure about a year ago this summer. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about our trip to Europe. We were both challenged, but realized that we are much stronger women coming out of that experience than we were going in. And a lot of it had to do with experiencing these challenges together. She was one of a few people that made my travel experience something I will be forever grateful for and will never forget.

With that said, I thought I would recap a few emails I sent home throughout my time in Europe - and if that goes well, I'm going to put my hand-written journal entries on here too. My daily journal is much more detailed than these emails and I have pictures I'd love to post as well. However, I prefer baby-steps.

So here is the first of many emails that I sent from across the pond:

again from across the pond! I hope everyone is doing well. I have officially left Italy and moved on to the land of the Swiss. Our last week in Italy was a whirlwind to say the least. It began with our last major travel break to Venice. Venice is hands-down, my favorite place I have visited thus far. We arrived later in the evening. The train station takes you directly to the Grande Canale, which made me feel like I had stepped into a movie. We grabbed a vaporetto (water bus) to the Rialto Bridge. We proceeded to meet a messenger boy at the bridge who was going to take us to our apartment. Yes, this is sketchy and scary. However, he was very kind and we made it to our clean, private apartment in five minutes flat. Venice is extremely confusing - aka, few street signs and by streets, I mean water ways. Foot bridges are few and far between which makes finding a specific address difficult. We dropped our bags in the room and beeline for Piazza San Marco.

I have never been more captivated by a place in all of my life. Fog had settled into the square off the canale. The basilica was dim, but you could still see the gold shimmering off the facade of the church. Hazy lights beamed through the night. The most elegant version of "battle of the bands" continued late, with orchestras set up in front of all the restaurants. Couples danced, ballroom style, throughout the concrete dance floor. To sit in the chairs (a 10 euro coperto) and drink champagne was a little beyond my wallet so I stood and swayed to the music. Then I as I walked past the Doge's Palace, notes from Hey Jude flew through the air like ribbons. Appropriately, I called dad so he could hear one of our favorite tunes. It made me miss home (for about two seconds - no offense everyone). But to soak in that night was incredible. And as we walked out of the square around 1 in the morning, I realized. This is only my first night in this incredible place.

The next day we ventured off to Murano (home of the Italian glass factories - and where Galileo purchased glass for his famous telescopes). The jewelry was amazing, the vases in more so. I got video of the merchants placing sand grain in 3000 degree (Celsius) ovens - amazing, but extremely humid. We then visited the island of the cemetery. This was the most beautiful, peaceful place. They do cemeteries a lot differently than we do at home. Pictures, statues, and poems grace each memorial. Not a single grave goes without flowers. It was split up into military, children, priests, etc. They take a lot of pride in the past in Italy. Something I wish we had more of at home. It was breathtaking. After the cemetery we returned home for naps.

Once rejuvenated, we explored the Doge's Palazzo. These guys had it made. We also saw the Bridge of Sighs, where Casanova once walked across to pay for his promiscuity. The prisons were appropriately creepy, with nail scratches on the cement walls from prisoners of hundreds of years ago. We then had an extended dinner near San Marco. Word to the wise, do not drink the herb shots (they taste like pure olive oil). However, my friend Maggie and I shared a bottle of Tuscan Cabernet - excellent choice. We then sucked up the price and four of us climbed into a gondola! No one will ever need therapy, a chiropractor or chocolate. All you need is a gondola! It was the most relaxing ride, all while seeing where Mozart lived for two years and the home of Marco Polo! Doesn't get much better than that. :) Our night ended on a most wonderful high note.

The next day we visited Peggy Guggenheim's home where I saw my first Wassily Kandinsky painting. Seeing a Picasso was amazing too. I'm still torn about which I like more, modern or Renaissance. I have certainly built a strong appreciation for both. We also toured San Marco Basilica. All I can say is GOLD. The Italians went crazy when Constantinople fell. They stole every last piece of marble, gold and ruby in that place and put in on the walls and floors of this church. Mosaics made of half-inch tile pieces covered the walls and ceilings depicting the lives of Saint Mark and Christ. Upstairs is a museum that takes you through the artistry of the church and a fabulous outdoor view of the Piazza, Torre and the Canale. That night we ate dinner with a group of girls from the main trip. We all dressed up and attended an opera ballet. It was local professionals performing in an old church. This was my first opera, and it was in ITALY! I was so impressed and I cannot wait to see my next one. We then ventured back to Piazza San Marco for one last stroll. One violinist began playing Strangers in the Night and I was in heaven. Leaving Venice was difficult, but I plan to return someday.

Our week ended with the Mayor of Sansepolcro making us all honorary citizens of the town (something that has never happened in the program's history). It was an emotional ceremony, but we were all so grateful for the town's open arms. The night before we left Sansepolcro we had our final family dinner. We only spent time with these families three times, but it felt like a bond that should've been built over years. My host dad and I gabbed about Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and The Who for about two hours. My host mom said she has her loft ready for me when I return to Tuscany. I will miss them more than anything else from Italy. They remind me of all the amazing people I am writing to right now. Open hearts and open homes. They were my family away from you all and I hope someday you all will meet Magda, Jean Carlo and Petra. I then hopped on a train to Lake Como and stalked George Clooney for about 24 hours. Without any luck in that department, I still had a wonderful meal and extremely clean hotel room waiting for me. I would love to spend more time there, but it was merely a night's stop before reach Switzerland.

I arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland this afternoon. Our train ride wound around and in between the baby Italian Alpes. Mountains shot straight out of the earth reaching high enough to have clouds perched on top like birds. Waterfalls plunged down them, racing toward the blue and green lakes that scatter at the base of each mountain. Traditional wooden homes lay in villages at the bottom of the mountains with perfectly patched grass and farms around them. You must see it to believe the true beauty of this countryside. So far, Switzerland is quiet, clean and a breath of fresh air.

Tomorrow I am spelunking through St. Beatus' caves, horseback riding and mountain biking. The day after we'll leave for Gimmelwald (a town of 6 farms and NO CARS!). We'll hike to Murren and back. Then on to Lugano (a resort Italian/Swiss town) for a week of studying before the semester ends for this half of my trip. We'll say goodbye to a few of the girls. Four of us plan to go on to Paris for a week, then chunnel over to be in London the 1st of July. It is all a whirlwind, but I am having a fabulous time. I am feeling healthy and I'm building some nice muscles from lifting my bag over my head to place it on racks in the trains. :) I love you all and I would love to hear from you!"

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