Unearthing Firsts

It was my first experience abroad. July 2004. Eighteen going on nineteen. Finally travelling to the country of which I had always dreamed. I scribbled much less than I experienced. But, there are some nuggets of reflection to enjoy from my one month studying abroad in Bergamo, Italy:

July 03 2004
Charming Italian man with piercing blue eyes on my flight from Dublin to Milan. Helped with luggage and helped me find where to go.

Found Silvia. Silvia and I conversed in both languages. I can’t express how independent and good I felt as I communicated in another language. We took a bus to downtown Milan, then took the subway to the train station. There were many stairs and very few escalators, so toting luggage a huge challenge. But four men helped on separate occasions as we made our way through.

Once we got to the train station, I saw some scattered pictures of hardcore porn strewn about and accepted it as ‘the good comes with the bad’ just as in any American city. However, when we got on the train, there was another train stopped next to ours. When I looked over, some man had his pants down and was pointing to his huge xxx as he wagged it and nodded his head perversely. I immediately turned away and felt repulsed and embarrased – thinking I would never see that in America. (But, that’s not true. I saw it on a road trip in a nearby car).

First the mountains greet me with my arrival to Bergamo. But when we got off the train a man offered to help with my ridiculous amount of luggage. Sara and Giovanna Bonicelli met Silvia and I at the train station in Bergamo and Silvia said goodbye. She is a tutor and we’ll meet once a week and I can call her anytime. Sara is a friend of Simonetta (who is still at work). They know very little English but I am able to express a lot and they compliment me on my Italian.

The house of Bonicelli is very big. It’s gated with a courtyard, 3 stories. Inside the floor is cold, hard marble. It feels wonderful to walk barefoot on the marble. There are walk-out terraces out of almost every room. There is no air conditioning but the doors to the terraces open and there is a constant cool, fresh breeze.

I put my things in one of the rooms and we immediately go eat. Fresh romaine lettuce, fresh cherry tomatoes, three cheeses – parmigiano, a Bergamo specialty and a Fiorenze (Florence) specialty. The cheese is eaten by simply cutting chunks from big blocks and eating it by hand. Fresh cherries, just like those from our tree in our backyard at home. Seasoned cheese bread with seasoned tomato cooked into the middle. Bread with olives cooked in it. Deli ham – the taste is a real ham taste without preservatives and is very good! Simple, yet more delicious than most of what I eat at home. Now I understand the author more in Under the Tuscan Sun when I read her descriptions of the food. As we eat, the cool breeze flows in from a patio two feet away. It is lightly laden with the scent of jasmine, which creeps up the wall just outside…

I wish I could paint this beautiful scene and capture the cool, fresh scent and soft, caressing touch of the breeze… did I just step into a novel? I believe I did.

After lunch, I shower in the beautiful bathroom with a hand held shower head. It is a little more difficult than at home, but couldn’t be more fitting and romantic! Then I put my things away in the room and shortly after doze in bed… weak with jet lag. A cool breeze flutters in from the terrace and tickles my skin as I drift to sleep. The sounds of the motorinos and the blare of car horns fade as I leave one dream for another. At 7:30 pm Giovanna wakes me for dinner. Simonetta has arrived from work and joins us. She knows a lot of English and speaks it well, so the communication is much easier. For dinner we have egg shaped balls of mozzarella cheese; salad with olive oil, cherries, cherry tomatoes, a pesto pasta and a tomato pasta, more of the bread from before, a mix of freshly cooked carrots, artichokes and cucumber in some delicious creamy sauce. I even tried a piece of unbreaded fish (the only thing I did not car for). The vegetable, fruits and pastas have such authentic, fresh tastes that I’ve never been introduced to before. I have never eaten so well. And oddly enough, despite how wonderful everything is, I don’t have the urge to overeat and over stuff myself like I do at home. As we eat, we all talk and laugh and Giovanna is a character as she tries to use some English to explain what she’s trying to say. Sara and Simonetta playfully poke fun at her. Then Simonetta, Sara and I walk, past lo stadio (stadium), to the gelateria (Italian ice cream shop) for dessert. Two neighbors join us. There are so many different flavors! Walnut, Pistacio, melone (cantelope) and more! I choose mint and stracciatella (milk with pieces of chocolate). Delicioso! We talk and walk back.

Simi shows me pictures of her dad.


Drift to sleep to the sound of birds chirping.

June 04 2004
I wake up around 5:00 am to the sound of birds drowned out by the passing of heavy trucks. Dogs begin a chorus of howls somewhere that echo through the walls of nearby houses… I think I’m in heaven. I swing my feet over the bed and my soles are greeted with the cold, refreshing marble floor. Something to add to my list of favorite things! My stomach growls with hunger and I am excited to try to and imagine what Giovanna will cook for breakfast!

At 7:00 am I hear church bells…

Breakfast: cornflakes, small pre-buttered rolls with jelly, espresso (the best ever!), yogurt

Simi and I take off for Citta Alta. Simi shows me how to get to Citta Alta by bus and funiculare. When we could see it, it took my breath away. It is exactly what I would envision an Italian town to look like: old stone buildings, stacked on top of each other with a bit of bedraggled character. Narrow cobblestone streets. Clock towers. Broad archways. Big, stone walls covered in moss and flowers. A central piazza with a very old fountain. Cyclists whizzing by, bells chiming. Smells of bread waft enticingly. The view of the mountains is indescribable – the exact definition of picturesque. I am in love with Italy and I never want to go back home…

We walked back to the house and I decide I want to walk everyday instead of taking the bus so that I might enjoy the town.

We met Giovanna at the hospital and met her vecchia madre (old mother). The hospital is more like a beautiful mansion. Outside with a large square in the middle. It is incredible.

Return. Eat salad, tomatoes, mixed with chunks of mozzarella, small foccacia bread, pizza bread, foccacia with olives, carne (meat), the 3 cheeses and some of the best gelato (ice cream).

Simi loves race cars, races and Ferrari.

Pick up another student from MU – Lakeshia – at the train station. She was a little standoffish, but I think she was tired (wrong!). Simi and I shop at Orio center. Dinner lots of laughs. Chicken and veggies, carrots, quiche, Bianca wine, small torte, caramelized onions.

July 05 2004
First day of school… entrance exam! Eek!

July 08 2004
Rainy. Lakeisha, Jess and I go to the Irish pub where we meet Diego, Marco, Alex and Michiele. Kiss Diego. We girls go home.

July 09 2004
Diego, Marco and Alex escort Lakeisha and I to La Garda, to the thermal baths. Moonlight. Warm ponds. Soft grass. Grotto. Hot tubs. Wine and cheese and pane (bread).

July 20 2004
Venezie (Venice) with Laurie.

July 12 2004
No soccer game. Booo. Marco and I argue and… finally kiss.

July 13 2004
Went to Marco’s house where he lives in a gorgeous family compound (typical of Italians). His small apartment is luxurious. We kiss. He feeds me gelato. I have him take me home.

July 16 2004
It’s my birthday!! (I’m now 19.) Beautiful flowers, card, and delicious colazione da Giovanna e Simonetta. Citta Alta a notte (by night) with Lakeisha and the others. See the guard Julius – an adorable little old man who greets me daily on my walks to my Italian classes. He cups my face in my hands and gives me the sweetest and warmest birthday greeting of my life… in Italian of course. La dolce vida.

July 16 2004
Lago di Como (Lake Como) during the day. George Clooney has a house on this breathtaking lake framed by the ice-capped mountains of Switzerland. I wander into the small village town first and find artists displaying their work in a small piazza, tucked back into an enchanting labyrinth. I’m excited because it was an entire five minutes of conversation before one old man, an artist, stopped to ask me where I’m from. My Italian is getting better little by little!

Mountains with Simi in the evening. Special pizza. Yum!

July 18 2004
Go to mountain home with Simi and her friends to see waterfall. Antonio is gorgeous but married with kids.

July 22 2004
Met Denis e Maurizio at pub. Diego shows up with Leo, Giorgio and Robbi.

La festa (party) at the pub.

July 23 2004
Lunch with Sergio. Pub with Leon, Giorgio, Diego, Michiele. Club Fluid with Pietro, Simon, Judith and Catya.

July 24 2004
Travel to Fiorenze in the early morning. I split from the “downers” and stay in a tent hostel by myself instead of sharing a room with the other girls.

July 25 2004
Return from Fiorenze.

July 27 2004
Walk with Danielle, Vica e Maria.

July 28 2004
Sergio, Vica and Maria.

July 29 2004
Pub: Leonardo, Giorgio, Robbi, Diego, Maruizio, Denis, girls, Michiele (he looks like Eric Bana, Hector in the Troy movie). Long talk with Simon.

July 30 2004
Pub: everybody I think? Goodbye to the Italian students! They’re going home. I stay in Bergamo…

July 31 2004
Everyone goodbye!

Aug 01 2004
Try to find the illuminated lights in Santa Maria Maggiore at 6:00 pm. Giovanna urged me to go. First, I meet Judith. We can’t find the entrance so we wander Citta Alta instead. We start walking to Citta Bassa looking for something to do. We meet Stefano and Vita. Piazza. New club in Citta Alta. Beautiful. Posh. Overlooking the city below. We all go to La Garda (natural mountain lake). House. Pool. Kiss Vita. Sleep.

Aug 02 2004
Return to Bergamo in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep in. Judith and I meet Stefano at the pub. We all pick up Vita and meet their friends at another pub. Should we take off? Go to Paris???! Miss my flight?? Not yet ready for such impulsive decisions…

Aug 03 2004
Purchase train ticket to Milan. Pub with Judith one last time…

Aug 04 2004
Fly from Milan to Dublin. Layover. Middle-aged Irish man helps me with my luggage as trudge along the outskirts of Dublin looking for my B&B. Locky takes me to the most local, Irish pub one could hope for. I walk in… all eyes are on my. I am definitely the foreigner and I definitely do not belong. I love it. This is what travel is about. Raw culture and uncomfortable situations. I have my first authentic Guinness at this bar – Gravediggers. One of the first bars to ever serve the infamous Irish stout says Locky. I’ve never had a better Guinness in my life. From this day forward Guinness is my favorite beer. We move on to Kavanaugh’s and Tom + Nic. More Guinness at each. Yup. The Irish know how to drink. Locky drops me off at my B&B. Belly full of Guinness, I sleep well and easy.

Aug 05 2004
Locky drops me off in the center of Dublin. Tells me the sites I can’t miss. Christ Church Cathedral and St. Stephen’s Green. And Locky’s personal recommendation St. Michens. Most tourists don’t know about it, he says. True. Maybe four others when I find it. Guided on a tour to the crypts below. Corpses naturally preserved from the limestone and cool temps. Touch the decaying hand of an actual crusader. His skeleton exposed in his decaying coffin. The tour guide is the epitome of the Irish man. Small. Slightly funny looking. Thick thick Irish accent. Full of charming jokes and wit that make our sides split with laughter. Well, me at least. The other tourists were kind of… dull.

Aug 06 2004/04
Fly back. Pick up my luggage. Realize I left my camera – all the photos from my trip – on the plane. Some memories are lost. Some… locked in my heart forever.

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One Response to “Unearthing Firsts”

  1. [...] after discovering the journal entries from my first trip abroad in Italy (which I just published in Unearthing Firsts), I am once again inspired to make another go. As a professional writer who hopes to one day [...]

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