It Usually is the little Things

Posted by Madeline on April 2, 2018 in Florence, Rome, Sicily, Uncategorized

My mom arrived later Friday evening, so our visit basically started Saturday morning. We started off in Florence, so I could show her around the place I know best! Mostly, we walked around and I showed her some of my favorite sites: Michelangelo Square and Chiesa di San Miniato, the San Lorenzo Market, Basilica della Santa Anunnziata, Gelateria La Carraia and Semel (panini shop). Every morning we started off with a cappucino at different bars in Florence and each place we went (mom was struggling with me not having coffee in the apartment since she drinks a whole pot herself at home!!!) That was one of our favorite things during the whole trip, just sitting, enjoying each other’s company with a nice caffeine kick of course:)

Our coffee spot on the patio of our airbnb in Marina di Ragusa

Our last full day in Florence, we rented E-bikes (powered with a motor when you pedal) to go to a winery in the countryside around Florence. The idea sounded fun and relaxing, but actually biking in the city was confusing and stressful with cars and trying to find the bike paths! Even out of the city, there were still cars whizzing past us which was not entirely our idea of a peaceful bike ride in the countryside as we had thought.. We still enjoyed the scenery though, at stops along the way and at the winery. The winery itself was refreshing to feel more in nature and have a quiet afternoon.
Tuesday morning, we left for Rome with an early wake-up call for an 8:40 train. Our first stop in Rome was a bar because at that point mom was really needing the cappuccino by the time we got there!! Then, our first official stop was at St. Peter’s Basilica, to the end of the line wrapping around the whole square. We really didn’t mind the 45 minute wait in the beautiful square, comfortably standing in sunny 60 degrees with fountains and statues to look at.
We wandered about the church, and mom got to see Michelangelo’s La Pieta, an incredibly emotional statue of Mary holding Jesus, although it is slightly harder to admire with the wall of glass preventing a closer look. We continued to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Colosseum and our last stop was Trevi Fountain. Back at the train station, we found our cabin for the night train with two bunk beds. The beds actually weren’t that uncomfortable, but our conductor kept knocking our door to give us blankets and breakfast and check to see if our cabin mates came in, which they never did. We also didn’t sleep as well worrying that at each stop someone might be coming into our room!

Top bunk for me!

After our on and off sleep, we watched the scenery, mainly the glistening sea for the last leg of our trip in the morning. Finally, we reached Siracusa, where we met our bed & breakfast host, Maria (a friend of Salvatore who lives in Ragusa). We dropped our bags at the room and went to the market for lunch: a huge, rich panino that kept us full until 9 that night!

Then we wandered about Ortigia Island (the oldest part of the city of Siracusa) seeing churches and the bright blue sea!

Pretty restaurants along the coast

Small beach tucked between cliffs and the dock

Cute random shop with my cute mom in front

Thursday, we were looking for a bar to stop at on our way to the archaeological park. An older man walking by and said, “You look lost,” I looked at mom and then said, “Well, we’re looking for a good cafe, do you know one?”
He said, “Yeah up here across from my apartment there’s a good one,” and he waved us to follow. He asked where we were from, then said he was from Conneticut, but had been living here 25 years teaching English at a university. At his gate, he pointed us across the street and said if we needed anything, we could come ring his door! An unexpected act of kindness from a random stranger.
After coffee, we continued up the hill to the park. The park had two sides: Greek and Roman. The Greek side was amazing, with caves built into the hill -a waterfall flowing into a pool in one of them, the theatre where they used to perform and views of the sea.

Next was the Cave of Dionisus -which later when we met up briefly with Salvatore, Stefania and Francesco, Francesco explained that the cave used to hold slaves and Dionisus had a small hole at the top where he could listen in to see if any slaves were planning an escape!

Opening of the Cave of Dionisus

The Roman side was interesting to see its theatre as well, but was not as impressive as the Greek.
That night, we planned to go out for dinner because I really wanted to try fish. We checked the restaurant we were going to, but it looked empty, so we decided to look for an apertivo. We found a small shop selling local meat and cheese products with a sign for apertivo. We stopped in and ordered our glasses of wine and got a board of samples of their products, but it was big! We didn’t feel like eating a full dinner after, so we debated, and decided to just go grab two pieces of cake for dessert -a nice alternative!
Friday morning was a bit rushed as we prepared to leave on a train to Ragusa at 11. Planning ahead, we got a panino at the market…the craziest I’ve ever seen. The panino maker, Andrea, was so fun to watch. He had an art with the ingredients, as he sniffed and chopped and tossed them together,
so entertaining to watch him at work. As he made the person ahead of us, I decided we wouldn’t get meat because the sandwich was huge. Expecting to have the same as their’s, but without the meat on top, we were shocked when he went to the back to slice a different cheese, laid it out and put pulled mozzarella dipped in lemon juice with herbs and sliced orange on it, then wrapped it up and put all THAT on the panino!! Mom and I were just laughing in amazement.
Then we ran into Maria at the market who said she’d spoken to Salvatore that morning and he’d meet us at the station in Ragusa! At that point I worried we might not be eating the panino for lunch considering the hospitality I’d received from him on my last visit! I was right, as he drove us to his home and offered us a special torte of the Easter season, lamb, cheese made that morning, a pear and wine. He then put a bunch of tomatoes, the rest of the cheese, a pear and two bananas in a bag for us to take along to the airbnb!
I finally got some fish for dinner that night on a recommendation from our airbnb hosts to go to Il Delfino.
On Saturday, I was determined to swim! On our way out, Nello (the father of the family of our airbnb) said buon giorno, and asked if we were going out for lunch today. He didn’t speak much English, so I explained in Italian that we had food at home for lunch, but we were going to walk at the sea and I wanted to try to swim! He asked some other questions in Italian, slowly, and I was able to respond in a way we could understand! It was exciting and I felt proud 🙂 Outside was warm, but the breeze was a bit cool, but I eventually got in anyways..I was determined!
That night, we went to dinner at their second recommendation: Trattoria da Carmelo. Walking to our table, we saw the couple who arrived earlier in the other apartment at our airbnb! They also didn’t speak much English, but we both laughed and said hello (caio)! We ordered a Sicilian specialty with bucatini and sardines, then a plate of mixed grilled seafood. Our neighbor came over before they left and said “molto buono,” gesturing how my Italian teacher had taught us for yummy: twisting the pointer finger at the corner of the mouth. -Again I was excited to understand!
Our last day was a slight wash with packing and it was so windy out!! It was not enjoyable and tired us out to be in it! A little before 3, we went to the main house of the family to return a plate and offer them the many leftover tomatoes we had from Salvatore. Nello, Giovanna (the mother) and their son (didn’t catch his name) were finishing lunch, and Giovanna waved us to come inside. The son spoke the most English, but still not very much, and Giovanna couldn’t speak any, so most of our communication was me deciphering their Italian and gestures! Giovanna offered us a “dolci di Pasqua,” a cake with ricotta, lemon zest and cinnamon on top..delicious! She pointed for us to sit, but mom said no, trying not to put them out of their way, and then she continued to pull mom over to sit down!! They offered us pepsi, wine, beer and coffee. So we also ended up with a little wine and two espressos! Mom and I both truly enjoyed the family and how content they seemed -Nello was kind and accommodating for me during our conversation, so I could understand, the son was friendly, and Giovanna was a character fitting the welcoming Italian mother I’d pictured in my head. Our main host, Valeria, wasn’t there when we left, but she had been really nice and energetic on our arrival! A happy ending to our adventurous trip.
Today has been a bit of a loss, as I figured it would be. Getting used to my mom not being here when she was for a week straight is hard to adjust to, so I felt a bit depressed and unmotivated! Tears were on and off most of the day, but getting back into the flow of my Florence life and school will help me settle in again.


Italian Generosity

Posted by Madeline on March 10, 2018 in Ragusa, Sicily, studying abroad

A few weeks ago, I sent a WhatsApp message to a family friend, Elisa, who grew up in Sicily to ask when a good time to visit the island is. Not directly answering my question, she responded that she would contact her friends in Sicily and other parts of Italy to see if I could stay with them! This first act of kindness at first made me nervous, if I accepted, I would stay with people I’d never met before -would it be weird? awkward? I was unsure. After she emailed her friends, one named Ubaldo emailed me about visiting for an event in his town (mentioned in my last post). The night before I left I started getting nervous. I was overwhelmed by his gracious offer to be his guest at a luncheon, a dinner party and being given a place to stay in his home –which even further, ended up being his own bedroom, while he slept on the couch.– That night I worried about receiving such acts of kindness, I’d never experienced such generosity, so I felt this pressure of worrying I’d be a burden, of not being able to repay him, and to be a good guest. My parents reassured me that the Italian culture in general is a welcoming one, they often will take friends of a friend as their own.
I first thought about making this blog post after my trip to Sicily this past weekend, where I stayed with another of Elisa’s friends, Salvatore and his family. I realized that I’m unsure if this type of hospitality and graciousness exists in US culture. Perhaps it does, but I’ve never witnessed or heard of it happening. I felt a need to recognize and share this because with both of my stays, I felt so well-cared-for and comfortable. I truly admire this aspect of Italian culture, and want to try to incorporate it into my own actions, to make others feel as blessed as these people made me feel. On the bus ride back to the airport Sunday, my heart felt so full thinking over the past few days.
The trip began with stress as Florence received it’s first snowfall since 2010. Since they don’t have great methods to deal with it, public transport can get messy. I went to the train station extra early in preparation for fewer and slower trains trains to Pisa for my flight. After waiting 1.5 hours, I finally got a train, and arrived to Pisa early for my flight by hours. Then, without explanation, my Ryanair flight got delayed an hour. I texted Elisa’s friend Salvatore right away because the delay would make me miss the last bus from Catania airport to Ragusa. He said he would contact his sister in law in Catania for me to stay there for the night! Again, I don’t think this would happen in the US.. When I got to the Catania airport, he gave me his sister in law, Alessandra’s number, who told me the bus stop to get off where she’d meet me. My lovely bus driver did not drop me off at the actual stop, so Alessandra and I called and walked around trying to find each other, with the added difficulties of my poor Italian, her not speaking much English, and it was dark! Somehow we found each other, greeted with a hug and two kisses on the cheek, and began the walk to her place. She had one daughter, Angela, about 5 years old, who was very sweet and brought me water and towels up to my loft (it was a very cool apartment!!) Alessandra had to leave early the next morning to take her to school and go to the gym, so I didn’t get to see her before I left for Ragusa. That morning, I wandered about the Catania fish market, Pescheria, and sat in the warm sunshine on the sidewalk contentedly eating a spinach torte I bought for breakfast.

Catania Pescheria Market


I continued from there to find the bus station, and first went to the train station where they pointed me across the street. Across the street, I had to ask someone else because I still didn’t see it, and they walked me to a point where it was within site. I bought my ticket for 11 since I’d missed the 10 am bus I’d planned on by about 15 minutes. I sat down and thought about how I’d figure out where the buses actually left from since I didn’t know that either! I tried asking the ticket man, but couldn’t hear him. Then an older, slightly strange man I sat near showed me the way. I was glad for that, but was annoyed that he talked nonstop to me in Italian, and did not pick up on my cues of not understanding hardly anything he said, even after I’d told him, “Solo parlo un po di italiano”! Thankfully he left after giving me a flower, a Rome magnet and his number, which I will not be using.
At last, I reached Ragusa where Salvatore’s wife, Stefania, met me at the station and drove me to their house. After meeting the rest of the family: Salvatore and two sons, Mario and Francesco, and having lunch, I saw Salvatore’s farm out in the countryside. Way up on a hill, he has 22 horses, a pig, a few cats and a dog. The view was incredible of the hills and fields all around and below.

Panoramic View from the top of the hill

Next, we went to the nearby town of Monterosso where he grew up. We saw his friends at the pharmacy and a bar, then went to a bakery to get bread for dinner and he got me chocolate biscotti (cookies) to take home with me! On the ride home, he let me try some of the warm bread and called me a “buona forchetta,” literally a good fork in English, which they call someone with a good appetite (I’d had a 2 course lunch with dessert, sugar coated almonds at his farm and now bread)! I took it as a compliment:)
For dinner, they had friends over to celebrate Stefania’s birthday that was a few days before. Two little boys of the families were very interested to learn about me and play chess! It was really fun to play and talk with them, and see how excited they were to spend time with me.
The next morning, Stefania, Francesco and I went to Ibla, the oldest and lowest (also called Ragusa Inferiore) part of Ragusa. We walked about the beautiful architecture and a small park, and went into a church. Afterwards we got gelato!
In the evening, Stefania drove me to the sea, 15 minutes from Ragusa. It was a calm night, slightly breezy, but comfortable with light blue skies. We walked right by the water on the sand, then back to a piazza where families were about with children playing and others watching on.

Piazza of the Marina di Ragusa

Stefania asked if I wanted gelato, and I said maybe I’d try a cannoli since I heard Sicily was the only place to get a true one! Boy was that a good choice, best cannoli I’ve ever had -usually I don’t even like them! Back at the house, Salvatore informed me that I’d be going with his nephew and his girlfriend to a party that night! He said I’d have appertivo (wine served with a light array of food) there, but I still got to try some of the pizza he and Francesco had for dinner:) One was arugula with prosciutto, the other: a Patapizza, pizza with french fries on top! Salvatore also poured me a small beer and gave me a pear and nuts from trees of his farm. His nephew, Mario, (a family name) and Valeria picked me up at nine and we headed to the bar/lounge. I met all their friends, and tried to speak slowly in English and asked a few questions in Italian. The language barrier was difficult, but I got to listen a lot and still talk about some simpler subjects! They poured wine, the appertivo buffet was set out, later we had cake, and the birthday girl opened presents. After, we stopped at a bar in the piazza of San Giovanni in the city center. I didn’t have anything since I didn’t want to risk getting sick as a guest!
On my last day: election day, Stefania went to vote in the morning. Once her and Salvatore returned, we left for a different beach, in the town of Pozzallo. We walked along the beach together and I picked up a few shells. Then we met their friend from the pharmacy (the same one from the other day) with her daughter and son. We got lunch at a shop near the beach and had Spaghetti Frutti di Mare and gelato afterwards, even though I couldn’t finish my plate!

Gelato with Olga

A perfect ending before we sped back to make my bus from Ragusa! We hugged and kissed goodbye, I thanked them, “Grazie mille per tutti!” and said I hoped to see them again. I wasn’t just saying that, I truly do.