Friday, October 11, 2013

The Sounds of Bologna

Arriving at Guglielmo Marconi Airport this time was not the same for some reason.  I didn't feel the rush I normally do when I step off a plan and smell the fresh Italian air or the wonderful essence of Italian BO. Hah! The feeling surprised me, made me nervous. It made me think that maybe this really was my last year of la vita italiana. But I hated thinking that, Italy is the place that always makes me smile, that smells so good I never want to leave, that is the perfect mixture of city and countryside, that makes the perfect cappuccino, that doesn't take work TOO seriously, that keeps you entertained, that keeps you exploring, that keeps you wanting more...

So where was that feeling I was expecting? Why didn't I have it this time? Maybe I finally realized that I need my family and friends in the same place with me, its just so hard being far away... but when will they realize that Italy is where they should live too? ha, scherzo.... forse scherzo...

Anyway, I quickly picked up my bags and got into a cab to speak my first Italian words of the year, and to sit in silence watching the Bolognese world fly by from inside a silent cab.  This is when I started to smile, knowing 'yes, Italy was the place for me,' at least for this last year of studies and then maybe as the use of my vacation days for the rest of my life, but for this year, I was here and I was going to live, smile, make the most of my time and not dwell on the fact that all the people I love were a couple thousand miles away. Luckily for me my nonni and Toni were still in Fontechiari and Alex and Amie would be coming for a vacation soon as well.

So what made the click from the airplane to the silent cab ride? The sounds. The bustling. The noises.

Inside the cab the familiar sound of motorini put-putting about around came alive.  This was a sound I had missed greatly.  I could hear the faint noise of the Italian DJ speaking italian at a rapid pace on the radio.  I could hear the smooth stick shift every time the cab drive changed gears.  Stopped at a red light, two women joked and laughed at each other in loud, over dramatic Italian expressions. Horns beeped. Buses groaned by.  Old, ancient FIATs and other typically old cars squeaked, moaned and putted along, never once giving the impression that the car could ever stop driving. Cobblestones bumped under the wheels of the cab.  And then you could here the infamous 'Eh!' It was glorious! I was back in Bologna and the familiar sounds that the US lacked were here to comfort my return.

Upon arriving at my apartment, my ears were again overloaded with sounds.  The familiar click of the elevator being called. The "BUZZZ" of the tiro as someone hits the button to unlock the main door. I unloaded my things, then went for a quick walk again hearing music in my ears.  The clinking of an espresso being set on the table to give someone a pick me up.  The barista taking away the cappuccino cups and tiny spoons as they clink against each other and then clatter into the sink. The constant hum of Italian chit chat illuminating from the piazzas.  A church bell ringing. The squeaking of old bike chains. The click of a lighter as a cigarette is lit. More glasses clinking because every bar on every corner and in between never rests (my favorite sound). The sound of the metal protection door of a shop being thrown up to reopen business after pausa.

Then there is me. Smiling like a dummy. Loving every second of it.  So happy to be back.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jung in Italy

New Addiction: Tagliere Misto (Tamburini)
I'm oh so very behind in my Italian adventures and I feel bad skippin' out on major visits from friends, so this post will briefly touch upon Kevin's time in Italy.  Mainly through pictures!





On Top San Petronio



Per usual, the itinerary revolved around where to eat the next meal. And making the most of Bologna's central location! We had a day in Venice together, enjoying a delicious appetizer at Bancogiro near the Rialto fish market and an awful scammed plate of calamari fritti at hotel restaurant near the stazione. This is why I find venice hard to be one of my favorites. Food is pricey, bad food is pricey, and it's not easy to stumble upon gems that you can later rave about. It's actually impossible. You have to go to a top notch top price place if you want to eat well in Venice an sometimes even that can disappoint! Viva Bologna!

Jung made day trips to Modena, and Torino without me. I went to Florence with him, hitting my favorite spots and never missing the climb to San Miniato in Monte. 



Anchovie Plate
And finally we spent one very beautiful day hiking the sentieri (paths) of the cinque terre, one very rainy and cold day training the cinque terre, and two very great days of gourmet heaven. It was a long day of hiking from Levanto to Monterosso, then Monterosso to Vernazza. Stopping in Monterosso Jung indulged in an anchovy platter of all sorts of deliciousness and we finally found the beer I had been searching for since the Rinascente beer tasting in Milan. LA MANCINA! I found it! And it was fantastically delicious after a 2.5 hour hike! Da Billy (Manarola) was the choice for dinner! Met a lovely couple (American and OZ) living in Russia, and they provided jokes and fun. Da Billy provided crappy house wine but an amazing array of fish. We indulged in a pasta with lobster and other shellfish. It was delicious. And upon the conclusion of our dinner we were served limoncello, grappa, and a mysterious dark purple liquid, all from bottles he size of my torso. #win.

hiking Levanto to Monterosso
Liquore @ da Billy
Sunday rainy day was cold. But we made t back to all of the 5 terre except Corniglia. I got more Moka earrings from Vernazza. Jung bought tshirts everywhere. And we ran into the couple from the night before at the Gambero Rosso in Vernazza where we had the best ever trofie al pesto. Literally, the pesto was the besto. Creamy, ample and fresh! I could've eaten a vat of it! Not even using bread to soak it up, straight spooning it!



Path from San Michele in Bosco (BO)


L'ultima cena, Al Voltone















BO concluded the foodgasm with my new all time favorite Al Voltone, that I  discovered with my mom at Thanksgiving and where I am now a frequent customer :) Tagliere misto, crescentine, tigelle, ravioli e vino.  The perfect fulfilling end to a week in Italy!

Riomaggiore
Giardino delle rose, Firenze
Packed week of food and fun! Glad another person took advantage of my living in Bologna. 


Who's next!?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Oenophilia Returns! (This time with Daddio!)

Anddddddddd....... SHE'S BACK!

Ladies & Gentleman... the lover of Italy and its food, wine, art, language, architecture and weather is BACK! Well, maybe, not so much the weather as the other aspects...

Easter holiday was finally upon me, I found myself having an entire week off of class due to getting the day off before Good Friday (venerdi santo), then the day after Easter (pasqua) off because its Easter Monday or pasquetta here in Italy, and then no class until Thursday just because it worked out that way (french cancelled, strategic studies postponed etc).... wowee I was lucky! And even LUCKIER that my mom was returning, this time bringing along my dad!

We had been anticipating the week for quite some time now, so an in depth eating and drinking schedule had been planned out in advance.  Along with numerous day trips from Bologna and an overnight in Verona and Milano.  This pasqua week was going to be JAM PACKED!

Waking up early, going on a run and getting some errands done, I returned home anxious before 11am and I waited for my parents to ring up to Via Solferino.  Obviously, I was early in anticipating their arrival, so I cleaned and cleaned until it was nearly 1pm. Finally they arrived, we got all settled in my one bedroom and then we were off to show Dad BO!  First stop, Piazza Maggiore. Second stop: FOOD.  We strolled the streets I normally take to the center, pointing out the famed barber shop that dad would get a hot shave at later in the week, we walked under the brightly painted frescoed porticos surrounding Piazza Cavour, walked the length of San Petronio past the ritzy clientele of Zanarini enjoying their early afternoon Spritz and Prosecco, walked through Piazza Maggiore and down the vegetable, fruit, meat, cheese and fish filled cobblestone ways of Via Pescherie Vecchie and stumbled into Tamburini to buy some delicious treats to bring to Osteria del Sole. We bought grilled veggies, a fresh quiche and crescentine (the softest half moon crepe type pastas filled with the smoothest ricotta you've ever had and covered in a mushroom cream sauce).  With our reheated treats, I navigated us to the hole in the wall of the famous, beloved and characteristic Osteria del Sole, that was filled with mostly older men playing cards (for it was only 2pm).  We ordered a bottle of Pignoletto frizzante, and enjoyed our first meal together in Italy.  After we finished our food and the bottle of Pignoletto, we continued on, slightly buzzed to enjoy the rest of the day in Bologna.  Dad stopped at a stall to buy some candied nuts which he did not hesitate to munch on inside the church we visited.  He sat himself in a pew, staring up at the frescoes, munching away at those caramelized almonds like he was eating popcorn in a movie theater, it was priceless.  We strolled up and down Via Indipendenza, then back to my apartment for a quick catnap before we went to dinner at our favorite Al Voltone, right in Piazza Maggiore.  We enjoyed a lovely first meal, dissapointed we couldn't order the large tagliere misto (mixed plate of meat and cheese) for it was venerdi santo or Good Friday, but we made due with our meat restrictions and had a delicious meal, then headed to bed ready to wake up early and head off to Verona.



Verona in the rain
We met Serena in the lobby of our 5 star hotel due torri, that was justified by my parents not paying to stay in a hotel the rest of the week.  The hotel was gorgeous, and Serena was overwhelmed waiting for us there in the lobby.  Unfortunately it was a very rainy day in Verona, but we were able to see all the main sights and go to a fabulous exhibit: Da Botticelli a Matisse, where we were able to see many extremely famous paintings all in one exhibit.  However, it was interesting because over 50% of the paintings appeared to be loaned from the MFA in Boston, including Renoir's famous painting Dance at Bougival.  After the museum we split up with Serena while she went to go meet with some friends.  We wandered around the city then headed back to the hotel to dry off, and then check out the church of Sant'Anastasia that was right next to our hotel where there was supposedly a concert. When we realized there was no concert, we start off toward our dinner destination, Enoteca Segreta, where we enjoyed wine, laughs, slow food, and horse meat (yep, Dad ate horse).  After dinner we returned to the hotel where we noticed we got a lovely turn down service, including some chocolate easter eggs, then it was right to bed for us and up early for Easter mass!


We awoke in our extremely elegant room to an abrupt doorbell ring, and two, large, green, lindor chocolate eggs.  Who could've give us those?? Easter bunny? or Dad chuckling around the corner? opzione numero due.  I phoned their room to get the game plan.  I headed downstairs to meet them for breakfast while Serena finished getting ready and met us for breakfast a little later.  We were lucky to have a gorgeous day ahead of us.  We walked to the duomo and peaked into the Easter Sunday mass, the crossed the river to climb a hill to get a beautiful view of the city.  Verona was truly gorgeous.  It was already nearing 1pm by the time we had walked up the hill across the river, so we headed back down to go through centro to find the Buon Ricord restaurant my mom had reserved, this time without umbrellas.  Verona was still gorgeous in the dry weather, nobody poking you in the eye with their umbrella, no puddles to step in and no fear of getting my camera lens dirty.  However, something about the shiny, wet cobblestone, hundreds of brightly colord umbrellas and puddles that reflected the bright hues of the buildings had made Verona even more beautiful than when it was dry.  Piazza delle erbe was still beautiful, but it seemed to be lacking something that Sunday without the colision of umbrellas! Anyways, I was happy to be dry when we entered the gorgeous cantina of the 12 Apostoli for our Easter lunch.  The table was ornately decorated with tiny mandarin oranges, flowers, chocolate eggs, and gold mushrooms.  We were prompty greeted with glasses of Prosecco and a plate of delicious focaccia to start. And we continued to be impressed...  a delicious pasta fagioli, meat, fish and pasta to follow.  No complaints -- except that we were TOO full.  This trend would follow us the rest of the week...  Finishing up dinner we walked around for a little longer, then returned to the hotel to grab a cab and get to the stazione for our train back to BO.

Pasquetta plans were for a tiny bandiera arancione town in the hills of Emilia Romagna.  Brisighella was the destination for the day. It took us a little over an hour to arrive at the small town that I had planned as a surprise for my parents.  The town was adorable, and recomended to me by a friend to visit.  It had three hills that you could hike, one home to the church, another to the castle and the third to the clock tower... la chiesa, la rocca e l'orologio. Afraid of the rainy weather forecast, we were lucky to have a gorgeous and dry day in Brisighella. We hiked the three peaks starting with the clocktower, we made our way past the flowering almond trees and olive groves to the castle, then ascended the final hill to the church and headed back down to the town center to meet our 1:00 lunch reservation at a place called La Grotta.  Once again we were greeted with Prosecco... I was getting accustomed to this service!  We had the most spectacular and economical meal at La Grotta.  We had a delicious antipasto of meats, cheeses and breads spread out on a beautiful piece of wood.  We enjoyed a delicious bottle of red after our Prosecco.  Then went into our primi.  Pasta with swordfish, gnocchi with creamy carbonara sauce and pasta with greens.  Total bill: 60 Euro.  Best meal ever.

We caught the 3:00 train back to Bologna, and realized we had the perfect day in Brisighella.  Mom & dad walked around Bologna for a little while longer, while I returned home to nap and study before dinner, I was wiped out.  Since we really weren't all that hungry at all we decided we'd go for pizza so that we could split 2 and be happy having ate, but not over stuffed.  We walked down Via Santo Stefano to the very end where Pino's Pizzera was located (also recomended by a friend).  We ordered two delicious pizzas, and my parents switched it up by getting beer instead of wine, and I was content with my acqua frizzante. We had a lovely light meal then headed back to Solferino to sleep and rest up for the following day in Ravenna.

The mosaics of Ravenna were as gorgeous as people had talked up.  But, Ravenna itself did not rub me in any particular way.  The intricate bizantine mosaics found in 5 churches of Ravenna were truly amazing.  The color, the designs, the detail... all mind blowing and worth the 9 euro ticket.  My mom spent more than enough time drooling over the intricate detail of each mosaic masterpiece of the churches, soaking it all in.  My dad and I were quicker observers but still rather appreciative of the artwork.  We were able to walk through the town a little bit, but there was nothing that really rubbed me the right way in Ravenna.  It just didn't have that 'feel' that I get when I tour many other Italian cities, but that's okay.  Italy can't be flawless throughout! We returned home to Bologna in time for dinner.  Dinner reservations had been made at Il Pappagallo  one of the most famous restaurants in Bologna.  It was clearly an elegant tourist attraction, but it's food did uphold to the standard.  Lasagna alla bolognese was superb.  The best of the 6 that my dad ate throughout the trip. 

Wednesday, classes restarted, so I unfortunately had obligations besides sight seeing and eating with my parents all day long.  I headed to class leaving my parents to do their own thing.  Only item I knew that was on the agenda was a stop at the old barbershop, Marchi, in Piazza Cavour (1870).  This hot shave was something I had wanted to witness after walking past the shop daily and seeing the two barbers with their perfectly shaped dramatic mustaches and goatees, cut and maintain their old italian clients.  I swear I could sit there for hours with a camera if the men didn't think I was weird. So after my classes I hurried to catch up with my parents for dinner.  Luckily, when I called them, they informed me they hadn't even left my apartment yet, so I could meet them at the barber shop to witness my dad's hot shave. Perfetto!  The barber foamed his brush to perfection, making the perfect lather for my dad's face, but the actually shaving did not seem to be as gentle as I had expected.  You could hear the blade scratch his face with every stroke, and that barber was not leaving any hair behind.  He was extremely thorough in his work, and the end result was the closest shave my dad had ever experienced. From Marchi we walked to Piazza Maggiore to sit in the sun and enjoy a cappuccino.  Coffee enjoyed, we continued to tour the church and climb on top to take in the gorgeous view of Bologna from above while the rain was holding off.  We climbed 8 or 9 stories high of scaffolding until we were above Piazza Grande. Around us we could see the due torri, the green Bolognese hills/colli bolognese, San Michele in Bosco, San Luca and the porticos winding up the hill to it, and the beautiful red top buildings and churches of the old city center within the walls. It was 360 degrees of beauty, and we discovered we were the lucky few who would get to experience the view.  For once the scaffolding was removed after the restoration of the facade in October 2013, the climb up would no longer be possible.  Siamo stati fortunati! After the climb we went to grab lunch at La Traviata, where we had eaten with Tori and Alex the last time my mom had come.  I ate quick and left them to climb San Luca while I hustled off to French class... that I was pleased to find out actually hadn't recommenced after Easter. So instead I went home to nap and wait for my parents to return to finish off the night.  Obviously an evening couldn't go by without a wine bar, so we walked in centro to find a glass of wine and a small aperitivo before jetting off to the Unipol Arena in Casalecchio for EROS RAMAZZOTTI! Fantastic evening of music, even from our seats that were super far away. But Eros rocked, the concert was a blast, and we were the luckiest people to stumble upon a lost cab driver who was willing to take us home... we thought we were going to be stranded when we exited the arena to find ZERO cabs in the area. Wednesday = Success!

Thursday -- days are getting slim! We aren't!
I had class again so my parents were off exploring Bologna again while I studied.  We met at 1:30ish to eat lunch, the place; Ca'Pelletti. I enjoyed a very fresh frittata while the genitori wolfed down some pasta! A small glass of wine for each of us and then a chocolate torta to top of the meal.  I walked my mom to the Pinacoteca on Via delle belle arti, then I was off to french class! Luckily for me French was apparently not happening, yet again! So I walked home to rest up with daddio. Despite my strict evening dinner reservations, Mom insisted on stopping at another wine bar before dinner.  This one was very chic and under a lovely sectioned off portico.  The crowd was very fancy fancy, and the atmosphere was nice to enjoy.  We drank or glasses of wine had our aperitivo and then headed for the main meal.  Our dining venue for the evening would be Cantina Bentivoglio on Via Mascarella -- an esteemed destination for many.  It was traditional italian, set in an old cantina downstairs, serving the best bolognese specialties, PLUS they had a jazz muscian every evening! So when I called to make my reservation, I asked to be put in the music room, and we were able to get a very nice meal just steps away from the band.  Mom finally was able to get her tortellini in brodo, the famed bolognese dish that she had been dying to have.  Her comments while eating it proved that the meal was up to par.  Per usual we had ordered an antipasto of meats and cheeses that were beyond delicious, so I was barely able to make a dent in my tagliatelle bolognese but I wanted to finish it so badly. Luckily, daredevil mom asked the server to take the portion home (this is very rare in italy) and he happily went and packed it up in the kitchen and came back pointing out that he graciously added a fat piece of lasagna! SCORE! Dad was geloso! Meals for the week after deprived of mom and dad!  We walked home in the rain to burn some calories and prepare our tummies for the next meal.

Friday was our last day in BO.  I had classes through the day, so mom and dad were off on their own.  Last minute shopping and museum seeing tookover the hours.  Julia Caffrey (family friend) was flying into Bologna after travelling for her spring break, so was stopping in to have dinner with us before heading back to her study abroad location of Florence.  So after class I rang the parents who had met up with Julia.  They were obviously at Cremeria Funivia (dad's a goloso), so I went to meet them there and then figure out a plan.  We didn't have much time since Julia had to catch the last train to Florence, so our 9pm eating time was going to be shifted as early as italy could possibly do.  So at 7:00pm we were sitting at Da Serghei, a small, highly rated, trattoria on Via Piella. The waiter quickly attended to us, explaining the few homemade pasta specialties and second course meat dishes. We spotted the Nonna in her socks and slippers who was clearly tending to the kitchen, making reservations and cleaning all at once. We decided our meals. Dad ordering a last lasagna alla bolognese. Our meals came out promptly. Literally, within two minutes of us ordering them. Shocked at the preparation time, we asked the waiter how it was possible and he explained how everything was cooked so fresh his mother just needed a few minutes to make final preparations. It was fantastic pasta too, so no complaints! Wine was delicious! And we daringly got the stuffed zucchini for a secondo which was interesting but good. And mom got the big stinco. A huge deliciously juicy shank of meat. A wonderful last meal in bologna.

We walked Julia to the stazione then walked back to Solferino one last time together to pack and rest up for our final days in Milan. 

Early Saturday morning we departed from Bologna Centrale bummed we didn't have enough time to grab one last cappuccino together in my neighborhood. The train ride was quick to Milan and we were meeting Gaetano and Christina at the hotel and I was hoping my second trip to Milan would change my original opinion of it. Luckily things were already looking better for this 24 hours in Milan.

Milano centrale was gorgeous and massive. Our hotel was half a block behind the duomo and we could see the top of the church from our balcony. My mom knew some cute neighborhoods. We saw the Milan stock exchange and the controversial middle finger statue that I never knew existed.
And food and wine was on my parents done. Plus we got aperitivo on top of La Rinascente (a chic italian department store) and after a glass of wine and a small italian microbrew tasting, looking at the ridiculous upscale clothing in an 8 story building could not have been more fun.
Icing on the cake was while we were trying to find a second wine bar with a view after Gaetano and Christina left us, and trying to find a hotel my mom swore existed, we stumbled upon a window with a big chocolate fountain in it and with a massive mob of people waiting inside! Yes! An amazing gelateria with peculiar flavors and variations of chocolate and the option to fill the bottom of your come with a melted chocolate syrup of your choice was lying in the back streets of Piazza del duomo. I was ecstatic and I never wait in long lines, but this place looked professional and looked well worth it so I insisted I wait, and it ended up being well worth the wait! So nommy! Cone filled with dark chocolate! Who could resist!? Slowly savouring the gelato we walked back to the hotel for mom and dads last night. We didn't even eat dinner that night we were so stuffed from a weeks full of indulgences. But wine, aperitivo and gelato was plenty satisfying for me. 

Sunday morning (their last morning), we woke early and went down to the breakfast room to eat and figure out the morning plan. The marathon was starting at 10 so my parents needed to figure out the best way to get to the airport, which entailed leaving around 11:45/12:00. We decided to walk around and hang out by the turn that touched the outsides of piazza del duomo until the first finishers sped by, we wandered around for a few blocks, stumbled upon the university and the had to head back to the hotel so mom and dad could fly back home to America and I could walk myself to Milano Centrale to head back to BO da sola.  I hated to see them leave. Such a cry baby everytime I leave them from the US or they leave me from Italy, but I was so thankful for a fantastic week. Minus a few poor weather details, some rain and cold, the days turned out to be the best when we needed them to be. Brisighella was the favorite day, with it's La Grotta being the best meal. Couldn't have asked for a better week! From their departure I'd have one more visitor, two trips to Muto and I'd be home! Time was flying and I'm thrilled that I'm here another year so they can come again and we can explore more new towns and restaurants together. Cause that's what we do! Eat, drink, appreciate, explore!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Too many things to retell!

Osteria del Sole, Always a good choice
Finally the first weekend of March had been marked off for Melissa DiCocco to visit me.  We'd been planning since she arrived in November, but nothing seemed to work out for both of us.  Fortunately for her, the first weekend of March held something very special in Bologna history. Lucio Dalla.  We had a lovely weekend walking the city, hanging out with her cousin and girlfriend, trying new places to eat, and indulging in a few bottles of wine.  It was the first weekend filled with sun we'd had in a while, so we took advantage, grabbing coffee outside while we could.  We also realized we shared the same sweet tooth, so Gelato, Crepes and more gelato were on our to-do lists.  The weekend slipped away between on the eating, shopping and relaxing and finally Monday, March 4th came around. 

Stage in Piazza Grande (day before)
Originally Melissa was supposed to leave Sunday night, but after we heard that ANDREA BOCELLI Gianni Morandi, Zucchero, etc... would be here in Bologna to perform for Lucio Dalla's tribute concert, there was no way Melissa was headed back to Fontechiari to miss that! To miss Andrea Bocelli, live, in Bologna! You've got to be crazy!!!  So Monday we got all psyched for the concert that night! We did some more shopping and eating, watched "To Rome With Love" then headed to the grocery store to get dinner to bring to Osteria del Sole.  We enjoyed a bottle of Pignoletto, a baguette, prosciutto, formaggio and olives, along with a few fava beans shared by our neighbors, then it was nearing 9 (the start of the concert) and Whitney was due to arrive soon, so we headed out towards Piazza Maggiore to see what the masses had accumulated to.  It was CRAZYNESS. You could barely move between people, and there was no way we were going to get a view of the stage (we tried) so we went to find the next best thing, a screen! Also all cell service seemed to be overloaded, no smartphones worked, so I was very nervous about how I was ever going to find Whitney wandering amongst the crowd.  Luckily as we were shifting positions we literally happened to walk right next to each other. It was amazing, and much stress was relieved.  Together we struggled through the crowd to find a semi viewing point of the screen and from there we waited for Andrea Bocelli to appear on stage.  When he did, I nearly died, and he sang Caruso and it was gorgeous.  That was enough for us! Bocelli was seen and heard, we were claustrophobic, and we got outta there to find a bar to watch the rest comfortably on the television! By midnight we were back at Via Solferino, packed and ready to wake up early!  Whitney had to leave by 8 to catch her train and head directly to her internship, and Melissa was back to the Ciociaria.  Wasn't sure when I'd catch up with Melissa again, but it was a lovely weekend spent with her, and I would be seeing Whitney the next weekend for our trip to the cinque terra!

Cinque Terra!
 
Manarola
For years the Cinque Terre have been on my "to-go" list.  When I was little my parents took me to Portofino and Sestri Levante, both very close to the esteemed Cinque Terre, but not quite the same.  I was also too small to appreciate the beauty of those places.  When I studied abroad in Florence time just flew to quickly to make the trip there, and I have always regretted it. From Pinterest to Facebook, the bright colored buildings nestled on the steep slopes of the hills reaching the Mediterranean Sea have been haunting me for years. I doubted the Cinque Terre would look exactly like the pictures online, but I knew one day I would have to see it for myself!  That's why I was so thrilled when my friend Whitney, studying in Ferrara, had a free weekend and wanted to explore some part of Italy.  Even though it was early March, I decided hey, Why not the Cinque Terre?? And the plans began!!!

Vernazza
By the plans, I mean booking a hotel... I settled on staying in Riomaggiore, the most southern of the five cities.  I reserved a room from Airbnb because they seemed to have better choice than the hotels offered. The moment the train arrived in Riomaggiore, we were in heaven.  We saw a glimpse of blue water from on the train, and when the train stopped, the sound of waves crashing into rocks filled our ears and we instantaneously fell in love.  The 5 terre were magical.  We spent the day town hopping in the rain, I bought MOKA earrings from a small shop in Vernazza (the most beautiful of the towns) and I swear, even in the pouring rain we could have sat there and just stared at the colorful building protruding into the sea for hours...  I never wanted to leave!  Unfortunately the paths were closed so we could do no hiking, but that secured the deal that I would be back to the 5 terra to explore both the hiking trails and the beaches on a much warmer and drier day in the future! 

Milano!

Finally I was going to Milan.  My mom always convinced me it wasn't anything special, so I had never really looked hard into going. BUT, my friend Alonso really wanted to go see the city for a day for his birthday, so I figured I might as well give it a shot with him!  For weeks we had been searching low cost tickets on trenitalia, but we could only find tickets costing 40+ euro round trip, so we kind of gave up... until I saw an erasmus group trip advertisement on facebook! The day in Milan for 25 euro! It was PERFECT! This was the first ESEG (erasmus group/exchange student group) trip that we would both be participating in and I was psyched about the cheap price of 25 euro, but a little weary about the organization.  And weary I should've been! I was glad I got to spend the day with Alonso, but we really didn't end up having much time at all to explore Milan.  The bus left an hour late because a girl was late... then a 3 hour bus ride, that we stopped a half hour out at a rest stop for a half hour for lunch... dumb... then the free time that we had was very limited indeed and they didn't provide us with a map or any other information regarding popular spots so we were stuck with little information.  With the group we climbed the top of the duomo. It was a gorgeous church, but the landmarks surrounding us weren't that impressive aside from the large Piazza beneath us, and we were rushed through everything! Alonso and I wandered to find some cheap lunch that wasn't at McDonalds (I do admit I bought a Milkshake there during our first 30 minutes of free time because it was the cheapest thing in sight!), we wandered through the garden behind the castle and fooled around on some monkey bars... I realized I was weak after that, and I was sure my arms would be mighty sore the next day (i was right!).

Inside the Galleria
Anywho, to sum it all up... the duomo, the galleria and the castello sforzesco were the three sites we saw, and they were all magnificently beautiful.  Especially the duomo.  The gothic style is just so impressive in that piazza, you can't NOT like it.  But as for the feeling/vibe that I took away from the city, I just couldn't say I loved it.  It wasn't a true Italian city. I missed the old buildings, the quaint bars, and the cappuccinos that cost less than 4 euro.  I'm sure they exist somewhere in Milan, but the short 5 hour trip did not lend us enough time to find the treasures of Milan.  SO visit one of Milan for me was not an opinion changer... we'd see if it would remain that way when I returned soon with my parents!

Firenze!

The following weekend I made it to Florence to visit the every crazy house of Claudia.  Back to my old stomping ground of Giovanni Fabbroni.  Always bittersweet!  Starving when I arrived, I was pleasantly awarded with the opportunity to deserve the food I'd be eating for lunch! With Claudia, Gabri, Andrea (the baby), Chiara and Renato all in the house, Claudia put me to work! I helped her make gnocchi, enough for everyone and leftovers, and I was starved for lunch by the time we finished the production.  We did a bel passegiata in centro to walk off our potato dumpling filled stomachs, recounted to each other the happenings of our lives, then like that, Claudia had prepared dinner, she was off without eating, I had delicious squash meal with Chiara and Renato, I was stuffed to the brim and off to meet Julia in Piazza Santo Spirito at the bar Volume!  We had a great night catching up, we'd really only met once before, but we were both the same italy loving personalities so it was easy to get along.  At the bar I crazily ran into Olivia Cuttita, a Wayland student, and Julia ran into a friend of a friend from Georgetown, who was currently studying in Valencia... small world. We listened to the Italian band play american hits until 2am, they even dedicated a song to us because the 4 of us were clearly the only americans in the joint (volume is generally locals), then we were off wandering the streets for a crepe or a kebab or some other late night treat! I took a cab home and slept like a baby in Gabri's bed! Sunday I woke up at ate breakfast with Chiara and Renato, then quickly escaped, not without take the colomba, pesto, leftover gnocchi and olives Claudia had prepared for me, and I walked into the center to meet Julia for a quick lunch then I was back to Bologna to study and prepare for my parents coming the following Friday.

Modena!
Thursday before Good Friday classes were cancelled so I hopped on a train to wander around Modena in the rain for a few hours.  I should have brought my appetite because all I really toured was food!  I saw the duomo and the main piazza, but then went sniffing from food shop to food shop and spent a long period of time in the big produce market in the center.  Modena was rather small so I was able to conquer it in a few hours, and the rain was making it difficult for me to enjoy the outdoors, so I headed home to Bologna around 1 to clean and prepare for my parents arrival the following day. Man had I done a lot the past couple of weeks... I didn't even realize it until I wrote this! Yikes! 

Next Adventure: Spoiled by the parents!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Back in BO

A month at home flew by.  I didn't even have a chance to say I was bored, and that's saying something when you live in Wayland, Massachusetts! Many tears at the airport, but luckily the 50 degree sunshine weather in Bologna upon my arrival turned my frowns upside down. It was mid afternoon Friday and I had Saturday and Sunday to prepare for my final oral exam. I took a vow to take on nap, one stroll through my beautiful Bologna and then it was diligent work, no fun, the rest of the weekend... which paid off because I passed my Baldini exam! Woot!


For the rest of the week I wandered aimlessly around Bologna.  I shopped all the sales.  Found a new favorite supermarket, La PAM (it's a shame its 25minutes from my home). I was determined a way to find Suzanne in Val Thorens, France. And continued my running habits. I also planned to go to Ferrara to visit Whitney on my second weekend back. Let's just say, I wouldn't be getting bored in Bologna anytime soon!

Ready to make my plans for Val Thorens solid, I ran to the station one morning to buy the tickets.  I waited in a 20 minute line, freezing, only to find that yes, I almost forgot for a second... I'm in Italy... so naturally the Bologna train station can't sell me a ticket for a train leaving from Torino, and in Torino they can't sell me the ticket for my connecting train from Chambery to Moutiers.  I could purchase all of the tickets online, but the option of an electronic ticket is not there, so they would need to mail me the tickets taking 4-7 business days, and with my departure date 7 days away, I frankly just didn't want to trust Italian post... What a HEADACHE! After I got over the insanity of the European train system, I had to adapt to not having this trip planned to a T, instead I'd hop on the first train and hope there would be enough time and tickets for me to make it all the way to Val Thorens!

My weekend in Ferrara with Whitney was a blast.  Minus a few minor details... I arrived in Ferrara in the pouring rain and made my way to the address she had given me.  The town was already beautiful in the rain, but you could tell it was a much smaller city than any I had studied in so I gave props to Whitney and the other girls who chose Ferrara to better their Italian and have the real Italian education experience!  When I arrived I got my stuff settled, then we headed out toward the main piazza to grab a coffee, which I was craving. She took me to a gorgeous bar right near the castle and standing at the banca with our drinks, she recounted her first week and a half's experiences abroad. When we finished, we left to head back and catch up with her roommate (who was still sleeping when I arrived at 11), and to make plans for the rest of the day.  Upset 1. Stopping by the door to collect our umbrellas we left in the umbrella stand, I realize my umbrella is no where to be seen.  Pouring rain... and now someone has stolen my umbrella! Great! That turned my mood a little...

pasticcio ferrarese
Wet for the rest of the day, Whitney, Dani (whit's roommate) and I had a wonderful lunch at wonderful osteria right next to the castle, Hostaria Savonarola.  The bread was fantastic, we couldn't help but finish the basket (which is rare cause generally the bread is very bland and unsalted at restaurants and I don't like it!).  I had tortellini in brodo... also fantastic and the perfect lunch for a rainy, wet day. At 2, we headed to the front of Castello Estense to meet the other two girls from Midd in Ferrara, and we went to tour and have fun in the grand rooms and in the dungeons of the castle (out of the rain!).  Tired and sick of the rain, we returned back to the apartment to watch a movie before we got ready to go to Aperitivo, Dinner and a Bar.  For aperitivo we went to a very cute place that had extremely economical drinks... 3 euro for Prosecco w/ the Buffet (only focaccia, but still!).  From there we trekked through the rain to find a restaurant we had searched on TripAdvisor before we left. At Osteria degli Angeli, we were very content to find the cavernous dining room to be blasting the heat.  I ordered un pasticcio ferrarese, not quite certain of what I ordered, but insistent on trying the typical food of Ferrara, and I was pleasantly surprised to received a puff pastry stuffed with ziti in a creamy sauce and topped with a delicious balsamic glaze.  We enjoyed our dinner, taking our sweet Italian time, then headed to find some quality Ferrarese nightlife!  Unfortunately we didn't have much success in the pouring rain, but we managed to enjoy ourselves plenty!

Sunday morning, we woke up casually around 9:30 and headed to the station to enjoy a day at Carnevale a Venezia!  The day would consist of me playing with my new SLR, stopping for a drink every 2 hours, and just taking in the view of Venice during Carnevale.  Thousands of people crowded the tiny Venetian alley ways and bridges.  Hundreds of people in full out costumes, and many (like us) with a little Venetian face painting! We concluded a great, but tiring day by a quick 30 minutes in Piazza San Marco at the open discoteca, and by nearly sprinting back through Venice to make the last train to Ferrara at 7:45pm. Success! Arriving back in Ferrara I was too tired to make the extra journey back to Bologna, so I stayed the night, unfortunately missing the Superbowl :(  and was back to Bologna the following morning.  Agenda for the week would be get organized, receive my final grade from the first semester and be on my way to Torino and then France!

Wednesday finally came around.  I was all packed in the morning, headed into my faculty to verbalize my final grade with Ricciardi, returned home, then headed to the train station to get to Torino and spend the night with Serena and Gaetano.  It was lovely to see Serena, Gaetano and Cristina (Gaetano's Girlfriend) even if it was just for a very short time.  I arrived at 8:15pm, we headed to Serena's to have a lovely meal, ending with a few various liquors, then I was out of Torino by 6am the following morning. Short, but sweet. By 10:30am I was passing the Italian/French border, and by 11:00 I was in Chambery trying to figure out how to buy the ticket for the next train to Moutiers Salins Bridges Les Bains. Wahoo! Almost there! Chambery --> Moutiers, Moutiers --> Val Thorens! I was there by 1:30! Driving up a very steep, winding and snowy road, snow covered mountain tops and ski lifts buzzing everywhere around me! It was unbelievable.  Suzanne was waiting for me at the bus stop when I arrived, and we walked the few hundred feet down to Club Med and only receiving one dirty look, successfully got me to their hotel room. Relax time...

Suzanne explained to me the plan.  I was just to integrate myself into their group, as a friend visiting from Italy.  She gave me a Club Med wristband that they had acquired an extra of after claiming one was lost, and I was good to go! Free food and booze all day, every day! No complaints! We spent the afternoon sipping on mulled wine with the rest of the hotel who just got back from the slopes.  They had food and drinks for the rest of the evening and put on a show before dinner.  Dinner had endless amounts of food and endless amounts of table wine... not a half bad start! Dancing into the night we had a blast, made some friends, and were in bed by 2 in hopes of having a full day of skiing the following day.

Friday we woke up, had breakfast and were on the slopes by 9:30.  We're pretty good!  I was able to borrow a pass from a member of Suzanne's ski group who had been injured earlier that week, so yes, more free things!  I got my lime green rented skis and we were off to ski the French Alps!  Truly amazing.  So much powder!  We skied the majority of the day, going in for lunch at the hotel and it was just amazing.  The views of the surrounding mountains were surreal.  You could see the lines of where people had skied off piste ( or off the slope) slicing across the freshly powdered mountain faces. We went slightly off piste a few times throughout the day, and not once did we go on the same chair lift or down the same slope.  I'm telling you... these mountains were HUGE and covered in so many trails and lifts its unimaginable!  I was able to enjoy two more fun evenings with Suzanne and her dad, and another full day of purely fantastic skiing. But then unfortunately it was abruptly back to reality.  Back to Bologna, and back to classes... It had been quite some time!  At least I was comforted by the fact that Suzanne fell in love with Val Thorens so I know she'll be back giving me another excuse to share her love for skiing in the alps once again!

With that in mind... let classes begin! Woof...