Piano, Piano

Piano, Piano--"Slowly, Slowly"

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The Catons take Italia

On May 31st, my parents finally arrived in Rome. We had four “home bases”. Here is the outcome of our unforgettable adventure in Italy.

#1, Roma:

7 days to meet, greet, and really get to know my favorite chaotic city.

Although I acted as a tour guide, this was my chance to show my parents why I want to stay in Rome and why it’s so incredible. I had to really pull their jetlagged feet around the city, but they survived and loved every minute of it.

Going to the Vatican museum was surprisingly the only waste of time. My parents agree with me: it’s like an art junkyard. The Pope said, “This looks fancy and expensive,” and plopped it in the collection.

I think the highlights were finally introducing my host family, and meeting my boyfriend’s family. So much translating for my brain to handle—it felt like a fried egg afterward—but it was worth it!

#2, Firenze:

4 days to fall in love with fresh Italian food and wine.

Smell the leather. Let the sight of the Duomo sink in. Squish into the crowded narrow streets. Eat cinnamon gelato. Go to the fresh outdoor market and cook instead of going out to restaurants. Visit Roberto and get your wine bottles filled from vineyards a mile away. Ahh Firenze!

Fresh food at the outdoor market in Firenze. I think this is my favorite market in the whole world. 

We made a new best friend. His name is Roberto, he’s about 70, and may be missing a few teeth… and he feeds us cheap wine off of very nearby Tuscan vineyards. He even let me fill up our bottles!

View of Firenze from the top of the Duomo. 365 steps, testing your claustrophobia, but so worth it.

The highlights were venturing to the outdoor market, cooking fresh Italian dinners every day and climbing to the top of the Duomo. It was worth the 360+ steps to the top!

#3, Toscana (Cortona)

While Rome and Firenze were fast paced, it was nice slowing down in Tuscany. We finally saw the “rolling green hills” everyone talks about—they do exist!

Cortona is a hilltop town that is in Tuscany, but is very close to the region of Umbria. It’s very steep and very high up. Our Tuscan (and Etruscan!) home overlooked the town and all of the farms below. The best part was it had a Tuscan kitchen to cook in and a balcony to eat on.

We stayed in Cortona and rented a car so we could take day trips to other Tuscan towns. We went to Assisi, Montepulciano, and Siena.

The first day, we explored Cortona. There were thunderstorms on and off that day, but I had the best pizza of my life with truffle and truffle oil. Fantastica!

Cortona is extremely steep and high up, so you get this amazing view of the farms below. 

Via nazionale in Cortona. Each neighborhood has their own flag, just like Siena! 

Assisi, la città di pace (the city of peace). It is indeed very peaceful. It is different than any other Italian town I’ve been to. The stone is white and pink, the houses are lined with beautiful flowers, and the streets are silent. We stopped for a delicious meal (still on the mission to eat our way through Italy), and headed down to the Basilica of Saint Francis. This is by far my favorite church in Italy. The colors and patterns are so vibrant, but it is not overdone. It’s simple. Assisi is lovely.

Four Franciscan brothers walking in front of Menerva’s tomb. 

Basilica di Francesco, by far my favorite church in Italy and that is saying a lot! 

Montepulciano was worth going for the wine, the ceramics, and the beautiful views of Tuscany below it. The fact that it was filmed in Twilight’s New Moon was an awesome added bonus, duhhh.

View from Montepulciano. Toscana. Ammazza, oh! 

"DAD! STOP THE CAR!" …So I can get this amazing view of Montepulciano.

Siena was our “epic fail” day. We got lost driving into town, and spent at least an hour searching for where our best friend, Rick Steves, was telling us to park. When we finally get to our destination, we walk into town, and the streets are just flooded with tourists. It’s dirty, too. We weren’t expecting any of this. We went inside of the duomo, which was beautiful but it wasn’t the Basilica in Assisi! Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Siena sucked, so instead mom drinks wine and reads dad’s best friend, Rick Steves, to prepare for Cinque Terre! 

#4, Levanto (Cinque Terre):

Finally, swimming in the Mediterranean!

We were greeted to Levanto with proseco, bread, cheese, and our long lost friend named Internet.

We explored, swam, and hiked all 5 towns. The second night, we had a Father’s Day dinner for Dad. It was one of the best dinners we have all had—ever. It was a four-course meal with unlimited wine, and to top it all off it was overlooking a view of 4 of the towns in Cinque Terre. MMMM!

View of Manarola. 

Photo shoot at our unforgettable 4-course meal, before we have too much wine!

Alright, we were literally sweating in places I had no idea you could sweat…absolutely drenched. But this was the view we had for most of the hike. Incredible!

This was the last leg of the trip, so it was hard not to be in a melancholy mood. All great vacations come to an end, and it was also time to say goodbye to my parents again.

I think they are officially in love with Italy. Success. 

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Rome is home.

I’m on the train back to Rome. There’s a little Italian boy from Milano looking over my shoulder, in awe by my computer. He keeps touching the screen. He reminds me of the way Michele can never sit still for more than 30 seconds.

This makes me realize that I’m not an au pair anymore.

Wait…what?

One of my first blog posts was called “cambiamo”, which means, “let’s change.” Well, here we go again.

Three weeks ago, in a matter of one day, I moved out of the Pironti’s, moved into my new apartment, and greeted my parents when they arrived that afternoon in Roma. In a matter of hours, I ended a chapter of my life, and started a new one.

This trip with my parents has been my pause between chapters. Now it’s over.

Thank god for the invention of sunglasses, it not only allows you to creep on people without them knowing, but you can cry in public.

Second goodbyes are sometimes even harder than the first. My first goodbye was 10 months ago in August. I said goodbye to my parents as I hopped on a plane to New York. It was so hard because it was just so damn scary. I was flying to an unknown country—alone. But, I had somewhat of an idea what was going to happen and when I would come home.

On this second goodbye, I leave on a train going south back to Roma. I’ve just ended a trip of a lifetime with my parents. Three weeks exploring an Italy I’ve never experienced before. Now I’m on my way to my new home at my boyfriend’s apartment. In a week I’ll start my fulltime job teaching English. This time, it’s indefinite. Scarier than before? Maybe.

It was incredible having my parents here. For 10 months, I hadn’t seen anyone from home. No one really witnessed how much I’ve changed. It’s impossible for me to know because I live with myself every day. So, when my parents arrived, they were my mirrors. They expressed change in me that’s happened over these past 10 incredible months.

Here’s what I’ve seen in my “mirrors”:

Italy has perfected two things: beauty and food.

I’ve found a city that I call home. I’ve taken Europe by the balls, especially Rome. I’ve built a confidence that nothing else but travel could give me.

The “passive Grace” no longer exists. Honest, direct, to the point. But, I’ll still say things in a nice American way, not the Italian-brutally-blunt-honest way.

I’ve met special people in Italy—ones that I can feel safe and secure with, ones that truly care about me. They are loyal, and will always have my back. Fortunately, my parents got to meet all of these people and can feel sure that I am just fine here.

It’s ok to have no idea where I’ll be in my future. I need to keep taking things day by day. This blog will continue to be called “piano, piano” because of this.

Allora…cambiamo, un’altra volta.

My Italian adventure is not over!

Piano, piano.

Filed under Italy Au Pair teaching English abroad Travel Travel europe Travel Italy Rome

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#Lost in translation

There have been so many hilarious moments of Italians trying to speak English, or me trying to speak Italian where it just doesn’t translate. Or…I’m just being my awkward self. These are only a few of awesome moments that I’ve had on my stay here in Rome.

Me: “It’s a hot dog! Che buono, mangialo!”

Alessandro (9yrs): starts to cry “How dare you make me eat my dog! Kim is a nice dog, that’s so mean and gross!”

——-

Me: “I want an ice cream sandwich.”

Isa (Austrian): “Omg. WTF?! Bread with ice cream?!”

——-

Ale: “Grace, I just farmed.” 

Me: “Farmed what?” 

Ale: “You know, smelly stuff came out of my butt.” 

Me: “Ale, you farted.” 

——-

Andrea (before he was my boyfriend): Andrea holds out his hand on the bus.

Me: I look at his hand, and give him a high five.

Andrea: “Nooo, I’m helping you up, this is our stop!”

(And he still decided to date me?!)

——-

Michele (7yrs): “I’m hangry.”

Me: “What did I do now? We are just playing legos, how did I upset you?!”

Michele: “NO. I’m hungry! I want food!”

——-

Me: “Gaetano! Look what I drew: it’s a heart! Un cuore!”

Gae (3yrs): “Fare l’amore!”

Me: “No Gae…I’m not drawing ‘sex’.”

——-

Me: “Che cavallo.”

Nicola (my host dad): “Hahaha!”

Me: “Wait, what did I just say?”

Nicola: “That’s horse. It’s ‘che cavolo’, one ‘L’!”

(It literally means, “That’s cabbage”, but it’s an expression used to say “That’s annoying. UGH.”) 

——-

Me: “Gaetano!!!! Why did you spill the water everywhere?!”

Ale: “Brutto Gae, sei uno scemo!”

Me: “Yeah. Gae! Sei uno scemo!”

Michele hits me across the head

Michele: “Don’t call my brother ugly and an idiot!”

Me: “Doesn’t ‘scemo’ mean, ‘shame on you’?”

All together: “NO!!!”

——-

Michele: “Grace, what’s your favorite movie?”

Me: “I like the Twilight ones.”

Michele: “Did you just say you like the ‘toilet’ ones?”

(touché Michele, touché)

——-

Girl in my Italian class: in Italian “I would like to stay in Rome forever.”

Me: “ma, di dove sei?” (But uhh, where are you from?)

Italian teacher: “GRACE!!! Sei cattiva!” (You’re mean!)

Girl in my Italian class: “Russia.”

Me: “Oh….OH! Scusami.” 

——-

Ale and Michele: “We know the worst English word you can say. Our cousin told us!” 

Me: “Oh really….What is it?” 

Them: “Can’t.”

Me: Oh god. Just don’t tell them how to say it.  “No, it’s ‘cannot’…’can’t’, your cousin was just pulling your leg.” 

——-

Ale and Michele: “Grace, what’s a bitch?” 

Me: “Beach. The same thing as ‘spiaggia’.” 

Filed under Lost in translation Italy Rome Americans in Italy

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Italian stereotypes: vero o falso?

I’ve met amazing people on my adventure in Italy. I have had a generous host family, started my own Italian love story, met amazing friends, and want to continue exploring Italian culture. After 9 months, this is my elaborate list of Italian-isms and Au Pair tips.

Lessons well learned as an Au Pair in Rome:

-Boys poop, pee, burp, and fart anywhere and everywhere. The sink, the floor, their pants, you name it.

-It’s ok to tell kids little white lies. For example, “Grace, what’s a beetch (bitch)?” “A beach is where the sea is. Spiaggia.” Or, “Grace, can we eat this bag of delicious chocolates before dinner?” “Ah boys, it says they expired over a year ago. Gross! Don’t eat those!”

-If you make everything a competition with boys, you can get them to do anything. Doesn’t matter what age they are!

-There’s this game called the “sit still game”. It’s played at mealtimes, and whoever can sit still, not talk the longest wins. The only exception is that you can still eat your food.

-Always be the “seeker” in hide-and-seek. You can do lots of things in between finding the “hiders” like: read a book, drink some coffee, and search the Internet….

-Don’t say you can “play in the morning” to get them to go to sleep. They will come barging into your room at 7a.m. asking to play legos.

-Bidets used to scare me silly. I now think they are one of the best inventions ever and Americans are gross for not having them. You feel clean, you can shave your legs, and you can wash your delicates… To quote Will Ferrell, “So many activities!”

-An American phrase that I grew up with is, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” I don’t think Romans were ever taught this.

-Italian women don’t often show their legs. When they wear a skirt or dress, they always have tights on. I don’t know why. They are fine with showing their boobs and butt, but not their legs.

-Don’t eat “i frutti di mare”. Italians are used to their crustaceans. Americans are not. There are usually two outcomes and they go in an upward or downward direction.

-Italy’s “other” religion is food. Everything revolves around food. Pranzo is precious.

-One myth I found false: not all Italians sing opera.

-One myth I found true: Italians eat pasta and/or bread every day and don’t get fat. It’s a miracle.

-Trying to explain to an Italian how to say “hungry” and “angry” is truly difficult. It takes practice and skill.

-When making pasta, put a good amount of salt in the boiling water. This is key.

-“La scarpetta” literally means, “little shoe”, but in Romanesco…When finished eating pasta, always have bread handy so you can scrape the sauce with the bread. You don’t have to lick your plate clean like a caveman, just use bread.

-Americans go on walks for exercise. They walk with a purpose, there has to be an ending result like fitness, or getting to work. Italians go for “una passaggiata”—a stroll to just be. It’s lovely. “Facciamo un giro”.

-Gelato is not ice cream. It’s an orgasm on a cone. Don’t you dare call gelato “ice cream”.

-Don’t try tiramisu in Italy. You will never be able to find another tiramisu in the world that compares to Italian tiramisu and you will be forever disappointed.

-Learn to take Italian honesty. It’s brutal, and it feels like someone is stabbing you. But it’s usually true. Don’t be offended by it, take it as a compliment because they wouldn’t waste time to tell you if they didn’t care. 

-“On time” means 30 minutes late. Don’t be early or on time, that’s just weird.

-Italians stare. They have no shame. I’ve had a guy stare directly into my eyes for about 10 minutes on the train before. In this case, make some googly eyes and maybe they will stop.

-So because Italians stare all the time, this gives you the right to as well. So if someone looks ridiculous, stare away—it’s socially acceptable.

-Italians aren’t just Italians. They are Roman, Toscano, Milanese, etc. The regions of Italy are distinct. If you compare Rome to Milan, you might get slapped.

-When you go to Rome, there is a 100% chance you will step in dog poop.

-When you ask a Roman for directions, you will probably get more lost. Ask a tourist instead.

-The easiest way to blend in with the locals is to learn the hand signals. No need to open your mouth and speak, just show them the signal to “leave me alone” or “what the $&*# are you doing?”

-Allow yourself at least one hour to get yourself anywhere in the center. Never rely on public transportation in Rome.

-Italy survives off of its beauty. It has countless problems (most have to do with money), but it’s stunning.

 

Filed under Italianisms Au Pair Problems Italy Rome Lessons Travel Travel Europe Americans in Italy Travel tips Lost in translation

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Cambiamo

Nine months ago I arrived in Rome. I left Florence and took the train to Termini Station in the center of Rome to meet my host family. The train ride was beautiful and I will never forget the rush of emotion that came over me as I entered the city. At last, I was at my new home.

I was supposed to meet them at McDonalds. Little did I know that there were at least four McDonalds in Termini. I was sweating bullets and it was nearly 100 degrees. Once I found the nearest pay phone, trying to not get my stuff stolen, I finally got a hold of my host mom. I greeted her for the first time, my sweat probably getting all over her face because they kiss here, don’t hug. Gaetano was asleep in the backseat of the car. I was in awe of all the ancient looking buildings.

Within the first hour of meeting the three boys, I was at the house alone with them for about 30 minutes. In that half-hour, Gaetano managed to get his whole entire shirt wet and I had to search the unknown mansion for a new shirt. I remember how stressed I was over this.

The next day, I accidentally fell asleep while they were watching TV. I woke up to a “thud” from Gaetano climbing on the coffee table, slipping, and hitting his head. I never thought I was going to survive taking care of a two year-old.

But I did with now having less than 3 weeks to go. I survived as an Au Pair in Italy.

Those of you that know me know that I’m a people pleaser. My whole life I’ve put others before me. I’m not sure why, maybe I was just too scared to face my own problems and my own reality. But this year was all about me. It’s not because I don’t love my friends and family to pieces, it’s because I needed to respect my own happiness and myself.

This has been the best year of my life. There have been ups and downs, challenges, lots of laughs, and I’ve learned things about myself I never thought were possible.

I’ve heard everyone say: “It will go by so fast!” But I never actually believed them. It went by at lightning speed.

Before I left for Europe, all I could think about was how awesome it was that I was finally living in Italy. What I didn’t know was the glimpse of motherhood I was going to get served.

There are countless stories and lessons learned with these boys. What was once my nightmare is now second nature to me. Gaetano used to scream at me in Italian and I had no idea what he wanted. Now I know all of his strange quirks. I even know the exact toys that are acceptable to throw in when he’s taking a bath. 

Through the difficulties and challenges, I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world. They’ve shaped me for the best.

Cambiamo. Let’s change. Switch gears. This chapter is almost finished, and I’m starting a new one. My new chapter is still going to be in Rome. I’ve found a job teaching English at a British school and will be working full-time starting in July. I’ve fallen in love with this country, and why leave if I don’t have to? My adventure is not over—it’s just beginning! 

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Dolcenera and the unorganized Italian broadcast

Last week, my friend convinced me to go with her to a radio show to see a popular musician preform, Dolcenera. With me being a broadcast enthusiast, I couldn’t pass on an opportunity like this. 

Today, we stand outside “Rai 2” radio waiting for the show to begin. Isa and I are the only ones who speak English. It’s awesome when you can understand the Italians next to you…especially when they are talking about you. Ha, joke’s on them! Dolcenera only preformed one song, but we are there for the full hour and a half talk show. Now that I’m starting to understand more and more of the language, I can pick up a lot of what was being said during the show.

Not only am I trying to follow what is being said but also my mind is racing with other cultural observations.

This show is mainly for music, not news. When we finally sit down inside the radio station, there is a fan that is entertaining the rest of us while we wait. She has awesome style: skin tight white pants, painted on lipstick that is no longer on her lips but all around her mouth, tight-gelled curly hair that is oddly shaped, and not to mention she is a wonderful dancer.

When the show begins, host Max Giusti prances into the room. He has a definite “eccomi!” personality. By this, I mean that he thinks he’s the shit. Apparently, he thinks we are all there for him.

After I’m tired of hearing this guy laugh at himself for about an hour, two men are introduced that used to be in a band but now they help play music in different Italian films. They aren’t as famous or popular as Dolcenera, of course.

Finally, Dolcenera struts in the station with her high heels, black hat, and a pinstriped blazer. She’s tiny, adorable and damn this girl can sing. So now I wonder, why introduce her when they are going to ignore her?

These other two guests on the show are a bunch of nobodies, while this woman actually has a very interesting story to tell. She just released a new album, and actually lost (but should have won!) the most important Italian music competition, San Remo.

Again, why is this Max dude ignoring her?

Oh, yeah, maybe it’s because she’s a woman.

When Dolcenera preforms, Max tells the audience to start clapping. While telling us, he rolls his eyes like he’s telling us he can’t stand her music. Ok, why would all of us be there in the audience if it weren’t to see her? To see him?! I don’t think so, buddy.

They ask her about her album for about one or two minutes, and then introduce the other two guys who sounded like a horrendous Italian version of Pearl Jam that decide to cover a Beatles song. Oh, and just a tip: when preforming a song that is internationally recognized on public radio, maybe you should be able to pronounce the words correctly.

Honestly, I was floored how they treated Dolcenera. Egotistical “Max” keeps stealing the show, interrupting everyone so all of Rome knows he’s still in the room. These other two guests are taking the spotlight off of the woman who we are all there to see.

I’m not usually a feminist, but this just pissed me off. It’s a perfect example of how a lot of this culture thinks of women. I thought the U.S. was bad, but Italy might be worse when it comes to treating women like objects.

Overall, it was entertaining seeing how Italians broadcast. It’s unorganized, loud and all of the talk-show hosts speak at once. It’s hilarious to see Italians talk on the phone or the radio because they still flail their hands around everywhere while they are speaking.

After the show, my mind is jelly and I can’t fit another Italian word into my brain for the rest of the day. Trying to follow and listen to Romans banter back and forth might be one of the most mentally exhausting experiences to go through.

Filed under Dolcenera Max Giusti Rai 2 Italian culture Broadcast Radio San Remo Rome Italy Travel

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Cortina d’Ampezzo

In other words, the “Aspen” of Italy. Cortina is in Northern Italy, about 50 minutes away from Austria. It’s stunning. It’s ritzy with a strange German-Italian dialect, but beautiful.

The “centro” of Cortina. 

The first day I arrive, the train to Cortina just keeps climbing up, up, up and finally we arrive. The tiny town was once a part of Austria. In the 1950’s, the Winter Olympics were held in Cortina. “I Dolmiti”, the Dolmites, the southern part of the Alps in Europe, surrounds it. It’s an attraction for many Europeans, even Italian celebrities—“Italianites” if you will. It’s a wonderful town—if you have money.

View from our house. 

Usually to see how “spendy” a restaurant in Italy is, I look at the price of a margherita pizza. The only “pizzeria” I could find in the center of town was 11 euro. I can get it for 2 euro in Rome!

Cortina fashion…. Picture a big, blonde Italian woman with a massive fur coat. Being the Oregonian that I am, it pains me to think how many animals were skinned to make her coat. She is walking her dog, and has overly-botoxed lips and when she turns to the side I notice she her sunglasses say “RICH”. There you go, Cortina fashion in a nutshell.

The only reason why people come to this town is to ski or hike. The only reason why people live in this town is to serve those people who come to spend their millions of dollars here. Everything here is a competition. The house you have, where it’s located, who has the biggest fur coat, the fanciest car, the cutest dog, etc. So, those of you that know me, you can only imagine how out of place I felt. Really, all there is to do here is eat the delicious food this town has to offer. Skiing was too expensive and I had to constantly look after the 3-year-old.

There are in fact a few things I like about this town. It’s gorgeous view, krapfen (donuts), sacher (Austrian chocolate cake), the silence, and you can see every star at night. Also, I was forced to speak Italian on a regular basis so I feel like it improved in just the 2 weeks I was here.

I leave in two days to go back to Rome so today, I thought I’d splurge a little and treat myself. I took an old ski lift that is originally from when the Olympics were held here in the 1950’s, called “Freccia nel Cielo” (arrow to the sky). Even though I was the only one not in ski-gear, it was worth it. It’s one of the highest points that you can ski in Cortina, and you can see for miles. I munched on pizza and red wine, and sucked in the fresh, “alp”ine air.

This trip has been beautifully boring, and I’m ready to go down south back home, to Rome.

We went to a frozen lake very close to Austria. Went sledding all day and ate delicious pasta. 

Food for thought for my curious relatives about what the inside of the house looked like. Not my best picture, but it gives you an idea of what the rest of the house looked like! 

Filed under Cortina d'Ampezzo Italia Travel Italy North Italy The Dolmites I Dolmiti Alps I Alpi

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La neve a Roma!

When it rains in Rome, Italians will do anything to stay inside: say they have a “flu”, show up to school or work late…. Ok, so what about when it SNOWS? (let my father’s “13-count” laugh begin). 

On Friday, for the first time in 2 years it snowed in Rome! I leave the house for the day, and when I get off the metro ginormous snowflakes are hitting me in the face. Once I luckily got home okay with the train, snow was dumping on the whole eternal city. I had to trek up our hill in my soaked-through sneakers, afraid that my life might end from a falling tree. 

Have you ever seen a smart car try to make it up a hill? It’s hilarious. Have you ever seen Romans try to drive in snow? It’s frightening and life-threatening, indeed. 

My host family’s house is in “la campagna”, the countryside, of Rome.

La Campagna vicino a casamia 

Bellissima casa della Pironti famiglia 

One of 3 fallen trees outside the house

So, we have been snowed in for the past 4 days. So far, the boys missed 3 days of school, soon to be 4. If the Roman school district sees that there is a patch of snow on the ground, they will cancel school. What does this mean for Grace? Snow= Au Pair prison. I’m trapped with 3 screaming boys running around the house saying “spesso riflesso ____ e ___ fare sesso”. Translation: “often reflected, (insert name) and (insert name) have sex”. It doesn’t make any sense, but it has the word “sex” in it so naturally it’s “hilarious”.

My whole body is sore from massive snowball fights and sledding down hills on trashcan lids. 

The “boys”: Gaetano, Michele, snowman, Alessandro 

Ale pensively looking down the hill he’s about to sled down. 

Luckily, I was able to escape the house on Saturday night. As I walk down the hill, 3 people stopped their cars to make sure I was okay and not stranded in the snow. Only in Italy would people be that nice…my host dad says it’s because I’m a girl walking alone in the dark haha (probably the reason). 

Another interesting event that has occurred: I miraculously got on Gaetano’s (3 years) good side. How? No idea. It’s been great because he doesn’t scream at me and say, “vai via!” (go away) or “Lascia mi” (leave me alone). His English is also improving every day. He speaks in sentences like: “Don’t come in the bathroom” or “Can I have some water, please?” Bravo!

The downside is that he never leaves me alone (This is a perfect example) I can’t go to the bathroom or take a shower without him banging down my door. He woke me up this morning to give me a toy. Also, my body might be so sore from always having to carry him everywhere. Really, it’s a big breakthrough for him to now love my company, but be careful what you wish for! 

He is a professional 3 year old. 

We go to Cortina for 2 weeks starting Saturday. Cortina is in northern Italy close to Austria. I have a feeling the Italian dialect is going to be incomprehensible compared to “Romanesco”. It will probably be German—Italian, oh dio mio. 

Filed under Snow neve Italy Rome Kids Au Pair Travel Travel Europe Cortina Fun Culture

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A ride on the decaying, sinking city

Venice is the final trip of my 2 weeks of freedom. On the long train ride across the country, Kelsey and I sit in our seats, squished to the sides by an extremely large Italian man. We then realize he’s a bit crazy when he starts screaming on his telephone and has an awful stench. At this point, I’m hungry. I get out my popcorn. Now, for all of you that know me, you know that it is my favorite snack and that I have a very difficult time eating it. It spills all over me. Well, the popcorn that is on it’s way to my mouth falls on my lap. Before I know it, the crazy fat Italian man leans over, says, “posso? (Can I?),” and proceeds to eat the popcorn off of my lap. This is the first time ever in Italy that I have felt somewhat violated.

I get off the train to Venice, and I literally do a “jig”. I may or may not have clicked my heels in the air. It’s like walking into an Italian Disneyland.

The first thing I notice is how quiet it is. For an Italian town, this place is silent at night. I forgot that most of the locals from Venice are ages 60+.

We easily find our hostel and it’s in a wonderful location. Sure the train ride was awful, but things are starting to look up now. We knock on the door, and a guy pops his head out the window to see who it is, and he lets us in. “Oh, by the way, we have another location for our hostel and that’s where you girls are staying. It’s about a 15 minute walk from here, it’s not a big deal or anything.”

Hold on. This is a big deal. So we made a booking, and you are now telling us that we have to go on a 15-minute quest with our entire luggage to find this “other hostel”? Yes. The other location is inconvenient, but luckily Kelsey and I are used to walking miles a day around Rome. Then, of course there is no hot water in the shower. Oh, and the Internet doesn’t work. Perfetto.

I don’t understand. This summer when I traveled, the hostels were all wonderful. But the 3 places I stayed at these past 2 weeks were just awful—nothing went right!

After we stopped moping about our inconvenient situation, we slap ourselves in the face and soak up Venice. It’s a dream to see a city that is in so many stories, photos, books, and movies come alive in front of your very own eyes.

Within the first 5 minutes of our first full day out in the town, we come across an outdoor fish market. I stop to take a picture, and this is what came out of it:

On our exploration, we find Venetian glass, masks for Carnivale, fresh outdoor markets, fog hovering over the canals, opera singers serenading the suckers who bought a gondola ride, a pianist playing on a boat docked at Piazza San Marco, and of course thousands of fearless pigeons.

The pigeons. They come at your head like bullets. The rumors are true!

On our second day we go to Verona, which is a 90-minute train ride away from Venice. Verona is known for its “Roman-esc” artifacts and the house of Shakespeare’s Juliet. This town is adorable, “carina”. In my opinion, Verona is like Germany and Italy had a baby and out came this town.

Verona

Casa di Giulietta, Verona

Another thing I notice about Verona is the dialect. Italians have told me about how each region has a different dialect of Italian, but I thought it was similar to the U.S. where people say “Or-eey-gun” instead of “Oregon”. Well, I’m wrong. The dialects of Italian are completely different from one another. They have different slang and different words. While Roman-Italian is very sharp and loud and has a whole mess of hand signals and phrases, it sounds like Venetians are singing at the end of their Italian sentences. And for people from Verona and nearby towns, it sounds like Italian in a German accent. While I wait in line for gelato (of course), behind me are two women. I assume they are German by the way they are speaking, and then I recognize that they are Italian words. My mouth almost drops. It is so strange it almost hurts my ears—“nooo, I’m melting!” All of a sudden I felt “Rome sick”.

Besides the fact that Venice closes at 9p.m. every night, it is a beautiful town. I would go back if I didn’t have to pay for anything or stay in that awful hostel again.

 

Filed under Venezia Gondola Verona Italy Travel Europe Americans in Italy adventure

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A warm Italian welcome from “Giuseppe”

There are two things that will never mix: Americans and “i frutti di mare”.

I know, I know, it’s obvious—we’ve all been warned that Italians love their crustaceans. Up until now, I’ve done a great job of avoiding them.

I just got back from two weeks of vacation for the holidays. My boyfriend, Andrea, was kind enough to invite me to spend Christmas with him and his family for a few days in Ostia—it’s the beach just outside of Rome.

The first night we went to his relative’s house for dinner. Italians know how to eat already, but oh dio, I didn’t know this much. It’s tradition to have tons of seafood at the Christmas Eve meal. Not just salmon or halibut like I’m used to, but octopus, stuffed squid, and shrimp that still have their eyeballs attached. Of course I shoved it in my mouth because I couldn’t be rude.

 I felt right at home with Andrea’s family. They all wanted to know what “Lake Oswego” and “Portland” was, so naturally they were all hovered around the computer Google-mapping my parent’s house. I now have a lot of Italians to host in Oregon!

On Christmas night, after I won at poker and had a few pissed-off Italian men on my hands from stealing their money, I started to feel a bit woozy.

That night, I started throwing up, and it didn’t stop. The next morning I had to wake up to catch my train to Siena. Of course the unreliable Italian train left my friend Kelsey and I in a tiny station in the middle of nowhere for 4 hours while I slept on the ground (mind you there were two homeless Italians chugging Proseco and staring at me while I slept). It felt like someone was pulling the inside of my stomach and twisting it over and over again. So naturally, the reasoning behind this sickness could only be one thing: that I had an alien baby inside of me that wouldn’t leave me alone. We named him Giuseppe.

Giuseppe stayed around for my whole time in Siena. I had to miss out on some amazing Tuscan-style food and mouth-watering red wine. It was a quaint little town and truly breathtaking, but I’m so used to Romans being loud and vivacious that I really noticed how quiet these tiny towns are. Peaceful, but Rome will always have my heart.

After we got to Firenze a few days later, Giuseppe was gone. We got to our hostel, and the first thing that came out of our mouths were: “What is that smell? Did someone die in the walls?” Well, that alone set the tone for the rest of our experience with this hostel. First, they gave us the wrong room. The next day we came back for the evening and to our surprise, the bags had been moved to another room. Lovely, going on a quest in a smelly hostel for your luggage. To end the night, we went out to dinner. We finally pick a restaurant and order a plate of pasta with red wine. It’s so unsatisfying when a plate of 8 small tortellini are set in front of you for your whole meal. Oh Firenze, you are such a beautiful city but “daje, SU!” (common!), feed us!

From then on, we decided to cook at our hostel instead. We ate like Queens. Drank like them too with endless amounts of vini di Toscana. Buon appetito!

Kelsey and I escaped from Firenze for a day to a smaller town nearby called Lucca. It’s a “fortress” of Italy because the town is surrounded by a stone wall. We got off the train and walked toward the wall. I was ready to look for a rope or ladder of some sort to get over the wall, then we came upon a hole in the wall—literally. When we first arrived, the streets were empty. We finished lunch around 3, step outside, and people were swarming everywhere. Apparently, Lucca doesn’t wake up (even on weekdays!) until 2 or 3p.m.!

The rolling hills of Toscana exist. They are real. I didn’t believe it until I was on the train from Firenze to Roma. We wove through tons of hilltop towns with rolling fields and farms at the foot of the towns. It was like watching a movie. I wanted to hop out and just start rolling in them.

We returned to Rome on New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers were blowing up less than a foot away from me. No one told me World War III started! I felt like I needed a helmet to be outside. People kept asking me, “what are your plans for New Year’s? What bars are you going to?” I also didn’t realize that no one goes to bars. Everyone floods the street, drinks heavily and blows things up. I rang in the New Year in front of the Colesseo with Proseco with two of my favorite people, I couldn’t have asked for more! 

Ostia on Christmas Day.

At the “Fortress” in Siena.

The sunset view from Ponte Vecchio in Firenze.

Another one just because I’m obsessed with this view!

View of the wall in Lucca. 

Filed under Italy Siena Firenze Lucca Ostia Christmas New Year's Travel Italy Travel Europe