During my stay in Mirandola I am fortunate enough to be hosted by an Italian family. This has many benefits and one weekend something quite exciting happened. My host-father was going sailing with his friends and they had one extra space. Very kindly, he offered this space to me, without any charge. So, I bucked the Durham rowing tradition to spend my Sunday aboard a boat off the West Coast of Italy. The gods and goddesses of weather were smiling upon us and we were bathed in uncharacteristically warm November sunshine. It was a gorgeous boat and the company was good. ‘This is the life’ was definitely an appropriate phrase.
I was even taught how to change direction using the sails, in a wonderful mixture of Italian and English. This was an extremely exciting addition to the list of skills I have picked up on my journey so far. By lunchtime I was STARVING not just hungry, STARVING. When I’m with new people I feel a little uncomfortable expressing my almost constant desire for food, which yes, has gone up since living in Italy. But we decided to just have a little quick something so that we could spend more time on the boat, practising our new (for me) moves. I had a tasty salami focaccia, because I was told how good the focaccia was from this region and I obediently followed this advice. After this I remained firmly to my principle that I only have a limited time in Italy so I must eat ALL the ice-cream humanly possible.
On the car journey home my host-mother messaged me to ask if we were hungry and wanted something to eat. And when we arrived home, there was pasta and ragu waiting for us. All in all it was a beautiful day, definitely worth the 5:30 wake up call and the 4hour round trip car journey. I have to admit the general age group of the company made for an interesting feel to the day, because they were all older than me but not as much as say my parents. It was really difficult to know how to act around them!
Stay tuned for a post about my recent weekend in Innsbruck and take a look below at my picture album of La Spezia.
I think now is the time for some ‘back-blogging’! I will give a general overview of what I got up to this summer when I suppose my year abroad fully began. The main reason I went away in the summer was because I wanted to try and learn some Italian, but also to challenge myself to see if I could live in another country. For months people had asked me ‘do you speak Italian?!’, ‘how will you manage?’ etc. I tried to sound super confident and at ease with an offhand ‘what’s the worst that could happen!’ and ‘I’ll just learn it!’ but inside I was doubting that these things would be possible. I figured if I could go for 7 weeks then I could manage a year (with a Christmas break). I will split it into two different posts, because I stayed in two different places, doing very different things, Florence and Dimaro (in Val di Sole). First up…
I begun my time abroad in Florence, studying at a language school for two weeks. I chose Florence because I wanted to go to a city that I had never been too before and one that had a language school with a relationship with my University (so I could bag some money off). So, I chose Florence as it was one of the big cities and very popular. My time in Florence was nice, it’s a pretty city and the weather was a decent temperature, thankfully not the 38° it was in July! Though, I have to admit I didn’t love Florence. It just wasn’t Venice or Rome. These were the places that sparked my love affair with Italy, with their history, their architecture and the Venetian glass woo-ed me in a way that Florence couldn’t.
During my time in Florence I stayed in an apartment, trying to live the authentic 20 something life. It was important for me to have my independence because I was doing something that to me was very scary, and it calmed me to be able to cook for myself and have freedom to come and go as I please. Essentially, I needed to keep something in my life the same, when the rest was changing so much. I think if I had stayed with a family, it would have been too much, too soon. While in Florence I attended the ‘Europass’ school in the morning, and explored or relaxed in the afternoons. In addition to this, I spent hours staring at my computer screen, trying to find the right URL, but that’s another matter. The school was nice enough, they were welcoming and didn’t panic too much when I suddenly erupted into tears near the end of one of my classes. I probably didn’t study Italian enough, but I survived it and small steps are ok. I had a whole year in front of me after all and it is much easier to learn a language when you are just living. Nevertheless, it was reassuring to have a purpose in the mornings. Like a lot of people on their year abroad I found myself spending a lot of my time with English people (Durham and Bristol), some on the homestretch of their year abroad or just at the start like me. However, it did give me a chance to pick their brains about useful phrases and year abroad experiences, even if it was just how to successfully navigate a supermarket.
Some afternoons I took advantage of the trips organised by the school. These were to interesting places around the city with stories given in Italian. However, I didn’t go to all of them. Although it was somewhat useful to listen to Italian because I knew I needed to just try and understand as much as I could. I was told to keep listening until things start to make sense if you will. On the other hand, I did not have the energy to try and understand such complex language, and I wanted to go to places and understand them. This is why, when I took my trip to the Duomo, I went alone, so I could read the English and not feel bad about ignoring a speaker. By the way, the Duomo can be a bitch to climb up, especially on your own, it’s a long way up and down!
One of my favourite experiences when I was in Florence was apertivo time. From my experience when people say apertivo they could mean different things, sometimes it’s just a drink and a tiny buffet, here I’m talking crisps, little sandwiches and pizza. Or, they could mean a drink and a large buffet. When I say large buffet I am talking an impressive and typically Italian spread. During my time in Florence I went to two and I have to admit, when I go back to Florence it’s how I want to eat! Cocktails are typical apertivo drinks but beer and soft drinks are also available. It is fun, flirty and fabulous. Almost all my favourite f words! I hope to bring apertivo back with with to Durham!
The literal translation of ‘Cinque Terre’ is ‘Five Lands’ and it is a name used to represent 5 villages on the Italian Riviera. These towns are particularly famous for their bright colourful houses positioned jauntily on the cliff-side, I have seen countless (edited) pictures of the scene. It was one of the places on my ‘must see’ list, so I was very happy to be able to tick it off only one week into my time in Italy. Originally I wanted to do the traditional hike and maybe spend two days there exploring the trails and the towns. However, the company ‘Smart Trip’ was organising a trip from Florence that a few of my friends were interested in going on. So, I decided that it would be good to go now then maybe later on in the year I could go and do my hike. We left Florence and travelled by coach as far as we could then walked down to a train station. There are few roads that can be accessed by car and practically none that can be accessed by coach. There were two different tour companies using the coach, so at this point we separated off. Unfortunately, our group was not getting the boat trip between two of the towns, but it’s definitely on the list for next time! This was to be the first time I encountered trains in Italy and I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had heard mixed things… Some saying Italian trains tend to be late, whilst some assuring that this was just an exaggeration about the Italian stereotype. As soon as the train arrived I forgot all thoughts of punctuality and cleanliness because I was so astounded to see DOUBLE DECKER TRAINS. No one had thought to warn me of this transport revolution happening in the Mediterranean. We don’t have double decker trains in England, because I think our train lines are a little older than some European ones and they were built shorter and therefore we don’t have sufficient height to make two levels viable. Once I recovered from my emotional response to the train. I could appreciate the beautiful villages and the tasty gelato. When we settled in our final village we bought some typical Tuscan focaccia, mine had Pomodoro and mozzarella, and so was essentially pizza, we washed it down with some cold drinks and made our way to the beach. To the very hot, stony beach. My feet certainly were not ready for that and protested with every step I took. It was in fact impossible to touch the sand with any part of the body, unless you liked that part to start burning immediately. However, I perched myself onto a small towel I had bought with me and proceeded to start reading, with frequent breaks to apply sun lotion. Eventually I got too hot and decided to go for a swim. The water was very refreshing but it wasn’t hot! It was a good job the weather was warm otherwise the water would have been a tad too cold. We headed home with the promise of that typical post-beach good nights sleep. However, before we could think of bed, we had to stop off at a pizzeria for pizza and wine. Adorably they made our pizza in the shape of hearts. That night I fell asleep very contented with my day. I would recommend whole-heartedly a trip to Cinque Terre, but not if you want a beach holiday.
If you have made it this far I applaud you, and I apologise for what was mostly a memory vomit upon this blog.
I am currently in the progress of writing a long post about my summer adventures, but I wanted to do a little post about normal life. The year abroad in it’s essence is something that will vary from person to person. I have felt slightly bad as though I am not making the most of my time in Europe, you see lots of pictures and stories on Facebook of amazing things that people are doing and seeing and I sometimes wonder, what am I doing wrong? This isn’t an attack on people who are doing lots of interesting things, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, my friend’s blog is excellent: http://theadventuresofagentleman.wordpress.com.
I am so pleased for everything doing exciting things, but I’ve realised that I don’t have to necessarily be doing loads myself, not right now. I live in a small town in Italy, there are no clubs in the town and few bars that are frequented by young people, and although life is quiet right now, that is ok. With the rise of social media (this blog included!) it has made it so easy to show people what a great time you’re having and far too easy to see what other people are doing and compare the two. I have started to try and think, what do I want to do? Instead of, what do I want to show people?
So I will now tell you about the little things I do to fill my lovely life.
I go to the gym, Italian food is heavy and there’s lots of it. I have realised that my body is capable of eating a massive amount of pasta. And I have also realised it probably doesn’t need 2 or 3 servings of pasta each and everyday. I have been meaning to ‘get fit’ for a while now, because exercise is generally good for you. But also, because I have joint hyper-mobility. Basically it means that my joints are a little loose so my muscles have to work pretty hard to keep things stable and standing.The main problem is with my hips and my back, so unless I work on my core I experience horrible pain in my lower back and hips. At it’s worse it has forced me to lie down for 5 hours following 4 hour work shift. This week I have started swimming too. Main thing to note about this is that you have to pay 20 cent on top of the money you pay for entry to shower. Piss take.
Caffè’s are a big part of my current existence. Usually me and one of my friends here like to go fairly regularly to keep up with what is happening in each other’s lives. For example, we might go to the gym then go to a caffè. Sometimes, if we are feeling especially indulgent we go to both of the main caffes in the square. Now, there is logic to this. We prefer the drinks in one but the pasticcini’s (or minions) in the other. So, usually we would go for a drink and then go for a snack. At first I was very unsure of these ‘minions’ but after trying a few I found my favourites and they are a winner.
My (Italian) family. I am fortunate enough to have been placed with a lovely family, with two delightful children whom I babysit twice a week. For my services I am permitted to live rent free (I am very lucky), I help them with their homework and bake with them, very tranquil. So they are obviously very generous, and very interesting, I have had some of my best conversations with this family. They have provided an invaluable insight into the parent’s perspective of education here in Italy. They have also been my friends, they have advised, encouraged and cheered me up when I needed it. Generally I speak English with the parents and Italian with the children. It was with the family that I found the thing that I have valued most is not my trips but my laughter (pizza is a very very close second). Trust me, nothing makes you feel at home like laughter does, it truly is magic.
So, I say yes. I say yes to family events, to bars with friends, to Italian cinema trips. I’m saying yes to the normal stuff and I am content.