It started out like any other Thursday.
Wake up, make coffee, get ready for work..
But as I turned the corner, I nearly collided with a brightly-colored, metallic-looking, frilly, enormous dress and a ridiculous hat, similar to this:
The sun was out today.
That shouldn’t be such a notable occurrence, but we have had weeks of endless fog, gray skies and no snow and it gets a bit depressing after awhile. So a sunny day definitely comes as a pleasant surprise.
No matter how great your host country is, as an expat there will always be things that you miss from home. Like Chipotle, or knowing that you'll be able to communicate with the person on the other side of the phone, or being able to find a simple can of black beans.
About five and a half years ago, I was about to walk into the Kroger in Charlottesville to do some grocery shopping when I got a call from my sister Valerie.
This was odd, considering she and her husband lived in Tanzania at the time.
I’ve always loved being high above the ground. I always choose the window seat in a plane so that I can stare down at the clouds from high above. My sisters once bought me a flying lesson in college. I celebrated my 18th birthday by jumping out of a plane (and had a repeat performance 2 years ago in Australia). Ski lifts are great. So are rooftop bars and rollercoasters.
So what better way to celebrate life in the land of super tall mountains than by going to the top of one and jumping off!
...that it is possible to sleep quite soundly in a giant tent with 100 other people?
It is much more difficult, if not impossible (for me at least), to sleep on an overnight train when you are not in a sleeper car (even if they promised you it was just as good).
Also, when planning a meeting place in a foreign city, be specific.
And have a backup plan.
And a backup backup plan.
Just in case one of you is half asleep while deciding where to meet and hears 'Piazza del Popolo' when what the other actually said was 'Spanish Steps'. They are not close.
The things you learn when you travel.
It started yesterday afternoon when 3 girls dressed as gangsters got on the train to Luzern.
Then, 5 minutes later, a separate group of about 15 men and women got on the train. There were athletes in track suits, nuns with glasses, an angel, and "old" women in leather and punk t-shirts. Out of curiosity, I walked behind them once we arrived in Luzern. Outside the station they joined about 20 others dressed in a similar fashion and were given a very warm and loud welcome.
Then, on the streets of old town Luzern, there was a giant pink bunny. Just one.
Not selling anything. Just walking.
Finally, as I was walking home about 2 hours later (having once again seen the gangsters, whose numbers had grown since the train), I passed a party of people on a side street, most of whom were dressed as furry animals. Not all, mind you, but the ones who weren't dressed up had props. One had a push-along doggy bike. Others just stuffed animals. They were having a great time and singing loudly to Sweet Caroline. Why I didn't stop to get a picture is a mystery to me.
To top it off, as I was waiting to cross the street a few blocks away, the man standing next to me started softly singing Sweet Caroline, having obviously experienced the same sight. I couldn't help but laugh. He did not seem to know English and definitely did not know the words, but hey, he sang it anyway.
It's that kind of song.
Oh and same day, while waiting for a bus in a tiny outside of Rotkreuz, I also saw a group of people hanging out with a camel.
Did I miss some kind of memo?
I was living in Charlottesville, VA, in my third year of college. My oldest sister had just had her first baby and I was a doting aunt completely in love with my niece (well, that part hasn't changed). My other sister was living in Kenya, engaged to be married in just a few months. I had just cleared out my things from my college room to store them at my parents' house and said goodbye to roommates Katie, Kathryn, and Katie.
I was 20. And I was terrified.
I was facing four months living in a new country, with new people, a new language, new customs, new experiences, and no idea what to expect.
And it was fantastic.
Ah Florence (and Siena as well). I studied the Italian language and the Italian mafia, and we took field trips to Leonardo da Vinci's home town. I lived in a piazza and learned to appreciate wine, coffee, spinach, and mushrooms. It's an experience that I am so thankful to have had.
By the end of four months I was homesick and ready to return, yes.
But oh the memories. Let's travel back to 2007 for a minute...
Six years later I finally returned. Travel buddy Liz endured (and endured well, I might add) a day full of
"Oh hey I went there!" and "Oh! I remember that!" and "Oh look! It's that place I went one time!"
We went to my old apartment above the Ristorante Celetino, where my roommates and I had made friends with Nick the waiter man.
As I was taking this picture a waiter came out of the restaurant (not Nick, unfortunately) and told me that his friend lived in the apartment I was pointing at and taking a picture of. I felt like a bit of a creeper after that.
We had lunch at Gusta Panino, now called Gusta Osteria and expanded to have a Gusta Pizza down the street. I used to go here for lunch a lot because they wouldn't serve me unless I ordered it in Italian. They knew I was learning.
They no longer serve paninis over the counter inside the door but their risotto is good. And they're in a fantastic spot for people-watching.
Finally, we attempted to have a drink at Friends' pub where, besides the apartment, I have the most memories from Florence. We spent countless hours drinking coffee and using their wifi (the only free internet besides the terrible computer lab at school), making new friends, and celebrating birthdays.
Sadly, it was closed.
I'm still bummed. The sign is still up, so maybe it's just temporarily closed?? I can only hope.
Ah Florence. Six years later, still fantastic.
We shopped, we ate, we people-watched, we ate. We had a great time!
Now we did have a slight mishap (or 2 or 3) with the train ride back.
We left Florence around 8 PM. It should have taken us about 2.5-3 hours to get back.
We arrived back at our hotel at 5:45 in the morning.
But that is another story.
I just spent 7 days immersed in many of my favorite things...
narrow cobbled streets with steep staircases at odd angles
brightly colored buildings
For six years I have looked forward to returning to this wonderful place. The four months I spent in Florence and Siena during college made a lasting impact to the point where all you have to do is say Italy and I smile, thinking of the Tuscan countryside, the streets and churches of Florence, Friends pub,
cooking class, my apartment right by the Ponte Vecchio, the gelato...
Ah but I digress.
Last Tuesday Liz and I packed our bags and hopped on the train in Luzern, my new home :)
Six hours later we arrived in the teeny tiny town of Corniglia, smack in the middle of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is an area on the Mediterranean coast of Italy, five small (really small) towns connected by trains and hiking trails.
We stayed in a room rented to us by Stefano, easily one of the friendliest people I have ever met. He stayed there talking to us for at least a half hour after giving us our keys, telling us about Cinque Terre and who knows what else.
It rained every other day. Which means that on the sunny, beautiful days, we were either hiking or walking around the towns. The rainy days were spent sleeping, reading, or drinking coffee and wine
(and eating. Definitely eating).
Liz also made it to the town of Riomaggiore (she went to all five towns!) but alas, I slept through that day.
We also spent a day in Florence!
Certain things have new meaning when in Italy. Pasta, for instance. I don't know how they do it, but something so simple just tastes so much better in Italy than anywhere else.
But I ramble.
There will be numerous Italy posts over the next few days.
I'm realizing that, while I love Switzerland, Italy...well it's just special.
Maybe it's the memories. Maybe it's the language.
Or maybe I just really like the food.
Whatever it is, don't be surprised if I announce in the near future that I'm leaving Switzerland to go live the Italian life.
My job is technology. I spend every day doing a combination of research, problem solving, teaching, sharing, and presenting, all related to technology and education. And I love it. I get to work with 350 kids ages 3-10 (I’m at maybe 150 or so on the whole remembering names thing, which I think is pretty decent) and dozens of adults. Most days I have at least one nerd moment when I get really giddy about some cool thing that teachers can do with kids or that I can use on my phone or iPad. The potential of technology is incredible, and it’s awe-inspiring to look back just a few years to see how far and how fast things have moved.
But I must admit that sometimes, it’s just all a bit too much. Most people know (some better than others), that I can be difficult to get in touch with at times. It might take awhile to respond to a text. I might miss your call because my phone is on silent or in the other room. It might take months to finish a single game of Words With Friends. It’s nothing personal, I promise. I just sometimes overload on technology, especially now that I spend my work days with computers and iPads, and there are days when I want to throw my phone and computer against the wall or hide them in a box and go back to the days when leaving the house meant leaving your phone behind and experiencing only what's in front of you.
But despite all of that, I wouldn’t want to go back to a time without my iPhone. You can learn anything, research anything, photograph anything, and talk to anyone. I’m not sure that I could live so far away from friends and family if Skype didn’t exist. The world seems much smaller than it used to. I can talk to Thailand like it's next door, or play a game with my cousin from thousands of miles away, or wish my niece a happy 1st birthday even when I can't be there. I can now say that I have friends or family on every inhabited continent in the world, which would’ve been difficult a few generations ago.
Recently, I’ve started watching a lot of TED videos. They are really fascinating, cover sundry topics, and are free to watch! Some are 3 minutes long, some are 20.
Some of my favorites so far are...
The Shared Experience of Absurdity
Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, who pulls public pranks such as the Pantless Subway Ride
Before I Die I Want To...
Candy Chang, an artist who set up a giant public chalkboard asking people to respond to the prompt
"Before I die I want to..."
What Adults Can Learn From Kids
Adora Svitak, a child prodigy explaining why adults should be more like kids
Half A Million Secrets
Frank Warren, the founder of the Post Secret blog
An Animated Tour of the Invisible
John Lloyd, talking about all things invisible
It’s really hard to pick just a few favorites. Some are inspiring, some are challenging, and some are just flat-out funny. I love that unique ideas can be shared so easily and so widely.
On my way to Uganda a few weeks ago to visit my sister, I watched one that inspired a project. You can watch it here if you want to see the whole thing (which I recommend).
Basically, Cesar Kuriyama decided to document his life in one-second video clips strung together as a movie. He’s rarely in the clips because it’s meant to be a record of what you see and experience, and every day he chooses just one second to remember the day.
I thought this idea was brilliant. I’ve always loved the power of photos and videos and I’ve run out of space on iPhoto because I take so many. Even though I might have clear memories of, say, hosting Snowlympics with awesome friends and neighbors during the blizzard a few years ago, watching the videos we took makes it that much better.
So I decided to start my own project. I started with one second clips, but quickly decided that I like two second clips better. It’s surprising how many memories a short video clip can evoke, especially as time goes on.
It’s been exactly one month now, and I absolutely love it! It takes seconds per day to add to the video, and I now have about a minute. Some clips are more exciting than others, but hey, that’s life. By the end of 2013 I will have nearly 11 minutes of video. Personal histories, at least mine, can sometimes blend together. This way I can remember exactly what Nathan’s laugh sounded like at one year old, or that time I went dancing with a friend and 40 strangers, or how much I loved riding the train to work in the mornings past the mountains and lakes. I'm getting better at remembering to take my two seconds per day, although there's been a day or two that I've forgotten. My friends also know about my project, and they point out moments that might be a good two seconds for the day.
I love watching my video. Even the "boring" clips on those days when all I do is work and go home. It's a good reminder that even on those days, there are little things that happen.
The simple things, if you will, that can make any day a better day.
Kelly is an American teacher living in Switzerland and enjoying everything the country has to offer.