commercialization = commercializzazione
Today I'll share one more observation I made while in Venice, since I've spent this Sunday studying for my upcoming exams. Something I was excited to see in Venice was St. Mark's basilica, with 7th century mosaics and a Byzantine-style interior. The crowds and line outside it were insane.
Vendors set up shop not 30 feet from the front door, people sat on benches eating cart food and dirtying the ground with wrappers and napkins, and the line to enter the basilica was massive and filled with tourists.
As a Catholic, and as a practicing Christian in general, this all irked me. St. Mark's basilica is packed with tourists so often that it has basically become unusable for its intended purpose: religious services like the Catholic Mass. I don't imagine any similar phenomena has ever or would ever happen with the landmarks of Judaism or Islam, but for whatever reason, Catholic leaders have allowed this in our churches.
I would be delighted for anyone, Christian or not, to visit these beautiful churches and perhaps be inspired by their beauty... but to see droves of tourists who are likely ignorant of these structures' history and significance, and who doubtfully show due reverence, is rather disappointing. I think the Catholic Church or the city governments of Italy (whoever is responsible) has done well to make such significant parts of their history seem out of place and archaic, surrounded by modern high-end shops and noisy vendors. It is truly a shame.
Carnival = Carnevale (farewell to meat, the beginning of Lent)
Today we took a day-trip to Venice. My initial impression when I stepped off the train in the middle of downtown was: Disneyland. Music was playing, aqua blue water was floating through the canal, gondolas afloat, and people were everywhere. After walking a few blocks and turning through a few very narrow allies (as are typical in Venice), you'd suddenly be completely alone and away from the crowd. When we first arrived, Juli was using Google Maps to take us to a leather store. The GPS took us straight to a dead-end with water... so we bought day tickets for the water taxi. This peculiar "water bus" functioned exactly like a city metro, with lines, "train" or boat numbers, and set schedules. After accidentally walking across the entire island of Venice, from West (where the train station is) to East, we put our taxi tickets to use and rode the boat all the way back. This took about an hour... in Venice we had walked eight miles, completely unaware that we were getting such a workout!
At lunch, I had a bellini, which is a Venezian specialty. It was the best one I've had while in Italy, so I am not surprised.
Carnival began Saturday night, so the streets were filled with people in masks and costumes. I couldn't be left out, so I purchased a mask for 6 Euro. It looked more "authentic" to me than the ones covered in sparkles, until Juli told me they were all made in China. Certainly, the masks are a perfect "souvenir" that must be produced en masse, but you would think a city with a rich history and practice in mask-making would take pride in these items coming from local craftsmen.
al dente = (of food, typically pasta) cooked so as to be still firm when bitten
Today our class experienced agriturismo or agricultural tourism at a family farm in Verona. The farm has expanded into a little restaurant, where we had our cooking class, a winery, and a hotel. The location boasts one of the most beautiful views of Verona off the patio, and in the winery, the rolling hills of Northern Italy are scenic.
After our gnocchi class, I expected pasta making to involve a bit more intricate skill, or at least more ingredients. No - pasta is as simple as it gets! We mixed flour and an egg to make the dough. From there, all that is needed is a rolling pin and a pasta machine for flattening and cutting the strands. I created the pasta nests by simply wrapping the strands around my fingers.
This little family farm, a minor producer of wine and food, receives funding from the European Union. I thought that was interesting, and I would hope the United States government would have policies that promote small, family farms as well. While I don't wish GMOs were banned, since they have done a lot to reduce world hunger, I wish the price of organically grown produce and ethically farmed meat (by small, local farms) would be lowered somehow. This is difficult to do in the United States economy where mass-produced Monsanto products are available. I have certainly enjoyed the fresh, crisp taste of tomatoes and the fantastic, small-batch wine while I have been in Italy.
St. Valentine = San Valentino
Our group boarded a bus at 7:30 this morning to head to Bolzano, Italy, which is located in the South Tyrol region. Our purpose was to observe a multi-ethnic society, where three languages are spoken: German, Italian, and Ladin. Ladin is a lesser-known Romance language that is spoken in the valleys by a particular group of people. Most people know South Tyrol as a place where only German and Italian are spoken, but learning about the Ladin people was quite interesting. In South Tyrol, everyone has a right to be educated in their mother tongue. For this reason, public schools offer both major languages, and local universities such as the Free University of Bolzano are tri-lingual (Italian, German, English.)
At lunch, we had little tea sandwiches featuring Tyrolean cuisine. I was surprised to bite into a tuna sandwich, which reminded me of my childhood. My mom always used to make me tuna sandwiches. The rolling hills of Bolzano that peaked between the buildings downtown also reminded me of home. In San Diego, the winter landscape looks very similar.
When we returned, I was delighted to find flowers from Samuel at the front desk for Valentine's Day. I was equally happy when I heard that the card I sent him via the "Ink" app had arrived. Sam had called a local Italian florist. This all made me feel fortunate to live in a time that it is so easy to remain connected across thousands of miles.
tomato = pomodoro
Today, my roommate and I cleared off our kitchen table and put our skills from the cooking class to test. We made gnocchi di patate, or potato gnocchi. Our gnocchi had only two simple ingredients: flour and potato. Juli and I discussed how these simple and cheap ingredients have likely made gnocchi a staple for poorer communities in Italy. Gnocchi can also be made with sweet potato (something I want to try), pumpkin, carrot, or beet and goat cheese... a flavorful, upscale version of the original.
Our experience making gnocchi at home went well: the result was tasty. However, the process of boiling, grating, mixing (with flour), rolling and cutting the potatoes certainly made us gain a greater appreciation for the chefs who make gnocchi in-house at nice restaurants. We did not shape the gnocchi, as that would have added another 30 minutes to the process.
We covered our gnocchi in pomodoro sauce and Parmesan cheese. Gustare (enjoy!)
Laundry room / laundromat = La lavanderia
Today, I did my laundry for the first time while in Italy. I made it just under a month thanks to my strategic packing of a number of tees and tanks for wearing underneath sweaters. The laundry pile was high - but still less than I usually wash in the States. I'd say it was a medium sized American load of laundry.
In Italy, it was extra large. The tiny washing machine costs 4 Euro, so I was stuffing all of my clothes into the washer with little "breathing room" left. It was a side-load washer, so this was a bit of a challenge as clothes kept toppling out as the barrel rotated when I added more. Eventually, I was successful at putting my entire load into one washer.
The dryer was larger and cost 3 Euro. The longest duration was 41 minutes... which had me skeptical that my clothes wouldn't be dry, because at home it usually takes 70-80 minutes to completely rid them of dampness.
Indeed, my clothes were damp out of the dryer. On the phone to my boyfriend Samuel when I was folding my clothes, I mentioned this and he said he had the same problem on study abroad in Germany, and would end up running the dryer cycle 2-3 times. We concluded that maybe the Europeans, with their eco-conscious automatic lights, have lowered the wattage of dryers or placed limits on drying time. A noble effort, but not worth clothes smelling musty after being folded damp.
To wash and dry my laundry was a little pricey - about $8 USD. Thankfully, there is a warm towel drying rack in my bathroom where I can finish the job!
Shopping mall = centro commerciale
Juli and I went to the mall today, a short bus ride away. One thing I noticed in a few store windows were fake brand name purses. In the United States, of course, this would not fly. Fakes are sold in the black market, out of the backs of vans in San Francisco. In the legal sphere, designers will sometimes get away with copying the design or "look" of a certain bag or shoe, but never will they label it with the brand name as pictured. This made me wonder if copyright laws are stricter in the U.S. than elsewhere, and whether it is Italy, or the entire EU that openly allows such drastically discounted "copies" to be sold.
We made a stop at Bialetti, the coffee and kitchenware brand named after the inventor of the home Moka pot: the Moka Express! I bought this one in red that looks much like the original in shape, except for with a fun, brightly colored flair. The machine makes 3 shots of espresso.
I learned soon after I purchased it that Moka pots cannot make less coffee than the amount they are sold for (in my case, 3 shots.) That is a lot of caffeine, so either I'll get my roommate hooked on the Italian way of drinking a small cappuccino in the morning, or I might be tempted to purchase a tiny one-shot Moka pot before returning to the States. My Airbnb host in Ravenna had Moka pots in two sizes, so such an idea certainly isn't unorthodox.
Breakfast = la prima colazione
Today, we checked out of our Airbnb by 10 and headed to the train station to make use of the convenient luggage lockers – our train wasn’t till 5pm. We had breakfast at “The Breakfast Club,” which is a good movie in my opinion… and an even better restaurant! I had the so-called “Very British” breakfast which included some baked beans. I was happy to experience some British cuisine without making the trek to London from Verona. After breakfast, we walked around the historic Altstadt or “Old town,” and made a second visit to the Swarovski store... the one in town.
Most of the shops were closed on Sundays, including many of the coffee shops. We needed a place to pull out our laptops and do some homework, which is not exactly as appropriate in Europe as it is in the U.S. We found an old café from the 1800s called Café Central. It had crystal chandeliers, but ironically, was laptop and work-appropriate. We sat and I heard Italian coming from the table next to ours. I remembered on the train ride to Austria, I thought we had crossed the border earlier than we did because we crossed into the Northern region of Italy where they speak German. In fact, we had not crossed into Austria till the last stop before Innsbruck.
Austria was a wonderful trip. I don’t speak German except for a few phrases, but I could easily tell how the English language is “Germanic.” German speakers say “hallo,” almost identical to “hello,” and “danke,” which sounds like “thank you” said very fast, with a similar cadence.
Frightening = spaventoso
The highlight of today was our tour of the Swarovski crystal museum, or in German, Kristallwelten. The museum itself was kind of odd (what can I say, I prefer history or historical art) but served as a great backdrop for some cool pictures. My favorite was Yayoi Kusama's only permanent infinity mirror exhibit - Chandelier Of Grief.
The best part of the museum was the gift shop. I know, I know – pathetic. Thankfully, in Austria, Swarovski crystal jewelry is straight from the source and significantly discounted. I purchased a little red horseshoe necklace, and got my sister something, too.
Later, we had the best dinner of our trip thus far. We ate at Die Wilderen, which my boyfriend Sam found on Tripadvisor and told us to go check out. It was indeed a very good suggestion. I had goat cheese wrapped in a prosciutto-style thinly sliced meat, and some Austrian rice balls. Why the weird dishes? As it turns out, most of the main courses consisted of horse meat. I’m no vegetarian, but I grew up with horses (hence why I bought a horseshoe necklace earlier that day) and I was not about to eat this beautiful creature. I’ve heard of various cultures eating horse meat, but was surprised to find this to be the case in Europe. Sorry, Austrians, horses are for riding!
Part 2: A Scary Situation
After dinner, Juli and I had quite the scary thing happen to us. We were walking home around 8, and it hadn’t been dark for long. Our apartment had a locked door that opened to the street, which opened into a hallway lined with doors to people’s apartments… all locked. Double locks: pretty safe, right?
Well, tonight, Juli unlocked the door and I followed in behind her. The door began to shut and I turned and watched, and was going to make sure it closed completely. Not before I touched the handle did a man catch the door and say something to me in a language that didn’t sound like German or English, or anything I could recognize. I said “oh” as he opened it and turned around and followed Juli, who eyed me like, “why didn’t you close the door?” I suppose I thought he lived there and didn’t want to be rude and slam the door on his face, but right after I saw him and let him in, I knew he didn’t live there.
Making our way down our short hallway to our door, I could feel this man following us closely. I don’t know exactly how we both knew something was very wrong, but people talk about women’s intuition. We stopped at our door and Juli began to fiddle with our key. I tapped her hand and mouthed “wait,” and she thankfully took my cue and said, “let’s go to the garden.” The man was standing right behind us before we made our way out to the garden at the end of our hall. Juli thought there was an exit out there, but there wasn’t. Thankfully, the man didn’t follow us out. (Later, Juli remarked that he probably thought there was an exit out there and that we were gone.)
We stayed outside and watched the hallway. The man wasn’t there, but we hadn’t seen him leave the building. By the way this African man was dressed, and the way he inappropriately followed us into our building, I suspected he was a migrant. I don’t know what he intended to do, but in the garden I could remain calm and collected since we hadn’t been followed out there.
Germans have these eco-friendly lights that turn off after a short amount of time, so before long, the lights in the garden turned off. At this point, we walked back into the building and opened our door quickly, slamming it shut and locking it instantly when we were inside. Juli had been texting her boyfriend who told her to call the police. I thought it wasn’t at that point yet, but called my boyfriend as soon as we were inside to tell him about the creepy encounter we just had. A few minutes passed and we heard a slight knock on the door, and someone wiggling our door handle. Presumably, it was the man. Juli began to get nervous and told me to be quiet, but I thought “he’ll go away.”
He continued to shake the door handle, more violently as time went on. After two minutes of this, we called the police. We met with the Austrian police later and told them the whole story. They checked the building and assured us no one was there anymore. Before bed, Juli and I were talking about this, but I didn’t want to. I was relatively calm during, but after the fact I was grateful we were okay and did not want to imagine the man hiding in the hallway when we came back from the garden or entertain what could have happened to us tonight.
That whole ordeal put a damper on what was otherwise the most enjoyable trip I’ve been on in Europe.
Snow = la neve
We rushed out the door today to make it to our shuttle up the Nordkette mountain. At first, we were on one of those train gondolas that I’d never experienced before, but we switched to a cable-car gondola later to make our way higher up the mountain. I’ve been skiing in the states, but these gondola cars were the size of a kid’s room. We crammed into it like sardines in a can before taking off up the slopes. Already, this was a new cultural experience. Among the crowded cable car, I heard people from the UK or Australia speaking English. Hearing my own language in public was strangely comforting, and I immediately found peace and relaxation among the beautiful mountain scenery (also familiar from years of Colorado trips with my family) in Innsbruck.
At the top of the mountain, I had my first Weiner schnitzel with cranberry sauce. It was great, and I had it again for dinner, but couldn’t help wanting to try some of Juli’s local brats. Thankfully, she shared. We also ate a great sauerkraut appetizer. German food was delicious, and offered some nice variety compared to the Italian staples that I’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks. Note to self: Germans do roasted potatoes better than French fries.
I avoided skiing this trip, first because I didn’t have my gear, second because in Europe, unmarked avalanche areas and ungroomed slopes show that Europeans just expect you to be a good skier. While skiing in Colorado might be a smoother experience, the Rockies have nothing on the Alps as far as looks go. Enjoy some pictures from the beautiful Alps: