I made it! (Conversely, “First Impressions”)

Hi friends!  This is my first blog post from Riva San Vitale, Switzerland.  I am studying here in Riva for a month as a part of a Comparative sustainability program called “Sustainable Europe” that is offered jointly by Virginia Tech and UVA.  Throughout the course thirteen other students and I (and two Virginia Tech Professors and one UVA professor) will be discussing, reading about, and researching the history and evolution of sustainable development and its core theories, assessing housing and community development policies related to (in)equitable growth patterns in socially excluded communities, examining how various nations and regions address negative externalities of development and challenges to sustainability, and thoughtfully positing our own solutions to some of our generation’s most eminent challenges (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).  In addition we will be meeting with the American Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in Bern, taking a weekend trip to Marseille to see the renovated Port neighborhoods, taking a day trip to Zurich, and exploring the municipality of Riva San Vitale.  It is my hope that not far into my time here, Riva will start to feel like home.

To say that I’m pumped would be an understatement.

As for an introduction to Riva – the municipality sits on the edge of Lake Lugano at the base of the foothills of the Swiss Alps, very near to the Italian border.  It is in the canton of Ticino and the district of Mendrisio, for you geography nerds out there.

I arrived in Riva yesterday morning at 7:52 am and got settled in the Villa Maderni, where I will be both living and taking classes.  The Villa is a historic building that was at the center of the Pieve of Riva San Vitale’s 1798 endeavor to form its own republic – the Republic of Riva San Vitale.  The Republic only lasted for 23 days – about as long as it took for the Swiss German’s to hear about what they were doing here and to reclaim possession of the area.  While Riva is now happily situated within Switzerland’s borders, the Villa retains its historic significance to Riva and is still visited by tourists.  Virginia Tech carefully renovated the Villa in 1991 and it is now home of Virginia Tech’s Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) – lucky for us.  Though Riva is small and while I was not familiar with it before I was given a brochure about this course, the municipality is also interestingly the home of the oldest church in Switzerland – the Baptistry of San Giovanni as the area was once home to a significant Roman settlement.  Due to it’s location, Riva is a part of Switzerland that speaks Italian.

In general, I’m very excited about the size, placement, and culture of Riva.  I spent last summer in Valencia, Spain, and the homestay I was placed in was a 45 minute walk from the school that I was enrolled in.  While this distance ended up being a blessing in disguise (I got to know the city far better than I ever would have – I rented a bike and knew the 45 minute bike ride to the beach like the back of my hand by the end of the Summer), I’m excited to be able to wake up one flight of stairs from breakfast, and one room away from my formal classroom (the comfortable library, the Riva courtyard, and greater Europe serving as my informal classroom).  I’m also excited that the course is small and will be discussion and project based – it is my belief that that is how I learn best.

After I arrived I checked in with Daniela, The Managing Director of CESA.  The core group of students arrived the day before, so I had some quick catching up to do.  I said goodbye to my family who was kind enough to drop me off, got my key to the Villa, was given an abbreviated tour by Daniela, and scarfed down a bowl of granola and drank a few compulsory cups of coffee before I took my seat in class in the Villa’s courtyard at 9 am.  That’s right – the Villa’s courtyard.  It was unreal.  I can say without hesitation that I have never before taken a class in so beautiful a setting.  After taking time to get to know each other as a class we jumped right in to the course content and compiled and presented our initial intuition definitions of development and sustainable development and explicated what we felt were the ‘measures’ of each.  After our presentations and before a somewhat technologically impaired conference call with the Professors of the second and third course modules (the course is divided into three parts – each is taught by one of the three course Professors) during which we discussed the course syllabus all twelve of us and Professor Hall went on a tour of Riva with Daniela as our guide.  Everything is truly beautiful – both the man made structures and the municipality’s natural surroundings.  I was so enthralled by my whereabouts that I went on my first run in a few weeks in order to familiarize myself with more of my new home after class ended for the day at 5.  I was not disappointed by what of Riva I had yet to see.  After my run I met some of the other students at the lake swimming area and relaxed until dinner at 7.

My first breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Villa were superb – it’s going to be hard to take trips on the weekends knowing what I’ll be missing out on.  If you don’t know any German, the title of my blog is “More cheese, please”.  It will then come as no surprise that I will probably never love anything as much as I love food, and that the foods I encounter will be prominently featured in my future blog posts – in text and picture form.

As a regression, you might be thinking – 7:52 am?  Exactly?  Yes, exactly.

Let me explain: My Dad taught a workshop in Rome a little over a week before this course began and my family decided to join him and to use his work as an excuse to tour around Europe.  After leaving Rome we rented a blue Ford sedan and drove up the coast to Cinqueterre where we stayed and hiked to four of the five towns, we drove to and spent a night in Bellagio where we explored and admired Lake Como, we crossed the Swiss-Italian border without so much as being asked to show our passports, and we eventually made our way to Interlaken where we spent a few days hiking.  In order to squeeze all that we could out of the trip, my parents and brother and I woke up at 4 am on Tuesday morning and high-tailed it from Interlaken to Riva.  I received an e-mail the night before we left from Professor Hall instructing me to arrive at 8 am, and I nervously watched our Garmin’s ETA gradually climb from 7:39 as we hit traffic, made a wrong turn, and carefully navigated our way over the spine of the Alps.  We made it with minutes to spare.  As such, I remember exactly what the clock said when I first stepped out of our rental car.

In a perfect world, the only thing I would add to this course would be a language component.  I learned so, so much last Summer and became much more comfortable speaking Spanish.  So, as a proactive measure, I am going to include an Italian phrase / word and German phrase / word I learn (or teach myself) in every blog post I publish.  Hopefully I can make some Italian and / or German speaking friends here that can teach me a thing or two before I leave.


To kick things off, the essentials:

Italian phrase / word(s) of the day: 

Hello: (Good Morning) Buongiorno, (Hi) Ciao

Please: Per favore

Thank you: Grazie

Goodbye: Ciao

Yes: Sì

No: Non

This is delicious: Questo è delizioso

and of course – I don’t speak Italian well: Io non parlo bene l’italiano

German phrase / word(s) of the day:

Hello: Guten tag (Good day) or Hallo! (I had to add this one for my family.  They traveled to Germany after dropping me off and called me to tell me they said Hallo to everyone they met in Bavaria just so that they could hear the Germans say it back)

Please: Bitte (in the title of my blog!)

Thank you: Danke

Goodbye: Tschüs (pronounced: chuuss) or Auf Wiedersehen (formal) (pronounced: owf VEE-der-say-en)

Yes: Ja

No: Nein

This is delicious: Das ist köstlich

and of course – I can’t speak German well: Ich kann nicht so gut deutsch (pronounced: ikh kahn nikht zo goot doytsh)


And so ends my first substantive blog post ever.  I’ve added a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.  I did bring my camera to Europe with me, but it promptly died after I took one picture.  My subconscious was under the impression that cameras run on fun and sunlight in Europe, and I thus unfortunately excluded my charger from my packing list.  For that reason, all of the pictures I upload were taken with my iPhone.  Please bear with the quality!  (I haven’t taken any pictures in Riva yet, so all of these are from my family’s excursions.  I’ll post pictures of the Villa, Lake Lugano, and the surrounding area soon!)

The largest of twix bars at an Autogrill near Pisa, Italy


Looking back at Vernazza from Corniglia [Cinqueterre], Italy

Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre

Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre

Bellagio, Italy

View of Lake Como from Bellagio, Italy

Hiking above Grindelwald, Switzerland

Schlithorn, Switzerland

Restaurant at the top of Schlithorn, 2970 m

Hiking in Mannlichen, Switzerland

I made a friend – unfortunately he didn’t speak Italian or German




1 Comment

Filed under Summer Course 2012

One response to “I made it! (Conversely, “First Impressions”)

  1. this was a good way to keep me up to speed Maddie, thanks!

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