Week 1 in La Spezia

Trip Start Feb 23, 2009
Trip End Aug 22, 2009

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Week 1:  Let's see...my first week in Italy has certainly been eventful...in fact so many things have occurred that I would need a year to fully explain them all...no rest for we foreign students it seems :p

Upon arrival in La Spezia (at the delightfully central train station), I was whisked away to the Ruffino/Bevilacqua family home.  It is located in Albiano Magra which is quite small thus it does not exist on the Travelpod scale...but I assure you that it exists and it is lovely!  Albiano Magra is a small township 20-30 minutes away from La Spezia.  In order to get to my classes in the city I either get rides with Marta, who is my Italian professor and my house mother, or I take the bus (which alas is rather inconvenient and only goes every hour...oh well...it is also a 15 minute walk downhill...those of you that know me well recognize the fact that I'm not as physically fit as I would like to imagine :p).

Their house is lovely!  I have my own room, which I share with a variety of instruments (2 guitars and a drum set to be exact).  While it can be a bit nippy, the bed is very comfortable and toasty...so much so that I rarely want to dislodge myself in the morning (not that I am any more inclined to do so at home).  The first week from Sunday to Thursday was intense rain (like an Asian monsoon!) thus it didn't really encourage me to move.  I have decided that permanently wet feet are unpleasant and that I shall make an effort to truly appreciate the cold dryness of snow.

The house is quite high up...I have yet to walk up the hill (I am not terribly distraught about that though), as the family usually comes to pick me up.  There is a massive garden and the food here is always good!


We knew that this would come to food didn't we!?  At there house I have had various types of seafood (lot's of salmon and anchovies, which are specialties of the region), pasta, pizza...oh it's heaven!  We had a pizza night were we (more them than we...we all know the level of my culinary skills) made several types of pizza: spicy eggplant, mascarpone and speck (beef prosciutto, kind of), tuna and onions, and anchovy pieces, capers and olives.  Delightful!!

We also ate farinata which is essentially bread/dough made from chick peas which is quite good (not overtly flavourful, but a nice complement with spicy food).

Friday evening I went to a Mexican dinner party held by my 2 fellow interners (American/Mexican) and we had delightful food and needless to say a few drinks as well (ok a few may have been 4 glasses of wine and 4 shots of tequila...how can I say no?!).

The Ruffino Family:

There a 5 members: Marta (matriarch and my professor), Lorenzo (patriarch), Roberto (19 year old son) and fraternal twins Simone and Matteo (23 years old, same as me).

Marta is involved in the program with Daniela (the program administrator...she organized this whole thing!).  Marta teaches us Italian and also teaches at a hospitality (cooking and hotellry) school.  She drives a massive van (the 'furgone') and it is a mystery to me as to how she manoeuvres around the tiny city streets in that massive vehicle.  I am constantly in awe of the family's driving skills, especially on the even tinier mountain roads.

Lorenzo works for a hospital, but he typically does house calls for hospital scans  (Some of what he does has been lost in translation...)

Roberto is the youngest and he looks like Edward from Twilight, therefore I have been calling him Vampiro (vampire in Italian)...hehe.  Matteo and Simone, being twins are quite close.  In fact all three boys are in a band together which is called 'I'm not myself today.'  There music is pretty hard core, screaming music, however it is quite catchy!

The Program:

I'm staying in the home stay for a few weeks, after which I will be going to stay in a hostel in Portovenere (a half hour bus ride from central La Spezia).  I'll be staying with the other two interners: Jacqueline and Victoria.  They are both from California and they're lovely people!

Monday we went around to each office that is upporting/teaching us: CARISPE (an Italian bank...that is everywhere!), SITEP (where Jacqueline and Victora are interning) and SpecTec where I am interning.  SITEP and SpecTec work in the same sector, as they both provide nautical/marine software/technology.  My work is located at the port entrance and so from my office window (yes I have my own office!) I can witness all the events at the port.  I will be interning here until the end of May.

Thus far we have been assigned small tasks, to give us a feel for the work in an Italian company.  For example writing an invitation to clients to attend a conference..

Thus far everyone at SpecTec has been delightful, really friendly (and fluent in multiple languages, I need to take some lessons from them).  This Friday was my third day of work, as we have a course in Design Technology and History at the university in Italian on Thursday afternoons.

Every morning until the 13th of March we have lessons from 8:30 to 12:30 in the morning, although we also go on day trips during these sessions.  In class we read books about nautical history, we study Italian useful for office work and we also study grammar.

When we go on trips (instead of studying, not a bad thing in my opinion :p) we go to nearby sites.  Tuesday we went to Portovenere to an old church, where we saw it's 'treasures': a statuette, a box and few other relics from the 12-14th centuries. 

We've been given bus passes for the duration of our stay here to help us get around the city and surrounding areas.  Luckily since I live with our professor I get a ride to class every morning.  (Spoiled I know!)

Everything's been great, but I must admit that the days are exhausting!  I leave the house at 8 in the morning and I arrive back around the same time in the evening.  It's a long day!  At least when I get back to the house there's a warm fire and we eat dinner together around 9 or 10.


The only real problem that I've bumped into since arriving is one that I've never encountered before (and in fact, I was not aware of it's existence!)

When I arrived in the UK they stamped my passport and granted me 6 months to stay in the UK.  Perfect!  It was just as I had anticipated.  When I arrived in Italy, the officials once again stamped my passport saying that I had arrived in Pisa by plane on February 28th (which is correct).

However one important fact is that from the date that I arrived in England, I can only stay in Italy for 90 days from that day.  I have to leave Italy by May 24th!  From previous experiences, I assumed that I would be allowed to stay in Italy/Europe for 6 months, as in the UK.  BUT, after I spend my 90 days in Italy I have to leave the EU (except the UK) and I cannot reenter any EU country for 6 months.  Which means that when I am done here, I can go to the UK but nowhere else!  All my plans to go to Portugal, Spain, France, etc...are caput!  My travel plans have been killed.  It's a silly rule and I'm surprised that it exists.

Boo Bureaucracy!

Cheers All and I shall try to be more prompt with my travel blog updates.
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