Thursday, December 19, 2013

Final night in Siena

Well, my bags are packed, ticket to Florence purchased, and I'm ready to come home.

As I went for a final walk around this beautiful medieval city tonight, I remember the first night I was here... It seems like a lifetime ago and all just a dream, but also in a way it seems like it was only yesterday. I was so certain that my time here would be positive and fruitful, and I was certain I would have my book written. While my book remains in my head, this experience, this adventure, has lead me down a path I never thought I would have gone down. It calmed me, made me live in the moment, made me immensely and completely happy - but has wrecked me forever.

I sat in the campo one last time tonight, eating a slice of delicious pizza, wondering how anyone goes back from this place. How do I go back to my life - and the mess I've made of it - and continue on? How do I go back to working and stressing and being a part of  a society that doesn't take a break in the day to go for a walk and have a cafe and sit in the sunshine? How do I go back to the shambles and decisions and vacancy that is at home? I guess the answer is you can't go back. It's like with anything, you put your chin up, and move forward one little step at a time.

I guess this experience showed me that life isn't always about the job, the house the car... And I know I knew that... But here, in this special place, I felt it. It doesn't matter who or what you are, it matters that you have family and friends around you and a good glass of wine and a belly full of delicious food. Life matters, not what you do for a living. It is a lesson I will forever cherish.

This adventure has also taught me that I want to see the world. I want to be the person that has a story about every country in the world. I want to soak in every moment of happiness I can because I've discovered that happiness is fleeting... It doesn't always stick around. It matters that you keep an open mind and a positive mindset and happiness comes. You've got to be open to everyday experiences, celebrate everything, and find joy in even the smallest of things.

Italy will always be in my heart and although this trip didn't meet some of my expectations, it exceeded everything I dreamt it would be.

So... Siena, my beautiful city, I refuse to say good bye, as I will return!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Paris, I still adore you!

Final day in Paris - we wake early despite a crap-tastic sleep that was interrupted by Aussies yelling as they tromped up the stairs a million times. We had a quick breakfast in an American looking dinner that had a French waiter singing all the songs on the radio. We hit the metro an found ourselves in a shopping district where Larissa's favourite tea house is. We stopped for a quick Starbucks and headed to the tea house. In true Parisian style, the man working in the store looked at us in disdain as we tried to enter with our empty cups. He literally shooed us out with a sweeping motion of his hand. Mumbling, we found a garbage and returned to this store. Larissa reluctantly purchased some items as we mumbled "asshole" as we exited. We wandered down the beautiful streets of Paris, enjoying the magnificent sunshine and revelling in the fact we were in Paris!

Back to the Metro, we found our way to Sacre Coeur. We wandered around a small Christmas market, found the "I love you" wall which has this phrase in all the different languages of the world. Quite cool! We then assented many steps to be greatest by the beautiful church that is Sacre Coeur. It is I think, my favourite building in Paris! We stopped and listened to a harpist play as we over looked the city and basked in the sunshine. The line to get into the church was over an hour and we were running short on time, so we wandered around and saw all sides of this beautiful church. Our feet took us next to Monmarte where painters and artists were in full force - it was so very Parisian! :)

We next found ourselves in a lovely little bistro and had lunch and a glass of wine... Of course! We took our time and enjoyed remembering all that we have seen together... Already 3 countries! :)

It was time to return to the hostel and grab my bags and head to the airport. A sad goodbye and I was off to complete this adventure alone. I made it to the bus shuttle perfectly, bought a ticket and stood in a giant line. This is when it got interesting! I noticed that a bus was stopped in front of a parked car, turns out the car parked in the bus exit location. The police were called and the car was ticketed... Not towed... So the pending passengers took it upon them selves to rock the car back and forth until it was out of the way of the bus (but shockingly in the middle of a lane). Shouts of "Bravi" and cheers erupted - then the bus depot staff called for all passengers to Pisa! I got to jump the queue and 50mins after arriving at the shuttle location I am on the bus the airport. It's good that I always leave a buffer, have no luggage to check and have a printed boarding pass already! 

I finally get to the airport, get on and off my flight seamlessly... And that's where the fun started. I go to try and catch the train that would take me from the airport to the train station... Turns out the train is broken - whaaaaat? So, I decide to take a cheap bus to Firenze - an hour and 20 mins later, I am at the Firenze train station. I pull out my ticket that Gingeraffe gave me and validate it and climb on a train. I settle in and the doors close... My spidey senses tingle... The train starts pulling away - 5 mins early - uhohh. I figure what the hell, nothing I can do. The train finally stops and I look out... We are stopped in an industrial area. Fuuuuuk. I sit and wait to see were the train will end up... We don't move... Fuuuuuk! So, I gather my stuff and head out to figure out how I am going to get myself out of this pickle... I walk down to the front of the train and the conductor has gone home. I am in the train yard were they park the trains for the night. It is 10:30pm on a Sunday night - this is not good. I see some people walking towards me, I holler Ciao and wait for them to be closer. I tell them that I got on the wrong train and they wave their hands to follow me. I follow them. They tell another guy and he laughs, jumps in his golf cart and tells me to follow him. I do. They get to an office and we walk in, there is a guy who will drive me back to the Firenze train station... Oh my God!!!! I am so lucky!!! He drove me to the station and I find the next train to Siena... Trouble is, there is no direct train so I change from a train to a bus at Empoli and away I go. I sit for an hour on the coldest bus ever and finally make it to the train station in Siena... By this time it is 1:30am, I am cold and tired so I hop in a cab, get home drop my crap and fall into an exhausted sleep... What a day!!!!

Paris days 1 and 2

I head out and get to Pisa well before take off. I have a quick bite to eat and eventually board the plane. 2 hours later, I am on a bus into Paris proper. The airport I landed in was in Beauvais, just outside the city. 2 long hours later, due to traffic, we are at the metro station and I quickly find my train and settle in 40 mins and 2 changes later, I am at Gard de Nord and am searching for the hostel. I walk back and forth on the street trying to find a number I swear doesn't exist. By this time it is 9:30 at night and they are feeding homeless people in front of the station. Nice! My spidey senses aren't tingling too much an eventually I find the hostel. It is cosy and filled with young people. I check in flawlessly, drop my bag off and head out to find food. Around the corner, I settle for McDonald's and head back to the room. It's 10:30 by the time all is said and done. I snuggle up and enjoy a restful night sleep!

Up at 8... I'm in PARIS!! I go and find a place that has "American" breakfast which is a baguette, coissant, fried eggs and ham. No bacon :( I then wander around and do some looking in the shops. By 10:30 I am back at the hostel and meet up with Larissa. We chat happily as we make our way to our first destination - the Eiffel Tower. We reach it and as always, the first glimpse of that tower makes me realize that we are in my favourite city. We make our way to the line, and shockingly it is quick - we get to the ticket booth and with a giant smile, I ask for 2 tickets to skate on the tower. The lady says "what?" We try to explain in French and she says "no" with a look on her face that is so filled with disgust! I don't give up, I ask again, and she asks the lady behind her. She says yes, but its closed. Fuuuuuuuk! No way! We but tickets anyway and stand in line to climb the stairs. 

On the first tier we look around and sure enough we find the rink all closed. You could hear my heart break. :( it's ok... I have a plan b I quip... We walk up to the 2nd tier and the view is all I remember, spectacular! We look for the elevators and find the line is about 1.5 hours to get to the top... Larissa and I have both been to the top so we don't need to go we decide and after another round to soak in the sites of Paris, we go down all 663 steps. Legs of steel thanks to those streets of Siena! :)

We find ourselves at a Christmas market and wander around listening to the Christmas carols an soaking in the smells of Christmas. We see the worst Santa ever and giggling, get a picture with him. I think e was drunk! Then I see it... A rink that overlooks the Eiffel Tower. Yes! We quickly get skates, lace up and hit the ice! The skates were so dull and cheap but I didn't care! We skated and soaked in the beautiful tower in the background and the Christmas music. My heart was bursting with happiness! We skated for a bit talking about when Larissa is in Canada how we will have to find a shinny game. :) done! :)

We finish up at the market, having some terrible food and decide to go to Notre Dame area. We hop on the metro again and find ourselves on the island where this big church is. We wander the tiny, filled streets and find a pub and wander in. We both just want a glass of wine, turns out we are still hungry and settle in for a Croque Monsieur and a glass of cold red wine. Once done, we wander some more and make our way towards Champs Elyese. Wandering the streets of Paris makes me feel giddy as I can't help myself from smiling. 

Finally we are at the Champs Elyese and we see the Christmas market. It is packed... We could hardly move down the street. My mother would have hated this. A bonus for me was that I am taller than most ad could see over the crowd. We tried to enjoy the music and smells and stopped at a couple huts to see their wears. A spiced hot wine was in order so we grave one, sipped merrily as we walked down this famous street with half of Paris bumping into us. When we made it to the Arc di Triumph, we gawked at its size... I could almost see and hear French soldiers marching through, victorious.

We decided to nix walking back through the crowds on the Champs and thought to check out Moulin Rouge instead. Metro and 5 mins later we are walking the streets again. Finding Moulin Touge and the massive line up we throw out that idea and decide to hit an Irish pub. 10 minutes later we are nursing a Killkenny and making new friends. We have a couple beers, get a bunch of free shots and deny some creepy French dudes - all in a nights work. We head to our hotel and as the clock strikes 11, we are soundly snoring.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Day 3 in Switzerland

We sleep in a bit and are treated to another wonderful breakfast with the family. The Susin family have truly become my Swiss family!

We then all pile into the car to get to a small village with the biggest Christmas market. This village, Einsiedeln, was all a buzz with activity as they were having a cross country skiing event as well as it was the last day for the market. 

We first go to look at the Monastery. This place is special for 2 reasons, one being it was built in the 900s and is said to be built over top of an energy field where if you pray in the crypts you an feel the energy of the earth. Not sure that I felt it or even what that means exactly. The second reason it is special is because it has one of 2 of the black Madonna's in the world. It was magnificent and I wish I got pictures to share but it was forbidden. The church itself was very beautiful an decorated so ornately that I thought the gold was fake... It wasn't! Such a difference from the churches in Italy. 

We then wander the massive Christmas market as te carols play, smells of roasting chestnuts and baking donuts and cheesy potatoes fill our noses. Mama and Papa Susin treat us to an espresso as we warm up for a bit. At the market you can have hot wine or hot chocolate with baileys... We need to start this in Canada! We have a lunch of schnitzel and cheesy potatoes (that I love) and wander until its time to go. 

The drive to and from this village was  about an hour and we went 2 different routes so we could see more of the landscape! It is very beautiful and made me miss the snow and mountains of home - maybe not the -30c they are experiencing right now tho!

We got home and mama Susin whipped up Spatzel and chicken which was incredible! We sat there laughing and drinking wine and sambuca and visiting. I felt like such a part of the family! After supper we watched a Christmas movie and ten hit the sac. It had been a long weekend with little sleep and a ton of walking! As I curled up into the bed that night, I thought of how lucky I am and how thankful I am to have met Larissa! I can't wait to come back to my delightful Swiss family, as they already have a list of things to do, places to go and things to eat. I must return soon!

Monday morning:
I wake up super early and get ready with the family and we say our good byes. They give me some Swiss chocolate that I tell them I will share with my family at Christmas. Lucky Hamiltons! We get in the car and I am overwhelmed with how hospitable and lovely this little family is. They shared all they had with me, fed me until I couldn't eat any more, drove me to and from the airport, kept my wine glass full, and told me all about their beautiful county! It was hard to leave a place that felt like a home. I missed my own family immensely this weekend and am thankful I get to see them in 2 weeks. They made me so welcome and I felt like their third daughter. How can you ever thank a family for making you feel so welcome? Thank you Susin family!!! I love you guys! See you in the near future! :)

Day 2 in Switzerland

We woke early to an incredible breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon!!! Mama Susin (Larissa's mom) is one heck of a cook! 

After breakfast we headed out to look at the Winterthur Christmas Market which is more than I could have imagined! They have small log huts that they've decorated so it looks like Christmas threw up on them and they sell anything you can think of! It was wonderful! 

We hopped the train to Zurich next and walked all over looking at some old buildings, streets, churches, an a lake! All through Zurich they had Christmas markets, the biggest of which was in the train station. This big market had a ton of small shacks that sold their goods and in the middle was a giant tree decorated with only Swarovski christal. We looked around there and had a lunch of Wertzt and a Swiss dish with potatoes and cheese... Scrumptious!

Wandering the streets of Zurich I was amazed by the beauty. It's a delightful city! We walked amongst the people and it seemed that on each street corner we saw a Santa, donkey and ___ which would have a giant gathering of children talking to him and getting mandarin oranges an peanuts! We walked to the lake, stopping at the Tiffany store for some free spiced hot wine and cookies! The view from the lake was so pretty in that we could see the mountains. We walked along the shore for a bit and then wandered back to the train to take it to a different part of Zurich. Once in the east side, we went to the tower and saw some great views of this city! 

Back on the train, Larissa and I grew weary of all the walking and the late night we had. We chatted sporadically until we got back to her town where her dad picked us up. At home, there was a flurry of activity as we got ready to go celebrate Santa Clause day with the family. 

We end up in an apartment with Larissa's aunt, uncle, cousins and her parents and sister. We have Swiss appetizers and they chat happily in Swiss German and to me in Italian. The family is from Italy so we were able to talk in Italian when They didn't know how to say it in English. It was an international night for sure! 

The two boys were very energetic and excited for Santa to visit, and visit he did!!! At around 8 there was a knock at the door and who comes in but Santa and Schmutzli!! The kids cry with excitement! What happens next was incredible. Santa carries a book and in it has a note about each child. It tells about what the kid has done good and bad that year. Santa and the kids have a heart to heart talking about how good they are and how they shouldn't be bad! Then, the kid has to recite a saying for Santa that was specially prepared for that kid that year. Once each youngin does this, schmutzli gives them presents! It was amazing and I felt so honoured that Larissa's family let me come celebrate with them! 

We leave the house and head to Winterthur for the night. I really loved this little place, it was all alight for Christmas. We head to have a beer an meet up with one of Larissa's friends. After chatting for a bit, we head to a bar and dance for a bit. Once we tired of this scene, we headed to a different part of the town to another, more interesting bar. We enter and they play some of the most interesting, diverse, eclectic music I have ever experienced. It makes your toes tap as soon as you enter and we are soon on the dance floor! They call the music gypsy music and all I can equate it to is a beatnik bar that plays East Indian/eastern European music. 

We leave and hit up McDonalds again as it is the only thing open at 3am then make our way home. A truly international evening!

My next adventure

Friday I woke with a spring in my step, packed and ready for my next adventure. I went to school and then hopped on the bus to Florence airport. 

An hour flight and I was in a different country, my 17th, Switzerland!!! Larissa met me at the airport and we were instantly started to catch each other up on the past month. It was like she had never left! We stopped for a Starbucks (my first in months) and hit the road to her house. Once there, we settled in, I met her parents and sister and we sat down for a typical Swiss meal... Cheese fondue! It was incredible! We filled out bellies and then headed out to a neighbouring town to see some sights.

Winterthur is this beautiful town in Swizerland that has so much charm! The Christmas lights were out in full force and it was simply magical! We hit the pub and as we walked in, it was packed and full of Christmas cheer! The decorations were exploding off the ceiling, walls, posts, everywhere! There was even a train that hung from the ceiling that circles the bar! We had a pint and then headed out to find our next destination. 

Another bar has this drink called "Rasputin" and apparently it is very potent. We stopped and had one on the patio outside as we snuggled on benches with sheep skins and blankets to keep warm. We met many new people as we all shared a bench. It was a great spot! 

Next up was a club where we danced out butts off for the rest of the evening - we had a "Santa" shot to toast Santa Claus day that is celebrated Dec 6 in Switzerland and it is when Santa comes to visit little girls and boys. We finished the night with a trip to McDonald's that can only be described as a gong show and then a train ride home. 

It's Larissa and Heather taking over Europe once again! :)

Week 10

How did I get here so fast? This adventure has flown by and now all of our heads are filled with Christmas with our families and learning how to live not being in Italy. How do we return to normal life when we've grown accustomed to a life of simplicity and beauty everyday?la dolce vita! The sweet life!

The American group I've befriended have packed their bags for home and left first thing this morning. It was a sad day yesterday as we had a final lunch and said our goodbyes. How do I live in Siena with out day drinking at the Fortezza with Ryan and Chris. I will miss talking about life with Ryan and gingeraffes hugs and stories. I will miss Ali's sweetness and Christans crazy whit. I have truly been fortunate to have them all be a part of my journey here. 

This week was packed with goodbye suppers and two rounds of crazy nights out. I will miss wandering the streets with pizza and beer from the magical pizza place at 3 am. Somehow I think that Wednesday night will be the last full crazy night I will have in Siena. It was the most epic of nights as we closed 2 bars, had a photo shoot by the Christmas tree, a dip in a fountain and so many laughs that my stomachs still hurts. I can hardly wait until we visit each other in our respective countries and reunite! 

I am on the bus to Florence, munching a panini that is so delicious I try an savour every bite. I look out the window and try to soak it all in as in 2 weeks I will be leaving. It makes my heart sad to leave because I have found so much joy here. How do you leave a place that has become a part of you? 

I am starting to miss home more as the days pass (despite the daily reports of the crazy freezing and snowy weather). I am still sad to leave, but know that I will see Siena again... And when I do, it will feel like coming home. 

This weekend my adventures take me to Zurich to visit Larissa. She has promised me snow, cold, Christmas markets and Santa. It will be awesome to see my little buddy again. God only knows what troubles we will get into! I am very much looking forward to it. 

Monday, December 02, 2013

The tour ends

The last week of Coreen's stay consisted of day trips, thousands of steps and so many memories! I am on the bus returning home in the wee hours of the morning after making sure that Coreen was checked in and through security. I'm watching the sun come up over the frosted Tuscan country side and my heart feels full. I am so lucky to have such an amazing friend and I am so lucky to be here. If I have learned anything from being here, it's that despite any of the crap I've put myself through, I've always been able to go where I need to to find myself again. I always come back to the laughing, optimistic person that I'm meant to be - and that makes me immensely happy. It is friends like Coreen who remind me again of who I truly am and for that I am so very thankful!

Monday Coreen and I went to Pisa - we hopped the train and after a series of typically Italian delays, we made it to our destination. Coreen had ventured out in Siena earlier that day an packed us a delicious lunch so we had plenty of snacks for the trip! :) once there, we hurried to the leaning tower so Coreen could get good light for pictures and of course go up the tower. She was not disappointed, and I am glad that we were able to make a day trip! It was a late night returning on te train but totally worth it.

Tuesday we hopped on a bus and I took her to San Gimignano - we toured the town, had a gelato, climbed the tower and watched the sun set over arguably my favourite place in Italy. It was a wonderful afternoon, even if the town was a bit of a ghost town and not as many stores were open.

Wednesday was spent looking at Siena for one last time and talking about when we come back for the Palio one day. We finished off the day at Enzo's again and another incredible meal! He is so wonderful and makes us feel like royalty when we are there!

Thursday we had a final lunch (for Coreen) with her new American friends and hopped the bus for Florence. We made good time and were checked into our hotel quickly. We hussled to the Santa Croce church where some really famous dudes are burried. We saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Dante... I think I appreciated this church more now than when we first saw it in 2000 - now that I know who these guys are! :) just outside of the church was a Christmas market so we took our time wandering and looking at the stalls. We found this delicious cooked bread that is coated in cinnamon, Mmmmm! We had supper from one of the vendors, roasted pig and potatoes. We made our way back to the hotel and after arguing with the front desk person about their "shuttle" or lack there of to the airport, we hit the hay as Coreen's flight was at 6:30am. Excellent practice for when I leave in 3 weeks. 

That brings us up to date. As the sun rises on another day in Italy, I think of all the people who are important to me and hope they know that I think of them all often. I wander the streets sometimes thinking about how much many of them would love my new little city, maybe as much as I do. This place has and will forever have a special place in my heart and although I haven't left yet, I can't wait to come back! :) After only 2 months, it feels like home. 

Rome days 2 and 3

Once we woke, after sleeping in a little, we had breakfast and were off and running! First stop, the coliseum. We stood in line for about 10 mins and discovered if we bought a tour, we could jump the line and get in to see stuff that others can't! Sold! We hop the line and shortly begin a 2 hour tour from the dungeon to the tippy top, including history and stories - we both agreed, so worth the money!

After the tour, which was all in pouring rain, we hopped on a hop-on, hop-off bus and were off to see the Trevi fountain! It was a bit of a gong show as the amount of people there in the pouring rain with their umbrellas was incredible. We referred to the scene as an umbrella battle/ballet as it was an aggressive but delicate maneuvering of everyone's umbrellas... I am just impressed no one lost an eye. 

We were then so cold and tired that we made our way to the hotel to dry off and get warm. I know that I was way, way colder than Coreen and she only noticed when the map I was looking at was shaking as I looked at it. We hung our shoes up, had a shower and snuggled into our very warm hotel room.

The next morning, our last day in Rome, we packed our stuff and had a nice big breakfast. We stashed our bags and then found our hop on hop off bus. We tootled around, happily seeing things like the wedding cake, the Triton fountain, the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain in the day light. It was awesome, an we walked so, so much! At around 4 we headed back to the hotel, grabbed our back packs and headed to the train station. We were happily exhausted as we boarded the train for home. It had not rained the whole day and the sun shined for most of it. Excellent day in Rome. The train ride home was uneventful and we made it home around 10ish. After clocking over 20,000 steps in one day, we slept well!  


We hop the train, armed with our typical Italian lunches and merrily tootle along. The country side has changed so much since I first got here, the fields are empty, vacant of the crop they've yielded. The trees are yellow or bare, the landscape prepared for winter... Or their version.

We get to Rome and walk through some sketchy area to find our hostel. We check in from a dude that looks a bit like a bike messages from down town... And we lay on our beds or the plywood like replica of one! Laughing, we drop our bags and go explore. We are happily exploring the coliseum when the rain starts. We quickly find a guy selling ponchos and we wrap ourselves up in what looks like a garbage bag with a hood. We wander a little more and head somewhere for supper. We are so hungry, cold and wet that we stop in a tourist trap but eat there anyway... Food was terrible :( we head back to the hostel and are happily tucked in for the night.

Morning comes and neither Coreen not I had much sleep. Turns out our 30 year old bodies can't sleep on plywood well. We were miserable, achy and tired. We have a light breakfast ad head out to explore. Day 1 - Vatican. We get to the Vatican and walk right in with our tickets. We wander the rooms with an audio guide learning the history of a lot of the famous and beautiful art. We make it to the Sistine chapel an once again, it's beauty astounds me. It is just so magnificent!!!

We hit some more exhibits, one of them being a collection of carriages and cars used by the pope. One of the cars is the one that Pope John Paul 2 was shot in... They have a little video showing the event and PJP2 going in to the dude who shot him cell and hearing his confession. 

After we finished at the Vatican museum, we went to St. Peter's square and stood in line for the Basillica. Despite having rude Italians bud in line and people trying to sell us tickets for the Sistine chapel, the 45 mins or so went quickly. There was so much to see! Once in the church, we were wowed by its largeness... This is seriously one big church! We saw sculptures by some of the greats (my fav the Pieta by Michelangelo) and the marble, gold and sheer size were simply amazing. We got to see Pope John Paul's tomb - which was simple and understated, much like he was. A beautiful tribute. We got to go into the crypts as ell and see where he was buried! I was humbled and glad as JP2 had a profound impact on me when I was a teen.

Once done, we walked some of the streets shopping as we made our way back to the crappy hostel. After asking them to fix the bed, we wanted to check on them. They still sucked! The dude from the front desk had already left for the evening so we went out for supper to figure out if we could take sleeping on the cement slab that was the bed. After googling and calling another hotel, we went back to the hostel, left money on the bed with the key and blew that Popsicle stand! A perk of not paying via credit card... They can't charge you more if you skip out! :) we checked into our new cushie hotel and despite the fact that the beds here were also harder than normal, we made the best of it. We had to call down and get extra blankets for padding and for them to turn off the heat to our room as it was 4000 degrees. 

We settled in and had a great nights sleep in our comfy hotel. :)

A week in Siena

The first week Coreen was in Siena went by so quickly! We did all te things that we should do... See the Piazza del Campo, visit the Duomo, eat well... It was a whirl wind!

Some adventures that were amazing and notable, wandering through the streets of Siena gathering food and wine for a picnic and sitting and chatting the hours away. 

Another, going on an afternoon tour with Gingeraffe and having him show us different fountains, views of the country side and memorable, not seen by tourists, landmarks.

Cooking a traditional Sienese meal and sharing Ali's 21st Birthday... It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?

Although this post doesn't do ANY justice to the amazing week we had, it outlines how awesome of a week we had. It only continued from here! 

Coreen is here!

I got up super early and grabbed a bus to Florence... Coreen is coming today! She is a friend from University days and she has come to Italy for 2 weeks for a visit! It's her first international trip across the ocean and her first trip solo so it's a bit of a big deal!

I make it to the airport early so I hang out, purchase a flight to Zurich to visit Larissa in December and wait for Coreen. The time comes, the doors open, and my tiny 5'3" friend stumbled through the doors exhausted but happy (so happy) I am there to greet her. We get back to the city centre, find our hostel and then head out to explore. 

First stop, food! We grab some typical Italian food and head to check out the Duomo, tower and piazza di Michelangelo. We wander all over Florence, looking in shops and seeing piazzas and sculptures. I try and tell her all the history I have learned since being here. She holds up well but at 7 she starts to Peter out... Back to the hostel to get some sleep. She lasts until 9:30ish and then conks out - a busy day... A big day!

The next day we are up early so we can get into the Museo Della Achedemia to see David. It pays off as we are the first in line and we get in quickly! We wander around the museum and I spout off all the things I have learned about Michelangelo and the David - I'm certainly no expert, but she thinks its nice to have her own guide! :) once done, we grab some food an hit the leather markets. 

By 12:30 we have checked out of the hostel and are on the fast bus to Siena. We arrive with plenty of time to spare and head to my apartment to get her sorted out and then head to the soccer match. 

We walk to the piazza where I know there is an entrance to the stadium but they don't sell tickets there. We try the Siena AC store but no dice. We walk all around the stadium and finally find this small unmarked ticket booth and get our tickets! Yes! We happily watch the game, Siena won, despite the rain. We were underwhelmed by the number of people in attendance but were enthralled with the giant group of fans that cheered the WHOLE game. Certainly an experience I will never forget.

We went out for supper and then happily wandered about Siena for a little while. I showed her my new town and she was in awe of where I get to live. A magical weekend with a very dear friend!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week 7

This week was incredible! Monday I changed classes and am loving Italian again!

Tuesday I had a cooking class in a small Italian kitchen. We arrive and we meet this delightfully smiley man named Enzo, who happens to be a Michelin star chef! Wow! We proceed to make panini bread, a roasted and stuffed rooster, pici with a ragu sauce and riccerietti. This is all traditional Sienese food - and it was probably the best meal I have ever eaten! It was simply wonderful! After we cooked with Enzo and his su-chef Francesca, we were seated in his restaurant and served like we were royalty. A yummy bottle of chianti accompanied the meal and the other 2 ladies and I chatted for hours as we stuffed ourselves until we were uncomfortable. One of the ladies didn't speak English so I spoke Italian to her and the other lady didn't speak much Italian, so I was basically the translator - a bad one but I did my best. :) The walk home was delightful in the crisp autumn air as I revelled in the delicious food I had eaten an the massive amount of Italian I have learned in almost two months here. I was so happy.

Wednesday I had a wine tasting. One of the ladies from Tuesdays cooking class joined me. We went to the Cantina di Brunello - so very exciting! We got a tour of the small store and the building dates back to the time of the Etrucians, and it used to be a house built into the hill - it kinda reminded me of a hobbit hole! :) After the tour, we learn all about wine, in Italian. I am happy that most of the stuff the sommelier talked about I had learned from te wine school. He did teach us about the legs and the alcohol content which was interesting. We sampled 2 bottles, a Vino Nobile di Montelpulchano and a Brunello di Montelchino. Both were lovely but the Brunello was my fav. The poor sommelier was sick and so he couldn't taste the wine - it tasted terrible apparently. So, because of this, he let Lynn and I each have a bottle that we opened. Lynn then turned to me and said that I could have them both  as she won't drink a whole bottle. She gave me the Brunello which was 33€ and the Nobile 14€ - thanks Lynn for the good night! I then called my friends and told them to meet at the Campo for some good wine and a visit! 2 am we finally got home, 4 bottles down and filled with laughter and good memories! 

Thursday was the last day of the mini culinary course and we found ourselves in an industrial kitchen making cingheali, tortella, ragu, gnocchi in mushroom sause and cantucci. The chef was not as good, but. Had some great tips on making pasta and we learned about wild boar and how to cook it. After we completed our roles, we went to his restaurant and had a delightful meal - the gnocchi con fungi salsa was lovely, but I just don't like gnocchi or mushrooms so I passed on that dish. I think it was because of this that I wasn't nearly as full during the walk home. My head was so drained tho, from having to speak Italian every day and evening this week. I am so happy with how much I know - my dreams are starting to integrate Italian into them! The walk home was highlighted by the fact that they are putting up Christmas lights and it makes me giggy for it to come. All I want for Christmas is a new beginning and I sure am getting it! :)

Friday was a relaxing day. With all the Americans on a field trip, we got put into a different class for a day. We took it on stride and laughed our way through future tense which we haven't learned yet... Next week I am promised! After class, Doro and I had a quiet lunch and decided that our exciting night will be lasagne, a movie and early to bed. 

After a delicious afternoon nap, I used some of my new found skills and made lasagne - which turned out to be the best lasagne I have ever made! Mmmmm! After a close game of rummy (which is our after dinner tradition) we popped in the movie and chuckled through Shrek 2 in Italian! Early to bed as I had to get up super early to go and get my friend from the airport tomorrow!

I am so excited for Coreen to come - It will be nice to have a piece of home here for a while! We are doing Firenze, Siena, San Gimignano, Catella di Chianti, and Rome. I want to take her to a soccer match and to the chestnut festival that is happening this weekend. So much to show her! I can't wait to play tour guide! :)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The start of a new week!

Monday, i approached the scuola about my frustration in class. They obliged and put me in another class that is about a week behind the other class. My first day in this class made me so joyful! I love Italian again! The class is smaller and we talk more, are less strict on the grammar and more focused towards actually speaking and pronouncing the words correctly. I literally skipped down the road after class elated to be in a class I don't feel like I am drowning in!

Another high point Monday - I had to hop a bus to Firenze to pick up my back pack! They found it on the bus and so I headed out there to pick up my bag. I get to Firenze and I try to walk to the office, but there are 2 train stations named virtually the same thing so I have to hop a taxi to get to the office. I get there and try to communicate to the guard at the front my purpose. I eventually muddle through as this man speaks NO English and he directs me to the right place. I get there, knock on the door and stand there... And stand there... A man walks past I tell him why I am there and he directs me to stand right there and walks off... This happens about 4 times before the right lady comes, lets me in her office and asks how she can help me. I explain that I left my bag on the bus and that I called and blah, blah, blah... ALL IN ITALIAN - yeah me! She then says they don't have a green borsa... Fuuuuuuk... She opens a door and looks in an I peak around the corner and spot my bag... QUESTA! I yell!!! Yippee I have my bag! Turns out a borsa is a purse... Ooopsie! I paid close attention to the path that the taxi took to get to the office an back tracked - made it to the train station and purchased the obligatory chicken nuggets for Doro and I hit the bus station.

I can't help but feel like I made Italy my bitch on Monday! :) I manage to communicate and navigate around one of the biggest cities in the country! Feels good after Italy kicked the shit out of me last week! That's right Italy... Karma is a fickle bitch! Muahhhahaaha!

Half way mark

Well, this past week was my 6th week in Italy - it has gone so fast and I can hardly believe I am on the down swing of this epic journey!

This 6the week is what I will always refer to as hell week while in Italy. It was simply terrible. The week prior we changed teachers and although I really tried, I found it becoming more and more difficult to keep up with the teachers instruction. Her teaching style wasn't conducive to me being relaxed and comfortable in class. By mid week I seldom left class on the verge of tears due to frustration. I even stayed after class to try and get her to re explain imperfetto. I don't think I am an idiot, but I sure felt like it for the whole week. I dreaded going to school and I was so burned out from class that on Friday I hoped a bus and headed to San Gimignano. A couple glasses of wine, a 3 hour lunch and a gelato made me remember why I am here. I managed to only speak Italian when purchasing food, gelato and presents for Christmas... I know more than I think I do apparently! A day out of the watching eyes of the teacher and other students was just what I needed to help me regain my confidence! A delightful Friday all around!
Saturday I left early to walk to the train station - 30 mins later, I had a train ticket to Pisa and a 45 minute wait. I know that I am slowly looking less and less like a tourist because I get approached all the time for directions, timetables for busses and trains and on this occasion, a questionnaire on how Train Italia's service is. The amazing thing I find is that I often can respond... But once I do, they always speak to me in English... I just want to practice italian people! :)

A 1:30 hour train ride and I am in Pisa. I keep true to my new wandering spirit and don't look at a map, I just let the road guide me. Pisa is interesting as there is a mixed blend of old vs new and central vs northern Italian feel. I walked until I found something interesting and then sat down to eat my little lunch I had packed. A panini with ham and fresh mozzarella, biscotti, panacotta, an apple and a fanta. Typical Italiano! :) I just so happens that the place I was sitting in front of was crooked! :) oh leaning tower, how clever you look! 

After lunch, I go to see if I can go into the tower - for a whopping 18 euro you sure can. I suck it up and pay the outrageous price and go to see what the big deal is. The moment you step inside, you feel unstable... That's because the floor is slanted... Cause, you know, the tower is leaning. It's one of those mind fucks where you KNOW that the tower is leaning but when you step into it, you feel it leaning! I walk up all the steps and it feels a little like climbing stairs when drunk... You just feel a little off. At the top, the leaning did nothing to help my diminishing vertigo, but it did boast some impressive views of the pizza di mirocolo - which houses a cathedral, baptistery, museum and the tower. 

Once I exit the tower I wander through all the cool buildings in the piazza - the baptistery was specifically impressive with its incredible acoustics. One of the guides stood in the middle and sang for about 3 mins and it was so lovely, she didn't need to project at all and I doubt that she sang much above a whisper. When done, we all clapped but it sounded like 500 people clapping and not the 15 that were actually present!

Once done with this piazza, I started to wander more and I wandered right into a market of antiques, artisans and farmers/bakers/cheese makers. I happily wandered the expansive market, stopping to sample pecorino, panforte and buy some little dolci and presents. It was delightful and after the week I had, it was welcomed and I reveled in being alone in my thoughts. Interesting. 

The trip home was uneventful until I hit the train station in Siena and started waiting for my bus. It was pouring rain and I was standing under an awning when an old man approached. This tiny little 80 year old asked me a question to which I did not understand - I said "scusa?" And he laughed. He started asking my my name and where I was from and I answered all I could and when I didn't understand, I said "no compito" to which he'd laugh, grab my arm and kiss me on the cheek. It came to a point where everything I said warranted a kiss, then two kisses. I was getting creeped out so the next bus that came I jumped on and said good buy to Guiseppe - no kidding, that was his name. These Italian men... I just don't understand what the fuss is about them. They have proven to be quite creepy!!!!

Sunday was a weary and rainy day so Dorothea and I cleaned the house, got groceries and spent the day curled up with a good book! Not everyday has to be filled with an adventure, somedays you have to do pedestrian things that just need to be done! :)