Blog Post #17 – I Feel Complete

NEW YORK – It really was magical.All I could of hoped for and much, much more.

Being back in the small, northern Italy town that quite literally changed my life two and a half years ago was all too perfect.

And even more perfect for me coming back at the tail-end of my 65-day adventure. 

On the CIMBA campus in pure joy!
 As the train approached Bassano del Grappa and I knew all that was standing between me and being back in Paderno was just a short bus ride away, the chills ran throughout my body, along with the smile on my face that seemed to appear instantly.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to relive my 90 days in Paderno in just one weekend, but I must say I did one hell of a job at doing just that.

My first day back was more than perfect.

After an afternoon spent walking around campus, catching up with CIMBA employees and visiting some of my favorite places in Paderno, including the greatest Tabacchi in the world and having a panini that was made by no other than Diego, it was time for dinner. 

Bruna and Diego, two of the nicest people you will ever meet!
 Oh, and what a dinner and evening in it was.

Prior to arriving, I reached out my Italian professor when I was in CIMBA, Signora Michela Marin.

She’s an absolute sweetheart, who is from the area, and little did I know how special the night would be. 

Signora Marin and I
 After scooping me up from campus, to Asolo we went. Asolo is a small town just a few minutes from Paderno, with a scenery that is more than picturesque.

With that said, it was only right to have a Spritz in Asolo’s main piazza to begin catching up.

After a relaxing time of catching up and sipping on the always refreshing Spritz, it was time to eat.

With no plans made beforehand, Signora Marin asked if I would like to go to Memi’s for dinner.

Now, Memi’s is not your typical restaurant. In fact, it’s technically not even a restaurant.

It’s an agriturismo, which means everything the place serves has been grown on its grounds. In other words, nothing can be more fresh then what you eat at one of these – it’s absolutely amazing.

Having gone to Memi’s when in CIMBA, I knew the treat I was in for.

After a delicious antipasto filled with formaggio, prosciutto and salami, it was time for the first course. 

 Pumpkin gnocchi. Without question, this was a top-three item I ate on my entire trip. It was a bit life changing. 

 Although hard to follow up after that, the second course was a steak-like meat that was absolutely to die for. As the meat was still bleeding as I dug into it, the meat literally melted in my mouth.

To compliment the entire meal with a nice coffee and then homemade lemon cake, the night was more than perfect.

Signora Marin is someone who will do anything to see the happiness in others. 

It was more than sweet and nice of her to bring me to dinner and just catch up with me for hours. A real treat for sure.

As my first day back came to a close, I could hardly wait for my second day.

Saturday morning rolled around and to the Bassano street market I went.

Never having the opportunity to go while I was living in Paderno, but hearing how amazing it is, I was quite excited.

Well, it did more than impress me.

Markets are my love. It’s my favorite thing to do while visiting a city. In my opinion, it gives you a true feel of how the locals live. 

Bassano del Grappa from Ponte Vecchio!
 And as if my return to Paderno could not get even more perfect, it did just that.

A couple years back, I had the pleasure of meeting two individuals who I quickly became good friends with and two who have a relationship that I admire dearly.

These two individuals are Nicole Bartman and Travis Poley, who are more commonly known as Coley and Poley and they have been dating for just shy of three years. 

Coley, Poley and I enjoying some gelato in Castelcucco.
 Long story short, Coley goes to West Virginia University and knew a couple of my roommates from high school. So, this past spring one time when Poley was visiting her at school, they told me they would be studying abroad in Italy in the fall, only knowing I did the same, but not which program I did.

Well, once I found out they would also be in CIMBA, my excitement levels were raised, to say the least.

So, six months later, the three of us found ourselves reunited in Paderno, as they were finishing their first week of the program. 

 After reuniting, we headed to Bassano, where I was staying for weekend. That night, we had fun. I mean we really lived it up, shared old memories and made memories for years to come. It was a magical night, to say the least.

As the weekend continued, so did the nostalgicness of being back in my home for a few months two years ago.

Sunday morning means one thing as far as I’m concerned: the Crespano del Grappa market. Having only been once while studying abroad – and it being one of my favorite experiences in my time overseas – I could not wait to share my second time going with Coley and Poley. 

The Crespano del Grappa market.
 From the food to the clothes to everything in between, Sunday morning brought back memories that gave me the chills.

I always knew I’d be back in Paderno and reliving some of my greatest memories, but I never thought it would be this soon.

As my reunion back to Paderno came to a close on Monday, I could not have been any happier with me deciding to include Paderno in my travels. 

Another professor I had while in CIMBA, Professor Dominic Standish, a wonderful journalist himself.
 Coming back did more than just allow me to eat countless Tabacchi sandwiches, it put everything into perspective, something I needed to realize just how amazing this journey has been.

A few weeks back, I was not looking forward to this journey ending. But now, after going back to a town that changed my life forever, I feel complete and – in a way – okay to return to New York.

It feels that it was only appropriate to end things in the place that opened my mind up to traveling in the first place.

Ci vediamo Paderno,

Anthony

Blog Post #16 – I’m Back Home

BASSANO DEL GRAPPA, Italy – I’m back where it all began 984 days ago, Paderno del Grappa, Italy!I had no idea what I was in for at the time.

But now, more than two and a half years later, I’m a changed man and only for the better in every way possible.

My return to Paderno del Grappa has been anxiously awaiting me after traveling through 12 countries and with just one week left until I fly back to New York, I could not think of a more perfect time to be back and reflect on the journey I’ve had.

As I think about some of the better decisions I’ve made in my life, a few come to my mind quickly: my decision to go on this two-month adventure, my rather last-minute decision to study abroad through the CIMBA program and my decision about five years ago to attend West Virginia University.

Each of these decisions has brought me tremendous happiness, friends for life, memories I’ll cherish forever and has benefited me immensely from a mental and physical standpoint and my outlook on life.

In a way, it seems all too perfect that after taking numerous planes, trains, buses and taxis all over Europe, I get to simply relax in a place I fell in love with a couple years back as I eat my favorite gelato in the world in Bassano, visit my favorite Tabacchi owners, Bruna and Diego, to have an (or many) amazing panini in Paderno and stroll through the Crespano del Grappa market on Sunday morning.

Oh, will this be a fun time.

Paderno and CIMBA did more than just give me a study abroad experience, both exposed me to life through a different perspective – a perspective I’m blessed to say I now see through daily.

This week has been quite the nostalgic one for me.

From listening the music myself and my other 125 classmates in Italy rocked to and looking back on many, many pictures from our time in Paderno and throughout Western Europe – wow does it bring an instant smile to my face.

As I finish writing this post on the train from Venezia to Bassano, I simply can’t help by shake my head in disbelief of where I’ve been and where I am on my way to.

Seeing the northern Italian countryside from the train makes the memories come back in a heartbeat and once again makes me realize how lucky I am.

To a weekend filled with happiness,

Anthony

Blog Post #15 – The Gas Tank Is Nearing Empty

SIENA, Italy – I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I don’t have much left in me.But that doesn’t change anything about my decision six months to go ahead with this trip, as it has proved to be the greatest decision of my life.

But I would be lying if I said the trip wasn’t getting the best of me of late.

I can see the bags under my eyes getting heavier and heavier.

This isn’t easy.

In no way am I complaining. Believe me, I know how fortunate and lucky I am to have this opportunity to adventure around 13 countries and make millions of memories along the way, but in no way is this a vacation.

Every day you need 110% because there truly is no time to waste.

This starts to hit me more so when my plans don’t get exactly according to plan.

Okay, everyone knows that plans aren’t made to always go as planned – nothing is perfect, but sometimes it takes events that you may not always want to occur to physically occur to make you feel beat down and also feel that you really are on a journey with both ups and downs.

Each time I have felt beaten down, however, it has benefited me in the long run. 

You simply learn when something you really do not want to happen happens. It only makes you stronger, wiser and more prepared for the next time you may be put in a similar situation.

The beauty of travel is that you just do not know what is going to happen next. It may be the greatest moment of your traveling experience or it may be brutal – it’s a blessing and a sin at the same time, but a risk I am more than willing to take 10 out of 10 times.

Oh, and how appropriate that as I continue to write this post, I end up getting on the wrong bus when I arrived in Siena…a bus that was going to Florence. 

Yes, I got on yet another 2-3 hour bus, but as it always does, things fell more than perfectly into place.

After about 10 minutes on the bus bound for Florence, I began to talk to an Italian woman about where this bus was headed and she told me where to get off to return to Siena.

After just being in disbelief about what I had just done, I relaxed and waited to get off the bus.

And then, as if out of a movie, here I began to wait in the middle of a small town about 30 minutes outside of Siena at a bus station waiting for over an hour for a bus to return to Siena.

As I waited – and wanted to make sure I didn’t take the wrong bus – I met this lovely young lady who was from the Republic of Moldova, but has lived in Italy for the past six years.

With her not being able to speak any English, it was time to put my Italian to the test, as we had an hour until the bus back to Siena.

Time began to fly and partially due to Aliona offering me an array of cookies she freshly baked every few minutes. 

They were out of this world and it all made sense once she told me that she works in a pastry shop and began to show me many pictures of the masterpieces she has made.

All of a sudden, my tiredness and tenseness from making yet another mistake began to fade away and the smile grew more and more.

So, okay, I added an extra couple of hours to my trip to Siena, but all while having an experience that would not have happened otherwise.

As always, it’s the most unexpected moments and the ones that you don’t initially won’t to occur that become the most memorable.

Only 10 days remain on my journey and I do believe that when the time comes, I will be ready to go back home to New York. But at the same time, I need to remember to relish every moment I have because these moments truly will not last forever.

Things may not always go the smoothest, and sometimes things will go very bad, but it really is all part of the experience and every moment creates memories I’ll have for the rest of my life.

So, yes, my energy levels are running low, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for me to kick the bucket. 

It’s rather time to finish strong and not have any regrets.

To a strong finish,

Anthony

Blog Post #14 – A First For Me

NAPLES, Italy – For the first time in my life, I was in a Muslim country and I had no clue what to expect. Turkey – a country known for its numerous leaders and empires that ruled the land for centuries upon centuries, the immense amounts of foods that make the country what it is and – in today’s day and age – the location of the country, which is not the greatest. 

Chris and I along the Bosphorus Sea, with Asia behind us.
 Though months could be spent going to the array of cities this Muslim-based country has to offer, I spent my time in one: Istanbul.

Istanbul, the largest city not only in Turkey, but one of the largest cities in the world – this place is no joke. 

 You hear and see how Muslims are portrayed in the media, and it’s not always in the most positive of ways. But I threw away everything I’ve heard about places such as Turkey and let the experience of actually be there just carry me along.

In no ways is Istanbul your typical European city and for very good reasons; one being its not fully located in Europe.

It’s the one city in the world that sits on two continents – Europe and Asia.

I’ve never been in such a large city in my life and between the mix of cultures that has influenced what Istanbul is today, to the Euro-Asian landscape and its beauty, I was awed from the second I arrived until my very last minute in Turkey. 

 There’s something extremely special about walking the streets and as the day moves along, the calls to prayer echoing throughout the city.

At first, I’ll admit, I was a little taken back – this was something completely new to me. But wow, it really is an experience to be had.

Every time the call to prayer occurred and I happened to be in a vicinity to hear it, I would stop and simply admire the beauty of the sounding of the prayer.

The peacefulness of the calls to prayer mixed with the 15 million people of Istanbul is quite an interesting combination. 

 Although I haven’t been, there were many times I felt I was in a city such as Tokyo, where you literally cannot move, but rather glide slowly with the immense amount of people also attempting to walk down the same street. 

 Istanbul, hands down, has been the city to impress me and awe me the most on my journey.

First and foremost, its people amazed, its cuisine, its architecture and its mosques all amazed me beyond belief.

It really was a first for me, something that can truly be classified as a great learning experience through only the power of traveling.

May the journey continue,

Anthony

Blog Post #13 – A Day In Heaven

ROME, Italy – It was all simply magical.It was my favorite day of my entire trip, and that’s saying a lot.

The day was all – and only – made possible due to a wonderful gentleman named Giuseppe Parisi, introducing himself to my friends and I at a bar one night while we were staying a weekend in Palermo two years ago. 

Giueseppe and I
 Signore Parisi is more than a gentleman, however, he is the definition of caring and genuine and someone I admire greatly.

Due to the power of Facebook, Giuseppe and I have been able to stay in contact over the years and once I booked the Palermo portion of my trip a few months back, he was the first person I told. 

I knew my time in Palermo would be special, but I truly did not know the extent of just how special – and that’s due to the amazing hospitality Giuseppe and his friends showed me.

To add to the specialness of it all, Giuseppe is in two bands and each of the bands had a concert while I was in town – how lucky am I!?

Well, very, very lucky – that’s an easy answer.

So, after feeling just not myself – something extremely rare for me – on my arrival day in my favorite place in the world, we finally reunited the following night at his concert and, well, that is where I was given the greatest news ever: his mother will be cooking for me on Saturday and I will be joining Giuseppe for a day as a local in Palermo.

Excuse me? Did I just hear that Signora Parisi will be cooking – what can easily be assumed as – an amazing meal and I would have the honor to join the entire Parisi family for a Saturday afternoon in paradise.

And so, Saturday arrived and I truly did feel like a kid in a candy store the second I woke up – well, while fighting through the hangover of our escapades of the night prior.

My inner Anthony Bourdain was at an all-time high and I think my fullness was also at an all-time high by the time lunch was finished.

It felt like all of Saturday was out of the perfect Italian movie, as Giuseppe rode up on his motor scooter to pick me up and bring me back to his house. 

 As the sun beamed down on us, we rode the streets of Palermo – first time I’ve ever been on a motor scooter – zigzagging between traffic and with a smile on my face that seemed to never go away, we arrived at the gorgeous casa of the Parisi’s.

After being greeted in only the utmost Italian ways, it was time to eat..and eat and eat and eat…and eat a little bit more. 

 Wow, what a meal it was. I quite literally could not move when it was all said and done. 

 From the spaghetti with mussels, to the humongous and fresh shrimp with swordfish that was cooked to perfection as it melted in my mouth to the dolce: a ricotta filled cake with a sweet ricotta frosting – one of the greatest things I have ever eaten. 

 After, Giuseppe showed me a classic Sicilian card game called scopa – man is this a fun game!

On my first try, I ended up beating Giuseppe and with that, it was back on the scooter to keep on cruisin’.

Before leaving the Parisi’s, we were able to take some great selfies and this truly shows how happy I was. Here I am, a complete stranger to them, and they really treated me like family. 

Just priceless.
 Meeting the entire family and being able to join them for a meal and homemade wine and limoncello is something I’ll always treasure – just a wonderful experience.

In hopes of easing the fullness, we stopped for some granita – a classic Sicilian semi-frozen dessert great for digestion and man oh man was it refreshing! 

After more riding around and Giuseppe showing me his university, where he is going for his masters in engineering, it was time for him to drop me off at my hostel so he could practice with his band before the big show that night.

After a quick siesta, I was back on the cobble-stoned streets of Palermo as I headed to his show.

Joining me to his show and for most of the weekend was Vanessa, a beautiful young lady from Germany who is traveling around Italy for two months and someone I was delighted to me. 

 Also, with Saturday being my final night in my favorite city in the world, I knew the night would be extra special and that’s exactly what it was.

Being able to sit along the street with a nice cold beer while the Joopy’s performed many classic rock songs was great in itself, but that was only the beginning.

After finishing – and by this point me knowing every member of the band – I joined them on stage for some photos and some great conversations – most of which I’m proud to say I was able to have in Italian. 

 And then, after enjoying some drinks with the band and Giuseppe’s other friends in attendance, we headed for the harbour. Being able to sit on the docks as the late-night breeze hit us and wrap up what would be my favorite day of the trip and one of my favorite days of my life was priceless.

You see, it doesn’t matter how many counties I go to or the sites I see, it’s experiences like this one that will always reign supreme against the rest. A local experience is one that cannot be matched with anything else. 

Giueseppe’s friends who made my weekend amazing.
 To have been so fortunate to meet Giuseppe a couple years back and for every single one of his friends to be beyond welcoming to me while I was in town again is nothing short of a blessing.

Even now, as Palermo is behind me, the smiles and laughs aren’t and it really was a day in heaven.

I love you all,

Anthony

Blog Post #12 – Back In My Happy Place

CATANIA, Italy – It’s all hit me.As I sit on the plane from Split, Croatia to Catania, Italy, it has hit me just how lucky I am.

This is the third time I’m traveling to Italy for an extended amount of time and perhaps the most sentimental one.

This is the 11th country I’m visiting in the past 40 days and the 10th in the past 27 days and, as it comes as no surprise, I’ve seen a lot. 

 But one place will forever top all on what it simply means to me to travel and make me one happy person and that’s Italy, my friends.

Having the opportunity to spend my first time ever in Italy with my grandparents nine years ago isn’t just something I’ll always have to remember as I go through life, it’s something many cant say they have done and something I will forever have as one of the greatest memories of my life.

I could not ask for a better relationship with my father’s parents, they really mean the world to me in every sense.

It’s been a while since emotions have gotten the best of me, but the tears seem to keep on coming as I write this blog simply due to the countless memories that come to my mind when thinking about my grandparents.

No one in my life can mean what they do to me; I am one lucky grandson. 

  

My grandfather and I a week before I left on my trip.
 One reason for the emotions may also be flowing may be due to the fact that I was still asleep 90 minutes before my flight due to a longer night than expected on my final night not only in Croatia, but with my traveling buddy Chris, but it’s okay because I made it – as I always do.As my Italian luck would have it, I was able to cut all the lines at the airport and my seat ended up being in the first row – and as I would like to believe – just to make sure I’d be the first to touch the Italian soil when we landed and walked off the plane on to the beautiful island of Sicily.

So, I’m back, and I could not be happier. Seriously. I am the happiest person in the world right now. This is my island, this is where I belong. 

 I have seven days on this the beautiful sanctuary and that makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.

And as I finish writing this blog, I am blessed to be doing it at a delicious, picturesque cafe on one of the main streets in Catania with a scrumptious pistachio croissant and a always refreshing cappuccino to kick off the day. 

 So as the saying would have it, la vita รจ bella – life really is beautiful. 

Ciao for now,

Anthony