Surviving Italy (Time of visit: 12 – 19 June 2009)

Italy! Who doesn’t know it?! It’s an interesting country with many historical places and good foods. And for me, Italy also means football, one of my cultural passions. OK, that might sound silly. But anyway, Italy is surely a-must-to-visit for travelers.

Purpose of visit
After only dreaming for years, finally I get my chance to go to Italy. I have decided myself from the beginning of New Year that I must go to Italy during my study in Germany. And the perfect timing comes when I have to hand in my first draft of thesis very early. After locking myself for 6 weeks for thesis writing, having holiday in Italy is a perfect reward.

Of course it’s not easy to decide which cities or regions that I should visit. Every region has its own characteristic that worth to experience; but while busy to arrange my travel, one city is a must place to visit: the Asti City!. Yes, there’s a city after my name in Italy. For sure, I am so curious about it. I want to see it and maybe claim it ;) Yeah OK, I am daydreaming too much…

Asti is famous for its wine products. Even in Germany, I can find Asti wine in supermarkets. So I guess I am pretty famous, er, I mean the wine. Asti is located in the north part of Italy and the nearest big city is Turin. So if I want to visit Asti, I have to start it from Turin. Although I know nothing about the city but I know it’s a place of Juventus FC; so surely it’s worth to visit especially Juventus is my favorite team from Italy.

Other city that I want to visit is Rome. I think Rome it’s always enlisted in things-you-do-before-you-die stuffs. It’s very famous as historical place that shape the European face and maybe also the world. I remember when I watched the movie ‘Gladiator’; I really amazed and wish that I could see the Colosseum directly sometime.

And since the cheap airline is going from Bremen to Bergamo, which is closer to Milan, so why not visiting Milan also. Beside, it’s also a famous city for the fashion industry and football of course ;)

So there I am. Going to Italy for visiting Asti, Turin, Rome, and Milan in a week. Yeah, I don’t have so much time; but at least this is a good start.

Mode of stay
I know about Couch Surfing (CS) from a friend and apparently it’s also mentioned in lonely planet book. CS is a traveler community which provides free accommodation. For example, I can offer my extra mattress for a sleeping place to other traveler for free. With this mode, a backpacker traveler like me can reduce the spending and to know the visited place from different angle. Experience the culture, directly from the people itself, is the nicest part of the travel.

Anyway, I join the CS community mainly to get free accommodation. However, since it’s voluntary-based, of course people couldn’t just accept a guest anytime. They have their own schedule, they have to work, or maybe they already have a guest for particular date. In the end, I can’t find any free accommodation from this mode; however, people agree to meet me and give me a tour for the city or at least spend time with me.

General Impressions
I know Italy is not Germany. And since I have visited Paris, I realize I have to turn off my German nerve when traveling outside Germany. But still, I am surprised to find out that Italy actually similar to …. Indonesia!

Traffic and road signs
Believe it or not, I think Italy is European Indonesia. The traffic is as chaotic as in Indonesia. No rules in driving; people can just turn everywhere, cross everywhere, park everywhere, or driving backward anywhere! There’s a chance where my friend takes me for motorbike riding; and for a moment I feel disoriented, “Am I in Europe or Makassar?”

To add more chaotic, the road signs are confusing; or maybe silly. There’s a sign to turn left but there’s no road to there! Even in the airport or train station, the signs are absurd. How come Metro is upstairs; or a sign for train is lead to empty room. I guess people have to start their travel very early just to get lost…

Public transportations and punctuality
Again, Italy is just European Indonesia; so it would be too much if I expect punctuality. I don’t bother to look at the bus time schedule; I am just waiting like I do in Indonesia. But when the bus doesn’t come until I wait for almost 30 minutes; suddenly my German nerve pops up again. I become anxious and uneasy. I have to calm myself in remaining that this is Italy.

Anyway, there’re 3 times of bus trips that somehow make me anxious. The first time is in Rome. It was my first day there and I want to go to football merchandise store. After getting the direction with bus, I am waiting for the bus for about 30 minutes. When other busses stop by, and my bus doesn’t come yet, I start to think that the guy who told me about the direction is giving me wrong information.

The most nerve-wrecking experience is when I have to fly from Rome to Bergamo. My flight is at 06.50. To get to the airport, there’s a shuttle bus from the main train station to airport. It starts to operate at 04.30. The second departure is at 04.50; but the third departure is at 06.30! Of course I have to take either the first 2 departures; but considering the time of my flight, I choose to depart using the 2nd one.

I am arrived at 04.40 to the main train station, and guess what; people who want to depart at 04.30 are still there. The bus is late! And since the first bus is late so I thought I should just line up with these people because, really, everything is unpredictable; and I don’t think this is a good time for having adventure. In the end, the first bus departs at 04.50! And to make my nerve tenser, I couldn’t get into the bus because there is no more available seat! So I have to wait for the 2nd bus; which of course according to the shuttle bus’s staff, it’ll come soon… And when the time reaches 05.50, I become extremely anxious and start thinking to go by taxi. But when I am almost step out from the bus stop; I see the bus is coming from distance… In the end the bus departs at almost 06.00. Luckily, since it’s still in the morning, the trip to airport can be take for less than 30 minutes and I can still check in on my flight on time. But surely, this has been a difficult nerve test for me!

In my 3rd unreliable bus schedule; it happens exactly after my 2nd. I have to travel by bus from Bergamo airport to Milan using a shuttle bus. The schedule says that the bus will leave at 08.30. When I reach the ticket counter, it’s already 08.27; so it’s perfect. But when at 08.40 there’s no sign that the bus will leave; all I can do is being thankful because I don’t have anything to catch soon… Ah by the way, in the end the bus is leaving at 09.00!

In the end, I am glad that I don’t take public busses or trains for my city-to-city travel. Not just they’re unreliable in the sense of time schedule; but they’re also stinks! No kidding! The city bus that I take in Rome is stinky. I take it around 16.00 where people have been doing their activities; and furthermore, it’s summer and most of them wear sleeveless shirts; so imagine, what kind of odor that circling inside the bus… In Indonesia, although the situation is similar; but not many people wear sleeveless shirt, so at least the odor can be blocked somehow…

And the regular train is no different. The smell is preventing me to go to toilet; it’s better that I hold it for hours. Well, this is also like in Indonesia. But then there’ll be people (a street vendor) who walk around with air freshener spray; and we have to pay in order to make him or her sprays the air freshener. Of course the nice fresh air is only temporary; but that’s the point of their service;) I guess in this sense, Italy is left behind from Indonesia;)

In the sense of public transportation, only the Metro is reliable because it’s on time and no traffic jam. And maybe the Metro is the only thing that reliable in Italy; because even the people are unreliable for punctuality. Well getting late until 15 minutes, that’s also the tolerance in Indonesia. But if someone is late more than 15 minutes without explanation; well, I am speechless. An example of this happened in Turin when a friend from CS organized a BBQ. In the beginning the BBQ is set as a vegetarian BBQ due to vegetarian person who also organized the BBQ. But during my stay for 5 hours, this person never came and no news at all from this person! No SMS, no call, nothing…! And apparently this is normal because nobody bothers to contact this person at all!!! Great…

The weather and foods
During summer, the weather in Italy is close to Indonesia. The temperature is around 30 degrees; but the humidity is less than Indonesia. So it’s hot but it’s not as sweaty as in Indonesia; which is better for me. I can wear normal clothes as I do in Indonesia; just a light shirt and jeans or skirt with sandals. Me with light shirt & skirt; posing at St. Angelo Castle with a clear blue sky background

For the food, well Italian foods are not as spicy as Indonesian; but at least they have taste compare to the Germans. The seasonings are various so the taste is somewhat strong; another tongue spoiled experience for me. The pizzas, the pastas, the risottos; they all nice. But one unforgettable food experience is when I have goose salami. It tastes extremely good which makes it recorded in my memory until now. Oh I hope I can have it again…

All in all, going to Italy is like going home for me. Maybe if I miss my country, I should just go to Italy. I really love it!

Turin (12 – 15 June)
As written above, I know nothing about Turin before. So when I arrived here, all I can think to visit is Juventus stadium and store! Unfortunately the stadium is under construction, so I can’t visit it; but the store is available to visit. And after this, I thought my mission to visit Turin is accomplished.

Thank God, I meet people from CS who show me around and take me to parties. So it’s a nice surprised to know Turin from tourist side and cultural side. Apparently Turin is very important city in Italy and Europe! Turin was the capital of Italy before Rome; and Turin had a strong monarchy that influencing Europe! See, I learn something new now…

A nice view of Turin can be seen from a tower in cinema museum. The elevator is transparent; so one can feel the excitement of going up and down. Very exciting; especially for me who’s afraid of height:)

The craziest place that I find in Turin is an ice cream place called Siculo. I went there exactly at midnight but the place is packed full! Even the customers have to take number to buy the ice cream! This is so crazy!!!

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Asti (June 13th)
My city is just a small and quiet city. I visit there on Saturday and the only thing that alive is the traditional market. Most of the streets are empty and only few tourists walking around. I wonder, is the city really quiet or do I visit it in a wrong time?

Some views of Asti City

Since Asti is famous for the winery, I also visit the wine field and the city’s official wine shop. There, I get explanation that in the beginning Asti is producing sweet white wines. But since the red wines become trend; the original Asti has lesser customers and the winery produces more red wines rather than the white ones. Oh no, if nothing has been done, the original taste of me will be extinct…:(

When I visit the wine shop, my friend tells to the shopkeeper that my name is Asti. And for some reason, somehow he thinks it’s cool. Because then he gives me things that has ‘Asti’ written on it. He gives me small towel, poster, and a guide book! He even tries to look more but he couldn’t find it. Oh no, if I stay longer, maybe he’ll give me the road sign also…

Rome (15 – 18 June)
When I look for hostel in Rome, I also read customers’ review. Of course there’s no such place where all the customers can get satisfaction. But the reviews are somewhat intimidate me. In general, they always emphasize that ‘at least the location is in city centre or near the main train station’ or ‘at least one can has decent place to sleep’. Not very encouraging! Until once my eyes are struck on a good review of a hostel called Beehive. I enter the website and find the concept of eco-friendly and vegetarian as interesting. Without further thinking, I reserve my place there.

Another destiny takes part; it turns out the hostel is as nice as advertised. It’s very clean and homey. I even can walk barefoot inside. And of course there’s always a little surprised. One of the staff there is Indonesian!!! Isn’t that perfect?! I can talk in Indonesian and get insider tips from Indonesian point of view. Very nice!

The city itself, oh too many things to mention; especially regarding the tourist sites. The churches, the temples, the castles, the fountains, the whatever; they all interesting to see. I really love it. How come most of them are well preserved? I am so envy to the Italians somehow. I wish the remaining from Indonesian old kingdoms and temples can be a world wide tourist destination also.
Trevi Fountain

Colosseum

Castle of St. Angelo

Anyway, my favorites are Colosseum and Pantheon. They are huge and impressive. Both show brilliant architecture and good representation of type of civilization that the Romans had.
Pantheon

video

Inside Pantheon


Since there’re too many interesting things to see, and one site to another is relatively close; many people choose to walk to explore the city. I do this also. I walk around 9 to 10 hours everyday under the summer sun. In the end, my legs are so sore and my skin is over grilled. If my legs can complain, maybe they already runaway from me! But of course all the pain isn’t comparable with the satisfaction that I get.

Vatican (June 17th)
Of course while I am in Rome, I have to visit Vatican. Although I am not familiar with Christianity; but this unique country with long tradition and enormous collection from Christian history; is worth to visit.
St. Peter's Basilica


Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican is small; but its huge buildings make the trip somewhat tiring. From one floor to another; people who seriously interested to Christianity history or religion need more than 1 day to explore it. I am just concentrate on very famous places or paintings or sculptures; and for the rest I just see it in brief.

Milan (June 18th)
I thought everybody in Milan is dressed in a stylish way; but apparently just a few. Mostly they all dressed normally, just like a normal student or even tourist. But surely, clothing (or fashion) stores are everywhere. From the high-end price to the regular ones; the stores are filling up the streets.

Luck point in Milan. Notice that my skin is over grilled by then.

Other thing, that makes Milan different from other cities, is everybody moves in a hurry. At the Metro station, people seem on the run. They walk fast. And somehow the cars and motorbikes are also faster. Milan is a big developed city.

The main tourist site in Milan is the dome or the cathedral. It’s a huge full ornamented gothic church. It remains me of the Köln cathedral. Too bad, during my visit here, I am already exhausted from my trip to Rome. My legs don’t want to cooperate further while I still have another place to visit. In the end I am just admiring the place while sitting outside.

video


The very last tourist place that I visit in Italy is: The Last Supper (il Cenacolo) painting by Leonardo Da Vinci!!! It’s not just old; but the controversies and interpretations have made the painting very interesting to see. People who are familiar with ‘The Da Vinci Code’ must be understood with what I mean.

The painting is a mural painting which means on a wall; in this case in a church’s wall. The painting was made in 15th century and the wall (as well as the church) has to survive from the war and any other natural damages. Due to the delicate condition; visitors can’t take picture of the painting. In fact, only 25 people are allowed to see the painting in one session.

A very long waiting list to see the painting has come into effect. It’s normal that one has to register a month before to see the painting. Again, destiny is traveling with me. I get a chance to visit the painting just by luck! A person from CS that I contact; tries to register for visiting the painting just less than 2 weeks before I arrived. And somehow, it works! We got a place to see the painting on the exact date when I am there! Isn’t that amazing?! This is surely the cherry of my travel to Italy:)

In front of the entrance to see The Last Supper painting

The painting itself is not in strong color; it’s blurry somehow. If one sees it from close range, it looks like a blurry photograph with low resolution or pixels. But if one sees it from distance, it looks better. The painting is located a bit high on a wall; there’s a safety fence in front of it so people can’t touch it. I can’t thank enough that I can see this famous painting directly; I am very enjoying the experience.

Football culture
What make you think that I won’t talk about football on this page?

Anyway, to celebrate my football nerves in Italy, I decide to buy shirts from Italian football club that I visit; which means Juventus, AS Roma, Lazio, Inter & AC Milan.

Although I want to collect the shirts; but I don’t want to just buying any shirt with the club name written on it. Because this kind of shirts can be found everywhere even in Indonesia; and it’s not original. So what I consider as an original and special shirt is a shirt for a girl. A shirt that designed for girls; tight, small, typical girls cut.

For getting the shirt that I want, I went to each club’s online store to see what they offer. Surprisingly, there are not many designs for girls. This is surprising, Italy has bigger football industry than Germany; why the shirts for girls are limited? Suddenly Werder Bremen’s girls collection is not so bad at all…

So apparently I don’t have many options for shirts. But I have my eyes on specific shirt on Juventus, AS Roma, and AC Milan. Lazio and Inter don’t have this girly stuffs:( Of all these 5 clubs that I browse, only AS Roma offers a very interesting range of designs. The designs are so various and it even has underwear collection! Very impressive! Somehow it remains me of FC Stuttgart in Germany which also has various interesting designs.

But then another surprised comes in; apparently what they offer on a website is different than in a real store! It means the specific shirts, which I want from Juventus and AC Milan, are not there. Huh?!! And somehow the girls collections in Juventus and AC Milan stores are not so interesting; but still in the end I buy something.

Luckily, since AS Roma has various designs, I can have many options. I even become confused in deciding which one that I should buy. I only buy one because the price is pretty expensive. And this is the other thing that I don’t understand. The football season is over; how come the merchandise prices are not in discount? Mean!

And to add my collection, I also include a girly shirt from FC Torino. Although FC Torino is not in Serie A (or premiere league) but it has a nice girly shirt. So... why not?! ;)

I wear these football shirts in some occasion just to see how people, especially Italian, react. When I wear FC Torino shirt in Turin, not so many people make comment in the beginning. But once they know that I am a foreigner, they start to make comment. FC Torino fans, of course, will say that it’s a good thing that I wear the shirt. But Juventus fans will complain and telling me that I should wear Juventus shirt. I don’t have a chance to wear Juventus shirt because I get a wrong size; it’s too small for me. And when I get the right size, I don’t stay at Turin anymore.

I am also trying my mini research in Rome. I wear AS Roma shirt while walking around Rome. Since I am alone in exploring Rome, with a map on my hand; surely people know that I am foreigner. And what do I got? I notice that guys that passing me, they smile to each other; for sure I experience this for some times. A friend of mine in Rome tells me that I should be careful in wearing the shirt; as Lazio fans might rob me out of reason! Hilarious!

I don’t wear my AC Milan in Milan because I buy a black one. I told you before, the one that I want isn’t available; so I have to end up with a black one! And wearing black color in 30 degrees somehow is not a good decision…

I love Italy
My trip to Italy is really fun. I enjoy every moment of it. Now I even start thinking to go back there! The football, the Asti, the goose salami, the ice cream, the people… hopefully I can go back there soon!

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