Monday, May 30, 2011

Le Cinque Terre e Piu`

Time for an overdue update, let’s see, where do I start… I’ve been doing so many things!

I’ve accompanied Giuseppe a few times to visit his sister, Veronica, in Pisa where she goes to university. We rented a 3 person bike one day and toured around the bumpy streets.

There was a full week at the end of April when many of the museums were free and I took advantage, revisiting many of the famous works of art that I’d seen and sketched 6 years ago; many of which I made new sketches of. Free entrance was also offered at the beautiful Boboli Garden which is attached to Palazzo Pitti, the gigantic palace that I live beside. Shortly after this was Notte Bianca, a night when the streets and piazzas are full of art, music, and shows until the early hours of the morning, and we toured around the center with Giuseppe’s good friend from university and his girlfriend who came to visit.

Over Easter (Pasqua) weekend I joined forces with a Canadian and an Austrian friend, Hailey and Hemma, to provide some entertainment in the piazzas of Florence with the hopes of making a little money. The girls sang and played the guitar and I drew caricatures. We tried a few strategic locations in the center to avoid the zones of the polizia (police) and over the course of 3 hours we made 15 Euro….so 5 Euro each. Then we went and bought gelato which left 2 Euro each. Not exactly an efficient way to make money but definitely amusing. As the girls sang and played Hemma’s beautiful songs, I secretly sketched the bystanders and tried to finish quickly so I could give them the drawings before they carried on. This made people really happy. I discovered the best method was to draw the kids which usually prompted the giving of some change into our hat from the parents ;) Even better than this though was when a dad brought his little boy over to give me un bacio (a kiss) and then his sister came running up shouting Anch’io! Anch’io! (Me too! Me too!). So by the end of the session I ended up with 2 Euros and 2 kisses, niente male (not bad) :)

This is the sign I made:

Too bad I wasn't thinking and took this video vertically, but it shows the kids that kissed me:)

On Easter Sunday I also watched the traditional events in front of the Duomo, including the Florentine flag throwers (Martinho!!) and a fancy cart loaded with fireworks. I was reminded of my first visit to Florence when I was in high school; we arrived on Easter Sunday amongst the crowds and chaos and watched this same show.

Another recent event in Florence was the Mostra di Artiginale, a collection of products of all types on display and for sale, made by craftsmen from all over the world. We ate at the Moroccan stand and were given a miniature vase with our names written on it in Arabic, so cute.

The italian poster boy:

That following weekend we arranged a trip to Cinque Terre which a series of 5 towns on the west coast of Italy in the Liguria region, connected by walking trails. Friday night we drove to Pisa and stayed with Veronica before catching the train at 6am the next morning to continue the journey. We got there nice and early, before most of the tourists arrived, which was great to catch the first breathtaking views and scope out the peaceful streets of the first town, Riomaggiore. We took the walking path to the next town, Manarola, and from there hopped on the train to Corniglia. By that time the weather had really warmed up and I was dying for a break at the beach that I’d read about in my mom’s Italy guide book which she’d left behind for me.

There are so many types of cactus' (yeah i know it should be cacti but it feels pretentious) in this region, some of them are humongous!!!!

The directions given were a bit strange and Giuseppe was doubtful but I insisted that we forge ahead to find it. I questioned a local person and he confirmed the existence of the beach, pointing us in the right direction. The book described that the entrance to the beach was an abandoned trail tunnel and that at the entrance to the tunnel you ring the doorbell and then someone buzzes you in. Then you have to walk 10 minutes to arrive through the other side of the tunnel where you pay the entrance fee of 5 Euro. However the book must have been a bit outdated….

I was ecstatic when we found the train tunnel entrance. And then the doorbell! We pushed the button and waited, pushed it again, and waited….it appeared to be out of order. Giuseppe and I looked at each other wondering what to do next and I turned on the flashlight tool on my cell phone to peer into the train tunnel. There was no end in sight but at my urging we hesitantly walked ahead, stumbling and getting spooked by the sounds coming from the dark around us. As the light from the entrance was disappearing we slowed down and eventually came to a stop. Then we decided to turn around. For all we knew we might encounter wild animals, or violent hobos, or maybe the other end would be sealed if we even made it. I felt robbed as we retreated in defeat and was straining to think of another solution, after all, the local man said the beach existed. Then just as we begrudgingly returned to the main path, we watched another guy turning into the path from which we’d come…… YES!!!!

We caught up with him and Giuseppe asked him if he knew of the beach; he said that we was heading there right now if we wanted to join him! I was ecstatic! He had a flashlight with him but after a minute or so, it started burning out. He said it wasn’t a problem for him as he knew the way and could do it in the dark. There was actually a little sidewalk in the side of the tunnel which was level as opposed to the center area that we’d walked down previously, full of holes and garbage. I turned on my cellphone light and took the lead, walking quickly in hopes of reaching the end faster. It seemed to take forever! At one point a train passed through the new tunnel which was built exactly beside, but the rumbling felt like a train was about to come pummel us over!

A giant fig tree:

Finally we saw the light and emerged into a wild area of vegetation. We thanked Simone, the guy who accompanied us through, as he went to join a group of his friends barbequing next to the entrance. Giuseppe and I continued down the path until we could the rocky beach below. The next challenge was figuring out how to reach it. We kept going until a steep path down the hill came into view. We carefully descended (my badlands hill climbing skills coming into good use) and we had arrived! There weren’t so many people there but considering the challenging arrival, more than you’d think. And the other particular thing about this beach other than the mode of arrival, which makes sense given these circumstances, is that it was a nudist beach!

I somewhat knew this as I’d read in my mom’s guidebook that it was ‘clothing optional’ but of course, given the option, almost everyone there had opted in one direction. We scoped out a spot on the rocky shore, spread out the one tiny hand towel that we had, and well, when in Rome….!

It wasn’t long before I was ready to plunge into the Mediterranean and I bravely surpassed the other people wading knee-deep in mild discomfort from the temperature of the water (most Italians don’t consider the sea to be a swimmable temperature until mid June!). I was in complete bliss after the initial cold shock passed, and flitted around like a mermaid while Giuseppe watched in disbelief, inching his way into the water, retreating a bit, and then inching in a bit deeper. Finally, against his own better judgement, my little Calabrese made it all the way out, shivering beside me.

Over the next couple hours we ate the lunch we’d packed, soaked up the sun, and went for another more swim before packing up. We definitely had an experience off the regular tourist path, how amazing! Thank you to my mom’s outdated guide book!

From there we took the train to the last town, Monterosso, skipping Vernazza as we knew we’d be heading back there in the evening to spend the night in the room we’d reserved. Monterosso was the largest of the towns with a long beachfront and tons of restaurants. We took our time wandering through the streets and ate some gelato before backtracking to Vernazza in exhaustion. The room we had rented was like a little apartment as the door opened up directly onto a charming little street. We were lucky to find it as I had called at least a dozen places to find something available and affordable. (Yes I’m able to conduct telephone conversations in Italian now!) Despite our fatigue we cleaned ourselves up and headed to the only bar in the little town, catching the end of a live music performance out front before calling it a night.

The next day we headed back to the beach in Monterosso for a few hours before catching the boat to Portovenere, another town not technically part of the cinque terre but located nearby and is equally beautiful, with a castle perched on a cliff next to the sea. As we slowly weaved through the town (I was still soooo tired from the day before) we made a point to scope out a nice restaurant for dinner. As we had smartly brought a lot of food with us, Giuseppe was sick of his paninis and I was sick of my rice cakes so we decided we earned a nice seafood dinner on the coast, yum :) After eating we caught the bus back to the train station and made it back to Pisa that night to crash again with Veronica, before driving back to Florence early the next morning so Giuseppe could arrive at work on time. What an amazing trip!!

For the last game of the calcio (soccer) season Giuseppe and I bought tickets to watch Florence versus Bologna. When we were in the train station we heard a chorus of voices as the Bologna fans arrived, singing, chanting, swearing… I got to witness the Italian soccer fever first hand, very amusing! Unfortunately it was one of very few rainy days here and we were in the section without a roof, but thankfully Giuseppe insisted on bringing raincoats despite my positivity (non piovera`! = it won’t rain!) because we wouldn’t have lasted long otherwise. By the end we were soaked and frozen so we snuck out early from the tie game and beat the crowd back to the train. When we made it back to the main train station, the timing worked out perfectly as Veronica was just arriving from Pisa and she had brought with her a surprise, their brother, Antonio, who now lives in Milan and works as a firefighter. It was my first time meeting him and we all had fun playing darts and eating together that evening.

A kid wearing a sweater for the Florentine team that says 'Nato perfetto' (Born perfect) which is funny because it's common knowledge in italy that the Florentines are rather snobby and egotistical:

Another interesting experience was visiting I Gigli, the centro commerciale (shopping center) that I’d been hearing about. However, despite my curiosity, it was quite horrific. It’s really like the shopping malls in north America, huge stores, everyone buying, buying, buying. I didn’t think these existed in Italy! I wish they didn’t.

In other american influenced news, as some hard core fans like Alison already know, Jersey Shore is currently filming their new season in Florence and I was lucky (?) enough to encounter them the other weekend at the popular outdoor club, Central Park. I tried to get a picture for Al but the best I could do was this blur….

I’ve managed to find some work but not as a waitress as I was planning. I’m working on the travel blogs for Caribbean-on-line and Florence-on-line for an American man that I met here. It’s added a little structure to my week and also a little income which I am very happy to haveJ Also I’m currently tutoring a university student, Stefano, in English conversation as preparation for the summer when he’ll be working on his thesis in Germany. It’s also good practice for me as I’m currently seeking a teaching English job in the south of Italy for the fall…

I will be writing the CILS exam (Italian language certification for foreigners) next week and am hoping that all my studying will serve me well. Between having my own tutor, Valentina, a conversation buddy, Daniele, a boyfriend, Giuseppe, and 3 hours of intensive grammar lessons every Tuesday you’d think I would be feeling pretty confident but I’ll likely still be cramming in the days before. It’s all the little things, the articles, prepositions, irregular masculine/feminine nouns, that are hard to remember. Then there’s the listening part of the exam that is the hardest, in part because it’s usually played from a horrible quality cassette, mamma mia!

Daniele multitasking in the typical italian fashion:

Today has been the day I’ve been dreaming of for so long…..I finally found a gluten free bakery! Star Bene, which I’d read about many months earlier after conducting intensive research on the internet, and had in fact visited, but left empty handed after learning that they only sell the gluten free items by order. At the time I was too overwhelmed by the list of breads that I didn’t bother place an order, but was reminded of this opportunity when I rode past another location closer to my neighborhood last week. I went in and inquired about making an order but they told me they didn’t take orders at this location.... Instead the lady told me to go to the other location that her son ran, where everything was gluten free. I told her that I had been to the other location but that they said they ONLY took orders and she explained that that was in fact an OTHER other location, very close to the location with ALL gluten free baking. She pinpointed it on the map and today I ventured there, indulging in an amazingly flakey spinach pastry and chocolate torte, among other things…. I had to catch up for lost time, heehee. Buono.

Rosie and I hugging the bear at the toy store:

Giuseppe, Paolo, and Hailey one night at the Jazz Club:

Me singing a kids song about animals (in italian) that Giuseppe taught me: