Monday, February 27, 2012

i'm officially in love with switzerland.  i spent this weekend in interlaken, the german part of switzerland and home to every extreme sport you can imagine.  after a ten hour bus ride, we arrived at our hostel, the funny farm, at 4:30am.  everyone was tired and miserable, and my roommates and i passed out immediately, only to be woken up 3 hours later to sign up for activities.  so many activities.  on a whim, i signed up for canyon jumping, skiing and night sledding in the alps... what was i thinking??  everyone was pretty pissy to be woken up so early until we opened the shades to our balcony and saw this...
surprisingly awesome view from the funny farm balcony
i never imagined that switzerland could be this magical place, but i was in for the time of my life.  everywhere i went, i felt like i was in heaven.  it reminded my of a little vermont/colorado ski-town on steroids since we were surrounded by ginormous swiss alps everywhere we looked.  the swiss people were beautiful and down-to-earth and fun.  all the buildings were made of logs and had giant fire places.  our hostel the funny farm was especially cozy, with a bunch of hippie-looking men with long hair working the front desk, playing reggae music, and a giant beethoven dog named spliff who hung out in the lobby all day every day.  everywhere you went, you were bound to make friends because the people were genuinely friendly and interested in you.  it was a treat coming from florence, where cars will run you over if you step into the street, and the people will either act like you don't exist or will be overly friendly to the point of creepiness.
me and my new friend spliff
so after exploring the town and meeting some of the locals, caroline and i set off to go canyon jumping in grindelwald (i convinced her to go with me).  apparently interlaken and somewhere in new zealand are the only two places in the entire world where you can go canyon jumping, so obviously i had to it.  we took a bus to the mountain with a group of other kids who were also out of their minds and wanted to jump off a tiny platform, free fall into a gorge, and swing by a rope while giant icicles fell from the mountains, threatening to stab you.  we hiked up the mountain, led by two cool hippie men, and suddenly found ourselves on the edge of a canyon with no guardrail.  after getting harnessed up (i was a little nervous since the guy tried to convince me there weren't any harnesses small enough for me), we were ready to jump.  as ready as we'd ever be, at least.  i wasn't too scared until it was my turn, and then i almost peed my pants.  after the hippie man pried my hand off of his shoulder, i jumped, trying to look at the photographer who was suspended over the gorge.  then i blacked out, but it went a little something like this...
contract we signed before jumping

luckily, i lived.  and as if that wasn't enough adventure for a lifetime, the next day i woke up at the crack of dawn to hit the slopes.  in the swiss alps.  i can't even remember the last time i skied, but it all came back to me like riding a bike.  it was the most amazing skiing of my life.  beautiful mountains, fresh powder and white everywhere you looked.  at the end of the day, we skied all the way to the bottom of the mountain, across roads, passing restaurants, people's houses, farms with actual animals just hanging out in the middle of the slopes.  it was awesome.  that night, i headed back to the mountains to go night sledding, and ended the trip with dinner in a little log cabin-restaurant with swiss cheese fondue.

farm on the ski slopes
night sledding

pretty much my future home
well, i don't really know what else to say about switzerland, other than it's the most amazing, beautiful, wonderful place in the world.  and it's the first place i've ever been to in europe that i can actually see myself staying forever.  it was just like heaven.

and if you made it to the end of this, check out the video of me canyon jumping on youtube: FREE FALLIN

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

i spent this weekend in venice and viareggio at the carnevale festivities.  aka the biggest party in italy and quite possibly one of the most magical experiences of my life.  carnevale is italy's version of mardi gras, and they go wild with masquerades, dance parties, and parades.  i spent saturday in venice--a bunch of us went to the islands of murano (famous for their glass blowing) and burano (famous for their rainbow colored houses).  it was absolutely gorgeous. 
we missed the parade on the main island, but made it back in time for the festivities in the piazza san marco.  the piazza was filled with music, dancing, and crazy people running around in carnival masks and halloween costumes.  the best part was following the sound of italian reggae music to some crazy guys dressed as mice and joining in on a moving dance party up and down the little streets around san marco.

even though we didn't make it back to florence until 2am, we were still pumped for round two in viareggio.  we took a bus to the coast in the cold and rain, but when we walked into the piazza, it looked just like disney world.  palm trees, elaborate fountains, cotton candy stands, all kinds of italian pastries... and the floats.  it was like we were in a fairytale land with ginormous paper mache floats.  they came at us with music blasting, silly string and confetti flying every which way.  while the masks weren't as popular, everyone was still in crazy costumes.  it was like the biggest halloween/mardi gras party i've ever been to.  there were floats making fun of different countries and political figures, anything you could possibly think of.  the best was one of the last floats of the pope and president obama.  the dancers were dressed as priests, swinging incense, blasting 'i'm sexy and i know it' and we joined in another moving dance party behind the pope float with hundreds of crazy dancing italians.

scary zombies running at me.

pope float, pre-dance party
frolicking on the beach.  awesome end to an awesome weekend.

Friday, February 17, 2012

i have to say i'm loving it here.  it magically turned from winter to summer over night.  woke up this morning, it was sunny and 60 degrees, finally warm enough to explore the little outdoor market in our neighborhood.  i bought an entire bag of fresh fruits--kiwis, green apples and pears--and some ski gloves (did i mention i'm going to switzerland next weekend where i can ski and skydive over the swiss alps?  i've been having recurring nightmares that i freeze to death there since i definitely did not pack anything warm enough for the snow.  not to mention i only packed gloves without fingers...) all for only 3 euro.  our school also does this really cool thing where they give you vouchers for free meals at this cute little restaurant called ganzo.  so caroline and i went there for lunch and ate a big plate of rabbit.  i tried not to think of furry bunnies while i scarfed it down.  i have to admit it was delicious though.

after our free meal, we went to soak up the sun in our piazza right in front of the santa croce.  i was loving how alive the city feels now that the weather is so much warmer and the sun is shining.  a little later, we hiked with some of roommates up to the piazza michelangelo to watch the sunset over the city.

i cannot even describe how good it felt to sit on the steps of the piazza with this view.  i didn't even have to wear anything more than a sweatshirt, which in itself felt amazing after the zero degree cold and snow from the past month.  it felt like a summer night on the beach at martha's vineyard.  but even better cause it's florence.  i celebrated the end of a great day with one last visit to the chocolate festival (yes, it was my fourth time in a week; and yes, i am now best friends with some of the chocolatiers) and stuffed my face with chocolate covered strawberries sprinkled with coconut.  i'm living the life, no doubt about it.
my very first byline in the florentine, found on every street corner in florence!
click here to read it on the florentine's website :)

The First Supper

hey guys, here is my first blog post from my food writing class...

People always ask me why I wanted to study abroad in Florence—was it because of the Renaissance art, the beautiful architecture, the city’s ancient history, or my family roots?  To be honest, it wasn’t really for any of those things.  The reason I’m here is for the food.  You can’t argue that Italian food beats everything, and I just couldn’t say ‘no’ to coming to Italy and tasting something completely authentic.  From the moment I stepped off the plane in Florence, I made it my mission to find the best pizza, the best gelato, and the best panini.  But before I got here, I didn’t even consider cooking my own meals here in Italy.  Heck, I’ve never considered cooking my own meals at home!

After the first couple days in Florence, my roommates and I finally moved into our tiny apartment nestled right next to the Santa Croce.  We were already burned out on gelato and pizza, especially since we had eaten either or both for every meal since we had arrived.  After a long day of unpacking and sight-seeing, we came home hungry and decided it would be a great idea to cook our first ‘family dinner’ to christen our new home.  The only problem was that even though we had all gone grocery shopping, no one had thought too hard about the foods we had bought and no one had enough of anything to make a real meal.  So we had to get creative—everyone threw in an ingredient or two, and we just kind of winged it.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  Somehow, we managed to make the most delicious meal any of us have had since being in Florence.  After an hour of falling over each other in our tiny kitchen, we gathered around our living room table with every dish we had prepared—a crisp salad of baby greens, chopped tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and basil drizzled with real Italian olive oil and balsamic vinegar; a sizzling pan of caramelized onions and red bell peppers tossed with the tiny bit of chicken we had leftover in the fridge; and steaming baked potatoes we couldn’t help but drown in balsamic vinegar.

Squeals of excitement filled the room, but as soon as our plates were piled with food, there was complete silence except for the smacking of lips and the tinker of forks against plates.  Everything was perfect—the chicken was flavorful from the onions; the peppers were hot, but still crisp; the mozzarella was mouthwateringly juicy; and the balsamic vinegar gave the potatoes just the right kick.  We couldn’t help but devour our wonderful meals, and warmth spread through our new home as we filled our bellies with delicious food made from the random ingredients we each had lying around.  Once every plate was scraped clean, the silence became laughter as we delighted in the food we had cooked with hard work and creativity.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

two awesome things came to florence this weekend: my friend meg who is visiting from rome and the chocolate festival!  i've been super busy being meg's personal tour guide, and i'm surprised at how well i already know the city.  yesterday we went to the san lorenzo leather market where they sell scarves and hats and carnevale masks and everything leather--the italian men flirt like crazy, trying to get all the girls who pass to buy something from their stands by telling them they've fallen in love with them.  if you play hard to get, they'll give you great deals--ended up getting a really great hat for a third of the price, wahoo!

we headed over to the chocolate festival that's set up ALL week in the piazza della repubblica where chocolatiers from all over the world come each year with everything chocolate.  i can't decide if it's the best or the worst thing that's ever happened to me since i've already gained about five pounds in the two days it's been here.

found some bc kids at the chocolate festival
after eating chocolate, we figured we should probably work it off somehow, so my friends and i climbed to the top of the duomo in the center of florence.  we climbed up tiny spiral staircases made of ancient stones that turned every which way and made our way to the top to have one of the most amazing views of florence.  we could see the entire city, it was amazing.
could even see our church from the top

Saturday, February 4, 2012

devoured these babies in 0.5 seconds
found the secret bakery.  (there's a secret bakery about 2 minutes away from my apartment--only locals know about it, it's only open super late at night, and can only be found by smell...)  my friends and i happened upon it on our way home the other night--the smell of warm bread and pastries practically hit us in the face, and when we turned around we saw two old italian men rolling dough behind a glass door.  we went in and the bakers mumbled something in italian and then handed us a couple chocolate filled croissants.  they tasted like heaven.

also, ate dinner at "the diner" last night.  i was craving a little something from home, and the diner made me the best american hamburger i've had in my life.  the place was really cute inside--kinda like an italian moogy's (everybody from bc knows what i'm talking about).
italian moogy's
by the way, made some italian friends while singing karaoke...
new friend franco

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

it's hump day during my first "real" week in florence.  started my internship and classes, and i must say it's going great!  my first two days at the florentine were a little intimidating--my very first assignment was to translate an article from italian to english, which took two whole hours, and even though it's an english-speaking newspaper, everyone in the office spoke italian all day.  i just nodded along and pretended that i understood.  i got to do some other cool things too, like writing articles and uploading the newest issue onto the website.  yesterday i got to work with one of the supervisors, giacomo.  he's the goofiest italian i've met, with hair that sticks out every which way.  he played me some italian music while we worked and sang along with every song.

i'm also really excited for my classes (as nerdy as that might sound).  i'm taking creative advertising of italian destinations where we'll be learning all about art, food, fashion, wine and italian advertising.  today, i had my first photography and food writing classes.  starting today, i have to take one picture a day for the rest of my trip, showing my personality and way of seeing a foreign country through the lens of my camera--those will definitely be up here for everyone to see.  but food writing has to be my favorite so far.  we will be writing recipes, restaurant reviews, feature food articles, and personality profiles--everything you can imagine with food.  we'll be taking field trips to open air markets, butchers, and local restaurants to taste and write about authentic italian food experiences.  i already made great friends with my teacher, who happens to be the editor-at-large of the florentine, and she promised to lend me all her books by anthony bourdain--my favorite food critic.  he has his own tv show, no reservations, where he travels to every corner of the earth, trying every city's native foods and recipes.  and since most of the writing we'll do is in blog-form, i will definitely share my writing here--so even if you can't come to italy to physically try real italian food, hopefully i'll help you to experience it!

"people ask me: why do you write about food, and eating and drinking?  why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?

they ask it accusingly, as if i were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.

the easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, i am hungry.  but there is more than that.  it seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.  so it happens that when i write of hunger, i am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied... and it is all one." --M.F.K. Fisher