Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'll Be Home for Christmas

I am utterly mind-blown.  Yet another week has gone by!!  Seriously, where does the time go?  SERIOUSLY!!  But this week has been much more than awesome!  It has been bittersweet to say the least, but also full of wonderful new discoveries and adventures (that are not all Italian might I add!).  So, people, hang tight!  Here is Kelsey's official second to last blog entry (and the last one that I will write abroad too!). 

So.  When we left off, I was jumping in my pants, remember?  Well, I met Mom and Grandma with many happy tears in the airport before I led them (jetlagged - evil me!) for a two hour walk around Florence before we went to our little gallery opening of a sort for our drawings in our art class.  They got to meet many of my friends and my instructors before we lugged my suitcases (yes, plural) across the city.  By the time we got to the hotel, they were so tuckered out that they went to sleep really fast.  The next morning I had two exams that I felt went really well.  Mom and Gma went on a bus tour of the city which they really enjoyed.  I had last minute errands to run and I had to go see my host mom one more time before I left so I went ahead and did that.  That night we went to see the opera, Tosca which was fantastic.  Afterward, I went out one last time with everyone.  It was so sad!!  We met up for lunch the next day and there were many tears.  Hopefully, if we all put our minds to it, we will be able to meet up for a reunion in the near future.  I think we like each other too much to not!  I made so many wonderful new friends on this trip, I was heartbroken to see them go.  Most of them are back in the States already!

Anyways, that night after I walked Mom and Grandma around some more and took them shopping, we hopped on this horrible horrible horrible HORRIBLE night train to Paris.  The room was literally 5 feet by 6 feet with three beds stacked on top of one another.  It was a bit of a nightmare.  But it ended happily in the fact that we arrived the next morning in Paris, France!  We spent three days there seeing things like, the LOUVRE (my fav), Notre Dame, Arc du Triomph, Eiffel Tower, the D'Orsay, Napoleon's tomb, Champs Elysees, and much more!!  Food and shopping were wonderful there!!  I absolutely loved looking at art that was NOT Renaissance!  I have to admit that I am a little Renaissanced out right now.  Last night we took that horrid night train again to Venice, which is where I am now writing to you from.  I can't tell you how excited I was to see this place again.  I so loved Venice when I came before.  We had a lovely day on this little island and had a terrific dinner at Trattoria alla Rivetta.  If you ever go to Venice, you MUST look this place up.  Fresh seafood caught that day and homemade tiramisu :]  Life can't get much better than that ;) 

Tomorrow we head off for Naples and Pompeii which I am very excited about since I have never been there before.  Then we go back to ROME, which was my favorite trip that we went on in the program.  Then I come home!!  I am so excited to go home.  Only 5 more days and I will be on a flight home - it's so hard to believe!!  Anyways, next time I write to you, I will be summing up my entire trip from good old Traverse City in the 90 billion feet of snow we just got :]  Cannot WAIT to see you all very soon!

Oh, yeah, and the song explains itself :]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Lights

HELLO AGAIN!!!!!  Can you believe it?!?!  Yet another week has flown right by!  And I am currently jumping in my pants because Mom and Grandma are starting their journey to see me TOMORROW!!!  I'm sorry to be writing yet another boring blog post, but I have to keep up the tradition until I get back home.  This is probably going to be a short one though...

This week has been fairly full with finishing up papers (a HUGE research paper that is finally finished - whew!) and assignments and preparing for finals.  And I have been having quite a hard time getting to sleep at night because I am so excited to see Mom and Grandma and then go home two weeks from today!  I've been busy planning how to see all of the siblings for Christmas this year, and it looks like it's going to work out!  We are all going to get to be together at once, which should be a huge blessing.  I'm feeling pretty on top of it too, because I have all of my gifts out of the way!  I could not be more excited or thankful that we all get to be together just a few days after I get home :]  This past weekend was pretty boring except for the fact that I finally got to see a soccer match!  A group of us went to a Fiorentina game which they ended up winning - it was such a fun last weekend together.  After this Thursday, we are all parting ways, and it's really quite sad!  My roommate also taught me how to make a darn-good apple pie!  Which was really fun for me - and boy was it TASTY!  I can't wait to return home and eat lots of BAD AMERICAN FOOD and no more Italian for a good long while!

Oh, yes!  The song of the week!  Christmas Lights by Coldplay - brand-spankin' new!  All of you know that I am madly in love with Coldplay which is a huge part of why this is the song of the week.  It's a pretty sad song, but I'm particularly caught up with the chorus : "Those Christmas lights light up the street, down where the sea and city meet.  May all your troubles soon be gone, Oh Christmas lights keep shining on."  Can't wait to go home and sit by the Christmas tree with the lights, let all my troubles fade away, and be HOME.  

I will probably do one more post after I go to PARIS with Mom and Grandma, and probably one last one after I finally return home, just to keep things well rounded.  So it's not goodbye yet!  Cannot wait to see you family and friends.  Want to know what I'm most looking forward to the moment I get home?  Let me list them off because I could hardly choose!  Getting jumped in the airport by my little brother.  A huge hug from Mischa and my daddy.  Snuggling with my kitty and my puppy.  Sitting by the fire and getting a back massage from Eric (AHEM - ERIC!  THAT'S YOUR CUE - YOU STILL OWE ME FROM THIS SUMMER WHEN I GAVE YOU A THOUSAND TINY BRAIDS!).  Seeing everyone at the lovely Brigitte Grove's house on a lovely Tuesday evening.  SNOW.  Fegan Sibling Festivus.  Seeing Eric get his ass-print made in the snow during sibling shenanigans.  Christmas morning.  I could go on forever.  Right now, I'm just going to enjoy the time I have left and sit twiddling my thumbs until Mom and Grandma get here!  ;)

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Hello AGAIN!!  Holy wow!!  Yet another week has literally flown by!  This time next week I will be jumping in my pants because Mom and Grandma start their journey to see me ONE week from tomorrow!!  Not that I'm not jumping in my pants right now - I've been counting down with Mom since day 40 :]  Anyways, not much has happened since we last spoke - it's really been winding down here.  But there are many things to talk about!  First of all, the song of the week: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns has been hitting me hard this week (since it is now ok to listen to Christmas music! - and here's the link, I want you to listen to it while you read! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK8xB1opuQ8&feature=&p=E3F3BF81A2A6C678&index=0&playnext=1).  I'll talk more about the song towards the end once I've told you about this time of Thanksgiving!

So.  It has been getting COLD here and I'm crossing my fingers that I will be able to see snow in this beautiful city before I return home.  I found some fantastic knee-high, hand-knitted wool socks that have literally saved my toes from frostbite!  I swear, Italians have skin of steel.  The house is NEVER above 60 degrees and the old radiators from the Jurassic period do nothing for warmth.  So it is perfectly understandable why Kelsey, the girl who always has cold appendages anyways, needed some super-duper-extra-warm socks. Anyways, I got to talk with my niece and nephews and sister which totally made my week.  Conner read me a Thomas the Tank Engine story for my bedtime story and even showed me all the pictures (this was over Skype).  It amazes me every time I see them, how fast they are growing up!  I still remember falling asleep with Jaffer on the couch when he was only a few months old!

Thursday was Thanksgiving as you all know.  And it was my first Thanksgiving away from home and my family.  However, I had SO much to be thankful for this year (although I am always thankful for these things every day).  I am so thankful that I went on this trip, for it has not only shaped me into an entirely new person, but it brought me so much closer to God than I ever imagined it could.  I have a new-found strength that I never knew I had until I was faced with this challenge - and that strength is through Him.  I am forever thankful for my wonderful family and friends who have become my family that have made me into the person I am today.  I am thankful for the blessed years I had with my beloved Grandpa, who I know has been here with me every step of the way on this new path I am trudging.  I am thankful for all of the wonderful people of my program which you see in the picture below (and I want to name them off because every single one of them is a light in this place: Sam, Madeline, Kevin, Aurora, Zoe, Sarah, Rachel, Kate, Tad, Leslie, Sydney, Kim, Betsy, Alex, Steph, Hanna, Alyse, Carolyn, Max, Erin, Amy, and Elizabeth).  That picture was taken at our Thanksgiving dinner that our wonderful director, Jodie Mariotti organized.  It was a truly great celebration together, although I did start crying for my family in the middle of it!  

The next night I went out to dinner with about half of the program for Carolyn's birthday which was one of the best evenings we've had together yet.  It's bittersweet how close we are becoming now at the end.  The next day I got to spend a couple hours with my good friend Tad where we walked up to my spot where I have conversations with God.  It was fun to share such a special place with him and it was nice for me to see this place again on such a beautiful, cool fall day. 

So I did say I would talk about the song of the week!  The lyrics of this song are incredible and, of course, are speaking to my heart this week.  "I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play.  Mild and sweet their songs repeat, of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  And the bells are ringing, like a choir they're singing.  In my heart I hear them, peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on Earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing.  Does anybody hear them?  Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right shall prevail.  With peace on Earth, goodwill to men."  What this has been meaning to me lately is the culture that is all around me and the constantly arguing family I am faced with every day.  It seems like there is no peace here - no one likes each other, no one respects one another.  But then I am constantly reminded of God's presence in my life and that He never sleeps.  He is constantly working, constantly watching, and always ALWAYS loving us no matter where we are. 

My experience here has been incredible and I'm a little sad to see it come to an end.  But as one of my friends so rightly said to me one day, "God gives us these seasons for a reason.  So live it up until it's time to start another season!"  My season here is about to end, and I am a little sad to see it go.  But at the same time, I am excited to see what the new one brings.  I am home literally three weeks from today and I am ecstatic at the thought of seeing everyone and being in their presence!  Love you and miss you all more than you could possibly know!  Until next time :]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bottle It Up

It is yet that time of the week AGAIN!  I cannot believe how fast this time is going.  It seems like just yesterday that I thought, "It's time to write my blog again!"  I can't believe it was a week ago.  Well, I guess a lot has happened since I last blabbed away at you, so I guess I will just run with it!

Let's see.  Well Florence has been dreadful.  We have had one sunny day in the last week and the rest it has been a non-stop downpour.  I guess this is what winter is like here!  I much prefer snow.  Forgiveness has been at work still in my life and every day I am feeling better and better. 

On Friday, we went to Pisa for a half day.  Pretty much the only cool things about Pisa are the cathedral, baptistery, and the leaning tower (pictured above).  It was an enjoyable day, and our professor even treated us to coffee and hot chocolate after we stood around talking about altars for two hours.  I guess she thought we were all good sports ;)  But that night - THAT NIGHT - was the best thing that happened this week!  Those of you who know me, know that I am an avid Harry Potter fan.  I grew up with those books and actually get tears in my eyes at the thought of the saga finally finishing.  I even play as the snitch-runner in the Hope College Quidditch Club!  Shows you how much of a nerd I am!  Anyways.  About 15 out of the 23 students in our program went to see HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS together!  It was truly the best evening together I think we have had yet.  It is really quite bittersweet that now that we have a little more than two weeks left, now we get so close to each other.  Sure, we all had our little circles of friends that hit it off immediately, but not we are ALL coming together.  It's lovely, but sad at the very same time especially since we are all so far away from each other upon our return to the US. 

The rest of the weekend I was pretty lazy.  I only ventured out into the great outdoors to have lunch with some friends and watch a movie afterward, but then returned home to watch more movies.  I did homework too, but I mostly just watched movies.  I also have a new painting idea working its way into my mind that makes me even more eager to get home so I can whip it out (there's a clue below as to what it will be of)! 

However, the most important lessons I have been learning this week have been on patience.  I am eager to get home, eager to finish strong, eager to see family and friends.  I also struggle with people in my life that really push my buttons and attempt to drag me downwards.  So I have been forced to be very patient not only with them, but with my eagerness to finish.  I know that if I snap at people and get fed up with them, I will regret it.  I know that if I wish time away just to return to the boring old 231, I will regret it.  So I have been learning to live for today, look forward to what is ahead but also enjoy what is around me because it's not going to be around much longer.  God has made some miraculous changes in me.  I knew that the moment I started praying for patience that He would test me!  And boy has He!  But I know that these changes are all for the better.

So, family and friends, I patiently await the day I see you again upon my return to the good old U.S. of A.  Maybe next week I'll have something more interesting to write about ;]

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Sweet Love

Well, it's about that time of the week again!  This past week definitely hasn't been as eventful as earlier ones, but it was just as meaningful as a stepping stone in my life.  Every week I get hooked on a single song, this week it being One Sweet Love by Sara Bareilles.  The beat and the lyrics were really hitting home and I always like to share that with you!  The line: "Only close my eyes and you are here with me, A nameless face to think I see, To sit and watch the waves with me till they're gone," and the line: "No ordinary wings I'll need, The sky itself will carry me back to you," have been especially meaningful - and you'll get the meaning later on in this blog. 

This week felt like such an accomplishment - I got all of my Christmas gifts taken care of!  So now the little money I have left can be used for myself and small trips around Italy with the greatest of friends.  I had a great Saturday date with my friend Aurora, where we went shopping together, went out to lunch, got gelato at our "spot", exchanged movies on our computers, and bought Harry Potter 7 tickets (in English, thank goodness!)!  As silly as it sounds, I am beyond excited to see the first installment of the movie.  Because I grew up with those books!  Harry was 11 when I was 11!  I still remember reading the first book in 5th grade at good old Willow Hill! 

Anyways, this week has been uplifting for me.  I've been praying a lot for the strength to get past certain events that have happened recently in my life, and for the ability to forgive.  I had three wonderful conversations with three wonderful people, and through them I was able to take different things that each of them said and apply them to my life.  My soon-to-be cousin, Nick, helped me to realize that I matter - I know that even if he doesn't realize it, that was God speaking to me through him.  My bestest friend in the entire world, Mischa, called me on Skype (and this was the first time we have been able to talk since I've been here!) and she helped me to realize that forgiveness takes time.  Sometimes you feel as if you have forgiven the person, and other days you just want to wring their neck because you're still so angry.  Just knowing that has helped to change my mentality.  I am still hurt and disappointed and sometimes angry, but I am slowly forgiving them.  God is constantly proving His reliability with me.  As soon as I started praying for the ability to forgive, he gives me three monumental conversations to give me exactly what I was asking for.  He is proving to me that all I really need in life is Him, that His love for me compromises all other things.  It is still beyond me why He cares so much for as small of a person as myself.  And He keeps telling me that He just does, and that is that!  In the words of God through Josh (my third monumental conversation of the week) "It's the mystery of unconditional love and desire.  No one will understand it because He doesn't have a reason.  It's just who He is.  If He needed to have a reason, then God would be subject to that reason.  Nothing is above God... and God is love, with no reason or need."  And also "I AM  that I AM," as He speaks to Moses through the burning bush.  He loves us because that is who He is. 

So those are my realizations of the week, blessed family and friends!  I am 22 days away from seeing my mom and grandma in the Florence airport and I could not be more excited to share this place with them!  I come home on December 20th in the evening and I expect to see you!  That's all for now.  Know that you are loved and missed from all the way across the ocean :]

Monday, November 8, 2010

After the Storm

Sorry for such the long wait!  I didn't really have anything to write in the week after I returned from Scotland, so I thought I would wait until I returned from my trip to Rome!  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Rome, seeing anything and everything humanly possible in our little time there!  So here are the tales from my adventure in Rome - even I still can't believe that we managed to do all these things in 4 days!

So the first day when we got there we went straight to the Catacombs.  The Catacombs stretch for 8 kilometers (or about 5 miles) all walls upon walls full of dead from the Greco-Roman era.  I have to say that it was especially unnerving walking past these stacked tombs, some of which still contained the bones of those deceased.  It was cool and damp and very dark.  Seriously one of the spookiest places I have ever been.  After that we went straight to the Vatican!  In the Vatican Museums we saw multiple works of art from ancient Roman times like the Laocoon (pictured above), masterpieces by Raphael and his school of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo!  The Sistine Chapel is so much bigger than I ever imagined, and so much more incredible and magnificent than any picture can do justice (I managed to snap a photo - shown below!).  Then we visited St. Peter's Basilica where I got the privilege to see Michelangelo's Pieta - it is beautiful and perfect in every way possible.  After St. Peter's we were free to do whatever we wanted in the evening, so we found a wonderful little restaurant where we got pizza and wine - the perfect end to a long day.

The next day, we got up early to visit the Colosseum!  First we got to go out onto the rebuilt stage and enter the Colosseum as a gladiator would.  It was mind-blowing to know that I was standing in a place where so many gladiators, animals, and even Christians lost their lives so many years ago.  Once we took enough pictures we went DOWN BELOW THE STAGE!!!  Thanks to my mom insistently telling me that I should look into going down there because it had just opened to the public for the very first time, we went!  It was INCREDIBLE (see pic below)!!!  Being down where the gladiators and animals were basically kept prisoner until they were sent above to their imminent death was mind-blowing.  It is extraordinarily untouched and yet so well preserved.  Then we got to go up onto the third tier of the Colosseum to where the women would have watched from.  And of course that was where the best views of all were!  After exhausting our time in the Colosseum, we went and saw Palatine Hill, the Forum, and Capitoline Hill, which were all just as fantastic as the Colosseum.  After that we got some time to ourselves where a group of us went to the Trevi Fountain and made a wish!  We also went to a creepy church that had chapels made out of human bones (that was more unnerving and creepy than the Catacombs were), and we went to the church where Bernini's St. Theresa in Ecstasy is.  That sculpture is truly one of a kind.  Thhhheeeennnn we met up with our professors again to visit the Pantheon, the church where Michelangelo's Risen Christ is kept, and another church that has a chapel with wood panels decorated by Caravaggio!  It was a truly fantastic evening ended with the best gelato I have ever had yet in Italy!

The next day we went to the Villa Farnesina where we saw some works done by Raphael and his students, which were pretty awesome I might add!  Directly after that, we went to Castel Sant'Angelo - those of you who have read and/or seen Angels and Demons, would remember that this is the castle the popes escape to when their lives are in danger.  The view from up there was spectacular and the archangel on top is definitely worth seeing (pictured below!).  We had a break for the afternoon where we got to do some exploring and eating lunch before we met up with the group again to visit San Clemente (a church built on top of two Mythras temples).  THEN we visited the Capitoline Museums to see the greatest collection of ancient artwork in the entire world.  It was an incredibly long day!  And yes, I still can't believe we did all that!

Sunday we visited Palazzo Massimo, which also has a wonderful collection of ancient art.  We also visited the Baths of Diocletian and did a little shopping before we went to the Villa Borhese which holds several works by Caravaggio and the very best of Bernini's sculptures, my favorite of which being his Daphne and Apollo.  We weren't allowed to take pictures so sadly the picture below is not my own :(  Rome was incredible and it stands as my favorite city that we have yet visited - yes, I even like it more than Florence.  My eyes were always kept busy and we saw SO MUCH in such a short amount of time!  Even though it was tiring, I wouldn't change a thing about it.  Anyways, friends and family, sorry to have kept you waiting so long for an update!  Know that you are all loved dearly and that I look forward to seeing you very soon!  Heck, it's November already!  Oh yeah, and I am officially 29 days away from seeing Mom and Grandma in the Florence airport!!!  Love you all very VERY much!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dare You To Move

WOW it sure has been a while!  And a ton has happened since we last spoke!  Or, well, since I last spoke I guess.  I have just returned from my fabulous solo adventure to Scotland and England for my ten day long fall break.  I guess I will just tell you about each day - because each day was wonderful and unique in itself!

Day I:  After arriving in London the night before, I took the train to Salisbury in the English countryside where I then boarded a bus to Stonehenge!  Stepping out of tunnel beneath the road and seeing those magnificent stones was truly amazing!  I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to see them, but I did!  They are much bigger than they appear in pictures.  And so mysterious!  You literally get a chill just staring at them, not just from the cold weather!

Day II:  Edinburgh, SCOTLAND!!!  I got up early and visited the Edinburgh Castle which is big and complicated and has endless possibilities for imagination.  My mind was reeling with excitement!  The view from this incredible fortress were astounding.  You could see for miles!  Even all the way to the sea.  The city of Edinburgh is nice.  Even though it's ginormous, I found myself falling for the older parts of it where all the excitement was!  And the bagpipes!  Oh the music...there was even a parade celebrating the Scottish army and there were about a hundred bagpipes marching with them - it was more than I ever could have asked for :)  That same day, I traveled to Stirling where I then went and visited Stirling Castle.  It was awesome too, although smaller.

Day III:  I went to the William Wallace Monument in Stirling!  It was a very long walk from town, but very refreshing in the early morning.  I climbed the 276 winding stairs to the very top, where the view was even more spectacular than in Edinburgh.  If Wallace had been around, I think he would have been pleased at this monument so aptly built for him.  Then, after I had gotten my fill, there was some sort of falconry display with all sorts of birds of prey outside.  They were beautiful birds and I got to hold a small owl!  I met some really cool full-blooded Scottish people there that were just as intrigued to talk with me as I was to them!  They are so much more friendly and willing to help you than the snobby Italians.  Later that day, I traveled to Inverness where I was on the same train as the Celtic Football Club sitting a mere 4 feet away from the head coach!  It was pretty cool!

Day IV:  My hostel in Inverness (Bazpackers Hostel) was the best hostel I had stayed at thus far in my trip.  I would readily go back there as the young couple running the place were wonderful, the common room had a warm fire, AND a snuggly kitty to sit with.  That day, I went to Loch Ness where I got to visit the Urquhart Castle ruins.  They don't really know much about them because of the sad state that they are in, plus the castle isn't really mentioned in Scottish history, so it's a bit of a mystery (haha - rhyme).  Loch Ness is beautiful and not nearly as murky and dark as people say.  I did not see Nessy, but that's not say she isn't out there ;)  Later in the afternoon, I traveled to Invergarry which is south of Loch Ness.  In Invergarry, is Glengarry Castle Hotel where my Grandma and Grandpa stayed many years ago when they came to Scotland.  It was Grandpa's favorite place in Scotland (in fact in the whole world besides Elk Lake!) and I really wanted to see it.  It was so moving to get to be able to stand in the place he stood and see the things he saw when he was there.  I know he was with me that day -  I could truly feel his presence :)  That place truly epitomizes Psalm 23 - you should look it up and think of a place you know that does that for you.

Day V:  I got up early and took the train to Kyle of Lochalsh where my favorite castle in all of Scotland is located.  The Eilean Donan Castle!  It was beautiful and everything that I imagined it would be.  It was nestled on a small loch in a valley between snow-capped mountains.  It was breathtaking!  I stayed at a wonderful little bed and breakfast not too far from the castle where I got to finally take a moment and relax...

Day VI and VII:  A Scottish couple I met at my B&B took me on a scenic morning drive where mist was slowly rising off the snow-dusted mountains and the trees were sparkling with moisture.  Such beauty does exist!  They dropped me off at my bus stop where I took the bus to the train which then took me to the little town of Aviemore in the very heart of the Cairngorms National Park.  My B&B was actually in Glenmore which was about 5 miles away, but luckily there was bus that took me straight there!  The woman that owned this place was the kindest, sweetest Scottish woman!  She took such good care of me!  That night she made me a full Scottish dinner and the next morning a full Scottish breakfast (complete with haggis! which is really good, by the way)!!  She sent me on a 6 mile hike around her valley - she was literally smack dab in the middle of nowhere.  I was in heaven!  She started to refer to herself as my "Scottish Mommy."  And she truly was!

Day VIII:  Mary drove me all the way in to the train station and saw me off.  She was a light in my trip and I know I will never forget her.  That morning I took an 8 hour train all the way to London where I met my friend Tad!  It was great to finally be with a familiar face (as much as I have been enjoying my time alone with just me and God and whomever He placed in my path).  We got to catch up and he played tour guide as we walked around Hyde Park where I got to see Kensington Palace, the Wellington Arch, and Buckingham Palace.  It was nice to have some company for a little while :)

Day IX:  I got up early and went to the London Zoo!  Yes, I went to the zoo.  I am 7 years old at heart so this was a must.  I loved it!  Especially the lions.  And then - THEN - I went to see Les Miserables on Broadway!!!!!!  It was a dream come true!

So.  This trip I know has changed me in many ways and has been life-changing.  However, I don't really know yet how it has changed me!  All I know is that I have learned how to rely only on God.  I prayed so much on this trip for safety and a clear mind and heart.  In turn He astounded me with extraordinary places, people, and bounds of healing.  I have been learning to trust Him, and in turn He has been opening my eyes to His creation.  He gave me dreams and visions of me and Him that are special and unique to me.  I knew this trip was good for something :)  If only to expand my faith in Him!  That's all for now friends and family, I know this has gotten quite long!  Miss you and love you all.  The time is going to fly now!!  Until next time :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Warning Sign

Just so you all know, all of the titles of my posts correspond to songs that are very prevalent in my life and are in particular stuck in my head!  So Warning Sign by Coldplay is the song of the week!  Anyways, since I last left you I was heading off to Venice.  First of all, I think Venice is highly underrated!  Whenever I talked to anyone about Venice previous to going, they said that it was smelly and small and not a lot to do.  Well let me say that there was PLENTY to do!  I never had a moment to relax!  And Florence is leaps and bounds stinkier than this entrancing city upon the water.  Those of you who know me, are familiar with the fact that I am a waterbug.  This is truly the city for me! 

When we got there, we went straight to the island of Murano where we got to watch a glass-blowing demonstration.  It only confirms my want to learn the craft!  Although I think I would probably burn my hand off.  The man made a horse and a vase in a matter of 5 minutes.  I was very impressed!  Murano was beautiful with all the colors although it was pouring while we were there.  That same evening we had the privilege of meeting up with another study abroad group from U of M to go on a private visit of St. Mark's Basilica.  First of all, let me explain that a private visit for one is very rare to be able to do.  What they did next was truly what made this a once in a lifetime opportunity.  We walked into the basilica with all of the lights off and sat down in the very front.  It was pitch black.  Then they slowly turned the lights on one by one and the basilica lit up until it blasted my eyes with pure gold!  St. Mark's is solely mosaic and the most beautiful mosaic I have ever seen or will see in my entire life!  We also got to go up on the main altar which is sealed off the the public.  AND we got to take pictures, which is also never allowed.  Truly an awesome experience.  The photo above is of Jesus at the very front and center of the cathedral.  

Also while in Venice we visited various museums like Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico, Sale Monumentali Biblioteca Marciana, Palazzo Giorgione, the Arena Chapel in Padua (about a 30 minute train from Venice), and the Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia.  I have to say that I couldn't believe we managed to see all of these things in the matter of 3 days!  It was incredible!  My favorite by far was dell'Accademia where I saw a number of Titian's, Tiepolo's (a new favorite), and many many more.  Although I was disappointed that the public is not allowed to see Leonardo's Vitruvian Man.  Our program director is a truly magnificent, brilliant woman who is a walking encyclopedia of Renaissance Art.  This experience here in Italy has truly been magnified because of her great knowledge and desire to teach us her passion.  

Of course while in Venice, it was a must to go dancing in San Marco Square at night with all of the lights :)  That's the picture that you see above.  And then my favorite picture from the entire weekend is of one of the canals at night (shown below).  I am so glad that I get to go back to Venice in December!

The excitement rages on for my trip to the UK.  And please, all, don't worry about me traveling there with this travel alert going on.  The status in the UK has not changed from what it has been for the past 5 years.  And honestly, if it's my time to go then it's my time to go!  All I know is that I have a lot of life to live yet, and I don't think God is going to take me out by a terrorist bomb on a little train to Inverness in the far North of Scotland!  God has been doing some fantastic things with me here, and I am learning how to listen to Him.  My relationship with Him has exploded like rapid-fire and I am ever so excited to see where He takes me in life!  That is all for now, blessed friends and family!  Love you and miss you, can't wait to see you in the States around Christmastime :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This Is Your Life ( Are you who you want to be? )

Wow, the time sure is going by quickly!  I can't believe that it has been a week since I wrote you.  This place really is magical.  The days are packed and eventful and I am never ever disappointed.  Last weekend, I went with a group to Assisi, which was the home and is the resting place of St. Francis.  It was a much cooler day which was a blessing after all the hiking around we did! 

First we went to San Francesco, the giant basilica and monastery of St. Francis.  We got to see the many chapels inside the basilica.  As many of you may or may not know, medieval churches often included patrons' chapels that were offset from the main aisle and were sometimes even fenced off but ultimately still a part of the church as a whole.  Each of these little chapels had their own fresco work, just astounding artwork that I hope I will never forget!  We also saw the (supposed) tomb of St. Francis, however I highly doubt that he is actually there with all the tourists and constant traffic.  After about an hour or so exploring the church, we went outside and had the most fantastic gelato I've had yet! 

We spotted some sort of tower or fort that was well above the city and we became very curious.  It became our goal to get to this castle if we died trying.  And I'm not kidding.  We were determined!  It took one failed attempt, but we did end up getting there!  It turned out to be a fortress called Rocca Maggiore that has been there for over a thousand years.  It only cost about 3.5 euro to get in so we figured, why not?  We had gone through all the trouble and didn't want to miss out!  It seemed as if we were the only ones in there and I only remember ever seeing 4 other people the whole time we were exploring.  There were no tour guides or people sitting around guarding places that were blocked off...so we became children.  It was like we were all seven years old again.  If you can image your most favorite memory of being a child and playing pretend, this castle was the place we could only dream about.  It was full of dark spiral staircases, tiny windows, dark passages, and underground tunnels that lead to tall winding towers.  It was truly the most fun I have had yet in Italy!  I think we spent at least 3 hours in this place!  It made a great end to a great trip to Assisi.  So like tuckered out children, all 8 of us fell asleep minutes after our train took off for Florence.  It was a great day :)

This week, our other classes started finally.  So now not only do I have Italian, but I have two art history courses (one of which is entirely on site!!) and a figure drawing course based on the Masters' techniques.  That drawing class is probably going to be my favorite class.  Although I'm not learning anything new yet, it will be great practice for me and more than relaxing. 

As for God :)  Well, He has been everything lately.  Whenever is He not?  I guess I'm just noticing it more.  Today, I went up to my spot again and read all of the Beatitudes and listened to the bells ringing from the Duomo.  There is something about this place.  It's like my senses come alive.  Sometimes I have sensory overload!  It seems like God is waking me up from a fog.  My eyes and ears and nose are being unveiled.  It's really cool what He is doing with me!  And I really don't even know what He's doing!  All I know is that I'm listening.  Well, that's all for now family and friends :)  I'm off to Venice for the weekend - don't worry, you'll hear all about it!  Love you and miss you all

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

i thank You God for most this amazing day

Well, a lot has happened since we spoke last!  Let's see...we left off after Siena!  Wow, it's crazy that that feels ages ago.  Well, every day I have been going through the regular routine of going to Italian class and having the rest of the day to wander!  Let's see...last Friday my host-mom had a cooking class with two sisters from Canada and a cute Indian couple from Oklahoma that were celebrating their 1 year anniversary :)  They were a fun group and I really enjoyed their cooking and their conversation!  On Saturday, I met up with my new group of friends to go down to a vintage sale in the park.  Apparently, this happens every weekend.  It was exciting and new to see all this OLD stuff that is so different than antiques in the US.  
After we fully explored the extent of this park, we took the bus up to Fiesole, which is a medieval town that overlooks Florence.  When we got there, we went straight to the Roman Theatre that has been there for over 2500 years.  It was a beautiful amphitheater with ruins all around.  We got to explore the Lombard ruins very close by and visit the archeological museum that displayed everything found in these ruins.  Including the body of a Lombard dating from the 600's!  I have to admit, through all this exploring I kept thinking how much my very good friend Marian would love this :)  How I miss everyone back home!  Afterward, we went to another museum close by and got a tour from a drunk tour-guide - I have to admit, we were doubled over laughing once we left!  Then we climbed all the way to the very top of Fiesole to the most fantastic view yet of Florence.  It was something else (shown in the picture above)!  We watched a storm roll in from off the mountains and hit the valley.  It was the most beautiful thing to see the sun on one far side of the city, and rain pouring down on the other.  For dinner we went to an expensive Indian restaurant that was very good!

In the meantime, I have been planning my fall break trip :)  I am going to Great Britain, spending most of my time in Scotland!  I am very excited about this since my heritage is mostly Scottish.  I plan to spend a little time in England seeing Stonehenge and London, then up to Scotland to see Edinburgh, Stirling Castle, Aberdeen, Inverness, Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, the Cairngorms National Park, and Wales!  I have purchased my plane ticket (which was very inexpensive!) and my train pass that will carry me everywhere I need to go in this 10 day period!  I cannot believe all the opportunities that this program has given me. 

As for times with God, they have only been getting better.  I went on a walk by myself the other day.  I walked about a mile up to the very top of the hill/mountain right near my house.  There I found a 50 foot tall wall that I could sit on and enjoy the view of the city and the olive orchards below.  Yes, olive orchards.  I took my bible with me and had a wonderful 2 hours with God.  I went there again today and have come home with such a feeling of peace and understanding that I know I will be going there whenever I have the chance to.  Matthew 9:22 "Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you."  And He truly is healing me in ways and in places that I didn't even know needed healing.  Our God is truly an awesome God!  Until next time, family and friends!  I love you all dearly!

Oh!  And this is Matilde - my host-doggy :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This little light of mine :)

Last YOU heard, I was getting ready for a brand new adventure to Siena, Italy.  Well, that's not all that happened!  On Friday, I got to adventure in the Uffizi Gallery where there are multiple works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Vasari, Caravaggio, and many many more.  I got to see Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera.  I got to see a painting by Michelangelo, which was the epitome of beauty and perfection - it had feeling and detail that is hard to express unless you see it with your own eyes - just like David.  I saw an unfinished painting by Leonardo that took my breath away.  I also saw Caravaggio's Medusa which was both breathtaking and disturbing at the very same time (which I managed to snap a quick photo of displayed above).  These masters are truly something else, and something that I can only hope to tap into. After the Uffizi, I went shopping for the first time here at Zara.  High fashion at an affordable price :)  I had a blast! 

Saturday, we departed bright and early for Siena (me dressed in my new skirt).  Once we got there we toured the church of St. Katherine which has her real head as a relic there - eew.  We also got to see their catacombs, which they are still excavating to this day.  Then we went to their Duomo, which is so very different than Florence's Duomo.  It was very interesting to see the ornate secular artwork that even Michelangelo had his hand in as a young artist.  Siena was beautiful that day.  The sky was the bluest I have ever seen it in my entire life!  Plus it is much quieter and slower paced than Florence, which was calming.  After we finished touring Siena, we departed on the back roads for Greve in Chianti for a wine festival.  One of my friends so graciously named it, "school sanctioned inebriation."  Which is entirely true, because the director of the program stopped the bus, had us get out, go try as much wine as we wanted, and be back within the hour.  It was a very good time...especially the part when we got to watch the rest of our classmates make complete fools of themselves in their tipsy state.  

The rest of the weekend and all this week has been more relaxing.  I have done more exploring of Florence and am really starting to get a handle on the layout.  Today I went and purchased a new pair of handmade Italian leather shoes - on sale!  I also have been settling into my routine and have been able to spend some much needed time with Jesus.  Hence the name of this post :)  He has been encouraging me to be a light in this strange place so far from home.  And in turn, He has been preparing my heart for...well, something.  I don't know yet!  Until next time, friends and family.  Love to all of you from one small heart in Tuscany

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Such great heights

Well, since I left you last I was getting ready for a marvelous adventure to Cinque Terre.  I got up at the butt crack of dawn to take the 7:27 train to Monterosso - the Northern-most city of Cinque Terre.  I met my new friends Tad, Erin, and Aurora at the station and we started our adventure.  I couldn't believe how perky we were at such an early hour!  We had a few train switches, but we got there at about 10 in the morning.  The beach was already hopping and water was crystalline Mediterranean blue!  (haha - because it is the Mediterranean...)  We swam in the sea enjoying the big waves and the remarkable buoyancy - I have never swum in salt water prior to this.  After about 2 hours of swimming we went in search of a place to eat lunch.  We found a nice place right on the water that had fantastic panini and vino.  There we celebrated Aurora's birthday - I would give anything to celebrate my birthday here!  We had some wonderful gelato before we started our 4 mile hike to the next town, Vernazza.  I have to admit I was a bit of a slave-driver and I feel a little bad because I really pushed everyone beyond their limit!  Haha.  But the views were absolutely incredible!  If you have ever been to the Pictured Rocks in the U.P. it is comparable to that, but much higher and warmer and almost tropical.  It took my breath away on multiple occasions.  The photo above is one of many of the incredible views.  It was a truly wonderful day!

On Tuesday this week I went to see Michelangelo's David at the Galleria dell'Accademia.  And let me tell you!  He is SO incredible in person!  More majestic and miraculous than I ever imagined he would be.  He is ultimate perfection and so much more amazing than pictures can ever do justice.  When I entered that room, my heart skipped a beat and I immediately started crying.  He is captivating.  Michelangelo was a genius.  I can only hope that one day I can do work as wonderful and as moving as his.  I had never noticed before that David has his sling over his back and rocks in his right hand.  Such an amazing experience.  I will definitely be going back to see him again.

Then yesterday, me and my friends went to Il Duomo to go on the terrace to see the sights.  The views of the city from there are incredible, however I much more prefer the view from San Miniato.  This weekend, we head to Siena to see it and then go to a Chianti Wine Festival!  Should be fun!  Until next time...Love you all!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Life in Firenze

Let me tell you!  This has been one heck of an adventure!  The first week of Italian class just flew by and exploring the city has been like none other.  I have found a close circle of friends and we pretty much go everywhere together!  On Tuesday we went to San Miniato which is the church of Saint Minias that overlooks most of Florence.  It has breathtaking views of the city that are more beautiful than imaginable.  My friends and I have done a ton of exploring of the city and are really starting to get familiar with the layout of the city and where things are.  Every day we have Italian class from 9:00 to 10:30 with a half hour break then another hour and a half.  So (at least for the first month) we are done by 12:30 every day.  After class we usually go to lunch at Il Mercato where we get fresh produce.  I usually get fruit for lunch because I'm usually not very hungry at that point.  After that we go wandering and exploring!  (Although we have been figuring out phones and frustrations with banks most of today.) 

Wednesday we were set up with our host families!  I am in a family of two - a single mom named Grazia (Grace) and her 19-year-old daughter named Leanara.  They are really quite wonderful and seem to be a quiet family.  Grazia is an AMAZING cook - I hope to learn a few things from her :)  They also have a female yellow lab named Matidle who is just the light of the household.  She is constantly vying for attention and is what I call a "leaner."  She likes to lean against you and get pets. 

Tomorrow we head off for Cinque Terre at 7:30 am!  SO excited to be near the water and go swimming and see the sights!!  Check for a new post on that adventure soon!  Love you all!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The gut-wrenchingly LONG trip that finally landed me in Florence

So yesterday I entered O'Hare International Airport with Mom, Sharon, Meg, Kate, and Annie to see me off.  Gotta tell yah, that was an awesome way to leave the country :)  And the little plush tiger that the girls gave me is going to get some snuggle action here pretty quick!  Well, so I crossed through security which was surprisingly a cinch and then waited at the terminal next to a kind older woman from the Czech Republic who pushed all of her things off of the chair next to her so I could sit there.  My heart had been pounding wildly all day long and even since the day before because I barely slept a wink that night.  Finally I boarded that beast of an aircraft and sat down in my aisle seat for the 9 hour journey to Zurich, Switzerland. 

I had been worrying for a while about what the person would be like sitting next to me because you never know if you're going to get a creeper or a talker or a snorer or even best, a person with what really sounded like could be tuberculosis and should be immediately pushed out of the plane careening 37,000 feet in the Earth's atmosphere.  Anyways, turned out no one sat in the seat next to me and I had all the room my long arms and legs could need.  I ended up watching a movie to help the time pass and to hopefully try to ease my mind away from the stench of someone's Abercrombie and Fitch cologne that was burning my sinuses from the inside out.  Then I stuck in the earbuds and listened to some music while I read the entirety of the book called "Charlie St. Cloud."  A fantastic read by the way - I highly recommend it. 

Me being the crazy person I am, I kept myself awake during the entirety of the flight over the Atlantic so that by the time I got to Florence I could pass out and immediately adjust to the time change.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Once I landed in Zurich I caught up with a couple of the others girls in the program and we highjacked a random guy from off the flight and we left the airport aka. Flughafen (the German name for the airport which we learned quickly how to pronounce).  We then took a taxi to the center of Zurich and explored the city!  Which turned out to be a fantastic way to burn a 6 hour long layover.  However, by the time we arrived back to the Flughafen we were absolutely exhausted.  I was in the worst daze I have ever been in in my entire life.  So me, Zoe, and Kim went to our terminal to wait for our flight to Florence where we each woke up approximately around the time we needed to board in a nice pile of drool...well at least I did. 

The flight from Switzerland to Florence was a beautiful one.  The mountains were pristine and the rolling countryside of Italy was beckoning.  We finally landed in Florence where the weather was hot and muggy.  We took a taxi ride to our hotel and immediately jumped into a cold shower.  After that blissful cool-down, we met up with a few others from the program and went to dinner at the Cafe Duomo which had great food, but crappy red wine.  By the way, the Duomo is monstrous.  As you can tell, my writing skills are waning as my poor mind has been awake for more than 48 hours straight now.  But a new adventure awaits in the morning!  There will be pictures to come :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

One week

Well so here we are!  One week away from jumping the pond and stepping foot into Italy!  I cannot believe how fast this summer has gone - I guess working two jobs and having endless fun will do that to a person.  Starting to think about packing, yes, think.  I'm not too worried about it.  Just you wait until I get there and I post my first pictures from my first adventure out in the city :) 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shooting stars

Well I am now officially two weeks away from leaving for Italy!  Still can't believe it.  However, I thought I would shed some light on an awesome thing I just now did.  If you ever have the chance to go out on a kayak in the dead of night in the middle of a lake during a meteor shower, you should jump on that chance.  It's as if sky and water meld into one and you are suspended in infinity.  The depths of God's creations continue to amaze me and enthrall me.  I catch myself wondering what the night sky looks like over in Italy...probably the same although with less light pollution.  Two weeks and I'll know :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The countdown

As of today, I am 19 days away from flying alone to Italy!  The excitement has been kicking in, although I still cannot believe that I am actually going.  It probably wont totally sink in until I take my first steps off of that plane.  Right now, I am on vacation in Elk Rapids, Michigan, soaking up the sun, waterskiing, and relaxing while occasionally going into TC to work.  The countdown has officially begun!  I can't wait to make my first post in my favorite country of the world!