Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I miss you Italy, but I don't miss your toilets.

I'm stealing the title of my blog entry from a friend's facebook post after she came to visit me last spring.  As I am getting ready to leave I feel like it sums up my love/hate relationship with Italy.  I've decided to make a top 10 list (5 things I'll miss, 5 things I won't) to sum up life here the past 2 years.   I've had a running list of the pros and cons since last summer, but have narrowed it down and am surprised that it was actually hard to come up with 5 of each.  

Here are the things I will most miss:

1.  Wine, vino, vin.  I love Italian wine.  I love the reds, the whites, the stills, the sparklings.  I love them all!  I didn't even know there were so many choices until I moved here.  Italy is close to France, Spain, and Germany so you can still find excellent imports but the local wines from vinotecas are just as tasty.  I love taking my bottles to the wine shop and having them fill it up with a bubbly chardonnay.  (Did you even know there was such a thing?!)  Bubbly, chilled reds are amazing.  And my new go-to is Muscato. Perfect, chilled, sweet summer wine. 

2.  Cappuccino.  Yes, it has finally happened.  I. Drink. Coffee.  I know it isn't straight up or espresso or anything, but it is still coffee and I am drinking it.  Enjoying it even!  So, I will seriously miss sitting outside in various towns and in the cafe below my apartment enjoying leisurely mornings with coffee and book in hand.  I'll even miss the 35-cent vending machine cappuccino I willingly get many mornings at work.   

3.  Pizza or gelato.  I haven't decided which I'll miss more.  Probably gelato because it is sweet and light and refreshing and I could probably eat it every day in the summer.  Or maybe pizza.  From Napoli.  It's so simple and tasty and you can get it without cheese (marinara) or with cheese and vegetables (Ortolana/Vegetariana).  No, I'll just miss them both a lot.

4.  The kids in my classes.  I try not to write about work often, but I really love the kids at my school. They are so innocent and adorable and say things like "Mama Mia!"  They make my job worth it every day.  I love these kids and will be so sad to leave them!  

5.  Finally, the travel.  I came over here because I have the travel bug.  I haven't completely worked it out of my system but it has been placated for a while.  I will miss taking weekend trips to Switzerland, Germany, France, Austria and the like or week-long trips to places like Morocco, Amsterdam and Paris, or London and Budapest.  I'll miss traveling around Italy even more, if that's even possible.  I loved the beaches, the history, the art.  Florence, Rome,  Bergamo, Verona, Vicenza, the list goes on.  There are so many places that are amazing to see in Italy.  

That kind of brings me to my things I won't miss list however.  Even though I didn't put it on the list, the town where I live probably should be on there.  Neither Milan nor Opera have the charm of other Italian towns and cities but there are things I dislike here even more than my (literal) stinkhole of a town.  Here they are:

1.  Mufferless motorcycles/bikes!  This was the thing that immediately popped into my mind while making this list.  I'm not sure why it is cooler for Italians to have motorcycles without mufflers, but it boils my blood.  In general, Italians are loud and I just assume this is part of the loud culture but living on a busy street I would love to hurl rocks at the jerks who drive up and down as loud as they can (especially at 11pm or midnight or 2 am).  I hate this.

2.  Public napkins.  I know this is a strange one, but it was almost number 1.  Probably it would have been if I had written this in the winter when my windows are closed and I can't hear motorcycles as well.  I cannot stand the napkins you get places here.  If it isn't someone's house or a sit-down restaurant, you get a piece of wax paper that just spreads the mess around and does nothing to clean up.  Gelaterias are the worst!  You have a sticky glob running down your arm or face and the wax paper just smears it across your skin, making everything sticky including the napkins which leaks onto your other hand or dress or skirt or...  You get the picture.  Next time you go to a doughnut shop and use a wax paper to get the doughnut be glad you also get a napkin for wiping your mouth.

3.  Healthcare.  This is a tricky one because there are some things I really like about the healthcare here.  Medicine is amazingly cheap.  Doctors have walk-in hours.  ER visits are really cheap.  I also can't tell if I would dislike it less if I spoke more Italian.  However, there is an amazing amount of bureaucracy in healthcare here.  The number of doctors you have to go to for bloodwork and the number of stops at various locations (doctor, doctor, lab, lab, doctor) you have to make are pretty impressive.  Going to the hospital was a scary experience.  I had to have an MRI but despite having an appointment I also had to take a number at every single counter along the way (3 I think!) to make it to the actual MRI.  Another time I walked in on my orthopedist with another patient. Whoops!  The ER doctor didn't believe I was having a kidney stone despite my rather painful history and thought I had pulled a back muscle.  I'm pretty sure he was (luckily not literally) dead wrong.  

4.  Buying things.  Again, this one is tricky because I actually do like buying things.  It is just so hard to do here.  It's like they try to make it as difficult as possible every chance they have.  The cell phone was a nightmare.  I never did buy a TV.  I have skipped medicine because the pharmacies close from 12:30-3 everyday.  You can now shop on Sundays, but that has changed just since I moved here.  The street markets in bigger cities and towns are fun but in towns like where I live, they are generally pretty lousy and sell things that have probably been stolen or are illegal in some way.  Despite it all, I have made a pretty good effort to buy as much as I can while I've been here.  

5.  Public transportation.  It is so crazy here in Milan.  Tourists are not allowed.  (Not really, but you might as well just assume it.)  Buying tickets is so confusing.  What zone?  Where do you buy them? (At any tabacchi.)  Where are you going?  The metro has a map in the cars, but on many of the trams and buses they do not have any kind of map and do not announce (or announce loudly enough) where you stopping.  It is kind of a crapshoot and insanely frustrating when trying to get around an unknown part of town.  The main trains (Trenitalia) go along with that.  Buying tickets is really hard.  You need an Italian credit card and you can't buy tickets to another country from your computer.  Italo trains are great but don't go many places so you are stuck with the tricky one.  Argh!  

Overall, it has been an incredible two years.  The things that bug me are primarily quality of life irritations, not life or death problems.  I can't believe I made it and I can't believe I am leaving either.  I certainly won't miss the public toilets but Italy, I will miss you.            

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cramming It In!

With just a few months left here, I have been trying to cram in as much as possible.  Since the first week of April I have been to three other countries and 2 different areas of Italy.  Here are the highlights:  

London.  I am happy to report that London is as amazing as ever.  This spring marks my 10th year since I spent my semester abroad there.  It was study abroad that made me want to live abroad again.  It was fantastic to return.  London has barely changed.  London is so different from Milan and it served as a friendly reminder of why travel can be so fun.  

JL met me there.  We spent 4 days wandering around the city.  My favorite parts were:  
1.  National Portrait Gallery. Still the best museum I have ever been too!
2.  Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry.  Need I say more?
3.  Seeing a play.  We saw Wicked.  It was overhyped but not bad.
4.  Soup at Wagamama's.  Excellent choice because I had a terrible bug that made my throat feel raw and soup felt great.  Not to mention, it is just plain-old-yummy.  
5.  National Library.  There was an exhibit about mysteries and their authors.  A bit disappointing, but first editions of Shakespeare made up for it.  
6.  East London, street market.  It was a long walk but fun due in part to the sudden snow flurries.  
7.  We also went to the British Museum.  It was supercrowded but I got to see the Bog Man again so it was totally worth it!  

Bog Man

Budapest.  While JL headed west back home, I headed east to Hungary.  I was still sick and it was cold and rainy in Budapest so I might not have had the best attitude but I tried to take advantage of what the city had to offer.  I went on a free walking tour which offered some good historical background.  I had a Hungarian lesson which was kind of a flop but fun anyway.  I saw Europe's largest Synagoge, walked around both Buda and Pest, tried to relax in the thermal baths, and had a langos (fried pastry dough) at the enormous central city market.  Overall, an enjoyable city, but one of my best memories is eating McDonald's in my (very nice) hotel room and watching Up In The Air, just relaxing.

Memorial to Jews killed in WWII

Hungarian Goulash 

Berlin.  My new favorite city!  It was the perfect mix of history, art, and food.  Not to mention the fact that it was affordable and clean.  Two free walking tours, excellent Asian food, Berlin Wall memorials, World War II memorials, royal palaces, and Europe's largest department store.  It was a busy 3 days!   

Berlin Wall now

Memorial to all of the people who died trying to cross the wall

My favorite section today

Back in Italy I've been trying to pack it in too.

Ravenna.  Ravenna was fun.  It, like Berlin, was a great mix of art, history, and food. Siri and I went for one night and were charmed by the adorable B&B we found.  The town itself is full of history.  It was once the capital of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and many beautiful, colorful glass mosaics and churches that were built then are still intact and pleasing 1500 years later.  We also had excellent Italian food at a little restaurant suggested by our B&B. 

Ravenna religious mosaic

geometric mosaics

Murano/Burano.  These two islands are just next to Venice.  While I harbor no desire to revisit Venice, I was excited about the possibility of returning to Murano.  Seeing all the glass objects reminded me of taking glassblowing in college.  I bought a plate and some earrings as a memento of living in Italy and my time in college.  Burano is a colorful, bright island famous for its handmade lace. The bright colors of the buildings were the real attraction for me.  

Colorful buildings in Burano

In Milan I have been trying to get in as much as the city offers. I went to an AC Milan game last month.  It was fun to see a live game and watch the outrageous Napoli fan tactics.  I went to concerts at both La Scala (symphony) and Blue Note (NOLA jazz musician).  Both were unique and exciting experiences.  I'll be going to an all male production of Shakespeare this weekend and then next weekend I'm off to Lake Guarda.  From here on out it's cram, cram, cram.    

San Siro Stadium

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kicking off 2013 with a Bang!

Once again I have slacked off writing.  Luckily, I have been busy living and have plenty to report.  Since coming back from the US over Christmas break, I have been taking many trips.


In January I went to Vicenza, a little town near Verona.  I dragged Carrie along to an art exhibit called From Rafael to Picasso.  It had few works by either artist but was a splendid look at how portraiture has changed since the Middle Ages.  The exhibition hall is a renovated basilica which made it feel both old and contemporary at the same time.  I also had one of the two best meals I’ve had since I moved here.  We had lunch in a little café across from the basilica.  I had a baked pasta, veggie dish.  It was hard to describe why it was so perfect but the veggies and the angel hair pasta (unusual over here) were the perfect combination. 


Top of Mt. Pilatus

The following weekend I went to Lucerne with a colleague and friend, Siri.  I really wanted to make it to Switzerland before leaving Europe this time.  Lucerne was the perfect choice.  Saturday morning we took an enormous funicular to the top of Mt. Pilatus, a snow-covered beautiful mountain peak.  When we arrived back in town we were a bit bummed to discover that every store closes at 4pm on Saturdays.  It turned out ok since we headed over to Starbucks for a treat since we can’t do that in Italy.  We left Sunday morning and were delighted to find the view on the train during the day was breathtakingly spectacular.  One more highlight for me was seeing men with alpine horns and men in feathered hats and suspendered shorts.  I felt like I had stepped into Heidi and was happy to see where the Swiss stereotypes come from. 


White week once again rolled around without plans for me to go skiing.  Instead I wanted to find the warmest place I could.  That ended up being Morocco.  Carrie and I flew to Marrakech early Sunday morning and spent our first day there flustered and baffled by the streets of the Medina.  The sights, sounds, smells, and amount of people in close proximity was very overwhelming.  Donkeys, motorbikes, and taxis were all equally usual forms of transportation. 

Our second day in Marrakech was a bit more successful.  We both made purchases at the souks and got henna tattoos.  (I was sure we would get skin poisoning after reading about it in guide books!)  We also managed to find entrances to the elusive palaces and tombs we had vainly searched for the day before.

The rest of our time there we spent with a local tour guide named Mohamed.  He lived in Canada for 6 years and spoke beautiful English.  He was the most hospitable man whose conversations were only exceeded by his generosity, amiability, and kindness.  Truly remarkable.  Our first day he took us to Casablanca.  It was a beautiful ride there but once there we got stuck in traffic for quite a while.  When we finally got out of traffic we ate local fish.  I had my first sardine which was much milder than I expected.   We also saw the Hassan II Mosque, third largest in the world and awe inspiring enough to make you believe in God if you didn’t already. 

Hassan II Mosque

The next day we went to the Ouzoud Waterfalls.  They are in a Geological park several hours away from Marrakech.  The drive there was beautiful with red clay patches among green rolling hills backed by the high snow-capped Atlas Mountains and watercolor grey clouds floating above in bright blue skies.  Before leaving the city we stopped by the Majorelle Gardens in the new city.   They are brightly decorated and house many plants, especially cacti.  On our way to the waterfall we saw fossilized dinosaur footprints and a naturally formed giant bridge over a little stream.  The waterfalls themselves were stunning.  After a short hike we had a little lunch overlooking the falls and ate with unwelcome thieving monkeys. 

Our last day in Morocco was spent at the beach in a town called Essaouira. It was made famous when hippies discovered it in the 60s and 70s.  It was very relaxing and warm.  Some of the fun of this trip was on the way there.   We stopped by an Argon/Moroccan oil co-op and saw how Moroccan oil is made then we saw goats in trees eating the nuts that the oil is made from.  The oil is very tasty and can be eaten by humans too.  I was sad to leave both the beach and Morocco.  

Goats in Trees


It is only the second week of March right now, but I am sitting on a train heading back to Milan from Zurich.  Carrie and I went for the weekend to see a concert by the Avett Brothers.  They were fantastic and we ended up in the second row.  Seth jumped off the stage right in front of me.  They opened with “Live and Die” and ended with “I and love and you.”  The venue was small and intimate, standing room only.  I was impressed by how punctual they were too.  Grace Potter with one member of her band the Nocturnals opened.  It was a fun surprise to have such a good opening act. 

Seth from the Avett Brothers (and Scott is back there too)!  2nd row baby!

Zurich was beautiful, clean, and sunny.  There was church called Grossmunster that had agate rock as the stained glass.  We also saw the Chagall stained glass windows at another church.  Though completely different, both sets of windows were beautiful and unique.  Clocks are big in Switzerland.  (Duh, I know.)  Zurich claims to be the home of the biggest clock face in Europe.   It was big.  And loud.

Up next on my trip agenda is half a week in London to see JL and then half a week in Budapest on my own.  Then later in April I’ll be going to Ravenna and Berlin.  Still lots to see before moving back to the US!      

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Scandinavia At Last

Well, I finally made it to Scandinavia.  I grew up hearing my mom talk about Swedish traditions in our family.  It always seemed so remote and far away, but living here I thought I should check it out since it's a bit closer.  Turns out it is still expensive so I settled for Denmark.  I have a Danish student this year and his family gave me some suggestions.  

Here are some things I learned about Denmark while I was there:  

1.  You need heat and an umbrella.  

Carrie and I arrived in Copenhagen Wednesday night.  Our first adventure was trying out airbnb.  It is an online apartment rental service. The location of our apartment was fantastic.  It was located between the city center and the airport, just a couple of metro stops from both.  Here is a picture of the street:

It felt like a giant college campus.  Everything was clean and accessible and looked startling similar in the way nice dorms on nice campuses look similar.  Once we arrived, our first hurdle was figuring out the heat.  As you may already know it gets cold in Denmark.  Unfortunately, the property manager didn't know how to turn on the heat so we put a portable radiator heater together and turned the one already together on.  By the time Kira arrived later that night, the place was a bit toastier.  Kira, being sensible, tried turning the radiators on and that worked.  Problem solved.    

2.  There is a good reason so many fairy tales are from Denmark.

Hans Christian Anderson is the best-known Danish author.  He wrote The Little Mermaid, The Tin Soldier, The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and The Pea, among others.  We saw all of those things or at least their inspirations.  There is a statue dedicated to the Little Mermaid in a park on the outskirts of town.  

The Little Mermaid

The Tin Soldier must have been inspired by the guards at Amalienborg.  They look just like the one in the story.  See for yourself:

Looks just like the story, right?

We saw ducks in the park outside of a castle in the city.  But, besides seeing ducks, there was a kind of sfumato-esque quality to the city.  Weeping willows beside water, painted clouds low in the sky and dull pastels made everything feel kind of dreamy.

Castle, ducks, watercolor clouds.  A real fairy tale.

And as for a princess or pea....  We didn't actually see any royalty or peas but we did see the royal jewels and crown.  They are guarded by a less picturesque  type of solider.  These are ones in camo with automatic weapons.  We also saw the castle that supposedly inspired Hamlet.  It was pretty cool.  Now it is a museum surrounded by little art galleries.  

Kronborg Castle has a connection to Hamlet, but none to HC Anderson.

3.  They have really good food.  

We ate cinnamon rolls/bread for breakfast everyday we were there.  It was amazing!  There is a reason Danishes have been brought to America.  Yum!  I also had kebabs, unfortunately without a fork.  Hamburgers and Thai food were consumed.  Most importantly, I found excellent hummus.  I was a very happy diner in general.  Refreshing not to have pasta for every meal.  

Kira, sans fork.  It's ok, we used our fingers, even for  salad!!!

4.  There are interesting events around every corner.  

On our way to the Carlsberg brewery, we stumbled upon a street festival with incredible hip-hop/crunk dancers.  It was like walking into a movie.  The awesome punk dancers battling it out in the final scene.  Jaw-dropping fun.  

Carrie and I also enjoyed a sunny Sunday exploring a market.  It was so pretty and they sold hummus and had places to sit inside.  

5.  Finally, double check that there are no holidays on the day that you travel to a foreign country.  

I'm filing this under "learned the hard way."  We showed up in Sweden Saturday morning.  (It is cheaper and easier to get to Sweden from Denmark than from Italy.)  It was surprisingly closed.  Turns out that it was a half holiday.  Halloween of sorts.  Chain stores open and tons of home decor stores too, but not much else.  After spending one morning in Sweden it is completely apparent why IKEA  was started there.  There are an incredible number of similar, smaller shops.  I loved them all.  There are also many adorable art galleries.  I particularly enjoyed the beaded jars and life-size illustrations at the Form Design Center.    

Armed with my new knowledge, I hope I can return someday.  It was completely enchanting!  




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Two Weeks in Milan: Do Not Read This Unless You Plan on Visiting

Two Weeks in Milan

Part of my summer plan was to purposely stay in Milan for two weeks to both experience the city that I live so close to and to take Italian classes. 

The Italian classes were overall a success.  I spent three hours every morning at Scuola Leonardo Da Vinci.  The first week’s teacher, Simona was great:  enthusiastic, energetic, and exciting.  We worked on reading, writing, speaking, and vocabulary.  Plus, we were conversing with each other so our class got to know each other a bit.  The second week Irene taught our class.  It was vocabulary driven and there was less emphasis on speaking and conversation.  The class was smaller yet we did not know each other as well.  I did meet one really cool other student who has been working in Milan but needs more Italian to really secure a job here.  It was interesting to see what was taught without words:

My afternoons were spent exploring the city.  School was on a canal and I would walk up to the center of the city to have lunch and sightsee.  Here is a summary of what I did.  I’m not sure it will make you want to rush off to visit Milan, but in case you do end up here, you know what you are getting. 

(They are free and mostly air-conditioned during the summer months.  Great reason to go even if the subject is not your thing.)

1.    Museo del Novecento:  This is an art museum.  It has modern and contemporary Italian art. 
View from Museo del Novecento

Work by Carla Accardi 
Pros:  The location and architecture gives this museum spectacular views of the city center.  It is as if the walls/windows are their own constantly changing art.    The contemporary art here is actually pretty interesting.  There are of course some pieces that make no sense to me.  I did luckily discover Lucio Fontana and Carla Accardi. 
Cons:  There is a good reason most of us have not heard of the Novecento Movement.  Have you heard of Matisse, Cezanne, and Picasso?  Well, this is not a museum of their work.  It is work that was influenced by these painters, but done by Italian artists.  They took the interesting techniques and subjects of their contemporaries and made them as boring as they could.  There was a whole room of Cezanne-like landscapes but in even more boring colors and uninteresting subjects.  Futurism is a less exciting type of cubism/pointilism from what I could tell.  It should be interesting too since it is less static.  I think the Novecento Movement gave way to current graffiti artists.  P.S.  The audioguide is terribly boring; way too much music and not enough information!

2.    Pincacoteca di Brera:  This is also an art museum.  It has a wide assortment of art.

Pros:  There is a wide variety of art here so there will be probably be something that interests you.  There are painters you have heard of here.  Hayez’s “The Kiss” is here.  It is very, very Robin Hood.  The workers here are generally friendly.   
Cons:  There were no labels on much of the work and certainly no written English (or other language) explanations of anything.  Parts of the 20th century room were being closed but with no explanation.  Perhaps it wasn’t a long-term thing. 

3.    Museum of the Sforza Castle:  A history museum. 
Awesome ceilings

:  Uh, you’re inside a castle, duh!  Leonardo Da Vinci ceiling and other cool painted ceilings.  The room of ancient armor and weapons.  Michelangelo’s final work (a pieta).  The Egyptian collection.  The nice courtyard with a little pond. 
Cons:  Crowded with tour groups.  Skimpy bookstore. 

4.    Milan Archeological Museum:  A history museum. 

Pros: A very cool replica of what the walled city of Milan used to look like.  Parts of the ancient wall in the museum and courtyard.  The Polygonal Tower that was used as a monastery chapel.  Beautiful old paintings.  Wide span of ancient history.  Attached to the beautiful church St. Maurizio.  
Cons:  Got very hot as you moved upstairs.

Churches:  Generally free to go in, but to see the crypts or other parts there is generally a small fee.

St. Ambrose
1.    St. Ambrose:  Church named for the patron saint of Milan.  It is large and OLD.  300s. There is a beautiful chapel with a golden mosaic ceiling featuring St. Ambrose.  Don’t miss the dead bodies under the altar! 
2.    St.  Lorenzo:  Near the popular Colonne.  St. Lorenzo has chapel and mosaics from the 5th century.  The crypt has a very low ceiling and is not good for claustrophobics. 
3.    St.Eustorgio:  I couldn’t get in the church itself, but the crypt was very simple.  The museum of the relics held there was interesting especially the crowned skulls.  The Portinari Chapel was very beautiful.  There was a monotone, accented, English-speaking guide who yelled his information at you as he explained why the Chapel is so special.  There are many, many examples of St. Peter the Martyr being chopped in the head by a heretic and also of Peter’s miracle of the cloud.  Uh, making it cloudy hardly seems to warrant the term “miracle,” but what do I know?!
4.    St. Simpliciano:  This is a very quiet church and very tall!  Simple yet spacious it felt very holy to me.  The old, old chapel hidden away was beautiful but I found the statue of Jesus very disturbing.  When you looked at him from a certain angle he looked like he was a psychotic clown and it really ruined the holy feeling I originally got. 
5.    St. Maurizio  This is a church that has 16th century painting on the walls.  It is very small and intimate, but behind the entrance chapel there is long hall called the Convent hall.  It is splendid. 
6.    St. Narzaro:  This is a church built just outside the walls of Milan in the 300s.  There are a lot of ruins there and during work hours The Touring Club of Italy is there to give you a tour of the grounds. 
Trompe d'oeil at St. Satiro
7.    St. Maria Presso San Satiro:  This church is probably one of the coolest because it has a fake wall.  The wall appears 3D but is really only a flat wall.  Wow!!!  Genius artist.   
8.    Cimitero Monumentale:  Ok, this isn’t really a church, but it houses a collection of dead from various religions.  The cemetery is called Monumentale because it is huge!!!  It goes on and on.  There is some form of art attached to every grave.  Amazing and slightly overwhelming! 

Growing Up: Vacationing Solo

I have always loved being on my own and even living by myself.  I've gone to movies alone, taken day trips alone, moved to new countries alone, but I have never taken a vacation alone.  Since I turn 30 in under a month and will probably be married in a year, I thought it would be a good time to push myself to try vacationing alone.  
Taking my own picture
Cinque Terre from Monterosso
I chose Cinque Terre as the spot.  It's a place I've heard many people talk about and recommend.  Since it's a beach spot, I really wanted to go in nice weather.  So here I am and here’s what I’ve done all by myself.
 My room in Albergo Carugio
I found a hotel in Rick Steves’ Italy guide.  It is called Albergo Carugio.  It is in the town of Monterosso al Mare.  The hotel is very simple and charming; clean and comfortable, but not fancy.  I love that it is in a very quiet area and that the owner is so amazingly friendly and helpful.  His English is great but wanted to help me learn Italian though so spoke that most of the time with me. 
The town of Monterosso was one that was hit hard last fall in the floods that ravaged this area.  Most things have just recently reopened this spring/summer.  It is a charming little town with many restaurants and touristy stores.  I did however find one store that has local delicacies such as pesto, lemoncello, candies, and various other sauces.  The owner claims that they are all made in 5 Terre and after many samples of the sauces, alcohol, and candies, I was enticed to buy some for wedding gifts. They are very tasty.  The special white pesto was my favorite but the tapenade was also very delicious.  I also discovered a mixed berry alcohol that I really enjoyed and have never seen anywhere else. 
Beach in Monterosso
The main attraction in Monterosso is the beach.  There are sandy beaches here.  I spent a wonderful day lounging in the sun, reading, people watching, and playing in the water.  Here however is one of the difficulties of going to the beach alone.  No one is there to watch your stuff.  Since most beaches in Europe seem to be private and charge a fee to be used, the small slices of free beach are always crowed—kind of like sardines (or rather anchovies here—possibly the official fish of 5 Terre) in a can.  The water was warm and a bit rough.  Good waves for jumping.  Hesitant to leave my things alone for too long, I did not stay in the water very long.  Getting lunch was also a bit tricky but I managed to bring a piece of pizza back to my towel. 

This brings me to eating alone.  I was a little worried about eating every meal alone.  It was much easier than I expected however.  My favorite was eating breakfast by myself.  I’m not a morning person so it was nice to wake up gradually at some little café.  One place called Laura’s was fantastic.  They made some delicious doughnut-y thing and had great cappuccinos.  I never thought I would be a coffee drinker but it seems like the thing to do here and somehow cappuccino with chocolate looses that bitter coffee bite.  Eating breakfast outside in the shade with beautiful scenery makes me suddenly understand why Americans fall in love with Italy.  Here, what’s not to love? 

Also I discovered reading while eating.  It is nice because it slows me down.  Eating as a teacher has trained me to eat everything at once and as quickly as possible.  Here I have taken my time.  The meals have not been outstanding (pizza with veggies soaked in vinager-ick!; pancakey type noodles that made me think of something eaten when there are wartime rations, and crème brulee cold in the middle and with way too much lemon flavor!) but I did have one good meal at Cantina di Miky:  Yummy frizzy house wine, tasty bread, excellent spaghetti di mare, but curiously served at the same time as my salad which I could not finish and was disappointed by the abundance of fennel and cabbage.
Via dell'Amour

View on the walk to Manorola
I did not come here to eat only though.  I came for the beach of course but also because I heard that the hiking was beautiful and fun.  My first afternoon here I took a boat to the farthest town away—Riomaggiore.  It was a beautiful ride.  I met some nice recent college grads who were backpacking through Europe as their last hurrah.  It was fun to speak to other Americans.  Walking briefly though Riomaggiore I decided to walk over to Manarola a 1km stroll called Via dell’Amore.  It was a beautiful walk.  Manarola was a cute little village where I bought blackberry gelato.  It was really good and I’m glad I tried it. 
The hard to reach Corniglia

Flood damaged trails made me try another trail
On the advice of some friends, I decided to hike to the next village over, Corniglia.  It is too elevated to be reached by boat so it is accessible only by train and foot.  The hike along the waterfront is closed because of the fall’s flooding.  However there is another trail available—trail 6.  Starting up it, I hiked for a good 20 minutes until I realized that I was not on trail 6.  My friends had said you hike through vineyards.  Indeed I did but it turns out it was only vineyards and a dead end.  Scenic, but not exactly the cute town I saw from the boat.  So I tried again.  This time I found trail 6 but it was a bit overgrown and since I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going and had not seen any other hikers for a while, I decided not to continue on my own.  I went back to Manarola and took the train to Corniglia.  Rick Steves has about 3 pages on this little town and since it was at least a 15 minute hike from the station to the town and the next trains were either in 10 minutes or 1hour 45 minutes, I decided to hop back on the train and get off in Vernazza. 


Steves calls Vernazza, “the jewel of Cinque Terre.”  And indeed it is.  It was a charming town with more like 10 pages in Steves’ guide.  I strolled around and enjoyed the stunning evening light views.  There is a beautiful piazza on the water with a church and breakwater.  There are simply stunning views from different places around town.  The castle was closed as was a higher area due to storm damage.  Having 30 minutes to kill I had a glass of wine at a little restaurant close to the piazza.  Luckily for me a funky jazz trio started playing.  I always love Cole Porter covers and this one did a lot of them.  Adorable families spontaneously started dancing and locals sat in their doorways to listen.  It was quite charming.  Finally I headed home, back to Monterosso. 
Colorful life in Vernazza
Door in Vernazza
Overall, this has been a wonderful trip.  While going solo slightly impeded my water time and hiking, it was totally worth it.  I would have enjoyed company, but the freedom and the heightened attention to details around me made it an unforgettable trip.  Here’s to 30 and lifetime partnership, but here’s to independence too!  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer in the Cities

This is my first summer off as a teacher.  I've heard some teachers complain about boredom over the summers, but I have never been among them.  Even this year without working I have found plenty of ways to spend my time:  day trips and Italian lessons.

Here are the highlights of the cities I have visited: 

at Scialapopolo

1)  Capri 

Wow!  I want to try to go back next summer.  Carrie and I spent 5 days there right after school got out.  It was a fabulous time.  We spent our mornings exploring different parts of the island (and Sorrento and Napoli).  Then our afternoons were spent sunning at the splendid pool or rocky beach.  Evenings we went into the town to eat.  The best meal we had was at a restaurant called Scialapopolo.  I had absolutely amazing gnocchi and Carrie had tender, delicious beef and a baked veggie-noodle dish.  Yum!  We also ate pizza in Naples.  It was quite tasty, but my taste has not yet developed enough to tell real differences between pizze (that's pizzas for all you English-speakers).  I get the big picture but not the subtleties.  

Blue Grotto

2)  Verona

props outside the arena

Verona was my first summer day trip.  I showed up at the train station not 100% sure where I actually was going.  I'd heard about Verona and what a cool city it is.  Someone said they liked it because it was like Rome, but on a smaller scale.  I found that to be true.  For example, there is an ancient Roman arena.  Now concerts and operas are performed there.  Seeing the props for the summer Opera festival just sitting outside the arena was pretty cool.  I went on a Rick Steves guided walk to hit some of the highlights.  I was disappointed that I ran out of time to see the interior of the Duomo.  Instead I went into St. Anastasia and was given a toasty black cloak to cover my shoulders.  I was too hot to enjoy the experience of the church.  I was sorry I couldn't eat dinner there because there is a piazza of cool looking restaurants.  I hope to go back and see an art exhibit there and eat on the piazza.  

Juliet's Balcony (hard to imagine Romeo serenading there with all the tourists)

3)  Turin/Torino

Rooftops of Turin

For some reason I can never remember which is the English name.  In any case, Turin/Torino was a bit of a messy trip.  I went to the wrong departure station (thanks to the Trenitalia website) and ended up missing a train by 2 minutes.  I had to wait an entire hour for the next train so my trip was a bit shorter than planned.  The tourist bureau must be on strike because there were NO MAPS for sale, the tourist information was closed, and none of my trusty guidebooks suggests Torino so I had no map.  With my new phone (more on that later) I found the movie museum.  It is also called the Mole Antonelliana, a museum and lookout point that used to be the tallest brick building in the world.  Now it has a cool lookout tower.  Turin has beautiful rooftops!  The movie museum was pretty cool, but not being big on Italian cinema, I missed out on some of the enjoyment that a true Italian film fanatic would get.  Cool interior and exhibits.  It was charmingly not overwhelming.
Mole Antonelliana

4)  Como

I have been to the lake before but not the city.  Another 1st grade teacher and I went for the day.  We laid out on a grassy park next to the lake.  The thing is though that you can't get in the water.  We saw tourists getting yelled at by the police for swimming in the water.  

5)  Bologna
Typical Bolognese architecture

I have now been to Bologna twice.  When my dad visited in the spring we went.  That was the weekend before the earthquake hit. With dad the highlights were a market with awesome jewelry, the archeology museum, and St. Stephen's Church.  St. Stephen's courtyard reminded me of the Cloisters in NYC.  The church interior was deceptively large.  It kept going and going and going.  Plus, going to places like history museums and old churches with my dad is super nerdy fun because he knows so much and helps me appreciate what is inside.  Thanks Dad.  
Sights with dad

I went back to Bologna last weekend with Sarah, a teacher from our school.  I wanted to get back to the markets.  We did a walking tour of the city.  It was our own made up tour.  In the middle we spent a good 2 hours eating lunch.  Bologna is in an area of the country that is known for its tasty food.  I had no such luck.  I tried both pasta Bolognese (with dad) and a fresh veggie pasta (with Sarah) but neither were outstanding.  They were just average good.  Not the knock-my-socks-off experience I was hoping for.    

6) Milan

With language classes and 5 days of being a tourist, Milan needs its own post so stay tuned...