Airport troubles and Heading Home

The day I left was difficult. It was my flight to go home. Milan Linate airport was super foggy and thus getting the plane to London took some extra time. We left late, delayed the landing, then also delayed our taxi to the gate. It was a rough 4 hours or so.

I tried to find my connection, but alas it wasn’t even on the connections board. I talked to a lady and she told me to stand in this immigration line and rebooking was on the other side. I was constantly updating my parents about my flight and even though it was the middle of the night, my dad was constantly checking his email. He told me that apparently my flight was 2 hours delayed and I might be able to make it. I run to the bus to take me to terminal 3.

Standing in line at the UK Border

I run and approach yet another security check. I anxiously wait and get through it somewhat quickly. I run to the board and I still can’t find my flight. I ask an attendant nearby and he says, “let’s talk to British airways.” He brings me up to a tall British man who I give my boarding pass to. “Unfortunately yes you miss your flight, but I will work to get that all fixed off,” he says as he runs off.

I didn’t even have to wait in any line, but I am just standing there where he once was. I sit down. I’ve had to use the bathroom for a good 3 hours now, along with being dehydrated and I had poured out my water at security. Plus I have gone without a meal for a good 7 hours. The man eventually comes back asking for my passport, he tells me that my flight will be tomorrow and that I’ll be in a hotel tonight. Best news though: it’s a direct flight home.

I wouldn’t be able to appreciate a direct flight as much as I do today. Seeing my hometown on the screen, the thought of doing customs in my own city, and not having to worry about switching to another flight all mean so much more to me.

The hotel they put me in was close to the airport, I got a bus voucher to get me there and back. I also got dinner and breakfast. Dinner was a bunch of fried food, but I could not have been happier. French fries and fish sticks and chicken tenders and more. Fried food: An American’s Dream. The room was pretty quirky as well, and really nice. Having my own double bed and my own cozy little room was so refreshing.

Quirky picture in my hotel room’s bathroom

Getting to the airport the next day was also so relaxing. It was nearby, I didn’t have my 2 huge and heavy suitcases, I already had a boarding pass, and security took less than 5 minutes. I got to my gate and it was a short and easy wait for my flight to board.

I hadn’t taken a flight this long before. I think my longest was around 6-7 hours, this one was a solid 10. I tried to sleep, but only got a scattered 3 hours. I was delighted that they fed us, something I honestly did not expect, but looking back I understand it is probably mandatory to do so. I watched 2 movies, played countless games of solitaire, and walked around a couple times. We were in the new Boeing Dreamliners (787), and it made me feel rather fancy.

Customs was also easier itself than I expected. Apparently the Austin airport is special in that you don’t have to fill out any papers because everything is recorded electronically. The process was very simple. While waiting for your bags, go through this line til you get to a machine, scan your passport, answer the prompted questions (which replace the need to fill out the paper form), get a receipt, and have it checked by personnel. They will write a number on it, which corresponds to which line you’ll need to go through once you collect your bags. I finished that first process and waiting on my bags for a bit while longer. Once they were collected, I handed the receipt and my passport to the officer, he asked me if I need to declare anything, to which I answered “no” (an honest no too) and I went out the doors to see my family waiting for me.

My first long-term trip has been a success and it has been so amazing. There are so many things I look forward to and I cannot wait for the future! Adventure awaits!

Italian Ranting

I’ve complained about Italy quite a bit, and right now I’m going to come clean and share one of my rants. Don’t take it personally, as it was written in a moment of anger. Maybe you’ll relate to it, but I’m sharing to show my real experiences. Despite all my problems encountered by Italians, I think I would come back to Italy, although this time I’ll be more prepared.

If you’ve ever wondered why I think Italians are absolute nightmares, here is how I feel about it. Snow week is a great example because it was run by Italians and was pretty disorganized.

The email says the bus leaves at 5:20pm, but suggests you get there by 5pm so they can load all the stuff. The bus doesn’t arrive til 5:15. Loading doesn’t begin til 5:25. You can’t get on the bus until 5:40. It’s an organized mess trying to give everyone their envelope. The bus finally leaves at 6:30pm. Yeah There is no bathroom on the bus. The door that you think is a bathroom is locked and the sign is scratched out. It’s probably he bathroom, but the driver doesn’t want to clean it so he locks it. Not the first time that has happened.

We finally get to the place. It’s late. Check-in IS a nightmare as the organizers barely speak English. Typical. Host an event for internationals and only speak Italian. We learn that we need everyone’s ID’s. We get that. Then we learn that there is a deposit. No one knows how much. We finally find out. We gather the money. Then they tell us there is also a tourist tax. We pay for it with intent to get the money back from our fellow flatmates. Finally checked in.

Next day. We try to find information. No snow week person knows anything and can barely speak English or tell us what is going on. The front desk is talking to us and as they are talking they shut the window. A minute later one of them comes around and refers us to someone else.

The way back is the same, takes forever to get going on the road. It’s not just this though, my whole time in Italy has been frustrating. Characterized by people who really don’t care. All Italians care about is leisure, which is good in moderation, but all the time, really?

Things Italians are good at:

Blocking doors and sidewalks

Smoking cigarettes

Growing fruit

I hear the coffee is real good, but as someone who cannot properly digest coffee….. it is of no use to me.

Customer service and satisfaction do not exist. People hardly ever seen happy about working. They all seem to hate their jobs or just not care. Some of my professors seem like to like teaching, and a couple of baristas don’t seem to mind, but the checkers at the grocery store, bus drivers, and associates at the phone store just don’t care. Do they want your business? I guess (read it again, but now with an eye-roll and you’ll get what it’s like.)

I’ve written about this topic before, but it’s frustrating. You have to leave at least 10 minutes early because I promise you there will be something that delays your trip. The more transfers you have to make, the earlier you have to leave. Always check your change, they’ll try to short you, especially since you’re foreign.

Did your phone provider charge you for something unfairly? Don’t expect to get that money back. They’ll just shrug and pretend not to speak English or pass you off to their associate. For me, they called customer service until they found an English representative. She wasn’t too helpful either.

It’s also frustrating because in all my classes they talk about customer satisfaction and delight, none of which Italy has. Sure if you buy expensive stuff of course they’ll provide you with top-notch stuff. But if you’re buying day-to-day needs or services, don’t expect much.

Also “international nights” ALWAYS are half Italian. Any event listed as international seemingly has very few internationals at it and mostly just Italians trying to meet internationals. Like I don’t come to those to meet Italians???? Italian men are especially annoying. They expect so much from you, and expect you’ll be smitten immediately. Newsflash: Italians are not very attractive. Everyone, men included, has severe resting bitch face. They hardly smile, so when they do it’s a bit shocking. Still doesn’t help make them anymore attractive. Seriously though, Italians are ugly and not sexy whatsoever. More so just creepy.

Goodbye Milan

I am so blessed to have beautiful weather on my last day in Milan. I was able to bike around the city and take in all the sites one last time.

Leaving Europe is bittersweet. I spent 6 whole months here and went to countless places, met some amazing people, and I have been inspired. I never knew how fascinated I was with language, or the way different people function. I learned that everywhere you go there are people who lack basic common sense, but that they are mixed along with people who are inspiration, smart, and capable.

I’m returning to Texas tomorrow, with a gleam if sadness in my eyes. Sad because I’ll be leaving Europe, where it’s easy to get anywhere, and no one checks IDs. But I’m also sad because I am returning to an unfamiliar America. Throughout my journey I had thoughts of: America is better because this; America is better because that….. But on second thought I don’t really know if America does it better. Although they are way better at making Mexican food, thanks neighbors.

I leave Milan content. I like the city, but I never loved it. It was never quite my type of place. The overall atmosphere of the city was too uptight for me. If I had the chance to go back I would probably opt for Rome or Naples instead. Still frustrating, but more laid-back, casual, and more my speed.

I like Italy, but it has been very frustrating. Something about Italians… very hardheaded. There is a common lack of sense, and efficiency doesn’t exist. Customer service, also non-existing. We had this joke that goes along the lines of: “How many Italians does it take to check you out (at the register)?” “Two, one to do it, and another for them to talk to.” Constantly we had cashier who would completely ignore you while they rang up your items, and just continue talking to their friend. Their ideal situation would be you show them your items and just leave the correct amount on the counter. I also won’t miss the dog poo all over the sidewalks. The rain wasn’t very helpful either.

Overall I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had and I will cherish it immensely. I’m excited to come home and start a new adventure.

A Good Customer Service Experience

Italian businesses have frustrated me countless times, especially phone service companies. When I’m upset or frustrated, I hardly ever get a response or even feel like I’m valued. Even when I’m not frustrated people just don’t try to keep me happy.

Take the grocery store for example. If I’m checking out at HEB, usually the cashier will be peppy or at least have strength in their movements. They’ll ring me up with some sort of motivation or hast. At the grocery stores here, half the time it’ll just be an employee going through the motions. You might write it off as, “Yeah of course, that’s how that are everywhere actually.” But here it’s more than just going through the motions. They go slow, they give me the limp arm, as they ever so slowly scan the groceries and plop (not place, just carelessly “plop”) my items on the counter. They look at me, expecting me to just leave my money on the counter and get out of their face, instead I always have to pay by card. This gets me a lot of glares, especially when they realize I have a foreign card and they have to press one extra button.

Whenever I do get a good customer experience, it really has a huge effect on me. I smile, in disbelief, and it really brightens up my whole day. I was walking with my friend Anna to the Armani Silos exhibit, when we passed a store that caught her eye. They were selling purses: leather and ones with fur. We decided to go in and see if the fur was real. It was. Dyed fur, but still real, from the leather hide of the animal. She really liked one and eventually decided to buy one, they weren’t too pricey.

The guy manning the store was really friendly, helping us when needed, and giving us good information. I had some trouble opening a particular clutch and after a few minutes of all us fiddling around, he finally figured it out. She bought the bag and looked around some more while he packaged it. It was a local shop and the sack didn’t have any branding, so he got out his marker set. He drew on the bag, representing their little shop through colors and art. He took his time, and he did it with a smile in his eyes. On the way out the door he gave both of us little furry keychains. That was the icing on the cake.

We walked out the door extremely satisfied. I was in shock about how kind that man was. Even without the free gift, his smile was so unusual for someone working a job in Italy. If you want to check out the shop, I took a photo of the business card. It’s a nice, affordable bag shop in Milan, near the Porta Genova stop. Check it out.

[nectar_image_comparison image_url=”3564″ image_2_url=”3563″]

Rimini in the Winter Wonderland

I spent a weekend exploring the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. I went to Bologna and Rimini, and neighboring city-state (country) of San Marino. It was a wonderful time! I find that the more I explore Italy, the more I like it. I’ve realized that the north of Italy just isn’t my style. I think of Milan as the New York City of Italy: everyone dresses in black, biggest subway system in the country, people are a bit on the rude side, crowded, expensive, fashion, etc etc. I didn’t much like NYC when I visited, so getting out of Milan and around Italy has been good for me.

I really liked this region, at least the places I visited. I visited a couple weeks ago, when most of my american friends were celebrating Thanksgiving and the start of the shopping season. I spent a day in Bologna, eating, and walking around. Italy has black friday sales, and so of course, I shopped around a bit. I was with this girl from my school, a chinese girl name Lu. We had booked a hostel in Rimini for 2 nights since it was a bit cheaper than in Bologna.

Bologna is the food capital of Italy, so of course I had to try some of the famous Tortelloni.
Bologna is the food capital of Italy, so of course I had to try some of the famous Tortelloni.

The day we went, there was a national strike, so we had to take the freccia trains at their higher cost to get to Rimini. We took the frecciabianca and it was a nice hour long trip. We got to the hostel to find it almost completely empty. Winter/fall is the dead season, as Rimini is a coastal town known as the “Italian Riviera.”

Walking around we could definitely tell it was meant for summertime fun. The coast was full of beach areas, where you could pay to get an umbrella, shower off, and eat. All of them were closed, with the exception of a few restaurants. It made getting to the sea fairly easy. Walking down the coastline was really nice, and unlike other italian beaches I’ve experienced, there were a lot of shells here. I collected and brought home quite a few. Even at this time, the beach wasn’t dead. There were tons of people taking “una passeggiata,” or a stroll, down the water. The weather didn’t even feel that chilly, it was nice, but still jacket weather.

Looking down the coast in Rimini
Looking down the coast in Rimini

We spent one of our days exploring the city-state San Marino, which was a 50 minute bus ride from the Rimini train station. I think we chose a great time to come because there were very few tourists, which made our stay extra enjoyable. I read about how San Marino can sometimes be too touristy, but our experience was just right. Not everything was opened, but we still went shopping, saw the main sites and museums, climbed the towers, and did a mini hike. Definitely a great day trip! I even sent postcards using the San Marino postal service, I’m hoping it is more reliable than the Italian one.

img_1100
One of the famous tower in the Republic of San Marino

Our last day we spent wandering around the Rimini city center. We had already traversed some of this path before, trying to find a restaurant to eat at. The city center was full of people, but still didn’t feel crowded. The streets were lined with christmas lights at night and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Rimini’s old town has a few key attractions namely, the Augustus Arch, The Ponte Di Tiberius, and the Surgeon’s house. The arch and bridge are on opposite sides of the city so makes for a good walk. The surgeon’s house is cool, there are ruins from ancient times and you’ll even be able to see a few skeletons. Mhmm very cool. The ticket for that got us into the City Museum, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a bit of time to kill. It’s like every other museum in Italy and we just wandered until we were bored.

The Ponte Di Tiberius. The Romans were able to build this bridge to capture the perfect reflection of the arches on the water.
The Ponte Di Tiberius. The Romans were able to build this bridge to capture the perfect reflection of the arches on the water.

Overall the atmosphere of the city felt so much more relaxed in comparison to uptight Milan. People were smiling everywhere, full of energy. People were willing to help you, and not just because they wanted your tourist money. I felt they were truly genuine. It was a great change of pace. Since the city was in its dead season, people probably were happy that their city wasn’t overrun with tourists and beach bums. It felt like a place to live, and not just a place you could visit.

I spent a bit of time looking what there was to do in Rimini in the winter. While there is not a whole lot of touristy things to do, I enjoyed walking around in the park and talking to people. I met a few italians or italian-speaking folk in the hostel, and I even learned the cyrillic alphabet. Would I recommend going? Yes! It is still a beautiful city in the winter, and doesn’t have that touristy vibe. There are several day trips you can make from Rimini, good food, and the ability to get away from the hustle and bustle of a huge city. I think it definitely captures that romantic italian vibe, without all of the stress of people everywhere and the pressure to visit things.

Napoli, Italy (Naples)

Naples is full of activities, excursions, history, and people. We got there and suddenly found that there was so much to do and so little time. This area of the Mediterranean, overlooked by Mt. Vesuvius, is also covered in geological history. We spent some time at the island Capri, explored parts of mt. Vesuvius, wandered around a castle and more. So much to do, and so little time, but I’ll break it down.

What we managed to do:

– Island of Capri
Famous for the blue grotto, we took a ferry from Naples to try and go see it. Unfortunately it was closed due to rough seas, but we hear it is rare to be there on a day it is open. We took a tour around the island and passed the grotto entrance, which was almost fully covered by water. We did get to see the beautiful green grotto, full of emerald waters created by the yellow sandbar. The island itself is beautiful and relaxing (and also expensive), we kept thinking it didn’t feel like Italy and almost more Greek as it was covered almost entirely by white homes. After eating some limoncello gelato, we skipped the hike up to Villa Jovis (Tiberius’s place) and headed home.

The green grotto of Capri
The green grotto of Capri

-Archaeological museum
Lots of cool artifacts, got in a couple fights with Italians (about the arte card, see below for more). Should go see if before heading to the ruins.

-Mt. Vesuvius on horseback
Highly recommend, and very affordable too! Check it out here, http://www.horseridingnaples.com/ It was one of the highlights of our trip!

Taking a horse up to Mt. Vesuvius!
Taking a horse up to Mt. Vesuvius!

– Herculaneum
An ancient ruins right under Mt. Vesuvius path lies Herculaneum, or in Italian “Ercolano.” You can see frescos still in tack, wood that has turned to charcoal, and all the aspects of an ancient Roman city. This city was covered in lava after the volcano blew, so was preserved in a different way than Pompeii.

-Royal Naples Free Walking Tour
https://napolithatsamore.org/

royal-naples-city-center

-Castel d’Ovo
See cover photo. Legend has it, this castle was built on an egg…

-Walked Around Old Town Naples City Center
-Pompeii
We made time to go Nov 1st, the day after daylights savings ends. Nov 1st is also the day that things close at sunset, which happens to be around 5pm. We got to Pompeii just before 4, thinking we would still have a couple hours (til 7:30pm) to explore the grounds. Nope, last entrance at 3:30 and we spent half an hour on the train for nothing. It was rather disappointing, but we made a plan. Our train didn’t leave til almost 1pm the next day. We would wake up early, catch the train there, and spend our morning exploring. We took the wrong train, but still managed to make it to Pompeii in the morning with time to explore!

Pompeii Ampitheatre
Pompeii Ampitheatre

What we wished we could have done:

-Galleria Boubon

-Castel St Elmo

-Catacombs

-Explored more of Naples

-Eaten more pizza

We only got pizza once, and not even a famous place. We did go to a traditional Neapolitan kitchen (by accident) and had some of the most amazing food. Campognola, check it out.

Day trips to do:

-Ischia island

-Hot springs lake

-Sorrento

-Positano on the Amalfi

-Amalfi

-Other Scavi

-Climbing up Vesuvius on foot

You can't go up to the very top of vesuvius, but on our break we got to see some volcanic rock.
You can’t go up to the very top of vesuvius, but on our break we got to see some volcanic rock.

Scams:

While we didn’t get scammed the traditional way, we still felt scammed by the institution. We bought the Campania arte card, which was supposed to give us free entry into a few places and discounted entry into the rest, including transportation. First problem with this card was we wanted to buy the “young card,” meant for those between 18 and 25. It included almost everything for free and was a hefty discount in comparison to all the other options. Thing is…. in the fine print it wrote that you had to be an EU citizen, but was marketing towards everyone who was young.

1st disappointment: Fine print information.

The card was supposed to last 3 days, I figured that was 72 hours. We bought it around 5pm on the first day and used it to go to the museum. The 4th day, although still within the 72 hour range, we tried to use it for the metro and it didn’t work. Same with Pompeii, except she tried to tell me that the 72 hours was already over (which it definitely wasn’t).

2nd disappointment: Not timed, on a end of the day basis.

In the end we probably didn’t save much. €12 for the museum, €11 for Herculaneum, maybe around €10 for transport…. comes out to about the same cost. We would have been better off researching our options a little better, finding a travel only card, and looking for free things to do, like the Castelle d’ovo.

Learning a language… In another Language

 

My italian has been coming along quite nice, so naturally I decided to learn Russian. Sarcastic thoughts aside, the other girl could only speak italian and a few words of english. Guess I was going to learn the basics in another language I had only been learning for 4 months.

I visited the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and in my hostel I finally met someone from Belarus! This is a country that has fascinated me due to it’s sheer mystery. No one really talks about it, visa and permits are really strict, and it’s no one’s first travel destination. The mystery is intriguing to me, and it only intensified when I learned that the pronunciation of the country does not rhyme with Polaris, the pool cleaning vacuum. Meeting someone from Belarus was exciting, but like I previously stated, she barely knew any english. Lucky for us, I have been studying italian for the past 4 months and I knew enough to be able to carry some sort of conversation, with the help of google translate of course.

We talked for a few hours, speaking slowly, being extra expressive, and laughing a lot. I showed her a photo of a hedgehog, and tried to explain that is used to belong to my boyfriend. Instead she thought I had said the hedgehog was my boyfriend! Funny how communication between humans work. I learned a lot about italian, and I did my best to help her with her english.

The next night I went downstairs to talk with her, Anastasia, again. She was accompanied by two italians from Sardegna (Sardinia). They knew a little more english, which made having conversation a little easier. With that, Anastasia decided to teach us the Cyrillic alphabet, aka the “weird things Russians use as letters (many other slavic languages use it too).” Examples such as:

А
A
Б
Be
В
Ve
Г
Ge
Ґ
Ge upturn
Д
De
Ђ
Dje
Ѓ
Gje
Е
Ye
Ё
Yo
Є
Yest
Ж
Zhe

Instead of using the english pronunciations listed above, they were sounded out using the italian alphabet. Noticeable changes being “ghe” instead of ge, and “je” (like in german “ja”), and “jo” for ye and yo since there is no technically j in italian. Looking at the english pronunciation now… I’m actually confused.

The pronunciations weren’t the hardest part to figure out. She would write an example word, but then translate it to italian, a very strange experience indeed.

Here is the paper she wrote all the notes on.

The Russian alphabet with italian pronunciations.

The 5th letter down is the “de,” same in italian and english. On the back of the page were a few examples, our name, and our doodles. I thought the de looked like a rocket ship, though they thought I drew a grave at first!

Our names were written in the top left hand corner, our doodles all over
Our names were written in the top left hand corner, our doodles all over

 

.

My name in russian would be: Мэри 

Our russian lesson ended with Anastasia reciting a russian poem. Like any unfamiliar language, it sounded like straight up gibberish to me. Maybe one day I’ll understand, you never know. Russian may come in handy one day in the future.

My Weekend in Krakow

November 14th, 2016

This was my last trip with my trusty travel partner by my side. Without a visa, American citizens can only stay in the Schengen area in Europe for a maximum of 90 days. He arrived in krakow a few days before me and I left a few days after him. I have roughly 6 weeks left in Europe and only 3 more trips in the work with the possibility of a few day trips.

Now to talk about Poland. It is always nice getting out of Italy, and I start to forget the annoying ways of Italians. Poles still have some rude and lazy qualities, but at least they aren’t unreasonable or angry all the time.

Krakow is known for a few things, but most famously is known for Auschwitz, one of the largest German concentration camps ran during the holocaust. It’s located about an hour and a half outside the city, we booked a tour (Cracow city tours) that had all-inclusive transportation, entrance, tour guide, and even lunch. The camp auschwitz was still mostly in-fact, Birkenau –the  largest concentration and death camp– was mostly in ruins. We heard about the how the nazis deceived their prisoners every step of the way until the cyclone-B was dropped. We saw the actual hair of prisoners, shaved and taken from them to make textiles. We looked at the photos of prisoners they registered; faces all carrying similar and dark features. We held each other and thought about Donald Trump. A lot.

These are the pots and pans brought by those who thought they were coming to start a new, and better, life.

This place made us feel a lot of things. Yes sorrow for the past and the innocent deaths, but also fear and wonder of what the future holds. This camp serves as a reminder of history, and that we cannot let this happen again. It was a heavy week. We wondered if such rounding up of a certain race could ever happen again. Would the media report? Would people know and protest? We saw this hook on the streets of the camp. Our guide explained that as punishment, people’s arms would be bound behind them and hung by the hook. This would break their scapulas, which would make them unfit for work and sent to the gas chamber. We saw an older man wrap his finger around the hook and take a photo. It was the most disrespectful thing I saw all day. Tasteless. Infuriating. How could someone mock a death sentence so casually? This brings up a lot of ethical arguments, questions, and issues. That is what the exhibition is for: to make us think.

Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the camp.
Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the camp.

Now that the heavy stuff is setting in, we can drown our sorrows in some good ole polish Wodka. I didn’t get a chance to go on a pub crawl or go to a wodka tasting (food poisoning, very fun), but I did get to try some honey lemon vodka. Usually I think vodka tastes like straight up paint thinner, but this stuff was “sipable”. It didn’t make me cringe, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After my boyfriend left I explored krakow a bit with some friends from my Erasmus program. We shopped around and visited the wieliczka salt mine. There are several markets around the city, both in the main square and the Jewish quarter. Lots of little trinkets with Russian influences and lots of warm socks and hats, mittens, and more. Besides typical souvenir things like magnets and keychains, I saw cute little wooden boxes all about and lots of polish pottery.

The salt mine was real neat, not cold inside so perfect for a winter weather day. We were extremely impressed with how big it was. Caverns so large you can hold a wedding or go bungee jumping. There were a lot of sculptures made out of blocks of salt (who could have though?) and we got to taste some of the wall. Very salty, but with some sort of mineral-ly twist.

Super Blurry souvenir pic we got from the Salt Mine. Maybe a layer of salt on the lense??
Super Blurry souvenir pic we got from the Salt Mine. Maybe a layer of salt on the lense??

Krakow has been good, although my Ryanair flights have been a little rough. Too bad the train can’t get me back to milan in an hour and a half. Oh well for now!

Rick Steves is Awesome!

Before I started my journey abroad my employer loaned me some of his old Rick Steves travel guide DVD’s. They were fairly outdated, but I still watched and laughed at how dorky they were. My grandma owns the Rick Steves travel Italy book and she swears that it is the best. My mom suggested I download the app or the podcasts and listen along on his guided tours. “No mom, Rick Steves is for old people.” Well I’m here right now with a complete change of heart. I like Rick Steves a lot, and I think he’s a funny man and a great writer.

Have you ever gotten the audioguide at the museum and found yourself completely bored by it? Yeah, story of my life. Listening to a guy (usually british) talk way too long about something uninteresting is…. well, really uninteresting. What I like about the Rick Steves’ tours are that they are short and sweet. No nonsense, just get to the point and talk about things that people actually care about. Plus it’s guided! We did the Vatican Museum audio tour and we felt it really helped us not get overwhelmed by how huge the museum is. We were able to hit all the big things in the museum, learn a lot of interesting facts, and also LAUGH! Hardly ever have the audioguides included humor. Rick Steves and his female host are able to bounce dialogue off each other to create movement both in the writing and in the audio, so nothing becomes monotone. Sometimes Rick will say something weird.. something that a dude would say. Like “oh look at those pretty ladies (towards a statue)” and his female host (forgot her name) would be like “Rick pay attention! Those are sirens, they will lure you to your death!” Funny things like that. Makes for an interesting storyline.

We have only done some of the audio tours in Rome, including the one in Pompeii. We only had around 2.5 hours there, so listening along to him expedited our trip and allowed us to conquer at least some of Pompeii during our short time. We also used his audio tours to explore some of the neighborhoods in Rome, including the city center with the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Campo Di Fiori, and all the cool things few and far in between.

I know he has several other tours for other cities in Italy, including Florence and Venice, and other for other countries as well. It is worth checking out, plus it’s free! You can check out his website at Ricksteves.com.

A Night at San Siro Stadium

I finally made it to my first european football game, or in american terms, my first european soccer game at the legendary San Siro stadium in Milan. The National Team of Italy vs. the National Team of Germany. Two very well known teams, but I’m not here to pretend like I know anything about who is better or who even the players. I’m here for the experience.

I don’t often go to sporting events. Maybe the thanksgiving UT football game, maybe a major league baseball game if I’m in town, the olympics when it’s on TV, etc. What’s fun about a live event is the energy and the crowd, similar to the experience I would get at a concert or festival. I knew that europeans can get rowdy at matches, so I was excited to embrace the energy with open arms.

Outside of San Siro Stadium
Outside of San Siro Stadium

I wasn’t able to sit with my friends because I had bought a ticket way later and they block the different sections off, and frankly I did not want to mess with any security guards here. I was sitting next to a couple of italian guys, who occasionally would give me a few pointers on what was happening. I played soccer as a kid, so I knew the rules, but there were a few things that confused me. For instance there was no clock counting down the time left in the game. All I could find was a screen displaying the score, which remained 0-0 the entire game. There was a 3 minute warning, and halftime seemed pretty short.

The colors in the crowd seemed pretty strange as well. There were many italia flags, but only a few hats and shirts supporting the team. The rest of the crowd was a sea of black and navy jackets, typical milanese. I saw “the wave” being done for a good 5 seconds, but only on the upper tier. Sometimes they would chant “I-TAL-IA” over and over in support. A couple times people started jumping up and down and doing some other chant in italian. I guess it’s a good way to keep warm. There was lots of cheering and noise. Whenever kickoff happened or a goalie would kick the ball the crowd would go “ahhhhhhhhh-AH” with the last part going off as the ball flies through the air.

Cheering on Italia for the win (well the draw)
Cheering on Italia for the win (well the draw)

The strangest thing of all to me was at the end of the game, the ref blew the whistle and everyone stood up. I was expecting the national anthem to play or some sort of post-game rally. Even more so I was expecting there to be overtime, since no one had scored yet. Nope everyone was just leaving.

Getting home was a little rough, I found my way to the metro station, which was packed to the brim. Whoever designed this station was very smart and had a lot of foresight. To get in they had the full size revolving turnstile doors.  They limit the # of people who can go through at a time to 450 and then it stops and you have to wait a while, until the next train comes and goes. Once you go through you are able to switch your metro card quickly and easily, allowing the transport to get paid, and preventing potential damages from a riot to get through the gates. This also relieves congestion to get on a train. M5 is the only metro in Milan (that I have at least seen) that has the glass casings preventing anyone from getting pushed down into the tracks. After this experiences, I see where that design idea came from.

I think I’ll have to come back for another game, maybe on a day where the student section and seats are for sale. I had a great time at this one, and I’m excited for more. Go Italia!