Happy Halloween from Italy!

Halloween is starting to become a thing here in Genoa.  They have a pizzeria in Nervi called Halloween, all decked in black and orange year-round.  Nestled in the little port, I really want to try it, especially since it was recommended in our “Welcome to Genoa” packet compiled by staff members.

Trick-or-treating is a new trend here.  My colleagues were surprised when kids showed up at their 4th floor apartment, then proceeded to give two pieces of candy they scrounged up for the 6 of them.  Even so, they still said “Grazie mille!” I never got trick-or-treaters in my NYC apartments so I think it would be very interesting to have my first ones here.  But after 9pm, I guess the time has passed.  Good thing.  All I’d be able to offer is change, like that old lady in grandma’s neighborhood who gave out nickels on Halloween and warned us not to eat too many tootsie rolls, as if those were what I craved.

Due to the new trend, Halloween shops have popped up all over the city, including a quaint one down by the sea, selling devil horns, vampire teeth, masks, wigs, and pre-packaged costumes straight from America.  A costume that costs 50 bucks at Party City is now 75 euros.  Yikes!  I should get into that as a side business, much like the shop owner.

Somehow in the move, the stand-up collar for my vampire costume did not make it to Italy. I had to get something to go with my gothic dress.  Thanks to the recommendations of my students, I strolled down to the sea to the quaint little Halloween shop, where I then waited on line for about 15 minutes.  A woman said, “Buona Sera . . .” and I said, “I only speak English,” feeling guilty because I should be able to say that in Italian.  I get embarrassed using my “broken” Italian, but how else am I going to learn?  My progress is coming along, though I will talk about that in another post.

The woman gestured to the man next to her who said in near perfect English, “How can I help you?”  I explained my situation and he said they only had the packaged sets there and to come next door to get accessories in the Tabacchi.  He took me to the front of the line, and soon I had a nifty witch hat.  “Where are you from?” he asked.

“New York City,” I said proudly, missing home but not enough to jump on a plane or leave my beautiful life just yet.

“I go there at least once a year to meet with the costume designers and stock up.  I love New York, what a great city.  But next year, the event has been moved to Houston.  This is my side business.  I work for the German company Siemens”

“Ahh” I had seen the name on a building in town.

“How long are you here?” he asked shaking his head with that look I get so often here in Genoa.  People don’t seem to understand how I could leave such a great city or how I could be happy here.

“2 years.”  His look grew even more exasperated.  “How about we switch.  You stay here, and I work there.  I’ve always wanted to live in New York.”

I hear it a lot, and I totally understand it.  “New York has everything, but I have the sea here,”I said, gesturing across the street to the moonlit waves gently lapping against the  shoreline.  “And the mountains,” I added, pointing behind me.  “I guess the food too, but in New York we can get anything . . .ok, except maybe good pesto.”

After chatting a bit, I left knowing I’d be back.  He sells decorations for all the holidays, and I was hoping to get a few things to bring my place into the Christmas spirit soon.  But first, Halloween Spirit.

My school — being cute and adorable and super spirited . . .well, the parents put together this amazing Halloween Festival for kids through 8th grade, featuring a spooky room and outdoor activities and candy.  While I was teaching the older kids, I kept hearing “Thriller” –occasionally breaking out into the dance– “Werewolves of London,” and “The Addams Family.”  Speaking of which — each day, we rise for a different world anthem.  Today, we rose for — The Addams Family.  I have juniors, and I even got them to sing and snap along with me.  Yay!

The Genovese seem to prefer the spooky over the cute costumes, so there were witches and ghouls galore, monsters, vampires, ghosts, and gory makeup.  But there were also quite a few cherubic witches and cutie pie kiddies as well.  Ahh, so fun!  Even many of the teachers got into the spirit.  Since I am teaching The Crucible, I decided to be a witch — although they didn’t quite dress up like this kind  . . . and I’m a good witch.  🙂

Here are some photos of my colleagues and me from today.  Happy Halloween!

With the Middle School head of years / other English teacher.

Head of Years for High School

Our IB coordinator had to take a phone call. When she entered the room, with the best voice ever, she said, “Ahh, my long lost cousin, how are you? It’s been forever!”

Backstreets of Venice

Dad and I passed the gelato shop I visited in 2002 for my first real gelato, an addiction that kept me coming back sometimes 3 times a day.  I told him about the mini-tornado that swooped into Venice during my stay, turning the canals into giant wave pools, covering the stones with water along with a torrent of rain.  I slipped down the steps of the Rialto Bridge, running for cover with my hostelmate Katie, and we ducked into a bar shortly before they pulled the metal gate closed.  We were locked inside to brave the storm.  We had a few drinks and met a group of locals that showed us around afterwards.  We surveyed the damage, wind battered trees, and flower pots and window boxes broken everywhere.  A unique Venetian memory.

“Hey, Dad, my b&B was actually in this neighborhood.  It’s been 10 years, but I wonder if I could find it.”

With pure 10 year old memories, I navigated down the winding backstreets and said, “Ahh yes, up ahead, there will be a turn, a tiny bridge over a quaint canal, and then the street is shortly after that.”  Sure enough, we made it to the street and think we found the place.  Later, I checked facebook pictures on my iphone and found that I actually took a picture of the door back then, but we didn’t go back to check we were right.  Ahh technology!

While we were in the neighborhood, we went searching because I remembered many quaint restaurants for aperitivos, but I couldn’t find them. Was I on the wrong streets?  Did they close?  Nothing is constant except change, even in this well-preserved museum of a city.  Eventually we ended up in a charming square, the trees turning brown in mid autumn, folks quietly clinking their silverware against the plates under a starry night sky.  We picked one place in the far corner, and sat down for a beer and a meal.  I had the lemon chicken and Dad had veal marsala.

It was a long yet fun day.  We were exhausted, and wound our way to the bus station, the university section of the city before boarding a vaporetto back to our dock, Ca’D’oro.  I passed out on the bed in my clothes before 9:30.

The next day we woke up for another breakfast and checked out the rooftop terrace, which was a special surprise.  Beautiful and peaceful view of Venice from up there.

Boat day.  We boarded a vaporetto for the lido.  The Adriatic was bright blue, and I kept repeating, “It’s so pretty.”  I knew what it looked like, yet I was still happy and surprised to see it again.

At the lido, we walked along the main street, past holiday-style tourist shops selling flip flops and sand toys.  “It’s a totally different feel here,” said Dad.

“Yup, it’s connected to the mainland.  More of a resort.” Cars can drive over a bridge to get here, unlike in Venice.  There are plenty of hotels to stay here, and certainly more space, yet it lacks the charm of the tight, winding paths and canals of Venice.

We made it to the big, Sandy beach, and gazed out over the blue water, churning and turning gray under a stormy sky.  By the time we left the beach, the rain had started, and then it became like a shower by the time we arrived on the island of Murano, world-famous for its gorgeous, colorful glass.

We wandered up and down the streets, gazed at the shop windows (all selling glass except for a few that sold food).  We snacked on giant meringue, I nibbled–er, devoured Harbo gummy bears, then back on the boat, soggy and tired, to head for town.  We had decided to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe tonight.  I was getting very sick of the lack of variety in Italian food. I wanted a BURGER, and bacon and cheddar!  Dad is used to Italian food as well, growing up in NYC and with my family’s great cooking over the years (I’ve yet to find a restaurant that rivals many of the family dishes, including mama’s sauce).  Sidenote: Every time I tell people my family is from Piacenza, they always say, “Oh, the food there is the best!”

The Hard Rock Cafe was nearly impossible to find.  The map on the website was . . . wrong. . . misleading.  Google maps kept running us around in circles.  I even called the restaurant and the directions were confusing at best.  Eventually, my Dad stopped into a shop and got directions that were more clear, and we saw it, glass windows, facing a quiet canal filled with gondolas.  Normally a travel sin, but now an oasis.

We went inside, while some of my favorite songs blasted in my ears, and we orderd Nastro beer, noshed on cheddar nachos, and by the time our bacon burgers came, we were stuffed but continued.  Bruce played.  I smiled.  Our waitress was one of the top 3 I’ve ever had. Ever.  She was so lively, so fun, so funny, dancing in the aisles, joking with us – animated like a cartoon.

Then back to bed, where I passed out even earlier, I think.  Oh wait, there was a gelato first.  🙂

The next morning, we awoke for our last breakfast.  I went outside to try to get a pair of shoes really quick, and saw the ground had buckled.  Acqua Alta – the high waters.  They seep up through the clay in the rising tide and cause all kinds of damage.  Even part of the wall of our hotel had broken through, spilling clay.  A neverending battle.

They say one day Venice will be just like a museum, with no actual residents because it’s so hard to live here, to raise children when you have to navigate the streets, bridges, canals, vaporettos with a stroller.  They claim it would be like a Disneyland for grownups.  It would still be amazing, though, even if that happens.  Hey, as long as it’s here.  The Acqua Alta, though, has other plans.  See Venice while you can.

Ah Venezia!

This weekend I returned to Venice for the first time since 2002.  10 years gone.  There is always a risk returning to a place you once loved and adored, a fear that you could ruin the magic and distort the original memory — like Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” – the memory may compete with the current image in your mind’s eye.

Check out images from my first trip to Venice, featuring the 21-year-old me who inspired my current life.  This is for you, kiddo!  Stay fun!

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A little over 10 years ago, I strapped on an overloaded backpack after college graduation, and popped all around Europe, booking hostels on the Internet and changing plans as I went.  I originally booked two days in Venice, but fell so in love that I had to completely rearrange the rest of the trip, just for one more night.  I heard false rumors of the stench, dirty water, and decaying buildings — but instead found clean(ish) blue water, no noticeable scent, and buildings that were in charming states of renovation – preserving the beautiful architecture — architecture unlike any I’ve encountered in my travels since.

That first night, after wandering through back alleys following detailed and slightly confusing directions, I found my B&B, met my hostel-mate, and went out for a delightful aperitif along a small canal, enjoying the beautiful life.  As I wandered, explored, tasted gelato, gazed at the scenery, and soaked in the unbelievable feeling of being in a place I dreamed about my whole life, I was elated.  I kept thinking of the report I did in 4th grade, researching the city of Venice, and drawing detailed pictures with markers and crayons,  painstakingly copying the boats and canalsI found in my library books.  How amazing!  What would it be like to go there?  I need to see.  Then I did! [As a bonus, the next post will be cut and pasted from the blog of my youth, when it was so important to just get the ideas down — type, type, type — GO!  edit later.  You’ll see]

The trip was magical, and the city was hard to leave after just three short nights.  On to the Tuscan countryside and a new group of friends, sights and experiences.  But I always savored the images, still not believing I was there.  All my trips to Europe since then, I have not returned.  Now that it’s about 4 hours from my new home in Genoa, it’s a weekend trip for me.  It was Dad’s first time to Italy, and as beautiful as Genoa is, it’s not the highlight of an Italian tour.  He had to see one of the big three (Venice, Florence and Rome).  He also got some time to see the Milan train station, but more like in my previous journeys– unimpressed, worried about missing a train, and a bit rushed.  I’m happy to say that Venice was just as magical and impressive, swarms of tourists and all.

When Dad arrived last week, we spent an evening in Nervi (a typical Ligurian resort neighborhood minutes from my apartment).  We then went to Acqui Terme for the weekend to indulge in mountain views, thermal waters, and quaint Medieval Architecture.  The following day, Dad went off to Constance, Germany for more spas and lakeside views while I tackled the workweek.  Thursday, I darted off after teaching four 80 minute long classes and met him in Milan as he was on his way back from Germany.  I plopped into my train seat and gazed, dozed, and attempted to unwind while Dad caught up with all his stories from the past three days.

A couple of hours later, we rolled onto the causeway, glimpses of boats and lights glittering in the water on our way into the station.  Once outside, you are right there on the Grand Canal, in the heart of Venice, with gondolas, impressive domes and terraces of charming buildings, half-lit for the evening with a humble “Hello” rather than an all out “HEY! HI!  Look at me!”  Dad and I navigated the intricacies of the Vaporetto sysem (the waterbusses, the main hub of public transport in the city) and noticed that the machine wouldn’t take American cards.  How do we pay the 7 euros. 7 euros for a bus ride? Yikes.  As we figured out details and stressed about the “work” of travel, the buildings were there, a beautiful background as we were having our “Amazing Race” moments.  I had to remind myself “Calm down, you are on holiday. Enjoy!”

We met up with young American girls, maybe backpacking for a weekend during Study Abroad, and they said the guidebook said you can buy them on the boat.  We boarded, nobody asked, and we rode for free.  Whoops.  Gliding past buildings, peeking in windows, watching people stroll about, the city was magic at this time of night, empty, ours.  We arrived at Ca’Doro, our neighborhood — and we were so delighted with our choice.  We chose a basic yet nice 3 Star hotel near the action, but not in it, nestled on a quiet canal.  When we got to the hotel, after a magical walk through the streets, a neighborhood I’d never seen, I was shocked.  It was literally on the canal.  Up into the room, I peeked out the window and saw that we faced the canal with a stunning view — I couldn’t wait to see it in the morning.  After 11pm, we were exhausted but we were here, ready for a nice long weekend of exploration and beauty.  And as much as I love Genoa, I was happy to get away.

The next morning, we awoke to a basic but good continental breakfast in the dining area, then went out strolling and exploring Strada Nuova and all the shops.  Shopping is surely good in Venice, perhaps better than Genoa, which is interesting because everything has to be carted in on boats then hand trucked to the stores.  I had my eye on a few purses and clothes, but I was really here for the getaway and the beauty as well as spend time with my father — even though both of us were exhausted.  Take it easy, enjoy.

Friday, we did a lot of strolling about, to the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, which was gratefully not yet flooded.  By Sunday, Acqua Alta had started to flood St. Mark’s Square as usual, and tourists had to walk on raised platforms.  These platforms are set up all over the city, especially this time of year as the high tide season begins in October.  Add this to the fact that Venice has sunken about 9 inches in 60 years, and we have quite a problem on our hands.  I’m hoping they use the 7 euro bus fee to help subsidize the massive projects in place to protect the city.  It’s quite fascinating, actually . . .they are building giant doors on the sea floor where the Adriatic spills into the canals of Venice, a city built on hundreds of little islands at the mouth of the Po River.  When the tides get high, the doors will go up and prevent the water from rising.  Sounds cool, like it could work in theory — but also quite dangerous if the city relies on this technology and it fails suddenly . . . If not done properly, could a rush of water flood the city to the dome of St. Mark’s Basilica?

It is quite amazing how well preserved this city is, given the age and the odds against it.  “See Venice while you can!” they tell us tourists.  And the tourists are coming, usually dumped in by the cruise ship load, in clusters of 3-4,000.  When these day trippers head back to their boats at night, only having glimpsed the most crushed, touristy parts of Venice, Rialto, St. Mark’s, the island of Murano for the glass . . . the city breathes again.  The streets become magical, and you can wander freely and get lost in time.  80% of the city is actually off the beaten tourist path, and if you take the time to wander just a little bit, you can enjoy the “real” Venice, when the ships are in port.

More about the real Venice and the magic of our visit.  And I’ll show the new pictures soon, this time embedded in the story instead of the slideshow.  Ciao for now.  Off to dinner with Dad, his last night in Italy.


Two weekends ago, I went to Oktoberfest.  I drank, I had fun with my friend Laura and the people we met, but mostly I was enjoying the scene, watching something I have heard about since I was a child with wonder and curiosity.  Even before I liked beer . . .before I could even drink alcohol or even want it, I wanted to see Oktoberfest in Munich.  And I did.  This first time was a whirlwind of new experiences and a lot of rain (boo!).  But I’m prepared and ready to go again next year.  🙂

Let’s let pictures tell the story.

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And a formal writeup later.  Off to Venezia domani!!  🙂  Haven’t been since 2002, and I loved it.  Can’t wait.


Italy’s favorite word seems to be “aspetta.”  Wait.  And I have been.  At first, patiently, and then not so patiently, and now it’s almost laughable.  My internet was fixed on Friday, hurrah!  And it lasted a whole 2.5 days.  Then the ADSL was down.  Never in my life did I have to deal with ADSL because I had dial up in 1998, then went to college where there was the Ethernet, then my parents got cable modem, which is what I switched to when I got my first apartment in 2003, getting speeds up to 15mb per second.  Here in Italy, on the two days I had ADSL, it was 3 mb, about the same as the Internet key.   . . which sometimes goes as low as .03 rendering loading email impossible.  Modern websites and applications can’t run on such a primitive system.  As I ran my speed tests, I saw that the GLOBAL average for Internet was 11 mb/second.  Italy falls around 3 or 4, giving them a D+ in the global Internet range.  The world, not the western world or high tech society . . . the world.  Italy is stuck in the 90s technologically, tho gratefully in the Medieval ages architecturally.  Ok, that’s not exactly right, we have some renaissance and some other random buildings, but the architecture here is quite beautiful.  Italy is gorgeous, and Genoa is right at the top of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Italy . . . but there seems to be quite a price to pay for all this beauty.

Imagine my pure joy and elation at putting aside all this constant phone call, text message, phone company appointment nonsense and to move on with my life here in Italy with slow tho functioning Internet.  Nope, back to square one again, but this time way more pushy.  You literally have to fight for your right to anything in this country which has a very . . . lax . . . service industry.  I had to call 3 times (well, get colleagues who spoke Italian) just to get them to open a work order to fix the line.  But I have my bank card, and that’s progress.  I also visited the doctor and renewed my allergy prescription easily.  whew!  I wasn’t up for another hoop to jump through . . . my legs are tired enough from hiking up and down my mountain each day.  Again, the price for all the beauty.

In the meantime, sometimes my Internet key grabs a signal (as it is now) so I’m taking advantage and trying to update.  Coming next, photos of Oktoberfest.  I am also taking an online course for the International Baccalaureate (IB).  I wanted to be as prepared as possible as it’s my first time teaching it, so I asked my boss and he registered me.  There is work to do each day, though, and I need good high speed Internet, otherwise the modules won’t load.  Sigh . . . Italy, seriously, get with at least 2002 if you can’t get to 2012 with Internet.