I’m falling really behind on all of my blogs simply because I’ve been so ridiculously busy. I haven’t stayed in Ghent for a weekend since the middle of October and all of this traveling is really taking a toll on my allotted blogging space during the week. However, whenever I’m traveling and I see something extra cool, I always think “Wow I should really blog about this”. But then I usually get caught up in whatever amazing things I’m experiencing and forget to even snap a photo.
Lucky for you, I managed to capture a lot of my experiences in Italy. These pictures will in no way do this amazing country and culture justice, however. Behind the scenes I experienced an insane amount of love, acceptance, and friendship from all of the Italians I met. I have never met a more opened minded, fun-loving, and over-eating culture.
I left for Milan on a Thursday because November 11th is a national holiday in Belgium so I didn’t have class. I began my journey by waking up at five in the morning and venturing to the train station in Ghent with two friends. We all had 9:00 am flights out of Brussels so we had to arrive at the airport by 7:00 am. Of course, we are college students so nothing ever goes as nicely as planned. Long story short, the three of us were running through Gent-Sint-Pieters station at 6:20 am in order to catch the last train to Brussels that would ensure we would arrive at the airport on time. Quite exhilarating but I made it to the airport, passed the visa check-in station, got through security, and speed-walked to my gate all in time to casually step onto the plane ten minutes before departure. My day was filled with more excitement when a medical emergency occurred on my first flight to Barcelona. I remember I was extremely exhausted from staying far too late the night before (The Netherlands and Belgium went up against each other in football, of course I had to witness that), so obviously I passed out the second the plane left the airport. I’d say around forty-five minutes into the flight, people start screaming about three rows behind me. I think to myself, “that’s DEFINITELY not a good thing to hear on a flight” and begin freaking out. Turns out a woman had a fairly non-violent seizure. Very scary and I was completely sympathetic towards her. The flight attendants called for any doctors and nurses on board and about three individuals aided this poor soul. I’m under the impression she was okay because once we landed they called in some medics from the airport and she passed their tests. Of course, I didn’t have the seizure in front of an entire plane full of people so I couldn’t even begin to imagine how the woman was feeling; the entire plane was so relieved when she was cleared as fine after our flight.
My layover in Barcelona was fairly uneventful after that morning’s events except for the fact that once I arrived in the airport I was already at the gate I was supposed to be at for my second flight to Milan/Bergamo. This only struck me as strange because as a traveling American I’m trained to expect customs clearance and more visa checks. The fact that I either 1) didn’t know where customs was or 2) ”skipped” customs as if I was trying to smuggle drugs across the Spanish border worried me. Who is supposed to check my visa now? What if I can’t get on this flight once they realized I beat the system? Two valid questions for a solo traveler in a new country; I ended up asking someone at the info desk and she claimed I would be okay. Everything ended up fine and I was allowed to board my next flight without all the formal checking I was so accustom to.
My flight from Barcelona to Milan/Bergamo was uneventful. I was really antsy because I knew I was only two hours away from seeing my absolute best friend, Erica, upon my arrival.
Here’s a little anecdote about Erica. We met when she lived in the United States my senior year of high school. She didn’t know English and I didn’t care (that’s a total lie she knew the words chocolate, sushi, and ice cream). I was on a mission to make this girl my best friend. The first time we hung out I took her to Dairy Queen and we sat there and looked at each other for hours. I didn’t care, half the battle of making new friends is getting past the awkward but little did I know that after nine months she would leave me and return back to her home country. I did not anticipate the heartbreak. Even though Erica and I only knew each other for a short time in friend years we’ve kept in contact since her time in the states.
Fortunately, we haven’t changed a bit and the second I arrived at baggage claim in the Bergamo airport I knew that time had not warped our friendship one bit. We were exactly the same as we were three years ago except now older, more fun, and Erica’s English was fabulous. This is very impressive because not only is it fairly uncommon for Italians to be fluent in English but Erica had only recently returned home from her summer job working at a French resort in Sicily where she primarily spoke French. This girl is actually amazing being fluent in fourish languages.
Upon my arrival, Erica and her lovely mother greeted me with hugs and kisses. I just remember how amazing it was to see her again, it didn’t feel real for a second. Erica’s mom drove us about forty-five minutes to their home a few villages away. Once I got a full tour of their cute little house it was now time to catch up! The two of us sat at her kitchen table for hours while she fed me espresso, croissants, and freshly squeezed juice. Erica let me vent about the election while she warned me how everyone and anyone was going to asked me about it. We made a cake for her church choir and then met some of her friends out for authentic pizza. Two things about my weekend in Italy: 1) calories DID NOT count and 2) I gave up my vegetarian ways in order not only be rude but also to experience all types of amazing food (this actually bit me in the butt, but it was worth it). At the pizzeria I not only was gearing up to eat a whole pizza solo, but we also ordered aperitivo. Aperitivo is basically an appetizer consisting of Italian meats and cheese with little pockets of amazing garlic bread. I could have eaten all of that alone and been satisfied for days. After pizza, Erica took me to her church while the choir she used to participate in was practicing. She prepped all of her friends about my arrival and the second I walked into a room they all tried so very hard to speak English to me. Some were actually embarrassed that they were unable to speak English up to par and I that amount of love and respect was something that I had not yet experienced during my time over here.
Day two Erica and I took a train over to Venice for a day filled with absolute amazing Italian culture and history. She showed me around this beautiful city for a few hours before we found a cheap place for carbonara and coffee. I absolutely NEEDED to have carbonara because I swear by the stuff Olive Garden produces while Erica is absolutely repulsed by it. She wanted to show me the “good stuff”, and yes it was very good. I’m converted. I love the Italian tradition that coffee (even if it’s espresso) is promised after every meal, I can definitely handle that. After lunch we walked around the city a bit more passing through some extremely enticing chocolate and pasta shops. We came along the BEAUTIFUL city centre with a view of the harbor and the cathedral St. Mark’s Basilica or San Marco Basilica. The inside of this place was incredible; full of very intricate mosaics. Unfortunately I was unable to get any pictures. We then walked around the rest of the city and admired different carnival mask shops, blowed glass, and touristy attraction (I DID NOT ride a gondola, that was too touristy for Erica). Our train back to her village took about two hours and we slept the entire ride home.
We arrived home to a full homemade dinner of a frittata with ham, cheese, and mushrooms, cooked spinach and mashed potatoes, and amazing pot roast. For dessert we had fresh clementines which made me feel a little better about myself. Calories don’t count in Europe. Short nap, then Erica and I went out to a really funk Jamaican style bar with her friends and then obviously McDonald’s to end an amazing first full day in the most lovable country in the world.
Day Three in Italy was by far my favorite because no other city in the world can compare to Milan. We woke ip early to take the tube into the city and I was instantly taken aback. Finally! Skyscrapers! Erica and I needed to indulge in two things that day: sushi and gelato. First stop was sushi. However, it took us a good hour and a half to find a decently price sushi place not only because it was in the city but also because we just so happen to pass through the fashion district. No big deal, Milan fashion is definitely not a huge thing. Except the Milan fashion district was everything I was hoping it would be. I was totally infatuated with the glamorous storeS (and salesmen) with their elaborate displays and super high prices omg. We walked past the most famous theatre in town the Teatro alla Scala and the Duomo di Milano Cathedral. Wow both so pretty, and both so Italian. After shopping and sight seeing it was time for some gelato. We then met up with a friend of Erica’s from high school and sat around at a street side cafe for hours. Fun fact: Italian people watching is just as exciting as people watching in the states.
After taking the tube back to Erica’s village her father drove us to another one of her friends’ house for more food ( I swear I ate a weeks worth in only three days). Her friend was an EXTREMELY great cook making us homemade pasta with pumpkin and sausage, pot roast and potatoes, and LOVELY chocolate lava cake. I nearly exploded at the end but everything was so delicious and so worth it. Typical to Italian stereotypes, the dinner did last forever. I was so exhausted towards the end of the night but never happier.
The next morning we woke up at 6:00 am so Erica’s father could take my to the airport on time (praying for no seizures this time). As I flew back to Belgian I reflected upon my amazing weekend. Italian culture was very different than any others I’ve experienced during my time over here. Italians were very accepting and keen to speak with me even with the language barrier. Of course I passed out the second the plane took off out of Bergamo but I did stay awake long enough to catch small glimpses of the Italian Alps.
What’s Next? So I just went to Paris this past weekend. Yeah I’m super behind on my blogs. C’est la vie. In short, Paris was very fun because I was able to spend it with my best friend in her hometown. More to come.
Good news. I’m officially moving to France in a month and a half, I signed the lease on my studio last week and I’ll begin the moving processes beginning in January. Also, I officially have everything set for my living situation for next year when I return back to Bowling Green. Small shout out to my bestie and future roomie Nikki for handling everything and anything concerning our NEW APARTMENT! What? This girl has her life together even a little bit during her exchange? That’s not supposed to happen.