Looking both ways

I figured a four-hour train ride would be the perfect time to finally update this ol’ thing. I’ve got a mountain of pictures and memories to put into words, so this will certainly be a big project. Let me start with the most recent and work my way back: my last day of teaching was this past Friday and I can’t believe my first year of SITE ha finished. Assistant teaching has really tested me and made me into a much stronger person – it’s incredible how sure of yourself you have to be to teach. The kids can instantly tell if you’re having an off day or if you’re not confident, and you can be sure they’ll take advantage of that weakness. In addition, I rented my first real apartment, outside the college bubble, and that also taught me a lot about communication and budgeting. I know I’m only 23, but when I joke with my friends about feeling older, part of me is serious. I think about all that I have accomplished in this past year and can’t believe that it’s over, nor that I get to do it all again next year!

I’m heading to hang out with an old ACLE host family for a few days to “staccare” (pull the plug) from Crema. While my new, tiny hometown has grown on me, it’s nice to have a change of scenery every so often. The next few weeks will find me traveling from Trieste to Bologna to the Amalfi Coast. But in the mean time, let me recap what’s been going on since I last wrote:

BRUSSELS&BRUGES: I was able to get out of it Italy and travel to Brussels this March. It was a fantastic trip with my two fellow Assitants. We rented a small apartment for 5 days, a little outside of the center, and we got into all the typical Brussels traditions – Manneken Pis, waffles of all varieties, mussels and french fries, beer, a young, lively nightlife and beautiful architecture. On our last full day, we took a trip to Bruges. After having seen “In Bruges” years ago, the city was a priority on my travel list. It was ten-times better than the film; the canals and traditional houses with stepped roofs and bright brick facades were breath-taking and every corner we turned we couldn’t help but exclaim “Look!” Of course I climbed the main clock-tower (the one that Brendan Gleeson jumps off of in the film). After a highly recommended tour by canal amidst hundreds of swans, we headed to De Halve Maan, one of the oldest breweries in Brussels. We spent the next few hours having great artisanal Brugse Zot beer and playing cards with the setting sun illuminating the table through the huge glass windows of the brewery.

VALLE D’AOSTA&SIRMIONE: I was invited by one of the first-year classes at Pacioli to accompany them on an overnight class trip to Aosta, a town in the northwest corner of Italy. The trip took about 2 hours, and on our way there we stopped at this amazing natural springs spa. They had a beautiful view of the surroundings Alps, which you could enjoy from the comfort of your personal hot tub. Mica male (not too shabby). The town of Aosta itself was quiet and small, though the kids were pleasantly surprised with the shopping opportunities. The next day, we had a walking tour of the town and saw the ancient Roman ruins (yup, they’re everywhere) which included fortress walls and an old grain storage area that had been completely restored and made into a museum by the city.

I was then invited to go on a day-trip with another first-year class to Sirmione, a small peninsula town in Lake Garda. The weather was beautiful and the water, while cold, was clear and blue. We didn’t go swimming seeing as it was early April but we did happily put our feet in. Then the whole group took a boat tour of the peninsula. We saw the remains of Catullus’ old (enormous) villa and the natural spring that supplies the spas of Sirmione with mineral water. However, the highlight, for me, was culinary: the fresh-caught, grilled lake trout I had for lunch on the veranda of a restaurant overlooking the water.

EASTER in LIGURIA: Always one to respect traditions, as soon as the Easter holiday started, I headed to my cousins’ house in Chiavari, in the region of Liguria, as I had done two years ago. The change from mountain to ocean air did me well, as did my cousin’s new boat. It felt like I was right at home among the brightly-colored houses, the sea breeze and the lush palm trees. I won’t bother listing off everything we ate, for your sake. Needless to say there was an abundance of the classics: fried anchovies, foccacia, and pesto.

I decided to go exploring one of the days, so I hopped on a train to La Spezia and then a bus to Portovenere (a town recommended to me by cousins). The tiny fishing town had a beautiful, brightly colored coastline with a green hill rising up in the background. My first objective was to find a spot to each, and there, shining in the sunlight, was an outdoor table at a cute osteria. Being that it was after Italian lunch time, I found myself unaccompanied by other diners, with the waitstaff inviting and eager to bring me my spaghetti with clams and sparkling glass of white wine. The sun beat down as a I slowly slurped up the noodles and continued reading a book by Camillieri I had nabbed from the bookcase at the house.

After lunch, I needed to smaltire (work off) the food, so I started to climb the hill behind the seaside houses. At the beginning was a sign pointing upwards, indicating the sentiero infinito (the infitie pathway). I laughed and accepted the challenge, hiking for over 45 minutes, sweating, and regretting my decision to wear pants. What had started the intention of a short post-pasta walk had turned into a real trekking experience. When I finally ran into another person, I asked them how much longer the path went on for and they laughed, saying that it continued to the Cinque Terre. At that point I realized I was not only out of luck but out of shape. I turned back down the hill and hopped on a boat to Lerici, another seaside town across the bay.

Upon arriving into the miniscule port of Lerici, I immediately noticed more typical Ligurian architecture. I found some red steps when I disembarked and followed them up to the stone castle that jutted out over the sea. While it was closed, the view of the entire port and city was more than enough to satisfy my curiosity. Heading back to the center, I realized it was almost time to head back home. Not without a snack, obviously. Since I arrived at Lerici later in the afternoon, the natural food option was a gelato. Grabbing my usual lemon-strawberry combo, I parked myself on a ledge and watched the sun slowly creep towards the horizon line.

 

Well, those are the big moments – in the middle was a visit to Bologna to see the painting “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” which had been temporarily moved to Italy while it’s original museum in Holland was being restored. My birthday was in May, and I celebrated with all my friends in classic American fashion, flip-cup included. I organized and played guitar in a sort of Acoustic Open Mic event. I went wake boarding for the first time and loved it. And of course, I successfully survived my first year of teaching.

 

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