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 DI 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 castles (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. 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 🙂
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. 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 I decided to call my parents and let them know I was alive since I didn’t have internet access yet, and hadn’t contacted them since the airport in Germany. Of the 5 euros my phone came with, I 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+ 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: I 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, I 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- I 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 🙂
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 I 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, I 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 I 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 I never got to experience it in a theater, I 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? 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. I look forward to trying their Nutella gelato in the spring 🙂

Today (Monday) Alex and I finished all of our shopping (I finally have a hair dryer!!), picked up our Tesserino (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” (“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 I manage to update sooner- wish me luck!


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