Monday, October 25, 2010

Italy, the good the bad the ugly

First of all i want to wish everybody good luck at the dressage show this weekend! you guys are going to be great. As you say in italian "in bocca al lupo" (in the mouth of the wolf).

Italy is beautiful. I went to venice this weekend, expecting to be disappointed, but it really does live up to the myth. Italian people are also beautiful. Its not just a stereotype that italians are well dressed and elegant. Italians spend more money per capita on clothing than any other country, and it shows. Italians frequently stop into stores every week and buy a new shirt or a scarf or a purse. Appearances really do matter. Last week my host mom invited her boss over for dinner at our house. When my host mom told me that her boss was coming i asked if she liked him. Her response was "physically, no. Hes a very short and ugly man." Then i replied, "but you like him as a boss?". And she said "oh yes certainly". Even the word for nice "carino" also means cute or pretty.

Now for some ugly: italians making out in public. Italians seem to be much more cool about PDA than americans. It's pretty common to see a couple full on making out and groping each other on the street. Furthermore, the italian definition of making out tends to be more broad then ours. Kissing is not meant just for the lips, lips and tongue tend to travel towards the chin and cheek region. Its basically a full face workout. Another ugly thing: italian toilets. When you go into a public bathroom theres something missing, and its not just soap and paper towels. Theres no toilet seats! Maybe thats how italian women have nice legs even though they never go to the gym. One of the grossest toilets i have encountered thus far was at the train station in perugia a week ago coming back from the chocolate festival (: A friend and i decided to try our luck across the street at the mcdonalds, which turned out to be one of the nicest bathrooms ive found in all of italy. Go figure.

A Bit of the Red Barn in London!

An advertisement in one of London's underground stations. It made me happy, a piece of Stanford catching me where I didn't expect it:

- R

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Castles, Churches, and Countryside

To add my own quick update to all of the Bing trip posts: two weekends ago the Stanford-in-Oxford crew traveled to York, in northern England. No gorgeous seaside views or amazing cheeses here, but we did get to see miles of sprawling green countryside, as well as several old manor houses and estates from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was just like stepping into a classic British novel!

York itself was a town still very much possessing shades of the medieval, with well-preserved stone walls surrounding the older heart of the city. We took a walk around these walls, near where the moat used to be (very much like being a sentry on duty, peering in between the turrets), and also visited York Minster, the towering cathedral that is one of the best-known icons of the city. This building was a stunning display of Gothic architecture, but brighter and cheerier inside than other Gothic buildings I've seen, such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It still wasn't quite as visually overwhelming as St. Paul's Cathedral in London, though.

After York, our last stop was Rievaulx Abbey, an old monastic ruin from the 13th century. The entire place had a haunting, yet serene air with its walls and pillars of half-crumbled stone, grass and moss taking over what had clearly once been a spectacular structure. We clambered over the ruins, took pictures, and breathed in the picturesque air of the hills and surrounding countryside against the roughened stones of the ruins.

All in all, the Bing trip was a great weekend out of Oxford, one which I really enjoyed but some others complained a bit about - I guess old country houses and churches didn't fit their idea of entertainment... Still, it's these historical places that have been my favorite part about England so far.

(Much more about York and many other UK shenanigans on my other blog -! Please check it out! Sorry, I don't feel like writing long updates in two places.)

- R

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bing trip photos

Raclette: Half a wheel of raclette chese under a heat lamp. As it melts, it is scraped onto your plate, and eaten with potatoes and charcutrie

Fondue: delicious melted cheese with white wine (and maybe some other things), which is eaten by dipping pieces of bread on forks into it. Yum!

Big ovens at the bell foundry for melting the bronze. It was really impressive!

Palais de l'Ile in Annecy--at one time home to the prison, offices, money mint and archives

Looking out over the city of Annecy from the fortress at the top of the hill. The picture doesn't do it justice, and had there been sunshine I'm sure it would have been breathtaking.

More photos on facebook!

Say Cheese!

Time sure does fly in Europe...I can't believe November is just around the corner. To continue a post theme, I just went on my Bing trip as well. However instead of going somewhere warm and gloriously sunny like the Amalfi coast, I went to the freezing cold French Alps. Our train ride there (a little over three hours) was in first class, thank you French strikes (more on striking later...). Our train was cancelled, so we booked another train but the only seats available were in first. Don't worry, we made up for it on the way back, since there was only one train going from the Alps to Paris. Stanford students were scattered all over the train, some in first, some in the corridors, and I spent my 3.5 hours sitting on a bar stool in the dining car. Not terribly conducive to getting reading done, or sleeping for that matter.

Back to the Bing trip: we stayed in the Haute Savoie region, in a town called Annecy. The views were amazing, and the old part of Annecy was great! The first afternoon we were left to our own devices to wander around and explore. We stumbled upon a great club/bar in the evening and be proud, our little Stanford group got a crazy party going! The second day we had a tour of the old town, including the fortress and Palais de l'Ile, the old prison/"office building"/records hall that is literally a building built in the middle of the canal that runs through the town. After lunch, we headed out on bikes around the edge of the lake to a little bell museum and foundry. That night, we had dinner at a restaurant called "Le Freti", and said restaurant is the reason for the title. Savoyard specials include fondue (melted cheese eaten with bread on fondue forks), raclette (more melted cheese eaten with boiled potatoes and charcuterie) and tartiflette (MORE melted cheese with more potatoes, bacon and onions, all cooked together in a little skillet). While at Le Freti, we were served copious amounts of fondue and raclette, along with delicious white wine, another regional specialty. (Not to worry--I had tartiflette, the third specialty, for lunch the next day.) We all went home very full and very happy. The next day we were on a bus, headed up into the mountains to dine at an amazing restaurant that served us a heavenly squash soup, fish from the lake and a cassis tart with ice cream to finish it off. Once again, filled to bursting. Then off to a farm to learn how Reblochon, the regional cheese, is made, as well as taste some fresh cheese. So delicious. The third and final day, we headed to Aix-les-Bains to go on another guided city tour (rather unexciting), take a quick boat ride around the lake and then hop on the train to come back to Paris. Clearly, the theme of our trip was cheese consumption, but I'm not complaining! It was all amazingly fresh and delicious. Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bing, the trip was excellent.

A quick note on the Paris strikes (because this post might not be long enough...): They really aren't as bad as the media is making them seem. My daily life has been on the whole, unaffected by them, aside from the trains to and from Annecy. The metro has been functional and there has been very little rioting in Paris proper. Most of the mayhem is in Lyon, Marseilles, and the Paris banlieus (suburbs). There have been some demonstrations near school, but as far as I can tell, people just walk around, block the streets, yell and sing into megaphones, play loud music, throw paper pamphlets around and eat. No wonder they're always on strike. Chances are everything will settle down once vacation starts next week, because heaven forbid the French waste their vacation time protesting, that's what work time is for!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

So i caved . . .

. . . and bought some peanut butter at the supermercato yesterday. It was Skippy, probably packaged at the same factory as the peanut butter maddy was using! A very small jar cost almost 4 euros. Anyways, enough peanut talk.

Last weekend was our Bing trip to Pompei, sorrento, and the Amalfi coast. Pompei was a bit of a marathon tour in the blazing sun. The main things i took away from the trip were that people were a lot shorter two thousand years ago, and people in Pompei enjoyed their prostitutes. Theres even a large phallic symbol in the middle of the town that points the way towards the brothel. We had a lovely dinner in sorrento that night, where i ate fish at a restaurant for the first time ( i have taken a hiatus from vegetarianism in italy to fully experience la cucina italiana). I don't have much to compare it to, but it was pretty delicious. The next day we went to a couple of coastal towns and i swam in the aquamarine water at Positano. It was great to see a completely different part of italy. Florence is great, but even most Florentines have a house in the country that they go to on weekends to get away from the congestion of the city. My host father designs boats, so he frequently goes to the coast to manage the building of his designs. Tonight at dinner he said "he would die if he had to stay in the city all the time". After going to amalfi i can understand why he enjoys his visits so much. On Sunday, Justine, I, and four others went to the island of Capri. We took a ferry from sorrento to the marina maggiore, and then we spent about an hour finding a place to check our bags and standing in line to buy tickets for the funicolare, the tram-like thing that takes you up to the actual town of Capri. The wait was well worth it though! We took a stroll through the old historical center of anacapri, and then we took a chairlift to the top of the mountain. It was one of the most visually stunning things i have ever experienced. To borrow a phrase from Rick Steves, it was a "scenic hoot". We all wanted to stay- probably forever- and do more things on the island, but we needed to get back to florence before it was too late. We took another ferry from the island to Naples. We made a mad dash to the train station in a taxi where we encountered "luigi the taxi driver" (he asked us several times to friend him on facebook) and arrived with only ten minutes to spare. Of course, none of the ticket machines would take american credit cards, so we had to wait an hour for the next train. The kicker was that there was only seat left on the whole train which i was lucky enough to get, but everybody else had to stand for the three hour ride. The train arrived about 25 minutes late, but one of the things i have learned in italy is patience. This comes in handy when you have to wait an hour for your megavideo to load or spend over an hour signing up for a library card. The picture from capri won't upload now, but i will try again tomorrow.

Ridiculously Gorgeous Places

Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano and Capri:

Note the color of the water. I did not come back to Florence willingly.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Me, the Pastoralist

Proof of England's amazingly verdant/bucolic/idyllic setting. And proof that it doesn't ALWAYS rain here...

- R

Monday, October 4, 2010

Forza viola!

Alè alè alè, viola alè
/ Forza viola alè / Ooh Fiorentina / Segna per noi, forza Fiorentina / Forza viola dalla curva si alzerà


Greetings from Oxford!

So I've finally gotten around to writing on this blog too... I've been in Oxford for a week now and am loving the sense I get here, literally like I've been transported into a different time. The city has so much history and tradition (commemorative plaques line the streets bearing such famous names as Fleming and Boyle), and it's not uncommon to see a professor ("don") or student walking the streets in full decked-out school robes. Sort of Harry Potter-esque. So old and unreal.

I've spent my time getting situated in the city, meeting people, and exploring places like museums and libraries - Oxford has so many! Unlike the other abroad programs that Stanford offers, overseas Oxford students don't have a homestay or host family, but instead live together in a large conglomeration of three former townhomes on the High Street, combined into one house and also hosting staff offices, classrooms, etc. As you might have gathered from that description, the Stanford House is sort of a maze, with a million staircases, in-between floors, and hidden hallways. I still haven't figured out exactly where everything is, and I got lost on my way back from the laundry room this morning...

Like Justine, I haven't had anything that feels like "real" class yet. The first week mostly consisted of orientation activities, tours, and free time, though my architecture class did take a field trip to a museum on Friday. The entire Stanford-in-Oxford crew traveled to London on Saturday, too, where we saw such sights as the Tower of London (very creepy), St. Paul's (spectacular), and a performance of Henry IV at Shakespeare's Globe theater. As an English nerd, it was amazing to see the Globe in person! This week is yet more orientation stuff (including Stanford-affiliated college information sessions and some more introductory classes), and then the Oxford term starts next Monday. Oxford students are only in class for 8 weeks per quarter, meaning that 1) they cram in their work when they are here, and 2) they're very self-motivated even when away from university, often pursuing their studies alone. And, actually, the educational system here isn't as much class-based as individual tutorial-based. But more about that another time. Right now I'm focused on enjoying myself before the workload really starts.

Missing everyone and the horses! I did try to find a suitable barn to ride here, especially since the English countryside is so beautiful, but that effort's failed so far. More about that in a future post, too.

- R

Another comment on peanut butter

After being told by various sources that French people don't like peanut butter, I seem to have landed myself in a French household that actually loves it! I don't know that they eat it plain very often (on bread or in a sandwich I mean), but last night my host family and I made peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. It was somewhat surprising when my host mom pulled out a half-size jar of creamy Skippy peanut butter (especially given the organic peanut butter craze in California--I don't think I've had Skippy in years, literally), and we started whipping up some cookies! Turns out she has a recipe for these cookies that their first exchange student from Stanford had given her. Génial! I told her that the cookies are even better with a heartier peanut butter, and she said that Monoprix (kind of like a Safeway, except that there's a clothes floor) had a whole aisle of different kinds of peanut butter, and that she would check them out next time she went food shopping. I may do a little snooping myself! Our next American food adventure will be banana bread--they can't quite seem to wrap their head around the concept, but after seeing copious amounts of way overripe bananas in the kitchen, I decided I had to introduce them to it. A bientôt!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quest for peanut butter

There are some things in life that you really don't realize that you really like/need until you don't have them. Though Italian food is AMAZING, my list of "normal" food cravings is rapidly growing. A couple of days ago, I started craving peanutbutter. It turns out that in Italy the equivalent of peanutbutter is Nutella. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Nutella. But after a while, Nutella gets really old. Especially when you're expected to eat it for breakfast every day. It has absolutely no nutritional value. Zero. Chocolate/hazelnut spread should be for dessert, not for all purpose consumption every day.
So I decided to buy myself some peanut butter for lunch one day. Little did I realize that finding peanut butter would be close to impossible. According to one of the professors here, many Italians don't like peanut butter because it's "too sweet" so although every grocery store stocks shelves of Nutella, they rarely stock more than a couple of jars of Skippy. Not only is it scarce, but also costs upwards of 6 euros in some stores. There was no way that I was going to pay that much for half a jar of semi-decent peanut butter. I finally got desperate enough after searching a couple of supermarkets and ended up forking out 3 euros for a jar of creamy American peanut butter. It was worth it; that jar is in my purse every day when I go to school. Now if only I could find a loaf of whole wheat bread... the Tuscan, non-salted variety is really only good for dipping in olive oil or layering with tomatoes for bruschetta.


Bonjour from Paris!

Salut everyone! I got jealous of Justine's fabulous Florence posts and felt like it was about time for me to write a little Paris update. Despite somewhat crummy weather, the city has been fabulous! The Stanford center is in the 6th arrondisment, right by the Jardin Louxembourg, in the Quartier Montparnasse. Montparnasse is one of the oldest and most famous areas of the city, where artists like Chagall, Picasso and Modigliani came to live and work. Various ex-pats like Hemmingway and Gertrude Stein lived there too. Happily, the school is also surrounded by tons of delicious creperies, so we're all pretty well fed! I get to live in the 15th arrondisment, lucky me, about a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower...pretty idyllic! Missing everyone tons. Bises (kisses)!


Friday, October 1, 2010

Stanford in florence students don't go to class...

...and by that I mean that we rarely have class in an actual classroom. At this point, I've probably had more classes in the Duomo or the Piazza della Signoria than at a desk in the Stanford Center. Plus, I get to feel like a fifth grader again because we have a ton of field trips planned for the quarter (Rome, Venice and Siena to name a few). A couple of highlights so far:

Field trip to Casentino countryside to study 11th and 12th century history

Corri la Vita walk for breast cancer awareness

Helping with the wine harvest (la vendemmia) at a vineyard outside of Florence