So I lied about having a field trip to Rome on the 2nd weekend, turns out its actually scheduled for the 3rd weekend. Sorry, I know I’m an awful person. This mistake meant I had a free weekend to fill. What to do? Why not go to Barcelona? Yeah, that’s right a weekend trip to Barcelona- its that easy to do that here.
There were 9 of us that went and the entire trip was accompanied by my incessant counting of 3, 6, 9, 3, 6, 9… Sad thing was that I was super hung over during the trip there and all I wanted to do was sleep it off but the tiny seats found in all modes of transportation we took made that impossible. Travel on planes, trains, and automobiles do not mix with hangovers. We left Cortona after classes on Thursday and arrived late that night in Barca. First impression, the city is a lot cleaner than Rome. We were super excited to get away from pizza and pasta at every meal but because it was late and our hostel was located in a residential area there were not a lot of restaurants open. Sadly we had to settle for pizza that night. The next day we went sight seeing and I found a Starbucks. Highlight of the trip, hahaha. Just kidding. I wasn’t super keen to see a whole bunch of places and rush everywhere so mostly just drank sangria at all sights and relaxed. Delicious. We did some shopping too then just went back to the hostel. The next day was similar, sangria and sights. That night however we decided to go out-loca people style. In Spain, the clubs don’t open til late and when Alberta ones close they are just starting to get busy. The 9 of us went out via the Metro. Once we got off the metro we were swarmed by guys trying to sell us cans of beer and promoters trying to give us flyers for their bars. The one we chose had 3 levels and 3 rooms all playing different music. There was a top 40, hip hop, and electronic room. Well to call it top 40 is being generous. More like 5 years ago top 40 plus LMFAO. Sadly that is the most current North American music that has made it over here. Its weird to see all these people that do not speak English sing every word to all these English songs. It makes you wonder if they understand the words and if not, as I suspect, then why are these songs so popular? I wouldn’t want to listen to music I don’t understand. Ps, no one there speaks English. Oddly enough that does not stop them from speaking to you. Even when you tell them you don’t speak Spanish they keep talking at breakneck speed to you in Spanish. Do you think I’m joking and can secretly understand you? Or do you think that if you keep speaking I’ll magically learn the language? No. No matter how many times you day the same thing I will still not be able to respond. One sided conversations are not my idea of fun, so no, this will not help you pick me up. Silly boys.
As the night went on groups of us left but Shannon and I stayed til the bar closed at like 6:30??? I didn’t have a watch so I have no idea. All I know is that after much deliberation on how to get home we realized that it was late enough that the Metro had started running again and we could take that home. We got in at 7:30 and had to leave by 11 that day for the airport. Ugh. I immediately regretted staying out so late remembering my inability to sleep on the plane. Who needs more than 3 hours of sleep to function, not me apparently?
The trip home was kinda frustrating. After trying to manage 9 people’s interests all weekend and all of us running on only a bit of sleep, patience was a virtue in short supply. Everything was going relatively smoothly until we got back to Rome and had to get to Termni, the train station. Some wanted to take the train and some wanted to take the bus which was cheaper but takes a bit longer. As we were walking through the arrival area trying to decide this random guy stopped us and proceeded to pitch the idea of us all taking a van there. He said it would be the same cost as the train. Everyone just stood there and the same words were exchanged by both sides repeatedly.
You can go to whatever hotel you want. We want to go to termini.
Yes 12 euro and you can go to whatever hotel you want. We want to go to termini
Some people weren’t sure about it so we walked away at one point but then someone was like wait its a good deal, why not? The pause encouraged the guy to ramp up his sales pitch and as a result some others joined the its a good idea side. Result, we were all just standing there in limbo. Ugh, I hate indecision. So, for better or worse I was like, ok let’s do it. Let’s call it an adventure. Nothing scary or dangerous happened it was just weird. The van was too small by 2 seats so we all had to squish in and the guy kept trying to get us to pay him to take us to Cortona or on some other trip later. He only relented with his pitches when we agreed to take his phone number. His prices were ridiculous though so we have never called him. He then played tour guide for the rest of the trip pointing out things we had all already seen, even though we told him we had all already been to Rome. Guess that got lost in translation. Finally we made it to the train station. As luck would have it there was a train leaving fairly soon after we got there and going in the direction we needed to go however we could not quite agree which track it was on. After much deliberation and repeated checking of the board we decided on a track. I asked the conductor guy just to be safe and he told me the train stopped at Cortona. Keep this in mind later. The train stopped the town before Cortona and we all got our stuff ready anticipating that we would be the next stop but surprise, the train passed right by our picturesque little town. That’s right, the conductor lied to me. Lesson learned, never trust a train conductor. There was mild panic in the group as they speculated when we would get home and where the next stop was. Thankfully we found a fellow passenger who spoke English (kinda) who told us the next stop was not Florence, but Arezzo. Unlike Florence, Arezzo is actually super close to Cortona so we could at least hope we would get home at a reasonable hour; we just needed to catch a 20 minute train back from Arezzo to Cortona, no worries. In the end the journey home took a bit longer than expected but everything turned out fine, thankfully.
There is an undeniable charm to this city, I don’t know what it is exactly but I love it here. History lesson, there has been a settlement of some kind on this location since the Etruscans (pre-Roman civilization) build one in approximately 700 BCE. In a master feat of engineering they drained the entire valley below the city and so in the mornings when the mist from the valley rises and mixes with the smoke from wood people use to heat their homes there is this mist that covers the valley below so it looks like I live above the cloud level. I heard someone call it a sky-land and so I’ve taken to calling it that too. Its so cool to see.
There are some interesting sights in and around the city (well for me anyway). I’ve walked to the main church at the top of the mountain/hill whose bells can be heard ringing no matter where you are in the city every 15 minutes. There is also a fortress one level above that dating to the Renaissance period above the church. The fortress was commissioned by the de Medici family. If you walk like 30 minutes outside of town into the countryside there is a monastery literally built into the hill. It was one of the earliest made by St. Francis and his followers. There is also a lake that is pretty close but I have not been to it yet.
There is a Saturday market, think 104 st farmer’s market, which sprawls over 2 of the main town squares. Its mostly gypsy vendors selling cheap quality clothes but also some food stalls. Fruit and veg, cheeses, bread, random fish and cured meats. I hear it has a really good pork sandwich. I haven’t tried it though so I can neither confirm nor deny this. I can tell you that they have a roast pig in the stall that they shave the meat from, head and all. Not my idea of delicious.
The night-life is not particularly bumping but there are some places to go if you want some late night refreshments. One is the discotheque which has all these weird decorations: chairs that look headless bodies of provocatively dressed women, paintings of portions of women’s bodies in pin up style garb, and the piece de resistance an angel outfit with a ball and chain attached to it. Random. The other place is called Lion’s Well aka Hogsmead. Its seriously right out of Harry Potter, as is so much here. Its more of a pub type place where you can go to watch a soccer game and drink some beer. Surprisingly I don’t mind soccer here. The wimpyness of the players still bothers me but the game itself seems better here.
Why did they have to make Tuscan hill towns so hilly?? Its really hard to appreciate their majesty and beauty when you are bent over gasping for breath thanks to the almost 90 degree climb you just had to endure to get to your destination. While in theory there should be just as many downs are there are ups in the town, it never seems to pan out that way. Somehow it always seems as if my destinations require me to climb up. I keep hoping that eventually climbing up the mountain won’t be so hard but if the LRT stairs from last semester are any indication- I will never become accustomed to the effort. While I complain about the effort it takes to crest the hill, it is ultimately worth it. The view is spectacular. You can see sooooooo far. Its like when you take off in a plane and you can see everything in miniature for miles. The houses are all super old and everything is made of stone. That means that its always super cold inside them. The lack of central heating is kinda unfortunate but I’m surviving. The convent I’m staying in is actually a lot nicer than the hostel that the bulk of the other students are staying in, it has a better heating system and each room has its own bathroom complete with a heated towel rack. The only down side is that it is 2 levels down the mountain so I have to climb up to the hostel for dinner each night and if I want free internet. I just keep telling myself I will have a really nice bum when I get home.
School has started already here and I am going on a field trip to Rome next weekend. That’s right I said field trip and Rome. Jealous much? I will also get to go to Florence, Rome again, Perugia, Assisi, Pompeii, and Herculaneum for school. Way better than going to Galaxy land if you ask me. Beyond that there isn’t much to tell about school yet as classes just started.
I’ve learned to adapt to the small breakfasts already and my bag is always stuffed with random snacks to tide be over til dinner which is always huge. I may have developed an addiction to nutella though so I’ll have to stock up when I get home. I have it on the fresh bread every morning here. Yesterday there was a market in the main piazza and I bought a ton of local fruit which is so delicious. Its all so fresh. They even have strawberries here still which are all red, not like the ones at home. Hurray for a more temperate climate.
Holy, these young girls do NOT know how to pack! They all show up with huge rolly suitcases that weigh more than they do. They think this is ok cause once we get to school they can leave them there and be done. Problem is getting to school. The hostel we stayed at in Rome was on the 3rd floor so that means they have to drag essentially another version of themselves up all those stairs. Oh man it was hilarious to watch them struggle but the stopping after every flight got to me so I finally at the 2nd floor just took one girl’s suitcase from her and carried it up the last flight for her. Yes I am a Champ who carried 3 suitcases up the stairs. Aren’t you all proud of me, but man think about how weak their arm muscles must be if I could do it and they can’t. Poor children. Later another girl showed up again with an oversize rolly suitcase but she couldn’t even make it to the first floor without needing a break. I’m serious. No, really. So again to speed up the process I offered to carry her suitcase but this time with her. I mean why pack that much if you can’t carry it? Didn’t you think this through??? Silly, silly girls. I guess I made quite an impression cause the next day when we left to catch the bus one of those same girls asked me to roll her suitcase across the busy cobblestone street casue it was hard to roll it and she didn’t want to take too long and get hit. Hahahaha. Yes, actually. No hyperbole there.
As for Rome its ok but not at all what I expected. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, maybe something more… I don’t know what exactly, just more. Not to say its not nice; it is, sometimes. Its mostly just different. I guess its cause I’ve never really been to a place with a lot of history to contend with. In other places I feel like the historical sites are either separated from the modern cities or at least all located in one section of the city. However in Rome, there is this intense juxtaposition between new and old. Well, really its old vs older. As the “newer” parts of the Rome were added successive generations had to contend with all these pre-existing buildings, there was no way to grow and avoid them. So as a result there are all these ancient buildings in various states of deterioration which just seem to spring up out of nowhere and are haphazardly mixed in with various Medieval and Renaissance buildings. One block can be filled with Renaissance buildings but turn a corner and there are the remains of a structure which was made before the time of Christ. Think about it, I just happened upon a part of a wall constructed in some BCE year. Crazy. In theory being surrounded by all these old buildings would be nice but its not always as romantic as it sounds. There is a ton of graffiti, not on the ancient sites per say but on ALL the other buildings. Not to put Rome down but for the most part it needs a good scrubbing and a fresh coat of paint. It seems like structures made after the 17th century seem difficult to find here. Don’t quote me on the exact time reference; I’m guessing there. Maybe cause they already had so many buildings here from so early they just kept them as the city aged but its weird to not see anything built since the industrial revolution but like the airport and train station. Sadly I can’t tell you much about the “must see” sights because I didn’t really have much time to explore them before we had to meet to leave for Cortona I did manage to walk to the Colosseum which was impressive. The scale on which it was built is remarkable. Imagine how loud it would have been when full. Crazy. . I am coming back though so don’t worry its not as if I came all this way and will not see them.