Christmas Magic in Austria & Italy: Part 2 Vipiteno

See Part 1: Christmas Magic in Austria & Italy: Part 1 Vienna

I rolled into Vipiteno, exhausted and excited for the mountain air vibe.  I recognized the identifiable tower, and knew it was my stop.  Vipiteno / Sterzing is the northernmost city in Italy, pure Tyrollean charm.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I’m in love with the fusion of Austrian and Italian culture you find in the Dolomites, a place where you can get a Bretzel mit Prosciutto and get naked in the spa for an Aufguss (special steam bath) and it’s not weird at all, then cap the evening off with a pizza.

I stood at the quiet train station, gazing up at the stars and wondering how I was going to get to my hotel, perched up on top of a mountain.  I thought there would be some cabs around, but none at all.  I was glad I had an international plan activated on my phone, so I called my hotel, and they sent a cab.  While I waited, I Instagrammed:

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Ahh that mountain air vibe! I’m up a mountain outside the little town of Vipiteno. Time for farm fresh dinner. I love love love this region! 💗Tyrol

In the meantime, I peeked at the hints of quaint homes up in the mountains, and tried to imagine the views I’d see tomorrow.  The cab wound up and up and up, and then I began to wonder and worry that perhaps it was too far out of town.  Would I be able to make the walk?  Would it be nice?  But as we pulled into the driveway, I could see stars even from the car, and the cozy glow from the windows let me know that, yes, I would love it here.  It was affordable during a very popular time of year as many Italian families go away for a ski week at this time, and it featured fresh air and farm to table food.  And that’s what I was excited for upon my arrival.

It’s always so exciting to drop my bags into a room after a day of travel and to know I have a place to call home.  I crashed onto the bed and eventually peeled myself off, freshened up, and went downstairs.  A solo female diner this time of year – a time for family and friends- was a bit of an anomaly, and they sat me in my own secluded section.  Waiting for my food, I posted:

My dinner date and I have a private dining area to ourselves. 🍷📖

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As a teacher, especially in the modern collaborative environment, I treasure “me” time, time where I can read, be alone with my own thoughts, relish the peace.  So this little moment was my perfect welcome to Vipiteno.  I was reading travel writing but can’t remember what the book was, perhaps A Day in Tuscany (but the author of Too Much Tuscan Sun).

After the hearty meal and vino, I drifted of to sleep in the cozy twin bed.  In the morning, I was treated to the beautiful views I had been anticipating, but sadly not the snow.

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What a beautiful start to my last day of 2015.  I followed the mountain down to the town, and while it was not a short walk, it was lovely and enjoyable.  I passed the local ski slopes, perched atop dry hills.  Would I ski?  It didn’t seem like the right weather, but I was hopeful that snow would be on the way.

Once into town, I could not get over the quaint, fairytale charm.  It was pure magic.

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The pastry shop featured a gingerbread replica of the main bell tower.

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my first views of this quaint town

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charming streets

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markets

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Tyrollean Tree

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Snow dusted peeks in the background

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The omnipresent bell tower

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this image made it to my Christmas card this year (2016)

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The buildings are advent calendars

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This image made it to my card as well

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Cute real evergreens from the local hills, posted around town

All the travel, all the hassles, all the stress of the season melted away as I wandered through the fairytale, excited for what would come next.  It was just so darned cute!  I have seen several Dolomite towns this time of year (Ok, 2 others) but this one was special, like straight out of a Christmas village.  Eventually, I made it to the spa, where I enjoyed an experience typical of the Dolomites – more like Germany than Italy, there is a communal area, like an indoor pool anywhere, with some hot pools on the side.  I swam laps, I read my kindle a bit, and I think I may have had an ice cream or something at the snack stand, wrapped in a cozy bathrobe.  But then I headed to where I really wanted to be, the naked area.

Each town in the region seems to have its own spa, and each has its own unique layout and feel.  This nude area was small, but nice.  There were a couple of indoor saunas and wet baths (Turkish saunas) and the outdoor saunas were lined up in a row, with beautiful views over the valley.  You’d have to dash quickly, but not too quickly because no matter how hard they try, the spillover from the hot tub will cause ice.  There was also a cold plunge pool, very welcome after 10-15 minutes in the Finnish sauna.

Inside, you can drink complimentary water or tea made from local herbs, wrap yourself in a bathrobe and swing in a cozy nook, curl up on a couch with German or Italian language magazines, or nap in one of the quiet rooms, where there seems to be no concept of time.  After a couple of rounds, I managed to melt away the remaining tension.  NOW I was on vacation.

I noticed the chalkboard featuring the day’s special Aufguss timing.  An Aufuguss a special ritual held in the super-heated Finnish sauna.  They keep the door open while you load in, placing your towel on the wood in such a way that you can sit as well as place your feet on it (it’s seen as poor etiquette to let any part of your sweaty body touch the wood).  The room crowds, and there are naked strangers way closer than you would normally think ok. But it’s the time honored communal experience, and with nobody creeping, it’s ok.  (The workers make sure to keep it professional, and it’s such  a part of the culture).

For my first Aufguss, the man came in, decked in his little loin cloth, toting a tray of scented iceballs.  I forget the “theme” of this Aufguss,  but let’s say some kind of lavender relaxation or something.  It’s quite a show as the room heats up. He fans the air with his towel, seemingly immune to the heat (a Finnish Sauna is 158-212 degrees Fahrenheit, and I am pretty sure this one was 110C).  He says all directions and greetings in both German and Italian, a great way for me to practice both. “Buon Schvitz” (Good sweat?)

After the initial fanning, he took one of the balls and ceremoniously smashed it onto the hot rocks, aromatherapy steam rising up, the room instantly growing hotter.  A flash to the senses, then he came around to fan everybody.  Each batch of people (5-10) got about 3-4 waves of his towel or giant paper fan as he came by for each pass.  All the while, sweat rushed down my body and I fought the urge to run out.  I can tolerate this.  I can stay.  It will be worth it for the exhilarating rush out in the fresh mountain air after.  

Finally, the last ball, the last sexy whipping of the heat into my face.  I copied the others and raised my arms to enhance the sensation.  And then “Grazie, si prega di doccia” Thank you, please shower.  And some other warnings to cool off and then rest.

The sauna experience cannot be rushed.  The body needs time to recover after the temperature changes, and it’s so easy and absolutely delightful to fall asleep after.  I did three rounds of Aufguss on this day, the final one, a special Capodanno one (Happy New Year).  The guy saw me sipping my tea, and invited me in to make sure I didn’t miss it.  I wasn’t sure I could tolerate another, but it was the most special, followed by a prosecco toast and panettone.  This was the most delightful way to end 2015.  I enjoyed dinner right by the spa.  Then I strolled through town, enjoying the lights, and decided I didn’t need to stay down until midnight.

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file_000-1I instagrammed this photo while waiting for my pizza.

Post spa glow. The last Aufguss was a special Capodanno one, including a break for an aromatic sugar scrub and followed by panettone and a prosecco toast! (An Aufguss is a steam event in the Finnish sauna where they pour aromatic water on the rocks in a special ritual followed by dancing with the towel to blast us with heat. The guy turned up music and was an awesome performer.). 2015 was good to me because I was good to myself! On to sweet 2016. But first a Quattro Formaggi pizza!

 

After my pizza and stroll, I walked up to the mountain, zoned out on the bed, and walked down to the markets just in time to grab a prosecco, listen to the DJ, and countdown to 2016!

 

To be continued with my first day in 2016 and the finale of the adventure.

 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

christmaskristinGreetings from my childhood home, where I am enjoying a lovely break for the holidays.  I am saddened that it has been a year since I last wrote, and I am making sure to post often this coming year.  While the posting has not been frequent, the travel has.  Since my last post, I enjoyed a visit to Genova where I visited my old school and students, then off to  Taormina, Sicily, where I rented a Fiat and traveled all up and down the hills of Sicily, along with blissful wandering strolls.

That summer, I spent some time in an Iceland stopover, where I got to ride a horse for the first time, galloping across lava fields during an everlasting sunset.  The famous blue lagoon was fully booked during my stay, so I have a great excuse to return to the pristine country.  After, I popped over to Frankfurt where I visited a friend from Italy, then up to Hamburg to visit a friend from Madrid I met studying in Norway!  Then down to Bruges, Belgium where I met up with my friends Jasper and Dave to celebrate 15 years of friendship.  From there, I journeyed to Baden Baden where I spent a few days in a hotel that seemed straight out of Bourne movie, and dipped in spas I saw on Rick Steves Episodes in 2007, vowing one day to go.  It was fantabulous,  and so was the Black Forest Cake in  . . . the Black Forest.  After, I spent three weeks perched in a perfect apartment with a view, nestled on the top of a mountain in the Portofino Park.  I relaxed, recharged, and enjoyed views over the Ligurian sea with Genoa in the distance.  I used the area as my peaceful base, spending my days scooting around the coast, swimming in turquoise blue water, visiting old friends, watching the Olympics, and fantasizing about buying my own apartment up there one day.

I met my Dad in Lucca, a charming walled city, where we stayed a night before traveling back together.  He stayed in a hotel in Camogli overlooking the sea, down the mountain from my apartment.  We enjoyed breakfast every morning, and on my birthday, we took a ferry to a pristine beach called San Fruttuoso.  Each night, I made wishes on shooting stars, and fell into a peaceful slumber.  Upon my return, it was back to work, another school year.  I haven’t traveled since, and I couldn’t make it work for this Christmas due to the airfares, but I have some adventures ahead: a quick jaunt to Malibu and wine country for MLK weekend, and then off to the Swiss Alps for my February Ski week.

 

There have been way too many adventures I haven’t posted about, but let’s start with finishing last years Christmas journey to the Italian Alps!

Bressanone Christmas Markets: The Charming South Tyrol

The streets of Bressanone / Brixen

The streets of Bressanone / Brixen

Last December, I wanted to go back for more German Christmas markets, yet after so many weekends of whirlwind travel, my budget told me to look in places accessible by train.  After long rides to Munich for Oktoberfest the past two years, I saw that the Italian Dolomites were an extremely attractive travel destination.  The train always glided by as the grand, jagged mountains silenced the passengers with awe.  A quick google search brought me to the website for the Christmas Markets of the South Tyrol:

After, I hopped onto booking.com, noting that most hotels were sold out, too expensive, or too far away, requiring a car.  Yet, there was an extremely affordable option in Bressanone / Brixen.  Towns in this autonomous region go by Italian and German names since those are the two official languages of this area that is more Tyrollean than Italian.  After googling the town, I learned that the hotel in Bressanone was walking distance to the train station, the markets, and the spa.  Booked!

The South Tyrol

The South Tyrol

The Alto Adige region of Italy, the South Tyrol.

The Alto Adige region of Italy, the South Tyrol.

It was more than a 7 hour train ride from Genoa, so once again, I dashed out of my 8th grade class exactly at the end of the day at 3:30, onto my scooter, downtown and onto the 4:10 train for Milan where I’d catch my connection to Bressanone.  Yet, my train was late.  And it got even more delayed en route.  Even though I had a 35 minute transfer cushion, my train rolled into the station at the exact time my connecting train for Verona was departing.  I leapt off the train, sprinting with with my backpack, and got to the train for Verona Porta Nuova just in time.  I leapt on as the doors closed and the train glided away.  Safe!  Sweet Relief.  Yet, this train was different.  It didn’t look like the other trains I took to Verona.  I didn’t remember there being a business section.  Just as I noticed that, I heard the announcement, “Treno per Torino Porta Nuova.”  OH NO!  I didn’t catch my connection — I got on the wrong train.  There was no time to check the track so I headed in the general direction of trains I’d taken to Verona and Venice before.  I tried in vain to open the doors, pressing the button frantically as a businessman said, “Non e possibile.  It’s not possible. It’s too late.”

I didn’t have a ticket or a reservation or a seat, and now I was heading in the opposite direction. I talked to the conductor for help, and they had me stand outside their little room– a weary, seatless vagabond–while they called for assistance.  They said my ticket would not be transferrable to Verona because I got on the wrong train. Luckily, though, they did not charge me for the ticket to Torino.  They said they would tell their colleagues on the train from Torino back to Milan but they could not guarantee that I wouldn’t have to pay for a ticket just go get back to Milan.  I started arguing with them, losing my cool in complete frustration with Italy’s complete disregard for punctuality, saying “I didn’t know an Internet ticket wouldn’t be valid later.  That’s not fair.  I have nowhere to sleep tonight!”  They responded, “This is Italy.  The customer is not protected. You have no rights.”  Raised on American service, I still could not adapt to this concept as I apologized, thanked them for all they did do for me, and silently fumed in an empty seat as my train pulled into Torino.

Rolling into MIlan again, having gone nowhere in the past 2 hours, I took a chance by going to the ticket desk as if I haven’t just gone to Torino.  The ticket agent was understanding, and gave me a a new ticket to Bressanone, yet I was informed there were no more trains tonight, so I’d have to spend the night in Verona. I called Booking.com to notify the hotel I wouldn’t be there tonight, booked a hotel in Verona by the train station and shortly I was there in a tiny yet cozy single room where finally I could sleep.

The next morning I indulged in a great breakfast spread, hopped onto a train, and eventually to Bressanone, which, to my surprise, was not snow-covered as I had hoped.  Ironically, my snowy Christmas market experience was not in the alps but actually the normally soggy and milder Rhineland.  Bressanone was still absolutely beautiful in its eager, chilled wait for snow.  I love places with the “mountain air vibe.”  It was simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing, filled with action and adventure, families, couples, singles . . . everyone just here to enjoy, a combination of chillaxing and adventure.

At the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised by how charming it was for the price.  I was also delighted that the hotel chose not to charge me for last night since they were notified. Yes!  I gazed at the mountain views, dropped my bags, then began wandering around the markets.  It was definitely like stepping into a fairytale in this crossroads of cultures, where you could order a crepe with Nutella, a brioche, a bratwurst, or a German pancake all at the same stand.  I ordered a funnel cake with lingonberries, eyed the shops for tomorrow, took some photos, then hit the spa.

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quaint streets

quaint streets

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The best kind of advent calendar

The best kind of advent calendar

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Like German spas, there was a no-clothing allowed area.  I was used to that in Germany, but in Italy, bathing suits are usually compulsory in all areas–even the sauna–so I was really hesitant as I slipped out of my bikini.  A few shy steps, and then I noticed confidently nude folks all around me, sipping wine, snacking on aperitivo, and heading into the saunas.  Before long, I was alone in an outdoor hot tub, naked under the stars in absolute bliss.  The travel stress melted away and only this moment existed.

Afterwards, I went for a nice swim– the only one in the saline lap pool with grand windows– and then back to the hotel for a long, dreamy sleep.  The next morning, I over-indulged at the breakfast spread, wandered through the markets some more, then visited the presepi museum.  Presepi are Italy’s nativity scenes, and in the tradition of St. Francis, they are often set in familiar Italian settings to help make the story more relatable.  Like little dollhouses.  The museum had very ornate sets going back to the 1700s.  After a casual stroll,  I checked out of the hotel. Still no snow but much peace.  I walked out of town, along the babbling brook, gazing at hilly vineyards and farmhouses, happy hikers, and the promise of good tidings.

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Enchanting

Enchanting

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I snagged an afternoon train back to Milan where I was so lucky to have a seat as it was as crowded as a NYC subway at rush hour, elbows and purses assaulting my head in the car so hot it felt like I was back in the sauna, but clothed.  I was so glad I booked a hotel in MIlan for the night to break up the journey, although it also meant that I had to jump on the 6:10am train back to Genoa where I’d hop on my scooter and dash into the school just in time for work.  Another fantastic weekend, but a lot more zen than whirlwind this time.

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For more Christmas Markets, my post about the Dusseldorf Markets, 2012.

OrvietOH MY!

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Orviety, Italy – in the heart of Umbria

 

Since my arrival in Italy, I have taken once weekly Italian classes with my wonderful colleague, Chiara–a Genovese local who I adore. In the beginning, our class had six teachers, yet by the end, it was me, Louise (Maths), and Peter (History/TOK).  School days for teachers can be long and hectic, with a constant barrage of questions and tasks, prepping and grading, followed by tutoring, more prepping, and more grading after school.  Yet, we nearly always made it at 3:45 for Italian and our slow and steady progress tackling a new language.   Sometimes we’d surprise our classmates with wine and/or cheese and snacks, and often we’d add an extra class down by the sea during aperitivo to practice Italian language, inviting others to join for 5 euros each.  The combination of structured lessons, games and grammar (oh, grammar is so hard for me in foreign languages — why? I have a stellar memory!) and these “Italian-only” speaking sessions have really pushed my language skills.

My language is not fluid or beautiful or quick, yet I can say what I need to in many situations.  For my last hair appointment, I even found myself chatting with my stylist.  I can order food and drinks (let’s be honest–I took care of that in the first week); call Vodafone regarding problems with my internet; flirt with a cute guy; ask for hiking recommendations; order tickets at the train station with special requests; and most recently, I was able to cancel my bancomat (ATM card) at my bank all in Italian, received instructions on how to go to the police station to report it lost, then filled out the report with the Caribiniari all in Italian.  This was an inconvenient and stressful situation that led me to realize that I’m acclimating to the language quite well and know more than I realize.  While listening and reading are much stronger, I am finally able to speak.

For the past year or so, Chiara has mentioned that she wanted to do a trip for Italian class.  “Let’s go somewhere!” she said enthusiastically.  “Let’s speak Italian on a trip.”  We checked our busy schedules (and as you can imagine, free weekends for me are really rare).  Yet finally, we coordinated the first weekend of April hoping for the bloom of Spring. I suggested Orvieto, Italy.  Orvieto is a gorgeous hill town in the heart of Umbria (near Perugia, which you may know for both chocolate and Amanda Knoxx).  I know Orvieto because my alma mater, Fordham University, used to have a summer program in Orvieto. I could have studied creative writing or film for a stunning month, but I didn’t want to give up my amazing lifeguarding job that was a decent hourly rate to be in the sunshine plus 20 bucks a half hour for swim lessons.  40 bucks an hour for a college student in 1999?  Bella!  But I remember the gorgeous Duomo on the cover, and the tales of beauty from my friends who did study there.  It stayed in my mind, yet somehow over my dozens and dozens of European trips over the years, I never made it.  My colleagues were enthusiastic about Orvieto, and Chaira hadn’t been, so we began planning.

Our Italian class

Our Italian class

We invited anyone who had taken Italian with Chiara over the past four semesters as well as the other after school Italian teacher, Manuela.  (We were in the Beginner Plus class, those who had some prior familiarity with the language before.  I studied it for one afterschool program in 5th grade as well as one year of college “Spoken Italian.”  I’m sad to say that while the first semester went well, the second semester, my professor was a flake who rarely showed up, and we found ourselves trying to teach ourselves spoken Italian with a book.  Suffice it to say, my language skills were lacking.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was to have the ever optimistic, great and fun Chiara!)  Ultimately, it was me, Chiara, Manuela, Louise, Peter, Etmae (grade 3), Nick (IT), and his girlfriend Kelsey (Kindergarten).  Group trips can be so fun!

So, we bought our tickets online for two-for-one Saturday specials, and headed off for the 7.5-hour journey, but the time passed very quickly with sleeping, laughing, sharing stories, and gazing at the ever- impressive views along the way.

I’m glad I made the train!  I had a scooter accident the evening before, on my way out for “American Style” burgers with friends, I had opted to keep my heels on, even though it was chilly.  I was going up my street, and a speeding car darted out and cut me off, giving me no other option but to cut to the right to avoid hitting him.  When you do that on a scooter, you’re gonna tip.  I was lucky I was going slow, although I smashed the right side mirror with my upper thigh, broke the buckle of my shoe with the road and the top of my foot, and scraped my foot and ankle for a super nasty road rash.  I also scratched my right elbow through my blue Mango peacoat.  I was sad things got ruined, and I was in a lot of pain, but I was able to get up and walk away.  The jerky driver sped away from the accident he caused, yet two men who were on scooters nearby ran over to help me up, get my bike started again, and ask if I was ok.  “A posto? A posto?”  In my frenzied state, I answered in English “Yeah, I’m fine” but then switched to Italian after noting their quizzical looks.  In any case, I went off to dinner after cleaning my wounds at a friend’s house, and the next day I felt like I was hit by a truck, even though it was a scooter.  I was lucky I didn’t break any bones, and Stella was still rocking, so all good.  I did, however, improperly fill the gas tank after the accident (probably because I was shaken up), so I ran out of gas on the main road to the train station.  I had to roll the scooter, then ditch her on a side street, hail a cab, and made it to the platform just in time!

So, we had a brief stop for lunch in Florence.  It wasn’t the main station, so we had to wander a bit for food, yet were delighted with some Kebab and Falafel as well as beers, why not?

But first, some falafel

But first, some falafel

The laughter and chaos had already started, although the Italian conversation had not.  Shortly after, the rolling hills and sunflowers of Tuscany gave way to the rugged and more dramatic hills of Umbria.  Then finally, Orvieto.

I had organized the booking at an adorable villa/B&B with views of the city perched on its hill.  It was a short walk to the funicular up to the city, or a long winding walk.

our bed and breakfast

our bed and breakfast

walking from the hotel to town

walking from the hotel to town

view from the hotel

view from the hotel

view of Orvieto from our B&B

view of Orvieto from our B&B

Fun fact: This Neopolitan song was written in 1800 for the opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius! How very Italian!  And it’s hard not to think of it when riding one.

We rode the funicular and were in awe of the stunning views, savoring the peaceful feeling, the fresh air, the calm, and the excitement of being away.  It was also fun to all be together, a group that normally wouldn’t travel together, yet a group that got along quite well.  We spent much time taking photos, and noting our hotel in the distance.  Whenever we were facing that direction, inevitably, someone would call out “There’s our hotel!”

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there’s our hotel — the little building on the hill jutting off to the right of the road, next to the vineyard.

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admiring the view

admiring the view

 

We visited the Duomo, with its bold and stunning frescoes and gilded mosaics, explored inside where they had a relic.  Apparently, a doubting priest broke the Eucharist for mass, and the bread bled all over his white vestment.  The brown-stained vestment is on display inside the Church for many to view and wonder.  Chiara had explained this along with other sites, food and history via readings she had selected for us to study in the classes prior to our trip.  Fun.

I remember this image on the Fordham Summer Abroad brochure

I remember this image on the Fordham Summer Abroad brochure

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gilded mosaics on the Duomo

gilded mosaics on the Duomo

The inside also had the image and words of many famous Italian writers.  It was lovely to be inside, and my admission was a treat from Chiara. Only a few of us went inside. The rest were basking in the sunshine, content to just be.  We then wandered the quaint and well-kept medieval streets. I ducked into a pharmacy to get some better coverings for my wounds, then we had amazing gelato.  My cone had a surprise chocolate center, that I apparently couldn’t stop talking about.

Excellent gelato and company

Excellent gelato and company

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Later, we visited St. Patrick’s well, for a long vertigo-fueled walk down.  At night, we went to wine tasting, where they brought delicious local treats while we sampled several wines from the region–all amazing.  Our group grew more and more tipsy, although we still didn’t use our Italian.  Every time I’d say “Ok, solo Italiano per quindici minuti”  – a minute later someone would say something in English and it would all be over.  Nobody seemed to mind.

Then our group wandered the streets, looking for dinner.  It appears our antics were unwanted in several locations, although we were welcomed into one where I had one of my favorite meals in Italy.  The food in Orvieto is fantastic!  I had Mezzaluna pasta stuffed with something amazing and in a buttery, savory sauce that I can’t describe.  It was delightful.  More wine, more fun, and then a bunch took a cab home.  A few of us wanted to walk.

We found the trail that took us down the cliffs under the stars, yet it was so dark we could barely see.  I worried about wild boars attacking us.  Nick thought it would be funny to say “There’s one!” and I shrieked.  Finally we made it down and onto the road towards our hotel.  Unfortunately, the road didn’t have a pedestrian lane, and one of my colleagues tripped and fell into the road, just before a car that stopped just in time.  My colleague was more worried about the wine bottled that had rolled into the street, yet I’m happy to say that both are unharmed.

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walking along the cliffs

walking along the cliffs

a ladybug!

a ladybug!

The next morning, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast spread with peaceful views, walked along the cliffs and to ancient Etruscan ruins framed by the blossoms of spring, a ladybug landed on me (good luck!), and then back to the train for the long journey back.  It was a gorgeous and peaceful getaway with great company.  We still say “I miss Orvieto,” when we see each other.  Orviet OH MY!

 

U.C. Sampdoria vs. Fiorentina — Football game in Genoa

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a colleague explaining that Sampdoria has invited us to the stadium for free.  They needed some teachers to chaperone, and I said I’d be interested.  There are two major football clubs in Genoa: Genoa and Sampdoria.  Both play in the same stadium, a 15 minute scooter ride from my apartment. I always felt I’d be a Genoa fan because, well it has the name!  And a bunch of my friends and colleagues support Genoa.  I guess Genoa is like the Yankees of NY.  The others support Sampdoria. (The Mets of Genoa?).  I can’t compare to US soccer teams because I don’t follow them, and NY doesn’t have two.  Anyways, fans are fiercely supportive of their club and the rivalry, so when Dave announced the tickets were for Sampdoria during a group assembly, some cheered, and about half the crowd booed: Genoa fans.  With all my weekend travel, I  never made it to a Genoa game, although I gladly accepted this opportunity and rooted for Sampdoria.

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I looked up their colors, Blue, White, Black and Red — fusing the colors when they combined two clubs into one team at some point in the past.  Since a lot of my friends were Genoa fans, they said they’d root for Fiorentina, so I didn’t wear colors for either team — trying to be neutral.  Silly decision, ultimately.  So, 170 people total lined up near Gate 7: parents, students, and teachers to enjoy a game on this warm, sunny Sunday.  As we walked in to our seats, they handed us some Sampdoria swag, including a flag to wave, a clapper to make some noise, and even a snack!  (Good marketing, Sampdoria!).  We sat together in our neatly formed groups, a few players jumped over from the warmup to pose for a picture with all of us, then jumped back to complete their warm up.

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I love soccer.  I really do.  Why don’t I ever watch games live or on TV?  I say this every time the World Cup rolls around.  “This is the year I’ll get into Soccer!” I always declare, after many evenings cheering along side friends (usually during European travels).  I watched in Switzerland in 2002; I randomly ended up in Cologne for Day 1 of the 2006 World Cup then later cheered along in the city square of Dubrovnik as Croatia played; and in 2010 I was living in Norway and rooted for Spain along with my Spanish friends in outdoor viewing areas, all the way to victory where fans jumped into a fountain in their underwear!  So much fun.

So, as the team ran out onto the field, and my hormones raged a bit — I wonder where they hang out!— I got emotional.  Why? I can’t exactly say.  Missing Yankee games?  Memories of watching live soccer games with friends in high school, in Belgium, and the many years of playing Ultimate Frisbee.  For my time in Genoa, sports really aren’t part of my life, and I guess I just missed that — and was happy to be a part of it for a bit.  Image

With a big smile on my face, the club moved our seats to the sunny side, with a brief tour through the backstage / press area.  Along the way, they handed the kids pencil cases with rulers, erasers, etc.  Adults received plaid baseball caps. There was a bit of chaos as 170 people dispersed and didn’t really know where they were going, but we enjoyed the sunshine and the atmosphere, clapping our noisemakers, waving flags, and getting oh so excited when — is it a goal? no.  almost! — By the end, no score.  0-0.  Although the crowd did go wild when they announced that Genoa was losing to Verona.  Also, my Italian is good enough to recognize there was quite a bit of swearing all around us from all ages.  Some of my 9th grade students, in between texting and catching me up with their boy gossip– told me it made them uncomfortable that “everyone was taking their shirts off. Is this the naked sections?”  Just the guys, and not with our school group.  But still.

Even though I don’t follow soccer, don’t follow Sampdoria, don’t know the players . . . I still had fun and felt connected.   I got to spend time in the sunshine with a bunch of my students outside of the classroom. I got to see another side of Genovese culture, and new neighborhoods I hadn’t yet explored, walking through them after the game as fans celebrated outside with beers, and music, and . . . just loving life.  With my Sampdoria swag, I felt part of it, one of them just for a little bit.  One of those days when I wasn’t “the other.” I’m glad I got to experience this.

 

Sampdoria Swag.  Not pictured, the snack. (Banana, biscuits, peach juice).

Sampdoria Swag. Not pictured, the snack. (Banana, biscuits, peach juice).

Now, filled with sunshine after this beautiful day — off to do some grading.  I’m still smiling.

Oh Sicilia!

Sicily was such an amazing surprise!  It was the last stop on my heritage tour.  I’m half Italian, quarter Irish and quarter Spanish, via Puerto Rico.  In Italy, I’m from Piacenza and Sicily.  This was the only place I hadn’t been.  For that reason and because I heard so much about how beautiful it was, I wanted to go.  At the end of October, I thought the weather would still be warm, sunny, and with the promise of swimming.  Dad, however, was not too thrilled with the idea.  He was going just to go, but didn’t really have high expectations.

After our weekend in Genoa, we boarded a very affordable flight (about 20 euros each with Volotea) to Palermo.  The bright sunshine remained with us for the duration of the short flight, and then soon I could see a stunning, craggy coastline appear below us.  As the sun was in that sublime glow of golden hour, it illuminated the terrain.  After all my travels and all the beauty, I was in absolute silent awe as we slowly glided to the runway.  I found myself taking photos even from the airport bus, because there it was — a beautiful mountain, right there.  And the sky, the sunshine, the temperature…everything was perfetto.

Scenery on the drive from the airport

Scenery on the drive from the airport

We picked up our rental car, and as Dad drove, we admired the rugged terrain–more like North Africa than Italy.  Sicily was clearly her own place, and that’s exactly how she wants you to feel about her.

As we had just turned the clocks back, we lost daylight swiftly as the sun sank into the horizon casting a brief yet glorious pink glow across the shifting scenery, lingering just long enough for our arrival at the seaside hotel.  The resort, perched at the edge of a cliff in Balestrate, overlooked a new marina with panoramic views of mountains and sea.  This was paradise.

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Sunset view from our room

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As it was the end of October, we were in the off-season.  Not peak time for tourists, but absolutely peak time for weather.  The temperatures had cooled from the boiling summer highs, and as they receded so did the crowds.  But for our entire stay, we had bright sunshine, a cobalt blue sky, and weather in the mid-70s, perfect enough for poolside lounging and a quick dip, and just splendid for runs along the beach.

Since it was the off-season, we got a great rate on the room.  I remember emailing my father back and forth, deciding whether to stay in Palermo proper or somewhere along the coast.  We browsed a few hotels, and then Dad found this.  I wasn’t sure if it was ritzy or not, but the price and location seemed wonderful, especially since we had a rental car.  We didn’t pay extra for a sea view, but we did get a bit of a view from our wonderful, newly renovated accommodation with ceramic tile floors, a balcony, and cozy amenities.  Dad kept saying, “WOW!”  as he pulled the car into the parking lot.  He repeated the phrase throughout the journey as much as he mentioned the war in Germany.

The hotel was a splendid resort–not faded glory, but an expanding work in progress.  We were two of only a few guests, so had space, peace, and felt like it was our own private villa at times, the staff there only for us.  We had so many things we wanted to explore, yet the property itself beckoned for relaxation, whether at the pool, beach or spa.

We strolled through the tiny yet quaint town that night looking for dinner, but could not spot a restaurant.  I thought it was hard to find somewhere to eat in Genoa . . . but this was a whole new level.  Where do folks go?  Mamma’s of course.  Eventually we stumbled across a pizza parlor, walking inside to discover a spread similar to what we were used to in NYC, big pies with lots of topping choices as well as chicken rolls and calzones.  Much of the New York Italian food must be influenced by Sicily as many of her immigrants came from here, including Dad’s maternal grandparents.

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Sicilian influences for NYC pizza

I felt like I was in Pugsley’s, a favorite pizza joint by Fordham University and across the street from where I lived for many, many years in the Bronx.   Sal was from Sicily before he came to America in the 60s and enjoyed Woodstock among his many adventures he shares with Fordham students and alumni.  He always said: “Pizza is good, but love is it.”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/21720884″>Pizza is Good, But Love is it: Pugsley Pizza</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/vsw”>bob.sacha@journalism.cuny.edu</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I felt at home as we sipped some beers and took a startlit stroll back to the hotel.

The next morning, I stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the sunrise and felt called to run.  I hadn’t been able to run in years due to back injuries and problems.  I just had to run here, so I laced my sneakers and headed along the coast, eventually finding my way to the super sandy beach below, littered only with wild stray dogs.  It was a fantasy run, the beach all to myself, so I stopped for some yoga and stretching, enjoying the pure zen peace as the sun renewed my summer bronze.  I made it back to the hotel, feeling invigorated and super excited that my back held up and that I had made room for an extra large breakfast spread.  They had everything you could imagine for breakfast, including mini Sicilian pizzas, pastries, and even candy for your yogurt!

Post-run glow!

Post-run glow!

Breakfast in Eden

Breakfast in Eden

After lingering at the breakfast table, we changed into our swim suits to lounge by the pool for a few hours, grabbed lunch in town at another pizza place where the friendly owner kept calling dad “my brother” and me “my sister!” kissing us on the cheeks and exchanging long chitchat.  Afterwards, armed with food for later (“you must get this for later, my brother!”) we hopped into the car.  We set off to explore the Valley of the Temples, an ancient Greek site right here in Sicily.  The drive inland stunned us with more rugged beauty, and we were grateful this road was here–financed by the European Union.  Only a few years before, this trip would not have been possible via highway.  We’d have to spend many more winding, uncomfortable hours on local, small roads.  Instead, we were smoothly gliding along well-maintained roads with unparalleled views: ruins, castles on hilltops, farms, vineyards, hills..simple beauty.

In the Valley of the Temples, we were once again losing daylight, but we made it up to see some of the structures as the sun set.

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To our delight, the ruins were spectacularly lit in the evening, creating a different and even more dramatic beauty under the stars.

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As we drove home in the inky night, we were starving and found a little roadside pizzeria that was just opening as we arrived at 8pm.  They were just firing up the oven, but we waited patiently and both ordered pizza littered with fresh seafood, including prawns in their shells.  I was pleasantly shocked that my dad ate them, something he would never try at home.

Upon returning to our hotel, we nestled in for the night.

The next morning, I started the day with another great run.  Afterwards we enjoyed a few hours at the hotel.

A perfect setting

A perfect setting

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lounging poolside

lounging

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and a ride exploring along the coast.  We passed many wild dogs, and I stopped to feed some.  They barked,and their friends showed up shortly after.  Then we found gigantic piles of garbage just outside the city, spotting dozens more wild dogs feeding there.  Was there a garbage strike?  Is this the way it always is?  We explored some hill towns and then had a silly, scenic mountain drive back at night.  Silly because although we wanted to follow the coast back home the way we came, the GPS somehow sent us inland and up and down the ridge of a mountain before dropping us off alongside a lake then back to Balestrate.  Hours later, we were dizzy and tired, but glad we had a bit of an adventure and just enough time to visit the spa.

For our last day, it was time to finally see Palermo.  We drove in.  Yes.  We had heard all the rumors of chaotic driving, but the two trains a day from Balestrate were sporadic and unpredictable in timing, so we thought this was the best solution.  The ride to Palermo was easy, but once we got into the city center, we noticed absolute chaos. There were no traffic lights — it was a free-for-all similar to the way Rick Steves had explained traffic crossings in places such as Egypt. It was a novelty to see, but I wasn’t the one driving. Dad, white-kunckled and red-faced, finally navigated towards what seemed like the center, and we popped the car into a parking lot, finally freeing ourselves.

You can note the chaos we experienced in the above video.

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Selecting a bit of everything at the buffet in the Palermo backstreets

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more reminders of NYC Italian food

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Dad in the homeland

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We strolled a bit, found some traditional Sicilian buffet food, explored a few monuments, churches, and stores, pet a few stray cats, then back to the car for a chaotic drive home, hoping to avoid rush-hour traffic. We had just enough time to see the beach were I ran every day, enjoying the golden hour before sunset, a scene straight from a cologne ad.

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My favorite picture of Dad!

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See what I mean by cologne ad?

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I wondered if I would like to teach in Palermo.  Would it be too chaotic?  Too bureaucratic?   When I travel, I often try to imagine living in the place, but while it was interesting, I concluded Palermo was not for me and if I had to live somewhere in Sicily, I’d prefer Balestrate.

The next day, we flew to Milan.  We were hoping to see Taormina and perhaps Mt. Etna, but Sicily is too large, too beautiful, and filled with too many treasures for a quick weekend snack.  We had to devour more of her another time.  I hoped to return soon.  With the heritage tour “complete” I realized how incomplete travel always makes me feel.  The more I see, the more I want to see.  I don’t travel to check items off a list.  I travel to make friends with a place or to revisit old friends.  I just keep adding to my “want to see” list.  Places may get checked, but they are rarely checked off the list.

Next stop: I would head to Barcelona to meet up with my friend Jessica while my father enjoyed a couple of nights in Milan, exploring Lake Como and visiting friends before heading home.

Here are some more photos from our trip:

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Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman

Back in Italy for year 2.   Three weeks after landing, I’m getting settled back into my routine, learning to let go of home again, and moving forward.   I had such a relaxing, restful summer with the people I love most, so it broke my heart to leave again.  Yet Genoa welcomed me with sunshine and stunning views, and along with some wonderful people, she reminded me that this is home too.

My flight landed on the 25th of August, and I began work on Monday the 26th — a week preparing for our students with evenings swimming in the Mediterranean or scooting about with Stella.   The next weekend, I was lucky enough to return to Venice as one of my best Fordham friends and her boyfriend were about to depart for a 2 week Adriatic cruise.  We shared an apartment one vaporetto stop away from the train station, and enjoyed a delightful Friday night strolling the streets, searching for the most perfect restaurant while catching up.  I was jealous of their upcoming cruise, but Kristen reminded me that I live in Italy.  Even if I had to go to work on Monday, it was the start of a new school year at a job I love, a far cry from the chaos and stress of the life I left behind in the overcrowded schools as one of many frazzled and under appreciated NYC teachers.   On Saturday the 31st, before they boarded the “People Mover” to their cruise, Kristen handed me her copy of Without Reservations, a book she mentioned over dinner in the US this summer.  A woman leaves her job for about 9 months, to follow her dream of immersing in several European locales without reservations.  She was going to avoid planning and to see what happens.

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I began the book yesterday.  The best and worst aspect of living alone far from home is Saturday morning.  I wake up in my cozy, renovated apartment with its terra cotta and marble floors, exposed brick, and garden views.  I wake up too early due to the ever present bells, birds, and scooters.  I make some coffee.  Maybe turn on Netflix or Apple TV.  I check to see if I got any iMessages or texts on WhatsApp.  Scroll through email.  Scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  And it’s only been 15 minutes.  The weekend looms before me, all mine for whatever I want to do, whether that is nap on the couch, stare at the wall, or travel somewhere.  But as exciting as independence is, it’s also lonely.  We are wired for family.  And I left mine in the States.

I went to move my scooter, but it was so beautiful and sunny that I couldn’t just go back inside after circling the block, so I rode along the coast.  I hit a snag of traffic and tried something new . . . passing the huge line of cars, crossing into oncoming traffic cautiously, and relishing the true pure joy of owning a scooter.   Winding high in the Ligurian Hills, with the Mediterranean to my right, glittering in the sun, I could smell flowers and fireplaces.  I saw my reflection in the rearview mirror, and I was smiling.  I paid a price for this, but what bliss!  As I reached Recco, known for inventing delectable focaccia formaggio with its flaky crust and liquidy stracchino, I climbed high into the hills on unexplored little roads, treating myself to sublime views.  I stopped Stella and was about to reach under the seat for my iPhone but realized I didn’t have it.  I just stepped out for a minute . . . didn’t plan this.  So, free from social networks, free from sharing the experience, I was able to fully immerse myself in it and enjoy in the moment.  It felt more special and pure as a result.

I wound my way down the hill, past super fit bikers challenging their lycra-clad quads, and headed back home where I changed into a swimsuit to hit the beach before the good sun was gone.  The pebbles were strewn with seaweed, providing a softer than usual bed.  I fell asleep to the cadence of Italian voices.  When I awoke, I practiced deciphering the sounds, realizing that I understand more than just snippets of conversation these days.  “Watch me, watch me uncle!”  “I can’t believe what she said.”  “We had ravioli and prosciutto and [kisses fingers] it was delicious.”  “Children, it’s time to go.” Real conversations.

I waded into the choppy water for a good workout.  Instead of just swimming, I have been using the aqua-size skills I learned from Mom’s class at the Y.  And since the salt water makes us more buoyant, I can do these exercises without the flotation belt.  It’s fun, and I can do both cardio and strength training while enjoying the stunning scenery all around me.  After a half hour of cross country skiing, reverse jacks, hamstring curls, etc . . .I swam back and towel dried.  When I reached into my bag, I saw the book from Kristen, and as the sun turned into the Golden Hour, I began.  Over a year later, I’m still in awe at where I am and what I am doing.  The old me would have read this book with complete longing, traveling vicariously through the author.  Now I read it as a companion to my own journeys.

I was drawn in right from the opening inscription:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.  -Zora Neal Hurston

This is my time for answering, I suppose.  While I am temporarily rooted in Italy, I have the freedom to wander on weekends and breaks, or even after work.  I have the mental space to reflect and allow my mind to wander.  And after all the hard work of settling in last year and prepping for 5 different classes while learning the IB and catching up students who were behind . . . ahh . . . I have space and free time this year.  It is wonderful, and I have earned it.

When Alice Steinbach left for Paris, a friend said “Cheers to a successful trip.”

What I didn’t say was that “success” was not something I was seeking from this venture.  In fact, I was determined not to judge this trip, or its outcome, in terms of success or failure.

As I noted in previous posts, expectations breed disappointment.  I am trying to take this adventure as it comes: the good and bad, the wild and relaxing, the painful pining and euphoric awe . . . filling my days with wonder and writing my story.  I’m writing some of it here as I reflect along the way.  But my mother reminded me, “Your story is not yet written.”  Who knows what is next?  All I know are my plans for class and the trips that I have booked.  Sitting here on my couch, shipped from NYC, with my cozy favorite blanket and a bottle of Barbera del Monferrato vino . . . I relish my freedom and independence.  I don’t want to live like this forever, and I won’t, so cogliere l’attimo.  Back to my book.

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.  🙂

Medieval Ferrara

After Christmas in 2009, through the New Year, I went to one of my favorite places, Bruges – as mentioned in previous posts such as My Magic Bruges.  On that trip, I was relaxing and warming up in the hostel common area when a friendly fellow backpacker wandered in.  His name was Joseph, and he spoke briefly with my friend and me.  I had plans to see my Belgian friends, and then we left the hostel the next day. But just in that short time, it was clear this person would become a nice friend.  Thanks to facebook, it was easy for that to happen.

We chatted online over the years.  Joseph is even more of a Europhile than I am, and with his duel French citizenship, he has lived in France and now Ferrara, Italy since he departed his hometown in Midwestern, Iowa.  When I was in Italy in the summer of 2011, Joseph gave me some great advice as my mother and great aunt prepared to visit the hometowns of my great grandparents in Emilia Romagna, his local region.  With our tight travel schedule, we didn’t get to meet up, although I appreciated his super helpful advice.

Last January, when I received the job offer in Italy, Joseph was one of my biggest proponents.  “Come to Italy,” he said.  “I’ll visit Genoa and we’ll paint the town red.”  I knew how happy he was teaching English language at the University of Ferrara, and I knew it was time to live my dream as an expat abroad.  It was extra encouraging to know I’d have a friend in country.

When I arrived in Italy, Joseph was there to chat on Skype, counsel me through the many translation or bureaucratic issues, and we shared many laughs and good times, becoming even closer friends.  Due to our busy schedules, most of the year went by before either of us had a chance to visit each other.  Finally, with my summer flight home booked, and the last of my visitors had departed, I set a date for the weekend of May 25th.  I was going to Ferrara, finally!  And I would see Joseph in person for the first time in 3 years.  Wow.

Over the years, I have been following Joseph’s facebook posts: stories and pretty pictures from the flat, charming, peaceful medieval city.  A month ago, I boarded a 9am train, departing soggy Genoa and arrived in sunny Ferrara.

Joseph met me at the train station, and we walked to have yummy piadine — I chose speck  and cheese with a creamy mayo sauce.  Yum.  We chatted over a beer, then I wandered through the center with a little bit of history from Joseph, explaining the Jewish ghettos and information about the various buildings we passed.  He had some things to do in the apartment, so I went for a nice wander. I deliberately did not consult a guidebook or too much on the Internet so things would be a surprise.  A wandering adventure.  I snapped many photos on my walk, then returned to prepare for our evening.

Joseph’s friend, a woman who owns the cafe down the street, invited him to an outdoor concert that night, featuring her husband’s band.  It got unseasonably cold, so we bundled up and Federica picked us up.

While we waited for the show, wandered in search of food, and ended up in a tent that was a fundraiser for a local church.  I tried the local treat cappellacci, made with squash and filled with yum. BLIpqfQCMAAPyX4.jpg-largeOur servers were parishoner children — it was just a really super special, super local night.  We chatted and ended up enjoying the show very much.  When Fedi noticed that I was into the music, she returned later with a surprise — an Inspiral album for me, which she then had all the band members sign. 🙂  What a special treat.  It was also fun hanging out with her because she helped me practice my Italian.

The next morning, we had lazy Sunday.  Joseph had delicious pastries and made fresh coffee, then we went out for a stroll around town, followed by another coffee.

Making friends on a Sunday stroll

Making friends on a Sunday stroll

 Before departure for my train, we stopped for pizza at a place he never tried before.  With so much good pizza in Italy and so many great places in Ferrara . . .Joseph was diasppointed that his 4 Formaggio was made with a premixed spread and that my pizza featured canned olives with pitts and awkward tomatos.  Not as good as expected.  He said, “We just got fu*cked.  They could at least kiss me next time.”

That aside, it was still a lovely day. We took a peek at some Palio-related events (this Palio is older than the famous Siena one). It was a nice atmosphere, but I didn’t see too much. Before long, it was time to board my train and head home.  I was lucky that I had business class for the stretch from Bologna to Milan on the high speed train, for a little spoiled comfort.  It was the same price as the 2nd class ticket because they still had some super economy fares left.  Woo!

Here are some photos from my adventure in Ferrara.  I’ll certainly be returning:

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