Archive for October 2006

Greece   1 comment

I wake up at 4 on Sunday, after having gone to bed at 2, to be ready for the taxi at 4:30, outside the hotel in Valencia. The plane departs at 6:30, destination: Athens. One connection, in Milan – I already know the airport. The flight from Milan to Athens is 1 hour late, and the girl sitting next to me has been told that her baggage has not been loaded on the plane, and will arrive late. She is upset and nervous, and for all the travel asking the crew about her luggage.
I wanted to tell her about one of my friends in Valencia: she came from Poland through Milan, for the conference, and her baggage arrived 4 days later. And she was not on holiday! But I kept the secret: the crew has told her the baggage would have arrived the very same day, and she was quite confident.
After landing in Athens airport, I knew I had to look for a bus to the city bus station, then another one to Patras, final destination and venue of the second conference in two weeks.
At least, in Greece, a lot of people can speak English, and most of the signs and indications are written in both Greek and English. So it’s easy to communicate. They told me that they do not study so much English at school, but they take private courses to learn it. I appreciate!
It’s already 4pm, and one may think that the "airport shuttle bus" should be quick. The bus takes a motorway, but suddenly exits and goes around a bit in some very narrow streets, with old cars parked on both sides, and very poor houses. It stops and then takes the motorway again. For one minute, and then same thing. And again and again. After one hour, I see something like a bus dumping: a lot of old buses parked messly. Instead, it was the bus station.
I had a very bad impression of Athens: I saw just the suburbs, but they are horrible. Someone told me that there is not so much to see, around the famous Acropolis.
I take the bus to Patras. 3 hours of slow driving for a quite short route. On the bus, I try to finish my article, that is due the following day. I need some information from the internet, to finish my presentation as well, but around I see only small villages. I think that they do not know what internet is, either!
In Patras, the landscape changes a bit. I forgot to print the name and the address of the hotel ESA booked for me once more. So, I look for an information point, that fortunately is very close to the bus station. I vaguely remember the name of the hotel, and the guy gives me the directions. At the same time, I see another guy picking up a brochure in Italian. So immidiately I start to talk with him: Luca is a Ph.D. student at Politecnico in Milan and he is there for the same conference. Forget the paper and the presentation to finish, we go out for dinner together.
We go in a tiny restaurant with noone else sitting, but two old men. But it looks very typical, so we decide to stay. We ask the waitress, who was speaking a pretty good English, to choose something good to taste. She starts bringing us a rich salad, very good and enormous, then many slices of fried feta, then meat, then meatballs, and then something else. We are worried, we don’t want to leave there 50 euros for the first evening. We have ordered two beers as well, and she has brought the classical Oyzo liquor at the end. As we ask the bill, we see that it is amazingly just 10 euros each. We decide to leave some tip. It has been the most beautiful dinner in Greece. There, everything is quite cheap: usually 10 euros is the price for a huge dinner with drinks, but that time we ate really a lot of very good food.
On Monday, Tuesday and Friday there was the symposium, at the university. In spite of being organised mainly by students, and for students, the conference is perfect. They gives us a bag, a badge, a t-shirt, and the program. There are even 2 coffee breaks during the day, and free lunch at the local canteen with reserved seats in a special area. They organised even the night, bringing us in cool places to have dinner, and then to drink and dance. The gala dinner, free too, was in a very nice restaurant near Patras. Then, night at the club. Unfortunately, it was in the second night, so on the third day lots of people were missing and/or sleeping in the conference room. I had my talk on the second day, so for me the gala dinner was perfect to celebrate!
Patras is a bit surprising. There is not so much to see, it has a huge harbour and if you want a proper beach, you have to take a bus for half an hour, and go after the last oil tanker. But the city centre, where out hotel is, is very beautiful: there are 2 or 3 main streets which are full of people after 4pm, until late night. You can find a lot of shops, of course, but also many many bars, with tables outside on the street. What surprised me most, is that a lot of these places are very cool and posh. So walking up and down, while looking for a seat, and meeting people, is very nice there.
One thing you notice, even while you are on the bus, is that every kind of vehicle on the road can do whatever it wants. It is much much more messy than Spain and Italy! Noone is wearing the helmet on the motorbike, neither the second or the third passenger. Once I saw a whole family on a moped: the little little male child was on the first row. Then, the father, driving. On the third row, the female child. Finally, the mother, trying to keep all the "pack" together with their arms. Of course, no helmet. You have to be careful to cross the road even if the traffic lights are green for pedestrians, and once a car was really about to run me over.
At the end of the conference, I decide to stay there one more day and one more night (without having any room) to go to the free trip the committee organised to Olympia. After 2 hours of bus, we visit the ruins of the old site of the olympics games. The olympic flame is still lighted up there. Then another fun night, waiting for the 2am bus, then bus again, then plane, then plane again, then bus again, then bus again. And finally, at home!
 
See you!
 
Matteo
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Posted October 21, 2006 by mtcerio in Viaggi

Valencia   1 comment

The first thing that you notice when you get off the plane in Valencia at night, especially coming from London, is that it is quite warm and humid. Even if it’s the 30th of September, it is still summer there. And I haven’t imagined how hot would have been during the following days!
The second thing you notice is that a very few people can speak English there. The information point is closed, thus Camilla and I are obliged to ask some people for directions to the town. When you land in a foreign country, and you don’t know the local language, you usually try with English. The reason, probabily, is that English is spread all over the world. But sometimes this is not the best choice: you should consider how many people in that country actually know English. It is also the case that Italian and Spanish are very similar, so the best solution is to speak Italian. Adding some "s" at the end of the words, of course, and using some dialect accent. They sometimes will understand, sometimes won’t, but always better than English.

I think that Spain is very similar to Italy. Of course, I have been only in one city, for only one week, but I think that the similarities between people from Spain and Italy are a lot. We both come from the latins. The "Italian" way of doing things, is also the "Spanish" way. For example: driving. Pedestrians have to be careful, because they are small with respect to cars, so noone gives you way. You can also see a lot of motorbikes around, and they ride quite fast everywhere (as in Italy: that’s why we have so many motorbike champions :-).

I came in Valencia for the International Astronautical Congress sponsored by the European Space Agency: this means that ESA is paying the hotel, the flight, and the fee for the congress. ESA booked the same hotel for all the sponsored students, and this is nice, since it is easy to meet a lot of students with the same interests. We meet for breakfast in the morning, but also, of course, after the conference, to go out during the night. This was a very nice occasion to socialise with a lot of girls (and some guys as well, from time to time).
Surprisingly, the hotel is very luxurious. It is a 3-star one, and was the last one on the brochure of the conference. In the large marble-look bathroom, there is also the bidet. Very rare to find it outside Itay, or at least in France, Germany, UK, Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Austria. A Spanish guy I met later told me that the level of Spanish hotels is quite high compared to the rest of Europe. So, consider this when you are booking an hotel there!
If you look at a map of Valencia, at a first glance you think that a river cuts the city in 2 parts, before ending into the Mediterranean sea. This is quite common for a lot of cities. But if you look closer at this river on the map, you can see that inside this river there are walkpaths, football pitches and more. Even the conference centre is inside the "river" on the map! What happened is that they decided to deviate the river from the city, and use the dry river bed to create a beautiful park.
At the river outlet, near the sea, there is the "Ciudad de las artes y la ciencias", venue of the conference, and the huge "l’oceanografic", the biggest aquarium in Europe. The first one is composed by three main buildings: recently designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s really impressive for its beauty. Have a look at the pictures!
By the way, the congress is really amazing, a lot of people, receptions during the evening with food and drinks, cultural night with a huge paella pot for everybody, and student party in the last evening.
On Saturday, at the end of the congress, I take a trip to the city centre. The suburbs of Valencia are not very nice, but the city centre, although not so big, is worth to be seen. There are 2 main squares, close each other, with a cathedral and some old buildings.
Valencia has also a big harbour, and now everything is ready for the America’s cup. Like in Formula 1, each team has its own "box" with the ship. And its own "gift shop". Not so diffucult to guess, the most luxurious one is Luna Rossa’s Prada shop. Italians do it better!
Next to the harbour, there is a very big beach, in which one can find students who are supposed to be at the conference at any time of the day.
I leave the hotel on Sunday, at 4:30 in the morning, trying to catch the 6:30 plane. Destination: Athens, for another conference in Greece.
But this is another story, The next episode wll come soon!
 
Matteo

Posted October 14, 2006 by mtcerio in Viaggi