One of the NATO practicum’s greatest advantages is its location in the heart of Europe. I scheduled my spring break a week later than St. John’s and spent the week visiting Italy and France with my girlfriend who joined me from the states. A one-hour flight from Belgium landed us in Venice, Italy. The weather was beautiful and much warmer than the crisp (surprisingly snowy) Belgian climate I have become used to. We spent a few days riding the Grand Canal and eating delicious Italian food on the quaint streets of Burano and Murano. We learned from the proprietor of our bed and breakfast that rising rents and maintenance costs of the “sinking city” continue to drive away local residents at a rate of more than 1,000 people per year. While dry during our visit, Venice floods more than 100 times annually and makeshift plank walkways can be seen lining the streets for when the Mediterranean swells.
Our next stop was La Spezia, Italy, to visit the five coastal villages that make up Cinque Terre. As we transferred trains in Genova, we came upon an elderly man collapsed between train cars and not breathing. My experiences from my time as an EMT came rushing back as me and my girlfriend (who’s a nurse in NY when she’s not on vacation) rolled the man over and got him breathing again. As we waited what felt like an eternity for the ambulance, there was a flurry of questions in Italian from the train crew and we did the best to try and answer. Some confusion ensued about the destination of our now very delayed train, but a few jogs around the train station and a short ride later we finally arrived to see the sun setting over the bright blue sea.
Most people visiting Cinque Terre spend their time hiking between the villages and seeing the especially popular “Via dell’Amore” or The Way of Love. The trails were actually closed during our visit due to landslides that made them impassible and dangerous. The cafes were nice nonetheless and it was a stop we were glad we made.
On our way to Paris, we spent a day and a half in Monaco. Being a country of less than a square mile in land, it sure had a lot to offer. The wealth of its populace and visitors was apparent as the harbor was lined with million dollar yachts and the streets roamed by all of the most luxurious cars you can imagine. We saw the Monte Carlo Casino where James Bond was filmed and saw the changing of the guard at the royal palace. We left stunned by the tiny city-state’s beauty, feeling as if we had been in a fairy tail.
Our final three days in Paris were filled with the usual tourist attractions. We walked the Champs Elysée, saw the Louvre, and strolled through street markets that seemed to go on for miles. On Friday night, we got the cheapest tickets we could find and headed to the Opera to see Cinderella. The original opera house is remarkably ornate in a way that pictures cannot capture. Performed in Italian and subtitled in French, it was interesting to see how much French I could understand. Saturday we headed to Parcs des Prince to see Paris Saint-German take on Nancy. David Beckham even took the field late in the match and the raucous home crowd got a win.
It was a fun-filled week for sure and just what was needed in the middle of this semester. The second half has much more in store as I head to Germany to the NATO school, I work on an article for the NATO Legal Gazette, and my family visits.