Category Archives: Florence

Give Me Florence and a Little Italian Drama

Ciao Firenze! I have arrived! 
  Although I promised myself I would blog more often to keep things shorter…. As usual things have been hectic and this will be a catch-up post. So buckle up here we go.

Let’s start with the positives of the trip over: I think I had the easiest flights in the history of my travels, the terribly creepy hat guy in Saskatoon was NOT on my flight, I had a row to myself on each plane, I made it to all of my flights with time to spare which never happens, and… my bags made it with me! Smooth sailing from Saskatoon to Vancouver, Vancouver to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Florence. Even the bus from the airport to the station, and taxi from the station to Annie’s was cheap and easy…. Too easy. Yeah sure I cried through security when they took away half my liquids, through boarding as the tiny lady from the bag check-in asked me if I said goodbye to my parents okay, most of the way to Vancouver, throughout the flight to Frankfurt as I opened the goodbye cards from the amazing Laura and Kelsey (who drove all the way to Saskatoon just to be with me and say goodbye. Precious friends I love you dearly!), and when Kelsey sent me the pictures she took of my goodbye with mom and Emory. But all in all, much easier than anticipated. I honestly thought to myself, wow, maybe I’m just so accustomed to Italy and this whole travel thing that I’ve got it all figured out now. WRONG. Big fat wrong…. But I’ll get to that soon. 

  
Sorry, I’ve already strayed from my first topic; Positives, right. Getting to Annie’s and seeing a familiar face after travelling over 21 hours, 8 time zones, and carrying a giant blue whale of a backpack on my poor old back was so comforting. (side note: on top of having all my shoulder problems prior to this trip, the day before my departure I went to the emergency room for some crazy back pain which they believed to be a slipped disc in my lower back… Totally typical… But nothing a shot in the butt won’t fix) It was great to see Annie, even though she’s a die hard Kansas City Royals fan (poor Blue Jays), I love her to death. She allowed me into her home, every nook and cranny let me tell you, for a gracious week! That poor girl had to deal with jet legged, missing her family and friends, sore, cranky and stressed out Jody for 6 days! Yup, there’s the kicker. 6 days people… Now we’re getting to the big fat wrong part I mentioned earlier..

  
My original ‘plan’ was to land, stay a night or two at Annie’s, and find a room to rent ASAP. That last part did not happen as per ‘the plan’. Day 1 and 2 I got to see my babies at the school right away and casually started looking for a place. It was nice to be back. Day 3 and 4 were a complete 360 of Holy Jesus of Italy where are all the rentals at?! Those of you who have had to look for a rental before, whether it be for vacationing, school, whatever, it sucks right? Now try doing it in a foreign country, in a foreign language, with a ticking clock breathing down your neck and your bank account shaking its fist at you. Try that for an image, am I right? This brings us to day 7…. After walking 15 Km a day (I’m not joking at all, my feet and calves are dying) all over the city looking at apartments, meeting potential roommates, and realizing what my price range actually got me, I was stressed to the max. And I mean max. I trekked an hour and a half across the city to a sketchy neighbourhood that I didn’t even feel safe during the day in to look at a room where the landlord didn’t even show up (I cried on his front porch) and then used my best Italian to score a viewing of a “cute little room” in the centre only to find out the bedroom was just a mattress on the floor (I cried shamelessly walking down the street). Finally it was time to leave Annie’s so I checked into a hostel. After contacting an uncountable number of people in the morning, I returned to my hostel and wifi on the evening of day 7 to find I had been accepted! I have a room, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to be homeless! Sure I had to up my budget a bit, but it’s much better than sleeping on the streets of Italy in the winter during a financial crisis. Thanks to my sister for helping me search from back home, mom and dad for continually telling me it’ll get better, Annie for offering everything to me, the random girl in the coffee shop that sent me room listings, and Emory for continuing to Skype me even though all I did was cry and complain. Needless to say I ate, drank, and slept better that night than I had in a long time.  

So, what now? Well, I’m still in the hostel for a couple more sleeps until my room is ready. November 1 marks the beginning of my adventure when I can FINALLY unpack my bag, maybe wear a new outfit, and definitely wash the 3 outfits I have been wearing on a rotational basis. I haven’t cried in 2 days, so that’s a big deal, as you may have noticed there was a trend going on above. Things are looking up and I am sitting in a little coffee shop with a fellow Canadian right now planning a few adventures I have up my sleeve. Amen for wifi and espresso.

Today I am meeting up with some Italians to do a conversation exchange and tonight is my first run with FirenzeCorre ( a running group in the centre. Wait till you see the sexy vest I get to wear). Next week I will be extremely busy with the kids at the school. Halloween is this weekend and I got myself invited to a little party. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and with the plethora of Americans that I have here with me, I’ll be eating well that night. 

So far I have had my favourite schiacciata from Puggi, a real espresso macchiato (suck it Starbucks), gelato from De Neri, pocket coffee, ricotta cheese (no, it’s not the same as home), breadsticks with fennel, bought a jar of fig jam, and I had a glass of limoncello (terrible, but like a right of passage). I’m going to be okay I think. 
  
So who wants to come visit? Taking applications.

Until next time,

Once your Italian Armstrong, now your Armstrong Abroad.

Xoxo

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My European Adventure

Here is my final video. A compilation of all the wonderful memories I have that were caught on video. Its a little long, and I apologize, but so was my journey. This is for all of my family and friends that I have not yet had the time to talk to and tell you about my travels, and to all of my friends I left behind. Without those I met along the way, this trip would have been filled with feelings of homesickness, but you all became my family, and a family I will never forget. Ciao, cheers, salute, enjoy ❤

At This Point, My Blood Has Turned To Espresso

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Ciao Ragazzi!

So it’s March I’ve been told. So let’s be honest here, February was kind of boring in terms of doing awesome things and having new experiences. March though, March has exceeded expectations. I really delayed this post because things kept happening and I knew I wanted to write about it all. So, my bad I guess.

I didn’t particularly want to post about our trip to Venice, but I needed to get this off my chest, because I agreed to share my experiences through this blog, and I guess that includes my strong dislike for Venice. I will however sum it up with this (to the tune of the Christmas favourite, the Ten Days of Christmas):
10 Hours in a monsoon
9 Umbrella funerals
8 Times almost buying boot sacks (see page called “no giving any cares” for a visual)
7 Billion people trying to catch the same taxi
6 “Zero out of 5” Trip Advisor restaurant reviews from angry GE students
5 Failed attempts to dodge the falling hail
4 Flooded Piazzas
3 Hours of driving on a bus with soaking wet feet
2 Hours waiting Titanic style for our lifeboats
1 Mess of a trip to Venice
The end!

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On to more positive thoughts. Finally! Finally, ladies and gentleman, I got to visit the love of my life: Cinque Terre. You would think every picture you see of this majestic sight on the internet is edited with crazy “filters” that kids use these days, but I swear they are accurate. I can now say that with confidence. After almost dying twice, being rebels and getting lost on a “closed” trail, and crying (actually though) over the natural beauty of this place, I am able to say that I’m starting a piggy bank to buy a house there. Who’s in for visiting?/paying my mortgage? I’m now accepting donations. I am already looking forward to going again in two weeks. That is actually all I can say about this place because nothing else can sum up my feelings other than, “Wow”. You done good Italy, you done good.

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Crossing things off my “to do before I die” list, is exactly what I’ve been doing. Last Friday I was given such a great opportunity to enjoy the wonderful weather on a bicycle in the Tuscan countryside. Having connections here has paid off. I had a blast and took some ridiculous pictures (as usual with this group). Saturday was Compleanno di le Donne, and I ran in the Rosamamosa women’s race through the hills in Firenze with a wonderful friend from work. After convincing the officials that yes, yes indeed I did have my heart examined by a doctor prior to registering but I forgot my papers in Canada, I was able to race and ended up finishing in the first quarter of the runners. Proud proud. But above all, we got t-shirts… So that happened. Enjoyed supper out with my work family and then wine with lady roommates. Wonderful celebrations. Sunday I finally went on my tour of the Tuscan countryside which Lauren and I won in January. We had a BLAST! So much wine, not enough food, meeting the equivalent of Irene in Italian male form, and baby sheep. BABY SHEEP! needless to say, it was a stellar weekend. Oh, yeah, and I now have an addiction to fresh ricotta.

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This week after having 2 lovely dinners with the Linguaviva family I had to say my first real goodbye. Our family of 4 surprised Boas at the train station before he left. It was film worthy. Climbing on board the train 5 minutes before it left for a bitter sweet group hug and tearful goodbye. It’s really hard to say goodbye to someone you love so much when you know you’ll most likely never see them again in your life. No. No! We will see each other again. We will. This I promise to myself.

After 3 hours of sleep we were up Sunday morning and at the bus station for our final GE group trip to Chianti country for hiking and wine tasting. What a great day full of funny pictures (duh), great wine, quality time with my lovelies, and of course grappa.

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I hate goodbyes and lay awake at night thinking about how I don’t know if I can say goodbye to these people. The thought alone breaks my heart. At the same time, guess what, Jo-Anne and Wendy are coming in 10 days!!! I simply cannot wait. I can’t wait to show them just how much I have learned and share with them as much as I possibly can.

I have been in pure bliss lately as I try and take in as much as I possibly can with two weeks left with my wonderful Lauren and everyone else I’ve met through this experience, but that aside, I am still my ridiculous self and so I shall share a few stories with you as per usual:
1) An elderly lady started talking to me on the bus. Instead of listening and figuring out what she was saying, my brain went into panic mode. As she babbled away, she winked at me and started laughing. I joined in and said “hahaha ohhh, si, si!”, which must have been the appropriate answer because she continued. The only word I caught was “Domenica”…Sunday. What? She cackled in the liveliest, friendliest way and yelled a bubbly “Ciao, Ciao!” as she got off the bus. To this moment I have NO idea what she said, or what was suppose to happen on Sunday. I can only imagine my facial expression after she exited. Brain dead.

2) So our kitchen flooded (aka a nameless roommate opened the washing machine while it was still going and then left for 5 days…. #responsibility). As Lauren tried to clean up the mess, she used every towel we have (which unfortunately makes a grand, sad total of 3). She rung them out our window and two minutes later an angry, old woman appeared at our door yelling in Italian, explaining that Lauren had poured water out the window onto her head below. Hilarious now…. Not funny then. Needless to say, we have made zero friends in our apartment building.

As our time here comes to an end, we are trying to come up with something crazy to do…. Were officially taking suggestions. But seriously… I have Italian blood running through my veins (espresso), as I prepare myself for the next two weeks of sleepless nights and long days filled with everything I have put off until now.

~ If you can’t life longer, live deeper ~
– Italian Proverb

Until next time,
Your Italian Armstrong

Fiesole for the Win!

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Ciao tutti!

Canada for the win! I am proudly the only Canadian on the trip, and guess who takes home the prize for the ultimate Florence scavenger hunt. ME! Briefly here’s a few of the best things I had to do: drink a “cioccolato caldo” (hot chocolate the Italian way, basically a melted piece if dark chocolate similar to the thickness of pudding) at one of the fanciest places in Florence, and when the man found out I was from Canada he said “where? Toronto? Montreal?” (Typical guesses) “No, you’ve never heard of where I’m from” (my typical response). “Saskatchewan?” He guesses… My jaw dropped, and he spent the next ten minutes hysterically laughing and telling the other customers I was from Saskatchewan, to which they obviously had no idea what he was talking about. Onwards! I had to bite into a Panino con Lampredotto (pictured below). A panini with cow stomach… Apparently a very traditional Florentine dish (throw up in my mouth), and after I did this I was featured in Studentsville Italia as “the intern who actually did it”. For those of you at home in complete disbelief at this, to defend my image a bit, I didn’t eat it, but just bit into the bun :). I also had to climb the very steep hill to Piazzale Michaelangelo to view the entire city at sunset (molto bello!!). I had to find one of the illegal “secret bakeries” in Florence, only open between 2 and 5 am, and purchase a freshly baked pastry (probably the best night of my trip so far…. Totally worth having to walk for 2 hours in the pouring rain at 4 am with 3 amazing people pictured below). My final voyage was to take a bus to the top of Fiesole and take a picture with Florence in the background… Soooo picturesque (pictured at the top)! What is the prize for winning such a contest you may ask? Well bragging rights of course, AND a free Tuscany wine tour to Chianti! Ohhhh mama mia! I cannot wait 🙂

So aside from finally finishing the scavenger hunt, I have spent the last week with a nasty sore throat. It got worse and worse until I finally made the decision to attempt a visit to the hospital (Guardia Medico). As I was assured there would be an English doctor, me and another sick friend ventured into the streets on a very very wet, cold, Florence night. To sum things up, he was not English, but was so nice, speaking slow enough for me to understand and translate for my friend. By the end we discovered that we both had a very bad case of laryngitis and that I was contagious (who wants a free kiss?). After telling us a 15 minute story about his travels to America and Canada, questioning me on my musical talents (obviously I resemble Louis Armstrong), and bonding over the fact that his son has the same birthday as me, we were sent on our way to pick up some crazy Italian drugs. So in my first week of practicum I missed 3 days due to my contagiousness… Great first impression. I am finally starting to feel better now, have a voice, can physically function, and am beginning to eat solid foods again, but am sitting here on a Saturday night doing homework and writing to all my lovely readers instead of going out with my classmates. Being responsible, so difficult sometimes.

I have started my practicum, as mentioned, and so far don’t have much to write about other than there is nothing more adorable than Italian babies. Maybe my suitcase will just be filled with toddlers on my way home instead of souvenirs. Or is that illegal? Anyways….

Though language barriers can be difficult, stressful, and exhausting to try and conquer. They can also be extremely entertaining. Especially in class where we are all on a beginner level and, for many, this is their THIRD language. As I only have one week left with this class, I will finally introduce you to some of my favourite characters:

– La ragazza Cinese: Italian is her second language, And she does not speak English. She is training to be an opera singer of some sort, she meows at me every single day, and communicates with the rest of the class through broken Italian and extreeeeeaaaamly over exaggerated body language and gestures. She eats a McDonalds doughnut or two and a Coke for breakfast every day and offers to share with me every morning. When paired with the Columbian boy for group work the other day, she hugged my arm and in completely clear English yelled at our teacher, NO, Jody is my best friend!! Lui cattivo, cattivo, cattivo. (He is bad, bad, bad). She also once tried to tell our group that she had a picture of her sister… She accidently told us she wants two sons and that she had pictures of what she wants them to look like. Miscommunication at its best. We absolutely died laughing. As over the top and difficult as she is some days, I will miss her entertainment so very much.
– Il ragazzo islandese: this little ball of energy is the highlight of my day and one of my closest friends here. He is silent all class, and then will randomly shout something obscene, or some completely inaccurate English phrase that clearly did not translate well. He once told his host mother that he didn’t want to eat the salad she made because it was “insalata vecchio” .. Old salad. When you don’t know much italian, you just make use of what vocab you have, and it usually ends up offending someone. He is also fifth cousins with Björk (the singer), which is kind of cool. But then again, everyone there is related…. Literally. There’s an App for that…
– Il colombiano bambino: This youngster is my partner in crime, is attached at the hip to Old Salad (see above), and finishes off our wonderful group of four (Roommate Lauren included). “baby face” is our “in” into Italian culture as he speaks the language at a higher level than the other 3 of us combined. His hobbies include imitating our accents in a British voice whilst whipping his head from side to side. Not sure why, but it is always entertaining. He became my official best friend when he called me “Jelissa” last weekend and helped us cross off many things on our scavenger hunt list including leading us to the secret bakery where we enjoyed savoury chocolate croissants together.
– L’insegnante: i dont know how he deals with us every day, but he is one if the greatest humans ever; quote me. He told us about a wonderful little restaurant we must go to in order to remember the sentence “a casa mia” (the name of the restaurant). When we decided to try it out one day I asked him “dove è a casa mia?” His reply… Ohhhh, Jawwwdyyy!… I really had no idea why I had received that reaction until I realized I hadn’t specified I was looking for the restaurant, but instead just basically asked him to go home with me…. Jody’s Italian Fail #84, but who’s counting. He has taught us more than just language, but life skills as well. He even gave me a “whiteboard medallion” for coming to school when I was sick. We share a sense of humour and I want to stay in his class forever. He is like the flamboyantly Italian brother I never had. Mom, whyyy??

In other news, I have mastered “the look”. What is “the look” you may ask? Let me elaborate a bit. Something I have learnt since being here is that I wear my emotions on my face. My classmates find it hilarious to watch me tell a story because even if they can’t understand all of it, they can watch my face and get the gist of things. Even when I am at the other end of the corridor at school, I often hear one of the Brazilian guys laugh and say, Jody! Your face! Because of this, I am such an easy target when in the streets. “Here madam, buy my purses!” “Nice boots, would you like a jacket to match them?”, “Come back please, We can start a family.” Uhh what? And one of my all time favourites so far, “hey there, do you speak italian?”… You literally just said that in English, sooo obviously you’re already aware that I don’t speak it. I have decided I am no longer to hold the “tourist” status, but rather the “temporary resident” status. Because of this, I must no longer look like a tourist, and thus we begin mastering the skill of “the look”. I will describe this to you once and only once, but those of you who are just so curious, feel free to ask me to send you a more descriptive picture (as I have it completely mastered and it’s well worth having a picture of for future reference).

Okay. The look:
– Let your face go blank. Don’t show any emotion.
– Now slightly life your forehead/eyebrows, like you got Botox. Who! Not that high, release a little bit… Remember still emotionless. Too high and you’ll just look surprised. They will pounce on you with that emotion.
– Now stare straight ahead and have a partner, or random stranger I guess, stand on either side of you and wave, dance, yell, or whisper dirty things (like how they havent washed their clothes in a month!) any of the above will work. You’re goal is to act as if they are not there and continue to stare blankly ahead.
– If your partner takes things over the top, you may glance in their direction (without making direct eye contact!!) and give a slow blink as if to say, “you are causing me slight discomfort” and then resume the blank look ahead.

This my friends is “the look”, also sometimes called the stink eye, or stank face. It is most effective when paired with the “I’m a boss” walk, or the “my hair is on fire and I’m trying to put it out” dance move if you are at a club. Both of which are too advanced for beginners like yourselves. Now that I have this mastered, nobody messes with me. Heck, nobody even talks to me anymore. It’s… Great?

Sickness and scavengering have been my focus for the last week, so instead of more updates, here’s just a look at thoughts my brain has had and random information I feel like sharing with you today.
– Canadian fact: we say sorry too much and in too many situations that do not require thou to feel truly apologetic. There isn’t even a word in the Italian language that resembles our “sorry”. Rumour has it that there is also no word that directly translates to mean privacy in Italian either…. Which I can believe.
– Took a “field trip” to a wonderful library that use to be a convent. Got to sit at the rooftop caffe with university students. It was a very nice outing…… Then we went to the children’s section and sat with books labeled 1-3 anni and had story time… Nothing kills your confidence more than reading a number book for two year olds, and not understanding it.
– there is a legitimate law here regarding everyday actions. It is illegal to: speak in the stairwell, wear high heels after 11 in the stairwell, have unregistered guests stay the night in an apartment, drag furniture without picking it up, make noise between 2:30 and 3pm, turn the heat on during the day, and sell pastry at night to name a few. I’m probably going to get deported for sneezing in the hall after 11…

Update on words easily confused:
Colore is colour, Collare is Collar, and Coccolare is to Cuddle…. I give up! Also, want to order penne? You order one penne (uno penne), or two pennes (duo penni). Want to ask for a pen? Ask for one pen (uno penna), two pens (duo penne). Careful what you order or you my be eating ink for supper. In addition, ordering la pasta, or uno pasta are completely different. You might be ordering spaghetti, or you might be ordering a croissant (pasta is the singular for pastry). They distinguish the difference by what time of day it is…. Omg… Who, who came up with this? Lastly (for now) when working on listening, and the people are talking about pomeriggio, they’re not talking about Pomeranians. I win idiot of the year in Italy for sure.

Having a blast, learning a lot (although this post might not make it seem like it), meeting so many wonderful people, and looking forward to the coming weeks.

Ciao, Alla prossima volta,
The Italian Armstrong

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Home, Now I Call it Home

One month! Hello there my beautiful followers, how have you been? Oh me, I’ve been alright.. Ok I’ve been great! Busy, busy, I can’t believe it’s already been a month. Time really is flying by.

Before I say anything I want to say thank you for the concern from family and friends after the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. I am safe. It is scary being so close to something like that, but it is important when travelling, anywhere, to educate yourself on the risks. Safety is a basic human right and the violation of this right is happening all over the world, even at home. Don’t fall into this. Stand together with those everywhere who are hurting as this fight rages on. Keep love in your heart and teach peace wherever you travel. Stay safe friends at home and around the world.   

Since my last blog I have done a lot… So here we go. I moved into my apartment, got to teach my first English class, met some really cool people, travelled to Sienna, got really sick, escaped the Pope, travelled to Milan, accepted my very own class, did some running and here we are. Ok well I’ll talk to you all again soon, ciao. Oh, you wanted some more detail, ohhhhh okay. 

So, I left off last time as I was just about to go for a language exchange with a strange Italian man (the opening scene to any Liam Neeson movie, just kidding mom). Well I’m alive and fine, surprise! It is wonderful to have someone local to chat with. He is also a doctor which, if you know me at all, is the greatest person I could have around me while travelling. Ive been here a month and he has already assisted me in getting the right medication and not poisoning myself. So I now have a really rad language partner who knows some pretty awesome gelaterias and coffee shops, so I’d say it was well worth the risk. At our last meeting I got to try La Dolce Vita chocolate gelato which was voted best in Italy! Chocolate coma. Speaking of chocolate, if you haven’t had Nutella mixed with ricotta cheese you haven’t lived yet. Don’t try this at home though, ricotta cheese in Canada tastes like dying goat… Hope I painted a nice picture for you there. 

I also finally moved into my flat! As I was getting ready to leave my hostel, the workers came to the conclusion that my new place didn’t actually exist and that I was being scammed because my street was unfindable on Google maps. I persisted. A friend helped me take my bags to the bus (which we finally found after what seemed like an hour… Stupid construction) and as we were waiting for it to arrive, standing with all my bags sweating like mad, my purse ripped. It just fell off of me. My first thought was someone had cut the strap and was trying to rob me, but apparently the strap had finally seen its final journey and I had one more bag to carry. I crammed myself and all my bags onto an already full bus, and after 2 hours of struggling and sweating, I finally found my house. And let me tell you, it exists (apparently Google Maps decided to abbreviate and change the spelling of my street name to make it unfindable – cool thanks). It was so beautiful and I was so relieved that when my landlady let me into my room I just laid down on the bed and cried… Then I unpacked, showered, and did laundry. Amen. I have two roommates, German and Italian, both pretty cool guys. I have only met one neighbour, a sweet little old lady who I share a wall with. The walls are incredibly thin and each night when she enjoys her 9 o’clock news I also get to listen to it. She also has the voice of Mrs. Doubtfire.. With an Italian accent of course, so I love her a little bit more. Every morning I wake up thinking I have a rash or breakout of some sort on my hands and face, only to realize that no, I was just the appetizer for the 47 mosquitos living in my room during the night. I finally bought a mosquito killing contraption of sorts, so here’s hoping I finally can sleep at night and stop looking like I have a disease.

Last week I had a some free time and decided to get out of the city. I travelled to Sienna for the day and oh, the bus ride was sensational. I mean not the actual bus ride, that was terrifying of course. (Italian road rage in a giant bus speeding down winding Tuscan highways that haven’t been patched up in, I’m sure, 100 years.) The view, though, was worth It. It was like Canadian fall mixed with everything I love about Italy. The vineyards still had their leaves, but they were all yellow and orange. Fields and hillsides of Tuscan valleys lined with rows of this, amazing. Siena itself was also beautiful, small and quiet, but beautiful. I had a peaceful day of climbing towers and enjoying some people watching in the centre. I wasn’t allowed to take any bags up into the tower, only my camera. Once I got up there I realized I forgot the picture of Grandma, so on my way down I asked the guard if I could get it from my bag and go back up the stairs without buying another ticket. I explained the picture, grandma, and the significance to me, and she thought it was so adorable and let me go back up. She also told me, in broken English, that he sister would totally do something like that and that she would pass my story on to her. Feel good moment of the day.  It also happened to be the “Fat Lady” art show across the city. It was hilarity and brilliance combined. I joined in the fat lady fun before returning to Florence.

   After spending the weekend in Florence with a new friend from France, enjoying the beautiful weather, and attending a baby shower for a colleague, I ended up sick in bed for two days battling a gross fever – typical. The Pope was scheduled to visit Florence on November 10 and I had already purchased tickets to leave the city and go to Milan for two days to avoid all the crazy. So I got my disgusting butt out of bed at 5am and caught the bus to Milan. I have been to Italy 3 times, and each time someone asks me if I went to Milan… I figured I better go this time. So worth it, Milan is beautiful! I spent some time alone taking in the sights, the amazing Disney store and discount chocolate warehouse (was totally tempted to buy the 3kg bucket of Nutella and take it as my carry on). I met a nice guy from Argentina at my hostel and he accompanied me to the top of the duomo, the chapel, the park, and didn’t even complain or make strange when I went crazy over the possy of kittens in the park that we found, when I spent way too long in the Disney store again, when I asked him to take a picture of me doing handstands with a street dance crew, or when I whipped out a picture of grandma. Pretty cool. So Marco if you ever stumble upon this, thanks for agreeing to do whatever I asked of you and for playing along so well. I had to get up at 4:30 to catch the bus home on the 12th, which was gross. A large group of foreign men were making their way to work at this time and we all got on the same night bus together. After asking them for directions in my best Italian, they not only cleared a seat for me on the bus, but also helped me switch busses, check schedules, and get me to the bus station on time. I am always astounded by the helpfulness of strangers. I won’t soon forget our nonverbal goodbye we shared through the window of the bus as we silently gave each other a smile and a nod as we parted ways. The ride back to Florence was amazing. Tips to seeing Toscana by bus: get on a bus in Toscana, sit back, don’t bother taking any pictures because it’s impossible to capture it, and just enjoy. Apparently if you are an engineer interested in bridges, the Tuscan countryside is the place for you. So many amazing bridges and hillside sights, I was in awe. Driving past massive country houses with pools and tennis courts in the backyard thinking, like, who are you, and do you need any more friends? My mouth was actually open, gaping open. Not my most attractive moment I’m sure, but worthy of the reaction. There was also a guy in a team Canada jersey on my bus. I chatted with him for a bit, only to realize he wasn’t from Canada at all…. Portugal actually… So that happened..

   
 In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to get some experience at the school here teaching English. My boss had some wonderful compliments for me and they have now offered me my own class… 2 weeks with 4 year olds… Oh boy oh boy this will be interesting. My class will consist of children from Scotland, Switzerland, Japan, and Colombia… Diversity at its finest… Looking forward to the challenge. I’m also doing some lessons for older kids. So I’ve been studying up on my English grammar, you know, adjectives, possessives, past continuous, objective verbs, articles… All the things we chose to forget after school. To all my English teacher friends, or friends that have English as another language, props to you. English is actually the stupidest language ever. If there’s a rule, there’s an exception to it…. And probably an exception to the exception, and an irregular on top of that. I met a guy here who speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic, but no English. When I asked him why he didn’t learn English, he simply said, it’s too damn hard. And now I get it. 

On that note, I will say arrivederci! 

  “Hey good lookin’, why the frown? You always look better when it’s upside down. You say you’ve got nowhere that you’re going to, can I go nowhere with you?”

Xoxo,

Your Armstrong Abroad

Italy Adventures 2014

My European Adventure

From Sunbathing to Snow, I’m Coming Home

Do You Speak The Greek?

Oh, It’ll Fit: Airport Struggles and Many, Many Giggles

Bitter Sweet Goodbyes …. And Gelato

At This Point, My Blood Has Turned to Espresso

Where Art Thou Romeo… Rome?..

You Don’t Know Who Your True Friends Are Until …

Fiesole for the Win!

Things That Should Be Simple Take the Most Time

What Starts Out Terrible is Bound to Only Get Better!

Bitter Sweet Goodbyes …. And Gelato

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The last few weeks of March were bitter sweet. I am tempted to say more bitter than sweet, but in all reality, they were simply amazing. Although I had to say goodbye to everyone I met in January at Linguaviva, co-workers I had learned so much from, and roommates I had grown to treat like sisters, I also got to make some memories I will never forget. The amount of goodbye parties, dinners, socials, and outings I attended lately always left me feeling a little bit emptier inside after each one, as I could finally see the end in the near future. We have built a little family here. A multi-cultural, multi-lingual, diverse in every way possible, family. Allow me to introduce you to my roommates who were forced to spend three months by my side. As I infested our apartment with my multiple sicknesses, they bought me chocolate bars, picked up my prescriptions, and continually bought toilet paper as I used it up roll by roll blowing my endlessly runny nose. Most of this was even done without complaining and I love them for every memory they have helped me create.

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First, Ella, the one who gets to share tea and crumpets with the Queen (AKA British) This spunky young thing is out to make her mark on the world and, if I do say so myself, seems to be on her way to doing just that. She sleeps like a log, never waking as we dropped plates in the kitchen at 4am, she likes “CHIPS AND CAKE!”, and told me one of the best “we know, but she doesn’t know we know” stories I have ever heard. Thanks for the tons of laughs, being so laid back, and joining in on my ridiculous behaviour sometimes.

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Next, Sofia, that girl from Mean Girls (AKA South African). This avid tea and hot chocolate drinker survived life in Italy without eating pizza OR pasta… You poor gluten intolerant people. Her delicate personality and appreciation for a good art exhibition made her a wonderful person to have around in this historic city. We got along perfectly despite our differences in food preferences… Never have I ever seen so many sardines eaten by one person, you go girl. You are so smart and talented in everything you do, I can’t wait to continue following your travels via blog.

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Last but not least, the mysterious one. There’s always got to be that one roommate who you only ever see like once a week, who only ever mumbles a quiet “good morning” or “hello” as they pass you in the kitchen. It was never a mystery, however, to whether she was home or not (except for that one week…). We could blame “thin walls” for a few things, but we won’t. I don’t really know you, so I’m going to go with the classic high school yearbook quote and simply say “Goodluck in your future endeavours” oh, and take that damn sign off the bathroom toilet. Cheers. (No picture available at this time)

That only leaves Lauren, the desensitized American with a brother named Kevin. Without this girl, let me just say, I think I would have ended up like the above roommate… Huddled in my room for days on end yelling into my Skype. Alone. I could devote an entire blog to our events as a team and the developments in our ‘relationship’ ;), but I won’t. I will simply say that in three months this girl became my best friend, my partner in crime, my comedic assistant, my dinner date, my study buddy, my right hand man, my left hand man, the person I discussed life with, my sister, even my daughter at times, my photographer, my pick-me-upper, and my most favourite American of all time. At many times it was just like hanging out with myself, but in the best possible way. They say when you travel on your own, no one will ever understand because you’re the only one who has seen what you’ve seen, done what you’ve done, and felt what you’ve felt, but we shared even those things. In fact, on most occasions, nobody understands our conversations… I can’t image what my life will be like without her by my side in everything I do. As our favourite Italian proverb goes: “If you can’t live longer, live deeper”, I think we lived very deeply for the last three months with the help of each other. And even took a few crazy chances, which is sort of unlike us… But hey, Sopravvivere.

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My last day in Florence was perfect. Walking the streets casually, having a delicious lunch after visiting the market, enjoying free champagne, taking in one final apperitivo, getting gelato from Neri, riding the carousel, sitting on the bridge with Sebastian for hours, and then finally hitting up the secret bakery before saying a very teary goodbye. Although I hate all of the goodbyes I have had to say, I wouldn’t change the fact that I met so many wonderful people, even if it meant having to say those goodbyes. I now have so many places I can visit in the future all around this beautiful world.

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Finally, as you all may be wondering…. YES. THEY’RE HERE! Wendy and Mom are finally here to take in the rest of this adventure with me. We have been so busy having such a wonderful time. From spending Mom’s birthday in Cinque Terre, to silly pictures in the Boboli Gardens, to markets in Parco Della Cascine and San Lorenzo, making several mistakes while also doing so many things absolutely perfect, and climbing thousands of stairs (literally) to see every view of the city including Fiesole by night, the famous Duomo and Bell Tower, and the panoramic views at Piazzale Michelangelo. Needless to say, they deserve a break. We have discovered new calf muscles on Wendy, guilt-free indulged in pastries and gelato, band-aided and re band-aided blisters (amateurs), taken more ridiculously hilarious pictures than most people take in their life time, and became masters at uncorking wine bottles (not so much champagne bottles). Mom has learned that the men walking up to her pushing flowers in her face are not actually GIVING her flowers. Wendy has learned the importance of cardio and that “it’s only a few blocks from here” doesn’t always hold true. I have learned that not everyone sees beauty in the same things, but that sometimes the smallest things are more beautiful and create better memories than the big things.

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We are currently sitting on our train to Roma, spending a rainy day travelling the countryside, soon to arrive at our destination. We will make sure to keep in touch with people and try to not get too out of control. You know us, always getting into some kind of trouble….

Until next time,
Your Italian Armstrong(s)
(I also have no idea why half of the writing is red. I apologize)

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Where Art Thou Romeo… Romeo?..

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Since my last post I have actually left Florence a few times (gasps)! I couldn’t stop thinking about the night I went to Fiesole and I knew I had to go again, so, I did! Instead of taking the bus to the top of this (what we Saskatchewanians would call) mountain, I decided I’d run it. In short: I got lost with no Internet, ended up two peaks over, had no money for the bus home, didn’t have my house keys, had no warm clothes as the storm approached, had no phone as the sun started to set and darkness approached in the mountains. My obvious though was: I’m going to die. So I decided to just keep running (only logical thing to do). There really is a God! After 8km directly up hill, I made it to Fiesole just in time to meet my friends to watch the sun drop over the city of Florence and take some majestic pictures before taking the bus home. 20140304-222647.jpg
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Valentine’s Day weekend I attended the Verona In Love festivities in, well, Verona of course. For those of you who are saying, “soooo thats cool because?”… well it is the home of Romeo and Giulietta thank you very much! And although (drum roll please) I was painfully sick, I loved it! Such a romantic city. After writng my letter to Giulietta, standing on her balcony, and attaching my very own lock to her wall of love locks, (although i did miss out on the famous one minute kiss-a-thon) I returned home to find (a few days late.. typical Italy) a huge bouquet of beautiful roses. To my parents: you better thank a certain someone named Tyler. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure if I’d come home in 2 months. 20140304-222714.jpg

Work, work, work; sick, sick, sick. FINALLY! I got days off of both and I spent them wonderfully. lounging in a classic caffe, climbing the famous Duomo and Bell Tower, doing some colleague bonding, meeting some awesome Australians at the top off the tower, running through the Cascine market like a mad man (best market ever: drooling), and then relaxing and finally Skyping some wonderful people. Two days well spent, t-shirt 19 degree weather, tiramisu gelato in one hand and frizzante in the other. What a happy girl over here.20140304-222835.jpg

I must be fitting in better, my YouTube commercials have changed to Italian mascara commercials instead of Coors Light and Canadian Tire. I have become much more assertive, I have grown my Italian elbows as they say, and have openly accepted a new Italian concept: not giving a care. I have even made a new page on this blog dedicated to pictures and facts about Italians “not giving a care” (so check that out!). Not wearing makeup? Wearing the same outfit as yesterday? Haven’t showered this morning yet? No cares given. It’s beautiful.

Things I will never get use to no matter how long I am here:
– How people drive and park
– nobody wears a helmet here
– dogs. Dogs everywhere. Glass stores, museums, busses, trains, restaurants, you name it, theres a dog there.
– personal space is non-existent
– the “mating call” (or something) is stroking someone’s face…. No, cattivo.

Things I’ve learnt from watching the Olympics in Italian
– they only care about skiing and skating
– when they do decide to cover a hockey game it is very clear that the announcers have a man crush on Carey Price
– in general, they really don’t care about the Olympics
– did I mention they love Carey Price?
– they understand and use the phrase “Sid the Kid”

My appologies for this being short and late. My next one will be up soon and then the world at home will be up to date on my adventures and misadventures. And as I crawl in to bed here, I wish goodluck to my fellow university students preparing for midterms. In bocca al lupa! Dai!

As always,
Your Italian Armstrong

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You don’t know who your true friends are until ….

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This week is a shorter read, I promise you, as I have done little but blow my runny nose and ruin friendships with my contagiousness.

As my title seems to illustrate, there are friendships growing. To elaborate on my trail of …. Dots … I have now showed up to class: more or less high on medication (I question the legitimacy of some Italian medications…), grotesquely contagious, feverish, lacking the presence of any vocal ability whatsoever, coughing as though I have been smoking a pack a day since birth, sneezing (in a small classroom, this is not so petty), makeup and showerless, and most recently blowing my nose without any shame (a skill one only develops when truly sick). I was really dedicated to receiving that 100% attendance certificate. In the process I took down many friends with me. But, like I said, you never know who your true friends are until…… They LET you take them down, just so they never miss a moment with you.

Even though we’re all sick now, and they continually mutter “I hate you” s after each cough, they keep on inviting me places! Heck, they even offer to share food and drinks with me. What wonderful people I have met. If laughter truly is the best medicine, I should be fully recovered by now. This aside, I have not lost my faith in the beauty of humour. I have never laughed this much, this hard, or this often in my entire life. If I could alter the statement slightly, it would read, laughter is the best supplement to medicine, a good nights sleep, and a gallon of soup. I don’t know if people are just funnier here, or if it’s the lack of sleep part, but either way, the laughter never seems to stop. I LOVE it. I’ll soon have a six pack just from the workout all the laughing has given me…. (That’d be the day)

My roommates have also beyond tolerated me as they haven’t kicked me out yet for coughing and sneezing all night (our house has an echo beyond belief, high ceilings were wonderful in theory…), using all of the toilet paper to blow my nose, and hoarding tea cups in my room for days. In fact, Ella just bought me a Bueno to encourage me to get better so that I can taste it. Not being able to taste anything has got to be the worst part… Oh Italy, why!

As I am now finished my class at Linguaviva language school I had to say goodbye to many people and that makes me very sad. But, I am excited for things to come. I am proud to say that I passed the class with a 94% for the written and oral exam and also received my 100% attendance certificate (dedication at its finest). To prove that my skills have indeed improved, I can now communicate with 3 year olds (an improvement from the less than vocal 2 year olds I was working with prior).

I quite enjoy taking the bus now, I’m getting close to making the perfect cup of espresso at home, I can successfully use the washing machine, I’ve gone three days in boots without rolling my ankle (they will soon call me Jody Anklestrong), I made toast in a frying pan, attended my first Latin night because all my friends are apparently Columbian, AND found yogurt that tastes like home. Last but not least, I came home to hear a beautiful tune by Bach coming from the flat across the street. I’m not sure if you understand, but this means THEY HAVE A PIANO. Everybody rejoice! Next mission will be to accidentally become friends 🙂

Until next time,
A presto!
Your Italian Armstrong

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What starts out terrible is bound to only get better!

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Although my flight to Roma, my first few experiences in my new country, and my arrival in Firenze were terrible at best, I learned a few lessons and now already have a few stories to laugh at as I tell. In Roma I was able to see all of the major sights in one very full day before my luggage finally arrived safely from Dublin (sigh of relief!). I met a wonderful couple from South Africa who invited me to come tour with them in the future. There really are some amazing people out there in the world.

I grabbed the train on Sunday to Firenze where I yet again got myself in some trouble when I tried to move into the wrong flat…. A friendly Italian woman helped me by pointing out that I was looking for 73, not 37, and also added that ” you are so young, but your brain is so old”, why thank you Ma’am.  She got her beastly neighbour to carry my 42lb bag down the 3 flights of stairs (NOT Canadian stairs folks, these, these are Italian flights if stairs and THIS alone is why they are not obese here). I got to my flat relatively unharmed (just kidding mom, I’m completely fine). Unpacked and the next day attended the parade at Il Duomo for Epiphany, which is like the Italian second Christmas. It was beautiful and I’m sure it was a very good speech too, although I only understood the word baby, and every number he mentioned.

I made my first grocery trip which included the purchase of a tub of yogurt… Not ice cream, yogurt. It’s a real thing. I watched a game of roller hockey, also a real thing, which is the same as ice hockey, but on roller skates, not blades, skates. This sport also includes absolutely horrific dances from the cheer team in silver tassel dresses that kind of look like tinsel. I dont think I’ll be trying out for that team anytime soon. Today my roommate (American) and I attended our first day of school at Linguaviva Language School and our other two roommates (South Africa and England) went to their other school. I met so many new people from all over including Brazil, Colombia, America, China, and even Iceland!! I am the only Canadian and everyone seems to be fascinated by the Icelandic boy and myself. I am also the only blonde one, go figure.

After a horrible start, I finally feel immersed in the culture and language and after only one class I feel so much more confident in my language development as I’ve been told I have a great Italian accent (perfecto ;)… I am also loving my flat, which is absolutely huge, brand new interior, but with a traditional Italian feel, I am so comfortable, and I love all if my roommates so far. Tonight I watched a British television show in my Italian flat, with my South African, American, and English roomies while waiting for our new Polish flatmate to arrive with our Italian landlord. Who’s life am I living?

cannot wait to see what comes next!

Ciao Tutti, until next time.

Jody