Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Italian Diaries; Chapter One

Gualdo, Tadino

In September 2014, I travelled to the town of Gualdo, Tadino in the province of Umbria, in Italy. Gualdo is situated around 2 hours from Rome and 3 from Florence, so it's right in the middle of Italy. We caught our flight from Sydney to Dubai, and then Dubai to Rome. From Rome we travelled on a bus to Gualdo which felt like it took forever mainly due to the fact that I felt incredibly ill and I had the inability to sleep.

Credit to Google Maps

The first day in Italy was the worst, because when we arrived in Gualdo I was jetlagged, running on the little sleep I had had and I felt sick in the stomach. A new environment filled with many people I didn't know, and I had a stomach bug. Perfect. I was feeling home sick as soon as I had said goodbye to my parents at the Departures gate at Sydney airport, but now that I was on the other side of the world I felt a strange mixture of both anxiety and excitement. 
The first day may have been terrible, but everything went uphill from there.
Gualdo's piazza (town square)
Gualdo is a classic Italian medieval village and it looks more beautiful than the photos I had seen on Google before my arrival.
The image above is of the piazza (the town square). Gualdo is a hillside village and the piazza is situated at the top of the hill. Here in the image is the Duomo. There is a street on the left of the Duomo, and after walking down a few meters there is a small lane on the right. In that street is the cutest little Italian bakery & pizzeria I have ever seen. It's run by two elderly ladies who -hands down- cook the best pizza in the world. The square base is thin and has a good crunch to it; the napolitana sauce is mouth watering paired with the variety of cheese on top. It's so simple yet it is perfection. 

Street garden
Flower pot and statue of the Virgin Mary on the sidewalk
Living here for two weeks with my host families was a dream come true. I attended school there with my host sister Elena, and it was an incredible experience. It was a challenge at first as I had learnt French at school and not Italian, however many of the Italians were learning English at school. 
I learnt the very basics of the Italian language before arriving- i.e. ciao, come stai, non capisco, per favore- and that's where my knowledge ended. 
During my time in Italy I learnt some of the language and my skills progressed- as did the English skills of my Italian friends! It was certainly a win-win situation for us and taking part in their English classes was a lot of fun. 
Friendships were formed and I began to bond with my new Italian classmates. I got asked the typical questions for any Australian in a foreign country, like "Do you have a kangaroo in your backyard?" (The answer being no, which surprised many). 
Latin classes were interesting as I had no clue what was going on, but just sitting there and observing the environment I was in made me reflect on how different my school was to theirs. (The biggest difference being it isn't an all girls Catholic high school, that's for sure). 

Faux flowers on a windowsill

The experiences gained from attending school in Gualdo and participating in their cultural events such as Giochi Dele Porte were incredible. Giochi Dele Porte translates to 'Game of the Gates' which is the Medieval festival that takes place every year in Gualdo during September. Gualdo is divided into four districts who compete in medieval games over the course of around four days. There are also parades on the opening night, the second night, and a celebration on the final night. It was amazing to experience the festival life as there were traditional costumes worn by families in the parade, games like archery and donkey racing being held across the town, and lots and lots of food to be eaten! I especially enjoyed the roasted chestnuts on the side of the street in a small cart, cooked by a lovely old Italian man. He was very kind and gave me one to try before I purchased a whole cone full- and I am glad to say that it was delicious. Chestnut carts are apparently a very popular business for Italians all across the country, and I saw at least one in majority of the places we visited.

My host sister, Elena (right)
The old church was transformed into an art gallery, and this artist was refurbishing the paintings already plastered on the walls
Artwork of Barack Obama in the old church
Wall in the old church
I loved exploring Gualdo and walking around its quiet streets. On our second day we walked to the Rocca Flea, which is the castle on the mountain. It has breathtaking views of the mountain, the flower garden surrounding the ancient bricks were stunning, and the trees and greenery surrounding the castle were so incredibly beautiful. Living in Gualdo and becoming a family with its people would most certainly have to be one of the most beautiful experiences I will ever have.
After I graduate high school I plan on returning to Italy and going to Gualdo, to reunite with my Italian family and friends.
The memories I made in Gualdo will stay with me forever, and I cannot wait to return to my second home.

Rocca Flea garden
Street near the Rocca Flea
This is the first part in my series of posts documenting my Italian adventure of 2014. Tell me what you think of chapter one & share your travel stories with me in the comments below!

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