Come mi manca l’Italia!

February 16, 2009

I’ve been missing Italy more than ever lately. I was able to talk to my roommate on the phone this past week and we just knew exactly how each other felt. It was great to have someone to talk to about the people and experiences we had together that actually knew who or what we were referring to.

Every day I re-live moments or feelings or sites that I saw. It’s almost all I think about.

I’m still working on the video and I think I’ll come back here to finish up a summary of the rest of my semester abroad.

Our adventure to the airport was a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least, but we made it. We flew from Malpensa Airport to Naples and then took a shuttle bus to Sant’Agnello. The bus ride in itself was worth the trip. Having no idea what this town was going to look like, we were both a little nervous we might miss our stop. When we arrived to our stop, we were just so exhausted we HAD to find our hostel, immediately! The town was pretty small and cute, full of hotels and little shops–we could tell it was a popular vacation spot during the summer. There were plenty of young teens running around trying to prove their coolness–either hanging on their Vespas or by carrying around their helmets, “Look at me.. I have a sweet strut. You know you want me.” Oh, the teenage years. It was nice to see some younger people around.

7H - The best hostel in Sorrento

Seven Hostel aka 7H - The best hostel in the Sorrento area. We slept in a dorm-style room with 5 other girls. The showers were hot, the beds were clean and comfortable, free internet, a bar/restaurant, breakfast served there.. very friendly people, a beautiful view of Sant'Agnello and the surrounding mountains from the roof terrace..., A+! I could live here!

The walk to find our hostel wasn’t too bad. It only took about 15-20 minutes through the perfect weather and beautiful scenery to find our perfect hostel. We were so lucky to have found out about this place.. palm-trees-a-plenty, sun and blue skies, an A++ hostel.. Ocean just a 15 minute walk away.. Another vacation away from vacation.

In addition to all these wonderful things, we made some cool friends in this town. The other travelers at our hostel were all fantastic people with crazy stories–two 18 year old girls from Toronto whom we shared a room with, a mother-daughter combo from Brazil (only the daughter spoke english), 1 solo traveller also from Canada (hilarious guy), another solo traveller from Seattle, and then there were a bunch of Kiwis and Aussies. It was interesting to say the least!

After a pleasant evening of relaxing and conversing, one of our new friends walked Aneisa and I down the street a few blocks to a great local pizza place. Big yummy pizza for cheap! The man who owned the place was very pleased with our italian enunciation–I wish I could remember his name. His pizza place was fantastic. We each ordered our own pizzas and Aneisa and I split a liter of Fanta. I’m not really a pop-drinker, but Fanta my friends, is quite refreshing.
The next day we hopped on the Circumvesuviana railway and headed south a quick 5 minutes to Sorrento. We explored the town and passed by the Leone Rosso, a restaurant recommended by many–we’ll have to go back for dinner. One of our new friends, Abhijit, a solo-traveller from Seattle, met us in Sorrento at the railway station were we caught a bus that would take us further down the Amalfi Coast. Rick Steves had a lot to say about this one, so we figured it was a must. The bus ride was about an hour long and took us around the “toe” of southern Italia. The drive was I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. It was a curvy road anyone would render impossible for a large bus to take, but let me tell you, the driver conquered those pinhair turns like there was no tomorrow. There were a few moments I felt scared for my life, quite possibly because we were on the edge of the mountains and one slight mistake by the driver could cause us to roll, or more realistically, free-fall to the sharp, lava-rock covered ocean floor below. (Mom–you would have HATED it.)
The most incredible hour of being in a bus I have ever experienced. The Amalfi Coast.

The most incredible hour of being in a bus I have ever experienced. The Amalfi Coast.

So why was this roller-coaster ride so incredible you ask? Because I felt like I was witnessing Heaven on Earth that’s why. My pictures don’t really do it justice–it was a difficult task to get a good one through the dirty windows. But believe me, it was a beautiful sight I’ll never forget. Unreal.  

We had the choice of stopping in a few towns on the way, but we figured our best bet was to take the bus all the way to the town of Amalfi and then backtrack if we had time. We had to make sure we were on the last bus back up the coast, otherwise we’d have to take a very expensive taxi ride.
Amalfi was pretty cool, I think our conclusion was that we wish we had stopped in Positano instead. Amalfi is a very touristy town. It was really cool how the town is tucked up into the mountain-side though.. very cool. We looked around for a place to eat but unfortunately our hunger had some pretty bad timing. When it comes to be the 1-6 o’clock hours, most decent restaurants are closed so we had to settle for some mediocre food that’d probably been sitting out for good amount of hours. What came next was a little unexpected.
Abhijit and Aneisa

Abhijit (Seattle) and Aneisa (MN)

RAIN!!!!!!!!!! We wanted to get gelato so we hurried to another place closer to the beach and took cover. Outside the gelateria was a little covered area usually covering tables in a restaurant that was perhaps closed for the off-season. We waited there for the rain to stop while eating some delightful gelato.
While waiting for the next bus to come through for our ride back to Sorrento, we ventured out to the docks to witness a pretty excellent sunset.
Me and Amalfi

Me and Amalfi

Breakfast at La Sorgente

Breakfast at La Sorgente

When I woke up, I felt so comfortable and didn’t want to move! Outside it was raining still and we were so warm and cozy. Breakfast was on the table and ready for us at 8am. We filled ourselves a traditional Italian breakfast, pastries and coffee (though they would drink a straight shot of espresso). We ate with a French couple that was staying in the other room.. There were only a few things we could say to each other because they didn’t know any Italian, we didn’t know any French .. and the man only spoke a teeeny bit of English. However, I found them to be very kind people–they both smiled with so much sincerity!

Francesca and Ricardo, the kind owners of La Sorgente B&B, drove us to the train station after we finished breakfast and packed up. We took a train back to Milan and the metro back to the same hostel.

Since we had already done some good exploring on Sunday, we pulled Rick Steves out again and asked, “Dearest friend! Where, oh where shall we go?!” The Milan chapter responded with il Monunmentale Cimitero. Perfect! A gloomy rainy day…let’s go to the cemetary. (My roommate has an odd fascination with death and everything involving it so she was pretty stoked).

Unfortunately, it was against the rules (and not to mention sorta disrespectful) to take pictures of the graves; thus, I don’t have any pictures… but the trusty internet does! (so since I’m lazy tonight and don’t feel like explaining what this place is, take a gander over to wikipedia and read a snippet of what this place is all about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimitero_Monumentale). Right-o! It was one of the most amazing places. I couldn’t believe how gigantic that place was. There has to be thousands of people buried here. It was really neat to look at pictures on some of the graves, also to see fresh flowers at a lot of them. We weren’t able to wander through the whole thing because it started to rain more.. We were there for a solid hour or 2 already so I felt pretty content with what we saw.

Entrance to the cemetary

(photo from wikipedia) This is only the ENTRANCE! Oh man... it was gigantic, seriously.

From Milan we planned to take an early train to a town called Stresa. When we got to the subway, one metro came by but we couldn’t fit because it was full with people headed to work or school. If we wanted to make our train, we absolutely had to get on the next one! We shoved our way in with our big packs. We arrived at the train station and searched everywhere for the machines that give you your tickets. Milan Central Station is so confusing! At about 8:22 Aneisa stepped up to a machine and selected a train that left at 8:25am (the one we planned on taking). I said, “Noway! We can’t make that!” But she apparently thought otherwise.

The tickets printed and we sprinted (as fast as a heavy backpack will allow) all the way up two escalators, down a hallway and out to the platforms …. “Which platform is it?!” “I don’t know it doesn’t say!” We decided to quickly ask a lady walking by, showing her our tickets. “I’m not sure… let’s see… Binario 2 I think, si si binario 2.” We.. sprinted again from one side of the station to the other through 100s of people only to be completely let down when there was no train at the platform. Turns out the lady told us the wrong platform.

We stood there thinking, sweating, breathing… disappointed. What a way to start the day. Aneisa wanted to sit down and rest, but there was no way I was about to waste our day when we had planned to be somewhere else. There was a customer service desk right in front of us. Fantastic! Maybe they can give us a refund and tell us when the next train leaves to Stresa. Not until noon. But! We could take the metro to another station in Milan and catch a 9am train.

Va bene! We ran back to the subway having absolutely no idea which line we would take or which direction we’d go. Eventually we made it to Garibaldi Station and found our train.. To Stresa!

Alright, so. We arrived about an hour and a half later in Stresa and went outside to call our B&B La Sorgente so they could pick us up. We waited in the rain for a good 30 minutes guessing which car would be the one picking us up. It was so foggy and cold and rainy.. but we were on “vacation”! We had to enjoy ourselves. The driver was a very nice man with silly looking teeth and a scratchy looking navy blue sweater. He asked us what we would do–we had no idea, so he gave us some tourist tips and dropped us off in the middle of town, taking our packs with him. Our room wouldn’t be ready until 1pm so we had a few hours to explore.

We walked around Stresa and stopped at a cute little cafe for brunch. We decided we would take a boat to each of the islands in the lake (Lago Maggiore).

Boat dock in Stresa
Boat dock in Stresa. As you can probably imagine, there weren’t very many people out and about. Stresa is primarily a summer-vacation area, so the season to be on the lake ended about a month ago.
Cool lookin place

Cool lookin place from the boat, beautiful green trees! I definitely miss Washington when I'm in Florence.. There really isn't any greenery except for the park right next to my apartment. And even then... it's a pretty gross park haha. You have to be super careful about where you step.

 
Isola Bella

First stop: Isola Bella

We got to the first island pretty quickly, Isola Bella. Isola Bella has some big gardens you can walk through, but because it’s offseason, they were closed. It was still a pretty fun island to explore. We walked around for a while just looking at the buildings and the shops, stopped in a park for a while, then started moving back to the boat dock.

Caffe Lago

Caffe Lago

On the way back we came across the coolest little cafe!! Caffe Lago. The first thing about Caffe Lago that caught my attention was this guitar sign they had outside. I walked a little closer to see the second thing that caught my attention: an excellent plaque with a Stevie Ray Vaughan quote hanging next to the doorway. I had to go in there!

It felt so familiar to me–I definitely could have been in the states. The walls were covered with guitars, posters, pictures, old framed vinyl… and the coolest part about it is that everything was autographed! Bruce Springsteen, ACDC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds!!!!, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd …. Whoever owns this place definitely knows people. It was so cool! ! I felt so at home for some reason haha.

Caffe Lago

Caffe Lago

In order to linger a little longer and not feel too awkward, I ordered a cioccolato caldo and took a seat at the nice wood tables. Dad I think you’d have loved this place–it had a definite, warm log-cabin feel to it. The tables and benches seemed handmade, probably from olive trees. My hot chocolate was, as always, aaaamazing! So thick and tasty. It was a perfect cozy remedy to the cold and rainy day we were having.

We sat in the cafe for a good half hour then meandered back to the boat so we could hop to the next island. I don’t think I stopped smiling for a bout an hour after we left that place.

When we got to Isola Pescatori, we walked about 15 feet, turned around and got back on the boat. We sort of mutually decided we had done enough exploring and needed to get out of the cold. We both felt pretty satisfied with our day.

La Sorgente

La Sorgente

The boat took us to a town north of Stresa called Baveno. From Baveno we walked 2km south (a little less than halfway to Stresa) to La Sorgente, the BEST Bed & Breakfast!!! It was like a vacation from vacationing! The walk was a little scary at times because Italian drivers are absolutely nutso and drive way too fast. Because the roads were wet, I kept imagining a car driving by and either splashing me with a huge muddy puddle, or spinning off the road and sending us flying into the rock wall, “Two American students hit by car in Baveno, killed.” Yeah, sorry, not so funny haha. Anywho, the walk was also pleasant at times–we could tell that the whole area would be a beautiful and relaxing vacation during the summer months.

 We hung out at the B&B for awhile, got warm and cozy in some dry clothes and eventually… we got hungry! We asked the nice lady who owned the place with her husband where we should eat for dinner. She recommended a bar for an apertivo, and then a restaurant called Sotto Sopra. We walked back in to town, and found a clean looking bar. I ordered a glass of the local red wine and then they brought out some snacks.. Bread with prosciutto, cheese, olives and potato chips. We watched the TV and giggled at the Italian singers. For some reason I just can’t take Italian musicians seriously, well the ones that I’ve seen live at least. Here’s one that was catchy enough for me to remember the artist: “Pop Porno” by Il Genio

After we had our apertivo, we walked a few blocks to the Sotto Sopra restaurant. Besides one couple over in the corner, we were the only customers! Oh…my. The food was SO good. For an appetizer the chef brought out some roasted/sauteed? peppers covered in a yummy sauce. Aneisa and I couldn’t figure out what it was, we only knew it was tasty! For our main course we had pasta with cream sauce, mushrooms (it’s the season for funghi! therefore…it’s the specialty dish of the season)… and it was great! For dessert……. we had…. chocolate ..soufflé, che buona!! Oh man it was perfect. We enjoyed our dinner so much we had to tip them–people in Italy generally don’t tip.

souffle cioccolato - Look at that presentation!

souffle cioccolato - Look at that presentation!

Oct 26 – A Milano!

November 17, 2008

the shopping area

the shopping area

Fall Break continues…

Sunday morning, Aneisa and I woke up bright and early to catch the 8:14 train to Milan. Once the train started moving, we looked at each other in complete excitement.. Checkpoint number one! We arrived to Milan Central Station a little after noon. First thing we had to do was buy a map of the city and figure out where the heck we were and how to get to our hostel. Aw, sweet Adventure!

We set out on foot with our gnarly backpacks a good 5 or 6 blocks to get to the metro line we wanted to take. (Later we realized we could take the green line from the station to get to the red line). We slowly read signs and walked through the station, bought our 1,10 euro tickets and hopped on the next subway train that passed through. Okay, do you really need all these details? Nawww. The subway was definitely the most used public transportation in the city. Absolutely fantastic! I wish Seattle had a subway system. Anywho, we made it to our hostel–Hostel Emmy. Don’t ever stay there if you go to Milan! Okay it wasn’t that bad, the shower was hot, there were no bugs in my bed. It was just really old and a little shabby lookin’.

Allora! We put our packs in our room, ate some sandwiches that Aneisa had made that morning, and set out with my Rick Steves book to explore the city. We took the metro to Piazza Duomo and just started walking around! I liked that we went to the city with no expectations–it was fun to just explore and be spontaneous. (HOWEVER, we did not see Leonardo’s The Last Supper because you have to make a reservation a good month in advance 😦 Oh well.)

Me and the Duomo

Me and the Duomo (Took about 600 years from start to finish, 1386-1965)

We observed our surroundings.. and decided we would take a gander into the Duomo. I followed Rick Steves self-guided tour so I could understand a bit about the history and statues inside. One of the statues, St. Bartolomeo, was very interesting. Bartolomeo, aka Bartholomew the Apostle,  was “flayed” and crucified upside down.. Thus, there’s a statue of him carrying his own skin. It’s a little weird… but it looks cool haha.

bartolomeo

Statue of St Bartolomeo by Marco d'Agrate

From the Duomo we wandered into the shopping area. I walked through Prada just for kicks… MAMMA MIA!$$$$$! I don’t know how people spend so much money on stinkin bags and shoes.
We walked through the rest of the shopping area into an opening which became a piazza (which I forget the name of)with the statue of Leonardo da’Vinci and right across the street, the famous opera house, Teatro della Scala. We sat on a bench and watched pigeons walk around on Leonardo’s head and shoulders for a while. It was funny watching people position themselves for pictures in front of Leonardo to get just the right angle.
More to come!!! I promise!

YES WE CAN

November 4, 2008

At this moment I wish I was back in the USA to celebrate with my friends. I’m watching CNN.com coverage clicking back and forth from celebrating Obama supporters to McCain’s concession speech to news coverage, awaiting Obama’s speech in 20 minutes..

Yesterday (the 4th) I wore my Obama tshirt walking through Florence to class and back. I felt so proud to be wearing it. I wanted people to know that I voted for Obama. When I got back from class I sat here on my computer waiting and waiting for the first polls to close on the east coast. By the time I went to bed, nothing momentus had happened–I figured I should get some sleep so I could wake up at a reasonable hour and start following the election again. I was definitely wrong about “reasonable hour”.

I got a phone call at a few minutes past 5:00am from my sister. (THANK YOU!) For those of you who don’t like math, that’s 8:00pm Pacific Time. It took me a second to realize perhaps why she would be calling me.. Surely the results hadn’t come in already..

When I came to my senses I had a jolt of energy–I wanted to know what had been happening at home! I opened my computer and was overcome with excitement seeing that Obama had 298 electoral votes.. OH MAN! Is it real?! I had to refresh my page a few times to make sure. I said to my roommate, “Aneisa….. Obama is President!” I wasn’t surprised she was awake–I wasn’t exactly thinking about being quiet at that moment. I wanted so badly to talk and celebrate with Obama supporters and be excited with people as excited as myself!** I wanted to cheer and yell! I wanted to open the window and tell Italy that our next President, MY President, will be Barrack Obama in 2009!

 

**Side note: My roommates find me rather silly, ie, when they saw what I was wearing yesterday they said to me, “You would.” Come onnnn.  I wonder how many people just didn’t vote because they were too lazy to figure it out. Three of my four roommates didn’t vote. Okay, it doesn’t matter at this point.. but still. I would hate to look back on this election and not be able to say that I voted..

Live music at Festival della Creativita

Live music at Festival della Creativita

The Festival della Creatività 2008 was at Fortezza di Basso, a fortress about 2 or 3 blocks down from my apartment. I hadn’t been inside the fortress yet…oh man! It was absolutely immense. I had seen the large brick building from the outside, but I had no idea how far it spread out. The festival started on Thursday and went all the way to Sunday. I only went Friday and Saturday.

The theme of the festival was Visions, Journeys and Discoveries. I’d definitely compare it to Seattle’s Bumbershoot… the events were very similar, although the festival didn’t have nearly as much live music. The music that they did have was okay–one of the stages had the theme “British Invasion”… Three bands from the UK played. The 1990s, The Metros, and Thomas Tantrum. Thomas Tantrum was fantastic–they sounded like a collision of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Regina Spektor. Very good. The main stage was absolutely terrible. I can’t even describe their sound. Waste of time.

On Saturday, I went to one of the buildings that was having a media display of sorts. There were poster designs and some motion graphics meda. I absolutely LOVED this exhibit. It was kind of like the Tour Posters exhibit that they have at Bumbershoot only it was just art. There was on artist that did a series on fonts.. I’m a bit of a font nerd. I’m going to do some searching to see if I can find some pictures of the exhibit or maybe figure out whoe the artist was. Some of the posters were pretty interesting statements… For example, there was one with a picture of Bush sporting a Hitler-esque mustache made out of a barcode, and another rather disturbing one with two soldiers looking at a girl, perhaps Vietnamese, that said “Make love, not war”. Some were a bit less intense but nonetheless having to do with American politics. I was surprised to see one with a quote from MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech with Obama in the background looking off into the distance rather philosophically. I should save this for its own blog…but it seems to me that everyone outside of the US is rooting for Obama. I even met an Italian guy who said “I wish we had someone like Obama”, (Italian politics have been going down the shoot for a countless number of years now. The current Prime Minister is terrible.) I talked to a Canadian couple on the streets of Florence about 2 weeks ago about politics, they were also Obama supporters. It seems that everyone is paying attention to this election.. I met some dudes in a hostel from Mexico–they brought up the election. In another hostel, some kids from Australia and New Zealand–again… they asked “Who are you voting for?!!”…Mamma mia back to the festival.

As we were wondering around the fortress, Aneisa cracked a joke that set us off laughing real hard. Apparently we were pretty loud because we caught the attention of a group of young 20-something Italians. One of them came over to us and introduced himself–we were instant friends. Gianluca, Doccio, and Lorenzo. They were a bunch of funny dudes from Pistoia, about 30km from Florence. As we got to know eachother we discovered that they were in bands.. And one of them, IDavoli, has a show coming up on 1 Novembre at Viper Theatre! I had just gotten a flier the day before for Viper Theatre so it must be where I’m supposed to go.. haha. Cool! New friends from the local Florentine music scene, I couldn’t have asked for more :). In any case, their bands aren’t that good.., but here are their myspace pages: (www.myspace.com/idavoli and www.myspace.com/unasega).

(Obviously by the date of this post you can see that Nov 1st has already past, yes I went to the show.. that’ll get a post after I’ve updated you all about Fall break!)

Ciao for now!