Friday, February 26, 2010

Running the Italian Country Side

This morning I was supposed to go on a trip with my Italian class to a neighboring "village" called Asolo. The trip got moved and class got canceled. I was up so I decided to use my time wisely and go for a run. It is starting to get nicer here and warm up which is awesome for me because I love to run outside. I get way too bored running on a treadmill. I usually have to switch to three machines because one can't hold my attention span for more than thirty-minutes. Morning runs are part of my routine back at home. It just always starts my day off right. I have been missing them since I have such a crazy schedule here and have 8 am classes everyday. But not today. Today I went for a morning run to Crespano along the Italian countryside. Blue skies were trying to break through the clouds. It was quiet accept for the cars filled with people starting their day. The church tower bells chimed eight times in a melodic, deep ring that I have come to know over the past seven weeks. As I climbed the curve up to Crespano I could see the mountains with white snow covering their peaks. It was pretty amazing running back to school knowing that the Italian mountainside had my back. I closed my eyes and thought of how much I love this land. Taking in a deep breathe I smelled a wood pile burning not far away.  It reminded me of taking camping trips with my whole family in Oregon when I was little. I saw a guy mount his blue tractor which I think he may have either been moving or taking to school because he was carrying a backpack. Along the sidewalk, one of the only ones in Paderno, I encountered friendly older Italians who returned my smile with a "Boungornio!", good day, with a thick accent that made the letters bounce off their tongues. I made it back to school with time to shower and get to class. I felt like I should be heading to work at the University of Oregon Alumni Association since this is what I always did this summer and fall at Oregon. I have seriously missed my morning runs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tongue Tied

While traveling internationally you come across a plethora of languages. Since leaving the United States I have come across countless languages. Before I came to Italy I took one semester of Italian, not even enough to get by. Since planting my "home base" in Italy I have tried to pick up the Italian language. I am taking an Italian for Traveler's class that is giving me the basics and is helping my speaking and understanding the language quite a bit. I have taken Spanish my whole life and while I am far from fluent I know enough to manage. Italian and Spanish, both being romance languages, are very similar. Going to "bars", cafes, and ordering a hot chocolate or coffee and a pastry and using what I have learned, have helped me to pick up a couple key sayings. Just as I thought I was adjusting to the language barrier I left for my first travel week. Now they say that they speak English in England but it is entirely different English than what we speak in America. Even my Italian taxi driver commented on how, "In America you speak poor English". And here I was thinking my vocabulary was pretty colorful. Landing in London I found myself with a puzzled look on my face and a slew of mumbles in my ears. I had no idea what in the world these people were saying. I knew it was English but it sounded like straight gibberish. I'm sure that what I was saying was confusing to them as well because on more than one occasion I had to repeat what I said and vice versa. As the days went on though, it got much easier to be understood and to understand. I ended up loving their charming English accents. I think it's particularly funny when English people try and say my name, Tina. It comes off as "Tiner". Gets me every time. If I thought London was tough, my head was in a tizzy when we hit Paris. Paris is an international city. With that in mind I was told they would speak plenty of English. This was not the case. Barely anyone in Paris spoke anything but French. Now I had my Italian running through my head, mixed in with American-English, some Spanish, and new French words I was taking in along the way. By the time I got back to the Venice train station at the end of the trip I was so linguistically confused I didn't know where I was. I said "merci", thank you in French, to the teller. Mama mia! Languages are hard to keep straight. It's safe to say by the end of my travels I was severely tongue tied.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Travel Week 1: Paris, Paris, Paris

My time in Paris seems like a daze. By this point in our travels we were worn out. Paris didn't make a great first impression on me. The subway system was more confusing, dirty, and smelly compared to London's. The weather was equally as dreary. For a city with some of the most beautiful attractions in the world it left a lot to be desired. We found our way to Hotel Des Arts Bastille in the Montmartre district of Paris. It was tucked away but super close to the metro which is extremely important for globe trotters such as us. We ate pastries every morning at the same pastry shop on the corner. My favorite was a croissant that looked like a bear claw covered in toasted almonds and filled with an almond chocolate. Sarah, Lindsay, and I saw the Notre Dame first thing. It was absolutely stunning. We stopped at a cafe for lunch and Sarah and Lindsay both thought they ordered salami Panini’s when actually they ordered salmon. Miscommunication? I think so. I got my very first real crepe with bananas and nutella! It was amazing. I loved every bite. We shopped and shopped until we were so worn out we needed a nap to rest up. We decided to go to the Louvre after six because that's when it was free. Now for all of you art connoisseurs out there plug your ears because this may hurt, we went through in a record setting time of thirty minutes. I think we should get a medal or something because we still saw my girl Mona a.k.a the Mona Lisa, Venus, Mary Magdalene, and countless other pieces. After the Louvre we met up with more CIMBA students who were in Paris as well at the Spanish corner for drinks. Sarah and I headed home around 12:30 because the trains stop running at 1 am. We made our first two trains but missed the last one and had to take a taxi the rest of the way. It was a bummer to say the least. The next day we were up early to take a day trip to Versailles. First things first though, the group we were with wanted to go to Starbucks. It was my first Starbucks since leaving America. Ironically this coincided with the first day of Lent. Now, I'm a Catholic and I gave up coffee for Lent so this was God's true test of faith to me. I passed. I ordered a wonderful hot chocolate. But for a coffee addict this was true torture. Versailles may have been the highlight of the trip for me. I am a bit of a history nerd and love period movies-Marie Antoinette-so this was right up my alley. The palace was magnificent. Unfortunately my camera jammed right before we went into Marie's private house. We spent about four hours there and I don't think we even scratched the surface. It was stunning. That night Sarah, Lindsey, and I got a classic French dinner con fritz. The rest of the trip was spent climbing the Arc de Triomphe, all 284 stairs, and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was huge. It was so surreal to actually be at these legendary places you always see pictures of. We had lunch right across from the Tower at a pub called Eiffel 34. I got the best walnut and goat cheese salad. The goat cheese practically melted in my mouth, it was so creamy. Poor Lindsay got sick from her French onion soup and couldn't make the trek to the Moulin Rouge for dinner with us. Anna, Sarah, and I went to Moulin Rouge and had yet another savory meal. Let me tell you sitting across from the Moulin Rouge made for some pretty interesting people watching. Then it was up early and off to Venice. We got on the wrong bus to Mestre and ended up on the island close to Rialto, crossed the bridge and grabbed a train. It feels so strange to be back, yet comforting to be back in Italy. It is quickly becoming my home away from home.

Travel Week 1: Lovely London

Where do I even begin? For our first travel week Sarah, myself, Lindsay, and Anna all went to London for four days and Paris for three days. In London we met up with a group of five girls all from CIMBA who we were sharing a hostel room with. Four guys from CIMBA were also staying at the hostel. Once we got to London it was raining. We managed to find our hostel, Palmer's Lodge, and move in. That night we hung out and used the hostel's bar, Chapel Bar, and ate in their restaurant. Day one was filled with excitement. Sarah, Anna, Steph, Kim, Hannah, and myself all went to Camden Market. It was filled with cute shops, tempting treats, and had everything from electronics to candles. We got great chinese food there for only three euro! The lady gave us a "special price". We hit up Abbey Road-which has special meaning for my Daddy who is a huge Beatles fan, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, shopped at TKMAXX, saw Harrods, and of course took a picture in a red phone booth. A group of us headed out to the Walkabout which was an Australian bar about a five minute walk from our hostel. Sarah and I discovered "Cider". Cider is a mix of beer and white wine but it is so delicious, I am sad it's not in Italy. In London we took the "tube" and "coaches" everywhere (tain/buses). We went to Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of guard, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Big Ben, Piccadilly’s Circus, and Parliament. I can't believe I saw where the Queen lives. Too bad she wasn't home that day. Sarah and I tried to take pictures with guards but they would not budge. I think we almost got one to smile because he was clenching his jaw pretty tightly. He was a cutie so we told him we were staying at Palmer's Lodge if he got a minute. Sadly, he didn't answer. We went to an ice bar that night with all the other CIMBA students. Everything was made entirely out of ice from the cups to the chairs. We had to wear these cloaks and gloves, and could only stay for forty-five minutes. We looked like straight up Eskimos. After that we went to a two story Sports Bar and danced the night away. The next day was a busy one visiting The Tower of London and envying all of the jewels there, then going to the London Bridge and eating some great pub food at Firehouse, best onion rings of my life. We climbed all 528 stairs of St. Paul's Cathedral, walked the Millennium Bridge, and scoped out some fine art at the Tate Museum. After that it was time for some more pub food. Sarah and I got to meet up with my friend Kristen and have dinner at a pub in Westminster. Being in London was such a dream come true and a blast and a half. I can't believe I got to do everything I got to do.It was so nice to hear some semblance of the English language again. I loved it and would definitely go back. I am truly blessed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Formal Affair

Here at CIMBA there are three formal dinners. All 152 of us pile onto buses in our best dress and head to a gourmet restaurant for a sit down five course meal. Our first formal dinner was on Wednesday night. Well Wednesday was the start of a gruelish week for me. I had a presentation in one class, then I had a presentation, paper, and blog post due Thursday, not to mention the quiz, test, three chapter tutorials, and project I did today, Friday. After this long day I snuck a quick run in and showered. Here's where things got a bit hairy...literally. You see our showers are about the size of a hall closet at home, maybe smaller, so you can imagine what trying to shave your legs would be like. It's not a pleasant experience. It took me a whopping twenty minutes to complete that ridiculous task. I got ready, actually did my hair and makeup, something I haven't done much of since arriving here and having eight am classes every day. After this long, arduous process I was ready. We went to a restaurant in Castelfranco called Ristorante Barbesin. It was about a twenty minute drive in the "rain". Some girls busted out umbrellas for this drizzle, obviously they've never been to Oregon. This was nothing. We got to the restaurant and were seated at tables of ten. It was my friend Kristen's birthday and another guy, Levi's. We had the birthday table going on. The food was about one hundred times better than the cafeteria garb. they've been passing off to us here. We started with some gourmet appetizers. Then came risotto, followed by pasta with duck, and then the best steak ever with scrumptious potatoes. For dessert we had an out of this world peanut butter ice cream/mouse in a chocolate cup topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar. If that weren't enough a waiter came around and individually poured hot chocolate on top of the entire thing until it look like a molten lava chocolate volcano that exploded. It was so freaking good. We drank great white and red wine during the courses and espresso for dessert. It was an amazing evening and I can't wait for the next one.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lost in translation...literally.

This past weekend Sarah and I decided to avoid the circus that is Carnival in Venice and visit Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet. We took a taxi for nine people at eight Saturday morning, but only five of us showed up the other girls were still sleeping, this should have been the first clue to our traveling woes. Undeterred we hopped a train from Bassano to Padova. In Padova we had to switch trains. Ours was headed to Milan and Verona was a stop along the way. We had about twenty minutes between the two and were famished. We got the best pastry of my life. It was a square croissant that was half filled with custard and half with chocolate then drizzled with chocolate sauce on top and dusted with powdered sugar. Little did we realize what a great decision this snack would be. Filled with excitement and a sense of accomplishment for boarding the right train, we were off. Now, for those of you who don't know every ticket has an arrival time and Italian trains are prompt, and exact. Our eta was 11:00 am. Well, 11:00 came and went. We didn't think much of it because we didn't see any signs for Verona. Then the conductor said something along the lines of, "Verona...cinque." Our survival Italian kicked in and we pieced together that “cinque” is five. At the following stop we saw no signs for Verona again. We stayed on our train. At 11:45 panic hit us. We knew something was wrong. We asked the ticket lady if we had passed Verona and her face dropped. That said it all, we knew we were screwed. She informed us that the last stop was Milan and we could purchase a ticket to Verona there. The hysterics set in and a range of emotions came over us: stress, laughter, Sarah cried, shock, awe, and of course more laughter. We missed our stop! Here we were all proud, thinking we were conquering the travel faux-pa but no way Jose we were living up to them. With no other choice we dejectedly got off in Milan and got a one way ticket to Verona. Our train didn't leave for an hour so we decided to check out Milan. We arrived in Verona at 3:30.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Tale of the Italian Taxi Driver

I have taken a taxi from the Bassano Del Grappa train station twice now and have ridden with the same taxi driver. However, the two experiences have been horses of different colors to say the least. Upon arriving in Bassano with my dad we had to call a taxi to get to Paderno. Just calling the cab was one of the greatest language barriers I have encountered while being here. Dad and I had to figure out how to use an Italian pay phone. After twenty, frustrating, minutes of fumbling with euro change and dialing only to hear long beeps we reached a person, a person who spoke English. Our cab pulled up on time. Our driver was a younger guy who barely spoke English. He struggled to make conversation for the first five minutes into our drive, but yielded to silence after informing us that his "English is not so good". My dad and I took in the scenery in the meantime. Last weekend my roommate Sarah, and I and our two friends Anna and Lindsay took a cab back from the station to school after spending the weekend in Venice. We called a taxi right away, which was so much easier considering we knew the numbers, and had our nifty Italian cell phones. There was a cabbie loading someone into his cab while we were calling. One ring into the call the whole station heard Anna's voice echo on the man's walkie-talkie. This was a little embarrassing and called even more attention the "Americani" standing on the corner loaded down with back packs. He told us he would come back in five minutes. Twenty minutes later we were loaded in and headed back to campus. Sarah had the pleasure of sitting in the front seat. Immediately he brightened up and told us that he liked us. He played music, asked where we were from, and even hummed a tune or two. After struggling a bit and apologizing for his English he started asking if we had boyfriends, how many, where they were, and what their names were. He then went on to tell us that we have plenty of time to get serious, married, and make babies later but now is time for fun. His main target was poor, little, uncomfortable Sarah throughout this ordeal. After a car ride of pestering and overly personal questions he finally dropped us off back at school. Needless to say his English drastically improved during the car ride.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Frutelle, Croissants, and Gelato Oh my!

So here's the thing about Italy, it has the most wonderful sweets you can imagine. I have mentioned the miraculous mini-doughnut-holes filled with custard and nutella and just recently discovered that they are called "frutelle" and have a bit of history behind them. They are seasonal during this time of the year here because this is the time of the year in Italy where Italians eat up before they fast everything away later. In Paderno the frutelle are about half the size of Venice's fruitella. Also in Venice they roll them in sugar on the outside. Croissants are the other pastry that I have always had an affinity for, but here in Italy they take them to another level. They are served fresh, hot, and perfectly flakey. In my limited experience all of them are filled with something. My friend Sarah tried a cocoa one that was filled with nutella and drizzled with powdered sugar. I went the 'crema' route which to my taste buds was custard and also dusted with powdered sugar. Before I came to Italy you could say I was somewhat of a gelato pessimist. I thought it was more of a trendy food you could only find at one place in downtown Portland. Oh how wrong I was. Gelato is absolutely delicious. It is the brain-child of ice cream and frozen yogurt, combining the best of each. My favorite flavors are along the lines of hazelnut, coffee, tiramisu, and white chocolate. There are so many great and different pastries here. I am excited to try a new one at each new opportunity I get.