Sunday, July 20, 2014

Slekta Mi Again - Day 3

The last day of the reunion started with breakfast in the hotel again. The hotel staff set aside a cluster of tables for us all to use, which meant we could chat during breakfast and even go table to table at times! 

After breakfast, we carpooled over to Mindekirken with the Luhmans. We attended the weekly Norwegian service (which, thankfully, had English translations available in the bulletin for those of us not lucky enough to speak Norwegian) and all of us Thorsheim relatives were one of three special groups visiting the church today! 

After singing the table blessing, we headed downstairs for kirkekaffe and a light lunch provided by the church. How pleasant! We Heglands got to talk with Pastor Kristin for a few minutes before it was time to start saying goodbyes. A number of people left early Sunday morning before church (flights to catch and all that), but most left directly after church. 

Tusen Takk to Mary Jo for planning this reunion, to all who traveled from near and far to attend, to Mindekirken and the Danish American Center for hosting us, and the whole Thorsheim family for being awesome in general. It's been a great weekend, though it feels too short! See you in two years :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Slekta Mi Again - Day 2

We started our day with a wonderful, wonderful breakfast at the hotel. I stuffed myself with fresh fruit and a veggie omelet! After breakfast we visited with relatives for a half hour or so, during which time we tried to explain the concept of cranberries and cranberry bogs. Ha! Cranberries are a foreign idea in places that are not the United States, which makes sense, given the cold and wet needed to grow them.

The Hegland family's plan for the morning and afternoon was to bike around the downtown with cousins Kaia, Nicole, and Amber. We biked all over the place -- through Loring Park, the sculpture garden, down by the Guthrie, across three or four bridges, and finally to St. Anthony Main to see the dam at Upper St. Anthony Falls. 




Back near the hotel, we had a late lunch at a French bakery (croque Monsieur for me) and then went back to the hotel to freshen up. A little before 4pm we went downstairs to catch the charter bus (Wayne this time, instead of Les) to Mindekirken. There are only two churches quite like Mindekirken in the country now, one in Chicago and the one here in Minneapolis.

After touring the church, mom and I sat in on a genealogy talk. We heard about genealogical records (commonly called the Bygdebok), primary sources, and a whole lot of other (no longer living) Anna's. We learned that Norwegian records are organized very differently than we would expect, based on our American tendencies; they're sorted by region and then by first name, rather than just alphabetically by last name. Cue like eight pages of Anna. We also found out that apparently most, if not all, Norwegians can trace their heritage back to just 47 families.


Dinner was prepared by two women from the church: Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, cole slaw, refrigerator pickles, flat bread, lingonberries, and rice pudding with raspberry preserves. After dinner, we heard greetings and remarks from Mary Jo and Sigrid. Next, a family trivia quiz! Not too brag, but I was included on the quiz, in the question "who wrote a blog from a trip to Italy?" My table, which included my family and my Auntie Jo and Uncle Lowell Luhman, got 11 of 15 correct! We came in fourth? I think? 


Howard provided the prizes, which included glow stick bracelets, flashlights, and glow wands. Kaia set up a slideshow of her pictures from the 2012 reunion in Bergen and Bømlo, which was a fun background to the conversations that started up all over the room. I focused on talking and visiting, so this is where my post ends for tonight!


As a post script of sorts, here's tonight's LED display on the building across from our hotel room. No aquarium tonight, instead there's a baseball zooming around!




Slekta Mi, All Over Again!

Yesterday morning (Friday), we Heglands drove 6 hours from Kenosha to Minneapolis for this year's Thorseim Family Reunion. We got to the downtown Hilton just in time to get checked in, then run down to our chartered bus! Les, the bus driver, took us on the scenic route from Hilton to the Danish American Center (by way of the riverfront drive, University of Minnesota, and University of St. Thomas), where we had dinner and chatted with relatives.

While at dinner, cousin Mary Jo asked if I was going to blog about this reunion, like I did with the one in Norway -- and I realized I hadn't even thought about that! Since she asked, I'll comply :)

It's great to see the family members I haven't seen since the last reunion, and even better to have some come all the way from Norway! How special :) Dinner at the Danish American Center was catered by a restaurant called Magnolia; they served us fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, rolls, and a fruit and veggie plate. Plus there was cake for Howard and Julie's 50th anniversary in august! After dinner we talked as a group about the plan for Saturday; we'll probably split into groups for walking tours, touristy things, and more. Cousin Kaia offered to take people on a bike ride tomorrow and a walk tonight. Since we'd been in the car for so long, all of us Heglands went along for a stroll. A number of people ended up going and I got to be all nerdy and talk about Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Back at the Danish American center, I talked with cousins Gloria and Gerhard for a while before getting back on the charter bus with Les. Once at the hilton, it was off to the parking garage in search of our water bottles. Gotta stay hydrated. When we got back to our room, we discovered that the skyscraper opposite our window has an "aquarium" at the top! I took pictures, don't worry. 



Monday, May 13, 2013

Senior Year Photojournal!

So, before jumping into my final semester of college, I thought I'd start with a throw-back to Christmas, when my family paid homage to our Norwegian heritage and shared fond memories of the reunion last July.

A Hegland Family Christmas -- complete with Norwegian sweaters.

But in January I went back to Coe and had a semester that was jam-packed with activities (and school)!


We unintentionally had a roommate dress up day.
(L to R: Kristine, Haley, me)

Food is a continued theme in my life...
roommate brunch happened!

And I guess we studied too.

I spent a lot of time in my natural habitat, the Writing Center,
blogging and conferencing, and making up for all
the time I wasn't there in the fall!

Gretchen and I hung out during Flunk Day!

And we got a great roommate picture :)

I even "traveled" to Ireland in By the Bog of Cats (an
Irish adaptation of a Greek tragedy by Marina Carr).

And went to Ali's senior art show!
(L to R: Haley, me, Ali, and Kristine)

Apparently all that studying paid off -- I got an award from
the English department during Honors Convocation!

AND THEN I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE. BOOM.

I also chose to sit atop the college sign for my pictures.
Because I'm classy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Back in the States!

At this point, I've been back in the grand old U.S. of A. for a little over a month. Wow! In that time, I've continued to answer "si" instead of "yes" when people ask me simple questions; am considering joining a support group, as I am, in the words of my ACM friends, trying to quit my gelato habit cold turkey; and I've moved back to Cedar Rapids for my final semester at Coe.

The transition to being back in the US has been weird. I went to a movie with a few friends days after I got back and legitimately asked the girl at the concession stand what she had handed me when I got a dollar back in change. I was expecting a euro, I think. I was jet-lagged for a couple days, but got over it surprisingly quickly. The hardest part so far, have been the questions people ask about my semester. There's so much I want to tell them and share with them, but I'm having trouble putting it into words. The worst question is "so, was it totally life-changing?" Well... yes. But I can't describe it. I don't feel inherently different, but I'm definitely not the same person I was when I left in August. I keep coming back to the reverse cultural shock materials we were given at Linguaviva and the websites that exist to help students transition back to being at home. Those are helping me a lot, simply because it's nice to know that I'm not the first person to feel like I can't describe my experiences in Italy or "how they've changed me." It's totally natural and that's really comforting. I think being back at Coe, with others who have just gotten back from a semester abroad (especially knowing that Gretchen and I can meet up and talk whenever we want) will help.

As usual, I have a very full schedule this coming semester, with classes (and the homework that accompanies each class), clubs and organizations, the Writing Center, an internship, and theater. All that running around leaves hardly any time for hanging out with my friends -- most of whom I haven't seen since last spring! It's also making me realize how easy I had it last semester in Italy. I was only taking four classes (which is a smaller course load than I've ever taken in my entire college career) and I had most Fridays off! I was able to travel and I had no club or extracurricular obligations. I managed to keep myself busy, of course, but it's definitely going to be an adjustment now that I'm back to campus.

I'll post a photojournal of senior year and then in May (which seems like the distant future) I'll share my May Term adventures -- a trip to Greece!

One thing's for sure: I had a great time in Italy and, because this trip confirmed even further that I have been bitten by the travel-bug, I'm positive that my travels are far from over.

Monday, December 17, 2012

12/10 - 12/15: Last Week in Florence and Homeward Bound!

Monday, December 10:
Gail's class this morning was basically a giant review session. We got a list of questions for our final and walked through the type of information we'll be expected to present (and how, for those of us who have never taken an art history final before), and spent almost 3 hours going through any last minute questions we had or information we wanted to go over one last time. After class, I ate and wrote the rest of my paper for Jodie (I believe the phrase I used in person was "writing like a madwoman," though I hope it's more organized than that). I'm also supposed to do my final presentation in Jodie's class tomorrow, so that powerpoint went on my to-do list. We also had our last group meeting this afternoon, where we talked about "reverse culture shock" and how to transition back to our home campuses and life in the States. (Edit: If you're a student currently studying abroad, take a look at the information on reverse culture shock that I've linked. The transition home is different for everyone, but it's important to know that resources are out there.) After the meeting, a few of us met with Sarah K. for a brief choir rehearsal. We have a big farewell dinner that all our host families are invited to attend and we'll be singing some Italian (and American) Christmas carols for them! Isa and I have also decided to do a duet, so we practiced that as well. Back at the apartment, I edited and wrote more of my Medici paper and then started on the two powerpoints I have to make for my presentations tomorrow, one for my gender class, one for my Medici class. Dinner is pasta, pork chops, leftover polenta, sauted kale, really really good bread, and kiwi (which I'm kind of surprised is still in season?). After dinner I powered through my powerpoints, finishing at a pretty reasonable time. The word used in my journal to describe this experience was "bam."

Tuesday, December 11:
I started my day with some gelato sticks the moment I got off the bus. I figured I needed something to fortify myself before presentations started. We got our papers back in my gender class and I did quite well, which was great, because I had never worked with Italian renaissance poetry before (and generally avoid poetry analysis anyway). I was up second for presentations (a good position in which to be, in my opinion) and that too went well. I got a good response and the atmosphere we had going in class got me nice and relaxed. Since we all had such diverse subject material, I never felt bored. We had written about things that genuinely interested us (which always helps), and we all laughed at each others jokes, so that was great. After class, Jodie brought the whole group cookies to "help us study" and I finally finished that Medici paper. I ended up having a moment of clarity while on the bus this morning and rewrote a section of the paper, but I think it helped a lot! After lunch, it was time for Medici class presentations, where I am again second. The atmosphere during these presentations was totally different than in Gender. It's a larger class, so that changed things a little, but it also felt like half the group wasn't paying attention or didn't care what anyone was saying. That was kind of a bummer.

After class, Sarah and I went to Palazzo Vecchio for a feminism conference where our host mom was speaking. Anna's been excited and talking about this event for about three weeks now and we wanted to go support her -- she thinks this is the sweetest thing ever :) From what we've learned during dinners, she's speaking about a conference she attended in southern Italy and is reporting on what that group has been doing. From what Sarah and I could understand, it was interesting, but we can only pick out a few words and people were so passionate that they were speaking much more quickly than our brains can handle. At one point, we thought there was going to be a throw down between two of the women in attendance, but it turns out they were actually agreeing with each other. We compared it to a foreign film where you don't know the premise and realize five seconds into the movie that there are no subtitles. We ducked out after two hours, waving to Anna and hoping that she'd explain things when she got home. Dinner at the apartment was vegetable soup, frittatas, ricotta, kiwis, and walnuts. Anna got home about halfway through the meal and did indeed explain things for us! The women at the conference had talked about women in the workplace and the recent strikes, the conference Anna attended at Paestum, the state of politics in Florence, and war. It's homework time after dinner, but I took a quick break to check my email and discovered that A. I got the Admissions internship for this spring, and B. that the apartment situation on campus has been figured out! It's a good night.

Wednesday, December 12:
My morning was entirely devoted to studying for Gail's final. When I finally went in to Linguaviva, I returned ALL of my library books (final count: 11) and then Gretchen and I celebrated the end of the semester by getting kebabs for lunch. Gail's final is right after lunch and, man oh man, did I feel exhausted afterwards, mentally and physically. Once everyone finished, we got our final papers back. This class really challenged me and I feel like I've worked super hard in it! Gretchen and I went back to the Christmas market (yeah, it's still up) and then the Galileo Museum after class is officially over and buy some last minute Christmas presents. After that, it's off to grab some gelato and then to Cecil Studios for the student art show! All of my friends have easels up and it's so cool to see the culmination of their work this semester. Dinner back at the apartment is pasta, homemade fish sticks, broccoli, and kiwi, after which I studied for Sarah K.'s gender final tomorrow and EMAILED MY MEDICI PAPER TO JODIE AND DON'T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT ANYMORE. Phew.

Thursday, December 13:
Today's the last day of classes! I got to Linguaviva early, to do some last minute studying and then take the gender final, after which, it's time for round two of the presentations (we had to split each class into two days of presentations). This time, we have the added fun of a faulty projector! How exciting. After that, it's time for a quick lunch, another choir rehearsal, and then (since everyone else is studying and I'm finished with all my papers, finals, and presentations) gelato. My favorite time of day. During the second round of Medici presentations, Jodie serves us Pannetone, a traditional Italian Christmas cake. It's delicious and tastes like a hot cross bun without the icing. While eating and between listening to presentations, Megan and I realize that we will miss this food. Every situation in Italy calls for food and I am definitely ok with that. After the presentations are over, Sarah and I rush back to the apartment to change and drop things off before heading back out for tonight's farewell dinner. We also placated Nonna (though we're not sure how), who was ranting about something when we walked into the apartment. We take the bus back to the train station and then walk with a small group to Rotunda, the restaurant that's hosting tonight's dinner. We finally got to meet the host families that everyone has talked so much about this semester (some classmates were disappointed that Nonna wasn't joining us) before sitting down to dinner. Let me tell you, dinner was amazing. We started with this souffle, moved to lasagna and salad, and then had this pannacotta cake-thing for dessert. And the wine. Yum. Once everyone was done and our places had been cleared, it was mini-recital time. Maggie sang an Italian song she had learned in the States, Isa and I sang The First Noel, and then a group of us sang Deck the Hall, an Italian Christmas song, The Christmas Song (you know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire), and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Anna is beyond pleased that we sang for everyone. We took some group photos (I've included one below) and then a number of us went out to the good old Irish Pub for our last night together.

Sarah, Anna, and me at Rotunda.
Friday, December 14:
What did I do this morning? I packed. Like a fiend. Then in the afternoon, I took the bus down to Linguaviva to say hi to the people who were still working on their papers, and then climb the Duomo! Kara, Lauren, Chelsea, Isa, Merisa, and I all walked to the Duomo and bought tickets to climb up and see the city from the top of Brunelleschi's dome. There was, strangely enough, no line, so we were able to walk right in and start climbing. We had awesome views the whole way up, inside and out, and I'm glad we waited until the end of the semester to do this. Waiting until the end meant that we could all recognize buildings and places we'd been throughout these last four months. That was cool.

Time for my last picture in front of the Duomo.

Inside, at dome level!

Halfway up!

(L to R) Isa, me, and Kara, enjoying the view.

The Duomo's so big, you can't even see the Baptistry.

That brown dome marks San Lorenzo and the Medici chapel.

The really tall pointy tower? Palazzo Vecchio!

See that nice white facade way out there? Santa Croce.

This is the photo I sent to my parents. I'm sure they missed me.

(L to R) Me, Kara, Isa, Lauren, Chelsea, and Merisa.

Climbing back down means more dome frescoes! 
 Back at Linguaviva, I printed out my boarding pass for tomorrow's flight home and then headed to one of my favorite gelato shops with Kara and Isa for our last gelato.

THIS PLACE.

Kara rightly thought that we needed to document
my successful completion of the gelato project.
Then it was back to the apartment to finish my packing. It was a tight squeeze, but everything's going to fit and hopefully nothing will break. That's the goal. Anna's taking care of calling one of the taxi companies to get me to the airport tomorrow morning (which is very nice of her) and then our final dinner is ready. We had riso, chicken, salad, bread, mandarin oranges, walnuts, and, as a special treat, almond brittle candy. We also made sure to take a few pictures together.

Sarah, Anna, me, and Nonna (plus, Teo sniffing around on the left).

After dinner, since packing didn't take nearly as long as either Sarah or I thought it would, we met up with Cathy, Maggie, and Caitlyn for one last "last gelato ever." One can never have enough last gelato. Then it's bedtime, because I have to be at the airport by 7:30 tomorrow!

Saturday, December 15:
My last view of the streets of Florence whizzed by. Literally. My taxi driver decided that 70 kph down quiet, sleepy Florentine streets meant "let's go 100 kph!!!" Thank God for seatbelts. When I got the airport and unloaded my things, I had quite the long line ahead of me. It appeared that everyone who has ever visited Florence ever wanted to be on my flight. I started freaking out a little bit, watching people have to throw things away to make the baggage weight, but my check in agent was the nicest person ever and didn't charge me when one of my bags came in overweight (the other one was exactly the same amount underweight, so I'm assuming it evens out?). Before and after the short flight to Zurich, I hung out with Kara and it was so wonderful to have someone to talk to! We weren't seated next to each other on either flight though, so that was a bummer. On the flight from Zurich to Chicago, I was seated in the very last row of the plane (but on an aisle, so that was nice). Swiss Air served us a crap ton of food (all of which was pretty good) and I did my best to stay up for the majority of the flight. My flight was scheduled to land in the late afternoon, so I was trying to stay up so I could go to bed at a decent time. I read most of a book I'd packed and watched ALL OF THE MOVIES. Well, not all, just 2 movies and 4 tv shows. And napped. Kinda. When we landed in Chicago, I got in line to go through customs, which moved pretty quickly, despite the long line. I was able to grab my bags without a problem, said goodbye to Kara, and then headed out into the international arrivals terminal to find my family! Best part: the moment I found them, my brother handed me a chai latte. Glorious. Once we made the hour drive home, I opened my suitcases enough to find that nothing had been broken, before being served a homemade bacon cheeseburger. Happiness, thy name is bacon. By the time I went to bed, it was 8:30pm Central Standard Time, and 3:30am Florence time. It's been a long trip, and I am loopy tired, but home, safe and sound.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

12/3 - 12/9: Final Papers, an Opera, and a Trip to "Fair Verona"

Monday, December 3:
Class with Gail this morning was at the Bargello, an old barracks and prison close to Palazzo Vecchio that has been turned into a museum. There are a ton of famous works housed there (mostly sculptural and ceramic), including Michelangelo's Bacchus and Donatello's David (both pictured below). Sadly, the other two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were not present.

Bacchus

David
As Gail led us around the museum, she told us a really fun story about arguing with a Hungarian colleague about the last piece of a polyptych she had worked on in Siena... that is now up for auction at Christie's. None of us could believe that last bit at first, but apparently it's for real. Gail showed us pictures. After class, we had a quick lunch at Linguaviva, where Megan and I began to freak out about our Italian final on Thursday. Neither of us feel at all prepared. I didn't have class in the afternoon, so I went back to the apartment determined to work on my final papers. I ended up being rather productive and made a good dent in the workload! Tomorrow we're headed to the opera, so dinner (lentil soup, frittatas, stewed cauliflower with red pepper flakes that Nonna complained were too hot, pears, hazelnuts, and almonds) was taken up with a lot of conversation about that. We'll be seeing Turandot! I'm excited. After dinner, I discovered that there is some disagreement about deadlines between some of my classmates and one of our professors. In my mind, a paper deadline is pretty set in stone, so I continue to work on it.

Tuesday, December 4:
Today's music class with Sarah K starts with talk about the invention of the pianoforte (we'll be seeing a model of the original on Thursday) and then devolved in a lively discussion of modern arts funding (which we were able to connect to renaissance patronage). I enjoy classes like that :) Jodie's class was at the Accademia, where we spent a long time looking at Michelangelo's David. Because it's such a huge piece, David's kind of hard to miss. While it's fun to stand up close, I think you get a better view from a little farther back in the gallery. We ended class by playing "Name that Artist (or his contemporary, if we haven't studied him)," and I did relatively well! I'm proud of myself for going from almost no knowledge of Art History to being able to hold my own in a group of people who are majoring in the field. It shows how much I've learned this semester (and how much it helps to be able to see these works in person, rather than on slides or in a textbook). After lunch, I grabbed some gelato and went back to the apartment to finish up my paper for Gail (which is due tomorrow morning) and then have an early dinner of sandwiches and fruit with Sarah before heading to the opera! Because of budget cuts, the company has had to get creative with their operas, so instead of a tradition set, there's a projection screen in front of the chorus where images and clips from past performances of Turandot were shown. It was kind of like a really active staged reading, where there were beautiful, elaborate costumes, and only the main characters moved around. Thankfully, there were supertitles in English! All in all, a good night. We dressed up, we went to the opera, it was a good time.

Photo from the Opera Britannia review of Turandot.

Wednesday, December 5:
I spent much of the morning studying for the Italian final tomorrow (and still feel unprepared!), before heading to Palazzo Vecchio for class with Gail. Class was short today, since a number of people still weren't done with their final papers. I walked with Gretchen toward Cecil Studios, and while she went to art class, I visited Luisa, the friendly neighborhood travel agent to pick up tickets for Ian and my trip to Verona! We decided another quick weekend trip was necessary :) One the way back to the apartment, I stopped by Gelateria de Medici so that I'd have something to fuel my paper-writing. I ended up writing most of my patronage paper (on those female poets... yay literary analysis!) before and after dinner ("salty rice" with cheese, liver, chicken hot dogs, salad, oranges and pears).

Thursday, December 6:
I think I found my favorite chapel today. Jodie brought our class to the Medici chapel and oh my goodness, is it beautiful.

Chapel of the Princes Mausoleum in the Medici Chapel.
 Next, it was back to the Academia, for class with Sarah K, where we got to try out (and even play!) replica instruments from the 15th and 16th centuries. Cool! On the way back to Linguaviva, Isa, Merissa, and I stopped by McDonald's (shame) to get some french fries.... they smelled too irresistible. The afternoon consisted of the Italian final (which I think went ok?), finishing up my paper for Sarah K (which turned out well), and discovering that I'm on the same flight home as some of the other people in the group. Kara and I are hoping we get to sit together :) Traveling buddies! When I got back to the apartment, I did some research for my final project for Jodie and then had a skype interview for an internship back at Coe this spring! I should find out in a week or so if I get it or not.

Friday, December 7:
It was an early morning (leaving the house around 6:30), but it's off to Verona we go! Ian and I took the train from Florence to Bologna and then from Bologna to Verona. Fun fact: Verona's sister city is Munich, Germany, and is close enough to the border that the second language spoken on the trains is no longer English, but German. We were a little thrown off, but more thrown by the fact that we didn't realize things had switched from English to German.... I was still listening intently to the loudspeakers, focused on getting arrival times. Once we got to Verona, we took a bus to the city center and grabbed some hot chocolate at a cafe to warm up a little bit. After that, it was off to the third largest colosseum in the world! Verona's arena is huge and, because of the local geology, pink. That's right. Pink. The marble quarried near Verona comes out this odd light pink color. We took a bunch of pictures (which you can see below!) and then tried out the Rick Steves' walking tour of the city. We didn't spend money on the larger, more famous churches in Verona, but we enjoyed the outsides and then popped into the smaller, free ones. They were, in our opinion, just as nice.

Gesticulating outside the baby-collesium. 

In ancient Rome, a thumbs up from the emperor during a gladiator
fight meant that someone was going to bite the dust.

The arena was huge! In the summer, they perform outdoor operas here.

The ancient wall of the city.

It was pretty big.

One of my favorite mosaics from the churches we visited.

Of COURSE we visited the home of Juliet Capulet, took pictures with the Juliet statue, looked up (and down) at the famous balcony of Shakespearean lore, and wrote our own letters to Juliet.

My good buddy, Juliet.

Looking down (slightly) at THE balcony.
The Bard himself.

We also visited the German Christmas market that was set up in the town square!

Our first glimpse of all the tents!

Looking down on striped marble, Christmas trees, and more vendors.

Verona is also home to a pretty impressive set of Roman ruins -- including another small theater! We visited those too, of course.


Ian and I performed Shakespearean monologues for each other.
It was only fitting.

We climbed a hill to see more ruins and were treated to a lovely view of the city!

One of the mosaic fragments from the small museum we visited.

Columns! 

After all our sight-seeing, we grabbed lunch at a local restaurant (recommended by Rick Steves, endorsed by Anna Hegland) called Osteria Vecetere. I had bigoli con crema di gorgonzola (Italian for "fancy pasta and gorgonzola cream sauce) and a glass of the local white wine. And, surprise surprise, while we were eating it started to snow! We walked around the city for a little while (stopping at a bakery known for its cheesecake, which we sampled), admiring the snow, before catching the bus back to the train station.

Obligatory food shot.

Obligatory dessert shot.

Our return trip to Florence was pretty much a fiasco. First off, we almost missed the train station stop on the bus, because it was so crowded and we couldn't see out the window. As the bus was pulling away from the train station, I managed to push my way up to the driver and beg him (in Italian) to open the doors and let us off! He was very nice and stopped right away. The train to Bologna was delayed, because of the snow, so we had to wait 10 minutes at the station and another half hour at one of the stations on the way. This meant that we missed the scheduled departure for our train to Florence. As soon as we got to Bologna, we ran over to the departures board, to see when the next train to Florence was expected to leave -- and found out that OUR train to Florence was delayed as well and hadn't even arrived in Bologna yet. We spend the hour and a half trip in the train station, visiting the souvenir shop, the pharmacy, a cafe (where we have a lovely candy bar dinner), and the waiting room of the station. It got progressively colder and snowed progressively harder. This is, apparently, what we get for venturing up north in December. The moment our train is assigned a platform, we ran out to meet it (hoping to get good seats), but it still hadn't actually arrived. The moment it does get there, we get on board, in the hopes of staying warm. We're delayed a little while longer, then finally leave, and on the trip back to Florence, Ian and I amuse ourselves by playing hangman and then "writing" fake letters to Juliet for each other to answer. Once we finally got back to Florence (much later then anticipated), I head straight to bed.

Saturday, December 8:
My host mom is apparently having an early Christmas family get together at the house, because there are tons of cousins over. I excused myself from the festivities and walked into town, where I met Gretchen, Isa, and Ian for lunch at Gusta Pizza. Gusta Pizza is the best little hole-in-the-wall pizza shop in Florence. I am convinced. It's wonderful. After eating our fill, Gretchen went back to her host family's house for a nap (since she's coming down with a bad cold), while Isa, Ian, and I went on a quest. A few years ago, my mom went on a trip to London, where she found the best lotion ever. She bought it at the British Museum and has managed to keep up her supply by having a friend who travels to Britain fairly often pick up another bottle every time she's there. However, the British Museum no longer carries this lotion. This caused some drama in our household. However, their flagship store just so happens to be in Florence, very near to Ponte Vecchio, which meant that I was in the wonderful position of being able to pick some up. When my parents found this out, I was told that I was bringing some back as a Christmas present. And that was the nature of our quest. After picking up said lotion, the three of us walked back to the train station via the San Lorenzo market and caught the bus to Gelateria de Medici (one of our favorites), where I had a triple scoop -- chocolate, amarena (cherry), and crema di Medici (my favorite). Back at the apartment, I did some more research for my final paper for Jodie (I think I'll be able to write it tomorrow) and then skype with a friend from back home! There are six of us at dinner tonight, three of whom are Anna. Sarah is on a trip of her own, so it's me, host mom-Anna, nonna, Anna's daughter and her boyfriend, and cousin-Anna. Boyfriend and I have apparently gained a reputation as having hearty appetites, so we get tons of the first course (pasta with red sauce, cauliflower, and riso with squash). Cousin-Anna has made meatballs and peas (with something else in them) for a main course, and then we have delicious, juicy kiwi for dessert. After dinner, I caught the bus downtown with Gretchen where we met up with Isa and spent the night walking around the Duomo district, looking at the Christmas lights. The Duomo's Christmas tree has been put up! We took plenty of pictures.

What a massive tree!

They had an empty manager in their nativity scene, which
will be filled on Christmas morning. I stepped in for a few seconds.

The whole central city was decked out!

Even the shop windows were getting festive.

And there were sheets of lights on some buildings.

And stars all over :)

Sunday, December 9:
The apartment is still full of people, which meant that the process of eating breakfast and getting ready for the day did not go quite as smoothly as usual. I did some more work on my final paper for Jodie (you remember, that paper that's eaten my life this past week?) and then went out with Gretchen for a gelato-break. We sat and talked for a while before splitting up to work on our respective papers again. Sarah, who had been away for the weekend, got back, so I filled her in on the visiting-relatives-situation before dinner. Cousin-Anna wanted to get to know us, now that she's caught up on family news, and she ended up telling us a really entertaining story about "one time in Yogoslavia when she wanted to smoke," but I think some of the details got lost in translation. Dinner is chicken, lamb sausage, polenta, fennel, salad, and kiwi for dessert. After dinner, I skyped with my parents and then one of my friends back at Coe, before working on that darn paper yet again.