Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's not all rainbows and butterflies

I have to blame this post on the French lady I met on the plane in Montreal. She started my negative mood, so she is to blame. But I also think it’s fair of me to write something not so picture perfect about my travels, because let’s be real, traveling is not always easy and is not always perfect and fun. And if I’m getting really honest, we all know how much I rave about Italy, its beauty, its people, its language, its culture, its food, etc. I could go on… but thank goodness Italy has all of that to offer on its good side because it is very easy to find yourself down, frustrated, angry and upset at the way you end up treated and the number of obstacles that can be hurdled into your perfect day.
So, this French lady started my flight off terribly. Her and I were one of the first people to board the Air Canada flight, Montreal to Brussels. Naturally, since we were the first, we had to wait for the entire plane to board after us, a completely sold out flight, that’s a lot of people and luggage to be put in the overhead compartments! I’m settled, so I start playing with the television on the seat, and pick a move to start watching, I put my headphones in, sit back and relax, watching this film as the plane continues to board.  Then all of the sudden I hear this lady talking at me in French, and I just can’t help but stare at her with a dumb look on my face as she continues to talk at me in French. Finally, she pauses and asks in French, if I speak French, to which I respond no, (although I understood everything she was saying) so she then begins to lecture me in broken English about how it is important that I remove my earphones while we are on the ground because it is critical to my own safety and the safety of the passengers that I listen and not be distracted by my headphones. I just stared at her, said thank you, and put my headphones back in. This drove me INSANE and ruined my mood for my transatlantic flight, why did this lady insist on micromanaging the way I was behaving on the plane, when I was doing something that was so not even worthy of commenting on? ‘sta gente.

Waiting in the boarding area for my flight to Bologna from Brussels was another experience. 5 minutes before our flight has started to announce, folks start lining up at the gate ready to board. I sit there and watch. These people were so interested in being the first on the plane that they had queued up in anxiety even before they had started the boarding process, you can only imagine how that turned out once they did start the boarding process and asked for those who need assistance and other special passengers to board first… what a nightmare! At least I can laugh at that one.

Now let’s talk about space. Personal space. This is something you don’t get when you’re in Italy. Especially public space, like sidewalks. This straight up gives me stress. Running, walking, skipping, no one cares. It’s you against them, and I NEVER win. It’s mind blowing, literally. I walk by myself nearly hugging the wall most times or on the cusp of the curb, groups come at me, single people come at me and none of them move. I always secretly swear to myself that the next person who does it I’ll just plow right through, but I never have the courage!

While avoiding the people seems not so bad, it becomes more difficult when trying to avoid all the dog poop all over the city at the same time. Don’t get me wrong – I am still obsessed with Bologna, but it will never be the same city it was when I was actually living here. Now I notice the obscenely terrible graffiti all over the beautiful walls of this town, and it makes me sad. Particularly, this time around there is one individual who vandalized wall after wall after wall with “NO RENZI, FUORI RENZI, CACCIA RENZI, BASTA RENZI”, I thought it was entertaining the first time, then I realized it is painted all over the city, under beautiful arch ways, religious statues, porticos, the list goes on… that makes me sad, because this city deserves so much more. I also notice that maybe 1 and 10 people pick up after their pets, walking around you literally have to dodge dog poop and pee everywhere you go and it makes traveling a little unsettling.

Ultimately, the perks of being in Italy outweigh these few unfriendly details, but I do think it’s important to keep it real, so I hope some of you can sympathize with some of these points!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A long layover in Brussels

This holiday season comes with many strange feelings for me. It’s the first time that I will not be spending Christmas with my family.  In October I decided that since my office undergoes a holiday shutdown from December 23rd through January 3rd, I might as well take advantage of it. So, I thought, where should I go that I could get tickets affordably and also not be completely alone? Naturally, the answer was Italy.

Hours spent looking at frequent flyer tickets I realized no flight the day before or the day after Christmas was going to be available with miles, or would be too expensive, leaving on the 27th or 28th wouldn’t lend me enough time for a Europe trip because I couldn’t use vacation days after the break is over given our crazy meeting schedule that resumes the day work is back in session. So I opted for a 30,000 mile and $25 fee ticket with a long trip duration, getting me to my beloved Bologna by 5:30 on Wednesday, December 21st. YEAH!

Anticipating my trip, but also feeling sad about being a loner wandering around Italy while I could be home eating 7 fishes with my favorite family members, going to church, eating Nonna’s lasagna, and watching movies with Uncle John, my departure date finally arrived!

Thankfully my cousin Juliana came and brought me to the airport, so I did not feel so disconnected from the family. She was so nice! It really made a difference being left by her J

Sunset view from Logan, Terminal B
Departing Boston at 5:30, connecting in Montreal and then again in Brussels, my total travel time would be nearly 18 hours, with a 6 hour layover in Brussels. I tried everything I could, called United, bothered people at the ticketing desk to try and get me on the Lufthansa flight, BOS -> MUNICH -> BLQ, or BOS -> FRANKFURT -> BLQ, that both arrive a number of hours earlier, but it’s Christmastime, no luck. Everything was booked. So I resigned myself, and decided not to worry about it, besides I had all these United Club passes that I could use at the fancy lounge when I got to Brussels and I’d have all this time as an excuse to enjoy being in airports, blog and read my book.

I say that now as I’m drinking a shitty cappuccino that came out of a automatic machine that I had to pay almost 4 euro for because, yes you guessed it, the Star Alliance does not ally nicely when it comes to utilizing beautiful perks like the “Air Loft” lounge in the Brussels Airport.

Airport vitamins
But hey! I’ll still try to look on the bright side of things. This long journey has allowed me to think about how bummed I am that I am not spending Christmas with my family and friends at home, but it has also got me very excited when I look at my crazy (non relaxing) itinerary for this vacation. While I might not be with my American family and friends, I have a unique opportunity to spend 12 days during the beautiful holiday season to take in Europe and visit with friends made during my time in Bologna, our family friends the Grillos and my beloved host family who I stayed with 6 years ago in 2010 during my term abroad in Florence. How lucky am I?

My itinerary goes like this:
Wednesday, 5:30 arrive in Bologna – EXPLORE
Thursday – Bologna/Forli to visit Lina for dinner
Friday – Bologna/Modena to visit a family friend of my mom and dad
Saturday – Monday – Firenze to spend Christmas with my host family J
Tuesday – Back to Bologna
Wednesday – Torino to visit with the Grillos
Thursday – Sunday – Chamonix with Serena and amici
Monday – Tuesday – ROMA, the back to Boston.

What I am most looking forward to is spending time with all these people I see so rarely, and turning my Italian switch on for a full 12 days.

Set up shop, not at the lounge.
Cappuccino from a machine
Additionally, Italy during the holidays is such a magical sight. I can’t wait to step off the plane in Bologna and feel that charm envelope me and take me in. Christmas markets, aperol spritz outside under heat lamps, lasagna alla Bolognese, streets lined with holiday lights, Christmas trees in every main square and the smell of chestnuts being roasted on every street corner.

I know that Bologna will have also changed so much since the last time I was here, so I can’t wait to see what new shops, restaurants and bars I come across. And I know one of my first stops when I get chilly will be my cioccolata fondente calda con panna from Grom on Via D’azeglio.

If only I could’ve convinced my mom and dad to join me!

BRING IT Italy! I’m ready! [Just 3.5 more hours until I depart from Brussels!]

(I also hope travelling alone will get me back in to Blog mode, I want to put more of my time into my blog in the new year, and I owe Toni a post on our trip to Italy last March, salutero’ Nonno <3)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Camminando a Strada Maggiore, 45

Us lovers of Italy understand the attraction of the language, the draw the smell of a fresh baked brioche has on our hearts, how the clinking of cups nearby catches our attention because we know there is un buon caffe that awaits us in the next store front or  around the corner or around the corner or around the corner. These are simple things that make living in Italy a daily adventure, in fact, you might even call them a daily pleasure despite the fact we are well aware jobs are limited, the political system is corrupt and you will never get through the line at the post office as quickly as you may have imagined.

The other day I was chatting on the phone with another Italophile realizing that we both expressed and shared these same feelings towards Italy. We among all understand well the idiosyncrasies of Italian society and the bureaucratic headlock you can so easily find yourself in, nevertheless we love Italy the same, if not more. I found so much comfort in the fact that I wasn't alone in thinking these odd almost trivial pieces of life were more than just pieces of life, but adventure and lust. We discussed how we were fortunate to spend time in Italy, to want the thrill of living abroad and to enjoy living in a daily adventure.Italy is just that, an adventure.

My most traveled adventure in Bologna was my walk to and from my apartment to my school, the department of political science in Strada Maggiore, 45.  One might characterize this daily walk as a commute, but for me it was an experience every time I stepped out my front door on to Via Solferino and headed East towards Strada Maggiore.

But let's start even before I stepped out of my house. My general morning routine consisted of making coffee and having breakfast in my apartment kitchen. The adventure began there, every morning, at my kitchen table. Looking south out of my kitchen window, I had a perfectly framed view of the church San Michele in Bosco, sitting humbly on top of the hill. It was such a treat, and I soaked up that view as often as I could.

Class for me generally started at 9am Monday through Friday and ran the entire day. It was like being back in high school with class all day long! So by the time I got my books, bags and coffee ready, I'd leave my house by 8:40 or so in order to make the quick 15 minute walk to school and have time to get settled in the classroom. This walk, although short, was my favorite daily adventure and routine. Depending on the day my walk could have multiple stops or be nonstop to Strada Maggiore. A few of the places I passed that distracted me from my non stop path to class generally were coffee related, but even particular doorways, windows or cars would stall my journey as I always walked the streets of Bologna to class treasuring the views.  Here are a few stationary things that often caught my attention on my walk to school and helped shape my daily adventure in Bologna:

1. San Michele in Bosco: Like I previously mentioned, the sight of a the sunrise (or a sunset), a set of fluffly clouds, a clear blue sky or a foggy Bologna morning  encompassing the church on top of the hill framed perfectly by my kitchen window was my favorite sight and adventure every day. The magnificent view often stole my attention, comforted me every day I lived in Via Solferino and often made me a few seconds slower out of the house.

2. Sorbetteria Castiglione: La Sorbetteria is well known among the Bolognese as one of the best gelaterias in town. Lucky for me I walked passed this everyday, and I often couldn't resist going in, but contrary to what you might think, my stop was always made in the morning, not for gelato but for their delicious pastries and coffee! My favorite one was a girella that had pear and chocolate chips in it. But, their cappuccino wasn't the best offered on my walk to work, so I only went to the sorbetteria when I was in need of that pear and chocolate girella! And don't get me wrong, you could find me walking here not on the way to school when I might have been craving a gelato :)

3. Piadineria Vecchio Mulino: As many of you know, Piadine are a staple to life in Bologna. This Piadineria sat at the corner of Via Castellata and Via Rialto, right at the point so you could never miss it, especially walking home from Strada Maggiore. There was always a crowd here at lunch, hanging in the streets, hudled over their neatly wrapped piadine or tortelloni ripieno con nutella. I enjoyed stopping here for a yummy crescente or their special nutella stuffed tortelloni.... yes, I am a golosa!

4. Calzolaio: One day I realized my boots needed some new soles and I realized, hm! Don't I walk past a cazolaio everyday on the corner of Santo Stefano? Yes! You can't miss the tools hanging in the window and the shoe molds dangling from every corner, and of course... the smell of leather! I loved peaking in this window to see what shoes the Calzolaio might be banging on, so fun!

5. Cinema Rialto: There is a small movie theatre located on Via Rialto, the back of which faces Via Castellata (my daily route). I always enjoyed walking down the road behind the cinema and listening to see if I could hear the movie playing within. It's something I liked to listen for, but I have to say that I never went to see a movie there, and I probably should have. 

6. Shoe Store: It's crazy but I can't remember the exact name of the store, only the exact location, smell and beautiful shoe display remain in my memory. It was a sort of outlet of hand made leather shoes and I was never lucky enough to find the perfect pair for me, but many a pair of men's shoes I brought home for my brother and boyfriend. I loved slowing my walk to browse the windows lined with beautiful leather shoes, men's and women's, on SALE!

7. Bar Maurizio: Unassuming by morning, but bumping at night. I'd walk past the red metal stools of Bar Maurizio daily and enjoy looking at the name in the sign made from a cursive neon blue light. On my way home from Uni is when this bar really stood out. Most days I'd have to walk in the street as the portico was blocked with students enjoying their approx spritz and a cigarette. Loved this crew. And you can't beat an aperol spritz that's 3€;

8. Caffe dell'Academia: My bar! From the owner who wore split apart glasses colored with the Italian flag, to the thoughts for Lucio Dalla notebook seated outside, this was my go to bar and study place on the way to and from Strada Maggiore. The water bowl for dogs outside, the poem and limerick of the day, the cappuccinos, the pastries and the lunch choice are among my favorite things Caffe dell'Accademia had to offer. I would often meet my friend Lina here before class where I'd take a cappuccino and she'd have a ginseng she claimed to be among the best in town. My only regret is that I didn't talk to the barista often enough, I should've been more outgoing!

9. Cheese * Wine * Fruit * Veggies * Pasta * Bread * Biscotti * 
Salumi: At every corner and along every street fruit, veggie, che
ese, wine, pasta, bread, biscotti and salumi vendors would catch my eye and turn my attention towards what I might stop to by and cook on my way back from class.

10.  Santa Maria dei Servi: This is one of my favorite churches in all of Bologna, notable because I pass it to and from school, but also because the front of the the church opens into a lovely brick lined courtyard enclosed by beautiful rows of porticoed walkways. The portico spanned nearly the whole block leading up to the political sciences department and framed the beautiful facade of the church. Along the left flanking wall you could always peer into the side door of the church at the beautiful decorations and see the madonna on the wall protected by the portico. Not to mention the beautiful terracotta color that brightens the day!

11. FRAM Cafe: This cafe was a late find in my two years of walking to Strada Maggiore, but once found, I couldn't stay away! Fun decorations inside, as well as a fun menu boasting fresh fruit smoothie like drinks and other healthy non traditional snacks.

12. Graffiti: A small pink graffitied area on the orange wall in Via Castellata always caught my attention and made me smirk. The graffiti wasn't originally there when I first began school in 2012, but I noticed the new graffiti during my second year at Uni: "Peace, love, and drugs"

13. Doors and Moldings: This is all of Bologna, not just my walk! But these certainly made me smile along the way to school, one door in particular won't ever escape my memory, the tiny wood door against the bright orange painted wall in Via Castellata. Moldings above the continuous porticos, barred windows and details that you just don't find in every city.

14. Cars: My favorite blue FIAT 500 L lives in a gated area outside an office space in Via Castellata. I fell in love with it the first time I walked by and wish it was parked there everyday. FIAT EPOCA = LOVE & HAPPINESS.

15. Avoid the dog poop! Evitare la cacca del cane! Not my favorite surprise on the way to school. Rule of the Bolognese roads... watch where you step! More than once I've been a victim of dog owners not picking up after their dogs.