Since we are travelling to Italy with our VM Travel Friends so much lately, I finally decided that it was time, once and for all, to focus on learning Italian. Where better to do it than in Bella Italia!!
Versilia is the region in northern Tuscany where the beaches reign supreme! The strip of sand is lined with 'bagno' after 'bagno', private beaches that rent umbrellas, and will sell you a cold "Aperol Spritz" on a hot day! Luckily my school, the Centro Giacomo Puccini Institute gave us a lovely spot at the 'Bagno Italia' in order to sunbathe and do our homework in the afternoons.
The fishing village of Viagreggio is flanked by two pine forests and cut through the middle by a canal - one fit for schooners and trawlers, but a bit too skinny for the big yachts to get through. I rented a beautifully decorated, lofted apartment with an Italian family - who spoke to me only in Italian. This was great practice, although I frequently ended up at home with my brain full of new Italian words, exclaiming, "Sono a la fruta!" or 'I'm at the fruit' - the last course of a big dinner where you just can't jam any more learning in for the day! Elisabetta and Carlo gave me a bike to get to school and I found myself weaving through oncoming traffic and dodging market goers, just like the locals!
Classes began at 9am with Grammar lessons, then we had a conversation class, where we met many friends from all over the world. The school has a reputation, and foreign students from Switzerland, Germany, USA, France and even Lichtenstein came to get their credentials in Italian language. My private language tutor, Alessandra was wonderful, and since I was doing an intensive wine, food and tourism course, she even took me to her favourite restaurant in Pisa - and I got to invite some fellow Canadian students and friends! The food was meraviglioso, all local products from Pisa paired with Vini Lucchesi - wines from Lucca - delicious!
We were so lucky to be situated only a short train ride from Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre so we took advantage and bopped around the countryside on the notoriously late Italian trains. I was told by a local octopus fisherman who was also on the train, that he no longer wears a watch because nothing in Italy starts on time. So very true.
With a Swiss friend we climbed the Torre Guingi in Lucca to hang out amongst the 7 trees on top, then we had a wine in the amphiteatro antico and truffle pasta at the local Osteria Baralla, serving up fresh porcini mushrooms and hand made pastas since 1860! Priska showed me the nonchalant exhilaration of getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets, then finding our way again, usually by asking directions from local cute Italians... we may have gotten carried away, and had to take the midnight train home!
Once cannot live on the northern Italian coast without visiting the Cinque Terre. From Viareggio it was an hour train ride to the end town of Monterrosso, the one with the best beaches! From there we hiked the cliffside path to Vernazza along the rocky steps and over the bridges, all with stunning views! A well deserved lunch which included the regions specialty... pesto, was washed down by a Nastro Azzuro. The sea was calling our names so Robin and I boarded a boat to Manarolo and we sailed with the wind in our hair!! As the sun was setting we had a sundowner prosecco before jumping on the train back to our beach town home.
I am pleased to say that my study abroad was successful.. ho imparato tantissimo! I am already planning a trip back to further my Italian language experience. I can't wait to practice while on the next adventure, Yoga and Wine on the Amalfi Coast!
See you soon on our next adventure together... in Italia! Natascha xx