Alright, so listen. Having money in your bank account is cool or whatever, but have you tried traveling? Waaaaaay cooler. Maybe that's just my (incredibly biased) opinion, but when a handsome Italian man invites you to hang out with his family and friends in the Alps for New Years, you don't decline. Granted, the only person I'd already met before going was actually Fede, but I just assumed everyone else was fantastic by extension. I was right.
I flew into Milan on the evening of the 29th to find that EasyJet had lost my luggage. Seeing as there was nothing I could do about it but ask when I could come back and pick up my bag, I smiled and carried on (despite being remotely terrified that I would end up stuck in the freakin' Alps without clothes to wear). This seemed to be much appreciated by the lost-luggage guy bc he made it his personal mission to find my suitcase, which ended up already having made it to Milan and just not being loaded onto the conveyor. It pays to be nice, ya'll. 10/10 would recommend. Fede and I dropped my bags at his apartment and headed over to meet up with his best friend Leo (who I met in Copenhagen) for dinner and music - not only can the boys sing, but Fede plays guitar and Leo plays the piano and they both make me look bad.
The next morning I woke up to Fede making breakfast and kindly requesting that I hurry my *ss up and get packed. In my defense, all the blinds in the house are always closed, which makes it exponentially more difficult to wake up if you're not a morning person. His friends Fabio and Bardo arrived shortly after breakfast and thus began the riveting game of Tetris that was packing the back of Fede's little Ford. Several creative expletives and some serious brainstorming later, we decided to throw some our stuff in Marta and Tommaso's car and call it a day. Our drive up to the Alps was about two and a half hours and consisted predominantly of aggressive Italian driving, chats about travel, and a quick nap for yours truly. I woke up to ridiculously curvy and perilously thin switchbacks that could scarcely fit two cars and a landscape that was completely white as the snow capped mountains transitioned into a foggy, white sky. It was absolutely breathtaking - partly bc it was gorgeous and partly bc I literally couldn't breathe bc I thought we were going to die every time a car drove on the other side of the road. Bardo was tapping the hood of the car saying "come on baby, you can make it" which was not exactly inspiring confidence. Against all odds, however, we arrived at the cabin in one piece and I got to meet Fede's sister Leti, her best friend Livia, and her boyfriend Ricky (which for those of you counting at home puts the tally up to 8 Italians and me).
We arrived just in time to make a late lunch (which was pasta bc duh), and it was then I found out that Fede had told everyone about the whole Celiac situation and they'd already gotten me gluten-free pasta. I know that seems small and irrelevant but when you're me and you hate inconveniencing people (plus being gluten-free in Italy is pretty much the biggest challenge ever), it means a lot. Even more amazing than that, you'll never guess what happened next: the men cooked. Yeah, you read that right. The men cooked, and the girls cleaned. It was freakin' magical. And then, for the rest of the trip, that happened over and over again. I mean us ladies also cooked don't get me wrong, but at no stage did anyone have to ask for anyone else's help. I know I've said this about a million times, but come on people if I ever decided marriage is a good idea it will be to a European man bc they clearly know what's up. We relaxed for a few hours before making our way back to the kitchen for dinner and wine - which in Italy are synonymous. There was hearty laughter and great conversation during our entire stay at the cabin and everyone was more than willing to switch into English often enough that I could keep up with the flow of conversation (Spanish and Italian aren't as similar as people think so my abilities only get me so far in Italy). We played charades in a mixture of Italian and English that induced more laughs than I even thought possible and I rapidly became more comfortable around these wonderful people as the night went on.
I was woken up the next day to an excited Fede asking "Are you ready for the hike?". Considering I was coming down with a cold, no, I was not ready. But I made myself ready, bc when you have an opportunity to hike the Italian Alps, you freakin' take it. We had a breakfast of an assortment of breads and jams and Nutella and tea and coffee before layering up and rolling out. Luckily, Leti and I are almost the same height so her pants fit me without looking too ridiculously short and I was able to avoid turning into a human popsicle. As for the hike, let me just clarify that it was more like walking up a wall rather than actually hiking bc it was so steep. Add that to the snow, my sickness, the altitude, and the competition up the mountain (it was all six of the guys and then Marta and I), I figured I was about to get my butt kicked. Somehow, however, I was second up the mountain behind Fede, which everyone attributed to the fact that I was the youngest by a few years, but he put that argument to rest when he pointed out that he was the oldest. It was decided that I may be better trained in hiking, but they were more adept at eating as they consumed more polenta and sausages than I've ever seen 7 people eat while I could barely finish one plate. After lunch, however, I took the title of best drinker (sorry, mom) when I drank our post-meal ginebra in one fell swoop rather than sipping it like you're apparently supposed to. To my credit, it was poured into a shot glass and I'm classically conditioned to know exactly what to do with those.
The boys asked the waitress for some trash bags on our way out, and about 10 minutes into our walk down the mountain they started unrolling them and passing them out. This confused the hell out of me until I realized we were taking the long way back down and there was quite a bit of well packed snow just begging to be sledded down on a trash receptacle. Two hours, several bruises, and a whole lot of laughs later, we made it back to the cabin battered and bruised but happier for it. Bc there were 9 people and one shower, it was an all out battle for the bathroom, but eventually everyone was clean (and Fede's feet no longer smelled like he was trying to kill us with some sort of toxic gas). As it was NYE, we all dressed up a little for the occasion and were soon enjoying wine and each other's company. We had people cooking, chatting, playing games and stoking the fire, and it felt just about as homey as it could get for being thousands of miles away from my actual home. We enjoyed a risotto cooked by some of the boys before they brought out their New Years tradition of lentils and super greasy sausage - eating lentils on NYE is supposed to bring you money in the coming year so ya'll know damn well I had my share bc ya girl needs all the help she can get - to fill up any space we may or may not have had left in our stomachs. Eventually we headed out to the balcony right as the fireworks started to let us know that the new year had begun.
It was truly a beautiful sight to see the lanterns and fireworks bringing light to the valley below as I stood outside (freezing my butt off) with some incredible people while appreciating all the events that had led to me arriving at that exact moment. It's crazy to think about, but if I hadn't had a change of plans before heading to Europe in the first place, I never would have gone to Copenhagen. Had I not gone, I wouldn't have met Fede and Leo, and never in a million years would I ever have guessed that I would spend my New Years Eve with some of the most genuine people I've ever met in a cabin in the middle of the Italian Alps. Life works in mysterious ways, people.
The first day of the New Year was perfect in every way in regards to the weather, so after four of our cabin-mates left for Milan (Marta, Tommaso, Bardo and Fabio), Fede and I decided to go for a walk. We weren't up for an actual hike due to lack of sleep and a cold that just wouldn't leave us alone - at this stage half the cabin had it - but the weather was too gorgeous not to take advantage of it. We'd planned to come back for lunch, but a small sign that told us there was a restaurant a few kilometers ahead had us continuing on with Pepe (Leti and Fede's English Cocker Spaniel) in tow. After a little lunch of corn-based polenta and sausage, we headed back to the cabin to warm up and relax on the living room couches that were calling our names too loudly not to listen. Eventually the girls and I got up to start cooking dinner - and by that I mean Leti cooked while Livia and I chatted with her and refilled our wine glasses.
It was on this night that I learned several valuable lessons that my Italians would like for me to impart to you lovely readers in the hopes that you will continue the spread of information until it becomes common knowledge back in the US. These are the things that I learned over dinner - please take notes:
All this knowledge that was dropped into my lap had me exhausted, but we stayed up to watch the even-creepier-in-Italian Black Swan movie while Leti laughed at my hatred of creepy textures (and told me that the condition is actually called trypophobia fun fact) before hitting the hay.
Our last morning at the cabin involved some serious cleaning (most of which I wasn't all that helpful with bc I didn't know where half of everything was supposed to go, but I did my best) before heading to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Leti came through with some serious translation help while trying to help me find a dish that was gluten free (a feat in and of itself) and we had a delicious meal before saying quick goodbyes (bc it was too cold out to linger) and hopping into our respective cars to head back to Milan. While the car was almost out of gas, Fede was most certainly NOT, as a direct result of the lentils he'd eaten on NYE. As such, I spent most of the ride down the mountain praying that the car wouldn't run out of gas but Fede would, or that maybe we could use his gastrointestinal issues as fuel for the car, all while rolling down my window and shouting for help while trying to breathe in the fresh (non-poisonous) air from outside. It took us awhile to actually find a gas station that had any gas bc we were on top of a mountain in a tiny village and apparently they like to have gasoline-less gas stations, but eventually we found one and rolled our way up to the pump. It was a close call on all counts, but we made it.
The drive back was a constant battle for control of the music as my phone was connected through Bluetooth but Fede had skipping power from the steering wheel. While we have similar taste in a lot of music, the music we don't share an enjoyment of spans over several genres, and Fede is of the opinion that if HE doesn't like it then NO ONE should like it. For those of you who know me, I am very proud of my music library, so it was almost an all out war for the aux, but some well placed jokes and compromises helped us through. We arrived in Milan completely exhausted and decided dinner and a movie was the way to go, but Fede only made it through about half an hour of The Danish Girl before passing out (mostly bc he wakes up at 6 or 7am bc he's weird). The next morning was a slow one involving gluten-free toast and tea before we headed to the grocery store (Fede's favorite place) to essentially walk down every single aisle while he bought enough groceries to feed an entire army. It was pretty adorable, I'm not going to lie. It was at this point that I learned that a TINY JAR OF PEANUT BUTTER costs FIVE FREAKING EUROS IN ITALY, which effectively ensured that I would never move to Italy bc peanut butter is life but also I'm poor as hell so I need to live in a place where it doesn't cost half my daily grocery allowance. We headed back to unload groceries and at this stage we were both starving so we cooked up some lunch and just took a moment to enjoy each other's company before it was time to take me to the bus station.
In summary, my time in Italy was more than I ever could have anticipated. Leti commented that it was incredibly brave of me to come alone to a cabin full of people I didn't know (bc they totally could have killed me and hid my body in the mountains), but we agreed that sometimes you just have to trust people. She told me about the idea of an "a pelle" (on skin) connection, which is sort of like a vibe that the Italians say you can feel on your skin when your body and your soul feels that something is right or wrong. It was one of those things where once she said it, I finally had a phrase to explain something I've always felt but never been able to articulate. I'm not saying you'll always know whether to trust someone or what the right decision is, but sometimes, you just gotta go with your gut (or in this case, your skin). Bc life is too short and too sweet not to trust your instincts and seize the opportunity to enjoy beautiful places with beautiful people.
But as for right now, I am finally back in a land where I speak the native language, and after being in two countries where I speak a similar language to the mother tongue but not the actual language, it's music to my ears. It took Sassy and I about a half hour to find each other at the airport bc the Munich airport doesn't believe in the use of signs to tell you where you are, and now I'm on the couch in the guest room while Sassy takes the bed so that I don't get her sick before we head to England for her interview next week. Regular friends tell you they don't mind if you sleep next to them when you're sick, but best friends tell you to get the hell away from them and not breathe in their direction. I picked a winner here, ya'll.
I think that's all for now, boys and girls. Until next time!
PS. In Italy they give people with Celiac a monthly stipend bc they know how expensive it is to buy gluten free food, so I'm thinking maybe I could use that money for peanut butter and be able to live there after all.
PPS. I heard the boys say "porco dio" and "porca madonna" so much this week that I almost caught myself saying it. I will not do so, as a matter of principle, but still.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)