Tuesday, February 5, 2013

JANUARY (but really just ‘Weekend in Palermo’)

I was so glad that we (ELA group), had already agreed to have a weekend together when we were all back in Sicily. The promise of wine and laughing was really the only thing that got me through the first 2 weeks back after the Christmas holidays.

After a bit of debate, and a LOT of consulting the trenitalia / various bus companies' websites, we settled on Palermo, as it was fairly easy for all of us to get to, and somewhere that we all wanted to visit.

So, another Friday night, another creepy Sicilian train station, then Katy, Laura and I reunited over a bottle of Nero D’Avola and headed out into the night to find food. We ended up at the place on Via Venezia, which is maybe not one of the prettiest places in Palermo (in fact it looks a lot like a car park...), but the food was AMAZING. In fact, it was SO good that we ate there 2 nights in a row.  THAT GOOD. It’s quite a small place, but full to the point where there are people queuing out the door. The menu is simple, and printed on the paper tablecloths, with maybe 3 antipasto options, 5 fish, and 5 meat options. The service was fast, despite the place being so busy, and the prices were really good. We shared antipasti and wine, and we each had our own main courses, and we paid 40 euro between the 3 of us, and then we bought nutella crepes from a stall in the street before heading back to the hostel for a (relatively) early night.

On Saturday morning, Fiona and Ruari arrived, so we took them to the hostel to drop off their bags, and went on a walking tour of Palermo. We wandered around the ballarò, ran away from some dogs, saw the Teatro Massimo and Teatro Politeama, we found H&M and Zara (sorry, Ruari!), we drank a lot of coffee, and when we looked at how far we’d actually trekked around Palermo, it was over 12km!

After a quick change at the hostel, we headed out in search of aperitivo and eventually back to the restaurant in Via Venezia, where we ordered a whole load of food to share, which is easily the best way to eat in this kind of place!

We then walked the short distance to a piazza just off Via Roma that we’d been told was the best place to go on a Saturday night. We ended up in a piazza, surrounded by crumbling, derelict buildings, hundreds of people, makeshift bars all around the edges of the square, and music blasting from who-knows-where. It was bizarre, but brilliant. We huddled together, dancing and sipping awful wine, exchanging looks that said “What the hell have we stumbled upon?” for a while until we collectively agreed that we were all knackered from the day’s activities and wandered back to the hostel.

Unfortunately, we realised the next morning that Fiona’s purse had been stolen, which somewhat ruined the memory of the night before.

We spent Sunday lazily café-hopping, and browsing in Zara again, while we each filtered off to get our respective buses and trains home. Finally, when we were just three again, waiting for Katy’s bus, I insisted on a trip to the Gelateria di Ciccio, where there’s a choice of at least 100 different flavours of gelato. It was the perfect way to end a weekend of incessant munching.


December started out with another stay in Castelbuono. It was another lovely, chilled weekend, with lots of food, and trying to make friends through my very questionable Italian skills.

Unfortunately, this time there was no wine festival, so we had to make do with actually paying for wine, and had to take shelter in a bar because it was SO DAMN COLD. I honestly didn't realise Sicily could get so cold. There have been nights when the temperature has reached zero, and I was definitely not prepared for this. As soon as I got back to Cefalù I went and bought myself a little heater, which has made a world of difference. I also purchased an electric hot water bottle, which was easily the best 5 euro I have ever spent IN MY LIFE.

The next weekend was an ELA trip to Catania! It seems silly now, but at the time I was really nervous about going to a strange city, to spend a weekend with a group of people I'd never met before. I knew Catherine from Glasgow, so I figured I'd have at least one pal in the group, if they turned out to be a bunch of weirdos. As it goes however, it was a brilliant weekend, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been bundled together in Sicily with such lovely, funny people!

After school on the Friday I caught the train to Palermo, and then spent an hour wandering in circles, trying to avoid the junkies and waiting for my bus. Normally I HATE bus journeys with a burning passion, but somehow the beautiful scenery as we crossed Sicily took away all of my travel-rage. The three-hour journey passed even faster than I had hoped, and soon enough, I'd made it to Catania, found Catherine, (who was hiding in the train station because a man had been following her because he wanted to cut her hair. Uhhm...) and then Katy and Laura arrived to rescue us and lead us to the hostel.

After dumping our stuff in the C.C.L.Y hostel (which is possibly the loveliest hostel in all of Italy), we headed out to aperitive. We found a little place by the cathedral where we drank Nero D'Avola and ate lovely antipasti featuring olives, crisps, croquettes, aubergine, courgette, (and probably other things that I have forgotten about).

Next we decided to find some proper food, (I love that after this, every subsequent day I have spent with these girls has been mainly based around food), and wandered around for a bit, half-lost, until we found a place that looked quite promising. It may have taken a 10-minute battle with the front of the restaurant before we actually managed to locate the door and enter, but we were determined to get inside. 

Now, every time I have eaten out in Sicily, I have been overwhelmed by the noise, of clattering plates and cutlery, of music, of conversation so loud that it almost seems as though people are simply yelling at each other across the tables. But not here. We appeared to have found the quietest restaurant in Sicily. It was almost silent. Which made us feel as though we were being incredibly loud, and already being quite embarrassed after the front-door-fiasco made the four of us very, very giggly, to the point where almost everything in the menu was 'hilarious', from information about the breathalyser available to borrow from the bar, to the "pasta with a surprise filling", to "Rosanna's experience and inspiration conjure a delicious vegetable medley", and the fact that we knew that we really shouldn't be laughing just made it worse.

After dinner came Mojitos and Jaegerbombs, and we all woke up on Saturday feeling pretty delicate.

We spent Saturday alternating between hiding in our beds in the hostel, and venturing out for an hour or so at a time, to investigate the markets and shops in the city centre. Another girl, Fiona, joined us, but unfortunately the sixth member of the group missed his bus and didn't make it.

In the market we found a few international food shops, so between us we stocked up on Heinz Baked Beans, soya sauce, sweet and sour sauce and brown rice. I know that we are supposed to be embracing the culture, but after 3 months of nothing but Italian food, these little discoveries were a huge relief.

We had dinner in the pizzeria next to the hostel, because it meant not having to walk far in the cold, and we would apparently get a discount for being from the hostel (we forgot to ask for the discount when the bill came, but hey-ho). The pizza was good, but that's not surprising as I've yet to come across disappointing pizza here, but the entertainment was brilliant! A group of men entered the restaurant and then spent at least an hour playing and singing and dancing around the place. I know this sounds like it was super-touristy, but it really wasn't, it simply felt like we'd stumbled across this secret place that the locals love. 

On Sunday we all had to face our ridiculous journeys home, because on Sundays, Sicily simply doesn't work. Catherine had to leave the hostel at 10.30am, because, "If I miss the 11am bus, I can't get home until tomorrow." And Bronte's only about an hour away from Catania.

Despite a grim 2-hour junkie-dodging wait in Palermo Centrale, I thought my journey was going quite well until my train arrived in Cefalù and the doors wouldn't open. After I'd tried 3 sets of doors the train moved on, and I ended up stuck at the next stop, (fortunately I was not alone, and the four of us got a taxi back to Cefalù together.)

Less than two weeks after the weekend in Catania, I was travelling home for Christmas. I decided to set off really early, just in case there were any delays along the way, and ended up at the airport more than 2 hours before check-in opened. It was just as well though, because I weighed my suitcase and realised it was 7.5kg over my 15kg Ryanair luggage allowance. Oops. So then I spent about an hour and a half unpacking and re-packing and swapping things from my suitcase to my rucksack and putting on as many clothes as I thought I could get away with.

I gave up when I got to 15.8kg, figuring that I’d be okay for my flight to Barcelona, and if I had to have another shuffle about before I could get on the flight to Malaga, then so be it. As it went, the girl at the check-in desk in Barcelona was a bit of a cow, and tried to charge me 20 euro for being over. I insisted that I wasn’t going to pay, and that I would simply take something out of my case. Then five minutes later I re-appeared in front of her wearing jeans, 3 pairs of socks, a t-shirt, a cardigan, a jumper, a hoodie and a jacket, grimacing and telling her “Que calor!” She gave me a bit of a look, and clearly didn’t find me as funny as I found myself, but she let me through, which was a relief.

The Christmas holidays in Gibraltar were brilliant. I think it was the combination of having spent 3 months on my own in Sicily, along with having not had Christmas in Gib for 3 years, and having nearly 3 weeks at home that made it the best Christmas break ever.

It was so relaxing, and I was so glad to see Mum and Dad and Sarah and many friends who I will not name here, that it was really hard to come back to Sicily after New Year. I’d spent 17 days not really having to think, just wandering around as I pleased, catching up over lunches, coffees, drinks, so coming back to live on my own, in the cold (it was SO MUCH WARMER in Gib), felt really sad.

However, since Sarah gave me a weekend break in Milan for Christmas (RIDICULOUS and AMAZING), that was DEFINITELY something to look forward to when I came back!!

Oh, there were tears (of course there were tears!), but deep-down I'm glad to be back, and I know that I'm going to be just as upset when I get to the end of May and have to go home for good!!

Catch Up

So apparently I am as good at writing a blog as I am at keeping a diary.

Not very.

Last time I wrote it was a week before my 22nd birthday – around 12 weeks ago – and so much has happened since then that if I put it all into one post, nobody would read it, or at least, if they did, people would be dying of old age before they got to the end of my ‘essay’.

So I’m going to break it down, into November, December, and January – much shorter, easier-to-digest chunks.


When I last wrote, I was about to go off and spend the weekend with a family in Castelbuono. I was a bit unsure if it was such as good idea, since I didn’t really know them all that well, and my spoken Italian was even worse back then.

In the end I had nothing to worry about. We all managed to communicate perfectly well between English and Italian, they were lovely, warm and welcoming, and I had a wonderful time. I got to eat all kinds of lovely home-cooked Sicilian family meals, and it was a great change to get out of Cefalù for a couple of days.

And it turned out, by fantastic coincidence, that this particular weekend was the ‘Festa di San Martino’ – the feast day of St. Martin, who just happens to be the patron saint of wine. We ended up at a house party in the middle of the countryside, where a bunch of young local wine-makers had brought along very generous samples of their produce.

When we arrived there was a group of guys trying to get a barbecue going using a hairdryer, and I think I was the only one who thought this was a bit odd. It clearly worked for them though, because before long there were plates full of food EVERYWHERE. I knew the Sicilians love to eat, but this was just an endless conveyor belt of meat and cheese and bread and olives and wine! I love how the Sicilians party!

The weekend after that was my 22nd birthday. Being my first birthday away from family, I was a teensy bit emotional and feeling just a little bit lonely when I woke up to an empty flat. However, I cheered myself up with breakfast pancakes and the birthday card from mum and dad that I’d kept tucked away on my bookshelf.

Next was an amazing lunch with some of the wonderful people I have met in Cefalù, at Ti Vitti (which is Siclian dialect for ‘I saw you’). The food was incredible - from the mixed antipasti of cured ham, salami, cheese and caponata (a Sicilian aubergine stew), to the pasta main, and the deliciously light cake, topped with fresh fruit. Of course, as with any decent Sicilian meal, there was also wine!

Although I didn’t expect to receive any presents, I was lucky enough to be given a beautiful necklace, and some very nice toiletries. Later, I returned to the flat, for a peaceful evening, catching up with some of my far away friends.

The next Saturday (24th) I went to Palermo to catch up with Joel. I was a bit nervous going to find him on my own after the previous visit, but after spending much of Friday evening studying Google Maps, I felt quite confident that I’d be able to track him down.

We started out at Quattro Canti, which is the remains of the ancient centre of the city, beautiful, but also decaying, with lots of horse-and-cart ‘taxis’ around the square.

We headed towards Teatro Massimo and Teatro Politeama, and then onwards to the Giardino Inglese, and luckily the weather was beautiful so there were lots of photo oppurtunities.

Next we returned to Quattro Canti, and off into a side street that led to the Ballarò street market, which stretches forever in every direction. I feel quite sure you could buy anything you wanted here – from whole cheese, to clothes, to giant slabs of fish, to bedding – if you look hard enough, it can probably be found.

We decided to have lunch at a trattoria in the market, which we soon realised was a mistake when a group of about 6 ten-year-olds started firing BB guns at passing cars, stray dogs, and eventually, each other. We all felt pretty nervous, and neither of us wanted to have our backs to them, so we ate quickly and moved on.

After lunch we decided to take a slow walk up Via Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the main streets in Palermo, which leads (eventually), to the Catacombs. I hadn’t really known what to expect when we arrived, but Joel insisted that it was worth a visit. It was incredibly strange to walk among so many mummified bodies, hanging grotesquely, almost as if they’re leering at the passing tourists. We didn’t stick around for long, and were soon heading back towards the centre, and the train back to Cefalù.

I’d like to say that day completely changed my view of Palermo, but that’s not entirely true. I definitely saw a different side to the city, which I loved, so while I no longer think of Palermo as a dangerous, scary place, I know that I need to stai attento, and maybe not venture into the Ballarò alone!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Palermo, and some other stuff

I finally made it to Palermo last Friday. And now I’m desperate to go back because I feel like I hardly saw anything. It’s a strange city, and the last few years have not been very kind to it. It’s a city full of grand buildings, especially on the Via della Libertà which is lined with incredible architecture, but there is a definite sense of neglect, and I couldn’t help but think that it must have been so different just a few years ago.

We started the day by going to a shopping centre on the outskirts of Palermo. I thought that this would just be for an hour or so, but 4 and a half hours later, we were still waiting to get back in the car and go into the city. I didn’t mind too much, I’d been able to visit some familiar shops for the first time in 2 months (I did all my shopping in H&M and Accessorize, which is terrible – I could have bought all the exact same things on Argyle Street), and finally tried the local speciality ‘panella’ for lunch.

When we finally reached Palermo, it was like a condensed day trip. We dashed from church to church, stopping at cathedrals, theatres, and famous piazzas. It was all so fast I didn’t really have time to register names of places. I took photos though, so I can prove I definitely saw the sights, even if I’m not 100% sure what they were.

There is a beautiful fountain in Piazza Bellini, and the girl I was with (from Palermo) was encouraging me to take photographs, and walk around the piazza. At the same time, however, there was a protest taking place on one side of the piazza, of workers who had been made redundant, and workers who had not been paid for months. I felt quite uncomfortable taking out my camera, because as soon as I did, protesters at the edge of the group watched us like hawks. I felt that they must think I was some wealthy tourist, completely ignorant of their problems, but at the same time I couldn’t ask to leave, because I didn’t want to offend this girl, who was obviously so proud of her beautiful city.

I don’t know if it’s because I’d been warned so much about visiting Palermo, that I shouldn’t go on my own, and that I need to keep money in my pockets rather than in a bag, that I need to hide any jewellery from sight, etc., that I felt so nervous and uncomfortable the whole time I was walking around. I’ve visited cities, and lived in Glasgow for 2 years, and I’ve never felt as uncomfortable as I did in Palermo. In many ways, it’s a city like any other – proud of its history, with so much evidence of past wealth, but there was also an open desperation that I’ve never before encountered. I still want to visit again though, I feel like there is so much more to see.
I’d like to go again before Christmas, to spend more time taking in the sights, and to be able to see the markets. After this weekend, I’ve only got 5 weekends before Christmas, so I will have to organise myself.

Last Saturday, I went up La Rocca. I thought it would be a lot like going up the rock in Gibraltar, but it’s a much harder climb. In Gibraltar, the climb is all up roads and purpose-built paths, but La Rocca is quite different. The first half of the climb is mostly steps, which was easy, and the views out from Il Tempio di Diana (Diana’s Temple) were incredible. It was a perfect day to go up, with clear skies and sunshine, and looking out over the town, and the sea from the battlements was spectacular.

From here however, the climb was a lot more difficult. There was a rocky path leading up to the castle at the top of the rock, with a lot of loose stones and plants straggling onto the path. It was well worth the effort to make it to the top though, with views for miles along the coast, and from so high up, (270 metres, fact-fans!), the sea was glittering turquoise. It took about 2 hours to get to the top, and then less that half an hour to get down. This made me feel a bit sad.

The rest of this week has been a battle to get paid. I’m still waiting for my Erasmus grant, and received a worrying email on Wednesday telling me that if I didn’t hand in my forms by Friday I’d be removed from the Erasmus programme. The thing is, I’d sent the forms in 2 weeks ago and heard nothing back. I even emailed the university Erasmus department on Tuesday because I was concerned that I’d heard nothing from them! I replied to the email straight away, and I should (hopefully) be receiving my grant next week… but we shall see. In other financial news, the Italian ministry for education has delayed payments to ELA schools in Sicily until the second half of November. Despite the contract stating that ELAs will be paid by the 5th of each month, my school (helpfully, they seemed to think), offered to just pay me double in December, when they have the money. I politely declined this offer, and asked them to let me know as soon as the funds have become available. According to the ELA facebook group, it seems like everyone else has been paid, but I’ve argued with the school so much, I don’t see what else I can do. It’s a good thing my dad booked my flights home for Christmas a month ago – I’d been counting on booking them ‘as soon as I get my grant’ – I’d never be getting home otherwise.

Anyway, it’ll probably all be fixed by this time next week, when I will be OLD.

22 sounds SO MUCH older than 21. I don’t know why. I hope the weather’s as lovely as it is today. I mean, I’m not expecting to spend the day on the beach, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday when it didn’t rain. Surely a birthday in Sicily is the best chance I have of changing that?

This weekend I’m off to spend two days in Castelbuono, a town about 16km from Cefalù, which should make a nice change. I’ll add photos to this post, and write about this weekend when I get back. I like that I’m getting busier, because I don’t want to waste my time here. I know I’m really lucky to be living in Sicily for 8 months, and it’s flying by already. So I’m off to make the most of the sunshine now – see you next week!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So, I've made it through my first month...

I’m feeling a bit homesick today. I’ve managed to get through a whole month of my assistantship, and it’s flown by in a blur of textbooks, timetables, and terrible diagrams of ‘my kitchen’ and ‘my bedroom’ on the blackboard. While it feels like it’s gone by in a flash, it still seems like a l-o-n-g way to Christmas, and even though I keep telling myself I’m pretty much halfway there, I can’t help feeling a bit sad. I keep reminding myself that I should make the most of it, and enjoy every day, and I know that this time next year I’ll be in Glasgow, cursing the rain and the sub-zero temperatures, wishing I was back in Sicily, but right now I just miss my family, and my friends, and I miss Glasgow, because I know all the Christmas lights will be going up, and I love the run-up to Christmas. It’s getting cold, but it doesn’t feel even remotely Christmassy here. I’ve had a good couple of weeks though; I even tried my hand at making some worksheets for the class, which resulted in a LOT of second-years sniggering at me and my utter lack of artistic skill. I told them I didn’t care how bad the drawings were, just to get on filling in the verbs (oh yes, how teacher-y I have become!) It’s the school holidays now, just a few days, back on Monday, but it’s nice to have a few lie-ins after getting up for school 6 days a week for a month.

Last Saturday I finally got out of Cefalù for the afternoon. One of the teachers I’ve been working with, Rosa Maria, had mentioned that I could come along some time when she takes her daughter to dance lessons in a town called Termini Imerese, about 40km up the coast towards Palermo. She told me there wasn’t a lot to do in the town, but seemed amused at my enthusiasm at the idea. It turned out that Termini isn’t the most exciting place in the world, and my hopes for a H&M or Zara were left unsatisfied, but it was really nice to spend the afternoon with a bit of different scenery. It was pretty misty and cloudy, so the photos I took look a bit vague, but I think I’ll go back on a clear day and get some nice shots by the coast.

If there was ever any question of whether I’m being looked after well here, well I'm definitely being fed properly. I was very kindly given a whole sackful of homemade Sicilian food by Rosa Maria’s mother last week (4 jars of jam, jars of pasta sauce, pesto, fish, rice…), in addition to a huge pile of fruit, vegetables and eggs by Cettina, and this week I’ve been taken out for lunch and for dinner. I’m going to be the size of a HOUSE by the time I get back to Glasgow! A very happy house, but still…

It’s probably just as well I’ve got all this food, because it’s suddenly become very cold this week. By cold, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been to the beach – on Tuesday night I went out wearing jeans with leggings underneath. I know that I’m not getting any sympathy – everyone back in Glasgow just says ‘HA! Well at least it’s not SNOWING!’ – but it really is something when it’s exactly the same temperature inside as outside (it’s true – I confirmed it in a very scientific way by sticking my head out the window) and you have to create a nest of blankets in the middle of your bed just to retain the feeling in your toes. However, this (nesting) has resulted in most afternoons this week being lost to long, luxurious naps, and not an awful lot else being achieved. I realise I probably should, but I struggle to see this as a bad thing.

I had some lovely visitors on Tuesday. My friend Joel, from Gibraltar is working for a charity in Palermo, and since his parents are over to see him for the week, they came through to Cefalù for the afternoon, and it was great to see some familiar faces! They asked me to recommend somewhere nice for lunch, explaining that they hadn’t had the best luck with restaurants since arriving in Sicily, and I told them that I’d heard there's a great pizzeria at the end of the Città Vecchia, I just wasn’t sure which one (as the street is full of them). I joked that I knew the name of a girl who worked there, so maybe we could just walk along calling her name, when the manager standing outside of the restaurants overheard and told us ‘No, she’s not here right now, she’s working tonight though…’ And so the decision was made. It was a lovely place, with views out over the ocean, and the food was great! It was brilliant to catch up with Joel and his family, and it was fun showing them around Cefalù, I’ve become quite proud of this little town I’m calling ‘home’ for 8 months.

After being here for nearly 6 weeks, and having been teaching for a month now, I really feel that my grasp of the Italian language is coming on quite well. When I first arrived, I struggled to string the most basic sentences together, and mostly communicated through mime and a lot of eyebrow-waggling. Now, I can easily ask for things in shops, and hold actual, fairly sensible conversations with students and other teachers. I suspect they still think I’m a bit simple, but I’m improving, slowly, and definitely becoming more confident with it. I’m not worried now if someone corrects me, I know that they’re trying to be helpful, and I try not to get embarrassed if I get something wrong. I think it’s probably quite good for my students to see me making the odd mistake with Italian, because then they don’t worry about making mistakes in front of me.

I’ve bought an Italian magazine, so over the weekend I’ll try and pick it up and read through it. Even if it takes 10 times longer than it would to read an English magazine, I know I’ll feel pretty pleased with myself if I get to the end of it. I’ve tried to watch a bit of Italian television, I know it would help with learning the language, but everything I’ve seen so far has been terrible! Every time I’ve found a programme in the tv guide that I’ve thought ‘That sounds alright, I could watch that,’ the schedule’s been wrong, and it’s been ANOTHER episode of The (Italian) Apprentice, or a very rapid, over-excited sports reporter jabbering away so quickly that the only words I can catch are the names of the teams. I will persevere, because I really want to be fluent by the end of my time here. It would be a waste to go back to Glasgow and still be terrified of Italian grammar.

I’m very excited to be going to Palermo tomorrow. I’d been warned that it’s quite a dangerous city if you don’t know where you’re going, and I know I have a tendency to look like a clueless tourist, even when I know exactly where I am, so I didn’t want to go there alone. I mentioned to one of my students that I would like to visit, and she very excitedly came up to me at the beginning of the week, to tell me that she would be going to Palermo at the weekend, and asking if I’d like to join her. I’m sure that a bit of sightseeing will cheer me up, and anyway, it’s only 7 weeks today until I fly home for Christmas (not that I’m counting or anything)! I’ve got my camera ready, and a shopping list in my head. I hope the weather’s good, so that I can make everyone jealous with my sunny photos, and I will write all about it this weekend!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This week has been a good week

On Monday I thought I'd cursed it all by saying how brilliant the weather has been, and it got all cold and windy and stormy and a little bit scary. It wasn't the thunder and lightning     that freaked me out, that doesn't bother me, but the way the balcony doors were shaking and rattling made me wonder if they'd last until morning or if I was going to wake up with my bed covered in glass and splinters. Obviously this building has been here a LOT longer than I have, so really there was no reason to hide with my head under the covers all night.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning the weather was back to its full glory, sunshine and blue skies and 25 degrees, and it was almost like I'd made the whole thing up.
I don't have much to report from school this week. Week 3 played out pretty much the same as the first 2 weeks. I still feel like a giant talking dictionary in some classes, where I just sit  in the corner and every so often I'm asked how to pronounce a certain word. It is getting better though, and I’m gradually getting more chances to talk with the students, and try to explain (awful) grammatical aspects of the English language, for example, the phonetic differences between "fell", "fill", and "feel" - completely different meanings, but some students were pronouncing them exactly the same. I suspect most of them still are.

The big, exciting part of my week was Wednesday afternoon, when I discovered that I'd been waiting over a month for Orange to unlock my phone for NO GOOD REASON, because it was
already unlocked. So, off I skipped, (literally), to the nearest phone shop that I could think of to buy an Italian sim card. I realise that this doesn't exactly come across as all that exciting, but it really is. Now that I have 3G on my phone, I don't have to run down to the beach every time I want to check my emails. This is particularly handy because the lidos have all closed down for the 'winter' and there IS no wifi. In the absence of free wifi on the beach, having 3G on my phone also means that I don't have to turn up on Cettina's doorstep every afternoon, just so I can check facebook/check my emails/ call my mum. She says she doesn't mind, but I can't help but feel it's a bit intrusive to turn
up at 3pm every day, laptop/phone in hand, so I can call my mum and then if Cettina so much as mentions the word 'mum' afterwards I get all watery-eyed and blink at her a lot. This is not really how I want to spend my afternoons here in Sicily, and I can't help but suspect Cettina feels the same way. SO now, I have 100mb of data coverage with which I can do whatever I like each day, for only 5 euros a month. Most of this has so far gone on facebook and Skype, which is great, it means that I can keep in touch with everyone back home without going on some wild trek around Cefalu, searching for internet access. I will appreciate it all the more if this mythical 'winter' ever actually arrives, and I don't have to leave my cosy bed to update my status and tell the world that it is, in fact, 'reeeally bloody cold'. This may be a moot point however, because I honestly don't believe it ever gets cold here.

Another highlight of my week (that is also a bit less nerdy than the previous section) was Thursday evening. After I got home from school on Thursday, I fell asleep for hours, and ended up waking up at around 5pm, feeling terrible that I'd wasted a whole afternoon of sunshine and potential beach opportunity. So I decided that to make up for wasting so much time I would go for a wander around the old town with my camera, while the light was still good, and try to get some nice photos (a couple of which I will try to include here).

 I left the flat and headed towards the cathedral, but found it impossible to take any photographs of said cathedral that didn't have tourists blundering into the shot, or without beggars coming up to me, which, (and this might sound terrible), always makes me nervous when I'm on my own, especially when I've got my camera/phone/purse out in my hand.

I gave up on the cathedral and ended up walking towards the marina. I (rather unsuccessfully) tried to take some decent photos of the lighthouse, (curse you, shaky shaky hands), and walked all the way along the road above the marina, fairly certain that if I carried on that way I would go right around the rock and back into town. After about half an hour of walking along this road, in the darkness, (because the sun had definitely gone down by now), silently convincing myself that I would probably be kidnapped or murdered or run over, I reached the turning in the road that led back to Cefalu. Only, it was JUST a road, no sign of a pavement, and the road narrowed to pitch blackness about 50 metres from where I was. Obviously I had to turn back.

All the way past the marina I convinced myself I couldn't look down because then I'd see something I wasn't supposed to see and then I'd end up "sleepin' with the fishes", so I pretty much power-walked all the way back into the familiar territory of the old town.

Back in the old town, I managed to get a snap of the cathedral (which is not the friendliest-looking building, notice the slits in the walls for shooting arrows out of?) while a man on a scooter tried to run me over. By the time I got home it was only about half 7, but it had felt like the dead of the night, walking around on my own out there.

I'm sure there was no danger at all, but I properly spooked myself, and when I got home I realised I'd got about 15 massive mosquito bites for my troubles. I did manage to get a couple of decent photos on this mini-adventure, and I guess I've got a lot of time to practice while I'm here. I think I might just stick to getting my camera out during the day while I'm on my own though.

Hopefully my Erasmus grant will come through this week, so that I can go on a wee adventure to Palermo, (and also, so that I can pay my rent, which would be very useful). Cefalù is lovely, but it’s SO SMALL, so I definitely want to get out and explore more of Sicily. Next week (the week where October turns into November), there’s a 4-day school holiday, so I will investigate bus/train timetables and go on at least one trip to somewhere new. Right now I feel like I’ve got all the time in the world to go exploring, but I know that if I carry on thinking like that it’ll get to May and I won’t have been anywhere! It’s been a month already, and it’s flown by! As much as I miss my road bike, because in theory it would be great for exploring, I don’t think that I’d get that much use out of it here, because the roads are so twisty and narrow, and the Sicilians drive like absolute nutters. And the thought of hoiking it up all those scarily steep stairs every time I wanted to go out just makes me feel sad. You’d have to see these stairs to understand, each of them is higher than it is deep, and you honestly have to be some kind of mountain goat just to get up to the flat without tripping or clinging onto the banister. I have no idea how I’ll get my suitcase down when I go home at Christmas - I might have to get some rope and lower it down from the balcony (not even joking).

It's Sunday today, which is my day off, and I really want to go up the rock, but I think I may have left it too late in the day now, as it's nearly 1pm now, and I don't want to evaporate halfway up. I think I’ll save it for one of the holiday-days at the end of the month. I might just have to go to the beach today instead; it’s too hot to do anything else.

Finally – at least 2 different people have gone down the road outside my flat on segways since I started writing this. In fact, I think they’re going round in big loops, along the seafront and back round. I’m sure this is not normal.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Beginnings

I always start blogs and diaries with the best intentions, thinking I will update it weekly, and add photographs, and make an interesting record of my life.

However, as in almost everything I do, my innate capacity for procrastination, (and a sense that my daily life in Glasgow, centered almost entirely around trying not to be late for Italian lectures and peddling shoe protector in Clarks, does not exactly make for a riveting read), has led me to neglect this page for a very long time.

As I mentioned in the (rather lonely) previous post, last Autumn as I began my second year at university, I applied for the post of English Language Assistant (ELA) in Italy for the following academic year (October 2012 – May 2013). I don’t think I really expected to get anywhere with the application, but not knowing what I wanted to do after university, (or even for my honours subjects), I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.

As anyone reading this will know, (maybe all 3 of you, at a push??), I was successful in my application, and I have been sent to the beautiful town of Cefalù, in Sicily, to work for 8 months as an ELA.

When I was first offered the placement, it took quite a long time to sink in. I didn’t really think I’d be going anywhere, and had pretty much resigned myself to single honours English, and I was quite happy with that. Then I found out that I was going to Sicily for the best part of a year, and realised just how underprepared I was. Thus ensued three months of blind panic, putting pretty much everything I own into a friend’s attic for safe storage, (THANK YOU KAREN), and trying to figure out what aspects of British Culture I could possibly impart unto these young, impressionable Italian students (so far, it seems that a Dr. Who DVD and a street map of Glasgow will suffice*).
*Oh, and if any other ELAs or anyone from the British Council happens to read this, that was a JOKE.

I arrived in Sicily 3 weeks ago today, emotional at having said farewell to my parents, feeling cramped and irrationally angry after a 3-hour flight with Ryanair, and ridiculously conspicuous with my bright pink suitcase. Can I just say that I HATE travelling? I love getting to know a new town, and I love being in different places, but I harbour a full-body hatred for the bit in-between.

The first thing that struck me about Sicily was the HEAT. This was mostly because there wasn’t an awful lot more to notice stuck in an underground railway station at the airport. I managed to buy my train ticket and get on the train, feeling very obvious and English the whole time, and when the train reached Palermo Centrale, there was no announcement of the fact, and I couldn’t even see a sign to assure me that I was, in fact, in Palermo, but it just seemed to be taken for granted that anyone going to Palermo would know that they were in Palermo, by sixth-sense or something.

After an hour’s wait, and then an extra 20 minutes because, hey, this is Sicily, and it’s a Sunday, so really you’re lucky to be getting anywhere, I was finally on my way to Cefaù. On my way to Cefalù on a train with no lights, and on which only half of the external doors were functioning. But I was on my way. Again, there was no announcement of our arrival in Cefalù, and it was only the very helpful man sitting across the aisle from me that gave me any idea that I had made it to my destination, but I scrambled off the train, dragging my big pink suitcase behind me, into the welcoming arms of 2 of the teachers I will be working with here, Enza and Cettina.

Having spent the whole day on the verge of tears, (did I mention I HATE travelling?), it was so comforting to be met off the train, by these 2 ladies with whom I had only communicated via email up until this point, but who both acted as if my arrival could only be topped by, say, William and Kate suddenly getting off the train behind me. We all bundled into Enza’s waiting car, and as they drove me through the town to my flat (did I mention that Cettina is also my landlady here? I have definitely fallen on my feet with this assistantship), I could hardly answer their barrage of questions, because I was too busy gawping out the window at my new home.

After dragging my suitcase up 3 flights of the steepest stairs I have ever seen in my life, Cettina took me to her house, and fed me until I was full to bursting (seriously, Sicilians are the friendliest, kindest people I have ever encountered), and I then returned to the flat to acquaint myself with the place where I will live for the next 8 months.

Waking up the next morning and stepping out onto my balcony (MY balcony) for the first time was the best feeling EVER. When I arrived on the Sunday evening it had been too dark to distinguish anything other than the dark shapes of the hills and a slight glimmer of the sea. I hope I can add a photo to this post, because I don’t think that I can do justice to the view. Rugged green hills with tiny toy houses peeking out from between the trees, and clear blue ocean for as far as the eye can see – this is a view that makes every morning worth getting out of bed for.

Cefalù itself is a lovely town, a big mix of old and new, characterised by the innumerable scooters zipping up and down the narrow streets of the Città Vecchia (Old Town). Wandering around, (and getting lost), I realised that it is a very friendly place. Living in Gibraltar I always found that if you don’t speak Spanish, some people want very little to do with you, and make no effort to try and understand you, but it is a completely different story here. I’m the first to admit that my Italian is far from perfect, but going into shops, or buying fruit from a stall in the street, I feel that my efforts are appreciated, and everyone is always very happy to help.

In my first week here, I spent a LOT of time on the beach. My excuse is that it is one of the few places I can get online for free, and so, I really HAD to go there, in order to check my emails and keep in touch with everyone back home. But also, I wanted to get a tan. It’s the 14th of October now, and the weather is still incredible. I think there have been 2 bad days of weather out of 20 since I got here, so after a ‘summer’ in Glasgow, this is paradise.

A week after I arrived I started working. While I’m here I will work between two schools, a ‘Liceo Classico’ and an ‘Alberghiera’. The former gives a more formal education, while the latter provides students with the education needed to enter the hospitality industry. As the teachers and many of the students from the Liceo will be in England for most of October, I am spending my first month at the Alberghiera.

There seems to be a fair amount of snobbery, with staff and students from the Liceo telling me that I’ll have my work cut out for me at the Alberghiera, as the students are more disruptive and less academic. Whilst I don’t yet have any experience at the Liceo to compare it to, after 2 weeks at the Alberghiera I feel that this is mostly based on prejudice. From what I can tell, the students I have worked with are a lot livelier than their counterparts in the other school, but so far I have been treated with respect, and I have also been told that students look forward to having me in their class. Maybe it’s just because I’m new and foreign, and I’m not involved in disciplining the students, and maybe the novelty will wear off, but I have never felt more welcomed and accepted as the ‘new girl’ as I have in my first 2 weeks working here.

Within about 3 days of starting at the Alberghiera, I’ve been unable to nip to the shops, or go for a walk without having students coming up to me to say hello, or calling my name across the street. I know that it’s still all new and exciting, and maybe it’s just that the novelty hasn’t worn off for me yet, but Sicily, and specifically, Cefalù, is the friendliest place I have ever lived.

By no means is it all perfect here. I miss my family terribly, and on more than one occasion have my parents received messages asking them to call me only for me to answer the phone making squeaking noises and sniffles as if a vole has learned to use the phone.

I miss Glasgow too. I miss my sister, I miss having all of my things to hand, and I miss British television! I miss my friends, I miss the shops, I miss the 24 hour Tesco and I miss Heinz baked beans. I miss having a washing machine – washing everything you ever wear by hand is no joke. And I miss making cakes! There is no oven in my little flat, so everything I cook has to be made on the hob, which means no cakes! I will have to make up for this at Christmas.

I have so much time on my hands here too. The ELA contract is for 12 hours per week in the classroom, and I am obviously expected to research and plan for lessons outside of this. Even so, I have more free time than I have had since I was in primary school! I’ve had time to read whatever I like, and go to the beach, and go for walks and take photos, and it’s been lovely. It’s like being on a really long holiday, but I don’t have to feel guilty for doing so little, because 6 days a week, I have to get up and go and teach for 2 hours!

In the last couple of days I’ve been allowed to pretty much take over classes on my own. They were just simple lessons, like teaching second-year students to tell the time in English, and there is always a teacher present to make sure everything goes smoothly, but I really enjoyed it, and the classes seemed to pay attention, which makes me think that they enjoyed it too. I wasn’t sure about teaching when I first applied for the assistantship; I’ve always thought of it as an option, but I didn’t know if I’d enjoy it, or if I’d actually be any good at it. Now it’s seeming more and more like something I could see myself doing.

Okay, so I just did a word-count, and I’m getting close to 2000 words. How is it that I can knock out that much without trying when it’s drivel, but when it comes to writing essays I struggle from one word to the next? Anyway, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll write again soon.