One week left in Italy

I feel busy, almost too busy, but I know I’m not really. I wish I could find that happy medium, but I know I’m happiest when I have either no responsibilities (ie: traveling) or super busy. Right now I feel “in between” and it really doesn’t suit me. I’ve traveled a lot in these past two months – only in Italy, but man, I really think it’s possible to live in Italy forever and never run out of totally new places to discover.What’s my favorite thing about living in Florence? The fact that if I take a train for 2 hours, I am in a different region with different food, different landscape, different accent. I can also ride my bike for an hour and more or less be in the country, that kind of Tuscan countryside setting you have in your mind. That totally exists, and it’s beautiful. I love that I get get to Rome in 1.5 hours. I love that this country seems small by fast train and huge by slow train (because the train I take to get to Rome takes 4 hours, but costs a fraction of the price). My other favorite thing is the food, and here is where I will freely admit that the food in Amsterdam is generally awful. Sure, it’s possible to eat well in Amsterdam. There are great markets with fresh fish and veggies and seasonal fruit, I love the pastries and apple pie, there’s tons of ethnic food available, but the normal dutch attitude toward food is just simply best described as your average american attitude toward food, which is a shame. Going to a (normal, not-fancy, not-bio) supermarket in Amsterdam is a depressing experience and I can’t count how many times I’ve gone in and out without buying anything because there is nothing that appeals to me. This sucks, because ok, I can go to the markets, but what if I don’t have time? What if I just want to quickly go to a non-fancy supermarket and get inspired to make something for dinner? That doesn’t happen in Amsterdam, I have to go to the fancy supermarkets (ie: the dutch version of whole foods).

In Italy, the normal supermarket is not a depressing experience. I can buy food at my local supermarket that makes me happy! I love this! and I love italian food. I love Tuscan food. I love the meat and cheese and wine and everything they produce here.

What’s my least favorite thing about Florence? The fact that my boyfriend isn’t here. And other than that, this city is an awkward size. It’s too big to feel like a “town,” it’s too small to feel like a real city (about 350,000 people or so). there’s not a big alternative scene that I have been able to find. I think I might love it more in the summer – I can tell this city was meant to be enjoyed outdoors, in the squares with people drinking beer, on the banks of the river, etc. The weather is good for Jan/Feb, and when it gets really warm (it was about 65 F the other day), everyone is out, on the grass, having picnics, drinking wine, enjoying. The sounds of the city are beautiful. I also don’t love the fact that it is such a touristy place, and my god, I hear so many americans. The americans that live here are as closed of a group as the japanese are (there are tons of japanese as well), and I kind of feel that in the city, and I kind of don’t like it. In Amsterdam, being a foreigner is just that – you’re not dutch. that’s all. in Florence, it’s “you’re american, you’re japanese, you’re spanish,” etc. In Florence we spend more time talking about where we’re from which is a conversation that does become pretty boring after you have it ten thousand times.

I am very much looking forward to returning to Amsterdam. It’s not that I’m as crazy in love with the city as I was a few years ago, it’s just that that’s Amsterdam is where my life is, and I like my life there. I have great friends and a great bike and I somehow managed to find work as a freelancer, and I have health insurance and the cinemas are amazing and there is an alternative scene that isn’t very hard to find and people aren’t very snobby or exclusive and it just works for me. I don’t know. I have no idea where I’ll live next, as I expect Amsterdam won’t be the final resting place, but who knows, maybe it could be. maybe. But… ok, the food thing I can kind of work around, but the lack of consistently hot summers is a bigger and bigger deal. I mean, I like that the winters are mild(er than New York), but I need hot summers. The first year I was in Amsterdam, it was hot. I wore shorts to work, I went to the beach in June, it was great. But that’s not something you can count on, and this is really not okay with me. I want to tan in the summer and stay tanned all summer and sweat and have to only eat salad and fruit because it’s too hot for anything else.

This past weekend I went to Venice and it was a bit sad to have the waiters and hotel people switch to english with me. I get that it’s the most touristy city in europe, but still, that never happens in Florence. However, I could hold a italian conversation with the funny indian guys we met (another story), and on Sunday I went to my friends’ parents for lunch. It was really warm and enjoyable and I spent 4-5 hours with them only speaking italian (they don’t speak english at all) and it worked.

I’ll end this without an ending, but a picture. What a country.

Antique Venice

Feeling at home in Florence, Italy

I’m in Florence. It’s barely rained at all since I’ve been here. It’s cold-ish, but not cold enough to need a hat, gloves, or scarf – just a coat is fine. The sun rises earlier, so it’s light out when I wake up. It’s not sunny all the time, but man have I enjoyed a hell of a lot of blue skies and bright sun, like needing-sunglasses kind of sun. the food is absolutely wonderful, people are nice, the customer service is great.

And yet I miss Amsterdam so much today, and it’s only been ten days. I’ve been away for longer than 10 days before, quite happily. But I miss my bicycle, and I am so jealous of everyone here on their bikes. I saw a woman on a dutch bike the other day and my heart almost broke, thinking about my rusty bike stuffed away in a closet for two months in Amsterdam. I love my bike. I miss it. I am doing something about it, tomorrow I’m going to walk 5km to meet a girl who will give me her broken bike (with locks and lights) if I get it repaired. YES PLEASE THANK YOU!!!! if it costs less that 50 Euros to repair it, it’s just as good as buying a bike, and I can help bring it back to life. This is a bike that has just been sitting there, unused, because of minor repair work. I want to fix it and fall in love with it immediately. I feel like this bicycle is like a guy you meet from a personal ad, having it all built up in my mind to be the most perfect thing in the world. as long as it has 2 wheels, a seat, handlebars, and it’s not too small for me, it will be the most perfect thing in the world.

I just can’t take it, being in this beautiful city and not having a bike. I’m going crazy. I like walking, of course, but… no. I can’t really Florence until I have a bicycle. People here ride bikes! It’s not quite like Amsterdam, but it’s a thing. Normal people ride bikes, not just “bike people.” 50 year old women get on their rusty piece-of-shit bikes and go from place to place. Kids sit on the back or in front. I’ve seen a few people riding double. there’s bike parking and bike lanes and the whole deal. gah, I should have purchased a bike on my 2nd day here, I hate that I’ve even waited this long. I hope I can solve this problem by tomorrow.

Other than lack-of-bicycle-in-my-life, Florence is going really well. I have never asked anyone “do you speak english?” since I’ve been here, and no one has switched to speaking english while I stumble over italian. The Florentine accent is killing me, so I do better with talking to people who aren’t from Florence.

In italian, C is a popular letter. the C in “casa” sounds just the way it does in english (or spanish), like a hard CA sound. “casa mia,” for example. Something you’d say a lot. Except in Florence they don’t use the hard C sound ever, they replace it with an english-style H. Casa mia becomes hasa mia. this goes for C’s in the middle of a word too. However, H is (usually) a silent letter in Italian, but here in Florence, coca cola is “hoha hola.”

Well, off to daydream about my bici.. I mean bihi.

Hello Winter, goodbye Amsterdam (for a little while)

Today is cold, windy, and rainy. Awful. The first real awful day of the season, and holy shit there is so much left to the winter. I mean we aren’t even officially IN winter yet. Scary.

However, I came up with a plan to escape some of the cold, windy, rainy months. I’m going to go to Florence for eight weeks (January/February 2011) to study Italian! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really, really long time and everything is aligned for actually doing it during this time period. I’ve been to Florence before but barely saw anything, so this will be a totally new city for me to explore! “City” is a bit of an exaggeration, I think it’s around 325,000 people, but that’s a perfect size for a two-month city. I’m going to take intensive classes for four hours a day and look into volunteer work while I’m there. In the meantime, I’m still taking Italian classes twice a week in Amsterdam and trying my best to keep up.

But work has been so busy lately, it’s been impossible to maintain a decent social life or study Italian that much. I generally just take on everything that is thrown at me in terms of jobs, but there were a few weeks there where I would work from 10am-3am every day, 7 days a week. I really need to get a hang of this whole freelancing thing, and how to not over-extend myself.

I’m moving out of my little canal apartment at the end of the year, which is great, because I am totally over my apartment. I have grown dependent on having such an amazingly central location, but my neighbors/landlords (they are the same thing) have gotten on my nerves so much lately. So I’ll go away for two months, not pay rent in A’dam during that time, and when I return in March, it looks like my boyfriend and I will move in together. Which is pretty big, I guess. We went to see a place together this afternoon and it felt more real than it has in the past when we’ve talked about it. We’ll see.

My Italian classes start on Jan 3 in Florence, so I have to be there on the 2nd. Luckily, my boyfriend loved Italy when we went there recently (he had never been!) and is supper supportive of my plans and will (fingers crossed) be able to visit me twice while I’m there, once in Jan and once in Feb. It’s not as though Florence is warm and tropical during the winter months, but one thing is for sure, the weather will be better there than in Amsterdam. And there are mountains AND oh my god the food AND I have good friends that live in Siena, which is about 40 minutes away. I can’t wait!