Wednesday, July 31, 2013

J'ai 32 ans

Happy Birthday to me! Having a mid-summer birthday allows you to do a mid-year reflection on life. My life is good. No, my life is great. Frustrating and sometimes hard but wonderful and full of adventure. This year has been nothing less than epic. Really. It's the only word that applies. One year ago I was camping with two friends and was totally disconnected from technology. I was reading a book called "Why French Women Don't Get Fat" and had just finished a book called "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. This year after living in Georgia, roadtripping there and back, visiting seven countries in Europe and meeting tons of new people, I am LIVING in Provence no less and eating with French people. It's amazing how far a year can take you.

It's been a good day. My boss made a point of making sure that everyone knew it was my birthday and celebrating it. After watching "Sixteen Candles" the other day, you can't really ask for anything more ;) All three of the little kids lined up this morning to give me a kiss and wish me a happy birthday (seriously heart melting) and before dinner we had champagne (which we usually only have when guests are around). My boss also gave me a Swatch watch (!!!) and we had chocolate hazelnut mouse cake for dessert with 3+2 candles and two sparklers. The pictures are on his camera. Hopefully they worked and I can share them.

This coming year will be full of it's own adventures. I don't know yet what they will be but I'm excited for them. Getting older doesn't bother me because it means I get to experience so much more. My life is far from what I thought it would be ten, or twenty years ago but it is so much more full. So happy birthday to me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

French Friends

I was talking with my friend Kayla the other day and she asked if I’ve made any friends since starting working in France. As someone who makes friends as easily as breathing, it was an interesting question. The answer is no. Aside from the family I’m living with of course but they are employers as well as friends. They have had some friends visit and they have all been lovely people that I have had some great conversations with but they’re not my friends. On my days off I go exploring but it’s all solo.

Instead of making friends I’ve been connecting with the friends I DO have. I spend a lot of time on Facebook just keeping up with people and I have sent messaged to literally dozens of my friends recently. Some I chat with regularly anyway but some I have just had passive FB friendships with and it’s time to reconnect. It’s good. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people already this year and instead of making all sorts of new friends, I’m taking the time to invest in the friendships I do have. And to blog again. Because it’s for me, and it’s for my friends <3 o:p="">

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Promise I'm Not Hiding...

I've mentioned that I have the best room in the house. My boss told me that when he showed it to me for the first time and I confirmed it again last week to which he replied "yes, you're here for two months, everyone else comes and goes. That's why we give you the best one." I have the best view of the Bay of Cannes, a lovely breeze and a nice desk where I keep my computer and papers. When I have free time in the afternoon I generally can be found up here. I'm just the most comfortable here.

I was discussing it with my mom and she said "yes, you've always liked your room". It's true. I try to blame it on those first four months in Ontario when my little know-it-all-roommate was driving me nuts and I was hiding from her. It started a bit of a pattern but the truth is it's been going on a lot longer than that. Mom said it started when we lived on Perth Street which we moved to at the end of sixth grade. I countered and said I remember playing alone with my barbies and the door closed on Astoria but the truth is, it started the moment I got my own room. I often joke that the best thing about having three brothers was that I got my own room and they had to share but it is actually very true. Ever since I was big enough to have my own room, I've retreated to it. I don't specifically remember getting my own room. We can assume it was whenever Robert was big enough to sleep in a real bed rather than the crib, so probably when I was four or five. Before that we all shared a room. I do remember the bed I got. It was white, homemade (my parents bought it at a garage sale) and it was an odd 3/4 sized mattress. Bigger than a single or a twin but not as big as a double. And I had a Holly Hobby bedspread and matching curtains. I remember playing alone in that room too.  We had a huge rec room downstairs but I often played in my room, and that has continued.

I recently re-pinned this quote on Pinterest. It is so true. I am an extremely social person but I NEED alone time. That's why I am so incredibly thankful for my placement this summer. I get a lot of alone time where I can retreat and hang out in my room and it's wonderfully restorative.

Some days I also think it's why I'm still single. Because I CAN be alone. So many people can't. In contrast I thrive on it. Yes it gets a bit lonely sometimes but I have a ton of friends and I can always reach out to them without feeling any obligation. It's a good place for someone like me to be in :) As long as no one thinks I'm hiding.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The 80s

I am not a child of the eighties. I may have been born at the beginning of the decade and spent most of my childhood in them but very little of the pop cultures rubbed off on me. There are a few things like slap bracelets, scrunchies and neon (a trend that I wish would go away again) that rubbed off but for the most part I identify a child of the nineties. This also means that I missed out on most of the music and movies of the decade. Yes I've HEARD of a lot of the bands but I couldn't tell you any of the songs. Or conversely I may know the song but I couldn't tell you the band. Same with movies. I've seen some of them but many of the "staples" I've missed out on.

I've been working on rectifying this gap in my cultural education this summer. I get a fair amount of downtime in the afternoon so I usually watch at least one movie. So far I've seen "Heathers", "Breakfast Club", "Sixteen Candles", "Footloose", and "Tootsie". I'm a bit limited to whatever I can stream online and a lot of content is blocked in France (it's just licensing rights, I get the same restrictions in Canada) but I'm enjoying the movies I do get. Any suggestions on what else I should see?

Monday, July 22, 2013

We interrupt this pity party to count our blessings

I’m having a bad day. No particular reason, just a bunch of little stupid things. My bosses are away for the whole day and I’m left with a list of things to do. Great, except I can’t do some of them. The most annoying is the ironing. I don’t particularly like ironing and I find a lot of it pointless but whatever. It’s my job. I’ll do it and try to be joyful. Except the stupid thing needs water again (because EVERYTHING has to be ironed on full steam so the reservoir empties fast) but for some reason, I can’t get the dumb thing open. I’ve done it once. It’s just a “push and twist” thing but today, like the last time I tried, it’s not working. So I have a pile of things I don’t even want to iron (table cloths, sheets, etc) all piled up and mocking me.

Second, I am supposed to clean the guest bedroom…except apparently the guests aren’t leaving today? It’s not a big deal, they’re nice people but I can’t really clean when their stuff is all over and I feel like an intruder when I go in there. So I remade the bed and left everything else. Colour me confused.

Third, it’s hot and I’m cranky. I’m homesick and tired because we had a big dinner party last night and I went to bed a bit late and then everyone was up before me (normally I’m up first and I have come to really enjoy the quiet time in the morning) so I started the day feeling like I failed even though my boss assured me it’s all good. It’s just one of those days where I feel like I’m on the verge of tears. Anyway, I’m just tired of the language barrier and tired of living in someone else’s house where you’re never totally sure of the expectations. And I miss my family and my friends even though I’d probably be just as hot and miserable in Ontario.

So what is going well? I need to remind myself.
-          It’s a beautiful day out and there is a nice breeze which keeps me from totally losing it
-          I have the house to myself. Normally I love it when I’m here alone. I prefer working when there isn’t anyone around, I just wish I COULD work.
-          We have lots of awesome leftovers from dinner last night, which means I don’t have to cook. And we have tiramisu for dessert.
-          My sweeping went particularly fast this morning
-          I know my boss won’t mind all that much that I didn’t get the ironing done but this is the second time I haven’t been able to open that stupid thing and I’m feeling incompetent
-          My French is getting really good and I even understood some of the jokes that were told last night
-          The fireworks were particularly spectacular last night
-          I only have five weeks left here (six until I get back to Canada). I know I shouldn’t be wishing my time away but I’m ready to go home.
-          The big cactus bloomed again. The flowers only last for a day or so and I love seeing them. I didn’t realized it bloomed more than once.
-          I’m really, really enjoying the French Paul Baloche CD that my friend Joy sent me. The music is both joyful and calming and I listen to it all the time.

-          My boss made a point of saying that things went well for the dinner party last night. As someone who’s love language is “encouraging words” (especially at work) that meant a lot. 

UPDATE: Before I got around to posting this I also talked to my mom for over an hour which really helped. And the Royal Baby is here so it's an exciting day :)

French Dinner Party

Note this post was written Sunday, July 21st but the internet wasn't cooperating so I'm posting it today.

I survived my first large dinner party tonight. It wasn’t nearly as stressful as the first meal we had with guests but entertaining is still an art, especially the way the French do it. Eight people at the table means 32 plates not including countless serving dishes, and something like seven pieces of cutlery each. So, what do the French eat? Well today was a pretty typical example, although on a slightly grander scale than a normal day.

  • Champagne
  • Two kinds of olives
  • Nachos and homemade guacamole
  • Crackers with tapenade and capers

(This is unusual. The aperitif is usually one thing, just the chips and guac or nuts or just olives, something really simple before dinner.)

Entrée (which in French means appetizer)
  • Thinly sliced ham (I'd classify it as proscuitto) 
  • Cantaloupe
  • Figs

(This is typical. I can’t count how many times we’ve had this already in the three weeks I’ve been here. My boss has a meat slicer and he buys a gigantic ham hock from a restaurant supply company and then serves this regularly. We don’t always have figs but they’re my favourite. Also, I hate cantaloupe in Canada. Here though? I love it. I can eat half of one at a time…and frequently do. )

Grand Plate (main course or, in North America, the Entrée)
  • Poached salmon served with half a tomato, lemon and homemade mayonnaise. Served cold.
  • Green bean salad – the dressing is made of oil, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard which is standard for all salads around here. Shallots and parsley are added when the dressing is mixed in. Served cold.
(Fish is super common. Maybe it's just because my boss loves it but we eat it three or four times a week and we've served it every time we've had guests. White fish, salmon, you name it, we've eaten it)

Cheese Course
Generally three types of cheese. Today was a brie, goat cheese and a hard cheese that lost its label awhile ago. It’s one of my favourites though.

  • Tiramisu

(When we have guests dessert is typically something sweet. When it’s just us we eat dessert every day but it’s generally just fruit and yogurt for my boss.)

  • Decaf-espresso style, served with chocolates

All of this, including the aperitif which is always the longest, takes two to three hours to serve. Today we rushed a bit because of the fireworks at ten. It’s not unusual for your guests to arrive just before 8 and still be at the table at eleven.

Because there were so many people I ate in the kitchen between courses. Normally I just join the family but this actually worked better. It allowed me to eat on the run and stay on top of the dishes and putting away the leftovers. As it was I had to run the dishwasher twice and there will still be wine glasses for me in the morning. Such is the lifestyle of the rich! And for the record, as the main table was served, I was served as well, so it's not like I was left out at all. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

St Paul de Vence

My friend Steve hates Facebook. He says it’s too selective and you can chose to project any image you want. I think that’s a great thing. Another friend shared something about her toddler and the response from a friend was “You make motherhood seem so pleasant and easy” She answered “That's because I don't post the 'non-proud' mama moments” I think that’s okay. Some people need to edit their posts a little more and think more about the image they are projecting. Personally, I like to make it look like I’m a cool, calm, confident traveler and only here in my blog do I share the “rest of the story” that and admit that I actually mess up all the time. ;)

So yesterday was my day off. A big part of me just wanted to stay home and sleep in but when I suggested that on FB everyone encouraged me to go exploring instead so I did. (Peer pressure, it’s a wonderful thing). My friend Tommy had suggested a little village by the name of “St. Paul de Vence”. It’s not far from where I am in Cannes and it looked like a fun day trip. I live on top of a hill though, just out of reach of the local transit system so I have to rely on my boss for rides into town. It’s usually not a big deal, it’s just that this particular day he had a golf game scheduled for 8:30 so I had to be up and ready to go by 8. I did and it was fine. Got to the train station, bought my ticket, took the train to the closest town to St. Paul where I had to catch a bus. All this I knew because I had researched it the night before.
So I’m in the train station and I confirm with the clerk that the bus I want is the 400 which I catch just outside. She spoke really fast so I heard the part that confirmed “to the right and 400”. Good. Apparently I missed the part about using the stop “across the street”. So I go to the stop, wait for the bus (which takes almost a half hour), get on and we start driving. I don’t remember when I started doubting that this was the correct route. Probably when we passed the airport in Nice. I kept telling myself that the bus would just loop back and proceed to St. Paul…which it did…after an HOUR. Ugh. When I decided to “go exploring”, taking a bus trip of Nice wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Not to mention that at one point we apparently reached the “end of the line” and I had to get off and get back on the exact same bus, but pay an extra euro fifty for the pleasure. Stupid. 

Anyway, so the bus finishes its loop, back past the train station, and then proceeds to climb the hill. I know the stop I need to get off at is the “Village” de St. Paul. Okay, so we’re driving along and we pass a cute town with a neat looking church and I see that the bus stop says “Village”. This is it! Never mind that most people stay on the bus. St. Paul is a very touristy town. I should have known it was too soon (what is WITH me and getting off too soon???) Turns out the town I stopped at was La Colle Sur Loup. I convinced myself that it was a good thing that I stopped there for three reasons. 1) The people in the visitors centre were super friendly and loaded me up with all sorts of brochures and maps of the area. 2) I got to use their bathroom for free…if you don’t count the euro fifty it cost me to take the bus for the last three kilometers to St. Paul. (I considered walking but it was HOT out and all uphill so I just waited for the bus again). I’ll come to the third reason later.
Okay, so I finally get to St. Paul de Vence. It is a super cute walled, medieval village. It’s pretty touristy but that’s how things are on the French Riviera. It attracts a lot of cruise ship passengers too. I start by having my first French crepe and my beloved Orangina and then go walk around the town. The visitors centre offered guided tours for just five euro so I sign up for one at 3pm. This was at just past noon. Yes it took me almost four hours to get from Cannes to St. Paul. Pathetic isn’t it? Anyway I wandered around the town checking out the shops and taking pictures of adorable alley ways and beautiful flowers. Around 2 it starts POURING. The cafes and restaurants immediately fill up with people seeking shelter. I hung out in the church for a while and then just kept shopping. It was so warm that even though I got wet, my clothes dried quickly. Plus the streets are very narrow so there wasn’t as much rain falling as there would have been in a more open area.
So the tour is at 3, and I’m  the only one on it. Sweet! Personalized tours are always the best. And for the record, I really need to find a tour everywhere I go. Just suck it up and pay for it, because I enjoy myself SO much more when I do. So reason #3 why it’s okay that I stopped at La Colle Sur Loup. We’re doing the tour and the guide is explaining that when the city walls were reinforced up to forty or fifty houses were removed to make way for the thicker walls. Those residents were displaced across the valley to…La Colle Sur Loup! It’s totally random but it made me feel better about inadvertently stopping there. Because the two cities are “linked” and I had seen the clock tower that he pointed out up close <3 o:p="">

Anyway, after a series of stupid mistakes my day actually turned out really well. After the tour I caught the bus/train back to Cannes without issue and then just hung around town until my boss picked me up. He asked how long it took to get to St. Paul and I just claimed that I hadn’t looked at the time. I didn’t feel like explaining my stupidity LOL Remember, cultivate an image ;)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Story Time: Ortona

Or, "The One Where It All Pays Off"

Monday morning I woke up around 8, it's hard to sleep much later with five roosters in the yard ;) I was the only guest and breakfast was ready. Pastries from the local bakery, my first fresh fig from the neighbour's tree, and apricots and peaches also from the trees outside. All that washed down with Italian style espresso coffee. So yummy.

The B&B is owned by a guy named Mario, who is just slightly older than me, and his parents. Now if this were a movie I'd be able to tell you that we fell in love and I stayed in Italy forever. Unfortunately I'm going to spoil the ending and let you know that is not what happened, but I still had a wonderful time. Mario was born and raised in Ortona and his family bought this house in the country when he was a kid. It's only about 10 minutes from the city of Ortona but the bus system is really spotty. When Mario heard why I was there he volunteered to drive me into town since he was going in to run errands anyway.

He did a degree in Sociology focusing on the impacts of the Battle of Ortona on citizens. He interviewed hundreds of seniors that had been young teenagers during the war and recorded their experiences. Because of this he is incredibly well informed regarding the Battle and how it progressed through the countryside. On the way in to town he stopped a few times to show me areas where the Allies had progressed, and specifically the route the Canadians took. This is the kind of information that you wouldn't get from just coming to the area on your own and Mario was full of it. For example in the photo on the right,the line of trees is where the Moro River runs into the Adriatic Sea. The cemetery Melville is buried in is named after that river.

In town he dropped me off first at the Museum of the Battle of Ortona and we made arrangements to meet a few hours later. The museum clerk was wonderful as well. She speaks excellent English and explained what the collection featured and then left me to view it on my own. For a locally run, unfunded museum, it's really impressive. Lots of displays without being over crowded. Also, the narration progresses in a linear format, along a time line, so I was able to follow what was happening leading up to the day Melville was killed.

This room really got me. I use the term "room" loosely. It was really just three oversized photos arranged together with an Italian bible and a cross with Canadian poppies on it in the centre. The images are all casualties and it reminded me again why I was there. Because, even though I never knew him, Melville was a son, brother, and uncle when he died and many people felt the loss. And again, he's just one. One of millions of young men killed in another senseless war.

After viewing all the exhibits I chatted with the clerk a bit and she gave me tips on sights to see around town. She also confirmed that she recognized me because I had "liked" their Facebook page a few days before LOL

After the museum I walked around town finding the things that the museum clerk had pointed out like the churches that were destroyed by the bombings and the one building that wasn't rebuilt. I was by the "Price of Peace" monument when Mario pulled up. We had made plans to meet in a different part of town but he drove by and saw me and stopped. He took me up to Piazza di San Francesco, which was dubbed "Dead Horse Square" by the troops. On the square is the church where the famous "Christmas Dinner in Ortona" took place. Melville was supposed to meet his older brother Cecil there but instead Melville was killed on Christmas Eve :( As it happens Mario was born in a hospital just one street off the square and his dad worked in an office building facing the square for years. It's a small world.

It was HOT that day. Clear blue sky and hot sun so Mario and I stopped in at one of the cafes. We had a frozen coffee concoction. Kind of like a frappuccino that you eat with a spoon. It was very refreshing. After that he gave me the option of staying in town and exploring or coming back to the house and joining his family for lunch. I think I've already communicated how tired I was of cities, even cute little ones like Ortona, so I opted go back with him. It was an excellent decision. There was a refreshing breeze blowing at the house and I took my laptop outside and sat in the shade at a picnic table and uploaded some photos.

Lunch was incredible. I could eat like that every day. We started with a rice based Minestrone and even though it was hot, it was really refreshing. That was served with fresh bread.Next was a platter piled high with just-off-the-vine beefsteak tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh (as in I watched Mario's dad pick it and carry it into the house) basil all drizzled with olive oil and served with paper think prosciutto. As we were finishing lunch the sky got dark and an epic thunderstorm rolled in. Epic as in there was marble sized hail that covered the ground. Mario's friend Michele is staying with them for a month and working and he had to run outside to move his wife's brand new car under cover so it wouldn't get damaged. The rest of us just stood and watched the storm. It was over in less than a half an hour and then the sun came back out but the heat was gone. I spent most of the afternoon just relaxing and uploading photos.

Around 5pm Mario took me down to the Moro River Cemetery to visit Melville's grave. The sky was still really angry looking and the grass was damp but the storm had moved on. I've visited a lot of cemeteries on this trip. During the first two weeks we were at Commonwealth cemeteries daily. In Berlin I went and found my friend Brook's grandfather's grave. And yet, being here, finally, was really special. The cemetery is similar to all the other ones but with Italian influence. I commented to Mario that the marble for the headstones was different (the other cemeteries have concrete stones) and he smiled and pointed to the South East and said "Yes, it's from my mountain" (I guess when you're born and raised in a place you can claim the local mountains ;))

I took my time at the stone and Mario gave me space to just take it in (he also took the above photo of me and emailed it to me later). There is something different about seeing your own last name on a stone, and seeing the date engraved there. December 24th is also my dad's birthday. It wasn't until later when I was signing the guest book that I realized that the day I visited was June 24th which made it exactly 69 years and six months since Melville was killed. In that time, to my knowledge, myself and my uncle Mel, my dad's older brother, who was named after Melville, are the only people who have visited.

There are 1,615 soldiers buried there including 1,375 Canadians. Mostly young men who gave their lives helping to liberate a small town in a country far from home. And now they rest there forever. It's a sobering thought. Mario kept saying that me visiting was a "good thing". It doesn't seem like enough but I'll take his word for it.

After the cemetery we headed into town again and went for a drink at a coffeeshop/bar owned by a friend of his. We hung out for awhile comparing our wildly different lives but bonding over the fact that we both feel a bit disconnected at times. He spends his winters in Africa equipping hospitals in war zones (aka saving the world) and then runs the B&B in the summer. I am on this grand adventure and have been away from "home" since January. We had a lot to talk about. 

We headed back to the house for dinner around 7. Europeans eat late and the Italians are no exception. Dinner was magnificent. Fresh fish (heads still attached) that Mama had purchased from the wharf the day before, stewed veggies, potatoes with basil and more of that fresh bread all washed down with red and white wine. During dinner Mario was having an epic argument over politics with his mother. I didn't understand a word of it (he stopped to translate a little bit so I got the gist of the conversation) but it was hilarious to watch them. Michele was agreeing with Mario, Mama was having none of it and Papa was just observing the whole thing. It was awesome. I just sat back and tried to absorb how fortunate I was to have found these people. After all of my struggles to actually GET to Ortona, and then to be welcomed into their home and included in their family was wonderful. After the meal Mario and Michele invited me to go out for ice cream but I was exhausted from the emotions of the day and declined. There's a "what if" for you ;) If I had gone maybe the story would have ended differently ;)

Tuesday morning I got up, had breakfast and Mario took me to the bus station. As beautiful as the train ride was, it turns out the bus to Rome goes a lot faster. He didn't just drop me off at the station though. He took me in, made sure I got the right ticket and then walked me to the bus I needed to be on. After travelling on my own for so long it's nice to have someone care for you. Then with a "??" (kiss on both cheeks) he as gone. 

So that's the conclusion to that part of my adventure. It really was the climax though. I feel like everything I've been doing in Europe was leading up to being in Ortona. It's a journey that started years ago and the final scene with that cast of characters couldn't have been any more perfect. Of course I had a few days in Rome afterwards but being in Ortona will always be a special memory for me. Thanks for sharing my journey <3 font="" size="4">

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Story Time: The One Where I Seriously Start to Question My Sanity

Okay, so where were we. I’m in Rome. I slept well in the hostel even though one of my roommates came in around 3am and scared the crap out of me. Saturday morning I got up and while I ate the free breakfast (mostly cornflakes and coffee, hey beggars can’t be choosers!) I researched lodging options in Ortona. I had already searched and confirmed that there weren’t any hostels so my options were hotel or B&B. There are only about five B&B’s in town and when I searched the name of one I came up with a blog post written in 2008 by someone who was doing a trip remarkably similar to mine; venturing to Ortona to trace the steps of an uncle who was killed during the war. The prices seemed okay so I booked it for two nights. Next step, figure out how to get TO Ortona. Thankfully the front desk clerk in the hostel was super helpful and showed me what train to take online and then gave me instructions on how to get to the train station. I stripped my bed and packed only enough clothes for the two nights I’d be in Ortona and left the rest of my luggage with the desk.
Even though the train wasn’t scheduled to leave until later that afternoon I made a point of going to the station first to secure my ticket and so I knew what it was like. After purchasing the ticket, which incidentally cost the same amount as the train ride from the airport the night before, except it was taking me five times as far.

I had about four hours to kill before the train left so I took the metro down to the Coliseum. I figured it was a good tourist spot to walk around and I could use the time to get my bearings. I’d come back and actually explore it. Tourist spot is right though. There were illegal vendors everywhere selling everything from hats, umbrellas and sun glasses to scarves that say “ROMA” on them and frozen bottles of water. I think the water guys were brilliant. The other ones just annoyed me. “Hello! I’m WEARING sunglasses.” It was also stinking hot out. So I walked around the Coliseum and took some pictures, watched three different couples taking wedding photos and then went in search of something to eat for lunch. This was my first time eating in Italy so I wanted something memorable. I kind of had pizza in mind because it seemed portable but either it was me or the heat but I couldn’t find pizza anywhere. It was very frustrating. I wasn’t in the mood to sit alone in a restaurant so I finally caved to my hunger and just purchased one of the Panini style sandwiches from the stands that are everywhere. I had them heat it up because it’s a Panini but that made it super soft and the minute I peeled back the wrapping to take a bite, half of it fell on the ground. Again, tears are threatening. Horrible. I managed to eat most of what was left even though it was only kind of warm, really soggy and slightly sour tasting from being in a case in the sun. So not my best experience with food.
After that I gave up and headed back to the train station. There were just too many people around, too many vendors and it was SO stinking hot. I arrived at the station super early but it was quiet and there was a nice breeze so I just relaxed. The train left around 2:30 just as scheduled. It was super empty. I think there was one other person in my car and the seats were incredibly comfortable. The ride took forever. I don’t know if there was a high speed option (I doubt it) but we stopped at every tiny town between Rome and Pescara. As we travelled along I was looking out the window and thinking “yeah, it’s pretty but all of Europe has been pretty. I don’t get what the fuss is about.” As we got into the mountains though? Wow. Gorgeous. Amazing peaks and valleys and random castles surrounded by little villages. So cool. I understand why people like Italy now, and I wasn’t even in Tuscany! LOL

I had to switch trains in Pescara (which is the closest big city to Ortona). Of course I wasn’t paying a lot of attention and got off at the “Pescara Nord” station instead of “Pescara Centrale”. It was a stupid mistake but it wasn’t a big deal because I had 1.5 hours before the train left for Ortona. Still it meant 45 minutes of standing on an abandoned train platform on a Sunday evening with a full bladder and an empty stomach berating myself for being stupid. Of course another train did come along (one of the skills I acquired in Germany was reading train schedules, even if I don’t understand the language. Thank God times are just numbers) and I took it to Pescara Centrale. There I managed to use the “necessary”, find some freaking AMAZING pizza and catch the train to Ortona. I also tried Schweppes Lemon drink. I had seen someone else order one and it sounded refreshing. Um no. It was like drinking Pledge :P

Anyway, so the train arrives in Ortona and the sun is mostly set. It was a beautiful ride along the coast but mostly through tunnels that protect from falling rocks so I couldn’t take pictures. Really this whole adventure sounds like a movie. So picture the scene now. It’s mostly dark out (this is where I fail, again, on V’s advice in her comment about not arriving in a strange city after dark :P) The train station is largely abandoned. The ticket counter is closed and the only people around are some old guys in the “tabacerie” at the end of the platform. I go in and ask about a taxi. The guy behind the bar is the only one in there that speaks English and he hands me a business card for “Mauro’s Taxi” and directs me to a pay phone. Apparently there’s only one taxi in town? Ooookay. So I after about 20 minutes of Incredibly Frustrated Heidi trying to figure out the stupid pay phone, I finally confirm that Mauro can come and get me…in an HOUR. Apparently he serves two towns and he’s currently stuck in traffic in another town. Cue the “you can’t make this sh*t up” line. Knowing I really don’t have any other option, I wait. First in the tabacerie while the guy closes up shop, and then outside where he kindly sits about 20 feet away smoking and talking with a friend until the taxi arrives. He didn’t try and make conversation but he also let me know he was there. I appreciated it even if I was questioning my sanity. I mean here I am, in a strange country that speaks a strange language relying on the kindness of strangers. My poor guardian angel was obviously working overtime.

So the taxi comes and delivers me to the B&B where the owner is waiting even though it’s after 10pm. My first order of business it to get online and confirm with my parents that I’m still alive…because honestly, I was kind of surprised myself that I made it.  

If visiting Ortona wasn’t something I’ve wanted to do for years, I would have scrapped it entirely. Luckily, it gets better from here. No more creepy late night taxi rides ;) Stay tuned for the next installment. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Story Time: Rome

Yeah! I’m so glad to know people are still reading :) Y’all want to make me post more. So how about a story? Let’s set the scene. I left Canada on May 20th. On June 1st my study tour was over and I ventured out on my own. By late June I was exhausted from travelling and moving around. I stayed in Berlin a day longer than I had planned because I was just tired. I wouldn’t have gone to Italy except for two reasons. 1) I had booked a flight from Rome to Nice for June 28th and 2) I really did want to visit Uncle Melville’s grave in Ortona.

I looked at trains from Berlin to Rome but the trip was long and they were quite expensive. With the encouragement of a random British guy in the hostel I looked up flights and realized it would be much cheaper and faster to just fly. I booked my flight on Friday, June 21 and flew out at 7pm on Saturday, June 22. That meant by the time I got off the plane Rome and collected my luggage, it was after 10pm. And then I had to get into the city. On the plane they had given an option of pre-purchasing a bus ticket for 6€ that would take me into Rome. That sounded easy enough so I bought it. Except when I got out of the terminal I couldn’t figure out where the heck I was supposed to go. A friendly airline attendant took pity on my obvious confusion and directed me down to the trains. Apparently that was actually the best way to get into the city. So I get down to the platform and, being this late at night, there is only one ticket booth open. I stand in line with everyone else and when it’s my turn I ask how much it is for a one way trip to Rome. 14€. Okay, but there’s this City Pass thing for 36€ that includes all your transportation in the city and access to the major sites. Okay, that sounds like a good idea. I’ll take one. I pay for it and THEN she tells me that the 14€ train trip isn’t included. UGH!!! I was NOT impressed. So I’m exhausted and feeling vulnerable and like I’m bleeding euros. Plus this whole not understanding the language thing is stressful.

Okay, so I take the train and it brings me to the main train station in Rome. My hostel isn’t ALL that far away but with my luggage and the time of night I knew it would just be smartest to take a taxi. There are tons of “helpful” taxi drivers at the station all offering you their services. It feels a bit weird but I don’t really know what I’m doing so I make eye contact with one of them and tell him where I need to go. He nods and says “30€”. THIRTY? I know Rome’s a big city but that sounds expensive. He sees my distress (I’m kind of close to tears at this point) and offers “how much would you like to pay?” “I suck it up and say uh, 20€?” Which still seems kind of steep but fair. He counters with 25€. Whatever. Okay, I’m tired. Let’s go. Then it gets REALLY weird. He starts leading me away from the train station across the street blabbing about how his car is just over there and he has a license and everything in it but his “white car is broken” (read: actual legit Rome taxi) but it will all be okay. Um…no. I follow him a bit more but as we get ready to cross the street I stop and listen to my gut and tell him I’m sorry but no. I’m not comfortable with that. He wasn’t happy but to his credit he didn’t try to stop me as I turn around and walk back to the station. Oh…did I mention the wheel broke on my suitcase so I’m basically dragging this stupid thing around instead of wheeling it? Yeah, anyway, so I get back to the front of the station and see the line of legit white Rome taxis. I get in line and the next one is driven by a friendly older man. I show him the address of the hostel and he helps me put my bags in the trunk. He drives me straight there (in a very “OMG I’m in Rome and they’re INSANE HERE!” way LOL Honking horns and gestures and blasting through red lights and all of it. Anyway, he gets me to the hostel and it’s only 12€, including one euro for baggage handling. I knew the other guy was fishy! So that’s where my headspace is when I arrive. I check in at the hostel and basically fall right asleep. I’ll figure out how to get to Ortona tomorrow.  

And I’ll put THAT adventure in another post, because this one got long enough by itself. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Old School "Blogging"

Wow. I haven’t blogged since April. That is officially the longest I’ve gone without posting an entry. Why? Two reasons,
1) Facebook
2) <-- p="" this.=""> I’ve gone back to “old school” blogging. Paper and pen. When you’re travelling pulling out a laptop isn’t always practical. For one thing the battery only lasts so long and for another, the time you do have in front of a computer is often limited to when you have internet access and can upload your copious amounts of photos so people can follow along on your trip. Or it was for me.

So where did we leave off? I finished my semester in Georgia with straight A’s. That put me on the President’s list which was a nice surprise. I worked HARD this semester. I’ve never taken five history courses at once. Heck, I’ve never taken five COURSES. In Ontario I only ever take four and one is usually French to break it up a bit. But yeah, five history courses and a volunteer placement and I managed to pull off straight A’s. Go me!

May 1st my best friend Meredith flew out and put up with me while I stressed out over final exams and then the two of us (more her than me) packed up my belongings, wrangled them all into my car and roadtripped back to Ontario. Roadtripped in that we stopped off in Washington, DC, NYC, CT and Boston, MA. I left her at the airport in Boston so she could fly back to BC and I drove the rest of the way to Ontario alone. I had six days in Ontario, three of which I spent running around Waterloo meeting up with people and doing administrative paperwork and three which I spent in Mount Forest relaxing, celebrating my friend Grace’s birthday and mentally preparing for My Big Trip.

May 20th I flew, along with 23 classmates, to Amsterdam. I’m not going to cover my whole trip in detail because most of my blog readers are FB friends with me and therefore know where I was. Basically Amsterdam ->Ypres, Belgium -> Arras, France -> Dieppe, France -> Brugge, Belgium -> Amsterdam.

 I had two days in Amsterdam after everyone else left which I spent with my friend Heather and then I started travelling on my own. To Paris for a week -> Luxembourg City -> Berlin -> Bremen, Germany -> Oldenburg , Germany -> Celle, Germany -> Rome -> Ortona, Italy -> Rome -> Cannes, France.

I’m in Cannes now and I’ll be here for the rest of July and all of August. I fly back out of Amsterdam on the 31st (still need to determine exactly how I’m getting back to Amsterdam). I’m working in Cannes. As a “family helper”. I had applied as an Au-Pair but the family that offered me a position has children who are older than me and really just need someone to help out around the house. I clean, iron and help with meals and generally just help out around the house as needed. In exchange I get a room with an ocean view, I take all my meals with the family and I participate in their activities, which so far have included going into downtown Cannes and going to the amazing open air market. Last year at this time I was reading a book by Peter Mayle called “A Year in Provence” and another one called “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”. Now I am living in Provence (or just south, on the Cote d’Azur aka French Riviera) and living with French people who eat the way you need to eat to not get fat! My chronic, biggest worry is wondering what will happen in the future. Well there is NO way I could have designed this so it’s a sign that it’s really okay to stop worrying!!! My life is fantastic I only need to stop and think about the past few months or look out over the Mediterranean Sea to recognize that.

 So, that’s what I’ve been up to. Sorry it didn’t get written down here but…then again, I’m not sorry. I’ve been having too much fun!!!