Guest Post: A True Family Dinner

Throught it would be better to hear about the family's first day in Florence from my Dad! A big thanks to him for being generous enough to write for me :)

While I welcome the opportunity to be a guest blogger for Ellen, the pressure seems enormous.  She has done such a wonderful job of documenting her time in Florence, and her previous guest blogger (Sean) matched her ability for colorful description.
Thursday was our first full day in Florence, having arrived at 9:30 the previous night and caught up with Ellen briefly. It was a busy school day for Ellen but afforded us a wonderful opportunity to warm to the city and see her in her new environment. For us, the day began with breakfast at our hotel and then an excursion to the “must see” sight of Florence – Michaelangelo’s David, housed at the Accademia. Kitte and I visited this amazing sculpture on our first visit to Florence almost 25 years ago and it appears the Accademia has built up its collection a bit since then. Nevertheless, all the paintings and other sculptures seem to be mere filler, as the David is the prize that dominates all. Its detail and grandeur continue to impress, though we can share no photos here because they are no longer permitted in the museum.

Leaving the Accademia, we headed to the Villa Rosa, where we met Ellen and got a brief tour of Syracuse University at Florence. Of course, as a parent, it is not only fun to see where Ellen is studying and to meet some of her friends, but also gratifying to have Jim Kauffman, the associate director of the program, thank us for “lending” Ellen to the program. He and Vittoria, who heads the volunteer program, went out of their way to compliment Ellen on developing the Healthy Monday program for SUF.
For lunch, we joined the SUF group in the piazza in front of the school for Sharing Thursday, enjoying pasta with broccoli that they shared with members of the nearby community. The crowd was down, due to the holiday week, which we found would not be the case anywhere else in Florence.

As Ellen had classes throughout the afternoon, Kitte, Laura, and I took the opportunity to walk around the city, shop a bit, and then enjoy a brief jet-lag fighting siesta. That set up a highlight of our trip – dinner at Ellen’s host family’s house. Their graciousness and hospitality is certainly as wonderful as Ellen has described it. Christina and Marco greeted us into their home and we took our places in the dining room. We then enjoyed 2 hours of 7 courses and wonderful conversation. Bruschetta (pronounced “brew-skett-uh” here) was followed by antipasto, then followed by spinach and cheese ravioli in a light butter sage sauce, which preceded the main course of salmon and potatoes, then followed by salad – and a pineapple cut to look like a chicken – and finally a wonderful homemade tiramisu. And no, Ellen’s coaching to “pace yourself” didn’t help when Cristina poured out the pasta!

Even more amazing than the food was the hospitality. While Christina was rather quiet, as she does not feel confident with her English, Marco was a warm and gracious conversationalist, asking questions, regaling us with stories, and forcing Ellen and her roommate Ali to speak in Italian. (Another wonderful experience – observing Ellen converse in a language we don’t know!) Clearly, Ellen and Ali are blessed with a tremendous host family, and the fact Marco and Christina have been hosting students for 22 years is clear. They give them room to experience Florence as they wish, but provide a supportive, caring, (well-fed!) environment. What a wonderful day we had, seeing a bit of Florence through Ellen’s eyes and meeting her wonderful “Florence family”.

P.S - The family took most of the pictures on their camera this weekend and I failed to get them before they left! More pictures to come...

Something Good This Way Comes...

Today, April 4, was a day filled with anticipation as my parents and sister are arriving in Florence tonight! I have long awaited their arrival in Italy as they had their flight reserved before I was even admitted to the study abroad program. Although I am normally away from my family for the whole semester when I am school, I have especially missed them this semester while abroad. Living with a host family provides a home environment, and while I love this aspect, it makes me feel like I am at home but it’s missing one crucial aspect – my actual family. Because of this, some days I want to be home more than ever. Despite how much I am enjoying Italy, some days I miss the comforts of America and the company of my family. It will be so nice to finally see them! (Can they take me back in their suitcase?) 

Dinner was eaten faster than normal as I am eager to meet my family at their hotel tonight. I am so excited to show them around my life here in Florence and spend some quality time together as a family.

Just like at Grandma's

I was little too ambitious this morning, Tuesday April, 3. I went to my first class thinking getting out of the house would be good for me, however I was absolutely miserable and came home early. Upon returning home, Cristina took good care of me. She made me tea and toast in the afternoon, and kept asking if there was anything she could do – so kind!

  I told Cristina I would like some kind of soup or broth for dinner, as my stomach was telling me “proceed with caution”. Upon sitting down to dinner I was presented with small pasta in chicken broth that tasted exactly like the sick remedy my grandmother makes, “chicken broth soup”. With the warm broth and chewy pasta it reminded of being at Grandma’s house. It was the perfect meal for my stomach.

 I love being taken care of. At school it’s always fend-for-yourself, so in that respect, this semester has been a nice change. My laundry is washed and folded on the weekends, the bathroom is cleaned every week and dinner is on the table at 7:30 every night. And to think I was apprehensive about living in a home stay.

Just No.

Unfortunately yesterday evening’s sickies did not get better with rest, as I was home all day with some sort of stomach virus. This means: No fruit. No newsletter. No exercise class. No Healthy Monday.

There was no fruit as all my stomach could handle was broth, boiled zucchini, and a hard boiled egg.

There was no newsletter as instead of reading scholarly articles about health I dove into my fluffy novel of love and Irish landscapes to keep my mind off my churning stomach.

There was no exercise class for me, for my body could not muster up the energy for a single sit up but instead laid in bed all day watching episodes of New Girl and Desperate Housewives.

No, this Monday was not a healthy one.

Rotisserie Pastry

Our hostel in Prague proved to be very nice and even provided breakfast in the morning! Maria and I both fixed ourselves big bowls of yogurt with granola, coffee, and cheese and jam sandwiches to bring with us for later.

After breakfast we headed to our first site of the day, Prague castle which is the biggest castle in the world! The castle sits on top of a hill making it visible from miles away. Once we got up there, we found the vast castle quarters which were made up of a series of buildings. We spent some good time looking at the church (which we both agreed looks just like Notre Dame), and popping into different buildings on the premises. The gothic architecture was incredible and the buildings were like nothing I had ever seen before.

Traveling makes us both tired so we were soon in need of some down time. We decided we should get some traditional Czech food so we headed to a good looking restaurant. Unfortunately Prague is not very vegetarian friendly. One of the signature dishes here is beef goulash with potato dumplings. Trying to order something traditional while evading meat I ordered the "traditional garlic soup with brie" thinking I’d be safe, but it had bacon in it! I also ordered some of the potato dumplings which basically had no flavor without the beef goulash. Although my soup was good after I picked out the bacon, I guess you can say Czech food is not my favorite.

After relaxing at the restaurant, fueling up, and getting warm we headed out to see our final site - the Charles Bridge. The sun came out for us just as began to stroll across the bridge, enjoying the most gorgeous view of the river. There were so many people walking across the bridge, it was just a wonderful place to be. It was quite possibly my favorite part of Prague!

Before it was time to head to the airport we had our minds... or rather our stomachs... set on one last stop before we left. The day before in old town square we saw the most amazing looking tradition Czech sweets called “Trdelnik”. There were many stands making the hot sugary coated pastry by wrapping dough around a metal cylinder, rolling it in sugar, and cooking the dough over an open fire like a rotisserie chicken.


 We had to get one! So we got our treats and brought them to have with our American coffee at the ever beloved ... Starbucks!

After my last sip of American coffee, before my last month in Italy without it, we headed to airport to catch our flight. Unfortunately by that time we were both feeling quite sick. It could have been something we ate, the coffee or a bug but whatever it was it made the next 6 hours of travel miserable. While waiting for our flight, we both decided this may be our last weekend trip as we are over traveling. As cool as it is to experience new countries, it takes a heavy toll on the body and we are exhausted. The flight home may have been our last until its back to the States. We only have 3 weeks left before our April 26th depature!