Dawn – Writing Exercise

On a blog I follow, there is a daily prompt to get the writing juices flowing. Today was one I can relate to. Find it here.

 

“6:00AM: the best hour of the day, or too close to your 3:00AM bedtime? Photographers, artists, poets: show us DAWN.”

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I hate getting up. Up before the sun, up before the nonexistent birds of Florence start singing. Up before him, before the boxer and his owner living in our building, before the postman brazenly leans on all of the buzzers outside of our window, begging for someone to open the front door for him so he can deliver the mail (and people wonder why the Post system in Italy is crap). Up before the tourists flood the city, before the continental breakfasts are laid out in little rooms with too-old tables and chairs and the orange juice that tastes stale and the Americans complain that there are no eggs. Up before the sun casts shadows on the narrow alleyways of cobblestone and terracotta. Up before I want to be. 

But I’m up and I throw on a pair of pants and a shirt and a scarf and some studded boots that everyone seems to own here, and I slowly open and close my door so as to not wake the man sleeping upstairs that has worked too long and too hard the night before. And I grab the outside door – the big, wooden door with the graffiti and the knockers as big as my hand and I push out into the morning light. The sun just barely making the sky a pale blue – igniting the surrounding buildings in a light glow of browns, golds, creams. My boots click on the pavement. A breeze blows down the street from the Duomo, and as I circle around the gigantic structure, its red marble, taken from the quarries near Siena, glow a deep rose in the morning sun. The square is empty. 

Senza touristi. 

Without tourists, without cameras, without horse drawn carriages, ambulances, or artists. Without traveling musicians, school groups, gypsies, or salesmen trying to get you to buy mindless toys, umbrellas, or posters. My feet grace the white marble steps and I dance upon the entrance of this building – built seven- hundred years ago. I stare up at the detail, the complexity, the beauty. In silence. 

The sun grows brighter – the first rays catch the top of Giotto’s tower. Trucks begin rumbling down the streets, a few tourists, with their suitcases trailing behind them, raise up an iPad in front of their face – capturing the view through a screen instead of their eyes. Capturing it to boast, to send it home, to upload, rather than to learn. 

I step down off the marble onto the earth. My train leaves in thirty minutes. 

 

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Behind the Mainstream Study Abroad – Moments that are worth Duplicating

Sitting in my apartment, I can hear tourists pass by on the Florentine street outside my window. Some complain about the rain, others comment on how beautiful the Duomo is. Some girls pass talking about day trips they’ll do while they study here, while others scoff at the fact that there’s a Subway Sandwich shop across the street. “Are you kidding?! When there’s an amazing Panini place right around the corner?!” All the conversations are varied, yet so much the same – living or visiting this beautiful city and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. But sometimes, I wish I could tell them that they need to stop and step off the main path. Adventure. I wish I could share some experiences that are my favorite – but if you’re reading this – maybe you can recreate these moments.

 

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Sunrise somewhere: Before the tour groups step off their busses, before the restaurants open up their doors and unfurl their tablecloths out into the summer air, stroll the streets of dawn.

We woke when it was dark out and crawled out of bed, fumbling in the unfamiliar hotel room – donning jeans, a sweater, boots that I thought would make me fit in while I was in Italia. Caitlyn looked at me and questioned this decision, is it worth it? I responded with a resounding yes. I had done this before. We stepped outside our hotel – a small canal silently greeting us, a red rowboat sleeping peacefully in off-season air. And then we began, a walk through twisting and turning streets of dormant shops and ornate doors to come up upon the Grand Canal of Venice – just in time to see the golden sunset begin to shed light on the City of Bridges. Below us, the only boats were of the Venetians – Gondoliers uncovering their golden gilded boats, their striped shirts contrasting upon the rose and faded walls of an exhausted city. But in this moment, senza touristi, it became alive again. The real Venice; radiant in life instead of a travel book.

Conversation without Social Media: Turn off your phone when you travel. The person next to you could change your life.

I was lost in Rome, again, but managed to find a bus stop that seemed to point me in the right direction of the Vatican, I hoped. It wasn’t too crowded – not like rush hour when you are pressed up against other bodies, all just desperately clinging onto the bars and handles available. Now, in the evening chill, I stepped lightly into the orange bus and faced forward, beginning to search for signs that confirmed my arrival at the heart of Catholicism. He was quiet at first, and maybe it was my outfit that gave me away, but when the bus came to a stop at the next station, he patted my wrist. “Due piu” he smiled at me behind thick-rimmed glasses. Two more stops until the Vatican. When he realized I could speak minimal Italian, his face brightened, his brown eyes swam and he began teaching me the landmarks that were passing by the window. He spoke about the beauty of women when they don’t wear makeup: “that is when they look most beautiful, when they first wake up in the morning,” and as the Vatican came into view, he grinned, told me to drink the water from the fountains in the square and sent me off. A true Roman, he will be in my memory forever.

Adrenaline: Do something that scares you:

“I can’t wait,” I had boasted as we rode through the Swiss Alps. I saw the guide’s eyes flicker to my face in the rear-view mirror. I loved heights and adrenaline. I had seen my friends jump before, but canyon jumping was new to me – and as we pulled up to the bottom and saw another jumper fall gracefully into the crevice with a loud WHOOP, I was terrifyingly ecstatic. And the higher we climbed up to the platform, the more nerves began to creep into my system. The tremors in my legs began as I was fixed into the harness. I stepped out onto the metal grate with the guide. His smile was trumped by the sheer drop off behind him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and as I turned to face forward, I looked around. The Eiger was to my right – in the setting sun, in all of its glory – a Swiss Alp towered above us. Below, so, so far below, the river crashed over the rocks, daring me to jump, daring me to try and fly. Split second decision, my muscles moved, my feet left solid ground and I was falling, falling so fast, so far, my stomach clenched, my heart raced, it was too far, too fast, a free-fall like a bird soaring, and then the rope caught – swung me through past those that had already jumped, and back again. I could breathe, and as I looked up from where I had just come, I gave a “whoop” of my own. No roller coaster will ever compare.

Delve into other cultures: Break out of your comfort zone to begin to understand others.

“Here, I cannot speak with a girl like this,” he says. His dark brown eyes squint into the Moroccan sun, searching the horizon for the next surge of water from the Atlantic. I don’t understand what he means. I lean forward to look at him closer and the nose of my board settles into the water. He turns and glances at me and then back to the water, his dark brown shoulders glistening with droplets of salt water.

“If I want to speak with a Muslim girl, it is secret. No one can know. Here is one. Turn,” he leans toward me and pushes at my leg, eyes still on the ocean. I look out, see the swell, and obediently turn and lie on my blue and white surfboard, chin hitting wax, resting my eyes on the golden Moroccan sand with Mounir’s board and back to my left. Still sitting, his muscles ripple as he balances.

“That’s stupid,” I say over my shoulder. “How can you talk to them in private if you don’t know them?” The sun is hot. He chuckles and tickles my foot.

“Paddle.”

“I couldn’t be Muslim,” I say as I feel the wave build behind me. He laughs again and takes hold of the back of my board, one hand resting on my calf, he pats it twice. The earthen scent of Argan Oil from his skin drifts towards me on the breeze.

“No…you are too strong….paddle,” he reminds me.

I sweep my hands into the water and under my board, pushing. I hear the wave crashing to the right of me. I feel Mounir push me forward.

“Stand up!” he calls under his French/Arabic accent. The wave carries me from him, surging me toward the beach. I can feel the board bouncing on the tumult. My hands push up against the board, my muscles tense, legs bend. I stand and shift my weight, easing the board into the side of the wave, gliding it down the stretch of water. I push against the water, up and down, pumping the board parallel with the wave until it breaks. I glide to the shore with the foam, jump off, feel the grit of the sand under the soles of my feet. I turn toward the horizon, raising an arm up to shield the sun. His silhouette gives a thumbs up as the ocean glistens behind him.

Run, hike, bike, climb – while you are still young enough:

“You won’t last in jeans,” I tell the guys as they stand in front of me. It’s autumn in the Swiss Alps, about fifty degrees, and I’m in a tank top and shorts. “It’s too rough and you’ll be sweating in about fifteen minutes.” But they were stubborn and came anyway, and as we started our ascent, the hike grew steep and they started stripping layers. I hated to say I told them so. But it didn’t matter – because they were doing it. We talked as we hiked, getting glimpses of the snow-covered alps on the other side of the valley – with the town of Interlaken nestled before us. I learned about the group, their time abroad, their home life, what sports they played, and we stopped to take pictures along the way. It grew steeper, and sweat started pouring, the banter stopped, for we needed to breathe and muscles ached. We climbed up into the mountain pastures, collected water from a hollowed out log used as a basin for the spring water used to satisfy the thirst of the cows that grazed there in the summer – their bells chiming in an unorganized harmony. When we reached the summit, I turned to the group and was met with smiles and astonishment as they looked out over the lakes and mountains. “Thank God I did this and have the ability to do this,” one said to me. Take care of yourself and challenge yourself – for sometimes the best views are at the other end of a climb.

Why We Do What We Do

As we come off the high of spring break and the craziness of realizing that the semester is already over halfway through, we realize that all of us here, while we are driven by crazy schedules and all go off in different directions every weekend, still have complete common ground when it comes to why we are here, doing what we do.

Yes, we brag that our weekends are spent on the black sand beaches of Positano, or perched up high in the Alps of Interlaken. And our jobs may look pretty selfish (if we hear that we have the coolest job ever one more time, our egos may explode) but truly, we’re here for you, and because Bus2alps was here for us when we studied abroad.

We do this job for the travel, yes but we do it to travel with people who love to travel as much as us. We do it to hear the whole bus ooh and ahh as we turn the last corner and see the lights of Sorrento cascading down to the ocean at two in the morning. We do it to see the pride on the faces of those that just finished the hike to Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre. We love having you walk into Balmers with wet hair and a smile on your face as you start telling us how incredible canyoning was. We love seeing your eyes light up at the architecture of Prague, the sunset on the islands of Greece, and the taste of the prefect gelato. We love seeing a group from all over the country and from different schools coming together to play cards, kick a soccer ball around, and toast to new friends. JMU with FSU, the artists of SACI collaborating with the chefs of RMU. This is why we’re here. We do it to hear that famous line; “this has been the best day/weekend/week of my life.”

Our aim is to make your experience here more fun and allow you to see sights you may never have the opportunity to see otherwise. We did it while abroad, and now we’re spreading the secret to making study abroad the best memories of your life with the best and fastest growing student travel company in Europe – your favorite Bus2alps. Thank you for the memories of the past couple weeks, we can’t wait to spend more time with you in the next few!ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Niente

Livingroom is cozy, scented with pine of the glowing tree in the corner, finally with tinsel this year because our last kitten had died at the old age of seventeen. Graciously passing away while I was gone, just like the last. Sometimes I wonder if someone is protecting me from sadness in the form of airplanes and train tickets. It just seems that way lately. And as I sit here and watch the first snow falling down outside my window and listen to the christmas movies on the television and explain to my brother he has to do his paper, I’m home. My dog sits at my feet, my cold feet, always cold. And I plan ahead – taking the train into Boston for the night, work reasons – though I’d rather walk Faneuil Hall and the Boston Common with a few people, past, present, and future. Because on one hand I want my fathers – large and warm in old work gloves that he refused to give up – as we walked Downtown Crossing looking at the lights and parts of the Enchanted Village in the windows of the local stores – until we go inside and walk through magic. And his and my mother’s eyes light up as bright as my and my brothers. And it’s perfect, as we find his old friend up in some building we aren’t supposed to be in – and she tells us to look over the floor because we may find a diamond someone has dropped from the jewelry stores on the floor. And we search and search as she remembers the day he came in to pick out an engagement ring for my mother. And I remember the story he’d used to tell about how he was listening to Christmas music on the front steps of the Needham house when he decided he was going to. And he never looked back.

But at the same time, I want to head down there with another man. I want to stroll through the Public Garden hand in hand with leather gloves and bright red scarves and show someone the most “European city” in America. And I want to kiss him on the bridge over the swan boats and I want him to love it here as much as I do. And I want to fall into a tumult of emotions – here and there, and fly back to Firenze and walk the cobblestones instead of the pavement and have the magic to make it snow and sleep under the Tuscan sky. More in love than I have ever been.

And I am torn, once again. Unsure of what direction to go but only knowing there is a deadline soon – simply because I wanted an education and did what society told me to do. Now letters in the mail and on the computer force my hand into deciding my life differently. That I cannot wander anymore. That I need to chain myself into something as critical as anything. And I’m not sure I can do it. Because all I truly want is to stop rambling on this piece of digitally created paper, take up a pen and write something meaningful that isn’t simply a train of my thoughts, an unending sentence that slithers out of my mind and through my fingers with a clicking noise instead of the scratching of a pen on paper. And I want my words to be understood and loved and coveted as something that moves people, that makes the smile and cry and understand the world just a little bit better – and how unfair it is. And maybe it will happen, but until then I have to live, I have to eat, and love, and pray. And deal with death and dying and helplessness. And love and life and newborn babies so far away I can’t see them. And all I wonder is where I’ll be, who I will be in another six months – for every six my life spins, making me dizzy, making it hard to see straight, and i see my past my present my future in one blur. And I love it, but i just want answers, and yet I’m patient enough to let them wait. I think. But I have no choice but to stand still and let the snowflakes fall on my shut-tight eyes until they melt and create tears I hadn’t cried. And I wonder if they’re from happiness or sadness coming from heaven.

Chameleons in Italy: How to blend from an American to an Italian

We pack a suitcase,two,three – making sure we have everything we need to survive overseas. We pack our favorite jeans, shirts, sweaters and coats, only to find that once we get here, we realize that these favorite things from home may not be the best for life in Europe. We’re branded by our brands and picked out of the crowd and labeled as American as soon as they see our Northface raincoats and Old Navy flip flops. To blend in as an Italian, it is not about hair or skin color – it’s about shoes, clothes, and makeup.

When living in Ascoli Piceno, being one of twelve Americans in the town, I wanted to hide in the crowds of black and purple jackets and on vespas and needed to stop being noticed as I walked down the street simply because of my sneakers. I started to blend, conform to style and fashion, and suddenly, I was an Italian.

I wore knee high leather boots, bought my first pair of skinny jeans, and put on too much black eyeliner. Jean shorts with patterned tights, puffy jackets and converse. I became invisible. Here in the larger cities with so many Americans, it’s easier to simply go out in sweatpants and say yes, I am American. Yes, I will wear my bright colored raincoat and my hair up in a messy bun. But sometimes, it is still nice to be able to walk through a piazza without being bothered simply because you have the right shoes on.

Keys to blending in this season in Italy:

Go shopping. No, not just at H&M but in the shops where you see Italians. Look at what they’re buying and what they avoid. Mirror it.

Ditch the athletic sneakers. Italians have an obsession with shoes. The goal is to find a pair that is comfortable and stylish. Buy them here and look to spend a little money so they will hold up on the cobblestones.

For going out, a pair of wedges gives you the height you need to walk confidently, but won’t trip you up. If you can handle it, try heels for a night. The simple key is to watch where you walk.

Skinny jeans only. All others will immediately blow your cover as someone not from here.

Dark colored coats for the winter. The ski jackets and brightly colored raincoats we are used to are not found here. And if they are, they’re fitted correctly. Invest in an umbrella and a jacket that is warm, but will still hold its own during a fashion night out.

Knee high boots for winter. Flat for everyday, a pair of heels for at night.

But the biggest aspect of being a chameleon in any culture or country, is the way you act. Don’t yell down the street into the early hours of the night. Walk with confidence and try to speak Italian every chance you have. Try. Keep a stone face when walking by men who whistle at you instead of running away giggling. They only want you to react. Wear jewelry and put love into an outfit. Italians create art with how they present themselves. You can do it too. Just have the confidence and your colors will change sooner than you think.