The last two weeks have been marked by the presence of my parents, who took a little time off of their stressful lives to visit me in France. Their visit also happened to align with one of the most stressful weeks of my study abroad experience, and the poor things had no idea what they were getting into.
I allow myself one good breakdown a semester, and the presence of my parents (the comforting and understand presence that is often missing in a semester abroad) brought on the water works. Going to school at UW has prepared me for a high amount of academic stress, but all of a sudden I was faced with “real world” stress. I will be graduating in December 2013, and have unfortunately spent a lot of my semester trying to figure out “next steps,” meaning a summer internship, fall courses, jobs and the like. On top of all that, my iPhone was stolen from me, which means I can provide you with no more photos to accompany these blog posts.
To rub salt in my wounds, I had my first final exam at the French University (Paris 7, Diderot). I had taken a couple other tests at the center, and even though they were in French they were much less intimidating because I was with other Americans, and I had professors that knew we were non-native speakers.
Of course, my French professor found that out himself pretty quickly. Taking a French University course is like being the Internet meme of a stupid dog—my only hope of getting some guidance was my capability and willingness to evoke pity from my professors. My final exam felt dangerously close to a free fall, except I was talking about socioeconomic class hierarchies instead of screaming (believe me, I wanted to.) But at least it was over.
When I wasn’t busy sobbing over a plate of grilled sea bass, we managed to have a great time while my parents were in Paris. We spent the week walking through the Marais, Montmartre, the Luxembourg gardens and the Louvre with frequent breaks for wine and coffee. We capped the week-long visit with a meeting with my host dads—not an easy feat for my two English-only parents and my nearly French-only host dads. Luckily, they communicated brilliantly (you’d be surprised how much you can tell from facial expressions and hand gestures,) and I was a happy camper.
Decisions made and a couple exams behind me, I am now traveling blissfully with my mother through Italy. After a moderate breakdown, there is nothing like some great pizza, some broken Italian and the presence of my best-friend-and-mother.
We started our travels in Forte dei Marmi, near Cinque Terre in northern Italy, at the beach home of my father’s friend. Unfortunately, we were hit with a hard rainstorm, and our dreams of relaxing on a beach were dashed. Fortunately, the town had an excellent pizzeria that kept us drunk on wine and pepperoni all night.
We then moved on to Florence, a beautiful medieval city that seems to glow with bright yellow buildings and a green river flowing through it. We sucked it up and waited in line at the Uffizi and saw some masterpieces, traversed the leather markets and ate a little gelato. Ok, a lot of gelato.
Afterwards, we took a regional train up to Bologna, home of Bolognese pasta sauce and arguably the best food in Italy. After checking out a church that has been a religious site since the BC years (!!!), we dined al fresco in a café owned by a boisterous Italian man who served some of the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted. We even ran into a French man and his daughter, and I got to use my French outside of France (a surprisingly bizarre and delightful experience.)
We intended to go from Bologna to Rome, and then from Rome down to Naples, where we would both fly out of Italy. However, Tuscany threw a wrench in our plans. On our way out of Bologna, we decided that we’d like to try a wine tasting at a vineyard before heading out of Tuscany, so we threw together a last minute stay at a vineyard in Greve in Chianti, a small town south of Florence. After a half-day of travel and a hitched ride up the side of a mountain, we found ourselves at Vignamaggio, the most beautiful place I have ever been.
The villa, perched amidst rolling green hills and patches of cypress trees, stole our hearts immediately. We found out after arriving that the villa also was the home of the Mona Lisa herself, and the site where Da Vinci first started the painting. The beautiful old building had an Italian garden and vineyards all over the estate, and we decided to stay an extra night. It was incredibly relaxing, and for two wine-lovers it was close to what we’d imagine heaven to be like.
Forced to bypass Rome together due to our love of Vignamaggio, we took a long train down to Naples. Although we certainly didn’t spend much time in Naples exploring, it seemed to be the veritable armpit of Italy—with trash blowing about all over the sidewalks and dilapidated buildings everywhere, it was less than an ideal place to spend an evening. We ventured out, however, found a gem of a restaurant owned by the same family since the 1950’s, stuffed ourselves with pasta and I tried by first sip of limoncello.
After a teary goodbye to my mother, I headed to Rome for a day trip. I visited St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museums and the coliseum. When I returned home to Naples that night, aching and exhausted, I watched Gladiator and giggled about how much of a history nerd I am. Not a bad way to spend a couple weeks—hanging out with the people you love most in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Thanks Mom and Dad.