Wednesday, November 24, 2010


On Monday, Liz and I went to Siena. We weren't sure if we should go, because it was raining in the morning, but we decided that we weren't going to get another opportunity to go before the end of the semester, so we walked to the bus station and were on our way.

There's not really much to see in Siena, but it is a beautiful little town, and they were decorating for Christmas, so it enhanced the beauty of the area. The rain stopped as we arrived, and didn't start up again until we were back in Florence, so it worked out perfectly.

Siena is a hilly town, so don't wear your stilettos and prepare to get a calf workout.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm Ready for the Marathon

Yesterday, I sprinted around Florence. All of Florence. All day. It was not fun, and I hope I never have to repeat the experience. Let me tell you about it:

This was the one day that I had something actually important to do in the morning. I had an appointment with the portfolio store to build my portfolio case for printmaking. I was scheduled to meet my professor at the McDonald's in the train station at 8:50 AM.

The night before, I set my alarm for 8 AM, made sure it was on and correctly set, and went to bed. I had plans to make an awesome breakfast and write my one-page paper due that day and then go to the shop with my teacher and all would be wonderful and productive.

Clearly it was not meant to be.

I woke up of my own accord at 9:20 AM. I bolt out of bed, throw jeans, shoes, and a shirt on, pull my coat on and remember to grab my glasses and purse before sprinting out of the apartment. I crash down the four flights of stairs and burst out of the door and run to the train station. I arrive at 9:27, and my professor is nowhere to be found. So I sprint to the art studio, in hopes that she went there to wait for me. No such luck. So I wonder to myself whether she went to the McDonald's outside of the station instead, and so I sprint back to the station and look there. Still no.

It's now 9:45 and I don't know what to do. So I sprint back to the studio and ask the person at the front desk if she has Lucy's (my professor) cell phone number. She looks at me and says "Oh, you're Laura. Lucy just called looking for you. She's at the shop already."

Wonderful. Now I know where she is. I prepare to sprint off again, but remember to ask, "How do I get there?"

The lady prints off directions, but fails to print off a successful map, and I'm running out of time, so I just take the directions, thank her, and head out again.

I run past the train station and past the fortress and pause to find the next turn when an Italian woman asks if I need help. I tell her no, but she insists and when she sees where I'm headed, tells me that it's very far away and I need to take the bus. Cool. "Which bus?" Number 22. The bus stop is right down the street.

I round the corner, walking briskly, figuring I will have a few minutes before the bus arrives, and see bus number 22 pulling out from the bus stop and heading into traffic. So I start running again and now I'm enacting every Hollywood scene of the poor kid running after the school bus, desperately trying to catch it so he doesn't have to run the whole way to school. The bus stops at a red light and I catch it. I bang on the door, pleading with the driver to let me in. He takes pity on me and opens the door. I hop on and breathlessly ask if his bus goes to the Piazza near the shop. He nods and hands me a ticket.

When the stop is next, I prepare to push the stop button, but the driver turns around and looks at me and says, "Your stop is next." Thanks, guy. I'm really not as pathetic as you think. But I thank him and get off at the next stop.

It's 10:10 now, and I know my teacher has somewhere to be at 10:20, so instead of looking around the piazza and finding the street that I need to take, I sprint around like a crazy person being pursued by the Devil himself, running down each street a little ways, supposing that somehow I'll recognize where I am (I've never been in that part of town before). Luckily, my teacher flags me down and drags me into the portfolio shop.

"Where have you been?" Oh, if only you knew...

She has taken care of the preliminary work for me, so all I had to do was pick the color of my portfolio and we were done. I was scheduled to meet with her again at 11:15 to go to a special appointment at the National Library and see original art books by Picasso and Duchamp and Depero (an Italian futurist) and Rodin. Lucy just looks at me and says "Please don't be late." I won't, Lucy, I promise. I may not be able to be like Rembrandt, but I will fight hell and high water to make this next appointment. I won't fail you.

It's now 10:20 and I have to get to the other side of the river to the National Gallery. I promised my professor that I would be there 5 minutes early (11:10). I walk to the bus stop and see that the next bus isn't coming for 15 minutes. That is unacceptable. So I sprint back to my apartment. It's a 15 minute hard run. I race up the four flights of stairs and grab my computer and furiously write that paper I intended to write several hours earlier. I send it to my professor via email because I don't have time to print it out, and grab my books for the rest of my classes that day. It's now 10:55. It's a twenty minute walk to the other side of the river. I make it there in 8.

So I'm sweaty and out of breath and disheveled and exhausted (because I had only slept 6 hours that night, and the previous weekend was full of raving and NOT sleeping), and up the stairs walks my professor, followed my three chic Italians: two female professional artists and a male professor at one of the top universities in Florence. They exchange formalities with me, but it's clear that they think very little of my appearance. Lucy tells them that I "of course don't speak Italian," and the man switches to French and asks me if that is better. I tell him I speak a little Spanish and understand that language the best of the romance languages, and he nods and switches to that. They all communicated what they needed to say to me in a mix of Italian and Spanish, with Lucy translating the more difficult concepts in English.

The artwork was amazing, and we had to wear gloves to touch it. They were all in great condition, except the Rodin lithographs for The Temptation of Saint Anthony had some severe foxing. The Italians knew so much about what we were looking at, and tried to educate me, but a lot of the concepts they were trying to explain were things I didn't even know the words for in English, so when they asked me if I knew the Spanish word and I did not, they immediately assumed I had lied about my understanding of Spanish and was a typical, stupid American. It was mildly frustrating, but I couldn't complain, because I was getting an opportunity that most people never get in their lifetimes.

Because of the explanations and the dwelling over the beautiful works, we were done at 1 PM. I had class at 1:30, by my apartment. Again, a 20 minute walk. I still hadn't eaten since I woke up, and so I thought I would stop by a cafe and pick up a sandwich to eat in class. I got there, and of course had to fight the lunch rush. By 1:25, I had reached the front of the line, but I needed to get to class. So I abandoned thoughts of food and ran to class. I arrived just as the teacher was shutting the door to start class.

I then had class for 4 hours.

After class, I was ready to go back to my apartment and eat, but I ran into a friend and she just had to tell me about her life (and unfortunately peppered the conversation with pertinent information and questions, so I needed to stay and listen to get all the information from her.

It was 6 PM. I realized that I needed to get to the studio before it closed (last entry at 7, close at 8:30), so I raced to the studio and printed. I did, however, do final prints for another plate (2 down!) and got another plate ready for final printing. So that was successful, at least.

Then I walked very slowly back to my apartment and crawled up the stairs and pulled food out at 8:45. It was the first thing I had eaten all day, so I just stuffed myself with starches and carbs. It was wonderful to finally eat something.

Then I took some photos of myself for the photo project I had due the next day, and then I passed out around midnight. I woke this morning sore, unable to move my legs.

And that's how I spent all of Tuesday sprinting around Florence.

Waffles, Chocolate, Fries, and Techno, Techno, TECHNO

So we started our journey well, and made it to Belgium with no problems. Once we got off the plane, we were greeted by a wind that was determined to blow Belgium off the planet. And it was doing a good job. So we struggled our way to the bus stop and boarded the bus to the train station, glad to be sheltered from the tornado raging outside. At the train station, we were unsure which train to board, and got on what we thought was the correct train as the final whistle was blowing and the doors were sliding shut. We figured out that we had to change trains in Brussels, and we watched out for the stop. However, there's something you should know about Belgium. There are three official languages: French, Dutch, and German, and of course, most people also speak English. So all the signs are posted in at least four different languages and the signs are posted in whichever language they felt like using at the time, meaning all the signs in one area could be in two or more languages, but they don't all necessarily say the same thing. So when we got to our stop, we were looking for the French name, but it was listed in German, so we stayed on the train. At the next stop, we realized our error, and decided to get off and go back. But because we hesitated, we were getting off literally as the train was pulling off. Danielle had to jump off a (slowly) moving train. It was quite an exhilarating experience. We took a train back to the correct stop and then found that we had an hour before the next (and last) train could take us to our final destination. We were starving, but being nearly 2 in the morning, there were no restaurants or markets open. So we found the station vending machines. To our chagrin, they only took coins, and we had just withdrawn money for the weekend, so none of us had small change. We desperately pooled our coins together to make enough change to buy three bags of chips. I purchased a bag of Lays "Salt and Pepper" that tasted very much like beef jerky. It was delicious, but strange.

We finally were able to board our train and then we took a taxi to our hostel. The hostel directed us to a food stand so that we could save our stomachs from eating themselves. We walked there, in the rain and wind and miserable cold. The stand, however, is a famous site in Bruges (where we stayed). It and the stand immediately to its left have an ongoing "Battle of the Fries," which is basically where the two stands both claim they have the best fries, and it's up to the customers to decide which is better. One stand is cheaper, the other serves faster, and they battle every night. We only ate from one of the stands, because at the time we didn't know that we were eating at such a dramatic location. but the one we went to (the one on the left) was delicious.

Did you know that Belgium invented french fries? Well, consider yourself thusly educated, and if you ever find yourself in Belgium, be sure to try them. They are more like steak fries, and they are served with a sweet ketchup and/or garlic mayonnaise and they are both delicious (and you know how much I despise ketchup and mayo).

After stuffing ourselves with hot, fatty (Belgian fries are cooked in pork fat, not vegetable oil), tasty fries and Bicky burgers (toasted meat (I didn't quite understand this one) and vegetables on a bun), we retired to our hostel and went to bed. It was 3:30 AM by the time we crawled into our uncomfortable and cold beds.

At 9, our roommates loudly woke us up by carrying an urgently inane conversation in Spanish. We dragged ourselves out of bed, because checkout was at 10, and walked to the hostel we were staying in for the remainder of our stay. It was not raining, but it was still frigid and the sky dared us to put away our umbrellas. We walked through most of the city center, which was beautiful and full of signs of autumn, and arrived at our hostel.

We checked in and went to find breakfast. It started raining again. We walked around for a while in search of something healthy and not ridiculously expensive, but ended up settling for chocolate croissants at a bakery and then going to a cafe and ordering chocolate waffles (because you can't go to Belgium and not eat waffles) and hot chocolate. The waffles were, without a doubt, the best waffles I've ever eaten.

Then we stopped at a chocolatier and I have decided that indeed, Belgian chocolate is FAR superior to Swiss chocolate. There really isn't a comparison. After eating Belgian chocolate, the stuff I had consumed in Switzerland seemed like a Hershey's kiss after it's been in your pocket and is now all squishy and smeared all over the wrapper and now tastes a little metallic-y from the bits of wrapper that you couldn't manage to pick off the chocolate itself. Yeah. It's that much of a difference.

For lunch, we got weird Belgian sausages and beef stew (cooked in local beer) and of course, more fries with mayo. Then we went to find alcohol for the night, but it wasn't at the supermarket by our hostel, so I went back to dry off and warm up while the other two made their way into the city to find their poison.

When they returned, they drank quite a bit and then we all took a short nap before THE EVENT. We dressed and they mixed their drinks to take with them, and we walked to the train station. The rain had let up, which was good, since we were able to make it to the station dry and didn't have to worry about hauling around umbrellas. When we arrived in Ghent, we asked around for directions to the Flanders Expo Center, where I Love Techno was hosted. Everyone just looked disdainfully at us and said "Just follow everyone." We exited the platform into the main station and saw the endless stream of people all headed in one direction. It was clear that the directions we had received were quite sufficient. We followed everyone outside. There was a tram waiting to shuttle people to the event, and a huge LED sign that said I LOVE TECHNO 2010.

We arrived at the Expo Center and there were security guards, but they were ineffective against the horde of people clamoring for entrance into the event. We checked our coats at the door, and saw a huge room dedicated to coat storage, and it was half full by the time we arrived. Coat check was 2 Euro, and since everyone brought a coat (because Belgium is REALLY COLD IN NOVEMBER), they made well over a million euros in coat check alone. We walked into the main hall and stopped. The venue was huge. There were six giant rooms, each hosting seven or eight DJs, and the main section, where the food and drinks and bathrooms (50 cents per usage) were. We made our way into a room, and it took nearly 15 minutes to get in, because there were so many people bottlenecking at the door. But we got in and were blown away by the music. We danced and raved all night.

While going between rooms to see various DJs, we saw quite a few guys relieving themselves against the back wall. And quite a few more people, drunk or stoned, resting in the puddles on the floor, along the back wall. It was quite disgusting. I was grateful for the darkness and the smokiness, if only because I couldn't see the floor. When we left the event, we all had black shoes, even though Danielle and Nikki started out with red shoes, and our legs, up to our mid-thighs, were coated in God-knows-what.

Around 2:30, we were dying of dehydration and hunger, so we got some water and food. You had to purchase tickets, so that the food and drink handlers wouldn't have to deal with money exchange, and you could only buy tickets in 8 ticket blocks, costing 10 euros, and the food was 4 tickets an item. But we had no choice but to cough up the money or starve, so we jumped through all their hoops and bled euros for them and received our sustenance. We found a spot on a bench and inhaled our food. Danielle and I felt something dripping on our feet, and we looked around to locate the source of the spray. Under the table, Danielle located the offender: some guy sitting across from us had his jibbly bits hanging free. We were being peed on. I also had quite a bit of alcohol spilled on me throughout the night, cigarette embers tapped out on my arm, smoke blown in my face, and my hair, 5 days after the event and as many deep conditionings, still smells like cigarettes.

Around 5, we were lagging a bit, and decided to leave. We weren't able to last the full 12 hours, but we came pretty close. We went back to the train station, only to find that the first train to Bruges didn't leave until 6:39. We watched hundreds of people pile into trains going to Brussels (the opposite direction), and could do nothing but watch and freeze.

Around 6:30, we were doing nothing more than shivering with our eyes fixated upon the clock, counting down the seconds. And then our train was delayed for 3 minutes.

And then 5.

And then 8.

And then 10.

And more trains kept leaving for Brussels.

But finally, our train arrived at 6:54 and we somehow made it onto the train, into warmth and safety. We fitfully slept on the train, not wanting to miss our stop, and what should have been a 20 minute ride took almost 45 minutes due to unexplained stops along the way (and not even at stations). When we arrived in Bruges, it was raining torrentially, and we did not want to walk back, unprotected and still defrosting. So we got a taxi and stumbled into our hostel just as they were serving breakfast. We ate and showered and collapsed into our beds around 9 AM.

Then we woke up a mere 5 hours later and at 4:30, decided to go to dinner, because there was literally nothing to do in Bruges on a Sunday afternoon/evening. We wanted to go to the Dali museum, but we wouldn't have made it by closing. So we had more fries and mayo and then stopped at a Chinese restaurant. I had the best hot and sour soup there. We walked back to the hostel and Danielle taught us how to play mini bridge. I won both times. Then we packed and went back to bed around 1 AM.

We woke up early and walked to the train station. We got on the first train to Brussels, which turned out to be a fast train, and we had to pay more. But the train was very nice, and the seats were extremely comfortable and it was the first thing that was actually WARM in Belgium (besides the food we ate). We arrived in Brussels and found out that our connecting train was leaving in two minutes, on the other side of the station. Not wanting to wait for the next train, we sprinted to the platform, and made it just as the train was pulling into the station. That train was jerky and cold and the lights flickered and the seats were not as nice. But it got us to our destination. We had to wait forever for our bus to the airport, but we got there just fine. We ate some pastries in the airport and then boarded our plane. We made it back to Florence with no further issues.

We raved more than we slept, the healthiest thing we ate all weekend was Chinese food, and it was AWESOME.

If you are interested in details on the actual rave itself, let me know. I'd be more than happy to go on and on about the artists at the event, the music, the best and the worst, what impressed me, what failed to move me, etc. But just know that asking about it requires a commitment on your part. A commitment to smile and nod and pretend not to let your eyes glaze over when I don't cease geeking out. You're welcome.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hiking Through Tuscany

Last weekend we went to Fiesole, which is half an hour outside of Florence. There really isn't much to do there, unless you like hiking. There's a huge park that is essentially just trails that cross over the mountainside. There's an abandoned stone quarry and some Roman ruins, but mostly just fantastic trails. We didn't do very much hiking, because the girls I went with didn't want to get lost, and were more interested in socializing than in hiking, which is fine, but not really what I was expecting when I went out, so perhaps I'll have to return another day and do some actual hiking. I also didn't get any pictures of the trails, so I'll definitely have to go back.
The view was also not the greatest the day we went, because there was heavy fog over the city, so it felt like the world ended outside of Fiesole. Towards the end of the day, the fog cleared a little, so we could begin to see Florence, and could almost make out the Duomo puncturing the clouds.

There was an black olive tree grove, as well as a house with a small grove of lemons. And the leaves were changing colors, something we don't get to see much in Florence.