The Best Summer Ever | Florence

Sunset over the River Arno

Our host mothers waved us off at the platform in Cremona after a week teaching at summer camp, and Louise and I headed to Florence to fill the four-day gap we had before meeting my parents in Le Marche. I was very ill-informed about Florence and wasn't that keen on going at first- simply because I wanted to go to Rome more! However, we had an incredible time and I felt very safe walking alone or just with Louise through this Italian city, which is always an important factor when travelling in a new place.
Beautiful Ponte Vecchio. Source
On our first day in Florence, we were happily re-united with Greg, a friend from camp training at Blue Beach (read about that here). We spent most of our time in Florence with him and had a blast! I instantly fell in love with Florence's enchanting tiny back roads, and soon realised that at any point, you can turn a corner and find an amazing attraction. Admittedly, I did not know much about Florence before going there. There’d be occasions where I'd be admiring Florence’s architecture, thinking how cool it was, oblivious to the fact that I was actually appreciating extremely famous monuments. The Ponte Vecchio for example, a medieval stone bridge that arches over the River Arno which is comprised of lots of little jewellery shops!

During this adventure we did what most Brits abroad would do: find a cheap bar! Everywhere we went a pint of lager was around 7 euro, and our purse strings simply couldn't stretch that far for a regular beer. So we were very surprised to find a bar on the main piazza of the Duomo (Piazza del Duomo) that sold a pint of 8% beer for 6 euro, aptly named Gasoline. Bargain. As the night crept on and more Gasoline was consumed, we found ourselves dancing and singing camp songs to passers-by on the doorstep of the Duomo. It was so much fun, and even though we got a few funny looks I think the majority enjoyed it. Or maybe that's the Gasoline talking! We then found ourselves joining in to a circle of dance with some random Italians. The dance resembled Irish dancing, and all participants were holding hands and hopping around. Of course, we joined in and pretended that we knew what we were doing, although when I was pushed into the middle for my solo I knew it was time to leave!

Dancing by Il Duomo was so fun!
Next day, despite a horrendous Gasoline induced hangover, we went for a walk and bumped into Chloe (another friend who was at camp with us). She was on her way up to one of the highest points in Florence, Michelangelo's Square, which overlooks all the beautiful terracotta-topped Florentine buildings. We tagged along, and I soon regretted it... It was a horrid ordeal when hungover in the midday heat, but I'm sure it is lovely to do in better circumstances! I think I sweated out my entire body weight, almost throwing up in the process. The views from up there were spectacular however, and it was such a good way to see the whole of Florence. Once I had gotten my breath back, we began our descent which, let me tell you, is a lot easier than the way up.

Florence from Michelangelo's Square
We thought a free walking tour would be helpful to learn about some of the history and amazing things we saw around us. I had heard that these can be very interesting and informative, but we had a less fortunate experience. After about ten minutes of hanging off the back of a tour group struggling to hear any of the guide's info, we snuck off to the leather market which was much more fun. I love leather, so this was absolute heaven for me! I had to refrain from buying everything as my student budget screamed at me, and also I had very little extra room in my case (rookie travelling error). I did buy some beautiful Murano glass necklace pendants though, as they weren't too expensive and didn't need to go in my case as I put them straight on! After the torment of being surrounded by tonnes of beautiful leather bags, Louise, Greg, Chloe and I headed to a restaurant where we ate a classic Fiorentina T bone steak meal and a glass of Chianti for 20 euro each. It had to be done!

So many beautiful sunsets
On the first Sunday of each month, most, if not all, museums and attractions are free to enter. We went to the Accademia gallery to see the famous Michelangelo's statue of David, and also entered the beautiful Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as Il Duomo di Firenze. Unfortunately, the incredible exterior of the Duomo set my hopes up, so I was a little underwhelmed by the very plain interior. Remember, if you are thinking of going to Italy, you cannot enter any place of worship without suitable clothing on. I had some trouble because I had denim shorts and a cami top on so Louise and I had to rearrange our clothing so that it covered our shoulders and knees. (This reminds me of the time I was chased out of a church in Sanremo by an elderly woman for wearing unsuitable clothing. Believe me, they can be scary!)

Prettiest cathedral ever
Louise, me and Greg visiting big Dave
One night, after spending the evening drinking Gasoline and staring wondrously at the beautiful Duomo right next to our favourite bar, we went in search of a nightclub. Unfortunately, clumsy Louise fell off a curb and hurt her already injured ankle. It was a very tense moment because without Louise's ankle, our trip could be in serious jeopardy. So, what do we do in a tense moment like this? We sing the Frog song, of course! So there's Louise on the floor in agony, and Greg, Chloe and I hopping around singing the frog song to distract Louise from the pain and diffuse any "oh no, is she crying?... Oh man she's crying! Shit." moments. No wonder people hate tourists so much! After a while, Louise was back on her feet, but wanted to go back to the hostel. So after taking her home and saying good night to Chloe who was staying in a different hostel to us, Greg and I grabbed a kebab and went to the little piazza round the corner from our hostel. It was packed full of Italians who were all standing chatting and we felt so out of place. We didn't want to just sit in the corner on our own so we gathered the courage to walk around the piazza a few times. We didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb so we uttered the odd Italian word every now and again to try and blend in. In hindsight, we probably should have just stayed in the corner with our doner wraps, but there was no holding back that night! At least we had a laugh!

During an adventure one day which took us away from the main central areas of the city, we stumbled upon a little gelateria (ice cream shop). Little did I know that this would become one of my favourite spots in Florence. Firstly, in my whole life, I have never come across fresh peanut flavour ice cream, even in Italy. Second, I am a huge fan of nutty things, and pistacchio and nocciola (hazelnut) will always be the flavours I dive for on entry of a gelateria, so the fact this place sold PEANUT flavour meant it was always going to be a winner! I have never enjoyed an ice cream as much as this one. It was that good, that I dragged Louise round the maze of Florentine back streets the next day just get another. It was our last day in Florence and there was no way that I could leave without finding Il Gelato Gourmet for one last taste of that peanutty heaven. It took us around two hours of getting lost, asking loads of people for directions and uncountable puzzled looks at our city map. When we finally arrived, I almost cried tears of joy. I then proceeded to devour two beautiful peanut gelati, one after the other.

After our little ice cream hunt we went for a lay down in the hostel. We were sung asleep by the voice of an Australian angel who was playing his guitar on the other side of the window next to the bed. That in itself was amazing. Then, the next thing I knew, I was woken up by what I can only describe as two Australian Gods who were moving into our ten-bed dorm! They were all sweaty and hot from lugging their bags from the station and had no option but to strip off. I can't even explain this. The memory is too much to handle. Louise and I just gawped at them, and the next thing we knew, they were off to see the city. That's the best thing about staying in hostels, that you are able to meet so many (beautiful) people. I must note, our hostel was also particularly good because it was cheap, was in a great location and had a kitchen which meant we could save money on meals and cook pasta alla gorgonzola for breakfast every day, mmmm. (Hostel Santa Monaca)
One of David's finer angles
We left the next day and headed to Le Marche, where my Gramps is from and also where my family have a farmhouse. My parents joined us there for a week and we celebrated my birthday! Read all about it in my next post!

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my time in Florence. Sadly, we missed out on visiting many things such as the Uffizi Gallery which is a shame, and we most definitely didn't make the most of our stay in Florence and experience enough of it, but boy, is it an incredible place! It is safe to say that Florence definitely is the best city I have ever been to!

A presto!

Olivia xx

The Best Summer Ever | Cremona and Camp Tutoring

That time I was in charge of a group of Italian kids for a week....

Warning: I get a little bit enthusiastic and excited in parts of this. Read at your own risk.

This part of my journey brings me to Cremona, where I will be spending one week teaching in a summer camp, as well as living with an Italian family for the duration of my stay.

So, my last post recalled the last few moments on the train before we met our host families in Cremona. My host mum Giovanna was waiting on the platform for me and straight away I was received with a huge hug, before I even knew who she was! We hopped in the car and off we went, to their lovely house in the countryside of Cremona. It is a beautiful place in the north of Italy, near (ish) to Milan, and the 'Pini' family took me in for the week and provided me with lovely Italian food, culture and experiences. 
First meeting with Giovanna at the station
My host family had requested a sociable girl to stay with them. I thought this was brilliant that I had been chosen to fill these shoes.. However, the reason the family specified this is because they had Church Club activities scheduled for every night that I would be with them. Now, I'm not a religious person. However, I am well up for trying most things, and going to church and singing along to all the Italian choral tunes on the (specially reserved for me) front row seat is quite something. I didn't have a clue what was going on and my host family and everyone around me started shaking my hand during one part of the mass which was quite bizarre, but fun all the same! 
Welcome banners!
Every morning, Giovanna made me an espresso, packed lunch and then took me to school bright and early. It was really strange being mothered so much after being at uni for a year without my wonderful Mama doing those things for me. After an exhausting day at camp, G would come and pick me up at 4.30pm and I'd go home ready for a smashing night at church club. Orrrrr feel really bad when I told the family I wanted a night off to sleep! Mostly I made the most of these opportunities to try something new though, however tired I was.
Bike ride along the River Po with the family
These new experiences even led me to going on a mammoth bike ride in the midday Sunday sun- aren't Sundays for resting?! But it was lovely. We went on a tour of the area all through the countryside and even stopped off at their Nonna's house for a chat. On the way back, coming along a busy main road, my flipflop came off and I threw myself off the bike to save it. In hindsight, this was not a good idea as it meant I was shouting "OIIIIII, OIII!!" to Bea, my beautiful host sister who is pictured above, as I clambered about looking for my flipflop as well as my dignity, whilst a lorry came towards me. This is why I don't ride a bike on the regular...
Host family dinner selfie!
As well as my beloved Church Club outings, my host family also treated me to dinner and late night ice cream which was brilliant. It seems heading out of the house at 11pm to go sit in the main piazza and eat gelato is absolutely normal in Italy . I loved it anyway, and really appreciated my host family trying to show me the Italian way of life all the time.
Awkward, tired family photo
Let's talk about CAMP!
There were around 60 children at our camp based at a school in Cremona, between the ages of around 5 and 12. There were five of us tutors, and after living together for up to two weeks we were great pals so we had a whale of a time. I had a class of 13 ten/eleven-year-olds and they were a dream to work with! They knew just enough English to communicate with me so I could actually teach them and be effective. Whereas some of the younger kids would simply respond with a shoulder shrug and a "che?" and then run away, slice of focaccia in hand.  
Cremona camp tutors
Each morning, as soon as the kids arrived we gathered them all together to do a SONG CIRCLE (best part of the day) and leapt around in front of them looking like fools. The first time we ever did this, the kids just looked at us like we were aliens. Like, seriously. They were waaaayy too cool to do the frog song. So I looked each one of them in the eye as I put my HEART AND SOUL into that damn frog song and broke down those barriers! Soon they were loving it, and by day two they performed so well that their parents who looked on from the other side of the school gates even wanted to join in. That, my friends, is the power of the song circle.
Someone was excited for the fashion show...
So then we each split off into our classes. This is when my class realised that I was really a sweaty, panting mess (maybe a little too enthusiastic in song circle) and I didn't really have a clue how to teach English to these Italian dudes. So I blagged it. And it was incredible. Through being an utter weirdo, the kids were fascinated and really paid attention to the strange person who would randomly sing the camp songs or excessively high-5 them. And although  we were not supposed to speak any Italian to the kids, I may have cracked the odd phrase out which would have them in hysterics because I apparently didn't have a clue what I was saying!

Fun and games!! (They survived)
During break times and daily camp competitions we would all come together and have a laugh playing various games, receiving about 5 loom bands a day, and even home made food items from their nonni (grandparents). The children were so lovely and the idea that 'Italian children are naughty' completely diminished almost immediately.
Post- camp drinks and 'meeting'
We put on a fashion show one day which was soooo fun! I think I enjoyed it more than the kids did, judging by the pictures, Some of the children really embraced it, by bringing in their special clothes that they wanted to show off, or even by making clothes in class. Us camp tutors strutted down the catwalk before the kids did to show them not to be afraid and just to have fun. This meant borrowing various 'fashion' items off the kids. See pictures below!
Tom and I strutting our stuff
Fashion show antics

Throughout the week we were working towards creating a 'spettacolo'- a final show. I wanted the kids to write it themselves so then they could really enjoy performing it in front of their families. So my class ended up with an 'explorers' theme, in which the actors would travel to various different countries and do something that the country is famous for. Therefore, we had one guy acting as Adam Richman from Man vs Food (that was Leonardo's choice), another acting the role of footballer Neymar, and the girls were Brazillian festival dancers,.. just with clothes on. So somehow, these ten- year- old Italian children wrote, learned and acted the whole of an English script that I helped them create, just in one week. Proud moment. However, how rubbish is it that we are not taught such a high level of language in schools in the UK?
 The spettacolo marked the end of our time at camp. It was incredible to see how well the kids had done and progressed. Some parents even came up to me and thanked me in very broken English for helping their children, and that they had seen a big improvement. During the last few speeches and thank-yous of the show whilst us tutors were on stage, my class were chanting my name. It was such a good feeling to be the cool teacher that the children liked. I can definitely see how teachers get so much satisfaction out of their jobs. However, I am unsure about my future in a teaching career.....

Thank you to LSF for providing such a unique opportunity and also to my awesome host family for putting up with me all week! I would definitely recommend that anybody steps out of their comfort zone and does something like this. You don't need to know any foreign languages for most of these types of jobs, and you may meet some brill people and create life long memories like I did. ;)

Enough of the soppy bullsh. We're going to Florence next!!

A presto!

Olivia xx