Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Monday, May 10, 2021

Rome Beyond the Ruins (on a skateboard)

Skatepark in an abandoned Fiat Factory - Rome Italy 2004

I believe that travel is the best form of education.
So my son, Patrick, was destined to explore the world in whatever way I could afford, even camping outdoors at the Winter Olympics.  In 2002, he was a twelve-year-old in love with hockey. The Salt Lake Olympics was less than an eight hour drive from where we lived in Montana. We had to be there.

Tickets to hockey games in the elimination rounds were surprisingly affordable. But lodging, even within a hundred miles of downtown Salt Lake, was on exploitation overdrive. So I rented a spot with electricity at a Kampgrounds of America (KOA)in the center of the city. 

Even camping had a premium price tag but the location was perfect. Free public shuttles took us directly from our tent spot to all the downtown Olympic venues. My only regret was not getting tickets to a wider array of events because it was all so easy to access.   

Camping at the Winter Olympics demonstrated to my son that the unconventional can have unique rewards.  Aside from a few TV production RVs the only other campers were all Canadian hockey fans! He left talking about attending the 2006 Olympics in Turin (even if we had to camp). 

By 2004 I was ready to introduce him to Europe. My fantasy itinerary began with backpacking and train rides but soon scaled down to my budget and ten day timeframe. I decided his first experience would take him to the root of Western culture. We'd pretend we lived in the Eternal City of Rome. 

Patrick was enthusiastic about the trip but, as a fourteen-year-old, his sporting obsession had migrated to perfecting new skateboarding tricks. He scanned photos of Roman street scenes for boarding potential. Leaving behind his trucks and deck, even for ten days, would absorb his thoughts no matter how ancient the ruins and marvelous the art around him. So I researched skateparks in Rome and the board came with us as a carry-on. 

The decision to stay primarily in one place turned out to be fortunate because a month before our departure the Madrid Train Bombings happened and all of Europe was on the highest alert. Train travel became the same security ordeal as flying became after 9/11. 

There were no official skate parks in Rome at the time, so the recommendations took us into ordinary neighborhoods that most Americans would never visit. Through a common language of ollies, grinds and kickflips, Patrick connected with his Italian peers, who then included me as a respected elder accessory. We became honorary citizens of Rome. 

After a few hours of riding on rough cobblestone streets, our young Roman friends invited us to a skating site in a gutted Fiat factory. The location wasn’t on any of my tourist maps so they drew some instructions in my notebook and said to meet them there in the evening. 

Of course, this could have been an unfortunate set-up but instead the outcome was even better than I imagined. While planning the trip, I'd read about notorious underground communities in Rome that hosted subversive art events. Being illegal and transient, they were virtually impossible for an outsider to find.  Of course, I wanted to be there!

Arriving at the makeshift skate park made of plywood and scaffolding, Patrick was thrilled (in a teenage way) to be immersed in a gnarly scene half way around the world. While he was busy grinding and flipping, I explored the grounds outside and met a British expat my age who made sculptures from discarded car parts.

As we chatted, it dawned on me that this was one of those underground venues, a renegade Roman live/work/play space that I'd never have found on a tourist map. I was awe-struck. 

Since he wasn’t feeling skateboard deprived, Patrick engaged with the attractions of ancient Rome. He loved the Pantheon and, for a teenager, was remarkably touched by Pompeii which was our only side trip.  For both of us, though, the most enchanting experiences were the result of taking a risk.

A footnote finale:
We did not go to the 2006 Turin Olympics because I opted instead to take him to Amsterdam when he turned eighteen the following year. That is a whole other story.  In 2013, however, I was in Turin by myself and went to the main venue. Again, that is a whole other story...that brought me to deeply question and alter my perception of their value. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Slow Cheese 2013 ~ Bra Italy

Slow Cheese may be the most tasteful festival on Earth. A cornerstone of the Slow Food movement, this biennial event, next scheduled for September 18-21, 2015, takes place at its headquarters in Bra, Italy. Aside from travel and lodging expenses, this sumptuous celebration is free and open to the public. Slow Cheese 2013 was my last stop on a month long self-guided tour of Italy’s Emilia Romagna and Piedmonte regions and it nearly convinced me to cancel my return flight and take up residence there.

Started in 1997 when Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, first brought together a small band of local dairy farmers, attendance is now approaching the 200,000 mark. Hotel accommodation in the region is at a premium and usually booked several years in advance. For that reason and the fact that I love to mingle in local atmosphere, I stayed in a modestly priced Turin hotel about thirty miles from Bra and took the train back and forth. Round trip was 15 Euros and lasted about an hour each way with stops at every village along the route. Since trains run at thirty minute intervals throughout the day, I took breaks to explore these villages on my return trip. Trofarello, Vallongo, Morello, Oselle, Carmagnola, Bandito, and even Alba down the line from Bra, all have a place in my mindscape now.

My first trip to Bra was the day before the festival opened and I recommend doing this if at all possible. It is an opportunity to enjoy this delicate village for its own sake as its ancient cobblestone streets are still relatively empty of outsiders. And it is thrilling to observe the focused intensity that brings this enormous festival together from all parts of the world, often with less than a day of on site construction.

Bra, Italy

Preparation Day

Chaos turns to ecstasy overnight. Mishaps become happy accidents in a way that only the Italians have mastered.  Most notable for me was locating a pairing workshop I purchased as an additional event. As a side note, all the special workshops are affordable and rewarding.

This particular workshop was a high profile vertical tasting of Parmesan cheeses ranging in age from six months to ten years, paired with French champagnes aged three to fifteen years. Not finding the venue on the official Slow Cheese map, I went to a Help tent where the guides, after extensive consultation among themselves, realized that the venue hadn't been included on the map. Va bene! They quickly improvised a sketched addition to my map and I came away with a personal experience of Italian perspective.

Slow Cheese is a distillation of all that is essential to human culture.  Those with the good fortune of being there know what a sensuous treasure that is.

Slow Cheese 2013

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bologna Italy ~ Infused with a Taste for Life

Bologna Italy is infused with the feeling that every day is a luxurious adventure. Shop windows and stalls are a constant presentation of delights. Cheese, prosciutto, wine, and pasta feed a vibrating elation of taste and transaction throughout Piazza Maggiore. The zenith, though, of this sensuous verve may be Cafe Gamberini, the oldest bakery in Bologna.

Cafe Pasticcera Gamberini
Seeing a Gamberini display for the first time, a visitor may thrill at the wonder of how such perfection could be produced for ordinary consumption. And then be further astounded the following day by a whole new array of flawless confection.

So to begin this new year with the sweetest of dreams, treat your eyes to this feast of Gamberini creations.  Enjoy 2015!