Tales from Italy ch. 6: SICILIA!

Being sick away from home is such an uncomfortable and hopeless feeling. That’s how I felt earlier this week when I woke up with a fever of 100.4 on Sunday. Being bed-ridden is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but despite my illness, I had a reason to be thankful. After all, I would much rather be ill in my dorm room in Urbino than on my vacation in Sicily which had just ended the day before.

And what a spectacular vacation that was! We visited Palermo (the Capital), Monreale (a stunning mountain town famous for its golden Santa Maria Nuova cathedral), and Cefalù (the most beautiful beach town ever to exist). The best part is that all this happened spontaneously too- the whole trip was thought up and organized less than week before our departure (yes, these sort of things are apparently possible while in Europe). To make our travels even easier and less expensive we chose to fly Ryanair, an Irish flight company that flies solely around Europe. Our tickets were so cheap I almost cried, and all our flights ended up being on time or arriving early- best ever.

Our trip began last Sunday with a bus to Pesaro and then a train to Bologna. In Bologna, Laura, Judith, Janelle, and I met up with our friend, Monika, who had been visiting her boyfriend and friend and who would be traveling with us to Sicily. The five of us spent the day in Bologna before getting a hotel room since our flight was at 6:30am the next day. Bologna was great- we ate kebab, got at least 20 little boxes of free cereal that were being handed out to promote Nestle (yay to saving money on breakfast groceries for the whole week!), saw the beautiful city-center, heard an organ concert at the San Petronio church, and had appertivi (buffet appetizers) for dinner.

I would just like to add to this list that the kebabs were delicious. Oh my goodness they were so good. And Laura really wanted to pay for her kebab with the hundreds of coins she had accumulated in her wallet. As she began counting them out, the chef behind the counter (we nicknamed him Ali) kept trying to convince her to not worry about it and that she could have it for free at this point, but Laura insisted- she really wanted to get rid of all her coins. So, the chef cupped Laura’s hands and led her away from the counter  and to a seat to eat before she could finish her penny-counting. While we all ate, we were given 2 free plates of french fries and a tall bottle of iced tea. With all the food the only sounds that we made to communicate were “mmm’s,” “oh’s,” and “ah’s.” We were quite the symphony and left a great tip.
On our way out, the chef called Laura back to the counter. We all thought she was going to have to pay after all, but the chef just asked her to hold out her hands. Into them, he dropped a small napkin-pouch filled with all her coins, and all Laura could say was, “No! But I wanted to get rid of them!” as he led her out the door with a smile.

The next morning, we got up at 3:30am to get a taxi by 4. Our flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to make sure we had enough time to do everything at the airport, including visiting an additional desk since Janelle, Laura, and I are Americans and not part of the E.U. Despite this extra stop, we made it through security and were at our gate by 4:45. I should believe Monika and Judith next time when they say it really doesn’t take such a long time at the airports in Europe. Why does it seem to take so much more time in America?
While killing time at our gate, I had an interesting thought. Sitting there looking around at all the people, I found it funny how by tonight all these people will be on different ends of the Earth, but for these brief hours, we’re all clustered together in the same building. Philosophical maybe? I don’t know. It wasn’t even 5am after all.

Once our plane arrived in Trapani, we then had to take a bus to Palermo where we had rented an apartment. The bus ride was crazy though- I mean, Italian drivers are crazier than American drivers by a lot, but this guy was driving a full-sized coach bus! We were passing cars and stopping within inches of the bumpers of cars in front of us- it really kept us on the edge at first, but by the end we learned to trust our driver and took in the beautiful views around us. Sicily, might I add, is gorgeous. I took so many photos from the bus ride alone because it was all just so beautiful!
<<Notice our inability to see the bottom half of the car in front of us. There was probably less than an inch between our full-sized bus and this car.

When we got to Palermo, we went in search of our apartment. Asking for directions in Italy (no matter where) I have found to be a challenge. Everyone you ask will tell you something different until you end up finding what you were looking for by chance and sheer luck. That said, our apartment was located down some seemingly-sketchy back roads in Palermo. We were a little uneasy at first, but after meeting our landlord, a sweet old man with a beagle and free tour guides and maps, we felt more comfortable. Our apartment was very cosy and comfortable (complete with second bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, living room, and entry); just right for the little time we’d be spending in it. After unpacking, we headed back outside and concluded that despite our apartment’s rough street, it had its own character and touch; something we would have missed if we weren’t living right in the heart of downtown Palermo.

Because of our early start that day, we figured we’d take the day easy and just explore wherever we ended up. We walked through beautiful parks with palm trees, down to a marina, visited some cathedrals where I learned about the Italian tradition of keeping the bones of saints and putting them on display, saw a puppet maker, and found the most delicious dessert shop of all. Along the way, we encountered several people who, I assume because they heard us speaking English to each other, decided it seemed perfectly normal to scream English phrases at us. For example, one man yelled “Sorry!” at us from across the street. When we looked up at him to see what he was sorry for, all he did was smile at us. We’re pretty sure he was just yelling the only English word he knew to catch our attention. A second man, this one who we passed in the park, turned back to face us and said, “Yes, of course!” Not only had we not been speaking with him, but none of us had asked him a question either. And just like the man before, when we looked at him to see what he meant, he only smiled at us, happy to have caught our attention.

The next day we were less fortunate with the weather as it decided to rain all day. It wasn’t so bad however because we spent most of the day in Palermo indoors visiting churches (there are so many all over Italy- and they’re all so beautifully ornate!) and going to the famous Capuchin Catacombs. I had never seen a catacomb before, and this one was huge. There were dead bodies all around- some standing (suspsended by cables), others were lying down, and others were in coffins with glass covers. There were people of all ages- babies, children, adults, and elders- all from over the course of centuries before the practice of displaying your dead ended in the 19th century. As disturbing and eerie as it was (Janelle couldn’t even look up and kept her head facing the floor the whole time), it was interesting too. I couldn’t help but wonder who each person had been when he or she was alive, what they did, where they lived, when they lived, or how they died. After all, every one of them had been wealthy (the poor didn’t put their dead on display like this) so I’m sure they had accomplished interesting things. If we were lucky, the most information we could find on them were their lifetime dates or names- that is, if we found a name, for only a handful of bodies had any information. One particular identifiable corpse however, was the world-famous Rosalia Lombardo mummy. I was surprised when I found her because I had actually read about her years earlier. Anyway, despite all the morbidity, my favorite part of the catacombs was the clothing. Since the bodies ranged from every age and from centuries old to only a century old, I saw hundreds of years of style for children and adults- the only thing was these styles were still being sported by their original owners too. o_o
To end the day and restore some sanity after all the corpses earlier, we played a children’s game of MASH. It was great because Monika and Judith had never played before and we got to teach them. Categories included the usual like who you’d marry, what car you’d drive, how much money you’d make (‘fish’ apparently sufficed for this at one point), where you’d live, etc, but we also threw in a random category for each person as well (ex: a superpower category; “I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be really stretchy.” -Laura). The “Future Job” section was pretty funny too, as some jobs included a yak farmer (“The yaks need milking!”) and Ron Jeremy’s prostate examiner (“You’d get paid in fish for sticking your finger up Ron Jeremy’s butt!”).

The next day we took a trip to the beautiful city of Monreale. Monreale was a great choice to celebrate the news of Urbino getting 45cm of snow and having canceled classes for the week. So, while Urbino suffered from cabin fever, we were outside in the sun in 65 degree weather! At one point in the day, a short walk down the road brought us to a cliff where we looked over the town and could see the ocean!

Before visiting the cathedral, we went to the courtyard and it was like walking into the middle ages. I had the greatest urge to don a medieval dress and walk about in the courtyard. Anyway, it was very pretty and all the posts were so ornate (the ancients really knew how to decorate!).

Outside the courtyard, we met the tiniest little old lady who was asking for money to buy a panini (we nicknamed her Sylvia). She said some lady gave her an American coin and it would do her no good- it was a state quarter for the Virgin Islands (ok maybe not a STATE quarter, but I still want it for my collection) so I gave her a euro for it and she hobbled away. She was the best.
Next we visited the famous Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral, where the inside is decorated in gold with tons of scenes from the bible. It was huge and gorgeous.

After getting back to Palermo that night, I took notice to some things that came as a giant contrast to the stunning sights we had seen earlier in the day. To start, southern Italy has a big problem with its garbage. The garbage system in the south is run by the Mafia as a means to pressure the government, and in some areas it was poorly taken care of. Piles spilled into the streets and some were as big as cars! Monika told me that in recent years, Naples’s garbage problem got so out of hand that they had to make a deal with a German trash company. The company sent down trains to collect the trash and took it back to Germany to dispose of it. Can you imagine having to get another country to dispose of your trash? Another issue I noticed was the stray dog population. There are strays everywhere you go (and by strays I don’t mean sad little dogs, I mean sad BIG dogs- as big as wolves!), and they sleep under the statues and awnings, on sidewalks, in gardens… everywhere you can think of; they’re just part of the scenery. This of course leads me to observation number 3: dog poop. It’s everywhere and you need to watch where you step.

Thursday, we took a trip to the most beautiful beach town I’ve ever seen- Cefalù. While Urbino was still accumulating snow and now had over a foot, we were taking in the sun, posing for pictures WITHOUT COATS, and taking about 200 photos each of the gazillion beautiful views- I mean, for crying out loud, the water was 4 different shades of blue!

We topped off the day with individual pizzas that were the size of a normal-small sized pizza for only 4 euros! (cue more “mmm’s” and “ah’s”). That night, we celebrated Janelle’s birthday at Paskals, a restraunt near our apartment.

On Friday we shopped around Palermo to finish up our trip. We left for Trapani that afternoon, and flew to Bologna at night. When we got to Bologna, we had an issue at the hotel with our reservation. When we had booked online, we had to set our check-in time for midnight (since our plane came in at 11:40), but the website we used listed midnight as Saturday, since 12am is technically Saturday. This proved to be a problem at the front desk who had then booked us two rooms for Saturday night instead of Friday. They tried to convince us to pay extra since we now had to pay for 3 2-person rooms instead of 2 3-person rooms, but I wouldn’t stand for it. This wasn’t our fault, we weren’t allowed to book midnight on Friday online, and therefore was no reason for us to pay extra; we had done everything we could and did nothing wrong. Persistence ended up paying off (thanks for teaching me how to do that, Mom and Dad!), we got our 3 rooms without paying a dime more than we expected, and I got a pat on the back for standing up to the front desk.
That night, despite our exhaustion from traveling (and it was about 1am by this point), I learned chess with the chess set Laura bought in Sicily! I am now an addict and really hope to get my own set soon 🙂

More pictures:
Palermo and Monreale

Anyway, now that I’m better and have finally gotten the chance to update, I feel quite accomplished seeing as I also managed to clean, unpack, and do some laundry!

A prossima volta! (Until next time!)

Tales from Italy ch. 5: Avventure future (Future Adventures)!!!

Oh, Blog! There’s so many exciting things going on right now!!!

To start, I’ve discovered two new fun facts:
1- Monika and Ryan can dance! And I don’t just mean dance randomly, but I mean they can professionally dance! A few days ago when they discovered that the other knew how to dance, they got up and just… started dancing! And what’s even better- swing dancing! And WALTZING! And it was all done spontaneously without any rehearsal! The rest of us just sat back and watched in awe- I wish I had had my camera (Lack of camera Fail #1). It was so stunning to watch! My favorite part is they promised me they’d teach me how to dance before the semester’s over :)!

2- I need to find a means of snacking before my Italian for Foreigners class. On Tuesday, I went to Italian for Foreigners class after my Ceramics class, and despite the fact that I had had breakfast that morning, my stomach decided to be an obnoxious pain in the butt. And as my luck would have it, we had silent work. While my stomach was busy making beastly growls, I attempted to hide its ruckus by shuffling my feet and making light coughs between efforts to do my work. Monika just laughed beside me lol.

This week I also had my first Teaching Assistant jobs! Monday was simple as all it involved was establishing my schedule. Wednesday I held office hours- no one came, but it was soooo cool to see my name officially on the schedule of classes!! It looks like I’m an Italian professor here! I wanted to get a picture of it, but this was Fail #2 of not having my camera on me this week.

Fail #3 happened when Laura and I were walking down Via Mazzini on our way back to the dorms when we passed a shop that sells jeans. To our great pleasure however, the mannequins in the front window were left undressed while the shop was closed for the afternoon. There in the bright sunlit glass window stood 3 pairs of nude mannequin legs; the 2 sets of female mannequin legs stood on both sides of the 1 pair of male legs which, to make things even funnier, was turned in a manner so that he was mooning all of Urbino from the front window of this little jean shop. WHY DID I NOT HAVE MY CAMERA AGAIN?!

Lesson learned: ALWAYS have my camera on me. I never know what the day will show me.

Classes this week were also fantastic, and I have already picked my favorite- Music for the Show. I am one of 2 students -the other now being Laura- and our professor is the coolest man ever. Each class is like a private conversation between the 3 of us (I’m pretty sure we could convince him to hold our class in a coffee shop). He shows much enthusiasm and manages to keep us interested the whole time! Our 2 hour class flies by. One of the best parts (there are many) is he is very helpful and understanding of our attempts at Italian and helps us with the English that he knows. I asked if he taught more classes in hopes that I could take them, but alas, this is his first semester and this is his only class. We have truly found a hidden gem.

While all this is wonderful to me, the highlight of my week comes in the booking of flights! This week I managed to book a flight for Sicily next week, and tickets to the UK for my spring break! I’m so excited!!!
Tomorrow, I leave for Bologna where I will catch a plane for Sicily where Laura, Janelle, Monika, Judith, and I will have our own apartment in Palermo for 5 days! Be sure to read my next entry after I get back (and I promise to not fail with pictures that time).
For spring break, I’ll be travelling with Janelle to the UK! We’re flying into Edinburgh, Scotland and we will gradually work our way down through England visiting New Castle, the Manchester/ Chester/ Liverpool area, a small side trip to Dublin, Ireland, flying back into Cardiff, Wales, and finishing off with the Reading/ London area before flying home. I’m extra excited to see so much of so many places- and so many of my friends! That is probably the best part- I have friends in each of the places we’re visiting which means I can save money on hostels AND have the extra bonus of seeing fantastic people the whole time!

In my attempts to book my UK flights however, I made the mistake of booking the same flight home (from London to Ancona) twice- I had two tickets in my name for the same flight home!! I had had both flights open in two tabs on my internet browser, and I guess when I booked the first one, it had refreshed both tabs, causing me to accidentally book the same flight twice. I know I should have been more careful and double-checked, but to be honest, I did. Seeing a confirmation for London > Ancona made sense to me since I did have to make that flight; it just didn’t register to me that I had already booked that particular one already. All this resulted in me having to call my parents hoping that they wouldn’t mind covering the 30 euro fee to fix my flight since I hadn’t accounted on paying that additional cost. My parents told me not to worry; everyone makes mistakes. They covered my extra charge. I am truly fortunate to have such understanding -and the best- parents in the world.

Anyway, I’m off to pack for my Sicily trip tomorrow!
A settimana prossima quando ritornero`! (Until next week when I return!)

Tales from Italy ch.4: Sorry, I’m American.

What up, Blog, how’s it going?

So it’s been almost a week since my last update, but in that time I’ve started to get a better handle on things; routines are forming and I’m becoming more comfortable as I begin to get so accustomed to everything. Of course this doesn’t mean that I’m now a pro at everything I do; I’m still a complete noob- but I’m a noob who knows what to do! …Is that an oxymoron? Probs.

Since my last update, I’ve chosen a more solidified class schedule- my class hunting may actually have ended (YAY!). To start, I scored into the Italian for Foreigners class B1, which is similar to the New Paltz Intermediate 1. Even though back at NP I had already completed Intermediate 1, 2, and Comp and Convo, I’m comfortable with being where I tested. This level seems to hit my points of struggle adequately, especially since it’s been over two years since my last official Italian class.

The other classes are just as great- since my epitome when I realized I could take any class I wanted since they’ll all count toward my Italian major anyway, I’ve chosen the following schedule:

1: Italian for Foreigners

2: Storia della Ceramica (History of Ceramics)

3: Cinema e Fotografia (Cinema and Photography)

4: Musica  del Teatro e dello Spettacolo (Music of the Theater and Show) –I’m one of two students at the moment, but it’s a good way to force me to pay attention. One thing I’ve found is that when you don’t speak the common language very well, its easy to tune it out in a lecture.

This week I came to the realization that I’ve been mispronouncing Federica’s name. It’s not Frederica like I thought, but Federica. There’s nothing like mispronouncing someone’s name over and over again- I should know. Do you know how many people call me “Lee”-ah instead of “Lay”-ah? You’d think I’d make a point to get names right and not assume that the female Italian name, Federica, would start with the American male name, Fred. Oopsie.

While on the topic of my mistakes, I managed to shame all of America this week in a single greeting. Thursday afternoon I was running late to my Musica del Teatro e dello Spettacolo class -the classroom was in an entirely different building on the other side of the city, and then I proceeded to go the wrong way! So, after arriving to class 25 minutes late (which oddly enough is very common for students even when they have the right directions), I walked into a classroom with only one student. Because of this, the professor and I were able to exchange greetings. I apologized to him for my being late and then realized this was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself and my foreign-ness in hopes that he’ll go easy on grading me. Yet despite this thought process of mine, the actual elapsed time was only about half a second and my greeting came out as “Mi dispiace, sono americana” (“I’m sorry, I’m American”). Two thoughts became one sentence, and the teacher basically told me not to apologize for being American. Cheers to myself on that one.

Yesterday, after a delicious cream of wheat breakfast made by Alex and a quick trip to the Saturday market to pick up ingredients and a spatula for the next day’s pancakes, a group of friends and I took the bus to Pesaro. Pesaro is beautiful and if you ever go, be sure to expect a gorgeous beach, millions of babies, and millions of small dogs dressed in sweaters and coats. Oh, and apparently it’s no big deal to grow lemon trees and olive trees in your front yard. ‘What up? Yeah that’s an olive tree. Yeah it’s just chillin’ in my front yard. No biggie.’

That night, Alex cooked for us again and made a meal of some-sort of flounder-like fish, smelts, pasta, and Greek tomato salad. DELICIOUS YET AGAIN, ALEX! I got to help with the fish and onions, and I feel like quite the chef! It was a nice meal to cook since Caroline’s goodbye-party was about to begin.

This morning I made American pancakes like my mother makes at home with blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, and strawberries. Unfortunately I didn’t have vanilla extract (nothing some crystallized vanilla and vodka couldn’t fix!), cinnamon (until Caroline brought me some cinnamon sticks- and I ground them myself!), or baking soda (so they looked more like crepes). Oh well, still delicious.

After breakfast, I was still really tired yet again and went back to bed. I think I may be getting a little sick since waking up from my nap took every effort I had, and I woke up with sore eyes, feeling heavy-headed, and with a headache. In the hopes of helping myself, I took a long hot shower, a 10-minute walk for fresh air, and then stocked up on veggies, fruit, and a multi-vitamin from Alex at dinner. I hope hope hope hope I don’t get sick. While writing this, I got up to ask for a ginger-ale at the bar, and they don’t have any! No ginger-ale till July??? NO!!!

Chiara also just stopped by an attempted to video chat with me to my dad on Skype. It was so funny. Unfortunately it didn’t work well because of the poor internet connection, but she made us all laugh. She is definitely one of my favorite Italians here and always brings life wherever she goes.

Anyway, tomorrow is my first Teaching-Assistant day- and I have my own office hours! How cool??

Wish me luck!

A piu` tardi!

Tales from Italy: ch.3 Carnevale and …classes?

Oh my goodness what a busy last few days!!
To start, my life has been suddenly consumed by making class-decisions. Honestly, at Urbino it is a difficult process (not to mention classes started today and I just redid my entire class repertoire and must now repeat the following process -_-). Unlike the New Paltz system that I’m used to -where all the classes are online alongside their times, locations, professor, and subject- Urbino is not as simple. While in all, making a schedule at New Paltz can be done within an hour or two at the computer, I have attempted to make a schedule with fewer classes at Urbino and it has taken me 3 days. To begin, classes are listed in a Vedemecum- a master course list that if you’re lucky enough (like me) to have on a CD (thank you, Frederica!) is easily accessible. If you do not have the CD, good luck trying to get through the Urbino website which, on some pages, hasn’t updated the Vademecum since 2007. Once you have the Vademecum, you have to start guessing which facolta` (category) you think your class (or classes you may be interested in) falls under. Rather than have all the classes listed together, you have to search through possible facoltas before finding a suitable class. Once you’ve found your class of choice, you are given all the information except location and class time. Here comes the even-trickier process…
Now that you’ve got your list of possible classes, you must now go on a journey to various buildings around the city hoping to find the one that houses your class’s facolta`. Once you’ve found the building (which may end up being another ordeal in itself), you go inside (which sometimes isn’t possible due to odd office hours) and you must find the class schedule, which is fortunately in the same spot (usually in the front hall on a bulletin board) in every building. Yet rather than order the classes by name followed by their time and dates, these schedules work backwards; you must now search through every day and hour hoping to come across your class. Once you have your class times and dates (which are irregular: a class may meet Tuesday at 3, Wednesday at 5, and Friday at 9am), you must now go and repeat the city-searching process for each of your other classes. If you are fortunate enough, more than one of your classes will be in the same facolta` and you can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ when you only have to visit one building and search one class schedule for more than one class.
Today, Alex and I went on this city-searching process for a class we’re going to take, “Storia dell’Arte Bizantine” (Bizantine Art History), which he needs for his Medieval minor and I for my Art Gen.Ed. credit back in NP. We went in circles from one end of the city to the other for 2 hours based on directions given to us by several people before ultimately returning to where we began only to realize that this was in fact the location, but that it is closed on Mondays and therefore prohibits us from looking at the class schedule and times. Oh my goodness was I cranky.
The other 3 classes I plan on taking were easier for me. The Italian for Foreigners class (which all foreign students must take) would be based on a placement exam I had yet to take and therefore could not know my class or its times -yet. The other two classes I planned on, ‘Filologia Romanza’ and ‘Filologia Italiana’ I chose because they sounded acceptable and relatable to my Italian Studies major; I was fortunate enough to find both on the first day of my searching.
Everything changed just a few hours ago though. Today, it dawned on me that since everything is taught in Italian, I could take any class I wanted since no matter what I took it would count towards my Italian major. So, I dropped the two Filologias and have just spent the last 2 hours starting over the entire class-searching process in the hopes of finding more interesting classes. For the first time ever, I have the liberty to take any class I want, and I almost went with 2 of the most boring ones ever! As of now, I am replacing them with (hopefully) Storia del Costume e della Moda (History of Costume and Fashion), Musica per lo Spettacolo (Music of the Show/ Theater), and/or Storia del Mimo e della Danza (History of Mime and Dance). I am ESPECIALLY fond of that last one. I mean really, a class about the history of mimes?! Does it get more liberal and cooler than that? I don’t even mind the additional searching I now need to do all over again.

On a more fun side of the last few days, I’ve been able to visit and see a lot more of the local area. On Thursday, a group of us hiked up to La Fortezza (the Fortress). The views on the way up and at the top were GORGEOUS.

After La Fortezza, I visted the duomo (Cathedral) in town. It was huge (too big for my camera from outside) and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s prohibited to take pictures on the inside, but there are pictures available here. One of the coolest parts about all of this was the amount of Italian I spoke with some of the students we hiked with (Giacomo, from Sicily and Pablo from Peru!).

Another observation I’ve made is on graduation ceremonies. When I first got here, I thought people were just celebrating Carnevale, but actually when a student finishes their last exam, they march through the city with their friends and family and wearing a crown of green leaves. The whole group sings and chants, there’s generally confetti, and sometimes a prank (a graduate was thrown in the fountain the other day).

Oddly enough, my week has also been filled with Harry Potter. Earlier this week, Alex, Laura and I watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We then decided to go rent it in Italian so that we could practice. We watched Harry Potter e La Pietra Filosofia (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) later that week with more people, and since then I’ve even bought the book- IN ITALIAN! Did you know that they changed some of the names to assist with their meanings? For example, Dumbledore is Professor Silente, and McGonagall is McGranite. It’s hard to read for me, but it’s great practice and fun too.
Sunday, I went to Fano for Carnevale! There was a giant parade with huge ridiculous floats- they were stunning!! We all painted our faces and dressed up in costumes- we were quite the handsome group 🙂

(See my Avventure in Italia facebook album for all my pictures from Carnevale -and Italia!)
While at the parade, I was reminded of a German commercial I once watched of a family that was dancing to a horribly derogatory rap song (the message was to learn English; see it here) when I saw a float of school children dancing to the song, ‘Sexy B*****’ by David Guetta. To clarify, there is a lyric in the song that goes: “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl, Without being disrespectful, Damn Girl, Damn Girl You’se a Sexy B****, a sexy b****, a sexy b****.” While this song is very popular and did play alongside many other hit songs, it’s not quite the song I would choose to have children dance to at a family parade…

I’ve also had the chance to meet up with the professors with whom I’ll be a teaching assistant to. At the moment, the exact schedule is pending since I don’t even know my own yet (and now it’s even worse), but it sounds like I’ll be assisting in English classes, subject classes that are taught in English, and private sessions outside the classroom with individual or small groups of students around the town (so cool!). I’m hoping this will help me make some more friends and then I can practice my Italian too! Today, I got to observe my first TA class-ordeal thingy which was a culture/business class that was taught in English. I got to talk about New York, New Paltz, and my experiences in Urbino so far. Some of the students were eager about the sessions with me outside the class, and I’m really excited!

After my TA thing, I went to go take my placement test for my Italian for Foreigners class. I think I did alright; there were some things I somewhat/ couldn’t remember, and others I didn’t even realize that I DID remember (It’s been 2 years since my last official Italian class). I’m finding out my results in the morning!

Well for now I’m off to bed. I’ve got a big day tomorrow: getting my test results, finding my new classes, getting my Permesso di Soggiorno, and maybe even going to class!

A piu` tardi!

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 I 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 🙂
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 I 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 I took my 1420 euros (^______^ 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? 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 🙂

That night we went out dancing (where I met the Mario & Luigi couple above). The DJ there is supposedly the guy I’m supposed to talk to about joining the radio here. 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, I 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. I 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 I 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 I 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 🙂

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. 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. Since we couldn’t shave the orange, I 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 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!