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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Spring has arrived!

The seasons have changed once again. From dark grey skies and rainy days to warm sunny Italian mornings and breezy evenings with the smell of summer on its way. Finally, the long rainy days of a Northern Italian winter are behind us (at least for now). The past two weeks have brought sunshine, longer days and incredible temperatures around 20+ degrees (Sorry to everyone back in Canada! I am sending WARM wishes your way!!). This week I packed up all of my winter coats and boots and put them into hiding. With every window open in the apartment, I broke out my summer footwear, planned some trips and happily did some Spring cleaning!

The last time I posted was shortly after returning from my trip to Iceland in early January. So, what have I been up to the last couple of months? February brought a ski trip in the Italian Alps, a birthday celebration in Budapest and a mountain meal in Lake Como. I ended February with a quick, last minute trip home to Canada during my school's 'ski week' (similar to March break). Since returning from Canada last week I have been busy with parent teacher conferences and trying to manage time to enjoy this incredible weather! March is panning out to be a day trip type of month as I'm budgeting for bigger trips in April through July! Next month I will be attending a work conference for three days in beautiful Portugal! Following that, my parents and their friends will be visiting during my Easter holidays. We are going to be renting a car and visiting Switzerland, Germany, France, Andorra, Spain and Monaco! I have friends visiting in May and June and then will be kicking off my summer holidays with some backpacking around Europe. My blog has been hibernating during the rainy, winter months, but now with beautiful weather and exciting trips ahead, it will be back in full force!
See what I've been up to:

Bormio - A group of friends and myself rented an apartment for a weekend in beautiful Borimo. Bormio is a ski town nestled in the Alps near the Swiss border. From Milan we had to take a train and bus to reach this area. We arrived in a very snowy village and immediately felt like we were in a beautiful snow globe. I'm not much of a winter person at all (except at Christmas!!), but I have to say, this place was gorgeous. The town is fairly small and full of character. During our first night we stumbled upon a cross country ski race with competitors from five local villages. Each competitor was wearing a traditional outfit from their region. I've said it before - Italians know how to live! They are so full of life and know how to enjoy every moment. They live in such a healthy and happy way that we North Americans can't seem to master quite like they do. 
Budapest - For my 28th Birthday, I visited my 28th country - Hungary! A group of friends from work as well as my good friend and her boyfriend who are both living in Poland, joined me for a fun filled Hungarian weekend! We stayed in Budapest for two nights and I can easily say I would return in a heartbeat. This is a city full of dark history and beautiful sights. Surviving war and communism, each corner of the city has a story to tell. There is a certain feel to this city that I haven't quite experienced before - almost an eerie, haunted feel as you walk the streets and soak in the historical sights. 

Hungary is not on the Euro and is incredibly cheap to visit. We indulged in great food without spending much at all. The food was delicious! The best meal was breakfast at a local fish market. A traditional Hungarian bread stuffed with garlic sour cream, chicken, ham, friend onions and cheese. Definitely a hearty breakfast and served with a cup of mulled wine! Another delicious meal was a bowl of hot Hungarian goulash full of rich spices. The food was seriously good on this trip!
A full belly and we were fueled to begin a walk around the city. Interestingly, although Budapest is now one single city, it was once considered two, separated by the river with Buda on the west-bank and Pest on the east-bank. There are eight famous bridges crossing the Danube. After walking around the city and crossing two bridges by foot, it was time to relax. We headed to the famous Turkish thermal baths. Hungary apparently has the largest thermal cave system in Europe. There are several places to choose from in Budapest. We opted for the most popular - the Sz├ęchenyi Thermal Baths. A beautiful yellow palace dating back to 1913 with fifteen indoor baths/pools and three outdoor. Maggie, Miha and I spent the majority of our time outside enjoying the warm water. The air was about 8 degrees, but with the sun shining down we felt like we were on an Island holiday!
After a very relaxing day at the baths, we took a river cruise down the Danube. What we thought was supposed to be a booze cruise/party boat, turned out just to be a cruise. It wasn't quite as lively as we hoped, but regardless, we saw some pretty spectacular views from the river. The Parliament building particularly stood out with its Gothic style and large size.  The following night we visited some ruin bars. This was one of my favourite parts of this trip! Budapest has many underground bars that are old ruins or abandoned buildings. They were designed to be cheap places to drink and filled with a random collection of objects. A great atmosphere made for a fun night, a great way to celebrate my Birthday and a wonderful end to a fun filled weekend.
A Meal in the Mountains
Good friends Melanie and Angelo invited me to join them for a very authentic Italian meal in the mountains by Lake Como. I can say hands down this was the best meal I've had since moving to Italy. From Milan we drove about 45 minutes or so and parked in a village on the mountainside. From here we walked to the end of the village and were met with a dark path. About a 5-10 minute walk up a dark, steep path and we arrived at a family run, cabin style restaurant. Thankfully Angelo and Melanie knew where to go. This place is definitely off the beaten path and would not be somewhere I would ever find on my own. We were met with such a treat! A cozy woodstove, friendly owners and incredible food. Wine and food fit for a King! I'm pretty sure I went into a bit of a food coma because I cannot even remember everything we ate. I know there was a lot of cheese, meat, meat...more cheese...more wine...probably some more cheese...dessert...and definitely more wine. A night like this was a big reminder that... I LIVE IN ITALY!!!

Canada - Home

A very last minute decision brought me home for my March holiday. Due to insurance issues and the ever so fun bureaucra(p)tic paperwork that comes with living abroad, I decided that going home was needed. So, a sudden flight booked and home three days later! This is my fifth year abroad and it is rare for me to experience home sickness. In fact, there have only been two times in my experience abroad that I felt true painful loneliness for home. That isn't to say I don't miss home. Of course I miss my family and friends and comforts of home often, but that awful, heartbreaking longing for home thankfully is rare for me. However, a trip home and a giant hug from Mom can really make you remember how GOOD it is to be home. It was a quick trip, but time spent with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and my favourite little person in the world made a quick trip totally worth it. Thankfully, I was even able to squeeze in some 'tourist' time in my own country.
I tagged along with my brother, Nichole and Paige to the new Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto. Despite freezing temperatures in the city, it was a very enjoyable day (once inside, of course). I also spent an afternoon at Presqu'ile Provincial Park in my hometown with my parents, exploring the ice volcanoes. Lining the shore of Lake Ontario is a stretch of formations that spray water from their cone-shaped tops. It is a pretty unusual thing to see at home!
My time at home was short. I sadly didn't get to see many friends as it was so last minute and quick. Thankfully, one of my best friends was able to meet up. For the past five years we have gone months and months at a time without seeing each other, but we always say how it instantly feels like no time has passed. Being away has definitely made me really understand how fortunate I am to have what I have at home. I'm one lucky girl to live my dream of traveling the world, while at the same time knowing I always have a home with people I cherish so much!

Ah, Genova. Beautiful, beautiful Genova. I am not a city person at all. At this point in my life I have chosen to live in the city purely because of career opportunities and the location of the cities I have chosen to be part of. However, the hustle and bustle and fast pace is not for me. The calmness and serenity of the seaside always captures my heart and will certainly be where I make myself a long term home. For these reasons, I immediately fell in love with Genova.

A friend who teaches at the American School of Milan joined me for a day of sightseeing and exploring. We discovered that we have a mutual love and passion for marine life, so we decided to visit the aquarium. The aquarium in Genova is the biggest in Italy and amongst the biggest in Europe. It certainly has some interesting exhibits, but sadly also houses dolphins, sharks and other creatures that I have a difficult time seeing in small enclosures.
After a stroll along the boardwalk and admiring the turquoise water (and mentally calculating how many work days are left before summer vacay so I can enjoy more of the seaside!!!), we headed to the city centre in search for a local restaurant that Carrie had read about on a blog. Thanks to her research and knowledge of Italian, we enjoyed a very authentic Genovese meal at Sa Pesta. Bonus - we were the only two non-Italians in the restaurant (we knew the food had to be good). We shared a plate of traditional Genovese food (a seaweed and cheese casserole style dish, some sort of chickpea tortilla and other deliciousness that I can't spell). We followed this with a traditional Genovese pesto dish and a local wine. All delicious!
 After some tasty gelato, a walk around the city and accidentally taking a short cut through the 'rough' part of Genova (prostitutes lining the streets in the middle of the... day!?) we hopped back on the train and headed North to Milan! A great day and so thankful for a little taste of sunshine and sea.

Stay tuned for April Adventures!

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