Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back


Not to sound like a broken record but I once again have fallen behind on posting things on this blog. However, I do have a pretty solid defense in the form of our internet connection being cut. As kind of an abbreviation to the story, our apartment HAD internet and now it doesn’t.
Anyway, internet or not (I really don’t care) life goes on. If anything it’s just one less thing keeping us from exploring Italy. On that note, I’ll start this blog with the story of our trip to the open air market last Saturday. Unlike the farmers market I’m accustomed to back in the states this place had EVERYTHING from food to clothes to Porchetta sandwiches—which I unfortunately didn’t eat—to kitchen ware to live chickens (no joke). Obviously, the last of these stands was the most entertaining and for my roommate J.J the most delicious.
 I really wanted one of these porchetta sandwiches. Unfortunately, I ate lunch before going. Lesson learned

Not wanting to miss out on getting some sort of souvenir, I purchased myself a kilogram (that’s 2.2lbs for those of you who don’t speak the metric system)   of local peaches. It cost 1 euro—about $1.25. They were gone the next day so needless to say they were GOOOOOOD.
The next day, Sunday, the school brought us to a local agritourismo at Lake Trasimeno—about 24km west of Perugia. There, we were treated to a breakfast of homemade pastries—all the ingredients were cultivated from the farm itself—a lesson in pasta making—taught by the owner’s elderly mother and her friends—and a tour of the farm. As if that wasn’t enough, it all culminated with a customary Sunday lunch consisting of several courses.
 This was a brick oven which they built on the building adjacent to the kitchen.
 The first course was a few pieces of bread with a variety of spreads (again, all the ingredients were made on the farm). Obviously, a few of the items—such as the olive oil, and eggs—are pretty recognizable. However, notice the one, half eaten piece of bread on the left side of the plate. I’ll give you three guesses as to what it is. Don’t know? Well don’t feel bad, neither did I. It was only upon finishing the entirety of the plate before I asked the server what it was…”Che cosa questo?”  Before answering I could see a grin emerge on his face; “Lardo” he replied.   Yes, you heard me correctly ….lard. Now while you may be cringing in response to that last statement let me just add that it wasn’t all THAT bad. Still, I’m not going to be special ordering it from Whole Foods any time soon.
From there we were treated to an amazing lentil soup (Umbria’s lentils have a reputation for being very good). Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of this course….ate it too fast. Sorry.
 After this came the primi course—the pasta we made earlier with a Bolognese sauce. 
One of many departing pieces of advice my mom gave me back in the States was that I should learn to eat my food slowly and enjoy it. Based on this photo I would say that I’ve come a pretty long way in accomplishing that goal. What do you think, mom?

Following this was a type of meat dish which I wasn’t too wild about. However, the plate of farm grown tomatoes basically with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar was probably my second favorite dish next to the lentils.


By this point I’m about ready to be rolled out of this place and following a few last words by the owners and a many “thank you’s” to the staff we are on our way back to Perugia. Before leaving however I had one last chance to get a shot of the surroundings. I don’t know how people can live here….it’s so ugly.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I feel as though my lack of updates has put me in a real hole since now I have to play catch up on all the events since my last post. Wish me luck.

For this week's classes (which go Monday-Thursday) each student was broken up into classes according to his/her previous experience with learning Italian. In accordance with my lack of speaking skills I was placed in the 101 (or beginner) class. Starting every morning at 9am each class would meet to discuss basic vocab and grammar structure before breaking for 15min at 10:30 only to come back and continue until noon. After a few hours for lunch, a siesta, or stroll around town (or all three), the class would meet once more for what the school dubbed "Survival Italian." Now while the name may imply something a bit more extreme (I thought it would be an Italian version of Man v. Wild) it was simply just a class where we learned how to do basic things like ask for directions, order lunch at a cafe, and go to the grocery store. It even included a few field trips where we could practice our newly learned Italian "survival" skills with the locals. One of the field trips was an excursion to the "American style" supermarket in the newer part of town--a few stops away on the mini-metro. To be completely honest, I found this to be a rather depressing trip given it replaced my perception of all Italians buying their groceries at a local "mom and pop" corner store with that of the "bulk mega-shopping center" that we find here in the U.S. The only real highlight of the trip was finding this....
 Other than that though, there was nothing redeeming in the voyage. After leaving I vowed never to return.

With our week of intensive Italian over I decided to switch into the more intensive 110 course which meets for an extra 2hrs every week (as compared to 101 which meets only 4hrs per week). I figure I'm here, so I might as well give it the college try.

Since we don't have class on Friday I decided to ride over to the village of Assisi--about 24km south east of Perugia. In fact the two towns are so close that if you were to walk down to the south end of Corso Vannucci (the main street in Perugia) and look east you would be able to see, perched beneath the largest mountain, a condensed collection of white marble buildings--this is the town of Assisi. Made famous by St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, the environment and one of two patrons of Italy, this place is a pretty popular landmark for the Umbria region. Unfortunately, Assisi has a reputation as being kind of a tourist trap, however since I technically am a tourist I guess it's OK that I go.

Starting out the day I had the plan of riding to Assisi, riding up and down the streets, taking in the various sights and perhaps stopping at a cafe for an espresso and lunch.  Waking up, I ate a breakfast of yogurt and fruit--something which I've grown quite fond of since yogurt in Europe is extremely good--and a mug of espresso (yes, I said mug). From there I got dressed and was about to walk out the door when I decided to check the weather since our professor informed us that Perugia tends to have sporadic rains at this time of year.To my dismay I found that there was a 60%  chance of rain ALL AFTERNOON! (Thanks weather.com....).

Rain or shine however, I planned on getting to Assisi.

As I left Perugia I meandered north out of the city on some back roads and through numerous little Italian villages. Some of these towns were so small in fact that you could literally stand at the sign indicating you were entering the village, look down the street, and see the sign indicating you were leaving. However, regardless of size all the towns had one thing in common, they all utilized every inch of space for either grapes, or olives.


As I got back on the main road to Assisi I could see in the distance a large collection of mean looking clouds off in the distance. Rain...

Riding past Assisi I decided to just keep riding. This decision was made based on the fact that there were tons of tourists and it looked like it would rain any minute. Additionally, I figured that bringing a bike into the old city would only distract from truly experiencing and appreciating it since I would constantly be dodging people. Luckily, there is a group of students going on a walking tour of the city next weekend.

My ride back to Perugia turned out to be a lot less glamorous than my ride out....mainly because I got lost on this really industrial road with cement trucks, bulldozers, etc. Fortunately, before I got lost I was able to snap some photos of some pretty cool churches.










                                               

























While on my way out I even planned on stopping at a cafe to get some lunch but this sign deterred me from going...
Once getting back home I stopped at my favorite sandwich shop in town and got a porchetta, artichoke, and sun-dried tomato sandwich. Mmmmmmm....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pictures now. Words to Follow

Here are a few photos from the last few days. I'll ad some text and a few more photos later....I just dont want to throw together some poorly written paragraphs without any effort. After all, I have an audience to impress....and by audience, I mean my mom.

Hi mom!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Settling In

So, I'm here....finally. The flight went as most long flights do and mainly consisted of sitting, being cramped in a small space, and pushing away the head of the person next to you as they dozed off. Perhaps the only 'highlight' (and I use that term loosely) was the in-flight film about a hip hop dance crew from "the streets" of London who take on the evil rival street crew from across town. Over the course of the film, the main protagonists are forced to overcome a plethora of problems, including infighting, break-ups, a run-in with cops and I'm pretty sure one guy died. In the end however, their "totally dope" dance moves--which to me look like nothing more than jumping and flailing--prevails and everyone goes home  happy. To sum of the movie briefly, it sucked. If not for the fact that it was SO BAD I probably would have stopped watching, but I felt like it was just to good of a bad movie to look away. Still, as much as I would love to go on being a film critic, there are way more important things to discuss (i.e. life in Perugia).

Perugia is a stereotypical hilltop Italian town. The buildings here in the old part of the city--which pre-date Columbus coming to America--are built entirely out of local stone and are capped by red tiled roofs. Given the number of universities here the population consists mainly of college age kids like myself.



With so many young people here this place has a tendency to remain quiet until  after 10-11pm when everyone heads out to restaurants, bars and such. From there, it is pretty much a constant party in the main square until midnight when everyone either goes home or heads out to a club. Prior to this though, the whole of the main square is standing room only (no joke) as people mingle and talk together over a drink or two.

Before coming to here I had not taken a single course on speaking Italian, something I find myself regretting every now and then. Pretty much the only exposure I've had to the Italian language are the few choice words my grandmother tends to say whenever she's annoyed. However, last time I checked verbally berating citizens of your host country is not the way to get assimilated or accepted by their culture so for all arguments sake, I'm starting this adventure with an empty slate. Fortunately, all of my roommates have taken multiple semester of language courses back home so worst comes to worst I just ask them to give me a hand.

Oddly enough, the most trying obstacle I've faced since coming here hasn't been the language but instead been the terrain.As I mention before, Perugia is a hilltop town and just like the name implies, there are a lot of...well, hills. Seemingly every road you walk on goes up and with no other form of transportation other than by foot, I'm forced to walk A LOT! At first, I wast really bothered by the treks around town as it only added to the experience. However, now that I feel like I've been on the StairMaster for the last six hours I've started to coordinate my trips so that they include the least amount of vertical gain.



While I could go on and on about the town, the food, and the people I feel as though I should save those for a future post. Plus, my fingers are getting tired. Instead, I'll leave you with some shots from my bike ride to Gubbio and a few others.

Until next time...ciao!
E