A Month?

My host mother informed me yesterday that it has been an entire month since i got here! Unbelievable. Time passes by so quickly and so slowly here: on one end, yes, I have been here for a month and I can’t believe it, but on the other, the concept of time that I have lived by all my life is obsolete in Italy. Time is not a thing to be set, to be finite, or to be agreed upon by any means. “Al’ ora di pranzo,” or literally, at the hour of lunch, implies a time anywhere from 1.00 to 3.oo in the afternoon. I unfortunately learned this the hard way- as I expected someone to call at 12, but had to wait an hour and a half to hear from them. But, I suppose that is all in the name of living the “Vita Bella,” or beautiful life- there is no beauty or enjoyment in constant efficiency: if this were so, you would have no time to sit down and sip your coffee, staring out the window at the mountainous landscape covered in tress.

My life lately has been mostly centered around volunteer work- which I am incredibly happy with. Namely, I have been volunteering at the Mensa de Poveri- or soup kitchen, for the past couple of weeks. Everyone is so friendly here and so ready to accept you into the group. There was no exception with the soup kitchen- which I found to be completely different from the one I volunteered at back in my home town of Oak Park. I don’t know why I was still surprised, but all those who come to the soup kitchen are greeted with three course meals and as much bread and water as they please. Everyone crowds to sit over a delicious, large, and warm meal- which I thought perfectly epitomized the very essence of life in Italy- good food, and good friends/ family. Though my language skills are sufficient enough volunteer without worry of totally misunderstanding, I can’t believe how much simply being there has helped me improve my abilities. Whether talking with the attendees, or with the staff afterward (all the volunteers are welcome to a family-style meal after work in which we similarly all crowd around one long table and eat pretty much the same delicious food that was served while the Mensa was still open), my vocabulary and ability to hold conversations in general has significantly improved. In addition to all this good, I met some really interesting/ incredible people while working there, and can never wait to go back.

Group picture on the beach at Viareggio

The most spectacular gelatto place I have ever seen, Florence

Mi in the Piazza del Campo, Siena

Via Del Amore e La Vita Bella

So I have been without internet for a while now, and let me tell you, it feels pretty good to not rely on technology once and a while. For the last four days I have been traveling Italy with my Siena Italian Studies group to Pisa, Viareggio, La Spezia and the Cinque Terre, and finally Lucca. Mostly we just walked until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and then ate until our stomachs were more than fully satisfied. The food was incredible, and I’m pretty sure we were supplied food or a hundred instead of thirty.

In Pisa, of course, we saw the leaning tower- and yes, it does look the same as it does in postcards. Except a bit more real and a bit more surreal at the same time. Apparently not that long ago, the town made an attempt to stabilize the bottom by putting heave weights on one side and inserting cement into the base. As the tower is built on sand and as underneath that sand there is water- the plan didn’t really work and there was a mandatory evacuation of all surrounding houses just in case of collapse. Now, and again, the tower is stable- but it is also still leaning.

La Spezia and the Cinque Terra was my favorite part of the trip. We began by walking the “Via del Amore” trail which runs along the coast and has the most amazing view. The walk itself was not far, but with the amount of times we stopped in awe, I am sure we were there for at least an hour. After this less intense hike, a few other students and I decided to take the train to Vernazza to try out another path. It turned out to be the most “real”  hike I have ever been on- there were little to no railings to protect you from falling hundreds of feet into the oceany/mountainy abyss. We even were forced to traverse across a waterfall- and by forced I mean were really excited to see if we could survive the current. The air was incredible on the mountain- I actually felt healthier just being up there. I am starting to realize why Italians are known for living “La Vita Bella.” With the unavoidable exercise that comes with walking the hilly streets of Siena, with the inevitable digestive health that comes with eating only organic food, and with the promise of beautiful scenery wherever I go, I am starting to loose my American need for efficiency and opt for a more relaxed and more enjoyable way of life.

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Am I really here?

Off to Lavinia’s (The program director) for a picnic: We took a very long, hilly walk to Lavinia’s house a couple of days ago for dinner- you would think that the hills become easier to climb after a while, but they really don’t. But the scenery was beautiful all the while, so no one really minded the walk. In order to get to her house, we all entered a narrow passageway, one-by-one, and slowly climbed our way through a long tunnel. It was the most fun I have ever had physically entering a house in my entire life. While there were massive amounts of mosquitos outside, the backyard picnic was really refreshing- especially after the long and grueling walk. I, along with some of the other students, stupidly thought the meal was one course of pasta with bread and then dessert… but after stuffing our faces with pasta, we soon found out that there were in fact three courses (like every other italian meal i have been served), and chose to then really stuff our faces to the point of explosion. The food is worth it here- and the hills, for the most part, make up for the massive amounts of food eaten. Today, I somehow woke up at 1:00 pm ( I really needed sleep), to a three course meal of pasta, chicken, and baked potatos- with an offering of ice cream at the end. That was the biggest breakfast I have ever eaten hands down.

The group at Lavinia’s:

Friday was spa day- or rather, hot springs day.I didn’t know how stiff my body was until after emerging from layers of warm, (and really smelly), sulfer infused water.

And finally: yesterday I went to Florence and had the most incredible time: the architecture is surreal, the streets look like they’re from a different time, and the artwork is breathtaking. While it is essentially the mecca of tourism, (apart from Rome), you completely forget about the millions of people around you when staring in awe at the massive and intricate Duomo. I can’t wait to take the hour bus ride again with my class to visit the Ufizzi museum. Some other girls and I wanted to see the Caravaggio exhibit on display there yesterday, but it cost around 20 euro, and required a long wait in line to get into, so we opted to wander the streets of Florence instead. After some wondering, we came across an outdoor market that sold more leather bags and pashmire scarves than is ever imaginable. Haggling is really not a known part of italian market life, so I didn’t buy much, but I most definitely had an urge to splurge on everything.

Here are some pictures of the day trip:

Allora…

Okay so a whole bunch has happened since the last post. The intensive Italian language courses that we are currently taking are definitely intensive. I have homework every night which gives me an excuse to go to the “bar” or cafe, and buy yet another cup of cafe latte. Delicioso. Yesterday I went to the sea with my roommate, Emily, our friend Sam, and her really awesome host mom. It was about an hour drive there and the view was incredible the entire time, even when we were driving five miles per hour behind a grumpy old man and his wife. Italians, like new yorkers, are crazy drivers. I would love to rent a vespa and drive throughout Siena, but I am a little too scared for my life to do so. Anyway, the beach was great, the water was the bluest I have ever seen, and the American obsession with censorship was no where to be seen- and by that, I mean there were plenty of topless women around. Oh to be free.

Going a bit further back in time, on Saturday, after our Intensive language class, the group took a trip to il Museo Santa Maria Della Scala. I wanted to stay there for hours, but unfortunately my stomach wouldn’t let me. The museum was full of giant frescoes, statues, and religious paraphernalia that was set up in a way to make you feel as if you were alive in the 14th century.

Saturday night was my first experience at a Sienese contrada party. Siena is divided into 9 regions, or contradas that most people hold true to for life. Each contrada has its own flag and respective mascot, colors, ect. Every summer there is a horse race called the Palio in which each contrada enters an elected horse and an elected rider to compete in the race. We watched a video in class of the event (unfortunately i will not be able to experience it in person), and it was so incredible to see how emotional people get before, during, and at the end of the race. It is essentially like the world cup in terms of support and dedication, only on a smaller and more local level. There is a sense of pride here though for one’s contrada that surpasses that of a fan’s love for their team. The race is built into the culture- people live for the race and some have been waiting more than 20 years to experience a victory. The bragging rights of the winning contrada last throughout the year and are in no way seen as snobbery or conceit, but rather as a truth.

Here is a picture of my friend Sara and a poster of the flags of each respective contrada behind her:

more later.

Lost and Found

Caio tutti! I am finally settled here in Siena, after 4 days of near havoc. I have yet to experience the epic-like-feeling of culture shock, but have unfortunately gotten to know life without clothes, without phones, and without computers. The latter two were actually things that I wanted to understand. I wanted to break free of my reliance on technology and enter the world of simplicity; But it could not be so. I quickly realized the importance of a cell phone to not only keep in contact with friends, but to have a means of help when you find yourself lost in the depths of the city. Speaking of which, it is incredibly beautiful here. The town is slowly getting more recognizable, and as it does, I am better able to focus on the beauty of my surroundings.

My host family is wonderful. Ada and Francesco are essentially my parents here- supplying me with all the incredible italian food I can eat and then offering some more to top it off. Gelatto is everything you would expect. I recently tied cafe and muffin (I know, not really a traditional Italian flavor, but still), and couldn’t even finish the two scoops due to the thickness and richness of the cream.

I began my Intensive Italian Language course a couple of days ago, and have found that my grammar is less than great. I can hold a conversation, and have been able to get my point across for the most part, but am corrected often by my host family and other students that I have gotten to know in the past couple of days. I encourage their scrutiny though, as I hope to really perfect my Italian while I’m here. Volunteer work will definitely help with the fluidity of my speech as I have elected to work at a high school, partake in a language course for Italian immigrants, ride in an ambulance and attend to whatever I am asked, and any additional art type activities that come my way. What will perfect my Italian though, in the end, is really interacting with everyone I can possibly learn from- which I haven’t found too hard so far because almost everyone here is willing to give you a few helpful tips.

Off to class for me.

More later.

It’s Finally My Turn.

As my friends slowly dissipate to their respective colleges, I have only had more time to wonder about the semester to come. For a while I was doubtful of whether or not I would actually be able to leave at all- with five days left to go and no visa, it was looking pretty bleak. But all is well now thanks to a very friendly mailman and a not-so-surprisingly ridiculous looking passport picture. (Really though, who doesn’t look sweaty and angry in their walgreens photoshoot)? Anyway, it’s off to Italy in three days, and despite what everyone says about preparing early, I have stuck to my old ways and saved all the packing for last minute. My mom really loves that about me.

So what have I wondered about Italy, you ask? Well, I only get as far as the airport to tell you the truth- as I have never before been to Italy and have never before traveled abroad. Since I’m going overseas, I imagine there will be one of those fancy touch screens on the back of the seats to play with… that should keep me entertained for a couple of hours at least. Then I wonder a little harder, and imagine missing the bus that is supposed to be both the group’s means of transportation from the airport in Rome to Siena (which is approximately three hours long) as well as the on-site orientation. Missing the bus is actually pretty likely, considering my plane gets in at 12:40 pm and the bus leaves at 1:00. Lavina and Mike (my program leaders) thankfully emailed some very detailed instructions on how to find your own ride in case such an unfortunate incident were to happen. We’ll see what happens!

As I really haven’t been able to imagine what the program might be like, I have had some trouble actually grasping the fact that I am leaving. I have wanted to go to Italy for as long as I can remember, and my dad’s side of the family is extremely Italian, so it’s not like this is a new concept for me; I have experienced shades of Italian culture in from I miei Nonni (my grandparent’s), but have no clue as to what I should actually expect. My nonna, (grandmother), is pretty opposed to my plans to travel. She’s a worrier. I heard some pretty stereotypical stories about Italian men that were supposed to deter me from going to Italy- but in actuality they just made me laugh, as her thick italian accent rambled off american words that I didn’t even think she knew. (Enough said on that front).

All in all, I am incredibly excited to leave and experience the culture that I have heard so much about but has (thus far) been unobtainable in full. I can’t wait to meet my Sienese host family, to begin service work, to start classes, and to meet new people… My friends and I have this long running joke that it is finally my turn to travel abroad: almost all of them have already studied all over the world in places such as India, Costa Rica, Israel, and France- and I am the last one to go.

More later.

-Melissa

Tales from Italy ch.14- Last Exams and the Beginning of the End

It’s been almost a month since my last update and I’ve fallen behind on my entries. These last few weeks have been the busiest in the semester so far, and it has left me little time to write. Fortunately, my poor memory has been saved thanks to the little “Italia” notebook Adrie bought me at the end of fall semester; I’ve been recording my days with bullet points each day (or most, really) and that will really come in handy right about now.

So anyway- the point of my journal entry:

The beginning of June left me with 3 exams to take and plenty of trips to look forward to before heading home. My ceramics exam went well (a 27/30) and I was so happy to not study for it anymore once it was finished. In the weeks leading up to it, I had spent most of my free time studying for the exam. It got to the point where I would respond to my friends with “Sorry, but I have to study for ceramics” so often that the response became its own expression as a response for not wanting to do something (used by everyone, not just me). For example:

“Do you want to go out with us later?”

“Oh sorry, I can’t. I have to study for ceramics.”

My cinema exam was not nearly as pleasant. Janelle, Laura, and I arrived at 9 with the hope to be the first 3 for our exam at 9:30. This was not the case since our professor not only arrived late AND took an hour lunch break, but decided to go alphabetically starting at ‘P’. Of the three of us, Laura went first which was good since she had another exam that day. Janelle and I were stuck waiting for hours before we got in. Our professor wasn’t that nice either. Normally the professors take it easy on foreign students because they know there is a language barrier that can hinder how well we learn, but she expected the same of us as she did the students who could speak Italian fluently. This was topped off with sighs and rolling of the eyes, not to mention she didn’t look at us while we spoke- she went through papers and other things on her desk, only making eye contact once every two minutes or so. At the end of my exam she pointed out that she could see there was most definitely a language barrier and gave me a look that told me she thought I deserved a lower grade than what she was giving me. While all her gestures were rude and uncalled for, rather than return the favor in this entry, I will be the better person and end my discussion of her here.

My last exam was the best of them all not only because it was for my favorite class, but because it was with my favorite professor: Musica per Lo Spettacolo (Music for the Show) with Professor Festa (“It’s a festa with Festa!”). Laura and I were two of his three students and by far the most frequent. When we arrived for our exam, he let us take it in the same room together. I went first. The exam was like our classes: awesomely philosophical, but this time we did most of the talking. This guy is like our Socrates; we could sit and have him explain to us his thoughts on how music relates to life and space all day. The class –and our exam- were the greatest, not to mention we both came out with 30/30 🙂

With our exams finally over, we had to find other ways to occupy our time. While most of my time is occupied by the work I’m doing for my online summer classes at New Paltz, I did manage to join the others much more often once studying for my finals was finished. One evening, we all played a game of Never Have I Ever, and it lasted so long that we stopped keeping points. It was a very educational game into the lives and experiences of one another. While we didn’t get the chance to play the card game, Bullshit (or “Bull Sheißa” as we called it in German) in this last week, I think this would be a good place to point out that this game holds many memories from the semester for me. So many times we would just sit around and pass the time playing near the bar in Tridente or upstairs in the Sala Studio. I will miss these evenings very much.

Also during this last week, Ryan and I had our last radio show of Independent Carrots. We left the theme as a surprise for most our friends because Ryan and I had something special planned. We decided a great way to end the semester would be to make a playlist that encompassed all our favorite songs from the semester and songs that highlighted our experiences. In the end, we came up with these songs:

  • Fly Away”- Lenny Kravitz (to signify ‘flying away’ to study abroad)
  • Stereo Love”- Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina (THE song in Urbino, and a favorite of Judith’s)
  • Me and Julio”- Paul Simon (Laura and I put together a great harmony to this and some sweet guitar playing with ‘Pattie,’ my guitar)
  • King of Spain”- Moxy Fruvous (Introduced to us by Laura in the beginning of the semester)
  • Rocket Man”- Elton John (this song has 2 meanings: 1- “Rocket Man” was easily replaced with “Moroccan Man” in reference to the attractive Moroccan boy Laura is friends with; 2- I had never seen the “Rocket Man” rendition by William Shatner (I had only seen Family Guy’s parody of it), so Stefan sent me the video)
  • My Life Would Suck Without You”- Glee Cast (Glee was really popular to watch together this semester. Every Wednesday or Thursday, Laura, Monika, Sonja, Ryan, Janelle, and I would sit in my room and watched streamed episodes online. The title is also pretty self-explanatory for the strong friendships we formed ^_^).
  • Friends”- Flight of the Concords (The title needs no explanation with how it relates to us. We also find Flight of the Concords to be absolutely BRILLIANT).
  • With a Little Help From My Friends”- Across the Universe Cast (self- explanatory)
  • Mr. Sandman”- The Puppini Sisters (Countless hours spent on the terraces above Tridente playing chess, having tea and cookies, and soaking in the sun while listening to the Puppini Sisters).
  • Mama Ist Stolz”- Sido (A German song about pimps and mom’s being proud; introduced to Ryan by Stefan on their trip to Cinque Terre. Sonja also raps this pretty well lol)
  • Countries of the World”- Yakko Warner (We had the goal to learn this song by heart. While that didn’t actually happen, it was fun to try).
  • We Like to Party”- Vengaboys (While explaining 6 Flags Theme Park, and the dancing old man from the commercials (who Laura hates btw), Monika pointed out that this was the song in the background).
  • Just Around the River bend”- Pocahontas (We had the pleasure of watching Disney’s Pocahontas this semester)
  • Can’t Tell that to the Administration”- Rob Hanlon & Nick Petrasino (An Urbino original, written and performed by two Villnova students)
  • Freedom”- David Hasselhoff (The previous radio show (an 80s theme), we meant to play this for ze Germans but ran out of time. Because David Hasselhoff sang this in a lit-up leather jacket at the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, our German friends have taken to calling him their hero).
  • Good Riddance”- Green Day (This song is one of the first songs Laura taught Monika and I on guitar. It is also a beautiful goodbye song reminiscent of our experiences).

We hope that we left the radio program well prepared for future students. We always had a blast.

The night of the 10th, Judith and Mike had a dinner with all of us in town because they were leaving the next day. Sonja, Janelle, Ryan, Matthias and I were also leaving, but only for a short while. The next few days we would spend in Rome before heading back to Urbino for one last week 🙁

Tales from Italy ch.13: Endless Studies and… Kittens??

Last week and this week in my life I have been utterly consumed by studying. It seems endless and a burden- not to mention all my exams (and their study materials/ books) are in Italian which takes me twice as long -if not longer- to read. It’s a slow and difficult process, but I’m chugging through nonetheless.

Last Thursday I had my dreaded Storia della Ceramica (History of Ceramics) exam. Studying for that was difficult in terms of both reading in Italian and retaining a decent attention span. Luckily Sonja and Janelle were also in this class with me so we divided up the reading material to study. Sonja covered the small book on the chemistry and basic methods of making ceramics; Janelle and I split the larger book on history (though Sonja read most of that one on her own too). I was assigned the second half of the book which mostly covered tiles. I spent the good portion of a week turning down events and social get-togethers to read through this monster only to discover later, after days of work and more than half a notebook of fine-print notes written by hand, that as a foreign student, I was only expected to know the basics of ceramics and their families- none of which was in the portion I had read. This was nice in that all the information I had gathered didn’t need to be memorized, but disappointing in that I had just wasted AN ENTIRE WEEK READING SOMETHING THAT DIDN’T MATTER. Ugh. So I was to rely on Sonja and Janelle, and lets just say the last few days up to the exam were really stressful for me. In the end though, I got a 27 out of 30 on the exam, and am so happy to be done with it.

In the time since then, I’ve been doing a lot of work for my classes back home that I’m taking online: ‘Media and Society’ and ‘Intro to Advertising.’ It’s a lot of work to handle on top of the additional studying I have to do for my last two exams that are coming up this Wednesday and Thursday. But, like everything else this past week or so, I’m chugging through it step by step and am spending a lot of time in the Sala Studio (Study Room) upstairs with Monika (who’s been studying for her law exam) and Laura (who’s studying for my exams and a Religious Anthropology one as well). Occasionally we are also joined by Sonja and Ryan and the group of us is very encouraging. Most of our time is silent as we study, but occasionally we’ll distract ourselves in skype chat rooms (these even include Stefan sometimes, who’s not studying with us because he’s already done!!!! argh!) and attempt to keep our laughter to quiet levels (I regularly fail at this). Our chat topics vary from discussing the ridiculous emoticons of Skype, to making Glee references (specifically Sue Slyvester quotes like “I may buy a small diaper for your chin because it looks like a baby’s ass!”), to complaining about our studying, to making fun of our studying and most importantly learning German!
Just yesterday I had this conversation with Laura:
Laura: “regretfully i am afraid of the muppets. miss piggy, specifically” ….
Me: “what do you hate more? Ms. Piggy or the 6 Flags guy? I think i’ll chose between those for my halloween costume”
Laura: “dont make me choose”
Me: “OR WHAT ABOUT THE 6-FLAGS GUY AND MISS PIGGY’S MUTANT BABY?”
Laura: “yous a hoe. i will kill you.”

Occasionally between all my studies I also get distracted by the occasional passers-by of Judith, Mike, and Stefan who walk past my window in search of Lola, the cat. Sometimes I bring her a can of tuna to her new home: a cardboard box adorned with a chair cushion (purchased from the Super Conad!) as a bed under the windows and overhang of Braccio 1, fashioned for her by Kevin. Since the discovery and suspicion of her being pregnant, we have taken the upmost care of her, especially because she’s a stray. Of course all of this was before I received the news on June 1, 2010 that LOLA HAD BABIES! Yes! Lola became a happy mother to 5 adorable kittens and together they now live inside Braccio 1, under the stairs of Kevin’s blocco. :)!!

Today marks June 5, 2010 and I guess you could say I’m still procrastinating on my studying… at least for a little while. I slept in this morning for the first time in a long while and after lunch came here, back to the Sala Studio, to study. Our favorite table may be taken (meaning I am subject to poorer lighting and a less awesome table that lacks the elevation and sunlight of our precious spot) but I still managed to get through about 10 pages of my Media and Culture textbook. …Argh who am I kidding? Normally, I would be proud of this, but this book is in ENGLISH not Italian- 10 pages isn’t enough. Ugh. My goal is to at least finish the chapter asap today. I don’t mind though- I’m really enjoying the book even if it is a textbook. Changing my major to Communication and Media was a wonderful choice. At lunch today I was talking with Ryan about his Media Production classes that he’s taking here, and I’m considering to maybe get a Masters in that or directing- it sounds cool and fun. Oh jeez. “Cool” and “fun”? Since my apparent loss for more creative adjectives has begun, I think it’s time I ended this study break of mine, and returned to the wonderful world of my Media textbook. As always, I should turn to the studious Monika for guidance and learn to imitate her ways so that I may better my own study habits:

HAPPY STUDIES!

Tales from Italy ch.12: Couchsurfing, Police, and Patty (Padua & Ferrara)

This past Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I spent my time with Laura and Sonja in Padova (“Padua”) and Ferrara. When I left, I didn’t really know what to expect from the cities, but Sonja said like Urbino, they are famous Renaissance cities. While we were there, we also had our very first couchsurfing experience, meaning that instead of staying in a hostel, we stayed at someone’s house. I realize that may sound unsafe, so I’ll just explain later.

Our trip started really early in the morning when we took the 6:55 bus to Pesaro and then the train to Bologna, where we slept. Once in Bologna, we had some time to kill before our next train to Padova, so we sat in McDonalds and… studied. Yes, studied. How awful does that sound? Very much so, I hope is your reply. It’s currently finals period at Urbino, but unlike the states where you have 1 or 2 weeks of just finals, Italy works differently. Each exam has more or less 3 different dates from which you can choose to take your exam. Even though I generally chose the second option for all my exams, they’re still scattered over three different weeks, and the studying is intense. Not only do I have to read a bunch of material, but I have to read it all in Italian and that’s really been slowing it down. So, we gave ourselves head starts and started early, and that is how we came to be studying in McDonalds on our vacation.

After about an hour, we caught our train to Padova. The first thing we saw when we arrived was this church that had a lot of information on the bombings Padova suffered during WWII. The number really surprised me- this one poster alone documented 14. It was really sad to see, and it’s still hard to fathom these sort of things actually having had happened outside of history books and posters like this one. It’s just too awful to comprehend how humans have the capability to make that sort of choice and ruin the lives of so many people in one blink…

From the church, we took a stroll and ended up in this big park. In the center of this park is the Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto’s famous interior paintings are, and which we were going to see the next day. At this point in the day, Italy was taking it’s afternoon break, and since nothing was open we took it easy in the park. We napped, studied (again) and then rewarded our studies with some time at the playground before embarking on our day again.

Our excursions afterward included sightseeing whatever we came across (meaning that we took the time to get lost) and some shopping. This took us till dinnertime, when we found a pizza buffet 🙂 It was here that we were to meet our couchsurfing hosts after dinner, so now I’ll explain what this is.

Couchsurfing is a website for travelers to meet locals in the cities they visit. Rather than stay in a hotel or hostel, travelers get to stay with hosts in their homes. This allows for saving money when you don’t have to pay for a room, and an insider’s view of their hometown- the best kind. While this sounds dangerous and risky to some extent, the comfort comes in each person’s profile. Each host has references from past surfers (meaning the travelers that stayed with him or her); they can be positive or negative and each comes with a summary of their experience. The profile also has information about their “couch,” which may either be a couch, a floor, or a spare room, where the surfers can stay. Also not everyone is a host; when you search for people in that city, you’ll also get people who maybe just want to meet up for a coffee, but can’t offer you a place to stay. This is still cool because you could get a free tour, meet some new people, and really get a deeper connection to your city. Of course safety is always your responsibility- I would recommend traveling in a group, not by yourself, and really getting as much info about your host as possible: How many surfers has he or she had? How long have they been active on couch surfing? Do they have a facebook profile you can check out? It’s really up to you, but if you get the chance I highly recommend giving it a try. I had a great experience.

Anyway, after dinner we me our host, Francesco. He and his friend, Dario picked us up from the buffet and took us out for drinks where we got to sit outside in a piazza. From there, they gave us a quick tour by car of the city to help us pick out what we wanted to come back and see the next day. Afterward we arrived at his apartment which was really awesome. Francesco works for a lighting company and so his apartment was lit up in the coolest ways. We sat out on the terrace for a while before heading to bed- I slept on the couch and Laura and Sonja on a mattress he put on the floor, and he gave us all blankets and pillows. Considering I was sleeping on a couch and not in a bed, I actually slept really well- for the first time in a long time, I didn’t wake up cold because unlike our dorm in Urbino, his apartment wasn’t made of stone, he didn’t shut the heat off at night, and it was a home.

The next day we woke up and showered, which was an experience in itself. The shower was actually a bathtub without a curtain, so we basically kneeled and showered trying not to get the floor wet. This wasn’t the greatest success however, and we ended up having to hang his rug outside to dry. However, we did wake up to a very nice text from Francesco, who had left to go to work earlier that morning (his roommate was home though- I doubt he would’ve left 3 strangers alone in his house). It was nice, and he just wanted to know if we had slept ok. Over the course of our trip we got a couple from him like this where he was just checking up to see that we were having a good time. He was a really good guy.

At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m gonna talk about the “Police” reference I have in the title of this entry. Well, here it is:
From his apartment, we packed up and went to the tram to get into town. None of us had ever taken the tram before, and assumed that we just had to pay on board like the buses do. However, once on board, we discovered that this was not the case. Unfortunately for us, there was a police officer at the next stop. He took us off, took our identification from us, and then proceeded to tell us that for each there would be a penalty of 150euro. None of us had that of course, and he said he would be nice and bump it down to 150euro total. Even still, we weren’t happy with this- there are no signs anywhere that say you have to buy your tickets in advance, so how could we have known? This goes without saying that Padua is a tourist town- how could they not think to put up a sign?? So, we told him that we couldn’t pay and tried to explain our situation, convince him that we didn’t know much Italian, and that we were gonna get off and buy tickets at the next stop (this was a bit of a lie though since we were hoping to get away with riding it the whole way after realizing we couldn’t buy tickets on board). He ended up taking us to this police office thing and was adamant that we pay the penalty and that there was no way around this. We didn’t believe him though because if there wasn’t anyway around it as he kept saying, he wouldn’t have been able to bump our 150 each down to 150 total. Because we were still playing the “I don’t speak Italian” card, he got some other officers to come over and translate. They did an okay job of it, but we still didn’t want to pay- there was no way we could have known, not to mention that unbeknown to them, we could understand what they were saying to each other, and most of the officers he had called over didn’t even know themselves that you had to buy tickets in advance! In the end, after much much persistence, he frustratingly gave in with us just paying the one fee of a ticket each.

Unfortunately the time we spent in this debacle took a toll on our schedule- we had a tour appointment to be at the Scrovegni Chapel at 10:15 (you must buy tickets in advance because the chapel can only have a limited number of people in it at a time otherwise it upsets the oxygen levels or something and destroys the work), and it was then 10:05. We might have made it, but then we had the hardest time finding the entrance. By the time we got there we were late and worried we wouldn’t be allowed in. It was particularly upsetting for Sonja who, as an Art History major, wanted to see the chapel for her studies and experience. Much to our surprise, all the people who worked there that we encountered were impressed with our police adventure that morning and let us through with the next group. It was pretty funny -and lucky- that they should all think it was cool that the 3 foreigners had a run in with the police haha.
The chapel was gorgeous though. Out of fear for his father’s soul going to the underworld, Enrico degli Scrovegni built the chapel in 1305. The entire inside was painted by one man, Giotto. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but here’s some I found online, and I highly recommend looking at the parts up close on the website -or in person if you ever go 🙂

After the chapel, we went out for coffee and croissants and did a little shopping before heading over to the statue of Gattamelata and Saint Anthony’s Basilica. The Basilica was giant and had these really pretty domes on the top that looked more Arabic than Italian. We also spent some time just relaxing in the cloister of the Basilica.

From there, we headed over to the biggest piazza I’ve ever seen, the Prato della Valle. It’s this giant piazza that has a small island in the middle surrounded by a stream that is adorned with statues. It’s a beautiful place, and we spent part of our afternoon there just studying and napping.

At this point we started to get hungry and decided to go get some groceries for dinner. On the way there, we passed by this music shop that had a sign in the window that said “Classical guitars- 35euro and up.” Of course Laura and I were excited- Laura plays guitar, and I play a little and have tried in the past to get one, but the chances never worked in my favor. The idea of a guitar for 35 euro was too enticing to pass up, and we went inside. There were a bunch of guitars, but there was only one that caught my attention: this gorgeous dark turquoise/ aqua blue electric acoustic guitar. I had a feeling that this one would be much more than 35 euro and way out of my price range. I asked how much this one was expecting him to tell me 200 or more euro, but he said it was only 120. While not 35, this was a bargain for a guitar- especially one like that. I sat down and played it and it is so comfortable to play. In the end, I ended up leaving that store with the guitar, case, cable, and pics for only 140 euro. Maybe 140 euro is a bit much to spend spontaneously like that, but since then I have played this guitar every day and I love it. It’s so nice to have finally bought one that was comfortable to play, and now my skills are improving. Not to mention it’s a beautiful souvenir from Italy that I hope to keep forever with fond memories of where I was when I bought it (I have also since named it Patty, short for Padua). Anyway, we really did eventually get to the grocery store, and from there we returned to the Prato della Valle where we picnicked, listened to the group of hippie drummers that was picnicking near us, and played guitar on the island.
Laura with the lovely, Patty:

When we were done, we went out for coffee before meeting up with Francesco and Dario again for dinner. Originally we hadn’t planned to stay another night, but had since wondered if Francesco would let us so we could go to Ferrara the next day. We had enjoyed our stay with him and the company he offered. He was nice enough to respond on late notice and allow us to stay another night. The five of us went to this restaurant where we had pizza and beer (except for me with cola lol). It was a nice meal, but apparently I managed to embarrass myself without knowing. At one point in the meal, Francesco had asked us how the Italian boys compared to American ones. I decided to say they were different, especially in their dress- American guys don’t put as much effort into their daily outfits as Italian guys do. If an American guy were to dress like the average Italian -or European for that matter- of my age, he would probably be labeled metro-sexual -if not gay- or a “tool.” Please don’t take offense to this statement though; by no means do I intend to imply that I have anything against people who dress that way, or against who they are or how they wish to identify. The issue is however, that many people who aren’t me do. By this I mean I like the way Italian men dress, and I think its a shame many American men resort to an old t-shirt and jeans out of fear of these labels.
I guess I got off topic a bit here. The embarrassment of the story comes with the fact that this wasn’t what Francesco meant when he asked me to compare my opinion of Italian men vs. American men. As Sonja told me later, his question was more in a sexual tense. Oh well 0:-)

After dinner the 5 of us went for a stroll in a nearby town who’s population majority consists of the elderly. It was a nice walk though and once again we got to see a lot of pretty sights before heading back to the apartment for some sleep.

The following morning, after some better success with the shower and tram, Laura, Sonja and I took the next train to Ferrara. We didn’t spend much time there because we were a bit tired from our travels, but we did get to see the Cathedral, as well as a lot of other beautiful sights during our wanderings.

After some pizza and coffee for lunch, the three of us headed home and were able to meet up with our friends at the mensa for dinner. That evening before bed, we played some guitar ^____^ and a round of Dixit, a fun French game that Monika brought with the coolest and most beautiful pictures.

Overall, we weren’t murdered in our sleep at a strangers house, we got out of being arrested, I bought a guitar, and of course we saw lovely places. A good trip I’d say 🙂

Alla prossima!!!! (Until next time!)
CIAO!

More pictures from Padua & Ferrara

Tales from Italy ch.11: Work, Study, Feasts, and Deep-Sleepers

Since coming back from Paris, I’ve become overwhelmed in studying and work. Exams are coming up soon, and all my books are in Italian so they take forever to read. Sometimes, I read at work when I don’t have students come in. (By the way, I work at Urbino as a TA for English. Sometimes I have office hours, sometimes I work in a class). Up until the last two weeks, I’ve only had one student- EVER. Since exams are close, that number has quadrupled. I don’t mind, especially because the last 3 days I worked I had 3-hour long shifts to make up for time lost while traveling, and having a student makes the time pass much quicker.

Also during my office hours, I’ve been working with Peter Cullen, the liaison for Villanova (a university in the states) students at Urbino. He, Ryan and I are working on our Independent Carrots radio program and trying to set up an internship plan for future students studying abroad here. I think it’s a fantastic idea and am having a blast doing it.

Between all this and the seemingly non-stop studying, it’s always good to reward oneself for hard work. Lately, we’ve all been taking turns at cooking breakfast on the weekend. Twice I’ve made pancakes, ze Germans (+ our lovely Austrian, Monika) have made Fruchtsalat (fruit salad), and Laura has learned how to make bagels- and they’re SO good. Bagels are just one of those things you never think about learning how to make because they’re so mass-produced in the states. You can buy them on a whim for almost nothing. Unfortunately, here in Italy, there are no bagels and the several-month depravity of them has really taken a toll on us Americans. It’s pretty awesome that we can have them again -this time home-made – and be able to share them with our European friends 🙂

Another feasty-type reward has come in the form of brownies. In the package my mom sent me for Easter, she included some brownie mix. Like bagels, brownies are just another American “delicacy” we miss so much here. They turned out pretty good considering I made them in a toaster oven and had to convert all the measurements. Delicious as always, they were a belated b-day gift for Monika, and a lovely accompaniment to our study-reward-party of watching Ice Age 1,2, and 3.

Random side moment: There are a bunch of stray cats that live around my dorm. One day, some of my friends were outside playing with “Lola” and I gave her some tuna on my windowsill.

On May 10th, Laura and I were supposed to leave for Germany and visit our lovely Caroline. As you can gather from the past-tense of “were,” it didn’t happen, and we were really bummed. It got to be the night before we were leaving when we learned that the airport, Frankfurt Hahn, is actually 2 hours away by bus from the city of Frankfurt. Since our plane was arriving around 10:40 at night, the earliest we could get to Frankfurt city was 1am, and from there we’d have to take a train to Wurzburg, where our friend lived. The difficult thing was that trains didn’t run at that hour, our carpool plan didn’t work out, and Laura had been sick for the past two days- sleeping in a train station wouldn’t have done her any good. So after making the hard decision to not go, Monika went with me to Laura’s room to tell her. She had gone to bed early, not feeling well. We felt terrible waking her up, but we felt this was important. When we got there, we knocked on her door, called her several times, and called her name, yet there was no response. We could hear the phone going off inside her room meaning she was home, but her complete unresponsiveness made us really worried. So, after a few more tries, Monika left to get the front desk to open her door and make sure she was ok. When they arrived -and with our friend, Chiara as well- the 4 of us opened Laura’s door to find that she was sound asleep in her bed; even the presence of 4 people in her room, with the lights on, didn’t wake her up.
Satisfied that she was alright, and that she was sick enough to sleep so deeply, Monika and I wrote to Caroline ourselves to tell her the bad news. With the promise of visiting Germany one day, I would see her again, just not in the near future 🙁

At this point in the semester, my budget was running a bit tight, and money was a regular part of my thoughts. This all changed when I was paid for my TA job at long last. Apparently the check had been available since March, which I don’t understand since I never even signed a contract saying how much I should earn/ how many hours to work, and at that point I had just started. Nonetheless, pay day actually made my eyes tear. I received 6x the amount I expected- a whopping 1500 euro. I went to the bank immediately and put it into my Italian account here. Afterwards, I picked up some vegetables and chicken with the plan to make a celebration soup for dinner with my friends. When I got home, I wrote my parents about the good news, and told them that they could finally deposit a $360 check I had written them in February for my hostel and other stuff in Athens. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this financially comfortable. It’s going to be a great help when I have to send stuff home, and for the traveling I’ll be doing (Rome, Bari, Austria, and Greece) before heading home on July 2nd.

That evening, the chicken noodle soup was delicious. I had never even made soup before! Recipe for keeping:

-dice potatoes and chicken, add to boiling broth
-add small noodles
-once all this seems somewhat cooked, add diced celery, carrots, onions, and olives
-add spices as desired

In all, it was a wonderful ending to a great/ work-filled week, and that Monday I was off to Padova and Ferrara with Sonja and Laura.

A presto!
CIAO 🙂