Maybe I’ll start backwards. Why not? There are no rules here, so let’s go expLaur–in reverse. Ready? All right, here we go:
As I type, the Milan train station is getting farther and farther away, and in turn, Verona is getting closer and closer. The Italian sky outside my window is a dark, blueish gray and has a certain misty sadness. I have to remind myself that the cities passing me by are all filled with unique stories of their own. The train wheels screech and squeal like pigs in a pen, but Justin Bieber is singing to me in my little red headphones, so all is well in the world. It’s strange... this train culture in Europe. Or maybe the lack of it in the states is what's strange. Who's to say–it’s all about perspective, you know? Anyway, signs outside tell me we’re at Milano Lambarte. Not my stop. I’m looking for Verona Porta Nuova–about an hour and a half from the current stop. That stop is where I find my new home, Verona.
Yes, Verona is home now, and I’m coming back from my first big adventure: Interlaken, Switzerland. It’s been quite the trip, let me tell you. Among many things, I’d have to say without any hesitation my favorite part was, well, this:
Yup, your little expLaurer went paragliding over the Swiss alps. Quite the view, huh? Quite the view.
If you want to see the adventure through my eyes, here’s a video of my experience:
Not bad for your first weekend abroad, not bad at all. But that’s not all I did. I strolled around the Swiss streets in the crisp, cold air and got acquainted with the town rather quickly.
It’s actually a rather small town, with only about 5,500 residents making up its population (although, all the study abroad students distort that number, I’m sure). So we saw the city’s sites, basically lived in this Irish pub a block from our Airbnb, and of course, I expLaured. But what else is new?
The weather, as you can probably tell, was rather dreary, but the town was beyond beautiful nonetheless.
Just like paper postcards–but it was real. And right in front of me. I was constantly reminding myself to make sure this wasn’t just an elaborate dream. But nope, I was awake, and alive as ever, and taking in the (quite possibly) most beautiful view I’ve ever seen in my entire 21 years.
I think the country’s beauty puts something in the air, because Interlaken is a place of adventure. As my four other friends went skydiving early Saturday morning, my friend Chloe and I decided to be daring ourselves: we were going to go paragliding. We’re in Switzerland for goodness sake; it’s our study abroad, and well, you know what they say–you only live once. So paragliding it was.
I was strapped onto this guy:
His name is Jeff. He was born and raised in Interlaken and still lives there to this day. But guess what: he lived in Orange County for a while with his ex-wife. I couldn’t help but laugh. Who would have thought I’d be strapped to a random Swiss man who happened to live an hour from my sunny California home; I guess Disney was right– it is small world after all.
Once we got the all clear, we started running one foot after the other, off the mountain and into the sky. One moment I was running as fast as I could, the next, I was soaring through the sky overlooking one of Interlaken’s two gorgeous lakes.
The whole thing seems like a bit of a blur. It all happened so fast. The entire adventure was probably about 10-15 minutes of gliding through the air, though it truly felt more like 5.
Was I scared? That’s the question I get asked most frequently. Actually, the answer is no, not really. Before the initial descent, sure. But the second I was strapped in, I felt safe. The natural beauty beneath my feet was all the distraction I really needed. I was 1,400 meters up. But before I knew it, I was back on the ground and the adventure was over–at least for that moment.
Interlaken, you’ve been good to me. And before I conclude my weekend, let me just say, the sights are not the only wonderful thing about this place.
Cheese fondue. Lemme tell you. Good god, it was a dream. Come to think of it, so was the hot chocolate.
Speaking of food, let me return to my Italian adventure.
All right, so you wanna know about Verona, huh? Okay, here are my thoughts:
The town is quite different than I pictured. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of it at all. It would be beautiful no doubt. But would I like it? Would it feel like my home? There were a lot of unknowns. And as I’ve learned in the past, unknowns can be scary. But Verona is nothing to be scared of. It’s everything I ever dreamed of and more. Its red roofs, colorful balconies, narrow sidewalks, and cobblestone streets remind me of a mix of Prague and Barcelona, both their own mix of beautiful.
But this is Italy we're talking about. And I'd never been to Italy before. I know, it’s weird. How has a girl who's been to Botswana never been to Italy?! Well, somehow I hadn't. But that’s why I’m here. I wanted to expLaur and learn. And I am. One week down, and I’ve already learned and grown so much. I’ve learned a little Italian. Ciao of course was a basic-- hello. But, gracie and prego, thank you and your welcome were new. Mi dispiace-- I’m sorry. Vohre pasta bolgoinese has become a common phrase of mine while ordering food--can I have…. Parle inglese? Do you speak English? A part of me always wants to hear them answer "si" (yes), but I also enjoy the challenge of the "no." I’ve resorted to hand motions, pointing, and charades at times. But overall it’s not too bad. I get by. Many speak English. I’m not so sure I like that.
Grocery shopping was interesting as well. Is this conditioner or body lotion? Who knows? Lucky gamble, and it was conditioner, which is what I wanted. Raspberries cost only 1 euro–praise this glorious country! People talk with their hands–a lot. And with a lot of passion. Hard to tell if someone is mad or not. Classic Italian though. Speaking of Italian, the Italian food is well, everything it’s talked up to be.
I was nervous about it to tell you the truth. I love pasta, and I wanted to make sure my expectations were in check for when I took that first bite of real Italian pasta. But don’t worry, it lived up to its reputation. At times, it possibly even exceeded it. Oh, and did I mention, I ate pizza? For those who don’t know–I’m not a pizza person. Me despieche. But when in Rome… Well, Italy. It was as long as my 12-year-old cousin, and I promise you I’m not exaggerating. Here, look.
It was good, but I'm still not a pizza person. I’m working on it.
Hmm, lets see. What else? The city itself is a dream.
Bigger than I expected for sure. I’m not exactly sure what I had in mind, but probably something more comparable in size and navigability to Sevilla, or now that I’ve seen it, Interlaken. One day in the city and you’ll become Sevilla master. But Verona–no. It’s been a week, and I’m still lost. That’s okay though. I have time to get acquainted.
The river that slithers its way through the city is called the Adige. My home for the next three months gets its name after this river and is therefore conveniently called Residence al’Adige.
In town, there is a giant Colosseum-like amphitheater right smack dab in the middle of one of the city’s beautiful squares known as Piazza Bra.
Beautiful, I know. Oh, and did I mention the floor is made of MARBLE? Yeah, it’s quite crazy honestly. But it really is beautiful. What else can I tell ya?
Oh yes, right: Venice. I went to Venice just a few short days after I hit Italian soil. I was anxious, what can I say? But hey, can you blame me?
The world-famous city was only about an hour from me. It was just too tempting. The gondolas were calling my name–so off I went.
Here’s the thing though: I didn’t even ride a gondola. I know, I know-I did Venice wrong. Well, first of all, I was in a little group, so it wasn’t always my agenda. Secondly, it was 80 euro, and well, that exceeded my budget. So, no gondola ride for me. I guess I’ll just have to settle with the plain old city instead (this is where sarcastic font is 100% needed). Oh, and of course, a few pictures of the gondolas, which are free :)
Venice was beautiful, don’t get me wrong. I mean, Saint Mark’s Basilica……
Definitely was a wow. What they don’t tell you though is that this square is INFESTED with pigeons. Like literally everywhere you step, they’re there. In the air as well. Somewhat killed the vibe, but that’s okay. Still found the beauty.
Oh, and then I found this gem while just simply expLauren…
And then we decided to go to this little island called Borano, which is about a half an hour from Venice. Why’d we go? Well, for this:
It looks straight out of a Disney movie, doesn’t it? It’s so colorful and happy and small. I couldn’t believe people actually live there; such a different life they must live.
And so after Borano, we headed back home–or at least so we thought. Turns out we happened to be there during carnival, which is a festival Venice hosts every year for a few weekends in January-February. Think Masquerade Ball but Italian style–with some gondolas thrown into the mix.
So, our water taxi let us off four stops too early due to the parade and we had to walk the rest on our own; not a problem, right? Well, you see it was the festival. Everyone lined the narrow streets from corner to corner, and it was almost impossible to pass. So, we squeezed our way past masked Italians and foreigners alike as we made our way back to the train station. I’ll admit, it was claustrophobic and dark, and I was slightly afraid of falling into the canals and having my purse stolen. But, it was also unbelievably fun and beautiful to see the city light up with such enthusiasm and spirit. We finally made our way out, caught a train back to Verona, and just like that I had seen Venice–and I mean the REAL one; none of that Las Vegas bull. It really was beautiful, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back. Maybe it was hyped up too much in my head, but Venice just didn’t quite do it for me like some of the other European cities I’ve visited. But hey, that’s okay. We can’t all love everything, although I definitely appreciated its beauty.
Did I mention I went to an authentic European soccer match too? Yes, soccersloan has returned. But this time in Verona.
The team is called Hellas, and well… they sort of suck. But that’s okay. They actually ended up tying the game. So that was fun. There was an entire section filled to the brim with your typical devoted, European futbol fan… and then there was the other ¾ of the stadium: almost entirely empty. It was a great time nonetheless.
The team's colors would make any Bruin proud: blue and yellow. And their symbol? No, not a baby bear, but a ladder. Why? A ladder is a symbol representing the Scala family, who were sort of like the Medicis of Verona. This ladder can be found not only on the futbol team's emblem, but also on buildings throughout town. It’s a Verona thing, I suppose.
On another note, the program also took us all to a winery. And not just your average winery… it was a BEAUTIFUL, elegant, fancy winery. And we got a tour. We took a little 20-ish minute bus ride to Soave. This is where the winery was:
Unbelievable, I know. This region is filled with medieval castles and churches that give the town a certain charm impossible to replicate.
After marveling at the beautiful surroundings, we descended a long flight of stairs and found ourselves underground surrounded by these bad boys:
I felt so small.
Then there were the barrels I was used to seeing.
Our guide told us they let the wines sit here for 5 years before bottling. And they sell over 30 million bottles each year. After the wines sit in the barrels for a few years prior to bottling. Each bottle gets turned ever so slightly every day–manually. Yikes.
Then, it was the moment we had all been waiting waiting for: the wine tasting.
They gave us three scrumptious pours; they served the lowest quality first– a 2013 Sveva Valpolicella Superiore.
Next up was a 2011 Ripasso Superiore that was aged 18 months and included the skin of the grapes.
The last and final wine is known as, “The King of Red Wine,” which is Amarone. They age this bottle for 5 years and dry press the grapes, They let the juice ferment and then put it in HUGE oak barrels and let age almost 24 months. They then refine it for another 3 years in the bottle, and after 5 years, they finally sell it. So, this 2010 vintage was 5 years in the making (and 5 seconds in the drinking...yum!).
Did you follow that? Kind of confusing, I know. But interesting and cool nonetheless.
They taught us to swirl the wine and watch it run and smell its nose- the various fruits and aromas that make up each wine.
This tasting put almost all my senses to use: I could smell the evolution of the bouquet of flavors; tasted the intense and sweet flavors and felt the silky and smooth texture, and recognized red fruit–black cherry, plum, chocolate, and even toasted coffee.
We were supposed to wait one hour and let it oxygenate, but well, that didn’t happen.
Oh, and they had an alcohol content of 40.5… So before we all got drunk from the tasting on an empty stomach, we all went to dinner. But this was not just any ordinary dinner. Not ordinary at all.
It was the most elegant dinner I’ve ever attended in my entire life. Four courses. Endless (and I mean endless) bottles of delicious white wine made right there in the winery, and of course, dessert.
The first course was risotto cooked in a white wine and parmesan sauce. YUM. So. Much. Yum. Then there was pasta. It was rigatoni thick cylinder noodles thrown in some delicious oil and sauce and tossed with zucchini and peppers. Then there was chicken; so soft and tender and warm. Did I mention there was endless wine? And then of course there was dessert–and dessert wine.
Let me just say this was THE absolute best dinner that I have ever had in my entire life. Good God I love this country.
And speaking of great food:
I forgot to mention somewhere along the way that I’ve eaten some pretty colorful and tasty gelato, an Italian classic. Read my Travel post "In Fair Verona" for some tips on where to visit for the best sights and sweets of the classic Italian town, including, of course, La Romana.
I see a darker shade of blue outside my window now. It’s almost purpley black at this point. The day is already gone, it seems. Weird how fast the days go. And just like that it’s one week down, eight to go. I’m so excited for this journey I’ve already embarked upon. I’ve done so much, and I know there’s so much more in store. I’m doing everything I ever thought I would so far, and I’m loving every second. The traveling is tiring and my throat is starting to ache again. I do want to go back home, to Verona, I mean. It’s strange how going back to “reality” is coming home to Italy. The whole experience doesn’t seem real. It’s as if I’m living a dream, because well, I basically am.
Your little expLaurer