A Trip to Bologna

Ciao Readers!

As you may recall, I spent this past Spring in Bologna studying Italian and traveling to Florence via train to apartment-hunt.  While there I met a lovely couple from New York, pictured below (the husband was in my Italian class).  Not only do I have them to thank for looking out for me while I was in Bologna, but for turning me on to blogging with their own blog (here).   They had the good fortune of being able to travel back to Bologna recently (after a stay in France) and Steve and I went to Bologna to meet up with them (and eat, of course!).

Now, for those of you who thought the pictures of food in my “A day by the Sea” post looked good – truth be told the seafood, pictured below, from Michelemma leaves that lunch in the dust.  This was a restaurant I had eaten at with one of my Italian teachers and it is fantastic!   I had the appetizer of various raw/pickled seafood as well as the rissotto (photos below, though I had already eaten some of the appetizer!).  Steve devoured his salmon pasta before I had the sense to take a photo.  I also missed the opportunity to photograph his whole branzino before the waiter expertly de-boned it for him (pictured covered with tomatoes).  All in all, it was a lovely lunch with wonderful company and delicious food.

After lunch I was STUFFED.  But….everyone insisted that our day was not complete until we took a trip to our mutual favorite gelateria – La Sorbetteria!  (yes, of course I was not going to pass up gelato, I just thought I’d wait a few hours as our return train didn’t leave until 9:00 p.m.).  Below is a photo of my gelato – chocolate and “dolce di ‘mu'” (dolche de leche).

I also accomplished 2 more things while in Bologna (not that visiting, eating and drinking are “accomplishments”).  First, I have been trying to let my hair grow out.  But, as those of you who have known me for a while know, I usually give up every time I try (how is it I can change my home, my country, my language – EVERYTHING – except my hairstyle?!?).  So, when we walked by a cool-looking hair salon I thought “what the heck” and got my hair cut.  (Luckily, this was not a repeat of my experience in Barcelona a few years back where I ended up with a complete army-style buzz-cut, and I now look like me again.)  It also dawned on me that pharmacists can prescribe medicine and instead of having to wait until Monday to see a doctor about one of my eyes (which had been red for days), we popped into a pharmacy, the pharmacist asked me a few questions, prescribed some antibiotic drops, and voila – the next day it looked much better!  I finally found something easier and cheaper in Italy – dealing with minor ailments!

We ended the trip with a stroll around town to see Bologna’s (more “modern”) version of a Neptune statue as well as to admire the shops on the foodie street (pictured below).  After a quick 37 minute train ride we were back…into the throngs of tourists in Florence…

Italy as a Buddhist Meditation (or “the Green Day concert that wasn’t”)

Interesting title, yes?  I will try to explain…

Sunday we went to Bologna for the I-Day Festival, with our favorite band headlining – Green Day.  I had bought the tickets online months ago (95 euros) and even talked about it in an earlier blog.  This was a big deal to us and we had been looking forward to it since before we moved here (imagine your own all-time favorite – the Beatles or the Boss or Lada Gaga).  Here’s what it took to go to the festival: 1) since the last train back from Bologna leaves about the time Green Day was to take the stage, we had to figure out how to get home (couldn’t stay overnight as Steve had work in the morning), so 2) we decided to rent a car (98 euros, plus gas and tolls); 3) to get the car we left home a little after 8:30 a.m. and walked 40 minutes to the bus station, took a bus (12 euros) to the Florence airport, then took the shuttle bus to the rental car place (will be repeating in reverse to return); 4) Steve bravely navigated us to the outskirts of Bologna where we promptly got lost and 5) in my baby-Italian eventually got directions from some nice pedestrians.  We made it to the fair grounds about 1:00.

There was already quite the line of folks waiting to stake out a good spot on the lawn (all open seating). Green Day wasn’t scheduled to appear until about 9:00 (there were earlier bands), so we had planned to go into town on a bus to have lunch and go to my (still) favorite gelateria – La Sorbetteria.  At this point I’ll make the long story shorter – after unsuccessfully trying to get into town on a bus, we gave up and decided just to go into the fair grounds and pay too much for crumby fair food.  After quite a wait in line I was reminded that some bathrooms (in this case porta-potties) in Europe are still the hole-in-the-floor kind (ACK!).

MUCH to our surprise, the fair grounds were huge, and had an impressive array of (normally priced) food selections from across the globe.  There was sushi and African food and Indian food, and of course, many varieties of Italian food, to name a few (photo, below).  We chose a seafood restaurant (yes, they pretty much built an entire restaurant in a huge tent) and had the most delicious, typically leisurely (2 hour) Italian meal.  Never in a million years did I expect to get to eat mussels in a garlic and white wine broth and the yummiest assortment of fried seafood (“frito misto,” pictured below) at a Green Day concert!  So far, so good (well, after the bathroom part)…

At about 5:00, after seeing how many people had entered the actual concert area, we decided we’d better go stake out a spot and hunker down until Green Day arrived.  Just staking out a place was its own cultural experience, but there we were – the anticipation building. From the number of Green Day t-shirts in the massive crowd (pictured below), it was apparent we were among fellow fans (we had also spotted shirts on the bus and in the airport in Florence).   From the title of this post, you already know where this is going, but that’s almost beside the point – it’s what happened after that that’s the real moral of the story.

At about 7:30 (after Social Distortion left the stage), someone came out and matter-of-factly announced (I wasn’t sure I was understanding correctly, but I was) that the lead singer of Green Day was ill, the concert was cancelled and please exit to your left.  Steve and I were in shock – what the heck?!?!?  Were they serious?!?!?!  Was this a joke?!?!?!  After all the time and effort and expense it took to get here?!?!?!  And then it happened – we expected to look around at 20,000 other upset people, all angry and disappointed (and maybe an overturned porta potty or two) – but everyone else looked….fine.  More than fine – they looked to be in the same happy, festival-going mood they were in 5 minutes earlier.  Wow.  It was a little hard to comprehend….

And then we wondered – how could we let ourselves be angry and upset and disappointed when everyone else looked so nonplussed?  We couldn’t.   And that is how Italy is a form of Buddhist mediation – teaching by example how to let go of attachment and expectation and suffering, and just going with the universe as it unfolds.

Ciao.

Are We There Yet?!?

I am getting antsy.  My body is still here in Albuquerque, but my mind keeps wondering off to Italy.  Like right now.  I have papers to grade.  But here I am writing about Italy.  I just can’t help it…

So I am going to allow myself a short daydream about some of the Italy things to which I am looking forward…

I am looking forward to the day after we arrive at our new home in Florence (the day itself involves 3 plane trips on separate flights with cats and a drive from Rome to Florence, then 4 flights of stairs with cats and bags, and presumably serious jet-lag – hence the “day after”).  From Google Earth it looks like there are at least three pizza places within a block, 2 supermarcati and the Sant’ Ambrogio market I have written about in an earlier post, all close by.  (And probably some cool non-food things, too).  I can’t wait to explore OUR neighborhood!  (Wow – seriously – FLORENCE, ITALY will soon be “OUR neighborhood” – surreal – super cool – Wow…).  And after we eat, we can take a walk and use our “Friends of the Uffizi” cards to see the “Birth of Venus” and “David” and…Wow…Wow… I am seriously blowing my own mind!!!  Just a walk from our home: 

I can’t wait to go back to school (yes, I am a geek, but hear me out).  My Italian has seriously been slipping away.  I was having Skype classes on Fridays, but now that I am working full time, the only days I could manage a class were Memorial Day and one last class on the Fourth of July.  It’s definitely not enough to learn anything new and really not even enough to maintain what I’ve learned.  So, because I really want to become fluent, and NOT because I am a geek, I can’t wait to get back into language school.  We have three to visit (and choose from) once we get settled.  Me going to school in Bologna: We are totally looking forward to Sunday, September 2nd when we are taking a trip back to Bologna to see Green Day (and eat, of course).  Green Day (one of both Steve and my all time favorites) is the headliner at the I-Day Festival in Bologna on the Sunday before Steve’s school starts (I still can’t figure out what the “I” stands for – any ideas?).  We can get there as quickly as 37 minutes (on the fastest, most expensive train), but will likely take a slow/cheap inter-city train and enjoy the trip (and begin a more frugal life on one salary, for now).  Before the concert I will get to take Steve to one of the amazing restaurants I discovered when I was in Bologna for school, and of course there will be a trip to La Sorbetteria Castiglione (insert daydream about flavors of gelato here).   How cool is it that our favorite band is playing in one of our favorite towns with the world’s best gelato, shortly after we arrive in Italy?!?  Too cool for words, that’s how cool!!!    Green Day (& Steve in well-worn Green Day concert t-shirt – pics of gelato flavors to follow once we arrive):

Okay, I think I have daydreamed about Italy enough to sustain me through another week of not being in Italy.   As always, thanks for coming along for the ride!  Ciao!

If you can’t get to Italy….go to Eataly!

Now I realize not everyone reading this blog can get to Italy (which may be in part why you’re reading this – “armchair travel”).  However, if you can get to New York, you can spend the day in your own little piece of Italy – Eataly!

Eataly is this amazing Italian food meca in New York City.  And yes, it is owned by “celebrity” chefs Batali and Bastianich – but don’t hold that against it.  Walking through Eataly is as close as you’re going to get in the U.S. to walking through an Italian market/town filled with food in all its glorious forms – from a mind-boggling choice of olive oils and other “groceries,”  to hand-made pastas, to a butcher, a pasticceria AND a gelateria.  In addition to all of the food to take-away, each little section has its own bar or restaurant where you can order a glass of wine and try some of the delectables on-the-spot.  Below are photos of the hand-made pasta shop, as well as the amazing bruschetta and salumi platter we tried while we were there.  And, while I won’t lie to you and say the gelato is as good as La Sorbeteria Castiglione in Bologna, it’s as close as you’ll get this side of the pond!   If you can’t get to Eataly, they ship some items – or you can just look through their website and dream delicious foodie dreams! (There is actually an Eataly in Bologna – much smaller than the one in NY – but you can dream you are there as well!)

Back to the Beginning

As Vizzini directed in “Princess Bride,”  I shall go back to the beginning…

As most of you know, I came to Italy the beginning of March with two main tasks at hand – learn some Italian and find us a new home in Florence.   For the first two weeks I did not know which way was up, and both of those tasks looked insurmountable.  Everyday was a test to see if I would stay or take the first plane back.   But just when things looked bleak, someone or something would come to my rescue.

For the first two weeks in Bologna I was sleeping on the dirty floor of an American woman who shall remain nameless.  I could write for a day just about that experience, but will suffice with a photo of my quarters, below.  In sum, I learned many valuable lessons (I usually don’t fly by the seat of my pants for good reasons, you get what you pay for, never pay in full upfront, being a Buddhist about stuff is hard work, everything happens for a reason, yada yada).  During the first week I was actively searching for new accomodations and secured (sprung for) a solo apartment 2 minutes’ walk from the school starting after the second week.

Also during this time I kept hitting walls – I had sent some personal items and books priority mail several weeks before my arrival…when I got to school on Monday the box had still not arrived.  About a week later, the owner of the school told me my box was being held by customs and I had to fill out forms (this is the first time a nice young man from Texas A&M came to my aid – to fill out customs forms in Italian and say the right things).  After submitting the forms, my box arrived later that week, though I had to pay a [tax? fee? bribe?] for the Italian post to release my box.  I was feeling rather sorry for myself, but soon realized what a great learning experience this was – we were looking at sending boxes and boxes of stuff when we move – now I know the system, how to fill out the forms, budget for the fee (still don’t understand what that was for), and that we don’t need most of the stuff I planned to send.

The nice young man from Texas A&M (who has lived in Italy for 8 months with his wife and speaks near perfect Italian) came to my aid yet again when my new little laptop got a horrific virus (all that convorting with unknown Italian sites).  I was trying to Skype with Steve one night in the kitchen of the horrible first apartment (it was the only place the internet worked, so I could only skpe when the woman was not home, which wasn’t often), and all of a sudden a gazillion virus warning boxes started popping up – needless to say, this was not the first nor last time I would find myself in tears  (Skype has pretty much been my lifeline and connection to Steve throughout this process).  The next day at school the Aggie took  my computer home, wiped the hard-drive and re–installed everything – sooooooo nice and sooooo lucky for me.  I was happy at that point that one of the things in my box was a jar of green chile – a fitting, if inadequate gift for my twice-saviour.

I could tell many more stories of funny errors I made and how in the end it all worked out.  The many people I met at the school (Madrelingua)- both students and teachers – really made all the difference – people took me under their wing, took me to dinner, gave me advice, etc.  It truly made a world of difference.  Suffice to say almost 5 weeks later I am feeling much differently and am totally ready for this adventure.  I can now “speak” Italian – I can actually sorta talk in 5 different verb tenses and have enough words that if I don’t have the right one I can describe what I mean. I have an Italian cell phone, and Steve and I got our “codice fiscales” (like SS#’s).   And…finally, after 3 trips to Florence and learning to navigate the complicated real estate system (you have to pay an agent to find you an apartment!), we have finally secured our new home!  It is in an old building in an authentic(i.e. not swarming with tourists)  part of town, and other than the 4 flights of stairs, pretty cool.  It has a very old/Italian style to it – figure it will be funky/cool with some of our own things, and the best part is the roof terrace and Jacuzzi tub on the attic floor (also the guest bedroom).   Apartments in Italy come furnished – I mean everything from actual furniture to plates and pots and pans to pictures on the walls – so you actually don’t need anything, but it’s nice to make a place a little like home.

I am sure I have forgotten some interesting tidbits, so will add as they come back to me.  Will definitely be writing more on the food (i.e. gelato and cheese) in days to come.  Thanks for reading!!!

NOT our new home:

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