My Top (15?) of Turin

Some friends are coming to visit Turin in a few days and I started a ‘to-do’ list. It began like this: FIAT Factory, Egyptian Museum (second only to Cairo), Piazza Castello, The Mole Antonella.. YAWWWWNN. Then I got really bored. None of these routinely listed   tourist attractions would I actually want to go to. Okay, maybe some. But my honest to-do list looks like this –

1. Pack a picnic and head to Parco Valentino.

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2. Be your own tour guide of the cities apartments. Sneak in courtyards, open doorways.. I promise, nobody’s looking.

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3. Grab a book and head to the reading rooms.

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4. Around sunset, pick up some beer and go sit by the river. Don’t worry, it’s legal.

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5. Take the small red train up to Superga and get some perspective.

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6. Have an apertivo, outside. It’s just like the movies.

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7. Rent some bikes and give the Italian streets an honest shot. Then take a cold shower.

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8. Walk over to the Villa Della Regina early, while no one has arrived yet, and pretend it’s your house.

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9. Eat a gelato and go window shopping. Via La Grange, Via Po, Via Roma.

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10. Head to San Salvario to join the edgier crowd and pretend your 25 again.

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11. Row down the Po.

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12. Have a cappucino at Maison.

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13. Have dinner in the Latin Quarter. There are Roman ruins in the parking garage if you need some culture.

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14. Meander Europe’s largest open air market and sample some fruit, buy some flowers.

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15. Go antiquing, outside.

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* None of the these pictures are mine, but they’re all from Torino : )

Thanksgiving 2013

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This Thanksgiving has been incredible. My English colleagues thought it was pretty hilarious that I was spending the meal in the classroom, crammed between pencil cases and backpacks. Obviously it’s not a holiday here in Italy, but on the actual day we were coincidentally served turkey. Trust me, it tasted a lot better than it looked. That afternoon, I brought Thanksgiving to my students, sharing a meal together ‘family-style’, each saying something we were thankful for. There is nothing more darling than 26 young people taking a moment to consider what they are genuinely thankful for..IMG_9645My ‘real’ Thanksgiving dinner was actually a delicious meal of sushi, with my most favorite person.

IMG_9677IMG_9678To extend the holiday, we had friends over for a potluck Thanksgiving. The entire day snow fell lightly outside our window, as the house was perfumed with the yummy smells of the holidays. Our table was filled with friends from all over the globe, which made for wonderful company. IMG_9679 IMG_9681Berninis by Rickie. IMG_9685Luca’s first turkey carving experience.
IMG_9688Gravy girls – success!

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IMG_9703 IMG_9704IMG_9711 IMG_9714 IMG_9716What’s Thanksgiving without a little charades? The night ended in true Italian style; by dancing it all off. The weekend was capped off by celebrating Luca’s father’s 70th birthday, at a darling little restaurant, La Coletta. It’s located on a little lake, right next to the Alps, making for a stunning view. So much to be thankful for this year ❤

IMG_9743 IMG_9748 IMG_9753” Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”  W.T. Publiser

Mount Etna

Poorly planned but greatly enjoyed, hiking Mount Etna ended up being one of the most memorable events from our trip.  We stared the morning like any other, gearing up on cappuccinos and croissants. As we nibbled we noticed the not so small flakes of ash drifting ever so gracefully onto our table. Fifteen minutes later our car was lightly covered, and we began our driving assent up to the base. The scenery changed so rapidly, we could barely believe it, stopping often to take pictures, or just gaze at the strange and unfamiliar scene.

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IMG_9840The base of the camp was unremarkable; local honey stands and hoards of tourists. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was at a ski resort in the summer. At this point we had nothing else to do but begin our assent. Walking around the line of (normal)  people for the gondola up, we climbed. Within a few minutes we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day. The lava rocks ranged from tiny pieces of sand, to chunks larger than ourselves. It was a strange, strange sensation walking over these very light but heavily packed rocks.

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We climbed for about an hour and a half, mostly quietly, trying to keep our pace, and keep breathing. There were about 6 other people climbing at the same time as us, and as a group we seemed to be dancing up the mountain. One couple moving a head, all stoping together at certain looking points, and then another pair pushing forward. Understanding smiles were exchanged, as it seems no one exactly knew what they were getting into beginning the day.

IMG_9873 IMG_9881Our informal group.

IMG_9872Stretch break!

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Here, we thought we were done. Little did we know we were barely half way! A lunch of cokes and sandwiches refueled us for the next, more difficult  part of the climb.

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The second half was much colder, with ice burred under ash and lava..

IMG_9900There were tiny red ladybugs crawling through the cracks and crevices..IMG_9967Pink and yellow wild flowers clung desperately to the earth .. IMG_9912IMG_9911

As we got closer, the black rocks transformed into a redish-brown color. IMG_9948

I really regretted not being prepared for the cold. The wind picked up drastically, so our time at the top ended up being brief. IMG_9934 IMG_9935In this flattering photo, you may notice Luca’s webbed feet. The Italians got a kick out of them. “Che strano!”As excited as he was to try these bad boys out on a volcano, he ended up having to stop numerous times to pick the lava rocks out from between his toes. Hilarious. IMG_9950IMG_9953 IMG_9952 IMG_9947

Seeing the volcano up close was incredible. The colors, the quiet, and the danger all made for a unique experience. What was most surprising to me, was the lack of any safety precausions. As you can see, the shale slides on its own, even at a gentle breeze. People walked fearlessly around its edge, as I slowly crept along, hugging the side. It was almost as if no one else understood that it was a VOLCANO. I just keep waiting for someone to yell “Run! It’s going to blow!” But, alas, it didn’t, so we began to head back to the car. The technique adapted was to basically run/jump down the hill. If we walked, our feet quickly became buried in rocks to it was much easier to just go for it. It probably would have been smart to grab one of these moon-mobiles, but we didn’t feel like being smart.

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Below you can see some other craters that were only visible because of our angle.
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Luca finally gave in and made a shoe swap. We were both covered in a think layer of sweat and dust. Loved every minute of it.

Road Trip

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This summer already seems like a far distant dream. I know it will be one I talk about when I am old and grey, without any need of exaggeration or fluff.  I have aggressively procrastinated posting anything from it, because I just can’t seem to find the appropriate words – but now that two months have passed, I realize I must start somewhere. So why not the beginning?  We decided to drive the length of Italy, mainly because we waited too long to buy train or plane tickets, and it ended up being the most economic decision. Which is saying a lot, considering gas is twice as much in Italy as in the United States. Our first stop, on our way to Perugia, was at this darling agritorismo. These less expensive accomodations are known for their home-like atmosphere, and living completely off the land. The guests of these tiny five rooms, were fed everyone each night in their ‘resturant’, straight from the farm. The meat, veggies, and wines were created directly on the land we stood. Here is a view from our balcony, onto the property:
IMG_9288You can see, to the left, the chicken coops and horse corrals. To the right is the little pool we bathed in before dinner, and off in the distance the wineries which produced the wine accompanying our dinner.
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IMG_9283A few peaceful minutes poolside before dinner.

IMG_9286Behind the building is the flower and vegetable garden.  It’s a quiet little sanctuarity, exploading with colors, flavors, and tranquility.
IMG_9273IMG_9276 IMG_9275 IMG_9280 IMG_9278 Looking through these pictures, I can still feel the calm that instantly blanketed me when I arrived.. Dreaming until next time.
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Italy, Year 2 Update

This morning, drinking my coffee snuggled up on my couch ticking off my to-do list, rather than slowly sipping seaside; I welcomed the idea that summer has officially ended. I did my best to soak up enough sunshine to last me through another Northern Italian winter, and I think I succeeded! This professional year brings great challenges, and I feel ready and able. There is something very sweet about the third year of teaching. Terror finally recedes, and you start to become the teacher you always wanted to be. This year, my title is a bit different, as I will be wearing 3 different hats during the week. Half of my time will be spent in the 3rd grade bilingual class, and the other half in the middle school teaching English as a second language. In addition to these responsibilities, I will also be the coordinator for the English department; as a representative, a written translator, and a mediator. Part of this position requires me to regularly attend meetings in French and Italian; the absurdity of this is laughable. I am walking out of my first week feeling positive, but now truly understanding the lack of a personal life I will have for the next 10 months.

Rewind one weekend, Luca and I were attending the wedding of my dear friend Katie, and then fiance Riccardo. Katie and I were ‘set-up’ as expats, and our friendship bloomed. Hours of walks and talks in our home away from home, Katie has been a rock (life ain’t always easy as a foreigner)! Celebrating this day with her and Ricky was a magical experience. As our first and maybe only Australian/Italian wedding, we didn’t know what to expect. High up in the Alpine mountains, Katie and Ricky took their vows lakeside, and then spent the rest of the day eating, dancing, playing music, and making speeches – in no particular order. In fact, I’m pretty sure we danced between every course- but who knows with the endless supply of Italian wine? Intermittently, friends and family stood up to toast the newlyweds, and nearly every speech brought tears to my eyes. Bringing two families together from across the globe is a pretty emotional thing, and attests to their love and dedication to each other. For Luca and I, it was a gorgeous way to end our dream of a summer, and to be reminded of what life is all about.

Here are some phone-camera shots, also, in no particular order.

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Leaving you with a picture of Luca’s favorite new pose; eyes shut.

Al Mare

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Sunday morning we decided to head to the beach. From Torino, we traveled 1.5 hours by car to Liguria, home of Cinque Terra, and another hour north, Monte Carlo. It’s not a bad spot. Arriving early, there were more than a few clouds in the sky, so first we explored the little beachy town of Finale Borgo. With its salt-worn buildings, tiny shops, and winding walkways, we easily moved through early morning to noon.

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Back in the car, we headed another 5 minutes to the beach- and we weren’t the only ones. Cars slowly crept along, avoiding unstable bikers and families with endless children. Not a problem for me, as I gazed at the tan, brown, orange and pink pallet of the landscape. Securing a parking spot – no small feat- we shuffled down the sandy sidewalk to the beach. The water was a calm, sparkling, brilliant turquoise. Just above, hovered a dark gray cloud – threatening us for hours. But the rain never fell, and we spent the afternoon in bliss. There is nothing more soothing then the lull of the waves, far off laughter of children, and the sun warming our skin.

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I finished a current read, FOE by Nobel Prize winning J. M. Coetzee. It retells the story of Robinson Crusoe- had a woman also been shipwrecked. Of course they become lovers, but not in a typical sense. Also present is Crusoe’s tongueless slave, Friday. Eventually, they are rescued- but only she and Friday survive the trip back to England. The protagonist,  Susan is determined to have her story told by the original author, Daniel DeFoe. The novel weaves between his story and hers, and teases on the theme of women having their histories rewritten by men. There are also plenty of South African political undercurrents, exploring the voicelessness of African people; but admittedly I was not able to grasp all of the subtleties. The early chapters on the island are  so relatable your heart aches of loneliness. You reflect on the times you’ve been metaphorically ‘cast-away’ or, instead consider that you were in fact, cast-away in a previous life.
“I spent my days walking on the cliffs or along the shore, or else sleeping. I made a cap with flaps to tie over my ears; I wore this, and sometimes closed my ears with plugs too, to shut out the sound of the wind. So I became deaf, as Friday was mute; what difference did it make on an island where no one spoke? The petticoat I had swum ashore in was in tatters. My skin was as brown as an Indian’s. I was in the flower of my life, and now this had befallen me. I did not weep; but sometimes I would find myself sitting on the bear earth with my hands over my eyes, rocking back and forth and moaning to myself, and would not know how I had got there.”
The ending was more than a bit mysterious, and I found myself sifting through the final pages to retrieve some closure. Finding none, I set the book down with an emptiness in my stomach. Good thing the day ended with a greasy pizza and a beer!

Procida

When planning for the trip to Napoli, there were several decisions to make. There are many small islands, ruin sites, and museums. The tiny island of Procida kept coming up in conversation, with conflicting opinions. I decided it was definitely a place I needed to check out for myself.

IMG_9129IMG_9122 IMG_9119Procida is unkept; paint peeling, laundry displayed, and un-manicured. Capri’s less beautiful, but far more interesting friend. Soulful and mysterious. Fisherman slowly untangled their nets, children tossed a soccer ball around, couples stretched out on benches.  It felt inhabited, and friendly- unlike beautiful but pretentious Capri. After a brief exploration of the small town on the shore, we spent the day walking up and down the hilly terrain.

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IMG_9128 IMG_9125 IMG_9121 IMG_9117 The island was so small, we didn’t really need a plan. At the top of a hill we got phenomenal views of the pastel painted houses, and the wide stretching ocean.

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IMG_9164 IMG_9162 IMG_9157IMG_9160Here, we met some locals, sipping mojitos and listening to music. 
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I felt a bit like a voyeur, gazing in each open doorway and window. Homes were cluttered with flower pots, childrens’ laughter, and other signs of life. However, it seemed as if the island was in a haze. A place where you could forget about the outside world, and spend each day peacefully passing time. It’s impossible not to daydream about what life would be like here. The island was incredible quiet, and we found ourselves silently navigating our way around. Eventually we made our way down to the black lava sand beach.

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We got a little lost- but what’s lost when you’ve got no where to go? We found a hilltop winery, an abandon church, and some homes we’d have no problem retiring in.

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IMG_9236 IMG_9234 IMG_9232 IMG_9230Procida is probably the most tranquil place I’ve visited in Italy (or anywhere?), I get a sense of calm just looking back on the pictures. My conclusion? If you’ve got the change – go!

Capri

Our day trip to Capri started with a short ferry ride across the Tyrrhenian Sea. The chilly and cloud-filled day gave Vesuvius an awesome backdrop. IMG_8805

IMG_8812 We arrived Marina Grande.

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Here we were met by men selling trips around the island. Instead, we grabbed coffees and took in the view before we headed up to the town of Capri.

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In order to get to Capri, we needed to take the funiculare. This funny little train/bus took us vertically up the hill, providing panoramic views of the island and beyond.

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In Capri proper, there are little shops and tiny pathways and blooming flowers. We left the center immediately and wandered the neighborhoods, discovering little treasures all around. My favorite place was a tiny elementary school tucked privately into the hill. It’s sign stating the hours read, “School starts at 8-9; flexible.” It was clear that Capri was on ‘island-time’.

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The day warmed-up quickly, so we stopped for fresh juice and dripping ice creams. We then wandered past some incredible hotels, and up the hill to the Gardens of Augustus.IMG_8892 IMG_8889

IMG_8914 IMG_8915We reached the top of the hill, and spent some quiet moments peering down at the ocean bellow. It’s honestly almost too beautiful, too perfect. We took some shots, and headed down to the beach. IMG_8909

The path slowly lead us down to the beach, lazily winding back and forth.

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IMG_8920 IMG_8917 IMG_8922 IMG_8918capri viewWhen we eventually made it down to the beach, we lunched at Ristorante di Gioia.

IMG_8952Bellies full,  we rested on the beach.

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IMG_8941 IMG_8940 IMG_8937We lounged in that strange place between consciousness and sleep, as the waves gently tuned out the world. Some unmeasurable time later, we packed up and headed back. Though there was convertible taxis, we opted for the bus.

IMG_8953The weather was perfect, and the island wasn’t a bit over crowded. I feel safe to say we saw Capri in one of it’s best moments. One of it’s popular spots was nearly deserted (below). Until next time~ ciao ciao Capri!

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Pompei

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Entrance to Pompei

Pompei is a MUST when traveling Italy. After my trip earlier this month, I can’t wait for an excuse to return. We all know that Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, killing nearly 20,000 people and burying an entire city in ash. Textbooks never do justice, and the events that took place here are no exception. Pompei is absolutely breathtaking. Not by way of beauty, although it is beautiful, but in its ability to bring history to the very forefront of our imagination.  It’s not hard to envision poets, gladiators, philosophers, noblemen and commoners walking the stone streets 2,000 years ago, when every pot and plate lie exactly where they were strewn. Audio-guides bring the experience to life, as you listen to poets whisper in your ear, while you sit in the very theater they spoke. It’s a Disneyland for history nerds, if you will (myself included).

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City walls

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City walls

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A glimpse of the city

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Roman bath houses

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Baths

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Baths

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Claire and Marina

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Temple of Isis

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Entrance to the theater

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Theater

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Theater

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Memorable moment

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Vesuvius looming

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Prostitutes bed

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A private home

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Inner courtyard and frescos

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Market for seeds and grains

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Typical Pompei road

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Restored Vineyards

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Vesuvius

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Vineyards

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Pots amongst rubble

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Gladiators’ Amphitheater

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Stadium seating

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Where lions roam..

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Gladiator entrance

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Main Piazza

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Ruins

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Beautiful stonework

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Old civilization meets new