Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Greatest Vending Machine on Earth

Just down the street from my apartment, my roommates and I made one of the best discoveries of this trip so far... well, maybe not for our wallets. 

A vending machine. 

But it’s not just any vending machine.  This vending machine is accompanied by two other vending machines in a room without doors painted bright orange.  The other two vending machines are so lame compared to this one though.  This vending machine has literally EVERYTHING an Italian could want or need on a daily basis.  Did you forget to buy balsamic dressing and now the grocery store is closed? This vending machine has it.  Have you just run out of toothpaste and now it is 9 p.m.?  Go to this vending machine.  The only Italian essential this machine seems to lack is a space for olive oil... though I wouldn’t be surprised if that had been offered by that machine at one point.  

The vending machine.  It has everything from shampoo to cookies! 
Some of the more interesting products.
The vending machine room always seems to suck my roommates and me in on cold nights after dropping off various friends at their apartments (since we’re usually the farthest point and we don’t want them to walk by themselves).  As soon as we see the orange glow coming from the little alcove, at least one of us will start making excuses for why we need to stop there. (“We could warm up there... Well, I am thirsty...”)  When we’re finally done, all of us have gotten at least one thing.  My favorite snack from the vending machine is Pannocche biscotti cookies and Nutella (which usually last me for a while after buying them).
Katie buys something from the vending machine.
The best part about the vending machine is not the various products it offers.  No.  It is the speed at which it vends them.  This machine is by no means fast.  It takes at least a solid minute just for the product to be pushed from its row, not including the time it takes for the part that grabs the item to go up and down.  Watching your product be vended is exciting!  The anticipation builds as you wait for the vending machine to go through its slow process in delivering your snack.  If you are an impatient person, this is not the right vending machine for you.  My roommates and I have found humor in this unique vending machine.  There are at least a few of these vending machines scattered throughout Florence, so if you happen to live near one, you can consider yourself a very lucky person... with a very unlucky wallet.    

Only in Italy. 

 Watch the video above (sorry for the bad quality) of the vending machine vending flour that I bought.

If you have any questions about my study abroad experience or my life at St. Michael’s in general, do not hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on Formspring. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Carnivale in Viareggio!

Right now in Italy, it is Carnivale season: the time before Lent where everyone celebrates the coming of the warm weather with festivals, parades, and most importantly, cake.  To experience Carnivale season, I took a trip through the program to Viareggio on a sunny Sunday afternoon where some of the biggest Carnivale celebrations take place.  Viareggio is famous for its humongous floats made of papier mache.  They aren't just any floats.  They are larger-than-life, in-your-face political statement floats.  A few of the first-class floats were as tall as the buildings on the street in Viareggio.  These floats are built year-round by people whose full-time job is to design and build these floats for the parade every year.  These were the most impressive floats I've ever seen. They are beautifully crafted and very colorful, and most of them were accompanied by at least 50-100 participants either singing and swaying on the float or dancing and singing in front of the float as it moved down the street.  Many of them have very ironic or pessimistic statements about politics or society, but they are made to poke fun and not to depress.

This was one of my favorite days so far in Italy.  Everyone was there to celebrate, and mostly everyone I saw was dressed up in some sort of costume or mask.  I found a mask in San Lorenzo market for 2 euros, so I decided to buy it  and wear it to Viareggio so I could feel more a part of the celebration too.  The best way I could describe the atmosphere in Viareggio was a partially drunken Italian Disneyland.  People both in the parade and on the sidelines were drinking, but they weren't annoying drunks.  They weren't even completely smashed and stumbling.  They were drinking to be merry, not drinking to get drunk.  Everyone was throwing confetti as well, and the street was absolutely covered when it came time to leave.  It made for a very fun and carefree atmosphere, and I was really able to enjoy myself.  Not only was the atmosphere a blast, but the scenery was beautiful as well.  On one side of the city, the Italian Alps towered over the city.  On the other side, a beautiful ocean and beach extended for miles under the sun.  It was such a beautiful place!

Carnivale in Viareggio is a unique experience in itself.  It was one that I am definitely glad I didn't miss.  The key to fully experiencing this kind of activity, I've found, is you need to fully open yourself up to it and let yourself be part of the craziness.   Performers and spectators alike dress up, throw confetti, and poke other people with various props all in the spirit of the Carnivale.  It was one of the most fun experiences I've had so far in Italy, and one I won't soon forget.
From left, me, Molly, Liz and Lindsey in our masks.

The lovely Italian alps! 

"Scacco Matto" ("Checkmate")

My favorite float, "Phoenix"! The dancing and singing was so good! 

A vendor selling confetti and silly string on the side of the street.

Ferris wheel! 

“Ma dov’รจ questa crisi” (“But Where This Crisis”)
Members of the float “Garibaldi fu ferito” (“Garibaldi was wounded”) look on before the parade starts.

Looking at the confetti... 

Sneak attack! 

“Santo Subito” (“Saint Immediately”)

He saw me and decided to blow his whistle at my camera!
Italy being eaten by mice like it is cheese.

“Non ti curar di loro ma guarda e passa” (translated “Speak not of them, but look and pass them by”). Designer Roberto Vannucci takes the title from Dante’s Divine Comedy. 
Getting ready to throw confetti! 
Confetti on the ground.

This performer just stopped and grabbed Liz and Lindsey to pose for a picture!

Trying to be scary! 
Dancing down the street!  
Performers on the float  “In questo mondo contempliamo i fiori sotto l’inferno” (“In this world we contemplate the flowers in hell”) by Alessandro Avanzini.

Leonardo Da Vinci in “Cervelli in Fuga” (“Runaway Brains”) 
If you have any questions about my study abroad experience or about St. Michael's College in general, don't hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on Formspring (lizmurray3).


Internet FINALLY, The Most Epic Esselunga Trip, Late-Night Secret Bakery Runs, and Our First Apartment Dinner!

From the title alone, you can probably tell that there will be a lot packed into this blog post... and this is only a fraction of what has happened since my last blog update! However, those other things deserve their own posts.  So here we go! 

We finally figured out the internet in our apartment.  Unlike the other apartments, ours did not come with wi-fi already set up so we had to figure out ourselves how to try to get it set up.  After playing phone tag with the agency who owns our apartment and several other internet companies who have done business with our agency in the past, we finally found out the internet companies had run out of available wires and we would not be getting wi-fi in our apartment.  This took about a week and a half, and their claim was that we had gotten to this too late.  Unfortunately, waiting three days to hear from our agency made us too late.  To solve this problem, we were all forced to buy internet keys.  There was a special deal to get three months of 3 GB of download space as well as the key for 29 euros – but only if you had a credit card to put on file.  If not, you had to pay 49 euros for the same thing.  Liz and I both only had our debit cards, so we had to pay more money for our internet than our roommates.  The internet is a bit shoddy and often quits out on us, but at least we have it.  I have learned that I need to take what I can get in this country, especially with the internet.  For just having implemented wi-fi about a year ago, I'd say they're doing pretty well for themselves.

Recently, I took my second trip to Esselunga (the supermarket that takes our market vouchers) with a few friends.  Liz and I decided it would be a good time to buy essentials for the month, so we brought all our Esselunga cards with us and our suitcases.  Yes.  Suitcases.  In Italy, you have to pay extra for shopping bags at supermarkets like Esselunga, so we opt to bring our own bags instead.  Esselunga is about a 20 minute walk from my apartment each way.  So we set off on our way, dragging our empty suitcases behind us.  When we got to Esselunga, we found out that we had to have a euro in order to use a shopping cart.  These cars were the type that you feed a euro to use, and the cart gives it back to you when you're done with the cart.  None of us had single euros with us, and all of us planned to get a lot of stuff so we had to make shopping baskets work.  I definitely got my work-out that day.  My basket probably weighed almost as much as I did, and I had to carry/drag it around the store until I had everything I needed.  Liz checked out before me, so while I was checking out, she started piling stuff into both of our suitcases and my backpack.  Then we dragged them all the way home.  They were so HEAVY, so normal speed walking felt like we were running a marathon.  When we got back to the apartment building, we had to drag the suitcases up the stairs like we had on the first day we moved in.  We live on the top floor of the building, so we stopped and took a mini-breather on each landing and finally made it up the stairs.  Hopefully, I won't have to make many more shopping trips like that, but I must admit that it was quite the adventure. 

Our suitcases and my backpack with the groceries.

Another thing that my friends and I have recently discovered is the secret bakery.  There are around 8 or 9 secret bakeries around Florence, but my friends and I have really only discovered one.  These secret bakeries start their baking at around midnight or so for the various stores around Florence.  At around 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m., people begin to knock on the door.  When the bakers are ready, one of them opens the door (which has a sign on it that says "Please Be Quiet") and quietly asks "Quanto?" ("How much/How many?").  At this point, we tell him how many pastries we want.  It is usually better to order in a large group since it seems to go faster that way.    Sometimes, you are even able to order pizza.  After a few minutes, the person comes back to the door and hands us the pastries in white paper bags and we hand him our money.  It is 1 euro for each pastry, and they are still warm when we get them.  SO worth it.  The first time I went, there were barely any people there.  However, the last few times, there has been quite a crowd at the bakery.  We can always smell the bakery from down the street, and it drags us in every time.  The bakeries are usually kept quiet since what the bakers are doing is semi-illegal.  They are not supposed to sell goods without giving a receipt.  Word passes quickly among tourists, however.  Most of the people I see there are not native Italians.  It is very important to stay quiet at the secret bakery too since there are people in apartments around the bakery.  I’ve heard stories that if people are too loud, water is poured on them from the window above.  It is a really cool quirk about Florence that I didn’t know until coming here.  I’m sure I will be a frequent secret-bakery visitor this semester. 

My friends and I with all our pastries :) Yum!  Photo courtesy of Molly Byrne.
Shhhh!! Please be quiet! Photo courtesy of Molly Byrne.

Finally, we had our first apartment dinner about two weekends ago! It was really fun, and we had a bunch of friends over to help break in our kitchen.  We made chicken on a bed of vegetables with cream sauce and rice, eggplant parmesan, sangria to drink and chocolate cake for dessert.  Everything was so delicious, and I was absolutely stuffed afterward.  We made so much food. It was really nice to cook, listen to music and chat for the night.  We have since had a Valentine’s Day dinner (since we did not want to make reservations to go out) that consisted of pasta with various types of sauces, sauteed vegetables, Carnivale cake and cookies.  We are starting to get quite creative with our meals to try to make our meal tickets last.  

Katy preparing the sangria.

Various foods bought for dinner. 
Laura prepares the eggplant for eggplant parmesan. 
Moey works on the chicken.

Chicken on a bed of vegetables before entering the oven! 

Cooking the eggplant! 

Sizzle sizzle!

The table. 

My plate.  Everything was so delicious! 

And we made chocolate cake! 

Well, we are now partially caught up! There is more to come soon! If you have any questions about my study abroad experience or St. Michael’s in general, do not hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on Formspring (lizmurray3).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Apartment!

Finally, I have had time to take pictures of my now clean apartment and to post them on my blog.  This not having wi-fi in my apartment is a bit inconvenient, but I'm doing what I can to keep up with my blogs.  Enjoy!
My bedroom, shared with fellow St. Mike's undergrad, Liz Salois.

My side of the room.  

Our door, closet, and paintings hung by Liz.  We needed a bit of color! 

The steps leading up past our room to the terrace.  (Photos of the terrace to come when we get the key.)

View of the kitchen through a decorative gap on the stairway. 

Kitchen table and shelving.

The oven, refrigerator and sink.  I love the blue cabinets! 

Living room area.  So colorful! 

Pictures of fungi on our walls! 

Hallway leading from the kitchen to Bari Jean and Katie's room.

The bathroom.
If you have any questions regarding study abroad or my other experiences at St. Michael's College, do not hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on formspring (lizmurray3).  My internet capabilities are a bit limited at the moment, but I will do my best to get back to you in a timely manner!