kind eyes

I did not have time this last week, but here is a post about last weekend:
So, this weekend has been quite a journey on many levels. I have really grown to love Florence. I recently got a used bike and it was probably the best choice I’ve made here yet. On Friday morning I biked around the city which definitely helped me to get to know the area better. But the best part was that I found a park past Point Veccio, about 7 miles from the villa. I biked around the park and found a beautiful area with tall trees, freshly fallen leaves, and pure air. I found a huge clearing of green grass, where the sun shown brightly and the crisp air smelled of fall. I sat in the sun and relaxed barefoot in the grass. I felt peace and I felt freedom. It felt worlds away from the busy city, I found my place. Afterwards I went to the Ufici and the Acedemia. Where I saw Bottocellis Birth of Venus along with many other amazing pieces of artwork. I then went to the San Lorenzo market where I picked up some uncooked fresh gnocchi and walnut sauce, all for under 4€! After, around 7, I headed towards Academia. There was no line to get in and when I saw The David, I felt as though time stopped. I was amazed at the beauty and how blessed I was to be only one of the 7 people there at the time. I know many people who go to The David and it is full of people, I was thankful for such a special moment. I sat for about 45 minutes awe struck. It was amazing to think about how many people had seen the vary statue that stood before me and to think about Michelangelo and his amazing work. I then headed back to the villa, where I cooked my gnocchi and enjoyed a peaceful night of study. The next day I headed to the Alpuni alps outside of the city of Carrara. I saw them the week before when coming back by train to Florence from Cinque Terre. I hiked the beautiful mountains, the same marble mountains that Michealangelo used as his medium for The David! The hike was stunning. After a week in the city I felt completely free in the mountains and I felt revived. On the train ride back I stopped by the city Viaggero. The city was gorgeous and I went to the beach and swam in the Mediterranean Sea for a few hours before I headed back to Florence. While at the beach I met a kind, older Florentine man who told me about his family and his travels, I live for moments like those. On the train ride home I accidentally went on the wrong train but I could not be more thankful for that mistake. I decided to sit near a sweet, older nun where a seat was free, and during the train ride we exchanged smiles and I noticed her kind, loving eyes. When I left the train she grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes with so much love as she said a quick “Ciao” as I left abruptly to catch my train. That moment, those eyes, her kind smile. That precious moment reminded me of what I say often, “One smile can change a persons day, a persons life. One smile can change the world”. I know now that this is true, her smile has given me hope. Because even as I travel, even when alone, I can think of eyes like hers, smiles like hers, and I will feel loved whether alone or in company. I hope to be that person for others as well. A person who helps others and who shows others that they are always loved and cherished. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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strikes

Again, I wrote this last week and did not have time to post, so here’s about my beautiful journey to Cinque Terre!
Strikes. I was told on arriving to Italy that strikes are a commonplace here. That here in Italy they’re scheduled and occur often and will often affect everyone’s everyday life. I had never personally experience such kinds of strikes, until now. This weekend I had a two day trip to Cinque Terre planned. I, as I had learned on the Camino, definitely anticipated that there would be minor issues but I wasn’t too concerned. My friend Lindsay and I set out around 5:45am for the Florence train station for our 6:08am train to La Spezia. After a very peaceful train ride, we arrived in La Spezia. On our arrival we were informed that that night at 9pm there would be a 24 hour train strike that would not end until Sunday night at 9pm. I was pretty unconcerned, worst thing that could happen would be I wouldn’t be able to take a train back to Florence until 9pm which would only equate to more time in Cinque Terre, which was a plus to me. After arriving in La Spezia we took a 5 minute train to the first city of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore. On arriving to the city I was taken aback by the small, quaint, seaside village before me. After exploring we headed to the central plaza, where there were adorable shops and multiple breakfast cafés! I was so shocked, since coming to Italy I learned quickly that Italians don’t typically have breakfasts, or at least ones that I, an American am used to. An Italians breakfast is typically consists of an espresso or cappuccino and a quick pastry. However, in Riomaggiore the restaurants had crepes, fruit smoothies, and various other breakfast foods. Lindsay and I had a wonderful breakfast and I enjoyed our time together dearly. Afterwards, we planned on hiking to the next village Montarolo, however, we found that the trail to the second city was closed, so we went by train. Montarolo was quite different than Riomaggiore, it had a gorgeous rock/cliff area where we could swim in the crisp, translucent blue Mediterranean water. We explored the city then we swam for around 3 hours. After swimming I sat upon a beautiful cliff over the clear water and wrote in my journal. The feelings, the energy I felt there, the connection I felt between myself, earth and God was remarkable. I felt renewed, refreshed, revived. Two other friends met Lindsay and I there and we all headed to lunch. At lunch I had homemade ravioli, which was probably the best meal of my life, which just made my day even better! The path from Monarola to Corneglia was also closed due to land slides so we unfortunately were unable to hike that as well. But we did, however hike every area where we were able to do so. My friend Zoe and I trained to the fourth city and checked into our hotel in Varanazza. I booked the hotel very last minute but it was an adorable place in the city that I now consider my favorite in Cinque Terre. The energy of Varanazza was unique. Children running everywhere on the cool brick roads, gelato shops, pasta and pizza filled resturants along every street corner, filled the city with a sweet aroma. From there, around 7:00pm we decided to take a sunset hike to the fifth and last city of Cinque Terre, Montarosso. The hike was not too difficult or long, it was uphill for half then downhill and very relaxing. After feeling trapped in a city these past weeks, walking along the costal mountain path freed me and brought me unexplainable joy. We arrived to Montarosso and explored the city there as well which was absolutely adorable at night. Children playing in the piazza, sea food restaurants along the coast crowded with happy travelers, amazing gelato shops, it was a beautiful sight to see. After a short time in the adorable city we had to head to the train station so that we didn’t attempt to take a train after the train strike would begin. We met up with our two other friends with whom we got on the train towards La Spezzia, which we thought would stop at Venanazza. After boarding, however, I realized that we took the wrong train, one that would not stop until Riomaggiore, it was 8:46pm and the last train before the strike from Riomaggiore to Vananzia would leave at 8:49pm. We got off the train quickly, searched and ran frantically throughout the station to find the correct terminal. We found the terminal and the train doors were about to close, two quickly jumped on and the train and arrived in Vanenzzia around 9:00pm. We were so thrilled to make it back to our hotel! We went out to a pizzeria near the beach when we made it to the city then went to bed. The next morning (today), I woke up, checked out of the hotel and we headed to the beach again. The beautiful beach actually has black sand and hundreds of uniquely designed rocks and beach glass. After the beach, we hiked from Vanenzzia to our last city, gorgeous Corniglia. In Corniglia we looked around quickly then headed to the station to find out how we would get back to Florence. After talking with a worker, we decided to buy a ticket and possibly happen to get a train to La Spezia with a conductor who did not participate in the strike. After about an hour and a half wait, the train came! We took the train back to La Spezia, where the fun began. All trains to Florence were canceled. So we bussed to Pisa. In Pisa we bought a train ticked to Florence, thinking we may get lucky like we had in the two previous cities. We were not so lucky. We headed to terminal 2 for the train, waited for 45 minutes to find that the train was canceled, then we headed to terminal 8, then 4, and back and forth at least 3 times, running frantically through the station. All three of the trains to Florence were canceled, the only one that was available was at 11:45pm, which would be late for a school night. I had an idea to find a bus to the Pisa air port where we could possibly bus to Florence. Zoe agreed and we headed outside with the mob of angry travelers. We packed into a bus to the airport, leaving no breathing room. Once at the airport we got on a bus to Florence, where I currently am now. We’re not too sure where this bus is taking us, but I will find out shortly. I am so thankful for getting back in such a timely manner. This trip has been amazing and I laugh at all the drama that the strike has caused. I now can say I made it through an Italian train strike, which is something I never thought I would say. I actually enjoyed all the commotion it caused and it made my weekend even more exciting! I have definitely learned to embrace unexpected events with ease because I know in the end I’ll make it to my destination and it will make for a good story in the future. So, why worry? I am about to get to Florence now and I couldn’t have asked for a better travel weekend before a week of school. Every time I get overwhelmed by the city this week, I’ll think back to my blissful moments spent in Cinque Terre and remember how this trip captivated me and allowed me to see new things, meet new people, and allowed me to live and be free. So, here’s to the next Italian strike, I just hope it doesn’t affect the transportation system next time! But for now, I study but next weekend.. Well, then there’s a whole new set of adventures! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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pisa and lucca

I wrote this about two weeks ago yet never had time to post it, so here’s my beginning thoughts, feelings, and adventures. It’s interesting to look back now and see how things have changed.
Here I am, only two weeks and three days into my year long journey in Italy, living a joyful, culture rich life of traveling and fun. It is shocking when I think about how little time I have been here and how much I already love Italy. Living in Florence has definitely been an adjustment, as it is a tourist filled, somewhat polluted city. But the beautiful architecture, amazing food, friendly people, romantic language, and European energy make up for the busy, noisy streets. On Saturday September 13, our first travel weekend, myself and six others headed to Pisa and Lucca for the day. We started our day somewhat early catching the 9:00am train to pisa, after dramatically running up to and missing our original 8:30am train. After the short train ride to Pisa, we went to a cafe for our morning cappuccinos then explored the city. Pisa was filled with a fair amount of tourists and had many street vendors. I loved walking through and looking at the vendors and the other fun shops and meeting other travelers as well. When we walked to the leaning tower I was awe struck. I remember as a child hearing about the leaning tower of Pisa from my father and brothers when they traveled to the city years ago. I remember my dad brought me back a sweet, ceramic Pisa suviner. I broke the one I was given and found the same little ceramic pisa statue and bought it of course, this time I’ll give it to my dad when I get back from Italy just as he did for me when I was a child. After exploring around and taking various pictures in front of the tower myself and a friend went and sat in the grass near the beautiful church and took in the gorgeous scene around us. That afternoon we went to an adorable little restaurant all together. I got gnocchi, which were amazing! The food here never fails to amaze me, the great quality and rich flavor, it’s all dangerously delicious. After exploring the city for a bit more we all headed for a train to Lucca. On arriving to Lucca, which is about 30 minutes from Pisa, we we’re overcome with excitement as we saw the beautiful, quaint, mountain surrounded, walled city. The gorgeous city took me by surprise as I walked through the caramel colored brick streets. Shortly after our arrival we headed to a beautiful cathedral. I saw a beautiful statue of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by people. The statue, I found out was quite famous, and said to be the most life-like statue of Jesus and it was created in the Medieval Ages. It was a powerful moment looking at the figure, clothed in gold, looking purely sad yet loving at the same time. As I Iooked, I noticed there was a crowd forming around the statue. The church was filled with crowds of people, lines everywhere, police, priests, and cardinals. There was clearly something going on, I then discovered that the day of our arrival was in fact the night of a religious holiday celebration. Most of the group I was traveling with decided to leave that afternoon to head back to Florence because they were tired. I, on the other hand wanted to stay and see the religious precession that would take place that night. A girl named Haley decided to stay with me, but I would have gladly stayed and traveled back alone as well. That night more crowds of people gathered and small candelas, thousands of them were lit throughout the city. The beautiful lights surrounded every window of every building and lined the roofs and we’re spread throughout the windows and books of the religious buildings as well. I saw various people on cranes lighting the candles higher on the buildings. It was so interesting because in America I don’t think such a ceremony would exist because of fire safety. After a lovely sunset dinner in an adorable piazza, Haley and I joined the crowd of people and watched the beautiful procession. Hundreds of people, each holding a candle, singing beautiful music together for the religious festival. At dusk the illuminated city was breathtaking. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have happened to have arrived in the city on the vary day of the festival. After the procession, we headed out of town and arrived back in Florence around 11:30pm. I was so full of joy and excitement after such a cultural experience. I cannot wait for more exciting adventures in my future travels throughout Italy. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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making it to italy

I am here. I am in Italy. I am getting ready for a year of growth. A year filled with new experiences as I study in this beautiful country for the next eight months. I want to dive into this rich, beautiful culture, to learn, to live.
This past week has been one of changes. I said goodbye to my family on Sunday night, August 31, and was on a flight to L.A.X. by 7am. The last night with my family was perfect. We moved thanksgiving up to August 31′ so that the whole family could have thanksgiving together since I will not be home for the holidays this year. Saying goodbye to my family was hard, especially knowing that I would not see them for eight months.
I spent three days with friends on campus in Malibu, which was exactly what I needed before I left the country for the year. Being united with the ocean again was remarkable.
I met the rest of the students who I would be traveling with to Italy at L.A.X. on Wednesday, September 3rd. After spending hours trying to get through security and checked bags and $200.00 later, I made it to the terminal for a flight to Paris. I learned that AirFrance is very particular with bags you can check and carry on, and I learned that traveling abroad with school books and clothes to last a year will definitely cost extra money.
The flight to Paris was peaceful. I actually met a European sculptor, who happened to be sitting right next to me. We talked along the way and I definitely appreciated his travel advice and good company.
After the 11 hour flight, I was exhausted as I could not fall asleep on the plane. We had a three hour layover in Paris and landed in Florence around 4pm. When we arrived we headed over to the Pepperdine villa in downtown Florence where I will be studying and living for the next eight months along with 51 other students. We were greeted with a delicious dinner- pasta, salad, and bread, of course! After we picked our roommates and traveled to a beautiful piazza, it was time to unpack and make the villa our home. I am rooming with two girls, Zoe and Mckenzie. Zoe and I get along extremely well and are already dear friends, which I am thankful for.
Unlike my time in Spain, it has taken me a long time to adjust from the time change here in Italy. The day after we arrived in Florence, I woke up early and ran around the city, which I have done daily since coming here. Running in the morning has refreshed me and helped me get to know the city better but often makes me even more exhausted by nighttime. The first few days here we had an intense orientation that began at 8am and did not finish until at least 9pm. I napped whenever I was given the opportunity, which was not often. Even today, after about five days into my journey, I still feel pretty tired. Today we started an intensive Italian course that consists of in class Italian review and real life applications of Italian in Florence in bars, cafés, and the post office.
We have taken various day trips thus far. We have taken various tours of the Piazzale Michelangelo and around Florence. And, we took a day trip to Fiesole as well, which is a gorgeous little city outside of Florence. On Sunday we went to Siena and San Gimignano. Siena was stunning, I was able to walk up to the top of a tower in Siena and look out over the Tuscan countryside which was unreal. While on the tower in Siena, I met a student from UCLA who was studying in Italy as well, which was awesome. San Gimignano was gorgeous as well, with fantastic countryside views, adorable cafés, brick roads, adorable locals, and amazing bars and restaurants. While here I have changed my diet a bit. I have been vegan for over three years but here I decided to just be vegetarian, which was a wise decision, I have discovered. The food here is extremely high quality, the fruits and vegetables are so pure and fresh, I can taste the difference. At home I don’t typically eat gluten because I feel sick when I do so, but here I have been eating gluten and I feel great. The gelato here is probably the best thing I have ever had, undoubtably (I’m a sweet tooth). The pasta, salads, desserts, pastries, cookies, drinks, everything is so good, almost too good. Meaning, I will definitely have to keep up my running every morning.
Adjusting has not been easy but I know it will get better. I am surrounded by new faces in an unknown place. But, I love it. It is an adventure I have always dreamed having, and here I am, studying abroad in Florence. Planning trips for the weekends have made me even more excited for my year, it’s hard to believe I’ll be having to do school work as well while I’m here. We have intensive Italian all this week and I begin my glasses on Monday, September 15th. I am so excited to begin classes. I have a wonderful opportunity here, learning from amazing Italian professors. Since I have already taken two semesters of Italian at school that puts me one class above all the other students, meaning I get a private Italian teacher for the year. I am thrilled, I almost cannot believe how blessed I am! I met my professoressa today and she seems wonderful, I cannot wait to dive into the Italian language and culture this year, to travel throughout Italy and even meet my Italian family in my dad’s side that lives here.
I am here, in Europe. All of you along with me in spirit, and I with you in prayers. I could not be more thankful for this time I have abroad, to get to know Florence, to get to know Italy, to get to know myself. As I grow this year I hope to grow in love, optimism, experiences, knowledge, and greater understanding- of the world, of myself, of God. I hope all of you will grow along with me this year. I know that every opportunity is an opportunity for growth, whether you’re in Europe or not. So I challenge all of you to try new things with me, to widen your perspectives, to strive to live your life in thankfulness, and to love above all else.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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