Admittedly the last month has been a collection of highs and lows, but I’ve had some really great trips and visits – I’ve been out and about a fair amount during February. Lends credence to the idea that you need the negatives to truly appreciate the positive; that’s not to say that my everyday life here is all negative, but I’ve certainly been a fair bit homesick recently. Happens to everyone, it must do.
Should probably do this chronologically, but not sure what order the smaller events happened but I’ll give it a try!
Firstly, at some point during February (Febbraio) I attended a group as a volunteer to help out with a really cheerful bunch of people with different disabilities. Some family friends of my Italian family volunteer too, and once my Italian hosts heard about my volunteering with HCPT they, extremely kindly, thought to introduce me to this group! So, I went along to this group one Saturday, terrified because I cannot speak Italian for the life of me. I’d been practicing my introductory lines all day, mi chiamo Connie, ho diciotto anni, vengo dal’inghilterra, inizio a l’universita a settembre, studio francia e filosofia. Sod all of that frankly, “mi chiamo Connie, come ti chiami?” was all I needed, if that. I was marginally abandoned by Paolo at the group once he’d introduced me to an English speaker – so from there I was on my own!
The atmosphere of the whole group was so different from what I’ve experienced before with HCPT, our group is so loving and familial but very regulated, whereas this was so relaxed and laid back – they were all friends there! It was quite refreshing! I understand the need to have all the regulations that we have at home, in regards to safeguarding, but at the same time it can be a hindrance to creating same level bonds with the children and vulnerable adults in our care. I was instantly inducted into the activities that we had there, a lovely young man with Down syndrome was encouraged to bring me in to dance for the first few activities – bouncing around, Italian heads shoulders knees and toes, waltzing – it was so free all the time. The people there were all ages, all disabilities, and everyone was included!
We played a game of sitting down football, lines on the floor, facing opposite directions (like table football) and then trying to throw a ball towards the goal you’re facing. Another game we played was not one I was expecting… We lined up in two lines and there was a spoon attached to a ball of yarn; what came next really threw me and I just spent the whole time giggling, we had to thread the spoon up one sleeve, across our chest and down the other sleeve and then to the next person, weaving us together as one line – the team that was fastest won! We lost, 3 times. There were some snacks and drinks, and a long while of just chatting and it was just really pleasant. I chatted to a few of the vulnerable adults, well… chatted would be the wrong word seeing as I was effectively non-verbal due to the language barrier, but a lot of these people were used to non-verbal conversation so that was actually a really interesting experience! I found that 2 or 3 of the key volunteers spoke really good English, one had an adorable toddler who came along half way through! Funnily enough I actually bumped into him the next day in church with aforementioned adorable child who was actually thrust into my arms at one point… he kept on just going brummm brummmm… because he wanted to go to the car… his dad gave him a toy car which he promptly deposited in a strangers handbag. I was honestly laughing so much that I cried and had to discretely hide at the side of the church. Anyway… the group was exciting and interesting, the volunteers were welcoming and really friendly! I have missed the more recent meetings due to my travels, but I’m hoping to go to another one soon!
Next trip on the calendar was Roma – and even more importantly, a visit from my parents! My mum flew in to Bologna on Wednesday morning and I caught a train up to meet here- I was there an hour or so early, and my mum arrived on time – positive start, right? But that was where the difficulties started… We had issues with the hire car due to not having my dad with us, they wouldn’t allow us to hire without a credit card, we ended up on the phone to rent a car for over an hour trying to sort out the situation, in which they said that there were a few places that would accept debit cards but they had no cars available. Trying my luck, whilst my mother frustratedly tried to resolve the situation any which way, I did an online search on the rent a car website, and discovered that there would be cars available in 2 and a half hours… Now I’m not claiming all the credit for getting us a hire car, but, honestly, thank god I spotted that! We were looking at getting trains to Rome and it was all just a massive **** up. Thanks to the helpful customer service at rent a car, and the wonderful web, however we did have a car to collect in 2.5 hours – leaving us a bit of time to explore Bologna!
We took the bus in to town and gradually walked our way into the historic centre, we didn’t really do much – but it was enjoyable enough just getting to see the beautiful architecture of Bologna, once again for me and for the first time for mum, including a beautiful venetian style wall to a fortress of some kind, designed to hold a garrison or something, I don’t really know, history and architecture are more my mother’s forte than mine! That was all fine and dandy and, fortunately, we left plenty of time to get back! Unfortunately, neither mother nor I were aware of the stupid custom of buying bus tickets before boarding the bus. The first bus wasn’t a problem, we bought a ticket on the bus that took us to our next stop, then we waited for our second bus and were promptly told that we couldn’t get on because we didn’t have tickets. Now, had we not asked the driver about tickets then I am approximately 100% certain that we would have got on that bus because, as I’ve since discovered, tickets seem to be advisory and aren’t checked on any form of public transport! As it happened we had to get off the bus and try and find a Tabachi, a newsagents, which I did – and was informed that they don’t sell bus tickets at that one… In despair mum and I considered just boarding the next bus without a ticket, because we had to be back at the airport to collect our car! Fortunately a nice young man, a trainee hairdresser in fact, helped us to find a ticket- in my broken Italian and his slightly less broken English we established the problem and legged it down the street to the nearest Tabachi, then legged it back, narrowly missing the next bus – which also happened to be his bus, that he missed for our sake… Was a bit of a faff even after that, we alighted the bus at our stop, had to figure out where to go for the 10 minute walk to the airport, I extremely nearly died on a roundabout, we got lost in a carpark and couldn’t find the airport entrance, then we collected the car and were on our way.
I would like to say there were no hiccups from hereon-out, but that’s sadly not the case! For the most part it wasn’t a problem – we drove all the way to Orvieto with no issues at all. We stopped at Orvieto for dinner, and, more importantly, to see the Cathedral: the Cathedral in Orvieto is one of the most prominent examples of gothic architecture in Italy, second only to a Cathedral in Milan. Truly, it was a sight to behold! Up on the top of a little hill, in what was really a very small town, and it was stunning! Unfortunately, seeing as it was about half 9, the church was locked but frankly, even just getting to see it from the outside was worth the hassle it took getting us back onto the motorway. That was hell though. Signage in Italy is direly lacking – and what there is is extremely non descriptive! On our way back to the motorway we passed, what we thought was, a petrol station – it was in fact the tolls which would take us onto the motorway, but we didn’t know that at the time. We ended up driving for half an hour away from the junction, I thought it would probably take us back on several junctions later, but it reached a point when we were so stressed out, so unsure and so desperate to get back that we just did a U-turn, added on approximately half an hour to our journey and went back to that ‘petrol-station.’ To be clear, map-reading is not my strong point, and left from right is not my mothers.
Once back on the motorway it was easy cruising to Rome, passing the quite upsetting sight of several prostitutes at the side of the road as we entered the city – not exactly what I expected as my first sight of one of the most religious cities in the world! I won’t go into the palaver we had finding our apartment, but both our phones were dead, the road was too small to show up on maps and we even ended up asking a bus driver for help… we were in Rome central for two hours trying to find our flat. It was extremely early hours by the time we got in and even then we struggled to find which apartment was ours due to lack of instruction! Ah well, at least the trip could only get better from there (fortunately not sarcastic.)
Our first morning in Rome was a fairly early one but we persevered! We went out for breakfast and a coffee before heading to the Vatican, less than 10 minutes’ walk from our apartment, for our pre-booked visit to the Vatican Museum – I’m just gonna say it, HYPE! Honestly, the one requisite I had for this entire trip was the Sistine Chapel and it was SO worth it! We were one of the first into the museum and instead of following a tour we headed directly for the chapel, and so when we arrived there were only a handful of other people in there! The artwork was simply breath-taking! Michelangelo’s Damnation was awe-inspiring, the sheer detail and depth in the mural was immense- religious symbolism aside, technically it was a masterpiece! Interestingly, or at least I found it interesting, the pope following the creation of the Damnation was offended by the amount of nudity and commissioned another painter to do a cover-up. He painted swathes of dark cloth, weaving its way across groins and arses, and it’s really obvious if you look. There is such delicacy in the work of Michelangelo that even the painted material, which is skilfully painted – especially considering how difficult it is to actually paint fabric, looked heavy handed. And that was just Damnation, the ceiling panels were quite something to behold too – telling several biblical stories, one even portrayed God with the audacity to show his naked bum. Michelangelo was not a well-liked man by many in the high priesthood I imagine… I could go on for hours about the different paintings on the walls and the parallels drawn between the lives of Moses and Jesus on the opposite walls, but this was only the first morning so to say more would take up far too much space!
The Vatican Museum itself held some really stunning relics, and the beauty of such things is astounding, but the whole time I was there I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. It’s commonly known that the Catholic Church is one of the richest organisations in the world – it’s a topic of contention for many! Seeing the precious stones and metals all on display just made me want to melt it all down and put it to a more practical, more humanitarian use! It’s why I like Pope Francis, he refuses the papal jewellery, he refuses the papal suite at the Vatican. He is very much human, and understands that the wealth of the church is obscene. Of course melting down all the relics would do very little, in fact at this point the value of the metals themselves is almost insignificant compared with the value of the relics, but it frustrates me to think that people have invested so much time and money into honouring our esteemed church, but the greatest honour that can be done in the name of the church is to help others. Surely, surely, the money, the time, the skills, would have been better spent elsewhere! Rant over.
The rest of the trip will surely take up fewer words… During the afternoon we visited several places, I’m now having to struggle to remember the names… I was about to completely pass over the visit to St. Peter’s… what an error! That’s, to me, a really important part! I climbed to the Cupola! 551 steps up because I elected to walk instead of taking the lift up 320 steps. Actually I elected to run… That was a mistake. I beat the lift up, but then realised I was basically only half way and low-key died on the second half! The steps were narrow and the ceilings low, stairs and I aren’t friends at the best of times so I really had to be careful… I wasn’t the worst though, one lady actually passed out about 10 steps from the top! Once I was at the top it was truly amazing – the view across Rome was spectacular! I also really enjoyed that I could see our apartment from the dome of St. Peters! Inside the basilica itself was also stunning – again I could go on for hours, but I won’t. I did particularly enjoy a stained glass window at the back of the church showing the dove. Would have been stunning inside the church at daybreak, unfortunately I don’t think that was an option!
We walked from the Vatican past Castel San Angelo, a beautiful fortress with a statue of an Angel on the roof. That side of the river reminded me of London’s Southbank, they had quite a few street performers, including a harpist and a bubble blower. This man was creating massive bubbles using a long string attached to two poles, he was surrounded by a crowd of children all playing with the bubbles and it was really a joy to watch! I captured a nice moment on my camera and, at the urging of my darling mother, went and showed it to him; at which point he invited me TO HAVE A GO- YES!!!!!!!! I love bubbles so much it’s actually ridiculous. Anyway, after that we walked via Piazza Navona to the Pantheon. The pantheon was really quite impressive, the structural strength of the carved concrete ceiling is amazing –the knowledge and techniques needed to form that ceiling is phenomenal! The history of it is quite something too, I’m not the most clued in, but I believe it used to be a temple to Minerva before it was converted into a church, and the style is now what a large quantity of Italian churches are based on. (I think.)
We collected my dad from the airport in Rome late that night, and tried to get some sleep before our fairly early morning – once again! The next day was pretty busy once again, the three of us enjoying the wonders of public transport into town, looking at some ruins, the Emmanuel Vittorio monument and wandering down past the Roman Forum – to the colosseum! Pre-booking tickets to these things is honestly a life saver; we wouldn’t have been able to get nearly as much done if we’d had to queue for everything! The colosseum was quite a spectacle, but I, and my dad, wished we could have climbed right up to the top! From there we walked to the Spanish Steps, lost my mother, bought a selfie stick, got harassed to buy a rose, ate a sausage and chips pizza – a pizza with chips and wurst on top…, – visited the second oldest coffee shop in Italy – Caffe Greco, visited the Trevi Fountain, threw in a coin (hopefully ensuring I return to Rome in the future) and wandered down to Piazza del Popolo and had a quality Italian ice cream – when in Italy! Had a fairly busy day with both the parents, visited some of the key tourist areas! On our walk back to the bus stop we passed an outdoor ‘art gallery’ which was one man who’d created mini, semi-abstract attractions at eh side of the road and it was a true work of art, and so witty!
That evening Dad and I ventured out to Trastavere to see what all the fuss was about, my logic was that we should get a train from san pietro station, right outside our apartment, to Trastavere station- so we could get there sooner. Logically that should have worked, illogically, however, Trastevere station is located about a half hour walk away from Trastevere. Sillily, so is San Pietro station. A whole extra train ride for no reason. After the fairly pleasant walk into Trastevere, through the fairly rough area, we came to the historic area which was quite beautiful, and, quite clearly a student area! The average age was about 25 and it was just so lively! I felt right at home, well not really – but I bet I felt more at home than dad did! We found a nice craft market selling beautiful carved ornaments and hand crafted jewellery before settling down for dinner – so ridiculously over filled by the food we definitely shouldn’t have had room for the several drinks at the busy local bar, nor the crepes that we tipsily elected to have before our late night stroll back to the Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica at night was stunning – would recommend!
I honestly feel like I have so much more that I could say about Rome, but I also didn’t expect it to be this long, so, I shan’t. We did also stop at Assisi, which I would also recommend to and Christians who are interested in that sort of thing – the church where St. Francis heard the voice of God is a place to visit!
After our travels, mum and dad came back home with me to Cesena, had a tour of the town with my Italian family and joined us for a big family dinner – it was really lovely! Honestly, even if we hadn’t gone to Rome it still would have been amazing just to see them! I’ve been away from home slightly longer before, but this is a very different experience and it was nice to have that time with my parents.
I had 2 other events to talk about, but I guess that can hold off until I post another blog!