This was the week I went on a school trip to Parma, Sabbioneta, Mantua, and Modena! Wednesday morning I woke up at 6am and left the house at 6:30. My host mom and I drove to Armeno (a town close to Pettenasco) where we met the other students going on the trip. There were a total of 28 of us, and all of the other students were 13 years old in middle school. I was so thankful that Isabelle (an exchange student from Colorado) came as well. We started the journey by taking a 3 hour bus ride to Fontanellato, where we took a tour of a beautiful castle. We then ate our packed lunches, and got back on the bus headed to Parma. In Parma we saw an antique church and an old baptistery. My favorite part of Parma was the old theater, Teatro Farnese. The whole theater was made of wood, and it reminded me of an old Roman theater with its semicircular form and its grand, slanted platform for the stage. Standing on the stage was mind-blowing; I would have loved to perform there if it was still being used. We ate dinner at the hotel in Parma, and finally got to sleep after the long day of traveling. I shared a room with Isabelle and my host mom.
The next morning we woke up at 8, ate a breakfast of yogurt and lemon cake, and left the hotel at 8:30. After a half hour bus ride of trying to sleep and ignore the constant chattering of little children, we arrived at Sanguinaro. There we had a tour of a salami factory! This was my least favorite part of the whole trip because of the horrible smell!! Luckily we were given sheer clothing that covered our bodies and shoes, as well as hairnets and doctor masks for the smell, but even those didn’t mask the unpleasant scent of raw meat. I wanted to hold my breath the whole time, but the tour lasted 2 hours so I was forced to inhale. To top off the dreadful experience, we were forced to eat the salami for lunch! I remember feeling so happy after the tour when we were all walking out of room with salamis hanging from the ceiling. But then right when we opened the door to exit we were hit with a not-so-pleasant surprise. There we saw two long tables with 28 plates of different types of salami waiting for us to eat them. I swear I almost fainted!!! What was even worse is that it was only 10:30 in the morning for this lunch and the room still stank of raw salami and dead animals. Luckily there were two pieces of bread on each plate, so I had something to eat. Walking outside was a huge relief, and everyone was so thankful to get out of there and board the bus.
Our next stop was Sabbioneta, where we visited another old theater like the one in Parma. This theater, Teatro all’antica, was the first free-standing, purpose-built theater in the modern world. It is the second-oldest surviving indoor theaters in the world and is, along with the Teatro Farnese in Parma, one of only three Renaissance theaters still in existence. Just like the theater in Parma, this theater was constructed almost entirely of wood. And above the semicircle wooden area for the audience, there were columns with figure statues on the top. It was a beautiful, jaw-dropping sight to see. We were also able to visit the gothic Palazzo Ducale and a Jewish synagogue. We even saw the beautiful Palazzo Giardino (garden) of Sabbioneta. It was really gorgeous to see the garden from above when standing on the balcony of the palace because I could see all of the designs formed from the bushes. Then we got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel to relax. After dinner we all took a little walk in the dark and bonded. When I say “bonded” I mean that the 13 year olds asked me and Isabelle tons of questions about the USA. These children are SO ENERGETIC! Even at night after a long day of walking and sight-seeing they have so much energy! The whole walk was exhausting, every 10 seconds one of the kids would ask a question, make fun of us, try to hug us, try to steal our phones and play games, or try to make us say a bad word in Italian. I can definitely say that on this trip I learned more bad words in Italian than good words!!
Friday morning we woke up way too early. We left the hotel at 8am and headed for Mantua. First we visited the beautiful church of Sant’Andrea. It was absolutely breathtaking! Every little space on the walls was decorated with some type of design, making the church look very intricate and decorated. We stopped at a cute restaurant for lunch and all ordered the typical food of Mantua – “Tortelli di Zucca” (pumpkin tortelli) and “Risotta Alla Pilota.” (rice to the pilot). The pumpkin dish was ravioli with pumpkin mixture inside. I didn’t particularly enjoy it because it was way too sweet – it tasted like dessert! The rice was better, but it was way too dry and grainy for me. Luckily we found a gelato shop after lunch to fill us up. I ordered a cone with coffee and coconut flavored ice cream. I thought it was delicious!! But Isabelle thought that combination was weird…what do you think? After lunch we walked to the Palazzo Te and had a tour of the inside. It was absolutely incredible! All of the walls inside had beautiful paintings covering them. It was utterly gorgeous. We ate a lasagna dinner back at the hotel, and then went for another night walk. That night I felt famous because all of the kids were following me, asking questions, laughing at my American accent, and commenting on my blondish hair. I can honestly say I had never felt so popular in all my life. And to be even more honest, it was fun but VERY exhausting!!!
Saturday was the last day of the trip. We woke up early, packed our bags, and left the hotel at 8:15. After a short bus ride, we arrived at a parmesan cheese factory! The factory consisted of three parts. The first part was seeing the cows! All of their cows were female in order to have milk for the cheese making. We were fortunate to see baby calfs too, they were so tiny and so cute, I really wanted to take one home as a pet! After observing the cows, we took a tour of the cheese making factory. Just like the salami factory, we had to wear sheer costumes to cover up the smell. Luckily it wasn’t as stinky as the salami, but it was still unpleasant to inhale. It was interesting to see the process of how cheese is made. Apparently one can only eat the cheese one year after it’s made or else it won’t be “ripe” enough. The last thing we did was taste the cheese! We were given 3 types of parmesan cheese – one that was 12 months old, one that was 17 years old, and one that was 30 years old. The older ones have a stronger yellow color to them and have a stronger taste. I personally preferred the 12 month old one because it wasn’t as strong, but maybe that’s because I’m not much of a cheese lover.
At 11:00 we parted for Modena and arrived 2 hours later. We had free time for lunch, so Isabelle and I and some other students went and got pizza. Then we had some time to walk around the center of Modena, drink coffee at a small caffè, and listen to the street musicians play music. Then we all gathered together and looked at the Piazza e della Chiesa Romanica (cathedral) of Modena. This was my favorite church because it was so grand and elegant. There were beautiful stained glass windows and arched columns lining the wooden pews. The church consisted of two stories, and we were able to stand on both. To me, it was the biggest, most magnificent church I had ever seen. We ended our trip there, got back on the bus, and took a 3 hour ride back to Armeno where everyone said their goodbyes. Overall I would say it was a fun, educational trip. I’m very pleased that I was able to partake in it.