Liz Taft 
Destination: Italy
Sponsor Club: Daytona Beach Rotary Club
School: Taylor Middle-High School

September 13

I've safely arrived and things are great.  My family is very caring and enthusiastic.  I get along well with my host brother and sister.  They areLiz & her Host-brother Paolo both older.  Paolo, my host brother, is 22 and Giulia, my host sister, is 24.  I have a place that I can go ride horses.  The stable is at an old villa.  They also own an apartment on the beach, which I went to with Giulia and two of her friends.  They have a private airplane and my host father Oddone and Paolo have their private pilot's licenses.  I go roller-blading and bike riding with Paolo and his friend Gino almost everyday.  Gino owns a vineyard so I am learning a lot about the wine making process.  

I visited a castle  The castle in Trieste overlooking the sea in the town of Trieste with my host mother and father on Saturday.  My family has taken me to many cafes in order to taste the Italian coffee.  We have three meals a day.  Breakfast is light such as coffee and a piece of toast.  Lunch is always at one and is a two course meal.  One course being meat.  I help my host mother set the table some nights and I have helped her cook a couple of meals.  I helped cook a spinach dish in a pastry crust one evening.  After lunch we sit and have a cup of coffee.  My host father comes home from work from 1:00 to 3:00.  As many other workers do because this is time that you use to spend with your family.  He goes back to work and comes home at about 8:00 when we eat dinner.  Gelato (ice cream) is a popular dessert.  A popular cake of this region is made with dried grapes as the filling.  

I visited Venice with Paolo.  We went on a ferryboat tour of the city.  It was breathtaking.  I took many pictures which I will e-mail when I get them developed (they're here - see below).  The square of Saint Mark was wonderful.  There was beautiful statuary and columns.  A lion with wings is a common statue found throughout the northern region in Italy.  This symbol was featured in this square as well.  To complete the square there is a giant cathedral with beautiful mosaic design and gold trimming.  Paolo and I spent hours going through the rooms of the castle in the square.  We then journeyed around the city and I got to see the streets become flooded from high tide.  This is a normal occurrence.  We traveled to and from this city by train.

 I start my school on Tuesday.  I am gradually learning the language and when I can't understand, I have my host brother and sister to help interpret things for me because they both know a little bit of English.

Ciao, Liz


October 13

Hello,

People are still talking about the terrorist attacks here. Every channel talks about it, people are always commenting on it, newspapers always have articles about the attacks, and I'm even learning about it in four of my classes. For example, in my religion class we are learning about the Muslim culture and their beliefs in comparison to ours. It's very interesting. Some people are afraid to talk about the attacks in front of me because they know I am American, and they aren't sure how I will react to hearing people speak of the events. Others ask me my opinion on the subject and if I am okay emotionally. People say things like, "We are with you in your time of need," or "Is there anything that we can do for you?" It’s very touching. My host family has been supportive also. I cried when I heard of the events because it was our country that was attacked, and so many people were hurt. My host family was so caring and worried, and every day after they would watch CNN with me to hear news on the events. I thought this was very nice since they couldn't understand the program, and they could have easily watched something else, but they didn't. People take the attacks very personally, as if Italy had been directly terrorized instead of indirectly.

I started school on September 17. I have thirteen subjects. It amazes me the things that are being taught here. They are learning art history, philosophy, astronomy, math, chemistry, religion, English, Latin, and German, just to name a few. I will be starting German lessons in a couple of months when I get more of my Italian down. There is a class that I can take that starts with the basics of German so I will be able to learn and catch up to the level that my class is at. Right now I go to school from 8:00 to 12:00 for four days a week. And for the other two days I go from 8:00 to 1:00 because I have an hour of physical education at the end of both of those days. My classmates are very helpful, and I even ride to school by bike with some of them every day. They always invite me places with them on the weekends, and just last weekend it was my friend Manuela's birthday. The whole class pitched in to buy her a modem for her computer, and we all went out for pizza at a pizzeria (very different from our pizza in America).

The class is very close; they are all friends because they have been together in the same class for all of their high school years. It's not like in America where you switch classes and have different classmates every year. Here, when you start the school you are put in a class, then remain in that class for five years. The teachers change classrooms instead of the students changing classes, much like the setup of our elementary schools in America. There are different types of high schools, though. Some are geared toward art, others geared toward science, and others geared toward aviation, etc. Right now my class is in Germany, so I'm staying home for 12 days. This gives me time to study my Italian. The German students came to Italy last year and stayed with my classmates. So this year my classmates are going to stay in Germany. They each have a host family set up for them. I didn't have one so I couldn't go.

I have been attending Rotaract meetings. This is Rotary for the youths of the region. Every time I attend a Rotaract meeting, I must talk about something new that I like or have learned about Italy. Right now I can talk about it in English, but soon I will have to talk about it in Italian. I've been to about three of these meetings so far. I have also been to a Rotary meeting. I gave a speech on Florida, what I've been experiencing in Italy, and how thankful I am for the opportunity to be here. We exchanged our banners. I am giving another banner to Rotaract. I was in the local newspaper for the speech that I gave at the Rotary meeting. Hope all is well in Florida.

Ciao, Liz


November 19

Well, since my last installment so much has happened. I don't know where to start. I guess I'll start with the 50th anniversary of my Rotary counselor. My host family and I were invited, and the the actual renewal of vows took place in a very quaint little church. Afterward there was an all day feast in a huge villa located in the town of Gorizzo. The food was excellent and extravagant.

Recently, I have started Italian lessons with a teacher at my school. It is really helping me with my grammar. Also, since the teacher doesn't know much English, it helps me learn more because he explains a lot in Italian. I'm also going to German class four times a week. I'm learning German in Italian which can be difficult, but this also helps me learn more Italian. I hear beginning German words explained with Italian words so it's like beginning Italian too. I have also joined a gym. I'm starting Latin dance lessons in December, and I'm thinking about joining theater to help with the costumes and lighting.

 In the beginning of October my class went on an exchange to Germany, and I couldn't go because I wasn't involved in the other exchange that took place last year. So I had 12 days off from school. It gave me time to bike ride around this town and other towns so I could explore this area. I also got more time off from school after we went back because the students held a strike. The students are allowed to strike here. They were striking in favor of peace and to show support for the U.S. in the Afghanistan attacks. We had the choice to go to class or to go home. There have been three instances of strikes like these. It's kind of like the huge march that took place in Rome on November 10 for the same cause, but the school strikes are on a much smaller scale.

My host family takes me to a new place in this region every weekend. I've gone to Grado, Aquileia, Cividale, and Gorizia. The towns are all different and beautiful in their own ways. Gorizia has a beautiful castle. Cividale has so many rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. Aquileia and Grado are based a lot on shipping and boating. I have also visited Venice again with my class for a modern arts show that is displayed every two years. It featured 143 artists from 69 countries. It was very interesting.

I have recently gone to Lake Grado and the towns around it. The people who frequent these areas are mostly tourists, so it's very clean and beautiful in these areas. There are so many quaint shops with so many neat things to buy. I went to Padova which has one of the oldest universities in the world. I also saw actual bronze statues that were sculpted by Donatello. I was in awe. I then had hot chocolate in a cafe that is 200 years old. The hot chocolate is so excellent here. It is so thick and rich. Mmmm....

The holidays. Well, I had Halloween even though it isn't usually celebrated here. My class decorated our classroom with all kinds of Halloween stuff. I carved a pumpkin and handed out little candygrams that I made for my class. For my birthday my class brought lots of food and cake and stuff so we could have a mini party at school for me. My host family took me out to dinner and my host mom made me tiramisu. She knew it is my favorite because I've been asking to learn how to make it. It was excellent. Next week is Thanksgiving, and I'm traveling to Gorizia to celebrate it with two other exchange students. The three of us are cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for her host family since they are ordering a turkey for us to cook. It should be a lot of fun.

To start the cold weather season some friends and I roasted chestnuts in the fireplace because it is a common thing to do when it's cold.  Since it is 28 degrees here already, and I can see snow on the mountains, it was the thing to do to open the winter season. I had never had them before. They were very good. I've also survived my first bout with the flu. I'm better now. It was the sudden change in the weather and I wasn't used to it. I was only sick for a couple of days.

I attended another Rotaract meeting yesterday and got to talk more with the members now that my Italian is improving. I'm traveling to Mantova tomorrow. So bye until next time. Happy Thanksgiving!


December 23

I recently went with the Rotary here and all of the other exchange students here in northern Italy to Venice for a meeting.  This is my fourth time in Venice.  If you can't tell, it is my favorite city that I've visited so far.  There's no other city like it. I don't know of any other city that doesn't allow driving.  The streets are too small; therefore, travel is by foot or boat.  In the winter when it snows, this can be a very difficult task as I have found out firsthand.  Yep for all of you Floridians out there who haven't seen snow, I can tell you two things about it: it's very beautiful and very, very cold. Yes, this was my first time seeing snow ever.  It's a real winter here, not a warm, imitation one like in Florida.  I get a white Christmas, but I'll tell you one thing I do miss--that warm Florida weather when I'm out riding my bike to school in the cold.  You should see how many layers of clothing I put on.  Everyone laughs at how wimpy I am in the cold.  I'm always sitting by the heaters in the house and at school.

At school my Italian classes are going very well.  My teacher is really nice and has even given me some work for this holiday vacation which I will do and then e-mail to him for corrections.  He's very dedicated to helping me learn Italian.  This is very helpful.  I have already mentioned that I am taking German.  That is going extremely well for me. Amazingly, I have one of the highest grades in the class.  I have also joined the school newspaper and am writing articles for each issue.  I have joined theater here in Italy.  It is very interesting.  It is like yoga, singing, and acting all mixed together.  I am also going to the gym two to three days a week to work off all the wonderful food I've been eating, especially now at Christmas time.  And lastly, I recently started taking a class in Latin American dancing.  I have a lot of fun.  I go every Friday.  I also attend a couple of RotarAct and Rotary meetings a couple of times a month.  I just went to the Rotary Christmas dinner last Tuesday.

For the real Christmas dinner with my host family I have been nominated to cook the turkey American style.  So of course this means stuffing also.  It's a must.  Luckily I have cooked a turkey before, actually it was one month ago with the other exchange students for Thanksgiving.  That was a lot of fun.  We also made pumpkin pie from scratch, too. That's a task, let me tell you.  There isn't any canned pumpkin here so you must first cook a whole pumpkin in the oven for two hours and then cut it open and puree the insides.  Then you have what is close to canned pumpkin.  It turned out yummy despite how my description may sound.  I have also made pancakes and apple pie for my host family.  For Christmas I have made rumballs so far and am going to make chocolate-dipped almond cookies, a recipe from Martha Stewart.  And of course eggnog will be made to drink. It's a must in the holiday season.  I helped pick out our Christmas tree for the house, and I helped my host mom decorate it.

I also went to Spinea recently.  It's a city near Venice.  I went because I have a friend in America named Clinton who has had a penpal in Italy for five years.  When I left for my exchange, he asked me to try and get in touch with her and see if I could meet her.  Well, I wrote her a letter and she wrote me back and a couple of weeks later, there I was in Spinea with her and her family for the weekend.  We had a lot of fun.  I went on a Saturday morning and we spent the day strolling around Venice.  Of course we drank hot chocolate--my new favorite drink here.  It's so thick and creamy, it's almost like pudding.  You can drink it or scoop it with a spoon.  I even got to ride a gondola!!!!!!!!!  I was so excited.  It was kind of strange that I got to meet Linda before my friend who has known her for five years.  She also showed me all these pictures that my friend had sent her, and it was all of my hometown and school and friends.  It was so neat.  This person I didn't even know knew so much about me and my friends.  It was so weird yet interesting at the same time.  But now I have met her and her friends so now we're even in the information department.

I think that my most favorite thing that I've done these past couple of weeks was to go to Treviso. Treviso was exciting because I got to go to an art exhibit of Monet.  I saw so many paintings by a man that I had only read about.  It was so amazing to see his paintings in real life.  It was also neat to be able to compare his most famous creations to ones that aren't so well-known.  Actually, one of my new favorites that I hadn't seen before was of one of his houses.  It was of a child and a woman inside the house, and we are viewing them from the perspective as if we're outside on a balcony looking inside.  It is really colorful, too, so that just adds to its brilliance.  Monet is one of my favorite artists so this was a dream come true for me to see his works with my own eyes, not the eyes of a camera.

I am going to Milan for a week the day after Christmas because my host family has a house there.  We will stay for about a week.  Milan is the fashion city here in Italy.  While I'm in Milan, I will go to see an art exhibit of Picasso.  I can't wait to see that exhibit, too.   I'll tell you about that one in my next entry.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Ciao a tutti, Liz

February 11

My first bit of news is that I have changed schools. There were so many differences between this school and my other one that I couldn't resist experiencing this form of Italian schooling, too.  I switched to the Istituto D'arte.  As the name implies, I learn a lot about art, which is great because now I am learning in great detail about the very things that I am seeing firsthand in Italy.  I have so many design and photography (one of my passions) classes.  This school is located in Udine so I get the feel of a larger Italian city also.  I take a pullman (bus) to school most mornings with my friend Annelisa, who lives in Codroipo, too, but sometimes I go with her and one of our friends in his car so that we can have breakfast in a cafe before school.  Of course, I get a cappuccino, my favorite drink here.  I also have two days where there is school in the afternoon, and so we get two hours for lunch.  We usually go shopping before the stores close and then go to a cafe for a sandwich.

I have also started English lessons.  Yes, I said English lessons.  The students in this class are learning advanced English, and when the teacher teaches something such as gato means cat, I learn the Italian word, and for me it's cat means gato.  I also help him teach the class because he is from England, and even our English varies.  Therefore, we are learning from each other in that way, too.  Not a single person in my class speaks English, which is great because I constantly get to practice my new language.

I went to Venice this past weekend for Carnevale. It is like Mardi Gras and Halloween mixed. I went with the girl who lives in Italy who has been the pen pal of one of my friends in Florida now for six years.  I have visited her twice now.  Carnevale lasts from January 7th until 40 days before Easter.  Her dad painted our faces, and we went and took pictures of all the wonderful costumes, both creative and traditional. There were games for the children, too.  There was one in which it was a giant pillow fight.  Of course, we joined in, too.  There were bands and street performances.  There were also little markets with unique objects to buy.  I bought the traditional papier-mache mask as a souvenir.  A lot of the activity was centered in St. Mark's Square, so the backdrop of the festivities was beautiful, too.  The people were so happy, and the confetti was everywhere.  I'm still finding it in my jacket pockets.  There are some traditional sweets for Carnevale called crostali which I have learned the recipe for so that I can reproduce them when I get back to Florida.  On Sunday afternoon, my host mom, host brother, host sister, and I spent the afternoon making hundreds of the crostali.  It was a lot of fun.

Next week I will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain, for 6 days.  I am going with my class, and we are also stopping in France for two nights.  I'm very excited. One of the things that I get to see is the Picasso exhibit that I missed when I went to Milan.  So in my next installment I will be sure to tell all about my experiences in Spain.  Until next time, take care.

Mandi, Liz

March 28

I have so much exciting news this time.  I've been on two wonderful trips since I last wrote.  The first one was to Barcelona, Spain, as I mentioned going to before.  It was wonderful.  We went to so many art museums, mostly contemporary art. We even saw the museum of Picasso which I was thrilled about because I hadn't gotten to go to the exhibit of Picasso when I was in Milan.  It was a 19-hour ride in a bus up and back, but the time was broken up by the stops that we made in France.  We stopped in Aix en Provence, Avignon, and Arles.  Spain was more colorful and exciting, but I think France was more beautiful.  I liked the houses by Gaudi that I saw in Barcelona, too.

School is continuing to go well.  I'm taking part in many design projects and learning more of the language every day.  My classmates are so good at helping me understand everything.  I recently met another exchange student at my school named Martin. He's from Australia and is taking part in a 6-month exchange, so he just got here about a month ago.  He doesn't speak much Italian but is picking it up quickly.  He is also in a class where the students at least speak some English.  I know that helped me a lot when I first got here at my other school.

Right now I'm on spring break and busy planning a little trip with my host brother and sister to their beach house in Lignano.  We might go there to celebrate a festival that they have here before Easter.  It should be lots of fun.  Everyone is exchanging these huge eggs made of pure chocolate as gifts.  We have three that we've received.  That's a lot of chocolate.

The second trip I took was with my parents all around Italy.  We had little time, but made the most of it.  We even managed to see Austria, too.  Our biggest tour was the one we took to central Italy. Our first stop was in Florence where I was so amazed to see Michelangelo's "David" and Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus."  In Pisa I was in awe of the fact that the tower is the only one of its kind and is still standing tall after all these years.  Next we went to Siena, a quaint, hilly city with a huge piazza.  In this piazza there is a horse race held twice a year.  In Rome we attempted driving, but it took the three of us to maneuver around the city so we decided to leave it up to the experts and used their public transportation.  The fountain of Trevi was breathtaking, and we all did the traditional throwing the coins in hopes that we'll return some day.  It worked for my dad because he did it once 30 years ago as a teenager with his Dad and brothers, and there he was with me and my Mom in 2002.  The architecture alone in Rome is wonderful to see, especially the ancient center with the Coliseum.  Then there is the Vatican and St. Peter's.  St. Peter's is so ornately decorated that you can't even take it all in no matter how long you stay in there.  The Sistine Chapel I think was my favorite sight of all.  You always hear people talk about it, but when you actually see all the beauty and colors and hard work that went into it, you just can't believe it.  I bought a picture of the ceiling so I'd be able to remember it clearly.  After Rome we managed to also see Assisi and San Marino.  All in all this trip was a wonderful experience.

May 24

Well, as usual I have a lot to write about.  I’ve done two trips since I last wrote.  Two amazing trips.  The first stop was to Paris for about a week with a friend of the family.  We saw as much as can be seen in that week as possible.  We managed about four museums.  The Louvre was of course one of them since it’s a must when visiting Paris.  And of course we nowhere near saw everything inside there since it’s so enormous.  We were sure to see the Mona Lisa though.  I wasn’t a big fan of it when I’d seen it in pictures and in books, but it really was a beautiful painting when seen up close.  The Chateau of Versailles was probably my favorite thing of all.  It was immense, and the decorations inside are so ornate, it’s really something else.  Our hotel was right near the Eiffel Tower in a more suburban part of town, so we experienced more of the local instead of touristic flavor of Paris.  The baguettes were yummy.  They were served with everything and at every time of day.  The Eiffel Tower was another must-see, but the line was so long that we didn’t get to go to the top.  We could’ve waited, but we were satisfied with seeing it at the base.  We had the whole rest of the city to do.  And we did.

The second trip was 8 days spent in London and Edinburgh.  I went with my host sister.  We spent 3 days in London, 2 in Edinburgh, and then back again to London for another three.  We did one of those trip deals and included in it were guided tours of each city.  Those tours are worth doing.  We learned so many little inside facts about the cities that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.  I went to a musical while in London.  It was great.  It was My Fair Lady.  It was very well done.  The Crown Jewels in The Tower of London were unlike any I’d ever seen before.  The jewels had names.  You know they’re big and important when they have names.  The ceremonial changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was interesting also.  It took about an hour and is neat because it’s a tradition that is still done today after so many years.  They played all the songs from My Fair Lady which was coincidental since I’d seen the musical just a few nights before.  The boat cruise down the Thames River allowed a different perspective of the city also.  I was excited when I got to hear the bells of Big Ben chime.  The train ride to Edinburgh was long, but the scenery outside the window on the way more than made up for it.  There were many sheep farms, and the hills were so green.  The views of the seacoast were incredible.  Edinburgh isn’t a really large city.  The big things to do are mostly the museums and of course the castle.  There are other things to see and do, but just taking in the city is what I found most enjoyable of all.  It’s so green there.  I really enjoyed Scotland and plan on returning.  The people were very friendly in both London and Edinburgh which is always nice.  The castle was beautiful.  I also spent many hours exploring the huge 70-acre botanical gardens that Edinburgh has.  They are open to the public for anything--taking a walk, running, studying the plant life, etc.  There is an 11-room greenhouse with climates from around the world.  You can see so many varieties of plants.  As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed myself on these two trips.

Now that I’m back in Italy, I’m as busy as ever.  I’ve been taking the usual Sunday day trips with my host parents in order to see the last cities of Italy that I haven’t yet been to.  Also now that it is finally hot, we’ve been spending time at their beach house and at the thermal spa that is near-by.  I’ve been a packing fool, deciding what’s going to stay in Italy and what’s going to come back with me.  The suitcases will be filled to the brim, but I’ll manage.  It will be hard saying my final goodbyes to my schoolmates and teachers, but I am making the most of every weekend that I have left, filling them with activities with all of the new friends I have made here.  We are exchanging addresses so that we can keep in touch.  A few of them have already planned trips in the fall to come and visit me in Florida.  I’m excited about that.

This weekend I’m going on an organized biking trip that will take me, my friends, and some other citizens of Codroipo around Codroipo and to the other little towns nearby.  Hopefully we can keep up.  I’m also attending a Rotary dinner on Friday night that will unite the Rotary here and the one from Austria for an evening of good eating.  Each meeting like this, they switch countries.  Last time the Rotary here went to Kittsburg, Austria.

My year will be coming to an end soon, but I have so many wonderful memories and plans of returning again to visit that it eases the farewell.  And with that I finish my final installment of my exchange experiences and year abroad in Italy.  I’ll be seeing you all soon in sunny Florida.

Mandi, Liz