The most amazing place to settle down for 2 months

Trip Start Sep 04, 2012
Trip End Dec 17, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Monday, October 1, 2012

When we arrived in Cortona, it was raining, which was unfortunate, but it was still easy to tell how beautiful a place this is. We arrived at the hostel and rushed to our rooms and to explore our new home. We were very impressed by how big our rooms are - we have 5 sets of bunk beds in each room and only 3 or 4 people per room, so there is plenty of space. We unpacked right away - for me and the others who have been traveling for a while, we were so excited to finally be settled in a place - to not have to pack up a backpack every couple nights is the best feeling. We finally have a home.

Our first dinner was Red Wine, Tuscan Bruschetta (basically garlic bread), lasagna, insalata mista (which was actually kind of salty, oddly enough) and caprese salad and chocolate pudding. We spent the evening learning more about each other before settling in for our first night at our new home..

October 2nd was orientation day. I found myself pleasantly surprised by breakfast; it exceeded my expectations, as I was expecting a bread and jam and coffee kind of deal; there is yogurt, peaches, figs, a few kinds of cereal, different kinds of breads, nutella, peanut butter, lots of jam, some wafers and chocolate cookies, and orange juice, coffee, hot water, and warm milk, along with tea bags and Nesquik!

We had our orientation with Helena, the director of the school. We walked around town a bit, she gave us some tips and laid down the law, describing how we are not tourists here, but residents. As such, we can't wear shorts or flip flops. Since it is still in the high twenties here, this kind of sucks, but apparently it's a sign of respect towards the town, as well as simply just blending in; the townspeople don't wear shorts, so we can't either.

For lunch, a group of us went to the "Bar Sport Cafe" and had pizza - (I had a delicious margherita pizza) and they give us a discount there, for being students so it was only 5 euro! That afternoon we did a bit more exploring and settling in, and of course got some gelato :)

October 3rd, we started classes. The program is set up that we have classes Monday through Thursday; every weekend is a three day weekend, so that we can do some traveling around and really experience Italy.

I went for a run through the park in Cortona (one of the few flat places in town) and it was amazing - a tree lined street, with a beautiful view of the valley on one side of you. I feel like I could definitely get back into running here. The beauty is amazing. Running up the hill back home though is murder, but rewarding (so long as you survive it).

Cortona is a hill town - it's literally built into the hillside. We walk to school all downhill, it takes maybe 7 minutes. The walk back home is probably double that, since it's all uphill. There are 2 flat roads in town, in addition to the park - the rest is hill. While we may all come back to Canada with a pasta belly, at least we will have nice legs from all the uphill walking :).

During the first couple of weeks of school, we noticed a lot of weddings going through town - not just on weekends, on any day of the week. It was pretty cool. I've changed my view on destination weddings; I don't buy into hot destinations so much, I would get married in Europe!

Here are some general details/observations about our life here in Cortona:

They have a really great support system set up for us here - Olivia is our RA and says she is here to help us with anything and everything, from homework troubles to homesickness to planning our travels.

Sergio is the owner of the hostel and is completely amazing - when we are studying hard in the common area, he'll come around offering us chocolate treats, or make a bowl of popcorn. On one of my weekend trips, I hadn't checked the bus schedule and realized I needed to cab it to the train station (so unprepared - woops!) but couldn't get ahold of any available cabs, so he drove me, then wouldn't let me pay him what I know to be a 10 euro fare.

Mama is this cute Italian lady that at the start would just talk in what was complete gibberish (Italian) to us and laugh at us because we had no idea what she was saying. She cleans the hostel. As the semester went on, we became better and better at communicating with her, as we are learning Italian. She still laughs at us though - when we are hungover or do too much shopping, etc. She like to tell us what to do and is basically what you picture of an Italian woman around 60ish. She's our Italian Mama :).

Marilena is the cook and is actually fairly quiet, but is a really sweet lady, first of all because she feeds us, so clearly we love her. She doesn't speak English so, like Mama, it has become easier to talk to her as we learn more Italian, but still, she doesn't say much. During midterm week I was sitting at one table from 6 30 in the morning until 10 at night, studying, only leaving to go to class, sleep, and exercise basically. She mentioned that I was working so hard, and I told her I had two midterms in one day - November 1st; All Saints Day - a holiday here - and she was pretty outraged on my behalf. After the exams, she stopped me and asked how they went, it was super sweet of her.

Supper follows a pretty standard pattern: there is always bread and wine, we always start out with a pasta (tortellini pomodoro, penne carbonara, penne with a cream sauce and zucchini, penne with a cream sauce with ham, spaghetti caprese, bow ties with pesto sauce, etc), although once in a while we get Minestrone soup and it is delicious - one of my favorites for sure (I always take seconds and leftovers if I can). Our second  course always has some mixed salad - which we refer to as "salty salad" and a meat dish generally - porchetta, a variety of kinds of chicken, sometimes beef in a weird sauce, etc. Dessert is generally gelato cones, chocolate pudding, panna cotta, tiramisu, Perugina chocolates, etc.

If we have a container (I have two) we can take leftovers for lunch the next day. I do a bit of this, but I have been finding all the pasta in an Italian's diet is not necessarily the healthiest diet, so I have been trying to do other things too. It's super easy to pick up a pizza or sandwich in town for lunch. In fact, Molesini's (the closest thing we have to a grocery store here), makes the most amazing sandwiches - my favorite is focaccia with pesto, mozzarella, tomatoes, and either salami or prociutto. There's a pretty good produce shop though, so I've actually been buying a lot of veggies and doing salad for lunch, or making my own bruschetta (tomatoes and basil, olive oil, and a spice mix I bought from Molesini's) and eating it with some cheese and nuts, that kind of thing. It's pretty delicious.

Classes - After doing a bit of switching around of my schedule, I am in Italian, a
Political Sciences class and a Classics course. Italian is great, our teacher Jo is wonderful, and while it's challenging, it's worth it because it can be used everyday and it's easy to see improvement. My Political Sciences class is incredibly interesting, it focuses on modern Italian politics (the last 50 years) and it is amazing how messed up this country is - it makes me feel pretty good about the Canadian system. The prof, Valentina is the cute little Italian from Perugia, who is a great teacher. Since English isn't her first language, she talks fairly slowly, which makes everything really easy to understand and note taking isn't too rushed. Classics is the one class I'm not super sure of - it's the study of Ancient Rome and I'm very out of my league with it, as I've never done anything similar. But as a business kid coming to an arts campus, I expected a bit of that and am lucky I'm not struggling more because of that.

So I mentioned that Cortona is on a hill. Camucia is the name of the town at the bottom of the hill, Cortona is most of the way up, but not at the very top. If you keep walking up, you come to a Basilica; it is absolutely gorgeous. Then if you keep walking up, you will come to an old fortress. It's pretty cool - we've tried (other people, not me, I'm too chicken) to make our way in, but to no avail. The views are amazing though. And if you go up at night, you can see the stars so clearly, it's wonderful. We have gone up a couple time for what we call "vino parties," where basically everyone grabs a bottle of wine and (if they're feeling classy), a wine glass and we all head up and have a few glasses of vino, have some fun, act like fools, get too cold, and come back down. At which point we normally stop at the hostel to de-layer before heading down to the Lion's Well Pub, the spot in town where we party.

Loving this place!!!


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Janine on

Sounds like you are having an absolutely wonderful time. I can't wait for you to be home, but soak up everything you can in the Italian culture in the last few weeks you are there!

Michelle on

It sounds like you had a fantastic semester. Reading your post made me miss Sergio, Mama and Merilena. Jo was a great Italian prof and because of her I actually remember some Italian 5 years after my Cortona semester. Your post made me miss Cortona so much. I wish I could go back for another semester instead of working a busy season! I can't wait to hear more of your stories!

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