Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Transfer of Knowledge

People often ask me about my competency in speaking/understanding the Italian language during my time abroad. In response I often stress the fact that, while I was in no way fluent, my comprehension of the language was sufficient enough to get around and be generally understood by most Italians. Furthermore, if speaking failed I managed to pick up enough hand gestures (because Italians love speaking with their hands) to fill in the conversational gaps where my Italian language skills were lacking.

In addition to speaking and comprehending (some) Italian, I also managed to pick up another handy craft--feigning comprehension. Why is this such an important skill? Well, about a month or so after arriving in Italy I was becoming very disheartened by my inability to speak or understand any Italian (give me a break, I had only been taking classes a month!). Additionally, whenever any Italians realized I had no clue what they were saying (something they figured out merely by noticing the dumbfounded look on my face), they generally reverted straight to English (if they knew any), stopped talking altogether, or--in some extreme cases--were so disgusted, they walked away. Now imagine yourself--a helpless American in a foreign country not understanding anything and even worse EVERY PERSON WHO TALKS TO YOU KNOWS! Quite depressing.

After a while however, it dawned on me that I didn't actually need to understand what the other people were saying, but instead I needed to fool them into thinking I understood. After a few weeks of perfecting my technique I came up with, what I like to call, "Emerson's Survival Tips to Comprehending a Language You Don't Speak Too Good."

Step 1): Eliminate all body language which screamed "I'm an American! What the hell are you saying!!!" 

Step 2): Every now and then nodding in an approving manner as if you agree with what just came out of the speakers mouth
    *I also found it additionally useful to repeat words that the speaker says--particularly proper nouns. So, for example, when asking for directions and someone mentions a landmark--let's say "Piazza Italia"--even if ALL the other words out of the person's mouth made no sense, just nod approvingly and say "Ahhh...Piazza Italia. Si, Si."

Step 3): When the speaker is finished simply say "Allorah. Grazie" and IMMEDIATELY walk away.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Doesn't this seems a bit disingenuous or insincere? After all, didn't you go to Italy to learn the language?" Obviously yes, I did and as time (along my Italian) progressed, my reliance on this tactic dwindled. Besides, it's not like me doing this in any way offended or belittle Italians. The way I see it, this was nothing more than a defense against awkward situations for both the speaker and myself.

Sadly, following my departure from Italy, usages for understanding Italian culture and language have significantly tapered. Yesterday while skate skiing however, I was reminded that not everything learned in Italy needed to necessarily stay there. Before getting into this story it should be mentioned that I have been XC skiing only a handful of times, know very little about the sport and can barely make it 20min without falling. Needless to say, I'm a total amateur.

Therefore you can only imagine my surprise when the guy behind the rental counter started talking to me about the benefits of a "kick and stride technique" with this particular set of ski and wax combination. He then went on to describe the bindings and their benefits but I was a bit to distracted by his previous assertion on skiing technique to listen. As a followup to this statement the only question I had stuck in my head was in regards to my particular "kick and flail" technique. Would that work well with this particular ski/wax combo? Are there combination's which would work with my method? Does it cost extra?

The best part however came at the end when the guy concluded his speech with the sentence "I would go on, but you look like you know what I'm talking about. Have fun!" With friendly nod I just grabbed my skiis, thanked him, and walked out the door totally oblivious to what was discussed for the previous three minutes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Allow me to redeem myself

Upon reading my last post I found that it left something to be desired. To analyze it in the manner of an eighth grade English teacher, it lacked any substance or point--other than to announce my return to the U.S.

To elaborate more on my time back in the land of democracy I guess the word to use is relaxed. Monday was the first real snow storm of the year which is fine by me since it offers just another excuse to sit inside and do mindless activities (like blogging). Beyond this and the occasional nap or ride on my trainer my days are pretty unstructured. Lately however, I have become re-addicted to an old computer game I discovered while rummaging through an old shoe box next to my desk. According to the CD, the game is from 1999 (I know for some of you that may not seem old but for me, it is) and, sadly, I still find it entertaining--a testament to the fact that my brain hasn't developed since the age of nine.Fortunately though I do possess some semblance of will-power and can pry myself away from my computer screen to run errands, watch the Bruins, or visit friends now and then. All and all, not a bad life.

As for life "post-holiday season," my main focus will be the bike. For those of you who haven't heard (and I'm guessing that since you read this blog you know me pretty well and have heard) I got a professional cycling contract to ride for Team Jelly Belly Presented by Kenda for this upcoming cycling season. Words cannot describe how excited I am for this opportunity which I have been passionately pursuing since the age of ten (about the same time I started playing that computer game! Coincidence?....yea probably). After talking it over with a few teammates and various other cycling contacts I've decided to move to Tuscon, AZ for the winter months of January and February. At the moment, I'm still in the process of looking for a place to live but I hope to have that all sorted out by the end of the week.

I guess that's all for now. Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Home

I've been home a few days now. The jet-lag it starting to wear off but I still find myself going to bed at 9:00pm and waking up at 6:00am--something which I actually enjoy since it gives the impression of starting the day off productively. Other than sleep however, I have (surprisingly) found ways to occupy my time mainly with Christmas shopping, seeing friends, and riding.

Before leaving Perugia the staff at Umbra told us there would be some time needed to re-adjust to American life--a term they dubbed "reverse culture-shock"--and yes, while I have had to remind myself of certain American-isms (such as having a real breakfast and using my blinker to signal a turn) the transition has been pretty smooth.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Our living room is very clean. Not that this is weird, but today it is exceptionally tidy. Other than a few pieces of paper on the floor, the only things which really stand out are the newly arranged lamp and plant which were taken from our kitchen along with the half dozen or so pieces of luggage propped upright and ready to be walked out the door.
It's weird that four months can go by so quickly (though I kind of figured that would be the case). While I really appreciate the experiences, memories, and friendships this trip has offered, I really feel as though full appreciation for this trip won't come for years. As for now, I'm going to enjoy the final six hours I have left in Perugia.

Tomorrow, I will be home.


Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sample Of Things To Come

After doing so well in updating this thing I have fallen once again into a pattern of neglect towards this blog. However, I do promise traffic will pick up once I find the time and motivation. In the mean time however, here is a small sample of photos which I amassed on my ride today. This will probably be my last long ride in Italy given that I return state-side in four days.

Hope you enjoy. I'll add a story to these, again, once I find the time.

The last three are of Perugia all "Christmas-afied." Hope you enjoy it!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hot Springs On A Cold Night

As kind of a final "hurrah" to our time in Italy myself, two of my roommates--Stephen & J.J--along with our "fifth roommate" Noelle  decided to travel to the hot springs of San Casciano dei Bagni located right across the border in Tuscany. Unfortunately, the only form of transportation that could get us there was car--and by 'car' I'm not talking about a bus. What I'm really saying is that we HAD to rent a car and drive there ourselves if this adventure were to be a reality.

Originally, we planned on leaving our apartment around 3:00 to make our 3:30 car rental appointment and after a drive of ninety minutes or so we would arrive at our destination. Following an hour or so of intense exfoliation in the sulfur baths we were to return to Perugia wherein we would return the car and take the bus back to the "centro" and likewise, our apartment. However, a common theme in nearly all of my travels around Italy is that the initial plans of the excursion rarely align with the actual series of events which make up the overall experience. This would be no different.

For starters, we didn't actually walk out of our apartment until nearly 4:00 and by the time J.J signed the paperwork for the car and we were on our way it was nearly 5:00. Fortunately, the rental company gave us a great rate (the whole trip only cost eighty euros, so twenty per person) and didn't charge us extra since--due to our late start--we would be bringing the car back the next day as opposed to that night. Now, you many be wondering "but Emerson, how were four twenty year old kids allowed to rent a car in Europe?" To answer your question, in Europe you only need to be twenty-two to rent a car and as luck would have it, J.J is twenty-two. Problem solved! The funny irony though is that even though it was J.J who took the car out under his name, it was my other roommate Stephen who wound up driving given the he was the only individual amongst us who could drive stick-shift. Sad, I know.
Crammed (comfortably) into our newly acquired Fiat Panda--a top of the line car if there ever was one--we began our trip to Tuscany. Following a short stop in which Stephen had to re-learn how to put a manual car in reverse and we (more specifically I) punched in the directions to--what we (or I) thought--were the right hot springs. Together, all four of us were on such an adrenaline high from our new found form of transportation that it took us an hour to realize we were going to the WRONG hot springs. Instead of going to the springs ninety minutes away, we were en-route to the town of Saturnia--a trip of some two and a half hours! By the time we realized our mistake however, we were already too far out of the way to turn around...oh well.

As it turned out, the longer route we took brought us through some pretty cool, windy mountain roads (sadly, it was dark out so we could only see the area illuminated by our headlights) and culminated with a drive on the outside the town of Pitigliano. Like Perugia, Pitigliano is a hilltop town though instead of man-made walls, this place sat precariously over some pretty gnarly cliffs. What made the town even cooler was the numerous lights placed in the lower value to illuminate the town. Sadly, the quality of photos from my camera are somewhat lacking given the ineffectiveness of my flash and also the fact that they were taken from a moving car. However, you yourself can be judge and if you're really interested you can Google the town.

About twenty-five kilometers (about fifteen miles for those of you who don't speak the metric system) we reached the town of Saturnia. I'll be brief in describing just how we found the free public springs in the middle of the night. Pretty much it involved walking around for nearly an hour, driving onto a agritourismo, and walking around the private property for a while before we found our destination.

Once at the hot springs we quickly changed (quickly since being outside in thirty degree weather in nothing but underwear can be somewhat uncomfortable) and jumped in. As we sat in the baths, completely surprised that we ACTUALLY made it, the clouds parted for about forty minutes giving us a clear image of the stars. Not to be cliche or anything, but it was a pretty wild experience and definitely one which will be around for a while.

Given the distance back to Perugia we only spent about an hour in the baths before jumping out of the warm water and getting dressed--and let me tell you, there is no measure to the speed in which you can dry and clothe yourself when it's literally freezing out. Driving back, I managed to sleep for all of fifteen minutes before finally arriving at our apartment slightly after midnight. Completely exhausted, we all went straight to bed--ignoring the shower which we all clearly needed to get the smell of sulfur off our bodies. The next morning, after waking up at nine, our apartment (now scattered with soggy clothes from the hot springs) smelled very much like low tide back home--or as one person so eloquently put described that afternoon, "it smells like shit in here."

Mission Accomplished.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chocolate for Breakfast

Today we went to the Perugina chocolate factory--the once iconic candy producer of Perugia. Sadly, since it moved out of Perugia and was purchased by Nestle the company has lost some of its "mystique" as being a regional product. Either way, most of the Perugians I talk to still take pride in "their" chocolate. These days the company's factory is located on the outskirts of Perugia in a town whose name I have sadly forgotten. If my memory is correct the town's name might have started with "San _(blank)_" and ended with a vowel. Unfortunately, this description is about as useful as looking up a Mr. Smith in the New York Metropolitan phone book and not knowing his first name.

After waking up late due to my alarm not going off (Ok Ok it went off, I just chose to ignore it) I had to forgo both a breakfast AND my morning cup of coffee in order not get left behind by my class. For some of you, missing breakfast and/or coffee may be a common occurrence, but for people such as myself it is not a good thing and as a result I was in NO MOOD to go parading around even the most happy of places (like a chocolate factory).

Obviously, given my hurried and disgruntling morning it should come as no surprise that I--once again--forgot my camera. In the end however, it turned out not to be too big of a deal since photos were prohibited once inside the building. Fortunately though I was able to get a photo from a friend who was able to sneek her camera in.
Just Kidding.

Anyway, the tour was pretty uneventful and mainly consisted of us touring the factory floor and seeing how the chocolate is made, molded, packaged and shipped. Pretty much the only thing that separated it from a tour of a cardboard box factory in Paramus, NJ was the fact that it smelled like chocolate the whole time. Personally this wasn't that big of a deal since I'm not that much of a chocolate fan, but for some of the people in our group it was like they died and went to heaven.

All in all the walking tour--which also included seeing a replica of the world's largest Baci--took about an hour. As an aside, a Baci is a type of chocolate made by Perugina similar to a Hersey's kiss and, coincidentally enough, Baci is Italian for 'kiss'. By the end however, an hour was about as much as I could take given my lack of caffeination. The main highlight of the whole trip came as we stood in the lobby and were given dozens upon dozens of free chocolate bars--a few of which I grabbed for my roommates who I was sure would appreciate them more than I would.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday's Forecast: Rain, Tuesday:Rain, Wednesday: Fire Storms, Thursday: No Report

At this time of year Perugia--and all of Umbria for that matter--gets a great deal of rain and even though today it is relatively nice out, looking at the "10 Day Forecast" on might plunge even the most upbeat person into a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seemingly every other day it rains in this city--and for the next seven days it will be EVERYDAY! Now, I'm not trying to be dramatic or whine (after all, there are a lot worse things in the world) but as my time here is coming to a close I would like to enjoy at least some productive days--especially after this Sunday.

While I try to refrain from speaking in absolutes, I think it is safe to say that this past Sunday it rained the most I have ever seen in a VERY long time. So much in fact that Monday, when I went for a ride, I found nearly all of the valley below Perugia to be flooded--there were even roads covered under several inches of muddy water.

After waking up close to 11am (because whats the point of getting up when the rain is coming down so hard you can hear it through a six foot thick medieval stone wall) my roommates and I made our own individual breakfasts followed by the days main activity: sitting around our apartment. Every now and then the silence was broken by either the swapping of various YouTube videos or the telling of stupid stories about who-knows-what. However, most of the time was spent in silence with each of us sitting in our various corners of the room, staring into our computer screens. Pathetic.

The worst part about days like these is that laziness seeps into nearly every activity you do. Even a mundane, simple problem--like having to pick up a dropped pencil--gets boiled down to a level in which a minimal amount of effort (i.e. movement) is exerted to bring about a solution. A perfect example of this came at around 6pm when it came time to make some dinner.

Now, one would think that after hours of doing nothing but sitting the act of actually standing and doing SOMETHING would be a welcomed idea. Wrong. After about five minutes of standing over the frying pan I, inevitably, resorted to this....

And so, I present to you the LOWEST point of my day Sunday--making dinner. No, I am not proud of this, but then again that is probably to be expected.

Hopefully over the course of the next few days, as the rain comes down, I can somehow eek out some form of productivity in fifteen or so hours I am awake. At the very least, I hope to not have a repeat of this...


Monday, November 29, 2010

Funny Stories Worth Listening To

Recently I've been really into iTunes podcasts. Over the last few weeks I've amassed quite the collection of "stations" including NPR's "Fresh Air," "Story of the Day," "This American Life," "Wait, Wait...Dont' Tell Me," and "Rick Steves Travel Guide." However, my most recent find is one that I feel the need to share.

While listening to NPR I heard a story about a weekly show called "The Moth" in which members of the crowd came up and--without notes--told stories about their lives. As a concept it seemed rather interesting so I looked it up online and wound up downloading the podcast.

After listening to a few podcasts I'm pretty hooked. The stories are pretty diverse and can range from extremely funny to extremely sad. Either way, by the time one is over you're really looking forward to the next a book you can't put down.

Anyway, I don't know if my description captivated you--I doubt it did--but you can check out the website and make up a decision for yourself.....and, if you're still interested you should get the podcast


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where the Hell am I?

As is the case with a lot of my weekends, I spent most of the days on my bike. Often times people ask if I ever get bored or feel like I'm wasting my time simply pedaling around when I could be traveling to other places. Honestly, I don't. I enjoy riding my bike and often times these bike rides are mini day trips in themselves. With that being the case, I can make the argument that I have seen more of Umbria than any other person in our program. Quite the accomplishment if you ask me.

Lately, I've been trying travel to ride to places which 1) teachers have talked about in class or 2) are so far off the map most Umbrians don't even know about them. This weekend, I was somewhat successful in both of those endeavors.

Friday, I made my way to the town of Citta di Castello--about 50km north of Perugia. Citta di Castello was the town in which the Montessori schools were originally founded; however this was not my reason for going there since, personally, I don't care about that sort of stuff. Instead, I was looking to ride into the Umbrian national forest and cut through to the town of Gubbio before heading back to Perugia. This was the plan at least, but as is often the case, it didn't work out.

The initial trip out to the park went very well. It was warm, not many clouds, not many cars, not too many hills...all in all, a good ride. Then, I got to the "entrance" of the park whose sign was so small that, if it were not for a fortunately timed nature break, I would have totally missed. Almost immediately after turning off the main road, the pavement immediately shot up--an I mean UP! Now, at times like these I find the best course of action is to just find a rhythm and just keep on pedaling since, eventually, what comes up will come down.

Riding up this hill I was in my own little world--focused on the task at hand and fully determined to make it over this hill. Then, almost without warning, a piece of crap Fiat 500 which very well may have been older than me pulls up next to my left. It was red (though given all the dirt on it you couldn't tell), extremely beat up, and the noise coming from the car could only be described as sounding like a large un-greased textile machine on the verge of implosion. After a few second the man inside rolled down the passenger window and, with the use of hand gestures, pointed up the road frantically and mumbled the name of some town (or what I assumed to be the name of the town). He was asking for directions. Now it should go without saying that I have NO CLUE where the hell I am, let alone where I'm going and/or wherever this town was that this guy was trying to get to. Either way, I was in no mood to waste my breathe to explain to this man that 1) I didnt speak Italian and 2) I didnt know where this town was. So, after a short pause I simply replied "si." Seemingly content with my answer the man smiled, thanked me, rolled up his window, and drove off (I use the term "drove off" very lightly since the car was barely beating me up this hill). Once the car was out of sight I returned my attention to the task at hand and almost instantly forgot about the incident.

Following forty-five minutes of steady climbing on the same road I found myself--quite literally--in the middle of nowhere. From my high vantage point some 2700' up I could see barely any towns and it dawned on me that--other than the guy in the Fiat--I had seen no people. Still, undeterred I pressed on with the thought that, eventually, this road will have to lead somewhere. Making my way up the road some more I turned a corner only to find the road make an abrupt change from pavement to dirt. End of the line. For a moment I contemplated continuing down the road to see where it led, but the numerous frost heaves and loose rocks signaled that it would probably not end well. Straddling the line between dirt and road with my bike I looked over my map and came to the conclusion that I had no clue where I was. Awesome.... Making matters even better, the only way home was back the way I came--a trip of some two and a half hours. Fortunately though, much of that time was spent going uphill and therefore--due to the laws of gravity--would take much less time going the opposite direction.

Under a slight drizzle of rain and overcast skies I began my descent back to Citta di Castello when I remembered the guy in the Fiat. Since I hadn't seen him driving the opposite direction on my way up I can only assume that the guy must have continued down the dirt road. Looking back to the condition of the road and re-thinking the condition of the car an image of this guy standing in a ditch with his car partially decomposing next to him popped into my head. I laughed.

It seems though that karma would get the last laugh as I wound up riding all the way home in rain and forty degree weather. Oh goes on.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Italian Thanksgiving

About a week ago a familiar feeling came over me as I was making my morning cup of coffee. While watching the water boil (yes, every now and then I watch the coffee pot) it hit me pretty unexpectedly. I was homesick. The main driver of this feeling was the fact that I wasn't going to be home for Thanksgiving--my favorite holiday.After talking to a few other kids in the program, it became woefully apparent that I wasnt the only one with this feeling.

My reasons for liking Thanksgiving is pretty simple. Unlike Christmas, birthdays, or other holidays, Thanksgiving is a day in which there is very little expectation. You dont need to buy gifts or wrap anything. All you need to do is show up, eat, and be around family. Sadly, given that all of our families are an ocean away, being with them probably wasn't going to happen. To make up for this, my roommates and a few of our friends from the program decided to stage our own "Italian Thanksgiving." Fortunately for me, I live with two enthusiastic cooks and have friends who were just as willing to make this event happen.

To be honest, the dinner came out much better than I thought it would. Obviously, it wasn't the exact same as the Thanksgiving we had at home. For one thing, we couldn't find a whole turkey. Actually, that isn't true. We could find a turkey, but it was--unfortunately--living. All that was required to get it to the table was killing it, feathering it, gutting it, and last but not least cooking it. While my roommate Stephen was totally ready for the task, I doubt Umbra would appreciate us getting blood all over their apartment. Plus, I wasn't going to clean up the mixture of blood and feather which would undoubtedly have resulted. Therefore, it should come as no surprise then that we didn't have a whole turkey, but instead dined on some fine turkey breasts. Personally, I didnt mind.

In the end, the result of the meal was the same as it would have been back home. Everyone was slouched over our couch moaning in agony due to their impending food coma complaining that they couldn't fit in any more food--only to eat one more piece of dessert. It was perfect and perfectly American. Adding to the "American-ness" of this meal--beyond the fact that we had stuffed our faces--was that, due to running all four stove burners, the oven, and the washing machine SIMULTANEOUSLY, we consumed enough energy to blow the fuse to our building. AMERICA!

I'll put up some photos when I get them.

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So I've been really lazy at updating this thing....mainly because not much has been going on. School is school. Italy is Italy. So on and so forth.

Monday, November 8, 2010


"In the end everything is OK, and if it's not OK, it's not the end."

Good words to live by if you ask me. After all, how many situations in your life have you encountered that seem--in the moment--to be all consuming dilemmas only to have them become trivial a short time later? If you say never, then you're lying. Even if the disaster is on a massive scale, (i.e Katrina, 9/11) there is comfort in knowing that, over time, some semblance of normality will return. At least we all would like to think so...

L'Aquila is one of those places that makes you re-think such statements as the one above. For those of you who don't know, L'Aquila suffered a pretty serious earthquake 18 months ago which killed roughly 300 people. Now while the death count may not seem astronomical as compared to other natural disasters, the destruction leftover could challenge the likes of most. Stepping off the train it became woefully apparent that this place had recovered very little since April of 2009 when the earthquake struck. Instead of solid flooring, the train station had a series of wooden planks which were used as "temporary" surfaces to walk on. Additionally, yellow caution tape lined most of the building and scaffolding covered nearly the entire front facade. This would be the standard for nearly the whole of L'Aquila. After waiting an hour or so in the station for my roommate Stephen to arrive from Perugia, we got on a bus and--following a whirlwind bus tour of the city--finally arrived at our hotel.
L'Aquila itself if located in the very mountainous and beautiful region of Abruzzo, and sits in a valley below some of the highest peaks in all of Italy--even when compared to the Dolomites. Like Ascoli Piceno, the mountains in this region were covered in fall colors trees like those found in New England. Even some of the city parks--which were relatively untouched by the earthquake--could easily have been confused for ones back home.  Sad to think that someplace so nice could fall victim to such disasters.

The next morning--with the advent of sunlight--we could finally see the full extent of the damage to the main city center. Looking out the 4th story window of our hotel room we could see a jungle of metal scaffolds, crumbling buildings, and debris scattered along the streets. Even the building next to our hotel--which, luckily for us, had been completely fixed--seemed ready to collapse at any moment. Adding to the bizarre nature of the city, there was nobody in the streets--like a ghost town in an old western film...only this time it was real.
After a  morning ride to the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga (the same park which I rode though in Ascoli--more on this some other time) Stephen and I met up to go find lunch and stroll the town. Leading to the main piazza there was only one street which had been opened to the public. Though given the military guards at its entrance and the scaffolding which lined the buildings on either side, you would have thought otherwise. Walking through these empty, "dead" streets was pretty surreal and often gave the feeling that one was trespassing.

Coming around one corner Stephen and I even found two crushed cars and a building with furniture still sitting inside as if the owners just one day decided to get up and leave.

                                                A church entirely surrounded by scaffolds

For nearly the whole day we walked streets like the ones seen above. Street after street, block after block, nothing changed. At some point you would have expected to come across some area of the city that maintained some level of normalcy. But nothing seemed to.

As night fell, we decided to slip into a cafe for some bottles of water. By this point, both of us were pretty depressed about what we had seen that day. While we both knew the earthquake had struck, the scale of the devastation was something neither of us were really prepared for. Making things worse was the fact that zero construction seemed to be happening during our time their and beyond the erection of some hastily made scaffolding, nothing else seemed to have been accomplished in terms of restoration or clean up. Storefronts still had shattered windows, glass still lined the streets in some parts, and rubble still lay strewn in alleyways. It was bizarre...very very bizarre.

After ordering a bottle of water and sitting for a few minutes, Stephen and I decided to stick around the cafe and watch a local jazz quartet which had been setting up their instruments outside the front door of the cafe. Shortly after ordering a bottle of wine from nearby Teramo, the cafe owner surprised us with a dish of  cheeses and meats to accompany our drinks. As the music started to play, people slowly started to file into the cafe and for the first time we actually felt as though we weren't alone in this city.
Perhaps the best way to describe what happened next can be summed up by something read about one of my favorite female jazz/folk singers--a woman named Eva Cassidy. While reading a review of one of her albums published in the Washington Post the author commented that ""she could sing anything...and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered." In a way, listening to this band play in some no-name bar gave the same impression. Sitting there and listening I can honestly say I forgot about the earthquake. I forgot about all the destruction I saw that day and how depressing it was. I have a feeling the locals sitting in the bar felt the same way too. For them, life just went on and even though it was probably hard to get by and cope, here they were laughing amongst friends enjoying a nice evening "out on the town."

Walking out of the cafe and back to the hotel a few hours later, Stephen and I once again found ourselves surrounded by the scaffolding and wooden braces which seemed to accompany us everywhere we went. However, this time was different. This time, it didn't seem as sad or traumatic; and for the first time, I finally felt as though--in the end--everything would be OK.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fall Break: Perguia & Orvieto

        For the first few days of my break I spent relaxing in Perugia. Additionally, I had a few day trips planned which--up until now--I hadn't gotten around to.

Day 1:
        The first day, I made a late afternoon excursion to the town of Orvieto--a short hour long train ride out of Perugia. Orvieto is famous for its unbelievable cathedral which took roughly 300 years to build (1290-1609) and includes both Romanesque and Italian Gothic architectural forms... or at least that's what the informational brochure said. To be honest I really don't know much about architecture but still, as I said in my previous post, I like to think that  I can still appreciate it. Thankfully, the church itself is so awesome I didnt really need to investigate the finer details to really find something amazing. Pretty much the only effort required to appreciating this structure is opening your eyes.

This photo just happens to be the only one I have which includes the largest area of the church. Like the Duomo in Florence, this church also includes the alternating stripe patterns, composed of white travertine and green-black basalt, for the flanks of the building (again, this is the brochure talking)--I find this design to be pretty cool. It is only after facing the church from the front though that you can really see why people flock to this church.
         While it may not be noticeable in this photo, each one of the images done above are mosaics. Additionally, there are thousands of sculptures which line the spaces between the mosaics--some of which are no more than the size of my head while others stand over six feet tall. With this much detail its easy to see why it took almost 300 years to build.

DAY 2:

     After riding and then walking around Orvieto for almost six hours, I woke up this morning with very very very sore set of feet. Luckily however, this is nothing a few gallons....I mean, cups of coffee can't fix. Eventually, I worked up the motivation to go out for a ride. Sadly (and I don't know why) I forgot to bring my camera which really sucks since I took a nice excursion into Tuscany whose border is just a few miles north of Lago Trasimeno. This was nice, but the real highlight of the day came at night when my friend Elise and I went looking for a new place to get dinner in Perugia. At first our plan was to check out a new pizza place a few kilometers outside the city center. Instead however we--by pure chance--stumbled into this small store as a way to kill time before going to dinner. Inside was a bunch of local Umbrian products (wine, truffle oils, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pickled produce, etc.). Shortly after entering we struck up a conversation with the store owner--a young Italian woman who didn't speak much English. Our conversation varied for a few minutes but eventually settled on the products and some of the dried meats she let us sample. After a while she invited us to go upstairs to look around which surprised me since the place was so small I didnt really think an "upstairs" existed. As predicted, the upstairs was pretty much a crawl space with the ceiling only a few feat above out heads. However, packed within this small space were three tables and an older man serving wines and cheese to two patrons already seated. To make a long story short (b/c this is getting long winded) we wound up talking to this guy who gave us a bunch of free wine samples. Eventually, we decided to just stay there for dinner and over the course of two hours we had this really simple (but really good meal) accompanied by several glasses of wine, cured meats, cheeses, and an awesome bruschetta (and i mean awesome!) When it did finally come time to leave, Elise and I were really worried the meal would be really expensive.

It came to 15 Awesome.

The name of the place we went to was called "Il Tempio." The name probably comes from the fact that it's right across the street from the Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo (pictured here:

Anyway, if you're even in Perugia and looking for a good "aperitivo" you need to check this place out. The guys name is Claudio...really nice.

Day 3:

        Other than the days spent traveling on trains, today was probably the worst day of the vacation. While riding, it rained the whole time and in the span of 2.5hrs I got 4 flats before ripping my tire--forcing me to take a train home. Boo. Luckily however, all my sorrows were quickly forgotten by the best pizza I've had in Perugia yet. After missing out on going last night, Elise and I finally made it to a small pizza place called "La Casetta"--a small 'hole-in-the-wall' pizzeria about a kilometer away from Perugia's school for foreigners. This place is so small in fact that you can only order out from there since the space is only big enough for the 4-5 people ordering at once. Both of us ordered the house pizza (apply named "pizza la casetta"). I'll let the pictures do my talking for me since my weak grasp on the English language will do the real thing no justice. 
Please note how the pizza was not cut for us--prompting us to rip it apart with out bare hands. It was somewhat barbaric...but when pizza tastes this good, you too would do anything to get it into bite size pieces. 

Day 4:

        Today was a day which was dedicated solely to riding and finalizing details for my trips to Ascoli Piceno and L'Aquila. Fortunately to counteract the monotony of travel planning I had an AWESOME ride around Lago Trasimeno to the town of Castiglione del Lago. The first third of this ride was done on the same roads as the one which brought me into Tuscany just a few days before. However, instead of heading north towards Cortona, I instead went south--thereby remaining in Umbria. Along the way I took some pretty cool photos of the the lake and the surrounding small towns. Since its no longer the summer season, this part of Umbria is pretty empty of both cars and people...two things which I could go without. Here are a few of my favorite photos:

Day 5:

        I wont go into a lot of detail about my use of the Italian public transport system. The one point that I will make though--for any future travelers reading this blog--is that TrenItalia (the major train service in Italy) is ALSO a bus service. How do I know? Well, let me just say that it took a few shouting matches with conductors and ticket agents to figure this out. Ill leave out the finer details of our conversations....just know hang gestures were involved. This shouldn't come as a surprise though since ALL Italian conversations involve hand gestures--some nicer than others.
        However, even though a bus is a much less efficient form of transport, it did offer a better opportunity to see the landscape. Notice how the trees are starting to change colors--like back home. It was images like these that made me realize I picked the right place to travel.

Since moving to Colorado I haven't really experienced a good fall like those back in New England. That all changed when I got to the Marche region though since this place could easily be described as the "Vermont" of Italy.
 Here is the actual town of Ascoli Piceno. This is the Piazza Del Popolo (Piazza of the People). I'm no photographer, but I somehow got this photo to look GOOD! As a way to celebrate my new found art skills, I decided to indulge on the local specialty of lamb stuffed fried olives pictured here about the regional seal. A perfect way to end the night...and this post.

Until next time,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fall Break

Last week was the Umbra Institutes fall break. While most kids were planning intensely for excursions to other European countries I decided to spend my time solely in Italy. Now, I feel the need to defend myself form those who say I'm merely wasting a perfectly good opportunity to see other parts of the world. Yes, it is true, there are places in Europe other than Italy which have a lot to offer in terms of culture and experiences; but since I chose to study in Italy I figure I might as well "see" Italy. Therefore, I decided to split my ten day vacation in half and spend the first five days in Perugia/Umbria and the other five days traveling and riding in the surrounding Italian national parks. Why the national parks? Well--to be honest--while I do really appreciate art and architecture what really attracts me to places is the natural terrain and the people--frescoes are really of second importance.

So, in the blogs that will follow I will attempt to cover all the adventures I had, the places I saw, and the people I saw. The first of my posts will cover the first five days in Perugia and the next post will include the days I spent traveling in Ascoli Piceno and L'Aquila.

Anyway, this post wont cover either of those. Instead this is a prologue to my future "Episode1: The Phantom Menace" if you will. Speaking of "The Phantom Menace," in the time it takes to write my next post feel free to entertain yourself by watching these--a seven part review of "The Phantom Menace" which i stumbled upon while being "productive."


Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's About Time!

I saw my first car crash today while riding my bike--dont worry, it was a fender bender and no one was hurt. Why is this a note worthy event you ask? For those who have never ridden a bike/driven a car in Italy, let me be the first to tell you that Italian drivers are HORRIBLE! Only in Italy have I ever felt scared to go through an intersection while I had the right of way and only in Italy have I ever been scared to have cars drive behind me. For starters, they tend to sit no more than five feet behind my back wheel and when they do finally pass, they cut back into the lane no more than five feet ahead of my front wheel. Unbelievable.

I can go on and on about Italian drivers...but I wont. Obviously, not ALL drivers here are would be over dramatic to say they are. However, a good number definitely need to go back to driving school. Either that or stop watching Formula 1.
I was told via my parents that my grandmother was angry with me due to my lack of updates. Not wanting to lose my title as "Greatest Grandchild," I'm now forced to write something.

Last weekend a few friends and I hiked the Cinque Terre. It was nice...overpriced, but nice. I'm happy I went, happy I got the experience, happy to get out of Perugia; though, not too happy with the price tag. Without a doubt the best (not to mention cheapest part of the trip) was the water-front hiking trail which connected the five villages.
After staying in Riomaggiore--where we slept in a hostel which is probably the definition of "s%!#-hole"--we began our trip along the coast on Via Dell' Amore ("Street of Love" or "Street of Lovers", sorry my Italian isnt that great). As the name implies, this place is a hot-spot destination for newlyweds, dating couples, and the occasional American college student. Attached to the steel fence made to prevent hikers from falling into the sea were hundreds of locks with the names of the aforementioned lovers inscribed upon them. The largest collection of these "love locks" was a white fence midway between the first and second towns.

Once we reached the second town we were somewhat bummed to hear the seaside route to the third town was closed due to construction--leaving us with the option of either taking a train to our next destination or hiking up and over the construction before descending back down. Not being one to forgo adventure (or willing to spend the money on a 5min train ride) I voted for the hike. Fortunately, my comrades all had the same mentality and we unanimously decided to head for higher ground. In hindsight, this would probably be the decision that made the trip. The route we took was unbelievably nice as we hiked up first through a forest of olive trees, across the mountain through nothing but grape vines (and the occasional backyard) all before going down through woods which, if not for the fact the we're in Italy, could have been straight from my own backyard in MA.

I feel the need to use a lot of pictures for this trip since most of it consisted of just enjoying the view.

This contraption and many more like it could be seen all across the side of the mountain. In case you cant tell, its a motorized rail-car-type-thing-a-majig which carried the newly harvested grapes along the steep slopes. A pretty ingenious idea if you ask me given that I was pretty tired just walking the trail alone....I can barely imagine doing it everyday with a bundle of grapes strapped to my body. The best part was how these rail cars would traverse any slope, even those which seemed impossibly steep.

In the end we hiked about 9miles...needless to say my feet were hurting. Fortunately though, all my pains were forgotten over dinner where I had the pleasure of dining on some awesome risotto and local seafood. MMM

Then we returned to the hostel where I slept like crap, woke up early the next morning, and took a seemingly endless train back to Perugia....oh the joys of travel.

Until Next Time,