I’m sorry, sorry, sorry! I am alive, I swear to you this. Okay, it’s been a long time. I have been busy. But, do you know why? My Momma and Auntie came to visit me! Okay, but woh, let’s back things up. After Naples and Rome on my last blog, I returned to Florence and took a new class at the school: two kids from Korea learning both English and Italian. They were such a treat and such a good learning experience for me before I head off to Japan. I got to see the little boy I babysat take his first steps and got to be around as he started to talk, such a proud momma moment. That’s one of the best things about working with babies. You get to be a part of all of their firsts and you feel such pride when they accomplish things, as if they were your own. We had a traditional Christmas dinner before everyone left to go home, and so the goodbyes started.
I thought I was going to be alone for the holiday, but it just so happens that I wasn’t. By chance, I was introduced to Brad, originally from America, who reached out and invited me to a Christmas dinner for everyone who basically had nowhere else to go/was not going back home for the holidays. I had been so sick before Christmas that I could barely eat anything for Christmas dinner anyways, but it was so nice to get out of the house and meet some people. Once you know a few people, you start meeting their friends, and then their friends’ friends, and soon you have a circle of people who all know you and somehow all know each other. It is a wonderful thing to feel a part of a group. I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays in Florence, even though I didn’t get to go to Germany (the original plan). I basically owe it all to Brad, so thanks Brad!
New Years was a blast and a ridiculous experience. I rang in the new year with 3 new friends in Piazza Della Signoria with about 500 other crazy people setting off bomb-like explosions while a proper orchestra played in the background. Apparently this is totally normal and it eventually became funny, but we decided to head inside when everyone in the piazza started throwing their empty glass bottles into the crowds to smash them. Only 165 people went to hospital….
Over the holidays, I also found three different skating rinks in the city. And you better believe I went to all three of them! I felt so in my element. Sometimes you just need a little piece of home every once in a while to make you feel okay again about being away from it all. My companions were all learning to skate, so this was pretty fun. California, Missouri, and England… Might I add that watching Jack skate was like watching Bambi take his first steps. Painfully beautiful.
I also participated in my last FirenzeCorre and it was a blast. Everyone was wearing Santa hats and I made my own personal goal of finishing with the top runners and being the first woman across the finish line. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you just put your mind to it, and knowing this was my last run made me work that much harder. I did it! And I’m not ashamed to say that I was super proud of myself. First woman to cross the finish line after 9km and finished with the pace makers at the very front of the group. I will sure miss this.
Finally it was time to move out of my place, move into a new place, and head to the airport to pick up my family! I’m so lucky to have a family that supports me in whatever I choose to do and wherever I choose to do it, but not only do they support me, they also fly halfway around the world to come visit me. I’m such a lucky girl. It’s always fun to watch people go through a bit of culture shock, but it’s hard to resist shoving this new culture I have come to know and love, down their throats immediately as they step off the plane.
We spent 8 nights in Florence and I was able to take them to different markets, take a field trip to my school to meet all of my babies, take a ride on the glittering carousel in Piazza Della Republica, and even trek through the pouring rain up to Piazzale Michaelangelo. One of the main cultural struggles they faced was in the kitchen. Why doesn’t everyone own a toaster, a microwave, a dryer for goodness sake? We went for coffee every day and got on a bit of a schedule with our coffee breaks: frequent and indulgent. They also learned how to make coffee on the stove top, how to make toast without a toaster, how to live without a microwave, how to work a laundromat, and how to layer clothing because the heating systems suck. It was fun for me to be able to live the “tourist lifestyle” for a bit, while still getting to show off my language and ‘Italy’ skills on the daily.
We climbed the tower in Piazza Della Signoria, took in the Cascine outdoor market and purchased matching sweaters, went to the parade for Epiphany, and finally went to apperativo at Kitsch with my work friends to say my final goodbyes (tears were shed by many, but mostly by Mom). I even tried to take them to have the most epic gelato of their lives (read my page about suggestions for Italy to find out what it’s called) but it was closed that day. We managed to find some gelato just fine (I mean it is still Italy), however they never did get to taste La Dolce Vita. We indulged in GustaPizza and cheap wine. Mom accidently played knock knock ginger on the neighbours and we proceeded to run out of the building and drink our wine in the street. On one random night, mom also decided to inform us she was writing a ‘memoir’ (her name for notes about our journey) we decided we needed fake names, and so I introduce you to Zelda (Auntie Corinne), Estelle (myself) and Magenta/Rosa (Mom goes by either). These stuck for the remainder of the trip.
With our time in Italy we also managed to go and visit Cinque Terre and Rome. Cinque Terre is, as many of you know, is my favourite place in the world. Unfortunately it was a cold and rainy day and the water level was so high we didn’t get to go down on the rocks or visit the hidden beaches. Weather aside, it is still a beautiful place and I’m glad we got to go back. If you read my blog last time I traveled, you know that on our way home from Cinque Terre we had to train hop to avoid the ticket control as we didn’t have tickets… Well this time we made absolute SURE we had return tickets ahead of time… Unfortunately, Jody forgot to validate them. After about 20 minutes of panic (between me and mom), a nice man told me I could go find the train staff and have them initial my ticket instead as validation. Thank you sweet man, and let this be a lesson to everyone. Validate your damn tickets if that’s the only thing you learn in Italy! Rome was very quick. We hit all the major attractions and then spent some time relaxing in our comfy, warm bedroom packing for our flight to Croatia.
Alas, we all got to check another country off on our world map: Croatia. The land of new tourism, no? We got there and it’s truly possible we were the only three non Croatian people in Dubrovnik. Pouring rain, we walked 300-and-some steps with our luggage to our flat. Our flat… Let me paint a picture for you of the next 5 days. Cold, windy, and rainy, no heat in our house, three women huddled around the hot plate in the kitchen. Oh, and did I mention that the toilet was IN the shower? Like literally IN the shower. As it was the off season, we were more or less the only people in the city, but we still managed to keep ourselves occupied. Walking the city walls was beautiful and we lucked out with a clear and sunny day. Although the cable car was closed, we managed to find really cheap alcohol, so that occupied some time. We learned quickly that we didn’t have a bottle opener and managed to open a few caps and a cork with a spoon and a knife. Who says we wouldn’t survive in the wilderness. After several days of boiling coffee on the stove and then straining it with toilet paper (not joking), we stumbled upon a coffee shop… And it had heat!! We considered sleeping there. We spent our five days mostly drinking coffee, playing cards, drinking cider in every flavour we could find (even one that tasted like perfume), and just enjoying being together. On the last day (of course it was sunny and warm) we headed towards Kotor, Montenegro to hit another country
When we arrived, literally the first thing we found was a coffee shop! How marvellous. When we finally made it to our flat, we fell in love. Heat, a shower and separate toilet, real beds, and a full kitchen! We called the owner immediately to tell him we would be staying an extra night. We spent 3 nights in beautiful weather along the harbour, climbing to the top of the fortress, and eating multiple times a day at our favourite cafe, Mamma Mia’s. We tried all different types of food and I even tried liquor made from lemon leaves, which was absolutely terrible, but I did it. We even acquired a dog. I know what you’re thinking, “Jody, you hate dogs”. This is still true, but Boo was something else to me. We found this homeless dog, or rather he found us, who followed us around for the rest of our time in the city, waiting for us outside of any shops or restaurants, and chasing away all of the pigeons, cats, and drunk people in the streets. Safe to say he is my favourite dog. I named him Boo and he broke my heart as he walked with us to the bus station only to sit in front of the bus until we drove away.
Unfortunately family couldn’t stay forever and it was time to return to Dubrovnik so Rosa And Zelda could catch their flight back to Canada. Time we spend travelling and seeing the world together is some of my favourite memories with my family. It wasn’t travelling with my family at all, it was travelling with friends. We gossiped, we joked, we drank and ate together, and we shared new experiences. I will forever be thankful they were able to come and help break up my time away from home.
And so, I continue on my own now. And since they left its already been over a week. Again I apologize this is so late, but as you can see, I’ve been on the move. Since then I’ve country hopped 5 times…. But that’s to come in my next blog.
I’ve also put up the final updates on my Bucket List page for Italy, so check it out. I’ll be posting another blog soon just to keep things actually up to date before I head to Japan and things get stressful and crazy again.
As a side note: Remember when you’re travelling that there are down days. You can’t have a life changing day everyday. On those days where you feel like you can’t get up and go on, that’s when you meet the people who are going to have the biggest influence on your life. This is how it’s been for me lately anyways. And those people, they know who they are. Even if you can’t find a way to tell them, and even if you never ever see them again, they know how they helped you in that moment.
Much love as always,
Your Armstrong Abroad