As I type, the Milan train station is getting farther and farther away and in turn, Verona is getting closer and closer.
The Italian sky out my window is a dark blue-ish gray and has a certain misty sadness to the air. I have to remind myself the cities I pass by are all someone’s homes, lives and safety. The train wheels screech and squeal like pigs in a pen, but Justin Bieber is singing to me in my little red headphones, so all is well in the world. It’s strange this train culture in Europe. Or maybe the lack of it in the states is whats strange. Whose to say–it’s all about perspective you know. Anyway signs outside tell me we’re at Milano Lambarte. Not my stop. I’m looking for Verona Porta Nuova–about an hour and a half from the current stop. This stop is where I find my new home, Verona.
Yes, Verona is home now, and I’m coming back from my first big adventure: Interlaken, Switzerland. It’s been quite the trip, let me tell you. Among many things, I’d have to say without any hesitation my favorite part was, well, this:
Yup, your little expLaurer went paragliding over the Swiss alps. Quite the view, huh? Quite the view.
If you want to see the adventure through my eyes, here’s a video of my experience:
Not bad for your first weekend abroad, not bad at all. But that’s not all I did. I strolled around the Swiss streets in the crisp, cold air and got acquainted with the town quite quickly.
It’s actually a rather small town, with only about 5,500 resident’s making up its population (although all the study abroad students distort that number I’m sure). So we saw the city’s sites, basically lived in this Irish pub about a block from our airbnb, and of course, I expLaured. But what else is new?
The weather, as you can probably tell, was rather dreary, but the town was beyond beautiful nonetheless.
Just like paper postcards–but it was real. And right in front of me. I was constantly pinching myself mentally to make sure this wasn’t just an elaborate dream. But nope, I was awake and alive as ever, and taking in the (quite possibly) most beautiful view I’ve ever seen in my entire 21 years.
I think the country’s beauty puts something in the air–because Interlaken is a place of adventure. As my four other friends went skydiving early Saturday morning, Chloe and I decided to be daring ourselves: we were gonna go paragliding. We’re in Switzerland for goodness sake; it’s our study abroad, and well, you know what they say–you only live once. So paragliding it was.
I was strapped onto this guy:
His name is Jeff. He was born and raised in Interlaken and still lives there to this day. But guess what: he lived in Orange County for a while with his ex-wife. I couldn’t help but laugh. Who would have thought I’d be strapped to a random Swiss man who happened to live an hour from my sunny California home; I guess Disney was right– it is small world after all.
Once we got the OK, we starting running one foot after the other, off the mountain and into the sky. One moment I was running as fast as I could, the next, I was soaring through the sky overlooking one of Interlaken’s two gorgeous lakes.
The whole thing seems like a bit of a blur. It all happened so fast. The entire adventure was probably about 10-15 minutes of gliding through the air, though it truly felt more like 5.
Was I scared? That’s the question I get asked most frequently. Actually, the answer is no, not really. Before the initial decent, sure. But the second I was strapped in I felt safe; the natural beauty beneath my feet was all the distraction I really needed. I was 1400 meters up. But before I knew it, I was back on the ground and the adventure was over–at least for that moment.
Interlaken, you’ve been good to me. And before I conclude my weekend, let me just say, the sights are not the only wonderful thing about this place.
Cheese fondue. Lemme tell you. Good god, it was a dream. Come to think of it, so was the hot chocolate.
Speaking of food, let me return to my Italian adventure.
Alright, so you wanna know about Verona, huh? Okay, here’s my thoughts:
The town is quite different than I pictured. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of it at all. It would be beautiful no doubt. But would I like it? Would it feel like my home? There were a lot of unknowns. And as I’ve learned in the past, unknowns can be scary. But Verona is nothing to be scared of at all. It’s everything I ever dreamed of and more. It’s red roofs, colorful balconies, narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets remind me of a mix of Prague and Barcelona, both their own mix of beautiful.
But this is Italy were talking about. And I had never been to Italy. I know, it’s weird. How has a girl whose been to Botswana never been to Italy?? Well. Somehow I didn’t. But that’s why I’m here. I wanted to expLaur and learn. And I am. One week down and I’ve already learned and grown so much. I’ve learned a little Italian. Ciao of course was a basic, hello. But grazie and prego, thank you and your welcome were new. Mi dispiace I’m sorry. Vohre pasta bolgoinese has become a common phrase of mine while ordering food: can I have…. Parle inglese? Do you speak English? A part of me always wants to hear that si(yes) but somewhat enjoys the challenge of the no. I’ve resorted to hand motions, pointing and charades at times. But overall it’s not bad. I get get by. Many speak English. I’m not so sure I like that. But it’s nice, sure.
Grocery shopping was interesting as well. Is this conditioner or body lotion? Who knows. Lucky gamble and it was conditioner like I wanted. Raspberries are a euro–praise this glorious country. People talk with their hands–a lot. And with a lot of passion. Hard to tell if someone is mad or not. Classic Italian though. Speaking of Italian, the Italian food is well, everything it’s talked up to be.
I was nervous about it to tell you the truth, I love pasta and I wanted to make sure my expectations were in check for when I took that first bite of real Italian pasta. But don’t worry, it lived up to its reputation. At times, possibly even exceeded it. Oh, and did I mention I ate pizza? For those who don’t know–I’m not a pizza person. Me despieche. But when in rome… Well, Italy. It was as long as my 12 year old cousin and I promise you I’m not exaggerating. Here, look.
It was good, but still not a pizza person. I’m working on it.
Hmm lets see. What else? The city itself is a dream.
Bigger than I expected for sure. I’m not exactly sure what I had in mind but probably something more the size and navigable like Sevilla or now that I’ve seen it, Interlaken. One day in the city and you’ve become Sevilla master. But Verona–no. It’s been a week and I’m still lost. That’s okay though. I have time to get acquainted.
The river that slithers its way through the city is called the Adige. My home for the next three months gets it’s name after this river, and is therefore conveniently called, Residence al’Adige.
In town, there is a giant Colosseum-like amphitheater right smack dab in the middle of one of the city’s beautiful squares known as Piazza Bra.
Beautiful I know. Oh, and did I mention the floor is made of MARBLE? Yeah, it’s quite crazy honestly. But it sure is beautiful.
What else can I tell ya? Oh yes, right: Venice. I went to Venice just a few short days after I hit Italian soil. I was anxious what can I say? But hey, can you blame me?
The world famous city was only about an hour from me. It was just too tempting. The gondolas were calling my name–so off I went.
Here’s the thing though: I didn’t even ride a gondola. I know, I know– I did Venice wrong. How could I not? Well, first of all, I was in a little group, so it wasn’t always my agenda. Secondly, it was 80 euro, and well, that was over my budget. So no gondola ride for me. I guess I’ll just have to settle with the plain old city instead (this is where sarcastic font is 100% needed). Oh and of course, a few pictures of the gondolas, which are free 🙂
Venice was beautiful don’t get me wrong. I mean, Saint Mark’s Basilica……
Definitely was a wow. What they don’t tell you though is that this square is INFESTED with pigeons. Like literally everywhere you step they’re there. In the air as well. Somewhat killed the vibe, but that’s okay.
Oh and then I found this gem while just simply expLauren…
And then we decided to go to this little island called Borano about a half an hour from Venice. Why’d we go? Well, for this:
It looks straight out of a Disney movie, doesn’t it? It’s so colorful and happy and small. I couldn’t believe people actually live there; such a different life they must live.
And so after Borano, we headed back home–or at least so we thought. Turns out we happened to be there during carnival, which is a festival Venice hosts every year for a few weekends in January-February. Think masquerade ball but Italian style–with some gondolas thrown into the mix.
So, our water taxi let us off four stops too early due to the parade and we had to walk the rest on our own; not a problem, right? Well, you see it was the festival. Everyone lined the narrow streets from corner to corner and it was almost impossible to pass. So we squeezed our way passed masked italians and foreigners alike as we made our way back to the train station. I’ll admit, it was claustrophobic and dark and I was slightly afraid of falling into the canals and having my purse stolen, but it was also unbelievably fun and beautiful to see the city light up with such enthusiasm and spirit. But we finally made our way out, caught a train back to Verona, and just like that i had seen Venice–and I mean the REAL one; none of that Las Vegas bull. It really was beautiful, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back. Maybe it was hyped up to much in my head, but Venice just didn’t quite do it for me like some of the other european cities I’ve visited. But hey, that’s okay. We can’t all love everything. But I could definitely appreciate the beauty.
Did I mention I went to a real authentic European soccer match too? Yes, soccersloan has returned. But this time in Verona.
The team is called Hellas, and well… they sort of suck. But that’s okay. They actually ended up tying the game I went to, so that was fun. There was an entire section filled to the brim with your typical devoted, European futbol fan… and then there was the other ¾ of the stadium: almost entirely empty. But it was still a great time nonetheless.
The teams colors would make any Bruin proud: blue and yellow. And their symbol? No, not a baby bear, but a ladder. Why? A ladder is a symbol representing the Scala family, who were sort of like the Medici’s of Verona. This ladder can be found not only on the futbol teams emblem, but also on buildings throughout town. It’s a Verona thing, I suppose.
On another note, the program also took us all to a winery. And not just your average winery… it was like a BEAUTIFUL, elegant, fancy winery. And we got a tour. We took a little 20-ish (I’m honestly not exactly sure how long) bus ride (I fell asleep on the way) to Soave. This is where the winery was:
Unbelievable, I know. This region is filled with medieval castles and churches which give the town a certain charm impossible to replicate.
After marveling at the beautiful surroundings, we climbed down a long flight of stairs and found ourselves underground surrounded by these bad boys:
I felt so small.
Then there were the barrels I was used to seeing
Our guide told us they let the wines sit here for 5 years before bottling. And they sell over 30 million bottles each year.
After the wines sit in the barrels for a few years, they migrate over to the bottle and are turned ever so slightly every day–manually. Yikes.
Then after it was the moment we’ve all been waiting waiting for: the wine tasting.
They gave us three scrumptious sips; they served the lowest quality first–sveva valpolicella superiore from 2013.
The next was Ripasso superiore 2011 which was aged 18 months and included the skin of the grapes.
And the last and final wine is known as, “The King of Red Wine” which is Amarone. They age this bottle for 5 years and dry press the grapes; they let the juice ferment and then put it in those HUGE oak barrels from the beginning and let age almost 24 months; they then refine for another 3 years in the bottle and after 5 years, they finally sell it. So it was a 2010 vintage.
Did you follow that? Kind of confusing, I know. But interesting and cool nonetheless.
They taught us to swirl the wine and watch it run and smell the various fruits and ingredients that make up each wine.
This tasting put almost all my senses to use: I could smell the evolution bouque of flavors; tasted the intense and sweet, silky and smooth texture and recognize red fruit–black cherry plum chocolate toasted coffee, even.
We were supposed to wait one hour and let it oxygenate, but well, that didn’t happen.
Oh, and they had an alcohol content 40.5… So before we all got drunk off the tasting on an empty stomach, we all went to dinner. But this was not just any ordinary dinner. Not ordinary at all.
It was the most elegant dinner I’ve ever had in my entire life. Four courses. Endless (and I mean endless) bottles of delicious white wine made right there in the winery, and of course, dessert.
First course was risotto cooked in a white wine and parmesan sauce. YUM. So. much. yum. Then there was pasta. It was rigatoni thick cylinder noodles thrown in some delicious oil and sauce and tossed with zucchini and peppers. Then there was chicken; so soft and tender and warm. Did I mention there was endless wine? And then of course there was dessert–and dessert wine.
Let me just say this was THE absolute best dinner all around that I have ever had in my entire life. Good God I love this country.
And speaking of great food:
I forgot to mention somewhere along the line I’ve eaten some pretty colorful and tasty gelato, an Italian classic.
I see a darker shade of blue out the window now. It’s almost purpley black at this point. The day is already gone, it seems. Weird how fast the days go. And just like that it’s one week down: 8 to go. I’m so excited for this journey I’ve already embarked on. I’ve already done so much, and I know there’s so much more in store. I’m doing everything I ever thought I would so far, and I’m loving every second. The traveling is tiring and my throat is starting to ache again. I do want to go back home, to Verona I mean. It’s weird how going back to “reality” is coming home to Italy. The whole experience doesn’t seem real. It’s like I’m living a dream, because well, I basically am.
Your little expLaurer