Category Archives: Italy 2015/2016

Go Do 2016 Video – My Overseas Adventure

On my last adventure in Italy 2014, I compiled all of the video footage I had taken and created my European Adventure video.

This time around, I took the same idea, but twisted it a bit. Last time I showed you all the things I did, but this time I wanted to let you see through my eyes. The things my eyes have seen, and my feet have touched, have left me scared, brokenhearted, lost, overwhelmed, hopeful, inspired, and speechless. Most importantly, it has left me wanting more, and wanting to share what I have experienced thus far with anyone who will listen.

As I have said many times before, my initial goal with this blog, was to simply keep my family updated in my major activities while abroad. Since then, my dream behind this blog has expanded. I love to write, I love to inspire, and I love to travel. So, why not put it all together. From my keyboard in 14 different countries, I have been able to not only keep my family updated, but also share my favourite stories with friends, fellow travelers, and internet enthusiasts.

I have a love for writing. However, I also have a love for videoing, especially my feet (They are my most photographic feature). I hope this video compilation will explain to those I met along my journey, as to why I was always staring at my feet.

Clearly, my dad had the same idea (where I obviously get my home videoing joy from). Thanks to him, and a behind the scenes friend, I was actually able to capture my homecoming from 3 different perspectives. Thank you to everyone for your love and support.

Walk on,

You Armstrong Abroad (at home)

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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. 

  

Rosa and Zelda visit Estelle

I’m sorry, sorry, sorry! I am alive, I swear to you this. Okay, it’s been a long time. I have been busy. But, do you know why? My Momma and Auntie came to visit me! Okay, but woh, let’s back things up. After Naples and Rome on my last blog, I returned to Florence and took a new class at the school: two kids from Korea learning both English and Italian. They were such a treat and such a good learning experience for me before I head off to Japan. I got to see the little boy I babysat take his first steps and got to be around as he started to talk, such a proud momma moment. That’s one of the best things about working with babies. You get to be a part of all of their firsts and you feel such pride when they accomplish things, as if they were your own. We had a traditional Christmas dinner before everyone left to go home, and so the goodbyes started.  

 I thought I was going to be alone for the holiday, but it just so happens that I wasn’t. By chance, I was introduced to Brad, originally from America, who reached out and invited me to a Christmas dinner for everyone who basically had nowhere else to go/was not going back home for the holidays. I had been so sick before Christmas that I could barely eat anything for Christmas dinner anyways, but it was so nice to get out of the house and meet some people. Once you know a few people, you start meeting their friends, and then their friends’ friends, and soon you have a circle of people who all know you and somehow all know each other. It is a wonderful thing to feel a part of a group. I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays in Florence, even though I didn’t get to go to Germany (the original plan). I basically owe it all to Brad, so thanks Brad!

 
 New Years was a blast and a ridiculous experience. I rang in the new year with 3 new friends in Piazza Della Signoria with about 500 other crazy people setting off bomb-like explosions while a proper orchestra played in the background. Apparently this is totally normal and it eventually became funny, but we decided to head inside when everyone in the piazza started throwing their empty glass bottles into the crowds to smash them. Only 165 people went to hospital….  
 Over the holidays, I also found three different skating rinks in the city. And you better believe I went to all three of them! I felt so in my element. Sometimes you just need a little piece of home every once in a while to make you feel okay again about being away from it all. My companions were all learning to skate, so this was pretty fun. California, Missouri, and England… Might I add that watching Jack skate was like watching Bambi take his first steps. Painfully beautiful.  

  I also participated in my last FirenzeCorre and it was a blast. Everyone was wearing Santa hats and I made my own personal goal of finishing with the top runners and being the first woman across the finish line. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you just put your mind to it, and knowing this was my last run made me work that much harder. I did it! And I’m not ashamed to say that I was super proud of myself. First woman to cross the finish line after 9km and finished with the pace makers at the very front of the group. I will sure miss this. 

 
Finally it was time to move out of my place, move into a new place, and head to the airport to pick up my family! I’m so lucky to have a family that supports me in whatever I choose to do and wherever I choose to do it, but not only do they support me, they also fly halfway around the world to come visit me. I’m such a lucky girl. It’s always fun to watch people go through a bit of culture shock, but it’s hard to resist shoving this new culture I have come to know and love, down their throats immediately as they step off the plane. 

We spent 8 nights in Florence and I was able to take them to different markets, take a field trip to my school to meet all of my babies, take a ride on the glittering carousel in Piazza Della Republica, and even trek through the pouring rain up to Piazzale Michaelangelo. One of the main cultural struggles they faced was in the kitchen. Why doesn’t everyone own a toaster, a microwave, a dryer for goodness sake? We went for coffee every day and got on a bit of a schedule with our coffee breaks: frequent and indulgent. They also learned how to make coffee on the stove top, how to make toast without a toaster, how to live without a microwave, how to work a laundromat, and how to layer clothing because the heating systems suck. It was fun for me to be able to live the “tourist lifestyle” for a bit, while still getting to show off my language and ‘Italy’ skills on the daily.  

 We climbed the tower in Piazza Della Signoria, took in the Cascine outdoor market and purchased matching sweaters, went to the parade for Epiphany, and finally went to apperativo at Kitsch with my work friends to say my final goodbyes (tears were shed by many, but mostly by Mom). I even tried to take them to have the most epic gelato of their lives (read my page about suggestions for Italy to find out what it’s called) but it was closed that day. We managed to find some gelato just fine (I mean it is still Italy), however they never did get to taste La Dolce Vita. We indulged in GustaPizza and cheap wine. Mom accidently played knock knock ginger on the neighbours and we proceeded to run out of the building and drink our wine in the street. On one random night, mom also decided to inform us she was writing a ‘memoir’ (her name for notes about our journey) we decided we needed fake names, and so I introduce you to Zelda (Auntie Corinne), Estelle (myself) and Magenta/Rosa (Mom goes by either). These stuck for the remainder of the trip. 

 With our time in Italy we also managed to go and visit Cinque Terre and Rome. Cinque Terre is, as many of you know, is my favourite place in the world. Unfortunately it was a cold and rainy day and the water level was so high we didn’t get to go down on the rocks or visit the hidden beaches. Weather aside, it is still a beautiful place and I’m glad we got to go back. If you read my blog last time I traveled, you know that on our way home from Cinque Terre we had to train hop to avoid the ticket control as we didn’t have tickets… Well this time we made absolute SURE we had return tickets ahead of time… Unfortunately, Jody forgot to validate them. After about 20 minutes of panic (between me and mom), a nice man told me I could go find the train staff and have them initial my ticket instead as validation. Thank you sweet man, and let this be a lesson to everyone. Validate your damn tickets if that’s the only thing you learn in Italy! Rome was very quick. We hit all the major attractions and then spent some time relaxing in our comfy, warm bedroom packing for our flight to Croatia.  

    
 Alas, we all got to check another country off on our world map: Croatia. The land of new tourism, no? We got there and it’s truly possible we were the only three non Croatian people in Dubrovnik. Pouring rain, we walked 300-and-some steps with our luggage to our flat. Our flat… Let me paint a picture for you of the next 5 days. Cold, windy, and rainy, no heat in our house, three women huddled around the hot plate in the kitchen. Oh, and did I mention that the toilet was IN the shower? Like literally IN the shower. As it was the off season, we were more or less the only people in the city, but we still managed to keep ourselves occupied. Walking the city walls was beautiful and we lucked out with a clear and sunny day. Although the cable car was closed, we managed to find really cheap alcohol, so that occupied some time. We learned quickly that we didn’t have a bottle opener and managed to open a few caps and a cork with a spoon and a knife. Who says we wouldn’t survive in the wilderness. After several days of boiling coffee on the stove and then straining it with toilet paper (not joking), we stumbled upon a coffee shop… And it had heat!! We considered sleeping there.  We spent our five days mostly drinking coffee, playing cards, drinking cider in every flavour we could find (even one that tasted like perfume), and just enjoying being together. On the last day (of course it was sunny and warm) we headed towards Kotor, Montenegro to hit another country

     

  
When we arrived, literally the first thing we found was a coffee shop! How marvellous. When we finally made it to our flat, we fell in love. Heat, a shower and separate toilet, real beds, and a full kitchen! We called the owner immediately to tell him we would be staying an extra night. We spent 3 nights in beautiful weather along the harbour, climbing to the top of the fortress, and eating multiple times a day at our favourite cafe, Mamma Mia’s. We tried all different types of food and I even tried liquor made from lemon leaves, which was absolutely terrible, but I did it. We even acquired a dog. I know what you’re thinking, “Jody, you hate dogs”. This is still true, but Boo was something else to me. We found this homeless dog, or rather he found us, who followed us around for the rest of our time in the city, waiting for us outside of any shops or restaurants, and chasing away all of the pigeons, cats, and drunk people in the streets. Safe to say he is my favourite dog. I named him Boo and he broke my heart as he walked with us to the bus station only to sit in front of the bus until we drove away.
   
  
Unfortunately family couldn’t stay forever and it was time to return to Dubrovnik so Rosa And Zelda could catch their flight back to Canada. Time we spend travelling and seeing the world together is some of my favourite memories with my family. It wasn’t travelling with my family at all, it was travelling with friends. We gossiped, we joked, we drank and ate together, and we shared new experiences. I will forever be thankful they were able to come and help break up my time away from home.  

    
   
And so, I continue on my own now. And since they left its already been over a week. Again I apologize this is so late, but as you can see, I’ve been on the move. Since then I’ve country hopped 5 times…. But that’s to come in my next blog.
I’ve also put up the final updates on my Bucket List page for Italy, so check it out. I’ll be posting another blog soon just to keep things actually up to date before I head to Japan and things get stressful and crazy again. 
As a side note: Remember when you’re travelling that there are down days. You can’t have a life changing day everyday. On those days where you feel like you can’t get up and go on, that’s when you meet the people who are going to have the biggest influence on your life. This is how it’s been for me lately anyways. And those people, they know who they are. Even if you can’t find a way to tell them, and even if you never ever see them again, they know how they helped you in that moment. 
Much love as always,

Your Armstrong Abroad

I Survived Naples 2015

The title says it all really. I survived Naples.
Okay back up a bit. After writing last, I ended up deathly (at times I literally thought it was the end) sick… Again. I didn’t get out of bed for 4 days, at the end of which, I gathered myself together and attended my first American Thanksgiving. Although only 4 Americans were in attendance, 14 of us from around the world enjoyed whatever excuse we had to eat, drink, and spend time together. I met some awesome people and was able to spend some ‘out of work’ time with colleagues. Sometimes you have to make more than friends when you’re traveling on your own, so we made family. Looking forward to Christmas dinner gatherings with this crew as well!  

 The weekend rolled around and for a friends birthday we hit up the town in style. Seriously: private suite above a fancy restaurant on the river overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. Feeling rich for a night, as tourists from the bridge took photos of us drinking prosecco on the terrace, most likely wishing they were us. Is this real life? An opera singer sang happy birthday while a Swedish girl played the background tune on a recorder… I’m not kidding this actually happened. My friend Mickael from France had also returned to the city and it was so nice to see another familiar face. We enjoyed the Christmas markets and took a trip to Fiesole for his last night in Florence…. And then, we went on a little “vacanza”… And heres where the excitement begins…. 

 About 2 weeks ago, as I was saying goodbye to him and another guy from The States, I said hey, let’s all meet up in Naples sometime… Everyone casually agreed. Now I was pretty excited because, well Naples isn’t the safest place on earth, especially for a single female travelling on a holiday weekend. But, I feared it was one of those agreements where someone says like, “We should totally all die our hair green sometime” and everyone agrees simply because it sounds like a good idea at the time, but it never actually happens… Well guess what, we pulled it off! In preparation for the trip I decided to try and fix my boots. The bottom is falling off and I’m too cheap to buy new ones, so superglue it was. In my attempts to open the tube, I ended up super glueing my fingers together….. Sometimes I don’t know how I get through the day. But I still had some glue left and was able to patch up my boots. So Mickael and I headed off to Napoli, but were unable to find anywhere to stay in the cit, so we hopped on the train to the next town of Porticci to stay at a hostel there. Okay, first impression here: excited to be out of Florence, bus ride was beautiful… Then we got to Naples… Well this is sketchy… Then we got to Porticci… Dear god where are we? The town, covered in graffiti, looked like there had been a garbage strike.. For the last month and the only people around looked like they were going to rob us or stab us. We finally found the hostel (Fabric Hostel) and were thankful it was actually decent. Pool table, ping pong, clean rooms, and best of all they had a cat named Betty that took a liking to us. 

Our American friend Chase was to meet us in Pompei the next day where we would all take a bus to Vesuvius… Okay pause right there. So I’ve been obsessed with Vesuvius since I saw volcano week on the Discovery channel in like the 5th grade. The story of Vesuvius, Pompei, and Herculaneum are part of the reason I love Italy. “Why are you only going to see it now if you’re so obsessed?” You’re probably thinking… Well, I have tried twice before, each time something came in the way of me actually getting to the historic site. “Third times a charm” I said. I was then corrected by an Italian friend who said well no, “non c’è due senza tre” (not two without three). Determined, I said shut up… Anyways, the day proceeded as so: Chase missed the train to Pompei, so instead of Vesuvius in the morning we decided Mickael and I would do Pompei and Chase would meet us there before going to the volcano. We finally met up and walked the ruins for 4 hours. Just a heads up, you can spend a full day there for anyone planning. At 3 we headed to catch the bus to Vesuvius only to find the last bus left at 1:20. Denied a third time! And the Italian wins. After explaining to the guys very carefully that I wasn’t going back to Florence until they got me to Vesuvius, we decided to do it the next morning without Chase as he had to go back to work. Honestly, at this point I didn’t care who joined/didn’t join. I would climb it myself with a pack of wild dogs if I had to. So we took the train to Naples for the evening and got Chase back to his ferry. After attempting the traditional blind folded walk in Piazza deal Plebiscito, we went for some famous deep fried pizza before heading back to our sketchy village. So we hop on our train, get to the first stop, doors open and bam, gunshots, women screaming outside, doors close, Jody’s heart starts beating like the Energizer bunny is pounding on it. Nobody says a word. Second stop, doors open, gun shots, doors close, but train doesn’t start again for about a minute. I don’t think either one of us blinked for that entire minute. Turns out it was some kids with poppers throwing them as the doors opened… Hey kids, I want you to know that I hate you. First time I saw my life flash before my eyes… Anyways, So the next day we headed to Pompei to catch a bus to Vesuvius…. Onto the next adventure 

    
 After finally finding the bus, only the two of us on it, we soon realized our driver was a psycho…. This was the second time we thought our lives were about to end dramatically. The 30 minute drive up to the top of the volcano was a mix of tiny mountain roads and one lane highway shared by traffic travelling in both directions. The ride was a combination of our driver cursing under his breath, slamming on the breaks so hard that we hit the seat in front of us, accelerating where nobody in their right mind should ever accelerate, passing vehicles along the side of a mountain as our bus hit the trees along the side of the road, and violently honking every 6 seconds at nobody in particular. This was no casual back road people, we are driving on a volcano! We went through an array of emotions: uncomfortably laughing, crying on the inside, and repeating “oh my god no, no, no” over and over again. But, we made it! Crazy. The only word to somewhat explain what we went through. We started the hike to the top of the crater. Legs, butt, lungs… Everything got a workout. Totally worth it, so amazing. Like come on, i stood ON a volcano! No words. Give the ol’ bucket list a check mark. (Speaking of bucket list, check out my new page coming called, well, the bucket list) Left the selfie stick at home as per Mickaels request, but managed to still get a couple of good pictures. 

     
 We returned down the volcano with a much calmer driver. Sadly by the time we made it to our next stop, Herculaneum, it was closed for the day. We just could not catch a break. So we walked, yes walked, from the town of Erculano back to Porticci, just to feel like we were living life on the edge… And because we were too cheap to pay for the train again. We picked up our bags and headed to Naples for our last night, as we were finally able to find accommodations at a little place called “6 Small Rooms”. Perfect location, awesome people, great price. As we were sitting planning our trip to Roma for the next morning, we happened to meet two people who worked at The Yellow Hostel Rome… Ok, this is my favourite hostel ever. I’ve been there twice already. I was so excited and they helped us get a room for the next night. Making connections is half the reason I travel.  

 Our last night in Napoli offered me the best pizza of my life (yes, better than Gusta Pizza, barely). I ordered una pizza con ricotta e noci (a ricotta and walnut pizza) from al’22 Pizza. Nommmmmm. As we walked around that night we witnessed the weirdest things. A group of children playing soccer in a mall while older kids on motorcycles drove in circles until they fell off their bikes… Also in the mall… At 11pm on a Monday.. With no parental supervision. What? We ended up at a bar where we proceeded to talk to some younger people… When they mentioned they were 15 (and some younger) we decided it was time for us to leave. So basically that was Naples. 

 Onwards to Rome. Oh Roma… Every time I say I will never return, somehow I end up back in your ruins. It’s that damn wishing fountain, I know it. 4 wishes to return, 4 times in Rome. We walked all day, ate some gelato, had pizza at my favourite place, and met up with Mickaels friend visiting from France. Now I was the minority language wise. Although my French is a disappointment to Canadians, I can still sing Jack and Jill, tell you I like black cats, and count to 100… Apparently that doesn’t count as being fluent though. Pamplemousse, escargot, un chat noir. No? We stayed at the Yellow that night. That’s all I will say, as the Yellow needs to further explanations. The next day was slightly scary, as it was a holiday in Italy and there had been terrorist threats against the famous landmarks in Rome. We accidentally ended up at the Vatican on our walk and it was surrounded by armed military, carabinieri, police, civilian assistance workers, helicopters, and multiple multiple ambulances and Red Cross workers. This terrified me and we got away from there immediately. Finally it was time for me to head back to Firenze and say goodbye for the last time to Mickael.  

 When you travel, you have to allow yourself to become vulnerable. By doing this you allow people into your life, some for a day or two, and some for longer. When you allow yourself to be the vulnerable traveller, you get to know people so well so fast. And I mean really get to know them: you become attached to them and rely on them. Some people walk in and out of your life so quickly, but there are a select few that make such an impact and become a real friend. It becomes so incredibly difficult to say goodbye knowing you may never see them again in your life and all you will have is the pictures and memories you have created together in that short period of time. This was a very difficult goodbye, as we have been experiencing Italy together for 6 weeks now and we have become such great friends. Thank you for the companionship and the adventures Mickael, and if you ever visit Saskatchewan you know you have a place to stay. I swear it’s safer than Napoli.  

  

And so I am back in Florence where I belong I guess. I have accepted a new class and will be teaching two Korean children English for the month of December. Always something new. Finally went to the Accademia to see the real statue of David, which just proved to myself that I don’t understand art. Last night I ran with my running group and moved up a level. Accomplished one of my goals and ran with the fastest group. I finished in the top 20 (about 200 people running) and as I came across the finish line they stopped me and requested I speak in the microphone…. In Italian… Panic… And suddenly I forgot how to Italy. All I could manage to say was “non, parlo Italiano” (I do not speak Italian) – lie, I could have understood what they were saying if I wasn’t in such a panic/blur from running). He asked how the course was and what I thought of the run. I answered in a mix of English and very poor Italian. Ugh. He finally asked for my name – Jody. Jovi? No, Jody. Ahhh, Jobi….. And he proceeded to make a song out of my “name” Jobi Jobi Jobi… All of the embarrassment.  

 With Christmas around the corner I am open to suggestions on ways to make it less lonely. Anyone? I am also accepting gifts from my wish list of the following: new shoes, a Christmas tree, Tim Hortons while hot chocolate, a name tag – Jody, groceries, and lots of wine. Goodluck to all my friends/readers who are prepping for finals at home. Also congrats to the University of Regina cheer team for winning gold at PCA Nationals, proud alumni. As always, don’t forget to keep me posted on your lives as well. Much love from the safety of Florence.

XoXo

Your Armstrong Abroad

   

 

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