Sunday, June 6, 2010

Volcanic Interruptions

The immortal last, ‘be careful what you wish for’ words echo in my head as I whine, “I don’t want to leave Italy. I’m not ready yet.” Little did I know that I would get my wish. A few hours after what I thought to be my last dinner in Italy with friends Sarah and I checked our flights to be sure that we were leaving. We would not find them on time. They were canceled. A volcano erupted in Iceland blowing plumes of ash into the air grounding more than nineteen countries. I was stuck in Italy for at least another week. Of course this was upsetting news. When you prepare to leave a place and say all of your goodbyes you have made yourself ready to go, ready to change your scenery. Your mind has already started racing with pictures of your tearful airport reunion with your mama at the arrivals gate, what restaurant you want to eat at first, all the fun things you are going to do with your friends, and so on. However when a natural disaster hits and you have to put all of those plans on hold you become somewhat frustrated, agitated, and helpless. Let me tell you Skyping with my parents who haven’t seen you in close to five months and telling them that you will not be coming home for another ten days was not a pleasant task. Your perspective shifts when you have no choice but to stay. In the case of a European volcano you have no control, you are stuck indefinitely. It was too hard to go anywhere in Italy by train because they were all overbooked. Sarah and I had no choice but to stick it out in Crespano, Asolo, and Paderno. Now I know what you’re thinking, “oh poor you, stuck in Italy.” Yes. There are worse things. But unless you have done it, you have no idea how infuriating it was. Towards the end of our stay when it was clear that we had a small window to escape we were elated. I flew out at three am Venice time, twelve hours ahead of America, to Munich. From Munich I had my nine hour flight to Chicago. America bound, Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA blared on my iPod. I was never so happy to be in America. Being back in the land of the free made me realize how true that statement is and how lucky we all are to born and bred Americans. Once through immigration and customs I hopped a train to my terminal. I felt like I was back in Italy, on a train with two Italian men speaking behind me. First thing was first, I needed a Starbucks and I needed it a.s.a.p. I got myself a book, and three magazines. I called my familia to let them know that I was finally in America! It was such an amazing, surreal, and long awaited feeling. While waiting for my next flight to Portland CNN was on the TV at my gate informing me of a new plume from the volcano which undoubtedly grounded more flights. I was beyond grateful to be in America. Four and a half hours later I was in Portland hugging my mom and dad. There is no place like home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Climb Every Mountain!

On my last Saturday in Paderno del Grappa a group and I decided to climb Mount Grappa. I mean, literally climb a mountain. How we got this idea into our heads is beyond me, but we did. It seemed like a fitting metaphor for my Italian journey to literally climb a mountain. Studying abroad was an adventure just the same as the one I was about to set upon. We headed out at 10 am to conquer the beast. The terrain was rough and rocky. The incline the entire time was straight up. The "trail" was a pathetic excuse for a path. It was narrow and at times you thought one false step could take you over the cliff's edge. The whole time I was looking down at where to put my feet. I couldn't look up, that would have been a treacherous mistake. The weather was perfect, sunny, and hot. We were working up a sweat. It took us about two and a half hours to get to a plateau where we decided that it was time for a lunch break. Talk about a great butt workout. At the top if the mountain there is a restaurant and war memorial. I was looking for these landmarks the whole time. From the plateau we could finally see them. My friends Jason, Sarah, Miranda and I were the only ones out of a group of about twelve that decided to make it all the way to the top. Why in the world would you climb for two and a half hours, putting your body through a burning sensation of agony, only to reach a plateau and not the top? In my mind you wouldn't. I have the kind of personality where once I start something I have to finish it. And finish I would. The four of us continued our journey through much rockier terrain and snow that was up to my knees. It was a trek. The snow soaked my socks and shoes but I made it to the highest point of Mount Grappa. The air was a lot thinner and it was a lot colder than on the hot sun soaked trails we left behind us. We all toured the museum and war memorial at the top. We celebrated with what else? Shots of Grappa. I mean, this is Mount Grappa we're talking about here. It only seemed right. Exhausted and weary we were all in agreement that a taxi ride back down would be the best plan of action. Thankfully we met a very nice American couple who offered us a ride back to the bottom. We got back to campus at around five in the evening. I never pictured myself as someone who could say they climbed a mountain. I also never thought I would reach my elusive dream of living in my family’s homeland of Italy, but both came true. Climbing a mountain became symbolic of the trip that I embarked upon while studying abroad in Italy and consequently traveling the world. When you start climbing and start this momentous trip you do not know what to expect you know there will be times where you’re tired, times when you’re thrilled, times to laugh, times to cry, and times where you won’t believe your eyes. But overall both will be experiences that you could not have prepared for. At the end of my program I was filled with a great sense of pride for what I accomplished, an admiration for the people that I met, and a complete love of travel. Just as at the top of the mountain I could not believe what I had done and the places that my own two legs had taken me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rome: An Italian and an American Perspective

Beatrice travelled to Rome with her family a few months ago. They drove there from her home of Asolo in the Veneto. I took a night train from Paderno with a group of friends. She went with her brother and parents. It was about a five hour drive. She stayed in a hotel in the city center. My friends and I stayed in a cheap hostel outside the city center. Beatrice stayed for one week. I stayed for a weekend. Beatrice went just for shopping. While I was there the guides focused in on Americans and tried to sell us their tours. It was a different case for Beatrice who did not run into this type of haggling. Also while I was there we took a group tour of the Vatican. She did not, she went into St. Peter's church though which is something that my group and I also did. Her family ran into traffic while they were near the center but it got better the farther they moved away from the center. She mostly took a taxi or walked since she was staying in the center. We had to take a train or call a cab to get to Rome's city center. We both ate out for every meal. She ate at her hotel for breakfast. For lunch she had a panino or salad. We had french toast, hot chocolate, and fruit for our breakfast. For lunch we grabbed a quick sandwhich while we were out wandering Rome. For dinner Beatrice and her family enjoyed long meals together. Where as being Americans we are used to eating quickly and not taking our time. However in Rome we adopted the Italian way and had long dinners. The people in Rome targeted us as toruists. For Beatrice it was quite different. The people were "solari", or lively. They tried to comfort her and were very happy and outgoing. They were funny people. Americans in general want to see the tourist attractions. Her family didn't spend a lot of time in musems, which is also the case for other Italians. People from different countries are more apt to go into museums than native Italians. Beatrice just went to shop for a week. My group and I spent most of our time walking down wrong streets and starring at maps. They were both different trips but we both loved our times in Rome.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sick in Siena

I spent Easter in Siena, Tuscany. It was kind of a bust. The hostel I stayed at, while it was cheap, was twenty minutes outside the city center. It wasn't actually called the YHA Hostel, but instead its real name is the Ostella di Siena. It was clean but that's the best thing I can say about it. Sarah, my friend and travel companion, got in around 8:00 pm and settled by 9:00 pm. We were starved so we settled for a restaurant around our hostel since we the buses weren't running to the city center any longer. I ordered the spaghetti alla carbonara. This I thought would be a safe bet. Never have I been so wrong. Sarah enjoyed her ravioli immensely. We both got chocolate strawberries for dessert. After dinner we were wiped so we headed back to the hostel for some beauty rest. I felt sick to my stomach. That night I didn't get one wink of sleep. I had the chills, sweats, body ache, and massive headache. I got sick in the middle of the night. I got food poisoning in Siena on Easter! Of course, just my luck. The next morning, still not feeling good at all, we headed into town for mass. Just being in Italy for Easter was so amazing. After that we waited in line at the tower, which was supposed to have the best views of Tuscany, for about forty minutes. As soon as we got to the front of the line they told us it was closed. It rained the entire day. We shopped around and saw the Duomo. It was really beautiful. Mass was going on, so we considered ourselves good Catholics for going twice. Sarah and I grabbed lunch to escape from the cold wind and rain and then called it an early day. We both decided that Siena would have been astounding if it had been sunny and warm. The weather just didn't want to cooperate with us. Oh yeah, and the whole food poisoning thing kind of put a damper on the Tuscan experience for me. Still, it was a great memory to be in Siena for Easter.

Do you wanna Pisa me?

On my past weekend excursion I made a quick pit stop in Pisa! My friend Sarah and I stopped there on our way from Cinque Terre to Siena. We hopped off the train and after a short bus ride we were looking at the leaning tower of Pisa. It was nuts. It really leans. I mean, obviously, but you hear it's the leaning tower and then you see it and think, "Wow, it really is leaning". I don't know how much there is to do in Pisa besides see the Leaning Tower and the other sites in that same Piazza. There was a street fair going on while we were there so we took the opportunity to grab a couple great post cards, always the cheapest gift or treasure. After taking a dozen or so amazing pictures posing next to the tower, one holding it up, one kissing, one biting, one hugging, and of course one leaning on it, we walked around enjoying the good weather. Sarah and I got a gelato at a famed gelateria and ate it on the lawn in front of the tower. After a few more minutes of wandering and taking in the sites we hopped on the bus to the train station and were off to Siena. 
Train ticket to Pisa: 5,90 
Gelato: 1,70
Postcard: 0,50 
Pictures holding up the tower: Free
2 hour trip to Pisa: Priceless.
Altogether we spent about 10,00 euro on a trip to Pisa. It was well worth it my friends, well worth it.

The Cinque Terre

I just returned from my Easter holiday. It was an experience. I started off my extended weekend in Cinque Terre. It is a set of five mini-island cities that are connected through different trails. You can hike to each. It blew my mind. The day that my friend Sarah and I arrived was gorgeous. We lucked out with great weather. We hiked through the first four islands, because of time we couldn't make the last one. It was about sixty-five degrees and sunny for our hike. The first trail was easy. It was the Via Dell Amore, or trail of love. People leave locks on the trail as a sign of good luck in love. The Cinque Terre cities look like they are carved into the hillside and splashed with different colored paint cans. The contrast of colors from the buildings, water, cliffs, and sky make for astonishing views. I suggest while hiking to take a ten minute break and just sit on a rock overlooking the cliffs and take in the moment. It is seriously something to behold. Sarah and I weren't sure what to expect upon arriving but were taken aback as soon as we stepped off the train from La Spezia, the main train station. The hike to four of the towns took us about four hours. The last hike was brutal but worth every burning step. I loved Cinque Terre and would go back in an instant.

I left my heart in Cagliari

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy was the most breathtaking place I have been in my life, yet. There really isn't more to say other than it is absolutely stunning. I went during the off season and stayed in an apartment. The people of Southern Italy are very different than the ones that I have encountered in Northern Italy. They have a much more laid back attitude. For someone coming from the West coast it hit me as a beach mentality. The landlord at the apartment complex was Angela, or Mama Angela as the group of girls I went with and I came to refer to her as. Her husband Umberto was a cop and kept a fatherly watchful eye on us the entire trip. Unfortunately neither of them spoke any English and our Italian isn't exactly passable for fluent. We had a mediator, Giaccomo or Jack-Uncle Jack, who was out of town in Rome. The three of these people went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable, safe, and having a great time. They were the most accommodating people I have ever encountered in my life. They treated us like family. While in Cagliari we ate picnics on the white sand beaches, dipped our toes in the turquoise water and tried to absorb every ounce of sun our pale white skin could. We visited the castle there. It had the best views in town. You could see all the colorful buildings and villas and the beach. It was amazing. I left my heart in Cagliari. It was the first place I was truly sad to leave.