Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend in Taormina

About a month have past since you have heard from me so I thought I would catch you up. Nothing of much interest has happened here in Siracusa, besides meeting a 6'6" barely sixteen year old american with a beard. He is in Siracusa through the exchange program AFS as well as five others I have yet to meet. But instead of dulling you with boring tales of school, handball, and daily life I will opt to tell you about this past weekend. 

On thursday Andrew, Poppaea, and I (The three inbounds in the south east corner of Sicily) traveled to the beautiful seaside city of Taormina. Once there we met up with most of the other inbounds in Sicily. In total there were 11 of us. Seven from the U.S. and one from New Zealand, Argentina, Canada, and Germany.  We stayed at a resort in Taormina which is owned by the host family of the inbound in Taormina. The resort had almost perfect location being about a ten minute walk uphill into town and a ten minute walk downhill to the beach. The resort was composed of town home like buildings with about four rooms in each block. Us exchange students occupied three of these allowing us each to have our own bed. 

I will break the trip into three different aspects traveling there and back, an excursion to the volcano Etna, and the beach. After writing this past sentence I've realized that it sounds exactly like a thesis statement from a seventh grade english essay. Although the level of the writing may be the same I hope that you find the content of my blog to be a little more interesting. 

Our plan for getting to Taormina was for Andrew and I to meet up with Poppaea around nine in the morning, Thursday. From there we would give Poppaea a tour of Siracusa followed by some lunch before catching the 2:30 train to Taormina. The day was going flawlessly until we arrived at the Train station only to discover that no trains were making the north bound journey. Luckily enough though Andrew's host mom was driving north anyway so all three of us with our luggage pilled into the back of her Mazda 2, which is definitely a compact car. Needless to say we were a little cramped. What made matters worse was that Andew's host sister had decided move her seat (shotgun) all the way back so she could extend her legs completely out. I must say that she did look very comfortable, but it left six two Andrew with a bag on his lap almost no room. His knees pushed to the side and jammed into his sisters seat. Needless to say we were grateful when we arrived in Catania, where we were dropped off, and from here we would catch a train to Taormina. After the three hour layover the 40 minute train ride went very quickly. Once in the Taormina train station we caught a bus to the center of the city and met up with the inbounds. The original hour and a half journey had taken us 6 hours, but at lease we had made it.  

The second part of the weekend I would like to talk about is our excursion to the volcano Etna. On saturday morning the 11 inbounds jumped into two jeeps, and we drove the 40 minutes to the base of our hike. From here we hiked up the trail for about an hour and a half leaving us about 1500 feet higher then when we started, but still a solid 2500 from the summit. (which is over 10,000) At the top of our hike were a string of 23 craters created in an eruption in 2002. This eruption completely destroyed the ski resort there, and the road to the ski resort. Both have been rebuilt since. The road has been built right over the magma flow. We only got to see the last few craters formed in the explosion. The ones with the lowest elevation. These were the biggest because as you descend the mountain the explosions become more vigorous. The last crater was the most interesting. At the bottom it had a hole about 20 feet wide and 250 feet deep penetrating into the volcano. After eating lunch on the lip of this crater we hiked back to the jeeps, and drove back to the resort. Once back exhaustion got the better of us and we took naps until dinner. On a side note this is not a rarity for me. I take one just about everyday. 

The rest of the time in Taormina was spent going to the beach at Isola bella, ( Beautiful Island in Italian) eating delicious home made Italian food, or playing spoons. Isola bella is one of the premier tourists destinations in all of Sicily making it extremely crowded during the summer. Luckily it's november, and although the air is a bit chilly once in the water is feels terrific. Although it's a rocky beach it's fairly protected making the water nice and calm for swimming. I feel fortunate to be able to comfortable swim in November. I hope to swim every month, but that seems a little daunting. 

That about sums up the weekend. Ciao for now! 

The city of Taormina with Etna in the background 

The roof of a house buried by the 2002 eruption 

All the inbounds in Taormina 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Daily Grind

Hello! It's been a couple weeks since you've heard from me so I thought I would let you know what I have been up too. I am all set up in my new home which is a two story apartment in a small apartment building. The location is nice because it allows me to bike into the downtown area with ease. Siracusa seems fairly compact for a town of about 130,000 people. The city comes to a peninsula the juts out into a bay. The tip of the peninsula is actually an island, but it is only separated by a thin stretch of water.  The island is called Ortigia and it is the oldest part of the city. Ortigia is a compact island filled with old churches, barracks, and on the very point a castle. I was lucky enough to get a tour of Ortigia and learn some of the history of the buildings. One place in particular that I liked was the underground tunnel system. The tunnels were originally built for various reasons, aqueducts, cellars, and so on. But In the late 1930s, at the beginning of the second world war, they were transformed into a complete tunnel system. The system once linked every building in Ortigia and had caverns large enough to hide the entire population of Ortigia in case of a bombing. Many of the tunnels have now collapsed or been sealed off, but I got to see a small portion which was under the main square in Ortigia.
I have also settled down into a school routine. After school tomorrow I will have completed three full weeks. Wait but tomorrows Saturday. Yes I have school on Saturdays here. Although, I am not overly fond of this, the school system compensates by ending school each day at 1. Making for a short five hour school day with a break in the middle. I bike to and from school everyday, it's only about a mile from my house which is quite nice.  I spend the entire day in a single classroom, and the teachers move from classroom to classroom.  I'm in class 5A with the oldest kids in the school. They have been very friendly to me which makes school much more enjoyable. The school is is poor condition, and it reminds me of a prison, with bars over the windows on the lowest two levels. Each classroom is equipped with a blackboard, and that's it. The teachers also don't seem to put in very much effort. An example is when notes are to be taken the teacher calls up a student to write on the board for them while they lounge in their desk. The teachers almost never leave the desk and often read directly out of the textbook. The textbook is normally borrowed from a student. At 11 the whole school gets a short break. In this time some people get food,  some coffee, but most procede outside to the parking lot and smoke cigarrettes. After the break we return to class for the last two hours. My description of school makes it seem like it's not the most enjoyable place to be, but it's not all bad. It has been an excellent place to meet people and practice my Italian.

Outside of school I have begun playing for a local handball team. The team seems fairly intense and reminds me a lot of hockey. Because this is a club team though the ages of the players range from 16 to about fifty. Which is a new experience for me.  We practice four times a week at a gym that is within biking distance of my house. I am still learning some of the fundamentals of the game, and figuring out the rules. The people on the team are super friendly and always willing to help me improve my skills. I look forward to it everyday I have it.

The past two weekends, or sundays I should say. I have been lucky enough to go the the beach. The first weekend it was just me and my host father Andrea. We spent all day either at the beach or at my host grandparents house that is near the beach. It was a nice relaxing day, and I taught Andrea how to play frisbee. Which he picked up rather quickly. Last weekend I went to the beach with Andrea his nephew, Simone, and Andrew the other American exchange student here. We did a bit of snorkeling here which was fantastic. To bring out many fish Andrea would use a piece of bread. He would crush it underwater and let the pieces form a smal cloud of bread debris. The fish would swarm to get the bread. It made for some pretty goo action. Hopefully I will get to go to the beach again this weekend. It might be my last chance before the weather gets too cold.

Ciao for now!

The Main Church in Ortigia 

This is the view from the deck on the apartment. On the far left you can see my school. It's behind the big square building. 

Tunnels underneath the main church in Ortigia 

Beach at my host Grandparents house 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crotone and Casarossa

Siracusa! I have been here for 5 full days and am on my 6th. Good to finally meet all two members of my host family, who are absolutely fantastic, and see where I will be living for a year. I also started school just a few days ago, but this will not be the topic of this post. I will wait until I get more settled in and have a better grasp of what school is like. In this post I am going to talk about my last week on my school trip. 

We were in the city of Crotone. The resort that we were staying at was Casarossa. There were only a handful of other guests besides my class. I think that the resort season is over here. I think this not only because there wasn't an abundance of guests, but also because it was beginning to feel colder. More like fall.

A typical day in the resort went as follows. Wake up at eight and eat breakfast. Then until lunch learn various skits/dances. The reason for learning these was that at the end of the week my classmates and I were going to put on a show for the few other guests and the employees of the resort. After lunch and a short siesta (nap), we did more preparing for the show. Then dinner and an hour long classroom like session. During which my classmates learned what it takes to run a resort like Casarossa. This was my first taste of wat school was going to be like. Sitting quietly out of the way trying to fill the time with interesting thoughts, and trying not to look overly bored. Luckily it was only an hour. This daily routine went on for the next few days, with a few minor variances in each day.

One variance that I would like to talk about is following dinner one evening me and Sebino watched a football (soccer) match. It was between Chelsea and Juventus. Juventus is Sebino's favorite team, and for those of you who don't know Italians and soccer, they don't take it very lightly.  An example of this was as the teams were walking out onto the field I made a joke that I was going to be supporting Chelsea. Sebino looked at me, and even though I was smiling and laughing, he just shook his head, looked disappointed and let his gaze return to the game. It ended in a 2-2 draw. Juventus had come back from being 2 goals down, scoring their second in the 80th minute. (out of 90) Making the game very exciting. Sebino didn't seem too disappointed in his team afterward, which was a bit surprising. 

The game occurred two days before the the show. The show was an interesting and new experience for me. It was very different from the show I had preformed in at the previous resort. Although it was smaller scale show I had a much larger role preforming in two dances and two skits. I also had to say one line in Italian. I was most nervous about this. The show went well I only made a few fairly unnoticeable mistakes while dancing, and I think that I pronounced my one line well enough for the audience to grasp the meaning. I enjoyed being a part of the show, but let's just say I don't think that being a performer is my calling. 

The next morning was the seven hour bus ride back the Siracusa. A very picturesque drive at some points I may add. I will post about my experiences here in Siracusa next time. Ciao for now! 

Crotone at night 

Just before the show started 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Baia Degli Dei

It's been awhile since you've heard from me. They are keeping me quite busy here at Baia Degli Dei. (The resort I have been at since my arrival) Today was my last day at the resort, and contrary to my earlier belief I will not be going to my host families house just yet. I discovered yesterday morning that me and my classmates would be moving to another town, Crotone, and staying there for a week. Although I am excited to go to Crotone. I was looking forward to finally meeting my host father and moving in.

Now let me get to what I have been doing over the past week and a half. I will opt out of going day by day (like my previous blog), because you would end up reading identical paragraphs for many of the days. I will hit the highlights.

A few days after my first blog I was given the opportunity to preform in one of the shows (Mentioned in the previous blog). I would join most of my classmates in a short dance up on stage. The day of the show we learned the dance and went through it about five times. By the end of the fifth run through I had finally done it correctly. Those of you who know me well will know that I am always nervous whenever in front of a crowd, especially one of about 200. I am also a terrible dancer. This combo would normally leave in an extremely nervous state, but for some reason that evening before the show I wasn't nervous at all. You might even say excited. The performance went well, and I am fairly sure that I went unnoticed in the back.  

The next event worthwhile telling about occurred in the pool. The resort had set up some "olympic events" for guests at the resort to compete in. The only event that I could compete in was the swimming. The swimming contest went as followed. Swim once across the pool. It was large pool so once across was about the equivalent of a 50 m swim. Each contestant would swim one at a time and their times would be recorded. Lowest time wins. Pretty self explanatory.  I showed up late, and this put me swimming in the last position out of about 25. Prior to swimming I thought that I would place near the bottom, because Italians pride themselves on swimming. When my head popped out of the water upon finishing the race I was surprised to find our that I had swam the fastest time. After receiving a round of applause from the people surrounding the pool, and a few "bravos" I walked back to my classmates. The more I thought about my glorious win the less glorious it became. My competitors consisted of about ten people under the age of 14, and 15 overweight, overconfident, middle-aged men.  And if any semi fit 18 didn't win it would have been a surprise. But gold is gold right? 

On the 9th of september our class took a day trip. After about a two hour bus ride we arrived at a mountain village. Apparently well know for its skiing and vast amounts of snow, but unfortunately it is still summer here. Although the air was crisper and I was a bit chilly in shorts and a t-shirt. After about an hour of wondering around the main street, and peaking in stores we left. After lunch at a restaurant about halfway home. At the restaurant we were served bread and meat platters. Which were delicious. After our meal we returned to the resort. It seemed a little ridicules to me to drive two hours to the town and then spend less then two hours at the destination, but we got back in time to catch a quick nap before dinner. 

The next five days went by with nothing extremely interesting happening, but on the 15th we took another day trip. This one was to a different town on the edge of the mountains. We visited an old castle and church. The castle was called Santa Severina and it was beautiful, set atop a foothill. The panoramic view from the top was incredible. (Pictures below) If you want to really see a good view of it though I would google Santa Severina. We were given a guided tour of both, the only fact that I got out of the tour was that the door of the church was over a 1000 years old. This was cool considering is was wooden and seemed to be in rather good shape. The castle was also a burial site for I think Byzantine kings. (Pictured below) Not certain on that though. Next came a meal at a local restaurant. I have never been served so much food in my life. Five different full courses. But more detail about food will come in a later blog.  

That about sums up the last week and a half. I am excited to travel to Crotone. I am more eagerly anticipating getting settled down in Siracusa though, and wearing clean clothes. Thanks for reading, ciao!

The metal ceremony 

The place we ate lunch at after the trip to the ski town 

Panoramic view from Santa Severina

The Byzantine burial site

Church with the thousand year old door 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The first few days.

I'll begin with a little background. I am going to Siracusa, Italy. Siracusa is located on the south eastern coast on Sicily. It is a city of about 130,000 and was once considered the strongest city in the world. That was when it was a part of the Roman Empire making the city extremely old about 2,700 years approximately.

My travels begin by saying goodbye to my family before security and then meeting Andrew Fiegen on the other side. Andrew is the other American exchange student going to Siracusa. Our travel took us through Toronto, Rome, and then Catania. Once in Catania we met up with our respected host families. There to representing my host family was my host mom, Stefania and my host uncle, Marco. They were friendly, although I didn't get to know them that well because as soon as I exited the airport I boarded a bus to take me to a resort is the Calabria region of Italy. Specifically in Capo Rizzuto. As I entered the bus I was greeted by thirteen new smiling faces. Eleven kids from my school aged 16-18, and two teachers. I was immediately peppered by questions. All of which were in Italian. I understood nothing. The students called back the english teacher (the only one on the trip with substantial knowledge in English and Italian). She translated questions for the students, and then translated the answer back for them. This went on until they seemed to run out of questions. Next came the basically incoherent conversation that arose with the mixture of bad english and even worse Italian. We didn't gain much information from the conversation, but what I gained was a friend. One of the boys, Sebino, took a liking to me, and took me under his wing so to speak. Once we got off of the fairy, necessary to bring us from Sicily to the mainland, exhaustion got the better of me and I slept the rest of the way. At the resort we moved into our temporary homes for the next two weeks. The rest of the day consisted of me following around Sebino, and him telling me Italian vocabulary almost all of which I forgot immediately. That night after we ate dinner we watched a musical version of Alice in Wonderland. All of which was in Italian, but I know the story so it was still slightly interesting. After the play I went to bed at the early Italian hour of midnight. For those of you who don't know Italian culture they stay up notoriously late. Due to a rest period of laying around and talking that occurs in the middle of the day.

Day two started at 8 in the morning and was packed full of activities, including my first swim in the Mediterranean sea. This was a delightful experience between my and Sebino, one that I will remember for a long time. Other activities were swimming in the pool, going on a mountain bike ride, playing a pickup game of soccer and another show. The swimming in the pool was interesting in a different way from swimming in the Mediterranean. It was one of my first examples of a cultural difference. When swimming in the pool you are required to wear a swim cap. Not bringing one with me, forced me and Sebino to track down the english speaking teacher and ask where we can get one. I ended up buying one from the gift shop and paying three euros for it. The soccer however was slightly a shocker. Being a pickup game, and that I had played many year of it I thought I was going to be proficient maybe even one of the better players. WRONG! I felt completely out skilled on the pitch. The time that the players had spent with a ball at their feet was evident. I looked like a fool many times, but still enjoyed playing. Then came the show, this time it was a game show they held between different guests at the resort. The only thing that I could tell you about the show was that it involved couples and one of them won. The rest went right over my head. After the show I sat outside with Sebino and three other girls on the trip form my class. They talked for awhile and periodically asked my questions that took a great deal of work to understand and answer. I again called it an early night at 12:30.

Day three was eerily similar to day two with the only major differences being that I played beach volleyball, went on a longer mountain bike ride and the show at the end of the night was different. The beach volleyball was quite fun. Me and an assortment of other guests played a small tournament. My team got third out of four teams. A fairly unsuccessful outing if you ask me. The show was an interesting experience again. This time it was another musical. From what I gathered a musical version of the movie Magic Mike. If you're not sure what Magic Mike is I suggest you watch a trailer.

My Italian has been getting quite a bit better, as well as, Sebino's english. Making communicating easier, but still difficult. Tomorrow I have been invited to go wind surfing, which I am very excited about. Below are pictures from the resort and some of the classmates on the trip. Ciao!

Me and Sebino on the bus 

Swim cap only pool

The volleyball court 
The outdoor theatre 
Classmates and teachers after dinner one night