Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Moonlit Walk

 The days here in Florence are numbered leaving only the option to enjoy every last bit. The other night Kirsten, Sarah, Cate and I went for a walk around Florence; we had been to Piazzale Michaelangelo, and the river before, but not at night. We climbed the many steps to the overlook, and breathed in a magical view. Since we were in no hurry, on our way back over the Pontevechio, we sat while a street artist strummed his guitar. The fog smoothed the glowing streetlights, music echoed on the river, and there was nothing more beautiful in that moment.

Life in Florence has taught me to take life slow, be in the moment, and never say no to an adventure. There is a contagious peace, and relaxed attitude about the Italians and it has become a part of me, changing my life for the better. Thank you Italy for reminding me to slow down and not take for granted this beautiful, wonderful life which is a gift from God. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Volunteering at RFK

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, European Branch.

Caddy Adzuba Furaha is a young journalist in the midst of what appears to be an endless civil war in her nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been ceaselessly operation in the field information on Women's Rights. Nicknamed the "Voice of Voices". Not withstanding the numerous death intimidations, Caddy keeps carrying out her commitment as a reporter, aware that this tool of hers will keep her going in her civil struggle. 

Yay for helping others! Lorenzo de Medici offers students many great opportunities to be involved in the community of Florence. There are a wide variety of organizations Lorenzo de Medici connects students with who are interested in volunteering. Studying abroad can be a bit self- consumed with all the traveling, school and meeting new friends. It can be difficult to see outside of your own world which you have created for yourself. A way to break the study abroad bubble is to reach out to the community in areas that are in need of help. In any season of life, whether it is the grind of college and work, or studying abroad and vacation, we are called to serve others. The service never ends! 

Earlier in the semester my roommates volunteered at a preschool just around the corner from our apartment. Despite preschoolers charm, I prefer to work with primarily adults. I had a meeting with Luca, the school volunteer coordinator to see what projects or organizations best suit my interests, abilities and talents. It turned out and organization called the Robert F. Kennedy Center (RFK) European branch was in need of a couple volunteers to host guests at their Freedom Fighters Art Gallery. RFK center originates in Washington D.C and was created to continue the fight for human rights and celebrate our victories so far. This opportunity is especially exciting because I am passionate about art and human rights. Since Passion conference 2013 my eyes have been open to the world wide depravity of human rights, and I count myself an activist specifically to end human trafficking. I am thrilled to be a part of a prestigious organization like RFK  and to continue the fight for human rights while abroad, even if I am just greeting people as they come into an art gallery. 

I have volunteered at the gallery four hours a week for the past eight weeks. (excluding spring break). My position is slightly mundane, but I can do it with joy knowing the gallery would not be able to open resulting in less people being enlightened about the human rights issue. 

The exhibit below captured the spirit and beauty of women throughout history who have fought for human rights. The artist Marcello Reboani titles the exhibition Ladies for Human Rights, and uses choice recycled materials that reflect each character uniquely. These are just a few of the works, there were many other inspiring activists. Captions are taken from the exhibition booklet. 

Toni, Luca the coordinator and I on my first day at the gallery

Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary Hollywood star, has always dedicated herself to important humanitarian causes as the Zionist cause- she actively got involved, further to her conversion to Judaism that took place in 1959- when industriously raising funds for the Jewish International Fund as well as backing the rights for Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. She was also a founding member of AMFAR American Foundation for AIDS Research. 

Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian pacifist, an icon of the non-violent movement that in 2003 stopped the civil war in Liberia, sanctioned by the Global Peace-Pact Ghana-Accra. In 2001 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her undertaking in order to guarantee the African's women rights and being able to promote peace in her country, for a long time subjected to a dictatorial regime.

Rita Levi Montalcini was a neurologis, president of the ITalian Multiple Sclerosis Society, and was appointed FAO's Ambassador for her constant contribution to the global hunger relief campaigns. She was Honored in 1986 with the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of the Nerve Growth Factor.

Princess Diana has put her privileged social status and her charisma to good use of helping people in need all over the world. She constantly committed herself to fighting AIDS, worked towards banning the production and use of landmines in the UK and USA, and cooperated with Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama in their joint use of mass media to support human rights advocacy. 

Annie Lennox, the Scottish singer has been actively committing herself to charity funds and having recourse to art as a tool for fighting AIDS. In 1999 the artist donated the intakes of a whole tour to two international humanitarian organizations called Amnesty International and Greenpeace. 

Norma Cruz is an activist who commits herself to preserve human rights and denounce violence against women. She founded and runs Survivor's foundation, a Guatemalan ONG which backs women civil rights and supports them with social and legal protection.
 You can check out the RFK center here:  http://rfkcenter.org/ 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Sunday Afternoon

The bar before drinks were poured
Today was such a wonderful day! First off, it is Palm Sunday and pastor Cody at Mosaico Church preached the gospel of Luke so well. It was such a great reminder of what Christ did for us on the cross, and a perfect way to start the week preceding Easter.

The rest of the afternoon my good friend Cate and I walked around Florence and experienced some authentic Florentine culture. On our way to a fair in a garden, we meandered through a flee market. You know what they say, one persons trash another persons treasures! After forty minutes of searching through odds and ends, we arrived at the gardens. There were stations of people selling and giving out samples of their products, some samples we tried were: wine, beer, olive oil, fruit bars, chocolate and cheese. There was also jewelry, scarves and other artisan products. One lady who sold coasters with her husband was from New York, and had moved to Florence thirteen years ago! It was cool to talk with her and joke about some of the same mistakes, or experiences we have made in our transitions into Italian culture. 

Fair in the Gardens
Unfortunately it started raining, and our walk in the gardens was put to an end. For the second half of the afternoon, and into the evening we went to a restaurant which was hosting a cooking class with live music. After learning how to make their signature bread, we relaxed to live music and sipped some beer. The music was very enjoyable, and extremely unique. It consisted of a man and woman duet, the woman sang while the man played the harp and harmonica! How cool! The venue and atmosphere added to the great experience. I just loved today, I experienced culture to a whole new level, received a walnut bread recipe, tasted great beer, connected with a film maker from New York and spent quality time with Cate. 

Learning how to make their signature bread

Cate and I getting ready for the Music portion of the evening
The Venue

The musician played a harp and harmonica at the same time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Germany part two

Munich Beer Garden
The second part of my stay in Germany was spent in Munich, with Annick and Greg. We took the scenic route to Munich from Offenburg through the Black Forrest. After unpacking our heaps of luggage for only two nights (Annick and I may have over packed, we wanted outfit options..) we headed over to a beer garden. I had never heard of a beer garden before, and the definition is just as it sounds. A beer garden is a green area of the city, the one we went too was located near a pond, with picnic tables and a place to buy  snack foods and beer. Greg treated me to a pretzel with cheese dip, commonly ate alongside beer in Germany. 

 There was also a persistent Duck who thought he was a person. You may have missed him at first glance. I think he wanted some beer, or the pretzel. Either way, he lingered for more than five minutes and I was terrified to sit back down, because it reminded me of a traumatic experience from my childhood with Geese. 

The next two days Annick and I explored the city. Greg's time was split between waiting outside of shopping stores, and working on a class project. He usually joined us for meals, because most of the days we were either shopping for clothes, window shopping in home goods/design stores, and browsing art galleries. 
Inside of part of the Shopping Mall

Canoe Shelves?!?!?!?!!!!! Yes please
Everyone needs a couch this big, and that human statue on the table is just priceless.
 While we were walking around the city enjoying a beautiful afternoon, a street artist caught our eye. He had the best street jewelry I had seen yet. Since Annick and I have similar taste, not so coincidentally we picked the same ring, however was there was only one! The artist quickly caught onto our dilemma and offered to make another one for us right on the spot! I picked rose-gold (because i have been told it compliments my skin), and in two minutes I had a matching ring. The man is jewelry hero, a real talented life saver. 

The last night we ate at the world renowned Hofbrauhaus! I had visited the Hofbrauhaus branch in Pittsburgh, needless to say it was nothing like the original in Munich. The restaurant is three stories high, the bottom floor is a huge room three times the size of the Pittsburgh branch with long wooded tables and benches. Seating is a free for all on the first floor. Since I was with Germans and not a tourist while i was in Munich, we ate on the second floor which is more restaurant style. There was live music and the waitresses and waiters dressed up in traditional German outfits where we were as well. Not only did I eat the most German meal, I also had the most German experience eating on the second floor. Below you will see the roast and potato dumpling, which was so delicious I just had to finish even though it was bigger than my stomach.
Mmmhmmm Good. HB favorite dark brew

Other highlights were the two art museums we visited. I bought a couple postcards to hang in my room. Ironically they were works of a painter originally from New York. Apart from viewing art in every city I visit, another goal of mine is to eat ice cream/gelato everywhere. This was not a difficult request for Annick to plan because she too has a sweet tooth for ice cream. She raved about a place she kept referring to as the crazy ice cream place, later I found out it literally translates to Crazy Ice Cream Shop. The flavors were outrageous, including one of their most famous flavors, beer. The beer flavor tasted like a beer milkshake, which surprisingly was good. The atmosphere of the place matches with the name, the owner always wears a top hat, the interior is covered in paintings, customers sit on mushrooms, and there are quotes from the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow and John Lennon. Maybe there was a secret ingredient that made the ice cream so flavorful. 

Annick's friend with the walls of the Crazy Ice Cream Shop behind her.
 On our way back from Munich we had plans to visit a Castle. We were a little let down to find out none of the tours fit our schedule, but we went to see it from the outside anyways. 

The Castle was worth seeing!

 The last day was spent back in Offenburg, visiting with the family and walking along the river separating Germany from France. 
A view of two rivers from a tower, on the far left you can see France!

Annick and I

I had a wonderful time in Germany, my experience would not have been the same if Annick and her family had not opened their home to me. Thank you for making me feel like part of the family!
My German Family
Shameless plug: My photo from the black Forrest is 3rd out of 300 entries in a photo contest. I would appreciate a vote! You can vote through face book, you just have to like Athena Abroad first. Follow the link below!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reunited after 4 years

I flew to Germany for Spring break to visit with my good friend Annick and her family. Annick was an exchange student my junior year of high school, and we have kept up our friendship since, we always hoped for a time when I could visit her in Germany.  That time finally came, and it was so wonderful to spend a week with her, reconnect and live as a German (as much as an American can). A special thank you her family for taking me in, taking time out of your week to show me around, and for making me feel like part of the family. I would not have wanted to experience Germany any other way!

The first half of my stay Annick showed me around  her area, we went shopping and sight seeing across the river to France,  hiking in the beautiful Black Forrest, visited her grandmother, ate typical German food, and danced the night away Offenburg style. 

I was amazed by how close Annick lives to France. Annick, her mother and I drove a little over twenty minutes to a beautiful city/town in France. We took a boat ride along the rivers that flow through the city, and spent the rest of the day in and out of shops pursuing our fashionista dreams. There is now a new dress in my wardrobe for all the summer weddings, and also so I can contribute to the sororities dress closet. You're welcome. 
Riding through France

Annick, her mom and I in front of a Cathedral in France
Hiking in the Black Forrest has been one of my favorite adventures, because of three things: my trips have consisted of mostly cities and I have been nature deprived, the Black Forrest is majestic, and I love hiking. Stepping over tree roots, smelling the fresh air and climbing up rocks are part of my childhood, hiking in the Black Forrest brought many great memories back, and made amazing new ones. The view was simply jaw dropping. 

Also we went on a random, yet awesome "roller-coaster car ride thing" that overlooked the Forrest. Just watch the video to understand. 

I loved the first few days in Germany with Annick and her family. One of the nights her mother cooked a delicious pasta meal, and paired it nicely with champagne and wine. They caught on to my inordinate desire for sweets and surprised me with a bowl of ice cream with a flavor unique to the area. Everything was incredibly wonderful!!! Next post will be about our adventures in Munich and the second half of my stay. I know, you are amazed at how much German I experienced in 10 days. It is only because Annick and her family were so hospitable and determined to make my stay the best it could be. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Venezia the main canal

My Italian friend Fede and her family extended gracious amounts of hospitality toward me, inviting me in their home, feeding me authentic Italian cuisine and taking me around their hometown and Venice. It was so wonderful to be in a home, and comforting to sit around a dinner table with family. I am more than grateful for my stay with the Romors!

Fede is my Italian sister who studied abroad in the United States in my hometown last year. She became very good friends with my sister Ruth, and was always over our house when I came home on breaks. When she found out I was studying abroad she invited me to come stay at her home which is conveniently located just out of Venice and offered to show me the city.

The first day I attended her high school, she is in 13th year which is equivalent to freshman year of college. It was interesting to take English class at an Italian school. After school, which is only from 8:30-1:30 we went to her grandfathers house. Her Aunts prepared a feast, approximately four courses, and then three types of dessert. Side note, I gained 1.5 Kg that weekend which is equivalent of 3 pounds. Everyone spoke Italian, or their regions dialect, every once in a while I would mutter a sentance in Italian, usually saying Buono, buonissimo, mi piace.... (Good, very good and I like..) The pasta we had was Carbonata, which is a typical pasta dish with eggs and bacon. BUONISSIMO!!!!

Dinner with her Grandfather, aunt, cousins and friends

That was only lunch, after exploring her hometown and the beach, we went back to her house and had dinner. There was more dessert including a homemade chocolate chip cheesecake. How could I resist that? Most people would be in a coma by the end of the night, but due to my high sugar intake I managed just fine.Something else I learned was that they eat sweets for breakfast. Sure, in america we eat pancakes with syrup, but it is different in Italy. When we make dessert in the US we eat it the next day after lunch, or after dinner, however, in Italy they eat it the next day for breakfast. So when I woke up the next morning still full from the previous day of feasting, I sat at the breakfast table with a slice of cheesecake, a platter of cookies, another slice of cake and biscuits in front of me. Shamelessly I ate one of everything to prepare my body for the busy day in Venice. I forgot to mention the fried dough was there as well, special to Carnivale season. 

You get the picture, the food was AMAZING, and Fede's family was so welcoming. I also learned  a lot of new Italian conversation words. Conversations were an exchange of languages. They would say something in Italian, I would respond in English, they would correct it to Italian, then it would go the other way around with me teaching them English. It was tiring trying to communicate, and I started speaking very theatrically so they would understand through my gestures. At times, I am sure this was a funny sight to see, and maybe they joked about how silly Americans are when I went to bed, so sorry if I made us look foolish. 

Venice was amazing, and I have no need to try to describe the uniqueness and beauty of the City since you can marvel at the pictures. Even though most of the day was rainy and wet, the city is still very photogenic. One of the best parts of the day besides walking the streets in utter awe at the scenery, was being with Fede and her Italian friends. It was one of the first times I did not feel like a foreigner, and did not feel out of place. At the restaurant I got treated like an Italian, usually I get treated like an american or a tourist, and it is so much better to feel welcomed! They even gave us samples of their house drinks, which would never happen if we were just tourists. We also met up with my roommates.

Fede and I near her home town at the beach
The trip was so wonderful and I cannot thank Fede and her family enough! They even gave me some of their family recipes.  

The rest of my pictures will soon be posted on Facebook!