Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.
Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.
I can’t believe what a whirl the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.
Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days wa going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.
This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.
Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!
Katherine Johnson is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Philosophy. Check out her trip to Sicily below!
After nearly three months of restlessly waiting for our group trip to Catania, I still was not prepared for the limitless amount of food we ate. Our professor warned us to bring our control top leggings, that it was a good idea to fast the day before, and even showed us a Powerpoint of everything that must be tried. Four days in Sicily – a delicious adventure – and an entirely new culture of cuisine.
Lunch in Palermo: We started with the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, an especially memorable restaurant because it actually used to be a favorite of the notorious Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. From arancini to sardines, panelle (chickpea fritters) to eggplant parmesan, our first typical Sicilian meal was nothing short of amazing. Focaccia was passed around the table until the basket was as empty as the wine bottles, and we finished with the absolute best cannoli in possibly all of Italy.
Lunch in Catania: After hiking Mount Etna, we settled in a little gift-shop restaurant in plain view of the mountains. Coca-Cola was placed on the table for the first time since I’ve arrived in Europe, so we immediately traded up for red wine. The bruschetta came first, and already we noticed that bread in Sicily is very different from bread in Tuscany (although both were actually incredible). Sausage, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna were quickly placed in front of us, and devoured even quicker. For a mountainside restaurant whose main business comes from hikers, I give it a 10/10.
Snack in Catania: Straight from the Mt. Etna restaurant, we took our bus back to the city and stopped in front of Pasticceria Savia for a food and walking tour. The only way we were able to get through this much food was remembering that it’s a marathon…not a sprint. Two types of arancini were split amongst us all – and for everyone who has never heard of that word before: arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite are those filled with mozzarella; but ragu, ham and cheese, or spinach are other common types. Arancini get their Italian name from the word arancia (meaning orange in English) because they faintly resemble this fruit in their color and texture. Side note: some parts of Sicily call it arancine (feminine) while in Catania it’s called arancini (masculine). We thankfully had to walk to our next destination for desert: granita with brioche. Molto bene.
Dinner(s) in Catania: Our group gave a lot of business to Ristorante Marco, because we ate dinner there two nights in a row. I’m not even kidding when I say there were more plates than table space – we were stacking. Two types of ricotta cheese, mushrooms, four types of horse meat, artichoke, five types of salamis, two types of bread, eggplant, fish, fries, frittata, and of course, wine, surrounded us for hours. For desert there was lemon granita and chocolate salami – which is not actually salami but made from cocoa, broken biscuits, butter, eggs, and a bit of port wine or rum. If you’re ever in Catania, put this place on your bucket list. Oh, and try horsemeat because it’s actually amazing.
I’ll save you the description of how full we were from this weekend, but I’m sure you can imagine. So when you get a free moment, hop on a plane to Catania and try EVERYTHING, because we all deserve Sicilian food.
You could call this the Spring Break Edition of my blog posts, because after traveling to three different cities (Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid) in a very abbreviated time span I don’t know quite where to start. To make sense of it all, I’ve decided to do “favorite” and “least favorite” part of each city, and tried to include some of what I learned in each place.
Barcelona: I was surprised how much I loved this city. Favorite parts had to be learning about the history of the city and the people (free tours are great for this kind of overview, and I did one in every city I went to) and the nightlife (because if you didn’t try to stay up all night with the Spanish, I’m not sure you’ve gained a full understanding of the culture). My least favorite part of the city was the necessity of using the metro– I’ve gotten used to cities one can walk around in quite comfortably, and during a long trip with multiple plane rides it was stressful to add metro trips to the equation. But really, that’s a stretch. I was surprised how much I loved Barcelona. I definitely discovered how crucial learning the history can really be to one’s experience in a city.
Lisbon: my favorite part of Lisbon was Lisbon itself– I could spend all day and night just absorbing this beautiful city and its many different neighborhoods, and to some extent that’s exactly what I did. I can’t wait to go back. My least favorite part of my time in Lisbon was that I got so sick I physically couldn’t leave the house my last day there. No delicious Portuguese dinner for my last meal (only a five piece McChicken nugget), no lovely pastel de nata pastries, and no hike in Sintra. It was all pretty devastating. I learned that traveling can be taxing and taking care of yourself extra carefully is definitely in order.
Madrid: my favorite part of Madrid was El Prado (this museum makes spending 7 hours in a museum easy) and walking down Gran Via. My least favorite part was that compared to Lisbon, it just lacked charm. It’s a big city with a lot to do, but I never felt completely blown away. Still, I learned that every city really does have something amazing to offer–if my friend hadn’t been visiting from the US I probably never would have thought to go to El Prado, and I really would have been missing out.
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
What it is: a traditional Christian celebration marking the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter when no meat is eaten. Corresponds to English “carnival” and is our equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
How It’s Celebrated: Basically, it’s a huge winter celebration of masks, parades, food, music, and parties. All of Europe celebrates it, but there’re a few cities in Italy that go ALL OUT.
The Best Places to Go:
CET planned for us to go to Carnevale di Viareggio, so Michela and Giulia, our Italian roommates, bought our train tickets and we left for a day trip. Just the excitement of going to one city for Carnevale inspired us all to also buy tickets to Venice for the following the weekend, and there are absolutely no regrets.
Review of Viareggio:
Viareggio celebrates Carnevale mostly with a parade of floats. The first round is a satirical showcase of politicians, world events, and Italian pride. A few that stuck out were the Brexit float (Britains with suitcases and God Save the Queen) and Trump (Los Trump Alato – The Winged Trump) with Trump as a bald eagle with wings holding a bag of money in one hand and a crying Hillary Clinton in the other. On the banner it read “Make Carnival Great Again!”
In the second round, Viareggio brought out the big guns (literally, check out the “Make Carnevale Great Again” float). These floats were the most massive works of art I have ever seen, and all of them come with masks, full costumes, marching bands, dancing, and throwing confetti and candy. It’s difficult to even describe these so see for yourself:
America, once again, was portrayed as the Trump takeover with cowgirls and guns. Oh, and it lit up later.
The parades go on for hours and they’re judged as a competition (winner’s released later in March). The typical carnevale food we see throughout Italy (i.e. frittelle) weren’t present at this Carnevale, but they had food trucks, gelato, and games.
Is It Worth It?
For €18 in Viareggio, absolutely!! S/o to CET though, we got in for free!
Review of Venice:
Unlike Viareggio, Carnevale takes over ALL of Venice. As soon as we crossed the bridge from our Airbnb to the ferry stops, we were surrounded by costumes, masks, and murano glass. Oh, and the view was pretty good too.
Piazza San Marco was first on the list. Every square inch was filled with people, and there were mask competitions, Romeo and Juliet reenactments, and showcases going on all day. After visiting Basilica di San Marco, we went to the top of the Campanile (iconic tower) for the most beautiful views of Venice.
Carnevale wasn’t just restricted to the Square though, it completely filled Venice from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Bridge. We each bought a mask in the name of Carnevale, and Kayleigh showed us all up by getting a cape too.
My dreams finally came true around 5:30pm when we rode a gondola through the Grand Canal. I wish a picture could capture the beauty of Venice when the sun was going down, but they just don’t do it justice. Side note: George Clooney stays at one of the hotels on the Grand Canal, it’s a shame he wasn’t there.
Finally, Is It Worth It?
Venice is worth going to any time of the year, but visiting during Carnevale just made it even better. The costumes, the masks, the shows, the food, and just the energy all over the city made it an unforgettable experience.
I’ve always been interested in studying abroad, and it was a huge part of my choice when picking a college– I wasn’t going to go to a college that did not facilitate an amazing study abroad experience. Traveling is one of my favorite activities, and international politics has proven so interesting to me that I am majoring in Foreign Affairs. I believe that there is a real value in moving away from everything you know, to better know yourself as well as the wider world. College seems like the best (and potentially only) time to move from the US for a little while and experience something entirely new.
Italy was an easy choice as a place to study abroad. My dad’s side of my family came from Sicily when my grandfather was very young, and I have always felt drawn back. My grandfather wanted his kids to have the American dream, and believed that a part of this dream was making them as stereotypically American as possible. As a result, my dad was taught none of the Italian language, and little of the culture. I have always felt that this was a loss, and desired a better understanding of where my family came from and what that means. I have taken Italian my last three semesters at UVA, and thus begun that process. However, I don’t think anything could replace the experience of actually being there.
While I am completely overwhelmed by how amazing this opportunity is, I have also been feeling overwhelmed more generally as well. Packing, and the logistics of air travel, are not my strong suits. Saying goodbye to friends and family was also incredibly difficult. Though I love traveling, I find it hard to let go of those people who will always be so important to me, even for a few short months. Meeting new people and moving on to new things can sometimes be hard for me because the people already in my life are so spectacular. However, even the most emotional of goodbyes felt very evenly balanced with my excitement at all that I hope to accomplish in these months.
My goals for my time studying in Florence are founded in self-development. Though being in college was a new level of independence for me, navigating a life that’s completely foreign to my mom and other mentors will be an even deeper level of self-reliance. Experiences shape who we are, and the experiences I will have studying abroad are experiences that I believe I may only be able to have in this moment of my life– as a student, as a twenty-one year old, and as a person reliant on herself and responsible only for herself. I’m excited to see where Italy takes me, and how the history and culture of this new place becomes a part of the person that I am becoming.
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
Something tells me I should be packing…but I think it makes more sense to watch Under the Tuscan Sun the night before I leave for Italy.
20 years and 9 months later, it’s finally time for the ultimate departure from North America. For someone who’s international travels include spending 4 hours in Cozumel after high school graduation, a semester abroad has me freaking out. While it feels like hundreds of factors have gone into this decision, it all comes down to my battling a travel addiction. I am obsessed with the idea of travel. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be willingly giving up one of my precious 8 semesters at UVA, but its even harder to imagine passing up an opportunity to study abroad. When friends, family, professors, etc. have all asked me where I’m going, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone subsequently questions “why Italy?” because, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy? Well, for everyone who is just dying to know my answer, here it is:
- The history, the architecture, the art. Siena offers the unique perspective into the history of Tuscany with the perfect “road less traveled by” setting. Although I’m a philosophy major and politics minor, I’ll be taking an art history class abroad and have the opportunity to travel around Italy to see the paintings for myself – and yes, this is included in the class! I’ll naturally get lost in the museums in Siena or on my way to the Piazza del Campo – a medieval square that holds the infamous Palio horse races twice a year. Italy is home to some of the most beautiful cities in the world (Rome, Florence, Capri, Milan, Venice…just to name a few) and I plan to visit them all.
- Undoubtedly, cuisine is an immense part of a true Italian experience. I’ve gotten countless recommendations of restaurants to check out and foods to taste upon arrival, with gelatos and pastas being at the top (what a surprise). Wine is an entirely different subject. Italian wine is the final frontier of wine expertise, and taking a wine tour is at the top of my bucket list. Between the vast amounts of vineyards and modest pricing, it won’t be long until a glass of Prosecco at the dinner table becomes customary for me.
- Italians value family and la bella figura– meaning they care about having a good public image and live in a way that emphasizes aesthetics with good behavior. They are notorious for living la vita bella (the beautiful life) in that they approach daily life in the most relaxed and positive attitude, a refreshing cultural aspect for any twenty-something in America. What most of us as Americans take for granted in our day-to-day, Italians experience fully and passionately…including time. In the fast paced reality of being a third year college student, there is never enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want. I envy those who can constantly just live in the moment, which is basically the majority of Italy. How long it will take for me to be even remotely relaxed about time though is TBD.
So finally, after over a year of planning, it’s time for my own adventure.
Siena is the destination, but I plan to experience as much of Europe as I can in the next four months through some major binge traveling. No amount of Google searching, memorizing small Italian phrases, or flipping through maps of the rolling hills in Tuscany could satisfy my curiosity for the experiences I hope to have. Fortunately, my excitement outweighs my fears – fears of being homesick, of living with people I’ve never met, and of the monumental culture shock I’m about to feel – because of everything I have to look forward to.
Thanks, Lizzie McGuire, for preparing me for anything to happen in Italy.
It’s too bad she also didn’t show how she packed all her shoes…