Bella Toscana

After two months abroad, the novelty of traveling independently and planning all of your own trips starts to wear off.  Luckily, included in SAI, the program I came to Italy with, was a weekend excursion to the border of Tuscany and Lazio.  At five a.m. on Friday, eight other students and I woke up, grabbed our backpacks, and headed for the bus station.  It’s a bizarre experience to see your city first thing in the morning, when the streets are quiet and the air is chilly.  We piled onto a bus, pulled out our iPods, and readied for the four hour bus ride to Roma that comprised the first leg of our trip.

Once in Roma, one the the SAI staff members shuttled us into vans for a thirty minute drive across Roma where we then met up with the SAI Rome students.  It was a bizarre feeling, being tossed onto a bus with thirty strangers, like the first day of school all over again.  By this point we were all exhausted, and the three-hour bus ride was fairly quiet. As we left the city streets of Roma behind and headed north towards Toscana, the landscape became more mountainous and green; it looked bizarrely similar to rural Virginia.

Toscana con la mia amica Morgan.

Toscana con la mia amica Morgan.

Our next stop was a cheese factory somewhere in the south of Toscana.  We were all excited to finally get off the bus and smell the fresh mountain air.  Unfortunately, the air wasn’t fresh for long.  We all donned aprons, hairnets, booties, and face masks before entering the enormous cheese factory.  I cannot even begin to describe the smell that hit us as we entered the building.  Partially, I probably found it particularly offensive because I’m not a big fan of cheese in general, but even my friend Morgan, a self-procalimed cheese-lover, was grossed out.  After twenty minutes of winding through the maze of the enormous production area, suffocated by a smell that I can only describe as a mix of spoiled milk, mold, and sadness, we were able to escape.  We were then offered a huge array of cheese that I could not bring myself to try after smelling the process to make them.

The infamous cheese factory.

The infamous cheese factory.

Following this thoroughly disappointing first stop, we re-boarded the bus, and headed north again.  Just as I was ninety percent sure I was going to die before we reached our destination, we rounded a corner and were treated with our first view of the beautiful city of Pitigliano.  Pitigliano is a city carved from tufa stone, a type of rock made from layers of volcanic ash that is particularly malleable.  The Etruscans used deposits of this stone high upon hills to carve out cities.  Instead of building their settlements with bricks or stones, they carved directly into the tufa.

La citta di Pitigliano

La citta di Pitigliano

Finally, after an entire day of travel, we reached Sorano, where we were lucky enough to stay.  We were showed to our enormous villas and greeted with fresh robes and towels so that we could go immediately down to the natural mineral baths.  The water in the baths is heated and infused with minerals by the volcanic activity in the area.  From the time rain water hits the ground to the time it comes back to the surface through these springs, approximately eighty years passes.  The entire groups spent our pre-dinner free time relaxing in the warm water as the sun set on the Tuscan countryside.  We met for an enormous dinner, then called it an early night before our packed day on Saturday.

Che bello!

Che bello!

Saturday morning greeted us warm and sunny, and we were treated to a buffet of pastries, coffee, cereals, and fruit.  Several activities were offered in the morning, and I chose to go horseback riding.  When we arrived at the farm, I went immediately to a beautiful, dark horse and buried my head in her neck, inhaling the scent of horse and home.  The ride was serene and felt so comfortable to me, as if I was riding through the hills of Northern Virginia.  We all bonded with our horses, and were sad to leave for our next activity.

Un bello cavallo

Un bello cavallo

After a quick lunch, we headed out to see a few hilltop towns, also heavily reliant on tufa stone as a building material.  Our guide told us that in the functioning towns, the tufa stone has to be reinforced periodically with cement to ensure that it doesn’t collapse.  After all, it’s easy to manipulate, not only for humans, but for the elements as well.  The Etruscans were just as interested in the afterlife as the life itself, and so we visited the necropolis where they buried their dead.  These tombs are built to resemble houses, with a passageway that leads into a room, where the dead would be placed on a bed with their most important belongings, in order that they might keep living on in their new house.

The necropolis

The necropolis

As the day began to wane, we headed back to Pitigliano, and after a tour and some history about the religiously tolerant community that has populated the area throughout the years, we were allowed some time to explore.  The coolest part about the trip, for me, was that none of the shopkeepers spoke English.  It was a wonderful opportunity for me to use my Italian, and I made friends with a wonderful woman named Elena who makes leather goods.  I bought a handmade leather purse from Elena and she told me about her passion for leather working and her small town of Pitigliano.

Another rich dinner and the thermal baths closed out our night before an early morning the next day as we prepared to return to Roma.  On our way, we stopped at another beautiful hilltop tufa stone town before having lunch overlooking a beautiful lake.

A hilltop town made of Tufa stone.

A hilltop town made of Tufa stone.

Despite the endless hours on busses, my trip to Toscana might just be one of my favorite places so far.  I can only hope to return to the hills of Tuscany, but I know if I don’t, the Appalachian mountains back home will remind me of the beauty of these hidden treasures of Toscana.

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Fitting In and Sticking Out

One of the most wonderful—and one of the most challenging—things about spending an extended period of time in a different country is recognizing rituals, places, and ways of life that you miss about your home country while simultaneously realizing the same types of things that you will miss about the place when you leave it.

Being sick in a foreign country is disconcerting, even if it’s just a small cold.  It’s more difficult to find your comfort foods from home, the remedies available might be very different, and reading instructions on medicine packages can be daunting.  In Italy, it’s difficult to find a basic chicken noodle soup or a cup of lemon tea with honey, but my friend Serena suggested I have some pasta with butter.  While a can of Campbell’s soup may seem strange to an Italian, it’s all I really want when I’m all sniffly.

Additionally, attitudes about illness vary greatly.  For example, in America it’s widely known that the common cold is not caused by actual cold weather, but rather by a virus.  In Italy, every Italian I’ve told I have a cold has told me that it’s because of the wind or the rain or the cold weather or the humidity or the fact that I don’t have a big puffy jacket.  My friend told me he had the flu because he rode his motorcycle in the rain.  I could not get him to believe me that you cannot catch the flu from the rain, because that’s the attitude that they have here.  Sure, it’s probably not great to stand out in the pouring rain while you’re already sick, but they seem to believe that bad weather causes illness.   As my friend Serena said: “Italians believe that weather can influence anything in the world.  The weather is our excuse.” It’s almost like talking to individuals from the past before modern medicine was invented and they attributed illness to the gods being angry, or some wrong-doing you’ve committed.

However, despite my cold, it’s been so warm that we’ve all been walking around in shorts and t-shirts.  This is, of course, prompting odd stares from the Italian women here in Sorrento.  It’s difficult to separate the I’m-judging-you-for-your-revealing-outfit-stares from the you-look-cold-and-should-put-on-a-jacket stares.

Shorts on the beach in February!

Shorts on the beach in February!

Despite these differences, in many ways we’re starting to really become a part of the community here in Sorrento.  The first week, all of us were frantically taking pictures at every turn.  Now, we casually walk down the street, giggling at the tourists with their giant backpacks and cameras at the ready.  We know which gelato shops are the best and which shops are complete tourist traps.  We can navigate the town, and we know how to pay for our coffee.  When I walk into the candy shop, the old lady who owns it exclaims “Carolina!  Come stai?” and instructs her husband to give me a chocolate.

It’s wonderful to walk around Sorrento knowing that I belong.  At this point, the town is so small that most of the locals are familiar with us, and no longer stare at us as if we are tourists.  It finally feels like we belong.

We've made tons of Italian friends--this is Rosalie with our friend Marco.

We’ve made tons of Italian friends–this is Rosalie with our friend Marco.

Another Italian friend, Ottavio, with Morgan.

Another Italian friend, Ottavio, with Morgan.

Yet another Italian, Giacomo, at a caffe with me.

Yet another Italian, Giacomo, at a caffe with me.

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L’estate a Febbraio

The weather in Sorrento is finally getting sunny, and life remains just as beautiful as ever.  A trip to Pompeii, scooter rides through the city, a dinner with my friend Morgan’s host family, and days by the water have filled my time in the past week.

Sul mare con le mie amiche Rosie e Morgan.

Al mare con le mie amiche Rosie e Morgan.

Visiting Pompeii was one of the things that I was most excited about doing in Italy.  Lucky for me, it’s just a short thirty minute ride from Sorrento on the Circumvesuvian train.  The trip was part of the Archaeology class I’m taking, and I feel that I learned more in one day in Pompeii than the rest of the month I’ve been here sitting in a classroom.  I loved getting to actually see the city and experience the ways in which the Pompeiians existed as people, not just as a feature in a history textbook.

A Pompeii con le mie amiche Morgan, Tsu, e Haley.

A Pompeii con le mie amiche Morgan, Tsu, e Haley.

One of the most interesting things that my professor Ilaria showed us was one of the buildings that used to hold a Thermopolium, the Roman era version of fast food.  There are dozens of these types of buildings in Pompeii where people used to go to get something to eat for lunch while they were out during their day.  Intricate details like these can only truly be appreciated by visiting the place itself, and it reminds me that the Pompeiians are not just a historical story about an eruption; they were a bustling city by the sea where real people lived and, unfortunately, died.

Pompeii e bello.

Pompeii e bello.

There are two myths about Pompeii that were dispelled for me on this excursion: one, that the bodies “frozen in stone” were caused directly by the volcano, and two, that Pompeii was not evacuated because it was nighttime when the volcano exploded.  In reference to the former: the bodies that are often shown in Pompeii are actually plaster casts.  An archaeologist named Giuseppe Fiorelli sensed the hollow places left by the decayed bodies and filled the void with plaster, creating a cast that preserved the position in which the individual died.  The bones are preserved within the plaster cast, and while this method creates an empathetic response, it is not as practical and educational as examining the bones themselves.  The later is an interesting idea that seems to be fairly wide-spread, but based on the writings of Pliny the Younger, who observed the eruption, we know that the eruption began around noon and reached Pompeii an hour later.  Perhaps this notion stems from the fact that the pumice and ash in the air blocked the sun temporarily and created night in the day.

Un uomo da Pompeii.

Un uomo da Pompeii.

Continuing in the realm of active learning, later during the weekend I went to my friend Morgan’s apartment where her house mother, Mamma Teresa, taught us how to cook an elaborate meal.  We begun with way too much bruschetta for five people, made a huge pot of pasta carbonara, then broccoli and sausage, followed by a big salad, and ended with a giant dish of Tiramisu.  The food was delicious, and I left stuffed, but the best part of the evening was talking to Mamma Teresa.  She’s a retired teacher and is very patient with us when we’re muddling through our mediocre Italian.  I spoke exclusively Italian with her, as she does not speak any English, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had since I’ve been in Italy.  She is warm and loving, and has invited us back with open arms.

Mamma Teresa e molta simpatica!

Mamma Teresa e molta simpatica!

Meanwhile, the sun is shining and I’m in Italy–what could be better?  However, it’s still technically “winter” here, so we get some pretty strange stares from the Italians when we go to the beach in shorts and tank tops on a Sunday afternoon in February.  Granted, it gets pretty cold once the evening sets in, but sitting on the rocks watching the sea swallow the sun as it drifts towards midday in America, it’s totally worth the chilly fingers and toes.

Io e la mia amica Rosie al mare.  Siamo pronti di andare a motorino!

Io e la mia amica Rosie al mare. Siamo pronti di andare a motorino!

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Finding the Extraordinary in the Everyday

This week’s blog post has been a bit of a struggle to write.  So far, I’ve had ideas pouring out of me since the moment I stepped off the plane.  But this week…this week seemed, well, boring.  I’ve been going to class, eating dinner with friends, and catching up on sleep; pretty much what I’d do in an average week back at UMW.  At first it bummed me out that I didn’t have anything to write about, but then I realized just how beautiful that is.  I, me, Caroline, have become a person who can successfully adapt to life in a foreign country.  I can wake up in my bed in Italy and drink my coffee in Italy and go to my classes in Italy and speak to shop owners in Italian and make dinner in Italy and do it all over again tomorrow in Italy.

Dopo i miei corsi, sono andata all'appartamento.  E un bella passeggiata!

Dopo i miei corsi, vado all’appartamento. E un bella passeggiata!

Despite the triumph that I feel in being able to feel comfortable enough to follow a mundane daily routine, it doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post.  At least, that’s what I thought.  But as I was walking home from class with my friend Morgan, we stopped and watched the lights across the bay in Naples.  I realized that this these are the things that I need to remember.  As much as I wanted to write about Rome so that I wouldn’t forget a single second, it wasn’t necessary because I’m never going to forget Rome.  I will never forget the way it felt when I first saw the Colosseum over the horizon, or when I tossed my coin into the Trevi Fountain.  What I’ll forget is the everyday moments of beauty as I walk the streets of this amazing town.  So, in that vein, I’d like to attempt to document all the little things that have made this week in Italy so simply magical.

I’ve taken to wandering the streets of Sorrento during the daytime between my classes, discovering all the hidden side streets that wind their way around the apartment buildings and shops.  There’s always something new to see, even if it’s just a different side of the Mediterranean from the one I usually see on my way to class (again, the fact that the wondrous sight of the Bay of Naples has become “usual” is vaguely overwhelming.)  It’s so serene to walk these streets alone right now, but I know that once spring sets in they will be packed with tourists coming to experience the wonder that is Sorrento.  It’s odd to me that I now look at the tourists as they walk down Corso Italia with their cameras and money pouches and giggle.  Sorrento is now my home and I feel so safe and comfortable here, that I no longer identify with other visitors.

This past Thursday, we went bowling with some of our new Italian friends.  It was so cool to do something so simple and normal with these people I barely know.  Although I lost spectacularly, it was fun to do something familiar for a night.

Then, Friday night we went to a cooking class at our friend Tsu’s restaurant, Ristorante Tasso.  I was so unbelievably full by the end of the meal, but it was an amazing experience to be able to go into an Italian kitchen and make our own dishes.  We began with gnocchi (a potato dumpling), then made chicken milanese and fresh fried potatoes, and finished the night with Tiramisu.  The staff at Ristorante Tasso was so welcoming and friendly, and I’m excited to try making gnocchi with my Dad when I return home.

La mia amica Morgan e me prima del corso di cucina a Ristorante Tasso.

La mia amica Morgan e me prima del corso di cucina a Ristorante Tasso.

Saturday night, my roommate bartended at a local bar, the English Inn, and we all went to support her.  The owner, Fabio, is a kind man who often exchanges bartending for free food, so Haley and I ate dinner for free.  Then, while sitting at the bar watching her pour drinks, I ordered a capuccino and he brought over a plate of mini muffins without my having to ask.  It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places to hang out.

A English Inn, Fabio mi ha dato la sua giacca perche ho avuto freddo!

A English Inn, Fabio mi ha dato la sua giacca perche ho avuto freddo!

While these are all things that I could probably do in America (bowling, cooking, going to a bar), they mean so much more because they’re happening here, in Italy.  I need to remember to count every moment and remember all of the little ways that my day is influenced by the fact that I’m in Sorrento, even on the days when I’m only walking to class.

So, for now, I’m going to enjoy a not-so-quite evening in the apartment with my new friends.

La mia amica Nitsa e molto bella e simpatica.

La mia amica Nitsa e molto bella e simpatica.

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Una Fine Settimana a Roma

During our first week here in Sorrento, I spontaneously asked two of my new friends, Jill and Morgan, to come to Rome with me.  I knew that it was somewhere that I desperately wanted to go–the history the permeates the city is overwhelming.  Despite having only three days to discover all that we could of the ancient city of Roma, it feels as though we truly lived as much as humanly possible while there.

On the train from Napoli to Roma (following a false start when the ferry wasn’t running due to bad weather and an unplanned ride on the circumvesuvian train from Sorrento to Napoli) Morgan commented that she needed to call her parents, because she’d forgotten to tell anyone that she was going to Rome.  I realized later that day that the same was true of me, as my mom commented on my pictures, saying she didn’t know that I had gone.  Morgan made a comment that resonated with me: “We’re such big girls.”  It’s bizarre to think that I’ve reached an age in which I can go to a foreign city with my friends for the weekend–not to sound childish, but–all by myself.

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Once in Roma, things went pretty smoothly as we found our B&B and headed towards the Vatican city.  The owner of the Bed and Breakfast gave us directions and told us it would take about 20 minutes to reach.  He obviously hadn’t counted on the number of pictures we were going to take or the awestruck ten full minute gazes over the entirety of the city, so it took us more like two hours.  Roma is unbelievable.  Nothing gets leveled and rebuilt; they rebuild directly on, above, or around the old structures, which creates a beautiful, confusing hodge podge of the new and old blended into a city that represents the people of today while honoring those of the past.  Unfortunately, the spell was broken when we stopped at the top of one of the hills for a cappuccino and they were blasting Ke$ha; not exactly the soundtrack I had imagined on my first trip to Roma.

Overlooking Roma

Overlooking Roma

I’m going to be honest: when we got to the Vatican, we all kind of freaked out.  Can you blame us?  We were IN THE VATICAN CITY.  It was crowded and loud, like the rest of Roma, but nonetheless and indescribable experience.  We tried, for the first of two times on our short trip, to go to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (Musei Vaticani e Capello Sistine) but it was closed both times.  We walked back along the Tiber river, exhausted from our full day of travel, and got a little lost before finding a nice little restaurant where we stuffed ourselves with pasta and went home for an early night.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a cute little bar across the street from our B&B.  This is the moment where I’m going to start to obsess over the food.  When you think Italy, your mind goes immediately to dinner–pasta, pizza, gnocchi, and calzones.  But in reality, breakfast might be my favorite meal in Italy.  First of all, the coffee is just fantastic everywhere you go.  There are little coffeeshops everywhere (it’s called a “bar” because they serve coffee during the day and alcohol at night) that all make excellent coffee.  I’ve yet to have a bad cup while I’ve been here.  The only people in our group who have been disappointed are those who don’t like espresso and order an “americano,” where they pour hot water into a shot of espresso because drip coffee isn’t common here.  I keep telling them to embrace it and order and cappuccino, and most everyone is coming around to the Italian coffee.  Aside from the coffee, the pastries here are out of this world.  It’s totally normal to have un cappuccino e un cornetto per la colazione in Italy.  The croissants (Cornetti) come con zucchero (plain with sugar on top), con crema (with a delicious cream filling), con cioccolata (with chocolate, of course), and my favorite con marmellatta (with marmalade), among many others.  I look forward to the next time I can have one literally every day.

La colazione a Roma

La colazione a Roma

After breakfast, we had a full day, as we headed to il Colosseo (the coleseum), il Foro Romano (the Roman Forum), the Pantheon, la Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps), and finally, as the sun was setting, la Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain).  The Colosseo, like many things in Italy, literally took our breath away.  All three of us stopped and gasped as we saw it around the corner.  It was so amazing to be able to see, to touch, to experience something that was so ancient and so rich in history that I’d dreamed of for so long.  The Foro Romano was equally impressive, and we all felt the need to stop and just soak it all in.  While it’s incredibly important to understand the history of a place and see the ruins for what they are, the feeling that you get from them is a wise tranquility, and we all wanted to experience that for what it was.

Il Colosseo

Il Colosseo

We continued up to the Pantheon.  I’m running out of words to describe my experiences of all of these places that I’ve known only in books and dreams, so suffice it to say the Pantheon was beautiful, though that is a vast understatement.  After that, it was a short walk through one of the world’s most expensive shopping districts (yes, we were tempted by the Prada; no we did not succumb to that temptation) to the Piazza di Spagna.  The steps were grand and magnificent, but not nearly so much as the church at the top.  It was silent inside–perhaps the first place we’d been to that was–and we sat for fifteen minutes, admiring the enormous, lavish decorations while reflecting on how we couldn’t even begin to process all of the wonder we’d seen that day.

Le mie amiche Jill (a sinistra) e Morgan (a destra) alla Piazza di Spagna.

Le mie amiche Jill (a sinistra) e Morgan (a destra) alla Piazza di Spagna.

After a quick couple of photos at the top of the steps, we meandered toward the Fontana di Trevi, which I have to say was my favorite part of the day.  Maybe this is because I watched the Lizzie McGuire movie a few too many times as a pre-teen, but I’d always wanted to cast my coin into the fountain to ensure my return to Roma and make my wish.  Was all took turns throwing in our coins, and then admired the fountain all lit up at night.  It’s something that no picture can really explain.

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

As evening set in, we walked back to Trasteverre, where our B&B was located, and for the first time I didn’t need my map.  We’d walked everywhere thus far, and I’d been our unceasing navigator, but this time I was able to look up and enjoy the simple beauty in every cobblestone.  After yet another delicious meal, we drug our tired feet to our beds and  readied for the next day’s adventures.

Sunday was sunny and beautiful, and it was the only day when we got really lost.  We attempted to head towards the catacombs, but I mistook a street sign and made us get off the bus 2400 meters from our actual stop (oops).  After yet another lengthy trek, we arrived to find the catacombs closed.  Unfazed, we hopped on another bus and all was well until a sweet british couple informed us that we were going to the wrong way (yes, that was a reference to “Planes, Trains, and Automoblies,” and yes, that is what Sunday felt like).  We got off the train in a sketchy area on the edge of Roma, sang some songs while waiting for a bus, garnering us some rather strange looks from the locals, found the right stop, got on the metro, and made our way all the way across the city to the Vatican once again.  Unfortunately, the museum was already closed, so we took one last stroll down the Tiber and headed towards the train station.

All was well on the journey back, until the train station in Napoli.  Being a blonde in Italy certainly has its benefits; I get compliments nearly every day on “I miei belli capelli” (my beautiful hair). However, it also has it’s downsides, namely acting as a giant yellow target screaming “AMERICAN! THERE’S A NAIIVE AMERICAN GIRL OVER HERE!”  In the train station, you constantly have to be on your guard.  People teach there tiny children how to scam foreigners, so as heartbreaking as it is, you can’t help any child that comes up to you.  Some men in the station tried this scheme on us, sending a six year old boy over to beg for money, but we sent him away.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.  As we were getting on the train, a man grabbed for my backpack.  Luckily my friend Jill managed to push him away, and as he tried to nab hers, she jumped on the train.  This was our first real experience with petty crime, and we got lucky, but it definitely made us all even more aware of how easy it is for someone to take advantage of inattentiveness.

As we returned to our apartment, we commented on how happy we were to be home, and I realized just how nice that is.  It’s a wonderful feeling to unconsciously know that Sorrento is one of my homes now.

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Capri, Laundry, and Fresh Fruit

This week in Sorrento has been a whirlwind of beautiful sights and fun nights.  Between classes, my internship, delicious dinners, and late-night gelato runs I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone sleep.  This weekend I had the opportunity to go and explore Capri with a large group of the other students here.  After a late night seeing our Professor Marco Spiezia play at the Wine Bar, we met up at 7:45 to take the ferry over to the island.  Despite the early morning and the 4.5 mile hike (and partially thanks to some espressos) we were treated to truly breathtaking views.  Do yourself a favor: if you only ever take one vacation in your lifetime, go and see Capri.  Everyone was taken aback by how unbelievable the water was.  In the photos, it looks as though we’ve photoshopped a postcard onto a green screen.

L'isole di Capri e molto bella!

L’isole di Capri e molto bella!

 

At first, all of us were trying to capture as many pictures as possible to posses the unbelievable sights surrounding us, but slowly we all came to the conclusion that it was negatively impacting our appreciation of the reality of the island, and the cameras slowly were put down as we separated into corners of quiet reflection.  It only really hit me how amazing this experience has already been and will continue to be as I looked out at the hazy, almost nonexistent division between sky and sea.  It already feels like a dream, but I know that I am infinitely lucky to have experienced Capri, and that I have the opportunity to return before I leave.

Le mie Amiche Melissa e Haley con me a Capri!

Le mie Amiche Melissa e Haley con me a Capri!

 

On another note, I continue to be faced with new experiences that differ greatly from what I have become accustomed to in America.  Doing my laundry this weekend was far easier than I expected…that is, until I went to dry it.  There are very few clothes dryers in Italy, and we are expected to dry our clothes on a rack in the open air.  This is not necessarily problematic; on Sunday, when I did my laundry and put it outside it was overcast, but breezy, and I assumed they’d be dry by Monday morning.  Then it rained.  And rained.  And poured.  And then rained some more.  My clothes are still outside, sopping wet, because bringing them inside would create an enormous puddle in my tiny shared bedroom.  I was understandably frustrated by this, but after a good evening and a great gelato with my new friends, I’ve decided to pay to dry my clothes at a laundromat down the street tomorrow (it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the week) and chalk it up as a learning experience.  Next time, I’ll check the weather BEFORE I do my laundry.

I’ve finally found the fresh market and bought a bunch of fruit and vegetables fro 2.50 euro, which is far cheaper than the local supermercato.  The oranges are enormous and so delicious that I don’t think I’ll ever want to eat another orange in America again.  In other food related news, I can now drink straight espressos, so all in all I’d say I’m assimilating to the Italian lifestyle pretty well.

Un cappuccino al bar a Capri!

Un cappuccino al bar a Capri!

I’m planning a trip to Rome in the near future, so my next blog post will probably have to wait until after that, so for now I’ll leave you with this, a line from a popular Italian song that I feel describes my first week in Sorrento:

“Un bellissima spreco di tempo/Un’impresa impossibile/l’invenzione di un sogno/una vita in un giorno”

-“Baciami Anocora” da Jovanotti

“A beautiful waste of time, an impossible task, the invention of a dream, a life in a day.”

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Il Primo Giorno a Sorrento

I’m still in shock that I’m finally here.  Everything about this place is so beautiful, it’s hard to believe that I really get to live here for the next four months studying, traveling, eating, and soaking up the culture.  The photo below is the view from my school, Sant’Anna Institute-Sorrento Lingue, or SASL for short, so you can see how much studying I’m going to do this semester…

The View from SASL

Aside from the 30 plus long hours that I was awake for while traveling and settling in–I was too excited to sleep on the plane–everything has been unbelievably wonderful.  Granted, there are a lot of differences that are already sticking out to me.  So here’s some first impressions of what’s different:

  1. The showers are tiny.  Like, not even room to turn around or lift your arms tiny.
  2. There’s an actual key in the bathroom lock to lock the door with, and it’s kind of challenging to figure it out.  I’ve done pretty well with getting the door locked, but unlocking is a work in progress.  I may have locked myself in the bathroom for several panicky minutes several times already…
  3. Eating is an event.  You can, and will, spend several hours eating every meal.  On my first night here, I asked for the check after we had finished our meal because I’m the only one who speaks any Italian.  Aside from accidentally asking for a discount, “sconto,” instead of the check, “conto,” the server was confused as to why we were leaving so quickly.  Luckily, he was very kind and has become our first real Italian friend here in Sorrento.  We stayed and talked with him for quite a while, and he stopped us on the street the next day and greeted us as “his new friends.”
  4. Everything really does shut down in the middle of the day for a “siesta.”  Don’t bother going to the store between 1:30 and 3:30, because everyone’s taking a well-deserved break.  Everything resumes in the late afternoon, and it’s pretty calm until people come out for dinner around 8 p.m.
  5. People drive like maniacs.  The streets are all stone, and the side streets are tiny, but that doesn’t stop people in tiny cars and on vespas from whipping around.  I’ve almost been hit several times just today, but they always seem to be able to stop.  I’m thinking they probably get used to be being crazy drivers and become talented at driving badly well.
  6. Specific is not a word the Italians are very familiar with.  Today I asked one of my professors when I would start my internship, and he told me that I would start later than the other students with internships because mine was a 3-credit one as opposed to a 6-credit one.  I asked if he knew when, exactly, I would start work, and he shrugged and repeated “later.”  It’s definitely going to be a test of my ability to be flexible to deal with the lack of specificity in my daily life.  For example, “around 10” could mean anywhere from 9:50 to 11:30.  In America, it would be unacceptable to show up for a 10 a.m. appointment at 11:00, but in Italy, that’s just the way the world functions.

I realize that these are all very preliminary observations, many of which are rooted in deeper cultural systems than I yet understand, but I hope to explore exactly why these differences occur and if by talking to one another, we can have a better understanding of one another as people.  Luckily, there are a few things that are exactly the same, namely the positive relationships I’ve already formed with my apartment-mates and the other study abroad students.  And who knows; maybe by may I’ll stop gasping in delighted surprise everytime I turn the corner and catch a glimpse of the beauty that is the Bay of Naples.  Maybe, but I hope not.

Bay of Naples

Sono molto felice essere in Italia; é più bella che io posso immagine.

I am very happy to be in Italy; it is more beautiful than I could have imagined.

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