Tales from Italy- ch. 2: Erasmus

To start, some things I forgot to mention in my last post:
1- the first street Alex and I decided to walk down since coming to Italy we discovered was called Via del Morte (Street of Death). What a welcome!
2- The oranges here are produced by a company called “Oraninja” and their sticker is a picture of the red ninja turtle poking a straw into an orange! I couldn’t get a good picture of the sticker I kept, so here’s a picture of their truck that I found on the internet!

Since then I’ve managed to accomplish a lot of things.
For one, I got my codice fiscale, which is basically like an Italian Social Security number. It’s like I’m a real citizen, except not at all!!
I also opened an Italian bank account. This way I can avoid all those annoying international fees and hopefully save some money in the end (Otherwise I’d be paying $5 at every ATM and have AT LEAST 3% tax on everything). The coolest part about this is that on the day that IĀ changed my money, I’m pretty sure the currency rate changed again in my favor. I deposited $2000 dollars into my new account which, earlier this week would’ve gotten me about 1330 euros or so… but I got 1420 euros! That’s 90 more than I expected!!! So it was obviously quite a moment for me šŸ™‚
The only difficult thing about depositing money into this account is that I have to give them cash. Withdrawing from the ATM here isn’t an option since I can only withdraw 250 euros at a time, and each transaction costs me $5 in international fees which would add up to be quite costly in the end. I also can’t write them a check (though IĀ still don’t understand this). So in the end, I ended up putting 5 euros in (which is all I had on me at the time) and then the next day Frederica took me to her bank where I wrote her a check (her idea) for $2000 which she cashed right there for me into euros through her own account. It was very nice of her to do. After that IĀ took my 1420 euros (^______^Ā still really happy about that) to the post office (which oddly enough is my bank) and put it into my new account! How cool, right?Ā An Italian bank account!!
To explain the post office thing, I’ve learned that not all the places here work the same. For instance, the post office also works as its own bank called “Postepay.” This is where I have an account (and its extra cool because my card is bright yellow). Likewise, the Tabbachi (tobacconist) also works as a bar, and that’s also where I go to buy minutes for my phone. Strange, right?

That same day, I bought a set of stamps, so now I can send postcards!

Over the last week, it’s been the Italian Carnevale; it’s their equivalent of Mardi Gras. Last night was the big finale I guess, and everyone was dressed up in costumes and dancing outside. It reminded me a lot of halloween, but for excited adults šŸ™‚

That night we went out dancing (where I met the Mario &Ā Luigi couple above). The DJ there is supposedly the guy I’m supposed to talk to about joining the radio here.Ā I really wanted to talk to him that night, but with the music so loud and my Italian not so great yet, it would’ve been a little difficult to communicate. I’ll have to keep trying though!

Yesterday, after depositing my lovely 1420 euro, IĀ met up with Alex. We wanted to go to Voda phone again to maybe switch our plans, but we don’t actually know yet if that’s more economical for us. On our way back, Alex stopped at a winery to get a bottle opener after having realized he bought a bottle of wine, but couldn’t open it. The first winery we went to sold cavatappi (bottle openers) for 3,50 euro (<<euros switch the . and , so 3.50 is actually written as 3,50). Alex didn’t have cash so we went to the bank. We passed a different winery after the bank, and Alex tried there instead. The guy claimed to not sell bottle openers, but as we headed out, he asked if it was a bottle opener as a gift, or one just for Alex. Alex said just for himself and explained his dilemma, to which the guy replied, ‘You can’t have a bottle of wine and no bottle opener!’ So he gave Alex one for free. Gotta love Italians.
After our cavatappi gratis (free bottle opener) we passed by a store called Ars Nova Laboratorioartioianale (I have no idea what that means). Anyway, this store was EXACTLY like the Groovy Blueberry back in New Paltz. IĀ told this to the guy at the counter and he was very excited to hear that there could be such a store like his in New York.

That afternoon, Laura and IĀ went into town in search of something nice to wear for the evening since we planned on going out. Despite our lack of success, we did stop at Romana and had our first Italian gelatos. She had coffee-flavored and IĀ had Nutellosa (nutella-flavored) and somthing that looked and tasted like brownie batter. MMMmmmmmm so good.

That night, we all went out with the Erasmus students (students studying abroad from Europe) and socialized. They’re a very friendly bunch and extremely helpful with adjusting. Around them, I hear a lot of German, and they said they’d teach me some German this semester outside of classes! I’m really excited. I’ve never been that fond of the sound of German, but after having been around it so much over the last few days, I’d like to start learning šŸ™‚

Today I had planned on going to visit Rimini, a small coastal town about an hour away, to do some shopping and sight seeing since we have much better weather.Ā In April, I’ll be heading back there for the European Ultimate Frisbee tournament!!! I can’t wait!!
However, I ended up staying here with the intention to save a bit of cash and to actually pick out classes since I’m meeting Frederica to locate them tomorrow at 11.

The better weather has allowed me to open my window. This is making me really happy since my room smells like airplane and jet fuel I guess from my luggage. I bought a lavender airfreshener the other day, but I can’t tell if it’s helping or making it more putrid. In another attempt, to my discovery, there’s actually a small vase for oil that someone left hanging from my radiator. Alex said we could make an airfreshener out of orange shavings and water.Ā Since we couldn’t shave the orange, IĀ just put in orange peel and water. Unfortunately now the little vase smells like vomit. Just another reason I’m so happy to have my window open today.
The weather also brought Luke, Maura, and the Spanish guy (who’s name I still can’t spell OR pronounce!) outside. They’re spending a lot of time together today since Maura goes home tomorrow. I looked out my window briefly while writing this only to find Luke scaling one of the trees outside my window and Maura and our Spanish friend throwing a soccer ball at him. It was really funny.

A piu` tardi! (Until later!)

Tales from Italy! ch.1- THE BEGINNING

I got to Italy on Saturday February 13th. For me, it still felt like Friday, February 12th since my night consisted of about 4 hours. I had left my house at 11am, got to the airport at 1pm, took off a little late by 430, arrived in Frankfurt, Germany around 520am (1120pm to me with jet lag), and caught a flight to Bologna, Italy at 820am (120am to me). While at the gate in Germany, I sat down next to a window and got on the internet to write home. From my seat I was able to watch the sunrise. My night had virtually disappeared since by the time I would have normally gone to bed back home, I was witnessing daybreak.
After arriving in Bologna, I met with Frederica, the New Paltz-Urbino liason and it was about a 2 hour drive to school. On the way here, we passed by what seemed to be a gazillion groves. We’d pass a house and next to it was maybe an apple grove, some stores then maybe an olive grove, some open space and then another grove! It was so pretty.
When we pulled up to the school, I got a good look at it. La Universita DIĀ Urbino “Carlo Bo” sits on a hill and looks so enchanting from afar (and at night when it gets lit up)- the big buildings look like castlesĀ (I still have to look to verify this). It’s very believable since Urbino is a really old medieval city (for instance, Alex, the other student from New Paltz, and I walked through an entry way yesterday that dated from the 14th century!). The whole campus is scattered in buildings across the city, with the dormitories just outside the city walls.

After quickly settling in, Alex and I headed back outside to the bus stop so we could get into the city center. I had to pick up a few things and we both needed cell phones.Ā When we got off we realized that just about every direction was either up or down a steep hill. At least I know I’ll be getting some exercise šŸ™‚
In an attempt to find a supermarket, we got lost a few times. Yet one of the great things about getting lost is you really learn your way around. I’ve been here just 2 and a half days and recognize the main areas of the city now and roughly know where to get what I’m looking for. After we had found the supermarket, we asked a lady for directions to find a store that sold towels.Ā Turned out she was from Puerto Rico and knew English very well. She showed us a store but said it was a little expensive. Unfortunately they were the only store we’d seen all day and that she knew of that sold towels until the flea market next Saturday morning. I didn’t have much choice- it was either buy now or don’t shower for a week. I disgustingly paid 20 euro (about $25-27) for 2 thankfully very large hot pink towels.
After that, we went in search of a store that sold Voda phones (Voda is pretty much the equivalent of Verizon in the states). It was a little difficult communicating our cell phone plan with the store owner, but in the end we got what we wanted: 2 of the cheapest cell phones and the cheap pay-as-you-go plan… perfect.

We eventually made it back to the bus station where IĀ decided to call my parents and let them know IĀ was alive since IĀ didn’t have internet access yet, and hadn’t contacted them since the airport in Germany. Of the 5 euros my phone came with, IĀ used up 3 in my 3-minute international call home.
While at the station, we learned that buses don’t pull up to the curb; you have to walk up to them while they sit parked in parking spots at the station. We learned this as our shivering selves watched our bus pull away without us after we thought it had just turned on. We ended up having to wait another 10 minutes for the next one. Lesson learned.

When I got back, I learned a few handy things:
1: you need to supply your own toilet paper and bring it with you to the stall every time;
2: there are 2 outlets in our rooms and they are 3-prong outlets, not 2-prong like the rest of Italy;
3: the fuse box is across the hall in the next blocco for when you blow the fuse out in your room (I spent the first night without power before discovering this; note to self: adapter+ American 3 to 2 prong converter+Ā American powerstrip+ appliance(s) =BAD);
4: my room door does not lock upon closing like I thought, so I don’t have to worry about being locked out, but I still must remember my keys ALWAYS;
5: the door knobs do not spin- they have a black button on the top;
6: When the door won’t open, don’t fear that this is the end and you’re locked in a bathroom stall forever- just push the black button harder;
7: IĀ have my own bathroom cabinet! I decided to make the journey to the other end of the bathroom and discovered that the extra room was just extra sinks and extra cabinets (including mine- yay!), not a doorway to another blocco (suite) like I thought.

After settling in, IĀ met Alex for dinner in the mensa which is like a cafeteria. Fortunately for me, the mensa is in my dorm and I don’t have to walk far (YAY!!!). Food there is served on a line like the middle schools and high schools do back home- complete with tray. First you grab a roll (apparently Italians like their rolls stale/ hard because they leave the bags perforated), then you get pasta or soup, then a meat and/or cheese with a side of vegetables, then a fruit, juice, or yogurt, then a little plastic cup for water. To get water, students go to a cabinet full of empty glass bottles and fill them with water from a sink with filtered water. It took me 3 meals before I could get through the whole process without messing up and mixing up or missing out on part of my meal. For example, yesterday I asked for grilled potatoes and a side of what I thought was pineapple. Turned out the pineapple was just more potatoes cooked differently- IĀ had a whole plate filled of just potatoes.

When dinner was over, I came back to my blocco in desperate need of a shower (since Friday-Saturday was really like ONE day to me). Before I got in, I heard one of my suitemates speaking perfect American English on the phone. I waited till she was done and asked where she was from. Her name is Maura and she got here last semester from California. Unfortunately she leaves Friday since she’s not staying for the rest of the year, but she introduced me later that night to her English-speaking friends Luke, Katie, and another girl who I can’t remember the name of. Luke and Katie are staying the rest of the year and speaking with all of them that night made me feel more comfortable about what I was in for over the next few months. Luke gave me some advice about learning the language: make friends with both Italians and English-speakers. Speaking with Italians really helps with fluency, but it can get frustrating after a while and at the end of the day, it’s nice to have English-speakers to return to. They also gave Alex and me a temporary internet sign-in name from a former student so we could get online until we got our own login and passwords. Getting back online and contacting friends was lovely šŸ™‚
Around midnight I went to bed. It was then, when I was alone and in the dark (a- because it was night and b- because IĀ blew out my fuse) that everything really hit me. I had a lot to look forward to, but homesickness really began to take over. I missed home and my family, I missed my boyfriend and getting to speak to him before bed like I usually did, I missed all my friends, IĀ missed simple communication, I missed what I was used to, and most of all I missed English. The physical distance between my friends and family, and time before we could be together again, was so overwhelming and I had a rough night.

I slept in till noon the next day (oh, Jet lag go away!) before going in to meet Alex, Luke, Maura, Katie, the girl who’s name I can’t remember, and a student from Spain -with a name I’ll never be able to pronounce correctly- for lunch. It was nice to have made some friends. After lunch, Alex and IĀ went back into town to get some more things we had forgotten the day before. Unfortunately for us, we picked the worst time ever to go. Not only was it Sunday and a lot of stores were closed, but between the afternoon hours of 2 and 4, just about everything is closed (and that goes for every day, not just Sundays) so we weren’t able to complete our shopping. Instead, we meandered about learning ways around. On the way we passed a cinema that’s playing Paranormal Activity. Since I already know the plot and that would make understanding the Italian dubbing easier, and since IĀ never got to experience it in a theater, IĀ am debating on going to see it some time this week.
My favorite part about the day was the discovery of Italian hot chocolate. About halfway through our day, with Alex sick and both of us freezing, we went into a cafe named Romana and ordered hot chocolates. To put it briefly: OMG ITALY HAS THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER AND IT PUTS OURS TO SHAME. You know when you make pudding on the stove top and you have to stir it till it thickens?Ā Well, only stir it until its cooked about halfway. That is their hot chocolate- thick yet liquid, rich and not watery. HEAVEN. And it tastes like pudding too!!! Romana also had a beautiful gelato selection that made my mouth water, but with the freezing temperature, I had to resist my temptation. IĀ look forward to trying their Nutella gelato in the spring šŸ™‚

Today (Monday) Alex and I finished all of our shopping (I finally have a hair dryer!!), picked up our TesserinoĀ (student cards), and learned what it was like to be considered incompetent foreigners. Once we had gotten our cards, we went next door to a machine where we could put money on it. The machine was very simple and you only had to press 3 buttons. We paused briefly to see how much money we each had on us to put on the card and we spoke in English to each other. This was apparently gave the lady who was watching us from behind the counter the impression that we were incapable because she started telling us we had to press “continua”Ā (“continue”). We were both like, “uh, duh” (obviously to ourselves) and told her that we understood, but she wouldn’t stop so she came over and did it for us. Her lack of faith in our ability to understand 3 simple buttons (of which ‘continua’ is a COGNATE of ‘continue’ in English) made us start to second guess ourselves when we were going to do it right all along. It was very frustrating.

Afterwards, we went to a different grocery store that’s much closer than the first one we went to (it’s location is so wonderful now that we know it exists!) and I got a box of toilet paper (yay! I can stop using tissues!), more tissues (since mine vastly depleted in the substitution of toilet paper), and water. All together it was only 5.03 euro! This made me happy since all I had on me was a 5 euro bill. I still have over $40 that needs to be exchanged, not to mention a significant portion of the remainder of euros that I had on me went to my student card to pay for meals.

We got back early and I decided to try the Italian way of things- with an afternoon nap (part of the reason the stores are closed every day between 2 and 4). It was a wonderful idea. Why don’t we do this in America?

All in all, everything is getting better as I go. Just give everything time time time!

Hopefully my next post won’t be as long if IĀ manage to update sooner- wish me luck!