Ear plugs

I was trying to describe to my friend Riccardo what it's like to work in the kitchen here in San Marino and I thought of the perfect example:

Its like walking in to work everyday with ear plugs in.

In a field that is solely based on senses, like cooking, your ability to produce top products is as good as your ability to feel, smell, taste, hear and see. I don't have much experience compared to other cooks and there is a lot I need and want to learn; my ability to cook (feel, smell, taste, hear and see) is still developing. But by working here, I might as well have earplugs in. If all my senses are still mediocre, I can't afford to be down a sense completely! I need all the senses I can get! So I wrote last week that because I'm working in a kitchen that speaks a different language than I do, I will be learning how to cook based on my senses alone. Yeah, REVISION: I will be learning how to cook based on the only senses I have left. Ahhh! Hahahahaha

As much as I stress and write about this language problem, I know it's good for me. Submersing myself in a new country, language, way of life. And I probably should give myself more credit... I'm sure I've picked up or learned more language than I think. But it's just TOO easy to recognize how behind I am and not easy enough to see how far I've come. In time, I'm sure I'll read back on some of these entries and shake my head at myself.

Patience, Ashley. Patience. If language isn't the only thing I learn, patience should be next on the list.



4 great things in my life right now:

- the joy I have going to the same bar (cafe, since cafes are called bars here) everyday to see the most gorgeous man in existence. I walk in and he smiles and knows my order (not that an espresso is hard to remember, but it's that he remembers my face) :D

-a car is called a macchina (mok-een-ah), which literally translates to machine. So when Italians speak in English about their car, they say machine. I smile every time. Just like when they say disco. Hahaha

-I've had no hot water in my apartment for 3 days and got fed up and managed to fix the water heater myself!! I'm so proud! Now my showers are ultra hot and I love it! After my shower, I ate a piece of chocolate that has little fortune/notes in the wrapper. Today's said "you'll get a lot of joy out of simple things today."

-today is the warmest day since I've been in Europe. No jacket necessary. And the snow is running down the mountain like a river.

I have many other joys but those by far are my four top favorites. Work is good. I work approx 13 hours a day and I'm learning a lot. I'm doing a lot of bread making, dough rolling, and pastry type of activities which is great because I have absolutely no experience with that. In the down time, or when Betty doesn't want me messing up her perfect dough ;), help out with whatever I can. Shucking oysters, cleaning and breaking down squid, cooking Parmesan rind and pounding it in to dust(yes, its possible people. And delicious. Save your rinds!). I have nasty fingernails again, a big blister on my thumb from the oven and a gash on my index finger that sends off a tingly feeling in my thumb when i touch it (I'm thinking nerve damage?). And I love it! My hands are back to normal!! Yes!!

Living and working here definitely has its ups nd downs and I feel like I'm on an emotional roller coaster, but for the most part, San Marino and my work is really growing on me. The people I work with are great and extremely dedicated to their craft. Everyone wants to be there and produces dishes to the best of their ability every time. The speed and sryle of restauant is a lot different from and what im used to, but I'm welcoming the change. I wish that I could understand all of what is said in the kitchen because I feel that I could do a better job with knowing what's going on. I'm trying my best and working hard but I have to base everything on what I see because I can't understand the words. Every night, I leave work frustrated, thinking that I could be doing a better job, knowing that I'm capable of doing a better job, but feel stuck. I know what I am capable of and I know I could be doing better. It's so hard to be at my full potential when I have absolutely no idea what's going on around me. I watch, I interpret, and I repeat exactly what they do. Over and over and over. Because listening to any explanation on how to do something won't help. Watch, interpret, repeat. Watch, interpret, repeat. It's exhausting but I wake up and want to do what I just did the day before, but even better. I'll get it eventually. They say I'm doing a good job and they compliment me on being non stop. But I know I can do more. I want to do more. I want to understand. Ahh! I need to be patient, I know. Patience is not one of my best qualities.

I want to write more but my iPad is about to die. For now, I'll just relax at this bar and stare at the gorgeous man before I go back to work :)


Watch out

Ok. Brace yourself.

I'm totally ok with people helping me speak Italian, correcting my words and sentences so that I am speaking properly.


This has only happened maybe twice since I've been in Italy but it irritates me to no end. Two times have I encountered some asshole who makes some rude comment about me speaking Italian. It's something along the lines of I need to practice my Italian or I need to stop speaking English and start speaking italian. They stop me after I've said something in English, and make a point to tell me that word in Italian...


Ok, thank you. I'm sorry, GRAZIE. Excuse me, ive been speaking the same language for 23 years so a new one is a little bit of a challenge. As if my inability to formulate a complete sentence in Italian wasn't a BIG enough clue that yes, I DO need to practice my Italian. Thank you for pointing that out. And why the hell is MY speaking Italian so important in YOUR life? Why does it mean so much to you. Furthermore, the last time I checked, you don't know me. You don't know what I've been doing, where I have come from, and more importantly, who I am. Because if you knew who I was, you'd know that that is the exact wrong thing to say to me right now. It's the ONE thing that can really push my buttons at this moment. So pardon me, but in English, we say shove it. (actually worse, but I'm editing myself)

I swear the next person that makes some crack along the same line will not leave the conversation feeling like have taught me any Italian language. I promise.

Whew. I feel better :)


Blah blah blah

So many thoughts go through my head head at work, most of them along the lines of translating Italian/English. But when I'm doing mindless work, like shelling fava beans or rolling out millions of little balls of dough, my mind wonders... but also because I basically talk to myself all day, since Im the only one that understand me. Ha

I can not wait to see San Marino take off its blanket- the snow. From my work station, I have an AMAZING view on top of the hill that looks over the entire city and into the rolling hills of further towns. Yes, it's beautiful now, covered in white with the contrast of the crisp blue sky or flaming orange sunset. But I want to SEE San Marino! Not just colors. Not just white land and a colored sky! San Marino, reveal yourself! I want to know where the local everything is and if it's walking distance because right now, I can't tell. I've been grazing up and down a few streets on my down time but I'm afraid to go too far because in the snow, everything looks the same and I don't want to get lost. We know me by now: being lost is second nature. But I asked a few people, or tried to, if there was a local yoga studio around so I could stretch and relax my mind. No luck. They kind of chuckled at me; maybe san marineans dont believe in yoga. But I did find a guy at work who is willing to try muay Thai/kickboxing with me!! I've never done it but I'm interested and down to have some sort of physical activity outside of work. Hopefully it's in walking distance... Or maybe he has a car. Heh

So my work schedule is as follows: tues-Sunday 8:30 to 3 and then 6-10. I guess it's common for Italian cooks to work a shift in the morning and then again at night. I don't mind. I don't mind at all in fact because I'm keeping busy and learning food and language alllll day! I had my first night of service last night and it was pretty cool. There were two reservations, a HUGE difference from mozza's 375, but everything had to be perfect. The cooks and chef spend time making sure everything that goes out is up to par. It's very different from LA but I am learning to go with the flow. I'm here to try something different, so it's great to have it different in every way imaginable. The only thing that is frustrating me to no end is the fact that I don't have words to explain to them my background, where I come from, my cooking experience, and what Mozza was like. Although no words in English or Italian can explain the work done at Mozza since the kitchen and the cooks run like a machine. But I can't even explain to my new coworkers anything about me. They just see me and know me from what I've done in the past three day which let me tell you, has to be pretty freakin funny. Watching an American girl try to figure her way in an Italian kitchen...they must think I'm fluff. I can only imagine what they are assuming. Haha Whatever, I'll just prove them wrong. It's more motivation to prove myself.

By the way, since I don't speak Italian, I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure I was asked out on a date. And since I don't speak Italian, I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure I said yes. Hahahahaha! We'll see.... :D



Epiphany: learning how to cook in an Italian kitchen without speaking Italian is the best blessing I could be given. Why? As I said yesterday, cooking is done with your five senses: hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and touching. If I can successfully learn Italian technique without speaking, that means I've based my learning off those five senses alone. I've learned how to cook based on what FEELS right, what my senses are telling me.

That, my friends, is the goal.

News update: Chef Sartini pulled me aside today, introduced me to Mrs. Righi who informed me that she would be getting me some chef coats and moving me in to an apartment on Monday. Chef then told me in Italian that someone will be taking me to the police station on monday to get my visa because I will be working pastry/antipasti for one month, pasta for one month, and meat/fish station for one month. Looks like I'll be here for the next three months.

Living in Italy. Working at a fantastic restaurant. With an apartment and chef coats provided. How did this happen?????


I'm back!

Ok. First and foremost, before I forget. I absolutely LOVE the fact that over here, clubs or places that people go dancing are called discos. The disco!! Because in my world, disco is an era or something that is long over with... But here, a disco is a club and the cool place to go to. I LOVE it!! I crack up everytime I hear it, I can't help it. Before I leave, I MUST go to the disco.

Now on with what I was originally going to write about: I started work today!! I can tell, from day one, it's going to be very difficult and challenging, but I already love it!! There is something about being in the kitchen, surrounded by food and people all working towards the same goal, that is therapeutic for me. I haven't cooked or been in a kitchen since December 27th and let me tell you it feels fantastic!! I ache all over, my left arm hurts from shucking oysters, I have little cuts and scrapes all over my hands and it feels soooooo familiar!! My life is back!! My purpose has returned! I can't understand a word anyone says, but when I'm standing there, supreming orange after orange or hand rolling trays of grissini, it doesn't matter! I'm back to what I love, speaking the same language through my hands. Through all my senses for that matter. The sight of breads and produce, the feel of a knife in my hand, the smell of extremely fresh fish, the sound of onions sizzling in a pan, and the taste of newly made chocolate hazelnut gelato!?! Are you kidding!! I'm back!!!!!!! My soul was floating and it came running back to me. Sprinting, actually. In reality, this job is going to be difficult. No question. It's a teeny tiny, tightly run, Michelin star Italian kitchen; Chef Sartini was cooking with us all day and watching over everyone. It's nerve wracking trying to stage in a kitchen on the first day when the menu is completely foreign and all the cooks have a different technique from what you're used to. It's a different story when it's that PLUS a language barrier. But, as I reminded myself all day long, I am here to cook. And cooking is what I will do. And it's what I love.

There were SOOOO many moments today that I was thanking people I have cooked with in my head. I was told to supreme oranges. Thank god Nancy Silverton taught me how to do that during one of my shifts at the mozzarella bar. I was told to roll grissini. Thank god Paulina and Armida showed me how to EVENLY roll long strips of dough since grissini is basically a cooked pici noodle. I was told to weigh out several ingredients for pastry. Thank god Stefan taught me the importance of precise and very accurate measurements. I was told to shuck oysters. Thank god for the guy in charge of some booth at the pebble beach food and wine festival where I had to shuck hundreds of them. Then I was told to go faster. And last, but most DEFINITELY not least, thank GOD for Chef Chris (although he would say "dont thank god, thank me.")who always told me to speed through the easier tasks to accumulate more time for the tasks you need to slow down on. And who instilled in me the meaning of working as fast as you can without sacrificing quality. And who also taught me, and beat in to my head, to never be a pansie. Thank you thank you THANK YOU! Seriously.

For the millionth time, as I'm sure you're all tired of hearing it, the language thing is my biggest challenge. I was paired with Betty, the pastry cook, and I owe this girl so much already. She was so patient with me all day and tried her best to explain things to me; she spoke Italian and charades and I spoke English, charades and Italian words. Im still in the process of learning the Italian words for kitchen tools, ingredients, equipment, etc. by asking "come si dice questa in Italiano?" (how do you say this in Italian?). Betty was great at answering, but I think I started to over do it because after awhile, she politely informed me that I should just work and she would answer more questions tomorrow. Hahaha, I had to laugh. I can only imagine what it's like to have a huge list of things to do, be in the weeds (a cooks way of saying you're behind or slammed with work), and have this dead weight constantly asking in a terrible Italian accent "how do you say this in Italian?" ha!! So a few times, I ended up walking over to the center of the small kitchen, charading out what was suppose to be a blender and making blender noises, and asking people where the blender was. I got a few blank stares and a few laughs too, but its all part of the learning process. And I found the blender. So it's effective. =P

After work, Danilo invited a few of us over to his house for dinner because his mom was making pasta. Oh, was she making pasta!!! I walked in his house to see a blanket of thinly stretched dough covering the table. She then rolled it up, very precisely, sliced through it like a machine, and unravelled beautiful strands of fresh tagliatelle pasta! Dear god!! Then, she drops it in the boiling water while Danilo, who worked all day, had no problem heating the bolognese sauce and finishing the pasta. Mama Danilo boiled pasta, Danilo sauced and finished the pasta, and Papa Danilo made an arugula salad, warmed Piadina, and sliced prosciutto because they happen to have a slicer and a leg of prosciutto in their kitchen. Voila! A real Italian home cooked meal. Family style. Unbelievable! We sat around the table, ate, drank Sangiovese, and enjoyed being together. Id like to say I started to have somewhat of a breakthrough because I started to understand what people were talking about. Everyone was speaking Italian and I kid you not, started to really understand!! I was so excited! I couldn't repeat to you any of it. But understanding is the first step. It's kind of like a movie: you can't repeat it or explain it to anyone until you understand first. At least, that's my logic.

Anyways, I have work tomorrow from 830-12 and then again from 6- whenever service is over. I need to shower, stretch, tend to my cuts and scrapes, and unwind with some good music. Day one at Righi la Taverna= success.


Pros & cons

Today's cons:

Still not working/cooking
Can't communicate with anyone
Still an insane amount of snow
Having anxiety/ moments of panic

Today's pros:

Went to the beach and collected sea shells
Knowing I start work/cooking tomorrow (it's been 6 weeks since I've cooked)
Figured out how to watch American news/greys anatomy on my iPad
Found a local bar that serves cheap beer
Ate a pack of haribo sour strawberry spaghetti
Talked to dad on Skype for 45 minutes
Messaged and caught up with Ashleigh and Estelle (friend I met in Venice)
Did laundry (technically yesterday, but it's a great feeling, still even today)
Got hot water in the shower

I'd say the pros outweigh the cons. I also say that I'll be writing more frequently in this blog due to new adventures and difficulties. Stay tuned ...

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances, but they're worth taking
Loving might be a mistake, but it's worth making
Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance"

Shut up, I like this song. =P


My valentine(s)

Happy valentines day, first and foremost. Although I did nothing today that represented valentines day in America, I did do a lot of much needed laundry (not in the shower but in an actual washing machine!!!)and had dinner with new co workers. I have not started work yet due to the massive amount of snow that has completely covered San Marino and all the surrounding towns but i have spent all my time with Danilo (a fellow cook), met a few other cooks and finally met Chef Sartini and his family. I start work on Thursday which turns out to be a great blessing because now I have had a few days to get a grip on things. Let me tell you.... It has not been easy. Not at all. Not that I expected it to be, but it's more difficult than I imagined.

I am so very very very thankful to have this opportunity. To live and work in another country is incredible; to learn a craft in a foreign land, one such as cooking in Italy, is absolutely priceless. I see the generosity of those who have made and are making this opportunity possible and believe me, it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I owe so much to many people already and my real journey has not even begun yet. I'm forever thankful and will not be able to express the significance of my gratitude.


can I sound like a brat for the next few seconds? It's day two and I am exhausted. I mean mentally and emotionally drained. DRAINED. I have never had so much difficulty communicating before in my life and it's a completely new experience to be surrounded by people and still feel so isolated. My mind thinks in English and is trying to translate every word into Italian at all times of the day, whether it's speaking, listening, reading, tv, etc etc etc. It's about 12am and because my brain has been running marathons of language translation, I feel like I could sleep for at least 24 hours. I want to learn so badly and total submersion is great for me... But why does it feel SO impossible? Listening to people speak makes me realize I know even less than I thought I did. And because I've been trying to translate italian all day, I dont even think I can think/write/speak English anymore. My current face is 0_0. Just a glazed look.

And so I turn to music. It's the only thing I have with me that I can relate to currently. The only thing. Once I start cooking, I think I'll feel a little better because cooking is something I know and feel somewhat comfortable with. But for now, while I'm trying to find solid ground, music is it. A lot of lyrics have been hitting me harder than usual or making sense in a different way than before, maybe because my emotions are in a massive knot and I'm on edge. But the best one of all was tonight. While in danilo's car on the way home, I was thinking about everything and how far I felt from everything and suddenly, Rod Stewart's "have I told you lately" came on. I instantly thought of my dad, since he always sings that song, and then started thinking of my whole family. While listening to the entire song, vivid images of my mother, father, brother, uncle, and grandmother came to mind and I could hear their voices repeating all the support they have told me over the last month. It felt very real. I could hear and see each of them and my isolation didn't feel very prominant anymore. It slowly started to come back to me the very reason why I am here: to learn. And learn everything.

It's day 2 in San Marino. I'm kicking my own ass harder than anyone knows. Yeah, I'll get it pretty bad when I step foot in the kitchen too but no one kicks my ass harder than I do. The pressure is just beginning and I'm feeling it now more than ever. I've reached the highest of highs and the lowest of lows on this journey and although it's hard for me to believe and I almost wince as I type this: bring it on. Bring it. Because so far, I haven't been thrown anything I couldn't handle. Some higher power has given me tis challenge because they feel I'm ready. I gave myself this challenge as well... I must think I'm ready. Currently hard to believe, but that's where the self ass kicking comes in.

And to my family that gets me through the tough times... You have been most supportive and a constant flow of positive energy. Without fail, I know you believe in me and that makes this whole process worth it. So heres to you:

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there's no one else above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away all my sadness
Ease my troubles, that's what you do.

Now that's a true valentine :)



Note to self: it is better to learn a foreign language BEFORE trying to live in that country.

Next time...


Way of life

Ahhh I feel so behind in posts! I've been through Venice, then Verona, and now Bologna and I haven't really updated much. Basically, after Rome, everything got better. Don't get me wrong, Rome was pretty awesome but there were just a lot of factors playing against us. I understand why everyone loves Rome and I can definitely see its potential as a city to visit while traveling, but for me, going when I did was somewhat of a bummer. I'm reserving my opinion of Rome until I get to travel it again hopefully in the spring or early summer, before ALL the tourists go.

But on a positive note, I enjoyed excellent gelato, pasta, and pizza and I saw and toured the colosseum and also toured the Vatican with an EXCELLENT tour guide, David Kellogg from California. He has been living in Rome for the last 14 years and was shocked to see it snowing. On the day of our tour, the group was not allowed in to St peter's basilica due to the unexpected snowfall ( I guess Romans close indoor events when freak weather happens). David told the group that if we wanted to come back the next day, he would continue the tour for us on his free time. Ashleigh and I, the hardcore tourists we are, were the only ones to show up the next day. He informed us that the basilica was still closed for 'tours' but that she and I could go in on our own. But before we went on our way, he felt the urge to fill us in on the history so that we would know what we were looking at. He took us to a cafe, bought us both hot chocolate, and taught us all about the basilica. We then talked about Ashleigh's dance, my cooking, and the daily life of an Italian. David brought a lot of useful insight to historical and present day Italy and I will always be grateful for his hospitality (and hot chocolate since it was the best I have ever had)!

Spent a few more days in Rome, having an excellent last day, and then went to Venice and fell in love. Instantly. My favorite part of Venice was getting lost. I made sure to remember the name of the train station near my hostel and what the signs looked like so no matter where I went, I could find my way back. I walked and walked and walked and turned every corner I could, going down every narrow alley, every brightly or dimly lit alley, and every alley that sparked my interest. On my first full day there, I ventured around with a guy from the hostel, Rossi (from brazil), visiting Piazza San Marco and walking all the way down to the very tip of Castello and walking around a beautiful park. We then went in the other direction and walked down to the very tip of Dorsoduro, having an unbelievable view! It over looked where the canale di San Marco and Canale Della giudecca connected and off into the coast of a few other islands. Absolutely gorgeous. And FREEZING(that is where I took my fb profile picture)!! The next day in Venice, I walked around with my Australian friend Estelle and we ate prosciutto sandwiches on the steps of a canale. How awesome is that?!? I thought even if I lived in Venice someday, there is no way I could ever take its beauty for granted. Even sitting on the steps of a canale, overlooking a gondola and a few bridges, eating a ham sandwich, Venice could not be more perfect. We then had dinner at a restaurant our hostel owner recommended because he found out I was a cook and his female friend owned a restaurant right around the corner. Osteria alba nova. Perfetto!! First best meal of my life and all I ordered was pappardelle with porcini. Ahhh!!

The next day, yesterday, I spent the day in Verona, the city of love. I briefly blogged about that yesterday but basically, who goes to the city of love by themselves?? Me. This girl, right here. And I still managed to have a great time! I went to the balcony and courtyard where Romeo and Juliet originated, I hiked a huge hill to that overlooked all of Verona at sunset, and I ate the second best meals of my life at Osteria "Le Decete". My tortellini in sage and butter sauce was I credible. So simple and done so perfectly. Verona was a perfect little day trip and I am glad I ventured out to the city of love BY MYSELF right before valentines day. Just shows that I've come to love myself and be just fine and better in my own company.

Today I arrived in Bologna. It's snowing and freeeeeeezing but that didn't stop me. I walked around and went to my new favorite market, Mercato Della Erne, where I bought stracciatella, prosciutto do Parma, finocchio salami, sopressa picante and a few heads of lettuce to make one hell of a salad. Woah boy. Now I'm off to pasta fresca, where they specialize in their fresh pasta dishes. I also ate a bright pink meringue that was in the shape of a pig. Now that I'm plump and happy, is time to think about my work in less than 2 days!!! Ahhhh!!! I'm meeting chef at the bologna centrale day after tomorrow....

Nervous is an understatement


Dash #2

I've been doing a lot in Venice and I took a day trip to Verona today, the city of love! I don't know if that was the smartest decision to make, traveling to the city of love alone... But I had a great time regardless. Call me an idiot but I didnt quite make the connection between Verona and city of love until I actually got there and then it was rubbed in my face. But on any note, it's beautiful, fun, small enough for a great day trip and I had the best pasta! I want to write more but I'm exhausted and have to travel to Bologna tomorrow so I'm just going to copy and paste what I wrote earlier today:

Totally forgot to share my other train dash story!! On my way from Rome to Venice, I bought the ticket the day before, making sure I bought the cheapest one (40€ instead of 90€). So the next day, I wake up on the later side and I know I need to hustle to the train station in order to find my train, get on, etc. it's also icy and snowy outside and I'm carrying all my luggage. I get to the train station and can't find any board with departure times and I get antsy. I ask a few people and they aren't very helpful, but one points me downstairs. I lug my stuff downstairs and the departure board only gives the track number maybe 7 minutes before the train departs, leaving no time for error. I find my train, but the departure time is off by 3 minutes. I figure " crazy Italians changing things, that must be it". I sit and wait, finally get the track number and head to the train. Get all bags on the train, find my seat and settle in. Whew. I look across at someone else's ticket and notice its completely different. So I ask a girl near me, who doesn't speak English and I basically find out I'm on the wrong train... The 90€ one that takes less time. Ahhh! And it's 2 minutes before taking off! I scramble, once again off a train, gather my stuff, pushing people out of the way, get my luggage, literally throw it off the train, again, and tumble down after it, again. It feels oh so familiar. The conductor happens to be standing right there and he looks at me with a lot of confusion. I can't find my ticket to ask him any questions and he doesn't speak any English either. I'm looking for my ticket, thinking the whole time that I'm missing the train I'm suppose to be on and now i have to spend another 40€ buying another ticket which adds up just to about the price of the one I was on that goes faster. I find my ticket, hand it to the man and he cracks a smile and says " you're ok... Get on". And he winks. I exhale so loudly and say " yessss!!" and he starts busting up laughing, probably thinking "crazy American girl, I don't care which train you take" since I'm finding out now that they really don't care. And then I realize I have about 30 seconds to get my heavy awkward bag back on the train and face the people I pushed out of the way. Ha! Ugh... I did it though. And I lucked out with a shorter trip to Venice for less than half price. Thank you mr. Italian conductor. I am forever grateful. Except it's now about 4 days later and my arm is killing me from yanking my bags around in a panic. Ahh, the trains. I'll never get it right :P


1/2 a conversation

I had my first Italian conversation tonight!!! Aside from ordering at a restaurant (vorremo una bottiglia chianti, vorrei due cappucini, il conto per favore), I actually talked with someone today. Well, I understood maybe MAYBE half of what was said BUT he spoke broken English and with my broken Italian, we were able to have a very lovely conversation! He was my server at a restaurant for dinner and we talked about my dessert, and then my work, and then the weather and Italy. He said my little Italian was very good and that gave me more confidence in wanting to learn. I'm glad I'm breaking down the wall of communication! It's intimidating for me to talk with a local, especially because they talk so fast. I'm slowly (very slowly) but surly learning the language. It was a nice conversation.... And then he smiled and gave me his number. And I realized our learning each others languages was not the most important thing on his mind, as it was for me. Haha I should've known. Tricky tricky Italian man!

Next time, I'll be more aware. And maybe learn the words in Italian to avoid such situations.

Come si dice "naive" in Italiano?


Freaking out!

OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Venice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm in love! I've never felt love like this before. I got off the train, feeling somewhat nervous and scared... I'm back to being on my own. I'm on my own from here on out actually. Ashleigh is back in Kiel getting ready for her dance auditions. And I have until Sunday to enjoy my free time. Anyways, got off the train feeling nervous about navigating and a bunch of other stuff ( if you can't tell already, I get anxiety all the time over most things). Got to the main part of the station, glimpsed outside and realized I didn't have a map to even find my way to the hostel with. Nothing. And I've heard that streets in Venice are not labeled and wind every which way, making it not very easy to find a specific hostel, especially if you're me. Ok ok ok, so grab a map and kind of freak out for because I can't figure out where I am on the map or where I want to be. I feel myself get all hot and sweaty and my breaths get shorter. I know those are my initial symptoms before I lose my shit. So I sit down, take a deep breath and tell myself "freak out. Go ahead. Do it. Get it overwith and when you're done, find yourself on the map. Let's go." I kicked myself in the butt. From there, I was able to skip the freaking out and I just focused on the map. Found my current location, kinda found my destination, got up and walked outside.

OH MY GOD. I wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the ground. Holy hell!! VENICE! The way you imagine it would look...yeah, it looks just like that. So after talking myself out of freaking out earlier, I totally lose my shit anyways and tears stream down my face. But at least I lost it for a different reason. Instead of being nervous/scared/lost, I was instantly in my element. Instantly!
A little man outside the train station makes eye contact with me, walks over and mumbles something i cant understand and then picks up my bag and starts walking. Shocked, I chase after him and it turns out he just wanted to carry my bag over the bridge for me, since the bridge is all stairs. Hahaha, so random!! I then followed my map, winding between narrow alley ways, up and down stairs, over bridges and find myself walking along the Canal Grande. I think " no way is my hostel here...its too nice". I'm walking, while looking at everything around me and not paying attention. I look up and see a street sign. The only street sign I've seen yet. And its my street sign!! The hostel is right on the corner. I open the door to what looks like an apartment and the owner, an Asian guy, greets me and carries my bags up the stairs and checks me in. I notice first that its actually warm in here, a good change from the last place. The owner shows me around and talks with me like we've been friends for years. He then tells me he is off to go to the supermarket and he'll see me later. Soooo welcoming!! My room has a beautiful view of the Canal Grande and this hostel already feels like home. It's more of a bed and breakfast but with hostel prices. It's incredible! I'm in love.

I've been in my room since I got here, almost afraid to step outside because I know the waterworks will kick in again. Jesus. This is what I've been waiting for.

By the way, my last day in Rome was awesome! I woke up feeling down still and skyped my friend Rebecca who has lived in Italy before. She told me I was ok, I was normal, and completely related to me on every level. It was the perfect kick to my last day spent with ash, who is still fighting a cold but doing better. We walked around with more ease since it stopped snowing and the streets weren't as slippery. The sun was out and we were soaking up the Rome we came to see! We ended the night by eating at the restaurant we first dined at, cheesy 80s music and all, and then went to another hostel to watch the Super Bowl with out Brazilian roommates. So much fun and a great end to an interesting experience. :)

But now I'm here. In Venice! Ahhhhh!!! I must go wander now and get lost the fun way!! I can hear the water taxis outside and I have to go see it!


Giant cloud

Maybe it's an off day or maybe it's just me but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, not in a good way. The reality of having to live in Italy for the next unknown amount of time, not knowing the language, and being away from the comforts of home AND Ashleigh AND not traveling around like I have been for the last month is just not a settling feeling right now. I know what you're thinking. I'm in Rome. I should be having the time of my life. But my reality is a snowy and busy city, filled with people freaking out because they aren't used to snow either. Half of everything is closed or blocked off because of the weather while I am trying my best just to stay warm. I escape the cold weather outside and come home to a COLD hostel, therefor not escaping at all. Cold hostel, and the other hostels in the area dont have great reviews either. Haha... Of all the places it could've snowed while I was traveling, it snows here. Really?? Really!?! I do love Rome and I've seen the most beautiful things here, more beautiful than any other city I've been in. I'm walking through an alley way and a random piazza appears with larger than life statues or fountains or ruins. Hands down, the most breathtaking. No other city I've been to looks quite like Rome. Truly one of a kind. BUT.... I think I would enjoy it better in the spring or summer. When the natural circumstances are different. It's hard to enjoy a city I know I would appreciate more at a later time.

But it's not just the weather. It's the realization that I know all of maybe 10 words in Italian and I know nothing about their way of life. Yes, I can learn, and learn I will. But it's discouraging to know I'm at the very very beginning. There isn't much more of a beginning than where I am right now. Haha. And then I think of home, and how EASY it is to live and get around and do whatever I want or need because I'm used to it. It makes me miss my own bed, shower, room, kitchen, car, etc. ahhhhh, I'm just having a moment. Let me have my moment of ridiculousness. Anyone that has traveled outside of the US knows how I feel right now.

Think what you want, call me an idiot. Fine. Haha but I'm just pretty frustrated. I've gained so much strength and I still find myself needing more. Or clarity just to appreciate what I have in front of me and forget all the other non sense. Either way, I need rest and to recharge my batteries.

Good night big beautiful world


La dolce vita

What a day what a day what a day!! Wowwwwwwww!!! Experienced my first snowfall... And it was in ROMA!!!!! Even the locals were in awe since they said it never snows here. It snowed allll day, but thank god we were inside for most of it, touring the Vatican, which is another reason my day was incredible. The Vatican. THEE Vatican. Are you kidding me!?! Never did I ever think I, Ashley Cramer from Pasadena, would be touring the Vatican, and on one of the rare snow days that Rome has. But it gets better, oh yes it does my friends. I finally was able to contact Chef Sartini, who I will be working for in less than 9 days. I've been trying to get a hold of him (whether it was me finding a phone to call with, figuring out the correct country codes, or having wifi/service to get the call to go through) for a few days now. And I finally got through! Want to hear my plan of attack?? Yeah you do! Here is how it went:

Woke up this morning at 9am with a pit in my stomach, thinking of finding a way to get a hold of chef, my language barrier, the cold weather, usual travel worries, etc. I remembered I was in ROME and getting ready to tour the Vatican, so I smiled and wore 3 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants, tank top, long sleeve, turtle neck, 2 coats and my down jacket topped off with my scarf and hat. I was ready. We sardine canned ourselves into the metro and got to the travel agency with whom we booked the tour with. The guy at the desk said we were waiting for a few others to join and we would start the tour in 30 minutes. So ash and I went next door to the cafe with free wifi and sucked down our tea and cappuccino. I meanwhile tried to call chef (from Ash's phone) and Skype call him (after purchasing $10 worth of minutes) and still couldn't get the call to connect. Our tour was just about to start so I had to give up. Feeling anxious and somewhat defeated (I was suppose to call him 3 days ago), ash said " ask the travel agency to help". GENIUS! I asked the guy at the desk if he could help me call a San Marino phone number and not only did he help, but he let me use his phone AND THEN translated the whole conversation for me, setting up a time and date to meet up (that was also the moment I found out my future boss speaks only Italian)! I thanked him over and over for his help and went on my way to the tour, feeling very excited and thankful.

Then reality hit: my boss only speaks Italian. Ohhhh godddddd. I figured as much but a small bit of me hoped (prayed!) that there would be a miracle and he spoke both English and Italian. Nope. Not so much. Soooo although my job thing is settled, I'm still feeling unsettled. How in the hell am I suppose to do a good job (my job or any job) if I don't understand what is even being asked of me? I knew of all these things before I got here but I think reality just hit me hard. Like a thick thick wall... Oooh boy. As I usually ask myself: what did I really just get myself into?? Haha is funny as much as it is frightening.

Anyways, let's back it up a bit. Barcelona was such a great environment! Ashleigh and i got in to many deep conversations over wine/coffee about the past, our traveling, the future and fate. We felt very connected to Barcelona and learned so much in our 3.5 days there. Our last day was spent with our new friend Juan, who we met through Tincho, showing us Gaudí's Park Güell, la boqueria, la rambla, and small alley ways in Barcelona. Beautiful day and I wouldn't ask for any other ending. We did the touristy park, the food lovers market, and the local's street shopping which was awesome! My favorite, of course, was the boqueria, which had the most insane ingredients used for the local cuisine. I saw all kinds of organ meats/ meats (hearts, livers, stomachs, tripe, pig feet, heads, cow tongue, etc), cheeses, produce and more. Definitely one of my favorite markets so far (along with the borough market in London). Ash, Juan and I took turns buying cheese, olives, bread, prosciutto, strawberries, avocado and tomato that we prepared for our dinner that night. We had a wonderful finger food spread back at the hostel, where we ate the fresh market food, sipped red wine and the Sauternes I bought in Paris, and talked about travels. It was a great way to end our awesome time in Barcelona. We both fell in love with the city and it's people and were sad to leave (yeah, we actually did shed a few tears)! Thank you Juan for showing us around and letting us be tourists :)

We arrived in Roma, around 9pm so it was dark and we couldn't see any of the city. We found our way to the hostel, a few blocks from the train station we were at, and immediately asked for a good place to eat. Half a block away, we entered our first Italian eating experience. Oh. My. God. FAMILY!!! Doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, you're family. And I'm assuming because we were two blondes entering a literally underground Italian restaurant that we stuck out pretty easily. I attempted speaking Italian to which the server smiled at every time I spoke, probably because I sounded like an idiot. But I spoke anyways. We ordered risotto and carbonara and a bottle of chianti. There was a boom box in the corner of the room playing 80s music and a bunch of Italian men sitting at a table nearby, trying to smile and get our attention. I was smiling so much; the whole vibe of the restaurant cracked me up!! I loved it. The server brought us complimentary limoncello and then the table of Italian men came over to pour us more limoncello! They wanted to know where we were from and talked to us briefly. As customers left the restaurant, they would leave and say ciao or buona sera to EVERYONE upon exiting. Sooo much fun. I loved my first Italian experience and will remember it forever.

Yesterday, we toured the colosseum and saw a lot of ancient ruins. It hit us that we were in one of the oldest cities in the world. This was the first time that we cold actually see the sitting since arriving and we were blown away. We ate pizza, bruschetta and beer for lunch for 10€ and then for dinner we had pasta, soup and a giant bottle of wine for 14€. Crazy!!! I love the atmosphere here. Is scary and different but I like it. Italians are in their own little world and they love it which makes me love it. :)

Ashleigh and I also met a nun today who we didn't know was a nun until we were done talking to her, she introduced herself as sister Maria. She was all bundled up and talked to us about Italy through an american perspective since she was from Philadelphia. We told her about us, me being a cook and Ashleigh being a dancer and she told us how much she appreciated our art. At the end, she said " I would wish you luck but I don't believe in luck. I believe in destiny. And I want the two of you to chase your destiny." The whole conversation made me smile. Because last night, over our pasta and soup, Ashleigh and I toasted our wine to being here officially for four weeks. About a month now. And I quickly took out my journal and wrote before I forgot the train of thought in the heat of the moment:

It has been 4 weeks since we left home. We flashed back to where we were. The first thought I had was a flashback to the airport in LA where I first carried my bags. The first time I carried my future life on my shoulder and in my hand. I had no idea what I was getting in to. No idea what I would taste, see, smell, or feel. I held my own life, my self, and my bags for the first time and I was scared. I was excited, but scared. And here I am now, having been through what I've been through, stronger, braver and more confident in who I am. One month ago, I could not have said that and here we are now, different people. This has been the longest, most challenging month of my entire life. Easily. And here we are smiling and toasting over spaghetti and soup in one of the oldest cities