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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Off the beaten path....with.... Rick Steves?!

May and June brought sunshine and friends.
One of my oldest and closest friends took two weeks off from her busy life to fly from Toronto to Rome. I couldn't wait to see her and greet her on Italian soil. I was also excited because I now had an excuse to return to Rome.
I had visited Rome as a University student and much to my surprise, I wasn't impressed. Yes, it is beautiful and full of rich history and culture, but something was missing. I wasn't blown away like I have been so many times with other parts of Italy. Maybe it was the annoying abundance of tourists, maybe it was the fact I arrived hours after a deadly earthquake or maybe it was the fact I spent my first 15 hours in Rome sick in a dirty hostel bed! Regardless of whatever it was that didn't impress me, I was feeling optimistic this second time around would blow me away.

Angela and I spent the weekend walking, eating and catching up as we soaked in the Roman sunshine and vino! It was a lovely weekend away, but I still left wondering what it was that I was missing. I just can't seem to fall in love with Rome the way so many others do. Maybe trip three will light that spark!

Upon returning to Milan, I was back into work mode and Angela took advantage of the sights and Milan's close proximity to other beautiful parts of the country like Tuscany and Venice. We spent the following weekend in Cinque Terre. A beautiful coastal region a few hours away from Milan. Cinque Terre translates to 'Five Villages'. We found a quaint little hotel on the water in the village of Vernazza. From here we took a beautiful (and painful) hike to one of the neigbouring villages. We rewarded ourselves with treats from a local lemon festival and we relaxed our tired bodies with a day on the beach and refreshing dips in the sea. This is absolutely my favourite part of Italy! Colourful villages emerge from cliff sides along the ocean. Olive groves and lush hiking trails run parallel to a deep blue sea. This has got to be one of the most picturesque places on the planet! If you have ever read a Rick Steves guide or watched an episode of his show, you will know he agrees with me on the beauty of this region. In fact, after a whole train mishap and ending up traveling in the wrong direction and sitting at the wrong train station, we happened to bump into Mr. Steves himself as we waited to board a train. A great and (hilarious) end to a fabulous weekend!

June approached and summer vacation was so close I could taste the coronas and poolside waiting for me! Unfortunately, I still had a very busy and hectic month of work before I could relax. Well, this waiting for summer to come to me wasn't going to cut it... so, I went to summer!
My friend Clarice who lives in Rome met me on the Island of Sardinia. We spent three days in the South in the small and quaint city of Cagliari. After boarding a rainy flight in Milan and spending ninety minutes traveling through turbulence, it was finally time to reconnect with my love of Island life. This weekend was incredibly relaxing. We spent a great deal of our time here tanning on white sandy beaches, swimming in crystal clear waters and checking out the local culture. We took sailing lessons and had dolphins swim alongside our boat, we ate an abundance of local cuisine (we avoided the traditional horse dish as well as cheese with worms), we took a trip to visit the flamingos and we let ourselves get lost on narrow side streets. It really was the perfect weekend..... until.... the hostel incident. This incident was so intense that it needs a separate blog post. Sneak peak highlights: Clarice and I running for our lives down dark hallways at three in the morning - police called - paramedics called - not a wink of sleep the rest of the night - convinced this could be the end of me - thoughts of "my Mom is for sure going to tell me to stop staying in hostels". Stay tuned!
My final Italian adventure before I left for the summer was spent with two amazing friends that I met while I lived in London. Kelsey and Mary were my people! The type of girls you just connect with immediately. We were missing the rest of our London crew, but we were happy to be reunited after two years apart. I brought them sightseeing in Milan, which is always fun for me. Each time I bring a visitor sightseeing I end up exploring something new as well! We walked to the top of the Duomo and had gorgeous views of the city, we spent time in Navigli (da Vinci's canal district in Milan) and we took a train to Lake Como. While at Lake Como we decided to venture further. We hopped on a ferry and made our way to Bellagio. Once we arrived we were on a mission to find the beach. It wasn't exactly the most organized trip (I may have dropped the ball on this one!). We eventually found a pebbly beach and had a nice dip in the ocean with snowy capped Alps as a backdrop. Moments like this I pinch myself and whisper "I live here! You did it! Your dream came true". I smile and I make sure not to take a moment of this experience for granted!

June ended as did the school year. My first year in Italy came to an end. I had so many incredible adventures and visited so many new parts of the world. I visited 12 countries during the year, 7 of which were new countries for me. With my first year of teaching in Milan and my fifth year of teaching in total behind me, I was ready for a long summer holiday!

A trip across Europe and back to Canada is up next! Check back to read about my time in:
Czech Republic, Netherlands, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece.

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