Cinque Terre

 

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View from the Church of St. Peter in Portovenere.

We went to Cinque Terre twice this month. The first time was over the Ferragosto holiday in the middle of August, and the second was with our friends, who came to visit from the US at the end of August. It wasn’t our intention to go twice, that is, we might have gone elsewhere the first time, had we realized we’d have a chance to go to Cinque Terre later in the month, but we didn’t regret the trips at all.

Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park in Liguria, located on the Italian riviera, near Genova. It contains five coastal fishing villages, built up on the rocky Ligurian shoreline, strung together by a verdant hiking path winding its way through and above the villages. Each town has its own character, but they share certain themes, such as pastel-coloured houses, steep steps climbing through crooked alleyways, hole-in-the-wall fried fish joints, and lovely little beaches or swimming holes in the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean.

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The booming of a thunderstorm could be heard in the villages as it reflected off the cliffs.

From North to South, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Portovenere lies even further south, and might be considered the “sixth” Cinque Terre, though it is not officially part of the park. The larger towns of Levanto and La Spezia lie to the North and South, respectively, of the park. Both times we visited, we found that it was easiest to find accommodation in La Spezia, which is the largest town in the area. I can heartily recommend both of our La Spezia AirBnBs (Tina’s House, suitable for one couple, and Wiwi, suitable for two couples). The hosts were incredibly welcoming, incredibly accommodating, quick to answer inquiries, and the apartments were both well furnished and conveniently located, including all the necessities (even AC). The first host whisked over to our place in just 10 minutes when we had some trouble with the power, and the second host brought us the freshest figs I’ve ever had straight from their garden for no reason at all! We did also stay one night in Corniglia with my husband, but the AirBnB we stayed at was basically just a normal hotel room with a nice view, and did not compare to the amazingly warm welcome we received at the two La Spezia locations.

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La Spezia, near the docks.

La Spezia was a perfect base of operations. It is very walkable, has plenty of food/stores/gelato open at night, and provides connections via train to each of the Cinque Terre towns plus Levanto, via bus to Portovenere and Lerici, and via ferry to Portovenere, Lerici, Levanto, and each of the Cinque Terre except Corniglia. There are also bus connections to Portovenere and Lerici (the latter of which we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit). The ferry (provided by the company Consorzio Marittimo Turistico) costs around 35 euro for a day pass, that you can use any number of times, or around 6 euro for one trip. Since I get seasick on longer trips, I only did a single ride from Vernazza to Monterosso using the ferry, and it was definitely worth it.

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The ferry landing at Vernazza, headed to Monterosso.

The train, on the other hand, is cheaper, and it goes way more often, although it mostly goes through dark boring tunnels. The cost is 4 euro per ride, but it’s way more worthwhile to get the day pass (at the Cinque Terre Point stores) for 16 euro, so you can hop back and forth using the train. The day pass also lets you access the lovely hiking trains that wind through and above the five towns. If the weather isn’t blazingly hot, and if the trails are open, hiking is probably the best way to travel between the towns. Each section of the trail takes between 1.5 and 2.5 hours (depending on the section). Unfortunately, the days that we traveled there, two of the trails were closed due to mudslides, the rest of the trails were closed at some times due to thunderstorm warnings, and anyways, it was over 30 degrees C most of the time. Actually, I love weather over 30 degrees C, because it’s the perfect swimming weather, and swimming, particularly in the pleasant Mediterranean waters, is one of my favorite activities. We did wind our way through the staircases of each of the towns, and hiked a bit to see the main sights, but I have to admit, we spent most of our time in the water. I would love to return in the spring or fall, just to do all the hikes. I actually think there would probably be a few weeks in early September that could be perfect for both hiking and swimming, assuming the trails were open. You could hike to each town, and get a fish cone at each stop!

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Deep fried anchovies, mussels, calamari,veggies, and even a chicken wing somewhere in there.

The largest beach that we visited was in Levanto. Much of it was dedicated to rent-a-chair type places, which we have taken to calling “vacation factories,” since you are packed in literally side-by-side to all the other tourist-goers, and you get the same perfect sun/beach/food/lounge experience. If that’s your thing, Levanto has a good amount of it, though it does have a small section of public beach, were you can put down your own towel as well. The beach in Levanto is made up of small rocks, which get larger as you start heading into the water. The day we went, the waves were actually large enough, that there were surfers stationed at the wave line, riding them in as they formed. The waves weren’t as big as what I’m used to in SoCal, but there was definitely a very strong undercurrent, and they started out pretty far, so that I just didn’t feel comfortable swimming out there without a flotation device. I did see some swimmers out there, but for the most part, it was just surfers.

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Surfers and swimmers awaiting a wave on the pebbly beach of Levanto.

South of Levanto is the first of the Cinque Terre towns, Monterosso. This is the most vacation-factory style town out of all of them. The beach, which is right outside the train station, is smaller than the one in Levanto, but similar to Levanto, it is sandy-ish. There’s a bit of a bay created by a jutting out of the land to the North, which seems to lessen the waves to a gentle roll, and the water is clear and warm, making this a wonderful spot to go swimming… as long as you can stand having your towel propped up right against another person’s on the teeny tiny public portion of the beach. Once again, most of this beach is devoted to the vacation factory, where you can rent a chair-umbrella combo, but when we were there, all the chairs were rented out already anyway. There are some food stands up near the train station, where you can get cones of deep fried seafood (I didn’t know I liked anchovies until I had them fresh here), French fries, and chicken wings. If you walk a bit further from the train station, you reach the older part of Monterosso, where tourist souvenir shops and restaurants line cute little streets. In short, Monterosso is pleasant, and comfortable, and a great place to relax, but in a land of touristy towns, it is touristy to the very max.

The next town over is Vernazza, a small town with one main road. The hiking paths just above Vernazza on both the Monterosso and Corniglia sides provide stunning views of the entire village below. The large pier creates a sandy (but also a silty) little beach, providing a sheltered enclosure, where hesitant swimmers can safely splash around. The outside of the pier has a ladder down into the water, so braver swimmers can dive right in off the edge to swim amongst the waves, and climb back up via the ladder. It’s just like swimming in a swimming pool, except your pool is the entire Mediterranean Sea. Another beach is located at the other end of the town, underneath an archway of the distinctive layered rock found in this region. This beach was apparently created by a recent flood that unfortunately claimed some lives, so it is superficially tethered off, but there are as many swimmers here as anywhere else. More delicious cones of fried fish, focaccia pizza, and farinata (chickpea flour based flat bread from the region) is available at stands along the main road.

The next town to the South is Corniglia. This one is situated on top of a hill. The train station is near the bottom of the hill. Therefore, you either have to hike around 1km up some stairs, or you take a bus that comes approximately every 20 minutes during the day to the top. Since it’s a tad bit harder to reach, less tourists make it up here, giving the town a bit of a cozier vibe. There is a lovely viewpoint inside the town, above a small soccer court, where you can see Manarola down the coast, and a nice view of Corniglia itself just up the road from the main square, next to a vineyard. There are plenty of lovely sit-down restaurants inside this town, with local pastas (e.g. trofie) smothered in local pesto Genovese, and more delicious fresh anchovies, as well as local wines.

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Corniglia viewed from up the street.

Down the coast from Corniglia is Manarola, another pastel-coloured village with just one main street. There is a path here, which slopes upwards to a peak overlooking the entire little town. The wine bar at the top always has an incredibly long line. As lovely as the view is, the swimming is even better. It might be funny to see people setting up their towels on the long boat ramp, but you have to look further to see the real beauty of this swimming hole. The boat ramp leads down into a calm-watered pool, sandwiched between a rocky pier to the left, and a real treasure: a very climbable rock. The rock can be jumped from at various points, from varied heights, providing adventure for the more timid jumpers as well as the braver ones. The tallest point of the rock is around 4.5 or 5 person-heights high (I would guess around 10 meters or so), and juts out perfectly, to allow for a smooth and easy dive into a deep hole. I was too scared to jump off that height though, so the most I did was a jump from around 2.5 person-heights. For those who do not want to jump, there are ladders on both sides of the pier, the sheltered side, and the outside which faces the sea.

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Manarola viewed from the walk above it.

The Southernmost village of the Cinque Terre is Riomaggiore, which, like the others, has its own distinctive character. Here, I enjoyed walking around, and exploring the nooks and crannies of the hilly town, filled with steep and narrow staircases, winding up and down the cliffs. I didn’t get the chance to spend too much time here, though I believe there may be a beach off to one side that I did not visit. I suppose I will just have to come back another time!

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Riomaggiore.

Finally, South of all of the Cinque Terre, sits Portovenere. A bus connection from La Spezia (bus P) takes visitors to this small town, which follows the same architectural themes as the other five towns, though it is officially not part of the national park.  The day we visited, a thunderstorm had come through in the morning, leaving a half-cloudy sky in its wake, and some breathtaking views for us to enjoy. The sea was a deep blue, and the setting sun cast its golden rays over the lush cliff side, whenever it peaked its head through the clouds.

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Portovenere.

We explored the church of St. Peter laid with striped bricks on the very tip of the town, and a pathway up to a fort on top of the cliff. The fort was was closed by the time we got there, but on the way we saw an homage to Portovenere by sculpture Scorzelli, titled Mater Naturae. The statue is of a voluptuous middle-aged woman, wearing a simple undergarment, gazing out at the sea beyond the town. It seems to me, that, tired from a difficult life, she looks out longingly at what might have been, but, also with some pride for the work she has wrought.

Torino

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The lid to a huge sarcophagus of a high ranking vizier, painstakingly carved of a very hard, nearly black stone.

Last weekend we visited Turin/Torino, the capital of the Piemonte region, and the first, original capital of Italy. It took around 5 hours to reach it from Rovereto (by the cheaper regional trains), so we left on Friday night. The weather was lovely almost the whole time. The first day, we wandered around the town, enjoying the sights and delicious food, before eventually heading into the Egyptian Museum. The top couple floors of the museum were alright, but all the cool stuff was on the bottom.

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The Book of the Dead. Osiris presides over the afterlife ritual, in which Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased against the feather of Ma’at, while Thoth records the result. If the heart is heavier than the feather, it will be consumed by the hippo-lion-crocodile monster Ammut.

The second day, my husband had a Netrunner (card game) tourney, so I headed off on my own. I took my stuff with me so I could head back home in the evening. It was Sunday, so my plan was to take a tour bus out to Sacra di San Michele, an abbey at the top of a cliff overlooking Torino, around an hour away. From my research online, it seemed that this place was a little annoying to reach by public transport on most days, involving some confusing combination of bus/train connections and hiking, but on Sundays in summer they run a tour that goes straight there, leaving Torino at 8:30am, and going back from the Sacra at 13:00. This sounded way less confusing, so I booked that.

I arrived at the bus stop a few minutes early. I found a large Pullman/Greyhound type of bus, and asked the driver if he knew which bus I should take to the Sacra di San Michele. He said it was his bus. I showed him my phone ticket, which he glanced at, and waved me through. We headed in the direction of the Sacra, gathering a few more people along the way, and I tried to rest a little since I hadn’t slept that well the night before. We reached the town of Sant’Ambrogio di Torino, when the bus driver alerted me that this was my stop. I could see the Sacra way up on the top of the hill nearby.

This was confusing, since I had been under the impression that this bus went straight to the church, not to the town nearby. But from doing my research earlier, I knew that there should be a path to get to the church from here. As I was getting off the bus, the driver told me he was returning around 17:40, I think, from the stop across the street. Again, I had been under the impression that the return bus was at 13:00. When I asked him about this, he said yes, I should wait at that stop at 13:00. Okaaay.

It was only once I got off the bus that I noticed a missed call on my phone, and some text messages. Apparently, the driver of my original tour bus had been unable to reach me, and had left without me. But if the driver of the tour had been unable to reach me, then what bus had I ended up taking? And why had the driver of this bus let me on with a ticket for a different bus?

I was looking at my phone, pondering these questions, when an old lady, who had been on the bus with me, started talking to me. She had heard my conversation with the driver, and she really seemed to want to help me. She described to me how to reach my destination, which was the same way I expected. I would have to hike up the Antica Mulattiera (Old Mule Path), 600 meters straight up. The path was well maintained, laid with stones, and though I was carrying a bit too much on my back, and the weather was a bit too warm for hiking, it was still a nice walk. It took me about 1.5 hours to make the hike, and the views at the top were definitely worth it.

For the way back, I was no longer very confident that the Pullman which I had taken here originally would actually come at 13:00, since the old lady that had helped me earlier, who was from the area, said it only comes in the evening. I had a plan to hike back down and then keep walking until I reached a train station to go back to Torino. However, I also texted the tour operators from the morning again, asking them how to reach their actual return bus. They were helpful, but not very good at explaining it. Anyways, long story short, the road up to the abbey stops at Colle della Croce Nera. That’s where I finally found my bus (which, by the way, was meant to leave at 12:30, not at 13:00 as I was originally given to understand). The driver realized that I was his missing passenger, and seemed annoyed at the situation from the morning, but I think he understood that something had gone wrong on their end (and I made plenty of apologies to assuage him). In any case, he was happy to take me back, and this was much faster.

When I first arrived in Italy, before I could speak some basic Italian, I would not have felt comfortable making a multiple train/bus connection journey like this one for fear of exactly this happening. But now, I know that if something goes wrong, I can probably find someone who is willing to suffer my poor accent to help me find a way back. Additionally, having hiked a ton over the last year, I feel comfortable walking longer distances now as well. I was nervous about this trip from the start, since I knew the destination was a bit harder to reach without a car, but in the end, the skills I’ve gained over the last year helped me feel more comfortable traveling around.

Spring Hikes

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The weather has gotten warmer, and we’ve been able to go hiking. I’ve done three hikes in the last couple months. The first was a wine walk organized by a few of the PhD students from CIMeC. This was a hike including four wineries along the way, one of them in an old castle. It was a nice ~7km walk down the hill, with great wine and food (parmiggiano reggiano, salami, and other small bites) along the way, although it turns out that a steep downhill hike through narrow forested paths and twisty city alleyways is a bit challenging when you’re with a group of fairly drunk people. Still, the views were lovely and it was a great way to spend an afternoon. My favorite white wine from the walk was the Gewürtztraminer from Cantina d’Isera, and my favorite red was the Lagrein from Castel Noarna.

The next hike went up to Cima della Marzòla. We did this one with a friend we made in the last year at Saarland who was visiting, and the hike was much longer than we expected. It totaled in around 18-20km, with approximately 1000 meters elevation difference, first up through forest and fields of wildflowers, and then down around the side of the mountain. It took around 6 hours to complete it, I think. Needless to say, my calves and thighs were hurting on the way up, and my knees on the way down, but we survived, and the views were well worth it. The whole way up was covered in these beautiful trees, whose yellow flowers hung down like willow branches. And just as we were at the peak, a rainbow shone over a smaller hilltop below. How lucky! Most of all, I enjoyed spending time with friends. I miss that wonderful community we had at Saarland, as well as the relatively decent education/organization there as well, for that matter (which is not something I expected to say at the end of last year).

The last hike went up Monte Stivo. This one was the longest. We left from the base somewhere near Passo Bordala around 10:00 in the morning, and returned, I think, around 19:30. I’m not sure how many kilometers we walked, but it was a hell of a lot. The way up was winding through some forest at first, but after the first peak, it became rather steep. Amazingly, at one of our stops, we saw a group of 30 horse riders taking a break before continuing their climb to the top. I wouldn’t have expected horses to be able to make it up there, but I guess they are more nimble than I thought.  The path up to the first overlook wound its way through wooded underbrush, and grassy cliff sides, dotted with lovely yellow, white, and violet flowers, where bees and butterflies buzzed and fluttered around us– and it only got better from there.

As we climbed over the last rocks along the steep path, we saw a wide grassy hilltop covered in beautiful wildflowers. The top was breathtaking. I think this was my favorite hike out of all the ones we’ve done here in Trentino (or maybe ever).  In each direction we turned, we saw a landscape of valleys and mountain tops, many of them lower than Stivo, though some in the distance were much higher and snow-capped. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool, and it brought with it wispy clouds that occasionally obscured the view of Lago di Garda in the West, far, far below us.

We had climbed around 900m in elevation to get up Monte Stivo, and so we had to go the same distance down, this time around the back of the mountain. As we walked along the ridge of the mountain, over a path flanked by wildflowers, we encountered a small farm with cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, and a dog guarding the little house. The farm was literally just on the side of this giant mountain, barely even fenced off.  As we made our way through the farm (that’s the way the path went), a curious baby goat bounded up to us, getting so close that we could pet it, and feed it a bit of grass. What kind of a life must it be to lead a farmstead in such a remote, and beautiful place? I bet it’s really cold in the winter, when the snows cover Monte Stivo, along with all the mountains and valleys surrounding it. We continued our descent back into the forest.

The way back, was much longer than the way there, since it didn’t cut straight down the mountain, but looped all the way around back. Much of it took us through the somewhat wild underbrush. We had to hike through deep mud, clay, and leaves, and some parts of it were actually fairly tick-infested as well. One of our party members ended up finding 9 ticks on her that day! Somehow, the others of us didn’t get any biting into us at all, just a few that we managed to brush off before they took hold.

The whole thing was pretty crazy, but I can’t deny that it was breathtaking (both metaphorically, and literally)

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Carnevale

Last weekend, we visited Carnevale in Venice. I have to say, there was remarkably less public drunkenness than last time, in Cologne, but there were a lot more people. It was like a giant Renaissance Faire style costume party. The costumes ranged from a cheap 5 euro mask, to elaborate home made cosplay level get ups. I couldn’t help but buy a hand painted paper maché mask for myself, while my husband stuck with a cheaper plastic one with the giant plague-doctor style nose.

Venice is such an amazing city– it’s just like in the stories! Tiny streets spider out from the center, alongside narrow canals filled with gondolas and motorboats. Little arched bridges make a criss-crossing latticework over the canals, while constricting alleyways cut between the tall buildings, sometimes passing through low tunnels or under arched building supports. It’s claustrophobic right up until you reach Piazza San Marco, a wide plaza marked by a huge tower, an intricate basilica and a 24-hour Roman numeral clock, and which opens up to the Piazzetta di San Marco, which holds the palace. The Piazzetta in turn opens up to the main thoroughfare of Venice, the Grand Canal, where ferry boats snake their way around the entire city center, bussing people to the main hubs like the Piazza and the train station. There are no automobile roads.

If you had told me all of this, even if you had shown me pictures, I still don’t think I could have properly imagined this intricate city. Visiting during Carnevale was an amazing experience, in particular, as the whole city turns into one joyful party, but I look forward to returning during a calmer time as well, when there’s more time to see the sights.

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Weeks 57 through 60

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September and October have been the months of hikes. It’s been surprisingly warm during the day, though the evenings have been chilly. I’ve gone somewhere almost every weekend with friends, and I’ve watched the trees turn from green to gold to rust.

At the end of September, a friend with a car took us on a difficult hike to Cima Rocca. I’m not that accustomed to hiking, though I enjoy it quite a lot, and this hike was particularly difficult. It went at a fairly steep uphill the entire way, until the very end, at which point it became nearly a Via Ferrata style climb. That is to say, there was a metal guide cable, and you had to use your hands to scramble up the rocks.

It took around three hours to climb to the top, with your thighs and calves protesting the entire way, and just one hour to come down, with your knees complaining. As hard as it was, the view from the top was absolutely worth it (though it was a misty day). Not only that, but there were some cool old caves dug out from WWII along the way, and a great deal of fresh air. In the end, this was one of the hardest, but also one of the most fun hikes I have done.
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In October, I had the chance to visit Milan to meet the same friend who I met recently in Prague. Milan was… money. The city center was small in terms of area, but grandiose in terms of content. The cathedral was huge, the castle had a moat, and the shopping/fashion was so high-end, that the cheaper area was the one that had labels like Prada and Louis Vuitton. The expensive fashion district had clothes that looked like they had just come off a model– you know, the weird ones, that no normal human would ever wear.

Although I usually like visiting museums, the one in the castle somehow didn’t impress me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the world-class art in huge cities like Paris and Berlin. Overall, two days in the city were just enough for me to see everything, though if I was the shopping type, I’m sure I would have needed more.

The next weekend, I headed back to Saarbrücken (SB) to retrieve my bike, and visit my friends. After a 10 hour commute through lovely Austria, I found myself in Germany again.

I think I have a sort of love-hate relationship with SB. Although I am frustrated at the quality of schooling, I can now look back and realize that it was better than what I will see here this year, because there were many different professors to work with, and many different course offerings. In addition, SB has an amazing community of students. Everyone in the local program is studying the same thing, so you have a lot of people to work with, and a lot in common with those around you.

Here in Italy, I have found it difficult to integrate into the local community in the same way. Everyone in CIMeC is studying cognitive neuroscience together, so they share all the same classes and have the same interests. It’s possible that we have more in common than I think, but I don’t share any classes with them, so I wouldn’t know anyway. The computer science students in Povo also share all their classes, and by virtue of this, have also formed a tight knit community. Basically, I am rather on the periphery of what is going on here. So while my personal life here is good, my academic life is shitty.

Coming back to SB reminded me of everything I am missing out on.

I returned from SB feeling rather disappointed, but fortunately, a friend was coming to visit for a couple of days, which helped lift my spirits. We wanted to show her around some of the sights, so we headed back into the mountains. The first day was unfortunately misty again when we took a small trip an a hike just above Rovereto. The second day was a little clearer, and we headed up higher, up a windy road into the hills nearby, where we hiked through falling tree leaves, to the top of a large hill.

My friend only had a couple days with us, and once again, I had to say goodbye. One great thing about my master’s program is that I get to meet a whole ton of amazing international people. However, the entire experience is basically a revolving door of goodbyes, as people finish their masters and head back to their home countries, and you wonder all the while if you will ever see them ever again.

In any case, I had to bear my sadness on the move, because the next day we went on a trip with the university right back in the mountains, to Rio Novella. I stumbled through this trip, a bit tired after the last three days, but happy to chat with all the various international students from different departments. We went through apple orchards, to a really steep canyon, and through a gorge to a church on top of a cliff. You’re probably tired of hearing this– the views were amazing.

Finally, at the very end of the month, I visited the Castello Beseno, which is a castle on top of a hill not far from Rovereto. It was a peaceful day, and there weren’t many tourists there, so we had a lovely stroll throughout the whole thing. It was a real medieval castle, like the kind you read about in history books! Although I’ve been in Europe for a year now, I didn’t visit that many castles last year, and as an American, I am still impressed by these historic structures.

Apart from taking trips and just enjoying life… I have to admit that in terms of work, I’ve done very little this month. As I mentioned before, there doesn’t seem to be that much for me to do in the department here. I’m only taking a few classes, and they aren’t that good. The machine learning class in Povo has a really good instructor, but strangely it doesn’t have any homework, so I’ve just had to do my best to study on my own. The Human Language Technologies course in Rovereto is possibly the worst course I have ever taken. The topics are all repetition from last year’s coursework, and the lecturing is both boring and uninformative.

I’m quite frustrated (but unsurprised) that my second year university does very little to coordinate a curriculum that will be useful to second years. As I was warned by my second year colleagues last year, in the LCT program you basically end up doing Year 1 twice. My hope is that I will be able to teach myself everything that I haven’t managed to learn yet. I mean, I mostly taught myself last year anyway. I’ve been working on linear algebra in my spare time, but right now, my main goal is to find an internship and a master’s thesis topic.

At least daily life in Rovereto has been good.

However, there’s one more bit of frustrating news. My husband has been in Italy for almost two months now, and my stay permit is nowhere in sight. Once I do get the stay permit, it will take him probably at least a week to get the appointment with Questura (immigration) sorted so that he can be allowed to stay provisionally in Italy. However, with the Shengen visa waiver that Americans get, he is only allowed to be in Europe for 90 out of each 180 days. That means he has to go home ASAP, so that he can save some days for doing all the paperwork once I get my stay permit and he returns. So I guess he’ll be going back for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be here all alone for a while again.

Costs:

It seems like it does help to have a second person splitting costs. Even with all the dining out and travel, I’ve managed to stay under budget. However, keep in mind, my utilities payment has not been charged yet (it will be very expensive at the start of November because of move-in costs, but should be much cheaper after that), and my internet bill was low I think because of last month’s deposit payment.

I see a lot of extraneous items below. It’s time to think about reigning it in again. Phone is too high, and I should probably finally pull the plug on Project Fi… I am just such a sucker for the convenience. The bouldering gym passes will eventually get used, but I am going to swap to mainly doing aerial now (I will be ramping it up to twice a week), so those were not really a necessity after all. The miscellaneous category was just silly spending. As usual, all the dining out is ridiculous. I will say that I won’t feel bad about the coats, because I got a seriously insane discount there.

  • €235 – rent
  • €14 – internet
  • €60 – phone (I should probably drop Project Fi, since the European plans are way cheaper…)
  • €50 – bouldering gym passes
  • €150 – aerial silks classes
  • €60 – transport, misc stuff for the house
  • €55 – a coat and a warm jacket for winter (fantastic thrift store price)
  • €231 – groceries
  • €120 – dining (including amazing gelato at Zenzero in Rovereto!)
  • Total: €975

The Drive

 

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View of a road from the train through Austria.

I loved taking long road trips around the US, both seeing new destinations, as well as driving there. We’d gather up all our things– our clothes, our food, our tents, our games– and we’d head off towards the forest of huge Sequoias in the North, or the vast deserts to the East. Even when we just took day trips to the hills nearby or the beach an hour away, I never minded driving. When we left in the morning (or let’s be real, in the early afternoon, since we never got out on time), the car trip meant that the fun was all ahead. When we started on our way home, usually long after the sun had set, it meant our comfy beds were waiting for us. On dark stretches of road, we could see the stars outside the car window.

Sometimes, later, when I was the one behind the wheel, driving in the car felt like both my adventure and my home. Often, I felt like I could easily skip my exit on the freeway, and just keep going into the sunset, to find whatever waited for me at the edge of the world.

But I never did keep going. I always took the exit. Why did I do that? The world is so vast and there’s so much to see. Why not just let the moment take you away? I guess there was always a reason: work in the morning, people waiting at home, laziness to make the trip back, discomfort at the thought of facing the unknown. Maybe the reasons made sense, or maybe they were just excuses. In any case, I never answered the call of the road.

Now, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have the same chance. Taking the train is just not the same. I don’t know if it’s the other people chatting nearby, or if it’s just the constant foreignness of everything around me, but there is neither the excitement of adventure, nor the anticipation of homecoming. Rather, there is a feeling of constant displacement, like my trip is anchored between nowhere and nowhere else.

On the train, I can’t just skip my exit, and let the rails carry me away– the conductors don’t take a liking to that. On the train, I can’t let my mind wander as I become a part of the vehicle, controlling its motions over the smooth asphalt as easily as I control the motion of my own body. On the train, I can’t stop to grab a bite at an interesting hole-in-the-wall, or to explore a little-traveled corner of the world.

Instead, I must submit to the vehicle and the system propelling it onwards. I must agree with the system on my intentions ahead of time, and accept its plan for me. I must fight the timetables, and struggle through the crowds, and all my things must fit in a handy bag. Oftentimes, I don’t even get the window seat.

Of all things, I never thought I would miss the drive.

Weeks 52 through 56

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I’ve talked a lot about getting an apartment with Internet, working on my stay permit, and picking courses. What I didn’t mention, is that I also took a number of small trips over the course of the last month. It turns out that this year I am living in what is probably of the most beautiful places in the world. I don’t have a car here, of course, so, unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to just take off and see everything, but I have had some opportunities this month to explore nonetheless.

At the start of the month, I visited Bologna, where my husband has relatives. This trip wasn’t exactly planned ahead of time. It turns out that as my husband was coming here, to Italy, some of the stuff he was bringing in his pack got stolen. That stuff included a translation of our marriage certificate. Our relatives knew a translator that was willing to help us get it done quickly, and this became an opportunity to take an overnight trip to Bologna, where they live. I imagine we could have gotten it done here in Rovereto, but it would have definitely taken longer, and we really thought we needed it ASAP, because we thought we had to apply for my husband’s stay permit along with mine. In the end it turned out that we didn’t have to do this, but rather, we have to wait for mine to come in before he can apply for his at all. By the way, this means that he will probably have to leave the country once his Shengen visa waiver runs out, because my permit will most likely not come before that time.

As a result of all of this, the trip was a little stressful, but it was made worth it by the fact that we got to spend some time with our relatives (and I got to know them better). Also, Bologna was pretty awesome. It was bigger than Rovereto or Trento, but still fairly walkable, and the public transportation seemed good enough. The center of the city is covered in porticos (covered archways over walkways), which helped keep the heat from the summer sun at bay, along with old stone towers, cute restaurants (with delicious cured meat), and of course, gelato.

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Later on in the month, I took a trip with the university to Lago di Garda, the biggest lake in Italy, which we are only a couple hours away from. The morning was cloudy, which was a shame, because it meant the guided tour didn’t want to take us on the hike up to the castle in Arco (apparently it was dangerously slippery). We visited Riva del Garda instead. The other LCTs and I broke off from the guided tour almost immediately, and headed up a light hike to the castle overlooking the town. At this point, the sun broke through the clouds, glistening over the waters of the lake, and showing us a bit of the lovely day that was to come.

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After this, we went and grabbed lunch (we had pizza, pasta and gnocchi) before meeting the tour back at the bus. Next, we traveled by bus to Malcesine, a town on the banks of the lake. By this time, the weather had cleared up and we had a great time exploring the castle there, which overlooks much of the lake. Apparently, this lake is great to swim in when it’s warm, and I really hope I get the chance to come back next summer.

Finally, just recently, one of the LCT students who has a car took us to the mountains. On the way up, we saw a church literally built into a cliffside. It was really funny to see a normal building inside a cliff. It was almost like the stone was trying to gobble it up.

Afterwards, we went on a ~10km hike high up in the mountains, called Forra del Lupo/Wolfsschlucht (Wolf’s Gorge). The hike went up hill most of the way, sometimes getting somewhat steep (but never so steep that you had to climb). We reached the Forra del Lupo part sometime in the middle. It was a deep crevice in the hillside, with built up stone overlooks before and after it. Afterwards, we kept hiking until we ended up at the very top of the mountain (at around 1600m elevation, if I recall correctly). At the top was an old WWII fort made of white stone. Unfortunately, it was at this point that my broken-ish phone, finally gave out, so I couldn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked. However, it’s not a great loss– no picture can capture these breathtaking views.

Costs

The costs over the last 5 weeks are insanely high. This is probably the most I’ve spent in any single month in all my life (except for once when I bought a fancy computer). Move in costs to the new apartment were crazy (a lot of it is a deposit that we will hopefully get back), but our family helped us with a good chunk of them. I also traveled a fair amount, so that added to it. Finally, there’s two of us now, and that makes food and stuff more expensive. You always forget how much it costs to buy all those little things (e.g. cups/plates, blankets, towels, etc.) that you need when you are in an actual apartment, and how much it takes to start off with a nice full pantry.

Note: Below is just what I spent. My husband spent some of his own money as well. We don’t share any bank accounts, so I will probably continue to report on only my own spending, since it’s just easier.

  • €122 – public transport (50 for a pass, the rest before I got the pass)
  • €403 – travel to Rovereto at the start, travel to Bologna, and some smaller trips
  • €111 – dining out
  • €233 – groceries
  • €302 – stuff for the apartment,
  • €49 – phone is extra high due to no internet at home and making tons of calls
  • €1890 – rent, deposit, Internet, apartment fees
  • Total: €1220 + €1890 = €3110