Back Blogging (from Bologna)!

Ciao again Readers!
I had so much fun blogging yesterday I think I’m ready to get back to it (and as an added bonus I get to do it while enjoying my Rosenberg’s Deli delivery here in my hotel room – yum!).

If you’re anything like me, you may have been (metaphorically) hiding in a cave the last few years. Looking back I can more clearly see what a toll it was taking on my mental health. As I mentioned in my last blog, on an evening walk in June I had the spontaneous idea and right then on my phone bought a ticket to see the Counting Crows on October 7 in Milan. Well, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound! I decided to go back to my first Italian School, Madrelingua in Bologna, for the week before the concert. Since I haven’t travelled in so long I guessed, correctly, that I had enough miles to make the flights free (yay!). I have to admit, I was still pretty hyper vigilant and scared of traveling and almost cancelled many times….then, in August, my Covid turn came…I was sick, but not too bad, and the amazing thing was all that fear and hyper vigilance stored up in my system for over 2 years eased up – it felt like breathing after holding my breath for years – whew! Plus, as an added bonus, I figured I had extra immunity for my trip….so off I went!

Many times during the trip and after I commented that I did more and met more people in those 9 days than I had done in the 3 years prior, and I think that’s true! As you may know from your own experience or my blog, when you fly with miles you have to take what you can – I knew there was very little chance my outward trip would go smoothly with all the transfers and short connections – but ya know what – I learned a great new skill for traveling – just assume every thing will go wrong – when it does you won’t be upset, and when something goes right you’ll be excited! True, I missed my connection to Milan in Munich, but ya know what – I got to chillax and have a delicious dinner in Munich (well, the airport) (and add a new country to my list), and when they finally found me a flight to Italy, it was going to Bologna – where I was actually trying to go (I was going to take a train from Milan)! From that point on, the trip was pretty amazing…here’s what I did, pretty much in order….

I was welcomed to my apartment in Bologna by the owner, Laura, with a plate of amazing food from a dinner party; the next day I enjoyed fresh (off menu) porcini pasta in a local place I accidentally found when all the recommended places were packed; that afternoon I walked the town for hours with Laura and her friends. On Monday I started language school full of students from all over the world – such an interesting and joyful group! Monday evening I did the 5 hour “Delicious Bologna” tour complete with interesting folks and amazing food! Tuesday school was closed for the Saint of Bologna day, so I headed to Ravenna to see the famous mosaics, which I have somehow missed all these years (and, as an added bonus, Ravenna is close to the sea)! The rest of the week included school, meals and apperativo with classmates, and a multicultural dinner with Laura, opera singers from Japan, and more delicious food and interesting company. Friday I headed to Milan for the Counting Crows concert at Teatro del Verme (and to my surprise an Italian audience that knew all the words)! To cap off the trip I had a ticket for a tour to see DaVinci’s Last Supper, which was the other thing I had managed to miss all these years. I came back from that trip reenergized and remembering how wonderful life and the world outside my cave can be……

I was so busy being in the moment that I didn’t take that many pictures, but here are a few, which follow my trip in order…. May you each get to take a deep breathe and enjoy the new year!!!

And a bit of the Counting Crows concert….

Songs for Solidarity: Italians Unite through music from balconies, terraces and windows

Ciao readers!

So, I was going to blog about how amazing Italians are in the face of adversity – they’ve been having terrace “flash mobs” during this lock-down and I have seen pictures of them queuing in an orderly fashion at grocery stores (who knew?!), but this post from Girl in Florence already does the best job. Scroll down the post and you can see video clips from all over Italy. Grazie!    Source: Songs for Solidarity: Italians Unite through music from balconies, terraces and windows

Sempre Rivoluzione (or waxing poetic about Lucca and life)

Ciao Readers!  I just wouldn’t be me without at least one philosophical blog post from this trip…

So, the title of this post are lyrics from the song “Non E’ “ by Luca Carboni (you can read the lyrics and hear a clip here).  It’s basically a song about how everything changes, with a few jabs to the state of humanity thrown in for good measure. (Perhaps an edgier version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds?) In any case, not only do I like the sound of the song, but the lyrics speak to my current state of mind – trying to accept that everything changes (and trying not to get too worked up about it when it seems to change for the “worse”).  I have to admit, it hasn’t been easy – I’ll take a year when I run my first half marathon and get cast in a movie over one with personal angst and a friend’s suicide any day, but such is life.  But lest I get too pesante (heavy), I’ll move on to Lucca….

As I mentioned in my Florence post, I was expecting that upon my return I would see that everything had changed; much to my surprise, almost nothing had. I’m not really sure why I was so surprised, as I had always thought Florence was frozen in time in the Renaissance. And since Lucca is literally walled off from the world, I’m really not sure why I was surprised it hadn’t changed either (okay, my favorite sweet shop moved a few doors down).  So, take it from Italy to disprove my point, and throw a monkey wrench into my coming here to help me accept change plan… (To prove my point, here are photos I took last March and ones I took today:)

 

Favorite sweet shop in old and new location, same great pistachio cookies:

 

Since I’m headed to Milan tomorrow and then home, I will say Ciao for now!  Have a nice Thansgiving!

“The Wanderer’s Guide to Lucca”

Ciao Readers!
So, this week I am back at the school in Lucca I went to last year. And, since like Florence, Lucca hasn’t changed much and I have come down with a major chest cold, I am taking the easy way out and reposting this blog about Lucca – it is just as picturesque in the Fall. Enjoy….

New Mexico to Italy

Ciao Readers! And happy Monday after Spring Break! We have finally made it to Italy….

The title of this post reflects both its focus, as well as the book from which I got most of the substantive information.  As you may recall, back when we lived in Florence (was that real?!), we took a day trip here and had a thoroughly lovely time.  Now I have 10 days in which to really explore this place…

Lucca is mainly known for two things – primarily, its wall; secondly, Puccini.  Apparently there have been 3 sets of walls built around Lucca, dating back to Roman times;  the current wall, which completely circles the town, was built from 1550 to 1650, using much of the town’s resources (human and economic) for 100 years!   Either it was money and time well-spent or wasted, depending on your perspective – no one ever tried to bombard…

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There’s No Going Home Again (A trip to Florence)

Ciao Readers!

So, before I even left home, I had planned a blog post with this title.  I had imagined it as an allegory for how much things and people change – especially me.  Aside from the fact that we are all totally replaced every 7-10 years (all of our cells that is), I feel very far away from the person who lived here 5 years ago.  At least I did until today, when I walked around Firenze all day and found that nothing much had changed.  It’s really weird – the shops are almost all the same (plus some new vape stores), the shopkeepers are all the same (they don’t even look like they’ve aged), the kebabs at Mesopotamia are still delicious, the Bargello is still a quiet refuge hidden from the throngs of tourists, the Ponte Vecchio is still picturesque, and the aperitivo at Serafini is still the best (though more expensive now).  So, I guess you can go home again, and instead of a philosophical lecture, all I have for you today are some photos, which look very similar to ones posted here 5 years ago….. (with some new Clet street signs and a new foodie floor to Mercato Centrale)….Buona giornata!

Wondering around Florence:

 

 

The Bargello:

 

 

New additions:

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure: A. Lovely light-hearted photos; B. It’s been a weird week

Ciao Readers! Happy Thanksgiving Week!

It’s already the end of my trip and I’m still trying to process the past week. In the past I’ve noted that travel blogs are best kept light-hearted with lots of photos, lest you lose your audience. However, this has been a weird week and it deserves some reflection. So, what I’ve decided to do is a two-part blog, starting with the breezy photo anthology; if that’s your interest, by all means, enjoy the scenery and then stop reading. If you’re curious for a little peak into the darker parts of my psyche and the week, read on (or skip down) to the second part….

A. PHOTO ANTHOLOGY

A trip to an olive oil factory in a lovely little town in Chianti:

The Duomo of Siena (originally intended to best rival Florence’s – an unrealized goal):

Lunch in the piazza:

A stroll around Siena:

B. IT’S BEEN A WEIRD WEEK

Okay, this is the part of the blog where we get down to the nitty gritty. I’m actually starting this on the plane ride back, where I scored an hour free wifi. I have no idea how or why, but this flight from Rome to Atlanta is 11.5 hours long!!!

So, some of you may remember me mentioning (and others know first hand), that when you go to language school in Italy there’s always an interesting and diverse group of students, and you always meet folks to go out to lunch, dinner, museums, etc. with – yes? Honestly, on this trip that was more of a draw than the classes themselves – I really needed to get out and about and out of my own head, where I’ve been spending way too much time.  So….you can imagine my surprise and chagrin when I ended up being the ONLY student at school all week. That’s right, not the only student in my class – IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL!

For those of you who are more serious students than I, the thought of an entire school and a teacher at your disposal may be a dream come true…for me it was just the opposite. Now, not only was I spending too much time in my own head, but I was literally doing it alone in a foreign country to boot! I have been to many Italian schools and there’s never been less than 4-5 people in my class, even during the off-season; I didn’t even know there being zero was a possibility.  If you read my truffle post carefully, notice that I said “we,” but I didn’t say who “we” were – we were me and the owner of the school.  And the lunch in the piazza photos above was solo…. I think you’ve got the picture.

Okay, now lest I come across as completely unappreciative, the school owner and teachers were molto gentile and we did go on a few excursions together (and a former student joined us on one). But it was just strange – it almost felt like paying for people to play with me. Since the excursions seemed to interest the school folks (the owner Mauro is actually contemplating getting a truffle dog), I eventually got over that feeling, but it was indeed a weird week.  For example, while the ride and the town in Chianti were gorgeous, the olive oil factory was modern stainless steel, the workers were cleaning up for the day and we ended up hanging out in their breakroom and eating food Mauro brought (albeit with some nice freshly pressed oil). All the workers were men and in their break room was a semi-naked bikini calendar, which was not at all quaint and frankly made me uncomfortable (especially in light of how woke we’re all supposed to be getting about sexual harassment and the like).  I resisted the urge to take a photo (I try to keep my blog PG, which is also why I’m not including the photo of the dead thing I would pass on my way to school I took to see if Steve or anyone at school could identify what type of animal it was).  Okay, free wifi time is almost over and the turbulence is making me nauseous, will continue this during my 4-hour layover….

Ack, that flight was long and bumpy!  Okay, where were we…. suffice it to say it was not the week I had in mind. Below are some photos from the beautiful but lonely walk to school, ending with a view from the door to the building (it’s supposed to be poignant, humor me). After school/excursions for the day were over I basically did what I’ve been doing at home too much lately – crawling into bed with my iPad.  Now, this is a travel blog and going any deeper would be a bit too much (though it is appropriate fodder for a book) – I’ll end by quoting the astute observation in the tag-line of another travel blog I follow – “No matter how far you run, you still bring yourself along for the ride.”

Truffle Hunting!

Ciao Readers! Happy Monday!

Today (Sunday) I got to do something amazing that I had no idea I was going to do – I went on a real truffle hunt!

So, to back up for a bit, when we lived in Florence we went to a fabulous truffle “sagra” (“sagra” = festival) in San Miniato. It was exactly what you’d picture – tons of booths featuring all types of truffles and truffle-based foods. I went on about it in detail in this blog post.  The event we attended today was called a “mostra” – I didn’t get the difference before hand and expected a festival very similar to the one in San Miniato….

The trip started off well – the rains held off and we drove into the beautiful town of San Giovanni D’Asso:

But once we got into town, I have to admit my heart sank a bit – while the town is gorgeous, look at the small area of booths we encountered:

What I hadn’t understood is that unlike a “sagra,” a “mostra” is an “exhibition” – more about learning than just booth-wandering. I also didn’t know we were signed up to go on a real truffle hunt. I stress the word “real” because there are apparently ones staged just for tourists – the truffles are purposely buried before-hand, so it takes no time for the dog to find it and success is guaranteed. Our hunt was nothing like that – we started with about a 45 minute lecture about the process from a life-long professional truffle hunter (all in Italian; the rest of the participants were Italians, not tourists). We then proceeded to trek through the woods for about an hour, over hills, through mud, you name it.  Then came the real excitement – at the top of a very steep hill, behind a ton of pokey brambles, one of the dogs signaled it had found something!  I didn’t take any pictures climbing the hill because it was all I could do to stay upright and continually untangle myself from the brambles (and I thought breaking a second iPad in a week would be a bit much, even for me), but aside from that part, here’s the adventure (full disclosure, despite the enthusiasm of the white dog, the other dog actually found the truffle – can you pick it out in the hole it/its owner dug once it found it?):

And, of course, I had to pretend to eat the truffle (I hid it and said “delicioso” to the truffle hunter, cheesy I know):

Our truffle hunt and the accompanying (mostly) educational lectures lasted till after 1:30 – we were hungry! Now, lest you worry that I never actually got to eat my beloved truffles, all of the (very packed) restaurants in town were featuring truffle dishes, and we chose ours on the recommendation of the professional truffle hunter.  (In one of his tangents during the hunt he explained how much he hates people taking pictures of their food, but since he wasn’t at lunch, I couldn’t help myself) – Buon Pranzo!

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