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.