Friday, July 23, 2010

Tales from Amazing Italy: Part 1

Truth be told, I've been extremely busy since returning from Italy. I've had a number of people ask me if I am going to blog about all of the many experiences I had. I have been itching to do so, but I've also been wanting to savor the experiences and by taking a little longer to blog about them, it allows me to relive them for a longer period of time.

So it is, during a heat advisory and severe thunderstorm watch and Lord of the Rings:
Fellowship on tv that I begin to share with you my amazing journey to Italy....

My flight to Italy arrived around 8am on a Thursday morning. I took the Leonardo Express train from Fiumicino Airport (aka Leonardo da Vinci Airport). My first bit of fright occurred when I couldn't figure out where to validate my ticket. I had just 5 minutes before the next Express train left and finally I saw a British couple with a map in their hands and asked them where to punch the ticket. Sure enough, at the start of the track there were 2 yellow boxes, which I ran towards as the train pulled into the little station. Every train station in Italy has these yellow boxes and tickets need to be punched before getting on board. The Leonardo Express costs 14 euro takes you on a 20 minute journey through the graffitized and green countryside between the airport, which is near the coast and central Rome which is just inland. Without the Express train, the trip would take nearly an hour via regular train or quite a bit more in cash via a taxi.

I exited the Leonardo Express at Termini, Rome's central train station. It is a huge place, similar to Union Station in Chicago, expect with 3 times the number of tracks. There are f
ew signs pointing the way to the main track platform. In fact, most point you towards the underground walkway b
elow the tracks where track numbers line the many stairways leading to the platforms above. Confused but confident that I would figure it out, I booked a ticket for Bologna, in the north of Italy. I had about 30 minutes before boarding but when I went down below to get on the platform, the stairs leading to my track were closed with a sign on a door to the stairs saying track closed. Now I was very confused, because I wasn't sure how else to get to my track! It was now about 20 minutes to departure. Finally, I put on my "I'm lost" face and climbed back up to the main level of the station. The only track I could see from above was #1 and I needed track 30. It was then that a nice Italian train engineer spotted my confused expression and walked me all the way down, walking faster than I could go and pulling my luggage. I'm a bit leery at letting anyone handle my luggage, having heard horror stories about thieves in Rome but this guy was really making it his mission that I make my train.

It turns out, I just had to walk all the way along track #1 and once there, laid out before me, was a line of shops and a row of tracks all the way down to my right. We walked brisk
ly to Track #30 and onto the train I went. I knew enough to discern which cars were for first class and which were for second, so I climbed aboard a 2nd class car, hauling my heavy suitcase up with me and found a seat. I didn't realize that seat #'s were located on the ticket but I didn't care once I figured it out, about an hour into the train ride. Neither did the ticket check guy.

The train made 2 stops north towards Bologna. The 2nd to last was in Florence. We were delayed in Florence for unknown reasons and I texted Marty to say the train was running late. I had already arrived later than planned due to my lack of calculating baggage retrieval and distance to catch the train from the airport to Termini. The family was quite hungry at this point and had nearly arrived in Bologna when I arrived at the airport. Thankfully, I had had the idea to purchase some prized Chicago food at O'Hare before getting on the plane. The tasty Garrett's Popcorn was probably the best gift I could have brought them when I finally arrived in Bologna!

I was so anxious to meet Marty and Lara and Maria Theresa and Ivan that I rushed off the train down the stairs to the main lobby and out to the sidewalk in front of Bologna station. The only problem was that the Pecchini's were so excited to see me that they had made it onto the platform and were now waiting for me there. So... I hauled my suitcase now back down and then up the stairs to the platform yet again and it was all smiles and hugs from then on. We were all full of things to say, they attempting (much better than I) to say welcome in English and me to say (in Italian) that I was so happy to meet them. We didn't stay in Bologna but rather got in the car, ate some popcorn and drove to Modena.

Along the way the family began to point out different sculptures and monuments on the roundabouts. I started to take pictures which by the end of my trip became a bit of a joke between all of us. I think it was also on this first car ride that I pulled out my little yellow dictionary so I
could better say things. That dictionary would be in my hands the rest of the visit and so would Marty's big gray one. Everywhere we went the dictionaries were also. Completely m

We arrived to the Pecchini's house, a very cute and elegant home just outside the heart of old town Modena. The garage is the lower level of the house and there is a spiral stairway that leads to the 2nd floor and their front door.
They have a lovely garden which is well cared for and a table where I'm sure they spend many a meal during the warmer days of the year. Inside, everyone took off their shoes, myself included. They all had house slippers, which I didn't have but soon improvised my flip flops as house shoes. Before doing so though, Marty lent me her cute animal slippers. This made everyone laugh. I love this
family not only because they are so hospitable but because they are happy and seemingly carefree.

We had a little down time in their garden/patio talking and learning more about each other. I gave Marty and Lara t-shirts that said USA on them which they immediately put on which I found extremely cute. Especially with them both wearing them!! I also gave the family the book on Chicago architecture which seemed like a neat gift. Maria Theresa and Ivan really loved it I think and even brought it to dinner at the Poggioli's, which was the next stop on my Italian adventure that evening.

On the way to dinner at the Poggioli's, we stopped for gelato. Apparently the family's favorite gelataria was closed already so we went to the next best one. What we bought was a
container of deliciousness. Several flavors including mint, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry or some other type of fruit (which I can't recall). I hadn't had dairy in 6 months and I was a bit hesitant to dive in so quick to gelato but it sure looked appetizing and I knew that
by the time we left I'd have had my first gelato of the trip!

Dinner at the Poggioli's was wonderful. We had an assortment of peppers in olive oil, cold cut meats including prosciutto, roast beef and ham and Italian bread (not called Italian bread in Italy of course). Along with dinner was a lovely bottle of wine made right in
ena. Next came tortellini in a cream sauce which was hand made by Mrs. Poggioli and Maria Theresa. I have never had tortellini that wasn't in a soup. What a nice treat!

I felt like I belonged with this family straight from the moment I met them on the platform. That sense of belonging only grew as the days went by and as we saw more and more things.

I'll share the next part of the adventure soon. Stay tuned. Comments are welcomed =)