Tuesday, September 25, 2012

YES! I WENT SKYDIVING!!! (video included)

Well, this summer I went to Germany, France, England, and all over Italy, graduated, and spoke at convocation. At the end of August, I started my masters program in Marriage and Family Therapy at BYU (which I love!). Now that life has gotten back into a steady pace, I decided that it was about time to spice it up! So—to keep from getting bored—I decided it was time to jump out of a plane. Yes, I went skydiving!

This cheesy smile was plastered on my face for hours

I went with my friend Kevin Gee in Tuella, Utah. We actually tried to go last weekend, but the plane broke before we went up. I know what you're going to say (because my grandma and about 47 other people already have), "So you went to get back on that dysfunctional plane?" But hey, if it breaks again—at least I have a parachute—it was probably the safest I've ever been on a plane.
I could not stop smiling on the drive to Tuella, I was so excited! When we arrived, I met the man who would be filming my jump and taking pictures; he works in the music industry full time, knows Justin Bieber, and complimented my Bieber Fever bowling league shirt (everyone else just gave me a hard time haha I truly thought I was going to wear a jump suit...didn't give much thought to my wardrobe). I wasn't at all nervous about skydiving UNTIL—that is—I met my instructor, Blake. Not that he didn't have adequate experience; on the contrary, he has been doing this full time for the last 30 years. The problem was that he decided that the walk to the plane would be a good time to tell me about all the skydiving mishaps and fatalities in the last few years. Who does that? More than anything though, he just made me laugh. I was overly jittery on the plane ride up and resorted to talking everyone's ears off in attempt to distract myself.

And then, in what seemed like seconds, we had reached 13,000 feet and were ready to jump!  Before I could wrap my mind around it all, I saw my 6'5" friend, Kevin, jump out of the plane with his 5'6" instructor (yeah—it was a sight! Their landing was pretty epic as well). Then, it was my turn. I put my feet over the ledge, looked down and felt like I had no perception of depth. I rocked backwards, listened to Blake (my instructor) count "1, 2, 3!" and—like nothing—did a gainer out of the plane! Free falling though the air was amazing! I know we were going fast, but I had no perception of my speed or the rate I was falling at. With the help of the wind blowing my cheeks upward, I'm pretty positive that I had a bigger, cheesier smile on my face than ever before.
We did a gainer out of the plane!

It was amazing to b so high above the ground! 
Blake didn't love my hair in his face. Fortunately for me, I was a little too preoccupied to notice
Blake got scared and hid in my hair.

The free fall only lasted about a minute, and then Blake pulled the parachute. I guess I don't need to explain the details of that, but gliding down was just as amazing as the free fall. We did all sorts of spins and I could steer the chute wherever my heart pleased. My favorite part was the stalls—which give you the sensation of weightlessness. The whole thing only lasted about 6 or 7 minutes, but it was 7 minutes of absolute bliss! My landing went pretty well—Blake and I stayed on our feet, but then kind of staggered around like drunks before regaining our balance...My ears were plugged for the next 3 hours, but it was worth it! Skydiving was amazing—being able to float above the clouds and to look down on the world! Let's just say this is not going to be a once in a lifetime experience, I want to go again, and hopefully soon!

Landed on our feet!

My instructor. The one who decided to tell me stories about skydiving fatalities before I jumped...

Kevin, myself, and Blake

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back in America :)

Time is flying! I really can’t believe that it has been three weeks since I returned home from Italy. Three weeks since I spent 24 hours straight traveling in heals, without sleeping. The first American airport I got to was definite culture shock, I kept accidently saying ‘no grazie’ and ‘si’ instead of thank you and yes.
Surprisingly, the first thing that stood out to me was that the American women paid far more attention to me (smiling and making small talk) than Italian woman, and that the American men paid far less (no winks, cat calls, excessive compliments or anything of the likes!). I got home and suffered from reverse jetlag, hardly sleeping. Strange, I know. The first time I used the restroom, it took me three tries to figure out how to flush the toilet—I pressed on the wall first, then the top of the toilet, before remembering that American toilets flush differently, and reached for the knob to flush. Mamma mia! (<< a phrase I still constantly use and one that my family gives me a hard time for).
I had two cheese burgers in my first three days at home, went shooting, and made my way over to Seattle for a major league baseball game with the family—does it get more American than that? I’ve attended two weddings as well—my little sister, Kalei Riggin’s, and one of my best friend’s, Codi Kubik. It’s funny, as many weddings as I’ve attended, I feel like I’ve missed even more—I got on Facebook and saw that several friends are either engaged or married, people whom I swear were single when I left three months prior! I guess that’s Utah. 

Mariner's game with the cousins :)

Thanks for all you do Grandpa Bob!
The siblings at Kalei's wedding

Shooting with my brother and grandpa

Codi's Bridal Shower at the Melting Pot in SLC

Caught the bouquet at Codi's wedding; Dun dun dunnnnn ;)

I already walked in BYU graduation in April, but while I was in Italy I was informed that I was valedictorian and was asked to speak at convocation! So, graduation: take two! Speaking was an absolutely AMAZING experience, and was made even better because the chair of my graduate program—an outstanding woman named Leslie Feinauer—was also speaking. Everything felt surreal and now that it’s over, it almost doesn’t even seem like it happened. I remember sitting there—in the front row of the stage—hearing the presenter announce my name. For a split second, I considered staying put, but found myself walking up to the podium and, before I knew it, started speaking. I had my printed-off-speech in hand, but didn’t look at it once—everything just seemed to flow. I wasn’t anxious or nervous at all, but just felt calm. Even now, it seems like a distant memory, but it happened! And I am so grateful for that opportunity and hope that the things I shared touched a person or two; they were from the heart.
Valedictorian Poster in the JFSB
Kierea Meloy, psychology with an emphasis in clinical psychology, the daughter of Michael and Jody Riggin, and the late Jeffry Meloy, is from Selah, Washington. Kierea recently conducted an independent field study in Italy. She served in the presidency of Psi Chi, worked as a Freshman Mentor, interned with Dr. Michael Larson in his neuropsychological lab and with the Flourishing Family’s Project. Kierea presented at the Mary Lou Fulton Conference and was published in the International Neuropsychological Society Journal. Kierea was a four year recipient of the Marine Corp League Northwest scholarship. Kierea volunteered with BYU’s Special Olympic Program, for the campaign team of BYUSA’s president elect, and with various other organizations. She enjoys rock climbing and racquetball, has won BYU’s Division 1 intramural volleyball championship and BYU’s Bowling League. Upon graduation, Kierea will attend BYU’s top ranked Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s program and aspires to open a private practice.

Valedictorian Medallion 

My brother, Tanner, and I

Honestly, the last three months of my life hardly seem real. I feel so lucky to have gotten to spend that time in a beautiful country, to have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people, and to have experienced things both hard and wonderful that have truly changed me in more ways than I can even express. Things feel easy here in many ways—like the fact that I can ask any random stranger a question and there would be no language or communication barrier. Or that I can go to Wal-Mart and get everything I could possibly need in one stop (including peanut butter!). I’m sure life will not seem quite so easy in two weeks when I start my master’s program. I’m not worried though, I’m looking forward to it—it’s exciting to get to study exactly what I want to study (Marriage and Family Therapy). So—once again—I’m not exactly sure what my next phase of life will hold, but I couldn’t be more excited to find out! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ciao Ciao Italia! Mi mancherai :)

It is 4:47am and I am lying in my bed back home in Washington. I have been trying to fall back asleep for the last hour or so...I thought that jetlag would make me want to sleep all the time, but I've hardly slept since I left Italy. I woke up at 6am Monday morning, got ready and headed to the airport in Rome with Diego. My first plane ride was 10 hours (in which time I watched 4 1/2 movies) and second was 6 hours. My total travel time with layovers, car rides, and whatnot was 26 hours. I slept 2 of them. While I wish I could sleep more than the 3 hours I slept tonight, I figure, since I'm up that I might as well get caught up on the blog. 

My last week in Italy was wonderful—not because it was a crazy week of traveling or anything, but more so because it was normal. And I guess normal is a relative term, one that should probably never be used to describe Italy...so I suppose relaxed is a better descriptor. I got to spend time relaxing with friends and enjoying the place I've called home for the last three months. It's wonderful to get to the point where you really do start thinking of the place you live as home, but it does make it that much harder to leave...I think back to my first day in Rome; I arrived on my birthday and was amazed by the city, beyond excited to eat gelato, and completely unsure of what the next three months of my life would hold. I'd gone to Italy alone, had no friends, and accidently ordered my first pizza by saying, 'Posso andare quello pizza?' which means 'Can I go to that pizza?" I couldn't figure out the train/metro/bus system or how to get the sink to turn on so I could wash my hands in public restrooms (you press a lever with your foot, tricky little buggar). Italians knew I was American from a mile away and I blushed half the time when someone would kiss me on the cheeks for a greeting. I can't say I don't still make my fair share of mistakes when I speak Italian (like when I was telling a story, and accidently started talking about saliva...oh mamma mia), but after three months, so much has changed. I am still amazed by the city and I am always excited to eat gelato, but now I know my way around—I know the best places to get gelato (right near the Spanish steps), I can order pizza correctly and carry on a conversation with just about anyone. I know the metro system like the back of my hand and can talk a street vendor down to a cheap price like no one's business. People don't initially assume I'm American, and I am proud to say that, of all the people on my plane ride home, I looked least American (In typical Italian fashion, I was dressed up and in heels; I wasn't thinking about the fact that I would be flying back to the States with a bunch of Americans wearing running shorts and flip flops...). Most importantly though, I made friends in Italy—great friends who have impacted me more than they will ever know know and whom I truly love (Te voglio bene!).

That week I finished up my interviews for my research—it seems so strange to be done. I remember when I first got to Italy and started talking with people and researching premarital relationships and courting. I constantly told myself, 'Nothing is better or worse [in Italy or the States] just different.' But I didn't believe it, not really—everything was a comparison in my mind. Now, I often find myself thinking more like an Italian; I feel like I not only love the culture, but I understand it. My mind has really been opened and I'm excited to see how my cultures will merge being back in the States.

I spent two of my last days just enjoying Rome; I love how I've been there for such a long time and how it hasn't lost one ounce of its magic. I've been to the Colosseum a dozen times, but its massiveness never seems any less impressive. I felt like I could take the time actually enjoy the city, not being like a tourist in a rush to get pictures of all the amazing monuments. I actually didn't really take pictures. I just went to my favorite places and enjoyed being in the moment. I ate my favorite gelato (coco, biscotta, & panna cotta from Marriotti) on the Spanish Steps and watched people experience Rome for the first time. I said goodbye to Piazza Venezia (where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is) and made my last wish (for now) in the Trevi Fountain (Don't fret, it was a good one!).

Colosseum. Rome, Italy

Inside the Colosseum with Malia!

The Spanish Steps; Aka: the best place to enjoy gelato :)
My Favorite Gelataria in Rome

I got to enjoy some delicious Italian pizza and spend a night on the La Dispole beach with friends—the things I will miss the most about Rome, and Italy in general. Yes, the monuments are amazing and seeing the world is a wonderful thing, but what's the point of doing wonderful things if you don't have anyone to share it with? I absolutely hated saying goodbye to everyone. I had this random urge to just run out without having to deal with any of it, but fought that urge and the building lump in my throat, and was able to get stocked up on kisses (cheek kisses:) before heading to the States. I was glad that I'd written everyone notes because it was almost too hard to say what I wanted to say to them out-loud. It's funny—I feel like a couple days before I left I was dreading it, but then I felt ready...it wasn't until Sunday that the sad feeling hit me. It's strange to leave a place and people and not know when you will ever see them again... I feel like I already miss the little things the most. I miss eating dinner with my host family, Mara and Diego (host mom and brother). I miss Diego judging every recipe I made with a number value from 1 to 10 (and never giving me higher than an 8.5!). I miss going to institute, I miss making last minute decisions and hopping on a train to the city of my choice, I miss not understanding all of the Italian humor, and not having anyone understand that there is a state, and not just a city, named Washington. And obviously, I miss the people the most. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend three months of my life racking up such wonderful memories and having such a life changing experience. I feel like I will tell stories about this summer until the day I die. Words fail to adequately describe the amazing experiences I have had living in Italy. I left a piece of my heart there and I truly believe that going there—uncertainties and all—was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and one that has already changed my life for the better. Mi mancherai!

And some random pictures :)
Bracciano Castle and Square

I will miss everyone hanging their laundry

Psychology Department at the University in Rome

Who needs frozen yogurt, when you can get laundry detergent the same way?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Italian Train Station at Night = SKETCHY

England was amazing and went pretty smoothly! The voyage home, on the other hand, came with a few extra hiccups. Tom had class in the morning, so I headed to the train station to catch a train to the airport pretty early—I walked there with a nice English bloke I met on the way and ran into an old woman, who looked at me—utterly confused—and asked if I was going to the beach. I think I forgot to mention in the last post that I actually thought I was going to Spain that weekend and had packed accordingly. Hence, my skirts and sandals didn’t quite fit the rainy England dress code. I got to the airport in PLENTY of time, and caught up on some homework. I tried to text Gaia to coordinate, but my phone didn’t have service in England and the internet wasn’t working. Ay ay ay.

The train left at 4:50, took about 2 hours and 10 minutes, and arrived—with the time change—in Bari, Italy at 8pm.  Emma, who is my constant wing man—whether we’re together or if it’s over phone—was looking up train times for me. I caught a shuttle to the nearest bus/train station (which wasn’t all that close), and got there only to find that the next train wasn’t leaving until 11pm, which would put me in Taranto (where Gaia lives) at 1am. I thought, “It could be worse.” Then it got worse (what you think about you bring about?) when I called Gaia and found out that she couldn’t pick me up until the next morning.  I tried to weigh my options, but one way or the other it looked like I would be spending the night at a train station—which, by the way, are pretty sketchy places in Italy, especially southern Italy. I found a longer bus ride from Bari to Taranto from 12:40-2:20 and then saw that there were more in the morning—bright and early. I sat inside, near some construction workers and figured it might be a better option to stay in Bari because there were at least some workers there. At train stations, there are usually men, fairly low down on the mafia totem pole, who help people purchase tickets and  get on the right train or bus. It seems like a nice gesture, except they expect you to pay them for their “service.” One such man came to help me, which I didn’t completely mind, except for the fact that I was already was low on Euros. And he was less creepy than the forty-something year old man who had previously invited me to come stay with him at his house for the week…

The helpful mafia guy ended up being quite pushy, and another guy who had been standing nearby stepped towards us and asked if he could help—he offered to translate, but the mafia man pointed out that I spoke Italian and dismissed him. Honestly, I think the other guy was just trying to help diffuse the tension and calm the mafia man down. Once the helpful guy left, I was standing, waiting for a bus and decided to ask the guy, who spoke English, for his advice. Although he was dressed in huge baggy jeans shorts, with a ripped sleeve tank top and a shaved head, I had a good feeling about him—and really—what other option did I have? I tried to explain my situation to him and ask him his opinion on which train station would be safer for me to stay the night at. It took awhile for me to get my point across to him (we were speaking half English/half Italian), but once I did, he seemed absolutely appalled! He told me that I could NOT stay the night at a train station; that he was a man and felt unsafe there! He told me a little about the crime history and gypsies in the Bari train station and about the similar scene in Taranto, which was outside and in the middle of nowhere. I shrugged, not like I had options here... He told me to wait a minute while he talked to his driver, and that it might be my lucky day.

I was confused—this baggy jeaned, gangster looking guy had a driver?? Was he offering me a ride? Well, he was trying to, but it turned out that he wouldn’t be passing through Taranto like he’d originally thought. Honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed, I mean, who gets into a car with a stranger? Right…? Then, he offered that I stay with him and his friends for the night. He said that they lived near a train station and that I could bus into Taranto the next morning, because then, at least, “you will be safe.” He mentioned that they would have to wait for his girlfriend first, which made me feel slightly better about the possibility (it felt less sketch than going with only guys), but I still turned him down, saying that I appreciated it, but that I didn’t know him and didn’t feel comfortable.

Then, the helpful guy came over and started pushing me to get on the bus that had just arrived. At that moment, I just went with my gut (which means I was trying to follow the Spirit) and made a quick decision. I felt like I was choosing between two potentially dangerous options, but—honestly—felt at peace. While I understood the seriousness of my situation, I was never scared—not even for a moment. I told the guy I had been talking to, whose name I eventually found out was Mike, that I’d like to stay with him and his girlfriend that night. He called his boss, told him that he’d met the most beautiful American girl and his boss offered to take me to the train station in Taranto the next morning. Mike told me that I should go over and wait for him at a nearby McDonalds because the mafia man would be angry if I didn’t get board the bus, which I still don’t understand…He told me to walk behind the bus so the mafia man couldn’t see me and that he would follow in five minutes. Mafia man saw us talking and didn’t look happy about it, so Mike ended up walking to McDonalds with me. We sat there and talked for thirty or forty minutes before we left. That conversation made me feel a million times better about my decision! While I felt good about it, the logical part of me was still rerunning some of the scenes from Taken in my mind. Apparently Mike had been a runner on Italy’s national team until he got hurt a couple years ago. Now he runs some sort of sports association with camps for Rome’s soccer team and has traveled all over the world doing it! I must have thanked him three dozen times for his willingness to help me, and he told me it was Italian heart; he said, ‘I’m Christian, but I like Buddhist teachings about Karma. If you give love, you’ll receive love.”

Mike’s girlfriend arrived and his driver came to pick us up in this huge, really nice, 9 passenger business shuttle (which seemed legitimate). His girlfriend was nice, but after asking me my name and a couple basic questions about myself, her tone and question-type changed. It threw me off. “Do you want to sleep with us?” She asked. I let out what was probably an uncomfortable laugh and told her, “No thanks.” “Do you like my boyfriend? On a scale of one to ten, what would he be?” Our conversation was about half English/half Italian and I basically just tried to avoid answering. I would laugh and say something like, “he’s your boyfriend, so it doesn’t matter.” I wasn’t sure if she would be more offended if I liked or didn’t like him. A no win situation. She asked me, ‘Do you want to kiss my boyfriend? He wants a kiss from you.’ I laughed and told her, ‘Just on the cheek’ (which you do with everyone in Italy).  After that, I think I passed the test I didn’t even realize I was taking. She told me that all men were bulls and had me assure her that I wouldn’t kiss Mike. Then, she got me a drink, shared her food with me and chatted about random things.

We arrived at their place around 3am. I didn’t realize that ‘their place’ would be a resort! They were overseeing some sports camps, so I got to stay in a nice room and take a good, long, and much needed shower.  Seven other employees had stayed up to welcome us and made me a big sign! It said “Benvenuto Americana!” Aka: Welcome American Girl!  I stayed up and talked with them for quite awhile. I seriously don’t know how I lucked out. I’m sure anyone reading this is thinking that I’m crazy and lucky to be alive and safe after agreeing to go stay the night with a total stranger that I met in a sketchy Italian train station at midnight. It sounds pretty bad when I say it like that, huh…? Either way, Mike and the rest of the crew ended up being some of the nicest and most generous people that I have had the opportunity to cross paths with since I’ve been in Italy. In the morning, they got me breakfast, and Francesco (the boss of bosses) drove me to the train station. He actually apologized for not being able to drive me all the way to Taranto, as if he should have—I have never experienced such generosity and kindness! We all exchanged names and numbers; they told m to give them a call if I ever needed anything, and that I was more than welcome to stay longer or come back before I headed home.

I ended up catching a bus instead of a train, and was the only person on the entire bus for the first hour. A man got on at a later stop and chose to sit in the seat where I had set my bag. He asked if it was mine, I nodded. He then picked it up and handed it to me. Really? Because there weren’t 50 other seats he could have sat in... We did ended up having a fun conversation though. He legitimately started clapping when he found out I was American; since I wasn’t in a touristy area, he was surprised, and apparently excited. I tried to explain to him that I was from Washington State, and not Washington DC; I have this whole explanation memorized because it comes up a lot, but I usually give up after five or ten minutes and just let people think I live next to Obama… I truly love Italian culture, and especially the people. I really can't get over how much kindness I have been shown in the last three months. It will be sad to say goodbye...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oh. And I went to England!

Because traveling around Italy isn’t amazing enough (hope you’re picking up on my sarcasm), I figured I should probably go see another country while I was in Europe. Tom, the BYU student who was randomly staying at my house in Bracciano with his friend Flor when I arrived home from Cinque Terre, is conveniently studying at Cambridge this summer. We had talked about travelling somewhere the first day we met, and decided to spend the weekend in England. Not too shabby, eh?

We spent the first day touring around Cambridge, which is a town most known for—obviously—its top notch university. Three London-style cheers to Tom for getting into their summer program where only a few students from Harvard, Princeton, Berkley, Hong Kong, and BYU can be accepted to! The college campus, which is basically a town in itself, is absolutely beautiful. It was founded in 1209 and made to last with some of the most impressive architecture and intricate detail. We walked up the 123 steps to the top of the tower of Great St. Mary's—which felt like nothing compared to the 320 steps to get to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. It would have been worth the extra energy expenditure though, to see the view of Cambridge from that spot.
Going punting was definitely one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I don’t know if I was alone in this, but I definitely had no idea what punting was beforehand. Tom, however, seemed so excited about it that before he even explained it, I was getting anxious to do it as well!  Basically, when you think “Venice Gondola”, you think punting. But—rather than paying some random guy to punt (?? Not sure what adjective to use right now, you don’t row) us around, we decided to do the work ourselves. I guess a more correct statement would be that Tom did all the work—at least all the hard work. We decided to go upstream so that we could get to this beautiful spot in the park. It was a nice place to relax and rest, which was necessary because Tom was quite tired after spending 45 minutes constantly flexing his big biceps in attempt to impress me (haha, just kidding. Kind of. They are actually quite impressive). After eating some fresh fruit and discovering the tree of all trees, I punted us back—downstream—which was a lot easier, I felt okay about it though, I don’t have the biceps to show off anyway.  It was easy enough until I had to park. One thing I am really coming to terms with, after almost seven years of driving, is that I can’t park, regardless of the vehicle/mode of transportation—seriously, I must have looked ridiculous trying to get that water craft in its designated spot...
Punting Upstream
Punting Downstream :)
We met up with Tom’s new French friend—Pierre—for dinner, stopped to drop some food off to one of his sick friends and then hit the clubs—yes please! Granted, the DJ started off a little lame, playing songs like ‘Call Me Maybe’—a song I don’t pretend not to like, but one that should not ever be played in a club...the music, however, picked up quickly enough. I’m pretty sure I was by far the most modestly dressed girl in the club which, of course, did not stop me from having a blast. Everyone I met was great—incredibly nice and a lot of fun. I am beyond impressed by all of the students I have met that are going to Cambridge, and from everything I have heard from Tom about it, it is an amazing school that really challenges its’ students, and there is no doubt in my mind that those students are going places in life. It’s always nice to meet people who can give you a little bit of a different perspective on life and even challenge you, it’s motivating. I may not have been quite as impressed by the weather—it rained a good portion of the time.  But while walking home in the freezing rain late at night may numb your hands, it’s one of those memories that can warm your heart. 

Tom and I decided to spend the rest of the weekend in London—which wasn’t too shabby either.  Kind of cool that I’ve gotten to see the three most famous European cities this summer: Paris, Rome, and London! We got in a little late on Saturday, but still made our way to some of London’s most famous sites.
Harry Potter, anyone?

International train station at King's Cross

Shakespeare's Globe Theater!

St Paul's Cathedral and More!

Tower Bridge :)

Parliament and Big Ben
You can't see me b/c I'm so tan and basically just fade into the night now...

 I somehow have completely ignored the food aspect of the trip until this point, which is actually somewhat fitting considering that’s what Tom and I did the whole trip: forget to eat until pretty late in the day and then make up for it in one sitting. We ate traditional English steak and pea pie (I think I may have just made up that name, it’s like chicken pot pie, but with steak), sampled some Spanish food, had our go at an Italian restaurant in London (haha, ironic??) and ate huge American burgers on the last night (Mamma Mia, I had forgotten how good those are!).
The housing that we were hoping for fell through, so we found ourselves searching for hostels around midnight (meant with all the Love in the world, Emma, it feels slightly better/safer to be stuck in a city at night with a big guy rather than a cute girl haha;). It turns out, it’s not just the Italians that are super helpful, a guy from some random country (how do I not remember this?) told us that he had been a dip-$*%# before as well, ran to get us his computer and then left us with it while he went out to smoke a cigarette with some friends—talk about trust! We figured out a place to stay and woke up Sunday morning ready to get to church. I was actually quite excited to go to a ward that would be in English, but about five seconds after walking in the door, we found out that we had actually missed the English ward and had made it—just in time—for the Portuguese ward! I kid you not. It’s fitting, I suppose; now I can say that I attended church for three months in different languages!

We finished up our sightseeing that day and went to a not-so-cool science museum. It was more of a propaganda scheme set up by the government, if you ask me. At least I got to wear a pretty dress! Having not prepared for the English rain, I ended up covering up my pretty dress with a huge BYU jacket—courtesy of Tom. Overall, the trip was a lot of fun!  May have had to pay 4.50 pounds for one metro ticket (to put it in perspective, Rome just raised their prices to 1.50 euro. The pound is worth quite a bit more than the euro and is worth about twice as much as the American dollar). That said, can you really put a price to great memories? Five years from now, I won’t look back at the money I spent, but at the experiences I had. And, of course, the pictures I took.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taranto with Gaia!

This is Gaia. I love her!

She is the girl I met in Sicily that invited me to come stay with her and her family about 5 minutes after I met her. So, it’s probably obvious that she is one of the sweetest, kindest, and most generous people you will ever meet. She is absolutely beautiful and hilarious, well traveled, cultured, always looks like she stepped right out of a fashion magazine, and—hence—impossible not to love. She has taken photography lessons and always has her cannon camera in hand, which was fun because we got some good photo memories. J
The biggest surprise of my stay was that I actually got some homework done this week, but only because Gaia had exams to study for as well! We would usually spend the mornings doing homework, getting things done around the house, preparing some vegan meals (her family is super healthy!), and hanging out with her three siblings. Her parents get off work pretty early and once they do, we would spend the rest of the day as a family. That’s one thing that I was really impressed by actually; everyone says that family is their top priority, but based on how they spend their days, you would never know. That definitely wasn’t the case with Gaia’s family.

I’ve been staying with them in their flat in Taranto, Italy which is a beautiful town right near the beach. I have this nasty habit of pronouncing Taranto without an Italian accent and somehow making it sound like Toranto, Canada—which has led me to confuse a couple dozen Italians. Ay ay ayyy. Haha My first night there (and again two other times) I got to go shopping with three Italian women: Gaia, her sister and mom. Great experience! They knew all the best places to shop, love to do it, and are blessed with an unbelievably wonderful Italian fashion sense. Given that my bag and quite a bit of money were recently stolen, I didn’t buy much, but it was still fun to just walk through the town and see everything and everyone. I love how Italians just know how to enjoy life; even on a week night the town square, shops, and beaches are packed with people. It’s been so great to spend the summer here, be a part of a new culture, and have the opportunity to enjoy a different way of life.

We spent a good amount of time at the beach, which is probably my favorite thing to do—I’m getting tanner and not everyone immediately assumes that I’m American right off the bat anymore, I love it! Of course, once I speak, they can tell I’m not Italian by my accent haha my first day in Taranto, I was with Gaia and she was talking to this guy at her school, who was kind of just giving me the up-and-down; then—as I started to introduce myself in Italian, I didn’t even get through my first word before he said, ‘tourista!’ obviously basing it off my accent. Mamma Mia, but hey I’m trying…little steps. People can still understand me and I can have a conversation, but the Italian accent is still not one I’ve picked up. J
Later that day, when we were at the beach, there was a vendor walking around with this huge display of dresses. Gaia and I went to look at them and her dad, bless his heart, insisted on buying us both one. So, now along with our matching nail polish, shoes and shirts (which we both picked out separately shopping), we now have a matching dress/cover-up haha. It’s like matching outfits in first grade with my best friend all over again. ;)

We went to the beach late one night, which I have no good pictures to show for it because every time we tried to take pictures, we would get blinded by the flash, so everyone’s eyes are closed… it was still a really fun night though, we basically found a private beach and got to have it all to ourselves. Gaia’s sister is going to be an EFY counselor, so she taught us some random dances and then we just laid on the sand, watched the stars, laughed, and talked. Kind of life at its peak, eh?

In true Italian fashion, we went out to pizza two of the four nights I was here (and the first night we couldn’t because I got in so late). The last night was my favorite just because we went with a big group, and I got to meet a lot of Gaia’s extended family and friends. I love speaking with people here, and they’re always so encouraging, it makes me want to continue to take Italian classes and work on the language when I get back to BYU. Next year will be busy with grad school, but I really hope that I can.

I also got to spend some time with the other GANS (YSA/church group), which was a blast. We played what they call ‘beach volley’ which is actually more like playing soccer on a sand volleyball court haha whenever possible people will use their feet and head rather than their arms and hands. I, however, tried to refrain from any kicks given that I showed up to the activity in a skirt—not realizing we were playing—and moreso because it’s not really my natural tendency to try to do jumping-spin-kick-trick with a volleyball. Given, it was pretty impressive when some of the others did. J

My time definitely passed too quickly, I had to catch a bus to Bari so that I could catch a plane to London (my life is rough, I know:), but in Italian fashion, I tried to live on the edge and wait until last minute (that was not actually my thought process, I hate being late). Unfortunately my luck ran out because I actually missed this one! I blame it on the fact that Emma was not with me, whom I somehow always am able to catch the train or bus with no matter how late we seem to be running. Anyhow, the next bus wasn’t for two hours, which probably wouldn’t give me enough time to catch my plane. It was one of those moments where you just stand there and think, ‘Okay. What now…?’ Luckily I didn’t have to ponder too long because Gaia’s dad (who is one of the funniest people I know) had a plan. The plan: catch up with the bus! Which bus? We didn’t know...there are dozens. So he seriously sped down the freeway, cutting off buses while I tried to read the signs on the front of the bus and see if it was the one headed to Bari. When we didn’t find the bus we were looking for, he just decided to beat it to the next stop. He floored the gas; in four stops we had gotten ahead of the bus and I was able to catch it! Phew!

I honestly think it’s a miracle sometimes that I manage to get around in Italy by myself. I give most of the credit to ridiculously nice people like Gaia’s dad, a positive attitude (smiling at people helps), and starting conversations with random people, who always end up helping me out in some way. When I got off the bus in Bari, I knew that I would have to catch another one, I just missed the part where the other bus I would have to catch was at a completely different part of town. It ended up not being a problem at all though—a really nice old lady I met on the bus (random conversation) knew that I needed to catch the bus to the airport, so just decided to walk with me and have a chat all the way to the metro station—even though I never asked or hinted at it. I truly am overwhelmed by how many good people I meet here, people who I talk to by chance and who are willing to go out of their way to help me. Cheers to some of the greatest people and to the best summer ever!