Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to America

Well, its come to an end. I can’t believe my year in Italy is already over. The year has been more than anything I could have imagined. Here are a few numbers from the year:
-4 continents
-11 countries
-32 cities
-100,000km traveled
-1 blown out knee and surgery

I spent my last two weeks in Pietracupa. If you’ve been following along this year, than you’ve already read all about this place. This was my first time back (during the month of August) in six years. The place is as amazing as ever. I’m seriously looking for a house out there so I can have a place of my own when I go back. If I was to list my top ten favorite spots in the world, where I feel the most at home and relaxed, it would be something like this, in no particular order...

-My porch at my beach house in Belmar
-The gymnastics gym at Stanford
...and then the other 8 would be in Pietracupa.

It’s pretty incredible considering the town so tiny. It just has a tranquility that is difficult to find in other places. I miss it already.

My year abroad was a trip of a lifetime. I am grateful that I had such an opportunity and it was much more difficult to leave than I was anticipating. The first three months were an adjustment period where I didn’t think I could live my life in Italy. From that point on, I became accustomed to the lifestyle and I enjoyed it...very much. Everything was made easier by my incredible family. They were there whenever I needed them. I can’t thank them enough and I can’t wait until I see them again. Hopefully very soon.

Now it’s time begin the next chapter of my life. I don’t know what that will entail yet, but I’m excited and a little anxious to get it started. My plans are to be in either NY or California, so that is where I’ll be looking for a job. If anyone has any openings I might be good for, let me know...haha!

Thank you all for following along this year and who knows, if I get bored I might just pick up and go on another adventure...stay tuned.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Naples, Amalfi, and some beach time

Naples is an interesting place. Leading up to my trip I had heard mixed reviews, so I didn’t know what to believe. My parents just flew in, so we headed down together and stayed with some relatives who live just outside the city limits in a small town at the base of Mount Vesuvius...that in itself was a little freaky. Going to bed knowing that the volcano that consumed Pompeii is in the backyard is slightly unsettling.
The first thing I would say about Naples is that if you visit you have to see the city with a Neapolitan. The people who live there respond much better to one of their own. Plus, it can be a dangerous city, so going around with someone who speaks the dialect makes you less of a target. I didn’t see this side of the city, but we were told numerous times to leave all jewelry at home and to always keep and eye out when walking the streets. Naples is also home of the Camorra, which is an infamous branch of the mafia.

So, another thing that Naples is known for is one of the most beloved foods in all the world...pizza! After putting our bags down at the house, our first stop was to one of the oldest and best pizzerias in Naples, “Pizzeria da Michele.” It’s a pretty unassuming place, but the lunchtime line outside is a clue to the quality of the pizza. After getting our number we waited for over two hours before we were seated...yes, two hours. There are few tables and only two items on the menu to choose from. Marinara (just sauce) or Margarita (sauce and fresh mozzarella). This might seem like a lack of options, but how can you argue with a pizzeria that’s been in business for over 140 years.
Each person gets an individual pie. They are a pretty good size, but I didn’t have too much trouble finishing off mine...and about a third of my mom’s as well. Eating pizza in Naples is a must. If you want to make it as authentic as possible, go to “da Michele.”

I didn’t really know that Naples is so close to the water, but it is situated on an absolutely beautiful piece of coastline. The sites from the high parts of the city are all postcard quality. The water is a combination of various shades of deep blues, Mount Vesuvius can be admired from a safe distance, and there are impressive villas all along the rocky cliffs. Unfortunately, this beauty from a distance doesn’t quite translate when you get to the center of town. You have to be prepared for what the streets of Naples are all about. For one thing it’s noticeably dirty. Some of the streets look like people just dumped a weeks worth of garbage along the road. Not too pleasant.
Along with that, driving in Naples is a sight in itself. I thought driving in Rome was bad, but Naples is kind of like a demolition derby. I wouldn’t recommend driving a car that you actually care about in downtown Naples. A bump here and a scrape there are inevitable. Oh, and also get used to guys leaning halfway out there windows as they are driving screaming at anything that gets in their way. It’s actually pretty funny...as long as they are not yelling at you.
If you have tough skin and can handle yourself in a tight situation than you should check out Naples. The city has an incredible history and some amazing sites, just be prepared for a more in your face type of city.

After a couple days of Naples, we took a day to see the sites of the Amalfi Coast. It really blows me away how many naturally stunning spots Italy has to offer. Amalfi is no different. We drove along the coast stopping in Sorrento for the day. One of the things Sorrento is know for is limoncello. The lemons sold at the markets are the size of melons. That is no exaggeration...it’s a little ridiculous. They have little shops lining the streets with different limoncello stores, all more than happy to give you a taste of their product. Earlier this year I learned how to make my own limoncello, and for my first batch it actually didn’t come out too bad. But this is the real stuff. Of course it’s perfect as a digestif, but a few small glasses in the middle of the day isn't too bad either.

The last few days were spent even further South at our host's beach house.  The days were spent laying at the beach, afternoons were set aside for over the top seafood meals followed by a two or three hour nap, while the nights were all about eating gelato and soaking in the nightlife down by the water. Some of spots we hit were Scari, Maratea, and Sapri.  The coastline down in those parts of Italy, close to the border of Campania and Basilicata (two of Italy's 20 regions, which are kind of like states) remind me a little of the PCH in the Santa Barbara area mixed in with Maui.  Being a peninsula in the Mediterranean has worked out pretty well for Italy.  It's hard to find a place that isn't picture worthy.

This was last major trip before I head back to the States.  I'll be leaving tomorrow for Pietracupa, where I'll spend my last few weeks of my year long adventure.  Pietracupa will be all about relaxing and catching up with old friends I haven't seen in years.  I can't wait to get there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam?  Probably, pot and the red light district.  At least that's what I thought of before I went last weekend.  Sure there are a fair amount of “coffeeshops” and half naked girls in street-side windows, but what surprised me were the things I didn't expect. It's an amazing city that has top rate museums, parks, and an interesting history as well.

Amsterdam is known as "Venice of the North" because of the vast network of canals that run through the city.  I don't think I would go as far as to compare it to Venice...the two have completely different feels.  Venice is romantic. Amsterdam, I would say, is more charming.  The canals are not filled with gondolas, but rather family filled small boats and upscale houseboats.

The city has kind of a Scandinavian Greenwich Village feel.  The cobblestone streets are lined with brownstones and unique non-commercial stores with names I didn’t even try to pronounce. The city is small and everyone gets around on bicycles...everyone. All the streets have lanes for bikes. Sidewalks are kind of an afterthought. There were plenty of times I was walking along on what I thought to be a sidewalk only to be almost run over by a bike. Renting a bike is by far the best way to tour the city though. Plus, if you ever get lost it’s easy to find your way because English seems to be spoken more than Dutch.

I’m a pretty liberal guy. I might not be someone who enjoys all that Amsterdam coffeeshops have to offer, but I think people should do what makes them happy.  That seems to be the view of most of the people in Amsterdam. You don't always see that live and let live culture, so that type of attitude was refreshing. Of all the cities I’ve been to so far, I think Amsterdam is the most livable. Of course, I went in the middle of the summer when the weather was perfect and the streets were filled with locals and tourists all having a good time. Things might be different when winter comes along and people are trying to ride their bikes around in freezing temperatures, but my first impression of Amsterdam was a a great one. It will be one of the first cities I make a return trip to for my next European tour.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Il Palio

I’m skipping a couple trips to write about Siena and the Palio because it was an event like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. For my 30th birthday last weekend a couple of my closest friends from Stanford came out to visit. We partied in Rome and got some sun in Cinqueterre. The last part of the trip was set aside for the biannual Palio. Every year on July 2nd and August 16th, Siena is transported back to Medieval times when the running of the Palio overtakes every aspect of everyday life.

We took the train to Siena morning of July 1st. With all the tourists in town for the Palio it was difficult finding a room downtown, so I found a villa for us to stay at just outside of town in San Rocco a Pilli. The villa was beautiful and it gave us a glimpse into life in the Tuscan hills. Even though we didn’t spend too much time there, waking up every morning to the incredible views was well worth it.

To help understand what the Palio is all about, a little background is necessary. Siena is split into 17 different sections of town, called contrade. Of those 17, 10 are selected to race in the event. The race is just three laps around the track and takes about 90 seconds to complete. Here is a map of what the split looks like (the open space in the middle of the map is the Piazza del Campo, where the race is held).


As you can see by the map, each section of town has it’s own colors, crests, and animals/symbol. To say that the people from each contrada are proud and passionate about where they grew up wouldn’t do it justice. They are fanatical. They have rivalries that are on par with anything we have in the sports world back in the States. Imagine Yankee fans and Red Sox Nation growing up across the street from one another...it can get heated.

Before we got to Siena, my friends and I decided we needed to become fans of one of the contrade. So like any normal people who had never been to Siena and knew nothing of the contrade, we picked our contrada based on our favorite color and crest. Well, to be fair we went with my favorite color, light blue. My soccer team, Lazio, is light blue so I’ve always had a soft spot for that color. The name of our contrada was Onda (meaning “wave”). I’ve also always been a beach person so I thought Onda was a no-brainer. (My friends fiance was partial to Istrice, the crested porcupine contrada, but in the end we decided that we had become Onda for life).
Here is Onda’s crest...


After confirming our allegiance to Onda by buying and wearing the required team bandana, we roamed around the city to see the what Siena had to offer. Siena is an incredibly beautiful city and in many ways it felt like a smaller version of Florence. There are plenty of historical sites to see, but this entry is about the Palio so I won’t go into too much detail about the city itself. I’ll just say that it’s a must see if you ever find yourself in Tuscany...especially during the first week of July or second week of August.

Ok, back to the Palio. After roaming around the different contrade for a bit we bought our tickets for the legendary dinner the night before the Palio. Each contrade hosts a dinner for about 1,300 people where they toast their rider and pray for a victory the next day...all while drinking endless amounts of wine and eating way too much food. During the Onda dinner we were seated at one of the last tables with other foreigners who, like us, had recently pledged their love to the wave. I happened to be sitting next to a group of Italians from another city a few hours away, who had traveled every year to Siena to witness the incredible event. One of the men sitting next to me told me something that made me appreciate the uniqueness of the Palio even more. He said that the people of Siena don’t hold the Palio for to recognition or for for the tourists. They do it for the tradition. They do it to hold on to a part of their history that has been going on for hundreds of years. It is part of who they are. I mean how many of you have ever even heard of the Palio? Or if you have heard of it, do you know anything more than that it’s a horse race?? What I’m trying to say is that if you ever do witness the Palio first hand, you will forever wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t tune in each year for the 90 seconds of sheer mayhem. With the right publicity and some well placed ads, the Palio could be a worldwide phenomenon...but that’s not something that would interest the people of Siena very much.

Game Day. July 2nd, 2010. The three of us agreed that we had traveled all the way to Siena for this event and we wanted to make the most of it. The previous day we found a part of the square that we thought was ideal for the event. The Campo has kind of a bowl shape, so being in the middle you are kind of looking up to see the track. We had heard from various people that it would be smart to show up early to claim our spot...and so like any diehard fan we showed up 5 hours before the race to make sure we had the best seats. We picked some proscuitto and mortadella sandwiches, jugs of water, a bottle of grappa, a deck of cards, and some suntan lotion and we laid claim to what would become an epic spot.

We decided on our corner of the track for a few reasons:
Proximity to Onda- This corner was right next to “our” section of town, so there were bound to be a bunch of wave supporters in that section.
High Point-It was positioned at the highest point of the piazza, so you were looking down at the rest of the track. It made for an excellent viewing point for the entire race.
Shade: It was easily 90-95 degrees, so we decided that it would be smart to pick an area that would be under the shade first.
Closeness to Track- we wanted to be as close to the action as possible, so we set up shop along the railing at 2:00pm and didn’t move for the next 6 hours.

(We took time lapse pics from our spot every half hour to show what the piazza looked like as it began to fill up. I put them up on my facebook page along with other shots of Palio. Check them out if you’re interested)

Piazza del Campo in Siena is absolutely stunning. I would actually go as far as to say it’s the most picturesque piazza I’ve seen in all my travels. The surrounding buildings create a very intimate atmosphere where you actually feel like you are in an arena. The inside section holds about 20,000 to 25,000 people. Along with that are a few rows of bleachers around the whole square and people hanging out of every window and balcony. (Originally we had thought about buying tickets for one of the window seats. The seats were absurdly expensive and too far away from the action, so in the end we decided against it).

After hours of anticipation, the festivities began. Each contrada came out one at time a with a drummer and two flag bearers presenting their coat of arms. They were followed by the contrada warrior in full battle gear, the rider, and the horse they had groomed for the event. I couldn't believe how serious they all were. Not one smile. This was serious business. This was their Super Bowl, World Series, and NBA Finals all rolled into one. This part was really cool for about 7 or 8 of the contrada...but they did it not only for the 10 that were racing, but for all 17. After 6 hours in the sun, we were all ready for the race to start...

Finally, the riders came out one by one to the roar of the crowd. The faces of the jockeys were filled with intensity and nerves. It was definitely understandable. The track itself is very narrow and has corners that are basically at 90. This isn’t quite like racing at the manicured track at the Kentucky Derby. The risk and potential for serious injury in Palio is sky high.

As the horses edged toward the start line, a hush overtook the entire crowd. An announcer called out the line up as he pulled out the random draw. With each announced contrada the fans would either cheer or boo depending on their horses starting position. Nine of the ten horses were brought to the line and the announcer then goes about trying to line them up correctly, which might be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever seen. The last horse and rider stayed a few meters behind the line and waited. The horses are all bucking and on edge. Not one of them can stay still and so the announcer calls for all the horses to exit the starting line and the lineup has to start over. This happened four times. Each time the crowd becomes louder and louder, frustrated and at the edge of their seats.

On the fifth try, while the horses are still fighting to stay in their assigned positions, the 10th horse takes off from its spot a few meters back and the race is on. Onda, which started in the second position, gets an incredible start and takes the early lead. As they come around for the completion of the first lap, one of the riders gets tossed from his horse along our side of the track and is laying on the track. He’s hurt. Someone jumps from the stands and lifts his limp body over the barrier into the stands. I turn back around to just in time to see that Onda has widened his lead as he passes the halfway point. We are all freaking out...screaming for Onda to hang on for a little bit more. As the riders come around our corner for last section of lap 2, one of the horses slips and hits the barrier. As he goes down the massive body takes out another horse and rider in a huge collision. The two riders were down of the track and more people from the stands are jumping over the railing to pull the wounded riders off the track. One of the horses is on his feet and continues along the track without a rider. The other horse, I was certain was dead...or at least on its way to dying. It was crumpled up against the barrier. Its neck was in such a position that to my untrained eye looked broken. Just to make it clear, this crash happened RIGHT IN FRONT OF US...I’m talking about within 10-15 feet!! For a moment we had forgotten about the race and were fixated on the horse in front of us. Right then, another brave soul leaped over the barrier and pulled on the horses tail with all of his might in an attempt to straighten out the horses body. The horse had been pressed up against the barrier in such a way that he couldn’t get free. When he was away from the wall, he popped right up and galloped away. WOW...I was relieved that the horse was ok and also amazed that this guy just jumped in there to free the struggling animal!

In the mayhem that had just occurred, Onda was surpassed by Selva (the Forest contrada). Our jockey did his best to make up the ground he lost, but Selva began to pull away. He couldn’t be stopped at that point. Selva wins the Palio. No one cares who finishes in any other position...only the winner matters here. Within five seconds of Selva crossing the finish line their supporters were running at full sprint down the track to catch up to the victorious rider. Old and young supporters all in tears as they celebrated their win.

Emotions were running high all around us as the supporters of the other contrade were also in tears after the race ended differently than they had played it out in their heads. The diehard Onda fans were the most distraught, after tasting victory for two laps. My friends and I were more in shock than anything else. We were upset that Onda hadn’t won, but we were more in awe of the complete spectacle that had taken place in front of us. My heart was racing and I couldn’t focus my mind. There was too much going on around me.

After a while, we began to calm down and realized that the three of us had just seen one of the coolest, most dramatic events in our lives. I have been to some amazing sporting events in my lifetime (Olympics, World Cup, Rose Bowl, watched Michael Jordan play in Madison Square Garden...), but this was in a class of it’s own. Nothing else like it in the world. It really is something you need to see for yourself to understand. If you ever do get a chance to see the Palio, suck it up and wait for place along the rail. It will be the craziest 90 seconds of your life.

Friday, June 18, 2010


 It was only a two hour flight from Rome, but it when I landed I felt like I was much further away from my comfort zone.  First of all, this city is immense. About 13 million people. There is the Asian side and the European side. Most of the action is on the European side and once your there the city splits again into the "Old City" and "New City." I found a hostel in a great location of the Old City section of town. The highlights was the rooftop bar that looked out onto the water and 5 Turkish Lira kebabs that were awesome.  (The exchange rate works out pretty well too. Basically 1€ for every 2TL. Finally a place where the exchange rate works out in my favor)!
Istanbul has an incredible history.  How many places can say they were the capital of three different empires? Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman. There are a number of great things to see in the city (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace, ride down the Bosphorous, the underground cisterns) but the most visible landmarks around the city are without a doubt the mosques. They are everywhere. I stayed in an area right by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, so I was able to get a close up tour of some of the most famous ones.  I’ve never been too familiar with Muslim culture or customs so it was pretty interesting to see it firsthand.  The inside of the Blue Mosque is wide open and fully carpeted for praying. It is called the blue mosque because of the detailed blue tiles that cover the interior.  The pillars on the inside are gigantic.  They reminded me of the great sequoias at Sequoia National Park...just massive. Just across the way is the Hagia Sophia. The two face each other in kind of a standoff looking like they are trying to intimidate each other. Hagia Sophia is now a museum, but it is pretty incredible that it’s still in such good shape considering that it is 1500 years old. The dome was built 1000 years before the dome on St. Peters Basilica!

Of course, whenever I travel I try to experience as much of the nightlife as I can. The Istanbul nightlife centers around the area of town called Taxim. The energy in the streets was awesome. They really like to party out there. Unfortunately, the music played in some of the clubs was less than stellar. Some of the popular beats in the clubs in Istanbul included the Ghostbusters theme song and Vanilla Ice. (Still, the most memorable club music was played one night while I was in Austria. They put on the theme to Baywatch...and the crowd went crazy. They all knew the words. I guess David Hasselhoff’s incredible fame is still growing!).

After my late night on Sat, I decided to check out one of the Turkish bath houses the next morning for some relaxation.  This particular bath house was built in the 1540’s and the traditions haven’t changed very much in 500 years. I didn't really know what I was doing when I got in there, and I'm sure it showed.  Some random guy (who I later found out worked there because he demanded a tip for his help) led me to the wash room for the first part of the experience. After changing into just a towel, I was led to the main room. The room itself is beautiful.  It's made of nothing but marble with intricate fountains carved into the walls. After laying down on the huge warm marble slab in the center, they begin to wash you.  First they scrub you down with a exfoliating mitt. They lather you up and dump buckets of water all over you to wash it off. Once the cleaning is over, you head to another room for a full body oil massage.  I was spoiled for years at the OTC where I would receive multiple massages a week while I was training.  Getting a massage every once and a while is always relaxing, but it makes me long for the days when I got them whenever I wanted.
When the massage is over you don’t have to leave. You can head back to the first room which also acts kind of like a sauna. Relax and stay as long as you like. This is an absolute must if you are ever in Istanbul. Cultural experience, relaxation, and the prices are not bad either.

On my last day I had a few hours to kill, so I went to the Grand Bazaar. It’s more of a maze than it is an actual shopping center. Seemingly endless hallways selling slight variations of the same things. I’m glad I had a chance to check it out, but I wasn’t in the market for a Turkish rug or pointy-toed silk slippers, so I came away without buying anything. To be honest, I was just glad I was able to find my way out.

Istanbul was like no other city I have visited so far. It was just the kind of cultural experience I was hoping to get when I decided to make this trip. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite city, but it was definitely a place I would recommend seeing...especially if you like history.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Some Return Trips in Italy

For my last few trips, before Istanbul, I ended up staying in Italy. A close friend from New Jersey came out to visit last week with his wife, and so I played tour guide for a few days. Two days in Rome, two in Florence, and two in Venice. It was a pretty hectic schedule and I’m pretty sure we walked at least 50km (yes, believe it or not after nine months out here I’ve started think in terms of the metric system).
It’s impossible to see Rome in two days, but we did our best to hit up all the main spots. Since my down time between trips is spent in Rome, I have found time to see many of the museums and other exhibitions that most tourists pass by on their travels. So, needless to say I’ve seen quite a bit of Rome. The one thing that I hadn’t done this trip was the Vatican Museum and St. Peters. I’ve seen them both many times over the years...in fact, after talking to some of my cousins I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these sites more than they have, and they’ve lived here their whole lives. We took the tour and actually got a chance to see the pope (from about 50 yards away...but it was still pretty cool).
The temperature has been warming up quite a bit lately which made the trips to Florence and Venice even better than my first time out there. But, of course with better weather comes more tourists. The lines for all the major sites were ridiculous. We saw as much as we could while trying to avoid the monster crowds. We saw quite a bit, but a lot of what’s great about those cities is just walking around the streets, eating gelato, and taking in everyday Italian life...we definitely did enough of that. Especially the gelato part.

The night before my friends left, we had one more night together at my apartment in Rome. I have been learning how to cook a bunch of different Italian dishes from my aunts (who are all incredible cooks) and so I was able to test my new gnocchi making skills on my friends. For my third time making them I think them came out ok. My friends enjoyed the dinner and that's all I was worried about. It doesn’t get much better than a home cooked meal with friends.

I also took a two day trip back to Pietracupa. The ultimate place for relaxation. Rome is so hectic and crazy, that it’s nice to spend a couple days every once and a while in a place where you hear nothing but the birds. I took a long walk through the hills with my cousin who showed me the different plots of land our family used to own, where the great fig trees are, and some other hidden stuff about the surrounding lands and villages that I had never known before.

This time of year Pietracupa is basically deserted, but a new mayor had just been elected so the town threw a big party for him. The main street was filled with people many of whom I hadn’t seen in years. The last time I was in Pietracupa during the summer months was six years ago...the longest stretch I’ve ever gone in my life without going back. There were prosciutto and porchetta (a kind of pork roast) sandwiches to go along with the beer and wine. A whole store was filled with different cakes and pastries made by some of the ladies in town and you could go in and take as much as you could handle! The music played late into the night. The people dancing ranged in age from 5 to 90. You don’t see that kind of stuff all the time...people just loving life. It reminded me a lot of my time there as a kid. Great to be back.

Here are some other things I’ve noticed about the Italians. Some good, some bad, but all worth mentioning.

-Italians are blunt. Especially with weight. If you’ve lost a few pounds, they will let you know. You look a little heavier?They have no issue with telling you straight up. It’s not such a big deal for guys I guess, but in the US where everyone is so worried about their weight, I can’t imagine that telling a women that she looks fat would go over so well. The thing is though, that Italians don’t say it because they want to upset you. To them, it’s just an observation. So if an Italian comments on your weight, don’t think too much of it.
-They are consistently late. I’ve come to use a rule of 3 whenever I’m supposed to be somewhere. If someone says they’ll be there in 5 minutes, it means 15. 15 minutes means 45...and so on. I’ve refined the system over time and it’s pretty accurate now. As opposed to Americans, Italians are never really in a rush. They get there when they get there and that’s it. It is definitely less stressful, but it’s taken me a long time to get used to. In fact, I’m still not fully used to it yet.
-With food, everything is somehow good for you in Italy. I don’t quite know how this works out, but it’s been repeated to me multiple times by many different people. That gigantic bowl of pasta...good for energy. Those glasses of wine...good for the heart. That block of cheese...lots of vitamins. Ahhhh...I just love it out here. I just can’t wait for the day when someone convinces me that gelato is good for me too. I might never come back home! (On a weird side note, there are a bunch of different fruits doctors tell people not to eat if they are on a diet. Grapes, peaches, and apparently bananas are the worst. Who knew...).
-Another thing I’ve found to be funny is the broadcasting of sporting events. In the US, if something happens in a game that is unexpected or maybe a little too much for TV (say a coach cursing out his players or a fan running across the field) the cameramen do their best to move away without drawing too much attention to the spectacle. In Italy they do the opposite. When a coach is cursing out the ref or another player, they zoom in and slow-mo it until they see exactly what he said. They want to know in what accent he cursed out that other guy.
-Ok, I know I’ve mentioned the public transportation a few times, but it’s definitely mentioning these gems that have happened to me recently. These all happened to me in the past few weeks too. I was on a train where the conductor was playing a game on his Iphone while he was at the controls. That same day, I took a bus where the driver was reading a book on the steering wheel as he was driving the streets of Rome. Another day, I was up front by the driver and he called me over to ask for directions. Yes, that’s right. I had to tell the bus driver his route. He had no idea where he was going. My favorite though, was someone I saw yesterday. I was on a bus but this guy was driving his car next to us. He had a cell phone in each hand and was texting on both...he was using his knee to steer the car. Just awesome!!

So there are some more of the fun things I’ve learned out here over the past few months. I’ll be here for a couple more months, so I’m sure I’ll have so more stuff to report.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Australia...Part 2

After my week in Perth, I headed across the country to Melbourne. The Pacific Rim gymnastics competition was being held out there, and so I was excited about watching Team USA at another big meet. Looking back, I’ve actually been to quite a few competitions since I’ve been living in Italy. Worlds in London, Champions Trophy in Stuttgart, USA Women’s competition outside of Venice, NCAA Championships in NY, and now Pacific Rim. At this point I’m pretty sure the USAG officials are sick of seeing be show up at meets around the world!

Coming from the NJ/NY area, I can appreciate a good sports city. I am a passionate supporter of my sports teams, and after being in Melbourne for a few days I could see that they too have a similar love for their teams. The dominant sport is the Aussie Football League, or just footy. To give you an idea of how crazy Melbourne is about it’s footy, just think about this. There are 16 teams in Australia’s top division. Of those 16 teams, 10 of them are based in Melbourne!!! THAT IS INSANE!!! NY/NJ has three football teams (including Buffalo). Rio de Janeiro and London each have five soccer teams. That always seemed like a lot to me. But 10 first division teams in one city...that’s another level. They also host the footy equivalent to the Super Bowl every year. Melbourne is a true sports city...

To accommodate all those teams, along with the cricket teams, the Australian Open tennis tournament, and various other sporting events such as the Pacific Rim, Melbourne has a vast network of sports stadiums. It doesn’t seem like a city big enough to pull off so many sports, but they do. For me, it was one of the most impressive parts of the city.

I got a first hand experience of a footy match too. North Melbourne vs. Melbourne. I love checking out new sporting events, so this was something I thoroughly enjoyed...and unlike the rugby match, I was able to stay awake the entire match. Footy is played on a huge oval field. My crude understanding of the game gave me the impression that it was basically a combination of soccer, rugby, football, and hot potato. The fans are passionate in a similar way to the Italians with soccer. That’s to say, it’s a borderline unhealthy relationship. The love I have for my Giants, Mets, Lazio, and the Azzurri can be looked at in a similar way, so I felt a unique sport connection to Melbourne.

Another form of sport, gambling, is something else I enjoy quite a bit. Melbourne has a state of the art casino that I found myself at a few times during my few days out there. For the past 17 years I have taken at least one yearly trip to Las Vegas. This was the first year that I missed out on my Vegas experience, so being able to gamble a little bit helped fix my Vegas itch. The atmosphere wasn’t quite like Vegas, but it was still a lot of fun. Plus, I ended up winning a couple bucks which wasn’t so bad.

The rest of my time in Melbourne was spent walking the city, eating sushi, and watching the USA clean up at Pacific Rim. Actually, it was pretty ridiculous how many medals the USA won. Between the guys and girls, I think they ended up with something like 35 medals. Wow. I guess you could say it was a successful weekend for Team USA. The girls were dominant as usual, and the guys have a bunch of up and coming talents that are going to do some big things over the next few years...it’s going to be fun to watch.

There is a reason why Melbourne is consistanly rated as one of the “The Most Livable City in the World.” It’s got a lot of energy with a younger population that keep the city alive late into the night even on weekdays. The downtown river area lined with restaurants and shops is a great spot to hang out and people watch. To me the city seemed very modern, but after living in Rome I think any city would seem modern. Overall, I’d say that Melbourne was one of my favorite cities that I’ve seen so far.

The only downside of my trip to Australia was how expensive everything was out there. The Australian dollar is essentially equivalent to the American dollar, and despite it’s resemblance to Monopoly money, it’s very real and it goes quickly in a city that regularly charges $15 to $20 just for lunch. One upside is that you don’t have to tip for anything. It’s a nice little bonus, but in the end the sky high prices still end up emptying the wallet pretty quickly.

The 30 hour trip back to Rome actually wasn’t too bad, but I was relieved to finally be back in my own bed. I’m in Rome right now, but I’m already planning my next few trips. This summer should be a memorable one...