Three Days in Firenze

Finally (finally!) posting some photos of the romantic capitol of Tuscany: Florence.  As the birthplace of the Renaissance,  a World Heritage Site, and ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes, Florence doesn’t need introduction.

Over a month ago now, I stepped off the train having no idea what to expect (Ryanair’s strict cabin luggage forced me to leave even my guide book behind!), but even this was part of the allure. Of course, the Duomo, the domed cathedral of the city, was visible from nearly any point in the city, but even ‘unimportant attractions’–little side streets peppered with cafes and gelaterias, brimmed with charm. Mmmmm….present nostalgia:

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

 

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge built in 1345 (and the only Florentine bridge to survive WWII).

At Ponte Vecchio

 

The view from Piazza Michelangelo

 

A panoramic view of Firenze

Yes, wouldn’t mind a visit back!

E.

 

Venice Desired

It’s my third day back in Bristol after a three weeks absence, and I’ve returned to find Clifton Village alive with cherry blossoms, roses, and foxglove and the hills and vines even greener than when I left. English springs really are something to write about, and I can’t help feeling a bit like Mary Lennox(with the exception of no sick relation to nurse back to health, but perhaps my ailing essays count?).

These past few weeks have been filled to the brim with so many gifts, so many experiences I never dreamed of having and so, before I leave them to memory to become hazy like dreams, I want to record a few such moments here. I don’t believe I’ve ever done so much walking than over my time in France and Italy and despite my good intentions, I was simply too tired to write at the end of the day. But I believe we understand experiences better in hindsight, and I, for one, need time to let it sink under my skin and into my bloodstream to know it was real.

Italy, though it’s nearly impossible for me to choose favorites, was my favorite leg of the ‘trip.’ I spent three days in Venice before taking the train into Tuscany and Florence. Prior to stepping on the plane to Paris, our last Romantics lecture had discussed the allure of Venice, and it was hard to believe I’d soon be seeing it for myself.

The beauty of Venice struck me immediately. Venice is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but from my past travel experiences, I’ve learned to be skeptical of such claims. Often times, what is ‘postcard perfect’ is misleading because, generally, only a small portion of the city actually resembles the postcard. Not so with Venice. After crossing Canale di Fuscina, the magic of Venice was immediate. I soon realized it was not just St. Mark’s Basilica or the Grand Canal that made Venice beautiful; it was all of it. And getting lost  in the web of canals, calle and campi that make up the sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice was the best way to explore. Every corner and campi leading to a dead-end, which in the case of Venice, means a canal, was stunning. Lines of colorful clothing hung like streamers between the Venetian appartamentos. Flowers bloomed from window boxes between brightly painted shutters. Caffè windows became pieces of art with displays of marzipan, cannolis filled with zabaione, and giant Italian Easter cakes called Colomba carefully wrapped in parchment and ribbon.

The novelty of canals replacing roads and gondolas instead of cars was invigorating. And the cappuccinos were just as good as I remember from my first time in Italy (Roma) a few years ago. And yes, the gelato was still heavenly. What I liked most about Venice, though, was the pace. In some ways, there wasn’t a whole lot to do–at least in terms of museums and other sights the traveler usually feels obligated to visit. The whole city was about having an extra scoop of gelato, lingering over a glass of red, and having a generous plate of beautiful Venetian cuisine at the end of the day. 

In many ways, Venice seemed like a make-believe city. I did not see a single car. There wasn’t an office building in sight. And, as I learned in Sweden, Venice is largely a fantasy. My cousin’s friend, Jo, grew up in Veneto, the region of Italy containing Venice, and she explained that few Venetians actually live in Venice.  It’s a city for tourists and maybe the rare traveler. Of course, Venice is slowly sinking, which might also contribute to its lack of population.

Canale Grande

Canale Grande

And I want to go back! Hmmm…back to Jane Austen & Mansfield. Next post: Florence.

-E.

A Saturday Morning

Currently sipping coffee with cinnamon and honey (my new favorite–thank you, Leah!) sitting in the colorful, sun-bathed studios of Vintage Invites, the beautiful invitation company my cousin creates for. There is something about sitting here in the sun amid peacock feathers, leafs of paper, and lovely in-progress wedding invites that makes me want to create. As much as I love the excitement of  following a map, there is something equally satisfying about feeling established again, and finding fresh delight in the familiar. After two weeks of traveling in France and Italy–two weeks of sorting out trams and trains, of asking for directions, of getting little sleep and doing much walking, of bad sunburns and stinging blisters–waking up in a peaceful flat in Sweden feels about as good as it gets.

Being back in Scandinavia feels a bit like being home. Almost exactly three years ago I arrived in Goteborg  to visit Leah for the first time who was only a train ride away as I was studying in Norway. Yesterday I was looking at pictures from this trip–of Leah and I riding the ferry to the islands sprinkled around Goteborg, of having my first fika, and holding a long-eared puppy a generous Swede let me hold–and I’ve decided that being back in the land of kroners and kanelbulle is wonderful. I like England for entirely different reasons, but Scandinavia will always be my first European love.

Before stepping on the plane to Paris I was absolutely aching to leave Bristol. I was ready to close my books, lock the door and not turn back for anything. Funny how being away just two weeks has me craving my usual routine, but being in Sweden with Leah is a breath of fresh air. Having a proper shower and clean laundry has me feeling like a new woman. Nonetheless, the blisters gained from endless walking and sightseeing was worth it.

The Med

From Paris, I, along with Brian, Ashley and Gen, took the train to Nice, and it didn’t take long to realize the French Riviera really was magical. It was hot, tropical and felt more like Spain or Italy than France. I loved it. The Mediterranean was every shade of blue, refreshingly cold, and picturesque. The apartments and shops were painted in warm colors and the beach was lined with cafés, pizzerias, and gelaterias. It was definitely a holiday town. My favorite evening in Nice was on our first night. On a skinny street in Old Town we found a hole-in-the-wall pizza place and while in line, met an American man who assured us this was, indeed, the best pizza in Nice. From here, we returned to the Med and stayed till after sunset, sipping chardonnay and watching the water.

Most of the villages along the Riviera are quite close by, and on our second day we rode a crammed bus over the cliffs along the Med to Monaco.  I imagine Monaco was infinitely more glamorous fifty or more years ago with Princess Grace strolling the streets, but the place was still striking. I can’t distinguish a Subaru from a Bentley, but apparently nothing else lined the streets. The city was clean and perfectly well-manicured, and despite the famous Monte Carlo Casino being the most prominent feature of city centre, the streets were quiet and respectable. I spent most of the day on the beach, though, visiting with two Texans who bought all four of us a round (or more) of drinks. I tried my first (and last) obligatory beer and, even in Monaco, decided I did not like it one bit. The last couple of days were spent primarily on the beach, and I felt deliciously removed from normal life. From Nice, Gen and I flew to Venice, but I simply must do some essay-work now, so more on Italy to follow…

Cheers,

Em

 

 

Currently (finally!) settled in Saint Exupéry Gardens in Nice sipping tea and relishing the cool breeze on my sunburn. We left Paris before dawn this morning to catch our train to Nice after four full days of taking in the sights of La Ville-Lumière. I’m quite sure that between Brian, Ashley, Madeleine, Genevieve and myself we must have walked a hundred miles, and we have the sunburns and blisters to prove it!

The magic of Paris is particularly felt at night.

I didn’t fall in love with Paris right away as I expected to–I soon learned a committed relationship with this city takes time (more than four days), but by last night I was quite smitten. The sheer scale and sights of Paris were overwhelming, and the scent of exhaust and cigarette smoke was ever present. But just when my feet were tired or I began to wonder why Paris has become such a travel must, I’d catch a glimpse of the la Tour Eiffel or Arc de Triomphe and need to pinch myself to be convinced they were, in fact, real.

Oh, macaroons!

We likely were too ambitious in all we fit in (ice cream cones at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Louvre ( I still don’t understand the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa), exploring the Latin Quarter and Montmarte, window-shopping along the Champs-Elysees, marveling at the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, the love-locks at Ponte Bridge, a box of my first ever macaroons from Ladurée, people watching at the Tuileries, taking in the pomp of Versailles (it simply puts Windsor Castle to shame), and finally, savoring one or two Nutella crepes (!) and a glass or two of rosé et sauvignon), but since I just don’t know when or if I’ll be back, the blisters are worth it.

Nonetheless, I often felt out of place by my lonesome in a city with so many couples (attractive ones at that, too). Paris is certainly a place for lovers and the romance of it all felt a bit out of reach strolling through the sights without Brady.

Ah, and now to get ready to explore Old Town, Nice…running late as usual!

E.

P.S. Joyeux Anniversaire to Brian & Ashley!:) You two would share a birthday.;)

 

The Orchard on Fire

Just finished Shena Mackay’s “The Orchard on Fire,” a bittersweet and beautifully-writ account of two little girls growing up in 1950s England. Had I not been living in England myself, I wouldn’t have understood half of the English references, but I did, and it’s somehow a funny sensation. Almost as though I know too much now, and there’s no going back. After finishing my MA, I’ll return to the States and Minnesota culture and will no longer be surrounded by West Country accents, Georgian architecture, tea shoppes and pubs. Thankfully, I’ll have pictures and memories and maybe a couple future visits to look forward to, but this experience will have largely stopped. For all my trying I can’t recreate it and that will be that. Hmmm…Mackay has me feeling all melancholy! I guess the only remedy is to make the most of the remaining months. Press it all into memory like a bouquet of pressed flowers.

Yesterday I attended the day-long “Penguin Poetry & The 1960s” conference at the stunning Wills Memorial. Can’t say I knew much of modern poetry before going, or that I suddenly understand poetry after shaking the hand of A. Alvarez (such a lovely man!), but it has me interested and honestly excited to try and “get it.” Listening to Alvarez, a poetry giant for those of you unfamiliar, talk of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by their first names and relating stories of his friendship with the couple was, for lack of a better word, surreal.  Even someone who has never read a poem by Plath knows who she is. Plath has become a part of our cultural psyche, and it’s easy to forget she was a breathing, living person.

Alvarez said the difference between prose and poetry is that “a poem has to be perfect.” If it’s not, you know it. You can’t stop rearranging, crossing out and crumbling words till it’s right. Whole. Exact. And I think he is absolutely right. Finding the exact words in a world of speed and convenience and finite time takes a discipline most of us don’t have. Or don’t try to have.  Hmmm…just something I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty about leaving Bristol for three weeks on Thursday for a bit of traveling (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Pisa-Goteborg). Surely this should be someone else’s life! I don’t know why God has been so good to me.

Alright! Back to studying up on T. Hardy.

E.

 

Springtime in Bristol

The grass is somehow greener, the cherry blossoms are out, and the days are becoming deliciously longer; an English spring has arrived and I couldn’t be more ready. As you might tell from my lapse of posts, this term has been a manic one, but the end is in sight.  ‘Spring break’ begins in less than two weeks, and with it, two weeks of travel (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Goteborg-Finland(?)). Though 12,000 words are due at the end of the break, surely two weeks of new sights, tastes and sounds will invigorate my lately tired mind.  At least I’m hoping!

I sometimes wonder where all my time goes here in Bristol, and then look up at my bookshelf and quickly remember. The past month has slipped away reading: Mansfield Park, The Woodlanders, Rural Rides, Frankenstein, The Confessions, The Italian, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Silas Marner, Cousin Phillis, Wuthering Heights, Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life (written by none other than my professor Ralph Pite!), and a smattering of Coleridge, Byron, Wordsworth, Dickens, Eliot, and James. I still derive some small sense of accomplishment from reading that blessed last page, but somehow, that feeling diminishes when I think of how many first pages I’ve still yet to open…

The idyllic cottage of Anne Hathaway

And really, that has been my life these last few weeks–save a day trip to Stratford-on-Avon which promptly caused me to fall in love with England all over again. That places like Anne Hathaway’s cottage really exist is enough to keep going I suppose. And fortunately, several of the above mentioned books I’ve read before. And it’s been funny to realize that as much as my tastes have changed in other areas, my taste in books has remained about the same. Rediscovering my love of Hardy has been the biggest treat, and when I’m not reading for class, I’ve started researching Impressionism for an upcoming essay…

I have much to be grateful for indeed.

Cheers, Em

 

Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!

Em

Leaving my heart in Cornwall

It’s the start of a new month–a brand spanking new month–and I haven’t missed it yet. Haven’t yet sped ahead to next week, or my (hopefully) upcoming week in Paris.  Being back in Bristol has, in some ways, been harder than I expected. In my month home in Minnesota, I became a little too comfortable. Fell back too easily into the routine of having a car, having my currency back (“what! everything seems free in America”), my family near and boyfriend close. And every night when I fall asleep, be it on the extra mattress in Maria’s room or the couch (upstairs or downstairs tonight?) or retreating to the quiet of Brady’s parents, I had a small puppy sleeping at my feet. I had a different sort of variety at home than I have in Bristol, and I’m coming to appreciate the chaos of eight siblings (Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drew, Jackson, Natalie and Brigette), one adorable niece and even James and Avery (my mom’s daycare charges) more than I thought possible. I guess a bout of homesickness is one way to keep me in the present, whether good or bad. I constantly had people around me at home, and leaving a house of twelve to return to my room of one has been a process.  I shouldn’t even be complaining because my close friend, Maddy, is here visiting from Minnesota and in these last almost two weeks, we’ve had more adventure than some people might experience in a year.

I met Maddy in London to kick off our English ramblings, and it was my third time there. In my past couple visits, London seemed as huge and unfamiliar as ever, but this last time, I knew where I was going. I remembered which tube stops to take. I had a sense of direction, which is rare to me (!), and I enjoyed London so much more because of it.

Cream Tea in Devon

After a couple days in Bristol, we took a day trip to Exeter, Devon, and were quickly enchanted by the beauty of the rolling green hills and charm of the place. Maddy had her first proper cream tea, and I felt I had somehow ‘done my job’ as  Iwatched her love for England grow. Something that never fails to interest me about England is that each place I visit is steeped in history.  In Exeter, we took in the world’s oldest medieval cathedral and accidentally stumbled on the execution site of the ‘Devon Witches,’ the last women executed for witchcraft in England. The manager of the café even left his post once we finished tea to show us Exeter’s vaults–underground passageways built by the Romans. America does start feeling like a baby in comparison to England’s wrinkle lines.

We spent the next day in Bath in the unrelenting rain, and the city seemed a bit smaller than how I remembered it from October–not in a bad way at all, but in a cosy, familiar way.  I still couldn’t get over the romance of people who live in this city today alive with the architectural feats of the eighteenth century.

We left bright and early the next morning for Plymouth. After hearing mixed reviews about this town on coast, the immense beauty of the place took me by surprise. The previous post was my time to swoon about this! Also wanting to show Maddy Cornwall (and wanting to see it for myself), we left from Plymouth on Saturday to spend the day in Falmouth, Cornwall, a little sea village I hoped would be worthwhile.

Again, my expectations seemed impossibly small as we walked from the train station to the long stretch of cliffs down to the  stunning coastline. The sun was at last out (it’s normal to go days and days without sunshine) glittering over the water so strongly I had to look away. Feeling tired and stiff from constant traveling, the view made any crustiness on my part entirely out of place and obsolete. A young couple was chasing their daughter and black Labrador puppy across the beach, and a couple of old men (no doubt the best Grandpas) stood talking it over while their dogs, a standard poodle and this scrappy little mix, wrestled in the sand. To be part of this scene, so alive with beauty and energy, hit me again of how blessed I am to be  experiencing this dream.

Falmouth Beach

Across the road from the beach was Falmouth’s harbor and a string of pubs, cafés, and a disproportionate number of pasty shops. We chose a corner table by the window in one of the cafés, and I ordered a Cornish heavy cake (as bad for me as it sounds) and an espresso. Maddy ate a panini, and we looked out the window at the people walking by and needed to pinch ourselves. We then walked across the little road to take in the harbor. Often, pictures can’t capture a scene, but this one did.

The Harbor

The colors–the contrasting blues, the yellows and reds of the sailboats, seemed deliciously out of  place for the end of January, and as different from white and grey Minnesota winters as could be. I love how much diversity of climate and sights are contained in this relatively small island.

It’s a dream of mine to live by the water someday, even if it’s a lake or river, but if I can’t, pictures of Falmouth will tide me over.

Cheers,

Em

We go to Devon

There’s many things I’d like to write about–experiencing the Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral underneath the golden domes, laughing till I cried at “The 39 Steps” on West End (surely laughter can cure all), stealing away with Madison and Genevieve to explore Exeter–but writing, like any passion, takes time and commitment, and lately, I haven’t had much of either. With classes starting up on Monday, intimidating new reading lists, phone calls to make,  and a string of golden day trips to introduce my friend, Maddy, to England, hours slip out of grasp and I begin feeling uprooted from Bristol and far from home.

Perhaps that is why I was struck deeply by the view of Plymouth’s Sound tonight. Maddy and I left Bristol bright and early to spend the weekend along England’s coastline in Devon, and after checking into our room, we didn’t feel like doing much of anything. But we decided to stroll down to The Hoe. We didn’t speak at all as we drank in the view. The beauty of England was in full glory as the sun slowly fell into the sea and the vivid green hills turned dark. The clouds stretched over the water and hills, ever morphing into intangible outlines.  If a view can be sublime, this certainly was.

We walked closer to the shoreline, rain soaking our hair and dripping down our skin, till we walked into a little restaurant not even a stone throw from the water. After a glass of wine and pint of cider, we began to feel warm and turned our attention again to the view. After hearing mixed reviews of Plymouth from my British friends, I stepped off the train with lowered expectations, but the view of the water, rocky cliffs, and rising green hills, quickly changed this city into the most beautiful place in England. At least for me. I felt as if I’d suddenly fallen down a rabbit hole of some sort. Could this be so close to Bristol and yet feel so utterly removed? The night didn’t need to get better, but it did. Maddy and I visited with a friendly ‘Plymouthian’ woman who insisted who go out on the town tomorrow, ‘You pair go out and have a right laugh down at The Barbican.’ I needed to pinch myself when she left the restaurant and her Scottish boyfriend walked over to say goodbye to us and said, ‘I love the sea and I love her very much.’

It made me miss Brady more than words, but at that moment, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Exploring Cornwall in the morning.

More soon,

E.

Back in Bristol

After over twenty hours of travel time (Minneapolis-Newark-Brussels-BRISTOL!) and zero winks of sleep, I’m back in the lands of pounds and pence, rolling green hills, driving on the wrong side of the road, battered sausages and endless walking. I’m home in Bristol feeling slightly exhausted and lightheaded, but nestled safely in Clifton  nonetheless.

The journey back easily counts as one of the most interesting. Brady, needing to get his Subaru repainted after it was egged by bored fifteen-year-olds, had me follow him to the body shop in his roommate’s car. I followed him to the shop in Bloomington, and I hopped into the passenger seat and he took over the wheel. So far so good. We were on our merry way when less than a mile from the airport, Roller’s car began stalling.

“Brady! What’s wrong?” I was flying Lufthansa for the first time and needed some extra time at the airport.

“We’re out of gas.”

Fortunately, God allowed us to be right next to the Radission  Hotel, and just as we walked into the lobby, an airport shuttle was approaching. Needless to say, it was the most romantic send-off of my young life (do you catch my use of irony?).

Best bit of being home::this guy

Though I felt ready to return to Bristol and into the usual rhythm of my life here, leaving home is never easy. Especially when a girl has a little Scottie named Audrey and a handsome boyfriend who cooks her dinner and organizes her suitcase. I’m very thankful I was able to spend almost a month in Minnesota, and even though it wasn’t a white Christmas (there’s a first time for everything), I loved being home around the tree with Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drewby, Jackson, Nani, Gigi and baby Sophie all the same.

Big Joe asleep with the little girls

A scattered and incomplete list of highlights from being home include: making gingerbread houses with my girls (“Hope, why does yours look like a cardboard box?”), squeezing in a few dates with Mr. Johnson, TJMAXX (need I say more?  Yes, I did have my share of Becky Bloomwood moments), the luxury of driving on the rightside of the road and not walking absolutely everywhere, long walks with Audrey around Fargo and Minneapolis (goodness, I miss that one), Moxie Java coffee compliments of my girl Amee, conversations with Bridgette and Natalie (‘Emwee, what you do-do?’), study dates at the cosy Hilton (thank you, Momo), the Johnson residence, and Ikea; baking in a proper kitchen (with ingredients already stocked!), a New Year’s Eve kiss…I’m very grateful.

And now, to excite myself about returning to Bristol, a list of reasons why it’s good to be ‘home:’

-Cream Tea (this alone actually does it!)

-Bright green grass to mess up my new Puma running shoes

-My sweet fellow MA friends

-Returning to my favorite coffee shops

-A new term with new classes and new reading lists

-Ralph Pite (my Johnny Depp-esque professor for Victorian fiction)

-Chips and cider

-Upcoming trips around the UK and Europe with Maddy, Jess, Brady, Lisi Bumba and Maria

-My baby French press missed me.

-Cabot Circus (even if it’s just to window shop)

-Beginning a new year in a different country

-Handing in the essays which consumed most of my time at home!

And now to hibernate like a baby polar bear (at least until eight am when I must get to the library or die!).

Cheers,

EM

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