Thursday, January 29, 2009

Peace like a river and a fat squishy baby...

These are the things I have on my mind right now.
This year Tammy, Laura and I have been going through a Bible Study by Beth Moore called "Breaking Free." I've never done any of her studies before, and I've been finding it quite interesting and thought provoking. I must confess that there are times when her languages smacks of cheeziness, and I have to suck it up and just take it. Then I was struck by the thought that, in a lot of ways, she's sort of like Denise Austin. I just smile and get motivated when Denise tells me things like "Train like an athlete, you are one!" "You'll look GREAT in a bathing suit!" or my all time favorite "If you don't squeeze it, no one else will!" Ah the double entendre. (Now I'm fully convinced that this spell check is faulty, because Google agreed that I spelled entendre correctly! Learn a little French spell checker!)
Wow, got a little off topic. I was actually going somewhere with all of this. In our study last night Beth made the point that peace like a river is not a lifeless sort of analogy. A lot of times, when we think of being at peace, we think of life being all calm and maybe even a bit on the boring side. She pointed out that life as a river is nothing like that. River's are full of rapids, rocks, and waterfalls.
I got to thinking of the idea of a waterfall. I've long had an interesting view of God in the light of water. I find water beautiful, mysterious, and ultimately frightening. It is such a powerful force, with the ability both to sustain and take life. So it worked nicely with my world view to take the idea of peace like a river and apply it to my view of God and his plans for my life.
A waterfall is such a masterpiece of this balance between beauty and fear. I've oft been transfixed by the powerful rush of water as it plummets over vast cliffs into deep pools below. Millions of tiny droplets, flailing desperately in the mad plunge. Just think of how so many of those myriad drops seem to vanish into oblivion in their headlong rush. They're broken off by jutting rocks, or they turn into a fine mist that seems to evaporate almost immediately when they reach the bottom.
Water is such a massive whole, and yet so easily broken into minuscule particles. Imagine being a part of that rushing water. Suddenly the ground falls out from under you. You're hurled into nothingness. And as you turn all weightless, your torn asunder into pieces so small you can no longer even begin to search for them all. You feel the pain of separation as parts of you are removed and many vanish. You are helpless, falling, out of control. Then you hit the bottom. For a moment you still feel an intense pounding movement, then slowly you disperse into all that surrounds you. You can never reclaim all that you once were, but you're in a totally different place now, and life begins to slip along slowly once again.
When I put myself into this line of thinking it is rather terrifying. Especially knowing that waterfalls often come in groupings. Just when you think you're back in the swing of things, you might be forced to take another, possibly more serious, tumble. But somewhere, in the midst of all this insanity, God offers peace. The kind of peace that flows in and through all these moments of uncertainty and terror. And when you stand back and watch, think how glorious it all appears, and how soothing to enter into such a majestic scene.
It just got me to thinking.

These photos are quite old and are from my trip to Wyoming with Jessie back in 05.

And now, to totally change topics, the other thing I'm thinking of is a fat squishy baby! Tomorrow is the end of the term, and, therefore, a holiday. To take advantage of this extra free day, I've worked things out to go and visit my friend Cari in Ceske Budejovice. Cari and her husband Steve moved to Czech at the beginning of December to do church planting here. I haven't seen Cari since the summer after we graduated from college, so it's been a while. Cari and Steve now have 4 children, and I can't wait to meet them. I'm particularly excited about their fat squishy baby Gavin. He's seven months old, and absolutely adorable and smiley! According to Cari,he also likes being held. It's definitely time for my kid fix. I've really missed having kids on the team this year, and this is going to help out my general state of mind a lot.
I'm also really excited to see Cari. She and I went to Hong Kong together in 99 and had an amazing experience there. Even then, her favorite baby was a fat squishy one, so it's quite perfect that she is now the mother of one.
Okay, enough gushing. I'll be sure to post some pictures from my trip next week :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pistachio Milk

This afternoon I'm drinking pistachio milk. I'm going to guess that most of you out there reading this have never tasted pistachio milk. Can't say it's really a very typical thing for me either, but I bought it a week or so ago, remembering a time when Nicole tried it and it was kind of like drinking pistachio ice cream. And, well, it still tastes like that. So while David wouldn't be totally impressed by the fact that I'm drinking Milk, I'm at least drinking something in the vicinity.
My Prague weekend wasn't really much to speak of. I arrived at about 12 and was fortunately picked up. It was particularly fortuitous seeing as how we took a random night tram, and I would have had no idea how to find or use this tram without help. The boys of Nad Aleji were all frantically trying to pull grades together, so while I went to sleep in their guest room, they worked until 4 AM trying to finish up and still not doing so.
I did a couple class observations on Friday. That was actually pretty fun. I was pretty jealous when I got to observe Ben's literature class. I'd love to be teaching literature, but it just isn't possible here. (sigh) Since they still weren't done with their grading, I ended up down in their flat by myself pretty much all day, in a room with no windows, reading "Wuthering Heights." Yup! That was my exciting Friday in Prague.
Saturday we had our big Spiritual Renewal Retreat. Can't really say I was very renewed. In fact, the speaker was a bit disjointed in his thoughts and words. I learned later that he was having issues with kidney stones or something, which helps to explain it a bit. We did have a really good prayer time though. There were a couple different art and craft sections. One of them totally brought me back to 6th grade as I ended up making a traditional friendship bracelet there. "Where are the spiritual aspects of a friendship bracelet?" you may ask. Well, each color represents someone. I chose White to represent God, Green for me, Blue for Laura, and Purple for Tammy. As I tied each section I prayed for the person in question. It was actually a really good exercise, and currently I'm wearing it as a reminder of the prayers said, and those that continue to be needed.
We went to the same less than great Mexican restaurant we went to last year. I wasn't quite as disappointed this year, as my expectations were not so high. And lately I've actually managed to have some semi decent Mexican food at home. Nothing close to a meal cooked by Jessie mind you, but relatively resembling something tasty. The hang out time was nice, and I got to feel like an old timer, which has its benefits :)
Sunday we didn't do a whole lot. Just hung out in the morning then did a little shopping and had lunch at McDonalds. I was hoping to get to Starbucks as well, but it just didn't work out. Ah well.
So life proceeds as normal. Classes are okay. I tried my best to be a good strict teacher and gave a test today. It didn't go over very well, but at least I'm trying :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Off to Prague I go...

Just the normal sort of weekend trip. Sorta funny, last weekend my colleague, Tomáš, went to Prague. He said it had been a long time since he was last there. We were thinking six months or something crazy like that. Turned out it was more than a year. It almost seems like he said three years. I just can't begin to imagine that since I go to Prague at least every other month. But I suppose it's like anything else. When it's your "normal" life, you tend not to get out that much. As much as I've come to feel quite comfortable living here, it's still not what I would call "normal."
I'm taking the 8:04 train tonight, and should arrive in Prague around 12. This comes after teaching four classes today (that's 8 teaching hours). Makes for a rather long day. Originally I was planning to then head out to the guys' house on my own, but now someone is going to meet me. Really is preferable, although I could have done it on my own.
Tomorrow I'll be doing some observations. I'm not doing critiques of their teaching or anything, just coming along to see how they're doing. Afterward we'll do mid-year reflections. I'm looking forward to this part of the trip. I think it will be nice to chat with them about how things are going. Hopefully this will be a way to get to know them better, and to know how I can be praying and encouraging them as well.
Saturday we have our Spiritual Renewal Retreat. I'm curious to see how it will go this year. I'm really hoping that it will serve to be refreshing. I've been feeling pretty worn out lately, and like my lessons aren't what they should be, and my energy level is low. I think it will be nice to have a chance to worship together in English, and just share in community. It can be really difficult to go to a Czech church. While I do enjoy it, and we do have translators, it still a lot different and a lot harder to focus. And singing in Czech doesn't really work so well for me because I don't understand what I'm saying, and therefore lack the feeling that goes behind the words. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to English speaking fellowship. Last weekend I listened to a podcast from the Vine, my church in Hong Kong, and it was just so wonderful to hear someone I know speaking in English about God. I can't even express the relief I felt, sitting on my bed with my computer and my Bible, feeling like I was at home. (sigh)
I've got my next four weekends booked solid. It's exciting and exhausting and hopefully exactly what I need to get me out of the January slump. Then, when all the rush and craziness is over, it will be time to hand in my decision to ESI about next year. Not a whole lot of time left to make the decision. Once again, like last year, I find myself wishing I could escape to Bethany House on Cheung Chau for a few days to soak of the sun and really reflect and pray. It's difficult to find ways to do that here. Well, I suppose I do have some long train rides in my near future, but it's not the same. I would really appreciate all the prayers I can get over the next few weeks as I try to figure everything out. The deadline for decisions is February 15. Right after that ever so optimistic holiday, Valentine's Day. Gotta say I'm glad they don't really celebrate that one around here. Not a very uplifting time for Sarah.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Case of Green Meat, and other tales from the weekend

I know you're all just dying to know about the Case of the Green Meat, but you're going to have to wait for a moment or two as I go back in time to last weekend. It wasn't an overly exciting weekend, but it was ridiculously cold. So cold, in fact, that the Ohre River by my place totally froze over. The part above the dam was really solid, and last Saturday (the tenth) I went on a nice walk out there and ended up walking on the river with countless other folks. It was pretty impressive. I sort of wrote about it somewhere in the midst of all my posts about my trip, but here, at last, are some pictures of my little corner of the frozen world.

It has warmed up a lot since then. No longer am I having to bundle up like a marshmallow in order to survive outside, but even on Friday I was able to get this great shot of St Mikolas all covered in crystalline splendor.

And now for...


It all began as another great party idea by Laura and Jonathan. In light of the great success of their Italian party in early November, they decided to try another movie themed night. This time Jonathan chose his favorite movie: Dr. Zhivago.
This 1960s movie is set in Russian during the Revolution. Therefore, the party had a Russian winter theme. For weeks Laura was picking up this and that decoration in silvers, whites, and blues. She's a genius at party planning for sure. Jonathan chose the dishes for the menu, and found her pictures and Russian poetry to go along with the theme.
On Saturday, the time had finally come. For my part, I spent a considerable chunk of the morning cleaning. First the bathroom, then the colossal task of making our muddy snow soaked floors look clean. While a floor designed to hide stains is great in small instances, it's really just obnoxious when you want to try and clean it and can't tell if your scrubbing at dirt or just the flooring. I used vinegar on the wood floors, and Mr. Proper (the Czech name for Mr. Clean) and by mid-afternoon had things in shape for guests.
Jonathan had spent most of the afternoon preparing things for the meal, and making the soup. Laura was in and out helping him, as well as working on the decorations. The place looked fabulous, the soup was just simmering, and it was time to begin work on the main course. I meandered into the kitchen, just to take a look. That's when Jonathan held out a piece of beef for me to inspect. I'm not much of an expert on meat, but even I could tell that the forest green blotch in the middle of the red cube was not as it should be. At first we thought that just throwing that bit away would be okay. We were a bit leery, but really didn't think it could have affected everything. After all, the package said it was good until the 20th and this was only the 17th.
Laura and Jonathan persevered, separating the meat from the fat, a task that I just can't stomach personally, which never fails to amuse my mother who finds it totally normal. Eww! Blech! Yucky I say! Anyhow, they did their best, but several more funky bits appeared. Then Laura opened the second package, hoping for happier results only to find the meat there thoroughly infused with the dark green gunk.
A moment of desperation overcame the party planners. Even denying what was on the menu, all the back up dishes they had recipes for called for beef as well. The only thing to be done was for Jonathan to make a run to Tesco, the nearest and hopefully safest supermarket. (It's actually more like a Walmart.) So run he did.
While he was away, Laura and I did what we could to keep things moving along. Mostly Laura did, and I stood around to encourage her. When Jonathan got back, things were moving along nicely. He'd gone to the butcher in the back and had him chop up the meat into cubes, so it was already taken care of and they were able to quickly put them to use.
While I did help stir the cooking meat and sauce, I really didn't have a whole lot to do with the prep for this party, but I was glad to contribute at least a small amount. There was a bit of chaos, but in the end the guests were a bit late, and we were able to serve them as soon as they arrived.
For the first course we had Borscht. It was quite a bit different from the variety made for us by the Ukrainian students earlier in the year, but it was really tasty. Then we had Beef Stroganoff for the main course. In the end we had three desserts. The first were apricot glazed pears cooked by Laura, and during the movie we had little breaks to eat apples with nuts and cinnamon and then a Czech ice cream cake. Gotta say the pears were my favorite, but it was all really good. This time we were joined by Jonathan's girlfriend Misa, bringing our party total to 6.

The party was a success, and except for Roshani and Tammy falling asleep during the three hour long movie that we started after 9, everyone seemed to have a really good time.
On Sunday, there was another whole round of "excitement" planned. Jonathan and Tammy have both been talking about wanting to go skiing for a long time, and they finally managed to work it out with several of our students for us to go. Having never skied in my life, I was a bit resistant to the plan, but after being offered the free use of Jarmila's equipment, I was out of good excuses not to go.
Sunday afternoon Tammy and I headed up to Jonathan's place, where we were supposed to be picked up around 1. Unfortunately, to Henry around 1 actually means 2:30. We spent an hour just sitting around the flat wondering if he would ever show. Jonathan and Tammy both ended up napping, and I watched out the window as four boys had a snowball fight. It was actually really cute. It was one against 3. The oldest boy was about 12 or so, with two who looked to be around 8, and one little guy of 3 or 4. The little one was way too adorable in his massive marshmallow suit, throwing snow for all he was worth. I'm sure in his mind, he was just as much a part of the action as any of the others :)
At long last, our chariots arrived. Henry had two cars from his hotel. He brought along his daughter, Sara who is 13, and another student, Anicka rode with him as well. Tammy, Jonathan and I got in with my student Vasek, and away we headed for Germany.
We went to Mehlmeisel. If you click on this link you can actually see the live webcam of the slope where we were. Let me just tell you right now, this is NOT a slope for a beginner. Not even a little bit. And believe you me, I had NO idea what I was doing!
All the same, I'd come this far and I was committed.

I could go on and on for ages about the entire experience. Ski boots are tight. They hold your legs at an awkward angle. Anchor lifts are really difficult to figure out. It took at least 5 tries for me to get on one, and then when I did I was so freaked out I almost fell off a couple of times. Vasek was really patient with me, but I was a basket case. I had no idea what I was doing. It was all ridiculously steep. There were lots of people. The only way I could manage to stop was to sit down. So I did that. A LOT. Basically every time I'd start going down the hill with any momentum at all, I'd freak out and sit down. Poor Vasek. I really felt bad for him trying to help me. He hadn't skied in several years himself, and wasn't exactly sure how to explain things to me.
After about 45 minutes, and I couldn't even begin to guess how many episodes of me sitting down, Henry came to us. He'd been snowboarding, but for my sake, switched to skis. He actually knows what he's doing, and took the poles from me right away. He gave a few instructions about what to do. This, added to what Vasek had been telling me, gave me some ideas of what to do. I still felt really helpless, but Henry took my hand and began to lead me back and forth across the slope. I was still really freaked out, but he was patient and kept me from going too fast.
I did have one pretty major flip. It was probably the only time I really fell, and didn't just sit down. My hat was torn off my head and I flipped over at least once. Still, it didn't actually hurt. The most painful but was always the standing up. It's really incredibly awkward.
When at long last (about an hour after I first tried to go up!) we reached the bottom of the hill. What relief. And the sound of Coldplay called to me from the little snack shack. I was so happy to see benches. I sat right down and was determined that I was done.
Henry, however, had other ideas. I drank some hot tea that Anicka had brought, and enjoyed about half an hour of rest before Henry came back, determined to get me to do it all again. I tried to resist, but eventually did succumb. It all went a lot more smoothly this time, and had I not been soaked through already, I might have been willing to try it again. This time up the hill I sorta had the swing of things, and on the way down I only really sat down a couple times, and once I was able to get back up without going all the way to the ground.
After the second time I felt a lot better, but was still content to sit and wait for the others to get their fill. Sadly, there was no after photo, or group photo. I did have a good time, but wow are my muscles killing me now. Going down stairs isn't exactly a happy prospect, but I have to do it every time I leave my house and have go climb more when I get to work. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to manage to do my work out in the morning or not. Part of me says it'll help stretch out my muscles, and the other part says, sleep! Sleep will do you well. We'll see!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now for the finishing touches

We've come to the final Florentine discourse I'm afraid. Our final day didn't produce a whole lot of picture, so I decided I could put New Year's Even and New Year's Day together in one post. Here goes.
On a trip like this one, it sometimes seems difficult to keep up the high level of amazing new experiences. Our first day, despite being utterly exhausted, we were endlessly in awe of all there was to see. Quite honestly, had that been our only day in Florence, we could have been quite proud of ourselves for seeing most of the main attractions of the city. At least for the outside. Our trip to Arezzo, though not as deeply significant to all of us as it was to Laura, was made great by her total enthusiasm. As we were entering into day three I think we were all wondering if this day could possibly live up to the others. Amazingly enough, it did.
I must say that our hostel experience barely rates any sort of telling, so I'll accelerate things to our arrival in the center. I want to take a moment to highlight one of the primary modes of transportation in Italy. I remember well all the mopeds we saw racing across the countryside when I was there in 96, and I was not disappointed on this trip either. Here's a fine display by San Marcos square, as well as a antique looking single from a walk on the other side of the river.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take a picture of the biggest highlight of my day today. Unlike Jonathan, the naughty boy, I'm left to merely recall the truth that I was there. I did briefly mention our trip to the Accademie in an earlier post, but let me just add now that seeing Michaelangelo's David was truly a moment to remember. As we entered the long hall in which he stands, he immediately drew my attention. I took some moments to approach him, looking first at the "prisoners" - a set of statues left incomplete at the time of Michaelangelo's death - but my gaze was perpetually drawn to the figure standing at the end of the hall. The statues is truly magnificent. It's impossible to fathom the block of marble from whence he came. How could the artist's eye envision what was trapped within? I walked slowly around him, pausing at every angle, feeling the strange sensation that always fills me when confronted with the mystery of time and history on display in front of me. It was a bit like standing outside of the Collesium and knowing it was, indeed, the original. I'm always a bit taken aback and captivated all at the same time. The rest of the museum was interesting, but it was the David that really captured my fascination.
Our reservation for the museum was at 11, which naturally means that by the time we were finished it was time to look for food. Laura had decided today would be double pizza day, so we headed off in search of a pizzeria, and ended up taking some pictures along the way, as usual. This time I did manage to get a good photo of Dante's Baptistery.

Florence is not only the home of ancient works of art, but also a city with art in progress. While this man may merely have been copying the work of others, it was, nevertheless, really impressive to see him creating masterpieces on the streets.

We ate in a nice little pizzeria, which Laura declared produced the best pizza she had ever tasted. I was a bit reluctant in my praise, as they forgot my order, and when it came it was a bit burned around the edges. Soured my mood a bit, it's true. But such is life.
After lunch we headed out for a lovely walk to burn off all that pizza so we could order round two later in the day. We crossed the river Arno on Il Ponte Veccio, and went for a lovely stroll on the hilly side of the river. We climbed the wrong hill the first time, but enjoyed the views and posing opportunities it offered anyway.

In this last picture you see Laura and Jared in profile standing near the ancient wall of the city. I thought this one was pretty cool.
We then headed up a second hill where there was a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Florence, as well as a brass replica of the David. This one, being outdoors, was available to photograph, but it just wasn't quite as impressive as the pristine white marble original.

We headed back to town and, not surprisingly, took some more photos, including this one of me self posing with Il Ponte Vecchio. Did I mention that I really liked this bridge? Well, I did.

Now, for anyone not well versed in my drinking habits, let me inform you now that I am a connoisseur. Not, as the Czech people are, of beer, nor, as countless people have been known to boast, of wine. No indeed. I am a connoisseur of...Fanta. It's true. My collection of Fanta cans and other wrappers extend across more continents than I have even ventured to. I've sampled exotic flavors like lychee, starfruit, and even cucumber melon (which really is better suited to a hand lotion than it is to a drink). When I know people are traveling abroad, I often make requests that they bring me back a can, which has led to cans from Israel, Egypt, Russia, Japan, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands.
With all this experience, I really like to give the classical Orange Fanta a taste before declaring the expertise of country in their Fanta production. Quite honestly, American Fanta is about the worst Fanta in the world. There is no real juice in it at all, and it therefore isn't any better than drinking any other artificially flavored orange beverage. Most European countries put in a decent showing with a 5% juice content to their credit. All the same, in my deepest memories, Italian Fanta always stood out as something special.
Several years ago my dad and brother went on a cruise following one of Paul's missionary journeys. They were to spend some time in Italy, and I put in a special request for some original Italian Fanta. Mom even made sure to put a note in to remind Dad to make the purchase. And make it he did. He even had a sampling to make sure it would live up to my remembered standards. Unfortunately, upon disembarking from the boat he realized that he'd left it under Bob's bunk.
Being the sometimes awful daughter that I can be, I recall giving him quite a hard time for his forgetfulness. I later apologized, seeing that he really did feel bad about it, but my disappointment was sincere. Now, several years later, I've been able to make up for the tragedy. So, Dad, this one's for you :) Let me also add that, as recalled with poignant accuracy, Italian Fanta really does stand alone. Those Italians know that taste is what we really want, and therefore they add a whopping 12% juice to their Fanta, packaging it in a bottle shaded a yellowish orange in order to really preserve the integrity of the marvelous beverage. Refreshing? I say a resounding "Yes!"

Now, unfortunately, I don't have a good photo of the gelato we sampled this evening. Instead, in our photo tour, we must move along to pizza round two and the proscuito and artichoke pizza that I had for dinner.
In the evening we went out to an Irish Pub which had almost no other people in it, so we were able to just sit and talk and enjoy each other's company as we ushered in the New Year. There was no New York party on TV, but we were able to see part of an Italian New Year's Party, and join in the countdown, even without being able to speak Italian. We could hear the fireworks exploding outside, but figured it was safer to stay inside until things had settled down and we could head home.
I've now celebrated New Years in 5 different countries. Pretty cool.
Public transport closed down early for the holiday, so we were left to try catching a taxi. Not an easy thing to do on a night when most of the city is out trying to catch one as well. It took a goodly long time for us to manage it, but we all appreciated not having to hike up the hill to the hostel.
Happy New Year 2009!
Now we come to the final day in Florence. Our train wasn't until nearly 10 in the evening, but we had to check out in the morning. Once things were settled at the hostel we headed into town for breakfast. I'd already eaten, but, it being our last day in Italy, I decided to try my first ever cappuccino. It was pretty tasty, but I've been informed I've now been spoiled and nothing else will ever compare, so perhaps it will be my first and final cappuccino.
We went to the train station and dropped off our bags, then wandered around the city a bit more. Most shops were closed, and the skies were gray and drippy. We entertained ourselves with window shopping games. We'd try to guess what someone in the group would chose from a particular store front. It was good fun. For lunch we went to the pizza place from the day before. My pizza selection was greatly improved this time, and they remembered that I ordered, so it worked out nicely.

Then we went on a Fanta sampling spree. We tried three new flavors: Chinotto - which was supposed to resemble a cola - Icy Limone, and Red Emotion. Except for the Chinotto, which ended up being positively nasty, the experience was very pleasant :)

We wandered in and just looked at the sites a while before plopping ourselves down in a super crowded cafe. We spent a good three hours there just chatting and listening to the amiable Italian banter around us. Then it was off to the train station once again.

Our return trip, although much quieter, was even less comfortable. We didn't have beds this time, and it just isn't very easy to sleep in a full train compartment with no beds. Even with our feet balanced on the opposite side of the car, there was always some point of the body experiencing too much pressure, with another floating over space, producing the feeling of falling on a regular basis. It was a relief, really, to have to be awake when we arrived in Munich around 6 AM. A little dose of Starbucks really improved the situation as well! We were there a couple of hours, then the Nurnberg, where we had lunch, then to Marktredwitz where we had a really short transfer time, and then, at long last, back to Cheb.
Gotta say, it was quite a trip.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On the quest for Petrarch

I can’t imagine what it would be like to visit the birthplace of someone I really admire. It was interesting enough to see the rebuilt Globe Theatre in London, or visiting just seeing any number of old castles and ruins that once witnessed the lives to amazing people from the past. In truth, I’m not even sure who I would think of as being of any particular inspiration to me. Not that there haven’t been plenty, but I’d be rather hard pressed to come up with one to concentrate my efforts on. If I had to write a thesis, I haven’t the foggiest idea what topic, or central characters I would choose.
Laura, however, has done exactly this. She has written a thesis, and the principal character, at least in the first and longest chapter, was none other than Francesco Petrarch, an ancient Italian who hailed from the small Tuscan city of Arezzo, and who is renowned for the sonnets he wrote roughly 800 years ago, many of which featured his obsessive love of Laura. Hmmm...that was a bit of a run on sentence, but we’ll leave it for now.
The main focus of our second day was a trip to Arezzo to see said poet’s supposed birthplace. After a rather leisurely morning, which naturally involved some photo taking

we eventually made it to Arezzo. Traveling with guys really tends to be a very different experience than traveling with girls. They get hungry all the time. There was never any fear that we would end up, as we often did in the earlier half of our trip, eating only one large meal. Therefore, as soon as we arrived in Arezzo, order of business number one was to find food. Beckoned by a smiling Jack in a Sandy Claws suit, we went into a small restaurant where I had some really amazing spaghetti with pesto. Except for it being a bit on the al denti side, which is not exactly my favorite, the flavor was really incredible.

Arezzo just so happens to be the city where Life is Beautiful was filmed. It really is a very picturesque town, and we had a great time exploring the old square and seeing all the place had to offer.

I was particularly amused when I went to do this little self portrait in the square and this random working man totally stopped right in front of my camera. It was like he really wanted to be in the picture. It’s made especially entertaining because, along with the woman standing behind me, we made this perfectly spaced line. Who’d have thought.

From the square we made our way up to the house that is said to be the birthplace of Petrarch. Laura could scarcely contain herself, and who can blame her. His house is now a museum and a library, but it was closed for the holidays, so all we could do was see it from the outside. I think this is actually one of only three or four pictures showing all four of us, so it’s really nice to put it in here showing us standing on the steps of Petrarch’s former domicile.

While Laura drank in every moment at the house, Jonathan and I headed up to the park above where there is a massive statue of Petrarch. The view of Tuscany from the park wall was quite spectacular, and I just couldn’t hold back the poser in me!

When Laura and Jared rejoined us we all met around the Petrarch Statue. Laura had her thesis, which Jared had brought from the US for her, and she posed at the base of the statue, a perfect imitation of the ancient poet. She was definitely on a high for the rest of the day.

As we headed down from Petrarch’s high hill, we took in an incredible sunset.

I also saw this incredible little truck. It reminded me so much of the trucks that we used to watch struggling up the hill by the church we were working on in Catanzaro. It sounded like them as well. I couldn’t help thinking of the guys saying they were going to run out there and push the little three wheeled trucks up the hill, as they didn’t believe them capable of making it on their own. This picture is one of my favorites from the entire trip.

Upon first entrance into the City of Arezzo, Laura commented that it was a bit like Cheb. It seemed much smaller and more out of the way than Florence. Then, however, we found our way to the shopping district. Let’s just say the shopping in Arezzo most definitely puts the horrid little shops in Cheb to shame. We could have spent a lot more time browsing, but we had tickets booked back already, and had to hurry back to the train station.
When we got back to Florence it was, again, time for dinner. I don’t generally comment about every meal that I eat, but we were in Italy for goodness sake. Isn’t that half the reason people go to Italy after all? We went to a small Trattoria called “Le Mossacce.”

The place was small and really crowded. We actually had to stay outside for quite some time. When Laura and I were finally able to crowd in Jared and Jonathan looked really pathetic outside.

Eventually we were seated, and enjoyed the bustle of the cozy space. We were seated at a table with a couple other small groups. It reminded me of joining people in Hong Kong at the round tables in most local style restaurants. We could see the kitchen, and while we were waiting, we’d been able to see them pulling large chunks or meat from the fridges near the door, or slicing thin strips off the ham hocks hanging from the ceiling. The menu was very limited, but I was excited by the prospect of some real Italian Lasagna. It was really tasty, and was served with some tough Italian bread as well. I was excited about the bread in advance, remembering again the bread we used to chaw on back in Catanzaro, but this bread was made without salt and wasn’t nearly as good as that which I remembered from my youth in the south.

After a long and busy day, we were all quite tired. Jonathan took us to a massive book store, and there we wandered aimlessly for a while, looking at books in English that we hadn’t been able to see for a long time. It was a very relaxing way to end the day. By the time we got back to the hostel it was after 12:30 and once again everyone else in our room was already fast asleep. We enjoyed being the party animals.