Sunday, July 05, 2009

Italy 1: La Prima

I'm currently sitting in my host family's living room, watching a Norwegian film dubbed in Italian.

Here's the low-down of my journey so far:

Atto 1: Chicago to Heathrow: Cracked Glass and Socks
To my suprise, O'Hare Airport was not the center of chaos that I thought it would be. Still, I was a bit of a mess as I got ready to say good-bye to my parents and go through security. Anyone that knows me knows that homesickness has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of my life, and that at times it has nearly undone me. Given my past with homesickness, traveling half-way across the world scared me, especially travelling alone and flying for the first time. But it proved to be an adventure.
Security at O'Hare was slightly paniced, but painless. Lucky for me, I had a nice American couple and a kind gentleman from India to help me out. I had already put my shoes, laptop, and carry-on bag on the conveyer belt when the gaurd told me to remove my jacket and money belt. Seeing the freaked-out look on my face, the Indian man let me put them with his shoes; I could have gotten another bin, but I had no idea that was an option. But once I got through security with no other problems, I went on to my gate. It was too early to board, so I had a little time to read and get ready. But my nerves prevented me from being able to concentrate on Tolstoy, so I resorted to the USA Today special publication on Michael Jackson I bought. Don't judge me. It was totally worth it.
My flight from Chicago to Heathrow was about 8 hours. I had a window seat, but I kept the window shade down during take-off so I wouldn't fall ill. I sat next to a young English man and another man; I don't know where he was from, but his passport was in a language I couldn't recognize. Maybe the Baltics? He didn't say a word the whole flight, so I ended up listening to the radiologist from North Dakota sitting behind me talk to the people sitting next to him. He was wearing American flag pants and talked about how he likes to wear them and make the Brits he golfs with nervous. And we wonder why people think Americans are obnoxious.
My friend Lisa was right about British Airways food; it's quite good. I have no other airline food to compare it too, but it seemed fine to me. Since I had forgotten to take any medication that would help me sleep, I had a little wine. Of course, my plastic glass was cracked, and half of the Bordeaux eneded up on me. My book got most of it though, and my mother's blazer that I was wearing didn't get stained.
I was going to listen to music while I tried to sleep, but the opera station was playing some 20th Century English opera. Britten? I'm not sure, but it's not good for falling asleep. I didn't sleep well, but who does on an airplane? But I woke up as the sun was rising above Ireland. By then my body was beginning to feel tense and I was ready to get out of that plane. It was then that I discovered that in the pack with the sleep mast, there were a pair of Birtih Airway socks.
We landed at Heathrow about an hour later and took a shuttle from the plane to Terminal 5. Heathrow is a center of insanity. I stood for a few mintues in one of the hallways, not really knowing where to go, but finally just followed the crowd up to security.
Heathrow security was a near disaster. It's proceedures are slightly different than those at O'Hare; you can leave your sheos on, but they want your carry-on liquids taken out of the bag. The security person was beginning to be a little impatient with me as I pulled out the items, but I managed. As I was about ready to walk off, I noticed my laptop bag was feeling unusually light. Just then, I heard a notice on the PA system "We have a laptop at security". I picked up my things and went back, hoping that no one had taken it. It took a while to get anyone's attention, but I got my laptop back. yay!
Heathrow Airport, as I said before, is crazy. It feels more like a shopping mall with an airport thrown into it. The signs obvisously are a wonderful help, but if I could change one thing about the place it would be this; tell passangers from which gate they are departing sooner. Some flights from Terminal 5 require a short shuttle ride to the gates, but you don't find this out until a certain time (I don't remember exactly how long before the flight). Since I had a short layover, I was concerned about time. But then again, I'm freakishly paranoid about being late, so this is no suprise, and I was there in pleanty of time.

Atto 2: London to Rome: Mrs. Atticson and Jules
My flight to Rome was bout 2 hours and on a smaller plane. This plane actually might have been comfortable to sleep in. Oh well.
I was extremely fortunate to share this ride with two very interesting ladies. Mrs. Atticson (spelling?) is probably in her late 70s and was travelling with her companion, Jules, who is probably 40-50. Mrs. Atticson is a widow, and spoke a few times of her late husband, Percy. I don't know how she met Jules, or how they began travelling together. They were going to the Vatican, because Mrs. Atticson's sight is failing, and she watned to be able to see it while she still can. Because of her poor eyesight, I helped her with a few things like buckling her seatbelt and descirbing the scenery outside the plane window. She asked me about my travels, where I was from, and how I enjoyed flying so far. And she offered me great adive as well, telling me to hang on to my faith because it will carry me though tough times when I'm older. She also warned me about British coffee, "Oh, it's horrific!"
I was able to enjoy a wonderful view on this ride. We flew south of out the UK and into France, flying over Paris and into Italy. I was able to pick out Paris from 30,000 feet because of the Arc de Triumph and the roads going towards it, which, if I might add, looks amazing from above. Viewing landscape from above is fascinating, and each country has its own distince features. The Midwest, for example, is very square. England, on the other hand, is any shape it wants to be. Yes, there are squares, but I also noticed feilds shaped like triangles, and little towns that amophously grew out of one center. France is somewhere in the middle.
Fiumicino Airport is also chaos, but in a much different way than Heathrow. Again, I wasn't sure where to go, so I just followed everyone else and hoped they were going the same place I wanted to be. This turned out to work. But My freaking out began when my luggage appeared to not have come through. Altmost the entirety of my flight was waiting by the conveyer belt, but at first only about half of the luggage came. I had also tried to call home at this point to say I got there, but my phone wouldn't let the call go through. So there I was, standing in the stuffy airport with no luggage and no way to contact my parents, with no idea what to do. But eventualy the conveyer belt started up again, and the rest of the bags appeared. The phone stil didn't work.
When I came out of the terimal, about 50 people were standing there waiting for passangers. Many had signs, and I looked for my name or the name of my program, but neither were there. An Italian airport worker approached me and asked if I wanted a taxi, and I said, "No, grazie. Someone is supposed to pick me up, but I can't find her." "Che?" I was confused and flustered, he was confused, so I walked away when he started talking with someone else. I wandered around like this for about 45 minutes, called the program director, and still couldn't find my group. Finally, I started heading for another terminal, and someone stopped me. "Italian Operatic Experience?" they asked. My director had called the person meeting us. So, I finally was able to sit down and relax a little before the bus ride to Urbania.

Atto 3: Italia by Bus
The bus ride from Rome to Urbania lasted about 4 and 1/2 hours. I tend to enjoy raod trips, and this was by far one of the most interesting. Italy is a very green country; I noticed this first from my view from the plane, and even more so driving through the country. Trees are everywhere. We stopped at a truck stop about half-way to Urbania. Italian truck stops may be one of the most interesting things I've ever seen. This one sold pasta and fresh meat and cheese. There's something you'd never see in the States. But we continued on, and the motion sickness kicked in once we went through the mountains. I kept my eyes close from getting ill, but that meant I had to miss out on the beautiful scenery.

Atto 4: At home with Italians
Once we arrived at the bus stop, Roberto, one of the Scuola Italia instructors, was waiting for us with our housing assignments. We had the choice of either staying in an apartment with other students or living with a family. Suprisingly, only 2 students are staying with a family, and I am one of them. My host family is Franc esco and Leonarda, an Italian couple about my parents age. Cate, a student from New Zealand who has been here for about 3 months, is also living here. They also have a small and cute dog that adores Francesco, is fairly indifferent to Leonarda and Cate, and doens't know what to do about me. Francesco picked me up from the bus stop and drove me back to the apartment, which is about a block from Scuola Italia (which is wonderfu, because they told us that those living with families would probably have to walk 2 miles!). I had hardly put my things in my room when Leonarda brought me something to eat. While getting to know my Italian family, I realized that I know more Italian than I thought I did. Cate doesn't speak in English to me except for a few times, but it is nice to have someone in the apartment who knows English and can help me out. Cate and I took a passegiatta after I ate and walked around town. And, as my awkwardness is, the gelato I had melted all over the place. Great first impression, Lydia. But it was still a wonderful evening, and seeing people of all ages in the piazza is simply delightful.
I was happy to finally be able to sleep in a bed! This morning I had my first Italain coffee, which excelled my expectations. Coffee in America is very bitter, which is why I don't drink it all that often. But Italian coffee is very smooth and slightly creamy.
After unpacking and lunch, I took a walk around town. I found that my memory card didn't work in my camera, but found some American students taking a walk and we fixed the problem by me taking a memory card with smaller storage and the student paying me the difference. Shortly after that I had my first experience with Italian guys. There were 3 of them, Marco, Massimo, and Francesco. They asked me if I wanted to take their picture. I thought it was a slightly unusual question, but I said why not? I know I'm not the most worldly person, but I could see what was going on, so I went with it for a while. Marco asked me where I was going, and I said, the best that I could in Italian, nowhere in particular. He asked if they could accompany me, and I let them. Marco then asked after a bit if I wanted to go to the bar with them. Although it would have been interesting, I said no. I wasn't in the mood to have a drink, and the bar they were heading towards looked a little questionable. So they said ciao and went on their way. I came back to the apartment, put the key in the door, and it promply broke. Crap. So now I'm locked out, and I can't tell if Francesco and Leonarda are at home, and I don't want to shout to them from the ground. Eventually, I thought, somone has to come out of the building, and a teenager finally did. I showed him the key and said that I was livng with Francesco and Leonarda, and he let me in. They wern't upset with me, and said the keys are very old and it happens all the time.

That's all for now! I'll post photos when I have more than 2. Class starts tomorrow at 9:00 am.

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