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CU Abroad – Alexandra Lalos

A Cornell Abroad Blog
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From Italy to Ithaca

Well, today was my first day back to classes at Cornell after my semester away. And, let me say, some things never change. That is, it was still in the negative digits in Ithaca this morning. Way to be consistent. But after a week of being cooped up inside of 411 Thurston Avenue, participating in my second Alpha Phi recruitment, it was nice to finally get outside and get focused again. Since being back, not too much exciting has happened in my life, hence, the lack of posts here, but I feel that I should give you a synopsis of the drama that led to my fleeting exit from Florence, Italy…

Twas December 17, 2010. The roomies of Corso dei Tintori, 6 were out for a lovely last dinner at our favorite restaurant Il Cantinone.

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The magic of sharing that last family style meal together was only enhanced by the dusting of snow that had begun to coat Florence throughout the day. Hailing from the East coast, this light dusting would probably only be enough to cause a 2 hour delay from school or perhaps a whole snow day if we were lucky in Pennsylvania. But, in Florence, what began as a majestic dusting of snow, fit for the most epic snow ball fight ever …

166400_1694802126221_1122840043_1836036_5448682_nquickly turned into a weather catastrophe that almost kept me from getting home for Christmas. Basically, with the lack of a plow (yes, not even one plow) in the city of Florence, and probably a lack of salt as well, we knew Nikki’s early flight was canceled the night before. Ann was the first the next morning to venture to the Florence airport bound for the U.S. Ann was met with refugee camp-like conditions as 3,000 students packed the closed airport trying to get out of Florence. She described the scene as utterly traumatizing. Ann may never be the same. Meanwhile, Tom and I found out our flight was canceled before we even left the house, so this gave us ample time to wait on hold with Swiss Air for the rest of our lives. Swiss wouldn’t be able to get us out until Thursday! And even then, they couldn’t promise us Christmas in the States.

Enter Dr. Al. Dad made a quick decision to get his little girl on the first flight out of Rome the next day and get to Dublin, one if the few still functioning airports in Europe at the time. This meant I needed to get myself to Rome in the next 24 hours to catch my Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. Luckily, I was able to get one of the last few seats on this plane, because my other option was to fly Aeroflot (the Russian airline) to Moscow and then New York. Good thing I didn’t, because it seems they have some logistical issues over at Aeroflot: NY Daily News Article.

Ann and I decided to get on the first train we could to Rome and stay the night so we could get on flights in the morning. After the most miserable experience lugging all of our life’s belongings across the good middle portion of the country of Italy, we decided to order hamburgers at the Courtyard because we were pretty checked out of Italy at this point. The next day went rather smoothly. I hopped my plane to Dublin; got a sweet Irish passport stamp; and met Dr. Al and Carolyn at JFK.  The rest of the break was occupied by the removal of my wisdom teeth, going to the casino with mom, and buying my 85 year old grandfather a smart phone (this was especially time consuming).

While these things seem benign, it really was nice to have time to spend with my family, and some down time to make the adjustment back home much easier. Now, being back at Cornell, some things have changed. I’m no longer living at Alpha Phi, so having my own space to live in, and no roommate for the first time in a while (shout out to my ex roomies, i love you guys) has been very relaxing. In general, I feel more relaxed and more focused than I did before my trip. The little things just don’t seem to bother me as much any more. As for classes, today I was overjoyed to walk into restaurant management and see 3 of my roomies from Italy had saved me a seat for the wine tasting we did, some things just don’t seem to change. I am speaking at an info session for study abroad on Thursday, and I am super excited to share my experience with other people, because I truly feel like it changed my life.

For those of you still interested in following my daily pursuits back here at Cornell, here is the URL for my new blog, “A. Lalo back from the Flo.” Subscribe to it and pass it along to friends! I promise to keep things interesting!

http://backfromtheflo.wordpress.com/

Top 10 Things I will miss (or not) from Italy

With t-minus 72 hours left in Italy before I head back to the United States, I thought I would compile a list of a few things I will dearly miss from Italy, and a few I most certainly will not.

10. Dogs with coats – seriously, they are everywhere! At first, I thought it was lame, but I’ve really come to love those little guys running around in fur-hooded, down parkas. My cousin Mortimer (that is, the dog of my aunt and uncle) recently got a coat, and I hear he hasn’t taken well to it yet, and seems embarrassed by his couture. However, I hope to show him my slideshow of Italian dogs with coats and assure him he is fashion forward and the trend should be catching on in the U.S. relatively soon.

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9. The Meta – Meta, I will not miss you. You are overpriced, never stocked, and the avocados taste weird.

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8. Gelateria dei Neri – Ricotta e fichi (Ricotta and fig, my favorite flavor) and cannoli will be sadly missed as a supplement to every meal of my life.

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7. Not having a clothes dyer – while it may seem trivial, having a clothes dryer is a major luxury which I will be excited to return to. Without even a clothesline this semester, we turned our foyer into a drying room, sometimes waiting days for our clothes to dry and for our towels to come out crunchy. Sometimes I used the hairdryer.

6. Tom taking pictures of me with our food – How did this become a tradition? I don’t know. But, I will miss posing for his photos before we eat.

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5. Runs through Cascine – I will most definitely miss running in Parco delle Cascine. It really became my sanctuary this semester and where I did most of my thinking for blog posts and papers.

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4. Complicated plugs – I will not miss having to plug things into a million different converters just to charge something. I will also not miss our terrible form of internet connection which barely worked because “the walls of our apartment where too thick” (or so they say!)

3. My Apicius classes – when we do interesting things like taste wines in class, go to authentic Italian lunches with our professors, go to a museum once a week, take field trips to wineries it will be hard not to miss my Italian educational experience. But, going home with no regrets, I am excited to share what I’ve learned with everyone at home and at Cornell.

2. Aperitivo – the Italian custom of eating a small plate of hors d’oeuvres with, usually, a light glass of wine or prosecco between the hours of 7-10 to open your palate for dinner. Most bars and restaurants have aperitivo every night, and it became quite a tradition to attend aperitivo every Wednesday at Ganzo, the school restaurant similar to how the students cook at Banfis at Cornell. We hope to host some of our own aperitivi at Cornell when we return.

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1. Corso dei Tintori, 6 & the best people I know.

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However, because I am a glass-half-full kind of girl, there are also a lot of things I am really looking forward to coming back to the United States. Here is a short list of those things:

Statler salads at Cornell
Netflix
Starbucks (there are no Starbucks in Italy!)
Watching the Food Network
Getting a haircut (I need one bad)
No pidgeons
Cornell Cheerleading
Snow/Skiing
My sorority sisters
Going to the gym
Stephanie’s second half of senior year!
Reading a newspaper (in English!)
Classes that are only 1 hour and 15 minutes long (my classes in Italy were 2 and a half hours!)
Carpet (everything is tiled here!)
A microwave

So while I have loved my life here and will be very sad to leave on Saturday morning, I have realized how much I have to look forward to at home and back at Cornell. I recently read an article by Erik Cohen called the Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences (check it out on JSTOR if you can). Cohen describes five different types of travelers characterized by their reason to leave their center (home center, religious center, social center, etc.) to explore a “finite province of meaning.” I have characterized myself as a recreational traveler, as someone who has “re-created” or repaired their physical and mental powers through voyage to a foreign center. However, I can also be considered an experiential traveler, as someone who is able to restore authenticity to their home center by experiencing the center of another. I am returning to my home center recreated and restored.

I have started thinking about how I will use this experience to my advantage in my career path, my personal life, and with others around me. I feel like I have a clearer idea of what I want to do in my life, which definitely includes living abroad for a little while after graduation. But, I have a lot time left before that and the next thing on my list is to go back to Cornell with a new attitude and new goals and see where that takes me. Plus, I’m really pumped for basketball season. GO BIG RED!

Daredevil

A couple weeks ago, my travel writing professor had written at the top of one of my assignments to “try to be more daring.” I wasn’t sure whether to take this as an insult, that I was leading a pretty benign daily life, or as constructive criticism that I just needed to find a way to incorporate more emotion and opinions into my writing. At that point, the rest of my semester could go two ways: 1. I could buy myself a bat suit and take up base jumping somewhere in Switzerland,

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or 2. I could just find a better (and more fashionable) way to express the many feelings I have been having during my experiences abroad. But, like that French Spider Man, “urban climber” guy who gets arrested for climbing notable monuments, there doesn’t seem to be much of a future for me in practically illegal extreme sports. Therefore, I opted for option 2.

Good news. Today, we had one-on-one meetings with my professor Elisa to talk about what she expects from us going into our final paper and how we have progressed since the midterm. Elisa told me she felt I had finally found my expressive side in my last couple pieces (one about the Italian rugby man in the park, go figure) and I should be happy with my progress. Satisfied but still a little confused, I walked out of class. So, I finally became daring. How did I do it without a bat suit? I thought back to the last couple weeks, trying to weed out the moments that may have produced such daring responses in my writing, and came up with a little list of possible ways that I became the master of  such thrill seeking ventures.

1. Gamble: No, I don’t mean hit the slots in a random foreign country and try to win back the hundreds of Euros you spent in the last four months because that is stupid…

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I mean, take a risk and maybe do something a little out of the box or unplanned, as we did this weekend traveling to Ischgl, Austria to ski. We knew we were taking a little bit of a risk going on our own to a place where we would need to take two trains and bus to arrive at 7 a.m. at an apartment house where we could potentially be living with some sketchy characters. However, sometimes a little risk is exciting and you end up meeting some really nice people. Here is the house we stayed at: Apartment Brandau. The woman had her house decked out for Christmas and loved to sit at the breakfast table and talk to us. Anyone interested in traveling to southern Austria, I would definitely recommend this place, and convince you with this picture from our bedroom window …

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2. Make some interesting friends (who don’t speak English): this weekend, we happened to stumble upon some new friends, which has seemed to happen to us quite often on these weekend trips. However, this time was different as our new friends did not speak Italian, and spoke very broken English. My comrades and I tried to relate to these Germans on any level we could which ended up being Burger King, in the middle of nowhere in Austria …

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3. Try some new foods: 2 weeks ago during my trip to London, we decided to take the advice of some of our classmates, our idol Rick Steves, and basically the rest of the world and dine on some Indian food. None of us had ever really had it before so we weren’t sure what to expect. We went to the restaurant Rick recommended, Chor Bizarre and were pleasantly greeted by bright colors, mismatched furniture, and incredible food.

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My wine marketing professor, Veronica, told us the best way to explore a new place is through its foods. That’s why besides the Indian meal, this trip has been full of daring culinary experiences that have really defined many of the places I have visited this semester. To give you an idea of my daring food explorations …

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4. Don’t be afraid of heights: Something poignant I have noticed during all of my travels is that as a traveler you are always forced upwards. Climb to the top of the tower; climb to the top of the church; climb to the top of the stairs. Everywhere you go, there seems to be some lofty landmark where the facebook community has pressured us into taking the obligatory city scape photo that verifies our visitation. Therefore, if you truly want to visit a city to plot on your “Where I’ve Been” map, it seems you cannot be afraid of heights, small staircases, and creepy elevators. Toughen up.

AustriaStudyAbroad 016 Austria   Fall Break 009 Athens  London 150 London   Oktoberfest-Barcelona 051 Florence   Oktoberfest-Barcelona 111 Barcelona

So maybe its not base jumping, but sometimes letting yourself go just a little bit is that extra push you need to explore your own limits and your own emotions. I definitely hope to take a sense of that back to the U.S. with me, the ability to appreciate the quiet times and really formulate opinions of a place or an experience. I’m glad I can finally call myself a little more daring, and live to write about it.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina and other Adventures at Apicius International School of Hospitality.

As I compose this post, it is 5:00 pm on Wednesday, November 23. For you, Thanksgiving dinner is a mere 24 hours away. For me, Thanksgiving dinner came and passed rather quickly today, and featured no turkey and stuffing. Also, as I compose this, I am Florencecurrently lying in my bed unable to move and fatigued from the culinary feats of the day, much as you all will be feeling tomorrow. However, my Thanksgiving hangover didn’t come from a bird – or grappa for that matter, I have yet to touch the stuff – it came from a little dish in Florence called Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Today was the day we met Leonardo, our Italian professor for lunch in lieu of class – only if we agreed to speak Italian for the entirety of the meal. When our bisteccas came out as Leonardo had promised, they were huge, and they were red! The Florentine style of steak greatly undercooks the steak, making for a flavorful, yet chewy, but still tender piece of meat – and probably the best steak of my life. Surprisingly, or because Leonardo was there to clean the scraps, we ate the entire plate of meat. The final bill? 280 Euros! The steaks alone cost 180 Euros, that’s almost $270 for two steaks!

Occasions like this have really come to define my experience here at Apicius International School of Hospitality.  At Apicius, the professors use the same ideologies as Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration that learning is more effective through “doing” and experiential learning. Apicius is able to utilize its local resources (physical and intellectual) and its strategic location within Chianti wine country to make learning more dynamic. This semester at Apicius, I wanted to build upon my hospitality operations and business background and explore an area of the hospitality industry more accessible here in Italy. Here is a little run down of what I’ve been up to Apicius this semester and what I plan to take back to Cornell:

1. Wine Marketing and Communications – as a marketing minor, I wanted to explore a very specific area of hospitality marketing. In this class, my professor, who did her thesis in the exportation of Italian wines to foreign markets, has taught us how to analyze the consumption markets all over the world and the various tactics marketers use to combat the growing underconsumption/overproduction problem in Italy. We visited a wine label design studio in Florence, where we discussed the different messages you can portray through the label on bottle. For example, the following two wine labels give of very different feel and attract a very different target market.

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The first wine, Urlo, which means scream in Italian is much more modern and risky. The Banfi label on the right is much more conservative and classic.

2. Travel Writing – I have already talked a lot about this class, but I thought the most interesting part about learning how to write in this specific niche of prose was learning how to write nonfiction in a more narrative, fictional style. Writing in the blog has kind of aided my Travel Writing, as much blog writing can be considered travel writing. I think the hospitality industry, especially with internet is very reliant on good travel writing when it comes to writing reviews and creating buzz about hotels and restaurants. Who knows, maybe I’ll work for Conde Nast Traveller one day!

3. Art History – perhaps the most practical of the classes I took here in Florence, Art History was very unique at Apicius because it did not incorporate much classroom time. Since all classes at Apicius, excluding73992_1483826623218_1460430239_31088866_5747930_n Italian, only meet once a week for 2 and a half hours, each week we reported to a different Florentine Museum, church, piazza, etc. to learn about the art in person. Before coming to Florence, I didn’t know much about art, but I am leaving with a much greater appreciation for what  became my backyard for the last 3 months. Sculpture has interested me the most during my time here. Here is one of my favorite pieces in Florence, “Rape of the Sabines” by Giambologna.

4. Marketing of Italian Destinations – This class covers topics which explore how Italy markets itself as a tourist destination through their landscape, the perspective of Italy through American cinematics, and the general manufacturing model of Italy. Our most recent project was to create a market campaign for the lesser know destination in Tuscany, targeting the more experience, elite traveler. Here is a video I made for the assignment targeting young travelers who are returning to Italy for a more mature, higher class trip.

In 3 weeks, I will be taking my finals and heading back to the U.S. I’m not too worried about finals just because I feel like living here, I have been so surrounded by the Italian hospitality culture and immersed in the wine industry that I will be relying on the experiential knowledge and material I have truly learned. I think my semester at Apicius will be a nice supplement to my hospitality education at Cornell, and I would hope Cornell would recommend this program to its students in the future. I would also like to try to do some collaboration between the programs in my last three semesters because I think Cornell could help improve the business side of education at Apicius, and many of the specific hospitality classes at Apicius like wine marketing or dessert styling would be excellent seminars to hold at Cornell. I am definitely leaving Italy more excited about being a hospitality major, and hoping it will eventually bring me back here one day. Ciao, ragazzi!

How to Interview an Italian.

Discouraged, I sulked out of my Travel Writing class last week. The only hope I had in completing next week’s assignment to interview an Italian person was the fact that I had a week to procrastinate. Some people may think, maybe I didn’t do this whole study abroad thing right, but in truth, I was never really confident enough in my Italian speaking skills to have made a real Italian friend this fall – and probably my dad wouldn’t have liked it anyway. So, with no Italian beau or even an elderly shop owner who at least thought I was cute, who was I going to interview for next week’s assignment? Luckily, or in some form of every study abroad-girl’s wish-upon-a-star-come-true, I didn’t have to wait long for my interviewee to find me. Continue Reading »

Death of the Sweet Tooth

This is an article that I wrote for my travel writing class about our favorite destination in Florence – enhanced with some multimedia for your enjoyment. Eat your heart out!

I’ve never been much of a fan of vegetables – or fruit – or really any food considered healthy. As a matter of fact, I think I listed my favorite food in my high school yearbook as chocolate covered (fill in the blank). I could probably eat some form of dessert for every meal and forgo “real food” for the rest of my life. This severe sweet tooth of mine has plagued my dining and cooking endeavors since my first experience with the Easy Bake Oven circa Christmas 1994. That is until now. Thanks to an unassuming warehouse nestled in between the labyrinth of Florentine streets, my palate has grown to include that middle section of the food pyramid previously devoted to fruits and vegetables which were actually molds of marzipan. The Mercato Centrale in Florence, Italy has become much more than a supermarket for me, but it has come to represent not only my maturation of appetite, but also my assimilation into Italian culture and my transition to life as an Italian citizen.40957_1533110284026_1122840043_1506414_372764_n

Rubbing shoulders with the most illustrious buildings of the Medici dynasty, the Mercato Centrale was built around 1870 by Giuseppe Mengoni and is located just seconds from the Brunelleschi’s Basilica di San Lorenzo and Michelozzo’s Palazzo Medici in the aptly named Piazza dell Mercato. Upon arriving in Florence, I heard that most locals did their grocery shopping at these warehouse-type, open air markets, but figured I would probably go for the experience once or twice and use the nearby supermarket as my primary food mart. However, since my first trip to Mercato Centrale, buying my fresh produce and meats for the week has become a hallowed Monday morning activity I will too-soon be missing when I return to the States. 46781_1533125404404_1122840043_1506427_2023085_n

For those who can shimmy their way through the crowds frequenting the leather goods wagons in the surrounding streets, the first step inside the market is a sensory overload stimulating the body and soul. The release of color from the various stands looks like every bag of whimsically shaped pasta has exploded and the mishmash of multi-hued noodles are now hanging in thin air, dancing around the customers’ heads begging to be purchased. The baskets of dried fruit represent both local and faraway lands, and nearly every crayon color in the box. The animal carcasses eyeing you from the glass cases don’t even freak you out – they just remind you of the freshness. And the produce: The selection of produce is truly eye-catching, even for the most addictive sweet tooths. As someone who normally ignored the produce section of the grocery store, I find myself entranced by the baskets of contrasting colors and shapes.46781_1533125524407_1122840043_1506430_6296334_n

The initial scent is sometimes overwhelming. As if the likeness of one existed, I should think it similar to the scent of a sundried tomato, parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic milkshake. Sounds gross, I know, but as one moves from vendor to vendor, you quickly realize that this obscure scent is really just the product of individual, completely intoxicating aromas of food akin to each stand. Walking around is like the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast – “There goes the baker with his tray like always …” (Check out youtube video!) It’s always the same cast of characters held up in their individual blocks of storefront offering the same spread of goods each day. However, this normalcy of faces and spaces is what I have come to appreciate the most about Mercato Centrale.

I have a vegetable lady. I have a chicken man. I have a guy for scooping dried fruit. That is, my daily trips through the market have meandered into experiential visits with familiar shop vendors who listen and accept (and sometimes correct) my elementary Italian. They teach me the words for the vegetables I don’t know, like fennel and truffles. And they pound my chicken because they know I don’t have a mallet at my apartment. They suggest new spices and show me how to cook these oddly shaped beans. And they smile, now, when I whip out my reusable shopping bags in lieu of the plastic bags they resent to hand out. If it wasn’t for the relationships I’ve made at the market, I would probably be eating crostinis and Nutella for every meal.40957_1533110164023_1122840043_1506411_4086058_n

I regret that in a few more weeks, I will be back to supermarket shopping in the states, longing for my market trips in San Lorenzo which had become so special to me. However, what I will take with me the most from my interactions and transactions at the market is the symbolism of the meal. Food is not just sustenance, I’ve learned. Dining, from the purchase point to the service point, is truly an experience, an anthropological journey from farm to fork. The modern-day supermarket tends to replace that personal exchange between producer and consumer with an intermediary “produce section.”

The market is probably the least “touristy”, must-see site in Florence, which every tourist should see. To elaborate, the Mercato Centrale is the heart of local Florentine lives. The food that brings their family together at the table is purchased here. The produce, meat, and wine that keep the agricultural industry of Italy in constant function rely on this place. And, the people who brought me into their lives and continue to help me become a part of this Italian culture (and a better eater), live and work here. Visiting the market is the most appropriate and probably most cheeseaccurate way to observe and assess the everyday lives of most Florentines. Whether it’s your first trip to Florence or your tenth; or whether you’re staying for three months or three hours, your visit will not be complete until you have visited the culinary heart of Florence at Mercato Centrale.

Thanks Christine for sweet market shots!

How to Play a Full House.

Circa 1987, ABC added a television show to its TGIF lineup, two years prior to my own birth, that would come to define my childhood and lead to shelves full of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen videos and CDs. It’s because of Full House that people actually watched America’s Funniest Home Videos and possibly why my one of my roommates may or may not have asked Bob Saget to her sorority formal last spring when he visited Cornell’s campus. Yes, Full House was the situational comedy that pivotalized a girl’s coming of age and the general cluelessness of the men in her life. And, with a wide range of appeal from the preteen audiences to fans of up-and-coming figures like John Stamos and Lori Laughlin, Full House had it all for about 8 years. Whether you’re like me, growing up with Full House or like my mom, watching me grow up with Mary-Kate and Ashley, you remember Full House. (Check out link)

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This weekend in Florence, there was a little extra activity in the apartment as we had two sets of parents and a few friends visiting for the day. As we all sat/stood around in the kitchen, I couldn’t help think, “Wow, we’ve got a full house.” And, of course, the inner workings of my exceedingly tacky mind began forming this image of Full House and transposing it over the scene that was unfolding in my own apartment. What I came to discover was that my home life in Florence eerily parallels that of a Full House plot with each of my roommates almost perfectly filling the role of one of the characters.

You may think I am contriving this allegory for the sake of good journalism, but when you spend 8 weeks living with a group of people, analyzing character traits is an easier task than you think. Let me explain.

Danny Tanner (Bob Saget): Tom
Bob Saget’s character of Danny Tanner on the show, fulfills the paternal figure of the family struggling to get back on their feet after the loss of the girls’ mom. In a similar sense, Tom has been like the paternal figure of the apartment. A culinary connoisseur, Tom always makes sure we are well-fed, concocting meals out of whatever he can find in the cupboards when the less resourceful 7/8ths of the apartment is ready to order pizza for “take away” (as they say in Italy). While Tom aspires to work in the hospitality industry, I definitely could see him with his own television show, not unlike Danny Tanner, but perhaps a cooking show or restaurant-hopping special where he will, luckily, be more censored than having his own talk show.

Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier): Jamo
While Jamo does not do the greatest beaver impressions, he does fill that roll of the lovable uncle who’s good for a pick-me-up or chat, but has enough of all the girl stuff and can sneak off to wherever Jamo goes to  escape from the “girl drama” (the basement in Uncle Joey’s case).

DJ (Candace Cameron): Cassandra
The character of DJ on Full House was the oldest of the Tanner sisters and known for her level-headedness and straight A grades. That sounds a lot like my lovely roommate Cassandra who is like the travel agent of the apartment. She has a Rick Steve’s book for wherever you are going, and could probably tell you how to get on the public transportation system in a city she’s never even been too. She’s that good. Plus, like DJ, she’s got a great boyfriend named Brenton kind of like Steve Hale who has come feel like part of our little family too.

Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin): Christine
First of all, they look scarily alike, slim, long, blonde hair and blue eyes. But, its their sarcastically funny attitudes and one-liners that resemble each other the best. Christine, like Stephanie, keeps the rest of us on our toes and makes sure there is never a dull moment.

Michelle (Mary Kate & Ashley): Catie
This may have been the easiest character to assign because Catie is like the cute lil sis of the apartment who can cause as much trouble as she wants, but at the end of the day she’s till the adorable, innocent one.

Kimmy Gibbler: Ann
For those Cornellians who have the priviledge of knowing Ann, you will understand perfectly what Ann brings to our apartment dynamic like Kimmy Gibbler, the best friend of DJ, brought to the Tanner family. Kimmy was the main source of comedic relief on Full House frequently teasing and making fun of Danny (haha Tom and Ann).

Vicky Larson (Gail Edwards): Nikki
Vicky was Danny’s girlfriend and fiance on the show who kind of filled the motherly role for the girls growing up. Nikki, like Tom, is an awesome chef, always making something new for the group, most recently some really awesome caramel for us northerners missing a northeast autumn. Nikki’s also on top of the best places to eat and visit on all of our travelers, looking out for the good of her roomies.

Becky Donaldson-Katsopolis (Lori Laughlin): me
I marry the Greek. Obviously. (Uncle Jesse to be decided)

While somedays I feel like our lives here in Florence and on our travels would make for an interesting sitcom, there is a lot of downtime that we have together that might not make for good TV, but will probably be some of my best memories from studying abroad. Honestly, this experience wouldn’t be half of what it has been if I had had different roommates. Catie even jokes sometimes saying, “I wish we didn’t love each other so much,” because it would be so much easier to make plans for 2 or 3 people than for 8 every time. We also wonder, if everything that we have experienced so far would have been as astounding or even enjoyable if we didn’t experience it together.

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It’s been fun meeting everyone’s parents as they come to visit because it really gives you perspective on why each roommate is the way they are. I’m also really excited for my mom to come in 2 weeks to introduce her to these people that I have become my family here. When I leave Florence, my roommates are what I will miss the most, but the best part? Now I have reason to go to Florida whenever I want!

I guess the message I’m trying to convey is that you can go all over the world, see some of the most beautiful places on earth, but in my mind, if you have no one to share it with, it just isn’t the same.

The Many Definitions of Home

“1301 Oakmont Road, Clarks Summit, PA,” I broadcast to my neighborhood comrades encircled nervously around the stop sign at the corner of Oakmont and Spyglass, waiting for Bus 20 to come rolling 004W044930110002_20100325160246203down the hill for its inaugural ride of the year.  Yes, I was kind of a twit at five years old showing off my rout memorization skills gained from some cut throat games of Memory Match; but that first day of kindergarten when Mom safety pinned my address to my backpack, I had it memorized right down to the zip code, a tricky task for a child this age. And while this scenario may be slightly skewed from the foggy memories of my first day of kindergarten, chances are, we all probably went to school that day and were asked to draw a picture of our house and the people who live in it with us. From the time we are this young (see photo of me chillin’ at home circa 1992)untitled, until the time that most of us leave home for college, the idea of home is very constant. It is the same place and people you leave every morning and come home to every night. No questions asked, it’s just home.

However, I’m here to attest that things get a little trickier when you start factoring in new roommates, new addresses, new states, new countries, etc. The idea of home becomes less constant, and in fact may be a constantly changing edifice, or simply not rely on the physicality of the building at all. Freshmen year, my  forced triple in High Rise 5 would have seemed more like Harry Potter’s closet8219_1132578278150_1338060023_30415999_681927_n under the stairs if it had not been for my two delightful roommates, but it could nonetheless never the be called home to me. Home was still the house I went home to every break. Sophomore year, my idea of home really started to change as I moved into my sorority house that was equipped with many of the comforts of home as well as the family-type environment, like evening dinners and T.V. nights that I had been missing in the dorm. To say I was “going home” at this point meant I was walking back from class on the phone with my Mom to pass the time before I got back to Alpha Phi. But as habit has it, I was uprooted again this summer, and again in August when my family so cruelly shipped me off to live in Italy for four months. Today, I’m pretty lucky to still have a place to go back to at the end of all of this that I can truly call home, but this whole process, and my fall break trip has given me some food for thought as to what qualifies a place as a home.

I think most would agree when asked about the reason for traveling that we visit new places to enrich ourselves and escape the normalcy of day to day life. This sense of escape usually results in a realization that “home is where the heart is” and maybe a little twinge of homesickness. Now, from someone my age with such a skewed vision of what is truly home, I’ve come to believe there can be multiple definitions of home. I have been in Florence, Italy for about eight weeks now. Naturally, this place has come to occupy the position of a secondary home to me (my house in Pennsylvania always being my primary home). By calling it home in Florence, I think fall break earns the right to be called a vacation, an escape from the normalcy of my life in Florence. So, at the crack of dawn last Friday morning, the shot gun start to our fall break trips began at staggered times as we exchanged hugs within the apartment trying not to wake the others who had a few hours of sleep left. By train, by plane, and a piedi (by foot), we arrived in Athens, Greece – to further confuse my idea of home.73793_1479098252574_1087290074_31177171_3968253_n

My grandmother grew up in a neighborhood of Athens, which has since been rebuilt to accommodate the rapidly growing population, now near 4 million. My grandmother’s house was knocked down about ten years ago, and in its place an apartment high rise was built in which my family was given one of the apartments. This apartment, furnished by my grandparents during their annual trips back to Greece, has pictures of my sister, my cousin, my family, and I on the walls. Bringing my friends here this time was much different than coming with my family to Athens. When I come with my family, the sense home is my family, so the actual apartment space doesn’t make much difference. However, coming with my friends radically changed how I felt about the apartment in itself. It did feel like I was bringing my friends home to my house, to my family. In this moment, Athens was a second home. I slept in my bed, used my towels, and knew how to get around my neighborhood.

On our second day in Athens, my uncle Bob came to pick us up, and we went to his house to see my aunt, my cousins and their spouses, and my two brand new baby cousins.

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Admittedly, I was soooo nervous to bring my roommates here. I love my family, but coming into a close knit Greek family as an outsider can be a very alarming experience, and I didn’t want my friends to feel awkward or like they would rather be doing something more fun. But, to my surprise, it ended up being my favorite day of the trip, and judging by my roommates’ expressions at lunch, one of theirs too. We went out for a huge, traditional Greek meal66296_1479103972717_1087290074_31177202_2780530_n where I think my uncle ordered two of everything on the menu. Sitting there at that moment, I felt at home. And as we jetted off to Mykonos the next day, I was comforted by the fact that I would get one more night to sleep in “my bed” in Athens before we left.

It was about midnight in Amsterdam, two and a half hours later than we had expected to arrive thanks to kerfuffle in Paris, when my feelings of homesickness began to set in. As we trudged up the stairs which should more appropriately be called a ladder to our teeny tiny hotel room, I fell into that longing for my bed in 67717_1479110692885_1087290074_31177246_4349131_nAthens, my bed in Florence, or my bed in Pennsylvania. At this point, I’m not sure which home I was most in need of, but maybe this was the answer I had been contemplating about what makes a place a home. It clearly isn’t just somewhere to leave in the morning and come back to a night. It clearly isn’t somewhere with just a comfortable bed. I think it’s a place you are proud to share with your friend. It’s a place you look forward to going back to after a vacation. It’s a place that you know will always be there to go back to, even when you have been gone for months. I previously used the words “skewed vision of home” to describe my confusion as to what qualified as my real home and what I could currently call home in my life. But I would like to rephrase those words and say I have a broadened vision of home since being abroad and traveling.

Having the opportunity to travel Europe has been one of the most valuable experiences thus far in my life, and it has really helped to redefine to me the most important things in my life. Right now, I’m sitting in my room, freezing since our heat doesn’t go on until Monday, waiting for my roommates to return from Barcelona. Because, while I am home in Florence at my desk looking out my window at the familiar courtyard, I’m not there yet. I’m not home yet because everyone in this apartment who makes it feel like home isn’t here yet. The idea of home used to be so constant, but now it’s a constantly changing combination of factors, that when aligned, will always feel like home.

I promise another entry soon detailing the more exciting ventures of fall break, but I think it’s important in this blog and during the course of this semester, that I express my thoughts and feelings that wade outside of the pool of awestruck recounts of beautiful backdrops. Last night, I skyped with my family in PA as my sister was taking her senior homecoming photos. I was sitting on a chair in the living just like I would have been if I was actually there. It was awesome, and it reassured me that I am growing up and when I get back I may change a little bit, but everything will always be the same. More to come soon …

How to celebrate your birthday in Barcelona.

Well, as many of you are aware, I am now a legal citizen of the United States of America. Weird, and probably not something I should have been parading around this weekend as the terrorist threat on Americans in Europe filled my inbox with consular warnings. So, I did my best to conceal the fact that I was celebrating the most pinnacle birthday of my life with four of my sorority sisters in the city of Barcelona Spain. It was a pretty “pinch me, I’m dreaming, this isn’t really my life” type weekend, but as a result, it was also a “wow, I’m really lucky to have been given the opportunity to travel and experience all of this” type realization.

As I am now about 6 weeks into my study abroad experience, I have learned that it is very much about figuring out how much you can possibly cram into a three month span of time, while not spending the entirety of your life savings. This in understanding, has led to many late-night pow-wows in the kitchen of our apartment scanning the edreams website for discount airlines and cheap apartments. For the adult following I seemed to have recruited in this blog, you probably look at us and think we are crazy booking these late-night, early-morning flights to auxiliary airports via cosmopolitan metro systems, while we look at each other and say, “No way! You saved 30 Euros switching planes twice from here to Paris?” It’s like a game how cheap we can budget our trips, and a little travel agency has formed as we recommend travel itineraries and accommodations to our peers.

My journey to Barcelona also begins very frugally on the seventh day of the tenth month of October, a.k.a. the birth date of yours truly. After spending the previous evening with my roommates and friends, Oktoberfest-Barcelona 082 the sun awoke me very early sans the need for an alarm this morning (don’t you love when that happens?!) My mom always said I born on a beautiful, sunny day (whether this is true or not, I shall never know, but I go on believing her anyway). I decided to go on a quick jog before I needed to be at the train station for 10:10. Of course, I was running late, and ended up jogging it to Santa Maria Novella station anyway.

So here is the low-down:

1. Planes, trains, and Automobiles: The first leg of my trip began with a train ride to Rome, about an hour and a half’s trip, followed by a second shuttle train to Roma Fiumicino airport, settled about a half hour outside the city center. For anyone thinking of traveling within/to/from Italy, flying out of Rome can cut your ticket down about 100 Euros, but includes these extras legs of travel. Once at Fiumicino, I headed to my gate. I was more than amused when I arrived at my gate, D2.

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It could have been that I was just in a really good mood it being my birthday and all, but I also chuckled at the sheer cleverness of the discount airline I had selected for their pop culture reference on the side of their plane, see accompanying youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YAEWrnOtrY:

Vueling

2. Make sure you have a fearless leader: since four of my sorority sisters were all convening in Barcelona from our respective countries, we relied on Katherine, the one in Barcelona to really show us the ropes. It’s nice to have someone who knows the place you are visiting or has a good idea of the itinerary and things to see. I think you can miss out on a lot when you travel to big cities without planning beforehand. You may also end up spending much more money on transportation than necessary. For example, Katherine suggested we buy a 10-ride metro card which lasted us the whole weekend and saved us money on cabs and single rides.

3. Wait in line. It’s worth it: On Friday, we visited Sagrada Familia, a temple built by Barcelona’s most favorite artist/architect Gaudi. Its construction is still underway, even since Gaudi’s death in 1926, and is scheduled to be finished in 2026, 100 years after his death. I think I was most blown away by Sagrada Familia because it is so different than the buildings and architecture I see in Italy or during past trips to Greece. In Italy and Greece, the buildings are much older and posses a completely different style of art than the more modernized look of Barcelona.

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I fully admit that I was not in the mood to wait in the hour long line to climb to the top of the spire, but my comrades convinced me it would be worth it, and I am glad they did. We had an incredible view of all of Barcelona. Sometimes, I convince myself so much that I am not a tourist, that I have to remind myself that it’s ok for me to take pictures of the sites, or buy the audio guide, or shop in the gift shop.

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4. Try the local cuisine: perhaps the greatest thing about traveling, is trying the local cuisine. While I love Italian food, I was really looking forward to changing it up and trying some new things in Spain. Number one on my list was paella (Photo credit to Erica Gluck because I ate mine too fast to take a picture):

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At the market, Shivani bought some Spanish chocolate and Maddy had some churros with a Spanish man in a cafe. So, between all of us, we seemed to have covered the bases of Spanish dining.

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5. Realize how lucky you are: Finally, to wrap this up, by the end of the trip, I was kind of overwhelmed by all of the emotions I was feeling: tired from the weekend, anxious to journey back to Italy, sad to leave my friends until January, etc. Writing in this blog is a good chance for me to take a few hours and reflect on my weeks in Europe, and sitting here tonight, I realized, first, what great friends I have, in Florence and from home, for giving me a birthday I won’t forget. I also realized how fortunate I am to have had the chance to be part of the Cornell network that has  allowed me to make so many friends and even meet them on the other side of the world.

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I’m always happy to return to Florence, because it’s like coming home to my city and my little family. We all sit around and share stories from our weekends and begin the planning of the next trip. The next 12 days I have in Florence to study for mid-terms and do some Florence sightseeing. So, ciao for now!

Reasons Why I Should be on the Amazing Race.

As my twenty-first birthday looms nearly one week away, I have begun to prioritize the list of things I intend to do as a full-fledged adult. Since I currently live in a country which allows its youth to consume alcohol and attend cosmically named discotheques like Space Explorita (a favorite of ours in Florence) at the ripe age of 16, being able to buy alcohol and drink legally is not nearly as excited as it would have been scanning my ID at Johnny O’s. Climbing down the list, is the new ability to gamble, so I anxiously await my return to Northeast PA where I’ll most definitely be hitting up the slots at Atlantic City with my nan – Mom, your off the hook for mother-daughter casino bonding – Nan, I promise to be more excited to go with you than my mother has been in the past. Love you both.

But perhaps the rite of passage I am most looking forward to as a 21 year old would be my eligibility to apply for the Amazing Race. For those of you who have renounced reality television and are now subsequently living in a hole unbeknownst of who The Situation is, the Amazing Race is the reality quest that sends pairs on a world-wide scavenger hunt retrieving clues and racing to an undisclosed finish line. If you are really pathetic and still have no clue what I’m talking about, you should probably stop working so hard and let your brain veg a little, but you can also watch this trailer:

So, with the opportunity to apply for season 18 only one week away, I am now accepting applications for a partner and video submission ideas. While having 21 years to contemplate my participation on the show, I obviously have some front runners for the job (I’m looking at you Scott Monsky and perhaps my Ecuadorian gymnastics coach Omar because I’m pretty sure he’s a samurai) but I’m open to auditions and pleas if you think you are right for the job. Maybe I should inform you of why I think I would be a great partner and contestant on the Amazing Race.

1. I have a diverse knowledge of Europe based on my own travels and Brain Quest Junior, for the car.

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2. I am an easy travel partner – just ask Tom, I didn’t even drool on his shoulder during the flight to Italy (actually he might have drooled on mine? Tom, you’re off the list!)

3. I can easily make friends with the locals. Here is a picture of me and my sister Stephanie on our last family vacation to Greece hanging out with a new pal.

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4. Being in Italy has taught me how to aptly maneuver the chessboard of tourists in overpopulated, monumental areas, and how to cut down on wasted travel time by avoiding asking the cute boys for directions.

5. I can fit in small places – this may actually come in handy! (Me in Venice)

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6.  I know how to react during intense (and awkward) moments. For example, this weekend while at Italian mass, the Padre basically tossed the communion into my hand and as I bobbled the Sacred Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, I contemplated whether this act of disrespect would be enough to reverse all of my good deeds up til now or if I will have to hop a train for an emergency religious pilgrimage to the Vatican (thank god I’m close). Yes, I did indeed drop the host on the floor in the hallowed space of Santa Croce. I quickly scanned the floor for wafer, picked it up, and in haste, popped it in my mouth. Tom said the Padre gave me a dirty look, but Catie thought he laughed at me, either way: MORTAL EMBARRASSMENT! Upon researching this rare occurrence, I found that I probably should have allowed the Padre to pick up the host and set it aside, but what I did was acceptable as long as I didn’t leave any particles on the ground.

7. Adding Italian to the list, there are now four languages I can barely speak.

8. I once participated in a similar version of the show: The Amazing Race hosted by Summit Baptist Church. We may have slipped from lead during the “hunt for the secret person hidden in the mall” challenge when we failed to check the mattress department of Sears, but nonetheless, we were definitely the best-looking team sporting matching purple swishy pants ala Salvation Army.

{Insert cute photo of us in purple swishy pants here if I ever find one}

So, basically, I’m the ideal partner, looking for the ideal partner. If you’re up to the challenge you must submit a two-minute admissions tape to me on why I should select you as my partner, what languages you speak, if you drive a stick shift car, and all must be done to the tune of Forever by Chris Brown. I’m sorry, those are just the rules. Since Scott Monsky’s age will be in limbo until December, I’m giving you all a head start so do not procrastinate. Also, this is our team uniform – deal with it:

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This weekend, I will venture to Munich, Germany to participate in the 200th Oktoberfest celebration with my dear friend Maddy Jimerson. There will be fun to report then, so be looking out for a new post soon! Ciao!

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Class Blog: Voices from Cornell Abroad

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