Europe

Culture of the Algarve

An urge to satisfy the travel cravings and a need for sunshine led Charlotte, my #1 travel bud, and me to spontaneously book a flight to the beaches of the Algarve region in Portugal despite our lack of knowledge on the destination. Our ignorance led us to believe that Faro, Portugal was a random Ryanair drop-off location, but with a few quick Google searches, the Algarve revealed itself to be one of the most overwhelmingly popular tourist destinations known to the EU.

There are two sides to the Algarve. To the right of Faro, one can find the tourist hotspots like Lagos and Albufeira where crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and natural caves are bustling with vacationers. To the left of Faro are the waters less traveled with beautiful beaches, nature reserves, authentic food, and most importantly–culture!

Our adventure began in Albufeira where a 5 pound shuttle conveniently took us direct from the airport to our hotel. We loved the blue view of the Atlantic from our 3-day tanning post on the sandy shores. However, we couldn’t help but feel like we were trapped inside a snow globe spotlighting a perfect holiday town sprinkling tourists from the sky.

It is when we traveled to Olhão, Portugal that the real adventure began and the beauty of the Algarve was discovered. An easy and cheap 40 minute train ride took us to the largest fisherman’s town of the Algarve– Olhão. Just our stay at Pension Bicuar Residential was enough to make everything about Olhão a home away from home. Owned and operated by a lovely Malaysian couple with an inspiring globetrotter couple from New Zealand temporarily working at the B&B for 3 months now, they made us feel very welcomed giving us a tour of the place and filling us in on the life of Olhão.

On the first night in Olhão, I awoke at the early hour of 4am unable to fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste my time with tossing and turning in bed, I went up to the rooftop of the B&B to watch the sunrise over the Moorish-style homes in this coastal town. I wasn’t the only one awake though. Just a short walk from our B&B, fishermen were hard at work at the port bringing in their fresh catches of the early morning to fill an entire market featuring a variety of fish big and small.

As explained by the lovely New Zealand couple, you can’t go to the fish market with a list because what you see is what they caught that morning! They also explained that the bell heard at 10 am that same morning was to alert the town that a huge fish (like shark status) was caught! I didn’t find the big guy, but here are a few shots from the market…

After exploring the fresh fish and fruit markets, both of which close at 1pm, we hopped on a ferry to the local islands. With 3 islands to choose from–Ilha da Armona which is reachable by one ferry and Ilha da Cultara and Farol reachable by another and connected by their sandy beaches–we ventured to Ilha da Farol. The ferry took us along the Ria Formosa nature reserve to the island well-known for it’s operating lighthouse (aka farol in Portuguese) along the white sands and crystal clear waters. As we made our way from the ferry dock to the beach, we passed through the simple and well-decorated homes of the island taking in the lifestyle of the locals and imagining their day-to-day commute into the city of Olhão for work, shopping, and what not.

We enjoyed a lovely day on the beach tanning our paled UK bodies under the burning sun of Portugal. And best of all, we enjoyed being surrounded by locals and embracing the culture of the Algarve.

 

Our Portugal Trip in a nutshell:

Overall– An affordable trip with an average total of £300 spent for a 5 night stay.

Airfare– Approx. £110 with the budget airline, Ryanair

Accommodation–

  • Albufeira: Hotel da Galé– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Simple 2 star hotel, basic accommodation. Perks: Rooftop pool, sick view, close to beaches. Negatives: Friendly staff but not very helpful or informing, bathroom is not the cleanest, bar never opened, WiFi but in lobby only.
    • My rating: 2.5/5 stars
  • Olhão: Pension Bicuar– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Well-decorated and comfortable B&B. Perks: Rooftop tables and chairs with a great view of the town, next to the ferry and markets, amazingly friendly staff. Negatives: None! WiFi could have been better but who needs that anyways when on vacation!
    • My rating: 5/5 stars

Food–

  • Albufeira: Approx. 8-15 per meal. Drinks approx. 4 for beer, 12 for a jug of Sangria
    • Food was pretty touristy and not very authentic. Lots of fish and chips haha
  • Olhão: Appox. 4-12 per meal depending. Can get seafood for a very good price.
    • Amazing seafood everywhere!!! 8 seafood lunch buffets.
    • Best tapas place which is a must try and loved by locals–7 Imeio Wine Bar

Ferry from Olhão to the islands: Approx. 4 roundtrip!!

Shuttle to and from airport: 10 total

 

My biggest travel tip for you—Explore the waters and roads less traveled and stick to the left side of Faro, Portugal if you want to experience the true Algarve!

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A French Book Sale and a Free Panorama of Paris

Ever wondered what it would be like to read a book at the tallest point of Paris? Each year, Tour Montparnesse holds the 2-day Paris se Livres book sale on its 56th floor. Normally a €13 ticket to access this floor and the roof terrace for the magnificent 360* panorama of Paris, Paris se Livre is a FREE event that gives you automatic access to this beautiful sight. Every readers dream!

Paris se Livre event on the 56th floor of Tour Montparnesse, June 22-23, 2012

In addition to the variety of French books on sale, a select group of authors are also present for book signings and a friendly chat about their work. Present at the 2012 event held on June 22-23 were authors such as Gilles Thomas and Xavier Ramette, writers of Inscriptions des catacombs de Paris, and Matthieu Jung with his work, Vous êtes nés à la bonne époque.

Authors Gilles Thomas, Xavier Ramette, Matthieu Jung, and others gather for a book signing at Paris se Livre.

Towering Paris at 210 meters high, Tour Montparnesse is the tallest skyscraper in the city, and it’s also the only one. The 56-level dark building sticks out like a sore thumb next to the city’s authentic  white architecture averaging 7-stories high. If searching for the best panoramic view of Paris, climb Tour Montparnesse. You’ll have the opportunity to see every significant structure of Paris without the blocked view typically caused by Tour Montparnesse!

Tour Montparnesse

And during your visit, take some time to chill out on the roof terrace with a new read from Paris se Livre and an astonishing view of the city!

The roof terrace of Tour Montparnesse

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A Promenade to the Parisian Fountain of Sparkles

Just when I think Paris is done surprising me, another marvel is discovered! I thought a sparkling water fountain was something only dreamed about, but this dream is true! In September 2010, Paris installed its very own sparkling water fountain. This wooden hut found in Jardin de Reuilly offers both natural and bubbly water! The fountain is run by 6 taps, some mixed with carbon dioxide to provide the fizz. A local treasure not known too well of by locals themselves, many simply walk by the fountain never discovering the fantastic secret that flows within the pipes!

Cute Parisian man making his weekly visit to the Sparkling Water Fountain of Jardin de Reuilly.

During my visit to the fountain, a sweet Parisian man filled up his 10+ empty Pellegrino bottles (very suiting) one by one, a weekly chore of his since the fountain’s birth. He proudly stated that it was the one and only fountain of its kind in the city, a truly unique gem of Paris.

Paris does recycling right! Refilling empty sparkling water bottles with a fresh fizz in the Jardin de Reuilly.

After filling up my own 1.5 liter, friends and I contently walked along the Promenade Plantée hiccuping sparkles along the way. Promenade Plantée is an old railroad track that was renovated into a walkway filled with unique flowers, sculptures, sights, and parks along its path in the 1990s.

The start of Promenade Plantée near the Bastille.

Beginning at Bastille and ending at the Bois de Vincennes on the east side of Paris, Promenade Plantée is another rare gem that is often left undiscovered. Walking along the promenade, one is eye level with the 7-story architecture of Paris and can at any time look down at the rush of city life along the streets below.

A flawless blend of nature and city life along the Promenade Plantée.

Along with the sparkling fountain found in Jardin de Reuilly, the highlights of the promenade include the Viaduc des Arts, a copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ statues located along the roof of the 12th arrondissement’s Police station, and train tunnels turned into decorated caves.

Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ located at the top of the 12th Arrondissement’s Police Station.

The beauty of nature mixed in with architecture old and new along the Promenade Plantée is awe inspiring, and it is a sight that should not be overlooked. So during your stay in Paris, take a break from the busy tourist lifestyle and slow it down with a walk over the city and a fizzy water break in Jardin de Reuilly.

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Bread Festivals and A Night at the Museums

I now understand where the saying “April showers bring May flowers” comes from…Paris! Despite the flooded and lackluster April month, May has brought sunnier days and beaucoup festivities.

It’s no secret that Paris is full of sweet surprises. It’s also no secret that my stomach acts as my brain. So it’s safe to assume that most of my discoveries are made with the use of my super sensor. On this particular day, my nose led me to La Fête du Pain.

In celebration of Sainte-Honoré, the saint of bakers, 7-day Bread Festivals are held France-wide to honor the country’s staple food. This year, from May 14-20th, such a festival was held in front of the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris.

La Fête du Pain at the Notre Dame

With the crisp sent of fresh bread invading large white tents, baking professionals came out to show off their skills and share their delicious creations. On one side of the tent, cute French kiddies sported paper hats as they rolled out the dough for their own sweet treats. On the opposite end was a rose making station. Grab a dough circle, dab on some water, and start petaling away to create an enchanted dough rose. And in the center of all the action is where the art form could be seen rising to life in bread ovens.

French kiddies baking bread

Dough Roses

Baking professionals hard at work

Freshly baked bread from the oven

From inside the bread factory to the outside stalls selling the finished products, this festival was a party for the eyes, the nose, and the taste buds!

Up Next: Trade in bar hopping with a dose of museum hopping for one spectacular Night at the Museums — Paris edition…

Continuing the cultural celebrations around France and all of Europe was the 8th annual Nuit Européen des Musées. Hundreds of museums offered free entry and alluring events from dusk-1am on Saturday, May 19, 2012. And Paris did not disappoint with its night at some of the most prestigious museums known throughout the world.

Edgy art closet at 59 Rivoli

With over 200 choices and less than 7 hours to museum hop, pre-planning was essential. The options were endless with events that suited all interests! A treasure hunt through Musée des Arts et Métiers, glow paint and games at Musée National du Sport, an American folk music concert at Musée de la Musique, planetarium shows at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. There really was something for everyone. And free coffee tastings at Les Arts Décoratifs proved beneficial for sleepy museum hoppers with a busy night ahead!

Coffee break at Les Arts Décoratifs

These are two of the several events that happen only once a year. The beauty of living in Paris versus merely visiting are the rare opportunities to embrace local culture. The art of baking and exquisite masterpieces goes beyond what is seen in patisseries and the Louvre.

To see firsthand the work that goes into baking one fresh baguette from the early hours of the morning allows one to understand why it is said the only good bread is ‘Traditional French Bread’. To experience a night where museums come alive under the vibrant city of lights embellishes the ideals of Paris. Most importantly, such spectacles open the door to the dynamic world of French art and culture.

“I dream my painting, and I paint my dream”– Vincent van Gogh
For future travelers making a visit to Paris in the month of May, here are some helpful resources for these unique events:
Urban Pulse app– This app is  available for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones. It allows you to find events and deals all around Paris and other cities around the world. During Nuit des Européen Musées, this app allows you to find when and where all events are happening, the wait time for each, and more.
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A Wine Tasting How To

Wine–An attractive reason to venture to Paris. In my quest to spend as little as possible while in the expensive city but still enjoy the finer things in life, I discovered Caves Augé. An independent wine store in Paris since 1850, Caves Augé offers FREE wine tastings once a month throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Inside, the walls of the quaint shop are covered top to bottom with a selection of French wines. The overstocked shelves in the center of the store make it possible for only one person at a time to shimmy his or her way through the aisles of the authentic establishment.

Outside, tourist and French wine connoisseurs alike enjoy an afternoon of tasting and socializing along the sidewalk of the independent wine shop. Today, winemakers from Rhone Valley share their creations at the dégustation de vin.

The overall atmosphere is relaxed and cultured.

Locals and tourists enjoy a free wine tasting at Caves Augé.

Wine selections rest atop an aged barrel for the aesthetic appeal.

Through observation, it is clear there is a very specific approach to tasting the wine.

Option 1:

  • With a paper listing the 20+ different wines and a glass in hand, first approach a winemaker serving the featured wines resting atop an old fashioned barrel.
  • After listening to (or pretending to understand) the description of the wine in French, swirl the ounce of wine, elegantly sniff, and proceed to sip…But DO NOT swallow.
  • Give your taste buds a workout and swish the wine around in your mouth for a few seconds to savor the fine and delicate tastes it has to offer.
  •  Once you have done so, find a wooden bucket adjacent to the barrels and spit. I know what you’re thinking..how attractive. But this is the classy way of doing things.
  • Once done with your tasting, find the select wine on your paper and jot down a few comments about your experience. Example thoughts are as follows:

Attempting to sound fancy: ‘Yes, the Saint Joseph Blanc 2010 was divine, but I much prefer the Rouge. It’s much more vivid and perfectly off-dry.’

Keeping it simple: ‘This is a fine dining kind of wine; this is a romantic drink by the fireplace kind of wine; this is a good time kind of wine. ‘

Just going with it: ‘This is my 10th tasting, I can’t tell the difference anymore.’

  • After this last step, repeat the process all over again. Return to the previous barrel, ask for the second wine, and so on. Once done with the first barrel, move on to the next, mingle with the winemaker, and compare the new and undiscovered tastes.

Option 2:

This is one approach to wine tasting. The other is not quite as involved. Simply grab a glass, choose a wine, chin chin, drink drink, and voila. 1 ounce per tasting, 5-6 ounces in a normal glass of wine, 20+ options to choose from. You do the math.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

Whichever way you choose to experience the dégustation, just have a good time. Free wine tasting, good company, Paris…doesn’t get much better than that.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

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Garage Sales in Paris

Staring at any black and white photo of Paris, one can’t help but wonder what the city’s streets resembled in the 1920s. Though modernized to keep up with an ever-changing world, Paris continues to maintain the same mystery, romance, and distinction that has lured people from across the world for centuries.

Street Market in Paris, 1920’s

It is in all its splendor that Paris can make even the most prosaic person fall into an idyllic state of mind. So how does the city have such an affect? By sucking people into the days of antiquity with unique events such as Antiquité Brocantes (antique garage sales/flea markets) that occur randomly throughout Paris.

Rustic book collection at the Antiquité Brocante off the Bonne Nouvelle metro.

A garage sale in Paris is no ordinary garage sale. Old school cameras and records. Rustic books and stamps. Antique china and glass. Shabby chic furniture and decor. Vintage clothing and accessories. All the collectibles one can imagine can be found at these decorated markets along some of the most hidden streets of Paris.

Shabby chic furniture and vintage clothing.

However, they are tricky to find. Unless you’re living in the city and constantly walking by advertisements for upcoming brocantes, sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Large yellow banners are typically displayed around the nearby brocante leading you to the Parisian time portal.

Anticstore.com is a helpful site for anyone searching for treasures waiting to be discovered at these one-of -a-kind street markets in Paris or anywhere in France.

Or you can just pick a spot on the map and wander until you find your yellow brick road. Often that is how the rarest of gems are found.

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Revenir à Paris

As I stepped off the train upon arrival to Paris, I felt rather uneasy about my decision to return to the city that lent me a rather ‘interesting’ study abroad experience 2 summers before. However, I maintained the positive mindset that living with a French family would give me a well-rounded cultural experience more so than the 6-week ‘I’m an American tourist in Paris’ experience I’d had before. However, within the first 20 minutes of a ‘feels good to be back attitude’, I was greeted with a big F*** YOU in the form of a €25 fine for accidentally purchasing the wrong RER ticket to Versailles (F.Y.I.— La Defense is technically NOT in Paris).

As I argued with the Parisienne patrol guard who continuously threatened to call the police if I did not pay, I glared at her with pure anger wishing to return to America and blaming her and all Parisians’ for my renewed detest for the city of ‘love’.

So Paris and I did not get off on the right foot…again. But after a night of rest, a run through the park of Château de Versailles, and a less touristy stroll through Paris, the sun was shining for this Florida girl once again.

Now settled into my new home away from home with the most loving French family, I am confident this Au Pair experience will bring out the best of the French culture. After spending so much time with different families in the different regions of Italy, I’ve decided the French and Italian cultures are similar in many ways…

-Food-Everyone wants to feed you and they won’t let you stop eating until all of the food is gone!
—On that note, no one eats until 9pm which means a hungry tummy all the time. AKA food overload!
—-On another food note…I am always surrounded by bread and nutella. All I gotta say is I’m glad it’s winter time and there’s no need to go to the beach anytime soon.

-Everyone is so hospitable! If you are too hot or too cold in your room, they will go out and buy you a portable air conditioner or give you a surplus of blankets.

– ItaliEnglish/FranGlish- Learning a language is HARD! But everyone is so patient and will continuously repeat or explain words for you so you can better understand. My French fam and I have English night one night and French night the next. They usually all turn into FranGlish night tho.

– Family- Everyone really values family in both cultures. Taking the time to eat together, taking family vacations, or just a short visit from grandma and grandpa. Its all significant because it’s family time.

Overall, it has been great to be back! And in 5 months time, I hope to fully embrace the French culture and language in a way most people do not.

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.”

Categories: All Blog Postings, Paris | Leave a comment

Revenir à Paris

As I stepped off the train upon arrival to Paris, I felt rather uneasy about my decision to return to the city that lent me a rather ‘interesting’ study abroad experience 2 summers before. However, I maintained the positive mindset that living with a French family would give me a well-rounded cultural experience more so than the 6-week ‘I’m an American tourist in Paris’ experience I’d had before. However, within the first 20 minutes of a ‘feels good to back attitude’, I was greeted with a big F*** YOU in the form of a €25 fine for accidentally purchasing the wrong RER ticket to Versailles (F.Y.I.— La Defense is technically NOT in Paris).

As I argued with the Parisienne patrol guard who continuously threatened to call the police if I did not pay, I glared at her with pure anger wishing to return to America and blaming her and all Parisians’ for my renewed detest for the city of ‘love’.

So Paris and I did not get off on the right foot…again. But after a night of rest, a run through the park of Château de Versailles, and a less touristy stroll through Paris, the sun was shining for this Florida girl once again.

Now settled into my new home away from home with the most loving French family, I am confident this Au Pair experience will bring out the best of the French culture. After spending so much time with different families in the different regions of Italy, I’ve decided the French and Italian cultures are similar in many ways…

-Food-Everyone wants to feed you and they won’t let you stop eating until all of the food is gone!
—On that note, no one eats until 9pm which means a hungry tummy all the time. AKA food overload!
—-On another food note…I am always surrounded by bread and nutella. All I gotta say is I’m glad it’s winter time and there’s no need to go to the beach anytime soon.

-Everyone is so hospitable! If you are too hot or too cold in your room, they will go out and buy you a portable air conditioner or give you a surplus of blankets.

– ItaliEnglish/FranGlish- Learning a language is HARD! But everyone is so patient and will continuously repeat or explain words for you so you can better understand. My French fam and I have English night one night and French night the next. They usually all turn into FranGlish night tho.

– Family- Everyone really values family in both cultures. Taking the time to eat together, taking family vacations, or just a short visit from grandma and grandpa. Its all significant because it’s family time.

Overall, it has been great to be back! And in 5 months time, I hope to fully embrace the French culture and language in a way most people do not.

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.”

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Living with Host Families

Hi friends! This is the first time in a month that I have been able to sit down, relax, and write without falling asleep first! So much has happened and I wish I could write about it all! After leaving Paestum I worked at a wonderful one week camp in Florence and the following week vacationed there with friends from home and UF…we basically brought the gator nation to Florence. So many crazy stories and adventures from that trip, but I think my facebook album does a pretty good job telling the story… http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1934421875905.2097090.1103040137 

Now for the past two weeks I have been in Boltiere, a small town in Bergamo about 40 minutes from Milan, and it has been the best two weeks of my life in Italy yet!!! Many tutors say you can have a good group of kids, a good camp director, good co-tutors, or a good host fam. Maybe you can have 2/4, but to have all 4 is rare. I can confidently say that I not only had all 4, but every single factor exceeded my expectations.

After living in a convent for a week and a hotel for three it was so nice to be welcomed into an Italian family both in Florence and in Boltiere. Though I have missed the freedom of living in the hotel, living with both host families has been an incredible yet different experience!

THE FOOD

Of course number 1 on my list! It wasn’t until living with a host family that I learned how particular the Italian culture is with food. For example, hot pastas are only eaten in the winter while cold pastas are eaten in the summer (for us Americans, we make cold pasta salad as an appetizer for dinner anytime of the year). All I have wanted to eat since being here is homemade tortellini or gnocchi, but both are winter dishes…grr. But o man is the food good! Homemade meatballs, fresh seafood salad, grilled calamari skewers at an Italian BBQ, it’s ALL good! I even made a homemade Nutella Torta with my Boltiere fam! First time baking in Italy…I was in HEAVEN! I want the recipes for everything, but of course they are a FAMILY SECRET!

However, as great as the food is, I am plumping up. It’s very difficult not having much control over what and when I eat. So used to healthy eating habits back home and that goes out the window when Italians just want to feed you carbs after carbs. If I eat light one day, I am accused of “eating like a bird” and they want to rush me to the hospital because I have a “fever”. But now that my knees are getting better, I have begun running again. Not a lot, but enough to afford the pasta, pizza, pasta, gelato diet for a few more weeks.

CAFE and ESPRESSO

How many Stabucks are in Italy??…ZERO! And that’s the way it should be. My Boltiere family feels very strongly that American coffee is not real coffee, a statement I now agree with. I have become addicted to cappuccino! But I got very funny looks from a waiter when I ordered one at 4pm one day. It was then that I discovered cappuccino is a morning coffee. After 10 or 11, it’s cafe or espresso, espresso, espresso (not for me though…wayyyyy to strong!) It is so normal for Italians to have 5, 6, 17 a day! My personal record is 2 at the moment. I am offered a cafe or espresso after every meal and I just can’t do it. Tried espresso after dinner one night and I didn’t sleep a wink. But for Italians, it’s like water to them…their body needs caffeine to fuel itself.

Cereal with coffee and milk seems to be a popular breakfast in most households as well. When I was given my coffee in a large bowl I thought it might be for my cereal. Trying to avoid this combination, I just started drinking my coffee from the bowl…I’ve been doing so for two weeks now.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

I’ve been pretty lucky with this so far. In Florence, the dad knew some English so I communicated a lot with him while I gestured a lot with the mom. In Boltiere, both mom and dad know English and they get better and better everyday so dinners are a very enjoyable experience because we can chat about anything. They are very funny too…always cracking jokes. Recently, they have been trying to set me up with Italian men…Mamma Mia.

THE KIDS

As an ACLE tutor, you are typically placed with a host family whose children are attending camp…very rare that this isn’t the case. You never know how old the kids are or what they will be like. In Florence, I lived with a 6 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. The girl was very sweet but quiet and the boy was all over the place. He talked my ear off in Italian as if I understood everything, but then I showed him my iPad and he fell in love with Angry Birds so we could finally relate to each other on some level. One image I will never be able to burn from my memory as much as I try is walking to the bathroom every morning to see him sleeping with his door wide open and his underwearless behind flashing me.

In Boltiere I have lived with two adorable boys, 2 and 6 years old. Aside from getting woken up wayyyy before my alarm clock thanks to the beautiful cries of the bambino (the fake sound of Church bells ringing from a CD PLAYER in the bell tower next door don’t help either), he is the cutest child ever! The only thing he can say in English is “ello”! When I am skyping he comes into my room, looks at himself and my friend, then waves while saying “ello, ello”. Carlo, the 6 year old, is so full of energy and loves playing! We have Wii battles every now and then and a never ending game of tag going…I think I’m “IT” now. He doesn’t really know any English but ever since going to camp he has started saying “Hello” to me every time I walk into the room and “Goodbye” whenever I leave. At least he understands the difference.

THE PARENTS, NONNA, NONNO, and FAM

Ever watched Everybody Loves Raymomd? Well the families I’ve lived with have the same kind of family lifestyle except everyone gets along. In Florence, Nonno (grandpa) came over on Sunday morning to say hi and drop off fresh fungi he picked from the woods while Nonna took a snooze on the couch.

In Boltiere, the sister and brother-in-law live right next door in same complex, one nonna lives a 5 min bike ride away, and the other lives a 10 min car ride away. Needless to say, everyone is really close. They eat dinner together on Saturday and Sunday plus make a family trip to the supermarket/mall on Sunday! We all even went to Leolandia, a Leonardo da Vinci inspired water park with a touch of classic carnival rides, last Sunday.

THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Living with a host family has proven to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Both my families have opened up their house to me, taken me to places unique to their city or region, taken care of my every need, and have truly made me a part of their family. I have had unique Italian experiences that I would never have had as a typical tourist. Simple outings such as going to a BBQ for a campers birthday party, going to the local festival with friends of my family, attending the breakdance recital of my co-tutors host sister, attending an Italian Water Zumba class with my host mom, and so much more are all experiences that have made me feel so much more connected to the Italian culture.

As hard as it is to get so close to a loving but temporary family, it is so nice to know that I will always have a place to call home…My Boltiere host mom has already decided I am going to marry an Italian man and move into the apartment across from hers with my mom and dad right next door!

“We are one big family of people, trying to make our way through the unfolding puzzle of life. We are all connected to one another in the heart. Connecting with the ultimate source of love is possible through discovering the hidden power in your heart.” — Sara Paddison

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Campers, Cars, and Carnavales

(FYI- This is a blog from July 9. I have had no Internet access so haven’t been able to post this until now! Enjoy!)

This blog really has no theme…it’s basically random Paestum/Agropoli story telling time. But before I begin, I have a life update for you! Many of you know that I worked as a Girl Scout Troop Leader in college, but what you may not know is that I applied to work at the organization’s international center in London. Well I am happy to announce that as of September 17 I will be working as an Event Assistant in London until the end of January!  I will be organizing special events for visiting Girl Scouts, chaperoning tours of London, and so much more. Best of all, the job provides me with room and board so I’ll be living in London for free! Can’t wait to share those experiences with you.

But let’s get back to the Italian adventures. First up, Campers—-After working with ACLE for the past four weeks, I have dealt with every type of child imaginable. The shy child that wants to hold your hand all day, the mature teenager that wants to have a convo about politics with you in fluent English, the too cool for camp songs teeny bopper and teen, the 6 year old that is oblivious to life and speaks to you in Italian everyday as if one day you will magically be capable of responding, and the evil brat…unfortunately we have dealt with many of this breed lately. The majority of kids at camp these past two weeks were some of the most destructive kids I’ve ever met. If they weren’t beating each other up and laughing about it, they were beating up the hotel by throwing chairs, drawing on the tables, or breaking trees. Pure madness.

But then you always have the good ones to make up for it like little Gabrielle. The little 6 year old didn’t know a lick of English but boy was he a cutie. He and his sister saved me a seat in between them at lunch everyday and all day long I’d hear him shout “Kristin!”. I’d look down to see Gabrielle standing there with his eyes closed and his lips puckered ready to give me a kiss on the cheek. By the end of the week, he learned the word kiss so I was happy.

Cars—-Italians are a different breed of drivers. At first I thought speed limits didn’t exist in Italy, but then I learned that they just choose not to follow the laws, and driving 100 in a 50 is nbd for Italians. And when it comes to passing other cars, apparently there’s enough room on the opposite side of the road to do so even if you can see your life flashing before your eyes in the headlights of oncoming traffic (don’t worry mom, I wasn’t in this particular vehicle…I just watched my friends have a near death experience from the comfort of a safe driver’s car).

The best story, however, involves my latest Camp Directors. On Wednesday evening, we went to dinner with a bunch of directors and tutors located in the same area. Both directors drove but us three tutors went in the not so crazy director’s car. Half way through our journey, she decides she needs to go to the train station to pick someone up so what does she do? She pulls off to the side of the road and has us get into crazy director’s car.

We were only in her car for about 20 minutes but more happened in that 20 minutes than the entire day. I asked if the seat belts in the backseat worked…nope. As James attempted to put his on in the front seat, she said it was broken but that he should hold it down just in case the Popo drove by. She kept saying she had no idea where she was going and continuously looked to us for confirmation as if we knew our way through the streets of Italy. She finally decided to ask for directions, but first she had to park the car which to her meant parking on the side of the road. As he looked out the window at car after car passing by, James asked “Is this a parking spot?” Response- “Of course!”…still not sure if it actually was or not. But the best part of the story happened after dinner. Back in not so crazy director’s car, we were backing out of the parking lot when we saw crazy director sitting in her car looking for her keys. We sat in the parking lot for five minutes watching her search for her keys that were still hanging in the car door. I’m still laughing!

Carnavales—-I’ve experienced some interesting night life in Paestum/Agropoli. Went to an exciting futbol match where we saw many players limping around after a slight fall to the ground…yes, the stereotype is true. We went mini bowling at the most happening arcade on the beach and Friday night we went to Agropoli where we socialized with locals in the most friendly and homey shop I’ve ever been to. The owner knows everyone in the small town and everyone purchases coffee, drinks, and snacks from his shop. It was very cute.

This was also the same night of the annual Carnavale. We didn’t get to attend the carnavale because we ended camp late that night, but the aftermath of the event was just as fun to attend. Some of the best people watching can be done after an Italian Carnavale. Still not quite sure what they were celebrating though. At first I thought it was a wannabe Disney parade with the fugly Minnie Mouse ears on people’s heads and children dressed in Princess costumes. But as we continued our walk down the confetti covered streets, I saw a pirate, a few superheros, a man that looked like a grasshopper, and other random costumes. There were kids with silly string, light up guns, and cotton candy too. All that was missing were rides…but then we found rows of rectangular trampolines enclosed in nets. Still a bit confused as to what the festival was all about, but I was nonetheless entertained.

So those are a few of the random stories I have for ya to give you a small dose of my time in Paestum and Agropoli. I had some very fun times there and I now have friendships and memories to last a lifetime. Now onto Florence! I’m sure there will be plenty more stories to come about the host family experience and all that good stuff.

Ciao Ciao For Now!

Categories: All Blog Postings, Italy, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

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