Monday, March 28, 2011

La Vita è Bella

Yes, both the weather inside and outside was glorious this week.  The mornings were spent in the most physically exhausting and rewarding movement class I have ever taken: Body Weathering.  This class was taught by an actress/martial artist who developed the program.  She was one of those tiny women who was incredibly ripped and could easily break you with one finger.  We would start the class with breathing exercises and imagery, largely based in eastern techniques of the energy in your body being sent out into your surroundings and collected again in your body.  From there, we start into about an hour and a half of movement going across the floor in all sorts of ways: walks, rolls, leaps... It feels like boot camp.  We're not allowed to stop moving the entire time, so even between treks across the floor you have to just run/jump around in place.  More than any other class, this truly pushed me beyond my limits, past the point of exhaustion, and I loved it!  A large part of the class is connecting with the energy of the others in the room, and pulling each other along when you see someone else slowing down.  It was fantastic, and after just 5 classes I can feel positive changes in my body and the way I move.

Also... Spring has finally come to Arezzo.  Last week the weather was incredible, and warm enough to have class and eat meals outside.  This has reemphasized yet again how unbelievably lucky I am to be where I am right now.  It is almost impossible to feel bad when the sun is out and you're eating pasta and doing acrobatics in a field of daisies.  That's entirely accurate by the way, not even exaggerating with the daisies.

I've been having a blast with the people here, and have made some very close friends that I know I will stay tight with after the program is over.  Since I've spent two and a half years living in the palaces that are HPU dorms, I'm realizing that this is the first actual college-y living experience I've ever had.  Our doors are always open and on our floor we're always talking to each other and hanging out in each other's rooms.  I'm loving it.  Our shenanigans culminated on Saturday night by streaking our field together at midnight to reign in Trevor's 21st birthday.  If you've never done acrobatics naked in a daisy field under the stars with good friends... I highly recommend it.  La vita è bella.

Elena putting Jeremy in a giant bag.  Shenanigans.  Good stuff.
 So anyway, perhaps most importantly this past week... Mom and Pops came to visit!  Most of the pictures from our brief but wonderful time together are on Mom's camera, but I do have a few to share.  I met them in Florence on Friday evening.  Before leaving Arezzo, my friends and I walked up our hill to the nearby wine factory where you can fill an empty container from what looks like a gas pump with ridiculously cheap but ridiculously delicious wine.  I brought mine to Mom and Pops to welcome them, and we had a few glasses catching up in their hotel room.  We then walked around and had a fabulous three course meal near Ponte Vecchio, and afterwards took them to Grom for the best Gelato in town.  
Elena and I at the wine factory.  Check out the short sleeves!  Spring is here!

Reunited and it feels so gooood.  First night in Florence.
I went back to Arezzo that night but met them Saturday morning at the train station.  We explored the city for a while; our favorite surprising sight was an exhibition that I had never realized was there of some of the more bizarre bronze statues I've ever seen.  It was more or less a battle scene, but the knights and horses were arranged in very strange positions and often had very strange expressions on their faces.  I took a picture of the most bizarre one I could find, though they all were pretty outrageous.
The cutest, mightiest travelers.  Hope I look that good at that age.

Outside the Arezzo duomo.

Yep, it's just what it looks like.
We then trekked to the villa where I live so I could show them around.  I took them on the hike into the hills I took with friends last month, and though we didn't go as far this time it was mighty beautiful.  On the way back we stopped at the grocery store for some wine, cheese, salami, bread, and oranges, which we ate from the roof of our teatrino.  I'm so glad Mom and Pops got to see this view in person... My pictures are just unable to capture how spectacular of a sight it is to behold.  We rested for a bit in the villa then went back to the roof to sip cappucini and watch the sun go down.  We then walked into town and met my best friend here, Elena, for dinner.
The restaurant we had intended to eat at was full, so Elena suggested we eat at the place where she and some other students here have been taking a cooking class on weekends.  This was one of the best meals I've had in Italy, and Pops proclaimed it as one of the best in his whole life.  We all sampled different items and I can't wait to go back to this place again.  We went to Sunflower afterwards for gelato, which is possibly the best in Arezzo.  

On Sunday I went back to Florence, and finally went to the Uffizi!  My favorite, hands-down, was the Botticelli room.  I spent a great deal of time in front of both "Birth of Venus" and "Primavera" just staring.  They took my breath away.  The whole Uffizi was, of course, incredible, and we were so fried after spending a few hours there.  I took them to our favorite Florence eatery (thanks again, Chris and Julia), "Yellow."  This was my fourth time at this restaurant, and possibly the best experience yet.  Everywhere Pops goes in Italy he insists on speaking Italian, and I must say he's great at it.  The waitress we had (who was beautiful and we're hoping to marry her off to Paul one day when she's studying dance in New York next fall) loved Pops and gave us free Limoncello because he spoke such great Italian.  It was wonderful.


Wonderful waitress.

My favorite people in the world. :)

One of the better street artists I've ever seen.  Ever seen that YouTube video of the guy spray-painting the cool spacey picture?  Either this is him, or someone who does the same thing.  It's amazing.  I happened to pass by him as I left Florence on Sunday.
I was sad to say goodbye to Mom and Pops, but it won't be too long now before we see each other again.  I know they're having a fabulous time in Rome and will be in Venice later this week.  They are fantastic travelers together and I'm so happy they get this trip to enjoy themselves and each other.
So, it's back to the grind for me.  We're back to Commedia this week... but it's off to Rome this Thursday!  We're going to learn the Tarantella from one of the dance teachers while we're there, but mostly it's just a trip to see Rome!  I'm also hoping to hit Naples and Pompeii.  I'm very excited.

I guess that's all!  Ciao, Belli!

Love and miss you all


Monday, March 21, 2011

The land of Chocolate, Beer, and Board Games

Finally going to reconstruct for you all my magnificent week in Germany with the Kattners.  I have to begin by saying that I’ve always been grateful to know this magnificent family, but after this week I must say I have never felt so welcomed.  I was overwhelmed by the generosity showered on my by Johanna and Volker from one end of my stay to the other.  Never have I met more caring and bighearted individuals.  I am so grateful for the hospitality, the food, the travel, the gifts, and the board games.  I will never forget this wonderful week thanks to these amazing people.

Last week I left off after Hamburg.  Onward to Guestrow!

The majority of my mornings I would wake up, laze about enjoying the wonderful internet connection that allowed me to take care of business back home and, I’m not gonna deny it… A whole lotta facebook.  Johanna always left out fresh rolls for me to add to whatever meats and cheese I was craving.  I was most excited to utilize this giant bathtub.  Heaven on earth for a girl who’s been taking daily showers that cannot exceed 5 minutes.

When Johanna got home around noon I would go with her to pick up the girls from school and then each day we’d have different adventures before coming back to a DELICIOUS home-cooked meal.  Whenever I get married I’m going to ask Johanna for recipes; her cooking was to die for.

Monday we all went together downtown into Guestrow.  The weather wasn’t fantastic, but the town itself was very pleasant and I enjoyed walking around.  We then visited their sailing club and had some delicious local beer at the bar.

On Tuesday I went to Guestrow’s main attraction: a CASTLE!  Yay Europe!!!  Johanna came and got me a ticket then left me to wander through on my own.  This wasn’t like most museums I’ve ever been to where there are clear indications of where you’re supposed to go when.  This was more a serious of closed doors that I would tentatively try to open.  Some were locked, others would open to an interesting display of artifacts… I never knew which I was going to encounter.  I realized this day that one of the things I loved about Germany is that I don’t stand out as American like I do in Italy.  I think I look German and blended in pretty well.  People wouldn’t realize until I told them that I was from the States.  A couple times I was mistaken for the older sister of Mathilda and Magdalena.  

Volker and Magdalena picked me up from the castle and drove me around the lake.  We stopped at a beautiful park so I could see the lake from the opposite side of where they live.  It was lovely.

Tuesday night we had gamenight!  This was truly one of my life goals come to fruition: playing board games in Germany, the board game capital of the world.  We played Monopoly City, which I was not a huge fan of, but it’s always nice to branch out in the board gaming world.  I just haven’t played a Monopoly yet that can measure up to the original.  After the girls went to bed Johanna and I stayed up and played some Connect 4.  Classic.  She also brought out the photo albums from when she lived with us in the states, when I was two years old.  It was so wonderful looking through them with her.  Gave me a glimpse of some magnificent childhood memories.

Wednesday was fantastic.  Spent the majority of it shopping for board games.  We must have gone to about 10 stores that all had shelves upon shelves of them.  I could not contain my geekdom.  Even the grocery stores have good game supplies.  When isn’t America like this?   

We went to Rostock (sp?), a nearby city where Magdalena goes to school.  As we were leaving the “Toys ‘R’ Us” (yes, even in Germany it has the best game selection.  An entire wall spanning the whole length of the store) Johanna said that our next stop was “a surprise.”  I was intrigued.  We soon pulled into “Kinderland.”  The girls were incredibly excited to be here, and I didn’t really know what to expect.  I thought, “Oh, okay, we’ll get to sit and chat a while as the girls go play at whatever this is…”  When we walked in, Johanna turned to me and said “You told me last night when we were looking at photo albums that you wish you still had a ‘Jungle Gym’ to go to.  Well, here you go!  Have at it!”

That’s right.  At this play palace, even adults were allowed to join in the fun.  Those of you reading this know me well—you can imagine how much fun I had releasing my inner child on the various inflatable slides, trampolines, climbing structures, and even a ball pit!  You can see in the pictures… I was giddy.  It was such a joyous day.

That night, after another delicious dinner, I Skyped with my entire improv troupe, Charcoal Pony, back home.  They have a show coming up this week and I’m so proud to see the work they’re doing while I’m overseas.  I can’t wait to get back to creating with them, but for now I’m sending all the good long-distance vibes I can muster.  It’s going to be a great show, and I wish I could be around to see it!

Let’s see… Where am I. Thursday?  Yes. Thursday.  That was St. Patricks Day, which of course means nothing in Germany, but I did make sure to wear my green bandana a bit just to feel festive.  I went with the girls to an indoor pool in the afternoon.  I say pool… It was really more of a mini-water-park.  So much fun!  Again!  There was a lazy river, a hot tub built in a pirate ship (whaaaaaat!!!), and a rather sizable waterslide that I rode three times with Mathilda in my lap.  It was good bonding time for me and the girls.

And now, to Friday.  Berlin!

This city was unbelievable.  It was like being in New York City.  There was so much history and culture; I hope to be able to spend more time there someday.  We started with a double-decker bus tour.  I first thought this would be cheesey and super-touristy, but, hey, I’m a super-toursit.  It worked out great because we were able to get out at any of the sights to walk around and could catch another bus whenever we wanted to get back on the route.  Plus, the tours were given in both German and English, so I learned aplenty.

We went into the museum at Checkpoint Charlie, which was incredible.  So much information.  There were great exhibits showing different tactics people used to escape from East to West Berlin, most of which were successful.  One of Volker’s friends is featured in a display; he and some friends escaped using a cleverly designed ladder that you can see in the pictures below.

We also saw the last remaining standing part of the wall.  Throughout the city you can see bricks laid where the wall used to be.  You can see in the picture where I’m standing in both West and East Berlin at the same time.

We got lunch at a fantastic Bavarian restaurant.  This was the first sausage I’d had since coming to Germany, and boy it did not disappoint.  The meal was heavenly, topped of course by the delicious Bavarian beer.  Volker does not know a vast amount of English, but he certainly knows “Another beer?” and “Yes,” which he always answers for me before I can even respond.  A better man, there never was.

After lunch I went up by myself into the TV tower that gives a full 360 degree view of Hamburg.  It was a bit gray and foggy, but the view was still phenomenal.  The pictures don’t really capture how great it was looking out.

Johanna and I went into some of the incredibly fancy department stores, including “Ka De Wa” which is the second largest department store in Europe. Super out of my price range, but I did find a scarf for super-reduced sale and a kitchy wallet that I really like.  It has the “Ampelman” on it, the funny little green guy that is on the crosswalk lights in Berlin.  We also went to the incredible Lego store and a fabulous chocolate store where you could commission your own chocolate bar, much like you would do with ice-cream at a Cold Stone.  I love this country!

We then visited more spectacular sights and eventually made our way back to the car, which was parked at a friend of Volker’s house.  We knocked on the door and surprised him.  He invited us in for some drinks and we had a delightful time.  He was a very good musician, but I found it hilarious that he didn’t know any English yet he played a lot of English songs.  So, basically, he made sounds that sounded like American words but were often indistinguishable.  I was very amused.  A lovely ending to a lovely day.

Saturday I mostly packed, which was quite an ordeal considering the number of souvenirs I had acquired.  I more or less had an entire extra bag solely for chocolate and beer.  That’s the way to leave Germany for sure.  I played some more board games with the girls.  Even the children’s games here are fantastic.

Before leaving I went on a very nice with Johanna down the road to their boathouse and dock, which was a beautiful view of the lake.  I really want to come back in the Summer when I could sail and swim and enjoy some sunshine.  I will definitely make it happen someday.

I said my goodbyes to Volker and the girls then headed out with Johanna and her Mom who had been in town to watch the girls the previous day when we were in Berlin.  Our first stop was of course the toy store to get my new board game, “Café International” which I had deemed the best purchase after a lot of enjoyable research and shopping around.  It’s a fun one.  There was no way I was going to leave the board game capital of the world without a new board game.

We still had several hours before we needed to be at the airport in Hamburg to check in, so we made a couple of brilliant stops.  The first was at a place called “Karl’s,” kind of a combination between a farmer’s market, Middleton plantation, Charlestowne landing, Cracker Barrel, and Chuck E. Cheese.  It’s mostly a summer attraction, which fields and rides and strawberries for the picking, but much of it was open and we had a great time looking around and as you can see I posed for some mighty fine touristy pictures.

We then drove to the Baltic Sea.  I saw a beach.  And a port.  Yes, there was some homesickness stirred up by that.  But, mostly, it was gorgeous.  Nippy, of course, but I was an amazing sight to behold.  We walked the pier and even ventured into the sand for a bit.  To warm me up Johanna got me some “Glühwein,” hot mulled wine, which I had never had.  It was my last delicious German beverage of the trip.

Finally it was time for the airport.  My flight from Hamburg to Pisa was scheduled to leave at 8:50 but was delayed until 11 pm, which was pretty rough.  I was so sad to leave Johanna.  I had such an amazing trip because of her and I feel such a close connection with my amazing au pair and friend that I hope remains strong.

I took a taxi to the hotel the Kattner’s had wisely booked me in Pisa and checked in after 1 am when I promptly went to bed.  When I woke up I boldly decided to venture across Pisa on foot to see the leaning tower.  The weather, in contrast to Germany, was astounding that day.  So, despite Pisa being a very lame town, the walk in the warm sunshine was delightful.  I saw the tower.  I took a picture.  The end.  There really isn’t much more to that town.

I got back to Arezzo after some train delays and switches, which was a hassle, but after such a charmed week I couldn’t have expected anything less.

Sunday night I was invited by my new Oklahoma University friends to join them at their apartments for ribs.  They had recently had a visitor from the states bring BBQ sauce, and damned if they didn’t bake up some delicious ribs.  I hadn’t realized how much I miss BBQ!  It was a glorious meal.

Thus we roll in to today… Monday. This week we are doing “Body Weathering” in the morning.  We’ve had one day’s worth and holy smokes… what a workout.  We have to bring clothes to change into halfway through class because we sweat so much.  After a month and a half of pasta for every meal, this is probably a good thing.  I just hope I don’t keel over in the middle of a class.

I can’t describe how excited I am to be seeing Mom and Pops this weekend.  I can’t wait to show them around Florence and Arezzo.  I’m planning a good hike for us if the weather is promising.  Hope it works out!

Love and miss you all.

Ciao, Belli.