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 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!