Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Naked statues, nudie beaches and Speedos—oh my! How Italy literally changed my life …

Hello, dear readers! You’ve probably forgotten about my promise to finish the grand European vacation summary with an account of my adventures in Florence and Cinque Terre. I know I did—well, almost. Lucky for you, my memory is firing on all cylinders today…

Before I jump in, I just need to say that I’M WATCHING YOU. No, that’s weird. But seriously. Blogger has this tracking thing that provides a report of how many people look at my blog, how many “hits” per day and even where the traffic is coming from (which websites refer people and which countries the viewers are in). It’s pretty cool! I’ve seen a huge increase in traffic to my blog from all over the world (which is neat-o, but also slightly creepy as I am positive I don’t have friends in Saudi Arabia, Russia or Denmark at this point). So, as long as you’re not a stalker, welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy random musings from a silly American girl. And hey! How about a comment every once in awhile?

Back to it.

Florence was an oddly fascinating jumble of smells—sewage, tropical flowers and fresh dough were the three that stood out most. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience when I took a deep breath of doughy air only to realize at the end of the breath that it was no longer delicious, yeasty dough I was breathing in, but rather sewage from the nearest apartment building’s obviously worn-out pipes. I tried to stop taking so many deep breaths. But let me tell you, when the scent of flowers wafted through the air toward my nose, it was intoxicating. It actually reminded me of the smell of plumeria that permeates Hawaii. Oh, but wait. There’s that sewage again. So NOT Hawaii. But then again, Hawaii doesn’t have sculptures crafted by Michelangelo or two thousand year old buildings … or gelato. So, I’m not taking sides here.

Our first full day in Florence, Amanda and I went to a cooking class. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to take a cooking class in Tuscany (see Bucket List post from a couple weeks ago). And while a half-day class only scratched the surface, it was by far one of the BEST days of our entire trip. The chef’s name is Melanie, and she’s an American who married an Italian years ago and moved to Italy to be with him. Their love story is one that rivals any fairytale (well, except maybe Beauty and the Beast, because clearly, nothing could rival that one …). I think someone should write a book about them, or at least a blog. But that’s another topic for another day. Anyway, she was amazing. If you’re ever in Florence or anywhere close to it, spend a day with Melanie in her outdoor kitchen in the middle of an olive grove with a view of the Tuscan countryside better than anything you’ll see in any photographs. Not only will you taste some of the best food of your LIFE, but you’ll get to experience the Tuscan culture as it’s meant to be experienced, and that’s a priceless way to spend a day. Some photos from our day together …

Did I mention we made gelato?

I’m totally buying a gelato machine once I get back to the United States.

After our amazing cooking class, we took a self-guided tour through Florence. And by “self-guided” I mean that we tried to get from the Uffizi Gallery to a famous garden whose name I can’t remember and spent hours wandering around, lost. Florence is a really confusing city, and I don’t think it was just me. But then again, I didn’t see anyone else who looked lost, so maybe it was. But regardless, getting lost is sometimes the best thing in the world in a new city (except that time I got lost in Chicago and ended up somewhere that resembled Detroit’s Eight Mile (sup, Eminem) on a bad day—that wasn’t good.) But in Florence, it was great! We ended up seeing all sorts of sights. Mainly really magnificent ancient buildings and naked statues. I’m not sure why, but the Italians REALLY love naked-man statues. Here I am trying to pull off a David.

Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking at the time. Do I seriously have no shame or sense of trying to NOT look like a tourist?? Oh well, the entire cast of Jersey Shore was in town the same time as me, so I’m positive I was less of an embarrassment to America than they were. After all, it’s all about comparisons …

I’m not sure I’ve given you any great insights into the city of Florence through this blog so far. So let me try to summarize before we move onto Cinque Terre. Florence is a beautiful city—larger than most other Tuscan cities with a mingling of rich, poor, pristine and gritty areas. It’s a place where some of the most magnificent artists in the world practiced their craft and left their mark on a world that will never be the same because of their skill. From Masaccio to Donatello to Michelangelo, if you want to see some of the most breathtaking art in the world, Florence is your place. Chapels, sculptures, paintings, architecture and more await you there. Along with real-life flavor of a big, Italian city with a lot of character, great food and friendly Italian people, Florence should be added to your bucket list of places to go before you die. And if you make it there, make sure you eat at Pitti Gola e Cantina. You won’t regret it (And the owners—three young guys—are super cute in case you’re interested in a little Italian eye candy. I’m just sayin’…).

Last but not least is possibly my favorite place in the world: The Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. I don’t actually have a lot to say about this place—not because I couldn’t go on and on about it—I think we all know I could. But I just don’t think my words could ever do it justice. This is a place you have to see to believe. It’s as if when God created it, He thought to Himself, “I’m going to make a place that, if I ever decide to leave heaven and live on earth for awhile, I wouldn’t get homesick because it looks exactly like home,” and thus, Cinque Terre was made. (A little trivia in case you’re ever on Jeopardy: Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands" and is composed of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.)

I’ll just tell you one story about a life-altering experience I had while hiking the trail between the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre—a moment where something fundamental changed within me, and I don’t think I’ll never be the same again. It summarizes my time there …

I was hiking along the trail that hugs the cliffs of Cinque Terre and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea (which is, by the way, the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen). Amanda and I were fairly silent, because like I said, there’s just not much you can say when you come face-to-face with that kind of beauty and the utter magnificence of God’s creation. As we were walking, we had to be careful in some places, because the trail was steep or wearing away. It was at one of these parts I was looking down so as not to face plant and ruin my communion with nature. As I was about to take my next step, I saw a little spider making its way along the trail too, and my right foot came to a stop in mid air. I stared at the spider, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel compelled to kill it. In fact, I felt just the opposite. And not out of fear (the only reason I’ve ever let spiders live in the past), but because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place—the raw, unadulterated, unblemished perfection of it—that I could never deprive any living thing of it. If that spider was lucky enough to live there, then shame on anyone who would intentionally take that away. I let a spider live so that it could experience the joy of living in that perfect place.

Cinque Terre changed me …

You can get an idea of why that happened from the pictures below. But I implore you--Go! See it for yourself!

Lest I end this blog on too serious a note and make you wonder “Who is writing this blog and what have they done with Carly?” let me tell you a couple other things about Cinque Terre: There is a nudie beach that apparently is one of the best beaches on the Italian Riviera. I didn’t test that opinion out last trip, but maybe when my mom comes to visit and we go back, we’ll check it out(kidding, mom). There are hand-painted signs all along the hiking trail that direct you to the naked beach. Obviously I’m five years old and thought it was funny, so I took a picture of one.

Second, God bless America for board shorts. If I see one more fat man in a little Euro-Speedo, I will literally barf. But hey—if I have to see it, so do you. :D Enjoy!

Next week, my mom will be here, and I’m SO excited to take her to Cinque Terre and share the magic with her. I’ll post pictures and let you know if I have anymore life-changing revelations.

Until next time, ciao!




Renée said...

uhh! THANKS alot! not only have you continued to make me long to go to Italy even *more* than before (I didn't know that was possible really..) But you have burn a horrible image in my head by sharing that speedo photo :P
Looks like one of the most beautiful places ever!! Thanks again for sharing it.. Some of the pictures look like paintings. SO beautiful.. uh.. OK back to reality off to chase my 2 yr old getting in trouble! :) ciao

Kelly said...

A. I would like to hear Melanie's love story. Since I'm not likely to get to Tuscany anytime soon, I think that should be your next post.
B. The reference to your spider-mercy made me think of that one time we found one in your room and couldn't kill it. I think it involved knocking it off the dangling web, a lot of screaming, and covering it with a wastebasket until we could get your dad to kill it in the morning. Good times. :)
C. ................(trying to think of a comment for the portly man in the Euro-speedo)......... (there are no words).

Love you!

KL said...

Typical man-hating female American.
It must really burns your britches that European men are not emasculated the way American men are. I am sure there were FAT women in two piece swimsuit walking around but no, you wouldn't make derogatory comments about them.