Italia Part 1: Asissi & Castillo

My poor little blog, how I missed you. I’m back on track, and back in Brussels!

Last Friday I woke up to complete darkness, caught a cab to the bus to the plane and watched the sunrise over Europe as I flew to Perugia, Italy. My wonderful, intelligent, lovely, hospitable friend from UConn invited me to her hometown so off I went. Editing these photos might take ages so I’ll do a couple mini photo essays… I took about 75 pictures a day, so I’m trying to keep it under control here.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

Immediately after getting off the plane, she picked me up and we drove to Assisi.

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Francis is one of my favorite saints – being an animal lover and sharing his name with our Jesuit pope and all. (Go stags.) We visited his church and his tomb first. There were so many people, even some in their sweet little nun habits and monk robes. I didn’t take any pictures of them because I know I’d feel weird getting stopped for pictures in my work clothes. Anyway, St. Francis!

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We also visited the Basilica de Santa Chiara. St. Chiara was one of the first followers of St. Francis, and eventually founded the women’s order similar to the Franciscans. She also has a pretty pink basilica. And how about this, she was once a part of the church of San Damiano (Francis is also connected to this church), and that’s the saint my BXL house is related to (Kot St. Dam). Whoaaa full circle.

After the church-visiting, the temperature soared so we went into a little restaurant lined with stone walls. We hid from the thunderstorm and drank coffee and caught up on life.

When the rain stopped we hopped back in the car and drove the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. I mean really, she’s a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I can’t believe my own luck.

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jenclinton/072413jBut the clouds followed us uphill so we went home.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I could speak French to my friend’s parents – I was afraid that communication would be impossible. But even getting by on our rough around the edges ‘francese’ and Italian hand-speak (is that the official title? hmm) made for a much richer experience. Everyone got a kick out of talking to the American in anything other than English – I’m finding that a lot in Europe.

Now I try not to be too crazy with the hyperbole here, but for real. The best meal of my life was my first dinner here. It easily toppled my last favorite meal (which was a breakfast, if you’re curious) and was only matched by Sunday’s lunch. Handmade, hand rolled pasta, filled with chicken, beef, and pork, topped with a tomato sauce from home-grown roma tomatoes, basil, fennel, and herbs de provence. I can still taste it. Not to mention the caprese salad, salami and other meats we cut ourselves, and buffalo mozzarella picked up from the nearby farm that morning. The wine was made by a friend. My life, the movie. Welcome to it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that by the end of the weekend her Italian mother told me I had a good appetite (read: I ate wayyy too much). We finished with a couple glasses of Pastis and then walked into the downtown area to meet up with more family. I’ve adopted her Italian grandfather, watch for him in tomorrow’s pictures. He offered me coffee, a cigarette, and gelato within three minutes, so I took him up on the first one (it was easily after 10pm, and I don’t drink caffeine even in the morning. Oops.)* I passed out pretty hard when I got home anyway.

I could get used to it here.

 

*My reaction to nearly every “do you want to….” was pretty much YEP before the sentence was even finished. It got me into hot water when I yep’ed a hike when all I had was ballet flats, no sunscreen and minimal shade… but we’ll save that story for tomorrow.

 

For the record, Italy pretty much took her own pictures. Only a few got some stylized editing on here, most were just exposure fixes.

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Day One

And what a day one it was.

This was my first transatlantic flight, and any preconceptions I had about Delta service were thrown out the window. I got a blanket, pillow, breakfast, dinner, warm hand towels, free alcohol… I mean what! This is not the Delta I know from home. I smiled every time the announcements would come on in three different languages, and I played trivia on my seat screen. Mostly I slept as much as I could.

On my BOS to JFK flight, I talked to the guy next to me from Munich. He was saying that his layover was really short, and when we were delayed pulling into our gate, he said “I’ll probably make it but I doubt my luggage will.” URGH. I knew right then that I was going to be in trouble when I landed as well. And I was right. Delta had already emailed me letting me know my bag didn’t make it, and they were sending it on the next JFK>BRU flight available. Fortunately I packed one set of work clothes in my carry on… no PJs though, oops.

la place luxembourg

la place luxembourg

After that debaucle, I hopped on the 21 bus to Place Luxembourg, and Jess and Frank were waiting for me on arrival – with a croissant no less. The bus stop was literally steps outside their door, not that I had much to carry anyway. Since I was pretty awake I decided to join them on a train ride to the huge farmer’s market at Garde du Midi, which I had heard about several times when looking up Brussels. They sold everything! I saw tea kettles and kitchen ware, underwear, dresses, comforters, and some super cute shoes for 5€ that will definitely be coming home with me at some point this summer. And then we got to the food! All the vendors were yelling in French, and there were samples to taste of watermelon, honeydew, and pineapple. There was such a rich variety of foods and sights and smells, people pushing against one another and running each other down with their personal shopping carts. The fish market looked particularly delicious, and we got some cod for dinner.

We walked through some of the different neighborhoods on the walk back, pausing to share raspberries at a little park guarded by one little duck (and a conservation commission employee who reprimanded me for stepping on the grass when taking pictures and not paying attention. such care for their parks!).

There was not much time left before having to go to our first apartment showing in Place Flagey. There was so much to do there, they said even if I don’t end up living there I’d definitely be going to hang out. The second one was kind of a hike north, up in Schaerbeek – much more residential, very sweet little neighborhood. All the houses are so squished together, I’m not used to such close living quarters! I’ll decide tomorrow which I’ll take.

squishy houses

squishy houses

I had my first frites as well! We stopped at Maison Antoine, Jess got tartar sauce and I tried Andalouse sauce (I resisted the urge to use ketchup!). So good, and so fresh. It didn’t quite ruin my appetite for dinner though, and after a two hour power nap we had dinner around 9PM. As long as I eat something substantial between 12 and 9 I can definitely get used to eating later. Especially when it’s followed by Skype date with boy. 🙂

Tomorrow is my first day of work! I need to get my luggage, find a phone, and pick an apartment. I call today a success. 🙂

Chocolate, beer, frites, and waffles.

Those are the the four recommendations I get every time I tell someone I’m going to Belgium for the summer. (And sometimes mannekin pis.)

I’ll let my blog evolve into a travel photo blog for a few months while I’m there. I’m throwing myself into this experience with minimal planning and lots of ideas… I’m excited!

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Things I do know – I do have flights to and from home booked. (Step one.) I’ll be working with an environmental policy org in Brussels. I will at least see Italy, France, and the Netherlands this summer. And I expect rain.

I don’t know where I’m living, or whether my French is enough to get by. I don’t know what I’ll be eating, what bus I’ll take to work, or what to do about a phone. I don’t know if I’ll be dressed right for my job, and what I’ll miss from home.

But I’m lucky because I know someone in the city, and because I don’t know if I’ll ever have this chance again. I’ll be laughing at these questions in six weeks, right?

Have a lovely summer New England, I’ll miss you!