Virginian Abroad: May 2018

1 Month in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg

VITERBO

Following a five-hour flight delay and a frantic rush to catch the soonest train out of Rome, I made it back to Viterbo, about 4 pm.  It was surprising yet a welcome delight to find a familiar shaved head traveler also exiting the final stop, Porta Romana.  I briefly followed Kiarra up via Mariano Romiti until I caught up and began walking alongside her; surprisingly took about a minute to notice the presence of someone aside her.  Initially startled, she whipped her head in preparation to yell at just another Italian guy.  The sentiment changed toward to a welcome smile, which led to continuous questions about each other’s trips.

She spoke all about her solo-trip to Cyprus, a small historic island in the Mediterranean.  She rented a car and seemingly circumnavigated the island, most notably the Turkish side; a deserted strictly militarized zone.  It seemed both our trips to Cyprus and Puglia, since neither my trip to Sicilia nor her most recent trips were alone, reopened our love of solo travel.  It is difficult to explain the joy of complete freedom of traveling alone, something both of us craved after having traveled with Brock and Amber in the trips prior.

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After waking up and being on the road (figuratively) since 5 am it was a welcome sight to return home to Via Zazzera, albeit now in a state, of running of empty; low on food, water, and clothes. As always, I needed to bring myself back up after my travels, both physically with nutrients and mentally; travelers high quickly turns into returners low!  Instead of tending immediately to these cravings, however, we continued our conversation for the next hour.  After starting laundry and eating a cheese/olives/and crackers snack, her fake (vegan) cheese somehow blows my mind, we turned towards smoking; an activity that would continue (on and off) for the week.

It came to my surprise that Thursday morning we have the modern Italian history final.  In typical Pr. Marco fashion we all questioned him, why it wouldn’t be during exam week?  Nonetheless, the next morning within an hour most of the class had finished and walked out; of course, led by Michele!  With most of the USAC group anticipating the end of the year party, things seemed to fly by.  Friday night came and with all the votes in for the two different superlative categories, the scene was set.  Surprisingly with most of the 50 plus group of Americans, one Aussie and one Swed, showing up the party fittingly turned out better than the ones prior.  Short of Michele, everyone of the USAC members came together for one last time.

The superlatives, the main event for the party, seemed to take hold, grabbing everyone’s attention.  They certainly proved to be entertaining and a little surprising, since I would win most likely to have hooked up with a USAC teacher (Marco) I think, along with most likely to vote for Donald Trump; like I said surprising! With plenty of drama, as always with people, substances, and a certain excitement for the semester to come to an end, it went until the late night; ultimately culminating in a trip to a Dominican club, Bocca.  A fun atmosphere with some interesting music, foreign to most Italians and Americans, the entertainment seemed to come from some members of the group; particularly the ones whom seemingly had never danced before, or just needed more liquid courage.

Sunday, my birthday, I awoke and lasted more than half the day oblivious to that.  I agreed the previous night, after not seeing Marco since my return Monday, to catch a ride at Sacrario (the wing fountain) to Bagania for his weekly Sunday game.  I saw Simona, his mother, hopped in the car and we headed to the field nearby his house.  Every time I talk with her I learn something new and interesting about her family; this time learning of how her & Lino, her husband, met as children.  As we walked up to the field she pointed out the hilly field of weeds and grass that her children used to play around.

I received the first of a few unofficial birthday gifts with a rare win, 2-0.  A tie is normally the case, with either poor offense or great defense/goaltending, so I believe I was excited as Marco to see a victory!  As I stood around with his family and Giulia’s family; I couldn’t hold myself from telling her father my newly learned dialetto expression: “chi t’e’ muertu (damn your dead relatives)”, meant as a fun-loving joke between friends.  He seemed delighted, yet, I might have been a little too proud of myself, after all I don’t know if this is the Italian I am meant to be learning!

After the game, as the custom, we went to the nearby favorite restaurant/caffe/convenient store and had lunch.  This lunch, again as customary; especially on Sundays, lasted a few hours.  The family outing including Emma, chatted and enjoyed five different courses from antipasto to dolci.  As Marco and I returned to the caffe after taking Brando on a much-needed walk, Giulia filled me in on the family’s energetic debate; on gender roles, I thought if only I could truly speak on this!  This is a time and example when it’s frustrating to have the language barrier; it was fun to see their entertaining passion for the topic, something certainly shared in my household!  After the lunch a tired Marco and Giulia drove me back within the city walls.

It wasn’t until I received a facetime call from Dad, wishing me happy birthday that it clicked; unfortunately, then it was out.  Kiarra heard him and quickly barged in after the conversation to apologize and wish me a happy birthday.  My secret was ruined but I couldn’t ask for a better mate 😉 to celebrate my birthday.  After proclaiming she would get groceries and make me a dinner, we left for the local grocery store Tigre.  Since it was Sunday, we were delighted upon walking out into piazza del commune and then Sacaraio to find foot traffic everywhere. Many vendors were out, something of an open-air market and several forms of entertainment attracted the people’s attention.

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Two performances seemed to be fighting specially, or at least that’s how I wanted it; a group of forty middle aged to elderly women led by three younger dance instructors put on a fun little dance show.  The music blared across the wing fountain, however, would soon be in competition from a marching band line coming down into the crowded piazza.  Kiarra and I just stood back, watching almost dazed, from the pregame to shopping.  Eventually we regained our attention and purpose of being out,and headed to Tigre for supplies.

The Asian dinner, often the case with Kiarra, was incredible even bringing out Mason onto the terrace for dinner and conversation.  We drank, smoked, and talked about our time together; all knowing this upcoming week together would be our last!  Throughout the day I was able to relax, enjoy great company, and receive love from family back home; but my mind couldn’t distance itself from the hard facts that every act I did throughout the semester would be soon coming to an end.  Monday started with the last high school lesson, American issues, something I felt great pride along with nervousness to present; after all, where do I begin!  For me it was important to choose what I was passionate about and thought to be most relevant today, so I opted for racism, gender inequality, and gun control; but seriously just take your pick.

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This class would be my last, since the Tuesday class had an exam. It was tough to leave, thanking all the students for the opportunity; most of them seemed indifferent, but it gave me what I searched for. Piu importante, it gave me some experience. My Liceo supervisor (Cesira Rumori) and teacher for both of the eleventh grade classes I volunteered at, provided me a kind reference;

“I had the pleasure to host in my class Mr. Andrew Scordo during the months of February, March, April and part of May for a total of ten hours. He has worked in teaching English through some interesting themes  about American life, American music and contemporary issues in two of my classes . I had the opportunity to appreciate his excellent skills in presenting , developing arguments while arousing interest in my students who have also learnt to pay attention and reflect on the importance of their past heritage to understand their present and dream of their future. I think Mr. Scordo has a natural gift for teaching and hope he might have plenty of satisfaction in this field.”

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We had our last Italian conversation class before the exam.  After lunch, around 230 pm, I brought my basketball to work, thinking of an immediate move afterward.  Instead of having bright shooting conditions, as often the case in Viterbo and all of Lazio, it rained; which did not deter me from shooting, since I did not have many chances left, but just forced me into spot shooting.  Returning home, we again conjoined together for preparation of the Italian Renaissance test; something I conceived to be, like usual, to be more than it was.  I also had to prepare, along with Mason for the Italian culture presentation, choosing not to be concerned with the Italian cuisine exam sandwiched between the two.

Both test and my presentation, about the Italian regional divide between north and south; a topic I am passionate about, went well!  It was entertaining to see everyone present about their many different themes, however the girls made a strong showing, often repeating topics about Italian woman!  Michele entertainingly spoke on Mussolini, Mason on Vittorio Emmanuele, and Brock on Italian sports; although I will remember most, both the presentations about Italian gun control and Feminicidio, Italian violence toward woman, a disturbing problem facing Italy today!

After only one hour of work that evening I returned to now stress about my two-part Italian presentation; a group conversation with both Michele and Haley, and an individual PowerPoint about my family!  Like the exams and presentations prior, it went well; at least well enough, as I saw yesterday my grade report of all A’s!  This does not surprise me, like it did to the class showing my interesting family dynamic of Dad, Tracy, Julia, and Mom; I unfortunately couldn’t not find a solo photo of him.

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Maybe even more surprising is my news that the five of us would all be meeting in Amsterdam in two weeks, something I was impatiently awaiting.  I continued with work that evening for two hours and after leaving, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the next day, Thursday would be my last!  Strange I started at the Real English School nearly four months ago.  I still recall after my conversation with Dad, setting me straight, finding the ad and calling Lisa.  After many frustratingly long four hour shifts on Friday of only young kids, or inspiring individual lessons with Italian adults, it was coming to an end!  It wasn’t over yet however, nor were my classes.

That evening I delayed the writing of my Italian colonization paper due for Modern history early the next morning, instead choosing to go out with a large USAC group to a local pizzeria.  Sitting on the ground at Michele’s beside Brock, Eliza, and Kiarra, starring at my massive pizza I was amazed that I had really hadn’t divulged in authentic Viterbese food.  Certo, I ate out with or in at Marco’s house, but always choose to save my money and not eat out with the Americans.  We instead would have dinner parties, that I always found more enjoyable.

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The pizza and company were nice, but the more memorable occasion came afterward when we all decided to frequent Settantasette.  I’m not sure how it started, probably by mine or Kiarra’s provoking, but the fifteen-person USAC group all circled together in the back of the bar, ended up starting a roast.  This provided much entertainment as each person was verbally assaulted in a circular, one person at a time fashion.  All along I was curious upon two things; first naturally, I have made myself a target and was interested to hear what was coming my way.  Secondly, who in this circle would not be able to take it, if after all people were truthful and ruthless.

The jokes proved to be hit or miss, especially pertaining to a person, perceiving to be able to take a roast.  Michele got height jokes, Mason about being Mormon, Kiarra hairless and Australian; but the best had to be about me.  I welcomed it and for the better part of it appreciated it; nonetheless I must wonder…I am going bald? (Mitchell would later say the same after seeing me nearly three weeks later.) Alongside, jokes about my balding, I got the expected comments; throughout the semester, I had made one too many jokes to see who I can irritate or surprise, since I quickly realized I didn’t intend to befriend many here. Naturally, Camilla brought up my indirect, halfhearted attempt to hit on her; proving to be the best used joke, from an unlikely source.

 The next morning, Eleven o’clock hit and just like that, my semester came to an end. Later that evening work would also come to an end.  After three hours of work, highlighted by my participation in the eleven years old Trinity animal play; I was the alligator, then saying my goodbyes to the great women at the Real English School, I was free.

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Free from everything that made me choose Viterbo; the classes and the opportunity to teach, was an uneasy feeling. For the last week; since returning from Puglia, I questioned how will everything work out?  How can I in just a matter of weeks go from leaving Dario’s (May 1), back to Viterbo, then down to Maria in Reggio Calabria, back up to Rome to finally seeing Mom (May 19) and then Julia/Dad & Tracy (May 23)?

In typical fashion, it just happens; yet, still it seems hard to bring myself back to just a month ago in Viterbo.  I did not do much to prepare myself for the aftermath, returning to the United States, but it seems one thing worked!  That evening, Thursday (May 11) after returning home to an apartment no longer housed by Kiarra; we said our goodbyes to her that afternoon, the most difficult of the USAC farewells; I would have a phone interview!  That interview with Higher Achievement, an organization based out of Washington D.C; providing underprivileged children with higher opportunities for education, was for a position as a summer teacher.

Back to May and my final days, more so seen as daze, in Viterbo!  Before Mason left on Friday two things would occur that remain firmly fit in my memory.  The first he gifted me with about seventy-euro worth of coin; his reasoning, he didn’t want to carry it; despite me encouraging him to take it, since he would be back to Europe within the month, it came into my possession.  The second, one of my most proud and surprising moments in that apartment; my successful attempt to break back into my apartment!  The moment I headed down with Mason to help him carry his luggage outside, I realized I had no keys.  My only hope was that Eliza, also helping, had not closed the apartment door that I kept open…well, ovviamente it was, or I would have no story.  What was required next was my best attempt at real life Assassin’s Creed; since thankfully I was still inside the apartment complex, I knew I had a chance.  I walked into the courtyard, addressed the situation, then climbed into a stranger’s terrace, up onto the roof, up onto another roof overlooking mine.

The drop from their I assessed would result in three options, first (optimism) I land no problem, the second I land on the ledge and most likely fracture, or worse, my ankles/legs.  The third option had me most worried, if I carry any momentum forward I could miss the terrace and then ledge, I would fall an additional three stories!  Since I was not actually playing a video game, I didn’t like my chances; luckily, I had time to think while my heart raced.  To the left lied another roof adjacent to mine and with just about an eight-foot drop, I felt more comfortable.  From that terrace I could climb over the fenced barrier and then, like that I was back through the door I left open!  I’m very thankful that door was open; but soon after, I found out from the landlord I must have attracted some neighbor’s attention.

After knocking on the door, she came in with a head of smoke; all in Italian, she explained to me what I did was dangerous and unnatural.  I informed her, repeatedly; lo so-lo so, but had no option.  After about a five-minute chat, I assured her it wouldn’t happen again; and thanked her for her housing the past five months.  She and the neighbors who saw me were left with an entertaining story; I don’t advertise to climb roofs but in no part do I regret what I did, with too much to do, I was not going to wait!

The house now all too myself, I put off cleaning and packing for the last opportunity to play basketball.  Arriving to the court, I was pleased to find some familiar faces, and more importantly enough bodies to play a game.  As often the case, we all shot around before beginning to separate ourselves into teams; naturalmente, the dialogue in Italian.  I walked around tired from working hard but discouraged.  My shooting caused me to be more one dimensional than I prefer.  With my offensive game lacking, besides driving right; I can always drive right, I picked it up on defense.  Having success with turning up the intensity on defense against a bigger skilled opponent gave me confidence that I am still able to dial it up when called upon.  Unfortunately, throughout this semester my basketball skills were not often used or put to the test, making me question how rough of a transition would it be back to the courts at Cary Street.

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Following basketball and a much-needed shower, I turned my attention back towards the empty house that was in need of cleaning.  My roommates put me in a good position, mostly cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, and hallway; leaving me only to sweep up the terrace and tidy up the rooms I used.  The evening plans led again to a pizzeria, this time Monastero, locally famous for the two-plate pizza and then another night at Settantasette.  The group now significantly smaller in size continued their goodbyes towards each other.  The next day, Saturday, I met up with Brock and Marco, spending the afternoon at Parco Termale del Bagnaccio; my first time at the paid outdoor baths.

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Despite not seeing Marco that evening at Settantasette, I held confident the next week upon returning to Rome, I would see him.  The attention that evening at 77 would turn then to celebrating Haley’s birthday, welcoming Eliza’s boyfriend, and ultimately, saying my final goodbyes; most importantly to Brock!  We drank, talked, reminisced, then moved to the bookbar; my first time inside.  Quickly afterward we headed to street food; got some energy and ultimately found Bocca.  Upon leaving around 3 am, I gave hugs, gave Eliza the British pounds I would not be using, then gladly hopped into bed.

I would awake just an hour later to finish packing and cleaning.  I caught the 620 am train to Rome, found a spot to lay out, and passed out!  I could not shake the terrible feeling for most of the morning and afternoon but took comfort when I sat down on the six-hour train headed for Reggio Calabria.  Despite being oddly uneasy about leaving the city that became my home, and nervous with the upcoming chapters of travel, I took comfort I am getting closer to my goal(s).

What goal(s) you ask; allora, buona domanda!  The short term, find a job & home, essentially settle myself back in Richmond.  The main definite goal, graduate VCU in May 2019, then go abroad; via teaching English.  My time in Viterbo both continued me on my path to graduate and set me on a post graduate life abroad!  I carry these goals and thoughts with me but must be careful to not let them take me away from my present; something I have learned in Italy.  Whether Simona & Lino or Maria & Nino, the southern Italian culture is infectious, live contently in the present.

REGGIO CALABRIA

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This was easily shown during my time in Calabria.  Throughout my many hours spent with Maria and Nino, who claimed me as their third child, they did well to convince me to relax and let the future come to me.  Once I settled into Simona’s childhood room; first, joyously unpacking my bags and then showering, the southern hospitality began.  After dinner, a delicious lasagna and fish balls, I quickly learned I would not be required to do much for my stay.  They didn’t allow me to clean the dishes I used, nor lift a hand cleaning up; something I would fight throughout my stay; cultures clash!

SCILLA

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The next morning after a much-needed full night’s sleep, I woke to a set table of traditional Italian breakfast items; toast & jam, cereal & milk, and certo; caffe & biscotti.  Shortly, after breakfast Maria informed me we would be going to Scilla today and a nearby town to get vegetables and fish.  Despite the rainy, dreary weather; the tourist hub of southern Calabria, proved its hype.  Famously boasting an Aragonese castello(Ruffo), perched atop a cliff overlooking the sea; and a long beach; I could see the allure!  However, the highlight came from walking through the narrow sights, eventually coming to houses built directly along the water.  We continued along the coast to Bagnara (photo below), a fisherman’s village frequented by Maria & Nino.

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We returned home right in time for lunch, a consistent theme throughout the week!  Dopo pranzo, Nino went to lay down and rest; Maria suggested for me to do the same.  Initially this was strange to me, but as the week went on I came to appreciate this period of rest.  That evening, Maria and I would begin to type up the Scordo family line.  She already had mostly completed this task, short of some names, but felt it necessary to have it on file.  What began as confusing and frustrating, due to its difficulty, would bring Maria & I together in laughs; so many Antoninos, Grazias, Giovanni(a), Giuseppa(e). The Scordo, Pizzimenti line is an interesting one.

GERACE

After a full night of sleep, the morning appeared to be Déjà vu.  Waking to the same “buongiorno/hai dormito”, I entered the kitchen to find breakfast on the table.  Shortly after Maria asked if I would be interested in visiting a mountainous town an hour inland.  Soon enough, after I happily agreed, we hopped in the car and headed towards Gerace.  Arriving to the picturesque old town, filled with historic Norman-Byzantine cathedrals,una chiesa di St. Francis of Assisi, a museum of Diocesano, and several spots offering panorama views, took longer than expected; magari, the driving, piano, piano. Maria & I visited several paid admissions buildings, before reconnecting with Nino to walk about the village.  The town, like much of Calabria had famously hosted a  nineteenth century English poet and artist.  After viewing many of his photographs and quotes in the museum, I came across one of my favorites that I believe rightly sums my mindset at times;

“I see life as basically tragic and futile and the only thing that matters is making little jokes.” Edward Lear

The rain would eventually force our hand, requiring us to exit early to find a restaurant; luckily, as Italians seem to stay prepared, they brought umbrellas!  We headed to a high-end restaurant, since the first choice was filled with too many noisy school kids all seemingly have ordered the same meal, spaghetti with marinara!  The four-course meal was extravagant, prompting thoughts of throwing in the towel before the primo/secondo piatti came!  After filling myself to the brim with the many delicious antipasto plates of cheese, meats, breads, and fried appetizers; I could have called it quits.  This is Italy, however, I had to power on to the pasta and fish dishes.

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That evening we returned in time for a much needed, albeit just a short resting period.  Laura and Carmelo, fresh from passing one of his online teaching exams, came to dinner!  Due to the heavy lunch, fish and salad provided a light meal; Maria and Nino spoke to the importance of alternating between heavy and light meals.  Surrounding the dinner table, it was nice to converse and see the newly married couple, since I missed the August wedding by one-month the previous year.

After dinner the family further talked about the hassles of living in Calabria & Italy.  They spoke of the incompetence of the mayor and local government, causing certain local issues; ex. absurdly expensive trash removal services!  They continued to discuss the difficulty of supporting themselves on a teacher’s salary, and what I imagine to be normal newly married adult life grievances.  Here’s hoping that I do not become familiar with these such problems for some years!  Before they left we agreed to dinner the next night, albeit I was apprehensive because I didn’t want Laura & Carmelo to have their hand forced by Maria.

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Wednesday, following the last two-day trips to Sicilia/Bagnara & Gerace, thankfully called for a relaxing day in Reggio Calabria.  Again, breakfast was set on the table, but with no rush to drive off to another town, we took our time and enjoyed the morning!  Staying in Reggio gave us the opportunity to experience what the city has to offer; starting with the lungomare; the beach view boardwalk that I fondly recall from my first visit.

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Our first stop was for breakfast, so Gelato!  Overwhelmed, I choose a huge gelato brioche, leading to a massive belly ache, the likes I hadn’t experience due to sweetness!  This was problematic since our next destination was to visit Maria & Gino, Elio’s parents.  Finding a trashcan near a bench I gladly decided in one move to throw away the ¼ remainder and take a seat looking out to the ocean.  A great spot to people watch, an Italian & Italian-American favorite, we soon noticed a group of elderly tourists.  One man strayed from the pack, and apparently his wife, to take the remaining room on the bench next to me.

After a kind buongiorno, I was trying, I realized the man was no more Italian than me. He furthered the conversation in English.  In fatti, his appearance and demeanor made it obvious; lui era Tedesco.  He explained to us about the German tour group he was on, since retired Germans receive paid vacations.  He spoke about his life as a roofer, his loving wife, two children in their 30’s, and the state of Germany.  Maria responded with her past as an international businesswoman, her family, and the wealth of southern Italian history.  I couldn’t help but comment on the uniqueness of the moment, their confidence speaking English sparked the conversation. We parted ways, him beginning to catch the group and us to the car.

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I first met Elio’s parents last summer on my first visit to south Italy and despite their aging & health conditions, they have such energy and personality. Purtroppo, the sweetness high hit me hard and within fifteen minutes of taking a comfy seat next to Nino on the couch, I couldn’t fight it!  I blamed my contacts, which were bothering me but I my eyes were closed perche ero fuori, o-finito!  Two cucumber slices helped my eyes, tuttavia, nothing but time would help my exhaustion.  Later, like every other day after lunch I would take advantage of my two-hour nap period.  This seemed to be a part of southern Italian lifestyle I should implement at home!

It’s a good thing I got the much-needed sleep, since I would need to be sharp for dinner in a few hours.  Having conversation at Carmelo & Laura’s apartment with their two friends, an actor and an elementary school teacher, provided the first feeling of youth during this trip.  The dialogue, mostly in Italian, would switch to English if I needed further explanation; something I will forever appreciate!  The two guys had recently completed the Camino de Santiago, a religious and physical feat that I aspire to experience; however, their retelling of the St. James pilgrimage in northern Spain, lessened my desire!  They explained it was overly touristy which made it lose its deep spiritual connection, topped off by walking a great part alongside the main road.

The evening dinner party provided me the first feeling of a life in Reggio; since I would in fact, be somewhere in there positions, at a school, learning or teaching, and alone in my own apartment; like Viterbo. We ate more simply-thank god, discussed our recent experiences; including the two teachers’ tales of the classroom.  Carmelo’s stories of the elementary children brought me much joy as I was starting to appreciate the absence of my lessons and true relaxation.  I could very much see myself in their apartment.  The truly Italian cute one bedroom, requiring a tight elevator ride up to the fourth floor, is highlighted by their terrace view.

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The evening offered both Carmelo & I the chance to get to know each other; we only were introduced the summer prior.  Before Carmelo drove me back, approaching midnight, I made one last pitch, “Visit the States, you’ll have a place to stay!”  Upon arriving home, we found Maria on the sofa in the Kitchen; she was watching her shows and waiting up!  I was sure to commend her on the cake, something that she spontaneously did earlier in preparation for the dinner party.

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I felt it the next morning, after finally experiencing a “night out.”  My lack of energy was not going to prevent or delay the day’s activities; a wonderful thing since how can one say no to a drive along the Calabrian coast? Seriously, this delightfully eventful, sleepy seaport town about an hour north of Reggio Calabria is a gem.  Boasting the Church of Piedigrotta along the beach; after a semester in Italy I thought I saw it all; regarding religious buildings.

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I was wrong; despite time in big Italian cities, like; Roma, Firenze, Palermo, Milan, Torino, and Napoli in the past, none of them prepared me for this. Not even Puglia, nor anything in the small Lazio towns, boasted a place like Pizzo alongside the beach. The name (Piedigrotta) can be broken into two words; first feet, then a grotto. He research later on, I would find the story dates back to a ship captain and his crew from Naples in the seventh century. The story would continue for the next few centuries, involving a mixture of patrons. Most notably, the quote and concept of “man proposes, God dispose,” seems to be referenced.

Following the tour, we exited the church and headed for the car; since our next destination led us uphill to the main piazza. After parking, we made the steep walk up to the piazza del repubblica; the center of Italian life in Pizzo.  Instantly, a few Italian staples stood out; most notably the massive former Spanish castello Murat.  The piazza was full of visitors & locals, socializing in various caffes and restaurants.  Surprised to see such excitement among the piazza dwellers, including a party atop the Castello with a live musician, saxophonist; I asked Maria if there was anything expected.  Unaware, we sat down at a local caffe to enjoy some tartufo; a local favorite-Italian ice-cream dessert to the extreme.  Afterward, we walked about the narrow shop lined pedestrian streets; then returned in time to find the cause of the excitement…a car show; Ferraris!

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The Ferraris caused quite a ruckus within the piazza; parking on either side of the monumento ai caduti.  The experience excited all the senses, from hearing the room-room of the engine, to smelling the fumes; the high-end cars provided a rainbow assortment of colors lined side by side. As was the case with the previous three days, and to my understanding the culture of the south; we made our plan to leave, back to Reggio, in time for lunch.

REGGIO CALABRIA

Following the delicious lunch, we all took advantage of the afternoon nap-relaxation time. We awoke and met in the kitchen a couple hours later to discuss the evening plans, the Scordo family dinner. This time I felt slightly more prepared, since working on the family tree, yet the dinner was not as large nor elaborate, as the year prior; I was somehow okay with that.  I remembered some familiar faces, Rita, Anita, Pasquale; however, since school was still in session, most were of the generations above me.  I did get to meet Marco, the eldest sibling of Elio; a spitting image of both his brother and father, tall, lanky, and energetic.  With the conclusion of the dinner and after saying my goodbyes to the family, the feeling of departure, the next day sunk-in.  I promised the family that I will return and with the expectation that my Italian will only improve; I will be better able to make conversation with them.

It is easy to forget while becoming comfortable and enchanted in a new location that it is only temporary.  In other instances, the thought of my departure never leaves my mind during exploration; yet, here in Reggio I became comfortable and if it not for my mother meeting me in Rome on Saturday, I would have looked to extend my stay.  Despite all this, the morning came and with that I packed my bags.  Unlike, in other stays, with Maria’s constant mothering, I was able to replenish my clothing with laundry and even added to my collection.  Nino’s persistent offering to buy me something, provided me with a new addition to my ‘wardrobe,’ a quote from Pineapple Express, comes to mind here, “I ain’t got no style!” I did get to practice, with the shop attendant, my recently learned Italian; referring to our lessons on clothing. I tried my best to express my cut, I thought I needed; un taglio…

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Our last day, started much like the first day; working in the kitchen.  This time instead of me assisting in boiling peas, de-poding and jarring them; I sat at the same seat and watched her make Gnocchi.  We listened to an American love songs cd, a present given to her at a family members wedding. Sitting on her couch, I received a face-call from Marco, him sitting on a bench, watching over Brando, at his country home. We discussed plans to see each other, and then I turned for him and Maria to exchange hellos; natrually they started speaking fast enough, I didn’t get it all. He’d laugh soon after about them talking about me; my weird quirks that they each encountered. We hang up and I’d turn my attention back to the kitchen, as Maria now started to add to my items in my bag, for the train; an umbrella, fruit, chocolates (for mom), lunch, and the mocha machine (for espresso.)

 It was difficult to part them, tending to me with such care; as if I was indeed their third child. I can’t deny how in many ways it seemed seamless to be around them; despite the language barrier with Nino, and the occasional misunderstanding with Maria. After all, her English, learned at a young age while living in Los Angeles with her family, is not often in use in south Italy. From the train station platform, I expressed my appreciation, although, everything they did for me; the care and welcome I received for the week, I cannot truly explain in words.

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I turned away and boarded my train; another goodbye to in these recent weeks. For the next five minutes they stood waiting for it to depart while I found my seat; the experience certainly, both enriched and rejuvenated me.  The train ride up to Roma, about 6.5 hours, was one of the smoothest and delightful journeys.  Three American college students boarded at the stop in Napoli, they sat in a grouping of four nearby; after over listening to them, I decided to remain to my computer and music!

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I arrived in Rome with clear memory of my last stay; lesson learned, I will book a hostel and not chance it!  I thought it best not to risk it, with my all my items on my back; so, I booked the Melting Pot hostel while on the train.  The one-night stay was perhaps my most enjoyable hostel stay throughout this process.  In my dorm room, there were four beds, one I occupied; the other three, one Italian; and two Germans.  As is the custom, we discussed our travels, our reasoning for being in Rome;  insights and curiosities about each other’s lands.  Familiar, slightly with German culture, I was excited to inquire more about the ladies homeland. With my past travels, and the knowledge I have accumulated in these last five months, I was certainly ready to speak the same in regards to Milan and Italy.

The Milanese young man explained his importance for being in Rome for a short period; he’s a politician.  We gabbed for a while before he parted, for evening plans, and the ladies and I; with always having tomorrow in mind, shut the lights and all fell quiet. The next morning, I was on a high; Mom would be here in a matter of hours.  With little to do; aside packing up and meeting her at the airport, I held to anticipation and anxiety. Reminiscent of Budapest, two years, I stood in line at the airport and waited for mom.

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When she finally exited, and I saw her face, I was ecstatic. The excitement to be the knowledgeable one, for once; acting as a guide, well-versed on how to get from the airport to the city; I even tried to show off by choosing Italian for the language selection on the ticket printer. We’d continue to the gate, where I found an American confused on how to validate his ticket. Understanding the hesitant feeling; it was me, only a few months ago, I was happy and proud to be able to help.

We caught the next train, and, like a young child, I began explaining it all to her; where to begin? We exited the metro, close to where our Air BnB; ate, then met one of our hosts. He explained, there still was cleaning to be done, so, we went out and explored. We weren’t far from one of the many large green areas in Rome; since we had no true destination to go, only made sense. Mom desired to relax; perhaps on a park bench, and I was happy to be with company, and in a new area of Rome. We came upon Villa Torlonia, with the help of Google Maps, and spent the next couple hours enjoying the atmosphere. The park not far from the Roma Tiburtina station, boasts historical landmarks, musei, uno grande villa (per Torlonia), e plenty of trails to walk about. We found a bench, and she updated both Mitchell and Julia of her arrival. With children, families, and dog running around nearby, she took to catching up on sleep; as I, went exploring.

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Around dinner time, we after furthering both of our needs, of sleep and exploration, we stopped at a local market and grabbed items for the next three days. Now arriving back at the basement level apartment, we were free to move-in and get settled. We cooked together and ate, then I pulled out the cookies that Maria and Nino gifted us (per tua Madre!) Now dark, we left out and caught the metro; my first time using it to traverse within la citta, and went straight to my favorite destination at night. Il Vatticano is delightful and peaceful after sunset, with most people (touristi) having fled back to their comfort. We walked about tiny nation, marveled at Saint Peters, then walked along the water past il Castelo to Villa Borghese. It is here, where a good portion of my coins would go, previously thought to be used for the meet; however, a man with roses had another idea. Bent on getting here some; corny I know, but it added to the photo of her atop the Spanish steps. We got back to the metro, something she seems to enjoy in Europe; understandably so, a nice concept of public transportation, then returned a casa.

The next day, after a good breakfast; a nice plus from an AirBnB, compared to most hostels, we set out under the hot sun. I prepared her that the tourists would be out (as the picture shows below), but we had to see the traditional Roman sites; first stop il monumento a Vittorio Emanuele. I was glad to offer her some history, of what I had learned in class; the reasoning for the monument, acting as a symbol of unified Italy (was/is it?). Italy, under one ruler (was he?). These questions, I could know acknowledge and better explain to her the complexity della story d’Italia, both past to present.

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We walked the streets, coming across endless sites; dating from the Roman Empire to the Fascist Regime under Mussolini. Yet, it would be il Largo di Torre Argentina, a site of Roman Ruins; more importantly (to the people standing around the protected area) it is home to a colony of cats. I gatti erano dappertutto, seriamente; here we were surrounded by sites galore, with much to do and she was amazed by the cats. It was extremely entertaining, so we watched over them. She was even happier to hear, after a read a nearby sign, that these cats are taken care of by an organization. The ruins are cool, and soon il circo Massimo, further added to that; yet, it is difficult to imagine the ancient sites of centuries ago. Instead, now cats and a breast cancer charity event, occupy these areas; showing the complexity of an intertwined society, never removed from the glorious past, but nor attached to it. It then is all for show, providing tourist and local lovely sites and photos; which we’d work on, me helping her with the photography skills (via iPhone.)

The remainder of the day was spent with me ensuring us to see sites that I considered prevalent; according to my past visits. We’d go up the same walk to see il Giardino degli aranci; the oranges are everywhere, but it is the view from atop that hill. From there, one can overlook the river below, see all the way to Saint Peter’s, and get a perspective of vastness of the city. We both find comfort near the water; acknowledging what is missing in our cities; her with Harrisonburg, and me recently, in Viterbo, is the lack of a river. Naturalmente, we visited our fair share of churches, both this day and the ones to come; yet, I couldn’t remove two constant thoughts from my mind.

First, in un respetto; as I had explained to Marco, poi Maria e Nino, I held pressure to provide her the best experience of the city, and the first time in Italy! I expressed this to her, always hopeful that she was both enjoying the time in Rome, and would somehow find the same love I have for the city; she’d in turn explain she was qui per me. Secondly, now that I had become acquainted enough with Italy’s past, particularly the period from Renaissance to Modern history, many things in sight jumped in my mind. Vediamo; take Largo Stefano Gaj Tache, nearby the Jewish synagogue. The sign indicates a site of Italian terrorism from 1980-1982, known as gli anni di piombo, lasted throughout the 1960s-1980s.

In my past visits of Rome, especially the first in January, I was free from this knowledge; only taking comfort in the many sites, yet now I found myself contemplating all what I had learned. Take Aldo Moro, perhaps the peak of the Red Brigades (the communist leftist wing) destruction of Italian life, or Giordano Bruno, burned at that stake by the Catholic Church. Previously, a stunning piazza or a powerful statue would have been just that, but with the knowledge, I noticed my experience now different. Lastly, we came across il signo Sulla mura in the Jewish district: Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, written underneath; Deportazione degli Ebrei di Roma! Mussolini and his Fascist rule, backed by the Nazis, ousted all Jewish-Italians from Rome. Despite, the impending Allied forces victory in Italy, Italian citizens would become collateral damage in the war. With the education into Italian history, my connection to this city, the state, and a culture became tighter; despite, not necessarily always being a positive one. Infatti, in some cases, I felt more critical now, not just a naive tourist.

The next day, we set out on a day to escape from Rome and accomplish something on my list for the ancient capital of the empire. Located seven kilometers outside of the city, or about a 40 minute metro ride, il Parco degli Acquedotti brought us back to the time of the ‘true’ Romans. Most importantly, this trip took us away from all the tourists and the big city presence. Despite the heat, we were able to peacefully walk about the massive protected park; gaze at the grazing sheep following their shepherd and marvel at the aqueducts dating back to 300 B.C.E.

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Simple things with mom, like just riding the metro or even, attempting to enter the park were fun; despite, the walking along the narrow sidewalk road (if, at times there even was one) to reach the park from the metro stop. We used the rest of the day to simple bum around, without a clear goal in mind. We came upon a massive, impressive church at the edge of a piazza, poi we entered la chiesa. At this point, being goofy, we established the fun we can have in doing random things. Per esempio; madre kneeling down to pray next to a nun, or sitting in a confession booth; I got both photos. She’d prove to win out, as for whatever reason, I couldn’t muster the guts or inspiration to do anything silly.

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We returned later that day to the apartment, very much in need of some relaxation. I have a tendency to go overboard on vacation; for me not seen as vacation but exploration, so I go and go. Yet, I saw the ramifications that it had on mom, who had not yet recovered from the jet-lag and the time difference of six hours. We ate best at home in that small kitchen apartment; which was shocking to her, more so, but both of us, since Italian cuisine (you know!) Yet, I told her over the days, in my previous visits the best food I had in Rome wasn’t in-fact ‘Italian,’ nor had my best authentic Italian food been from Rome. We would find a few cafes, to have caffe e cornetti, ma otherwise as has always been the case, we found cooking to be the best option. We exited the apartment that evening bent on further exploring Rome at night, our last in Rome; since the next day we scheduled to meet Marco, Guilia and la famiglia per cena in Bracciano.

That evening it would rain on us, something that happens all too often in Rome and Viterbo; guessing the entire Lazio region. Yet, we weren’t fazed, since it due two fold; lessening the heat and pushing the tourists back inside. My list of Rome wasn’t near as expansive as it was in January; after four visits I saw a lot, yet there was still things to do and see. I’ve read that it truly takes a lifetime to explore Rome; even a local after living in the city for years, can still encounter new districts, museums, sights, etc. I think this must be true, there is just too much.

We headed to Campidoglio; a piazza perched atop one of the molte colline di Roma, passing by the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. We sat down and enjoyed our store brought food for some time, along a wall of the area, prima la polizia arrived. They informed us that we couldn’t eat here, nor sit and enjoy ourselves. The officer was quite nice, but we thought; since the area surrounding us was already slightly dumpy (purtroppo-come much of Roma, con la spazzatura) it couldn’t be una problema. We were wrong, so we left to find another place to relax and eat, jokingly acting as were we being pursued by them for the remainder of our time there; seriamente, they just kept driving about.

We returned, after our meal, to the Colosseum metro stop, and took our photos of the lit, decaying ancient wonder; purtroppo, earthquakes have done a number on it. Qui, I had to accept that I had failed in several regards; not getting mom inside the Vatican museum nor in scheduling a Colosseum visit at night. In questo caso, my worries had been confirmed; yet, she wasn’t evidently disappointed.

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We spent much of the next day preparing; sleeping-in, packing, cleaning up, doing the laundry; a tedious task, that isn’t realized until your without a dryer; or,  past air bnbs: Dubronvik and Sanotrini, and senza un washing machine! As we were cooking and planning our afternoon departure to Bracciano, I received a call from Elio! Certainly, a surprise, we spoke for some time about; catching-up on these months since we saw each other last. Before hanging up, we each proposed the idea of the other visiting us in….name the location; since he moves around, and at this point, although I encouraged him to meet me in the States; I wanted him to know where I go next, he should come.

The value of an international friendship; i.e. come visit me here, or we’ll meet there…2-n-1. After we had all packed up, and notified Marco; we left out and took the metro to one of the larger Rome stations. Despite, only being weeks ago, since I was last in my familiar Lazio region and train system, it brought me back; climbing the narrow, windy stairwell to the second floor of the train, finding an empty four seat section spot and plopping. We sat there for about an hour and a half; her briefly falling, why is it everyone else can but me! I researched, wrote some, and took the time to take in the sights, that oddly enough I knew were coming to an end. By tomorrows time, I’d be out of Italy; who knew when I would be back?

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We came to a familiar sight, the train stop at the edge of the town; not far from Lago di Bracciano, our first destination, after some food. We walked through part of the town, until we came to the main piazza, Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini; the Italians, regardless of the town or city, use much of the same people in their naming process. Mazzini, like Garibaldi is a good example; unlike back in January, I now knew of him and his impact in bringing about a new, independent Roman Republic. We had to eat, so we decided to sit down at il ristorante, Pane e Olo Osteria, for un panino e un charcuterie plate. La vista del Castello was in our background, looking over the town, providing us a backdrop.

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As we ordered; trying to impress mom with my Italian, I received a call from Douce, a facetime. We last spoke while I as in Reggio, relaxing after a grand lunch. He was checking-in, and to discuss his move to L.A. (!). When the server came back, and I made the mistake of speaking to her in Italian, he chimed in; giving me the back and forth that I so dearly missed, and found hard to get from anyone in conversation; aside from Kiarra. Side note; if I haven’t spoke about it enough yet, I don’t know why it was so hard; perhaps, due to a lack of Eastern city natives, but none of the near-sixty Americans of the USAC group, could understand and operate in the conversation style that I had become accustom to; whether from Douce, Nabeel, Shane, Niko, or Luis, etc.

We finished our lunch, and I made plans to see him, upon my return; he could simply just fly back to the east coast, using Delta’s early morning flights. I wanted to show mom several locations in the town, before the Mei family came; first the moment ai caduti. Right outside the piazza, there is a tribute to the Italians that lost their lives during the world wars. Coincidentally, overtop of each grouping, there are the words Victories and Victuri, pointed out by Michele on our first visit, months ago.

Here I go, into part of Italy’s past and present; they don’t like to lose (understandably) and haven’t shown strong ties to their allies in the past. Per esempio; in 1882 Italy signed the Triple Alliance, combining forces with Germany and Austria, if a war to come. Poi, in 1915 they signed the secret treaty of London to be on the side of Britain and France. Now, understandably if you look into Italy’s history with Austria; one can see why they would be in war against them; but then in WW2, again. We know Mussolini ed i fascisti, were ovviamente con i Nazi. at the beginning of the war in 1939. Yet by 1945, the Italian population, magari, by 1943 were supportive of the Allied powers; cosi, they somehow can identify themselves, oddly, as the victors in both wars? How valuable it is to learn of another country’s history!

Basta, end point; as I finished explaining to mom, we then walked the same path, I had before, through the town, past the church and down to the lake. She quickly remarked, how she preferred this to Rome; in reflection, it made sense, since in the States, she holds preference to a Dayton-Harrisonburg-Richmond feel over D.C. or NYC! We then got to the water, after our mile plus walk and just took in the view. Dad called soon after we sat down, at a nearby bench; we explained to him where we were, about mom preference on a smaller Italian town (Dad figured) and then prepared for Amsterdam.

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I received a message for Marco, so, we turned back and headed up to the town; first, a restroom, which proved to be difficult finding then it should have been; yet, May is the off-season, meaning most of the restaurants were closed. With the assistance of a couple signori, we found some w/cs; where would we ever be without some locals aid? Before meeting Marco and the family, I felt it necessary to teach mom three terms in Italian; these are of course, the basics to show an appreciation for la bella lingua, Primo, grazie, meaning thank you or grazie mille, thank you very much (a thousand times). Second, piacere, a pleasure to meet you; and lastly, che cazzo, which perhaps is the most necessary expression. When I would finally see Marco in the piazza, thirty minutes later, I explained to him this moment; he laughed when I told her to say che cazzo. His response, “haha, no no,” certainly made mom question the significance of the meaning: essentially what the f***!

Era strano, pero ero nervoso, per madre to meet the family that had taken me in; strange I know but I wanted to ensure that everyone ‘vibed.’ Allora, ovviamente they would that evening; first walking about the town and then, when decided upon-cena. This would be the most elaborate and fitting meal that mom encountered during her time in Italy; rightfully so, the Mei provided a good option for dinner. I had struck out in Rome, but now she could see it, to believe what I had told her about the Italian culinary culture, the only problem; neither of us were overly hungry. This is not an ideal thing to explain at an Italian dinner table; she’d explain and then they turned to me and respond, he has proven that he can always eat.

This is true, even to my detriment; even with not totally inheriting having mom’s stomach problems, I have my fair share. Although, I’ve found that often times, throughout Italy, and Europe in the past; like mom has as well, the fresh cooking of Europe does better for us (shocker!) The conversations of getting to know my mom and vice versa was nice to see, Simona and her getting along; occasionally I’d chime in to better explain, although Giulia would prove just as helpful. We ate (several courses), talked and then finally got to our transportation back home; I confidently showed Marco and Lino on my phone of the transit schedule. The last ride out of Bracciano was for 11 pm, and since we were fastly approaching 10, I figured it best to select that option. So, we all walked to the train station and prepared to say our goodbyes, but first photos.

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As we finished up with photos, something didn’t seem right; where was everyone else and now it was eleven, yet no train. I looked again on the phone, to confirm, and with assistance from Giulia, soon found out it was a bus, not a train at eleven; and thus, a didn’t departure location. None of us had any idea of where the bus station would be, but it didn’t matter, we couldn’t make it anyways. I felt helpless and a fool; here having mom and the Mei family looking at me. What had I done? Soon, the only option, suggested and unable to refuse, was for them to take us to Rome. I was beside myself, one of my lowest moments abroad that I can recall; yet no one else seemed too bothered. Lino and Marco sat in the front seat and navigated through the pulsing rain. Giulia and Simon insisted on it truly not being a big deal, and yet I knew what it entailed for them; a night of driving through the night, to return home.

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Marco would text me at 2 am, informing that they had made it back to their home; by then I was asleep, preparing for the next day. I awoke, still feeling guilty about how that was my final goodbye to the Mei family; with the kindness Lino and Simona showed my mom and I. I couldn’t stay consumed for long about the night prior, it was early and we still needed to finish packing then to catch a train to a plane. Our near bad luck would seem to continue, through an experience that would rival the night before. We caught the metro to Termini, then in rushing to find and catch a bus that would hopefully put us at the airport on time, we got separated. I froze, and instantly was brought back to Heroes Square where I was separated from them, on bikes, for what seemed hours.

Time seemed to stop here as well, this instance only being worse, since mom was alone inside a massive train station. My heart started beating even faster than when I was running around, like a wild man, with all luggage on me, trying to find the bus; located somewhere around the station. Then, suddenly she appeared and we went off again, perhaps to the northern side of the station; and so, we found our bus, just in time. We got in line and put our luggage away underneath, then took our seats toward the front of the bus. Not ideal, first the bus went to Ciampino then to our destination; Fiumicino airport.

Again, we found ourselves in an extremely stressful travel experience; reminiscent of 2016. I couldn’t help but once gain feeling bad, for not providing a better travel opportunity for her. We rushed to the line to check our bags, all set for Amsterdam; if it was only so easy. In realita, we had just minutes to get the gate; me, again running like a wild man, ora senza the green pack. She followed behind, we made it across the large airport to find out that the flight had been delayed nearly two hours. We could relax, for a bit, then back to the line and finally; on board RyanAir to Amsterdam.

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Take no offense, Italy, but both mom and I instantly noticed the stark difference between the two countries; just by the airports. Everything was orderly, English clearly indicated and signs informing visitors like us on what to do. It wouldn’t take long for us to find our bags, walk through to many eateries and places to shop, in the area between the airport departure point and the entrance to the train station. It was early and we were hungry; so while I researched the train system, we ate. Already, it was evident this was more to mom’s liking; she proudly stated this is where I come from, more of me, my roots.

We were both content when the train tide came, about twenty minutes to reach our stop near the hostel, for the evening. We checked in, dropped off our bags and recharged; mom in need of checking her phone. Our trip hung on one circumstance; pop’s condition, who had been seriously injured in a car accident just months ago, in March. The whole family in fact was on egg shells; the rocks being both Gram and Pop, no one could envision a life without one of them, at least not this quickly. Nothing occurred that pressed the situation, but we were on a daily stand-by; in our family, we were raised one way, family over everything. Whether Nonna or Pop and Gram, the message is the same.

With everything remaining the same, we rented two bikes for twenty-four hours; excited to get on the road, when in Amsterdam. In our research, we found several desirable destinations; yet, with the expected daylight left of about four hours, we choose Weesp, a cute city about fifteen kilometers to the south. The description of the trip peaked our interests, The Canal and Ice Cream Route; we’d encounter just that, and more. With the ride, I could tell how out of shape I was; even with the heavy bikes they provide, there was no excuse. Especially with mom, thirty years on me, pressing past any difficulty of the ride. The scenery was delightful, the picturesque views one expects when in the Netherlands. Exiting Amsterdam was fun enough, with odors of marijuana coming from nearby cafes, but then into this sleepy city of twenty thousand.

We found one spot, sat down to eat then looked at the prices; it took away any appetite. Instead, we headed to a market for some food on the go, only to find out at the register that they don’t accept our cards; despite the beauty, I was starting to hold some hatred toward the small city. That quickly dissipated when we came upon The ice cream shop; the presumed reason anyone would come to Weesp from Amsterdam, and maybe the reason the ride was on the list. After sitting outside, enjoying the neighborhood like ambiance, located on a narrow, cobblestone road, we found our sought bliss; now, time to return to beat the sun.

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We raced back, it being so much easier than the bike ride there; then only to find out the sun wasn’t going anywhere. Infatti, it would stay light outside; to our pleasure, until 10:30 in the evening (the above picture was taken due to my amazement.) The whole city operated accordingly, people very active, out and about, at restaurants, like we were; eating dinner at eleven pm.

The next day brought upon another level of excitement; more family! They were to arrive at noon, which meant mom and I had plenty of time to ready ourselves, get breakfast and then meet them at the Amsterdam Zuid station, then only to go back toward the main train station for tickets, and exploration.

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It was a joy to have Dad, Tracy and Julia with us; despite, the brief disagreements on how to get back to the Centraal station. Non sorpresa, they didn’t take my words into account; so we took the tram back into the city. Not a terrible outcome considering the views we were able see on the way; adding to that, it allowed us further opportunity to map out what we wanted to see and do. This would mark the first time the five of us have traveled together; and despite how close familiar ties are, nothing quite prepares people for travel together. When people; each of us really, are used to leading, doing their own thing, and have different interests, and then to put them together. Yet, it had been five months, since I had seen them all; so, for me it was a welcomed challenge.

We got brunch, the trio just happy to be off the plane-always stories there, then we set out to the AirBnB. Centrally located, and most importantly, overlooking one of the many canals within the city, we went in to meet the owner. The place was ridiculous, plenty of room for us five; just one caveat, the reservation only said four, since that’s all we could ‘book,’ so one of us had to sit outside on the bench looking at the canal.

Funny enough, that would led to Dad sitting on the bench, making his own entertainment, as we encountered ours. The woman, looked at the four of us; we could tell that she was trying to work it out in her mind, so Tracy went along. First, by acting all coupled with mom, which naturally, would then bring her into the acting; something about out family. Yet, the act didn’t work; instead, she proceeded to propose how nice the master bedroom would be for Julia and Tracy. The only person who wasn’t involved with the charade was me, since clearly I was just perceived to be an innocent bystander, just along for the ride.

With a master, that Dad and Tracy would share, a nice room for J & mom, and then a corner room for me; not to forget the huge, open living room-dining room-kitchen area, the two of them had picked right. Now, as she left, we just needed to get dad into it; so we found him at the bench with a friend. We informed him of our joke, how she perceived it, and tried to imagine what people think when they see us together. Dad showed us a thirty-second video of him filming and talking to a bird that was nearby him. It was still nearby; a pretty looking creature, but his conversation with the bird rivaled our encounter in the home. Finally, all of us were in, settling; and thoroughly impressed.

Perhaps, most exciting, since we had Julia, Tracy, and mom; was the size of the kitchen. Dad, Tracy, and I went out to further fill the refrigerator, while mom and Julia took advantage of the bikes still being on rent. Later, we’d just rent some more; naturally, with all of us wanting to experience the authentic way to traverse around the city.  The grocery store not far from us, Marqt, was impressive; which became the first realization that despite, the official language being Dutch, there is no language barrier here.

The whole group’s first full day in Amsterdam was ready to be action-packed, dad joked about it ahead of time; and now much later, but I don’t believe he was fully prepared. Fascinating to me, I have traveled with both Julia and mom, and also dad; not Tracy, but I took it besides him being better with languages and more social, they were probably a similar pace. My pace can vary, as it did with biking and walking everything with the first two in Eastern Europe, and then to turn and relax more with dad. The first step, after breakfast, was in getting our bikes; to ensure that we have the most effective way to get around to all the sights.

Tracy; I mentioned he was social and has connections around the world, decided to meet a friend he hadn’t seen in years, we planned to meet up later. This meant the four of us, were to explore together, like one normal happy family (one of those are right.) With the shared love of food and markets, we biked to Albert Markt; something that was entertaining enough to get to, considering everyone on bikes (can’t forget that last time in Budapest, with first mom wrecking, twice, then Julia later—they wouldn’t see me do it, earlier in Berlin and Dresden.) Yet, it had been years since dad had last been on a bike; and out of all places to be hesitant, with several lanes for bike traffic; more chaotic than the cars!

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I found the whole structure to be more organized than Berlin, which anytime one is above the Germans, that is saying something. The market was a delight, encompassing several blocks; dad later joked that he didn’t realize the baklava that I ordered would have been our lunch. Julia and mom’s pace was torrid, to catch up on lost time; the city is really so massive, our time wasn’t enough (yet that’s how a place should be, to leave it, recognizing there is still so much to do!) We biked for hours. following Julia, taking int the sights of the canals, and stopping; only briefly for a photo opp.

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We came upon a huge tourist attraction, the Van Gogh Museum; a beautiful building, and to the back a massive park with the famous I Amsterdam (which I read have since been removed.) We biked around the area for awhile, but I can see why they are gone; claiming to be to often used as selfie destinations; admittedly, we stop here for a couple photos. We joined back into the organized chaos of the bike lanes and went on our way; soon, dad behind me stopped, and voiced his desire to enjoy the surroundings; instead of racing through the city. I laughed and agreed, but could have also gladly continued with the fast pace. The two lades sped off as we decided to break for lunch. The whole group met back up at the apartment, to prepare ourselves for the evening; first to meet Tracy at the Anne Frank House Museum.

We all biked there, and soon enough, found Tracy with now a different friend; there was still one more to go, before we’d ultimately leave Amsterdam two days later. Dad, as he often does, marveled at how he is so anti-social and yet; then there is Tracy with too many friends. I know where I get it from, with both dad and mom causing me to prefer a tighter company. Again, like the AirBnB, dad and Tracy provided; what a wonderful, somber experience inside that tight house-museum, it was difficult to get up the narrow steep, wooden-glass stairwell. Despite being crowded, the self-guided tour including a personal audio system provides an incredible in-depth teaching. The overall experience touched us all, and brought me back to Auschwitz. Several of her quotes stick out to me;

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” “Because paper has more patience than people.”

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on even after my death!”

It was truly sobering and inspiring, something one cannot forget; afterward on our way to the bikes, walking alongside the canal, she sparked further conversation. We discussed the family’s fate, how the father (Otto Frank) survived the Holocaust and lived to tell the story. She certainly lived on past her death and symbolizes the very strength of human nature, at such a young age. I, unfortunately, cannot recall the whole discussion; however, I mentioned how we may never truly know someone, since in her writing, I doubt she was the same person as with her family; after all, “paper has more patience than people.” Mom responded that she thinks she knows me, fair and if anyone would, it’d be her; yet, I couldn’t help but respond with my belief that I don’t yet know myself.

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We continued our conversation, now at a corner table at an outdoor restaurant-cafe, before eventually going to get food. With the experience we just had, the sights all around us, and the company here next me; a wave of gratitude came to me. I couldn’t help myself; seeming to encounter a variety of feelings throughout the several days together, certainly the same in Rome with mom. Despite the gratitude, I found the early period to be full of adjustment; after five months away in Italy, their arrivals forced me to address myself in their presence. The evening would continue with biking toward another sight, seemingly synonymous with Amsterdam; the nightly edition, drawing a different crowd.

Tracy had now rented a bike, so we all explored the city in the dark; with my urging of making it to the Red Light District. We got lost, briefly, several times throughout, but eventually we would make it to the controversial location; despite having no intention of partaking in the reason people (at least men) would go there, I wanted to see it. Yet, I could see how it would be strange to go with one’s family, a funny irony in there; experiencing the area with my two role models: my sister and mom. Similar to Hamburg, the Red Light District was just a larger version, with more business and a canal separating the two narrow streets; with entirely too many people (mostly groups of guys-looking to be bachelor parties; British mostly).

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The memorable part of the evening came afterward, with our departure and aim of returning to the apartment. Again, I must state how we all have stubborn (enough) and strong personalities, and are accustom to leaders; at least ourselves. These personalities, paired with some exhaustion from a long day, would come to a head in regards to the directions back home. After getting lost, arguing, me getting irritated that no one would listen to me about the path home; which culminated with dad calling an uber, and mom choosing to listen to Julia on the directions, I left. Tracy would follow and I’d be the first person home!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it; as everyone still held some type of feelings toward the evening. I couldn’t get past (bringing up too many past instances) that I was ignored because both dad and Julia speak louder and more aggressively; I lashed out at dad during the encounter, which made me harbor a feeling of guilt. I apologized to dad back at the apartment, explaining to him that I hurt that he wouldn’t take any note to what I was saying, he responded that he was just over it, and that all is forgiven. Then there was mom, who I didn’t speak to that evening; choosing to cocoon myself in the room instead and watch Dear White People on Netflix. Tracy would knock and come in, to find me with tears running down my face. He explained that he could tell that I was irked and asked if all was ok; I laughed and showed him the Ipad that my body covered.

Yes, I was angry with how the situation unfolded, I explained, but the tears are due to the dad (on the show) just dying and how the main character (the daughter) is handling it. I then, felt the need to both explain the show (a good one) and how we have a consistent theme in the family; that mom will always take Julia’s side when it comes to her holding steadfast and confident to something (credit must be given because her personality and how she is relentless in the pursuit of being right!); yet, I’ve never become accustom it, in fact, it seems to hurt every time. Then in explaining, another level of irritation came to me; how I allowed myself both to get heated, and then show it to my most loved ones.

Tracy and I talked for awhile; it was evident that I was upset, and he was clearly showing his character and compassion by checking in on me. I got over it soon enough, as we all did, but with it being a long day; one where we didn’t really get any alone time, I appreciated that chance to just remain in the room. The next morning all was fine and forgiven, as we began to plan out another day; this time we sought to do a day trip. Crazy enough, with the weather expected to be good, we wanted to bike even further; which would eventually lead us to choosing Haarlem. Dad would take the day to relax and walk about the city, as Tracy with another friend (reuniting with friendships, either from his past in high school-exchange students or from the last time he was here.)

HAARLEM

The day-trip offered something different, first a direct destination that would require us to bike for an extended period of time; considering the heaviness of the bikes and the length, 20 kilometers. Oddly enough, that is often what Terrible Turds desire at least once in their travels; if not more, with our get up and go mentality. Paired with seeking out that accomplished feeling of completing a good workout, and the aim to see a different side of the Netherlands (can’t just take one city-especially global hub, as the lone representative of a country.) The ride, albeit a challenge; requiring us to stop several times to give our legs a break, or get further directions, was nice and exactly what we needed, after the evening before.

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Getting to the city of about 150,000 people, we all could see us relating more to the smaller feel; Amsterdam is a larger city than any of us three are accustom. Yet, Haarlem with it’s more quaint charm, stunning architecture, and many canals provided us with a more intimate feeling of association; and had windmills! We biked around, then walked, came upon Piazzas, got our cappunccini and then somewhere perfect to eat; burgers. I don’t know what it is with Europe, whether in the past, or on this trip (and it’s not just me), but they do the American burgers and fries better than majority of places I have been in the States. The fries are better and one can taste the meat, it is fresh; considering the first meal that mom and I had our first night in Amsterdam, and now this.

After the tiring ride there, then the exploration of the city, mom decided to get tickets for the train, on our way back. We went to the station, found stairs leading underground and figured it might be the way; completely lost, (with some curiosity), not too difficult for us. The stairs, even had a place where one could take their bike down on a line; controlling its momentum. We came upon a bike garage, which was absolutely amazing; so many bikes. To think of such an idea, then we got Richmond; with all the bikes cluttering up the streets, again brought to the same realizations…really America.

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AMSTERDAM

Bringing the bikes on the train was just too easy; with the train holding several others, along with a few dogs and passengers, then soon enough we were back at Amsterdam Centraal. Soon, more entertaining stories were too come; via biking and the bike lanes. We exited the train, and soon enough found ourselves en-route back to the apartment. Within minutes of the ride; with me several hundred meters away of them, in the massive congested group of bikers, all jostling for positioning (feeling like I’m in the Olympics!), I hear some English being shouted. I turn back to see Julia then mom barking back n forth with some guy; a local who was apparently claiming that they weren’t operating the right way, according to the unwritten rules of the bike lanes.

I laughed, as I could only do, as he bike pasted them and away from the situation. It was now the second encounter; the first being a heated conversation, Julia got in with a van driver that told her she wasn’t riding properly. He’d soon enough leave as well, and we’d somehow make it to the place, without any other interesting stories. We’d walk in to find dad and Tracy in the kitchen and we all caught up about our day; I couldn’t help but share the funny sights on the road. It seemed everyone had a good day; fitting since it was our last, something difficult to admit, considering the quality of the apartment and the appeal of the city.

We’d pack up, settle on getting a few groceries at Marqt; which required Julia and I to race to the store before it closed and chose a chill evening. I held some type of desire to visit a coffee house, explaining to them all that there were two different types; one that sold legal marijuana and the other that just was a coffee house (the two spelled differently). I did my research, informing them of the seemingly hundred of places to go, but ultimately couldn’t manage it; considering both the lack of time and my complete absence of any personal funds.

The next day, as dad and I returned the four bikes, two by two; we got a feel of how relaxed the city is on a Sunday morning. We could see the appeal, but it was time to leave; first to the airport for the car. We took an Uber to the airport; his preferred way, not mine, then rode back to pick up the luggage and the others. Packed up, we left the city and met Tracy’s last connection to Amsterdam; his high-school exchange partner and friend’s mother. Dad wasn’t overly thrilled to meet another person, but we did learn an interesting facet to the culture (almeno per me), three kisses to the cheek, not two.

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The black SUV worked perfectly, it rode smooth on the interstate and provided us all enough room. The ride south, an estimated three hours; past Rotterdam then through Antwerp, took slightly longer, due to the GPS (unbeknownst to us) set for the scenic route. It was a pretty ride; despite the slight rain, and was made even better by the pronunciations of all the road sings and city names, courtesy of Julia (we’d say in a matter a days, she had truly mastered the language.) We’d stop several times, first at the best interstate rest-stop market that (possibly?) exists in the world then later for gas.

We’d feast, as mom continued to sleep, then bring her back some pastries and food, to her excitement. Our next stop, we got cappunccini and used the restrooms; yet again it required fifty cent (in euro) for entrance, Julia and I would cheat and enter as one; like Tracy and her did at the market before.

BRUGGES

We’d eventually get to the three story AirBnB in Brugges; just being happy to be out of a car, but then our spirits were uplifted. Despite, it not being open when we arrived, we’d see our neighbor was a bakery! We would frequent that bakery several times throughout the next two days; if I had it my way, it would have been all we ate! In settling into the new city and apartment, we needed to both explore and get groceries; so, three of us got in the car to go to the market. We’d return, then get the gang to head to the old town; about three kilometers away. The apartment was conveniently located outside the center of the city and the tourist hub; which required a nice walk each day, down a few couple streets and a park, then past the a small river (gated and filed with swans) across a bridge and then we’d get to the entrance.

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It was easy to tell when you’d arrive, as the narrow cobblestone streets would lead right to picturesque settings; like the main square (above.) Surrounding and separating parts of the city, is the river Reie, and many canals, similar to Amsterdam; which further adds to the allure. We walk about, taking photos and enjoying the views; until we spit of to explore different areas. We set back to meet at the Markt square for dinner. We enjoyed the meal, which required us to first move due to the rain. After dinner, then dessert, we split again; this time Julia and mom returning home, as Dad, Tracy and I stayed to further soak of the beauty. Above all, and most noticeable; aside from the massive ex-royal buildings in the area, is the Bell Tower; the Belfry of Bruges, dating back to the twelfth century.

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The next morning, the group decided upon two different explorations; to bike and to walk. Tracy and dad would spend the day getting to know the city, as Julia, mom and I rented bikes at a hostel and went on an adventure outside the city. The greater area around Bruges; particularly, the castles interested us, so, we set out for the castle triangle, or the Bruges woodland. After Amsterdam, the three of us were anxy to get on bikes again; especially, for a ride outside the city. The first destination was the Tillegem castle, about seven kilometer from the city; which, required us to bike by the river then through a forest. The trail was delightful, with beautiful scenes of nature; paired with discovery of a suburb, mixed with fields and forest. The castle provided me the first stereotypical, French-British castle of the twelfth century; boasting a moat and garden.

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I rode around the castle several times, after we walked the grounds; just to ensure I got the feel of the area (really for the photo opp.) The whole grounds are quire impressive, the trail then takes you right back into the woods. Nearly five kilometers later, we were at the next location; Loppem Castle. Much newer, the neo-gothic buildings was built roughly seven centuries later; therefore for me, not as impressive. Yet, the grounds, like the one prior, are maintained to make the towering building is just as stunning. We enjoyed the English garden, marveled at the nearby maze and looked upon the lake in the background. Above all, we’d notice, was the complete lack of other tourists and visitors, which helped to make this day even better. We’d finish off the bike tour, of roughly twenty kilometers, with a return home; now about three in the afternoon.

Now came further exploration of the old town; despite the heat, we continued to bike around at a fast pace, wanting to ensure we made good use of our time left with the rentals. The area; full of parks, cobblestone streets, swans, and stunning buildings is truly picturesque; really the only part we didn’t like were all the other people who came to see the beauty as well. Lesson learned, a photogenic place, that doesn’t require the visitor to undertake any challenge; whether physical, or cultural, will be packed. With good reason, but we’d all agree; despite the majestic feel, a less visited place is better.

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The biking allowed us to bypass most of the other tourists, even the bus loads of them; but, we eventually had to relinquish them; making us like everyone else. Due to all the external beauty and the nice weather, we wouldn’t actually visit any place indoors; not a museum or any building we rode by. We chose the parks, the squares, and to follow the use-it map; with its bizarre collection of to-dos.

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The three of us got back to the apartment; happy to relax, to find Tracy and dad sitting on the sectional in the third story living room. The five of us were all able to sit so comfortably on that sofa, soon deciding to play cards (dad & Tracy, a year later when they decided to redecorate the living room, bought a sectional-due to this place). It was nice to do nothing and just relax; enjoying the company of the group. Dad and I shared photos, and we discussed our days; the highlights, thoughts, etc. With enough food in the fridge, we did my preferred option, eat-in; with Julia, mom, and I prepping a salad then heating up the remainders of what we had left. With Tracy’s urging, since he had a friend in the capital, and for dad’s birthday; our next day was to be spent with a day-trip.

BRUSSELS

Located about an hour and a half south, Brussels was an obvious day-trip; considering the importance of the city, both to Belgium and around the globe. Brussels is widely considered to be the hub of the European Union, so, we thought it was only fitting to see the fuss. We arrived in the late morning, and began exploration; first, finding a place to park near the main center. In walking about, it was clear this is more of a financial hub, and not as much for tourist, like Bruges. The first impressive sight, that we expected from the European hub city (with French influence) was the Mont des Arts; below.

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The whole area was lined with museums, buildings that we didn’t explore; yet, I can imagine that Brussels would proudly boast. We continued on to find the Royal Palace, and the massive Pack de Bruxelles; which we were, despite their sizes, not overly impressed with. I’m sure if entered, the palace would have been amazing, but on the outside it was just imposing. The park to our amazement, with its many statues and fountains, was not overly green; instead, it was filled with sand, dirt, etc. which was easy to breath in, causing some of us (me and Tracy in particular to cough). It was surprising, but considering we have all been spoiled by past sights throughout Europe, the city’s top-end buildings didn’t seem so appealing.

This would continue at the Grand Place, the huge central square; boasting decorative buildings and shopping destinations. We would have done better, to know some of the history of the capital city; take the Maison du Roi, clearly French that was owned by Spanish and French royalty in the past. The whole grounds of the Grand Place; including, many Guildhalls, the City Hall, and the Maison du Roi, is a Unesco site, with good reason. What seemed to discourage us; although, with many others would be a positive, is the lack of separation between the history and culture with the economy. Starbucks, a Hard Rock Cafe, and endless other restaurants lined the whole area; although, at least there is diversity in the options. There certainly was that, which made since considering later.

We’d continue, trying to get out of the area, before settling on a restaurant; ultimately a Greek one on a quiet streets; although people would come sure enough. The wealth disparity was disturbing and evident, both just outside our outdoor eating here, and soon at the next place we stopped for a caffeine boost. People would come by, in an attempt to convince tourists to contribute; perhaps by playing music or asking directly. The restaurants managers or owners didn’t take kindly too that, as they would do their best to shoo them away. Nonetheless, with the company around, and a cause for celebration; Dad’s birthday, we weren’t discouraged. The trip offered a unique opportunity, as Mom’s was just four days prior, back in Amsterdam.

After our cafes and in getting wifi, we researched a few destinations before our intended departure. What came to be most evident, was the Manneken Pis, a seventh-century fountain of a bronze tiny boy urinating; which seemed to be a must for visitors to capture via photo. No surprise, as we had, there were many people surrounding the corner fountain. There are actually three; him, a female one, and a dog. The second item we saw on the list seemed to be the chocolate of Belgium; strange enough they were in a variety of stores. Months later, in the History of the Colonization of Africa, I’d catch the reference; has to do with Belgium’s connection with Congo and the ruthless reign of King Leopold II.

Not to get off track, but he founded the Congo Free State; only then to murder roughly half of the population through his terror through avarice, during 1885-1908. All for rubber, resources, and location; he would implement a tactic (one of many brutal, inhumane cruelties) that would cut off the enslaved workers, if they didn’t met their quota of rubber. Now, more than one hundred years later, I find remnants of such an appalling, destructive time, being sold to consumers of chocolate. We’d eventually walk back to our car, and through our driving Tracy to where he could catch the train, found ourselves within a different side of the city; one that is home to many different communities.. This side of the city, housing what seems to be a larger population of Arabs and Africans, appeared to be considerably less wealthy; a far cry from earlier.

BRUGGES

We returned to the apartment that evening happy to be out of Brussels; which confirmed our initial thought, we chose the city correctly. I cannot speak about Antwerp or Ghent, but was happy to experience a blissful old town that brought me into thought of what life would have been centuries ago. Certainly, with their problems, as all countries and cities have them; Bruges had an active problem solving mission for rapidly approaching fear, of a city under water.

We’d learn that the city has taken on a Triennial, an art expo with the theme of Liquid City, that allowed fifteen global artists to showcase artwork throughout the old town. Twelve different projects were a part of a changing theme that lasted from May to September (peak tourist season.) In reading more about the unique project, I learned the whale was made from 5 tons of plastic that was found in the Pacific Ocean; created by a Brooklyn artist, titled liquid soup.

Eleven other projects are spread throughout the city, relating in some way to the canals; which only further added to the allure of what we were seeing. We didn’t quite get all of them; an urban mode (?), but the floating island and floating school, provided us the rare opportunity to imagine, a city under water. We learned from dad and Tracy; who both met Terri, who came in from Luxembourg, that Bruges used to be connected to the North Sea. Overtime, the landscape has changed; and like Amsterdam or Venice, is now threatened by future rising water levels.

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Lastly, the hostel door (the day before, where we rented the bikes) in the back had letters/words/a message imprinted on it that I found a liking to, it goes;

“Live. Love. Dance. Get lost in a city with a name you cannot pronounce and where your name is pronounced differently. In an alphabet you can not read. A country with a different way of saying hello. Laughing, eating, in a different time zone, on the other side of the equator. Live. Love. Dance. Get lost, sleep under different constellations, dance with different songs to celebrate life, where the sun travels in a different direction and get lost. Love. Live the life you do not even dare to imagine at home, do something you will never forget and never talk about with anyone. Get lost till you don’t know anymore who or where you are to become who you are.”

Before we left out Wednesday morning, we had enough time to further explore the old town; in particular, experience the Markt up in full bloom. All the vendors and stalls selling meats, cheese, fruits, souvenirs, etc, it was cool to see. A facet I most appreciate about European culture, and to what I understand others, is the market; the community coming together at a certain time of the day to buy items, made local and fresh. I briefly lost mom and Julia, which once again made me question what am I doing; like in the past I got excited and started to wander about. First, I got inside the Belfry tower and wondered at the old looking appeal of the square; eventually, we’d find each other down a different street then agreed, let’s go back to meet dad and Tracy. Soon, we were off.

DINANT

We left and headed south; aiming to stop somewhere in our near four hour drive to Luxembourg. We didn’t quite yet know where, but just enjoyed the beautiful views of driving deeper into Wallonia; the region of Belgium that encompasses the are south of Brussels. Always a cool facet of visiting a country, is learning the history and culture; in questo caso, we learned that  Belgium is divided into three sections: Flanders (where we were in Bruges) then Brussels (alone), and Wallonia. Each region, due to its small size, and being influenced by the surrounding larger countries, has a different language; Dutch, French, and German.

We drove into Brussels again, and picked up Tracy who had stayed the night with a friend. We continued on, through the interstate, and Julia pronouncing the many names, until we made our stop for lunch. After driving for about two hours, we decided, in our research to stop at Dinant, a city in Wallonia, that would provide us a different look. When we came out of the more rural area surrounding the city, it instantly hit us; we had come upon a gem (at least as far as a day tip goes.)

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The city lies on the banks of the Meuse river, and as is evident with the photo above, has surrounding steep cliffs overlooking the area. We were overjoyed to find such a photogenic, peaceful area for lunch; and figured to first move our legs and briefly explore before sitting down again. Soon, I’d find out that the inventor of the Saxophone, celebrated throughout the town with statues, and on the above, is from Dinant. We didn’t have long, but Julia and I figured we soon make use of the time we had and climbed the near four hundred steps, to arrive at the entrance of the castle, we then made our way down. We then found a cafe, located along the river, ordered and sat to enjoy.

LUXEMBOURG CITY

We arrived into the capital city at the perfect time for people to be ending there work day, and then moving to the next activity. It seemed as if the entire city’s population of 120,000 was out, causing traffic; whether foot or car to be busy. It took us a bit to find the apartment, even more difficult to find somewhere to park; bless dad, again driving in an interesting environment. We couldn’t read the street signs, nor understand what the gps intended for us to do; so, eventually we got out and asked a man. He helped, and then we decided enough with the car; which proved to be the right decision. Soon, we’d find our third story apartment on a side street; it was tight.

The apartment provided plenty of natural light, and a view of the intersection below us; yet, didn’t leave the five of us very much room to settle in. A far cry from the past two AirBnBs, we were fortunate enough to have two bedrooms; then me on the couch. The issue came with the single bathroom, between five people, and the tiniest of kitchens. Yet, thankfully we had no intention of spending too much time in the apartment, nor have any meals in; in fact, the first night we were invited for dinner (well-Tracy and his company was.) Thierry, an exchange student from the Belgian Congo, who attended his high school, lives in the outskirts of the city with his wife and kids.

Lucky for us, the timing worked well, all we needed to do was unpack, shower; Julia and I had enough time to briefly do some recon on the area, then return to get ready. The drive out to the house took about twenty minutes, a nice change from the city, and provided us with the rural-suburb side of Luxembourg. Located in a neighborhood, with views of hills, fields, and woods, it is clear why they would make the commute for school and work, in exchange for some seclusion. The house was quite massive and impressive; which at one point housed the family of five, but with children grown and pursuing life outside of the city-country, it would only be seven for dinner.

Aside from a delicious dinner, nice views; overlooking their pool, and hearing the barks of the neighbor dog, it is the uniqueness of the opportunity to sit down and talk with someone that has such different experiences as we, which makes the time memorable. Tracy and Thierry brought back stories from high school; the best came with how Tracy thought when the school announced that they would have a student from the Belgian Congo, that the student would be African, he was surprised to find a white guy. We all learned more about their collective past, the nature of the business in the Congo from the Belgians; I had no idea, prior. I always found it interesting enough to learn of Tracy’s perspective on growing up in Farmville, but now pair that with a foreigner’s insight!

The couple, with not only hosting us, but just in the conversation seemed to be so kind; especially when it came to me. We’d discuss this later, in an unfortunate circumstance (la colpa di me) but how they took such interest in my study abroad in Viterbo, then before that in the backpacking for two months; even going so far, as to say I can come visit them. I was pleasantly complimented to how they perceived me, yet in our discussion as was quite evident that attention wasn’t given to all. Julia spoke about her PH.D program, the lengthy, strenuous process to earn her doctorate, and mom about her career as an accountant-nurse-Rocktown; yet they didn’t express such interest.

It was clear the couple had money, a desire to travel, and had implanted that same interest in their children, but the disconnect with the academics of Julia and mom was evident. Unfortunately, too often showed in the past, people who don’t quite understand or see the value in their line of works, seem to push it aside. This will always seem strange to me, them as well; considering people like them, or me, are not able to move forward without the study of science or finance; without funds, or me-medicine, I wouldn’t be going anywhere to travel. This was an understandable grievance that was expressed later, in our emotion filled conversation later on that evening.

During dinner Thierry and his wife were asking me very thoughtful questions, ones to be honest I hadn’t received from really any one else. This peaked my interest, yet I soon became discouraged, when in responding dad turned his attention to a plate on the table; which (sensitive me) took offense to. I quieted myself, feeling that only the hosts wanted to hear my thought; which again, hurt to believe. I’d bring this up when we got home that evening, after leaving Tracy there and driving back. While mom and Julia were out, I fought briefly within about whether I should bring it up, and how could I?

Yet, soon did and told dad, prefacing my thoughts about how I was thankful for the opportunity he had given me in Viterbo. In our conversation, I explained how I haven’t felt the same interest from the group that was shown by the couple; noting how he instead turned to attention to food. He responded that he had already heard so much with our weekly calls, but I aimed to correct him. It was five months, and I knew for certain that I didn’t tell him much; since I only had a given time in each period. I tried to express how fruitful the experience was and how I wanted to share it, but he seemed to have gotten the gist. Hindsight this is understandably, but at the time, I knew; then clearly cited examples of how little he knew of my time. It was here where I told him of the lost/stolen backpack, and some instances in which I figured he wouldn’t have wanted to hear. At this point, Julia and mom returned from the walk to get dessert.

Now, the exchange; albeit still between dad and I (and civil), became more heightened, since mom showed an expression of sadness, sitting nearby on a chair, and Julia with angry standing up. Both the feelings, just as dad’s belief in he had gotten enough of the idea, were all fair (hindsight again), but the conversation would come to some blow. Ultimately, I expressed how it seemed the couple had more interest in my time in Italy than the family did, no one liked that; but considering the depth of the questions I received, this was how I felt. Now, removed from this moment and in reflection, ideas.

First, some of what I said and felt was/is true; yet, now to their credit, not to their fault. Thierry had experienced something of the likeness to what I had gone through, the family; despite Tracy, had not. Therefore, their questions could only gone over so much. Second, they had in fact heard what they thought was enough; considering, we did talk about my time in Italy, and foremost, dad paid from my rent; while I worked enough to travel. This would come up soon in several instances, but they thought I had became spoiled and was selfishly thinking about myself; as dad noted in our ten or fifteen minute conversations, what did I asked of him? Very true, how is everything? Then me.

This was a difficult conversation for me, and I’m sure them, especially mom who I never intended for her to hear my words of hurt feelings; harking back to childhood, (she is joking with me about a cup in football, me being too sensitive, I get upset and start to cry then she gets upset about making me upset, and begins to tear up with remorse, which then furthers my feelings since, now I have made mom cry-our relationship.) Yet, with reflection I cannot regret this moment, since it took some time to understand for myself. First, I had indeed become spoiled and was selfishly pursuing a life that I couldn’t quite understand nor grasp. Second, I hadn’t felt like I had, or could truly explain my experiences with them, but nor should we have to (see Anne Frank Quote-paper got more patience!) Lastly, perhaps the most difficult truth to grasp at the time, in spending time with the family, throughout the trip from Rome to Benelux; most evident that night in heated argument over directions on the bikes, I didn’t know my place within the Fam.

Dramatic, I know, yet it would come later to be known and properly understood. During that moment with a group of people, who I am accustom to being with individually, or in a segmented portion, I didn’t know where I fit in. Strange to admit, considering it’s all love, but I would realize something greater than that, which only generated in that thought, or those thoughts. Instead, after such an experience, studying abroad, learning something about myself each day, and entering a field that challenged and intrigued me; I would come to understand, I didn’t know where I fit in with myself; who I was.

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Sure enough, the next day came and the four of us awoke to adventure around the city. First, spurred to start out early, due to having to move the car in time; before a ticket, we got to walking. We’d walk come across massive state buildings, banks and international organizations, before the bridge; which we’d walk across (underneath), to dad’s chagrin. Not only so incredibly high up, but with bikes paths too, it allowed for the by passers to see the depths below them. He made it much quickly than the three of us did; then later on, chose instead to get an uber back. The city is lush with green, valleys, cliffs, and history; even having a historical path that we all partook in.

Before taking on the full ten plus item walk, we headed to the main square and found some restaurants, nearby the guarded royal palace. We sat and ate together, despite the evening before; now past it, for the moment, just happy to be together, considering our time was coming to an end in our travels. We reminisced, talked of how we could have better made the trip, and most importantly, what we learned. Then, it came to what was next; dad aimed to relax perhaps at a cafe, people watch, and walk about the main square. We set out on the trail, taking us all around the city, exploring the past to present.

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Toward the end of our walk, Julia and I got back into it; first by her bringing up her thoughts on last night. I had recognized that I had erred, which had most evidently, showed that I had a lack of gratitude toward the parents that got me here. It was tough to hear, but she was right; mom added to, yet, she continued in her points: some about the family in Italy and some about traveling. This is where, unfortunately for mom, for being in the middle, I had to disagree. First, with the family (which would eventually get us no where near an agreement) and mostly all other people that I’ve had the fortune of meeting in travel, a facet, evident between Julia and I, is the openness. I explained in how not shutting off anyone, like the Scordos in our 2017 trip, that people will accept you and provide help when needed.

Yet, in referencing her ignoring of them at times, people will see and feel those feelings; which completely changes how one will be treated. I tried to explain that I’ve received such openness and kindness from people, since I try my best to be as a sponge and open, both with my mind and heart. This causes people to open up (mostly) which has taught me the most valuable lesson in travel and life; yet, it was clear since we both didn’t think that way, nor operate with that mentality, it could not agree on that discussion point.

The near three hour walk would have it’s ups and downs, but as is/has always been the case, we’d return to normalcy and come together at the apartment. Tracy was dropped off and spent some time in the apartment, finishing some work; and with a matter at home that was not too unlike mom’s situation at home; the health of his mom. We all talked, first, about the day then with him, learning of the conversation from the night before; about that. With the heat and activity, we all needed showers before we would consider what we should do next. Tracy planned to return to Thierry’s, via pick up, which then left us four, on what we should do for the evening, and food.

The choice ended up being easy with the Greek restaurant just downstairs; not too difficult for us to find something on the menu. After dinner we walked about for a bit, before settling on a cafe across the street for dessert; it was Italian. I was excited to learn this, after hearing the server and cooks speak back and forth to each other. I headed to the restroom, and with a smile asked them, “dove il bagno,” semplice lo so, pero ero contento, doesn’t take much. The evening was delightful, even with the wait and mishap with the items and menu. I spoke to the waiter in Italian, after dad informed him of my time in Italy; a bonding experience for us four, considering the day and evening before.

The next morning, we packed up; happy to be out of the tiny apartment and en route to our next and final destination; Amsterdam. Our the way out, I encountered a pretty French speaking female, presumably an immigrant; considering that 45% of the inhabitants of the city are. It was the first time, I can recall having a desire to say anything in French, aside from hearing Douce with his family. Soon, we were back to Thierry’s, thanked him and bid him adieu; then back on the road, with four hours to go.

AMSTERDAM

We made our way back, tired from the day’s drive, and honestly happy to be thinking about our return to the States; for me it was a long time coming. Unfortunately, I was not quite prepared; not mentally, physically, nor emotionally. The hotel was convenient, not far from the airport, and had an early morning shuttle to take the three of them in time for the 9 am flight; mom and I had till twelve (and the responsibility to return the car). We settled into our two rooms, and then settled on the restaurant downstairs. The meal acted as the last evening that the Fab Five would be together; during dinner, we’d be corny and choose names for each other, the one that stuck was Dr. J, or Doctor Julia.

Aside from the company and conversation, there was one order of business that needed to be addressed: Me. Particularly, how I would transition back to the states and Richmond. Without a clear job in sight, no home, and with no money in the bank account, I had truly done it right. Mom and dad sat me down, and explained they would give me a collective $800 loan which I would begin to set my life back together; in their words, back to reality. I acknowledged my immaturity, and expressed my gratitude.