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.
...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.
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.
Shortly before I left for Switzerland last July, my sister Valerie and her family moved to Uganda. Needless to say, it was a crazy, crazy time for our family. Although Valerie had lived abroad before, the whole family had been in the US for the past few years.
I was used to seeing my family every few weeks when I was back home. Parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, and 5 amazing nieces and nephews. We all lived close by, and my sisters and I would frequently meet up at my parents' house over a weekend, or occasionally even just for dinner. Seeing my family so often was one of the very best things about living in DC, and is certainly one of the hardest things about living here.
While I was able to visit with my parents and my sister Allison over Christmas, I hadn't seen Valerie in 7 months. So with my February break coming up, I hopped on a flight to Kampala for a visit!
I fell asleep as soon as I sat down on the plane, having gotten up at 4:30 to get there. I woke up an hour later to find that we were still on the ground in Zurich. Grr. Arriving in Brussels, I rushed to the gate only to find out that the flight had been delayed for 5 hours. Grr. Although perturbed (this now had me arriving in Entebbe at 4 AM, precisely what I had spent so much time trying to avoid), it also gave me the opportunity to take the train into Brussels and see a bit of the city.
What do you do when you're stuck in Belgium for 5 hours?
Buy chocolate and eat waffles, of course!
At about 7 AM, I finally arrived at my sister's house and started a fantastic visit!
Since I last saw them, Natalie celebrated her 4th birthday, started preschool, and she is learning her letters and numbers.
Nathan celebrated his 1st birthday shortly after learning how to walk. Now he won't sit still!
I had such a blast playing with the kids and catching up with my sister and my brother-in-law. In addition to two kids, they also have an attack dog who couldn't quite decide whether she'd rather let me pet her or attack me, as well as an insane cat whose name is constantly changing. She used to attack suddenly and without reason (read Val's blog for more info), but now she's pretty calm most of the time. However, she does love to play with her food, including giant cockroaches she's caught.
We wanted to capture it on video.
This was taken immediately after Val said, "No Kelly, you take the video. I'll scream if I do it."
That thing was huge, ugly, and REALLY fast.
I also didn't know that I was capable of making that sound.
I ate a lot of great food and drank a lot of tea. And I enjoyed a brief respite from the cold Swiss snowiness. I must say, though, as nice as it was to be warm, I'd have a tough time living in a hot climate year-round. I like my seasons.
Now if only I could learn how to sleep on overnight flights.
Last weekend my parents came to visit. I was so excited to see them, even though it was a short visit. We had a blast, and we certainly kept busy...
Saturday brought nice weather, so we headed to Luzern to wander for the day.
On Sunday, after a relaxing breakfast, we hopped on a train and headed to Alpnachstad, a small village at the base of Mount Pilatus. From there we boarded the world's steepest cogwheel railway to head up the mountain, where a Christmas market awaited us.
Although the weather had been nice so far, the constant clouds had marred some of Switzerland's beauty.
But as soon as you got above the cloudline...
Absolutely incredible views.
Snow-topped mountains and a blanket of clouds in every direction. It was breathtaking.
People were snapping pictures left and right, and waving to the people willing to get up early enough to hike the whole thing.
After 40 minutes, we arrived at the top. There, we:
enjoyed Alphorn music...
And enjoyed the view...
...how candy is made?
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be sent to Prague for a Google Apps for Education conference. We arrived on Friday and spent our weekend attending sessions, messing around with Google apps, and networking with other teachers and tech specialists from international schools around the world.
Due to agreeable timing, this conference backed up to our fall break, so I was able to stay a few extra days. My very favorite way of exploring a city on the first day is to abandon plans, hide the map, and just wander. Sure, you may miss some of the big sights, but you do tend to pay more attention to the subtler aspects of a city, and you definitely run across some interesting sights...
One day, during my wanderings, I came upon a small side street off of the main square.
Straight ahead was a chocolate factory. Yum.
To my left, there were two guys making candy. I've never seen hard candy being made, and I was fascinated by how this giant, stringy mess became tiny, hard candy with intricate designs in the middle.
I decided to stay and watch.
After it had been sufficiently stretched, he transferred it to the table, so I went inside for a better look. They already had some green that they had shaped into triangular prisms, and now they started putting them together, although I couldn't initially tell what they were trying to make.
Eventually it started to take shape, but I still had no idea how they were going to make that giant log into those tiny bits.
Kelly is an American teacher living in Switzerland and enjoying everything the country has to offer.