20 March 2011

Spring Break

28 February – 4 March
5 days, 4 nights

Spring Break in Florence was marvelous, for many reasons. I was lucky enough to have two friends to go with, Charlotte and Callum! I still can’t believe we pulled it off, guys. We just went, easy as that. Bought the plane tickets and booked the hostel just days before our departure, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

The trip had unpleasant moments, from struggling to find the hostel the first night, to forcing ourselves to get up early nearly every morning.

However, the positives clearly outweighed the negatives, and the negatives are just funny stories now. We managed to find a free tour the morning of our first full day, and started to untangle the curvy streets of Florence. On Wednesday, we only waited 20 minutes in line at the Uffizi; I’d heard horror stories about waiting six hours! The following day, the security guard at the Galleria dell’Accademia recognized us from the Uffizi, and let us go right in even when the metal detector beeped. We were on our best behavior, and people were polite for the most part, apart from the occasional bump on the sidewalk or uppity shopkeeper.

As I walked around those museums I heard echoes of my freshman year art history professors, and I wished they were right there next to me to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I could picture it. ‘Dumbledore’ was talking slowly and descriptively, spelling out nearly ever word. Sunyal was jumping and yelling and waving his hands, shoving my shoulder when tears of exhausted joy started creeping out the corners of my eyes.

The first thing I got excited about was a piece by Giotto. There were so many of Mary and Baby Jesus, and I had a great time comparing compositions and guessing which ones were done first, then looking at the years. I guess something from freshman year stuck, because I guessed pretty well!

I gave Botticelli’s Venus plenty of attention, and looked for process inspiration in a large sketch by Michelangelo. You could always tell which paintings were the most famous, as they were behind glass. After a certain point I didn’t care whether I’d remember all the titles or not, I focused on soaking up the details and colors in real life. You can always Wikipedia things later. There was a marvelous room with white and gold detailing on the ceiling.

I laughed when I realized one of my favorite rooms was the Dutch painting room. All the way to Italy and it’s clear I picked the right place to study abroad. I also enjoyed studying the different ‘accessories’ statues stood near to, ever so casually, trying to convince the viewer they didn’t need to lean on anything to hold themselves up. That stump/draped cloth is there for a reason, marble buddy. I see it.

I think I gave the statue of Laocoon and His Sons the most attention. I recognized it and spent a lot of time with it, gawking from different angles. I could almost feel what it felt like to push away a huge snake. The snake has a very amusing face, which I hadn’t noticed before.

Another surprise was the gravestone display. I’m pretty sure they were gravestones, I was a bit distracted by the writing on them. Most people walked by them; I imagine this is due to the location near the restrooms. I swear I’m not trying to behave like this, it just happens. I squatted down and crab-legged along, so close to them, so tempted to trace the letters with my fingers. (There was no buzzer system, and no guard around, but I still didn’t. Getting arrested is not on my to do list, even if it’s for type’s sake. Still, close call.) It was amazing to see such early engravings of the letters we know today, serifs and all. Most were dated from early A.D., some B.C. I remembered my Typography I professor explaining that serifs came about because the engraver’s chisel needed somewhere to start from.

I had a lot of time at the Uffizi, so looped around quite a bit and revisited my favorites.

The next day at the Galleria dell’Accademia was mostly about Michelangelo’s David. There was also a section about the history of instruments, and one interactive feature, a musical water dish. One person rubbed the handles, to create sound in the water basin, and if you touched the person’s arm, you could feel the vibrations.

We wandered the room near the entrance, looking at paintings, as I danced around my friends eagerly, going on about wanting to see ‘Dave’. It wasn’t the first thing we saw as we walked in, so I worried we hadn’t found it. Then I turned a corner and looked up. Found it. I wasn’t expecting to be as stunned as I was. I’d seen photos but you can’t absorb how tall it is until you see it. There he stood, planning his next move. We all know he defeated Goliath, but from this interpretation of that moment, it seems he was very unsure. His base was surrounded by glass. We wondered how many people tried to jump the fence every year, and again, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I walked around him several times, stopping by whenever we passed the hall again. As we finally headed to the exit, I heard a youngster ask his parents, “Why is he naked?!” and I laughed and my awe subsided.

What goes well with marvelous art? Marvelous food. Over the course of five days, we had pizza, pasta, bread, bruschetta, sandwiches, lasagna, fresh tomatoes, basil, pastries, espresso, and scoop after scoop of gelato. If I could eat it all again, I would, including my scary moment when I realized ordering pasta with prawns meant getting something with the eyes still on!

Thursday was my day to explore the leather markets. I was exhausted after about two hours. A lot of the sellers were outgoing, yelling and cracking jokes. (Some of the shoppers in the market were asking for it…) One man ran a lit lighter along the edge of a bag to show me it was real leather. Another pointed to my boots and called me Lady Gaga, insisting that he had a leather jacket that matched, that I could have for free, as his family cracked up. I laughed and ran off. I talked to one quiet young salesman who had just started working in the market. He made a lot of what he sold, journals and bracelets, and his uncle dyed the paper for some of the pretty marbled covers. Being connected to your work and knowing your customer must be satisfying.

I ended up buying a red belt from a saleswoman who never yelled, ahahah.

Our hostel was surprisingly nice, and we had a balcony with a lovely view of the tip of the Duomo. Sometimes in the morning I’d stand out there and watch the cats wander the rooftops. Charlotte and I tried to sit out one night but it was too cold!

By the time we left the fast cars and endless tiny streets were no longer a threat, it seemed a pity to leave when we felt we’d figured it all out. Things definitely stuck with us, we kept saying “Ciao” and “Gratzia” to shop clerks, even when we arrived back in Rotterdam.

Excitedly sitting on the FYRA (high-speed train) from Rotterdam to Schiphol

Our lovely hostel

Our balcony view at night, and, day...

The sights...

So adorable together!

Do not knock on heaven's door, Ghiberti the competition winner will be mad

Hi, Dante!

Real Italian Espresso!

05 March 2011

Early Impressions of Rotterdam

Travel Day

My final morning at my house was not as restful as it had been during the rest of my winter break. Granted, it was not frantic like other departures I’ve had. I’m hoping that’s because I’ve grown up.

I made tea but there was hardly time to drink it, here I was, up and dressed at 10am, when I was usually still curled up under a comforter, humorously contemplating what my next semester would be like and dreaming up future projects. My mom and I tried to check my bags early online, only to be told to call a number, only to hear that I had to check in at the airport, since my trip was more than sixty days. Way more. Preparing for the worst, or maybe looking for an escape route, I thought they were going to question me about not having a VVR yet. A few more days and a delayed flight wouldn’t be the end of the world…

My dad got his car unstuck from the piled up snow at work, and arrived at the house to play the role of ever so important driver. The car ride to the airport passed like any other, but we parked and they walked me in, instead of the usual curb drop off. You know something is different when we pay to park at the airport. Check-in at the United counter was problem free, aside from my Dad and I fumbling and laughing with the passport scanner. It pays to be early, you get bonuses like laughter, instead of anxiety.

My bags were stickered and checked, the scanner staff had no issues with the box of tacks or xacto knives in my pencil case, tucked in the outside pocket of the suitcase next to the tape. I was in ‘nothing is stopping me’ mode, ready to whip out my AIB ID and say “Hey, it’s ok, I’m an art student!” Staples for basic class projects, scary to some, but oddly comforting to me. I picked up my backpack and camera, and tried not to rush to the security line.

We stopped near the dividers. I’m terrible at goodbyes. I don’t remember what we said exactly but I hugged my dad, as he told me how much he loved me. Then my mom, and she didn’t say anything. I thought that was strange but then I felt a wave of energy and we both rolled out a low cry. More words were exchanged but my brain put up a mixture of sadness followed by a defensive eraser. They told me to wave after I got through security.

There was no line. It was like the airport forces had decided to make this easy for me. I stood behind a pair of kids, heading somewhere warm, no jackets in sight. I handed the inspector at the podium my passport and ticket. She had a sarcastic look on her face, (like the character from Scrubs season 9) as she looked at my red face. In less than five seconds time I was all set, grabbing bins and tossing in my jacket, boots, hat, separating my laptop from my bag, like I’d seen heaps of business travelers since the nineties do it, when laptops actually had some poundage. I hopped in the spot in front of the metal detector, striped socks sliding, for once not thinking about the bassist from Spinal Tap in this situation. I was waved through and collected my things, reassembling like a pro.

I’d have been really mad with myself had I missed the wave, I nearly did in a rush, but didn’t. I kept it prompt and confident as the guards saw my parents wave, then saw my imaginary dust. Imaginary dust turned into a very real half cry as I sat down at the gate.

I talked with JV on Facebook and left lots of spazzy ‘these socks came from nowhere!’ style (she knows what I’m saying here) messages for Becca, trying to talk through the tears. My mood lightened and I tried really hard not to make fun of the two groups of sorority girls heading to a conference in DC, who had increased the volume at the gate within seconds. I was reminded of the mission trip I took to Arizona, where our crew was the loudest at various gates, playing cards and cracking jokes. Good times at age 16. I realized that not every sorogirl was as cool as my friend, Heather. I tuned out after they started talking about how fat their legs looked in the photos they were taking. I picked up reading material and a waterbottle for the plane ride, then waited in line to board.

The flight to DC was a breeze, I sat next to a maybe 20-something guy with a beard. Got off the plane, right onto the pavement, had an Almost Famous moment, and promptly decided it was time for one last Dunkin Donuts sandwich. 99 cent hash browns, you will be missed, but not that missed. I sat at my gate, C27, which I had eagerly written on my wrist while the DC pilot announced it onboard. I compared the gaggle of people at this gate to the gate at Bradley. Some similar business type people, but sprinkles of different languages here and there.

The plane was huge, and to my total joy, half empty. Now do you see why it felt like the airport was patting me on the back? I hear flights to Amsterdam are always packed. I had two cushy seats to myself for the whole shortened to six and a half hour ride, courtesy of tail winds. I watched two movies and zoned in and out as the clock ticked later. One was about Boston, reminding me of my friends, and then making me jumpy when I thought I saw part of AIB on screen, haha. The other had Zach Gallafanafis in it, who really does play the same amusing character all the time. (I still can’t say his name, Sarah!) I want to see him and Jack Black in the same film, I bet I could predict the plot and mouth the lines on the car ride to the theater. I laughed and slept and thought about a million things, picking at airline food and trying not to toss any cookies when the plane hit turbulence. I wish it had been light out, it would have been fun to see the Atlantic from that height for so long.

It neared midnight, or 6am, Amsterdam time. The flight crew prepared for landing and I started telling myself that a new airport isn’t that scary. Everything I need is right there. Passport check, baggage, customs, train, DONE. No deadlines pulling the hair on the back of my neck.

I got off the plane with everyone else, and we walked and walked and walked. I was happy to follow a group. The passport checker at the window I picked was being trained, he fumbled out a question and I replied with a fumbly answer. (“ask where they’re going”) “….oh! uh, where you going?” “Here, err, ahh, Rotterdam. Study.” What a pair of rookies. I’m pretty sure I was in the Europe only passport line. I felt like I got away with a lot that day.

I didn’t have to wait long for my bags, and loaded up a cart. I couldn’t tell if I was weak or the cart had a sticky wheel. I stared at the train ticket machine, realizing how tired I was. Someone cut me in line, I didn’t say anything, I was trying to remember the station I needed to get to. He turned and said something quickly in Dutch, all I saw were his polite eyes as I fumbled again, “I…don’t…ahh, I don’t speak here, English…” and he changed like it was no big deal. “You were first? In line?” I told him it was fine, still pondering stations, and wondering if I look Dutch. I got to the machine and mashed the buttons. There were options I didn’t recognize, so all the practice with the out of date online demo didn’t prep me after all. (Sorry, Mom. We tried!) I pushed my cart out through customs. I found the train area and still felt clueless. I found the info desk, which kindly directed me to the ticket desk. The ticket lady had no time for my nonsense. I get it, people on the other side of the window (or plates, in my case) can be really ridiculous. I told her I needed a ticket to Rotterdam BlAAAaaaghhkkk, forgetting to edit how I said it. Extra a’s still make me laugh, as much as I wish they didn’t. “Rotterdam Black, 11.20” she said. She saw my US credit card and debit card and started explaining the microchip system. I know about RFIDs, lady, I just wish someone told me earlier. Mildly cheesed due to sheer tiredness, I handed over cash. She printed me a timetable and said “Leaves at 7:27.” I turned and looked at my watch, which was on the :27. I nearly freaked and had a Spongebob in Rock Bottom moment, then I remembered my watch was 10 minutes fast. I paused. ONLY TEN MINUTES TO FIND THE PLATFORM!!

Standing at the top of the down escalator to platform 5-6, at 1:20 am Eastern Time, I clutched my bags, staring at my feet. Hover my boot over the moving step, bring it back, hover, back, hover, back. It felt like I spent five minutes perched there, trying to figure out balance. No one behind me to watch me dance, thank goodness. I finally tricked myself into catching it, catching myself on the way down. Mini gasping on shaking legs on the tile platform, I debated asking for help. I turned away from the sketchy guy, and asked a woman if she spoke English, trying to be polite, forgetting nearly everyone does. She smiled and said yes, and she and her boyfriend helped me decode the schedule. He cracked a joke about her not knowing the expression ‘change train’ and I felt very much alone. Luckily, the young couple silently made sure I shared a car with them.

The woman and I talked a bit, mostly just smiling. I was excited now, and anxious to change trains and get on with the last chunk of my ride. 20 minutes later I jumped and lugged onto platform 9b, after spotting it out the window. The trains in the Netherlands have buttons to open and close the doors manually…brilliant, right? Give people a little credit to help themselves and you’ll save a bundle on energy. Don’t worry, T, I still love you, and I never get tired of saying ‘Braintreetren,braintreetrean’. I thanked the couple and waited on the platform, glancing around but mostly watching for the train in the slowly rising sunlight. I got on and snagged a seat similar to what I had stood next to in the last car. I stared at the paint-marker graffiti that read “ILL” and then out the window.

[That’s all I wrote before I fell asleep again at the hostel]

The Cube Houses, where I stayed the first two nights

My room's windows

Bed was a little hard but the cool slanted walls made up for it

Installation art rod that goes 'through' the WDKA main building

School and area near school