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August 23rd 2012
Published: August 25th 2012
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Italy:

The anticipation to get to Italy had been building over the last few days. Scandinavia is probably one of the nicest places I’ve been – definitely one of the most affluent. The summers are pretty mild as well, which was a nice break. However, it was one of the most expensive places I had been. Paying $4.00 for a bottle of water takes some getting use to.

Sardinia - My flight to Alghero went through Rome. I was heading to Sardinia to visit a good friend of mine that I’ve known for 14 years. My friend Tonio has opened his home to me every time I’ve gone to Milan. However, the question has always been 'when would I go to Sardinia?'. I told Tonio that I would make it a point to go to Sardinia, I would be in Europe this summer.

The flight to Rome went quick. The plane had a video camera in the front so you could watch the take off and see what was in front of the plane. It made me wonder what it would be like to be watching an accident occur on TV if another plane was moving toward your or if the plane started falling from the sky and what it would be like just before impact – watching your destiny on TV. The camera flipped to the bottom of the plane after take off. It reminded me of watching a WWII movie from a bomber.

As we flew over the Alps and Dolomites I recognized the eastern Italian coastline and Venice, my favorite city in the world. My anticipation grew as we started descending into Fiumicino, Rome’s international airport. This is where it all started for me. When I was 16 I went to Europe for the first time with my mom. We had a stop in Rome for a day. It had a major impact on my life and planted the seed for me to travel. Fiumicino had had some major upgrades since then. The terminals had been upgraded with new shops and restaurants and bars.

Rome is also a second home for me. I studied in Rome for a year my sophomore year of college. I also did an internship there one summer with Accenture. I have a lot of memories of Rome and my time there had the most impact on my life and how I view the world. It also came with a lot of frustrations, from learning Italian to the solitude I experienced, and introspective view it forced me to take of my own life. That said, I had some of the greatest times of my life there. It was certainly an eye opener. I had some of the best conversations of my life some of the people I got to know there.

All of these memories rush through my mind. However, Rome would have to wait – I was only connecting there for my flight to Alghero in Sardinia. When I got to Alghero I had to wait about 45 minutes for my luggage. Tonio had made plans to go to Maddallena in the northeast part of the island. Tonio had planned to take me there for a day, but one of his friends who had a house there and invited us for the weekend.

La Maddallena is absolutely beautiful. It’s an island just off the main island. The water is crystal clear as well. The first day there we went to the beach. To get there we had to hike about 20 minutes over rocks. The view was amazing when we got there. I had left my iphone at the apartment to charge. What a mistake! In total there were 8 of us. Paola and Nuncia were friends of Tonio and then they had 4 other friends we met. We packed picnic and spent the whole day there swimming, snorkeling, and laying out in the sun. At about 6:00 we started to pack up. Normally I can be packed in about 3 minutes. 30 minutes later I started asking people what was taking so long. Luckily I had built a tolerance for Italians taking their good old time when I lived in Rome. We headed back to the car. Andrea (Il Commandante) was a ‘take charge’ type of guy and started leading us back. However, we got lost and had to backtrack. I told everyone we should call him ‘Magellan’. Everyone got along great. That night we all went to dinner and I asked how long they had known each other. They said they had all just met, but all of them had one friend of the group in common.

The next day we rented a boat to head to a few islands. The beaches at these islands are amazing. The water is really transparent and clear. One of the girls brought some snorkeling gear and I ended up spending a lot of time chasing fish in the coral. We had packed sandwiches and fruit and spent the whole day zipping around the islands. ‘Il Commandante’ drove the whole time.

That evening we drove back to Sassari and spent the night. The next day Tonio’s parents came and picked up us and took us to Alghero. His mom made lunch. I realized that this was the first time I had had a home cooked meal in over 6 months! It was so good. She made minestrone, eggplant, prosciutto, and a salad. Not to mention the cookies she force-fed me from breakfast that were left over. After feasting like a king it was time to take a much-needed nap. That night Tonio took me to a winery to meet up with Daniela and Elisa, two of the girls from the group. We got to the winery a little late for the tour. We had missed the movie but jumped in line when everyone was coming out of the theater. Some of the barrels they store wine in were 150 years old.

After the winery Tonio and I went back to Sassari to meet his friend Tiziana for dinner. I had met Tiziana 11 years ago when she was a model for Moschino. Tonio had brought her to lunch when I was visiting Milan and she asked if I wanted to hang out for the afternoon with her and her friend. Not a bad deal walking around Milan with a model all afternoon. We kept in contact on Facebook and all had a good dinner and walked around the city center afterwards.

My last day in Sardinia was spent at a beach called Stintino. This was another amazing beach. Out in the water was a small island with a castle. There were a lot of people at this beach. We were looking for Daniela and Elisa but Tonio’s cell phone didn’t get reception. We thought there was no way we would see them. Just as we set our stuff down I realized we had put our bags right beside them. It’s a small world.

Rome – I said my goodbye’s to Tonio and his parents and caught my flight to Rome. Rome had been home for me for a year when I was a sophomore in college. I have a lot of memories and emotions attached to Rome – both good and bad. It was a growing year for me. Being 20 in Italy was an amazing experience and it helped shape my view of the world.

Most of my friends that live in Rome were on vacation as August is the time when everyone goes home or on vacation for about 3 weeks. My friend Davide was still around for a few days before heading to Rio, which meant I had a place to stay. Davide was one of my best friends when I lived in Rome. I stayed with him and his family over Christmas break in 1998. We’ve keeping in touch over the years and I usually stay with him when I’m in Rome. We always enjoy talking about politics and business and comparing how Europe and the United States approach issues.

I flew into Rome and took a bus to Termini, the main bus/train station. From there I caught the metro to the Coliseum. Just the smell of the metro brought back so many memories. I used to take a bus everyday to the metro near St. Peter’s. Then, I would take the A line to Termini and jump on the B line to Bologna. It usually took about an hour and fifteen minutes. However, there were some days when it took much longer. Taking the public transportation system in Rome helps one build patience. Most of the time I would have to stand in a cramped bus or metro car. Getting in or out required pushing people to the side (old ladies included – but hey, they pushed too!). When I think about it I probably have spent days on the metro in Rome.

The only real reason I came to Rome was to see Davide and maybe go to Villa Nazareth for a bit to see the place I used to live. Villa Nazareth is a residency for Italian students and also is a scholarship program. I lived there because Duquesne University has an exchange program with it. The man who runs it is Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who used to be the Prefect for the Congregation of Eastern Churches. He was also one of the Pope John Paul II’s top diplomats and advisors. It was quite a unique experience for me to get to know someone in such a high position. He would come for dinner about 4 times a week and quite often I would sit in front of him and talk about what was happening in the world or how well I was learning Italian. He played a big role in me getting an internship at Accenture a few years later in Rome. But most of all he was like a grandfather to me and the rest of the guys at Villa. He always seemed to see things clearly and was able to cut to the core of any issue. Unfortunately, age is catching up with him. A few years ago I happened to be in Rome during his anniversary and told him I hoped it would be another 7 years till I saw him again. His reply was that he might not be here in 7 years. He always had a great sense of humor.

Unfortunately, Davide was sick the whole time I was there. His place is just a few blocks from the Coliseum and was close to my old stomping grounds of the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Davide and I grabbed lunch at a place we had been to a few years before. Catching up was great and it was as if no time had passed. After lunch I headed out to walk around and head to some places I hung out a lot when I was living there. I was also on a mission to find some movies that I liked that were overdubbed and subtitled in Italian. I head to Via del Corso to start. I ended up walking to the Spanish Steps and then to the Pantheon. My friend Felice had lived right beside the Pantheon when we studied in Rome and I spent a lot of time hanging out in that area. I even remember one night (around 3:30 am) that I was heading to catch my bus home and I was the only person in the whole Piazza. After thinking about all the history and all the people to have seen this site I couldn’t believe that I had it all to myself.

Just down the street from the Pantheon is a bookstore called Feltrinelli. I had spent a lot of time there too looking at books and evaluating what was the best dictionary or grammar book to buy. Luckily, Feltrinelli had some of the movies I was looking to buy. I bought them and then headed out to walk to Trastevere. Trastevere is right across the river from the area where the Pantheon is. It’s probably my second favorite section of Rome (after Piazza Navona). Trastevere was a great place to go out and be at night. Santa Maria in Trastevere is probably the nicest church in Rome (in my opinion) after the major basilicas.

Davide and I were going to meet another friend, Marco, at 8 that night and head to my favorite bar in the world – Tapa Loca. I always make it a point to go there whenever I’m in Rome. Tapa Loca had been the epicenter of nightlife for me in Rome. Back then, with friends Troy and Stefano, we would start or end the night there. At one point Stefano and I went there 12 nights in a row. Some of my favorite memories were at that bar.

Marco showed up but said Davide was still sick. We headed to Tapa Loca’s and got some sangria and paella. As I was looking around I saw a sign for the Steelers and a banner inside that said “You’re in Steeler Country”. This was too good to be true. A Steeler bar right beside my favorite bar! I need to move back to Rome!

Marco and I had a good time talking about things. He told me he was heading back to Pittsburgh to teach at Duquesne in the fall. We even went over to the Steeler bar and talked to the owner.

The next day I headed to St. Peter’s to check things out. I spent a lot of time walking in St. Peter’s, going to mass, confession, and papal audiences when I lived in Rome. It’s such a great basilica. I noticed they had finished cleaning all the stone on the front of the basilica and the columns. It looked so white compared to 1998. I went to the Cardinal’s old office to see if his secretary was there who I knew. Unfortunately, he was away for vacation. After walking around a bit I caught the metro to Villa Nazareth. The metro there didn’t exist when I studied there. It makes getting downtown so much more convenient.

Before I went to villa I stopped at the park across the street. I had spent a lot of time there thinking, reading, and running. It has an amazing view of the top of St. Peter’s too. The park brought back a lot of memories and I always loved the way the pino trees looked. After walking in the park for about 15 minutes I headed over to Villa. Marco was supposed to meet me at 1:00. One of the cars drove buy and a guy told me it was closed. He didn’t know that Marco was one of the only guys there at the time and I said I would just wait will he came out. I recognized the guy as the gardener from 14 years earlier. When Marco came and let me in we walked up to him and I introduced myself. He remembered me and talked a bit about how things were going.

Villa is a place I was blessed to call home for a year. I have a lot of emotions tied to it because it was a transformative year for me. I felt loneliness that year that I can’t even explain. But I also felt friendship and fraternity and made some of my best friends that year. Unfortunately, the section I lived in was locked for the summer, as was the chapel I spent so much time praying in. The chapel was basically the only thing I felt connected me back home at first. I spent a lot of time there at the beginning. I used to go to church every night and Don Stefano and Don Rocco would let me read the readings in Italian. I was usually the only one there but sometimes one of the other guys would show up. I know they would do everything they could not to laugh but it helped me learn Italian. Every time I go back to Italy people think I speak better than I did when I lived in Italy. For me I think it took a few years for the language to settle in my brain.

I saw one other guy I knew when I lived there and walked around the grounds one last time to see the soccer fields and gardens. Marco and I headed to lunch at a pizzeria down the street and then to the Aventine hill to see the keyhole from where you can see St. Peter’s. This was the only touristy thing I wanted to see. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it years earlier. I suppose it’s true that you can live in Rome for a year and still not see everything. From there Marco and I went back to check on Davide and then headed to another park in Rome before meeting our friend Jenny for drinks in Trastevere. My time in Rome was pretty limited, as I wanted to see a few more sites in Italy.

The next morning Davide and I headed to a bar to get coffee and some breakfast. We had a great conversation with him speaking Italian and me speaking English. Since we both understand each other’s language it just made sense to speak in our native tongue, plus it’s easier to express your point. We talked about how work was going for him and how Rome had changed. I noticed a lot of people were actually paying attention to things like stop lights and obeying cross walks. People on motorionos actually wore helmets. Laws were no longer just mere suggestions. Where is this place? What happened to my Rome? I felt Rome was now foreign. I wish I had more time to talk but I had to catch a train to Siena. Like every other time I catch a train in Rome you can always find me running through the terminal only to jump on the train just as it’s about to take off. This was no different. At least some things never change.

Siena – Siena was a town I hadn’t seen when I lived in Italy. I wanted to make a point of seeing it this time. Siena was a great medieval town in Tuscany. It’s a classic Italian city. In the middle is a huge square with a grade where everyone sits and hangs out. It’s a hilly town so you can expect to get good exercise. I was only there 2 nights.

I used one of the days to go to Florence to see the Uffizi museum. Florence had always presented problems for me and I hadn’t had a really good experience there before. Either the museum I wanted to see was closed or a strike was happening or I misread the price on on a menu that was by weight, rather than total price - only to get a huge bill. Yes, Firenze and I were not close amici. This time would be different. I had booked a ticket online to assure there would be no problem. After printing the 4 pages required to enter, I got my ticket and headed in to see some of the best art in the world. The Uffizi is one of the best art galleries I’ve ever seen. I would recommend seeing it to anyone who goes (along with L’Accademia)

San Marino/Rimini – I made my way to Rimini, which sits on the Adriatic sea. Rimini is a pure beach town. The real reason to go was because it was so close to San Marino. I had always wanted to go there. San Marino is actually a small country that sits on a huge hill. I took a bus there and spent a few hours walking around. There were some great views of the Italian coast.

Venice – The next day it was off to Venice. Venice is my favorite city in the world. The is nothing that can compare to it because of it’s uniqueness. Canals and streets for walking are pretty much all there is in the main section. The only problem is that Venice is completely overrun with tourists in the summer.

I got into Venice and headed to an island called Lido to visit my friend Nicoletta. I had known her since I studied in Rome and she put my friend Felice and I up when we visited. I fell in love with Lido. The island is so tranquil and quit compared to Venice. I love just walking the side streets there. It’s a place like that where you understand how you live in a place with noise pollution. Lido is a place I could retire to.

I checked into my hotel and met Nicoletta and we headed to the beach to meet her friend Mariana. That evening we all went to Venice to have dinner. I love Venice at night especially. I could walk around the streets or Piazza San Marco forever just listening to the street music or watching the gondolas go by.

Trieste – I picked to go to Trieste next because it was between Venice and my next stop, Slovenia. I figured I would just be there for a day and then head to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Unfortunately, the 15th is a holiday in Italy and the buses were full. I spent an extra day in Trieste. I was really impressed. It was very clean and had great bars where you could get appetizers and drinks. Another good thing about Trieste was that I found a DVD store that had all the DVDs I was looking for. They even had Fight Club!

Slovenia:

Ljubljana – My trip to Ljubljana ended up being more than I had bargained for. To start, the only bus that went there from Trieste left at 2:00 in the afternoon. I got to Ljubljana around 4:00 and it was raining. Then, when I booked my bus back to Venice I found out that the only reasonable bus I could take was at 8:15 in the morning. That didn’t give me a lot of time to see Ljubljana. I found my hostel and headed out in the rain to see as much as I could, which basically consisted of the area by the river with bars/cafes and a few churches.

The next day it was back to Venice and I spent the day walking around and seeing a few churches and museums. I did check out the Leonardo da Vinci museum that showed his drawings and ideas for a lot of things we even use today like helicopters and bikes. I met Nicki one last time for dinner and then headed back to my hostel. I had an early flight the next morning.

Next Stop – Portugal and Ireland!


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26th August 2012

You are either going to become a priest...
or return to Lido and Nicki...if I can be so presumptuous.
26th August 2012

Hey Bob - no, heading back to the US on the 31st actually. Decided to come back a little early. Still will be traveling across the US. Hope all is well. - Ted

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