Everyone Knows Everyone!
I arrived in Reggio di Calabria two days ago at about 11:00 AM and took a taxi straight to the Bed and Breakfast that one of the Penn State professors arranged for me. There, I met the owner, also named Michele, who showed me to my own room. After dropping my bags off, I walked to the school that the Penn State study abroad program is held at. The walk was a bit dirty, but I was actually expecting it to be dirtier. This is the first time I’ve been to a city south of the Amalfi Coast and had no idea what to expect.
After about a 30 minute walk, I arrived at their school – the school is normally an engineering school, but Penn State rents a few classrooms every summer. As soon as I walked up the staircase, I was greeted by a few friendly faces that I saw just under a month ago! We started talking and more students I knew began to emerge from class. Then one of my Italian professors who grew up in Reggio di Calabria, Vincenzo Gatto, emerged. The students ran to catch the bus back to their apartments and I stayed in the school to have lunch with Vincenzo and the professor that helped me arrange my accommodations, Fiona. It was great to see them both!
After lunch, I walked with Fiona to a pastry bar in town called Cordon Blue. She treated me to a café and a few pastries including the best cannoli I’ve had in my life. After a while, two of my friends from Penn State joined us. One of them, Giulia, is studying with the program while another, Nikki, was visiting like me.
When we finished, Fiona went home and I stayed with Nikki and Giulia. First, we found an ATM owned by the Italian bank that has an affiliation with my bank back in America. Then, we just walked down their main street, Corso di Giuseppe Garibaldi. After an hour, Nikki had to go meet her Italian family and head back to Sicily and Giulia went to head back to her apartment, so I decided to walk along the water. It was a beautiful site. You could see Sicily and the water was so blue. Sicily was so close that I felt like I could swim to it.
Promenade along the water
A lonely boat parked on a Calabrian beach
Young lovers have a date on the beach
After a short walk along the beach, I grabbed a gelato (I heard that a gelato a day keeps the doctor away). Then, I headed back to my bed and breakfast to relax. About an hour later, I headed out to dinner to a pizza place called Pepy’s. It was pretty good. Then, I went back to my Bed & Breakfast and crashed for the night as I was running on three hours sleep!
Yesterday, I woke up and went to school with a few of my friends. They had their Italian conversation class with Vincenzo’s cousin, Eleonora. We spoke about dialects, specifically the Calabrian and Sicilian dialects, the ongoing debate about nuclear power, and the culture of Reggio di Calabria – all in Italian! It was a lot of fun.
Then, we were all invited to a free lunch about a 20 minute drive up the side of a mountain with a group of Italian students from the university. Their student government sponsored a lunch for the American students. It was a blast. We were able to socialize with Italian students and eat what seemed like a 10 course meal! The restaurant was on a beautiful piece of land with even more beautiful views in every direction! Then, an Italian musician played an accordion-like instrument outside while we took in the view. He played traditional Calabrian songs. It was a great experience.
The Italian Countryside
An amazing view
Vincenzo & I at lunch
After lunch, I headed back to the Bed and Breakfast with Vincenzo who knows the owner. Because that Bed & Breakfast was full the following night, I switched to a different bed and breakfast down the road, so we met back up after an hour to go get gelato. We went to Gelateria Cesare and met one other Penn State student, Mario, as well as Fiona and her husband who flew in from the UK the night before. Then, Vincenzo, Mario, and myself walked along the Corso di Giuseppe Garibaldi where everyone walks up and down every night to socialize. Vincenzo said that you meet everyone there – your friends, your barber, and even your shrink, if you need one! As he was saying that, Vincenzo ran into two of his friends from childhood. It was quite the experience.
Then, we sat down at Cordon Blue for an hour and chatted a bit more before retiring for the night. This morning, I took a taxi to the train station (Vincenzo even knew my taxi driver) at 6:00 AM.
Reggio di Calabria, for me, is a true Italian city. It is unique – there are not a lot of tourists, so the city has not lost its charm. People walk down the streets to socialize, old men meet in squares to talk, and young lovers meet for dates at the water’s edge. Reggio di Calabria is a small town in a small city. Everyone really does know everyone. There’s something to be said for that.
Note: This post was originally published on June 1, 2012 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe…Again” which chronicled my post-graduation trip across Europe.