“My favorite spring break moment happened in a Dublin Starbucks”
I have just returned from nine incredible days of spring break. Four days in Dublin, five days in London. We saw it all, from the Cliffs of Moher to Buckingham Palace. I geeked out on the Harry Potter Studio Tour, picnicked in Hyde Park, and tried Guinness for the first time in an Irish pub. (The verdict’s out: I’ll stick t0 Italian wine.)
One of my favorite spring break moments happened in a Dublin Starbucks.
Desperate for WiFi, I ordered a coffee so we could snag a table, and the lady asked what my name was. “Erin,” I replied. Without hesitation, she smiled and made my coffee. When I received my coffee, I was flabbergasted that “ERIN” (that’s right, E-R- I-N) was written on the side of the cup. After years of Aaron, Irene, Aren, and Karen to name a few, I had gotten my first correct Starbucks cup. Foolish and trivial, yet I was honored. This happened several times throughout my fast food days in Ireland. The people of Ireland were familiar with my name? It was crazy to me! Not only were they familiar with it, but they respected and had roots to its Gaelic origins. The best moment was when I saw my name written on a hat at the parade. It read: Erin Go Bragh, or Ireland Forever.
I never really liked my name growing up. Now, however, I see the beauty in it. Erin Minervini. You can clearly tell I’m an Irish-Italian girl, and I love it. My name is a big beautiful banner for my heritage. This is my first time visiting Europe, and I feel so lucky that the first two countries I’ve visited, Italy and Ireland, are the birthplaces of my ancestors.
Now, I am by no means claiming to be an expert on Irish and Italian culture. I’ve only had a tiny taste of each. However, being exposed to slices of their lives has been incredibly meaningful to me. I often imagine what my ancestors’ lives were like. I am a second generation American in my family line, but I’ve noticed some of our traditions have come directly from Italy and Ireland, such as meals and holiday rituals. It has been fulfilling to see that our history has remained a part of our lives in the States. I have come back from break feeling eager to learn more about my family and where everyone came from.
My personal experience abroad has been focused on identity and where I feel I belong. Arezzo has given me a lot of time for reflection, and being away for nine days over break made me miss our cozy Tuscan villa. Spring break was truly unforgettable, but I am very glad for the next phase here at the Accademia. I’ve always wondered why absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I think it is because you have time to reflect and think about what you’re missing. Nine full days away made me realize how grateful I am for my time here in Arezzo. I feel immensely more self-aware and like I’ve discovered new parts of myself I didn’t know I had. I am moving forward eager to learn more about myself and ready to grow even more.
“A River Runs Through It: Paris and Budapest”
The Eiffel Tower peaked out at me from behind the Parisian cityscape as I wandered toward the Seine River on my first day in Paris. I followed the Seine to the base of the massive structure, gazing upon the architecture I had seen in photos from a young age. A sense of accomplishment washed over me as I realized I was really there at last.
No trip is complete without a little contact improvisation, so Sam, Irene, and I decided to bless the square outside the Hotel de Ville with a dance while we thanked the sun gods for giving us gorgeous weather.
The Notre Dame cathedral towers over the Ile de la Cite, watching over the people of the city both day and night. For me the architectural innovations included in its construction, such as the flying buttresses, reinforce the notion that Paris has always been a city of change and creativity. I became increasingly aware of the full concept of time as I walked through the many avenues of this massive city and noticed the continued cooperation between the old and the new in every aspect of the culture, from the architecture to the traditions.
Montmartre was one neighborhood in Paris I refused to miss. Having taken a class on cabaret last semester, I was beyond excited to see the birthplace of countless artistic movements and the old stomping grounds of some of my favorite artists and writers. The neighborhood was full of life and color, and the energy was at a constant high. Moving further up the hill, I found my way to the Sacre Coeur where a mass was being held. The beauty of this cathedral overtook me as I made my way around the sanctuary, and as I listened to the hymns being played, I gained an incredible sense of gratitude. To be in such a beautiful place as Paris was a humbling feeling for me, and I gained new energy that carried me through the rest of my spring break.
My second stop was Budapest, where my group stopped to admire the Hungarian State Opera House and St. Stephen’s Basilica. We then made our way to Parliament, where two soldiers stood guard, solemn and powerful. We made our way to the Margaret Bridge, where we hopped on the tram to take a scenic ride through the city. Navigating the public transportation system in a new city is always an adventure, but after a few hiccups we got the hang of it.
On the Buda side of the river, we trekked to the Fisherman’s Bastion, which held an incredible view of Parliament. Wandering around Castle Hill, we happened upon the Hospital in the Rock and took a tour of the cave system which housed a WWII-era hospital ward. After a full day of adventure, we retired back to our hostel for some relaxing contact improvisation.
“I allowed myself to be at peace with this city, more than any of the others…”
We arrived in Budapest at 8 PM on the Thursday of spring break, absolutely spent from our third flight in the span of six days. We had just arrived from Paris, and before that, we had been in busy, bustling London. Well traveled, yet somewhat world weary, we made our way to the hostel with heavy, drooping eyelids. It was bright and open and mostly new, as it was only about a year old. The staff was extremely friendly and accommodating, giving us a recommendation to a delicious and traditional Hungarian restaurant. We were left flabbergasted by the incredibly low prices. After having consumed a twelve pound cocktail in London, it was an absolute breath of fresh air that we were able to enjoy good food for a reasonable price. We felt ourselves finally able to decompress from the long journey, enjoying each other’s company and the wonderful food.
Not knowing a word in Hungarian and possessing little to no knowledge of Hungarian customs, we experienced our first bit of true culture shock in a long time in Budapest. London and Paris felt incredibly familiar to me, mostly for the fact that they are two of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. We had very few preconceived notions of Budapest, very little idea of what to expect. There was very little fear of a language barrier, as everyone in the city spoke English, and yet, seeing everything written in the strange, unfamiliar script of the Hungarian tongue was both fascinating and jarring. We were completely unaware of what the “must-see” attractions were in Budapest, and so we merely saw the things we were really interested in, without the pressure of the previous two cities.
We walked by the Danube and saw the Parliament house, took a scenic tram through the city, and ended the day on Castle Hill where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. Castle Hill is on the Buda side of the city and there are spectacular views from the church as well as charming antique stores. We ended the day by taking a tour of The Hospital in the Rock, a peculiar, but fascinating piece of Budapest history. A system of caves had been discovered in Buda, and in the 1940s, it was converted into a full-fledged, functioning hospital to support the war efforts.
In the morning of our last full day in Budapest, we went to the market in Budapest, which houses a bevy of affordable leather goods on the top floor, as well as a full-fledged food market on the bottom. We then made our way to Gellert, a traditional bath house, which is truly a must-see excursion in the city. To end the day, we stumbled upon an open market, and enjoyed some of the most delicious food we had eaten in the city.
I learned a great deal on this short journey to Budapest, not the least of which was this: there is absolutely no way to fully understand and grasp a people and a culture in the span of two days. Additionally, it is completely unnecessary to see and do everything, or to put pressure on oneself to do so. I allowed myself to be at peace with this city, more than any of the others, and tried to cultivate a sense of peace, calm, and stillness. These are all qualities I believe that I can take into my work as an artist.
We experienced so much, but left the rest behind, knowing that perhaps we would save those experiences for a return trip.
“Different World, Heightened Presence”
In the months I’ve spent thus far at the Accademia, my gratitude has only increased on a day to day basis. There are some days where I feel like I am the luckiest man in the world. It sounds cheesy and cliche for a first -time traveler, full-time American to say such a thing, but it’s the truth.
When I was younger, I used to play a video game called Kingdom Hearts (stay with me here). In the game, the main hero must travel between different worlds to save them. Each world represented a different traditionally animated Disney film. And each world was so so different in every way. For example, the architecture of Aladdin’s world was counteracted by the jungle of Tarzan’s world; the settings were so different, that they kept me fascinated throughout the gameplay.
Spring break was a reminder of the power that new worlds can have on my presence. When I arrived in Italy in late January, the days seemed to go by longer than usual. This isn’t in the sense of them dragging on, but more that every moment felt fuller because it was all so new. I felt intensely engaged with everything we were doing and all the big moments were composed of little moments that would have often been swept under the rug.
As time has passed, I have definitely gotten more acclimated to the Italian culture, architecture and people. I still feel far more present and fascinated in a place I’ve only spent two months of my life in versus 20 years in the Boston area, but there is a greater sense of regularity than when I first got here. Spring break came at the perfect time for me. I don’t say this as a young college student who was looking to get smashed every night, I say this because it reminded me how powerful of an impact new environments can have on our presence.
Belgium, the Netherlands and France. This was my spring break. Every time I arrived in a new country, I felt like the hero of Kingdom Hearts. Yes, my stakes were much lower, but the experience of a fresh world reinvigorated my spirits and joy in being abroad. Every moment of Spring break was a moment lost in time, but it was just because I felt so immersed in the world around me. It was a double reminder of the presence that I had found when I was first in Italy and the gratitude I have to be here.
One of my hostel-mates, who was from Poland, told me that you crossed a border in Europe and the world changed. I don’t disagree with him for a second, but I would rather say that the world just reveals itself. And if the one thing I can bring home from abroad that really sticks with me is a heightened sense of investment in the world around me, then that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.
– Jon Hall