Wrapping Up: Part II

16 May

On Friday I had two gelati within two hours of each other (rose and pomegranate (Colin: Fail) and watermelon and lemon).

Mom and the gang left that afternoon. Everyone seemed to have a really nice time. They took with them one of my suitcases to ease my journey. I worried briefly about not having enough left to fill my remaining backpack, but somehow I’ve managed.

Venezia, my favorite.

On Friday night I threw Colin a surprise birthday party. I’m missing his actual birthday next week, and I’m racked with guilt about it, so this was a way to make up for that. He was totally surprised, and super pleased that so many of his friends came in the middle of paper-writing season.

I think at this point, with six hours left inBologna, I’ve said all the farewells I’m going to—some of them twice. It feels so epic, but it’s just summer vacation. See you later! HAGS!

Wrapping things up: Part I

2 May

My time left in Italy has dwindled to two weeks. It’s actually a fair chunk of time if you’re talking about being in Italy for a vacation or waiting for the results of a fellowship application. And though, in a way, I’m doing both of those things, ultimately I’m moving away from this temporary home that I’ve come to really love.

Some family are on their way here and will likely arrive before many of my West Coast readers find this post. I had time to tell them that the forecast says rain, but not the time to say the last day and a half have been absolutely beautiful.

As a result of their visit, Colin has been telling everyone that even though I’m not actually leaving for two weeks, it’s really as though I’m leaving the moment my family arrives. I feel as though I have some affliction: Well, she’ll be here, but it’s the time of year she turns into a werewolf. Maybe it’s true (not the werewolf bit—definitely not true), but I hope not; though I do realize it will be difficult to be present in any aspect of the SAIS social scene while showing off Venice to the fam.

And the fellowship application? Before I leave, Colin will know if he’s received the Boren to go study in Morocco next year, and I’ll have to figure out my plan.

There are some people I really won’t see again. I said goodbye to my Italian teachers and my language exchange partner, as well as to the kids I tutor. I worked my last shift as a nanny, though they’ve had such an important role in my time here that my family will meet them. Everyone’s curious about the other.

Making chocolate zucchini cake with Mati.

The father of the girl I tutor gave me a lift home, as usual, but for the first time it was on his scooter—my first time being on one in Italy! I know it’s cliché, but it really is a totally different way of seeing the city. I quite liked it.

At this very moment, I’m waiting to go meet my friend Leah for maybe the last time in Bologna, since she leaves even sooner than I do. Then we’ll go together to yoga; then I’ll rush over to the train station to meet Mom, Craig, Uncle Rick, and Cousin Melissa. As I wait, though, two beautiful loaves of oat-wheat bread are baking away (adapted from Radishes and Rhubarb, I added about a cup of oats), and the smell is absolutely marvelous.

Believe it or not: I didn’t get a lick of sunburn

1 May

As mentioned before, the Internet was not a major figure in the story of spring break. A stunningly beautiful apartment, a handful of stray cats, some very tasty meals, driving lessons (looks like I’ll be able to help with the driving, Mom!), a couple of women’s magazines in the hands of utterly baffled men, and a power outage all were though–imagine the fun!

From our patio

Colin, Sean, and I were the first to arrive and had most of Saturday to explore the southern port town of Cagliari, where we arrived by ferry. It was sunny, but chilly in the shade or whenever the wid picked up–it stayed that way for most of the week. Sardegna has a rich and varied history (Garibaldi even stopped here), with Phoenician layers buried under Vandal layers buried under Byzantine layers buried under Roman layers with a scattering of Moorish and Berber history as well. Honestly though, I was there to relax on that beautiful patio and enjoy the view.

It was possible to access the sea by going through our terraced landscaping and then scrambling down a rocky bluff. We didn’t have a sand beach, but the big boulders were suited for reclining and climbing, and we all did a little of both. The water was a beautiful bright blue and not too cold to jump in, but definitely too cold to stay long.

Thish, Adam, Alix, and Andrew down by the water.

Sean and Colin on the rocks

All the beauty in the world could not distract from the fact that there were different expectations among our group of how spring break would go. A few lapses in communication led to a couple uncomfortable situations, beginning with that issue of six single beds for nine people and not a single couch. Ultimately though, it was only a week. No one had their face eaten by the stray cats or got bashed against the rocks when the weather changed and the sea got rough. And I think those conditions will from now on be the criteria by which I judge my vacations.

Some of the flowers that Colin would collect for me when he went on runs, which he continues to do in Bologna!

Before I tell my spring break tale…

25 Apr

It took a day and a half of traveling, but I made it back to Bologna last night. After dinner and a much-needed hot shower, I went to face the big wide world of the Internet after a week of being away. To my great dismay and complete disbelief, my laptop’s poor broken power-supply cord had finally given up. The last thing it had ever done for me was give me a shock when I was pulling it out of the outlet at the train station cafe. Lousy thing.

Luckily, I had five minutes of battery left on the thing–enough to grab my Garibaldi file. Colin kept his old laptop around, which functions fine but can’t connect to the Internet, so I’m working on that.

Mom’s hopefully bringing a replacement cord with her when they arrive in a week. Then we’re off and running to everywhere you might expect: Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Sorrento, and Rome.  It’ll be a fun and busy couple of weeks with what I imagine will be a very abrupt end. I’ve only got three weeks left in Italy.

Sardegna Update

19 Apr

Sardegna is quite lovely and we’re having a nice time here. The rental house our friends found is beautiful, though we’re a little short on beds with the nine of us… It’s an interesting cast of characters that neither Colin nor I have spent a whole lot of time with, but that makes for good conversation over dinner. Or while sitting on our gorgeous patio. Photos to come.

Off to Sardegna

15 Apr

In about an hour I’m leaving for a full day’s worth of travel to get to Sardegna, an Italian island. We’ll be staying in this house with five other SAISers, next door to a house with eight more SAISers; it should be a fun week! However, Internet is an unknown. I’ll post when I can to keep in touch, because I still have older stories to share with you.

What “Closed for repairs” means in Italian

14 Apr

or How I got to see both sides of lovely Cinque Terre

Manarola fading into the distance.

A few weekends ago Colin and I took an early morning train to Cinque Terre with a couple of his friends, Leah and Christine. It was hard to make up for lost sleep on the ride because the sun was shining right in my eyes, but that’s really not something to complain about when you’re on your way to the beach.

But wouldn’t you know it, as soon as the train reached the coast, we were enveloped in clouds so low I honestly was afraid there was a fire. We stepped off the train and immediately pulled out scarves and windbreakers and made concerned noises about not having enough clothing, but hey, at least we’re here!

Only the ladies selling admission tickets said that three of the four coastal trails were closed due to bad weather—only the first 20-minute stroll to the second Terre was open. To see the other towns, one could ride the train or hike the trails that go up through the mountains.

With no real options but to press on, we set off on the over-crowded concrete walkway between Riomaggiore and Manarola, Lovers’ Walk. As it name suggests, it was covered with romantic graffiti and locks for enduring love, and I imagine that, had we not been surrounded by so many other people, it would have been quite sweet.

Manarola was as crowded as the trail had been, and we didn’t linger long. We started into the hills to get to Corniglia; mountainous trail was maybe not accurate, but it did get across the right meaning. Conversation came to a halt as we huffed and puffed up the hillside, passing groups of aging Italians who occasionally asked for a lift. After not too long, the path leveled out and became quite pleasant. It led us through olive tree orchards and people’s front yards—we paused briefly to smell what someone else was having for lunch (something with roasted bell peppers).

By the time we arrived in Corniglia, the sun was trying to come out and our tummies were grumbling. We lunched on sandwiches brought from home before grabbing a frozen yogurt and exploring the cute little town. At one point a young American couple approached our group: “Do you know what there is to do in this town?” Dude, you just don’t get it.

The hilly trail to the fourth town looked like more than we were up for, but it looked as though walking along the road was another option. But what should we notice just as we were leaving Corniglia? A handful of people walking on the main trail! We tentatively approached the official-looking men manning the (parking) shack next to the entrance: “Can we go down this way?” They gave us a shrug and a what-do-I-care look and that was all we needed!

The coastal trail was a bit easier and certainly scenic, but I wouldn’t say it was better than the hilly trail. It didn’t take quite as long and it did come with some pretty spectacular views, all the more so since the sun was really out by that time. But I maintain it was actually lucky that the trail was “closed,” (we came across one muddy patch), and we were forced to take the opportunity to see a side that most visitors ignore.

Vernazza, the fourth town, had a fun, beachy vibe with a few shrimping boats at anchor in the tiny harbor. The water was cold, but the short beach was lined with bronzing Italians soaking up the last hours of sun. It was getting to be dinner time, and we were anxious to get to our lodgings for the evening, so we hopped on the train and skipped the last town to go just a bit further north to Moneglia where Colin had found us a great rental apartment.

Moneglia, 30 minutes north of Vernazza, is so charming. It clearly thrives on the Cinque Terre tourist overflow that must be starting even as I type, but when we were there it was just starting to wake up. We grabbed some pizza and vino and dined in the room, nobody feeling quite up for a night out. We took it pretty easy the next day as well, finding a bun and some fruit for breakfast and exploring the little town. The only downside was the weather; like the day before, it was downright chilly all morning. After a lunch of pesto lasagna (we were quite near Genoa, the birthplace of pesto as Americans know it), we headed back to Bologna.

Roma e Sorrento (e Napoli)

8 Apr

We made it to Rome, but not on that pre-dawn train. Even so, we arrived early enough in the day to do the ancient city and even found ourselves checking sights off the list that we hadn’t planned to get to until the next day. Rome is so small and convenient/twisty and you’re never really quite sure what direction you’re heading.

I’d been to Rome once before, remember, so I didn’t really take too many photos. There were a few new things for me (like the Bocca della Verita and the Raphael rooms in the Vatican), and of course it’s always more fun to do things with a friend. I also felt a lot less piggy getting a gelato a day when I wasn’t doing it by myself.

Look out, he bites!

After two and a half days in Rome, we were ready to head south for Sorrento. More train troubles meant we didn’t arrive to the area of our hostel until about 10:30 at night, and we probably wouldn’t have found it at all if it had not been for an older Italian man who was friends with the owner and offered to give us a lift up an incredible hill.

The view from Casale Antonietta in Sorrento

We were a little travel-weary but rallied with a lovely breakfast the next morning and managed to catch a bus headed to Positano, I believe the northernmost town in the Amalfi Coast area.

Mamma mia, what a cute little town! Our friend Kera had recommended we visit it, and I’d say it was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was so nice to be by the sea, and since it was still low season, there wasn’t any competition for space on the sand-rocks. The half-day we spent there was just enough time to relax and recuperate.

Those are some sorry winter feet if I've ever seen some.

The next day was spent in Pompei, and my iPod had just enough battery left for Rick Steves to guide us around the town. Obnoxiously, at 11 a.m. they were out of English maps and booklets, so once Rick Steves was finished, we tried to piece together what information we could from the Spanish (Noel) and Italian (me!) guides.

Pompei definitely came with a few mind-blowing moments. I think top among them was the fast-food industry that was established in the city. Marble countertops with holes for pots of hot food and cool wine; tracks in the doorsill for an accordion-style sliding door; grooves in the sidewalk for attaching an awning. Mind. Blown.

This seems like a nice place to discuss how darn easy it was to get around down south without a car. In the Napoli train station we switched to the Circumvesuviana line, which is somewhere between a regular train system and a light rail system. Ticket prices are reasonable and trains run twice an hour between Napoli and Sorrento, the two terminal stations, and stop everywhere I can imagine a tourist wanting to visit, including Pompei and Erculean (another Vesuvius-preserved town). The staff at the Sorrento station had perfect English and helped us with the bus system, for getting to both our hostel and Positano.

Downtown Sorrento, too darn cute

Anyway, I really liked every part of the Sorrento leg of our journey and am happy I’ll get another chance to visit it again in May. We had a brief time in Napoli before we got on the train back to Bologna. Poor Napoli. It was a bit drizzly (the only bad weather we had on the whole trip), we were carrying all of our stuff and a bit paranoid because the first thing most people say about Napoli is how sketchy it is, and we didn’t even get to eat at the amazing pizzeria because the crowd in front of it was just too darn big. Napoli, I’m sure you’ve got a lot to offer, but you kind of reminded me of a developing country.

Ahh one more thing I need to write down so I don’t forget it. On the train back to Bologna we were in a compartment with the most charming Italian kid I’ve met and her grandmother. The 7-year-old had no DS, PSP, iPod, cellphone–niente–and yet she managed to stay well-behaved and not at all annoying the entire eight-hour journey. About halfway through the trip, her curiosity was enough that she started chatting with us, and in my very broken Italian and with the assistance of a 20something with less-broken English, we shared our story. And then I pulled out Noel’s sudoku book and the girl sat right next to me and wanted to know how to play. One of the other passengers knew the game and explained the basic rules in Italian, but then I was left to try to explain strategy in Italian. Oi. But she got it!

A scrawled note

5 Apr

It turns out Garibaldi is as formidable an opponent when it comes to meeting deadlines as he was when met in battle. I’m feeling downright overwhelmed by this editing project—it looms over me all the time. Additionally, my time in Italy is coming quickly to an end, so all of those trips that were being put off until the nice spring weather are piling up, and people want to be social. People can be hard to say no to. Those people also include those two other jobs I still have, babysitting and tutoring.

And oh man, could this weather be more beautiful? Nope.

I know I still owe you photos from my trip with Noel, not to mention some of the delicious food we made, but now I’ve got new photos to share with you from my trip this past weekend to Cinque Terre. These will all come soon.

Since most of my readers are back home and I haven’t had much recent contact with them, I just want to use this as a way to tell them all that I’m happy and healthy and working hard and missing them and learning lots and eating well and not packing just yet but starting to worry about it.

Excuses

31 Mar

I just want everyone to know that I still haven’t even unpacked from my trips with Noel. The blog (and correspondences and going through photos and cleaning my room) has taken the back seat this week while I’ve tried to get caught up on everything else. I promise photos and stories soon.