After a successful and productive trip to Italy, I'm now aboard the plane on my way back to North America. There are more people on this flight than the last one, but it's far from being packed. The lack of people on the plane, however, is made up for by the small children that want to be certain everyone knows they're here. I don't blame them though, if I thought I could get away with running up and down the aisles in my underwear while screaming, I might do it too.
The trip was a lot of fun, in the sense that I got to meet all kinds of new people, gain some new life experiences, eat fantastic food, and see some famous sights. It was also exhausting and somewhat stressful. The jet lag can be hard to deal with, and I walked enough to almost wear out a pair of shoes. Walking around Italy is more like hiking anyway, because the roads throughout the town squares are made of slightly uneven stones. Then trying to figure out the bus system in another language with all of the funny symbols on the schedule was initially frustrating, considering I wanted to be sure I knew where I was going and how to get back at night, lest I get stuck sleeping on a park bench in another distant unfamiliar town.
I went to Florence with some of my coworkers on Saturday. We walked around the major attractions but didn't go into any of the museums. The best ones require reservations, some more than a month in advance. We did stop in the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), partially just to get out of the rain, but there wasn't too much to see in there. I took a few pictures, but it was too dark to get many good shots with my little pocket camera. Photography (well, more often just flash-photography) was prohibited inside many places.
After that we stopped at the Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge") that crosses the Arno River. This is one of those famous views that has been completely overrun by street vendors, so much so that the street vendors have become the primary attraction. Oh, I have to apologize that I didn't bring souvenirs back for everyone (or for that matter, anyone). Next time, I promise. It's hard to decide on things to buy, and the variety was limited. Most items for sale were cheap knock-offs of brand-name purses and sunglasses. The gift and souvenir shops sold a bunch of strange tableware, flags of unrecognizable detail, mini plaster David statures, and shirts that said "I went to Italy and all I got for my friend was this lousy t-shirt." Nah, just kidding.
Later we checked out an Italian apartment and then visited the Ipercoop, the Italian equivalent of Super Wal-Mart. There were few products sold there of brands recognizable in the USA, but the place was loaded with cheap Chinese imported goods, just like you would expect back home. What set them apart from an American super-center experience was the grocery section. They had an amazing selection of fresh cheeses, meats, and seafood that could make even Central Market look like a fly-by-night shop. My favorite was the whole boar on a cutting board, next to a big serrated knife, ready for the slicing.
On Sunday I decided to venture out on my own to Siena. Siena is a beautiful little hill town just south of Florence. On the way out there, I took the diretta bus, which follows a scenic route through farmlands, vineyards, and other little towns. What confuses me about that is the word diretta means "direct," but the rapido bus I took on the way back actually followed the non-stop highway route.
Siena is most famous for Il Campo ("The Field", although it since went from being a field to stone blocks, to now being mostly brick), where all the townspeople and now, of course, tourists go to sit, socialize, picnic, and rest. I sat out there and enjoyed a big cup of gelato while I watched the crowd and re-re-re-reconsidered my life. They also have the Duomo di Siena (which is a cathedral) that I spent a good amount of time in.
Other things I saw in Siena was an Italian music store; several little shops selling traditional Italian groceries, and a temporary exhibit called The Museum of Torture, which was exactly what it sounds like. After seeing the movie Hostel (which I don't recommend to anyone at anytime, not because it was a bad movie, but because it was so disturbing), that museum rather creeped me out and had me watching my back continuously.
All in all the Italy
vacation business trip was a great experience that I hope to repeat. I'm not sure when that will be, but probably not until next year. A few pictures are coming soon.