Monday, December 7, 2009

Final Blog

I have decided that this will be my last blog. I have 6 more days and I will be home.... Since I really do not have much to say about what all I have been doing lately, since I have not been traveling, I would like to take this time to talk about what I have learned and how I have grown in the 4 months that I have been away.

I have learned to be more confident and proud of how well I have done in music. I have always enjoyed singing but I never really felt like I was good enough to go anywhere with it. After spending time in Italy with new people and new teachers I really have come to understand that with hard work, like every other singer, I can do great things. My teachers have all been very encouraging. I have learned new methods to practice and to look at a song. My patience with myself has grown tremendously as well. Instead of letting my perfectionist take over and getting frustrated when I can't do something immediately, I simply relax and understand that maybe it just is not the right day for me.

I have spent time with all kinds of people while here in Italy. I have become friends with Americans from different back grounds, Indonesians, Turkish, Japanese, and Italians. Although we differ in culture and how and where we were raised, everyone wants the same thing: Acceptance and happiness. We all get joy out of the same things: honesty, accomplishment, and genuine care from other people. I see that everyone will not always agree with me but it is ok. Surrounding myself with diverse people has taught me patience, love, and understanding.

I will have to say, I really was not that nervous coming to a new country with all new people for such an extended period of time. I think maybe I should have been more nervous, but it was something I really wanted to do. Now I see that it was something I needed to do. I was nervous about learning Italian. I really thought it was going to be impossible because I did not have much confidence in my ability to learn a new language. I did very well and actually feel quit comfortable speaking it. No, I am not all that advanced but I have learned enough to be able to carry on a conversation with people that do not know any English at all.

Friendship and Family:
I feel like I have grown closer to my family since being overseas. It has given us the opportunity to share experiences with each other and not have to be in the same room. I realized how important my ENTIRE family is to me and how much I love being with them, not just on holidays, but throughout the year. I know that I will definitely spend a lot more time with everyone in my family when I go home. With friends, I have learned who my real friends are at home and have made several very good friends here in Italy. My new friends here have taught me what it means to look past each other's flaws and genuinely accept people for who they are. Knowing and understanding that people are imperfect are two totally different things... but now I understand rather than just know. Any bitterness and hostility I held toward people before I came to Italy is gone now. I understand that people make decisions, good or bad, and there will always be consequences but it is not up to me to enforce those consequences.

I am not saying that living in Italy has made me perfect, by any means. I am saying that it has made me less likely to throw the first stone.

Thanks for following, I hope you have enjoyed my experience as much as I have. Maybe it will even encourage you or someone you know to travel abroad for an extended period of time. I know it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

Love in Christ,
Valerie Joy Wilke

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving and three weeks

This year was the first time I was away from home for Thanksgiving. Now, it is three weeks until I go home... all of this is still sinking in.

I knew that Thanksgiving was coming up but it did not feel like Thanksgiving at all. All of my American friends were exciting and preparing big dinners for friends, but for me, Thanksgiving isn't real unless I am with my family. It is one of my favorite holidays because all my life my family has made a big deal out of it. We always went out to mama and papa's (grandparents) house and cooked turkey and all kinds of stuff that I never really liked. I think one of the funniest things for me, looking back, is that I was so picky about what I ate that my family had to make more food just so that I would eat something. Now, that is not a problem, I will eat just about anything. However, since they added in all the different foods, they are now a staple. I missed them this year. The turkey and ham that I never used to like, the maccaroni and cheese that i have always loved, rice, green beans, etc. Oh and the desserts... I missed that a lot. We always cook enough food for an army and the dessert table was usually just as large as the dinner table.

My Thanksgiving this year consisted of me going to Bologna (the best city in the world) and spending time with a couple of friends. It was a good time, walking around the city, eating pizza. It was not the same, though. I know next year I will really appreciate the holiday with my family more than I ever have. Missing Thanksgiving, this year, was one of the first times I was really homesick. I also missed another big SC holiday recently... the Clemson v. Carolina football game. Wow... what a bummer with how that one turned out! It was so nice to get a phone call from my family and talk to a few of them while the game was going on. When they told me how badly the game was going and how my brother was acting, I could see him in my mind pacing back and forth, growling, and clenching his fists. Although I did NOT want my team to lose... it was a good, familiar thought to have about him. Every year, for a while now, I have watched the game with my brother, sister-in-law, and their friends. I really missed that this year.

In three weeks I will be heading home. Wow. This semester is flying by. All of my friends go home in two weeks, so I will have one week here to just work on music. I think that week is going to be a long one, I will be ready to home by then. Christmas is coming up and I really want to see all of my mom and grandma's Christmas decorations. I now have to decide what songs I am going to sing for my family for Christmas and finish up the shopping. Wow... time flies...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Living like the Europeans

This past week has been a lot of fun because I have spent a lot of time with friends and have rarely spent any time in the house. Some of you may know exactly why I needed this... but now it seems to have caught up with me. I have not gotten very much sleep this week, so excuse me if I seem not so excited.

Last time I left you I talked about my fish dinner. The rest of the week after that is a big blur and some of it I cannot remember where the days end and begin. I went out to eat one night with a huge group of friends- it was a really good night. The group started out as being only a few of us and some how turned out to be about a group of 10. Lately it seems every-time I go out the groups just grow, grow, grow. It is really cool, but anyone that has spent any time in Europe knows that they do not split checks here... so trying to figure out how to pay is a big hassle. Trying to figure out how to pay usually takes a good 2o minutes or even more. After dinner, we went out to a bar and played darts and had a few drinks. It was a good time for sure! I got to meet a couple of new people that were all very nice and fun!

I would tell you more about what I did day to day... but it is all going to sound like what I just told you... so I will move on to something a bit more interesting.

This weekend I went to Dublin with my friend Heather. Our flight out was 7am Friday so we had to get up really early, but of course got in late... so we were running on about 2 hours of sleep. We made it to the airport in plenty of time, but while we were eating breakfast we were a bit delirious so we came up with a new head warming product and I wrote the jingle... it was ridiculous... but really funny. (of course we won't really produce it, haha, it was a joke) Our flights were rough landing.. the turbulence was rough. There was one flight that even the flight attendants were getting worried, but I prayed and everything came out just fine. I absolutely loved Dublin though. It was such a beautiful place, beautiful people, wonderful food, and many more things! We did not really go see any castles and what not because we stayed out late every night, so that meant sleeping in everyday. We met a lot of people from all over the world and had a great time! I toured the Guinness factory and that was really awesome! The Guinness factory is made to look like the production of the beer and to look like the inside of a pint of beer. The very top of the factory was the Gravity Bar which offered a 360 degree view of the city while you enjoy time with new people and a free beer.

I really loved Ireland so much, one weekend was not even close to being enough. I think one day I would like to live there... or at least back pack across the country for a while. Did you know that Irish is an actual language?? I sure didn't until I got there! I also did not know that I was going to be eating the best oysters in the world... and they definitely lived up to their reputation. This week and weekend was just full of food and fun... nothing big and exciting. No touristy things... just living the life of a European. I'm really beginning to fit in. I love it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

past, present, and food.

Time for another update already?? It seems like the closer my time comes to an end, the faster the trip goes. The longer I am here, the more I enjoy my time here.

This past week held some pretty cool adventures. School wise: It was my last week with my Italian level 2 teacher. I was very sad to know that I wasn't going to see her any more after that. The school had to cut down on the teachers. So, since she was the newest, she was the one to go. For the last day of class we just played games since it was only a half day. So, the night before I made some oatmeal/chocolate/peanut butter cookies. (thanks to Peggy's recipe... thanks Peggy!) The entire school LOVED them! That made me feel really good. I spent a good bit of time working on them and it was the first time I baked here in Italy. You would be surprised how hard it is to find oatmeal, cocoa and peanut butter! Just when I was about to give up, my friend Heather found it! I do need to send out a message, however, to Paula Dean. so here goes:

Dear Paula Dean,
You need to know, there IS such thing as too much butter! Sorry to break your heart!

haha. ok so here is what happened. I had a little bit of mix left and a little bit of butter. The mix was drying out so I decided to add the rest of the butter. I knew it was too much butter, but I thought I would see how it turned out anyway. They turned into a big soupy mess!! It actually looked like it would float. (it tasted terrible, too, by the way).

This weekend I decided to go to Napoli. I do not understand why people say "Do not go to Napoli." It is absolutely beautiful! I saw the two castles and sat next to the water eating REAL pizza!! I will say, the pizza was quite good! My second day in Napoli I jumped on the metro and went to Pompeii. I spent about 4-5 hours there. It was so cool to walk in the ruins of this town! I kind of felt like a kid again because when I was little I would pretend to have a house and my appliances looked like Pompeii looks now. (leave it to the immagination of a kid!) It was so amazing to know that people once lived there and their lives were ruined by the Volcano that you see so clearly in the back ground. The scenery was completely unreal! As soon as I walked in to Pompeii I was thinking "wow, I can actually kind of feel the lives of the people that were once here." There is one area that you can go see all of the objects that the architects have been able to preserve. There are several casts of people from the volcanic ash settling on them. I could see the sad and terrified expressions that they held on their faces when they were passing away. I will say that Pompeii was a very cool experience but also very sad at the same time. It is such a shame that those people and children had to lose their lives in such a horrific way, but if they hadn't we wouldn't know nearly as much about our past!

So this next little tid bit of information is for my family and close friends. I made a deal with one of my Italian friends here that I would make him cookies and he wanted to cook fish for me. He was sure that he could convince me to like fish. So, I said ok. Last night I ate with several friends and I brought cookies, he made the fish and the side dish, one person brought the appetizer, and another person brought some wine. The fish was..... AWESOME! I actually liked it a lot! The meal was fantastic all around! We even ended it the real Italian way, with a caffè (espresso).

I feel like every week here I grow as a person more and more. Living in another country and having to step out of my comfort zone has really taught me to be more mature and take care of what needs to be taken care of. I'm sure next week will hold even more fun and adventure!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

simplicty: the way to go!

This past week was the first week that Mason was gone, so I will admit that I was a bit sad. I had such a wonderful time with him here, traveling around Pisa, Firenze, and Paris. Going back to class and not being with him was a really sad thought. We had to get up really early for him to leave and of course we ran into problems with the bus. We thought the bus to the airport wasn't going to show (it was 4am so it was REALLY cold!) but it finally did. I went to the airport with him and cried as I walked away to get back on the bus. It was a good thing that I was really tired from traveling because it gave me an excuse to sleep for the rest of the day. Enough of the sob story!

This week was a relatively ordinary week. Classes and homework. I did go out with some friends a couple of times and it was a lot of fun. I have met a lot of people this week and I am happy for that but a little sad at the same time. I feel like it is so late in the semester for my having met people. I have finally been able to find situations that I've been able to meet Italians, Germans, Greeks, etc. but I am leaving in 6 weeks. I wish I had met these people earlier so that I would be able to have more time with them. One of the new people I met introduced me to a jazz club that I absolutely love, so we will be going there pretty often. The jazz club not only has jazz musicians but also classical musicians. It has a secret bathroom hidden in a book case and smells like the coffee shop at home. Needless to say, I felt completely at home!

This weekend I went to Bologna for the day, on Saturday. It worked out wonderfully because I had not really gotten the chance to spend time with one of my friends, Marissa, and she was going to the same city that I wanted to go to. So, the night before we went to a piano concert (which was one of the strangest things I have been too yet.) Then woke up the next morning and jumped on the train and went to Bologna. She has a friend in town but we could not meet with him until 1:00 so we walked around the town in the street market and then climbed the tower. The tower was very different than the other ones I have climbed because it had wooden steps and some places the steps were so narrow it was like climbing a ladder. We then went to the piazza where we were supposed to meet her friend. He then became our personal tour guide! We went to eat a place that only locals know about. We had a long wait, but it was definitely worth it! I had pasta, vegetables, tiramisu and coffee. By the time lunch was over I couldn't even think about moving (or eating) any more! Of course, that was only the beginning of our day. We then walked around town and Giovanni, our friend and tour guide, told us all about the city. We met his friend Diego who then hung out with us for the rest of the day. My favorite part was going to a church that was absolutely beautiful and looked like a story book! (when we got there, I looked at Giovanni and said "this is not real, you know." he laughed) Monks actually do live in this church so we were sure to be very quiet. I did not want to leave but we had to because I had not planned on staying. The last train out was 8:45 and I got my ticket at 8:37. I had to run about half a km to the train so we barely made it!

This week was a simple week but I really enjoyed it once I got out of the house and started doing things. I feel like I did not get enough time in Bologna so I am planning on going back. It was a beautiful city with no tourists (Except for Marissa and I haha). The food was amazing, the lights were amazing, and the view was breath taking!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Paris, Pisa, and Firenze with Mason!

I realize that I did not blog last week. I have two simple reasons for that: Mason came on Saturday and nothing significant happened to blog about. So this week blog will be all about my travels with Mason.

Mason was here for 9 days and we went to Pisa, Paris, and spent some time in Firenze, of course. The first night he was here he was extremely jet lagged so we only went out to eat. Nothing exciting really. However, the next day (Sunday) we got up and jumped on the train to go to Pisa. Did it go that smoothly? No, of course not. I forgot that the time had changed, so we got up an hour earlier than we really needed to and (thought) we bought the wrong train tickets. They turned out to be the right ones so we ended up having double the tickets. I was a bit irritated with that because that was wasted money but I held on to the tickets just in case I wanted to use them again. When we got to Pisa things went smoothly and we made it to the leaning tower, baptistery, etc. with no problem. Pisa was beautiful! We climbed to the top of the tower and went in the duomo, baptistery, and cemetery. He was so glad to be able to go to Pisa since he did not get to visit when he was in Italy a year ago. When we climbed to the top of the tower I was terrified because... well... it was leaning! I have vertigo and (obviously) really bad ankles and feet. So, as soon as I stepped into the tower I was fearing for my life. I did make it to the top, though, and the view was phenomenal! Walking down the tower was much more terrifying than going up, but I made it and was glad that I did it!

The next day we stayed in town and walked around. I cooked for him several times and he was impressed! So that made me really happy! That night we found an awesome deal to go to Paris, so we decided to go to Paris at the last minute.

I had to sit in the immigration office for the entire morning and afternoon. I had to get my temporary residency permit. It took so long I was beginning to get concerned because it was taking so long and we had to get on the train to go to Pisa, which was where we flew from (to go to Paris). I got out of the immigration office just in time to grab a sandwich and (literally) run and jump on the train. (this is where those extra Pisa tickets worked out- we did not have to buy new ones!). We got to the airport in plenty of time. However, we started getting concerned because the flight got delayed and when Ryan Air delays that usually means they will cancel the flight and not give you money back for the missed flight! The flight did show up, though, and we got on the plane with no more problems. We made it to Paris after a couple of hours... and that started a whole new ordeal.

We had originally booked a three person room but they put us in a four person- with no discount. However, they made up for it by putting us in a better room at no extra cost. We also had a hard time finding places to eat that took credit card- but eventually found places that worked out. We visited the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame (climbed to the top), saw the big arch, the Louvre (spent 3 hours and only covered on floor), and Sacre Coeur (the highest point in Paris). Paris was absolutely beautiful and we had a fantastic time! We got to see everything during the day and at night when it was lit up. I was so happy to be able to spend several days with Mason in Paris. I couldn't have asked for a better time! We had fantastic crepes and quiche!

We left Paris at night and came back to Firenze (Florence). We got back too late to do anything but get checked into the hostel and go to bed. The next day was Mason's last day and we went to the Uffizzi and ate some awesome Italian food at my favorite restaurant in town! We had to go to bed early because he had to be up by 3:00 since his flight was at 7:15. We had a bit of trouble with the bus to the airport but we did make it in time, so everything worked out fine.

It was so hard for me to say goodbye to him. I won't get to be with him for another 7 weeks. I just hope these next 7 weeks go by as fast as the past 8 have. I was so happy to have him here, it was by far the best time I have had in Europe yet!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh yeah... this is Italy... I forgot.

This week was a focus on a couple of specific friends. School was about the same for me except for a test. My weekend, however, was rather interesting and humorous.

My friend Melissa, from LA, finished her program this week. So Wednesday night the whole group went out to eat for her going away party. It was a lot of fun but I was not ready to say bye. Every time she tried to say goodbye I would say "there are no goodbyes, only see ya laters!" That night was a really cold night too! Everyone went out to the bar after dinner but I opted out because it was already midnight and I had an exam the next day. I caught a taxi home. That was the first time since the first week in September that I have gotten a taxi. Then, Thursday was my friend Heather's birthday. So, Thursday night we all went out to eat. The food was amazing and we all had a great time! The Italians attempted to sing Happy Birthday but only sang the last line of the song. So we were a bit confused and it all turned into a big blunder of "duh duh duhs" and "la la las" and "birthday."

I had my final test for Italian level 1. This semester is going by so fast! I can't believe how quickly everything is flying by! It won't be long and I will be back in good ol' South Carolina! I am happy about that, but definitely not ready all at the same time!

So for my weekend:
Friday night was a late night because that was the last night Melissa was going to be here. She had to leave really early Saturday morning for her flight so several of us spent our time with her. We hung out at her apartment and went to the bar. That is about it. Saturday I did nothing because I wanted to sleep in and then go out of town for the day on Sunday so I stayed home and saved money. Well, Sunday came and it was the most interesting part of my week. Here is the story:

I looked all week for places to go over the weekend that would be affordable. I decided that the town of Rimini would be a nice place to go (pictures are on my facebook). It was supposed to have a nice beach and some nice ruins from the Roman period. The train was supposed to leave at 9:40am so I dragged myself out of the bed at 8:30 in the morning (when I could have been sleeping) and got to the train station by 9:15 and bought the ticket. The train never came. So, my options were to wait until 11:40 for the next train or go to a different place. I decided to wait it out.

I got to Rimini by about 3pm. I read online that I should get a bus to the historic district. So I finally found where to get the bus tickets and the bus stop. I then waited 45 minutes for the bus to come. I got on the bus and was not sure where to get off. We passed the large arch that I had read about, so I figured the next stop would be a good place to get off. Well, the next stop was residential. So I waited until we got back in town... which was another hour! I realized that I had kind of turned into the crazy old people that ride public buses for entertainment. So I jumped off the bus with the most normal looking people that were on the bus as well. I turned around and realized that we were back at the archway. I decided to walk around and take pictures and maybe try to find all the ruins that I had read about. Of course, I never found them. So I walked around and decided to take pictures of leaves, trees, and flowers. I mean, after all, I needed to have some kind of pictures!

It was about 5:00pm by this time and the last train left at 6:20 to go back to Florence. (It is about a 3-3.5 hour trip) I then saw that there were a lot of people down the road so I walked over to see what was going on. It was nothing too interesting so I kept walking to see the town. I then turned down a road and saw something that looked kind of nice. As I walked closer I realized that it was the train station! *Light Bulb* I never needed to buy the tickets or wait on the bus or even ride the bus! That was a bit frustrating. So I thought "With how this day is going, I need to just go ahead and buy my ticket and wait the last 40 minutes at the station. I don't want anything else going wrong today" (Boy was I wrong!)

I had two options: one train that went straight back to Florence or another one that required me to change stations like I had earlier. I opted for the straight shot. Yes, it was more expensive but it was quicker and left less room for human error. At about 15 minutes until I was supposed to leave I checked to see which track the train was coming in to. Of course, it was not showing. Panic mode went off in my mind for about 10 minutes. It left me just enough time to realize that that train was not coming and I had to hurry and buy another ticket so I could get on the train that went to a different station. Well, I got to the second station and was going to buy my ticket and then realized I was 55 cent short because the second ticket I bought at the previous station was a lot more expensive. I had 20 minutes to figure out what to do. So I tried to use my credit card in the machine... It would not accept the card. So then I walked around trying to find an ATM- there wasn't one. I started panicking a little again because this was the last train home. So I got in the line to buy a ticket at the window and, literally, prayed that God would help this guy work quickly. I got to the window- and in my extremely broken Italian- told the guy that I needed a ticket to Firenze. I had to put the last 55 cent on my credit card (he was not very happy about that). I got my ticket and had three minutes to stamp it and get on the train. I barely made it. However, I did make it. When I got home, I was thinking "this would only happen to me! How do two trains in one day just not show up... oh yeah... this is Italy. I forgot for a few minutes."

How is that for interesting?