Virginian Abroad: April 2018

1 Month in Italy

VITERBO

Not wanting to forget any part of the seven-day spring break, March 31 to April 7, I first started writing upon my return home.  The first of two trips in April to the south of Italy, proved to be unforgettable.  As exciting and eventful as each trip was, what most resonances with me are the clear lessons learned. The first, to begin the month; acting as the actual spring break was to Sicily. This island, rich both culturally and historically; along with being blessed naturally, has long been atop my list to visit.  Due to the size and eventfulness of the island, however I ideally would’ve had more than seven days.  Despite a shorter period, I encountered a lot in just a week; andiamo a Sicilia!

I purchased my ticket to Palermo well in advance, back in January when I was still in Barcelona.  I had no plans when I purchased the tickets and hadn’t done any research, rare and shocking to admit.  I only knew that I would fly through the capital Palermo in both instances, but would later learn that I should have utilized the other airport Catania, on the opposite side of the island.  Important lesson, one should always fly into one place and fly out another; utilizing time to be more efficient.

My first thought in preparation came in reflecting upon the recent trip to Central Europe, mere weeks ago. I came away desiring something more, oddly enough it seemed too easy.  I aimed to find some discomfort, knowing from that we grow most and sought to challenge myself.  I continued to not book anything in advance and stayed determined to seek out ways to save on sleep!  In the days preceding the break I had arranged to meet with Brock in Catania, on Sunday, April first.  Our week trips were both flexible; however, there were two destinations I wanted to stick to most; Mount Etna and Taormina.  As is my custom before traveling, I researched thoroughly both day trips from Catania.

This trip would mark a further change from my previous travels; starting with only bringing the blue Swiss gear backpack, and thankfully my black drawstring bag.  This would be the least amount I’ve packed to date for a week period and was just the start of my attempt to push myself; luckily, Sicily with its weather allowed me to think this way, while I brought along the red wheeled backpack, in addition, for Krakow and Prague.  Along with packing less, I aimed to be more frugal with my money.  Setting a budget is advisable with any vacation; so, I set a limit and did my best to stick to it!  Realistically, I thought a budget of 200 euro would work; split between the cost of transportation, entertainment, food, and lodging. I knew that something would have to be sacrificed.

There are many positives coming away from a budgeted trip like this.  First, the confidence I gained that an adventure filled week can be successfully done on a budget.   After tallying each expense throughout my days, I’d totaled the expenditures which I tracked daily and put into spreadsheet form.  This 210-euro amount, listed at the end of my week long travel, did not include the flights, totaling 35 euro; and although I went slightly over, the attempt made me be more conscious of my money. Transportation replaced lodging as the costliest group, while food was shockingly inexpensive, infinite and delicious.

With recently having traveled and sticking to a budget, I would simply train to Rome from Viterbo; then to the airport. I had no intentions of exploring Rome on this journey; since I desired to keep my energy up for the upcoming week. The lone notable fact during the travel to Sicily; came in the airport, when I’d see Sara, an Italian student studying in Viterbo, who explained she was traveling back home to Trapani, a smaller coastal city south of Palermo.

PALERMO

The late evening flight from Rome arrived into the island capital, situated on the very northwestern edge, at 1130 pm.  When I Exited the plane, I found Sara again and we walked toward the exit. She asked about my plans, and was soon surprised to hear of my first attempt at being frugal; staying the night at the airport.

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This trip would mark many firsts for me, starting with an uncomfortable night of sleep; my first time sleeping in an airport. After being told to exit the terminal, I walked up to the third floor, and found about twelve lightly padded benches.  I wasn’t the only one with the idea, as there were families and individuals covering the area but, there was one empty for me!  It was difficult to fall asleep that evening, with lights on and people around, it was far from my normal conditions of sleep.  I wouldn’t have believed it that night, only sleeping four hours, but it would later be considered acceptable, middle of the road night.  The next morning, I was awoken at 5 am, allowing me to complete my morning routine, in one of the downstairs bathrooms.  The busy Easter Sunday air travel was what I expected, with many families running to their gates, hands full with luggage and gifts.

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Like many airports in Europe, Palermo’s is located more than a half hour from the city center.  I hoped on the earliest bus, a 50-minute ride and arrived at the center by 730 am.  I was delighted and surprised while walking to find two street names familiar to me; Abramo Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. I questioned their relevance to Palermo, but never found any relation.   Being 8 am on Easter Sunday, it wasn’t surprising to see the city so quiet; I expected the day to remain that way, with many Italian families celebrating Easter inside, as they do best, by cooking and eating!

Stuck in a drowsy state, it didn’t take long for me to get some Sicilian style Italian food; a Tiramisu flavored cappuccino and a Pistachio cornetto.  They helped me to push through the lack of sleep from the night before and embrace the explorer’s high. Leaving Baccio Nero, I welcomed the sun shining on my face and without any clear-cut plans, I headed straight to the coast.  Palermo bordered by water on one side, mountains on the other, and separated by two civilian streets; Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda; is very easy to navigate.  For me this is delightful; I still get lost within the city walls of Viterbo, even after four months.  Walking along the coast I found several green parks and a surprising number of runners.  It seemed non-Italian but as I would find out, exercise; like life in Sicily is far different from the mainland!

By 10 am I stumbled upon the Ballaro market, the heartbeat of the city!  Ballaro, spreads across several streets, and appeared to have everything imaginable on display; from dolci to scarpe, the market truly exemplifies the great diversity of the Sicilian capital.  I continued past the market and headed for the typical tourist sites.  First, the Pretoria fountain, situated in a beautiful piazza then the Palermo Cathedral (pictured below).  The massive cathedral which commands its own piazza, was very impressive from the outside, requiring a panorama photo to truly capture its beauty.  I entered to find an Easter Sunday mass going on, and after recalling nonna urging me to attend church, I sat down.  Despite being in Italy since early January, it was the first time attending a service.

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I left the service and headed for my next planned activity, the burial Catacombs; a historic tourist favorite of Palermo.  Walking down Vittorio Emanuele, I found the beautiful villa Bonanno park, the historic Norman palace, and the Porta Nuovo.  Taking a seat on the steps outside the palace, it was clear to me, these three sights depict Palermo’s rich cultural diversity!  The palace, built in the late eleventh century by Norse Frankish invaders, displays their strong influence on the capital city.  Bonanno, filled with palm trees and the typical Italian style fountain; portrays the exotic climate that blesses Sicily!  Then the towering arch, Porta Nuovo; which boasts intact Moorish statues, dating back to the sixteenth century.

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Strangely, without a connection to the Romans or the Renaissance period, they feel un-Italian, and yet perfectly show the complexity of Sicily; an Italian island closer to North Africa. Understanding Sicily, one must go back in history, acknowledging that the island has only been apart of Italy for 150 years.  Sicily, ruled by foreign rulers for centuries, has long been separated from Italy.  Before the red shirts, led by Garibaldi ran through the island; liberating it from foreign rule, the entire south wasn’t seen as Italian.  This is crucial to keep in mind when examining the current divide that exists between the north and south of Italy! After the hot and eventful but relaxing day in Palermo; highlighted by climbing onto some large rocks along the coast (my makeshift beach), I left for Catania.

CATANIA

The 2.5-hour train ride was beautiful, the island is truly diverse offering many types of terrain!  It was nice to meet up with Brock, but it was late, and we were on a mission; find a place to sleep for the night.  We decided the beach, although about an hours walk (roughly four kilo meters away), was the best option for us.  This would prove to be a very interesting experience, setting the tone for the rest of the trip! We’d leave the most populous area, surrounding il stazione Catania Centrale poi head along the coast; following the SS114, until we came upon a public beach; nearby il lido azzurro.

After crossing through an area of Catania not known to many tourists; especially at this hour, we would come across a total of five different women standing alone, at various points along the main street; waiting for business. We marveled at how different this was to what we’d see thus far, in mainland Italy; then made it to the beach.  Brock prepared for this moment, having an attached blanket to his backpack; I unfortunately, was not!  The beach was peaceful and quiet, but despite layering up with so many types of clothing; wrapping them around my legs, underneath my jeans, I could not stay warm!  The cold wind whipping the sands of the beach was something neither of us expected.  After a couple hours of shriving, I woke him and we made our way back to the main train station!  We found benches and decided to lay out just before 4 am.

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The next conscious moment I recall being one of the most difficult of my time abroad.  I awoke to find the backpack I put directly underneath my bench, inches from my face, to be missing!  I jumped up frantically and awoke Brock, but it was too late.  Finding it hopeless to search for it, we headed for the station, where we could rest inside.  While Brock slept against the wall for the hour before the first ride, I sulked in a vulnerable state; just lying awake feeling the anguish of a delirium and discomfort.  In the days that followed, I would consider a narrative change; by not locking up my backpack, which consisted of my iPhone charger, glasses & contacts, journal, cosmetics, and various clothing’ pretty much everything I brought with me, that wasn’t on my person. I essentially gave my belongings away, so in fact: I lost my backpack!  Forcing myself to accept my situation and think optimistically, I still had my black drawstring bag (my pillow), along with the various clothing either worn or wrapped around my body.  Now awake, we walked to the train platform to wait for the first train to Taormina.  While Brock slept for the hour long train ride, I laid there reflecting upon my errand decision and current situation.

TAORMINA

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Within the hour, we arrived to the beautiful mountainous, coastal city; which would prove to be exactly what I needed!  Despite being blind and beaten down, in my research I knew I had an incredible day ahead of me, exploring the history and nature of Taormina! I was now conflicted, between my previous misery that still evidently affected me; not being able to see very well, and the excitement of a new destination. The strange polarizing feelings persisted throughout the day; beginning with a hike up to the town. Along the main road, there existed a tiny sliver of walking room, this made for an interesting journey from the train station up to our first destination; Villa Caronia. For the entirety of the early morning thirty minute walk we had Etna at our backs; we gladly took a rest when we came upon the the beautiful, public forested park.

Soon, we found a few people walking about and then came upon the town. We walked around in search: of food, coffee, wifi, and a phone charger. We’d find the first three; recharged, and did some research, then soon found me a cord. Despite tired legs, we had interests to get to some heights for a panorama; so, we headed up the incline narrow stairs for about twenty minutes until we came upon il Castello di Taormia. Located near la Chiesa Madonna della Rocca, the castle is perched atop a mountaintop; gifting us the incredible views of Etna to one side, the Greek Theater to the other, and out beyond our eyes could see, miles and miles of blue sea. Brock in typical fashion, pictured below, was shirtless; at this point I figured, since I didn’t have much to carry we could alternate, allowing him to get a much desired burn.

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After enjoying a brief encounter with a stray cat and getting our fill of the views, we traveled down to the town, and found ourselves among all the other visitors. We didn’t seek this at all; so, we continued on, ignoring the common attractions of the ancient theater, palazzi, etc. all costing money! Instead; we could continue to enjoy the richness of the coastal town alongside the water. First, a long walk down the steps of Taormina, a national park, to sea level. Soon, we found ourselves divided between where we go next; in deliberation, we decided to head toward the Beautiful Island.

In desiring to see what all the excitement was about, we hiked up our pants and crossed the gap of water and sand to the island. Upon reaching a point of entrance into the forested path, we were told of an entrance fee; unfortunately that led us away, We returned to the relaxation of the beach, laid down our towels and soaked in some sun. The water was still slightly cool, preventing the majority of people from entering, we didn’t mind the rocky surface and enjoyed the sun; yet, we didn’t have too long to relax. We had only eaten; combined, a loaf of bread, some cheese and meat, and hadn’t had enough water; on top of that, the trains didn’t run too late, and the walk back would further take away the daylight; we didn’t think would be best to walk come dark.

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Another trek was required, along the coast; providing us a wonderful view, but again on the narrow winding road to the train station. During the three kilometer walk back, I began to reflect upon my belongings; again, and despite how far we went today, I would have to tell dad that I lost his backpack. As we rode back to Catania, I was forced to do the first of two purging’s of my clothes.  Only having the small drawstring bag, I had to prioritize and leave roughly four days’ worth of clothes in several different trash bins; first the one in our car and then another outside the Catania train station.  This was difficult for me, in a mere hours I went from a proudly prepared traveler to desperate; summed up by having no toothbrush for the next 36 hours!  Despite the carefree bliss of a wonderful day trip in Taormina, my mindset had changed; from experiencing to managing. It felt scary to be blind to my surroundings, not even able to read road signs or distinguish a person from a cactus in the distance.

CATANIA

After my mentality changed, the plans of solo exploring Sicily soon followed.  We decided in scheduling our second day trip from Catania for the next day to Mount Etna that Brock & I would travel together for the remainder of trip. The destinations changed according to our combined desires and budget; so, despite hours of research, I would need to adapt. The research was useful however, for the bus transportation to Mount Etna and my last day in Palermo. Upon returning to Catania; right before dinner time; we had our minds now set on eating. In accordance with the local custom, we sought out traditional food from Catania.

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In my research, I’d find that if we wanted meat; particularly grilled meats, cooked in front off you, we needed to go to Via Plebiscito. The walk up into the hills of Catania took about a half hour, but it would give us what we sought after; and a chance to see a different side of the city than what we had seen thus far. We’d eat at two different spots, proudly boasting there meats on display; which only drew Brock and I in. Having found what we were looking for, we both enjoyed the diverse offerings.

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Later, dopo la nostra cena; and determining that we had enough of the cold beach, we’d come to a B&B that was initially confusing to me. Before, arriving to Sicily; I researched and found, to my understanding, free lodging that would require work to be done in exchange for free housing; i.e. cleaning, maintenance. Brock and I had discussed this and figured this would be our way to sleep for this night; yet, upon arriving to the location, we would learn that is not the case. We were confused when the older couple asked for a payment; especially Brock, as like myself without eyes, his understanding of Italian, led him to be a traveler without ears. We’d make an interesting and useful pairing, despite all the difficulties faced thus far. So, now confused and slightly down due to the fifty euro payment for the evening; we would turn in. Our two queen bedroom was worth it though, for this evening; to have the chance to shower and fully rest up! To have wi-fi and recharge our phones as nice enough!

The next morning we were up early and eating breakfast; included in the cost, a nice plus but something continued to feel off the place. The host married couple, well into their seventies (almeno!) were two very different people. The night before, I began to notice it, when the woman was dressed up, in a silk dress/night gown, and then went out, leaving around the time we headed to bed. The man seemed to be very timid and extremely polite to me; they both were, allowing us to use their kitchen and setting our breakfast on the table. I mentioned to Brock, my strange feelings, but he wouldn’t ever take notice like I did; my bizarre observations were never noted by him, and understandably never believed (I didn’t want to believe it, but saw differently.)

After breakfast we raced to the main station and after scouring for the correct bus, found our driver. We paid for our spots and took tour two seats within the packed tour bus. The drive took about an hour; however, we did make one stop before, thankfully nearby a grocery store where we packed up on food and water. The loaf of bread, elongated cake, water, juice, tomato, and cheese, proved to be enough to sustain us for the tiring day.

ETNA

Hiking up Mount Etna is a true highlight of my study abroad experience and one of the great thrills of my short traveling life. It challenged us, and ultimately gave me that accomplished feeling, which further helped me to forget about my self-inflicted troubles from two nights ago. The bus parked down at the station, and informed the passengers it would be back at 4:30 pm, the only departure time. For this reason, time would be a sensistive matter, and one of great importance; as the only other way to return to our hostel was by car. With looking at the clock, 10:30, we set an alarm and took the direct route up. In neglecting the option of the cable car; both us of agreed, what was the point then, we made for a challenging day of activity. The views up; through the endless terrain of snow, ice, and molten lava remains, were captivating, prompting me to stop every so often for a photo opp.

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Led by a childlike excitement for the thrill of adventure, I often made runs up the incline, before breaking momentarily for some breath, and to check for Brock behind me. I was thankful to find a stick, early on, and use one of my gloves to assist in the climb; especially when the course required a low center of gravity. I’d give Brock the other glove to aid him; only adding to his wild man attire, of one glove, a backpack, jeans, and no shirt; again, he wanted to get the burn. The weather was warm enough to allow such dress; which, only added to the strange allure, to see snow but to sweat from the warm sun.

We hiked directly up, only to find an easier path; albeit, a more round about, later on. I had read before hand that due to the sulfur smell in the air, it is common for people to cover their faces; I’d use my blue scarf and Brock my red bandanna. Upon arriving to the top at 2900 meters, the peak is prohibited at 3200 meters (so next time!), we were greeted with a fabulous view.  We indulged in a much-earned lunch break of bread, cheese, and tomatoes; the common on the go lunch during our trips.  As I ate I overhead a tour guide speaking about the dug in holes, I took advantage and sat; they provided a nice heat to the bottom.

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The view and break was well earned, yet their was still much to explore; glaciers, craters, essentially an entire National Park! We made our way down, first coming to a few glaciers on the edge of the mountain; looking down we could see now how far we had come. We chose the trail now, not desiring to further the destruction of our shoes; the only ones we had, and with the ice and shoe we had to chose wisely. Then on our steep decline, we came to a point; in the middle of the terrain we stood, surrounded by various paths of snow, ice, and lava rock. Our choices of decline, separated us; between the one with skateboard shoes from the deep north (Upper Peninsula) and another with running shoes on (my blue asics) from a land not so acquainted with the snow. I chose to make my way down, allowing the momentum to take me as I ran down the hills like a buffoon. Brock, took a different approach; acting as if he had a snowboard beneath his feet, he slid down to just beat me. All in all, it was a fun decline; easier to manage than our climb. We’d come to the more commonly explored area of the park; much lower and closer to where we began. We sat down; looked out into the clouds and terrain, and enjoyed being atop of the edge of a multi-colored crater; surrounded by rock and other travelers.

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CATANIA

Our return to Catania, allowed the two of us to do what we often do, on a bus, or train. Brock took a nap, seriously how he is able to with such ease? I would finish off my cake and then engage in conversation with an American couple sitting in the seats across from us. They explained that their son was a soldier stationed in Catania; and they had visited him several times here. I discussed with the older man several topics; ranging from our trip directly up Etna, to his son’s time in Sicily, and most interestingly; we spoke about American politics, particularly foreign affairs and the Palestine-Israel mess. We exchanged numbers at the wife’s urging; her interjecting to encourage us to them for dinner that evening.

Upon our departure from the bus, we bid farewell and left with the possibility of meeting later on; I’d ask Brock, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. Instead, we found a small market, bought a variety of cheap items and returned to make a kilogram of pasta at the B&B. It was the fuel we needed to replenish ourselves after such a demanding day. As we were cooking, the host woman came in and joined us; now wearing something skimpy like before. We sat down and began to inhale our food; for a brief period she sat with us and talked. Only in Italian naturally, and in a Sicilian (or Catanian) dialect, I understood; I was jealous of Brock, understanding next to nothing. Before she left us, she rested her hand on my shoulder; Brock wouldn’t believe it, I wish I didn’t either! Aside from food, showers, and sleep, we had only one thing on our mind; where do we go from here?

I wanted Agrigento, but had no luck finding free lodging; while Brock was keen on Siracusa, if we could contact his original CouchSurfing host, Polly. We decided if she accepts both of us; as she had previously accepted just him, we would change our plans. For free lodging, I couldn’t say no; so, we received our answer and left out the next morning; after a two hour train ride, we arrived in the early afternoon.

SIRACUSA

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With so few items, as clothes goes; originally packed by Brock; or, now me sustained by just the small, black draw-string bag, we didn’t have many options. This made it initially difficult, when we arrived to the warm weather of Siracusa. The sun beating down at eleven am, and with no clear aim to go anywhere, after departing the train station; aside from meet Polly when she reaches out, we tried to get comfortable in the new surroundings. First step, change clothes; outta jeans and the long-sleeve, to a t-shirt and gym shorts, then the only problem; those two items can’t fit in the small bag. If I didn’t already (channeling dad here), like a shalotta, or a trashy mess; with clothes now hanging over my shoulders and from my bag, I most certainly did now.

We hung by the edge of the water for a bit, just marveling at the sea; a far-cry from what we get inland in Lazio! Then, we’d turn our attention to exploration; first, travel around the coastal area, see what’s around us, all en-route to the old town. Most of the day, then, involved walking about Isola di Ortigia, the beautiful old-town, which makes Siracusa worth visiting. We came upon markets on markets, selling mounds of spices, various types of food and clothing; all of course, over our price range. Yet, when the opportunity arose to try more authentic foods, that we were required upon, sustenance after all, we would jump at it. This came when we met, Polly and her home, for a brief point just to drop off our items; then settled to meet shortly after by the coast. Through a walk, and a climb down, to be at sea; standing on an area of rocky beach, we would all get to know each other. Her friend was required to extract water, for some type of school project.

Polly’s English was okay, about the same as my Italian; but her friend studying languages, proved to be the most helpful. Along with speaking Arabic and French, she aided in translations, when confusion arose. Brock did his best to practice what he head learned over the past months; most notably, speaking about all the things he enjoys, mi piace…trekking. We’d go to a cafe, and get; as we were explained, classic Sicilian food; mostly, sweets, which we all shared and delighted in (the island has that right!) Each night, Polly and her parents, per their routine and employment/passion, would turn their attention to the restaurant; which meant by six, we parted. We left to return to l’isola d’Ortigia and spend our evening, free of the bags that found a home in the single bedroom. Hours later, after walking our selves out, we settled on the steps of a church and engaged in a long conversation about life, ladies, and change. It was clear that our return to the States was coming; both for him and me, which as we both agreed, would be a difficult task—acclimating back to our native country and culture. Perhaps, most importantly, what do we make of this experience; we discussed.

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Throughout this week, and the months period that I have known Brock, he spoke about a girl. He being much younger than me; I felt the need and desire to speak about my experiences. His was different, he explained that they were involved in a brief, distance-relationship before he left for Italy, and for the entire time abroad had stayed connected; actually, increasing his feelings during the time. It was all strange to me, not certainly the feelings, or girl, but having that type of contact with someone for such a period; yet, I during this talk, I acted as a sounding board. I, ultimately, came to determine that he was too kind; I know, but with being young and new to relationship; he wanted to mix my jaded perspective into his naivety. It’s great to have such company, albeit difficult at time; with anyone really—on the road, but who is so different in some regards; yet, when it came to the important aspects, i.e., openness to travel, we agreed!

We finish our hour, or so, long conversation; search for a farmacia, to no luck, then find dinner. A food truck, near a park would be the answer; on the menu, a Sicilian favorite—Cavallo. Unfortunate, as it is, it was delicious, and the truck itself; between the few guys and food openings was quite impressive. We sat down at the set-up tables, looked around at the our surroundings and enjoyed the food; again, my comprehension came in handy; as did his eyes in every single moment. We went through the line; che cos’e’, cipolla, fungi, etc., then I’d turn to brock, ok onions, mushrooms, etc.

We weren’t far from the apartment, just needing to walk about fifteen minutes, so when ten o’clock came, we returned to the street and waited outside. Brock texted Polly, but since we had no option to knock, we sat and remained patiently for a response. Thirty minutes would go by, and still nothing; now us sitting, backs against the wall.  We were tired, and decided to pus past our hesitance and just call; hopeful, we weren’t going to bother her at work. She’d answer and then be down, minutes later; lesson learned-we should have called first, instead of just waiting it out. She told us, as we’d find out soon, they were watching a movie and she didn’t see her phone. We joined them in the living room. We tried to explain that we had already eaten; yet, how could we say no to fresh home-made pizza? Soon, the three seated table was full with various foods. It was clear how close this family was; with mom and dad on the couch, and Polly on the floor next to the them. As they enjoyed the movie, Benvenuti al Sud; a comedy which had them laughing, they’d explain to us. From there, following the end of the movie and tremendous food, we’d all turn in; the first night went smoothly. With Brock on the small twin bed and me lying near him on the floor, it didn’t take long for us to pass out.

NOTO

The next day we trained further down south to Noto, known for its Baroque architecture and beautiful beaches; I used the later to convince Brock.  Neither disappointed, especially the Lido di Noto; which was even for early April surprisingly warm but empty.  Again, we walked to and from; as we often did throughout the trip, but after an enjoyable day, we faced a surprising twist toward the end of the day!

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The last train leaving to Siracusa at 830 pm was canceled; to both our surprise and the attendants. He stayed with us while he tried to help, asking a man nearby; then they both left, encouraging us to stay and wait for a bus. He explained to us, per the loud speaker from the train station, that the bus would come now instead. We remained hopeful outside the train station for an hour, before we started to question; then did research and sought people out to ask for any piece of information. With my phone about dead and his without any data, I went into a gym and asked; nothing. We started to wonder, where else could the bus could; perhaps the main piazza.

I’m sure we could have taken a better option; a taxi perhaps, but once we realized there would be no bus, we started to walk/hitchhike.  By midnight, in the pitch dark, with my phone now dead, his dying, and the sounds of wild dogs constantly barking, we felt hopeless; honestly, me more than him. With an eight hour trek to go, before we would reach Siracusa, we weren’t looking good; to add, the road we walked along was without any light and rarely any walking room. This required us to walk along the highway until a car came; then, frantically we’d have to go single file and make ourselves thin. We’d often have to jump over the guard rail, since it seemed none of the cars ever saw us; I’m sure they weren’t expecting any walkers at this time nor location.

They certainly didn’t think anything about helping us; despite Brock often working to get their attention. My discouraged feeling was just growing; now, without a light to guide us from step to step. We would come across, a shiny light in this journey; after about two hours, a rare highway side convenience store. We entered and I asked about transportation; unfortunately, nothing would be available until the next morning. The man did explain that nearby, there was a hospital which was open (ovviamente). We discussed it, and after acting as the advocate for it; to remove us from the cold, we would find a light room to lye.

We weren’t allowed to sleep long, before a man woke us up; yelling, he was clearly a security officer for l’ospedale. He barked at us, from what I understood, that we needed to move; this area was not a sleeping area. I don’t know why he minded us being laid out on the floor here, but sure enough we would move to another room; the waiting room. This wouldn’t turn out to be any more comfortable, nor pleasing to the man; as he’d arrive later on to bark at us some more. At the point, he explained we could lay out, not on several empty chairs, among many of them, nor the ground underneath or beside them. This was turning out to be a truly miserable night. I think if I had the energy to, or if it would have helped, I would have began to cry; but since all we could do is sit in the chairs, we did just that. It seemed as if time wouldn’t move; we could only sit and wait out the hours until the bus would come by that morning at 7 am!

Lo and behold the bus came, and soon we had left our lodging, l’Ospedale G. Di Maria. The ride back was a huge sigh of relief, even just seeing it arrive took a load of distress away; we had survived the night. Arriving back into Siracusa, we found a caffe; ate breakfast, drank some much needed coffee, charged up our phones, and connected to wifi. As he reached out to Polly via CouchSurfing and Whatsapp, I looked into our journey from the previous night. From our initial departure of Noto, we had walked just over eleven kilometers to the hospital; if we had continued, we would have needed to go another twenty-two; estimating to take another five hours into our night. I think we learned from this journey, but faced the next challenge; explaining this to Polly.

SIRACUSA

Allora, we eventually contacted her; then, got to her apartment in time to have breakfast and grab our items before she would leave for the day. Almeno, it provided a funny story for the parents. Staying with her family, which lived, in a tight third floor apartment, all together, was a delight; even if just one night, was a delight; they were very open and giving, providing us with meals, insight into Sicilian culture, and fun conversations.

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We walked about the old town, for a bit; before, finding the station and getting our tickets. We were both glad to have the chance to refuel, by getting cheap, delicious street food, and finding a grocer to prep for our train travel. Now, with food and drink in our bags, we were ready to take our seats for the next several hours. Soon, Brock would nap (again!) and I began to reflect in my writing. I enjoyed my time on the east, thanks mostly to Taormina & Etna; but unfortunately, it will always be synonymous with some of the most challenging moments in my life abroad; sleeping on a beach, bench, hospital floor, hitchhiking, and losing a backpack!  It was a true relief to train back to Palermo, and after not showering for three days; to soon get a much-needed cleansing at the hostel that evening. As we trained through the vast, empty, middle land of the island; seeing the stunning sights; mostly filled with endless fields of sleep, we felt unworthy to be on the train. With they way we smelled and felt, it was more fitting for us to be on the farm.

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It’s amazing what one good shower, night’s sleep, and meal can do.  By the morning, following a full complimentary breakfast served at the hostel and good conversation with several travelers; I was back to normal (what my normal is!)  With hiking Monte Pelligrino on that hot day, then running down it to catch the airport bus, I ended Palermo and Sicily on a high note!  Most importantly, I encountered obstacles and faced difficulty that I never could have anticipated; yet, we overcame them to enjoy ourselves with a smile.  I learned a lot during that trip, but most relevant to my next trip; later this month, I do not need much to enjoy myself!  Some of these newly self-discovered facts about myself would shape my trip to Puglia, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  The experience, most importantly, provided me with newfound travel confidence, along with stories.

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VITERBO

I knew the first week back, from such an exhilarating trip; pushing me to my limits, would be difficult. Since traveling is such a high, what follows is ovviamente a low; first recognized after Florence. It is most common with drugs and gravity, but after my high, I inevitably come down; which, generally takes me a couple days to recover. In returning to my life at Via Zazzera, with; classes, high school lessons, and teaching; certo, there are things, evidently that I always miss. What comes to mind after this trip, first my bed, of course, friends too—Marco & Kiarra, and the kitchen!

While traveling, aside from exploration and growth through discomfort, I don’t have a direct responsibility; for this reason, it is nice to return home. In Viterbo, I know I have something waiting for me each week; in questo caso: the upcoming lessons on Monday and Tuesday. First, requested; NYC Culture, and then with more excitement for the music class; on Tuesday, Rap in the United States. In time I have become increasingly more interested in these lessons; most evident while I am away on vacation and planning the PowerPoint presentation in my mind.

 So, Sunday evening and Monday morning were spent in preparation; essentially, lesson planning. Funny, I’ve visited New York City, three times, and aside family being from upstate, I don’t have a strong connection; nor would ever think I have the knowledge to speak about the culture. Yet, in Italy my connection, by the way of shear proximity, makes it my talking point; since, many have them only know the city from the movies. To start, what should I say, how and where do I begin? With the computer and projector access, I figured to introduce a song that could properly get us going; I chose Jay-Z and Alicia Keys performing at Times Square. Strano, I got chills watching them perform; this again, a moment proving to me how cool it is to work on the side of a cultural broker. I thought back to my days in Globe 101, realizing how unique it is to introduce a culture and try to mediate between the one here, that I know.

From there, what to say? Allora; how about the significance of the city. Our nation’s first capital, the head of the NY Stock Exchange, the head of the United Nations, a hub for U.S. art, law, finance, and fashion. A history lesson always helps, to get an idea; for what marks the beginning in the American Colonies. First, founded as New Amsterdam; referring back to the Eleven Nations, this begins the city and region’s connection to being an open, liberal minded, trading hub; for the exchange of goods and ideas. What began as a city, pushing the envelope would continue through “to the Revolution!”, then the Harlem Renaissance. They are young, perhaps, too young to know of 9/11; yet, here we go, we must address. What continues is perseverance; in the the fact of destruction, rebuild and keep fighting on. The culture never wavers; the wealth of diversity and options push the city along.

I explained the sports; Rangers, Mets, Yankees, Islanders, Nets, Jets, Giants, Knicks, absurd. Everyone having allegiance to something different; different roots. Then, I turned to more videos; I think they liked the NYC depictions. First, “Here’s how much New Yorkers like slow walkers,” everyone was laughing; seriamente, the idea is brilliant. They asked me if this was real; I explained to them how life in the south is so different from the northern cities. How people are in such a hurry; always trying to relate back to our previous lessons. The next, I pulled from Seinfeld about a “real NY mugging.” Despite, never being a huge fan, I didn’t think I could properly depict the city without using one of the clips from his long-standing show.

Next, a real realistic-present look at the “Humans of NY,” series and how beautifully diverse and wealthy the city is with its people. What better way to depict than with this series, and to add, with another producer, Spike Lee’s NYC. What I wanted to get through, is how the culture is shaped by the people; not just white, nor just “Americans,” but the people; which make a culture! To end, I brought up a map of the five boroughs; encompassing eight plus million people! Lastly, a quote by the former mayor-Edward Koch, “Being a New Yorker is just simply a state of mind. Less than half of the population was actually born in New York City. I’m one of the less than half. I was born in the Bronx in 1924. But most New Yorkers were not, and the way I define it is, if you’ve been here for six months and you walk faster and talk faster and think faster, you’re a New Yorker.”

The next day, I recall telling Mason and Michael of my plan to present about American Rap, they’re response shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Being from Idaho and rural-conservative California, I should have expected it, but they wondered how I could possibly do that; was I going to rap for them? I ensured to them, assolutamente no. It’s a topic that is its own culture, a way of speaking and connecting. An art-form that began to challenge a system and to persevere; what has come of it, is a perfect depiction of the incredible capability of humanity. Listen to Tupac, its poetic; hear Lupe—and question, soak-in Kendrick and become enthralled  with the possibility. This was my aim here, to introduce a genre of music that has interest to me, while also aiding me in finding myself. If right, as it was when it began decades ago, it is one with speaking out against the status quo. What is seen as synonymous with a race of people, or ethnicity, is so much more, but to better understand; as I hoped I could with the class here, is to look at the system, while listening to the music. That is the aim here; well there are many, that is the beautiful aspect here, it is layered; a multi-purpose, highly technical craft and culture.

To begin the presentation, I stated the sub-genre that I listen to; Lyrical rap. I noted past icons; Tupac, Ice Cube the Fugees, and DMX, then had the next category (Past Prime); which I referred to as artists that had already made it! This list includes; Jay-Z, Nas, the Game, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Naughty by Nature, and the Slaugherhouse 4, or 5, if you want to include their headman-Eminem in that grouping. Lastly, the present; Pusha T, Fabolous, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Childish Gambino, and Big Sean; to same a few.

I found it difficult, with such a topic; truly a massive undertaking, in only an hour; less than that, when class actually began. Yet, I figured it best to break it into four categories; according to the regions; (the hubs that influence the genre) for instance: West Coast (Cali), Northeast (NY), Midwest (Chicago), and Southern (Atlanta).

The four regions provide different styles and aims with their music; which I would explain, but to start I thought it best to provide both examples of songs and artists. To begin, L.A. or Compton Hip Hop, with its wealth of artists, past and present: NWA, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Tupac, Warren G…Then currently, Kendrick, Tyler the Creator, Schoolboy Q, etc. There’s a theme, I wanted to show here; a frustrated rage; mixed with the three w’s: women, weed, and weather. There is no shortage of lyrical prowess that confronts the status quo; whether in the 1980s, or today. All the while, challenging the system, the music is to enjoyed and the lifestyle admired. I played a favorite, Regulators by Warren G and Nate Dogg; to give them an idea of the sound, while also navigating the “proper for class requirement.”

Secondly, the region I explained that I find myself most often listening to; the NYC and Northeast Rap. Introduced by Niko and Luis during Freshman year, this would become my base of the genre; previously all I knew, living in Virginia; was mostly southern; however, this region works better with my desire to get the lyrics of life. I knew they’d be familiar with some of the names that brought this region into prominence; Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Diddy, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, the LOX, DMX. Even now, despite being overtaken by other regions; A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Action Bronson, and Joey Bada$$ still provide that aim of the lyrics driven, boom-bap style.

I found it easier to describe the next regions’ rap; first originating from the Windy City, boasting: Common, Kanye West, Lupe Faisco, Chief Keef, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, etc. The aim here is evident; and despite not having the wealth of artists like the previous two regions, of the east and west, has the most powerful message (secondo me). The lyrics; when lined up with proper reasoning to speak (not for money) and intellect; see Common (per esempio), provide a smart and socially conscious rap. Lastly, I’d explain, we have the southern sound coming from the heart of the south: Atlanta.

I listed some Southern legend like; Outkast (Andre 3000!), Lil Wayne, and Goodie Mob, which led into T.I., Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Big Krit, B.O.B., 2 Chainz, Future, and now the more trap music generation; which lost me. The style, which I would show through a video by Outkast; boasts fun, innovative, influential music; with electronic music and rattling beats. My proximity; I explained, in Virginia combined with the massive popularity of Lil Wayne throughout my childhood, led me to see hip hop as synonymous with the south. It wasn’t until I attended school in WVU that I would really encounter my preferred sub-genre of rap, that began my connection. Again, the power and prominence of the regions in the United States; something we had previously discussed, and in Italy they knew well.

Now to the most pressing items of the genre; almeno, secondo me, the aspects of rap music that emphasizes life in America. First, as we discussed the location matters; whether it be city, neighborhood, or region, the artist has a pride and influence in there area. With the success though, comes an obligation; as we discussed in the lesson back in March; the artist speaks not only for themselves, but for the population that has no voice or platform to speak. I mentioned how the genre of hip-hop is connected; it’s own culture, that is socially connected (I referred to the concept of dis-tracks and call outs), then ultimately, always driven by competition. Perhaps, best emphasized by Kendrick’s verse in Control; which, seemed to create such a buzz. I wanted the students to know, for many growing up in poverty, crime ridden, and repressed societies; hip-hop could be there only channel to success; while for many, also offering a therapeutic way to cope. This I have found to be very much the same as writers of the past, whether enduring war, genocide, etc.

Aside, from personal agendas and speaking for an unspoken population; I tried to emphasize the overarching society, the best way that I had come to understand it (recognizing and emphasizing that I could very well be wrong, and we should never just simplify nor generalize.) Yet, the issues must be addressed for a population that encounters them daily; and very uniquely too. To end, I wanted to clarify what I have found that African American artists must face, all the while trying to come-up and overcome. First, there is a constant theme of fighting the concept and notion of “being black,” I turned it to the class. Asking, does anyone here have to follow or must fight an expectation that they are a specific mold; that they can’t be their own person, because society expects them only to be this… This is most destructively evident with the misconception of a genre full of “criminals and misogynists.”

The themes continue throughout decades of the music; explaining the ghetto life of surviving the jungle of gun violence and drug use; facing this, then overcoming to focus toward black advancement, fighting both factors of black on black violence and white oppression. Perhaps, the most destructive aspect comes with the influence on family life and values; with widespread teenage pregnancy and father abandonment; take the line of DMX, “Feel the pain, feel the joy, of a man who was never a boy.” To make these cases, I found it best to utilize the wealth of options ranging from the 90s to the present, cosi-andiamo. Primo; the issue of gun violence and police brutality. I referred the class to the example of Stand Up (inspired by the murder of Sean Bell) by Maino, Cassidy, Drag-On, Styles P,  Swizz Beats, and Talib Kweli. Again, using the platform the voice their outrage of another murder of an unarmed black citizen of the United States.

I referenced the importance of the Outro, used by King Los in the song Creator, who in his last 30 seconds, inputs a recording from the news that speaks about the high rate of murders in his home city of Baltimore. I played another favorite, by Royce Da 5-9, who uses his bridge to voice his anguish, and urges his listeners to,”look around,” then, “tell me exactly what you’re seeing, I’m seeing children being murdered by police and acquitted on all charges, It’s like they’re all targets, pray for them.” Before continuing to let the irate children of the ghetto speak, I asked the class if they knew the origin of the word ghetto…nothing, poi I informed them of Italy in the fifteenth century; and how they separated, then walled off the Jewish people from the rest of the city. I played Ghetto pt. 1 by Joell Ortiz and Novel, “every city has a ghetto…”

We continued to Crooked I, using his song “I Can’t Breath” to shed light on Eric Garner’s death, even inputting audio news coverage of the reaction to the police officer’s not guilty verdict. At this point, I could see the class was beginning to get the point with the topic of police brutality; but I wanted to finish off with the usage of the intro and sample. To Pusha-T’s Sunshine, “America, you need a miracle, Beyond spiritual, I need a realer view, I hold a mirror to it, These ain’t new problems, they just old ways, I see one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray…Send another to the FEDs, send another to the FEDs, Not guilty, still I’m filthy, In FOX eyes, we the dark side…” In regards to a country’s history, and a past to present problem; I hoped that through these examples I had made my point of the power of lyrical and intellectual hip hop while facing violence.

 I came back to Crooked I (now referring to himself as KXNG Crooked), the humilty; yet, in his song with Emanny and Styles P, he does what he aimed for. I played a minute reel of the song, “They’ve been this way since America’s first independence day, They’ve been trying to kill us, I’m just writing like Hemingway, lines that get flagged by the NSA…I’m here to expose a system designed to come for n*ggas…” then the chorus, “Open your eyes, see what I see, How could you be blind to our needs? And it’s all designed to push you aside.”

Through the music, I wanted them to know the problem doesn’t exist solely with the white man, as Nature by Naughty indicate in Live Then Lay, “Why, everytime you try to show a n*gga love they sh*t on you? F*ck I’m suppose to do? Why, everytime a brother comin’ up some pray ya through?”

At this point, my time was beginning to close and I needed to finish up with my other points, first the few roles that seem to be available to the people of a certain race. I rushed to one one of my favorite examples; that blacks must be… Many of them were familiar with J Cole, so I used Chris Tucker. He references, the role he must be in the catchy song, “Only n*gga up in first class, old lady tryna be friendly, ayy, She think I’m in the NBA, why a n*gga can’t have his MBA? Next time I’ma flip the script, you know, kick some sh*t that’s gon’ shock here, ‘You’r so tall, what team do you play for?’ No b*tch, I’m a doctor!” What an exchange that would be.

Other examples came up, emphasizing the struggle, hope, and the journey. First, I referenced Meek Mill, Jadakiss and Guordan Hanks in Heaven or Hell, “some n*ggas go to college, some n*ggas go to jail, some make it into heaven, some make it into hell. Nobody wanna lose, nobody wanna fail. Nobody wanna die, nobody wanna kill, the things we do just to make it through…” The struggle is real, I’d explained yet, most people like myself and this class, will never truly know about it; so, the only thing these artists can do is shed light upon it, while also providing hope. No one did that better than Tupac, preaching that Life Goes On!

To finish up, if I hadn’t yet made my points; I turned to Common using his outro in The Dreamer to input hope and knowledge through the words of  Maya Angelou, “If you desire a bright tomorrow, you must build a brighter dream, Dare to let your dreams reach beyond you, Know that history holds more than it seems, We are here alive today because our ancestors dared to dream. From Africa they lay in the bilge of slave ships, and stood half naked on auction blocks, from eastern Europe they crowded in vessels overloaded with immigrants, and were mis-named on Ellis Island, from South America and Mexico, from Asia, they labored in sweat shops. From all over the world, they came to America, many shivering in rags, and still they dare to dream. Let us dream for today and for tomorrow. Let us dare to dream.”

I couldn’t think of a better way to end my lesson; despite my relentless speaking and attempt at drilling the point across, I don’t know if I successfully did. Yet, I was thanked for my efforts, and gained the particular appreciation of Cesira, the teacher at the back of the class; who despite at times referenced me to turn the volume down, did voice that my passion for teaching and this topic shined through!

The next day, I was now free to relax from lesson planning and turn to my own studies; which brought me back to Sicily, or my taste buds were; as Sicily was the region in cuisine class.  Sicily, with its diverse history and unique terrain/climate, offers a wide variety of culinary dishes; this was on display in class, cous, bracioline messinesi, and cannoli! It was particularly rewarding to make, watch, and then eat the cannoli; a couple of us had a little fun with the remaining dough, making cookie like desserts.

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  Later that evening I accompanied Marco to his grandfather’s house, la compagna (the country house). To my surprise it was the entire family gathered around a large table, of course with a large spread of food.  The reasoning, beside family time, Juventus vs. Real Madrid, an important game, that had three generations of family members drawn to the game, at times yelling in either anger or excitement.  Purtroppo, Juventus won only 3-1, since they had previously lost the first two games by 3, they ended up coming short, losing the series and a chance to advance to the championship.

The food, environment, and company were incredible; I even learned some Roman dialect, ex. Io magno (instead of mangio). I couldn’t help but thinking during the dinner/game how ridiculous it was for me to be “blu” upon returning home from Sicily, when this is what I can return to!  With my past travels I have found a love in life, yet what I cherish most are not the photos, sights, and items checked off; most anyone can encounter that, but the connections with people and a culture. It is truly special to be included into these events and feel a family’s embrace, despite being seven thousand kilometers away from mine! After the enjoyable evening with Marco, his parents, girlfriend, cousins, aunts & uncles, and grandfather, I returned home to study for a modern test the next day.

Like the ones prior, it was easy; just 30 Id questions and an essay or two.  As was often the case with an eventful week; I needed a relaxing day for myself, to do nothing and recuperate. Thursday seemed to be that day, despite one class and working a few hours, between full class and then the one on one session. I took it easy, leading me to have plenty of energy for a day of activity on Friday. After she started packing and preparing, in the morning, Kiarra extended an invitation to join her on a trek, about 11 kms, to a local necropolis (a designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments). Much of Lazio, especially around Viterbo, is rich with Etruscan remains and history. The civilization which; unfortunate for them, came to meet the budding Romans on several battlefields through the centuries, provided us an interesting insight into pre-empire Italy.

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With good weather, the walk to the necropoli was an adventure itself, highlighted by the beautiful country side; much of which is included on the Via Francigena, the ancient route that in medieval times connected Canterbury to Rome!  Again, like Wednesday evening, a simple day of exploring several dark necropolises, an abandoned house; which strangely seemed to be recently left, with a large bottle of wine and a bag of chips; and an empty tower, all provided us with such easy fun!  The walk back provided a little more entertainment and company, after we walked by a farm house; gaining the attention and then company of two tiny dogs that followed or led us for the next thirty minutes.

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That evening, thanks to Kiarra, we entertained Gabrielle, and interesting Italian guy.  We ate, drank, and talked; mostly of relationships, books, and his complex makeup; half-Neapolitan, half-Texan!  He even gave us an impressive Texan impression, that recently came back up in conversation between Kiarra and I.  Like many times in the past and near future, she made an incredible dinner; this time soup that she blended; she would later break both blenders!  Saturday, I enjoyed another down day at home; which again prompted me to be more active the next day, despite the rain.

PITIGLIANO

On Sunday, Marco and his family invited me to join them in his first return to the soccer field, since injuring his ankle in January. As always it was nice to be included, great to watch sports in person again, and see Marco in an environment; like many Italians, that he is so passionate about!  After the game, a 0-0 tie a common theme in soccer matches, we went to lunch at Pitigliano; a beautiful old town about a 45-minute drive from Viterbo into Toscana.  The picture below, depicts Marco at his normal goofy and expressive Italian self in the stunning town; nicknamed the “little Jerusalem” dating back to 1061 AD.  The company, Marco, Guilia, Emma, and his parents; certainly, out do any town or lunch, although I did become intrigued with the cinnamon sugar, spinach ravioli; something I would later try to recreate with gnocchi! The simplicity of it is what amazes me; walking through the narrow ancient cobblestone streets to the restaurant with umbrellas in hand, sitting down at a restaurant built out of an old cellar; or perhaps, my favorite, the ride back. Emma sitting in the middle seat, as we whip around the narrow, windy, rural countryside; announcing every-time she saw some farm animals; mucce, pecore!

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VITERBO

Later in the evening, after parting from Marco, I finally got to get my competitive sweat through playing volleyball.  Thanks to a group invite by Eliza; a combination of Italians, Americans, and a random mix of other international students, came together to play several hours in a local school gym. Before starting, I was weary that I may encounter people who take the game too seriously, you know the type; “we need to hit it three times, and set each other up”, instead I stress the importance of winning, first by getting the ball over the net, despite the proper form or teammate positioning!  After playing well past ten o’clock, the group of fifteen people left, some I’m sure irritated with my style, but as I reiterated it gets results, 5-0!

Tired from the day of activity, I would decide to wake up early the next morning, to lesson plan. In only having to create a PowerPoint for Monday’s class, I asked them the week before; what do y’all wanna know? The response, following the last talk about New York City, was now American tourism! I started with a picture of the States, each one depicting it’s most common tourist attraction. To my amazement, number one is the Mall of American in Minnesota; followed by Times Square, and the Las Vegas Strip. Seriamente, I would drive to see any of these, let alone fly across an ocean.

I thought it important to put the country according to its size, in perspective; which truly does amaze. Per esempio: in length from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida (roughly 24 hours) would be like going from Copenhangen, Denmark to the southern tip of Italy (Reggio Calabria!) Width; spanning Maine to California, would encompass ten countries in Europe to Iraq, astonishing. In creating the lesson plan; as I have done in the recent past, I realized how massive of a topic this is, an hour for tourism in an area of the size listed above. Yet, nonetheless, I’d find great joy in talking about the attractions in a country that has so many, and yet I have seen so little. The unique cultural aspects too.

In listing, on slide three, reasons to visit, I should have known; that I would go on for the next fourteen slides on that alone, then finally to end; how to tackle such an endeavor. Vediamo: to first state, there are thirty-three states that have a coastline, an endless amount of cities that all offer different interests to travelers, and my favorite the diversity; the aspect that I have not yet found, in anywhere I’ve visited that competes. In one trip, a visitor can see the big city, and the wild west; encounter people and languages from all around the world (most easily done by going to NYC, I believe, Jackson Heights!) Now, to individual attractions; and with what I’d explain to the class, is painful for me to admit as an American.

I turned to the National Parks and the incredible wealth of the country’s nature, yet in boasting about Zion, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Olympic, Glacier, Grand Teton (need I say more), I then had to reiterate…they look beautiful; I’ve heard they’re great. Then came entertainment; which America does great. Las Vegas, the sports, Broadway, Hollywood, the amusement parks, etc. Did I mention sports? Watch the atmosphere inside a Crimson Tide game; see the love of college sports.

Perhaps, the best; aside, from two treasures, Hawaii (a gem!) and Alaska (dunno), its all connected. So, how does one suggest a traveler to encounter the parks, the cities, the endless coastlines, Oregon, Georgia, and Massachusetts? The American dream; a road trip, take CA-1 along the stunning coast of California, or use Route 1 from NYC to Orlando; perhaps, Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. There is an art to it, depicted so often in movies and shows; an elderly, retired couple, a family vacation, or a group of college students, taking the road in an RV. With the vastness, the intrigue, and wealth of the country, it was an easy topic, one that photos and videos helped to draw awws.

The next day, for Tuesday’s class, Luisa invited Marco to talk about and interact with the American students about Italian sports, especially calcio!  It was cute to see Marco nervous before hand, and certainly nice to have him in class, since he studies foreign languages; these are the types of practice situations that help him improve. He had so much to add due to his strong love for calcio and the seemingly #1 Italian team Juventus; also strongly supported by Serena, another Italian student often helping in several classes.  The highlight of the day came afterward.  We left class, with a basketball in hand; I brought it to class (that serious) and headed to the courts. He drove; I was just so excited, finally learning where the court was, that I kept looking for. It would be the first time I have walked onto a basketball court in Viterbo/Italy, something I had longed for since leaving the states! Besides, playing with Elio in Barcelona and then in Krakow, I had long been craving to play basketball!

It was a great feeling playing again, we even got to play with two people. The first, Eunice a twenty something female from Kenya; who acted as the translator for Marco and I; turning to each of us to explain best in our own language. She explained that her mom and her had moved here, when she married a man from Viterbo. She, like the guy; a shockingly only fifteen-year-old kid, was taller than us. This would prove entertaining, as she made a block of both of us; something we would occasionally bring up later. No surprise, Marco was about as good as I am at soccer, but despite my sore knee from volleyball the previous Sunday; we were able to just narrowly defeat the conjoined team of Eunice and a teenager.

The next day, Wednesday came another cuisine class; this time Venetian style; however, unfortunately, removed from my medication for the week of Sicily, allergies reminded me that they can still be a problem.  To fix the problem, since I can’t very well go to class with toilet paper stuffed in my nose, I took two Benadryl! Insomma, that would be costly.

I drugged myself! So, only a portion of me felt present in that class.  I enjoyed the Baccala Manctecato, essentially a bread and fish appetizer. Yet, since I didn’t “help” in making the Risi e bisi (riso w/ peas); something the instructor pointed out, I decided not to include myself in eating the meal, if was my form of irritated protest. Finally, since I had already made it I did not pass up on eating the tiramisu, surprisingly very simple to make and delicious!

The day would be concluded with returning home early from class, smoking with Kiarra (a theme this month), to aid my irritation and potentially bring upon sleep; then, skipping conversation.  Three days removed from playing basketball for the first time with Marco on Tuesday, I returned to the court on Friday.  This time I played real games, 3 v 3 and 2 v 2, it felt great playing again, but I have lost a lot due to the rustiness! I have since, upped my intensity; it was needed on defense, yet, I cannot deny that I am out of shape!  I will need to get into a routine when I return, because there is no way I can compete at VCU like this!  Nonostante, I have regained a “lost” joy of mine, just one of many that I question how I allow it to happen. Despite these wonderful experiences abroad, I have learned to ask, why do I so easily do away with my hobbies/passions?

The next evening, Marco provided me another opportunity for me to get to know him better, while also improving my knowledge of Italian culture. He picked me up, from the normal spot, Piazza Commune, and headed past his home in Bagnaia to the country home. In la compagna, the countryside; his sister resides and was having a get together for mutual friends. It was the first time, for me to hang out with his friends, in a dinner party setting; my favorite. Sitting around a large rectangular table, trying to hone in on what was being said, is a fun challenge; thankfully, when needed someone would chime in, explaining to me the joke or the context, etc.

In the style I have become now accustom to, il stilo d’Italia, the food and company was delightful. The table was full of appetizers, various types of meats, verdure, and certo; birra e vino. One guy, even brought a bowl, if anyone wanted to further their appetite. Despite, not knowing anyone prior, aside from Marco e Giulia, poi meeting his sister, briefly at his home, they made me feel included; which, is not easy to do. Dopo cena, we sat around, talked, and sifted through the game offerings; certo, Fifa was on the PS4, I didn’t fare well. Cards against Humanity was pulled out (il photo sotto) pero non l’ho visto prima (ovviamente) in Italiano. I explained, I knew the concept but since it was all in Italian, it would prove to be challenging; I didn’t fare well here either. How nice it is to be brought along into these social situations, where I am necessarily pushed out of the foreign-international-American student bubble.

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BAGNAIA

The week concluded, as it often did throughout the month of April; at least when I was home, with attending Marco’s soccer match!  This game was different though, first it was home in Bagnaia, and it was against their rival, the Viterbo team!  Since it was home, the families came out; including Guilia’s parents and sister. How entertaining they can be, especially her dad!  He taught me, on this day, an invaluable saying in Neapolitan dialect; “Salutami a Soreta”, like many Italian sayings this can have many meanings.  The direct translation is…tell your sister hi for me; but he assured me, in this case, since I was lost in understanding the conversation, I could use it as “fuck off, I understand!” After the game, another tie (certo), we headed to a local; their favorite café/restaurant, in Bagnaia!

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In traditional Italian fashion they did it up, wine, four courses, altogether we must have been there for three hours!  Marco & I even left to walk Brando, then returned to dessert. When we returned the adults; so everyone but Emma, were involved in a drink induced, passionate conversation about…gender roles, if only I could speak and understand Italian to truly include myself!  The day of entertainment continued afterward as we walked to Villa Lante, Bagnaia’s shining star, and one of Italy’s great gardens!

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Even with already visiting Villa Lante earlier in the year with Pr. Marco & Renaissance class, it was a great learning experience (Simona might have more knowledge and interest, studying architecture in University). We then, returned to the restaurant to have gelato, and the conversation turned to having the entire gang to the states; something I would welcome, although with their personalities, I think it should be filmed and maybe funded!

With two days before a trip to Puglia, both Monday and Tuesday, were busy; filled with class, the two high school lessons and certo, packing!  Sunday night was spent in preparation for my lesson, which I was to present about American issues, as requested, to both classes. The topic, understandably, was a large undertaking; to narrow it down I decided to speak on issues that I felt necessary to understand, to the present. Two months removed from the Parkland massacre, then weeks prior; the recent March for Our Lives on Washington D.C., and considering how the U.S. is dramatically different in terms of Gun Laws than really any other western country (certainly Italy!) I figured it best to start, at the most pressing concern; where people are dying from each day. Seriamente, come spiegare a questi studenti di Guns in America? Oppure, poi racism and gender inequality? Magari, they may know about the latter two, in relation to their own problemi, pero how to present? Like always, take from its creation; pull from il passato.

I titled the PowerPoint the Issues America Faces, and figured I would use as much video/audio as possible; as there are people more important and interesting than me working to battle these most prevalent problems. I started with a video from John Oliver, back when he was with the Daily Show in 2013. The Youtube video, John Oliver’s Australia & Gun Control’s Aftermath is captioned perfectly; “John Oliver learns that it’s pointless for America to study the Australian gun control experience because the situations are just too similar.” Despite, the density and seriousness of this topic to an American (I can vividly recall the Virginia Tech shooting affecting our Dayton United Methodist Church), yet with his approach and take on the absurdity of the American system, I couldn’t help but laugh.

His reactions throughout and delivery is just perfect; take informing the audience of the 1996 sweeping gun reform that it took just three and a half months, with a stunned look, “what, what?” Then following the reform, zero massacres after 1996, his reaction, “but it doesn’t work!” He finds only one truth, “if Americans actually want gun control, they can move to Australia.” It is disturbing and as I tried to explain to these non-Americans students, following so many years of shooting after shooting, massacres and now destruction, it has destroyed any belief that the government cares for the American public. Following the video, due to his sarcasm, Cesira asked me to explain the video to the students; onestamente, it is difficult.

I then turned to another video; now five years later (Again Australia changed FOREVER for the good in three months, and yet here we are AGAIN!) This video spurred by the Parkland Douglass High School Shooting; and we’ll sit here and blame individuals, not a corporation and government that run a country. I figured the high schools could relate to the irate American students who see no-hope in a government and country that has no intention of protecting them. As the students explained in the video, the NRA (the National Rifle Association) and government are together; I’d explain the meaning of a Rifle, and the impact of lobbyist on government decisions. It was a fascinating topic, one that we had to drive deep into, to get to the heart of societal and political problems, in such a short time.

I figured it best to continue through humor; seeing comedy as the only way to effectively address topics that plague America. Luckily, we have plenty of forums, like the Daily Show, and Saturday Night Live, to introduce my points. The next issue we turned to was Gender Inequality; I figured SNL’s skit, A Sketch for the Women, could do some justice. The video shows four actors, two male and two female (including Scarlett Johansson) at dinner, discussing the problems that affect women daily. Beginning with sexual harassment, the talk goes to the large pay gap (11% I believe), portrayal in media (as just beauty, or sexual objects), to lack of representation in the senate (as of the making of the video-only 28/100). The humor, if not evident, is the discussion is only through the male perspective; even saying, “so, often women aren’t given a voice.”

With the class, dominantly female, I imagined they had encountered all these instances before, and purtroppo will in the future; as Italy has there fair share female injustices. Even, when it comes to the micro-aggression they explained; yet, Italy unlike the United States doesn’t laud itself as the ‘Land of Opportunities,’ in this instance; and with the next topic, perhaps, it is better to refer to America as the ‘Land of Unequal Opportunities!’ I would continue using SNL and humor for the final topic, a big one; like Gender Inequality ingrained in the very fiber of the country; Racism.

I began with another public, comedic figure with a unique outsider; yet owning to an in-depth understanding of America and the problem of Race. Allowing them to hear from Trevor Noah, and his video on: Trump is Racist; I wanted them to hear from someone who could be affected by it and was, certainly growing up in South Africa. After all, an American with European roots, doesn’t truly know (thankfully-as no one should) the destruction of racism in the United States. He proposes, several points; first it is hard to consider someone not racist, “when they’re doing all the racist things,” then how their should be a racism Richter scale! The Italians know race, in terms of the foreigner in the country, in many cases; it seems to come from a nationalistic viewpoint, the African, the Arab, etc. So, one could say it may not tie directly from racism, but ethnic-nationalistic hatred; yet, millions of Americans (more American than myself for instance) have deeper roots to America than I do. In this case, it can never be considered a nationalistic viewpoint, as I should be viewed more as a descendant of a foreigner than “my darker brother,” (had to use a Langston reference!)

I aimed to emphasize the forever present issue of race, and the senselessness of racism in American culture; a difficult task indeed! Using Trevor Noah to intelligently introduce the absurdity of the topic, ranging from pop-culture to the white house; I then wanted to show, how it isn’t just black and white. What better way then to further the unfolding of the president’s ignorance; which appropriately represents a portion of the American public, than to turn back to SNL. This time, Aziz Ansari’s Stand-Up Monologue; the day after DJ was elected, justly hits on the largest root problem of the concept of race…IGNORANCE. Like, the Christian hatred of Jewish people, for centuries and centuries (see Blood Libel!) in the past, many of them have no idea; so, instead of having a mind for themselves, they take the medias portrayal.

Ansari effectively explains this in terms of any brown people and/or Muslims living in America. The television shows always present the terrorist as Muslim, or the Arab man as a threat; or consider the stereotype of an African American as a violent criminal with a gun. The destruction of public life and values, inflicted by media, television and movies. Amazingly; as mom, dad, Julia, Mitchell, Tracy, and I, have all remarked, and as Ansari points out, the perception of President Bush has changed dramatically since Trump’s election.

To finish off the presentation on race in America, and problems in my country, I turned to two comedians who will always have me laughing; Key & Peele and their skit Black Ice. Brilliantly, the emphasize the trouble facing black Americans, through a winter weather skit. Take the words of Peele, “remember how hard it is for Black Ice to survive, what with the authorities trying to destroy it with the snow plows and the salt trucks, but Black Ice perseveres…,” then Key jumps in to say, “that’s right, that’s right, and as we can see now the city is being controlled right now as by oppressive snow, making it hard for all people to advance!” They continue on, “for the record Black Ice is a product of the environment…amen!” I don’t know if they fully got to message, to be fair it is hard enough for many Americans (that I’ve met) to get the idea, when they both don’t face it themselves, and they haven’t seen it first hand. When you see it from friends, hearing it in the workplace, and then studying the root problem dating back to Equiano; it’s Clear.

It was a heavy class presentation, but I figured this is why I am here; they may never hear or see this stuff otherwise. Like the conversation, I had in the past with Maria in Reggio with her asking, since she sees it on the news, about police shootings of young, black Americans; and Lucia responding that it’s because they don’t listen. This is, like the previous two topics, a massive problem that penetrates into the public offices, the school system into the penal system, and the minds of millions of Americans. The root causes, pulling from Equiano then Douglass, and Jacobs etc.: Avarice, Malice and Ignorance! Hard to accept and learn about; as it should be, yet, even more difficult to face, but we must; just as we need to address gun control and gender inequality, then correct!

That evening, I made the brief, yet difficult walk la casa di Brock, Charlie, e Michele; somehow I have gotten lost every time walking to the apartment on Via S. Girolamo. Strange enough, since walking back from class with them so often, it is a much easier find; through Porta Romana then the right before Pizzeria D.J., or even the other way; next to the gelato spot; L’antica Latteria. Something about being within the walls that, per me, made many places confusing to locate.

It probably didn’t help, leaving la stanza di Kiarra, after smoking the pipe; she’d and Mason, at least help me with directions. We stayed a few hours to get a good confidence with the material; essentially, dates, events, and ideas; the essence of history. Like, our past study sessions, we would only get so much accomplished; instead, becoming distracted by something or another, su questa sera; primo, Brocks Gnocchi (homemade which I helped with), e poi Mason e Michele’s video game obsession.

The next morning, the test went quick; as normal, first one out was Micheal, then we all began to hasten our time spent on the Id and essay answers. With only culture later that day; no work nor volunteering, I went home and began to pack, readying myself for the next trip. I received enough information on Puglia from Michael and Marco, which despite learning of potential poor transportation (something I had now become expectant of in the south), I was excited. Between his story to Otranto, and our classes on the importance of the southeastern region of Italy to both the renaissance and modern history, I figured to learn like I had on the previous two week-long trips. With the red backpack all packed up, I filled up on food for the road, grabbed the journal which held the verb conjugations, and made my way to the Porta Fiorentina station.

It is comforting to write while on the road, not quite the same in front of a computer in my bedroom. There is just a deeper connection with pen and paper; allowing me to recount my experiences and thoughts, in transit, with no where to go. The writing aids in my nervous, excited, anxiety; always worried something will go wrong, without control, just at the mercy of travel. The Italian transit system is a good example of this; my only response (each time), non capiro mai!

 With all the free time alone in travel; my mind, as it so often does just strays away. In a dialogue-like setting, I question why I put myself through this; the nerves and uneasiness. What is my explanation of travel, when I have my bed, comfort, and home, friends, all in Via Zazzera? See a night like tonight; instead of my big, warm bed; I have a bench or floor, I won’t be around friends and housemates but alone around some strangers. Undoubtedly during my travels, I will be uncomfortable at some point; yet, if I have learned anything from my past; discomfort breeds growth, and for many times, especially when I push myself, travel is uncomfortable; therefore travel equals growth.

ROMA

My plan worked out well enough to arrive in Rome Trastevere around 8; then to the Fiumicino (FIU) airport for my free and comfy night of sleep. After talking with mom and searching the airport for a suitable “bed” I surprisingly found a two-seat padded bench, in Terminal 1, to lay out.  Soon, upon sitting down I learned why it was left alone; while the rest were all filled.  An elderly cranky woman awoke to explain in English that our two benches were connected; she went on to detail her frustration about having to spend the night in the airport!  The best part, she was an American woman and did not know I was also American. I played along with her passive aggressive speaking down to my presumably non-English speaking self; asking, “scusi signora, di dove sei?” Then asking in English; she did not take kindly too, to her it didn’t matter, she just wanted to sleep.

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After getting tired of the brief back and forth bit we had, I explained to her that I was also American, which she seemed to appreciate and made her warm up; even prompting her to tell me that I’m not so bad!  As expected the night did not go so well, bringing up thoughts of past terrible night sleeps…the beach/bench night in Catania, Noto, and the WVU night in the tent in preparation for the Pittsburgh basketball game; all quickly came to mind!  Despite the woman, with the padded bench it wouldn’t have been so bad, but my allergies decided to attack me at 3 am; around the same time that the airport cleaners all vacuumed nearby, and an old man was seemingly dying from his cough!  As has been the case thus far, on my trips, I awoke the next morning, around 5 am; prompting an internal celebration for making it through the night.

I had just about three hours before the flight, then to get into Bari at 9 am. From there the plan over the next 5 days; visit Poligano a Mare, Ostuni, Monopoli, Otranto, Lecce, and; of course, Brindisi (Where I’ll be staying) couch-surfing with Dario. The plan this time, 100-Euro budget; which is doable? I’m excited but have much to do when I return, after all it will be less than two weeks till completion of the program! E strano, but the time has come, and thinking of all I have encountered, explored, eaten.

I grabbed my belongings, which were considerable light, compared to what I packed for Sicily; my mentality and approach to packing continues to change. If only I would have switched, since I had guaranteed housing and a shower, unlike Sicily; but I wanted to have less possessions.  Which each trip it seemed I have tried something new throughout this semester, and no different from the past I was excited to try out Couchsurfing; thanks to Dario!

BARI

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I arrived in Puglia through the Bari airport, and after spending half the day in the Puglian capital; highlighted by walking along the lungomare and through the narrow streets of the old town, I took the hour-long train to Brindisi.  I originally planned to visit Polignano a Mare while so close in Bari but changed my mind, due to my luggage.  Since “losing” my backpack in Catania, my I-phone battery has been a consistent problem while traveling, since I use it for so much!  Between maps, communication, music, and photo taking, I am lucky if it lasts most of the day! On top of that, I use it to track my expenditures on the road, which include so far 26 euro.

BRINDISI

Purtroppo, since I could not charge it the night before at the airport, by noon I was strapped; on red and quickly dying, which prompted me to spend hours in a nearby caffe waiting for Dario upon arriving in Brindisi. The wait was well worth it however, after dropping off my luggage at his apartment we walked about the beautiful historic port city!  Known for its unique position, the city has had importance since Roman times, and now provides travelers easy access to the Balkan coastline along with being a station for the Italian navy.  Throughout our first evening together Dario along with explaining the history of Brindisi, provided me his incredible experiences with couch surfing.  Over the four years he has used the traveler on-line based network, he spoke of hosting over three hundred people; most of which left him with a positive feeling.

Arriving back to his apartment, I was shocked with his open-handed hospitality; seemingly the southern Italian way!  While we ate leftovers, he spoke further about his 50+ years of living in Puglia; between Bari, Lecce, and Brindisi, his family nearby and the diverse region.  He explained that as a child he was set along the line of studying languages; Spanish and English, which explained why his English was near perfect.  After dinner came the first surprise to my couch surfing; despite the name of the app and him having one in the small living room, he insisted for me to take his bedroom.  I argued with him, but after minutes of back and forth passionate discussion he ended it with a simple tongue smack paired with a quick head bob, which he informed was a “southern Italian” way to say no!

He is too kind in giving me his bed, then dinner, and a set of keys! Wow it is strange to encounter, but cements the mentality: I must pay it forward, when I get right! Afterward, we walked about the city-town, as he told me of all the significance of his home, beautiful with lots of history! I prefer this to Bari, certainly his company and now a good nights sleep offers an incredibly nice spin! I must think of a way to properly repay him, and must remember his kindness for future reference!

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LECCE

The next morning, I awoke delightfully refreshed after I full nights sleep in a bed; and just like that I was back to my “normal self”!  With hours of research, I decided to make Thursday, my first travel day, a day trip to Lecce, about 30 minutes train ride south of Brindisi; supposedly the Firenze of the south!  As I awaited the surprisingly late 9 am train, I began my to think of my response to McKenna’s question, “Explain the internship experience and how it enhanced the study abroad experience.”

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In asking for a hundred or two-hundred-word response, regarding my teaching experience (in the Liceo) and how it enriched my study abroad experience; I will use this as my brainstorming. For starters, I presented in two different classes (Mon. 10-11 am & Tues 11 am-12 pm.) Along with speaking English, my goal (since I had full control) was to teach of American culture; at least how I see it! One class (Mon.) was a class of twenty-psychology students, all females except one guy. The Tuesday class is also around twenty students, but mixed, studying music. I sought to explain the complexity of the U.S., informing them of the enormity of the country, the vast differences among the “11 Nations,” regions, the large diversity of mind-body-environment. We tackled stereotypes, issues, tourism, NYC culture, U.S. rap, all following up the first two lessons introducing myself and the history of the country.

I found making connections between Italy & the U.S. helpful, particularly when it came to diversity and differences in region. I learned over time to both slow down & repeat myself and found writing on the chalkboard or white board to be helpful. Some seemed to stay engaged, others I had to try a little harder or a different (would be better to say) approach. I certainly learned a lot and hope they did as well. My goal, along with providing a better understanding of the States, was to challenge them; making them think and question their own environment, as it often, in some way mirrored what I was speaking of. I changed my approach upon the two classes and found overall the Tuesday class to be more understanding, lively, and responsive. It was very encouraging at times, then other days; while walking home I would (as I often do) question how I could better do it next time. Overall, I’m very fortunate for this opportunity, as this was one of the reasons, I chose Viterbo! I found myself each week passionately constructing the PowerPoints; even while I am on the road or in air; cementing this profession to pursue.

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It’s funny, I even question to not visit Puglia due to my desire to keep teaching, but I couldn’t back out, why?  Allora, first I had already purchased the ticket and had been in talks with Dario; and secondo, traveling is part of what I am here for!  I have become comfortable in the bedroom with a large bed in Viterbo and Via Zazzera has become home.  To continue my growth, I must break through that comfort zone, which means finding discomfort in traveling, even in a beautiful and sunny region of southern Italy. With everything I read of Lecce, I figured that I would be amazed; yet, I did not desire an inland historic city; acknowledging that I have become and am spoiled, I’ve had enough of that in Lazio!  What I desired was the coast, something unique from what I have encountered and explored since arriving to Viterbo.

After spending only three hours in the tourist filled capital of Salento, rightfully so, I aimed to go to Otranto.  Only problem, che sorpresa…the transportation.  By 1 pm, acknowledging that Otranto was not possible for the day, I gave up. Since failure is rarely an option in Italy, I settled for Ostuni; the white city. In continuing my tight budget mindset, I cheated and only bought a ticket to Brindisi, saving three euro. I felt bad, and worried when the train attendant came by the first time; so, instead, I worked to escape his clutches; I tried hiding in the bathroom. It was strange, taking turns with another young man; clearly a foreigner, like me; but from some African nation. We both moved from our seats; further and further back, until we came to the last car in the train. All this stress, due to not having the proper ticket and being cheap. Yet, we would both encounter the attendant in that car; unable to successfully avoid him in the bathroom. Soon, after explaining it to him, it was clear to me he wasn’t concerned about me; after all it was the next stop. He was concerned about the Africa immigrant, who boarded and was riding illegally; without paying.

This experience hit me hard; we both tried to dodge the attendant, but it wasn’t until another passenger, spoke out to me; first in Italian, then he realized I was not Italian. He included me in the situation; first speaking to the helpless immigrant before turning to me. He explained to me, the guy had no money or ticket, could only speak French, and was needing to get to Bari then Milan; and ultimately France.  The conversation and encounter opened my eyes; the first time I saw someone first hand trying to make it into Europe.  He appeared, naturally, as only someone in his situation could be, frightened and helpless.  Upon the two of us departing at Ostuni, we wished him luck but then could only imagine how his journey would go.

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OSTUNI 

Exiting the station, the passenger; now on bike, explained to me that it was a difficult walk to the city; instead, I could wait for a bus. Naturally, I chose the three km walk up to Ostuni; it was hot, to put it simply!  With every car breezing by me, I questioned why I didn’t wait for the bus, which apparently comes every half hour. Walking about the white city for hours, it was clear to me that I had made the right decision; especially after I found a market and water!  The only thought that could come to my mind, did I cross the Ionian and make it to a Greek island? The narrow streets, white clay buildings, and blue-everything brought up memories of Santorini. It is evident, the south of Italy ruled for centuries by foreign invaders, was first founded by the Greeks.

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BRINDISI

I returned that evening to find Dario, laying out on his couch. He explained to me, that he had left work early that day; since he began to feel sick. We briefly spoke, but he was noticeably ill; so, I left out for some time, offering to get him anything at the market. It would take him several days to recover, as he noted and expected; I felt bad, it didn’t aid in me being there. His response; similar; he felt bad that he was sick while I was there.

OTRANTO

On the third day, I tried again to get to the coastline of Otranto. The aim was to reach San Foca/Torre dell’orso/Sant’Andrea, which looks stunning and to add value, is difficult to reach. I did plenty of research, on the trains and buses of the region; yet, the memory of Noto remains in my mind. After all, one never knows with Italy; particularly southern Italy. To get from Dario’s to Oranto, I repeated the first leg; Brindisi to Lecce, then came light uncertainty. From Lecce there were buses to the coast; yet, I didn’t account for transportation, during non-summer hours.

So, my hope turned to rely on the regional FSE line, a new twist; involving a train towards Gallipoli and a change-over stop at Melendugno. The train platform alone, with the delay and difficulty of switching the train cars over; should have been a good indicator. Yet, I would get some help during the trip from the train attendant; again, amazing to see the good in people, in the road. Around, one in the afternoon, I checked my phone map, and saw that I was approaching Tricase (near the most southern tip of Puglia); quicky realizing I had messed this one up! The attendant came back to check the car, and informed me that I should have gotten off; so, he explained, get off here. I departed the train to find a lonely one stop station and waited for about thirty minutes. Then the train coming the opposite direction came and picked up the hand full of riders.

I have had uncertainty during my travels; actually almost always, yet this region of Italy is different. As I was enjoying the ride, with my head out the window, marveling at the landscape, I missed my stop. The unexpected self-inflicted delay, put me behind and in doubt of getting to my desired destination; I still had to get to Maglie, about an hour ride, then to Otranto. In all the nervous, unsettling transit, I had neglected to eat or drink; leaving me to reflect upon my day’s nourishment: two chocolate (ho-ho like) cakes after un café. The day, which ended up being a constant day of transportation; first getting to Otranto, only then to miss a train connection in Maglie to Lecce. Due to the delay in the Otranto arrival, I missed the expected ride to Lecce, which then forced me to wait.

(Grotta di Sella)

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A momentous occasion occurred while waiting for the train that evening in Maglie; some type of a world gathering. In total, two men from Gambia, a woman from Morocco, a lady from Germany, the male Italian train attendant, and myself. In the background, stood two ladies from China, and other quiet people. Sounding like a broken record, this is unique; once I saw and heard them all talking—I couldn’t help but get up from the nearby bench while charging my phone, and include myself. Lastly, our conversation would continue on the train. I sat in an open train car with the one Gambian man, Elia, who entered the train, along with the Moroccan woman. We talked for the remainder of our time together on the train, in broken English-Italian-French. These are the moments!

So, although, I consider this region (Salento) a must visit, I must caution….Patience and Adaptability! On four occasions today I have waited, then add the times being delayed; and I realize this wouldn’t be for everyone! Again, I must preach the mentality that stays with me above all else while traveling, IMPROVEMENT. In one day, I faced discomfort: in heat—no A/C on the train cars or outside, hunger & thirst, lots of walking. All of this forced me to be patience, and accepting of the situations-unfolding in front of me. I’ve been challenged; at times frustrated and annoyed, but Not for one minute—bored.

LECCE

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Finalmente, I arrived in Lecce, but aspetta for it, I was again late for the final train to Brindisi; ahh Italian transportation!  My only option was to run across to the opposite side of the city and catch a 11 pm bus to the Brindisi airport, although, Lecce was now seemingly more desirable, lit up and senza all the tourists. Purtroppo, the bus would force me to fork over twelve euro, making the day the most expensive! Before, waiting for the bus and other passengers to arrive, I spent additional money on some much needed food; street food. Sleeping the night in Lecce was not a viable option.

BRINDISI

The next day, he was entertained and not surprised to hear of my long day, involving Salento transportation.  Cancellations, delays, exhaustion, and frustration seem inevitable while traveling; forcing a traveler to develop patience and a positive attitude, or not be a traveler! While I’m still breathing, thinking, and walking I will travel; to encounter and overcome myself while discovering whatever the world has to offer.

  With that said, there are off days; like Lebron and other athletes, I need rest after more intense “training.”  This happened to coincide perfectly with Saturday, and my final day to explore the last two cities on my list; Monopoli and Polignano a Mare. With Dario mostly back to full health, the day started in a relaxed fashion; the morning caffe and cornetto, accompanied with conversation sitting at the table.  I informed him of my day plans, extended an invite to him, and upon his denial, I assured that I would be strictly in Brindisi the next day.

On the way to the train station, to catch the 1215 pm train, we walked together around the town center.  As we walked to the bank and then the farmacia, he told me about his family nearby.  His parents live only a five-minute walk away and his brother, which renovated a building like his, is just a few buildings down the street.  On the hour train ride to Polignano, I pondered and came to understand a couple of facts about my traveling self.  First, music is crucial; since losing or breaking all my headphones (ridiculous), I have felt alone on the road.  I had to face this, which is more difficult than anything I “lost” in that backpack.

MONOPOLI

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Second, I create these to-do lists, first because I love to accomplish tasks, and show what I have done; but more importantly, because it helps me ignore the inevitable loneliness that creeps in while alone. It is certainly more difficult while being on a budget, but I imagine having less money available is always tougher in life. So, now to these two Puglian-tourist-beach towns; filled with mostly families or couples; seriamente, it seemed if I was the only person there alone? I plan to come back to this region, but as I’ve been thinking with company, perhaps Dad and the Family? It’s easier to be alone in Berlin, Barcelona, etc; but here screams; share this beauty with company, a loved one, a friend.

POLIGNANO A MARE

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As expected the day spent between the two coastal cities, separated by only a five-minute train ride, offered me true relaxation.  I soaked up the sun, walked about the historic centers of both, and marveled at the sights.  After leaving Polignano for Monopoli shortly after lunch, I decided to return to the cliff diving paradise for the sunset; which, proved to be a good decision!  The return to Polignano, involved finding another rocky spot to layout and listen to music; write some, and then find spots throughout the centro storico to capture divine photos!

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BRINDISI

Domenica, fittingly in Brindisi was well spent with Dario.  Filled with activity, it was clear Dario had put thought into our final day together.  In the morning we went to his brother’s three story row-house (inspiring-ly stunning) and briefly celebrated their mutual friend’s birthday.  In typical Italian fashion, we sat around the table e mangiamo tanti dolci; in a matter of minutes of spending time with them both, it was evident the difference in two brothers.

Afterward, we headed to nearby Sant Giovanni Selpurchre: a beautiful round Roman-Norman style church. At 1 pm we had a wonderful home cooked authentic lunch with his parents, they live nearby. The sweet elderly couple spoke zero English, providing me with the authentic experience I seek out on these excursions. I was able to put my Italian to test, along with eating a delicious Puglian meal (orecchiette).We spoke over the next hour and a half about the general differences between our two countries, the richness of Puglia, and his experience couch surfing. These moments are most unique; being inside an Italian household and forced to use my Italian to communicate.

We returned briefly to his house, just long enough for him to check his correspondence Chess before we headed for a guided tour of the Naval monument; which ok us across the harbor to the massive fascist inspired naval monument!  Again, with his excitement and planning, it was evident how important these (couch surfing) encounters are to him.  Later that evening during dinner we spoke further about couch surfing, and his negative experiences; it seemed, anybody that “used” him by not engaging, left him with a bad feeling that remained.  Throughout my experience, Dario opened his hand to me, without asking for anything but conversation in return; an easy enough exchange. We continued on with the then the evening passeggiata, along the Lungomare.

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Before leaving early the next morning at 6 am, we left each other something.  Dario gave me a package of Puglian coffee, Orecchiette, and a souvenir; and in return, my cheap ass left him with kind words and an idea.  He inspired to become a couch surfer and pay it forward; I encouraged him to watch the movie. After parting from Dario, I took the bus; to arrive at the regional airport. Three minutes got me through security, only to then have about three hours to sit. And I rushed this morning! Perche?

Then to see on the screen above, Ryan Air flight to Roma delayed, sound familiar! I’ve become accustom to it, there wasn’t even a reaction, just wondering when will it leave now? 9:55 am became the new expected departure time, expected! Everyone seemed to be up in arms about this inconvenience—I was just in aw with the sun shining through the windows and the weather outside; I knew with what I’d return to, I must cherish this! It was 6 am and clear and bright!

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Oddly, it was hard leaving him and Puglia. While traveling, I have and will continue to visit beautiful places, but it is the people that I have encountered that make these journeys; and the world seem so special!

Budget Puglia

As I tracked my budget throughout the trip, I wanted to document the process.  I aimed for 100 Euro & under, and I would have made it but, the train from Rome San Pietro to Viterbo got me.  I was curious, since I certainly rode trains without ever having my ticket registered, so I tried and failed; the punishment—double the price.  A good lesson to learn, to stay under I had to play my hand, and wound up paying ten euro instead of five, but none the less; again a great budgeting experience to learn from!