I took a trip high into the mountains on Sunday with my friend Sasha from Russia and her host family. We spent Saturday night at their house because we had to leave early Sunday morning.
Saturday night we ate at a Japanese restaurant. Unlike Americans, Italians don't eat foreign food very often. Most of them say they don't like it.
While driving down a street in the U.S., you'll see not only American restaurants - someone recently asked me if we truly eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the U.S. - but also Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and many other ethnic restaurants.
On an Italian street, pretty much every place to eat is completely and totally Italian. In some parts of town, there's the occasional Turkish kebab place, but the vast majority of food options here are strictly Italian.
Never miss a local story.
The only place in Brescia that veers away from this norm is the food court in Freccia Rossa, the mall. Among the Italian majority even there, there's also a Japanese place (where we ate Saturday night), a German-themed place, and an American-themed restaurant.
I haven't tried the American place yet, but I will one day when I'm feeling up to some major stereotyping. It's Wild West themed, and the tables are inside giant teepees and covered wagons.
The Japanese restaurant where Sasha and I ate was all-you-can-eat. It had a conveyor belt with little plates of food, which passed by all the tables, making it easy to grab whatever looked good without getting up. There was rice, noodles, sushi, fresh fruit and all the other typical Japanese restaurant offerings.
It was nice eating Japanese food as a break from all the Italian, but in Italy, even Japanese restaurants have some Italian offerings - fried balls of Nutella, tomato slices in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and such.
After eating, we went to Sasha's house in a village called Manerbio a little ways outside Brescia, and went to sleep early.
We woke the next morning at 5:30 and got dressed in so many layers we could hardly bend our arms at the elbows. For breakfast, we drank café latte (Italian coffee with milk, similar to American coffee, but creamier) and ate cookies.
At 6 a.m., we all piled into their car. Sasha's host parents sat in the front seat, armed with maps, while Sasha, her host sister, and I climbed into the back.
The ride took several hours. In Brescia there was still a light sprinkling of snow on the ground, but as we got higher and higher, the ground's white covering got deeper and deeper.
We went through countless tunnels and mountain villages, and about a million traffic circles. Despite the maps, we had to stop and ask for directions twice.
I got the feeling I always get on car rides with friends, that I wasn't anxious to get to the destination at all because the journey - the warm car, soft music and passing scenery - was just as enjoyable.
When we finally got to our destination, we stretched our legs in the freezing air and changed into snow boots. I don't remember the name of the place where we were, but I felt like we were at an astonishingly high altitude.
White, wintry world
I didn't realize until I saw the ski lift that we were going up even higher. It stretched up above, over a peak - farther than I could see.
From the ground the lift looked like it moved at a slow, steady pace, but it felt much faster when I was actually riding. It was the elevator-on-wires type, not the sitting-down-like-a-roller-coaster-cart type. It was shaky and jerky, but in a fun way, not a scary way.
Even though it felt like we were moving fast, it took a good chunk of time to actually make it to the top. When the doors opened, we emerged into a white, wintry world.
The sun reflected off the snow and was incredibly bright. In every direction I could see huge white and gray mountains against the blue sky. I'd only ever seen the Alps like this in books and movies.
There was a semi-circle of buildings, with stands to rent skis, sleds, and snowboards, a restaurant and a lodge. Surrounding all of this was a great expanse of hills and slopes, big and small.
Sasha, her sister and I decided to rent a sled, because none of us knew how to ski. We spent the first half of our day pushing each other down the best slopes for sledding on earth and riding back up to the tops of the hills on conveyor belts that reminded me of the ones in the Japanese restaurant.
I had one of those awesome sledding wipe-outs where you flip and fly through the air and snow goes everywhere, but it doesn't hurt.
It was absolutely freezing cold. I was convinced that beneath my gloves, my fingernails were falling off, but I was having too much fun to care much.
I was fascinated by how deep and packed-down the snow was. I could kick it around and dig with my feet as much as I wanted, but never come close to a glimpse of the ground.
We spent the second half of our day in the restaurant, eating sandwiches and drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream and hot lemon tea. It was cozy and loud and warm. We were all super tired.
At the end of the day we all piled, worn out, back into the lift to ride back down, then somehow managed to come up with the energy to walk to the car and settle ourselves in for the ride back. We all slept on the way down to Brescia, after our very awesome day in the mountains.