While in Arezzo

My Adventure

As I sit in the B-section of FCO getting ready to start my roughly 40-hour trip home, it’s hard to internalize and digest my time in Europe. I can honestly say that this semester was better than I ever could have imagined. When I arrived, I didn’t think that this experience would change me; four months later, I’m leaving a different person. I’m going to talk about how this semester changed me and why that’s what made this semester great.

Europe is a different ball of wax – everything just moves a little bit differently than in the USA. Especially in Italy, timetables are more relaxed, trains are frequently delayed, and most people are comparatively chill (at least when compared to me). This generally relaxed atmosphere, coupled with walking or taking public transportation everywhere, changed my general demeanor and attitude. I had to relinquish my perceived control, especially when it involved TrenItalia, and role with the punches. This made me more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier. Hopefully, I can carry this new-found attitude over to driving at home.

When in Europe, you are rarely alone. I lived in a single room (hallelujah!), but when I was not in my room, I was always around other people, whether other OU students or fellow pedestrians/travelers. This constant exposure to people, particularly when traveling on weekends, has made me a more tolerant individual. When there are so many people around and so much to see and do, you just can’t be concerned with what other people are doing, unless they’re walking slowly and in the middle of the lane; literally nothing is more frustrating than that. I learned (imperfectly) to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what aspects of my experience I could control.

As I traveled through Europe, and even when I was just studying in Arezzo, I was constantly struck by how lucky I was. I got to live in Europe for four months – that’s just generally awesome. I’m more grateful than I can express for that opportunity and to the people who made it possible. Without the support (and occasional push) of my parents, I might not have gone to Arezzo for the semester in the first place. And I also have to give a shout out to Kevin Schuetz who gave me a job at Koda CrossFit Norman as a freshman in college. Without that job, there’s no way I would have been able to travel around and see everything I did. The appreciation I have for this experience carries over into everything – I have a greater sense of gratitude for everything I have.

Europe challenged me in a lot of ways. Public transportation was not remotely self-explanatory for me (especially at the beginning); the language barrier was a perpetual challenge; budgeting time to allow for weekend travel while keeping up with school was (and still is) a work in progress. But being there required that I rise to meet those challenges; although I was far from perfect, I certainly tried. And strangely enough, in the midst of all the “vacationing” (as my dad calls my semester), I learned to love working hard – to be challenged and then face those challenges.

More than anything else, going to Europe this semester was an adventure. It was completely different from anything I’d ever done before. I’m not sure I can stress strongly enough how different it was. I was tested, and those tests forced me to grow. That’s why I loved this semester. It wasn’t exclusively about getting to travel around to all the cities I visited. While I was traveling and visiting all those different cities, those places were changing me. Although mine was a rather less dramatic journey, I still feel a bit like Bilbo on his return from the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. His adventure left him changed, and the same is true for me.

The Travels While in Arezzo

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Whenever I’m out on weekend trips, I feel like I’m going 100 mph from the moment I get into the city until I get back to the airport (or train station, depends on where I am). There’s more to see in these cities than can be seen in a weekend, so I try to fit in as much as I can while I have opportunity. I wouldn’t change a thing about it – I want to experience as much as I can while I’m here in Europe. But sometimes, it’s nice to slow down and actually experience the culture; my thanksgiving break in Germany allowed me to do just that.

My thanksgiving break was (fantastically) long. I spent the entire week in Koblenz, Germany with the Köthe family, friends of my family. Having a whole week in a city allowed me to actually experience German culture, something that’s virtually impossible when only visiting for a weekend. I would say that I experienced some of the most important aspects of German culture over thanksgiving break.

First, I was given ample opportunity to eat lots of traditional German food (I was fed very* well while with the Köthe’s house). I had amazing bread every day, a German specialty Spätzle, two types of Würst at a soccer match, and a Bavarian breakfast (traditional Bavarian white sausage with salty Brezels, sweet mustard, and beer, in my case non-alcoholic). Perhaps most astonishingly, while in Germany I also developed a taste for coffee (another beverage done well in Germany).

Second, I was able to see parts of Germany that would ordinarily be impossible since I don’t have a car. I was taken to see the castles Burg Eltz and Marksburg (the first authentic castles I’d ever seen). We also visited the longest hanging bridge in Germany, located about 15 minutes walk outside of a small, rural town in Rheinland-Pfalz. We visited the fortress that overlooks Koblenz and the Rhine (the view from the fortress is pictured below) and spent time walking around downtown Koblenz. It was a great week full of amazing experiences.

Third, and finally, I actually got to speak German to native speakers. Although I can’t say that I can carry conversations too easily, the Köthes were all willing to help me struggle through speaking in German. By the end of the week, I could tell that a lot of what I had forgotten during my time in Italy was actually starting to come back; speaking in German was easier than it had almost ever been before.

Long story short, getting to “stop and smell the roses” in Germany was amazing and added a new dimension to my travels in Europe. I really want to thank the Köthe family for taking me in and making me feel at home for the entire week, for feeding me (not an easy task), and giving me the best the thanksgiving break I think I’ve ever had. Until next time, Germany (and there will be a next time).

While in Arezzo

All the Small Things

It’s surprising, sometimes, to think back on just how important small things are in your life. This summer, when I was taking classes in Norman, one of those small things was eating at Qdoba, one, two, three times a week. Unsurprisingly, food remains a important (and arguably not so small) component of my daily life. There are some great sandwich shops in Arezzo, Dal Moro and Dietro le Quinte being the most noteworthy. The sandwiches are amazing, but there’s something else that’s even better: Gelato. I freely confess that I have become a bit of a gelato snob – there’s just something about it, especially at Sunflower here in Arezzo, that’s just amazing. I think I’d have to say it’s the best ice cream (and really it’s not ice cream – it’s gelato) that I’ve ever had.

Another small thing that I’ve really come to love is walking everywhere. I’ll grant you, sometimes it takes a while to get somewhere, but the very experience of walking is incredible. It’s calming and you experience so much more of the city that you’re in. I’ll miss not being able to walk everywhere when I get back to the states (although the climate will probably make me appreciate the benefits of having a bike or a car).

To finish off this post, being able to go to the gym is essential for me. It gives me a sense of security – the one thing that I’ve done consistently for the last six years of my life (excepting homework, which doesn’t really count), is helps me appreciate this whole experience even more. When I’m out here, I don’t feel like I’m a tourist in Arezzo, I actually feel like I belong. The gym is just one example of this – but it’s the clearest one in my mind.

Long story short here – I’ve really fallen in love with Arezzo. It’s an amazing city; it’s just the right size, not too big, not too small. There’s everything I could want: great food, a gym, and even great weather. It’s about as good as it gets.

While in Arezzo

The Naples Archeological Museum

*Two disclaimers before this blog post: A) the pictures just don’t do these monuments justice and B) I’m a huge Star Wars Nerd.*

X-Wing Fighter
Farnese Bull
Hercules Farnese
Jupiter Enthroned

By far and away my favorite Italian experience (thus far) has been visiting the National Archeological Museum of Naples. This was kind  of surprising for me, given my love offood (and the truly remarkable dinners we’ve had at the Monastery here in Arezzo). Dr. Kirk Duclaux, program director of OU in Arezzo, considers this to be one of the best archeological museum in the world. There was something truly incredible, and honestly indescribable, about being in the presence of these works of art. The presence, scale, and apparent power of the Roman sculpture shown (most notably Hercules Farnese and the Farnese Bull). These sculptures came from the Farnese collection, an enormous collection of sculptures that was was housed in the Farnese Palace in Roman during the Renaissance. They include some of the most impressive examples of Roman sculpture still in existence today. Besides these two obvious standouts, Jupiter Enthroned was, ironically, an amusing sculpture. But perhaps the best surprise of the museum were the scattered Star Wars replicas, consisting of an X-Wing with R2-D2, a Land Speeder, a Tuscan Raider hut, and a Worrt (the frog-like creature from outside Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi).



While in Arezzo

Italy: First Impressions

Now that I’ve actually travelled around Italy a bit (I’ve now been to Florence, Naples, Rome, and, naturally, Arezzo), I feel like it’s an appropriate time to jot down my first impressions of Italy and Italian culture. First, Italy is beautiful. The Apennines, which cut through the middle of Italy, are nearly always in view, lending a sense of majesty to the vistas. The Mediterranean Sea’s water is a clear, deep blue, very unlike most of the oceans one experiences around the U.S. Second, the food is amazing. Five days per week we have an amazing, home-cooked Italian meal at the monastery (yes, these are the highlights of my days). The sandwiches (which I generally have for lunch) taste fresh, and the bread out here is amazing. In my experience, we don’t really have bread like this in the States. And the pizza in Naples is not overrated; it’s definitely the best pizza I’ve had in Italy. Everything I’ve said thus far is positive, and Italy is really great. But if there’s one caveat to all of this (and truthfully, it’s the one thing I still think is kind of strange), there are no free refills on drinks. In fact, I think I’ve seen a grand total of *one* soda fountain since being here, and there were no free refills there. I miss free refills. But if I’m honest with myself, I really don’t need access to that much soda. So all told, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of Italy thus far. And the key take away from this post: Italian food is fantastic!