Monday, April 11, 2011

My Last Weekend Treasure

So, it's been almost two weeks since I have been home. It was weird, especially the first 3 or 4 days. Now, I'm starting to get used to it. Actually, I am used to it, maybe a little too much, because I feel like I am back where I was before my trip, except this time without a job. Anyways, there are still a few stories I haven't shared with you and about a week's worth of stuff I need to write about. Not gonna lie, I have gotten a bit lazy with blogging like every day- I usually don't blog, but for history's sake, I decided to take it up for the trip....and possibly after. I just got used to telling the world wide web about my adventures and such.

Anyways, back to my story. I left off telling you how I was headed to a small town- Casteggio. It is cute. It's got the square, a fountain, a really old church, vineyards, and most importantly, my family. I spent time hanging out with them, getting to know them, eating chocolate, and visiting nearby towns for the 3 days I was there. One day, I went to Voghera, the next town over that had a very quaint atmosphere and a parade of a few hundred children celebrating Italy day--again. I love Italians and the way they celebrate things- they get so festive and it goes on forever! I believe it was called "Experience Italy" and every week for a couple months or so they had some event, some where.
On my last day in North Italy, I was lucky enough to visit Torino, or as American would call it "Turin", I say that with a southern accent, and it cracks me up every time.
Anyways....about Torino. I was trying to decide where to go on my last day in north Italy. It was a Friday and that night I was heading a couple hours south to Parma, where I would stay with a couple of American girls studying there. (I met them in Rome at a hostel). 
I get up early, deeply inhaling the aromatic scent of Italian coffee permeating the dining room I slept in, get ready, and join cousin Laura for "o cafea." My cousin Laura is more like aunt- she is in her early sixties, the first daughter of my oldest aunt. And me, being the youngest of the youngest- that puts about 40 or so years between us. 
They take me to the station and I arrive in Torino shortly after 10 am. I don't know what to expect, I've heard about this city, know its big, and know chocolate is a big thing here. Which definitely increases my interest in Torino. As soon as I exit the station I cross the street and run into an information booth, and exit with about 6 pamphlets about the city. And I'm off! 
I walk by squares, Italian flags everywhere, men playing electric violins and accordions on the street...I smile as I pass by, and try to record as much of what I'm seeing, feeling, and hearing in my brain, knowing that these moments are unique and Lord knows when I'll experience them again. 
It was another day to celebrate Italy- storms of schools groups, tourists, Torino-natives, business men and women were on the streets with the same look of awe and admiration I was wearing. It was nice to know I wasn't alone, although I was, it didn't really feel like it. 
I strolled through a park that had different tents of vendors selling stuff- mostly food items like salami's, breads, dried fruits and nuts. I opted for a small amount of dried ginger- a personal favorite then made my way to a cafe for a cappuccino. After my short burst of energy I made my way down to the chocolate festival. It was SO awesome! 
I remember thinking- this is one of the best days of my life- and nothing even significant happened- I was just exploring a beautiful city that had a chocolate festival going on. All the big Italian chocolate brands were there- Perugina, Milka, Ferrero, Lindt, well as independent sellers featuring interesting products such as Chili Chocolate Liquor ( I was so tempted to buy a bottle, but I had absolutely no room in my bag) and Limoncello Hazelnut white chocolate cream- one of my favorites. It was SO GOOD. I kid you not. But again, space and money held me back. I half regret not buying it, but it only stirs my motivation to go back. Aaah. All these amazing flavors make me more excited for heaven. Oh Lord. 
It was a warm, sunny day in Torino so I hiked up to this hill that had a church on it and a good view of the city, one thing I still haven't seen was the Mole- Torino's building- basically the one people think of when they think of this city. I rested at the top, admiring my surroundings then headed back down, walked through the university district, wandered about the city a bit and headed back to the train station.

Overall the city was great, it was like a mix of the big-city-ness of Milano and the small town, romantic feel of Florence or Parma. So glad I was able to see it! 

Some pictures from Torino: 

The busy days don't stop here. I left Casteggio later than night, with long goodbyes to my family and off I was to Parma, where I joined Kelly and Megha, the law students from New York in a night out in Parma- experiencing the nightlife, meeting people from all over the world, and even doing Karaoke! 
It was funny because during my trip I've talked about and wanted to do Karaoke, but never really got the chance and/or didn't know where to go, so I gave up on the idea, but it was like God reminded me of this thing I've been wanting to do and gave me the chance to do it! Me and Kelly sang Bohemian Rhapsody of all songs and the crowd actually joined in on this one with us. It was a moment to be remembered and the most fun I've had in a while.
After walking 1.5 hours back to their place, making it about 2:30 am, we fell fast asleep, and got up 4.5 hours later to catch the train to the Cinque Terre- one of the most amazing places I have ever been to in my entire life- dare I say the best. 
The Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands" and is made up of five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. All beautiful gems on the western coast of Italy. Check out the link, that gives you more wiki info on it. And go see it! 

We got to the southernmost village at about 11 am along with a billion other Americans. It was weird. Where did they come from? Judging by their faded blue jeans, American English, and cameras, they were out to do the same thing I was... And thanks Rick Steves for advertising this place to the world, so they can treasure it as much as I do. Okay, so I'll be honest, it was Rick's videos that opened my eyes to this place, BUT, I was crazy to think I would be a minority on this path. 
Anyways, we get off the train and start walking- my feet are ready, my eyes are hungry, and my heart is happy. I'm so stoked. It was beautiful- the path along the water, the sun shining, the breeze blowing...It was the "Love Walk" we strolled on from Riomaggiore (the southernmost city) to Manarola that was the busiest- both for the eye and the foot- locks hung from every possible place to hang a lock, pictures were taken everywhere, hearts and initials were carved on wild cactus leaves growing close to the trail, and there were quite a few people on it, most of them, again, English-speakers. 
This day was one of the best days of my life. That's two in a row! I'm on a roll. Hehe. 
The sun was shining, the hike was climbing, and I was crying. Or at least about to, it was just soo beautiful! 
We made our way to the next village, then realized we had to climb- a looong way to the next city and the ones following it because the path along the water from Manarola, the 2nd city, to the rest of the cities. Taking the train would have been lame, so off we go on the beaten path. We followed white arrows around vineyards, local's houses, rock paths, rocks steps, dirt paths, grass steps, and any other medium of foot travel. God, I can't explain to you how beautiful the day was. 
We got to the next town, Corniglia, had a short lunch, and continued our hike. 
I was leading the girls, who were so awesome and so down to hike this, even though they complained (and warned me they would) for some of the time. But I didn't mind. We had some great conversations along the way, they told me about law school, what it's like to live in New York, talked about relationships, and the like...They had vibrant, fun personalities, and so it made it fun. I don't know what I would have done if I was alone...I would have still wanted to hike it, but some parts of it were rough- if you fell or something, your body would probably be found a few days later down by the water or something. All in all, we made it to my favorite village out of all of them, Vernazza, that was showered with vibrant colors, umbrellas, boats, friendly people, local foods and drinks, and a gorgeous sunset. The last town, we did take the train to, because it was getting dark. Trust me, you do NOT want to get stuck on a trail like this at night. Finding your way around during the day was a challenge enough- take away the sunlight and your screwed. Unless you've done it before and are prepared- that would be fun. 
Anyways, we got to the last city, explored it, found a castle, and made our way back to the train that would take us back to Parma. And, to no one's surprise, it was 50 minutes late. Thanks Trenitalia. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Best Overnight Train

 FYI- I'm already home- this is what I have saved for you that I wasn't able to blog while
away. Enjoy :)
The best overnight train I've had so far on this trip was last nights.  
It was from Budapest to Zurich. How did I get there, you might ask,  
since in my last blog I informed you of my travel to Cattolica... Well  
I'm a little behind, but plan to fill you all in breifly.
Here goes!
Two whole days were spent in cattolica. It's a nice small town, but in  
the summertime the population doubles or more because it's the place  
alot of people come to to chill out during the summer- the beaches are  
filled with people tanning, swimming, and spending their summer  
vacays. It was a clear, sunny day as we walked along the beachfront  
inhaling fresh, but chilly ocean air. It felt so good, like I was  
giving my lungs a detox. They were happy:) it was a relaxing and  
peaceful two days at the beach hanging out with my aunt, eating great  
Italian homemade food, sharing stories, and sipping on espresso. If  
you are ever in Italy in the summer, make a stop here! You won't  
regret it, oh and get gelato at Pimpii Gelateria, close to the beach  
and the mermaid statue... They were closed when I was there, but I  
hear it's the best!
So after that me and Casey headed for Florence again, where we were to  
meet up with keeva, who stayed behind in Venice while we were at the  
beach. Florence is a beautiful city- as I have desribed before and it  
was nice to revisit it. I played tour guide for Keeva, whose never  
been there before and it was awesome, we hit the outdoor/indoor Market  
again, observing life in florence- which, on this particular saturday  
morning consisted of older men smoking, chatting vibrantly, and  
drinking a mid-morning wine, it was the cutest thing, so I snapped a  
picture, which I may or may not share with you on here. Me and Keeva  
walked around the city that day, plopped down at a huge square at  
Vecchio Palace and had lunch on the curb between two super fancy  
cafes- only our lunch consisted of lettuce, salami, bread, and wine,  
all which we bought for under 5 euros. Hehe. It was delicious. Also,  
while in Florence I unfortunately got my wallet stolen at darn H&M,  
but thank God it was only a little bit of cash.
So something they have in Italy is apperitif- this is kinda like happy  
hour except, you pay for your drink, and you get a mini snack buffet  
thing for free. It's like appetizers for free if you buy a drink type  
of was really awesome, and the cafe was the coolest one  
I've ever gone to. It was in a hallway off a side street, had  
candlelight seating, ancient-like artwork on the ceiling, pillows and  
benches, etc... Anyways, this is where I separated from Casey and  
keeva and made my way back up north- they were heading back home and I  
was staying for a couple more weeks.
Next up: Revisiting north Italy.
I went back up to Parma, the land of amazing Italian cheese and ham,  
then went to Milano- I had an appointment to see Leonardo da Vinci's  
Last Supper painting! The real thing! It was a miracle I even got to  
go see it because you need to sign up months in advanced and I was  
blessed enough to find one of the last opening times in the month of  
March. The thing with this paintin is that only 25 people can see it  
at a time for only 15 minutes. The reason is that it is so damaged and  
fragile that our breathes, humidity, and dust will destroy it further-  
that's why when I saw it me and the group had to go through 2 separate  
rooms where we were 'de-humidified' before going in. There was a  
strict security lady in the room with us that occasionally yelled 'no  
photos!' at people who whipped out their cameras. I thought about  
sneaking a shot,but I opted for enjoying the moment of seeing the Last  
Supper and engrave it in my memory instead. It was awesome! I started  
tearing up, i couldn't help it. It's a feeling a can't describe, the  
closest thing I can think of is when the bride and groom see each  
other forthe first time- your jaw just drops a bit and you're like  
WHOA! It was cool. If you ever go to Milano and appreciate art, this  
is an absolute must-see!
My journey to Romania:
So, one thing than wasn't really planned in this trip, but something  
that would be awesome to see was my mothercountry- Romania. Haha, I  
just love that word mothercountry, I dint know why it, it just makes  
me laugh. Anyways, my journey towards Romania started off early in the  
morning with a visit to Verona, Italy. My train was in Venice at  
night, and Verona, the so-called city of Romeo and Juliet was right on  
the way, so I took advantage of it. It was a cloudy day, but i walked  
around the whole city- it has an amazing Arena, like the collesium-  
it's one the largest in the world and what's cool about it was that it  
is still in use today! They have concerts, operas, shows, events, and  
whatever else there. They were actually setting up for an event while  
I was there. ALSO, it was Italia day on Thursday, March 17th. So  
everyone in Italy had the day off and flags flew from almost every  
balcony. It was a holiday and people were out, rain or shine.
I walked down a narrow cobblestone street observing people, window  
shopping, and admiring the beauty of the city. So, in this city is  
'Casa di Gulietta' which translates into Juliet's house and so I paid  
it a visit. The house itself they say belonged to the Capulets, not to  
the actual family in the story, but to the family generations earlier.  
Anyways, I walked onthis hallway that was graffited like no other with  
names in hearts, dates, and proclamations of love of young people and  
old. I observed two men holding up their ladies while they write their  
names in hearts on the walls, it was cute! In the small courtyard  
there was a bronze statue of Juliet, with her right breast being  
really shiney because I. Is said to bring good luck in the world of  
love if you rub her breast. There were families, couples, singles,  
taking turns getting their picture taken with Juliet, I had (wanted)  
to do the same haha. It was fun.
I then wandered about the city and had the best ice cream sandwhich I  
had ever had. There's this place called 'Savoia' that started an ice  
cream place in Verona and they are known for their ice cream. It's so  
good! The ice cream sandwhich I had was invented in Verona in 1929.  
It's ice cream with ameretto and almonds in the middle with extremely  
thin wafers that are on both sides of the square ice cream sandwhich.  
So good!
I then made my way to Venice where I caught the train to Romania  
through Budapest. A nice surprise was that there was another American  
that sat next to me so we talked, it was refreshing. Two train  
transfers later I got to Timisoara, Romania. My friend picked me up  
from the station and then showed me the city that weekend- it's a huge  
University town with over 8,000 students and a lot of Protestant  
churches as well- two of which we attended services for. It was cool-  
reminded me of my childhood church and at one there was actually an  
American speaker, how ironic.
This town is very old and was actually one of the main places where  
the 1989 revolution began; the operahouse was where  anti-communism  
leaders would give speeches from and students reveled against  
communism. Also, at the metropolitan church, on the very steps I  
walked on, men, women, and children were murdered because they stood  
in the way of tanks trying to destroy the churh. Crazy stuff. Also,  
they have a gigantic mall- full with even a. Bowling alley and a movie  
teather, in addition to others.
After Romania, I headed to Budapest to meet up with keeva and enjoy  
the city. And what a surprise it was! I didn't know what to expect of  
Budapest, but I enjoyed what i saw- a huge city divided by the Danube  
river. The hilly, scenic side where the castle made it's home was Buda  
and the urban, busy side where shopping, business, and everything else  
was the Pest side. We explored both in the 5 hours I had in the city,  
ending with dinner at an authentic Hungarian literal hole-in-the-wall  
place. If anyone ever goes to Budapest please please go here! It is so  
good! They have traditional dishes made fresh. I had a salad,  
Hungarian beer, and a Transilvanian knuckle ham with sour cabbage. It  
was one of the most tasty flavorful meals I had ever had!
I hopped back on the train that night to ultimately head to Casteggio,  
an adorably cute small town.