Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The moment we've all been waiting for! Well, at least I was....

Hello again and happy December! It's becoming a crisp but beautiful winter setting here, with snow capping all the mountains around us. Temperatures have been fairly high for this time of year, but we've had morning frost quite a bit. I've taken some pictures and another field trip, which I will post and share soon, but for the moment, I've got something else exciting...

I finally got a of a video from ACLE, the company I worked for this summer! It's a promo for the general high school program, but it's got a lot of footage from our camp. It's not the compilation of just our camp as I had wanted to show you (I hope to post that one tomorrow), but it's still great, and it will give you a little taste of my work here. Hope you guys enjoy, and sending warm thoughts to you all. Ciao!
Here's the link (yeah, it's on You Tube):

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Field trip: Lago di Garda

So I made a promise to myself that I was going to take a field trip to a different town every week once I got back from Egypt. Weather and germs prevented that-until today. It was a spectacular, sunny day, completely uncharacteristic for an impending winter. A friend of mine has a girl visiting who is from Brazil, but her great-grandparents were Italian. Her great-grandfather comes from a small village on Lago di Garda, just outside of Verona, so today we headed off not just to make the most of this incredible day, but also to spend a few moments in her history.

My friend took us to a town called Sirmione, a wealthy and strategically-located village on a peninsula in the south of the lake. The castle still stands strong and stately today, and the town seems to hold it's head high with pride for it's beauty. We wandered through the streets, ate lunch on the shore, and found one of the hot springs-the city's biggest tourist draw-right on the beach. The sun shone so bright, but the crisp air and perfectly empty streets reminded you that it wasn't August anymore. There are days when I forget that I'm in Italy, a new, different, and amazing place that I have so much more to discover in. But days like today make me so grateful for this opportunity and every moment that it lasts.

We then headed over to Castelnuovo, a small village just up the shore, to see what we could find about my friend's family history. We didn't discover much today (everything is closed on Wednesday afternoons, it's like Italian law or something crazy), but I love that in Italy you can realistically walk into a town, find the oldest generation still there, and reasonably ask them about a person who lived there three generations ago, and they may actually know quite a bit. I'm learning a new sense of family and community, and while I covet my wings and world-traveler spirit with much pride and independence, I hope someday to be in a community that strong and long-lasting.

Here is Sirmione and Lago di Garda:

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Mount Sinai

Okay, ridiculous again, I know. I've been home for two weeks and still haven't told you I lived to make it off Mt. Sinai? Well, all drama aside, it's been a crazy couple weeks at home, lots of sick kids (and sick me), parents working a here I am on a Wednesday night two weeks after my return to tell you: Sinai was AMAZING. Religious or not, the idea of climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night and watching the sunrise is a defining moment. It's so worth it, if you ever feel the crazy notion yourself to try it. I think any mountain will impress you, but this one certainly was breathtaking. I befriended a lovely young lady from London, Lisa, who was in the same bus as me to go to Sinai. We had a group of about 9, but we ditched the rest to climb at our own pace. 2000 meters and about 2 hours later, we were standing on the top of darkness, breathless from the hike and the unbelievable amount of stars. There's really nothing on the entire Sinai peninsula bright enough to diminish the sky, so you have 180 degrees of stars.

We settled ourselves in a little niche in the rock, and waited for another hour and a half for the sun to come up. It's really cool to do highly memorable things with absolute strangers; you find out a lot about yourself and others too. There's a pic of me and Lisa (in case you couldn't guess) and a couple of the sunrise. Pictures can't possibly do it justice though, so I highly recommend you try the experience for yourself. After the sun had fully crested the horizon, we began the equally-long trek down. It's a little disenchanting seeing as there are probably a couple hundred other people on any given day, and some of them have very poor manners, but we waited them out at the top, and headed down the slippery, dusty road slowly. By the time you reach the bottom the sun is scathingly hot, and it's hard to believe that three hours before you were gratefully bundled under a wool blanket with five layers wrapped tightly around you. Like I said, highly memorable.

The rest of my time in Egypt was fairly uneventful. I spent my afternoon wandering calmly around Dahab, chatting with my new friends (people in Dahab are SO hospitable), and soaking in the peace. Another night bus back to Cairo, a tough fight with the scandalous taxi drivers to get to the airport, a four hour delay for our flight (that only took four hours as it was), and I was back to Italy, and feeling more at home than ever before. Truly a trip I will never forget. I hope this year never ends...

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Before I got to Dahab, I would have told anyone that asked me about my experience in Egypt that it was interesting and I would probably never go back. I was even going to write just one post about my whole trip to Egypt, and basically say, here’s the pictures, been there done that, the end. And then I got to this small beach town on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula-and my whole perspective changed.
This place is like a surfer’s bungalow. I arrived at my hostel, sleep deprivated and a bit leery, wishing more for an Italian village than another foreign experience at the moment. The place is tucked off a little dirt road, it’s 7:30 in the morning, and there’s not much life to be seen. I get my room, not too many surprises. No toilet paper, no soap; a shower stall (which was more than the place I stayed in Cairo which simply had a shower fixture hanging on the wall in the bathroom across from the toilet-oh yes, and Cairo had cockroaches), and a bed with one sheet to sleep on top of. Hmm, at least I had a private room and bathroom. But rather than lock myself in and drift back to sleep, I had to see this place and find out why my friend loved it. So I walked down the dirt road, past the back of the hostel, and found myself on this beachfront promenade staring at a beautiful blue sea and breathtaking mountains right across the short span of water. It was breezy but comfortable, sunny but not too hot, and I felt like this was an entirely different Egypt. Almost everyone spoke English, likely due to the high number of tourists that fuel the businesses here. It’s a hot spot for diving and snorkeling, thanks to its incredible coral reef and warm water temperatures in the summer and even early fall. There was mellow music drifting from some of the shops, beach front restaurants with an eastern style setting: cushions on the floor or other reclined eating positions. Life was clearly just waking up, and no one was looking to rush it. The promenade stretches much further than the town off the water, but it’s no wonder why seeing how beautiful the coast is. And while these people speak English, there’s no lack for Egyptian culture and authenticity. I was so excited to feel at ease and not so lost, and I spent the rest of the day comfortably wandering, bartering with shopkeepers, taking pictures, and just enjoying the peace that had been absent for four days. Tonight, I’m getting ready to hike Mount Sinai. For those looking for a different adventure than the water sports, they offer midnight hikes on Mount Sinai for a sunrise they say you will never forget. I guess I’ll have to give you my take on that tomorrow. We get back mid-day and I’ll take another night bus back to Cairo to fly out Tuesday afternoon. As soon as I catch up on my sleep, I’ll post another update to you all. I still can’t believe I’m in Egypt…

Here's Dahab:

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Cairo and Alexandria

I’ve discovered that being in Italy is not only a great experience, but it’s a gateway for me to other incredible opportunities. One of the most amazing girls I worked with this summer, Sarah (in the picture with me) said she would be studying in Cairo this fall and Israel in the spring, and would happily welcome visitors. Well, you don’t have to convince me twice, especially when it’s a whole lot easier and cheaper to get to Egypt from Italy than from San Francisco. So, I found myself a really good ticket a couple weeks ago and, on Thursday morning at the crack of dawn, climbed onto a plane to a place I, once again, knew nothing about.

If I had only one word to describe Egypt, it would be ZOO. Now, I know big cities are chaotic, I know I’m not the biggest fan of large metropolis, but Cairo has topped them all in craziness. Bangkok was definitely a culture shock, but I attributed that more to having just come from the paradise of Phuket Island. Or maybe Cairo was more of an eye-opening experience because I don’t speak a word of Arabic, and most people don’t speak a word of English. Needless to say, having Sarah was a lifesaver; I don’t think I ever could have survived without her. She’s studying Arabic, and though she’ll say she’s not fluent, I never saw a situation she wasn’t able to surmount. She took me to the best places: the oldest market in downtown Cairo (in the picture), a tea shop that is open 24 hours a day-and has been for 200 years straight, except during Ramadan (correct me if I got those facts wrong, Sarah). She told me to go check out Alexandria, her favorite city in Egypt, well known for-besides other things-being home to the oldest library in the world. And of course I saw the pyramids. I know, cliché, but a trip to Egypt wouldn’t be right without.

Here’s the thing with Egypt: if there are rules, you would never know it because no one is following them. The road may have three lanes painted on it, but their flying down the street five cars across, blaring their horns incessantly as if it is music to their ears. Taxis are a riot; really, you can’t let them freak you out because you wouldn’t last 12 hours in Cairo. There’s no such thing as a fare meter, so you better know how much you should pay before you set foot in the cab-and yes, almost every driver will rip you off if you let them. You tell the driver where you want to go before you get in, and sometimes Sarah would tell them and they would just drive off. Crossing the street is just about as safe as skydiving (maybe skydiving is a little safer), but chances are good you’ll need to cross several streets while you’re there. Bartering is their life; if you don’t haggle, you’re getting ripped off. (And yes, I got ripped off once or twice but hey, there’s a learning curve for everything.) I was warned that everyone will try to talk to you, draw you into their shop, men will whistle and say unbelievable things (of course they’re unbelievable-these people barely speak English, so they probably don’t have a clue what they’re saying…), but surprisingly I escaped this sort of attention 90% of the time. Some said it was because I look like I could be Egyptian (really?), but I’m just thankful to have come through the whole experience enlightened but unharmed.

By the time I was on the train back to Cairo from Alexandria, I was really ready to be done with Egypt. It’s just non-stop, so many people in your face, chaos everywhere. But I had 2-1/2 days left, and Sarah had told me about this great place on the Sinai peninsula called Dahab. So I climbed on a night bus and rode for 8 hours across barren desert and mountain valleys….and arrived in a completely different world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life in Italy

So I really don't have much to complain about. I mean, I'm living in one of the most gorgeous countries I've ever seen, with a sweet-as-pie family, I have a bicycle to ride whenever I want, there are three children to play with whenever I am bored, and I finally get to cook again! I'll tell ya, it's great having Italian moms cooking for you three meals a day, but I REALLY missed cooking! :) I am taking an Italian class, and doing my best to practice everyday wherever I can. It's so much easier when it's around you all the time; I feel less stressed about learning the language because there's always someone to speak to.
My typical day is pretty mellow. Two of the kids in my family go to asilo (which is pre-school), so they get up and leave before 9. Little Sebastiano gets to stay home, with dad or mom or-on a rare day-the babysitter, so we get a little more time to bond. Sebastiano has gotten really hooked on my Ipod (as the picture reveals), and the past couple weeks, we've been making corn bags together. I do the sewing, and he puts the kernels inside the bag one at a time-keeps us both occupied for hours, it's great. ;) I love to go for bike rides on nice days. Where the house is, there are all sorts of paths every direction around. It's just outside the edge of Vicenza, so the traffic isn't too bad. There's hills all around, and you can venture down into a valley for an hour before you even realize there's still miles to go. The colors have been changing, and everything just glows on sunny days right now. Last weekend, my "family" went rock-climbing in this valley about 20 minutes from the house. It was crisp, but so refreshing and fantastic views. Even the kids love scampering up a rock-and then having daddy pull them up a bit further. That's something I love a lot here in Italy, is being with families when they are all together. I know it's been a while since I was "little," but I still relish family outings on the weekends and meals together.
I've been really bad about taking pictures, sorry. Everytime I think I'm just going out to run errands or something boring, I see the most beautiful things, but never have my camera. And then when I take my camera, I can never seem to find the right shot that I want. I will do better, I soon as I get back from Egypt. Yeah, Egypt.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Special visitor

The good thing about not working and moving all over is you can actually have visitors! Ahem, hint hint.... Anyway, to all of you who haven't come yet, please know you are more than welcome, as long as you can speak English. ;) It's so funny, because as much as I try to learn Italian, it just doesn't happen a lot, because everyone wants to practice their English. So, my dear Rob came to visit! We didn't have a very clear agenda, but we ended up getting around to do a lot, which was awesome. For as long as I've been in Italy, and as many cities as I've gone to, I didn't feel like I had a lot to show for it. Well, being the paparazzi that he is, we now have more than enough photos to fill an album. We went back down to Rome (he wanted to see the Cisteen Chapel, and hey-it's Rome!), came through Tuscany, stayed in Siena, went out to Pisa, rode bikes about 10 miles up to Viareggio (on the coast, just before Cinqueterre), wandered through Verona and Venice....oh yeah, and had a couple days to chill and visit families and friends I had stayed with. For being only two weeks, it was packed. So many amazing places and good memories. These are just a few of the shots from those weeks.
After the first week of October though, he was gone, and I was left with...a very empty schedule. So now I'll give you a little glimpse of how my life is going these days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grand Finale

I know it's taken me a while to share the last part of my work this summer. It's hard for me to put into words what an amazing experience it was, and the last week was like the perfect finish to it all. It was a pretty big deal: ACLE has just started doing camps for high school students. At this age and level, it's a totally different experience, because they're not too interested in games, and most of the songs are too childish. You have to think on your feet and have A LOT planned, because their English is good; they just need someone to bring it out of them. So ACLE picked seven tutors very carefully for this camp. I had already worked with one of the directors, and she requested me back, so I got to be in on the fun. I had no idea what I was in for...
First, the tutor crew was fantastic. I had worked with a few of them, been trained by others, and we built such a rapport and environment by the end of the week. Some of the tutors who come, they just want to spend a month in Italy, or they were traveling around and wanted to make some extra money on the side. Not this bunch; these guys were devoted teachers, mentors, and hilarious entertainers. Every day was something new and crazy, and the students were having even more fun than we were. That was the second great part: my class. I had a group of 9-10th and 11th graders who really knew their stuff. They were respectful, intelligent, and you felt more like their friend than their mother (after working with 5-year olds, that was a big change for me). They kept me laughing and working hard all week, and I loved it. We made them do crazy things, as the pictures testify too, but I haven't had so much fun in a long time. Third, the show was....well, amazing would be an understatement. One of the directors managed to score the local theater for us free of charge. So we had a stage, lighting, mics, props, music-and a screen for the awesome collage of events from the week that two of our tutors put together. (I'm gonna put it on here, as soon as he sends it to me-another reason I've been stalling on writing this post.) For four of us tutors, we knew it was our last week. For the students, school was starting on Monday. After 5 incredible days, we were all a little sappy (and tired, which makes some of us more sappy), and Friday just felt like a standing ovation for all we had done this summer.
To our surprise, the director and founder of ACLE came to see our show. Since the high school program is still in the developing phases, he wanted to see if we were doing a good job of it. Needless to say, he was more than impressed. It definitely was going out on a high note, and he personally commended us each for all we had done, which was quite an honor. I have spoken with him since, and he has asked me to consider coming back next summer since he had heard good things about my work from all my camps. So, if you don't see me around much next June.... ;)
All this was fine and dandy, except by Friday night I realized I wasn't ready for Saturday. I still didn't know where I was going or what I was doing. I had already turned down one teaching job so I could finish my camps, and I definitely don't regret it. But I wasn't sure where I would be staying starting next Monday. It was a little difficult, after a summer that was perfectly mapped out and organized for me-and so adventurous-I felt a little empty. But thankfully, I had many wonderful families with open hearts and open arms telling me I always had a place with them. So, long story short, as I mentioned, I am back in Vicenza, the city I really had hoped to be in. I'm not with a family from my camps, but one of my camp hosts introduced me to this family, so it all comes around eventually. This family has three of the sweetest children ever, and I love still being part of a family and, well.....playing whenever I want to. :)
So I'm finally really on vacation. I know most of you thought that's what I was on all along, but trust me, being a tutor and being a tourist are NOT the same. It's been nice to get solid nights of sleep, and to not have to pack my suitcase every seven days-that's the BEST part. I'll give you an update on my life now in a little bit. But just after I got settled into a long-term home, I had a special visitor....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And life goes on...

Okay, even I admit it's ridiculous that I haven't posted anything in the last six weeks, and for that I apologize. It's crazy how, when you are used to being busy, when things slow down you fall apart a bit, or at least get lazy. I finished my camps the second week of September, and I came back to one of my favorite towns, Vicenza, to look for a place and a way to stay in Italy a bit longer. And amazingly, everything fell right into place. So, I am now staying with a wonderful family with three small children and helping the kids to speak English. Seeing as they are very young, though, it's really more like playing with them and speaking TO them in English, and encouraging them to repeat words they might know or remember easily. It's so nice to still be part of a family, and I'm very happy to be here. I will try to post again with some pictures and more stories soon, but for now I just wanted you all to know I'm alive and everything is going well. Hope all is good at home, and if you have the chance, drop me an email or just a comment on the blog with anything new and exciting for you!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Switzerland and the rest of August

Sorry to lump it all together like that, but that's kind of the way the rest of my month has gone. Not that it hasn't been great; I've enjoyed every day of it. But it's been a lot more low-key, and not a lot of pictures to take. After Rome, I came back up to Decima, to stay with some of the people I worked with. Not having anticipated as long of a break as I got, I hadn't made plans to travel with anyone (not to mention that August can be a tough month to travel in Italy-everyone goes on vacation to the sea). So I took advantage of the time to rest, work on my Italian, and hang out with some of the nicest people in the nicest places I've been so far. I've been back and forth between Vicenza-looking to get some work after summer-and Decima-just outside Bologna, and the nicest community I've found yet. In Decima, there was an opera one night in the piazza in front of the church. It was such a memorable experience; so perfect for the whole situation. A small community coming together for a cultural event on a beautiful summer evening-who could ask for more? Some of my students were performing in it as well, so that made it even better for me.

After that, I ventured off to Switzerland for a few days. I decided to land in Lugano, for convenience and scenery, and was not disappointed by either. It's a small town, very accesible for tourists on foot, and in late August it's a great choice for some fresh air and outdoors. I spent a couple days hiking, making more new friends, and remembering why I fell in love with Switzerland 7 years ago. As much as I love Italian culture, language, and food, I think Switzerland will always be at the top of my list for best scenery in the world. (Ridiculously overpriced and a little stuffy, but with scenery like that, you can't expect everything to be perfect.) So here's some shots from the rest of my break (my director's adorable daughter with her enormous waterlily!), the opera, and Lugano. I will be returning to camps on Monday, and will be starting again just outside of Vicenza. I'll keep you all posted as the week goes on. I have three weeks left of camp, and then we'll see what happens....

Here is Lugano:

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Special Post: For all my Farmer's Market Lovers

Okay, so this one goes out to my Farmer's Market groupies back home (you all know who you are, we always talk about going to the market and how much we love it...). Some of you had said you could imagine the markets in Italy would be great, and you were absolutely right. The markets here are a bit different though. They aren't just fruits and vegetables, they are an endless sea of tents with everything a person could possibly want. So, while it doesn't need much explanation, here are some shots from some of the great markets I've found. From Perugia, to Roma, to Bologna, I hope you enjoy. And I promise, I'm eating all the great, local produce I can get my hands on for all of you. :)