Mamma’s Spring Visit and the Cinque Terre

My mother visited for 10 days in November over Thanksgiving, which just happened to coincide with the glorious warm sunny weather turning to chilly rain.  She had a lovely visit yet was eager to see Genoa in the sunshine, so she booked a second visit this past April . . . just in time for a 4 day break for the Italian Holiday (Festa della Liberazione) from Thursday April 25 – Sunday April 28,  followed by a 1 day holiday on May 1st for European Labor Day.

When she arrived, she already felt comfortable and at home in my apartment while I worked, and was looking forward to living like a local, shopping, walking around, and meeting me at an osteria or bar for lunch or making lunch together.  At night, we’d visit Nervi or downtown Genoa, make dinner, or just enjoy a light snack in the apartment.  We settled into a cozy routine and tried not to be too disappointed that the glorious spring weather everyone had promised us had not yet arrived.  It was still a bit cool and awfully rainy.

We booked 3 nights in the Cinque Terre, my favorite nearby playground.  The Cinque Terre is only 1.5 hours away by local train, yet feels like a magical vacation paradise.  In fact, when I was first recruited for this job, I looked at Genoa on the map and gasped, “It’s right on the water!  And  . . .it’s right by the Cinque Terre!”  I had always wanted to go there after seeing gorgeous blue glimpses from the windows as our train darted between tunnels back in 2004.  My Mom and I were traveling around Europe together as a gift for my Masters in English.  It was her first time in Europe, and I was taking her to some of my favorite destinations.  We glimpsed a new possibility and knew one day we had to return.

We had originally only booked 2 nights in a Monterosso hotel on the beach, but added a third night when we saw a chance for sunshine on Thursday.  Our original hotel wasn’t available, so we opted for an upgraded wonderful hotel with a wraparound balcony, also on the beach for that first night.  Yet while we left a warm sunny Genoa, Monterosso had turned chilly and cloudy unlike the prediction.  It was still lovely.  We spent the next few days enjoying the quiet peace of the Cinque Terre, walking through town, hiking hills, and wishing the sun would come out just a bit so we could see that stunning blue, the scene we saw from the train, the scene I loved when I visited my second weekend in Genoa last August.  We hoped to swim, but we didn’t mind reading on the beach when it wasn’t raining.  And we ate very, very well.

In fact, one of my favorite stories in Genoa happened while eating in Monterosso.  My mother and I were feeling a bit hungry and were about to look for a place to eat.  Randomly, Mom said, “What about here?”  We were outside a turquoise blue and black colored place with indoor seating and outdoor seating overlooking the beach.  Gorgeous, and the food smelled great.  We sat down, and our friendly server said to us in perfect English: “Are you from NJ?”  My mother looked a bit embarrassed, thinking Is my accent that bad?  But actually, she’s originally from NYC.  Anyways, I said, “Yes,” wondering why she asked.  “Are you from Waldwick?”

“Yes. . .”

“Are you Rich’s sister?”

“Yes . . .” I was floored.

“I’m Christine.  I went to school with your brother.”

WOW!  My mom then immediately recognized her from the church and from town.  We talked a while, and she explained the story about meeting her boyfriend while studying abroad and how the family sponsored her work visa and now she works for the family business.  They also own the restaurant down the street.  Amazing.  So amazing that the Australian couple next to us who overheard . . . they were floored.

Christine said, “You should join our American girls’ club.  There are 16 of us in the area, 4 here in the Cinque Terre and a bunch in Genoa.”

“Definitely.”

With fellow Waldwick Girl, Christine at Cantina di Miky in Monterosso

With fellow Waldwick Girl, Christine at Cantina di Miky in Monterosso

The food at Cantina di Miky was so amazing and delicious that Mom and I went twice, and on our last night, we tried the food at the fabulous restaurant, Miky’s, and met most of the family.  These restaurants feature some of my favorite food in the region along with excellent hospitality, and I return each time I’m in the area now.

Mom and I finally had some warm sunshine on her last day in Genoa, and we enjoyed some time in the Medieval Center.  She left but said, “I’ll return soon . . . next time for a month.”  But right now, I’m writing this sitting next to Mamma on the couch in Waldwick, NJ.  🙂

Photos from Mom’s visit are featured below in this circle gallery.  Click any photo for an enlargement and entry into the gallery with captions.  With so many photos, I thought this was a better method than the slideshow.  All of these were taken with my Canon PowerShot SX260HS, which is a really nice pocket camera, but alas, not as stunning as my SLR.  I’ll have to make sure to use her more in next year’s adventures.  I just don’t always want to lug her around.  🙂

Send me on my way

Today’s a special post. Live from my office at my school on the last day of work. 10 months to the day since I boarded the plane in a whirlwind of emotions, leaving for my new life in Italy. The amazing, challenging, fun and incredible year has come to a close. My 9th year as a teacher. 6th year as a high school teacher. 2nd year teaching middle school. And my first year in Italy! It was a huge and exciting decision, and I can’t imagine if I had not accepted this amazing offer which has changed my life so positively. So much joy, beauty, adventure, some loss and lots of reflection. I spent much time thinking about NYC and my family, missing home and the familiar comforts. I spent much time getting excited about my travels and exploring the gorgeous landscape and culture of Liguria, but I was also always counting back hours to see what time it was in NY, looking at the weather, and messaging friends at home. Yet over all that time, Liguria became home. Tomorrow, I have a ticket to fly home. Where is home?

When I purchased this ticket — Thanks Dad! — my father then said, “You should have stayed a week or so to enjoy Italy and your scooter . . . or even to travel.” To be honest, I’m low on my travel budget, everyone’s heading off, and I just was really looking forward to a long, relaxing, extended time in NYC and Jersey with family and friends I have missed so much. And my cats! But now the weather is absolutely stunning, day after day. The turquoise blue waters call, and I dive in after work, then bask in the warm glow of sunshine sprawled on warm, smooth rocks and pebbles. I head to my friend’s house for vino on her balcony, which faces a castle, as we watch the sky turn pink then an inky indigo, long after 9:30pm before walking home under the stars. I stroll uphill to my apartment, past balconies strewn with beach towels, couples walking dogs (everyone has a dog here in Genoa), and smell the flowers in full, lush bloom. Genoa is at her finest right now, and I have chosen to leave her. And that hurts.

One of the many beautiful beaches along Genova's coast.

One of the many beautiful beaches along Genova’s coast.

Genoa will be stunning when I return in August, as I have learned from last year’s arrival. I was able to swim well into October. It was sunny almost every day in those months, and it will still be lovely. I have so many adventures, good times, wonderful conversations, beaches, lakes, mountains, hikes, fire pits, great food and smiles waiting for me at home. I guess I’m just really realizing the huge effect of a transatlantic move. My heart belongs here as well as there. I’m very grateful that I have another year to return and enjoy, and now that I am settled, the lessons are planned, the books read, and the details sorted — I can enjoy it all even more!

I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Last night, I just said goodbye to a choir friend who is moving back to Lithuania. (A great excuse to travel one weekend in the fall!). We had an excellent sushi meal followed by Neopolitan pastries, and then stood in the parking lot, lingering, delaying the inevitable. Now, my classrooms are cleaned, posters torn off the wall, drawers emptied, my office tidied, papers purged . . . and it was all a crazy trip down memory lane with flashes from the past school year. It really was wonderful and joyful. This is a special school.

At graduation, we said farewell to our seniors. Administration prepared a special slide show, showing pictures of the kids through the years. 3 of them started at age 3! I managed to hold back the tears until that rolled across the screen to one of my favorite songs “Send Me on my Way.” A few days later, the seniors returned to our farewell ceremony, to give some more speeches, lots of hugs, and then . . . on to their lives. It was an honor to be their teacher, to get to know them, and to be part of their lives. They have touched my heart, and while we had so much work to do, I always looked forward to class.

It is my last day of work with my colleagues, friendly faces I met on an August day before sharing focaccia formaggio by the sea, sharing aperitivi in Piazza del Erbe, dancing till early morning, laughing in the office during stressful times, and over time, becoming cherished friends. Off to lunch, one final meal for the school year.

Send me on my way now, but just for the summer.

Spring Break: Genova, Roma, and the Swiss Alps (part 1 – Genoa)

One of my best friends, Brendan, has always wanted to visit Italy.  When I got the job offer last January, he already started talking about his visit.  We decided on Spring Break, so I could be the female Rick Steves, and take him around my beautiful local hood as well as Rome and the Alps, as he requested.

Our spring break began on Friday March 29, which gave me a day to chill and take the train to Milan.  Brendan got the shortest and best airfare to Milan, arriving at 7am on Saturday March 30, Easter Eve.  Since I was off and eager to enjoy the city, I said I’d meet him at the airport.  I booked a single room at the Bio City hotel, an eco friendly, brand new hotel that was just before its official opening.  At this point, I let out a big “Ahh” as I looked around the cozy room.  The weather was not cooperating, with a chilly drizzle, but I was just glad that my much-needed vacation had started.  For teachers, breaks always come just when you think you can’t handle another day.  I checked the mini bar, and for reasonable prices, I saw natural soda and super yummy sesame seed bars, which I devoured while watching BBC news.  I tweeted a couple of pictures and fell asleep knowing I had to wake early tomorrow to get to the bus for the airport.

Brendan walked through the gate, and I ran to give him a hug, amazed at how guys can pack all they need in a little carry on duffle bag.  Well done.  The weather was cloudy, but I was hoping the rain would hold off.  We caught up on the bus ride, then by the time we arrived in the city, the rain turned into a downpour.  Luckily, I still had the hotel room, so we had it for a few hours where I figured Brendan could take a nap and I could enjoy my free breakfast.  As soon as he passed out, though, they started drilling.  (They were still working on the hotel, so I knew this might happen).  He managed to fall back asleep . . . until the belt sander came on. “We’ll find this funny later,” he said. But clearly not now. The poor guy was exhausted, having not slept on the plane.  So I went outside and asked the guys if they could move, which they so kindly did.

At 11, Brendan was in a sound sleep but I had to rouse him for check out.  “You said I could sleep,” he said like a school boy talking to his mom, wanting to go to school late.  I know the feeling.  I remember telling my mother, in my sleep, that “The lake is closed today,” when she tried to wake me up for my lifeguarding job and I knew I just couldn’t make it.

I felt so bad, but I had to get him, up.  We checked out, and luckily they didn’t tack on a fee for bringing a second person into the single room.  Then we had to brave the rain again.  We originally considered the thermal spa, which I love and have posted about before here: My New New York . But it was not the weather for wandering or sightseeing, so we boarded a train for Genoa, gliding through the soggy landscape to Liguria.

2 hours later, we boarded a bus to my neighborhood as exhausted zombie Brendan said, “How much longer?”  It might be initially more convenient to fly to Milan, but ultimately it’s a big pain in the butt, unfortunately.  Once in my hood, we had to find food.  As it was the day before Easter, nothing was open, so we walked through the hills for 10 minutes to Jungle Pizza, which is always open with its 100 varieties.  But alas, even that was closed.  Back to my apartment where I offered some of the food I had purchased and Brendan passed out into a deep sleep.  I used this time to go on my second ever scooter ride!

The clouds cleared, the sun came out, and I enjoyed stunning views over the sea as I tried to keep steady and not tip over.  Back at the apartment, I had to wake up Brendan again, afraid that if I didn’t he wouldn’t sleep the night.   Arrival day is often very hard, especially when the weather is not helping.  Starving, we walked down the hill to restaurants by the sea, looking for something open.  He gave up meat for Lent, so we went for some pizza or pasta at 5 Maggio, a place I had enjoyed many times, along the sea by the monument.  We shared pasta, cooked in foil in the brick oven, foccaccia formaggio and one other kind of pizza as well as creme brulee for dessert.

Brendan wanted to meet one of my friends, and I wasn’t sure who was in town but remembered that Robin was both in town and nearby.  At 11pm, I called her then we showed up at her apartment (with its splendid castle view), and got her ready to go out dancing down by the sea.  At that time, Brendan felt it was time to ditch his Lenten beard, so Robin lent him a disposable razor.  And off we went.

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The club was fun, and unlike some of the other ones further downtown, where guys like to come up and grab you while you are dancing, the people were older and a bit more chill — but the vibe and music were great.  We even got free shots from the bartender because we were from NY! 🙂  We walked Robin home, then up the hill to my apartment where Brendan realized it was Easter, running to the fridge and tearing open the packages of cured meats I had bought for his arrival.

Easter Sunday bells rang at noon, but Brendan was still sleeping off his mega jet lag.  He had tried to warn me it could get like this, but I had never seen jet lag this bad.  Around 1:30, he woke up and we tossed the football-sized Easter egg that I bought for a charity fundraiser at school.  It broke to reveal the gift inside — a boxed silver-toned bracelet.  Not bad.  Apparently, these chocolate eggs are very popular as Easter treats for kids.

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Soon we went outside into the warm sunshine for one of the prettiest days of our trip. Buona Pasqua!
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We piled onto my scooter for my third ride, and my first ride with a passenger.  Once I mastered the weight balance, we took it nice and slow, heading straight to Nervi.  It was Brendan’s first time on a scooter, and he was thrilled.  Once we parked, we went for a walk along the gorgeous passageiatta — bright turquoise water, waves crashing into the jagged rocks, Portofino in the distance, and families and friends, tourists and locals strolling along for a Happy Easter.  The vibe was perfect.  The flowers were blooming, but unfortunately so was Brendan’s hay fever.  We didn’t let it get in the way of our fun, though.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

We did not have reservations for dinner and were worried about finding quality food on a day when so many locals head to the restaurants.  Luckily, even though we were in Italy, both of us were craving sushi, so we planned for that.  While we were waiting for the restaurant to open (Many places in Genoa open for dinner at 7:30 and close by 9 or 10 for a small dining window), we wandered through gorgeous Nervi, through a local park watching families with their dogs, bacci balls, and picnics.  Then we found a little church on top of a hill and decided to see if there was an evening mass.  We walked in sometime near the beginning, and enjoyed a special, beautiful Easter service.

The sun was starting to tinge the sky pink, promising an awesome sunset.  I regret not heading back to the passegiatta because I know Brendan would have appreciated it, but we were already at the restaurant, where we enjoyed a lobster roll among some others.  As Brendan gave up meat for Lent, he also gave up sushi, so this was a treat. And for me, who was growing quite sick of Italian food, I was happy for the change of pace.

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Back to the scooter and home to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Rome!  The fastest train was at 7am, so it was gonna be another early morning for us. I popped Mad Men on Netflix, and we enjoyed a chill evening.

Here’s a small slideshow with more photos:

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–to be continued in Part 2 – Roma–

-written 26 June, but posted in April for timeline purposes

“My” Beach

On Sunday, I strolled to several beaches along the way to the resort neighborhood of Nervi.  At first, I was unsure if they were private, how things worked, and if I was allowed to be there.  But eventually I figured it out.  They are mostly free to use; you pay for chairs, umbrellas, bars, etc.  A private beach will be clearly marked.  Anyways, more about Sunday’s first dip at another time.

Despite my best intentions, the week slipped away and I did not make it to the beach again after work.  Today was humid and slightly stressful, so when I came home, I slipped into a bikini and updated my twitter status.  Before I made it out the door, the thunderstorms rolled in.  At 6:30, the rumbling had stopped and the rain reduced to a slight mist.   In less time than it took me to get to Metro North in Woodlawn, I could be in the Mediterranean.  I had to go.

I arrived at my closest beach to find it was completely empty, periwinkle gray waves crashing on the smooth pebbles.  “Don’t swim alone,” I heard my mother’s voice calling to me.  But the sea beckoned, and I went in “Just for a dip.”  There were people strolling about under the dark skies: a man tying up umbrellas in his bar, a woman with her dog, a hotel guest peering out the balcony.  I wasn’t totally alone . . . But for me, on this day, the beach and sea were mine.  Has this ever happened to me in America?  I couldn’t recall a time on our jam-packed beaches.

I slipped off my blue patent birkenstocks and gingerly walked over the stones, feeling like I was at a German spa, wading through the “pressure point” pools.  Then a few steps into the rocky water and it drops off immediately to the great, deep blue.  I like that.  I swam out towards the open water without my goggles.  I was just going for a dip, so I just grabbed a towel, no bag or anything.  Was there a giant rock beneath me?  Were these waves safe?  Would I be caught in a fishing line or bang my toe against a sunken barge?  I always worry when swimming in open water, but it was absolutely delightful.  Clean, clear, and relaxing.

Suddenly, the day drifted away as the ebb and flow of the sea soothed my soul like a day at the spa.  Soon I noticed a man snorkeling at the beach next to me, along the reef.  Then another man came down for his swim.  Storm clouds gathered again on the mountains just behind Genoa.  Knowing that lightening can strike without warning, I decided not to push my luck and eventually left the sea after 20 minutes of “above water” crawl [lifeguard save style] mixed with backstroke.

As I dried off, I watched the old, fit man enter the water, hands on hips, gazing out to the sea — beautiful in any weather.  After 5 minutes of stretching and anticipation, he plunged beneath the waves and breastroked out, far out, beyond the buoys.  Climbing the stairs back to the main road, I kept turning back to watch the man, afraid of being creepy but unable to stop.  I was so curious to see how things were done here, to learn.  How far would he go?  What is ok?  Acceptable?

I plan to come often.  Who is this man?  Who is the lady with the dog?  Eventually, they will recognize me.  Slowly but surely, my Italian will improve.  One day, I just may talk to them.  But for now, I am still a stranger, relishing my enigmatic presence as I soggily creep back up my hill.