Allison Falk: Italy Blog

April 28, 2008

Florence, Italy - Stanford junior Allison Falk is currently in Italy for a semester abroad. We checked in with her to see how her experience has been going:

My study abroad experience in Florence was amazing. After traveling around Italy (Rome, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Florence) with my family after Christmas, I found myself with a new family for the quarter. For the next ten weeks I got to know and love my host parents. I ate amazing Italian food, including my favorite dishes of minestrone soup, pasta with broccoli, and chocolate cake!

I spent afternoons watching soccer games with my host dad, who would shout furiously at the TV in Italian. Fiorentina, Florence's soccer team, was the one and only team my host dad lived by. And, of course, Italian was the only language spoken in the house!

While in Florence, my goal was to travel almost every weekend. Mostly I traveled around Italy, although I did make it to London for a long weekend and went to Paris for spring break with my teammate Kelley who was studying in Madrid for the quarter. Between skiing in the Alps and sunbathing in Sicily (southern Italy), I have to say that one of my favorite weekend trips was my trip to Cinque Terra. Cinque Terra, located on the coast on the northwestern side of Italy, consists of five small and incredibly beautiful towns. While we went in the middle of winter and during the tourist off-season, the weather was amazing for February.

After arriving early Friday afternoon, my five other friends and I spent the rest of the day hanging out in the sun on the beach of Riomaggiore, one of the towns we were staying in for the weekend. After a month of cold and rain in Florence, this was the perfect escape. Saturday we conquered the five-hour hike along the coast connecting all five towns of Cinque Terra. The views were incredible--the light blue and green water looked spectacular in the afternoon sun and the brightly colored houses and rooftops of the five quaint towns made it hard to stop taking pictures! The hike itself connecting all the towns wasn't too bad until the end. When we finally decided to stop to get lunch, we realized that all, literally all, the shops and restaurants had closed for the afternoon. Because it was the off-season (and because it's Italy), shops closed from about 1pm to 5pm everyday, leaving us with nothing to eat! We finally found a little café by the water and filled up on fruit because that was all they had left. When we finally reached the last town, Monterosso, the view of the sandy beach lined with small, beautiful houses was spectacular. We decided to jump into the ocean, even though the water was absolutely freezing. All the Italians stared at us like we were had lost our minds!

Of course, we ended the weekend with a great Italian dinner where we were able to try Cinque Terra's famous pesto sauce. It was amazing! All in all, in Cinque Terra, the views were spectacular, the company great, and the weather perfect! (Well as perfect as it could be in February)During the next few weekends I traveled to Milan, Rome, Pisa, and Venice. Both Milan and Rome were trips taken with the whole Stanford group in Florence. Thanks to the generosity of the Bing family and other donors, in Milan we were fortunate enough to go to La Scala, one of the world's most famous opera houses. And in Rome we were actually able to visit the US Embassy and meet the US Ambassador!

My experience abroad was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Not only did I travel around Europe, but I actually lived in and became a part of a completely different culture and country. I learned from the Italians how important it is to enjoy every moment. Things are more laid back. Stores aren't open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, food wasn't just something to eat, but was an important way to spend time with your family and take part in the family experience.

I ended my travels abroad with a week in Paris with my teammate, Kelley. After dragging our enormous, and very heavy, bags through trains, planes, and subway stations, we finally arrived at our hotel for the week. We had an amazing location, right near the Notre Dame, with a great number of cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops all a two-minute walk away. We spent the week checking off all of the sights and places we wanted to see and visit. One of my favorites was the Eiffel Tower. Kelley and I decided to make the ascent around sunset. That way we could see Paris both in the daylight and at night. By the time we reached the second level, the view was incredible in the fading light. I decided to go all the way up to the top, and after waiting in hour for about an hour, I finally made it. By this time it was night, and the lights of Paris were spectacular!

Our other adventures continued through out the week. After running in the morning along the Seine River where we would see the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Eiffel Tower, we would continue our sightseeing. Navigating the Paris metro, we went to the Louvre, Notre Dame, Orsay Museum (impressionist paintings mostly), Arc de Triomphe, Versailles--we did it all! We even rented bikes (when the weather was nice enough) one afternoon and biked through Paris. I tried French cuisine by tasting crème brulee, croissants, and French onion soup! We ended the week with a visit to the most famous ice cream store in Paris- Berthillon ice cream. Kelley and I got ice cream from the original Berthillon store, and then strolled through the Latin Quarter by the Notre Dame on a gorgeous spring night. All in all, I would say that Kelley and I did pretty well in Paris for not speaking a word of French.

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