Sunday, May 13, 2012

Viva Italia!

Dear hobo readers, I am back! I returned to the States at the beginning of April. My reasons for putting off the blog until now are two-fold: 1. if I finished the blog, then the reality that my trip is over truly sets in, and 2. I have been focusing on my graduate school application for a Masters program in Biomedical Sciences (pre-med) that I recently submitted...I'll keep you posted :)

So here we go, Italia! Leaving southern France was très difficile...but knowing that I would be heading to Italy to see the sights with my old church camp/school buddy Brian made it a lot easier. The train ride from Nice to Milan was incredibly interesting. The French keep a little bit more to themselves than the Italians, it seems. There were people talking loudly on their cellular devices, others yelling (really yelling) at people that were in their seats, and others just talking amongst themselves a lot bigger than their "inside voices." As I brushed up on my Italian via my treasured Rick Steves' phrase book, I found it hard to switch from the French accent. In French, as many of you know, the word you pronounce excludes a lot of the letters of the word in written form. While the French r's are at the back of the throat, in Italian, all of the sounds are right behind the teeth (think of rolled r's) and they do not leave out a single letter in their words. They prrrrrronounce-eh eh-verrrry-thing-ah!! This foreshadows a conversation we will have later about how Italians don't leave ANYthing out, they talk and talk and talk and talk! 

I arrived in Reggio Emilia, where Brian lives, and was picked up in a cherry red Alfa Romeo that Brian had rented for the week. Of course! How could we traipse around Italy in anything other vehicle?? He is in charge of an English-speaking meet up group in the Bologna/Parma area, and had planned a party for that same night! We had a blast! I met people from all over Italy, as well as some American and Canadian ex-pats. It was a potluck, not-so-sit-down dinner with some of the most amazing store-bought and handmade wine I had ever savored. One of the members of the meet up graciously DJed for us, and of course we obliged with copious dance moves (see picture above)! Afterwards, we headed towards an out of the way night club. It is out of the way so that they may accommodate all of the parking for this gigantic facility. The club scene is interesting. First of all, the men have more product in their defied-gravity-hair-do than physics can explain, and their clothes (jacket, ascot, polished shoes, jewelry) cost more than anything I have ever owned...combined! Second, the taxes in Italy are sky-high for these businesses, so they skirt around this by creating organizations. When you arrive at the club, you pay to become a member, turn in your tessera (card) with the barkeep, then buy a too-expensive-to-tell-you cocktail and head out into the lion's den of Italian bobbers. I say "bobbers" because Italians do not seem to dance. They bob. Why would they spend all of that time getting quaffed just to sweat and ruin it? Italians may be shiny and tan, but they ain't stupid. Unlike Brian, me, and some of Brian's non-Italian friends, we lit up that dance floor as if Lady Gaga herself was singing to us personally. Brian's friend Dimitri and I roamed through the 3 sections of the club looking for the best music/most fun. We found this room where they played Italian folkish gypsy music. I had never heard/witnessed such music or this folk scene. All of the Italian youth knew the words to each strange song, and danced modern versions of traditional dance. Basically it is a lot of jumping around ala Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club only with your hands behind your back like in Fiddler on the Roof. Dimitri and I followed suit, and sweat to the Italian oldies! We did not leave the club until about 4am which is waaaaaaay past this hobo's bedtime. But it was worth it.

The next morning I awoke to find that Brian's apartment in the country is surrounded by the most beautiful hills. (See above and below)

We headed out in the Alfa Romeo towards Venezia (Venice)! Brian asked me to stop saying "Alfa Romeo!" in my thickest Italian accent EVERY time we got in the car. In my defense, my brother and father do this sort of thing too. Bless the people that surround us and love us each day.

Driving through Italy was eye/mind opening. When I think of Italy, as an American...I picture the commercial, stereotypical Italy. Traveling by highway showed me the real Italy. This is a common feeling that I am sure a lot of first time travelers experience. When you arrive in a different country, you see the day-to-day life of average citizens just like you and me. Grocery franchises, construction, billboards...not what you see on the travel channel because that would be too American looking. Everyone has heard about the beauty of Venice, but the city we see on TV or in movies is just a small section of a much bigger industrial city, complete with "ladies of the evening" outside the city limits in the daylight. THAT is definitely not what I expected to witness driving into one of the most romantic cities on the planet. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Here you will find a lot of beautiful pictures of Venezia. It is truly breathtaking. Brian and I geeked out over the smallest architectural nuances and faded colors of the city.

If you look closely, you can see a hidden garden behind the gate. I wouldn't mind having a garden like this that opens up onto the canal...I mean if I HAD to.


Ugh. The bane of my entire hobo journey: graffiti. Like I have said before, this is universal. Every country and city I visit, there it is. How do children learn how to do graffiti? It is the same style of lettering only in different languages. I hate the argument that it is our modern-day cave drawings. At least cave drawings depicted people of their civilization or stories. I welcome graffiti that is more than just writing your and your girlfriend's name. More responsible, thought provoking graffiti please. Please behave more appropriately than neanderthals, thank you.
In everyday Venezia, Italians put out their laundry to dry as millions of tourists pass by each year.
This is a live lobster among dead sea friends. I eat seafood, but this is a little cruel in my mind.
Strange exotic dancer poles on the canal ;)
GONDOLAS! They are extravagantly carved, painted, and upholstered...and expensive to ride in, so I took an artsy picture instead.
Strange I know, but this blue door with steps leading into the canal was my favorite. As I am sure most of you know, Venezia floods each year. I love the symbolism of a door with such vibrant color that has withstood the floods over time.

Santa Chiara is St. Clare in English. St. Clare has not only been one of my favorite saints because of her name, but mainly because of her story. Read at your leisure
On the water bus! It takes you around the city. Pictures and videos to follow!
Venetian mask history
Best warm up suit I have seen in a looong long time.
Photo courtesy of Brian Burton
I loooove boats!

Underneath one of the bridges that tourists cross to enter old Venezia. It looks cool and creepy to me.
On the train to Italy, my trusted cross-body black purse fell apart and died. It served me well for 2 years and 7 countries. Unfortunately for me, this occurred as I was crossing in between train cars. I managed to not lose anything important on the tracks between the gaps in the cars, thank goodness. Fortunately, I bargained for a great deal on this new bag in Venice. Brian thought it was hilarious how I looked like Mary Poppins searching in my new bag. Thus the picture above, which is only one example of about 5 total he took of me searching and searching.
These are the worst/best boots I have ever seen. When she woke up that morning, she thought "what do I want to walk around in for my day in Venice??" And THIS is what she chose. Faux-denim skinny jeans and boots made out of orphan furbies.
With our late night dance night the evening before, we took a break at dusk for some much needed adult beverages.
I love my Venice bag!
I make friends wherever I go, usually children and dogs. This one wanted to be more than friends once I got up and tried to leave.
Surprisingly we were famished after a long day of sight-seeing. Can our hobo and hobo-friend wait until they get back into town? Nope, they go to an Italian truck stop. Also not on the travel channel, yet I HIGHLY recommend this!!
We dined on delicious sandwiches with salami, prosciutto, and cheese and sang along with Steve Perry who played on the radio in the background.
I forgot to mention it was St. Patrick's Day! We went to an Irish pub in a nearby town, and drank our obligatory pints of Guinness. The Italians were ALL about celebrating! I think they would celebrate any holiday, even imaginary ones if it meant they could go out, drink, and be merry. I managed to find a group of rugby guys that were making the most of their Italian St. Patrick's day. They play for the regional Italian rugby team and are from Wales, Scotland, and New Zealand. We were holding up numbers for the attractive people that walked by. I was a fair judge, I feel.
After blissfully sleeping late the following day, we went to the home of another friend from Brian's meet up group. Bonnie and her husband invited us to enjoy a scrumptious homemade Moroccan meal, complete with a post-dinner peach tobacco (not wacky-tobacky, ye concerned readers) which we smoked out of Bonnie's new hookah. She is a fantastic artist of Moroccan decent and hails from Canada. She and her Italian husband have one of the most beautifully decorated homes. There are decadent treasures from all over the world mixed with her own pieces each with their own story.
Yuummmmmmm. Squid, peas, and tomato-y goodness. Spectacular!!
I am obsessed with this tree. I saw it all over Italy and Turkey! I must have my own!!
Brian and I headed to Castell'Arquato which is a small town in the province of Piacenza.
This day trip could also be called "Photo Fun with Brian and Claire" ENJOY :)
We happened to be there on the day of celebration for the town's patron saint, San Giuseppe. There were people dressed in traditional costumes, and children singing their well-prepared choral songs. (Small parade pictured above with the town mayor).

I heart Castell'Arquato!!
Thank you, powers that be! You always remind me how lucky I am to be here.
Super Mario jumping for coins

Sneaky picture we took to capture the woman in the window that kept staring at us while we were in the square. When I lifted the camera slyly to "take Brian's picture", she seemed to duck away. Creepy Italian busy-body :)

We stepped into this bakery and met one of the most charismatic Italians, nay, PEOPLE that we have ever met in our lives. The ancient woman quickly sold us a homemade fig torta and a loaf of bread. Brian asked how much, and she said "How much do you have?" She then proceeded to tell us how the city is famous for the people being swindlers. Classic. She told us all about her family for the next 15min. I don't speak a lot of any language, but being in non-English speaking countries for a few months allowed me to become an expert at international context clues. I can't speak the language, but I'm pickin' up what they're throwin' down :) Needless to say, the fog torta was one of the most amazing desserts I have ever had. I don't even like figs.
This is the point where I return to the idea that Italians loooooove to talk! Even on the radio, you can't scan through radio stations without long drawn out interludes between songs and commercials. Brian would try to translate for me and told me they were basically saying nothing, just random babble.
Please enjoy the rest of the photos of our village photo shoot!

Painted ceiling
Someone is torn between defending his master's home and wanting us to throw the ball he has in his mouth.

Thank you, Brian! Thank you for hosting me and showing me around Italy. It is such a blessing when you have the type of friendship where no matter how long you have been apart, you can always pick up exactly where you left off. I'm sure most of my readers can appreciate these friends. I hope to return to Italia soon and head south to Capri or Sardinia. 

Stay tuned for my next and final hobo entry about Turkey!

I want to sincerely thank all of you for reading my random thoughts, you have no idea how much it means to me to share this experience with all of you.

Your faithful hobo, Claire

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