Aug 10

Climbing around Chiavenna   // jeff

Just a few shots of the climbing in and around Chiavenna.


Rapping off the guard rail into Placche di Boggia


Placche di Boggia


Placche di Boggia


Placche di Bette - Nice multi-pitch slab climbing 10 minutes from town (Yes. That's Chiavenna in the background)


The view from Placche di Bette (Chiavenna and Pizzo di Prata on the left)


I was there too.


Climbing on the Spazzacaldera in Albigna.


The big dam at Albigna in the background.


Beans on top of the world

As usual, there are more photos on Flickr. You can look at them on the photo page here or on Flickr.

Jul 10

Snap, Crackle, Pop… Photos!   // jeff

More Photos on Flickr

Jul 10

Pausa   // gina

I would like to stop time for a moment please.

There is so much happening and changing that we could really do with a pause to acknowledge it. That’s life I suppose. It was different when I was a kid. I’m sure time went slower then. Has someone turned the clock onto mega speed while I wasn’t looking?

Where does one go to check that sort of thing?

I am happy to say that I no longer feel like a cowering hamster at work. I’m still a little nervous each morning on my way to work, but every day I feel more like “Gina the Physio”, only in Italian. There are occasions, like when I’m trying to explain (in Italian) something tricky to a patient, such as chronic pain, and I wonder how I managed to get the job… But I’ve been enjoying the banter with my patients, and that feeling you get when you’re able to help someone. Walking out of the hospital each time I look up and can’t believe that this is where I work. Right below some amazingly beautiful mountains, one of which Jeff and I, and the motley crew of Darragh, Conor and Ritchie climbed a few years ago. It’s quite surreal working where you are usually on holidays. I love it. Jeff is also working away (on the internet), and enjoying his job more than any other I’ve seen him do. It sure beats the stressed-out, angry Jeff that used to come home from the middle school teaching job in VA. That was a Jeff we’re both happy to leave behind!

We had the pleasure of Kathy’s company here for a week in June. It was wonderful. Lots of time spent walking in the mountains together, chatting and catching up, with gelato in the piazza, and Italian-style extended dinners served with wine and laughter. One day while out hiking together we came across an elderly Italian man working on the trail that passes his ‘baita’ (mountain cottage). He invited us in for coffee (with a dash of hard liquor!) with him and his wife, and we dutifully obliged. I’ve often said that you can tell a lot about an area by how friendly the people are that you pass on the hiking trails. Some places people will actually ignore you when you say “hi”. Here you get invited in for drinks.

My Italian exam has come and gone. Results are still awaited. As is any further progress with my application for recognition of my qualifications in Italy. I have been waiting over 11 months at this stage. Thankfully I have given up holding my breath, and am happily earning more money with nicer work conditions across the border in Switzerland 🙂

We have just moved into a new apartment, complete with two big balconies with mountain views, an “office” room for Jeff to work, a spare bedroom for guests, and great little “orto” (vegetable patch), in which I immediately planted 30 tomato plants. If all were to survive we’d have enough tomatoes for the entire neighborhood, but considering I planted them so late I have my fingers crossed that enough will survive to bear fruit. We are the youngest residents in a condominio of 6 big apartments. All the rest are elderly and I feel like we have become the grandkids. One neighbor has been helping me with the gardening, providing advise, equipment, plant cuttings and company while weeding. He even waters our plants when we’re away. Our little chats, over the tops of his giant tomato plants, are a pleasure that I look forward to when heading out to the garden, trowel in hand.

We have continued to enjoy the company of our new friends here in Chiavenna, with aperitivos, dinners, and hikes together becoming regular occurrences. This past week we also got to spend a long (nearly five day!) weekend with some friends from Ireland in the French Alps a few hours away. A sweet trip, spent playing in the mountains with old friends, and cooking up big dinners together in the campsite each night. In a magical way it felt a bit like jumping back a few years in time. The same old crew, just a few extra stories under our belts (and one very cute baby boy!).

Two weeks have passed since I first started writing this blog entry. Time keeps flying by without the least bit of concern for me, Jeff or any “to-do” lists that get written on yellow post-its and then lost somewhere in the bottom of your bag. It’s probably best to just leave them there. To be found a few months down the road, when you realize that you got on fine without them anyway…

I’ve also just decided to write shorter blog entries from now on. If it takes me two weeks to finish writing something, how long does it take someone to read it..?

Pictures coming tomorrow (I use that term loosely).

Jul 10

We live here?!   // jeff

Today we moved most of our stuff to our new apartment. It took three trips with the car which is both a bit puzzling and a bit troubling. We’ve not even been here 5 months and already we have three car loads of belongings to move from one place to another? And a car to move those loads with?! We’re becoming entrenched. This would bother me more except that every morning I wake up and look out the window at the looming peaks around us, every time I go in a shop and spend much longer than I had planned because the shop keeper wants to have a chat and every time I have a glass of wine before dinner, sitting in the street listening to, and struggling (less every day) to speak, Italian I feel a little more a part of this place. Can entrenched be used in a positive way?

Since arriving, we have invested in a small library of guidebooks (a contribution to the car loads) and over the course of quite a few hikes and days climbing using said guidebooks I have decided that I need to change my beliefs and become hindu. There is just no way that we’ll ever have time to get through everything that we want to do before we leave this earth, com’on reincarnation! But maybe that’s part of the beauty of it as well. At the risk of sounding trite: there is no destination, only a journey. Just a never ending stream of climbs, hikes, bike rides, days of skiing and, of course, aperitivo’s.

Here are a few photos of the latest day out in the mountains. For those geography nerds our there (and Ray), we started down near Lago di Como from a tiny village called San Bartolomeo and hiked up to Sasso Canale then over to the Bivaco di Manco and then over another ridge to Alpe Campo and finally found our way back to the valley floor by way of Val Bodengo. Roughly 8 hours in total.







Jun 10

Out of my comfort zone   // gina

We have spent quite a bit of the past few months out of our comfort zones. I suppose it’s good for people for a while. You tend to learn a lot, when you need to swim to prevent drowning. That might sound a little drastic, but the past few weeks for me have provided quite a few occasions that warrant such drama.

To begin with I was called to do my first ever formal interview in the Italian language, just across the border in Switzerland. Interviews in general tend to be nail-biting experiences, now imagine it all in another language that you are just getting to grips with. I spent the days before it busily translating my CV and any vocab that might be relevant. Not a pretty sight.

I initially thought that even if they liked me I couldn’t get the job because I don’t have my qualifications recognized in Switzerland yet (the same process which has, so far, taken over 9 months in Italy, but that’s a different kettle of fish…). To cut a long story short they gave me the job anyway, with approval from the powers-that-be to start work while the recognition process goes on quietly in the background. Sweet 🙂 The job is only part-part-time to start with (which suits me fine for now), but the pros of being in Switzerland include better pay and generally less chaos.

I looked into the process for recognition of my qualifications in Switzerland. I need a language diploma in Italian. Hmmm. I clearly do not have this. So I signed up for the only exam available this side of September, which happens to be less than 2 weeks away. Apparently you need 400 hrs of preparation before this exam. How many hours are in 2 weeks?? Needless to say, the timing is not optimal, and I won’t be ready, much like my first driving test, which I failed by the way. So I am trying, and failing, to remember all I learnt on the meditation course. If I pass I pass, if I fail… there’s always september.

A language test is official something which CANNOT be crammed for. Not that cramming has ever been really my style. But the option would be nice in this case…

In the midst of all of this we have;

Organized residency here (I AM NOW OFFICIAL LIVING IN ITALY!- jeff is not sadly…I hope he joins me soon…)

Found an apartment to move into in a few weeks time

Organized some loved-ones in the States to pack our stuff into the shipping container which will make it’s way to us over the next few weeks. (Thanks guys!)

I celebrated my first birthday in Chiavenna, shared with new friends. A pleasure.

Jeff has worked like a dog for more hours each day than is healthy

And I started my first job working through Italian. It is really very, very scary. I am hoping that in a few weeks time, after the exam and a bit of settling in time in the job, I will start to feel more human.

And less like a frightened hamster.

Jun 10

Qualche foto della famiglia   // jeff





Check out more photos on flickr!

May 10

6 Planes, 7 Trains and I’m going to bed   // gina

In the past 3 and a half weeks, between Chiavenna, Virginia (USA) and Bristol (UK) Jeff and I have enjoyed the pleasure of some ‘quality time’ with every member of our direct family, except my brother Matthew. In the process we have further enlarged our carbon footprint to embarrassing proportions. It now resembles a large astroid crater rather than a footprint and shall be referred to from here on as our “carbon crater”. Our feeble attempt to reduce it (or rather, prevent it growing) by buying a GPL car seems like a laughable idea at this stage…

Anyway, as I was saying, we enjoyed our first visitors to Chiavenna, with a trip up by my parents for a few days, and more recently a short but sweet visit by two wonderful friends Síle and Ben. In between we spent 8 days in Virginia for my sister-in-law (Amy)’s wedding, and a 3 day stint in Bristol, UK with all my siblings (and “partners”) except Matthew, who was missed. 🙁

It’s impossible to cram all of the fun of the past few weeks into one blog post, and quite frankly it is unnecessary. So here’s a random collection of memories that come to me…

Strolling through the streets of Chiavenna, arm in arm with my mum, busy solving all of the world’s problems.

Hiking up the mountain side in the pishing rain with my Dad, as only the Irish do well.

Being refused permission to board my flight to America, and nearly ending up stranded in London instead of at Amy’s wedding. Of course I remained calm and Zen-like throughout.

The buzz of wedding plans in the final few days, with many an hour of ribbon tying and decoration-making and displaying.

Photos of the bride-to-be playing basketball in a red bikini the night before her wedding. Officially the most relaxed bride I’ve ever seen. And of course beautiful, in that lovely glowing bride kinda way. Good work Amy. 🙂

Dancing our socks off for hours on the wedding dance floor with my family of in-laws, with some particularly memorable dance moves from my brother-in-law (aka “an entire boyband in one body”) and my father-in-law (dentist turns gangster rapper).

Laughing ‘like ol’ times’ with some of the crew from Blacksburg who made the trip up to Jeff’s folks house for a sweet night of chatting, eatin’ and appreciatin’.

Touring the streets of Bristol with Lucia, my sis, catching up and philosophizing while scouring all the skips (dumpsters) for potential plant pots for her new garden.

The look on Diarmuid’s face when he discovered his siblings waiting for him in Lucia’s back garden for his birthday surprise.

A day in the park with most of the Smyths (& co), and some special cousins, playing ultimate frisbee in sweltering midday sun, and circus school with Lucia, who by the way, is very good at what she does.

And finally, a blissful 24 hours with Síle and Ben, friends from Ireland, during their somewhat spontaneous visit to Chiavenna, filled with ice-cream, pizza, walks and wine, under the sweet italian sunshine. 🙂

Normal life in Chiavenna recommences tomorrow. Although, we’re not really sure what that is yet. Whatever it is, it begins tomorrow morning when I head to the town-hall, papers in hand, to officially become a resident of Italy.

The rest remains to be seen…
(as do the photos which Jeff will post soon…)

May 10

There’s No Place Like Home   // gina

The other day Jeff and I were checking out the new Comhaltas online archive of Irish music. A wonderful collection of traditional Irish music (good work Darragh Curran!).

I was confused when I found myself feeling sad listening to it. Not homesick, but a different strange kind of nostalgia. As if it were someone I’m supposed to know well, but have difficulty relating to. A lost opportunity of a good friend.

With an Irish father and an Italian/English mother , growing up in the suburbs of Dublin, I was never immersed in the traditional Irish culture of GAA, Irish music and folklore, although I’m sure my father tried. We were never a family of céilís, Sundays spent watching hurling, or evenings spent singing old Irish songs in the local pub over a pint of Guinness. With the majority of Summer vacations spent visiting my mother’s family in England and Italy, with roadtrips across mainland Europe, I suppose from a very young age we were being exposed to different cultures. At a time when traveling wasn’t as cheap, easy or as widespread as it is now in Ireland, we were given a special opportunity to see a bit of the world outside of the small island of Eire. And our home in the suburbs of Dublin wasn’t exactly the epicenter of traditional Irish culture.

I first became aware of this “difference” between me and so many of my peers when I started my training in the School of Physiotherapy in UCD. I was one of only a few Dubliners in the class. And probably the least “Irish” of them all. We had party nights where everyone showed up in their home teams’ colours (GAA). I felt like a foreigner. Irish traditional music, although beautiful, doesn’t hit those emotional cords within me that other music does. It’s not “mine”. In a way it’s from a different Ireland, one I don’t know very well. I remember at times in University, with my class mates from all over Ireland, wishing that I too had this connection with the old traditions of my country. The feeling that it was “in my bones”. But it wasn’t there.

As we listened to some of the music on the Comhaltas website, Jeff and I chatted about it. It seems a sad thing not to fully understand or relate to your own country’s traditional culture. For a moment I allowed myself to dwell in that ugly sentiment of self-pity. And yet I feel Irish in my own way, maybe because of the family and friends that will always bring me home there.

But yes, a part of me sometimes wonders where I belong. If not wholly “Irish”, am I Italian?

Assolutamente No.

Is this what happens to everyone born of an immigrant parent (or two). (Sorry Mum that word sounds crude, but now I’m an immigrant too…) A part of them remains confused as to where they belong? My siblings may well disagree completely with me of course. But perhaps that explains why we have now scattered in the wind?A taste for travel. Spread from Thailand/India, Italy/America, England, to Ireland and at times Russia?? And yet I feel like we are still a very close family despite the physical distance between us.

Maybe what I mean is I don’t feel wholly Irish, or Italian, but I do feel like a Smyth.

Can a large family become a nation of its own?

Apr 10

La prima pasqua a Chiavenna   // jeff

Apr 10

Italian Bureaucracy: The biggest “casino*” I’ve encountered to date…   // gina

*Italian lesson 1:
casino [ka ‘sino]
SM 1. mess, racket…
• Cos’è questo casino? what’s this bloody racket/mess?

The funny thing is that everyone laughs about this “casino” as if it’s a funny joke someone made at some stage in the past and forgot to fix. An april fool’s gag that has lasted decades past the deadline. I think the key for us was to expect the worst, which we did, and so far at least, we’ve been able to laugh a little at the silliness of it all with the locals. Without falling on our knees and breaking down in tears. No…it’s not all that bad really.

So here we are in a limbo of sorts. Everything is floating somewhere above us, just out of reach. At least for a couple of months we have an address again. However there’s still that dreaded question that crops up:

“Country of Residency?”
“Eh… (technically nowhere right now, considering my green card for the states ran out in February and I haven’t lived in Ireland for over 3 years)…eh.. Ireland?”

Hopefully if we can manage to sort out doing A before B at the same time as doing B before A we can organize residency here in the near future. And then we’ll be allowed to buy a car  🙂 and be officially accurate when we say we live in Italy. Which of course is the only reason we’ve made this whole crazy move, because it just sounds dead cool…

“Eh yeah, we live in Italy now… don’t you know my grandparents were Italian?”

All jokes aside, we are both so glad we went traveling before beginning this adventure in Italy. It has given us enough perspective, and time out of the wonderful Blacksburg bubble, to be able to cope a little better when thrown into orbit. We are also falling deeply in love with Chiavenna, our new home town, and the beautiful mountains that surround it. Our cutsy modern apartment in a gorgeous 500 year old building with a view over the higgledy-piggledy tiled-rooves of old Chiavenna. The fact that there is a panificio (bread shop) 10 metres from our building. And bars with l’aperitivo (a drink and some tasty snacks) every evening before dinner, where the locals gather. And pizzerias like you only find in Italy. The pleasure of buying parmesan cheese by the kilo. Being able to walk 5 minutes from our apartment and find ourselves at the base of a trail that shoots up into the mountains for a vertical km (literally). The wonderful delight in looking up from the main street and seeing snowy mountains surrounding us.

And then there’s the people. The ladies in the Post office who have spent hours with us (and I mean literally hours), trying to help us sort out our lives here. The sweet girl at the tourist office who always has a smile for us. The women at the Comune (townhall) who handed me the name and date of birth of another Irish girl who lives 5 mins walk away, even though I’m sure that’s confidential information. Our landlord who is allowing us stay 2 or 3 months in his rental apartment instead of the 2 weeks we booked, with a slight increase in price from €350 for 2 weeks to €400/month, all inclusive.

But reading about it just doesn’t do it justice…

La nostra casa. We’re open for visitors.