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Un’ Amore Amaro-Dolce


I wrote this about two weeks ago for a Hutton Honors Scholarship, and I think that now is the appropriate time to put it in the blog. Hope you guys enjoy it, I think it’s the best entry yet.

***

“Sei bravissima, bella! You’re wonderful beautiful! I hear over the rain. I look up. My hair is matted down, my running shoes are soaked, and my skin is covered in a rain, sweat, and dirt combination—but apparently to the older Italian man packing up a large white semi, I look gorgeous.

Vendors’ tents that, just moments ago, had covered my favorite park were being packed into 16-wheelers, hastily hiding the evidence of what had been a hot, Bolognese day. Rain had replaced the sunshine and stagnant humidity and had driven everyone from the gardens that day. Everyone, that is, except for Paige and I, who decided there was no better time to go for a cool, leisurely run.

Grazie, Thank you! I shout back.
Quanti giri hai fatto? How many laps have you done?”
Tre! Three!”
Sei bravissima bella, bravissima! Vai vai avvanti! You’re wonderful beautiful! Go go go!”

For what must have been the hundredth time since stepping off of the plane and onto the Italian tarmac, I found myself thinking, “Does it really get better than this?”

June 8 marked the five-month anniversary of my love affair with Bologna. I remember the beginning, my sheepish introduction to this city that came in the form of stutter-filled questions and frazzled impulse buys. A study abroad experience that was once defined by a stressful period involving finding a room for rent and desperately forcing conversation with my new roommates has been replaced with a tranquility that can only come from an intimate understanding of a new location.

And now, just as the conversations have begun to go smoothly, solid friendships have formed, and I can finally go to the grocery store without needing to translate my shopping list, I need to start saying goodbye. Goodbye to my newfound love, Bologna. But we both knew that this love was never meant to test the strength of time, and that eventually I would have to begin the all-too-soon transition to reality.

Like all love affairs, my relationship with Bologna was a beautiful potpourri of high-stress, blissful contentedness, and vague thoughts of a future together that, I knew, could never be.

I remember the first two weeks in Hotel Holiday, crammed in a room with a girl who, little did I know, would become a future roommate and best friend. It seemed like last week I was armed with my Italian flip phone, piles of housing ads torn from outdoor corkboards, and a hand-made script, clearly communicating that I was an American student, studying in Bologna, and looking for a room for the next six months. My first month and a half in Bologna I will forever remember as a time of mispronounced words, fears of being homeless, and the uneasy feeling that I had finally bitten off more Italian immersion that I could ever hope to chew.

Luckily, I met my two-week deadline of finding a new home, having no idea that my new roommates would become one of the most important parts of my time in Italy. All I knew was I had fallen in love with how big my new room was and its optimal location to my university classes. But even a budding socialite like myself had a hard time getting used to the fact that at some point, I would need to talk to my roommates, in Italian, without any sort of English buffer. Battling the urge to hide in my room for the next six months and avoid all communication with my roommates, I planted myself in the living room and battled through getting-to-know-yous and awkward silences.

During these times of awkward silences, I turned to my friends in the BCSP program, individuals I had become incredibly close with incredibly fast. The fact that we were all in this together and all equally clueless as to what the next six months had in store for us, made us instant friends. We congregated for nightly dinners insieme, walking around our new home and slowly becoming familiar with the porticoes, the lack of grid-system streets, and the fact that everything in Bologna closes between three o’clock and five in the afternoon.

One morning, I realized the city that had been a complete stranger to me was slowly beginning to reveal its secrets and remove its foreign facade. Later that afternoon, I took Via Oberdan to get to the park on the south side of the city, knowing it would be way faster and I wouldn’t need to battle the foot-traffic on Via Dell’ Indipendenza. In the evening, I clearly communicated to my roommates that I was going to go to the grocery store, and asked if they needed me to pick up cleaning supplies for the house. The barriers between the Americans and gli Italiani began to crumble, and the two social circles began to slowly fuse together. One night, during apperitivo at our house, I looked up and saw every one of my American friends talking with my Italian ones. I smiled, took a slow sip of my new favorite drink, spritz amaro, and once again thought about how life, at that exact moment, was perfect. America had never seemed so far away.

Now, with two weeks left of my six-month romance, I need to start preparing myself for the end. Two nights ago, our roommates decided to throw a party at our house to celebrate a whirlwind six-months that came and went so fast that it seemed unfair. My friend, Francesco, asked me how I felt about going back to the States. I told him that it felt, amaro-dolce, he looked at me, confused, and I realized that the expression, “bittersweet” didn’t translate in Italian. After I had explained it to him, he smiled and said, “Amaro-dolce, bella questa frase, Bittersweet, what a beautiful saying.” Last night, I came home and Francesco was there, keeping my roommate company while he studied. He asked me how my night was, I told him it was abbastanza bene, good enough, to which he responded, “Ahh si, amaro-dolce, ahh yes, bittersweet.” I smiled at his effort to accurately use his new favorite word and wished he knew exactly how bittersweet that moment had just been.

Over the past two weeks, people have slowly begun to trickle back to the United States and each day, I am reminded that I am on borrowed time in Bologna. We promise each other that, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later,” and I hope that everyone else means it as much as I do.

Unfortunately, I know that when my time to bid farewell to my new-found love comes, I will not be able to sincerely say, “see you later,” knowing that if, somewhere down the road, we happen to meet again, it will never be the same. Never again will I be twenty-one, living in Italy with tre Pugliese e uno Milanese. Never again will I be able to go to Conad supermarket and know that I’m more likely to find dried, raw pig legs dangling from the deli section than turkey burger patties and premade potato salad. That spark that makes a relationship new, exciting and terrifying all at the same time will never come back. It’s a thought that pains me and makes me want to burn my suitcases, sweep up the ashes and never look back. But deep down, I know, questo non è possible, this just isn’t possible.

Human beings are incredibly adaptable creatures. Over a few thousand years, we have managed to change our diets, turn shacks into skyscrapers and, aside from viruses, become one of fastest growing species in the world. Our universities use this uniquely human trait to promote studying abroad, hoping that students will expose themselves to a foreign setting and come out as more socially and culturally exposed individuals. And that is exactly what happened to me.

I’m thankful for my beautiful six-month affair with this gorgeous city. I’m appreciative of its graffiti and its lack of English translations under Italian street signs. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made and know that this experience was shaped more so by them than anything else.

In the beginning, Bologna excited me, terrified me and made me cry. In the middle, I began to see Bologna for the beautifully under-exposed Italian treasure that it is, offering its graffiti-covered walls and seedy side-street bars as safe havens for students from all over the world. In the end, I discovered what Bologna did for me, making me thankful for the friendships I’ve made, the adventures I’ve had, and giving me a self-confidence that I would have never acquired if I had skipped out on studying abroad.

For the rest of my life, or at least until I am old and senile, I will reminisce on my beautiful, roller-coaster relationship with Bologna. I will apologetically shrug to audiences that, after the fifth recount of my life under the porticos, will inevitably roll their eyes at me. But hopefully, they will indulge me as I recount to them these repeated stories with, as the Bolognese are so affectionately called, la dotta, la grassa e la rossa.

 

 

From the left: Francesco, Paige, Pasqua, Myself and Jacopo during our apperitivo party at the Irnerio House. We also took several photos in the bathroom to commemorate the fact that after about 6 weeks without, we finally had a functioning bathroom and running water. Photo courtesy of Paige Goodlett

This was our bathroom for a good month and a half after the water pipes broke and flooded, not our apartment, but several of our neighbors' homes. We were at a loss for what to do when we had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

 

Leo and Harrison putting the final touches on our epic second night of "brinner" (breakfast for dinner) at Joe's house

 

Becky, myself, Paige and Adelyn at the Italian Unification Party at Simona's house in March. You had to wear red, white or green or Simona wouldn't let you in, or so she said🙂

 

Me and Julia at the BCSP end-of-the-year party

 

Simona, Becky, Paige and Kelly at the BCSP end-of-the-year party

 

Harrison, myself and Leo at Birreria del Pratello

 

Joe and Becky demonstrating their Italian hand-gestures

 

Paige, myself, Matteo and Francesco hanging out in our "salon" basically a living room. Paige and I were two of the only people in BCSP to be lucky enough to have a living room in our apartment. Photo courtesy of Paige Goodlett.

 

Me and Harrison during the BCSP Tuscany trip. Photo courtesy of Adelyn Allchin.

Becky, myself, Paige, Adelyn and Alexa before our half-marathon in Trieste. Photo courtesy of Adelyn Allchin

 

After a long day at Lago Di Garda. Photo courtesy of Paige Goodlett.

 

BCSP in Tuscany. Photo courtesy of Leonardo Guillermo.

 

Senza Fermate Pt. V: Morocco, And Now for Something Completely Different


As soon as I had stepped out of the cab, all five of my senses were attacked at once.

The muggy, Bolognese May air transformed into the dry, sandy, Moroccan heat of Fez–no cloud coverage in sight. Everywhere I looked, Arabic replaced English, and the buildings burned yellow and orange, like Fez had finally had enough, and burst into flame. The call to prayer blared over speakers on surrounding mosques and echoed throughout the city, a foreign caterwauling from which there was no escape. As men made their daily pilgrimage to their respective mosques, others approached us, asking us for dirham instead of Euros and beckoning us into their shops, hotels and restaurants. Wandering through the markets, my nose was greeted with the aroma of fresh grilled meat and the subtle stench of death, as I see the butcher across the from restaurant wrap up a bull liver that, two seconds ago had hung on a hook against the back wall of his 5×4 shop. Mint tea and orange juice replaced my morning caffe, neither of which could mask the flavor of sand that had formed an uncomfortable coating on my tongue.

After four hours in Fez, I was ready to go home to Bologna. Half a day down, I felt like I had already been there a week, and an inexplicable exhaustion had taken over my body. Half a day down, three more to go.

In retrospect, I realize that my initial emotions about Morocco were the result of something I had never quite experienced before. Culture shock.

Much to the chagrin of flight attendants throughout America, my parents had me traveling as soon as I could walk. So after twenty-one years of traveling, it took a decent amount to throw me off of my cultural game.

After my first day in Morocco, I figured out what it was that really shook me to my inner traveler’s core. For the first time, I was in a place where absolutely everything was foreign. There was no sign of Christian influence, it wasn’t easy to find someone who spoke English, and I was a minority, a fact that did not go unnoticed.

But, never being one to close my eyes and wait until it’s all over, I resolved to keep going out into the city, forcing myself to adapt as much as I could in the next couple of days.

Luckily for us, Paige had gone to Morocco two weeks before us to visit  her friend, who gave her the low-down on bartering in Fez, suggestions for day trips and useful Moroccan phrases, all of which she passed on to us and we gratefully accepted.

One of those suggestions involved leaving Fez for 24 hours to see the beautifully blue city of Chefchaouen, a quite and smaller city in the mountains and four more hours north. Chefchaouen was a wonderful break from the organized chaos of Fez. Instead of intense bartering and the foreign sounds of French and Farsi, people calmly welcomed us into their stores, showing us their precious trinkets and blanket and politely nodding after we say, “la shokra, lie ber fiek, no thank you, God bless you.”  We spent the day hiking and bartering and the evening on our hostel’s terrace, meeting other travelers and exchanging stories. The call to prayer, a sound I finally adjusted to, provided a melodic tranquility to the still mountain air.

The next day, we reluctantly made our way back to Fez, deciding to spend our last day and a half in Morocco bartering and exploring the windy mazes of the medina.

My run in with Moroccan culture shock reminded me once again about the uniquely human trait of adaptation.

When I was little, my mom and I had a huge fish tank, and one of my favorite things was going to Petco and picking out the fish we would end up taking home. Both my mom and the cashier would remind me that I needed to leave the fish in the bag, floating in the tank for at least an hour before releasing them into their new home.

“Why do I have to wait?” I would impatiently ask, looking at the clock, counting down the minutes until I could free my new pets.
“Because if they don’t adjust to the temperature, they’ll go into shock and die,” my mom explained. The cashier nodded.

I think about what would happen if humans weren’t able to adapt. Would we ever leave our countries? Our states? Our towns?

Would we need to stay in a plastic bubble, filled with our familiar air for an hour before we could poke a hole, and slowly emerge into a new environment?

I guess it’s a good thing we are meant to be mobile creatures.

 

 

Becky in Chefchaouen

 

The view from our hotel terrace in Fez

 

In the heart of the medina, Fez.

Senza Fermate Pt. IV: Croatia, Something Unexpected

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When I first thought of places I wanted to see when I studied abroad, Croatia was not part of the picture.

During our first week in Bologna, Paige and I talked about the trips we wanted to take while abroad, and she mentioned that Croatia was one of her Top Five Must Sees.

I was confused.

Wasn’t Croatia a bleak, middle/eastern Europe, war-ravaged, poverty-stricken country? I had never heard someone say that Croatia was their number-one travel destination.

Then she showed me photos of the Dalmatian Coast, the crystal-blue coasts of Dubrovnik and the white-sand beaches of Pula.

As beautiful as they were, I still wasn’t sold, thinking that Prague or maybe Vienna would be safer and way more interesting.

One night, Paige, Adelyn, Becky, Alexa and I were planning our trip to Trieste for the half-marathon we ran on May 8 and once again, the trip to Croatia reared its random and, for me, still unappealing head.

It was Paige that discovered that Pula, a town on the western coast of Croatia was only a two and a half hour bus ride from Trieste. She showed the others photos of Pula, and they were sold. I shrugged and half-committed to the Pula trip.

There were many ways I tried to rationalize my aversion to Croatia. First of all, it wasn’t a top priority trip for me. Prague was the only city left on my Euro-checklist that I hadn’t planned out to see, and with the end of my study abroad ever-approaching, Croatia was becoming a less and less important place to fit into my travel plans. I also didn’t see why I should dip further into my dwindling checking account to go to a place I was only half-interested in. Another deterrent was that I was leaving for Morocco later that week and feared that between Trieste, Croatia and Morocco in a two-week time span, I would be stretching myself too thin. Seriously, what was the appeal in Croatia?

In the end, it was the latter that helped me make my decision. Becky and I decided to go to Croatia with the others and leave early, not wanting to spend the time or the money for the full 4 days and 3 nights we had booked at Most Hostel, a place where the proprietor makes her guests banana bread every morning and that got raving reviews on HostelWorld.I had yet to discover how truly amazing that hostel would be.

The next thing I knew, we were stopped on the highway, getting our passports stamped, our official welcome into Croatia.

Despite the google images and the scenic drive to Pula, I was still stunned by its unexpected beauty. After our first day there, Becky and I knew that leaving early wasn’t an option.

Ambling off the bus, tired, dazed and lugging our suitcases, we were greeted by Skender, the son of our proprietor, Gordana. We spoke with Skender the day before, telling him we would be getting in around 7 PM the next day. He insisted on meeting us at the bus station and drive us to our hostel. We crammed in the back of his red, two-door Toyota and, five minutes later, got to Most Hostel.

Most Hostel is an apartment, remodeled and filled with bunk beds and matching sheets. There is a living room for guests to sit and swap stories with one another. The living room comes complete with a computer, available for guest-use (if you can figure out the Croatian keyboard), squishy purple armchairs and red couches, and a bookshelf where travelers can take books for future travels and leave books for future visitors.

When we walked in to the kitchen, Gordana had just finished making us her homemade vegetable soup.

Think of an aunt, who, when she knows you’re coming to visit, makes your favorite dish and, in return, asks only for pleasant conversation, peppered with jokes and a bit of fun gossip. Now, think of a typical grandmother, always greeting her children and grandchildren with smiles and chocolate chip cookies, who sits, cup of coffee in hand and tells you all about her life and the rest of the family while you gobble down cookies and she smiles contentedly.

Mix the two together and you have Gordana.

As I was inhaling my soup, (and getting ready to finish the rest of Becky’s) Gordana said she would be by the next morning at 10 AM with banana bread and Turkish Coffee and was looking forward to a light morning chat with the girls. Our eyes lit up. The reviews about Most Hostel raved about Gordana’s banana bread and it had been a major conversation piece among the five of us in Trieste.

The next morning, true to her word, Gordana brought banana bread and made us Turkish coffee. I’ll just say this: The reviews were dead-on about the banana bread. We sat and chatted about her life, how she had lived in Chicago for fifteen years with Skender and her daughter. Skender had attended Berklee school of music, and now lives in Pula working at the hostel and at a local music shop.

When we told Gordana that we were thinking about heading to the market and then trying to go to the beach. She pulled out a map and went about circling several beaches as well as making a big X at the hostel location. She went on to make even more suggestions about what to do the next day, where and what to eat and even offered to call the bus station and make us ticket reservations for our return to Trieste.

Gordana’s kindness was reflected throughout the entire city. Especially when vendors found out that we spoke Italian.

Another Croatian surprise: we found out quickly that our Italian would once again prove more useful than our English.

Pula is on the peninsula, Istria where the regional languages are Croatian and, surprisingly, Italian. But I guess it made sense. The city is peppered with Roman ruins, ancient birthmarks pinpointing the affluence of the Roman Empire that resonates throughout the entire peninsula. Italian became an official language of Istria in 1919 after World War I and the dissolving of the Austria-Hungary empire. Under the reign of Benito Mussolini, Istria suffered forced Italianization and cultural suppression until 1947 when it was taken under the wing of Yugoslavia. It became an official part of Croatia after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991.

When it was finally time to leave, I found myself reluctant. I had grown fond of Istria. It’s people, its food and its history made it a truly unique and wonderful region that I was unsure I would ever get to see again.

I still sometimes think about Skender, Gordana and the fruit vendor who, every time we passed, would yell out, “Ciao Bologna!!” and offer us a sample of plump cherries, dried figs and strawberries the size of tiny melons. I think about their kindness, their cheerful dispositions and that they get to live life under the sunshine and on the white sand beaches of Pula. I think about how they smile and realize that while they are not the richest country, they were certainly one of the happiest. I think about the fact that when someone offers to take you on their boat for the day, it’s not a scam, you don’t need to worry about being taken advantage of, especially after you see the proprietor’s son come up and give that same guy a hug and pat on the back.

I also think about my initial reluctance to see Croatia, how I thought of it as a grim, dismally gray country, and am silently thankful that everyone else had been so persistent.

The beach of Verudela in Pula. It was about a 30 minute walk from our hostel but worth every step. The beach was virtually abandoned since, for most, it was still too cold to swim, but that did not stop the Americans.
Gordana told us that we needed to make a point to try Cevapcici, a croatian specialty of minced beef and lamb that you eat with onions on top of something that looks like a giant English Muffin. As odd as this might sound to most, it was delicious.
The archway serves as one of the markers for the center of Pula. It is one of the many signs of ancient Roman influence in Istria.
Croatian sunset.

The Fear of Fat

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It’s one of the most common fears while being abroad: The Fear of Fat.

Not to mention it’s Italy, so despite the stereotypes of guidos eating pasta and slurping down wine, they manage to effortlessly slip into double-zero jeans. And then, they have the nerve to eat a whole pizza right in front of you and ask, “Ma Allie, perchè tu non mangi? But Allie, why aren’t you eating?”

Bite me. No pun intended.

Being an American in Italy, you end up feeling like a giant among ants. Everything is significantly smaller here, and I mean everything, from cars to colazione.

If you compare American and Italian portions, you would see that what we consider a Medium in the states tends to be a Large here. Once again, this pertains to everything.

Now, I’m no double-zero, but when it comes to clothing, I fit in the small-medium category. Here, that’s a medium-large–let’s just say that when swimsuit season came around, I spent more time shrinking away from the stores than shopping in them.

Before leaving for Italy, I told my friends that I had resigned myself to the fact that I would, inevitably, come back several kilos larger than when I had left. That’s a lie. To be quite honest, gaining weight in Italy was, and still is, one of my biggest fears while being abroad.

At the beginning of the year, myself and several girls bonded over our passion for running and resolved to find and train for a  half-marathon while we were here, a way to rebel against the stereotype that Americans come to Europe skinny and come back looking like they’re wearing a spacesuit.

My friends and I also went to great lengths to get a better understanding of the Eating Habits of the Common Italian. A couple of fun facts:

1. L’arte Del Digestione True, the Italians can shamelessly eat gnocchi con gorgonzola and not think twice about it. But a fundamental part of the Italian diet is l’arte del digestione The Art of Digestion. Literally, this sort of mentality guides what, when and how Italians eat their meals. For example: It is unheard of to order a cappuccino after 10:30 in the morning. “È troppo pesante dopo la mattina milk is way too heavy after the morning,” explained my roommate. She looked like I had run over her kitten when I told her that I know people who drink milk with pizza.

2. Colazione come una regina, pranzo come un re, cena come un povero I learned this expression during my second week in Italy from my friend, Dario. It literally means, “Eat breakfast like a queen, lunch like a king, dinner like a peasant.” Figuratively it means, medium breakfast, large lunch, light dinner. A typical Italian breakfast consists of un cappuccio e un brioche, a cappuccino and a croissant. This will last most Italians until lunch, that’s when they roll out the red carpet. During the weekend, if there is time, Italians will make an antipasti, primo e secondo and a dolce. Antipasti normally consist of cold-cuts and cheese, primi of a pasta or rice dish, secondo some sort of meat/fish and dolce is normally fruit or a sort of sorbet, once again something that promotes digestione. Dinner. First of all, it’s really late in the day, most Italians start considering dinner around 9 and will actually eat around ten or eleven o’clock at night, and it’s always a very light meal, consisting more or less of a salad or maybe a small secondo of meat.

3. Mangia piano piano Food here is all about community. Almost every night, my roommates will cook and eat together at lunch and dinner, spending at least an hour and a half at the table socializing and catching up on the day’s events. Meals are about taking your time, savoring each bite and tasting the unique flavors that go into surprisingly simple dishes. Most dietitians will tell you that it takes a good 15-20 minutes for the synapses from your brain to tell your stomach, “Ok I’m full, no more food please.” The problem is, if we eat faster than our brain can process our food intake, we tend to overeat. So eating slower and being more conscious of your food intake can go a long way to help you stay thin–something the Italians have known for a couple of centuries now.

The problem for me was, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help but feel like I was starting to resemble a float on the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I would examine myself from every angle in the mirror, trying to find points of change on my body. I tried on old clothes, seeing if they fit a bit more snug in certain areas. One minute I would be convinced that I gained ten pounds, the other that I was exactly the same, I even ventured to say that maybe it wasn’t my body that was getting bigger, it was just my boobs.

What I’m trying to say, is I had absolutely no idea whether or not I had gained weight. And it was driving me crazy. And I didn’t like it. So it was time to make some changes.

After five months of pizza, pasta and gelato, I was getting pretty tired of Italian food. My roommate, Paige and I decided it was time to go back to our eating habits from the states. We started making stir-fry, Cajun and Mexican food. We’ve also thrown in some good old American grilled cheeses with a healthy twist. Our roommate even joined us for a dinner of fish tacos last night.

The half-marathon is over, but Paige and I have continued to run and eat healthy, preparing ourselves for the inevitable: Beach Season.

The five of us pre-half marathon in Trieste Photo courtesy of Adelyn Allchin.

Paige and Adelyn post-run eating dinner at mine and Paige's house.

Me and Adelyn post-half marathon, indulging in our courtesy goodie bags. Photo courtesy of Paige Goodlett.

A Patchwork Quilt of Greens, Grains and Grape Vines

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These last few months have been, needless to say, incredible.

The people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had can’t possibly be summed up in a handful of blog posts. But I’ll do the best I can.

I wanted to dedicate this post in particular to all the people, all of a bella figura, that I have had the honor of hanging out with for almost five months now.

At the beginning of our program, each person received a vague itinerary consisting of mandatory grammar classes, BCSP Subject courses, exams and pasta-making courses. The last event was from May 4-5: Una Gita di Toscana a Trip to Tuscany.

May seemed so far away, so I half-forgot about la nostra gita and focused instead on my courses, my travels and my new group of friends.

There are around fifty people in the BCSP program: a mixture of semester-long students, like myself, and the Year Longs.

The Year-Longs.

I have to admit, at first I was pretty intimidated by the students that were brave enough to live in Italy for an entire year. I was having a hard enough time wrapping my head around the fact that I would be here for six months. Living in Italia for a year seemed practically inconceivable.

This is before I heard them actually speak Italian.

One of the girls from the year-long program came to talk to us about finding a house at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t tell you what she said. Not a word. I was too stunned by her astonishing speaking capabilities. I could practically hear my ego plummeting toward the cobblestone street, two floors down.

But after a little while, we began to mix together, closing the gap between year-longs and, as we were so affectionately called, “the noobs.” Now, I’m making plans to meet up with a few of the year-long students over the summer when we are back in the states.

So when I heard that the trip to Tuscany was for both year-long and the No Longer Noobs, I was even more excited to head out and sit in a bus for several hours with a multitude of iPods and digital cameras.

And it goes without saying how I feel about my fellow “noobs.”

I think the thing that makes our group unique is we really don’t have much in common except for our passion for Italian. Some are argumentative, some quiet, while others will go out of their way to put a smile on someone’s face. We’re a group of all ages. Some people are in the early stages of college, while others quit their jobs, rolling the dice and seeing what la cultura italiana has to offer.

But our passion for the language and the culture is enough to make it work with us. In fact, it’s more than enough. From the language, we have sprouted little inside jokes, giving English sentences Italian flair, saying things like “Too carina,” “Binario 9 3/4,” and “Andiamski“– things that no one other than our little group would understand. From the culture, we’ve developed certain habits, moving our hands a bit more frequently than before and emphasizing the wrong syllables on English words. We know each other well enough to know that it goes without saying that each person brings a bottle of wine to group dinners and that one etto of prosciutto crudo for two people simply will not do.

With this is mind, I guess you could say the Tuscan countryside really was the best choice for a massive group trip. Toscana really is a patchwork quilt of rolling green hills, crisp golden grains and chocolate-brown grape vines. Poppies pepper the hills and the farmland while cypress trees sky-rocket up toward the seemingly impossibly blue sky. The sing-song of le potazzine, an affectionate name for the tiny birds native to the Tuscan countryside, echo through the trees. The mud on our shoes and twigs in our hair served as a reminder that, yes, this was real and yes, you actually were here. It was una bella mescola of sights, sounds and smells–a mixture of everything beautiful, thrown together in the middle of Italy.

On our last day, we went on a two-hour hike through the countryside with landscape views all the way down of Montalcino and other surrounding Tuscan towns. Throughout the hike, voices echoed uniting thoughts: “Is this my life right now?” “Am I really here?” The only thing I could think was, “There is no where else I would rather be.”

A couple of weeks ago, Italian professors from Cornell and Tulane University came to Bologna to visit the BCSP office, seeing if the program would be a good fit at their Universities.

The five or six of us that stayed to talk with the professors exchanged smiles, knowing that we shared the common view that our program was, without a doubt, the best overseas Italian program.

What makes BCSP such a unique program is that it takes students from all over America, that otherwise would have probably never met, and puts them in an uncomfortable situation, forcing them to integrate and become a living and breathing part of the city itself.

At the beginning, this sort of independence leaves you feeling like you’re standing naked in the middle of Piazza Maggiore. You’re scared, embarrassed and wondering why the hell you signed on for this sort of program.

But it’s reassuring to know that you have about fifty other studenti Americani, standing right there with you. Bio majors next to book worms, Ivy Leaguers joking around with students from state schools–una bella mescola, a mixture of everything beautiful, thrown together in the middle of Italy.

Senza Fermate: Part III Planning and Doing “Bramsterdam”

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ATTENTION: Extremely long blog entry, sorry in advance.

Planning

One of the most popular items on the European Study Abroad Bucket List is the trip to Amsterdam. What most people don’t know is that the actual planning behind a trip to Amsterdam takes time, research, and, in my case, five girls rescheduling a final exam for Grammatica Italiano and desperately trying to change a ticket.

First of all, if you’re looking for a cheap, direct flight to Amsterdam from Italy, you’re pretty much out of luck.What most people end up doing (ourselves included) is fly to Brussels, the closest major city to Amsterdam outside of the Netherlands, and take a two-hour train from the Brussels Central Station to Amsterdam.

To self-motivate ourselves, we decided to first book our tickets to Brussels and then plan the rest accordingly. The thing is, RyanAir only flies to Brussels Charleroi, a tiny airport in southern Brussels and about an hour and a half away from Brussels Centraal. Realizing that this would be a bit of a transportation challenge for us, we decided to sit down one night and finalize the details for an incredible Amsterdam adventure.

Here, I have to dedicate a paragraph to the hard work of Becky Lee. The girl is a transportation wiz. After two hours of meticulous research on her part, she had a solid transportation itinerary, including everything from Charleroi to Amsterdam and back and involving a plane, a bus and two trains. For a more detailed view at our itinerary, click here

Brussels

With our travel itinerary we had a day and a half to kill in Brussels and I had two priorities on my Belgiam to-do list:

1. Eat waffles
2. Do a beer tour

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Allie, wouldn’t you want to expand your horizons? See the sights? Do an ACTUAL tour? Take in the culture?

My response: I honestly believe that you can learn more about the culture of a foreign city by doing a gastro-tour than by sight-seeing. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the sight-seeing, but, after talking to my roommates and discovering that I’ve done more touristy things in Bologna than they have, I’m starting to think that there is more than one way to learn about the modern culture of a place. And the easiest way: eating their food and enjoying their entertainment.

It just so happens that Belgium, from a gastronomic perspective, is famous for beer, waffles and chocolate.

Unfortunately, we found out that most of the beer tours in Brussels cost about 70 Euro a person, an asking price none of us were willing to agree to, so I had to take matters into my own hands.

If I couldn’t find a beer tour, I would just have to make one.

Two hours and five detailed, photocopied itineraries later, I had created the “BCSP Belgian Bar Crawl” which included seven bars ranging from 300-year-old historical landmarks to a bar with famous peach, raspberry and cherry beer. I even threw in a gay bar–appropriately named L’Homo Erectus. We saved the famous “Delirium Cafè” for last, but more details on that later.

With a transportation Itinerary in one hand and a Bar Crawl list in the other, we were ready to tackle Bramsterdam

Alexa and Adelyn show off the BCSP Belgiam Bar Crawl Itinerary at our first stop, A La Mort Subite, a bar in Central Brussels that specializes in fruit beers and has been a staple in the Belgiam community since its opening in the 1920s.

Our final stop of the night, L'Homo Erectus, a gay bar in Brussels. There was no real reason for this stop except that we thought it would be a great way to end our bar crawl and the first day of our Brussels/Amsterdam vacation.

Chowing down on a Belgium waffle. Actually, this is a really touristy version of the Belgian waffle, authentic Belgian waffles are normally served plain with a bit of dusted sugar on top.

Amsterdam

I think Becky described it best during our first day wandering around The Red Light District.

“This place is like Disney World for adults.”

It was probably one of the most accurate descriptions of the Red Light District that I had ever heard. The main streets were crammed with Sex Shops, Coffee Shops and every type of food imaginable.

I had expected all of this, except the food.

Neon signs announced everything from Argentinean Steak to Subway to Authentic Ristoranti Italiani (which we couldn’t help but laugh at) to Easy Wok Asian Carry-Out.

Minus the “authentic cultural attire,” it was like Epcot on steroids.

Despite the chaos and mayhem of the Red Light District, I would have to say that Amsterdam is probably one of the quietest and most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.

First of all, according to Cars and Transportation magazine, over sixty percent of inner-city trips are on bike, and there are over 400 km of bike paths in central Amsterdam.

In a city where about fifty-nine percent of the population rode bikes, it only made sense for us to hop on the band wagon and find a bike rental shop.

That night, on our way back to the hostel, it started to rain. The four of us quickly pedaled back to the hostel, watching the road and hoping we didn’t wipe out on the slick bike paths. The only noises came from our bike tires splashing through the newly made bike path puddles and the subtle ding-ing from the bells of other anonymous riders, hurrying to find shelter from the steady downpour.

We also toured around Amsterdam, seeing the Van Gogh Museum, the Heineken Factory, Anne Frank House and the famous “I Amsterdam” sign.

A friend of mine that is studying in Amsterdam told us about a huge pillow fight that was happening in Dam Square while we were there. We found out later that it was an international event in several cities around the world including Adelade, Los Angeles, Barcelona and even Chicago! The event took place at 3 PM in each respective city to promote outdoor activities.

A friend of mine that is studying in Amsterdam told us about a huge pillow fight that was happening in Dam Square while we were there. We found out later that it was an international event in several cities around the world including Adelaide, Los Angeles, Barcelona and even Chicago! The event took place at 3 PM in each city to promote outdoor activities.

The "I Amsterdam" sign near the Van Gogh museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Amsterdam

From the left: Becky, Paige, Alexa and I posing at the I Amsterdam sign

One of the many canals throughout the city

Amsterdam to Bologna: The Longest Night of My Life

Our flight back to Bologna was at 8:20 am out of Brussels Charleroi. Being young college students studying abroad, we look for as many opportunities as possible to save money. So it made little sense for us to rent out a hostel for one night when we would have wake up early the next day to catch our multitude of our buses and trains.

So instead of renting a hostel, we stayed out all night.

Our travel itinerary for the trip back to Bologna went a little like this:

1. Train from Amsterdam at 9:30
2. Arrive in Brussels at midnight and stay at Delirium Bar until 5:30 in the morning
3. Train to Charleroi train station, bus to Charleroi airport in time for our 8:20 flight.

And that’s just what we did.

If you are planning on going to Brussels and you only have time to stop at one place for a Belgian beer: Go to Delirium.

Delirium bar is a three-floor beer extravaganza and openly brags about having more than 2,000 types of beer, both Belgium and International. They even have Presidente beer, a personal favorite of mine from the Dominican Republic that is damn near impossible to find in the states. Don’t believe me? Check it out here

The bar has a killer atmosphere and people all over are ready to share beers, give recommendations and tell you stories of where they’ve been and where they’re going. I just wish I had been in a better state of mind to enjoy the conversations and the people–but after four days of non-stop Brussels and Amsterdam adventures, I was two where-are-you-froms away from a nervous breakdown.

We wanted t-shirts, but since they were out of shirts in our size. And that's how I came to purchase, my miniature plush pink elephant, Dudley the Delirium mascot. Except I named him Dudley.

I am happy to say that we did, in fact, make all of our buses and trains and wound up safely back in Bologna, just as RyanAir promised, around 11:30. And I, made it delirious and dehydrated into my bed at 12:30, where I did not move for several hours.

The Weaving Technique


April 10th marked the three-month anniversary of my time in Bologna. And in the past fourteen weeks, quite a bit has changed.

Bologna is waking up, shedding its grey, damp and wintry coat and transforming into a warm, colorful, outdoor party–and everyone is invited.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hanging around in I Giardini Margherita, a massive park just south of the city walls that, in the summer, functions as a day time home for most of the Bolognese student population.

My friends and I will stay in the gardens for hours, sharing prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches, accompanied with two euro bottles of sparkling white wine, while student guitarists, soaring soccer balls and the caterwauling of i bambini constantly serve as the perfect background music for a lazy summer’s day.

The city is now buzzing with life. The Italians have traded i loro stivali for le scarpe and have taken to the streets, spending their time in outdoor cafès or lounging around in Piazza Maggiore.

Last week, the students hosted a party in Faccolta Scienze Politica, a school building on Strada Maggiore for political science students. They call them “Student Takeovers” and have bands and bars set up in the main atrium of the building. There’s no entrance fee and the drinks are reasonably priced–but even if you think a three-euro spritz is a bit out of your price range, you’re guaranteed to find a student just outside of the building, selling 40-ounce Birra Morretti or Nosta Azzura for one euro a piece. Cavatappi not included.

As Bologna begins to slowly stir from its wintry slumber, I’ve found myself becoming more and more mellowed, succumbing to an aloof, c’est la vie mentality.

Spending days lounging in I Giardini, I’ve found myself taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and letting the sun beat down on my face, Doris Day echoes through my brain.

che serà serà, whatever will be will be……

Reflecting a foreign tranquility that has come over me in the past three months.

My desire to go out and drink too much too fast every night of the week is slowly being replaced with a simple satisfaction in going out, grabbing drinks with my friends and roommates and then heading back to someone’s house to watch a movie, make a pizza or keep drinking and talking well into the night.

Not to mention the fact that I have two impending exams, three major trips, and very little time to study within my remaining ten weeks here. But the Italian Weaving Technique is doing wonders for my overall sanity.

Allow me to explain.

In America, our quotidian activities function in blocks of time: We wake up, go to school/work, come home, eat, watch TV/workout, go out, go to bed. More or less, most people have a day-to-day schedule that very rarely diverts from its scheduled path.

In Italia, non è cosi.

Restaurants open around noon and close by 3:30 for a two to three-hour siesta in which proprietors, waiters, chefs and cashiers head home for a little break. Around 5 o’clock waiters and hostesses return to the restaurant for the dinnertime rush, close shop around midnight or one o’clock and get ready to go out.

Here, work isn’t seen as a thing Italians separate themselves from–it is as much a part of their day-to-day activities as eating, sleeping and showering.

So, I’ve decided to implement the weaving technique into my general studying habits.

One of my favorite things that I’ve done so far this week has been to go to my Starbucks-equivalent (Cafè  ITIT: Il Sandwich Cafè) and casually read my Italian books–circling the words I don’t know and underlining particularly beautiful sentences, all the while feeling a welcoming breeze come in from the always-open front door. My plumb-colored plush armchair cradles my body as I drape my feet over the arm rests, book open and pens at the ready. Everything about this place says, “Fa una respira stay a while and order something when you’re ready”

My plan as of now is to read an average of 25 pages a day. If I’m into the book and want to keep going, va bene, if not, I’ll close up, head out for a run or grab lunch and then go on with the rest of my day. It doesn’t matter when or where I read, as I can get that amount done each day, I should be ok.

I’m not saying I’m going to walk away with the best grades or as the most respected student, but taking time to enjoy the city and hang out with my roommates and friends is, for me, just as high of a priority here as my classes. Something, I regret to say, hasn’t always been the case in the past.

So, a new habit of mine that I hope to bring back to the States with me is to take time to enjoy friends and family, take a deep breath and realize that, one way or another, things will get done. True, this is a life with a little less structure, but who’s to say that is necessarily a bad thing?

During a "Student Takeover" of the faculty building at the University of Bologna, students will find local bands and set up cash bars and host get together to support local causes or student protests. The doors are open to everyone but the events tend to favor students. Photo courtesy of Paige Goodlett

In the summer, I Giardini Margherita is home of one of the only outdoor discotecas in Bologna. The gardens also have an outdoor cafe, gelateria, playgrounds, outdoor basketball courts, trampolines, inflatible slides and a mini go-kart track. Photo courtesy of Julia Meek.