Barcelona, München, Firenze e Bologna, un sacco di cose belle

Santa Maria Novella
 I have too much to update you all on! From making my first few weeks here crazy for myself I have managed to have plenty of good and bad experiences over the 3 short weeks I've been here, and half of those days have been outside of Italy because I've been lucky enough to meet up with friends elsewhere in Europe.

With that being said, I don't feel well acclimated to Bologna quite yet.  The apartment search was very stressful, and is ongoing, because I have yet to found a roommate.  The start of lessons was shocking... I apparently don't know Italian as well as I thought I had... and I haven't been in Bologna for more than 5 days on account of an overambitious first month's agenda.

So trips to Florence, Barcelona and Munich are what I have to recount, along with my school days in Bologna...

Where to start!?

Baby Andrea
Santa Maria del Fiore (aka IL DUOMO)
My quick trip to Florence was refreshing, and definitely necessary.  With all of the stress of the first two weeks, seeing Claudia and Gabri and being a part of their family for 24 hours was just what I needed.  Naturally the first thing I did in Florence was be fed by Claudia. She made me pasta with red sauce as she recounted the new happenings of her and Gabri's life.  Gabri has literally grown feet since I stayed there for my term abroad.  He's probably 6 feet tall and has grown up handsomely and is a star of his volleyball team.  Chiara's new baby also grew so much since I last saw him.  Andrea is so precious and seeing the whole family together is just too sweet.  We went to the cascine park in the afternoon, then Claudia and I went to her gym (more like spa) quickly before we went to her mother's for dinner.  The new gym she joined has a pool and a number of different therapeutic water baths, aromatherapy rooms, saunas and steam rooms, we dallied in all of the different rooms and it turned out to be quite the relaxing day!  After the gym we headed to Carla's house for a feast of penne and ossobuco.  Claudia's cooking never fails! We spent the evening there, then headed home to get some much needed sleep.  Sunday I woke up very late, and quickly went to do a passegiata through the center of the city.  I returned home for Claudia to pack up a goody bag of various jams, Parmesan cheese and fruit, and then she took me to the train.  I felt bad I couldn't stay longer, but the next crazy adventure in Barcelona was to come quickly, and I needed at least a few hours to get organized in my home!

Joe and I at Chupitos
Sagrada Familia
Back in Bologna I packed my suitcase for Barcelona and organized myself and my new apartment a bit.  I published an online advertisement for the single room I'd have to be renting out, then finalized how I would find Joe and his apartment upon my arrival in Barcelona.  Monday, I laid low until 1pm, where I went to catch the 6 euro bus to the airport leaving me PLENTY of time for error, my flight departing at 4:35.  Got to the airport without problems, and only encountered minor confusion when I walked back and forth to the RyanAir terminal (10 minutes from the main terminal) a number of times because I thought I had to check in there, and then I thought the plane might have been taking off from there.  Finally, I realized I didn't have to check in since I wasn't checking bags, and the main terminal was where all the flights took off from (I still remained confused as to why there was a large waiting room at the RyanAir check in terminal).  With too much time remaining at the airport, I sat and read my Kindle, and observed a family where the mother spoke Italian and the father spoke English, both interacting with their son at the same time in respective languages and watching the son easily converse and switch back and forth between English and Italian...JEALOUS of a 5 year old once again! I did this for at least an hour and a half and finally, 20 minutes before the flight was to depart, the gate was published and it was a mad dash to get in line.

First night at a club
Inside the Sagrada Familia
I arrived at Girona airport without fail, and quickly found the Barcelona bus to take me to the estacion del nord, where I would walk myself to Joe's apartment.  I found his apartment with success, stopping to only ask directions once, and luckily running into him in the supermarket right below his apartment building.  I got situated, met all of his roommates, sat down to a lovely meal cooked by his roommate, and then we were out of the house quickly to experiences the Barcelona night life. Joe was a beyond great host, he took me to the local Chupitos, a bar that serves only shots, and has nearly 200 different shots to offer.  We took a cab to the beach where the night clubs were, walked the beach, paid 20 euro to enter a club, hung out at a bar on the beach, then finished the night with the best kebab in all of Barcelona (according to Joe).  All in all a very fun night, and a very delicious kebab indeed.

Dinner on Barceloneta
Tuesday morning I had quite the entertaining time finding the B&B I had booked for the girls and I.  Luckily I ran into Priscilla and Brenna wandering around in a cab in the same mysterious Placa that was written on the B&B email confirmation.  We found what we thought was the right location, walked up 5 flights of the ricketiest and dirtiest stairs, only to realize we had to set up an appointment to be let into the place.  A number of phone calls later I finally got the message through that we needed to be met at the location of the hotel.  20 minutes later, I receive another call asking where we were, and realizing we were not anywhere near the right location.

Marscapone dessert
A festival we stumbled upon

 Luckily a lady found us, and walked us a half a mile to the right location, the girls lugging their rather large suitcases, while I died of thirst. Upon our arrival at the right location, we happily encountered a much nicer set of marble stairs, and unhappily lugged our luggage up 5 flights of stairs yet again.  Once safely inside our room, the woman asked me to sign the receipt for the credit card which stated a different  number than what had previously been charged at the time I booked the place 3 weeks prior.  This brought upon a verbal argument that proved to be rather interesting because she did not speak English, I did not speak Spanish, and Brenna and Priscilla only speak English.  So they are staring at us while I'm yelling at the woman in Italian, she's yelling back at me in Spanish, both understanding more or less what each other is saying and both assuming that Brenna and Priscilla can understand everything that is going on, so when I finally turn toward them to get their agreement, they look at me like I'm crazy for thinking they know whats going on. Woops!  All in all, we paid 16 extra euro for a bank fee for a credit card use, cause we swore they already charged it, so we were afraid to give cash in case they would take both payments... At the time we were exhausted and a little ticked, but now that I look back, it was a rather entertaining start to our Barcelona endeavor.

We all freshened up, then I was quickly off to start us on a full fledged walking tour of Barcelona.  Day 1 consisted of the Sagrada Familia, a lovely tourist menu dinner, and a walk through a food market among other parts of Barcelona and for dinner strolled through Barceloneta to find a place for tapas and Paella. nom nom nom.

Gaudi Lizzard!
Day 2,  we walked through the old city center, examined the cathedral and returned to the market to buy fixins for that nights dinner... wine, cheese, salami, bread and olives! Yum!  We went out to the clubs that night, walking a very interesting route, dancing a lot and staying out past 3am, which apparently is early for the spaniards?? We were pooped.  Day 3 we went to the Parc Güell and toured the huge park, admired the mosaic lizard that I'd been dying to see, went to see the building that has the cool rock art top, stopped at a number of cafe's for cappuccino pick me ups and scoped out a local mexican restaurant for some good nachos and sangria.

View from Montejuic
Day 4 we went up to Montejuic park by gondola, walked back down the hill encountering a small wedding that we waltzed right on through, walked through the olympic park and down to the magic fountain (that obviously was not turned on) and through placa espana.  Funfilled day!  It was our last night and we didn't want to be lame, so we made sure we got some churros in the afternoon, we picked a nice spot for dinner, walked down to the port and then stayed at a bar for sometime.

Quick stop at the beach
In the Gondola
Touring Barca da Sola, Parc del Citadel
Overall our experience was very positive, and barcelona was a great city, but it may have made us realize our college days our over, because we really could not even begin to stay up to the hour when the Spanish started their nights.  And one night of four spent at a club was enough to keep us tired for the rest of the trip!  Brenna and Priscilla left early Saturday morning, and I strolled around by myself seeing the Park del Citadel, the Arc de Triomf and the outside of the Palal de musical.  Then since I had until 4:00pm to catch my bus, I sat at a cafe with wi-fi and enjoyed a frozen cappuccino and a typical spanish fritata sandwich.  By 9:30pm I was back in Bologna ready to be back home, and was only disapointed when I missed my bus stop, had to walk 30 minutes lugging my suitcase and came home to find that my apartment was in the twilight zone... NO INTERNET OR CELL SERVICE AT ALL. Yay for home!

Happy in my new Ikea comforter!
Sunday, since my phone still failed to work,  (miraculously my dumb Tim nokia phone did, so that was comforting), I decided I would go to IKEA! Pronounced EKAYA in Italian. Found the shuttle bus from Piazza Malpighi and went to spend 200euro to make my apartment feel at home! Success! SKyping with mom and dad from the store, Mom picked out a lovely comforter all colorful and full of design, I bought a mattress pad, a few things for the kitchen, floor mats, a mirror and a shower curtain and somehow managed to make it home with all of that in hand.  When I got back home I began to set up the place, I hung up the photos I printed and brought from home, made my bed, set up the kitchen cabinets and hung the shower curtain and floor mats. Success! Then I organized my back pack and mentally prepared myself for the 8 hour day of classes that was starting the next day!

View from Kitchen window
Class was impossible.  I went to everything offered to try it out, and ended up having to skip out on one cause i could not physically sit through 4 2-hour classes on a Monday in a foreign language, that I soon came to realize I did not understand as well as I had thought!  Only a minor breakdown (or rather large)... as I returned home that evening thinking I must have been crazy for deciding to do a MASTER program, in a subject that I had never studied in undergrad and in a foreign language.  Literally, WHAT WAS I THINKING????

My parents calmed me, reminding me that I was thinking about learning Italian, and I realized there was no way I would not improve if I was being spoken to in Italian for 6 hours everyday! So I returned to the apartment search, setting up appointments for the rest of the week and continuing going to class, barely able to write down notes because the professors spoke so quickly.  By Thursday, finding a roommate and getting settled in Bologna should have been my first priority, but I was more than ready to see my friends in Munich and enjoy a weekend at Oktoberfest!  Thursday evening, I met with a potential roommate and discussed him moving in Monday upon my return (a very nice 29-year old man from Vienna), and then I was off to the train station to catch my overnight train where I was pleasantly surprised to be in a couchette with other American girls instead of potentially creepy Italian men!

Clocktower, we were lucky to see it change!
6:30am I arrived in Munich alone.  Attempted to go to the tourist office to find a map so I could drop my bags at the Hotel, but it was closed and didn't open until 9:00, so I went to Starbucks instead to find wifi, drink a cappuccino and take screenshots of how to get to my hotel! It's a genius function that screen shot function! So cappuccino in me, I set out to find Pension Lugano, and happened to fall upon it with ease.  I left my luggage and got freshened up, and the woman at the front desk wearing her tradition german attire showed me on a map where everything I would be interested in was.  I set out to get a grasp on the city, and attempted to walk to the old city center, when Tim texted me to say he was a few minutes away... which was a surprise cause we had planned to meet at 10:30 if everything went smoothly, and I expected them to be at least an hour late, so I figured I had 2 hours to kill, but instead I went to meet them at 10:00am... but of course they weren't there! However, I ran into a large group of Union students who planned to meet them as well, so I hung out with them while we waited for Tim and his group to return from the ATM down the road.

Old city center
Once everyone was collected it took a while to get organized and to decide who wanted to do what.  Some people wanted to go straight to Oktoberfest, others (like us) wanted to tour the old city center and wait to drink beer until Saturday.  So off we went to the Old City Center where I had made it half way to before. We stopped for cappuccinos and pastries, and then continued to explore the city, hoping to run into a free tour that Jara (A czech buddy of Tim and his friend Dylan) had heard about.  With luck, we found it and it started promptly at 1:00, a 3-4 hour walking tour!  Not gonna lie... It was rather long and tedious, but it was interested to hear the German perspective on Hitler's rule and the rest of Munich's history including some interesting Beer facts!  The free tour also had a sort of pub crawl running at night that our group decided to pursue, despite our uncertainty with the tour guide. So by the time the tour finished at 4, we had little time to head back to the hotel and rest, but the 45 minutes we had was definitely worth it.

Architecture near Hitler's area of town
At 6:00 we met up with everyone in the train station, and the tour took us to the Lowenbrau beer hall for our first stop.  It was a beautiful building, but because we were with the tour we weren't allowed inside... our first skeptic thought of the tour... so we stayed in the beer garden and enjoyed ourselves.  Next stop was some cafe that wasn't a original beer hall and had overpriced drinks and they too would not let us sit at tables... 2nd skeptic thought... then we asked if we could leave to finish our tour at the hostel, the tour guide apologized for organizing such a crappy "pub" crawl and showed us our way on the map. When we got to the hostel, the bartender looked at us as if we were crazy for requesting a free beer with our bracelets... with some protest and a conversation with the manager, we finally got our beer and maybe half our money's worth of the tour then called it a night.  However, we didn't regret doing the awful tour because we got to walk through the more modern part of the city that was where Hitler's regime resided in an area with VERY different architectural structures, everything white, big and precise.  The tour guide also gave us some helpful insight for Saturdays endeavor to Oktoberfest, so we couldn't complain about that!

Saving tables in the traditional attire
Thanks to the tour guide the night before, we slept until 6:30 instead of 4:30am, Tim and I met Dylan and Jara at their hotel, and then we headed to find the others and get in line at one of the tents that the tour guide had recommended.  At first sight, we were pissed at the tour guide because there was no line in the front, so we were sure she had played us, but then we ran into one of Tim's classmates and he showed us the line around the back... which Tim effectively cut, leaving me feeling guilty for 10 minutes, until everyone just started cutting each other and I was glad we did it because I forgot that lines don't actually exist in Europe... we waited in line for 45 minutes and then they let 50 or so people in, us still being trapped outside.  Twenty minutes later, they let another flow of people in, us pushing our way to the front and making it in successfully, only to be corralled into another line.  Precisely at 9:00, after 2 hours of waiting in line, the doors of the tent open, and they for some reason picked our line to let in first... everyone RAN into the tent. Leiderhosen everywhere... people running everywhere, grabbing tables, standing on tables, calling friends etc. I was overwhelmed and luckily the men knew what they were doing and Tim and Jara ran and grabbed a table that wasn't reserved, 3 rows from the bandstand, then we stood our ground hoping the second half of our group would get let in as well... wrong... 30 minutes later, no luck for the other group, and we obliged to let 3 other American girls sit with us, still hoping we could fit five of tim's other friends if they got in... but surely enough they were stuck outside and so a group of German's came to complete our table.

Prost! (L-R: Kenny, Zach, Tim, Me, Jara)
Quick enough the beer lady came in her apron and holding 8 liters of beer in her hands.  We handed over our cash, and then proceeded to do the toast we had been taught the night before "Prosit!".  Shortly after, band members started to emerge one by one to set up, you knew someone knew came out because the crowd roared every time someone new showed up. Then by 10:30/10:45 the real party began... the band started off with the traditional cheers song "Ein prosit, ein prosit der Gemütlichkeit" and then everyone was loving life.  They played tradition music, every two or three songs would return to the Prosit cheers song, and they would continue on playing, slowly integrating some old American classics that everyone was dying to hear.  It's nearly impossible to explain the atmosphere in the tent, but it was something truly amazing.  There was not one person who was unhappy, and friends were made everywhere.  The only way to know exactly what I'm talking about is experiencing it yourself, so I recommend to everyone you experience Oktoberfest at least once and go to the SCHOTTENHAMEL tent, you won't regret it!

Around 4:30 I ventured out into Munich to find Brenna, Katherine and Priscilla... unhappily surprised by the pouring rain that was unnoticeable from inside the tent.  I found them and brought them back to the Oktoberfest park hoping to get let back into the tent, but told them it was unlikely.  I somehow cut the line in the pouring rain and managed to get myself inside the tent, but failed to bring the rest of the crew with them, and I planned to meet up with them in a few hours at the Hotel.  When I returned in the tent everything had changed... no one was in their respective seats anymore, it was a mash of people loving each other and starting to break the rules... secretly smoking cigarettes under the tent. We stayed an hour or two more then ended our day 1 of Oktoberfest and headed to meet the girls and grab some grub, with plans to do the same thing at a different tent the next day so that the girls could experience it.

Katherine got some Corn!
P got cheesy pasta, duh.
Sunday seemed more relaxed... we picked a different tent to get a different feel for a different atmosphere and ended up having a great time in the second tent as well, but it was clear the Schottenhamel tent from the day before was absolutely the best and most traditional one out of them all.  We had a blast again, making friends with the germans sharing the table with us, learning some more german songs and the dances that the guy on stage showed everyone how to do along with him, and we had a successful day 2 of Oktoberfest, complete with a Corn on the cob and a ride on a roller coaster in the park.  I was a little bummed to have to leave the girls so soon, but they brought me to the train station with Tim, Tim headed home with his group in Jara's car and the girls waited with me till my train was at the platform.  Wouldn't be seeing katherine for sometime, since she was jet setting home before Bologna and then road tripping off to Colorado and wouldn't be home for Christmas, so that was a sad good bye, but as for the others, I'd see Brenna and Priscilla in Bologna in 4 days, and then Tim in another 20 in Roma... so quickly the train snapped me back into reality, and week two of impossibly hard Italian politics classes begun as I slowly started to grasp understanding a tiny bit more, and slowly started to meet my classmates!
Day 2: German, Me, Dylan (Tim's friend from Union), Katherine

Much more to come! Sorry I write too much!