Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Now, time to be a tourist


I was picked up from Frankfurt's Central Station by Christopher and his friendly and fashionable uncle Paul. I stayed with his family for a few days, seeing where Christopher had lived for the past month. We spent our days visiting a nearby medieval castle in the incredibly picturesque German countryside, an ancient walled city, playing with Christopher's two adorable young cousins, and walking around Frankfurt. I wasn't enamored of the country the way I instantly fell in love with Holland (however I do quite like the German tradition of indulging in an afternoon piece of cake on the weekends!). Frankfurt (like Eindhoven) had a distinctly post-World War feel to it—much of the city was destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt in a much less magnificent and German style. But I greatly enjoyed visiting smaller, older, and more adorable German towns, and admiring the antiquity and beauty of their traditional timber-frame style of architecture. (As an American and belonging to a relatively young country, I am unfailingly impressed by the sheer age of Europe's cities. This feeling was augmented by my subsequent travels in Italy especially, and also in Spain.) And on the first of February, after a few lovely days with the Abbotts, Christopher and I left for Italy.


Christopher and I were picked up from the Milan Bergamo ariport by Stina Nesbit, a friend from Christopher's high school in Northfield who is currently an exchange student through a program called Rotary Youth Exchange. For a year she is living in Cremona, a small city outside Milan, where we stayed with her for four wonderful days in her host family's ultra luxurious, mansionlike apartment. She showed us around Cremona, introduced us to her friends and fellow exchange students, and taught us how to eat pizza like an Italian.
We took a day trip into Venice, leaving before sunrise and getting back long after sunset. Venice was.... incredible. It was a warm and sunny day that felt like spring, and the city was utterly gorgeous. We walked around the Venice all day, admired its duomos and piazzas and other such Italian staples, wandered its tiny back streets, got lost, enjoyed gelato and pizza (of course), and took a boat on the Grand Canal back to the train station as the sun was setting over the city. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, and I loved it almost as much as Amsterdam (who knew I had such a fondness for canals?).
Most of our days were spent in Cremona, relaxedly enjoying the beauty of Italy and its culture and mostly just talking and hanging out. What an odd juxtaposition: the familiarity and comfort of being with friends, in our new, separate and foreign lives. Stina was an extraordinary hostess and it was wonderful both to see her life in Italy and to catch up with a friend from home.
After Cremona, Christopher and I traveled to Genoa (an urban port city), La Spezia (in order to walk the rightfully world-famous Cinque Terre, a stunningly picturesque chain of five towns on the gorgeous Mediterranean coast that looks like it is straight out of a movie), then Lucca (a Renaissance-era walled city built on an ancient Etruscan and then Roman site) for a day each. We then spent three days in Florence visiting the Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell'Accademia (home to Michaelangelo's “David”), and the hugely impressive Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore). My favorite places in the city were the Medici Chapel, which is decorated with the most gorgeous, colorful, ornate stone inlay imaginable, and Piazza Michaelangelo, which overlooks all of Florence. We spent one final day in Bologna before departing for Spain. It was a wonderful, busy trip. I was impressed with the affordable and convenient train system (there's a lot to be said for good public transportation), not to mention that the train ride down the Mediterranean coast, between the hills and dazzling blue sea, was one of my favorite moments. In our days in Cremona and week of traveling I saw more awe-inspiring churches, duomos, and piazzas; more women wearing fur coats and elegant men with gelled hair and polished shoes; more beautiful and impressive things than I could count. I ate delicious pizza and pasta and gelato every day. Italy is in some ways quite homogenous, however, and after eating so much pizza and pasta we got tired of it—on our last night in Italy (in Bologna, nonetheless, which is renowned for its cuisine) we were thrilled to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant.


We flew into Granada, Spain, where we spent the weekend with another friend from Christopher's high school, Thomas, and his friend Grace. We stayed at a shabby hostel across from the Alhambra, a Moorish palace, the prime tourist destination in Granada. The Alhambra is a massive, walled complex with ornate palaces, bath houses, guard towers, and lovely gardens. The interior of the main palaces were decorated with painstakingly intricate and elaborate carvings. Though it was of a completely different style than the grand architecture I admired in Italy, it was equally impressive. Besides the Alhambra, my favorite aspects of Granada were its tapas and excellent views of the massive Sierra Nevadas.

It was fun to travel in these three countries, to see many beautiful and unique places and visit with friends from Northfield. But being a tourist is surprisingly exhausting, and by the end of the two weeks I was very ready to settle down and my anticipation for starting at another farm was growing. Sightseeing is a blast, but working, living, and learning on a farm is what I am really here for.  

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