Disturbing Incidents

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

One the questions I was asked upon my return was if I ever experienced or saw things that were disturbing to me. Not counting the big differences of disparity of economic wealth in our modern society and white privilege, human trafficking, lack of clean drinking water (even in capital cities), modern slavery and a variety of other ills that are a fact of life in many places, there were several incidents that stand out in my mind because they were so personal to each of these people. They were shocking to me partly because they were so sudden, and I was right there.

When originally writing this, I was reluctant to name some of the places where some negative things happened, but I had committed that I would share what I learned with people who cared enough to read my blog.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of 3 million people (unreliable electricity, few stop signs and fewer road signs), I was in a cab.

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection

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The infrastructure has not kept up with demand. I love that there are 3 poles for these wires

We were driving along and on the side of the road were tiny rooms/shacks/homes made out of whatever a person could find; corrugated metal, plywood etc. Two grown men were fighting just inches from my door. As we passed, one grabbed the other by the hair in one hand, and in his other hand was a stone a bit larger than his fist. He was swinging the rock in it and pounding the guy who was caught by his hair in the head who struggled and twisted, squirming away as best he could. I was horrified and shocked. I stuttered as I exclaimed to the cab driver, “Oh my God, that guy is hitting the other man in the head with a big rock! This could kill that man!“ Cabbie’s response was a chuckle and he remarked, “ha ha ha, that guy sure is angry”. We continued driving.

Typical farmer in Kathmandu

Another incident took place while I was waiting on the train platform in Naples, Italy. An older woman had collapsed on the concrete floor and a male passenger was giving her CPR while the rest of the crowd stood by helplessly as the her life was about to change. It was weird to know that I learned information that her family did not know about yet, and it was such an intimate moment. She could only wait for what was going to be, she had no power over her circumstances. Her purse stood at attention beside her, and I spent the rest of the day wondering what she would have done differently that morning if she knew that a few hours later she would be laying on the concrete surrounded by strangers.

In Istanbul, Turkey (the European side) we were driving through a very wealthy area, where people were educated and at the top of the economic status. It was a weekend morning and lots of people were walking around, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. A couple were walking on the sidewalk and it looked like the man was about to kiss the woman. As he turned toward her, instead of kissing her, his arm shot up and he grabbed her around her throat in anger. Her eyes widened in surprised, and I gasped as we drove by, stammering to the my hosts who were driving “Did you see that? He grabbed her by the throat!” They were shocked too, and when we discussed domestic violence, they informed me that in Turkey, if someone were to report domestic violence to the police, the police would probably not do anything, and say it was a domestic problem ; to go home and solve the problem yourselves. Further conversations with other people confirmed that society would blame the girl/wife for any problems. As a matter of fact, that is the common joke. No matter what the problem is, it is the wife’s fault.

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Some disturbing things are the same all over the world; domestic violence crosses all boundaries and no one gets out of this life alive. By traveling and meeting dozens of people every day, I was able to observe many things in life I don’t normally experience in my ordinary working life spending the days with a handful of work colleagues each day.

Some Rules are meant to be broken

Impressions of a Country

By November, Italy was the 11th country visited. I had been traveling in Italy for 5 weeks, so I was in the groove of living daily life and was comfortable with the knowledge that the buses were usually late, and most of the vendors on the street had come from the countries Indonesia and Senegal, a West African country.

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Two dear friends joined me for a weekend in Rome.

It was an early weekday morning and we were taking a bus to visit the the Vatican. We purchased a bus ticket, and when boarding and climbing the steps of the bus, realized it was so crowded  that people were clogging the aisle. This was a local bus with lots of people headed to work.

Normally, a person carries the bus ticket 5 feet down the aisle to scan the ticket at the machine and validate it. In this case, the bus was so full, the seats were full, and the aisle was clogged with people. We stood near the driver, and Mike stood in the stairwell. People clung to the straps suspended from the ceiling, arms raised (and no deodorant) in the air to stand upright, as we lumbered down the road swaying as we turned corners and stopping often, those of us in the aisle pretending we were in control of our bodies  and would not fall into a stranger’s lap. There was a smell of sweaty armpits in the air, but we dare not let go. It was so jam-packed that even a pickpocket couldn’t get his hand in and out of anyone’s pocket!

It was impossible to make way down the aisle in order to validate the ticket. When the bus stopped, several people in front of the doorway would get off the bus to let other people off and then jump back on to continue the ride. My friend Mike was so close to the door, that each time the bus stopped, we held on to Mike so he did not get pushed out of the door each time the door opened.

It was physically impossible to validate the bus ticket, and even though my friends are rule followers, they learned that some rules are not able to be followed, and indeed, it seems like some rules are meant to be broken.

The Vatican

Impressions of a Country

The Vatican is a collection of connected museums filled with priceless artifacts including paintings and murals, sculptures, maps, tapestries and more.

At the Vatican museums - ceiling

Vatican museums – ceiling

There were lots of paintings dating from the 1500s. It seemed like each Pope had a museum and lots of pretty (and expensive) artifacts. Even the buildings and staircases were extravagent.

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The spiral exit from the Vatican.

The Sistine Chapel is the most well-known of all the areas of the Vatican. It consists of large murals across the ceiling showing different bible stories.

I don’t know why this room is considered better than the others, perhaps just because it is well known. The difference was that there were no photos or videos allowed, and it was supposed to be a quiet space.

As a matter of fact, every time the volume of noise increased, a man on a loudspeaker announce firmly and sternly announced that there was to be  “Silence!”

At the Vatican museums

At the Vatican museums

There were plenty of security guards also fiercly reminding people that there were to be “No photos!” and “No videos!”. The other areas of the museum allowed photos and videos, so I don’t know why it was not allowed in this room. The voices would quiet down, people would exit the room through the opposite door, more people would enter the room, and the voices would rise again until the man came back on the microphone to announce sternly “Silence!”. This happened every couple of minutes. I half expected a Nun to appear with a ruler clutched in her fist and start rapping knuckles of the talkers, and the rest of us getting in trouble for their inconsiderate noise.Most people would honor this and quiet down again, except for a certain segment of Asian tourists.*

At the Vatican museums

A good example of the amazing art covering ceiling and walls. It was meticulously detailed.

The Vatican had gift shops located in the hallways between galleries. I am still not sure if it was to ease congestion in the main gift shop or clever marketing.

Even the ceilings are extravagant at the Vatican

Even the ceilings are extravagant at the Vatican.

At the Vatican museums

Even the table feet were detailed

There were guards in every room but they did not tell us to not touch things that were not roped off, like statues or furniture.

At the Vatican museums- a gorgous tiled table

A gorgeous tiled table that was so perfect there were no gaps in the mosaic. This was one of my favorite pieces- but maybe that was because I could actually touch it without getting in trouble.

I am glad I visited the Vatican, the collections of art is vast. It did raise questions in my mind about when does a person or institution have enough of something? For an organization that claims to help the poor, there were a lot of assets sitting there to be admired, and many many poor people in the world who do not have clean water to drink.

My dear friends taught me a new way of traveling. Once our feet were tired, we took a 20-30 minute break and sat outside in the courtyard.

At the Vatican museums

At the Vatican museums

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and we sat near fountains in the fresh air reading the books we brought along. Mike did some watercolor painting and Jacqueline and I read the books we had brought along.

At the Vatican museums

At the Vatican museums

It was nice to get away from all the stimulation in the museum and to rest our senses a bit.

At the Vatican museums

Taking a break at the Vatican museums

What a pleasant way to take a break.

It was fun to travel with people that I knew – and spoke English. After our long weekend together, we parted ways; they traveled on to their destination, and I traveled to the South of Italy. IMG_7540

* I heard repeatedly, complaints about the Chinese tourists and how they acted when traveling abroad. People in Thailand complained that the Chinese disrespected the Thai culture, the people in the Vatican were frustrated that they didn’t quiet down quickly enough, and in Yellowstone Park, USA the complaint was that they did not follow the signs that said “Fragile, keep off” in the Geyser area. In Ireland, the guides would call out to their charges, “Come on China, you don’t have to take pictures of EVERYTHING.” I saw Chinese tourists taking pictures of the tourist stuff, and also of daily stuff, like walls, archways, tiles, colors of things etc. They are fantastic at copying things and as the country develops I expect we will see a big influence in their country of good ideas and designs from other places.

I will add that in Sicily, my tour guide complained about the many Russians, who continue to ask for introductions to the Mafia Dons. These Russians wanted to do business with them (develop a partnership), and to learn quickly from organized crime that had been so successful over the past many years.

Rome, Italy

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

I felt honored that two friends of mine, a father and daughter joined me for a long weekend to explore Rome.

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We have very different religious views and their traditions are much more formal and conservative than mine. It was interesting to hear their perspectives without feeling as though someone was trying to convert me.

Since Rome is such a historically religious area, we decided to stay in a convent.

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We stayed on the top floor of a convent in the historic area of Rome.

The location was only a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum and was in the historic center of Rome. The convent had a curfew; guests must agree to be in by 11:00 pm when the front door was locked. It was no problem for us after all the walking we did. We were exhausted well before ever having to worry about curfew.

I was surprised at how friendly all the nuns were. They would come into the breakfast room, say “Good Morning” and inquire about how we slept, genuinely caring. I got to practice my Spanish with one of the old nuns who did not speak Italian. She was from South America and spoke Spanish. We chatted.

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Hallway of the convent where are rooms were. The convent was very clean.

My room at the convent

My sparse room at the convent in Italy. There was an attached bathroom as well as a small desk. It was neat and clean, although simple.

Rome is an ancient city that has been inhabited for over 2,000 years and was considered to be the capital of the WORLD in ancient Roman culture.

People came to Rome from all over Europe, this is where things got done and business was completed.

Rome is where the leaders made deals and business transactions.

Back then, the center of the historic area was where the rich and famous people lived; the important people, those with indoor thermal pools and lots of servants. These were where important people entertained.

One of the best tours I went on used modern technology to show us what life was like back then. Researchers used a broken piece of tile and with computer technology expanded it to cover the entire floor to give us an idea of what a room may have looked like. They used creativity to make the rooms come alive for us. It added so much to the tour. It cost about $10 and was easily worth $20. Groups are limited to about 12 people, and reservations are a must. This museum had opened recently, and although not many people knew about it yet, the spots filled up quickly.

Palazzo Valentini was one of the best museums I toured. It is a must see

Palazzo Valentini was one of the best museums I toured. It is a must see” for someone visiting Rome. Holograms are used to show what rooms may have looked like.

These were lavish homes, with imported stone, marble, and indoor steam rooms. These homes had many rooms and several entrances (I could easily visualize the mistress of a politician leaving by the back door as his wife unexpectedly arrives). Fountains and sculptures are common in this area of Rome.

Radiating out from this area lived the less wealthy and important people . The theater known as the Colosseum was located in this area.

2000 years later, nearly 3 million ordinary people live nearby,  The Colosseum is right in the middle of the city.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, view from a nearby street.

In the last few years the Italian government put a subway stop in the heart of this area. It cost much more than expected, because the project was paused repeatedly when unexpected  archeological objects were found. The history of ancient Rome exists nowhere else in the world, so the project was stopped while the archeologists did their job.

The Colosseum could hold over 50,000 people and was used as a theater. Even thousands of years ago, the creativity of the artists was noteworthy.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum. The lowest section was covered by a floor, and these were the halls / tunnels behind the stage,. The animals were kept here (can’t have lions running around freely), the gladiators lived nearby and the lowest portion was where the “behind the scenes” preparations took place.

People would come to Rome from all over the region, and when in they city, would see a play.

One time, a dead whale washed up on the nearby sea-shore. The scenery designers created a background of a whale, and 50 bears came running out of the whales’ mouth. This gave scale and was used to show how big the whale was; remember back in those days, most people had never seen a whale, or live bears.  A whale washing up on shore was such an unusual occurrence, probably lots of people came to that particular show.

Learning more about the background and uses of these well known icons made things come to life. If you go to Rome, I highly recommend you go to the museum I mentioned earlier. It added to much enrichment to the rest of my days staying in Rome.

A Disturbing Reality in Italy

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

While traveling through Naples, Italy in November 2014 I saw a disturbing example of a woman who had planned her day differently than the way it unfolded.

A Metro Station in Italy

A Metro Station in Italy

I was standing at the train platform, waiting patiently and quietly with 20-30 other passengers, for the train that was supposed to arrive in the next few minutes. Unexpectedly, there was a commotion, and although I was not sure what was happening, people were talking loudly and excitedly, and then people started milling toward a direction 10-15 feet away.

At first I thought our train must be arriving and the people were moving toward where they thought the entrance doors would be. I walked a few steps in the same direction. A lady standing beside me must have seen my puzzled look when no train appeared, and remarked to me “The lady does not feel good” in her broken English.

I looked through the legs of the crowd of people, and there was a woman, probably 20 years older than me, laying on her back on the dirty concrete floor, with a small, dark-haired man about my age kneeling over her giving her chest compressions. Her large handbag was standing at attention next to her, waiting for her to get up and go about her business.

After everything I had heard about Naples being a dangerous city, my first thought, although unhelpful, was “who is going to take care of her purse?” Of course, that was the least of her problems.

Crowd behavior seems to be the same all over the world. The man doing the chest compressions shouted for someone to call an ambulance. I was no help at all.

Even if I could find a policeman, I did not know the language to tell him what was the problem, nor the expertise to direct them back to the location of the unconscious lady. I may have been able to use hand gestures and excitement to try to tell them what was happening, but let’s be real, I would have probably wasted more time trying to explain than letting someone else go get help. I did see a young man run off towards the main area, so I presume he went to get help. All the others stood around observing.

Back in school we were taught CPR and to shout to someone specific “go get help” otherwise everyone thinks someone else will get help. In Italy, the reaction was the same as if this had happened in the USA. The people looked shocked with disbelief that this was happening right there. I probably had the same look on my face. I imagine that no one was more surprised at these events than the lady laying on the concrete.

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A few minutes later, the train pulled into the station, most of the waiting passengers boarded, and the train pulled back out of the station.

I don’t know what happened to this lady. It certainly reminded me of why I was taking the trip and that life is too short to waste. We never know when will be our last day on this earth. (It sure would make it easier to plan though, wouldn’t it)? I wondered about her life and what she would have done differently that day if she knew it was to be her last day.

Approaching the end?

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Quick Summary

Less than 8 weeks left on this leg of the trip- or is it the end of my journey? The answer is unclear today. Some of my goals were to meet interesting people, and see how life is lived by other people in the world. Along the way, I wanted to volunteer, learn and experience lots of life. Most of these goals have been accomplished, although the volunteering did not turn out as expected. I found that volunteering for only one or 2 weeks was not what the organizations I contacted needed. Some had a minimum of a six month commitment, another was not set up for an individual volunteer but wanted a group. Probably with better planning or a longer commitment, and I would have enjoyed those experiences as well. Even speaking English and exposing kids at a refugee camp did not work out, since my timing happened to be when they were studying for the most important exams of the year.

Let’s face it, a year is not long enough. The world is an amazing place, and so much bigger than I thought. Our planet is huge and there is so much more I want to see, but am out of time. My incredibly talented daughter is graduating law school, and I am going to be there.

Most frequently asked question of me: Do I like Obama?

Second most frequently asked question: What is my favorite place? (While traveling)

Third most frequently asked question: Do I have a gun? (In the USA)

Favorite places: I cannot say I have a favorite because I liked so many places, but for different reasons.

Most beautiful- Switzerland, but really expensive.

Montenegro is a close second- the Natural beauty is spectacular. Lots of greenery and mountains, and very inexpensive, but harder to get to.

Best Food – Italy. Everything people say about the good food is true. The whole culture is built around enjoying food, and family.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – I enjoyed the “live and let live” attitude. Surprisingly, the city shuts down around 6:00 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays, and even then it shuts down around 11:00 pm. I would definitely go back to see the tulips in spring again, the photos do not do them justice. They are magnificent.

Germany– It is similar to the USA with the modern conveniences and easy to get around with public transportation. The variety of delicious sausages were enjoyable. Wonderful parks- especially the English Garden in Munich.

Scotland- if a person likes to hike and doesn’t mind rain, come here.

Ireland – lots of rain and lots of pubs.

Iceland- Windy. Lots of fish to eat. The Blue Lagoon will bring me back again- but this time in summer. The best organized tourism industry that I experienced.

Serbia – Someone told me to tell everyone to bring your tourist dollars here. The people are so helpful, several walked with me to my destination to be sure I got to where I was going. The public transportation is easy to get around. There is beautiful architecture, and it is a very inexpensive country.

Croatia– Another beautiful country. I didn’t get to spend much time here, but would go back to visit the National Park, and to island hop along the coast. The Aegean Sea is a turquoise blue.

Israel– I don’t think they will ever have peace. I think many people do not want peace. They would rather be right. Really hot and dry. This is where I got over my vanity of being overweight , middle-age woman in a bathing suit. I figured that more people cared about what it was like to float in the Dead Sea, rather than what I looked like.

Czech Republic – I only spent time in Prague, but it is a city with so much historical architecture. This is still an inexpensive area. Great public transportation.

Hungary– I only got to spend a day in Budapest, and would like to go back. It is inexpensive, has good public transportation. The caving experience here was the best caving I have ever done.

Turkey– I went here 3 different times over a 6 month period and explored different areas. The people are very friendly, and the country has everything from sea resorts, to recently discovered cities over 3,000 years ago. The Grand Bazaar is a really interesting place, and for the prettiest jewelry I have ever seen in my travels is located here. It is intricate and stunning. If I am walking down the red carpet in Hollywood, chances are that I will be wearing jewelry from here. Inexpensive.

Zimbabwe– This is where I learned to understand how important it is to have a good leader, and what corruption does to the general population. This is a fascinating country with many, many problems. The local, wonderful people I met here probably had the biggest impact on me through all of my travels. I only spent about a week here, but have a lifetime of memories. Also, a very dear friend joined me here and we shared the experiences. I am so happy to have shared these experiences with her.

Botswana– This is the representation of what I expected of Africa- endless scenery, lots of big animals.

South Africa – I only spent time driving through and then staying a couple days in Johannesburg. The city is growing so quickly they don’t know what the population is, and they have 12 official languages. I now question why some people in the USA think we need one official language. I was very uncomfortable here, partly because of the reputation of the city and people who have not traveled here telling me how dangerous it was. It was a growing experience for me to be the minority everywhere I went.

Thailand – A wonderful country that I will visit again. The people are very friendly and helpful, it is inexpensive, and easy to get around in English. The north has mountains and several Hill Tribes (ethnic groups that do not speak Thai, and dress in their traditional costumes). The south has fantastic beach after beach after beach.

Singapore – Lots of rules. Very clean. Excellent public transportation. Modern architecture. Expensive. A melting pot of Asian people.

Nepal – my least favorite country. The people were very nice, but it is a difficult life for many people. Again, government leadership is so important. When different factions cannot agree on anything, except “leave the tourists alone”, life is hard for its citizens. The capital city, Kathmandu is the most polluted city I have ever seen – air, noise, trash, water, everything. On the other hand, the citizens have bigger problems to worry about.

Bali, Indonesia – such a pretty country with friendly locals. Too bad the places I went in Bali were so damaged by tourism. I would like to discover more of Indonesia, but would hesitate to go back here until the infrastructure catches up, and the trash is gone.

India – I hear that the south is very different than the north. I only had a few days in the north, although I met a very nice family. Next time I will visit the south. India seems to be making progress from what I had expected. It was cleaner than Nepal and school is compulsory. I would not travel as a lone western female in the North again. I was very uncomfortable, although I stayed safe.

Malaysia- Hot and humid, great public transportation. Excellent Chinese food everywhere and inexpensive.

I have met so many kind people and everyone has a story. I have been so fortunate to stay with friends, family, acquaintances and friends of friends, and near strangers. I have found that the world is full of good-hearted people no matter what country, and most people are just like me, trying to find my way on this life’s journey. We have the same concerns, taking care of our family and providing for our children. We are more similar than different, even though we may have different names for our “God”, and wear different clothes and have different manners, but in the end, the world is a wonderful place, and not as scary as we are led to believe.

Future stops in include Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii before I make my way back home. I am looking forward to knowing how to get to the grocery store, and the proper way to purchase vegetables without holding up a line full of people. I also am really, really, looking forward to a cheeseburger!

And most importantly- I am looking forward to hugging my family and friends.

The Blue Grotto in the Isle of Capri, Italy

Impressions of a Country

The Blue Grotto is a cave in the Island of Capri, off the coast of Italy, near Naples. It is especially known for the “Blue Grotto”. Everything on the island is expensive, so I only went for a day trip. First I took a ferry to the Island.

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???????????? There were quite a few cracks and caves on the side of the island’s rocks.

I took a motorboat to the location of the entrance of the Blue Grotto. There were people in an anchored boat waiting to take our $20 cash to transfer into a rowboat that would take us inside. (Talk about a captive audience.) We even received a receipt.??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

The tide was high, so once we were in the rowboat, we had to nearly lay down. I was glad that the bottom of the rowboat was dry, and the boat had not been used for fishing recently.

The entrance to the cave only had a few inches clearance over the boat.???????????????????????????????

The rower waited for the ditch between waves, then grabbed a chain at the entrance and pulled us into the grotto.

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The water was an incredible blue color due to the daylight that shines in and reflects off the rocks.

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The rocks are not attached at the bottom, this is why the water is so blue. We could even see small fish.  As the rowers circled the inside of the grotto, they sang in Italian. The rocks echoed the sounds and the rowers tried to outdo each other with their voices – both in volume and passion. Fortunately, they were pretty good singers and were on key.

Afternoon in a Medieval Home

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

I am such a lucky girl.  Paola, the girl I met while touring in Ireland, invited me to  Sunday dinner (lunch for us Americans) with her Italian family. She, her sister and parents live in a medieval home.

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In this particular home, the immediate family lives on one floor, and an Aunt lives on another floor. Looking from the outside from a narrow street, it was hard to imagine how modern the inside might be. This home was very modern and beautiful. It had all the modern conveniences and was as solid as any other building with 3 foot thick walls.

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Ermanno has a diploma in a similar field as architecture and even has a map of the historic village with all the known tunnels. Many of these buildings used these tunnels for escape passages that connect to other buildings. Some still exist but others are full of rubble and dirt, so are still unknown.

IMG_7052 The tunnels are currently
IMG_7050used as basements and storage areas etc.IMG_7051

I used to wonder how cities were forgotten and then built over without even realizing there was a city below, but after seeing the ruins of Serbia and how people cannot afford to fix things, I understand better. Once trees start growing through windows and the roots of plants take hold, the circle of life continues. Plants rot and become earth and new plants grow on top of this, covering rocks and bricks, which crumble and support new plant life. I think of my bed of flowers and how I add more mulch every year. The soil improves and the bed gets little deeper until after a few years, I need to take some of the dirt away,. I probably take that dirt and fill in a hole somewhere else. It happens a little bit by little bit. Over the years medieval structures became just another hill, and the renaissance era built on top, then it becomes a larger hill, and modern roads are built over it and new structures arise.

IMG_7027 This is the entranceway and hallway

IMG_7030Ermanno and Anna (the parents of Paola) on the rooftop terrace

IMG_7049 Paola goofing off while going down the hallway staircases.

The office space  where Paola and Ermanno work.

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IMG_7064 Living room

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Paola’s closets and bedroomIMG_7068

IMG_7069 Another bedroom

When Paola’s father purchased their home 50 years ago in Civitanova Marche Alta – the historic area that was built in about 1600, he climbed into the cistern to clean it. He looked around and spotted something that looked like a pineapple- but was actually an unexploded bomb left over from WWII! He scrambled back out of the cistern and called the police.

IMG_7059The cistern is in the corner where the girls are standing. This is where he found the bomb..

Paola says most of the homes have courtyards in back- what a nice surprise.

IMG_7058 IMG_7062 IMG_7054This building has several courtyards, both upper and a lower.

Civilization in Italy has been around for so many years, that buildings are used and reused as time goes on. This home had previously been a church, and could have also been used as stable or a restaurant as well even before that.

In Italy, girls typically leave home around 25-30 years old, but with the economic crisis, these girls are unable to. So, the sister lives on the top floor- which in this home is a modern loft.  IMG_7032 IMG_7034The serious boyfriend is part of the family, and spends the night at the family home as well. Even though they are not married, it is not frowned upon- at least in the families I met.

IMG_7056 A different view of the office

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The bathroom

Family lunch on Sundays is still extremely important, and I was lucky enough to get to join one.

IMG_7045 The dining room

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The kitchen

The first course consisted of a fish soup which included Panocchie- a semi lobster and shrimp looking fish,

canocchia This shellfish was about 6 inches long. It was in the soup and I had no idea how to eat it. The head, legs and tale confused me, since the soup was served with a spoon.  Fortunately, l learned that it was ok to pick it up with my fingers, to break the head off, then bite each segment and suck out the insides. Then bite the next segment and do the same.  Although I had no idea of how to eat the shrimp in a soup, Sara was kind enough to demonstrate the proper way to break off the head and suck the juice out (even while the shrimp’s eyes seemed to be looking at me), and how to use my fingers to hold the panocchie while taking bites of each segment and discarding the shells. When people laughed at my clumsy attempts, we all laughed together. They laughed with me, not at me.

The soup also contained as calamari, octopus,  and huge shrimps with the heads, legs and shells still attached. If you have never traveled, you may be surprised to learn that the seafood in Europe is usually served whole, so the shrimps still have their eyes, legs, shells, tail and pretty much everything else that is removed in the USA.

The PolentaIMG_7042 had a texture of mashed potatoes and was  served in portions. It was to dipped in the soup to eat the broth. Everything was very flavorful. Wine was served with lunch as well. After we finished our servings of soup, Anna insisted we have more, and we got a 2nd serving of shrimp and more soup.

2nd course was the salad, then for dessert came 3 kinds of ice cream, and then a huge plate of bakery goods that was given as a gift from Sara’s family. After I thought I could not eat another bite, fresh fruit, including grapes, tangerines, and plums was served.

And to finish it off, coffee that made of toasted barley, called “Orzo”. It tasted similar to coffee but not as strong. I don’t usually like the taste of coffee, but it was pretty good. I could easily learn to like it.

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The Italians sure know good food.

Sunday night, the kids took me to the historic city called “Ascoli Piceno” where the girls attended University and studied Architecture. I don’t know exactly where it is, but it was about an hour drive and 11 tunnels away. By the way, if you ever need a tunnel built, get an Italian. The tunnels I saw in Italy- and there are many, are well built. They are well lit, and are easier to drive through than the tunnels in the USA. I think it is because of the lighting and paint. They don’t seem like tunnels. They are very tall, and have fire fighting equipment along the sides- just in case there is a car-b-q.

Being with such lovely people, made me feel like a friend, not just an acquaintance. When I enthusiastically sang out “buongiorno” at night to a new person that I was introduced to (which means good morning, or good afternoont), everyone laughed good naturely, and I realized my mistake. When I (thought I said in Italian), sit here next to me because you are a good person, I had actually said sit here you sexy, beautiful person- which was also appreciated, and laughed at too.

Before we went to lunch, I had put my clothes into the washing machine, and Sara’s mom was kind enough to take them out when they finished washing and hung them to dry since they don’t use dryers. She even put the jeans (which take 2 days to dry) nearest the radiator. She was a mom to Sara, and a mom to me- even though she had to drive from her home to the apartment to do this for a practical stranger and foreigner. It was inconvenient for her, but again, this is what family does for one another.

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In the end, I felt so welcomed by people who had been strangers a short time ago. We discussed so many topics and exchanged cultural information. Many times, Americans at home have warned me how the world is a scary place and how everyone hates Americans. I find this information more often than not comes from people who have not traveled outside the USA very much. This has not been my experience at all. From strangers sharing a bus in March 2014, to new wonderful friends and the kindness of their families, in November 2014 I feel there is a lot of hope for people to understand one another in this world. We look differently, we eat differently, we have some different cultural values, but int the end, we are more similar than different. The kindness and welcome I received is a testament to human nature.

Of course there are bad people in the world. That being said though, I think there are more kind and good people in the world. We just hear about the bad stuff, because that is what sells newspapers and tv shows.

For those of you who wonder what this world is coming to, with kids like this generation, and their families, the world is in good shape for the future.

*A thought about war – One of the many problems with a war is that once the war is over, there are still weapons left over. By now, you would think humanity would be smarter than this. My friend ‘s (Isa in Germany) family had this problem too. One day while her grandmother was visiting her grandfather in the old age home, and a train went past her house just as it had for decades. Only this time when the house shook, an unknown and unexploded bomb that was  buried underneath the house, finally exploded. Can you imagine? Thank goodness she was not home, but she lost everything.

While in Serbia- I learned that another part of the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia, has a big problem – the land mines had  shifted because of the rain and flooding. that happened while I was there. An area that may have been safe earlier in the week, now has unexploded landmines. I cannot imagine my kids playing tag, and one of them or a friend inadvertently stepping on a patch of grass that explodes and cripples or kills her. How do you explain to a neighbor parent that while under your supervison, the kids were playing outside, and now her legs are gone forever and her life has changed forever? Or worse.

Maybe instead of jumping to  wars and weapons when there is a conflict, perhaps we should take time to reconsider other options. Sometimes a war may be inevitable, but it seems to me that the people who make the decisions about going to war, are not going and do not have their children going to war. They are ordering other people to fight, and in other places. There have got to be better ways to solve problems.

Italy – When Strangers become Friends

Impressions of a Country

November 2014

While on a bus touring Ireland in April, I met 2 Italian girls, Paola and Sara. They invited me to stay at Sara’s apartment near the beach if I came to Italy. So I did.

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Friday night, Sara and Paola picked me up by car from the train station, and took me to a local

What I did while Wwoofing

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Wwoofing (Worldwide opportunities to work on an organic farm) was a very satisfying experience and I highly recommend it.  The farm that I wwoofed on included a home that was built in 1462 and this is what it looked like when Nevio (the gentleman who owns the farm) purchased it.  It was originally used by priests and had been abandoned, like so many places in Italy.

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Here is what it looked like after renovations

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Some of the things I did while wwoofing were…

I helped harvest olives IMG_6236????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Some of the things I did while Wwoofing were…

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Chased the horses back to where they were suppose to be…

Learned and helped make pasta

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IMG_6175 Setti worked here for the past 10 years and is an awesome cook. We had pasta every single day for lunch and it was always delicious.  This freezer held trays of different homemade pastas …IMG_6176 including gnocci

????????????? made a variety of pizzas

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???????????????????????????????????? helped with the shopping…??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? This is where we purchased the flour. The man who owns this, mills the flour himself. The flour used for pasta is much finer than the flour used for bread.

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Fed the piglets (I now understand what people mean when they say eating like a pig- they are absolutely disgusting. If the food has not been trampled on by every pig and is muddy, they don’t pay attention to the food). However, even though they were pretty gross, I still like bacon and sausage and will not be giving it up.

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?????????????????????????????????????????????????????? …laid straw for the pigs and the chickens The chickens and ducks and even the turkeys were afraid of me. Every time I peeked into their roosting area, they panicked and ran out the door into the pen.  IMG_6148

Nevio chopped and cut the wood- I carried logs and branches to him

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??????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????then moved and stacked the wood…

I also washed a LOT of dishes. ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? The restaurant seated about 125 people and was open on weekends only. Italy is in it’s 7th year of the great recession, and people don’t go out to eat very often these days.  The restaurant was having a special for a fixed price that included a first plate of pasta with ragu (tomato sauce with pork sausage- my favorite), a 2nd plate of meats, pork, chicken, rabbit, antipasta of olives and cheese, dessert, wine, and expresso – all served with separate plates and silverware, and all were washed by hand- probably by me! This was for a fixed price of $29 euros for 2 people. There were a lot of dishes. Setti cooked all of this by herself for about 50 people, and there was one waitress for all of them too. They worked together like a well oiled machine.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? I would tease that I was like a puppy dog, since I didn’t know the language, I will follow people around eagerly ready to help whenever and wherever needed.

The location was beautiful, and the views never ended…

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IMG_6204????????????????????????????????????? The driveway was soooo steep ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? that even the 11 yr. old son had to walk his bike up.IMG_6215

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In my free time I did a variety of stuff, including playing “soft air” with some kids

IMG_6260 It was shooting plastic pellets at each other- kinda like paintball with little bb’s. This remarkable young man, gave me directions- in English, no less.

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I also got to see how olives were pressed into olive oil, went to a spa,

made new friends…

?????????????????????????????????????????? and went to a haunted castle on Halloween night

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I also got to be on a television show ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

This farm had hosted plenty of Wwoofers before me, and were going to host another on the day I was leaving…

IMG_6162     Programs like this make the world an interesting place. The photos above are of most of the woofers they have hosted thus far.  In the end, I felt like a part of a family, and recommend the program to anyone who wants to work hard, receive room and board and an incredible experience, while helping on a farm.