April 10, 2012

Roman Holiday

Our final weeks in Rome combined all the aspects of our trip we had come to love. We spent some time with a family, getting a focused glimpse into daily life in a new place, eating delicious food, sharing recipes, drinking the local drink and partaking in the culture. We were also tourists, venturing out to historical sights, navigating public transportation systems, practicing our Italian and soaking up the living historical and cultural sights. In our very final days we were able to share this journey (complete with a night spent in the airport), with Kathi, David's mom. 

Before Kathi's arrival, we took a few day trips to visit Grotta Ferrata (a neighboring town), the ancient city of Pompei and to Rome, the eternal city. 

Navigating Italian streets, whether on foot or by car proved to be a scary endeavor.  Here, Christina is plastered against the wall, saving herself from the speeding vehicles.  It was no wonder the caretaker at Castelli International chuckled, shook his head and murmured something about "you Americans" when we told him we were taking a walk to Grotta Ferrata. These roads are no place for a pedestrian. 

Grotta Ferrata's claim to fame was this beautiful active monastery. These were not the beer brewing German monks. 

A trip into Rome always began here, at the Marino Laziale train station, Here, David demonstrates the ubiquitious Italian gesture we wrote about in our last posting. 

Our first day in Rome, we stumbled upon this beautiful basilica, Santa Maria Novona. Here is a picture of the back of the church.

Here is a view of the baldachin and knave. Although it's not clear from the picture, the knave is filled with detailed and beautiful mosaics.  Below the baldachin we saw our first reliquary.

The reliquary at Santa Maria Novona. According to the guidebook, behind this glass case is an original piece of Jesus' manger.

Before Kathi arrived we took a day trip to visit the ruins of Pompei, an ancient city once buried in the volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius. We took the advice of our guidebook and purchased a separate Pompei guide. This was a prudent decision as the ruins are inconsistently and poorly labeled. Many of the more interesting areas were blocked off, but we would not be deterred. 

Are you not entertained?! David in the center of the arena at Pompei.  

Pompei: A Re-enactment

After jumping a few barriers, we came upon these preserved bodies in situ.  A grisly sight. 

An early pub and fast food joint in Pompei.  The sunken areas on the counter were heated and filled with cooked foods for purchase. 

David. A view of Pompei in the background. 

The forum. Christina sits on the entryway of a large cloth factory. Just in the entrane were huge containers for collecting urine, which Romans used to launder clothes, and dye and bleach clothes. 

A preserved body. According to our guidebook it is likely many Pompeins died from the toxic air and smoke inhalation.  Their bodies were preserved in the ash that settled upon the city.

When Kathi arrived we had just a few days to explore the city and enjoy the final days of our epic journey. Armed with individual museum guides, we hit the pavement, spending countless hours reading about, analyzing, understanding and becoming awe struck by the impressive works of art found all over the city. 

Christina and Kathi at the Vatican Museum pondering a truly breathtaking work of art, Raphael's Transfiguration. 

The Romans collected Egyptian art and also created a lot of their own Egyptian inspired art. The Vatican Museum has a great collection including the mummy featured here. 
Kathi and David outside of St. Peter's Basilica. 

We ended our first day in Rome with a trip to Pizzeria Buffetto. Here they serve deliciously thin pizza hot from the oven, and of course pitchers of delicious Italian wines. 

Day 2 took us to Florence.  Here's Kathi, warm and comfortable in first class. 

Legend has it if you touch the boar's nose, you're certain to return to Florence. We'll be back! 

Il Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. This square is the site of the orignal bonfire of the vanities when Savonarola, a Dominican priest had books and works of art burned in the name of purity. A year later he was burned alive at the very same site. 

David and The David ( a replica). 

A view  of Il Ponte Vecchio from The Uffizi art museum. This covered bridge was the only bridge in Florence the Germans did not bomb during WWII. 

A common site in Rome. Scooter lined streets. We were amazed to see these vehicles speeding past us on highways as well as streets. 
Our third day into Rome involved a detailed tour of the Forum and the Colosseum.  

"Kill him!"
Thousands of Romans filled this stadium eager to watch gladiator fights, the slaughtering of exotic animals and epic sea battles.  

We ended our final trip into Rome with a taste of delicious gelato. 

We were able to give Kathi the full experience of Our Year.  She was a tourist with us, a worker living with a family and finally a weary traveler. Due to a snow storm, we spent the last night of our trip on the benches in the Manchester airport.

It has taken us a while to write this final blog entry. Truly we should have written this entry as soon as we returned, but we didn't. The weeks have dragged on and this final entry has loomed.  In the last weeks we have tried to process this momentous experience.  Writing this final entry meant closure on something we began planning over a year ago and accepting our return to daily life. What we have come to realize as we put together our scrapbook, retell stories and relive moments is that this trip has been more than just a break from the mundane.  Our farming experiences have shaped the way we look at food, what we eat and where and how we want to live. The people we met and the stories we heard have shaped the way we hope to influence the world and who we count as family and close friends.  The history we learned and the art we enjoyed has inspired us to say more, do more and learn more.  As we return to search for jobs, find housing and reconnect with our families and friends,  we are ever aware of how fortunate we are to have had this experience and we are ever grateful to our families for supporting us and to the families who shared their lives with us and to the friends who  shared moments with us along the way.

Although "Our Year" the blog will end with this entry, Our Year continues as we find jobs, housing and communities of which we want to be a part. Thanks for following our journey! 

February 20, 2012

Bella Italia Part 1

Comfortable in our overnight cabin on the Barcelona to Milan train, David and I slept soundly. We woke up the next morning, pushed aside our train cabin windows and found, to our surprise, a snow covered Milan. We thought we had left winter behind, and in fact, David had even persuaded me to trash a pair of particularly worn long johns. (At this point in our trip, much of our clothing is worn; small holes are appearing here and there and just the other day, Dave's shoe laces snapped. ) 

A little chilly, but well rested, we thrust ourselves into the Milan train station and promptly joined a very long line at the TrenItalia counter to purchase our tickets from Milan to Rome. Up until this point, buying tickets in European train stations has been fairly easy. In general, you choose a number, like at the deli counter in a busy supermarket, plop yourself on one of the many benches, watch the board and await your turn. This method has clearly not caught on in Italy, where the train lines seem epically long. On account of my Italian language proficiency, I waited in line while David guarded our bags. Before I reached the counter, I watched a man of color get pulled aside and intensely questioned by the police. This same man cut the line and somehow ended up just a few customers ahead of me.  I watched as this man emphatically gestured at one teller and then found himself (at the exact same moment) at my teller's window, throwing his money at her and demanding she serve him. The teller was no pushover, however and she slammed the money on the counter and told the man to beat it. This back and forth continued long after my transaction and David and I were all too eager to make our way to the train.  To top off our rather brief Milan experience, we stumbled upon a full fledged protest, of what we're not sure, as we were stopped in our tracks by the imposing presence of police in full riot gear. Our first moments in Italy, while unusual and unique would characterize for us a certain emotional response we see quite frequently here. As David noted as we watched a live soccer game at a local field the other day, we've never seen so much shoulder raising and emotional pleading, whether it be in soccer, the train station or the classroom. That seems to be a major gesture to master here in Italy: pinch your thumbs into your other four fingers on both hands, hunch your shoulders up into your ears, bring your hands to the middle of your chest, and then bounce your forearms up and down at the elbow a few times while imploring to somebody (a referee, a cop, an over-charging coffee vendor) about how unreasonable they are being. Throw in a few "mamma mias" and you're there. This is not an exaggeration. 

When our train finally arrived it was a relief to board our first class car and relax for a few hours. Yet again, first class proved quite luxurious. Our privilege earned us a free snack (either salty or sweet), free drinks (including wine) and a choice of any number of free Italian language newspapers!  We read, napped and watched the scenery change from blizzard like conditions to green, rolling hills. 

In Rome, we transferred to a regional train for Marino (a suburb of Rome) and were warmly greeted by Natasha, the daughter of our host mom, Marianne Palladino.  Earlier this summer, David and I met with Marianne in Acworth to arrange this stay at her home and school, Castelli International founded by Marianne in 1977.  She loved the idea of us coming to visit and promised to put us to work! She's definitely kept up her part of the bargain.  During the week we have been helpful floaters, covering for sick teachers, guest teaching and spending some down time outside during recess.  It's been a great chance to gear up for our job search and prepare to re-enter the classroom. 

Marianne and her husband Gianni have been wonderfully gracious hosts.   Our weekends have been characterized by Gianni's roaring fires and his delicious multi- course feasts; these are true Italian meals beginning with pasta or soup, accompanied on every occasion by a carefully selected bottle of wine, and always ending with a meat dish, salad and finally a serious need for a nap or at least a limoncello or scalding hot espresso. It's been fantastic to sit around the table, bellies full and delicious wine flowing, discussing education with Marianne. Her energy is infectious and she's been instrumental in helping us think about our future as educators. 

In our first week here at Castelli, there were four snow days! This area isn't used to snow and even though they received just a few inches over the course of the week, the surrounding towns were clearly not prepared (and we mean that.... they were lacking plows,  running out of salt, and every newscast showed folks in Rome speaking gravely and gesticulating wildly amidst very modest snow banks). Roads remained snow covered and later iced over. Of course, that meant school had to close. 

If Gianni is home, the fire is roaring.  During our first few days, Marianne encouraged David to chop wood as Gianni was known to use the wheelbarrow to load the fire place with enormous logs that burned for hours on end. It's true, left to his own devices, Gianni will chuck a huge tree stump in the fireplace. 

Christina with Natasha, Marianne's daughter. Natasha and her family also live here on the property. Natasha teaches Middle School English and helps run the school here at Castelli. Christina was happy to hear Natasha was studying Animal Farm with her eight grade English class and Christina was all too eager to teach a few lessons on her favorite book. Natasha also is responsible for changing our diet forever. She lent us a documentary - Forks Over Knives. We haven't looked the same way at animal products since.

It's been quite a while since I (Christina) have taught students in the lower school, and while the classroom work was fun, the few times I arranged some games in the "cage," (the fenced in basketball court seen here and below) I was reminded why I am not a PE teacher, and partially why I no longer teach 6 year olds. 

In the middle school, Dave stepped right into teaching Marianne's Current Events class and teaching a few science courses. He also spent two full days with second graders, which damn near killed him. 
Castelli sits on a hillside surrounded by vineyards and olive trees. Here is a picture of the elementary school building. The vineyards and olive groves are still productive. In fact, the olive oil we enjoy at meals is made from their olives and the grapes are sold to a local wine producer. 
The "cage" where David held daily basketball lessons and a final tournament. 

Those second graders who tired Mr. David out! On this particular day, this young lady brought in a birthday cake complete with an exploding candle. Mamma mia!

David previewing the rules for the rather short basketball tournament, which was a culmination of two weeks of basketball lessons. The tournament had only three games: two semifinal matches and a final. All games were six minutes and the scores were a whopping 1-0, 2-1, and 1-0. Needless to say - with scores more reminiscent of a soccer game - basketball is NOT an oft-practiced sport in Italy. The kids were dynamite nonetheless.  

A scene from one of the semifinal games. There were A LOT of steals and airballs. Team Costa Rosella won this explosive match-up, 1-0. 

February 10, 2012

Barcelona and the Journey East

We left Portugal on an overnight train to Madrid, then continued on to Barcelona. We spent two days there in order to break up the journey to Rome and to soak up at least one Spanish city. Barcelona proved to be a beautiful and welcoming place, full of friendly old ladies who would give us directions out of the blue anytime we were peering into our city map, delicious bars serving up mounds of tapas, and plenty of green spaces and artistic installations. We stayed at a funky little hostel and had a brief opportunity to take in the sights and use our Spanish, the one language that we both can speak with comfort and ease. After enjoying the city we took another overnight train out of the city to Milan, where we then caught another regional train down to Rome. We'll keep this short and emphasize the pictures instead. Next time we'll share from our first week in Rome. Until the next!

The sleeping berth on our overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. Train travel is great and sleeping cabins are the pinnacle. I cannot recommend this enough. The little complimentary overnight kit we were given had us lighting up like it was Christmas morning. We betrayed our business class roots on that one... "it's even got a free sewing kit! And look, a toothbrush!"

Arriving in Barcelona we realized that the day of our arrival (Sunday) was the day when entry into the Picasso museum was free. Unfortunately every other tourist in the city also knew that apparently, and equally apparent was that even tourists are affected by the economy. We bailed and rationalized the loss. I mean c'mon, it was only his early stuff anyway.

Certainly one of the greatest, if not THE greatest beer appreciation moments of the trip for Dave. Since Estonia, all beer tastings have been done in a classy fashion, recorded in a moleskin journal with a strict adherence to recording the standard beer tasting criteria (Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, Overall). We found this gem in the Barceloneta section of Barcelona, the 'Vaso d'Oro' Bar, and after busting out my book at the bar to record the first offering, the bartender saw what I was doing and latched right on. For the next hour he spoke in rapid spanish about the nuances of the several beers they had on tap. We eventually learned that it was he himself that did the brewing at his own 'microcerveceria,' that it was his last name on the labels ("Fort"), and that he was damned good. When Christina asked him  how long he'd been brewing, he replied with a quote of the trip: "una vida." He seemed overjoyed to share his passion with someone who really cared, and the beer shown above represents the highlight; his experimental brew, one he's still tinkering with and which remains unlabeled. Before leaving he tucked two free bottles into my hand and we shook hands before departing. Ask to see Dave's beer journal for the review. A true highlight.

A scene from our first night in Barcelona, a glorious round of tapas-bar-hopping. This was apparently the way to experience Barcelona's cuisine, and the night did not disappoint. Empowered by (finally) both being able to speak the language, we tried to find dives that were several blocks off of the main tourist drags and then looked specifically for ones that looked crowded with locals. This one in particular had fantastic seafood, which lined the bartop in numerous pans. The fried calamari melted in one's mouth.

A view from a Barcelona park of two of the citys' more well known pieces of architecture. The monstrosity on the right is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia that is shown in later pictures. It was staggering how much the monument-in-construction towered over the surrounding city. The rounded building on the left is the Agbar Tower, which is very stunning at night.

Some of the impressive stonework in the Parc Guell, designed by Antoni Guadi, whose work is all over Barcelona and revered to no end. We're convinced he was on drugs, but the talent is undeniable. His belief that nature had no straight lines (and thus his rejection of them) is clear in all of his work that we were able to see.

Tourists flock to the plaza that sits in the center of the Parc Guell. Just below and to the side of the plaza a group of school kids were out for recess, apparently unimpressed.

One of Gaudi's more famous buildings.

The plaza space in Parc Guell, looking out over Barcelona and the Balearic Sea beyond.

Another of Gaudi's famous creations, the lizard at the Parc's entrance.

Christina admiring some of Gaudi's extensive mosaic tiles. These were all over the Parc Guell and it was staggering to think of how much detail and work went into their construction.

Another Gaudi house. Seriously, this guy had to be on something. 

La Sagrada Familia. This Basilica was started by Gaudi (again, Barcelona LOVED him). He worked on it for 43 years and died before it finished. That was about 80 or 90 years ago, and they're still working on the thing. The central tower is apparently going to be half again as high as the current highest point. It was awe-inspring to be sure, an intricately-designed and hulking presence that reinforces a theme of this trip for us; religion more than any other impulse drives man to the biggest and most opulent displays of our artistic and engineering capabilities, by far. Nonetheless, we were actually kind of peeved at the audacity of them charging $13 Euro to gain admission to the Basilica, not only because it seems to violate the ages-old idea of churches being places of sanctuary and open worship, but also because the damned thing wasn't even done yet. 

The construction on la Sagrada Familia. Nothing says holy like a guy in a hardhat and a crotch harness. 
Christina thwarting skateboarders at the Arc de Triumpf, very similar to the one in Paris by the same name.
A photo in front of our hostel - The Garden House Barcelona. This was a great hostel where the patrons seemed to understand that we're all there to get a decent night's sleep and have a safe place to leave our stuff. This hostel was perhaps the quirkiest we've stayed in. Two of the people in our room clearly lived in the hostel - one an older gentleman who would wander the hostel in his matching red pajamas, brown slippers and plush white robe and another that the desk attendant kept calling "The Mexican."  "The Mexican" spent most nights awake watching movies on his laptop. 
On our last day in Barcelona we stored our bags at the train station and took advantage of the afternoon by visiting The Museum of the City of Barcelona. This is a photo of an old Roman castle adjacent to the museum. 
A photo of Barcelona's Gothic Cathedral. Again, we were astonished at the entry fee. It seems the idea of a church as a place of sanctuary and worship is foreign to this city. 
The Museum of the City of Barcelona was one of the best museums we've visited thus far. The basement level is built around old Roman ruins from the old Roman city of Barcino, what would become Barcelona. Dave is standing in front of what was once a former seafood processing plant. 
The ruins not only showed areas where Romans laundered and dyed clothes,  processed fish and lived, but also where they made wine. Pictured here are the Roman equivalent of wine labels.
Before boarding our overnight train to Milan we stocked up on delicious Spanish foods (bread, chorizo, machengo cheese, produce and Rioja) at the Boqueria Mercato.

At the Boqueria Market we were taken aback by these still furry animals displayed at one stall. 
A trip to Barcelona would not have been complete without a good paella. With sausage, pork, mussels, calamari, and prawns, this was fantastic. We are determined to find a good paella recipe when we get back.

Again, we cannot recommend overnight train travel enough. On our train from Barcelona to Milan we were supposed to be in separate cabins. This particular line bunks four people of the same gender in each birth.  Due to a misprint on my (Christina's) ticket, David and I were able to share a four person birth.  Here we are, enjoying our market purchased goods and a delicious glass of Rioja.

Check out the space. In a birth for four we were able to turn down our beds and still have a seating area. Oh, first class, how we love thee!