Monday, September 26, 2011

The Day Tripper

There is a new man in Bologna this time around. His name is the day tripper. His goal is to see as much as he can in the short time left. He lives to explore the world, and the world exists for him to explore. Every bit of funding will now be allocated to riding the rails and probing the land. It's time to be fiscally sound to make the most of the precious time remaining.

Not taking advantage of the inexpensive mass transit that Italy has to offer to see the country would be my biggest regret. As a result, I began my first endeavor as the day tripper with a Tuesday off from class to embark on a brief 30 minute train ride north to Ferrara. A city known for its beautiful duomo (as it seems they all are). Construction began on it in the 12th century, while Ferrara is also home to the oldest osteria in the world, and the Castello Estense resting in the center of the city protected by its moat.

I began my trip wandering the city 'mapless' because that is my preferred method. I find that following a map causes me to miss so many unique and interesting things because I'm always looking for something rather than finding what is plainly there to see, like Osteria al Brindisi which I found instantly without any aid. Before that I found my way to the Castello Estense. Not knowing anything about this castle previously, I was surprised to find a moat protecting it within the city walls. I was also surprised that I couldn't talk my way into a student discount off the 10 Euro admission. The underground dungeons were worth the admission fee alone. Observing the state of the dungeons even now with the medieval toilet and the walls covered in prisoners' writing, I couldn't fathom the conditions that the prisoners lived in. The museum was filled with the history of Ferrara as a city state and the roles of the nobility responsible for the creation of both the castle, and the city. I even had the privilege to translate between a woman and museum worker to help her find an elevator, and I always enjoy feeling like I'm not as much of a foreigner. Eventually I made my way up through the castle to the tower where I could look out over the city and beyond its walls. It was another beautiful view over the clay roofs and people filled streets below, but my imagination could picture what this same view might have been 800 years ago from that same tower.

Next stop was Osteria al Brindisi. Its recognized by the Guinness records as the oldest osteria in the world. If my memory serves me correctly, Guinness World Records found evidence of the osteria from the 14th century but it was believed to be already famous by that point. It's said that Nicolo Copernico (Copernicus) actually lived there at one point while he was studying in Ferrara. I had hoped for the food to represent the centuries of cooking experience within its walls, but unfortunately the tourist industry may have overcome the history and I enjoyed an average meal.

The facade of the cathedral next door, my next stop, was begun in 1135. It's pretty hard to imagine the construction of a building with such intricacies taking place in the 12th century. My writing ability, architectural understanding and memory may fail in providing a description of another beautiful Italian religious relic so I will leave it to the pictures this time.

Tomorrow I am on way way to Verona and Trento to continue the day tripping. Who knows where on the weekend, but I'm hoping maybe I will get another passport stamp in San Marino. Then the following weekend I will be on a solo trip to wander Brugge, Brussels, maybe Antwerp, and a Belgian brewery or two. I am on a mission to experience as much of this continent as I can and I will do it with companions or solo. So who's coming with me?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Home Again: Bologna, Arrivo!!

Hello all, months have passed without any update but I've finally returned to my comforting home of Bologna. Spending time with work and play this summer was fun, and at first I was even disappointed to return.

It can be a difficult adjustment to be continually on the move. I really haven't been settled in a single place for over three months since college, and I'm even in my third different apartment in Italy now. I  was uncomfortable with the uncertainty in front of me while waiting in the airport in New York due to my amazing summer, and the fact that I had no place to live upon my return. In addition, changes in my approach to life and relationships renewed many old friendships, and created new ones that would be missed.

The instant I touched the ground in Milan the concern of leaving everything behind again was gone. I approached the counter to purchase a bus ticket, and a smile came to my face the moment the conversation began in Italian. Strangely, I'd say that I felt more at home than I had in years. This unfamiliar language was so rewarding to speak again but also so comforting. Part of me wonders if it wasn't just my joy of speaking a foreign language that began my acclimation back to this different life. Maybe it was just an escape to another fresh beginning that left behind any unsettled issues from home that inspired in me a feeling of new life.

Recalling the hustle and bustle of some of the places of summer, I started to wonder if I was more suited to life in Italy. Being in the vicinity of New York City and its Connecticut suburbs was quite the opposite; an observance that was made when passing by a sign in one city nicknamed, "The City That Works." Italy may be described as the country that tries to do as little work as possible. The stark contrast helps add a little more perspective to life. I recounted a time at the beach watching a father ignore his children with his face buried in his cell phone. I remembered have a conversation with a South African girl in New York City as everyone flew past us at a speed walking pace in order to complete thirty seconds more of work. Feelings of the disconnect in social lives at home even made me a bit disgusted. The saying, "good things come to those who wait," passes through my mind as I recall my summer. There is no waiting anymore. We expect instant gratification in everything, and I had become accustomed to waiting in Italy. Waiting really made me appreciate life and being social, in person, not through electronics, much more. It wouldn't be far off to argue that life in Italy is not nearly first world compared to the US, but it is life. There were always little joys of returning home to messages from friends or sitting in a Piazza doing nothing but talking. I can't imagine there isn't a person reading this who doesn't love the feeling of a package arriving in the mail by surprise, or when you've been expecting it for days. I now feel detached from life when sitting in front of a TV or always receiving that instant gratification. Instant gratification wasn't always at my fingertips in Italy; therefore, I actively sought it out. It makes me wonder what the world we be like for generations younger than mine where they now grow up emotionally and socially based in an unrealistic digital world.

Moving from the philosophical to the physical, and the serious to the lighthearted, I'll focus on another observation. I was adopted by a friend from Kosovo who provided me with a bed upon my return to Bologna in order to prevent me from being homeless. I arrived in the early afternoon after nearly not making it from Milan at all. Somehow, my credit card wouldn't work in the train station kiosk and I was a couple Euros short of a return ticket. Some spare British Pounds and US dollars earned just enough from the thief in the station referred to as currency exchange; otherwise, I would have been sitting on the street begging for change to afford a ticket. After surviving that ordeal to finally arrive, we decided to head out for a walk. It was then that I truly noticed what I had missed in the form of Italian women. I had arrived in Italy in March with a girlfriend. Obviously I noticed the occasional beautiful woman but I didn't realize how much I truly kept my eyes off them. I had my own beautiful woman then, but now I noticed what I had previously missed. I can't tell you how it happens, although I have a few theories, but a man's head can be on a constant swivel here. People may tell you it's called the bel paese for its weather and scenery, but I've found the real reason. One visit for any man and you'll forever remember with nostalgia the women that you meet, and the ones that you see.

In my first few days back, I fell into contemplation on something I had never considered before. Did I really want to return to America? Unemployment and corruption is everywhere in Italy. So many Italians want to be in the US instead, but maybe I feel the opposite. Maybe my plans are changing. I could truly see myself spending a lifetime in a beautiful place like this.