Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.’
— Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
Five days of traveling between three different places in two different countries should be absolutely exhausting…right? Instead, I returned to Parma, 20 years old, rejuvenated, and awe-inspired.
While we had a few bumps in the road – a missed train to Como, a locked hostel in Como and an almost missed train to Zurich, the three of us stayed positive and laughed the whole weekend.
Como was incredible.
Our hostel was a surprising hour and a half bus ride from the train station in Menaggio. I understand why Clooney loves the place so much, the gorgeous rolling green landscape surrounding the blue waters, the villas lining the shore, and the isolated feeling of north western Italy. Our hostel was perfect.
It had a balcony overlooking the water, how can you beat that? Como is pretty shut down for the season but we enjoyed just exploring and seeing it’s beauty. I awoke on the morning of my birthday to the absolutely incredible pink sun rising over the hills surrounding the lake.
I saw this…from my bunk bed…in a hostel…my life is not real. We caught the only bus available on Saturday morning to the train station that allowed us to arrive 3 minutes before our train. To say we were a bit nervous is an understatement. Missing a train from Parma to Como isn’t a big deal when you can sweet talk the man at the ticket booth to reissue tickets. A train to Switzerland is very different, luckily we made it with 5 minutes to spare, an early bus in Italy? Unheard of.
When we got on the train, we realized two things. We had no idea what language was actually spoken in Switzerland. I knew that German, French, Italian and a special dialect were languages spoken, but the official language…we had no idea. We also realized our train was going to Zurich, Bern, Spiez and then Interlaken…when Interlaken is only about 3 hours from Como…we ended up traveling about 6 hours. To say those extra hours were worth it was the understatement of the century. We got a train tour of Switzerland and it was unbelievable. Passing Lake Lucerne was unforgettable, it literally looked like it came out of the pages of a fairytale.
The previous evening Christina, Olivia and I started to ask each other an array of questions from www.thoughtquestions.com. While this sounds absolutely bizarre, it really got us thinking and reflecting which is incredibly important after all of the ups and downs of the past two months and college in general. I’m already super close with the two of them but we definitely felt a renewed bond after the weekend.
When we finally arrived in Interlaken, we were absolutely impressed. Everywhere we looked were incredible mountains and people doing super cool things like paragliding and skydiving. Interlaken is the extreme sports capital of the world. It was also beautiful…to continue the theme of the weekend.
The birthday princess was hungry…as usual. Olive and X took me out to a delicious birthday dinner! Chinese, so random, but Swiss food was unappetizing and over priced the entire weekend. That night our hostel, Balmer’s Herbage, which was so cool and had a night club, beer garden and the most helpful staff, was hosting a Halloween party.
We decided to check it out, without costumes, and were promptly frightened. Europeans take Halloween seriously, in a very different way, and wear extremely scary costumes with lots of face paint. We people watched and chatted for hours and it was a fabulous way to spend my birthday.
The next day we decided to take advantage of the vast Swiss Alps and the perfect weather with a hike.
We started by train from Interlaken to Lautenbrunnen and then hiked for the majority of the day to Murren. I’ve never been an outdoorsy person but after that hike, I’ve got a renewed love for the great outdoors.
Olivia and I regaled Christina with songs from the Sound of Music the entire way. I also got to see my first snow of the winter and threw a snowball at Christina for some laughs.
While we weren’t exactly sure the way up, we enjoyed the entire trip and absorbed the incredible landscape. We had a few scary moments when insane mountain bikers came flying out of nowhere and almost ran us over. The entire hike was uphill and more intense than expected but a great workout.
When we finally found our way over many rivers and up countless hills to Murren, we were exhausted.
The town was adorable and a definite off season ski area. I want to go back in the winter time to take advantage of that side of Switzerland.
We had some Swiss hot cocoa before taking the gondola down the mountain. We wanted to hike but it was already 5 pm and we were nervous of getting caught on the trails in the dark.
The gondola ride was so much fun and the whole day was unforgettable. The following day we decided to explore the Lakens, because as Christina reminded us, Interlaken means between lakes…literally.
We headed to the smaller of the lakes Brienzersee and had a phenomenal time exploring.
It was breathtaking. The pictures look photoshopped and like postcards. They are not even enhanced, it was absolutely gorgeous.
We took the train to Bern for our final night. Bern was picked on a whim because we were nervous that if we had bad weather in Interlaken which was a distinct possibility that we needed a city to visit as well. We certainly lucked out on the weather in Interlaken, warmer than Italy, but we also were lucky in selecting Bern.
Bern is now one of my favorite cities. It’s old town is so precious. Einstein is from Bern and his name is everywhere. We went to his original apartment and our hostel was right next to the Zytglogge, a medieval clock tower that he used to develop e=mc2.
We walked around the river to a brewery that was supposed to have great views of the city. That was definitely provided, as well as into a bear pit!
We considered fondue for dinner, but were disappointed by the selection and ended up at Mexican, an international food weekend for sure.
Our final day we did some more sightseeing and had more hot cocoa and Swiss chocolate. The chocolate was unlike anything I have had before. My sweet tooth was certainly satisfied.
Olivia, Christina and I had an amazing weekend together. So much life chatting and relaxation in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I am so lucky to have been able to spend my birthday weekend with two girls I absolutely adore and in an awe-inspiring new place.
When I selected a college, I didn’t realize that being so close to home was a major factor. The longer I am away from home, the more I realize how much I love Boston and being just 10 minutes from Bellamy Street. To say that I underestimated homesickness is a bit of an understatement. From the day I arrived in Italy, I had been talking about my parent’s visit. I had also been consistently emailing my Mom with a laundry list of things I had forgotten or decided I needed.
The day finally arrived and of course nothing could be simple. There was a train strike which forced me to take a train from Parma to Florence at 6 am rather than 9 am. It ended up working out for the best, my friend Kelly was also having her parent’s visit so we took the train together and then I was able to spend the morning with my godmother Maureen who had flown in the night before from San Francisco. We went shopping and had breakfast in the Piazza Repubblica. She bought me a gorgeous Italian leather bag for my birthday that I am in love with.
My parents arrived and we went for lunch on the Altroarno at a place that my friends and I had tried repeatedly to go to but had been packed. My dad was pleased even though all he wanted was sausage and was disappointed to learn that is not truly Italian. We spent the afternoon at the Uffizi with my uncle Fr. Culloty and his good friend Monsignor McInernerny, who had taken my friends and I on a tour of his Basilica when we arrived in Rome. It was a bit of a competition between Monsignor and I on the most knowledge of the Uffizi. It was great to be back in Florence and to feel so familiar with the city. I loved being the tour guide. That night, we all went to dinner to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday. John picked a restaurant in Fiesole which is one of my favorite areas in Florence. We trekked up to the cliffs overlooking the city via a cab and took pictures as we awaited John and Paul.
It turned out that John and Paul took the bus and were dropped off miles from the restaurant and ended up having to hike up there. It was extremely entertaining to have them regale us with their tale. The dinner was absolutely delicious we all had Florentine steak and other meat dishes. It was so wonderful to be around so many familiar faces in such a faraway place.
On Saturday we walked around Florence and visited the inside of the Duomo. We then took the train to Venice. It was great to have some time to chat on the train ride. The vaporetto’s took a bit longer than expected but we finally arrived at the Piazza San Marco where our hotel was. Maureen was in a different hotel…after a few scheduling issues that seemed to pop up throughout the trip…but we had a top floor apartment with a gorgeous rooftop terrace.
I was of course starving when we arrived in Venice seeing as we had skipped lunch. We found a little pizza place and then explored near the Duomo in the Piazza San Marco and along the waterfront.
We had a delicious seafood dinner at the recommendation of our hotel. The next day we explored Burano and Murano, two islands off the coast of Venice. I absolutely loved Burano.
It reminded me of the Cinque Terre with its bright colored houses.
Even though Murano is known for its glass factories, we made some glass purchases and just spent some time exploring. We took the train to Murano from Burano and did more shopping in the stores and stopped for lunch.
Afterwards we regrouped at our hotel and got ready for dinner.
Erin joined us because Padova is about 45 minutes away from Venice. It was so great for my parents and Maureen to be able to catch up with her and to get to see her again!
We took a gondola ride together through the canals. It was incredible. The sun was setting and it was absolutely gorgeous. The gondoliers have their own code and signs to communicate, which was fascinating. I literally could not understand a word of their Italian. The canals were so tight and packed with water taxis, it was remarkable there are not more accidents.
It was an unforgettable adventure.
Maureen met us for dinner, after a hotel debacle, but dinner definitely cheered her up. We went to an enoteca and had a delicious meal!
The following day I had an extremely early wakeup call. My dad and I got a little confused in the train planning and in order to make it to Parma in time for my 1030 am italian class, I had to leave our hotel at 4:30 in the morning. To describe my mood as less than pleased was an understatement. That vaporetto ride was the coldest I have ever been and of course it missed the train station stop so I had a nice walk in the pitch black. I made it in time for class remarkably but unfortunately my class ran late so in turn I was late in meeting my parents and Maureen for lunch in Parma. They were good sports and calmed me down. I introduced them to tortelli di zucca, which is a Parma specialty.
They explored Parma while I was in my political science class (Mondays happens to be the only day I have legitimate classes for most of the day).
After class we did a little shopping and I purchased a down jacket that is entirely necessary as the actual fall weather arrives. They came over to my Villa and got to meet my housemates and roommate Alison. My parents got to catch up with Liana which was great as well. We enjoyed some lambruscho and parmesan cheese before dinner. We went to a restaurant, at Betta, my coordinator’s, suggestion that was delicious. Christina and Olivia joined us which was a great time. We were treated to multiple endless courses and I had a fabulous last night with my family. The next morning I went over to their gorgeous hotel, right in the Piazza del Duomo, for breakfast and after a little more shopping, they had to head to the train station to return to Florence for one final night before returning to the States.
I was extremely sad to see the three of them go. Seeing them definitely made me more homesick than ever, but I realized that I am only here for two more months and I need to take advantage of every minute of it. It was relaxing and rejuvenating to have some time with the people I love and I am so happy and fortunate they were able to come visit.
So I may not be keeping up with the blog as much as my mom would like, but I take it as a sign of a good time.
My classes have been going well, really have no work, it’s quite bizarre and a nice chance of pace. I register for second semester courses next week…that will be interesting…I’m in for a rude awakening. I’ve only had my internship service portion once so far, due to holidays and bad weather, which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed it the first time. They threw me right into the swing of things and I helped package food and give out clothes and blankets to homeless and poor immigrants. My citizenship studies class has nicely correlated with the service because I am learning about Italy’s influx in immigration and the country’s inability to provide services or a logical means for immigrants to attain citizenship. I have my internship tonight, which I am excited about.
For my Storia di Parma class, we took a field trip to the Parmaggiano Reggiano factory. Parma is known for world famous cuisine, particularly the prosciutto and parmesan cheese. Thankfully we did not go to a slaughterhouse to see prosciutto being made. Our trip to the cheese factory can be summed up with one word…smelly. It was fascinating to see the process which starts extremely early in the morning and was nearly finished when we arrived at 8 am.The most critical factors that make Parmaggiano Reggiano so spectacular are the feed for the cows and the precise aging.
The rows of cheese were endless. We tasted 18 month old cheese at the end, it was delicious. We also visited a castle just outside Parma that was absolutely beautiful! We are going to another castle for class next week, Fontanellato.
I finally got to reunite with Erin, my best friend from high school, after 5 long months. Erin is studying at the University of Padova for the semester, which is about two hours away from Parma. She studied for the summer at Cambridge and left for abroad while I was in D.C. Our reunion was a long time coming. We decided to go to a ‘gem’ of a town, Ferrara. It was equidistant for us so we met on a Friday, the week I returned from Paris.
Ferrara turned into less of a gem than expected but we were more than content to meander the streets and explore and just spent the day catching up. I absolutely loved getting to chat with her. I had been having some troubles adjusting to how different Parma is from everything I am used to. It is a very small city and the only Americans are the 27 of us. My class schedule is polar opposite to everyone else, mainly night classes, so I have a lot of free time during the day by myself, which I had not been very fond of. Seeing Erin definitely eased my homesickness.
That Sunday, Christina invited me to join her and her host family on a bike trip. If someone asked me before I went abroad if I imagined myself on a 30 mile mountain biking trip through vineyards of Italy, I think I would have said a resounding no. It was absolutely incredible. I was on a city bike, which made things a little more difficult, but it was so much fun.
We biked through the Bella Vista and Villa wineries and had an amazing picnic in the vineyards for lunch. I was mocked for being ‘troppo Americana’ because of my peanut butter sandwich, but hey I needed the protein. We ended the day at the Franciacorta Cantina where we had a tour and got to sample their prosecco. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day but it was worth every minute of it. Christina’s host parents are absolutely adorable and are so welcoming.
Every Monday I have my cooking class with Ana and Aldo. The villa kids go together and so far we have made spaghetti alla carbonara and risotto con la zucca. Ana and Aldo are absolutely precious. They treat us like their grandchildren and I’ve really been able to practice my Italian with them. Ana is an amazing cook and once we finish the meal we make together, she brings out endless plates of antipasti and vegetables. She always ends the meal with a delicious torta. I really look forward to our meals at her home. She has inspired me to try my hand at cooking. I am notorious among my friends for my inability to cook. I live on peanut butter and granola bars. I decided that since I am in Italy I need to reduce the peanut butter intake and experiment with new foods and dishes since I have so much free time. Every Wednesday night, we have Villa family dinners. Alison and I impress ourselves with our newly discovered skills.
We have made baked macaroni and cheese, chicken bruschetta, delicious vegetables and last night I made an apple and onion confit for baguettes with chicken marsala. I think my new name is Giada instead of Elisabetta. Our family dinners are a really great time, the 9 of us sit for hours just chatting and catching up. Since everyone has been traveling a lot it’s really the only time we are all together. I’m loving the people in the Villa. I spend a LOT of time here just hanging out. We have definitely made it a family.
I’ve started meeting with my tandem partner Alice. She is a student at the University who is studying foreign languages, English and Spanish. We have had a couple of coffee and lunch dates. Her English is very good and we converse in both English and Italian. Our conversations tend to drift from one language to the other. It has been great practice. She has been praising my Italian which makes me feel a lot more confident. She has introduced me to some of her friends; it is definitely making me feel more comfortable in Parma by knowing some locals.
Two Thursdays ago, the night before my parents arrived, my program went to the Opera. The Teatro Regio was having its annual Verdi festival and we were able to see ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’. It was my first opera and was absolutely fascinating to watch. In my Italian class, we had read the opera so I had an understanding of what was to come.
As each song was performed, the Italian words were displayed on a screen above the stage, which made it extremely easy to follow along. I was worried that 3 hours at the Opera may get old but I loved every minute of it.
We were seated in boxes in groups of 5 and it was so fun to have everyone all dressed up.
As you can see, my first few weeks in Parma were extremely busy and exciting. I am determined to catch up with the blogging this weekend!