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Published: October 5th 2010
Just crossed the border into Austria!
Greetings to all. It's a little late, I wrote this blog on Sunday in the train on the way back from Vsetín, but I've finally had time to upload it, so here you go:
As I write to you all, I’m on the train on the way back to Havlíčkův Brod from Vsetín, pulling out of the train station in Olomouc, having just watched Emily make a mad dash to catch her connecting train. I spent the weekend in Vsetín, a small town in the Czech Republic on the border of Slovakia visiting Calan with Emily, which was a great time.
The main purpose of this blog, however, will be to tell you about my trip to Italy. As most of you know, I left last Thursday, September 23rd, on a trip with the high school I teach at to northern Italy. It was a trip organized by one of the teachers through a local travel agency and was open to teachers at the high school as well as some people from the community. I was asked by a few of the teachers if I’d like to join when I first arrived in the Czech Republic, and figuring it
My former home!
a good way to meet some of the people I’ll be spending the year interacting with, I went along. It also headed to cities I’ve never been to in Italy, as well as to the third smallest country in Europe, San Marino, a small republic set on a mountain in the heart of Italy. I was exhausted from my recent travels, as I’ve been on the going for almost two months now, and have yet to spend a full week in Havlíčkův Brod (though I’m not too sorry about that…), so I was a little hesitant about the trip to Italy, but it turned out to be quite the adventure.
On Thursday at 5:30 in the morning, I was stumbling down the hill of Havlíčkův Brod half-asleep. Remember, I live at the top of the hill, my schools are in the middle, and the train station is at the very bottom. Luckily, I only had to go halfway down, and boarded the bus. Apparently, I sat in the wrong seat, so after some disgruntled stares and being taken by the tour guide and pushed into my new seat, I made myself cozy for the trip. I was in the
My friends from Graz and I decided we're buying an apartment and going to split it as our vacation destination.
very last seat, and I’m still not sure what I should think about that. Was it to be nice and give me the most room? Was it just to alienate me from everybody else? Needless to say, hardly anybody talked to me the entire ride down to Italy, though I did get to read my book. Well, we set out for our trip, and 14 hours later pulled into a small town next to Ravenna. Along the way, I did initiate a conversation with some of the people I recognized from the high school, and they were really nice and spoke slowly and simply with me, which was good. At about 8 in the morning, too, we crossed the border into Austria, and let me tell you, I must’ve looked like I slept with a hanger in my mouth. I was so incredibly happy to be back in Austria, I can’t even describe it. We took a round-about way, though and drove from central Austria into the east towards Vienna, and then headed down towards….GRAZ! We actually stopped at a gas station right outside of Graz, and I seriously considered just having them leave me there and pick me up
on the way back to the Czech Republic. Ohh, how I miss Graz. Well, after finally arriving in Italy (and driving through the beautiful mountains of northern Italy, also part of the Alps), some of the teachers and I set out in search of food. It was strange because I don’t think any of them really believed me when I said I speak Italian. It’s hard enough for people to believe I speak German, they all assume I just know a few words, and none of them thought I knew Italian. At this point in the night, I was absolutely starving, so had a long conversation in Italian with the waitress about the types of food they could give me at that time in the night, and that was the moment when I think they realized I wasn’t kidding, and I gained some new friends who wanted a translator throughout the trip. That’s neither here nor there, though, and so we spent the night in this little outskirt of Ravenna.
On Friday, we spent the day touring Ravenna. We went to several different churches, seeing above all their Byzantine mozaics. It was incredible to see, as I had learnt
Left: Czech bus, Right: Austrian bus.
about them in art history, and so to see the actual detail, color, and precision of the work first-hand was really quite something. My words probably won’t do it all justice, so, as I’ve often had to write here, you’ll just have to look at the pictures and decide for yourself. Ravenna was a beautiful city, though, and really empty of tourists, which I liked. The Italians we came into contact with were all very eager to talk to me and know why I speak Italian, etc., and I talked their ear off for quite a long time. It was simply a relief to be once again in a place where I could understand everything and be understood. I became friends with lots of waiters and waitresses throughout Italy. We had sort of split up into groups at the beginning of the day, as everyone could choose to see what they wanted, so my little group wandered around the city, saw the sites, and I must say, it was one of my favorite places I’ve been to in Italy. We had lunch on the main square, where I had gnocchi, which were fantastic and one of my favorite things. Around
Driving through the Alps.
dinnertime, we boarded the bus and headed about an hour south to the Adriatic coast, to the city of Rimini (basically, Italy’s Misquamicut).
In Rimini, we stayed in a hotel whose walls made paper look thick, and whose bathrooms allowed for you to shower, go to the bathroom, and brush your teeth all at the same time, they were so small! The major bonus of the hotel, though, was its location about 200 yards from the beach. Some of the teachers and I took a stroll down to the Adriatic, which was my first time seeing it which was quite exciting, and walked out along a path that had been created to an off-shore restaurant and to a lighthouse-type thing (though not a real lighthouse, more just a light). There were boats everywhere, seagulls cawing, salt in the air, it was a great relief to be back in an environment that I know well, as opposed to the drier air of the Czech Republic. After walking along the Adriatic, though, we headed back towards our hotel and went to a restaurant right next door. We ended up going there just about every night, as it was so close, so
Moonrise over Italy.
cheap, and the food was so good. There, I had a type of panino tradition for the region, which was basically just a pizza folded inside out, but was good no less. Every time we went there, I got the same thing, I enjoyed it so much.
On Saturday, we headed to Urbino, about an hour away from Rimini. As you drive away from Rimini, you can see the mountains start to grow around you, and then suddenly you find yourself along narrow mountain roads, as you’re already high up in the mountains. The amazing thing about Urbino, too, is that it takes you by surprise. Suddenly jumping out of the sides of the mountains were massive city walls, upon which a city of brick stood like a fortress. It was such a cool thing to behold. We entered a side-way as opposed to the main gate, and because of that we had to climb up steep, slippery stairs. Had we gone in the main gate, we would’ve come up the main road (though no less steep) into the main square of the city. Instead, though, the way we went brought us straight to Palazzo Ducale, the palace of
They invented roads, but leave it to the Italians to forget sidewalks.
the duke of Urbino. Urbino is also a well-known city for its art, and so I had studied much with Palazzo Ducale, which was exciting to see in real life. We walked down Piazza Rinascimento to the cathedral, which was nice, and from there entered into Palazzo Ducale. Inside, there’s now an art museum (I told you Urbino’s famous for art), and so I wandered around in there for a while, seeing some very famous paintings, many of which I’d studied while at UVM. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the famous portraits of one of the dukes of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, but oh well, so it goes. I got to see some other cool things, and the entire Palazzo was amazing to be in. I met up with the others then, and we sat on the square and had something to drink (and I got an amazing chocolate croissant), enjoying la vita italiana. From there, we continued down the hill into the main square, and then back up again, walking by the house where Raphael was born (no, not the ninja turtle). From there, we continued up the hill to a look-out point where there was also a statue of
In San Vitale.
Raphael, and we got to see some of the surrounding mountains. I found a “panoramic walkway” (according to the map), so we crossed that and the views were amazing. We were at the highest point in the city and so got to look down onto everything, as well as see all the surrounding hills. It was so typical Italy and so nice to see. The hills were very green, and the city’s bricks were a beige-brown, so it provided a nice contrast. We continued wandering, and then eventually headed down through the main square to the main gate of the city, and there boarded to return to Rimini, where we spent the night.
Sunday morning we set out for San Leo, a small, medieval fortress city also high in the mountains. We actually couldn’t drive up into San Leo, and now that I think about it, I didn’t see any cars in the city while there, or at least in the upper city. We had about a 10-minute walk (hike?) up the mountain, which was amazing. The weather was absolutely beautiful (in contrast to the slight rain of the day before), and you could see for great distances. The
The entire space is full of mosaics from the Byzantine era.
sky was clear blue, and the surrounding land was all a rich green, with the beige-brown city rising above everything. I walked up the cobblestone road into the main square, Piazza di Dante, which is composed of small buildings, one of which boasting to be a building in which Saint Francis spoke, as well as a palace of the Medici, and one of the oldest churches of the city, located right next to the cathedral. The cool thing about both the church and the cathedral is that their doors were cut into the sides of the buildings, as the far ends were simply cliffs. We walked around both churches, and continued to the city’s “Belvedere,” where we got to see some impressive views of the surrounding area, including mountains and in the distance San Marino. From there, I continued by myself up to the city’s fortress, sitting high above the other buildings. The fortress, like the churches, was literally cut into the mountain, so there was no begin to one and end to the other. It’s unknown when it was first built, but it was used up until about 1906, when it was finally closed. For the majority of its
history, though, it served as a prison, and most famously held Cagliostro, who I’d never heard of, but I got to see his cell and where he died. According to the handy dandy internet, he was an alchemist, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten with unlocking who he was. I also went down into the torture room (and believe you me, it was quite creepy to be there alone), so got to see some of the insane ways they tortured people. After roughly 47 seconds there, I left, and headed back up to the top to take lots of pictures, since it was such a beautiful day and all. After that, though, I moseyed back on down the mountain, where I found a small shop for gelato and crepes, so I sat myself down and had a crepe, just with nutella and powdered sugar. It was probably the best crepe I’ve ever had, so I had a second, and contemplated getting a third (and now am wondering why I didn’t, I’m hungry just thinking about it). I sat there for at least an hour, if not more, and just enjoyed the beautiful weather, the food, the overall atmosphere
A bird created in the floor.
of the place, and just sitting outside on the square of a small city in Italy.
In the afternoon, we boarded the bus and headed for the entire reason I went on the trip, San Marino. Like I said, San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe, after the Vatican and Monaco, and as we approached it, it was quite amazing. It’s the oldest republic in the world with the oldest constitution still in effect, and it sits atop a massive mountain. We drove about halfway up the mountain, where cars were still allowed, but to get into the oldest part of the city, up on the peak, you couldn’t bring a car (which was actually quite nice, you didn’t have to worry about getting hit). The entire city was so cool, in my opinion, though others were turned off by all its tourist shops (which were plentiful). We walked up small, winding roads, lined with small, skinny buildings, and from time to time, you could catch a glimpse of the lands outside the city. As we approached the top, we came to the seat of the city’s government, which looks like a castle, in front of which
is a small square, from which you can see out into the surrounding area. It was amazing. We continued up and happened upon the country’s (as well as city’s) basilica, which was very nice, though again, quite small, and from there continued on to the peak. The views were breathtaking, and though we didn’t go all the way up to the top, since you had to pay and Czechs don’t particularly care for that, we got to see a lot from the vantage points around. On one side of the mountain (or country, however you look at it), you could see Italian cities, towns, and villages sprawled out, and only a few miles away, the Adriatic. It was absolutely amazing, and my descriptions will always fall short, so once again, just look at my pictures. At the near-peak, we sat at a small café and had something to drink, which was nice to enjoy once again the weather and the views. The time came to head back down the mountain, though, and once again we set out back into Italy towards Rimini.
When we got back to Rimini, some of the other teachers asked me if I wanted to
go swimming, to which I said absolutely! After grabbing our suits, we headed down to the Adriatic, and I took my first swim there. The strange thing was that to be able to go under, you had to walk so far out, and even at that point, it wasn’t very deep. The water was also very salty, so you barely needed to tread water to stay afloat, which was a new experience. The water was pretty cold, too, though not colder than the Atlantic, but also not as clear as the Atlantic. Anyways, now I can say I’ve swum in the Adriatic! After that, we returned to the restaurant I talked about earlier where I got my same meal, and even had an Austrian beer with it (by chance the man who owned the restaurant happened to have a few).
On Monday, we had a relatively easy day, as it was our last day in Italy, and we were staying in Rimini. Rimini was the second most destroyed city in Italy in World War II, so much of its history has been wiped out. A few cool things survived, though, so we walked around some of the piazze, and
in the middle of one they actually uncovered the remains of a Roman villa. We also visited the Malatesta temple, which is a church with some very famous pieces of art, and saw an arch erected as the gate to the city by the emperor Augustus. We crossed a bridge built by the emperor Tiberius, erected in the 1st century and still standing and functioning, which was very cool, and took a stroll along the beach, which was nice. In the evening, we boarded the bus and headed about an hour away from Rimini again into the mountains to a family-run vineyard. There, we got a tour of how they make the wine (and the family loved me because I spoke Italian with them, while one of the women on the tour translated everything into Czech), as well as had dinner outside (which was about a 6-course meal) and got to taste their wine. I actually even bought myself a little bottle of wine for the first time in my life ‘cause it wasn’t half bad. There was funny, too, because one of the workers was a girl from Denmark, so she and I had a conversation with her speaking
Each piece was somewhere between 1-3cm long.
in Danish and me in Swedish, which surprised the Czechs I was with. As the night wore on, we headed back to Rimini and spent our last night there.
On Tuesday morning, we left Rimini at 9am, finally arriving back in Havlíčkův Brod at 11:30pm. We stopped a few times in Italy, and also once in Austria, where I had a nice chat with a woman at the gas station/restaurant where I got a sandwich. It was a relief to be back in my apartment after such a long drive, and then I woke up Wednesday morning to a man from the internet company who came to install it, finally! Thus, I finally have internet in my apartment, which is a definite plus. I taught on both Wednesday and Thursday, and am hopefully done with the annoying introductory lessons (“Hello. My name is Matthew. I am an American from the state of Rhode Island, in-between Boston and New York.”).
On Friday morning, I shipped out once again on a train bound for Brno, where I met Jana during my 20 minute “layover.” I then boarded my second train headed for Hranice na Moravě, which would take two hours,
an hour of which I had to stand for. After about 45 minutes in Hranice, I boarded my third train, which was actually a Slovak train, and road another half hour (15 minutes standing) before getting off in Vsetín. There I met Calan, and she showed me some of the sites of the town. It’s a nice town right on the border of Slovakia, so the Czech spoken there is a strange combination of the two languages, and she’s also getting used to living life in one of the communist era apartment buildings. She’s here on the Fulbright teacher exchange, so now a Czech teacher is living and working at her school in Aspen. We went out for pizza, then spent a few hours planning an upcoming adventure (which at this point will remained undisclosed), and then went out to witness one of the coolest things I’ve seen. We went to a small pub, ironically named Amerika, where anyone could bring an instrument and play. When we got there, the musicians were taking a break, but promptly started up again. The men took to the stage, playing mostly violins, as well as some traditional Czech instruments, and took to playing.
The one on the right reminds me of Charlie.
One woman stood up and started singing quite loudly (and very well!), and began a traditional dance by herself. One by one, women from across the pub stood up and joined her in front of the playing men, and together, they danced traditional dances and sang traditional songs. Calan and I were both not expecting it, but it was such an awesome thing to witness. The song ended after about 10 minutes, and the musicians struck up a second tune, and this time, the men of the bar, who predominantly remained sitting, joined the women, and together they danced and sang. Even those still sitting sang along and swayed with the tune. It was an amazing experience and truly culture at its finest.
On Saturday morning, Emily, also a Fulbright exchange teacher from Washington state, arrived in Vsetín, so Calan gave us the extended tour, and then we hung out for the afternoon/evening. It was fun just to be with Americans, to talk about our experiences so far in our towns/cities and schools (both good and bad), as well as to speak in contractions! It’s surprisingly difficult not to speak with contractions in English, and I’ve discovered my students
With Jesus in the middle, inside of the major arches of the church.
first of all don’t understand much of what I say, and then have an even harder time if I speak in contractions. It was nice to be with Calan and Emily just to be able to speak normal, real English, as opposed to the stale English spoken in schools. We also skyped with Alex about our pending adventure, and so we got some Nebraskan dialect into the mix.
Today, Emily and I set out on the same train back to our respective cities. By car, we probably live about 45 minutes away from each other. Of course, the trains here go in such a round-about way that we could only travel about an hour together before we split in Olomouc. Ironically, we’re both on trains headed for Prague, but she had to be on a different one than the one we started out on. It’s taking me now about four and a half hours to get back to Havlíčkův Brod, and it will take her somewhere between six and seven hours to get back to Tábor. The weekend was fun, though, and I’m glad I got to see anoter side of the Czech Republic. Now I’ll be back in
With the lamb in the middle.
Havlíčkův Brod, but next weekend Libor, Alex and I might be headed to Prague to meet and see the Bruins, which would be cool! On Sunday, we might also go to Pardubice to see some horse races, but I’m not sure about it. There’s just no stopping, but hey, Fulbright’s only a year!
Well, that’s about it for me at the moment. I hope you’ll enjoy my pictures, and I’ll talk to you all soon!
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