Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The lovely, quirky, slightly dangerous yet thoroughly enchanting Italia

This last month and a half has been my “Getting to know you Italia” time. I haven’t left Italy at all yet, but have been all over it—it’s a very cool place. I’m starting to become more adjusted to my new life here. I’m settling in, not to what I’d call a routine, but I’m getting this living in Europe thing down pretty well.

A few Italian things I’ve been noticing and getting used to:
Vespas: these little motorbike terrors erratically cruise the streets of Italy like wild, out-of-control horses. They generally ignore all traffic signs, lanes and sometimes pedestrians. The trick to dealing with them? You just have to learn to dodge. When you see an opportunity to cross the street, RUN. And don’t hesitate or you might be toast.

Smokers: Italians like to smoke. And I mean REALLY like to smoke. Even the kids here smoke. Everywhere you go you’ll see smokers, smell smokers and breathe the second hand fumes. Trying to avoid it is like trying to swim while keeping your feet out of the water—it makes it really hard to breathe! Once, while eating at a restaurant in Rome, the waiter came out to our table with menus in one hand and a smoking cigar in the other. Very classy. All this smoking nonsense took a while to get used to, but I’m at the point where I just accept it as a fact. Italians smoke.

Stuff here is Old: Get over it. I know back home the oldest street on the block was built in the ‘40s, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop at every 500-year-old building to take pictures. That’ll get old real fast (pun intended).

The Trains: First of all, I’d like to point out that this is my favorite way to travel. Trains are smooth, relaxing, relatively fast, and offer the best views of passing scenery; still, there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember to validate your ticket! This means getting it stamped in the little yellow boxes BEFORE you get on the train. If you forget you can simply accept the fine from the guy doing the rounds, or you can risk dashing off the train at the next stop to get your ticket stamped before the train starts moving again. I’ve already opted for the latter once.
The other thing about trains that caught me by surprise is the toilets. There was nothing unusual about it at first, but once I flushed I looked down and realized I could see the tracks rushing by through the bottom of the toilet. They just open up onto the tracks! It’s a bizarre and slightly disturbing custom. If you ever find yourself walking along the tracks in Europe and you notice a funny smell, you’ll know what it is.

The Internet: It’s like back in my homeschooled days when we lived off of dialup internet—so slow! If anyone in the building has decided to make a Skype call, watch a Youtube video, or upload some photos to Facebook, the remaining bandwidth stream dwindles immediately to a trickle and pages begin loading at glacial speed. You can also be cut off from the connection at any time, for seemingly no reason other than the whim of the router. It’s a frustrating process; remember that in mind next time you get a Wall post from me :]

But seriously, Italy is a cool place despite its occasionally annoying idiosyncrasies. Here are a couple of the places I've been:

Cinque Terre ("The Five Villages") is a pretty cute area on the coast where the cliffs meet the sea. Each village is tiny, some with just a couple hundred people, but they offer a totally chill, restful atmosphere with great beaches and pretty amazing hikes.

Pisa is a cool place, and the Tower really does lean a lot. There's a lot of tourists here, and they're ALL in search of that perfectly angled picture that shows them holding up the tower...

Great place to go to get yourself a real cheap Rolex.

The ruins of Pompeii: definitely worth spending a few hours there. This was the ancient city that had the misfortune of being next to the Vesuvius (a very large, very active volcano) at the time of its eruption in 79 a.d.
It was totally buried and eerily preserved for the last couple thousand years until its fairly recent uncovering.

Well, I don't know how regularly this blogger thing is going to be working out--I'm a busy man over here, but I'm doing my best to keep in touch with all y'all. Check back every once in a while and maybe I'll have something else up.

By the way, next weekend I'm heading off to Barcelona, Spain! Let you know how it goes.