Category Archives: Italy 2014

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 ❤

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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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Things that should be simple take the most time

Well it’s only been a week and a half and I feel like it’s been a month! Feel like I’ve been here for a month, and feel like I’ve been away from home for a month. Even though it’s only been a short time, I’ve learned more than I ever expected I would in this time. But it’s the things that should be simple that end up taking the most time and energy, mentally and physically. For example, irregular verbs are the most mentally exhausting thing ever, and finding a store that sells towels is the most physically exhausting thing ever (still pretty unsuccessful with both).

In a quick summary since my last post, I have experienced my first night out in the city with new friends, explored different areas of the city including the terrace of Michelangelo that overlooks the whole city, attempted to make my first italian coffee using the moka, got lost and found again without a map or companion, attended a museum tour in full Italian (had to nap after my brain was so tired), won the Italian version of Bingo, and had my tour and interview at Canadian Island where I will be doing the next ten weeks of internship. I will be working with babies and children from 1-8 years old. Nothing more adorable than bilingual babies! At school my class ranges in ages from 20-44 from China, Korea, Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, America, Iceland, and then myself who fits in basically no where, but at the same time feel like I fit right in with everyone 🙂 Mi chiamo Jody. Sono Canadese di Tisdale. Io ho ventuno anni.

Things I miss: not being able to see for miles and miles, the oven being in Fahrenheit, people knowing what a toque is, turning the lights switch down to shut off a light and up to turn it on, having a dryer, having low humidity, people picking up their dogs poop, coffee, cranberry juice

Things I don’t miss yet: English, ice, driving, glass buildings, elevators, having a phone… I think I’m surviving pretty well.

I have officially asked for directions, ordered a coffee, ordered a meal, bought groceries, and described the weather in Saskatchewan successfully in Italian. Something interesting is that here they don’t say negative or minus 10 degrees, they say less 10 degrees. I’ve also come to the conclusion that English is a silly language. Once you look at it from another perspective it is so obvious that we speak ridiculously. I understand why they say everything here the way they do… Except explaining what you do as a job. It seems weird to me to say that I do the social worker. No. I AM. I shake my head daily.

Aside from the big events, there have been little things that I would like to share with you, incase you ever choose to make the journey to Italia (as you all should):
– to all my blonde people out there, relax! They’re going to stare no matter what you do. I could sit, cigarette in one hand, espresso in the other, at a small panini shop mid-afternoon with my Vespa parked right outside (everything typically italian) and they would still stare at me. This can be a total positive once you figure it out! This also means you can do some pretty ridiculous things and people will stare just the same. Take advantage of it, I will be.
– on that note, if you so choose to run. This isn’t as common as it is in Canada, but people DO still do it, but the majority of their physical activity comes from, well, just walking up and down the stairs here I’m sure. Try and get out of the super touristy and cobblestoney places… You’ll regret it if you don’t (ask me how my ankles feel..) and of course they will stare, but simply keep your gaze ahead and giver. If you’re blonde… Remember to take advantage of this and wear something extremely flashy and inappropriate, they’re going to stare either way. Have fun.
– don’t talk in the stairwell (Basto!)
– oh and those amazing heels you brought because it’s such a trendy place…. Hahahahaha, refer to prior sentence about cobblestones and once again ask me how my ankles are.
– on the topic of shoes (kind of a big thing here) from my experiences, red shoes are a sin to wear. While wearing my red Toms I had more people look at my feet (and not my hair for once) than I could count! My friends also noticed, that’s how open they were about it. Good thing I’m in one of the most religious cities around, ten Hail Marys and a trip to the Duomo might be in store for me soon.
– learn your Italian, people! Or at least let me help a few of you out. Try and avoid mistakes I’ve already made: 1. pesca is peach, pesche is fish. Avoid asking for pesche flavoured gelato. 2. Prosecca is a dry sparkling wine, prosciutto is ham. A glass of ham is probably the least desirable thing ever in this world, ever. 3. Uomo is man, uovo is egg. It’s weird when you try to explain how you ate men for breakfast…..

To sum things up: I get stared at when I wear red shoes, when I run, when I speak, when I take out the rubbish, when I exit my flat, when I’m ordering un espresso, when I’m crossing the street, when I’m on the train….. It’s unavoidable. I’m a spectacle. And it’s becoming entertaining.

I hope this helps all my future travellers and dreamers out there. Not trying to be negative, I’ve loved every one of these experiences and can’t wait for more. You never know how much you are capable of learning until you allow yourself to exist in a completely vulnerable state. (Bam. Quote me. Thought of that line during my painful cobblestone run) oh! And I’ll leave you with a little taste of Italian education. Goodluck getting this out of your head … Ci Vuole Un Fiore

Ciao Amici, until next time

Jody

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Dear Mom: A Letter to My Family 

On April 10, 2009, you drove me to the airport. I had a blank passport and a round trip ticket to Europe. I didn’t have a choice, not that I would have protested, but it was just expected that I would follow what my sister did 4 years earlier with her high school class. You paid for everything. The plane tickets, the tour costs, the insurance, and many more things I probably don’t even know about. I had 4 disposable cameras packed in my carry-on and my 2 best friends in the whole world next to me. You took pictures with your windup flash camera as we stood in front of the departure gate with Canadian flags pinned to our bags and terror and excitement in our eyes. One by one, the three of you wished me luck, health, and fun on my trip. First you, Mom, who probably said something like “be careful, have fun, and call us!” (This was before the days of smartphones, and pay phones were our only means of communication). You probably teared up as you said this, and I did too. Next, Dad, your speech might have gone like this, “have fun, be smart”. You would have added a slight nod in my direction as you said the “be smart” part, as if there was a deeper meaning that would be communicated with just a nod. There was. Lastly, Grandma would have stepped up to the plate for a big hug. I don’t know what she would have said, something ridiculous, possibly inappropriate, but I don’t remember anything other than the giant kiss that inevitably followed. It would have lasted for approximately one calendar year (realistically about 10 seconds) and included some side to side rocking. We would have made kissing noises and finished with a big “muah!” followed by a loud laugh that only comes from a Grandma. You stood at security and waved until I was past inspections and safely through the gates. You then waited at the giant window overlooking the runway until my plane had taken off and was safely out of site. I know this because I have pictures from the disposable camera. You then returned home and ultimately didn’t sleep for 12 days. Your biggest worries in the world were over once I set foot back on Saskatchewan soil.

Seven years and multiple passport stamps later, you now know that that day in the Saskatoon airport was only the beginning. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, growing up, I never wanted to leave Saskatchewan. 12 days in Europe completely changed the course of my life and this was of your making. I had mono for that entire trip and you told me you wanted to send me on the trip again the next year so that I could have a better experience, but that it wasn’t fair to Wendy who only got to go once. I understood this, but it broke my heart and for two years I dreamed of going back to have this “full” experience that everyone, who wasn’t infected with mono, had. 

Fast forward 3 years to where, again, I held a round trip ticket for 17 days in Europe. I had only a backpack and was prepared for my epic return to finally experience Europe the way it was supposed to be experienced, without mono. Again, I had my best friend by my side, but this time I was the “expert” and she was the one with terror and excitement in her eyes. I had paid for my own trip this time around. During the previous summer, I had worked 4 part time jobs, most of which I detested. On many occasions, I wanted to quit, but you both encouraged me to push through it and reminded me that I was an Armstrong and could make the most of any situation. I stuck it out for a whole summer and banked enough money to fund my journey. I ditched the disposable cameras, because I was fancy now, and took my digital with me. Upon arriving home, you all sat down with me and I got to share my pictures and my stories with you. Never having travelled overseas before, you told me that you couldn’t believe places like these existed. The Sagrada Familia, the Firenze Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Colosseum. I tried explaining that it was even more amazing in person and that pictures would never do justice to the real thing, but it was a lost cause as you would never leave home; you didn’t even have a passport.  

 Two years down the road and we stood at the airport again. This time, I was the only one holding a ticket and a fresh passport. My “goodbye entourage” had grown to include my university roommates, and my previous travel companion and her mom, but you remained the same. Before leaving home, Grandma said to me that if she couldn’t hold me in her arms, at least I could hold her in my hands. She gave me a picture of herself to take with me. She always traveled with me. She probably gave me some wildly inappropriate advice, but all I remember is the kiss that lasted a few decades, swaying back and forth, ending with a loud “muah!” and a hearty chuckle. At the airport we engaged in small talk to ease my nerves, but when the time came to say our goodbyes, we all teared up. It was going to be a long time apart this time. Mom, you would have said goodbye first, telling me to have fun, be safe, and make sure to text when I got there (we upgraded from pay phones). Dad you would have followed by telling me to have fun, and be smart, with an Alistair nod. Wendy ended the line with a hug and a promise to see me soon. You stood outside security, waving until we couldn’t see each other anymore. Staring out the large window at the runways, you watched my plane take off and safely fly into the distance. As if, in some way, if it were to fall from the sky you would at least be there to watch it happen. 

 After years of you supporting me, I was so excited to finally support you as you got your first passport and you and Wendy purchased flights to come visit me. It was one of the best experiences of all of our lives and we have the pictures to prove it. When we returned home, we were flipping through our photo album of travel pictures, showing your friends over a coffee break, and you said something that I’ll never forget. As the ladies were commenting on the beautiful pictures, you told them, in your recently acquired “I’m such a world traveler” voice, that pictures will never do justice to the beauty of the real things. You had directly quoted me from two years earlier and this was the most obvious sign that you had also caught the most dangerous disease: the travel bug.  

 A few months after returning from my study abroad, I felt as though my world was ending. My life took so many twists and turns that I had never anticipated and I threatened running away back to the other side of the world where “all was good”. All it took was one text from Dad. You said now was not the right time. That’s all I needed, as over the years I had learned that only one person could give advice that, despite my greatest doubts, was spot on 100% of the time. You were right, again, and you all supported me through the difficult times and celebrated with me as I began to smile again. To travel angry is not travelling, it’s only running. Somehow, at the time, you knew this better than I did. 

On October 18, 2015 we stood back at the Saskatoon security gates where it all began 7 years earlier. Before leaving home, Grandma made her inappropriate comment about bringing home a Japanese baby before she planted one of her famous smooches on me. Light years passed, and she ended it with a “muah!” and a delightful little cackle that I can still hear. At the airport, Dad had accompanied me to the check in desk, as he always does. He seemed to be the most ridiculous person to be there with me, as he had never flown before, but at the same time I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. Keeping the “I am Alistair and I am the calmest person in this airport” vibe going strong. We small talked over cups of Tim Horton’s until the time came. We snapped a few pictures, all of us red eyed, but smiling. You’d think by now, we would all be used to these moments, but it was never more difficult than that morning. Dad, you were first this time. We hugged and you reminded me that you were proud of me, told me to have some fun, and to be smart *cue nod*. I nodded back in agreement, as if to say “I promise no midnight phone calls from the Italian police”. Mom you were last, and we sobbed and laughed at the same time as we do. You told me to have fun, be safe, and you would see me soon. I sobbed my way through security, alongside the business men and families. You waited at security, waving until we could no longer see each other. Yet again, you stood at the giant window as my plane pulled away from the gate and took flight.  

 Three months later, mom, you world traveller you, arrived in Florence. Not only had you navigated the airports along the way without Wendy’s help this time, but you had also committed to seeing new countries (countries you didn’t even know were countries until I asked if you wanted to go). You officially had the “fill up the passport” mentality. On our final day in Florence, while sitting at a large table of my friends, you started to cry listening to this group of 9 young women talk about their traveling lives. You said it was because you were so happy to see me here with these people all doing what we love. On our way out that night you hugged me and said “You might not know it yet, but I know you’ll be back”.  

 You returned home, and I continued on my journey. Now here we are, 6 months into my travels. This is the longest I have ever been away from home and away from you all. Yesterday, I told you about my decision to extend things, delaying my return for another 8 months. After many sleepless nights, thinking of how I could possibly tell you this, your reaction was nothing short of supportive, yet again. You told me that although you were saddened by this, that it was not entirely a surprise. 

I have met hundreds of people over the course of my travels. Many of them have told me how easy it was to leave home and travel because they had nothing at home. I have experienced the entirely opposite. I have the most supportive family in the world waiting for me at home, and that is what makes it easy for me to travel. Knowing you are at home, waiting with open arms, means I have a reason to go home and a reason to keep travelling instead of running. 

 This was never how I intended to live my life and this was never how I intended to spend my money, but this happened because of you. You supported me financially as a small town high school student, emotionally as a rebelling university student off to experience the world, academically while pursuing my studies around the world, and now professionally and lovingly as the adult I have become. That adult being obsessed with the thought of experiencing life from as many different perspectives as possible. The best decision you ever made, was signing me up to get on that plane in 2009.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for my passport, but I know that you’ll be right there with me, staring out that giant airport window as I depart to God-only-knows-where and standing right there when I return again. 

  

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!

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

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Exactly two weeks to go in this adventure of a lifetime and I am now completely alone. Alone, however not lonely. I can’t wait to make some decisions completely on my own and just get up and go every morning.

The last two weeks have been some of the best memories I have ever made with my family. We did things and saw things together that I never would have ever imagined we would get the chance to do together. It was so much fun to be able to play tour guide and take them all around Florence, and then join in with them to be tourists in Rome and Barcelona.

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Having them with me in Italy made me realize how much I have learned since being here. They made all the classic “you’re clearly not from here” mistakes. As we walked into the cafe for breakfast Wendy says to me, “the lady working here is French” when I asked how she knew that she replied, “well she said bonjour when we came in, so I replied bonjour”… No, no she said buongiorno, which is Italian for good morning… She’s definitely Italian. Translating for them was one of my favourite things. I really got to show off my less than outstanding language skills. We had some terrible luck throughout the trip, but what else is new with the Armstrong family. Riding the train two and a half hours to Naples only to find out that our next train to Pompeii wouldn’t be running because of flooding underground. So, we went to Naples for lunch, turned around and went back to Rome.

I am not sure if I have ever laughed so hard as I did in Rome getting ready for our plane ride to Barcelona. Oh Ryanair, as long as you continue to sell scratch and win tickets during the flight, I will never consider you a real airline. After reading the “luggage requirements” the night before our flight, we came to realize that there was no way we were within the size and weight restrictions. For those of you who don’t know my family, we are literally the cheapest people ever and go to great lengths to save money anywhere we can, because we would rather spend it on fun things than extra luggage costs. That being said, we attempted The funniest thing we have ever collectively come up with. Can’t fit your clothes in your bag? Why no wear them all? And so collectively on a 26 degree day, we wore: 6 sweaters, 3 jackets, 3 bathing suits, 2 pairs of leggings, 3 pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, 2 tank tops, 2 shirts, 2 scarves, socks, underwear, headbands, sunglasses, 2 pairs of runnings shoes, and a pair of winter boots. After a 15 minute metro ride, an hour bus ride, and being sent to the wrong terminal twice, we finally arrived in security where we had to take everything off, and put it back on again. Oh, and mom got a pat down. Finally, after our flight was delayed and we were forced to sweat for an extra hour, we were on the plane and soon arrived in Barcelona where we immediately stripped.

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Barcelona was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and our Starbucks. Thank you Spain! We laid on the beach where the two of them found out quickly that their skin was still in winter mode and not ready for the sun yet. However, despite the crisp skin and blistered feet, we walked and walked and saw so many beautiful things and enjoyed amazing food. We then saw all those sights again from above as we took a gondola across the port. It was amazing.

I was so sad to see them go, but I am so glad they came. I will never forget the last thing Mom said before they left, “thank you, this was MY trip of a lifetime.” This meant more to me than I think she will ever know. I hope they have both caught the same travel bug that I have. 🙂

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Since I have been on my own I have decided to stop making a list of things I want to do, and start crossing things off instead. I have gone for a midnight swim in the ocean, been rollerblading from one side of the beach to the other, eaten more coconut than is probably healthy, went for a run down a street lined with palm trees, and watched the sun set over Barceloneta. What a wonderful last day I had there. I am on the bus on my way to Madrid. What will I do there you ask? I literally have no idea, but I am sure I’ll find something to do!

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Although not in Italy anymore,
Still your Italian Armstrong

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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