Ringing in Four Years of Travel — New Year’s Eve Abroad

Amsterdam, Netherlands--New Years Eve

Sydney, AUS In the past few years, I haven’t spent a single New Year’s at home. Since 2008 I have been always been somewhere else to welcome in all of the possibilities of a new year. I’ve never been one to look forward to a new year as a way of burying the past; never thought ahead in hopes that the coming year would hold more promise, because well in the end life is life. I do enjoy seeing how celebrations take place in different parts of the world and more importantly I see the closing of a year as a way to look back and be grateful for all the things that you’ve experienced. As cheesy as that sounds, trust me, I’m not immune to feeling sorry for myself, as you’ll come to find in my next few posts, but when all is said and done and you say goodbye to yet another year of your life, you have to realize how good you’ve got it. Here are the places that I’ve said hello|goodbye in the past: 2008: Whistler, British Columbia (Canada). I still remember some of the hilarious conversations that accompanied us on this long drive up to our first ever New Year’s Eve celebration in the legendary cabin of our good friend J.J. He was the new “sooo-not-my-boyfriend” boyfriend of our sorority sister Katie and he and his frat brothers were planning a big snowboarding and legal drinking debacle in Whistler to ring in 2008. Naturally, a party isn’t a party without the girls, so we all tagged along. Those days were our glory days, having, of course, partied the night before we were on our way to more partying and after the short three hour ride to the border we were had a car stocked full of oversized and underpriced duty-free booze. The shots commenced as Katie desperately attempted to decode J.J.’s simple-minded directions. Think, go over a bridge and after that bridge turn right, you’ll come to a roundabout and turn left… sounds like it could be straight forward but honestly, is there only one bridge between Vancouver and Whistler? Possibly not. By the time we finally arrived, it was well-into party hours and a quick changeover from sweats to party tops and we were out to the village, walking down Blackcomb to get to the bars. This was possibly one of the best New…

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Lesson #12: Don’t Be Such a Mama’s Boy!

Before I go into detail here, I want to share something with you all, dear readers. This is the Italian adaptation of the famous children’s song The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Whisky il ragnetto che sale la montagna la pioggia lo bagna e Whisky cade giù, giù, giù! Ma esce un bel sole e Whisky si è asciugato risale la montagna e va sempre più sù, sù, sù! In cima alla montagna c’era una casetta con dentro una streghetta che se lo vuol mangiar, gnam, gnam! Ma Whisky è molto furbo riscende la montagna ritorna dalla mamma e non la lascia più, più, più. Creative Commons credit: The Itsy Bitsy Spider So I realize that most of you probably don’t know what that translates to. Let me enlighten you here. Basically it begins just like our version, with the spider (Whisky) climbing a mountain until the rain deters him. When it does he goes back home until the sun comes out and dries everything up. He then attempts the mountain again and when he finally reaches the top he finds a little house with a witch inside; strange no? That, however, is not even the best part. No, little Whisky goes running back down the mountain to return to the safety of his mommy and never go out again (again, again)! What? It all makes perfect sense! Maybe you have heard of this phenomenon in Italy? Where the men live at home until they are 35 years old and have an unhealthily, needy relationship with their mothers? Mama’s Boy (credit: AirBeagle) In Italy, it is common that children (although it somehow appears to be mostly men) live at home until they are completely graduated from University with a well-paying job, a high balance in the bank account and a wife. Believe it or not, even with the famous Italian Stallion status, it can still take years. All jokes aside, the fact that Italians stay at home until they are a stable is both smart and admirable. Men save money so that they can buy houses without falling into debt and support their families. The problem? The Mama’s Boy image that comes with it; and is all too often the result is not sexy. It could be the Italian Mama’s fault, never wanting to let her little boy go… but maybe that’s a story for another post… Is any other culture out there…

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Breathing the Fresh Tuscan Air with Fun in Tuscany Vespa Tours

Don’t-a worry, it’s like floating down a river! Suddenly I could feel my heart beating in my throat as Filippo attempted to put each new rider at ease as we climbed onto our individual scooters. Maybe I hadn’t thought this through enough, motorcycles really freak me out, why did I assume a Vespa would be any different? It was. As I let my tour guide’s words calm my nerves and the Incubus song Floating Down a River played in the back of my mind I began driving painfully slow circles around the horse training pen. This was the last day I had to enjoy Italy, and I had twisted the arms of some of my friend into taking the plunge and learning to drive a Vespa with me so that we could enjoy the beauty of the Tuscan countryside one last time together. When Filippo was satisfied that all nine of us were experienced enough to handle the winding country roads, he stopped traffic to let us exit the farm with ease. Our first stop was just a few kilometers down the road as we pulled over to get a couple of shots of the Staggia Castle and Filippo began indulging us in just a taste of the vast knowledge he has of the Chianti countryside. The feeling of the wind in my hair and the comfort of the scooter made my body feel like it was in its natural state as I sped up to meet Fillipo at the head of the group. Ahead of us we could see the road stretching out and winding through the vineyards and cypress trees. Filippo, our guide, had just returned from living in Australia not more than one month before and throughout lunch he filled us with stories of his life traveling America, Australia and Europe. His idea of paradise is showing up at the airport with a suitcase and picking a destination. Needless to say, he was my kind of guy! Each stop along the way meant that we would get just a little bit more insight into the history of the countryside and how it was made into what it is today. Each of us eagerly listened as he spoke about how the region grew to be known as Chianti and the process for how the regions namesake wine is made. As we walked through the vineyards just beyond the walls…

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Enjoying Italy to the Last Drop

tortelli di cinghiale sagra

The days are winding down, fast. We officially have one week left in Italy. In one week we’ll be in the Big Apple, we’ll be enjoying Thai food and Central Park. But I have to put those thoughts aside for a while. As my time in Italy comes to an end, I am doing my best to enjoy it, reminding myself that it is undetermined when I’ll be back here again. Sure, it’s proving to be a bit difficult; I’m so excited to be home, I want to see my family and I want some spicy food! But this week it’s time to take a step back and just enjoy La dolcezza di non fare niente. That is the sweetness of doing nothing, which is a favorite phrase to describe the Italians fondness of their lifestyle. The only problem is that I’m doing far from nothing. I mentioned in my updated About section that the one thing that I want to do before I leave Italy is take a Vespa ride through the Tuscany hills. I am planning on doing that the day before we leave. Lorenzo, of course, is worried that I’ll injure myself beyond repair and the whole trip will be cancelled. But he doesn’t seem to realize that I’m a competent human being that has the ability to learn something new. I also have travel insurance. I have been planning something new every evening, I want to re-visit all of my favorite bars and aperitivos places. I’m doing my best to eat as much Italian food as possible, one feat that I’m actually not doing well at since the days are now crawling near ninety degrees and nothing sounds worse than a steaming bowl of pasta. But I’m trying. Cheap wine is a blessing here, especially as we’re soon to head to Australia, the land of outrageously priced alcohol (seriously guys, what gives?). Besides, where else can I pay €7 for a glass of my choice of alcohol and two plates of appetizers? Not in the U.S., and not in Australia. La Sagra di Cinghiale Last weekend we had the ultimate Italian experience. Some of my friends mentioned that there were some great Sagras in the coming weeks and we knew that we wanted to get to a few! A Sagra is a celebration of local food. Generally, they take place in small towns in the hills…

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Lesson #11: Please Wait Your Turn…

Standing in line, anywhere really, but let’s say at the pharmacy, be aware of your surroundings. Almost as a guarantee there will be a little old lady inside standing off to the side of the counter, appearing to be looking for something. You’ll get in line to claim your medication and all of the sudden the little old lady is inching closer, touching you almost. Before you know it you’ll be staring straight at her back. I generally find myself completely baffled, at a loss for words in this situation. Based on the way that she was inching her way around me, I can only assume she thought she was being sneaky. The only problem? Her little trick would only have been sneaky had I been blind! Is it so common to simply not notice a new person standing directly in front of you? I don’t know if they think they can get away with it because they are pushing ninety or if they just think that they deserve to go first, all the time. Either way, that doesn’t fly in my book. Now, of course there is some assimilation that needs to take place when you decide to live in a different country, you have to accept the fact that all the norms and comforts aren’t necessarily going to be there. However, there comes a time (quite often) when I find myself answering explanations of how I should act with, “hmph, allora, non sono Italiana.” Smile. In other words, wait your turn lady! Wouldn’t this be nice? Creative Commons credit: simonhn On the other side of this very interesting little coin, we have the overeager, can’t wait to get in line Italians. You’ll find them at the boarding gates of Ryanair flights. If you ever find yourself taking a Ryanair flight out of Italy keep a close eye on the boarding gate. Often, in my experience Ryanair flights are delayed, but that doesn’t seem to stop the Italians from fighting to be the first on board. No less than one hour before the flight you’ll find a line-up of Italian passengers, patiently waiting to claim their seats onboard. It shocks me that they’ll stand there for hours if need be, just to ensure that they get to sit together on the short flight. When we flew to Alicante last summer, our flight was delayed over two hours and nothing…

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What happens when you know too much?

In the last few days, I have noticed a huge change in myself. I don’t know if it has something to do with the weather (it poured this morning so I’m going to guess that’s not it), my increase in endorphins as I have planned the next leg of my life, or because I simply forgot to be self-conscious. I kind of think it’s that last one. I didn’t always love Florence. I know that comes as a surprise to all of you. Or maybe you caught that in my sometimes bitter-like-only-a-true-expat-should-be tone? I’ll reiterate for the last time that when I came here I assumed all would be lollipops and unicorns since Lorenzo and I were reunited. Boy was I wrong. I had come into a place that I spoke no word of the language, knew nothing of the culture and I’ll just say I’m not the most skilled map-reader in the world. There were a few months of me being holed up in our apartment alone, with no friends and nothing to keep me busy. I couldn’t complete anything because I didn’t believe I should be allowed to speak English to get my point across. The funny thing was that the Florentines are used to foreigners and they weren’t judging me (well, maybe they were) for not speaking Italian because they had no idea that I was living in the city. I brought up all this not-so-fun-to-remember stuff because I have surprised myself lately. The other day after meeting a friend for lunch I realized that I needed stain remover for my clothes. I thought in true Annie in Italy fashion that I should put it off for another time, like maybe a time that Lorenzo was going to the store. Then as I approached the store (it was on my way home) I stepped in and realized it is my local grocery, and it is familiar. Then as if that comfortable reminder was all I needed I chose two items off the shelf and, unsure of which was stain fighter, waltzed up to the store clerk and began asking her which was best for stains or if they were both detergents. The funny thing was that I am pretty sure I don’t know how to talk about stains in Italian. Surprise! Yes I do! I’m pretty good with Italian words that relate to food (duh, that’s the…

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Lesson #10: Layer-up!

In response to my last post about the curious health remedies that Italians use and the funny things they believe, I bring you another post about Italian superstitions. I think that these posts are a great feature at the moment because these absurdities are a regular part of my life as we are in the middle of winter and sometimes forced (I know, shocking) to go outside. Side note: we have been surprising blessed with summer since I wrote this article. Here’s the thing, there is a slight problem that we encounter when we spend an evening out. If we plan an entire evening; dinner and meeting with friends for drinks after, it’s always a gamble on Lorenzo’s comfort. Through conversations with my expats-dating-italians (we should form a support group) I’ve discovered this is in fact a common problem. Turns out, the Italians have very responsive digestive systems. Do you know what that means? While Italians are out stuffing their bodies with those delicious pastas, sauces, steaks, desserts and espresso shots their digestive systems are working hard. Rather than fiber-filled ingredients and coffee to get their system on the fast track, it’s all about the weather. Yes, that’s right. All it takes for an Italian man’s digestive systems to kick into full gear is a bit of fresh air. It’s not even about their bodies hitting the cold air, it only has to be the stomach. I wish I was kidding. My friend Georgette has informed me that intelligent underwear companies across Italy have created a new trend for Italian men, in the form of undershirt with double padded stomach areas. I know you don’t believe me but it’s true. Cold air hitting the stomach = instant need for the toilet. No, that has never happened to me but it seems a known phenomenon among all Italian men. So, maybe you should give that last layer another thought before heading out into the winter air! If you like this section, check out my other lessons on living with an Italian. Do you have some quirky cultural difference of your own to share? I’d love to feature them!

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Lesson #9: Even If You’re Fluent, You’re Still Not

This is a guest post by Jessica Spiegel: the wonderful, all-knowing Italy expert behind BootsnAll’s WhyGoItaly. After taking time out of his busy day to give me a tour of the hostel in Venice he managed, my host offered to give me a mini-walking tour of the neighborhood surrounding the hostel. It was a kind offer, and one I couldn’t refuse, although he’d already gone out of his way to show me every nook and cranny of the old building the hostel occupied. I followed him up and down the stairs of the former granary, the February chill penetrating the concrete walls and magnifying the fact that the hostel was nearly empty of guests, taking snapshots of rooms and jotting notes in my book. We wound our way in a circular fashion – up the stairs on one side of the huge building and down the stairs on the other – to end up where we’d left off, in the main hall. I thought my visit was complete. It had already taken more time than the other hotel visits I’d done, where managers didn’t have time for grand tours, and I was ready for a nap. Or an espresso break. Or both. That’s when my host offered his guided walking tour of the neighborhood, and when my inability to be curt or bitchy with people who are being nice to me kicked in. So off we went on a slow-paced walk around the island, pausing occasionally while he gestured toward a building and said… Something. It’s here that I should mention something critical: my host was speaking not in Italian, but in the Venetian dialect, and to this day I’ve no earthly idea what he was saying for most of the two hours I spent with him. In fact, I’m only guessing that it was a tour of the neighborhood he was offering, since when I got on a vaporetto nearly two hours later that’s what it felt like I’d gotten. But who knows? Maybe when we left the hostel he was asking if I’d like to go get some lunch, or meet his pet parrot, or take a ride in a speedboat. All I know is that like Ginger Rogers, I let someone else lead – and so we walked, slowly, through the deserted streets around the hostel for the next hour and a half, him chattering away and…

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Lesson #7: If You’re Not Careful, You’ll Die

If you read my last post about Lorenzo getting sick in Sardinia then you have an idea what might be coming next. In the comment section Christine and Kenan both went on to mention their respective experiences with Europeans who think that if you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold. Welcome to my life. This cultural phenomenon began rearing its little head slowly at first with small comments; such as Lorenzo saying that he didn’t want to sleep without a t-shirt on because he would wake up with a sore throat. I laughed and made fun of him thinking that he must be kidding. Almost every guy I know back in the States sleeps without a t-shirt in the summer every single night. And maybe even in the winter if they’re brave enough. I mean, you can’t literally go to sleep completely fine and wake up sick as a dog, can you? The second trigger was when my TEFL classmates and I decided that as part of our final assignment we would create a cultural project pointing fun at all the major difference between Italian and American men. Most of the things that we came up with can be used for material in these posts and as I read them off to Lorenzo he had a response or reason for every single one. I read something along the lines of not only does every last Italian man wear a scarve, they are generally purple or color coordinated to said man’s outfit. Lorenzo’s response: but my throat gets cold, and if I don’t cover it I’ll get sick. If I mention a slight scratch in my throat or a sore tonsil his response it, be sure you tie your scarf tight tomorrow! As others living with Europeans can surely attest to, it doesn’t stop there. After a nice, relaxing shower I love nothing more than to crawl into bed. I consider it not only time for my body to rest and relax but for my hair to settle into its natural state and repair itself without the harsh blasts of a blow dryer. Then I hear; aren’t you going to dry your hair? You need to dry your hair before you go to sleep. You’re going to get sick. Well, after almost 24 years I think I can confidently say that going to bed with wet hair and sleeping…

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Sardinia Day 5: Villacidro—>Home

Day 4 was spent in bed and in front of the TV. Since Lorenzo was bed bound for the entire day. I had no problem staying in with him and resting, since I hadn’t slept the night before because I wanted to be there to care for him (yes, I am aware of how fantastic of a girlfriend I am! 😉 haha kidding…). This little incident was a good perspective into what might happen if we were on the road on a long-term trip and one of us got sick. We were absolutely lucky to be staying in such a fabulous place, everyone that works in this tiny hostel is so caring and helpful. I assume that had we been anywhere else it would be a similar situation, as I think everyone can relate to the horrible feelings that come from being sick. Everything always seems ten times worse during the night but as we are completely alone in this hostel (the owners don’t live here) I started getting worried that maybe something worse would happen. In almost two years Lorenzo has never been so sick that he can’t take care of himself and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give him what he needed. In our relationship we have found health remedies to be one of the biggest cultural differences, believe it or not. Whenever I was sick to my stomach as a kid it was always 7-up and Saltine Crackers for me. For him, white pasta and rice. When I have a cold, it’s tea and orange juice. For him a spoonful of honey mixed with lemon. Don’t even get me started on the everyday health issues (… I swear that for 23 years I didn’t dry my hair before bed and I’m still alive and quite well….) Plus, I know more than anyone how much you just want to be home with your family when you feel so miserable. As I was able to gain a bit of perspective, and a bit of sleep the next day, I realized that we would have sorted it out. I was able to get to the supermarket and pharmacy, asking directions and getting the remedies needed in order to make Lorenzo as comfortable as possible. Even though it was easy and our situation wasn’t as dire as it could have been, it gave me comfort and confidence…

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