Italia in 40: Day 2…A Garden, an Elephant (of Death), and VD!

Yeah, you read that right, VD, but we’ll get to that in a little bit!

Well, some of you know this already, but most of you don’t: I’ve been to Italy 3 times before, but always as part of a tour group. As a consequence of always traveling with tours, I’ve never gotten to stay in one city for any substantial amount of time nor have I been able to see random places, since everything was planned out. I think tours are great and I really loved getting to travel, no matter the circumstances, but one thing I’d always wanted to do was cross the Arno river in Florence and explore the other side. I looked on a map before I left home and saw that there are tons of gardens and historic places on the other side of the river, so that was my mission today!

I woke up at about 8:30, but didn’t get out of my hostel until 10:30. Once I left, I went to the tourist office in the Santa Maria Novella Museum and bought a FirenzeCard. It costs 72 Euros, but you get access to the city’s WiFi network, 3 days of unlimited public transport and entrance to all of these museums and attractions for free or reduced cost. After getting the card I was walking back toward the river and an Italian man leaned out of his car and asked me where Via della Scala was (in Italian) and I successfully gave him directions. I gave an Italian directions in Florence, what the what?! 0__0 After finally figuring out how to access the free Wifi, I headed straight for the river. I was really proud of myself because yesterday evening I walked down this road called Via de Tornabuoni and figured out it was going to the river, before I turned around to go back to my hostel. So, this morning I just got on that same road and walked across Ponte Santa Trinita, without using a map or my iPhone…and anyone that knows me knows that hell just froze over if I was able to navigate successfully without a GPS!

IMG_2156After getting across the river I used my FirenzeCard map and made my way to Il Giardino Bardini. I didn’t really know what to expect because I’ve only been to botanical gardens in the U.S. and I have never really been impressed, but boy was I surprised. I also used my Firenze card and got a ticket for 6 Euro, instead of 10 (there is a sign saying they don’t take FirenzeCards, but I had mine out and she gave me the discount! It’s 4 acres overlooking the city and it is beautiful: statues, fountains, beautiful flowers, and a gorgeous view!

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After I left the garden I was going to try to find this other garden that I happened to see on the map that is triple the size of this one (I plan on doing that tomorrow, so stay tuned!), but then I saw Forte Belvedere and decided I would go check it out. Apparently I arrived at the backside of the fort though, because there were no people around and two shrines to this dead woman:

The story on her memorial made it sound like there could be foul-play or some kind of other shenanigans involved, so I got freaked out and left. But take note of those elephant figurines surrounding her second shrine…

After leaving Forte Belvedere I decided to walk back down to the river because it was 2 and I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. On my way down this old British couple I had passed in the garden, stopped me and the husband asked me where Giardino Boboli was, IN ITALIAN! I told him I spoke English and told him how to get there! Anna-2, Navigation/Italian-0! I kept walking and randomly passed some awesome houses where GALILEO stayed:

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Once I got back down to the river I walked around for a bit trying to find a reasonable place to eat, but I saw a bunch of Italian kids sitting on this cool staircase so I decided to get some takeaway food and go back there. On my way back some creepy dude was standing there staring at me, so I went back to the river and sat on the wall and ate. I got something called Torta Pasqualina.

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It was like a cheese and spinach quiche, with more pastry than egg. I got two, but only ate one, so that I’ll have something for breakfast in the morning!

While I was sitting by the river, a man tapped me on the arm and asked me what time it was. I tried to say I didn’t know before I realized my phone was in my hand. I told him it was two and he said, “Thanks, here’s a gift for you!” Guess what it was?! One of those red, wooden elephants that was around that woman’s memorial shrine! #NOPE

I said no thanks (I wasn’t trying to be mean, but the street merchants often hand you stuff and when you take it they chase you until you give them money, so yeah…) and was completely and thoroughly freaked out!

After I finished my lunch I decided I would go back across the river and get a coffee because the jet-lag was starting to catch up with me. I went back to the same place I met up with my friend yesterday because I’ve been there every time I’ve been to Florence, I know where it is and it’s extremely reasonable! I got a cappuccino and had a selfie session, just to make sure everyone KNEW I was American, haha!



Little did I know that the most interesting part of my day was about to begin!

After the coffee, I still had several hours until dark and I didn’t want to go back to my hostel, so I just wandered. I went into 3 churches before I found a park (Piazza dell’indipendenza). It’s in the sector of the city with a high density of immigrants, so I got some gelato and just sat and watched people, which was really interesting. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the park was completely filled with groups of 5-6 Asian and African men. They seemed to be having fun, but it made me so curious about immigrant/migrant workers in Italy. I’ve seen Biutiful and Io Sono Li (the latter is on Netflix), about Asian immigrant life in the EU, but now I really want to make a documentary about African immigrants in Italy.

Anyway, after I finished my gelato, I figured it was a good idea that I leave that park since I was the only woman there. I looked on my phone and realized there was a bigger park just a few yards away, Giardino della Fortezza. I walked over there and cleaned out my bag and then was just sitting on the bench getting some sun, when this old man with a cane came up and started talking to me in Italian. I asked if he spoke English and explained that I didn’t speak much Italian, but he didn’t miss a beat and asked to sit with me. He ended up talking to me in Italian for almost an hour and a half! Here’s a little snip-it!

I couldn’t really answer back, but I did manage to say, in Italian:

  • Yes, there was a lot of venereal disease in France during WWI
  • WWII was a tragedy, but good for liberty
  • My dad was in the Army
  • I’m glad it’s sunny, I need to tan
  • Have you lived in Florence your whole life?
  • The 100th anniversary of WWI is this summer

He told me that he was 4 during WWII. His dad was in the war and lost two brothers. We also talked about how Germany is the most powerful and rich country in Europe. He told me about American GIs and VD and Syphilis in France. He informed me that Montenegrin women are the most beautiful and that at one point men would pay 14,000 Lira to have a Montenegrin wife. He talked about the multitude of African and Chinese immigrants in Florence. Told me he was just getting over bronchitis. Sang a few songs. He also talked about how many people died in the war. How he likes kids because they break the solitude. His name was Davide and he was a crazy-cool old man!

SN: I recorded him singing one and I knew at the time he was saying “dick,” but later looked it up and he was singing about a man with a “hard on” hahaha…old men are a TRIP!

I had planned to get an early dinner so that I could actually go to a restaurant, but since I spent so much time conversing with Davide the BAMF Florentine dude, I had to rush back to make it before dark. I got a slice of pizza at a takeaway place by my hostel and then went up to my room.

I walked 8.5 miles, saw some beautiful stuff, and made a new friend!

Tomorrow I hope to go back across the river to the huge garden, maybe check out some old cemeteries, and take A LOT more pictures (the battery in my camera was dead today, so I had to use my phone).

Buona Sera, you crazy kids!

Italia in 40: Day 1…DFW>JFK>Rome>Florence

Italia in 40

How is your Monday going? I hope it’s well!

Well, so far, my trip has been quite the comedy and adventure!

I took off from Dallas yesterday morning at 10:18 and got to NYC around 3. I finally got to try out in-flight Wifi and was able to use Kakao Talk to live chat with friends and even attempted to use the voice-calling feature…it’s such an awesome app! I wasn’t impressed with JFK airport, AT ALL. My flight landed as Terminal 2 and I looked all around and couldn’t find a train, sky walk, shuttle, or even a map to tell me how to get to Terminal 1. I went to the bathroom and some old lady was all up in my bubble, to the point that I literally had to thrust my body into her to get her to get off of me.  I finally got on the Gate Guru app and found a map of the terminals, but it looked like they weren’t connected and I just didn’t believe it. I ended up asking an employee how to get to Terminal 1 and he directed me to it. Needless to say, I had to go outside of the concourse and walk to the other terminal, then stand in an ungodly, long line to get back into the airport. I love people watching though, so it was really interesting! I saw a lot of Hasidic Jews and even saw a group of Jewish kids my age that were on their way to Brussels for a “birthright” religious and historical retreat. I saw a lot of Russians and Koreans and all kinds of other cool people! I had some nasty pizza and spent $20 at the Hudson News buying junk food for the flight. I was happy to see they had charging stations though…I stayed planted at one until they made the final boarding call for my flight. Dirtiest airport I have ever been too…I don’t recommend it.



I finally got on the plane and GUESS WHAT?! I was on a bulkhead row with only one other man! We each sat on opposite ends, which meant we had two seats to ourselves, individual TV screens, extra pillows and blankets, and LEG ROOM! It. Was. Awesome. Everyone told me Alitalia was a crappy airline, but I loved it! They had tons of entertainment to choose from (even subtitled movies…my kryptonite), USB ports for charging your phone, good food, complementary red or white wine (I behaved and only had a glass of white with my dinner), nice blankets, interesting articles in the in-flight magazine, the bathrooms were spacious (considering the circumstances), and the flight attendants were nice! Based on my experience, I’ll definitely fly with them again.


I got zero sleep on Saturday night or on the plane, so by they time I landed in Rome at 8:30 a.m. this morning I was dead. I collected my bag, went to the restroom and freshened up, shifted some of the contents from my carry-on to my backpack and went to the train station across the street to buy a ticket to go to Florence and this is where things took a turn for the “Anna is an illiterate dummy” phase of my day…

Continue reading Italia in 40: Day 1…DFW>JFK>Rome>Florence

Let’s Go to Italy, Folks!

Italia in 40

Are you guys ready for 40 days in Italy?! Let’s get started!

First things first, here are links to all of the social networks you can follow me on! I will be reviewing the different places I stay, taking pictures, making videos, and writing blogs about my travels:

Pinterest, TwitterFourSquareSpotifyInstagramGoogle+YouTubeFacebook, and Fitbit!

If you want to ask me any questions on any of these networks just use the tag #italiain40 🙂

So, what am I going to wear?

Continue reading Let’s Go to Italy, Folks!

The 2014 Oscars! *contains spoilers*

Tonight is the night! My favorite event of the year is Oscar night. I love fashion and film making, so it’s perfect! I will be live-tweeting the show @thatgingeranna so feel free to join me!

Here is my ballot for this years awards! Cast your own ballot and lets compare!

I had a helluva time picking the Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Picture. I am completely torn between McConaughey and DiCaprio for Best Actor and also believe American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street are too close to call for best picture. In the end, I chose DiCaprio for best actor, solely (and I realllly mean solely) because of the range of emotions he was able to accurately portray: drama, romance, comedy, anger, etc. I feel McConaughey was more dedicated to his role, prepared for his performance more, and also connected to his audience on a deeper level, but the spectrum of emotions and character evolution wasn’t as fully developed as Leo in The Wolf of Wall Street (IMO).

Now for Best Picture…let me start by saying I did not see Gravity or Nebraska. That obviously disqualifies me from making a completely accurate judgment, so feel free to disregard what I am about to say.

For me, the top four are: The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave. I loved each of these movies for vastly different reasons. The Wolf of Wall Street was excellent because it was raunchy, suspenseful, and HILARIOUS. I mean, one of the first scenes shows Leo snorting cocaine out of a hooker’s butt crack, yet I still felt bad when Jonah ratted him out to the Feds. How often do you really want to go try Quaaludes after leaving a movie? In true assholes-sometimes-win fashion, this film was able to show how fun it can be to be a criminal, evoking emotions I usually only feel during a good mob movie (I’m lookin’ at you, Goodfellas). The production was also crazy extravagant, but with such big names attached to the project I think the film obviously had an unfair advantage in this sense. This film is also one of those rare cases when I am almost certain the movie was better than the book. Scorsese was able to execute gritty, sexual, and shocking events in a way that conveyed their harsh reality, but also made these extreme scenarios appealing and relateable to an audience-I would imagine that was made even harder by the fact that this is semi-biographical!

Dallas Buyers Club on the other hand, was one of the most emotional movies I’ve ever seen. Although I know a lot of people in the LGBT community were not happy that the main character was a white, male, homophobe, I think, similar to Brokeback Mountain, this movie will have a long lasting, positive influence and will help many straight, healthy people begin working to further their acceptance of homosexuals and those suffering with HIV/AIDS. In the end, shouldn’t that be the real mark of success for any film? Opening peoples’ minds and helping them to experience things they would otherwise be closed off from, albeit from behind a screen, is a difficult task and sometimes offensive characters and other tools have to be used to succeed at that goal. Contrary to The Wolf of Wall Street, I do think this film could have been just as easily adapted into a biographical novel and had the same emotional effect. Let me be clear that this comes down to production and not acting. In no way am I discounting the performances in this film (Leto gets my pick for best supporting actor). I loved everything about this movie and it has been added to my “everyone should watch it” list-which is not the case for the other 3 movies I liked.

12 Years A Slave was similarly emotional for me-obviously. I am beyond shocked, confused, and disappointed that it was not nominated in the categories of cinematography, sound editing, or sound mixing (it would have been my pick for all three). Two of the most powerful and visually arresting scenes that I have ever seen in a movie-when Solomon whips Patsey and the viewer sees the blood and flesh flying away with every draw back of the whip, and when Solomon is reunited with his wife and they show a single tear falling from  his face and rolling onto her shoulder and into her dress-were featured in this film. There were numerous other scenes that were beautifully and poignantly shot. If you’ve read my previous reviews for films you know I am a sucker for films with stimulating color palettes and this film was my absolute favorite in that category! This film was also an adaptation of a historical novel, which really appealed to me. I am a history student, so the summary at the end of the film that explained the disappearance of Solomon Northup from all historical records before his death was extremely intriguing and heartbreaking. This film was beautifully shot, extremely well acted, and emotional. I know that every director has the difficult task of deciding what to cut from a film and what to dedicate the most time to, but I do wish that the director and writers had dedicated more time to showing the relationship between Solomon and his family, prior to his abduction. It was clear in several scenes during his time as a slave that he deeply missed them and they were his motivation for seeking freedom, but the movie did not show the full depth of this connection. There is no real reason that this film shouldn’t be win for best picture, but the extravagance and intensity of The Wolf of Wall Street is a tough competitor.

Lastly, American Hustle. I’ve seen this film 3 times. I LOVED it. I loved the soundtrack, the costumes, the story, the ending, everything. Christian Bale was obviously amazing, and had he not been up against such dynamic characters for Best Actor, I would have chosen him. This movie was romantic and funny which made it such an enjoyable experience every time I watched it. Again, I am a sucker of modern history (specifically political history), so this was another winning movie for me. I was so sad to see it up against The Great Gatsby for Costume Design because that meant I couldn’t pick it, as I had originally intended. I also wish there was an award for best soundtrack and not only original song and score because yet again, I would have picked this film. Bradley Cooper was hilarious and the cast as an ensemble perfectly executed the story. Jeremy Renner was able to really draw the audience in and show a different side to Mayor Carmine Polito, a side which evoked sympathy and really made one ask  if his actions were justifiably criminal. This is the only film of the 4 that I would recommend to every demographic. There was very little sex or violence, but the story was well told and it ended on a positive note. This was my personal favorite overall, despite the positive attributes of the other films.

This is one of those catch-22 situations: I am happy that there were so many good movies this year, but it made for a very difficult task of picking the winning films (I’ve changed my vote for best picture 3 times today, and will probably change it again before the show!

Check out my ballot above to see which films I actually chose for each category!

Do you watch the Oscars? What is your favorite Oscar-winning film of all time? 

A Flawed System: My Personal Experience with FAFSA and University Financing

I am a 25 year old, single, childless woman, with NO criminal record (not even a speeding ticket). I have never received a grade lower than a B in ANY class I have ever taken. I started college when I was 17 as a concurrently enrolled student, and have since received two degrees: a Bachelors degree in Social Sciences and a Masters degree in European history. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in 2011 and I had a 4.0 my entire career as a Masters student. 

I am not artistically or athletically talented. I don’t have any awesome abilities that can score me an epic job making millions and I am not particularly good at math (in part due to my own disability, but also in large part due to growing up in the military public school systems in Georgia and Hawaii). I like to learn about history, languages, religions, etc. and I am good at learning and writing about these things. Therefore, I made a choice when I was about 19 years old that I was going to pursue academia, instead of marrying and building a family like many of my peers. I understood and still understand that every choice in life comes with complications and that I am inexplicably lucky and fortunate to live in a time period and location where I am even allowed to educate myself.

Now, with all of these details out of the way…

Continue reading A Flawed System: My Personal Experience with FAFSA and University Financing

Extremely bored…even more curious!