Tales from Italy ch.12: Couchsurfing, Police, and Patty (Padua & Ferrara)
This past Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I spent my time with Laura and Sonja in Padova (“Padua”) and Ferrara. When I left, I didn’t really know what to expect from the cities, but Sonja said like Urbino, they are famous Renaissance cities. While we were there, we also had our very first couchsurfing experience, meaning that instead of staying in a hostel, we stayed at someone’s house. I realize that may sound unsafe, so I’ll just explain later.
Our trip started really early in the morning when we took the 6:55 bus to Pesaro and then the train to Bologna, where we slept. Once in Bologna, we had some time to kill before our next train to Padova, so we sat in McDonalds and… studied. Yes, studied. How awful does that sound? Very much so, I hope is your reply. It’s currently finals period at Urbino, but unlike the states where you have 1 or 2 weeks of just finals, Italy works differently. Each exam has more or less 3 different dates from which you can choose to take your exam. Even though I generally chose the second option for all my exams, they’re still scattered over three different weeks, and the studying is intense. Not only do I have to read a bunch of material, but I have to read it all in Italian and that’s really been slowing it down. So, we gave ourselves head starts and started early, and that is how we came to be studying in McDonalds on our vacation.
After about an hour, we caught our train to Padova. The first thing we saw when we arrived was this church that had a lot of information on the bombings Padova suffered during WWII. The number really surprised me- this one poster alone documented 14. It was really sad to see, and it’s still hard to fathom these sort of things actually having had happened outside of history books and posters like this one. It’s just too awful to comprehend how humans have the capability to make that sort of choice and ruin the lives of so many people in one blink…
From the church, we took a stroll and ended up in this big park. In the center of this park is the Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto’s famous interior paintings are, and which we were going to see the next day. At this point in the day, Italy was taking it’s afternoon break, and since nothing was open we took it easy in the park. We napped, studied (again) and then rewarded our studies with some time at the playground before embarking on our day again.
Our excursions afterward included sightseeing whatever we came across (meaning that we took the time to get lost) and some shopping. This took us till dinnertime, when we found a pizza buffet 🙂 It was here that we were to meet our couchsurfing hosts after dinner, so now I’ll explain what this is.
Couchsurfing is a website for travelers to meet locals in the cities they visit. Rather than stay in a hotel or hostel, travelers get to stay with hosts in their homes. This allows for saving money when you don’t have to pay for a room, and an insider’s view of their hometown- the best kind. While this sounds dangerous and risky to some extent, the comfort comes in each person’s profile. Each host has references from past surfers (meaning the travelers that stayed with him or her); they can be positive or negative and each comes with a summary of their experience. The profile also has information about their “couch,” which may either be a couch, a floor, or a spare room, where the surfers can stay. Also not everyone is a host; when you search for people in that city, you’ll also get people who maybe just want to meet up for a coffee, but can’t offer you a place to stay. This is still cool because you could get a free tour, meet some new people, and really get a deeper connection to your city. Of course safety is always your responsibility- I would recommend traveling in a group, not by yourself, and really getting as much info about your host as possible: How many surfers has he or she had? How long have they been active on couch surfing? Do they have a facebook profile you can check out? It’s really up to you, but if you get the chance I highly recommend giving it a try. I had a great experience.
Anyway, after dinner we me our host, Francesco. He and his friend, Dario picked us up from the buffet and took us out for drinks where we got to sit outside in a piazza. From there, they gave us a quick tour by car of the city to help us pick out what we wanted to come back and see the next day. Afterward we arrived at his apartment which was really awesome. Francesco works for a lighting company and so his apartment was lit up in the coolest ways. We sat out on the terrace for a while before heading to bed- I slept on the couch and Laura and Sonja on a mattress he put on the floor, and he gave us all blankets and pillows. Considering I was sleeping on a couch and not in a bed, I actually slept really well- for the first time in a long time, I didn’t wake up cold because unlike our dorm in Urbino, his apartment wasn’t made of stone, he didn’t shut the heat off at night, and it was a home.
The next day we woke up and showered, which was an experience in itself. The shower was actually a bathtub without a curtain, so we basically kneeled and showered trying not to get the floor wet. This wasn’t the greatest success however, and we ended up having to hang his rug outside to dry. However, we did wake up to a very nice text from Francesco, who had left to go to work earlier that morning (his roommate was home though- I doubt he would’ve left 3 strangers alone in his house). It was nice, and he just wanted to know if we had slept ok. Over the course of our trip we got a couple from him like this where he was just checking up to see that we were having a good time. He was a really good guy.
At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m gonna talk about the “Police” reference I have in the title of this entry. Well, here it is:
From his apartment, we packed up and went to the tram to get into town. None of us had ever taken the tram before, and assumed that we just had to pay on board like the buses do. However, once on board, we discovered that this was not the case. Unfortunately for us, there was a police officer at the next stop. He took us off, took our identification from us, and then proceeded to tell us that for each there would be a penalty of 150euro. None of us had that of course, and he said he would be nice and bump it down to 150euro total. Even still, we weren’t happy with this- there are no signs anywhere that say you have to buy your tickets in advance, so how could we have known? This goes without saying that Padua is a tourist town- how could they not think to put up a sign?? So, we told him that we couldn’t pay and tried to explain our situation, convince him that we didn’t know much Italian, and that we were gonna get off and buy tickets at the next stop (this was a bit of a lie though since we were hoping to get away with riding it the whole way after realizing we couldn’t buy tickets on board). He ended up taking us to this police office thing and was adamant that we pay the penalty and that there was no way around this. We didn’t believe him though because if there wasn’t anyway around it as he kept saying, he wouldn’t have been able to bump our 150 each down to 150 total. Because we were still playing the “I don’t speak Italian” card, he got some other officers to come over and translate. They did an okay job of it, but we still didn’t want to pay- there was no way we could have known, not to mention that unbeknown to them, we could understand what they were saying to each other, and most of the officers he had called over didn’t even know themselves that you had to buy tickets in advance! In the end, after much much persistence, he frustratingly gave in with us just paying the one fee of a ticket each.
Unfortunately the time we spent in this debacle took a toll on our schedule- we had a tour appointment to be at the Scrovegni Chapel at 10:15 (you must buy tickets in advance because the chapel can only have a limited number of people in it at a time otherwise it upsets the oxygen levels or something and destroys the work), and it was then 10:05. We might have made it, but then we had the hardest time finding the entrance. By the time we got there we were late and worried we wouldn’t be allowed in. It was particularly upsetting for Sonja who, as an Art History major, wanted to see the chapel for her studies and experience. Much to our surprise, all the people who worked there that we encountered were impressed with our police adventure that morning and let us through with the next group. It was pretty funny -and lucky- that they should all think it was cool that the 3 foreigners had a run in with the police haha.
The chapel was gorgeous though. Out of fear for his father’s soul going to the underworld, Enrico degli Scrovegni built the chapel in 1305. The entire inside was painted by one man, Giotto. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but here’s some I found online, and I highly recommend looking at the parts up close on the website -or in person if you ever go 🙂
After the chapel, we went out for coffee and croissants and did a little shopping before heading over to the statue of Gattamelata and Saint Anthony’s Basilica. The Basilica was giant and had these really pretty domes on the top that looked more Arabic than Italian. We also spent some time just relaxing in the cloister of the Basilica.
From there, we headed over to the biggest piazza I’ve ever seen, the Prato della Valle. It’s this giant piazza that has a small island in the middle surrounded by a stream that is adorned with statues. It’s a beautiful place, and we spent part of our afternoon there just studying and napping.
At this point we started to get hungry and decided to go get some groceries for dinner. On the way there, we passed by this music shop that had a sign in the window that said “Classical guitars- 35euro and up.” Of course Laura and I were excited- Laura plays guitar, and I play a little and have tried in the past to get one, but the chances never worked in my favor. The idea of a guitar for 35 euro was too enticing to pass up, and we went inside. There were a bunch of guitars, but there was only one that caught my attention: this gorgeous dark turquoise/ aqua blue electric acoustic guitar. I had a feeling that this one would be much more than 35 euro and way out of my price range. I asked how much this one was expecting him to tell me 200 or more euro, but he said it was only 120. While not 35, this was a bargain for a guitar- especially one like that. I sat down and played it and it is so comfortable to play. In the end, I ended up leaving that store with the guitar, case, cable, and pics for only 140 euro. Maybe 140 euro is a bit much to spend spontaneously like that, but since then I have played this guitar every day and I love it. It’s so nice to have finally bought one that was comfortable to play, and now my skills are improving. Not to mention it’s a beautiful souvenir from Italy that I hope to keep forever with fond memories of where I was when I bought it (I have also since named it Patty, short for Padua). Anyway, we really did eventually get to the grocery store, and from there we returned to the Prato della Valle where we picnicked, listened to the group of hippie drummers that was picnicking near us, and played guitar on the island.
Laura with the lovely, Patty:
When we were done, we went out for coffee before meeting up with Francesco and Dario again for dinner. Originally we hadn’t planned to stay another night, but had since wondered if Francesco would let us so we could go to Ferrara the next day. We had enjoyed our stay with him and the company he offered. He was nice enough to respond on late notice and allow us to stay another night. The five of us went to this restaurant where we had pizza and beer (except for me with cola lol). It was a nice meal, but apparently I managed to embarrass myself without knowing. At one point in the meal, Francesco had asked us how the Italian boys compared to American ones. I decided to say they were different, especially in their dress- American guys don’t put as much effort into their daily outfits as Italian guys do. If an American guy were to dress like the average Italian -or European for that matter- of my age, he would probably be labeled metro-sexual -if not gay- or a “tool.” Please don’t take offense to this statement though; by no means do I intend to imply that I have anything against people who dress that way, or against who they are or how they wish to identify. The issue is however, that many people who aren’t me do. By this I mean I like the way Italian men dress, and I think its a shame many American men resort to an old t-shirt and jeans out of fear of these labels.
I guess I got off topic a bit here. The embarrassment of the story comes with the fact that this wasn’t what Francesco meant when he asked me to compare my opinion of Italian men vs. American men. As Sonja told me later, his question was more in a sexual tense. Oh well 0:-)
After dinner the 5 of us went for a stroll in a nearby town who’s population majority consists of the elderly. It was a nice walk though and once again we got to see a lot of pretty sights before heading back to the apartment for some sleep.
The following morning, after some better success with the shower and tram, Laura, Sonja and I took the next train to Ferrara. We didn’t spend much time there because we were a bit tired from our travels, but we did get to see the Cathedral, as well as a lot of other beautiful sights during our wanderings.
After some pizza and coffee for lunch, the three of us headed home and were able to meet up with our friends at the mensa for dinner. That evening before bed, we played some guitar ^____^ and a round of Dixit, a fun French game that Monika brought with the coolest and most beautiful pictures.
Overall, we weren’t murdered in our sleep at a strangers house, we got out of being arrested, I bought a guitar, and of course we saw lovely places. A good trip I’d say 🙂
Alla prossima!!!! (Until next time!)