Arrival in Lucca and the first day of school

The first day of a two week Italian Language course in Lucca, Italy.

I don’t want to start these series of blog posts with a cliché, but I must say, arriving in Lucca felt like a dream. Whether it was due to planning the trip for almost a year, the countless days thinking about what it would be like, or the 24 hours without sleep, I don’t know. All I know was that I loved this little town the moment I saw the walls, built during the Renaissance, and stepped through them into Lucca’s centro storico.

I should start by saying, my arrival was proceeded by an hour long subway ride in New York, three hours at JFK airport (because I don’t like feeling rushed!), a seven hour flight to Milan Malpensa Airport, an hour train ride to Milano Centrale, two hours roaming around Milano complete with my 65 litre backpack and day pack, a two hour train to Firenze and then an hour long train ride to Lucca. All with about a half hour of combined sleep. No wonder I was exhausted when I arrived! All in all, the journey was seamless, but sleepless nonetheless. On the plus side, my luggage arrived in Italy at the same time as I did.

I’m now in Lucca for two weeks studying Italian at the Lucca Italian School for about four hours per day. While I’m in Lucca, I chose the homestay option, where you stay in the home of someone that is somehow affiliated with the school. I was expecting a tiny room with a twin bed and no room to move. Instead, I’m staying in an apartment on the fourth floor of a building with an entrance in a tiny courtyard off a main street and my room is huge! I have a sofa-turned-double bed, a desk, an antique wardrobe and plenty of room I could even do yoga (if for some reason I decide to start doing yoga).

The lady I’m staying with, Laura, is a fantastic host and has spoken Italian to me from the moment I arrived. She speaks slowly enough and will point out how to correct my oftentimes broken Italian. It was a lot to take in after my marathon journey here but it was also nice to start speaking Italian right away. And she’s more energetic than I am! She also has another student staying here this week. Her name’s Anna and she’s from Spain. She speaks very good Italian (which I’m guessing is at least partly due to her being Spanish – an unfair advantage!).

Though all I wanted was to sleep, I was ravenous, so I set out into the town to find some dinner. Eventually I came across a place that looked like it would suit, and I ordered a plate of porcini mushroom ravioli with a truffle cream sauce. Buonissimo! I couldn’t have asked for a better first meal. Afterwards I came home, finished reading a book I’d started two days earlier (The Girl on the Train – not bad!) and then passed out. I mean fell asleep.

In the morning the alarm went off way too early. I had to be at la scuola for 8:30 for paper work and to have a quick chat with a teacher to see which class I’d be placed in. The school is about a 10 -15 minute walk through the town centre and is pretty easy to find. The streets are also mostly tourist-less at that time of the day, which was good, because in my jet-legged daze, I’m not sure I could have coped with crowds! On the way, I stopped for the mandatory cappuccino, and arrived at the school right on 8:30. I was expecting to see about a half dozen people starting on the same day as me, and instead there were about 12 – 15!

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By about 9:15, all the administration duties were finished (i.e. filling in a very short form and a five minute chat with a teacher) and I was told that I could choose between two classes, with one a bit more advanced than the other. So of course I chose the more advanced one. I was also told I could ask to change if it doesn’t suit me well. The class I’m in this week has 8 students, and the other class has 9. We were told that September is a very busy month for the school and for Lucca more generally as it’s a month of festivals and celebrations. One being the Festa della Esaltazione della Santa Croce (Luminara di Santa Croce), which happens to be tomorrow (it’s always on the 13th of September). The school is organising a night out for us, so more to come on that.

We then had an hour break and were told to return at 10:15 for our class which would run until 1:15 with a 20 minute break. The class was less structured than I was expecting. I thought it would be two hours of strictly grammar and then two hours of discussion, but the class runs much more fluid.

We started by each talking about ourselves with the teacher asking questions to get us to keep talking. Though we can all hold a conversation, some people are much more fluent than others (i.e. me). We had 6 minutes to read a text and then were told to discuss generally what we’d read with our classmate. We then had another 5 minutes to go through and underline the words we didn’t know. It wasn’t an easy text, so there were plenty of new words. Then came the fun part. Having the teacher or other students explain, all in Italian, what the word means. I’m used to having the teacher say it in English, so this makes it more tough but also better for building vocabulary. Lucky for me I have my trusty dictionary and my sometimes more, sometimes less trusty Google Translate.

The questions naturally brought out grammar topics to discuss, so this led to grammar being covered along with a lot of vocabulary. So quite a good mix. At the end of class, the teacher explained the cultural activities that would be taking place this week, one of which was a tour of the city for the newcomers.

There was no way I was passing that up, so at 4pm (after a bit of a nap), I walked back to the school and met the other 10 people also taking the tour. It was really good, covered some history and also restaurant ideas, shops to buy food, banks, etc and ended with an aperitivo at a bar along with some nibbles (or as they say in Italiano, an apericena). The teacher explained that the word is like brunch, but in this case combines aperitivo with cena (dinner). So a drink with some light food – all for 5 euros each! It was enough food to tide me over, and the Aperol Spritz went down a treat!

After drinks, it was time to return home after a short stopover with three classmates to a book store as a few people wanted to buy dictionaries. Like grocery stores, I also like visiting book stores when I’m travelling. It’s funny to see how the names of books are translated into other languages. I even saw La Ragazza Del Treno (the book I’d just finished, translated into Italian). Then onto home, where I’m currently writing this. It’s almost past my bedtime, so that’s enough for now!

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