Travelogue | Katie Albert - Republic-Times | News

Travelogue | Katie Albert

By on July 13, 2018 at 4:40 pm

Pictured is Katie Albert at the Frühlingsfest.

My name is Katie Albert. I am a Waterloo High School graduate, resident of Waterloo, and full-time student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville majoring in psychology with a minor in studio art. This is the fifth of a six-part series of articles describing my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.

Everyone warned me at the beginning of the semester how fast it would fly by, but that did not prepare me for how quickly it truly went. And now there are two days left! These last couple of weeks have been extremely busy, not only with finishing up my homework and studying for final exams, but squeezing in as many activities as possible.

First, my final travel opportunity: a weekend spent enjoying some good old-fashioned Germans at Munich Frühlingsfest (Springfest). The first stop in Munich was obviously to buy a dirndl, a traditional dress worn in Bavaria, Germany. Then it was off to the fest, where a group of friends and I made our way to the Augustiner beer tent and found ourselves a table. We even got there early enough to see the Tapping of the Kegs, and big steins were set down in front of everyone without orders even being placed.

Pictured is Katie Albert at the top of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.

The two days I was there were just too fun! Music, drinking chants, dancing on tables and drinking warm beer: a classic German party. But Springfest is a festival for all ages, and outside the beer tents were carnival games and rides, places to sit and eat, and so many people to talk to of all different cultural backgrounds.

Also during my stay in Munich, I visited Neuschwanstein Castle, home to the Mad King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. Not only was the castle just incredible, but the scenery was stunning. We walked all uphill to get to the scenic views and towering architectural marvel while listening to the strange life of Ludwig II along the way. This is the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle in Disneyland. I was able to tour Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Compared to the castle, it was a very somber experience, but certainly worthwhile. It provided an in-person look at a disturbing part of our world history.

Another opportunity before I left was the option to go truffle hunting in the nearby forests with a truffle hunting dog and expert. My guide drove my small group about an hour outside of Florence to the expert’s villa where she owns plenty of land to hunt truffles on. We plunged into the woods and the dog immediately caught a whiff! It was so exciting to be running through the Italian countryside chasing a dog to try to find some underground mushrooms! We ended up finding four black truffles; together they would have cost about $75. Pretty good for just a couple hours!

During our hunt, we also ran into wild boar tracks, which was super cool and a little scary! It was also a small bummer because that means the boar probably found a couple truffles before we managed to. On the walk back to the villa, our expert truffle hunter showed us raw herbs growing around the land such as sage and basil, and picked some of them.

At the villa, we were fed a wonderful four course meal, each dish prepared with our black truffles, and some included the fresh herbs we picked. The meal was just incredible; my favorite part was the pumpkin-truffle soup.

After our meal, we were taken to a nearby winery for a tour and tasting session. We tasted some delicious wines there, and some of the wines made at this particular winery only fill about 300 bottles a year. Between the wine knowledge of the winery staff and the couple I was with, I became a mini-wine connoisseur!

As for my final school-based activities, I took a pastry class where we made custard tarts, cream puffs and a delicious white wine and strawberry parfait. I finally made it to the top of the Duomo, and the view was just incredible. I am very glad I waited so long to climb to the top, however, because once at the top I could point out different buildings and streets that I learned to navigate with, and I could find my apartment and school too. The weather was perfect for the climb, sunny but breezy, and the early morning made the crowd exceptionally small.

My school hosted a final farewell dinner on top of the Piazzale Michelangelo, where we all reminisced on our time in Italy. It was so nice to see everyone in the school together again, dressed nicely and laughing. It reminded me so much of our first week in Rome when we would all eat at group dinners and spend our free time chatting in the hotel lobby. Then, we were just a bunch of strangers beginning an incredible journey, and there we were, months later, close friends with tons of memories!

We finished up with classes and celebrated our last official day. Suddenly, there is only one more final to take before home the semester is finished. My finals in Italy differed from what I was used to. Main courses, such as history classes (Italian Food and Cultures was mine) were essay-based, in which two eight-paragraph essays were written within two hours discussing specific topics throughout the semester.

The topics I chose to discuss were how the Italian cuisine culture still has its roots in the Mezzadria of Tuscany, and comparing our in-class viewing of the movie “Big Night” to the stereotypes of Italian and Italian-American meals.

My Italian language final was a cumulative final using all the vocabulary and grammar we’ve learned over the semester. At the end of the written section we gave an oral presentation to the teacher talking about some of our experiences during the semester. Drawing and Painting are set up in the same portfolio style: all of your pieces from the semester are lined up in order and you discuss strengths and weaknesses in the artwork and ways to improve in the future.

Getting ready for my last final tomorrow is bittersweet. On the one hand, it is painting, thank goodness! On the other hand, it is my last final, which means there are only two days left.

Two days left in Italy: two days left in the home I have made for myself these last months; two more days with the friends I’ve grown so close to; two more days devouring the best Italian food ever; two days left. As excited as I am to come home to my family and friends, I am going to miss everything that I have grown to love here. So, for the last time, ciao from Italia.

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