Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Alright, just a quick write on the recent trip to Italy as I don't have a lot of time. This was a conference trip to Florence (Firenze), a truly charming old city that's considered the birthplace of Italian renaissance. But the first weekend went in Rome, an even more historic city with far too many sights to list here. Well, I arrived in Rome in the evening and you know what I like, so it's no surprise that I searched "tango Roma" on my phone and typed the address to the Maps program. So here's a bit of something new to this blog, technology. I'm using a Nokia N95 nowadays and it does, among tons of other features, come with GPS. It can find where it's located, download a map of the area off the Internet, and if you type in an address too, show you on the map how to get there. While updating your position on the map as you walk, as I did, among the historic streets of Rome. It's fun and it works well. But back to tango, Rome has about 5 milongas every night but unfortunately I didn't really locate the one I went for on the first night. I did find the indicated address, but the people outside that said it's like a theater. There was a tango school a couple of houses down but not a milonga at that moment. Never mind.

The next day a penpal of mine agreed to be a local guide to show me around Rome, and therefore a lot of sights fit into that one day! Starting from the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill etc.

In the evening I looked up another of the tango places, and this time I successfully found a place to dance. It wasn't quite what I had expected, but on the positive side it wasn't only my first time dancing in Europe but also the first time to live music! I was expecting a much more crowded milonga, and hoping for a more youthful one, but it was alright overall.

Then it was off to Florence. I figured I can just walk to the hotel with the GPS, and indeed found a way to walk by the riverside and it wasn't far. It turned out the whole city, or at least all the parts where a tourist would wonder into, are within a walking distance. River Fiume runs through the city, and the Centro Storico (Historic Centre) is filled with wonderful narrow alleys between ancient buildings, and littered with little restaurants and shops. It was almost as if no big supermarkets existed in Italy, and cars were delightably few.

The conference itself took place in the central Fortezza da Basso, an old fortress now used for conferences, apparently. This was CHI08, on Human-Computer Interaction, and quite interesting, lively, and large, with over 1700 people attending. The best part, for me, was the message of "CHI goes green", taking the environmental matters far more into account and presenting papers on sustainability.

My initial plan was to return to Rome after the conference, but with a sudden decision I took off to Sardinia instead, after all, I had never been there before. I took a train to Liverno and from there a ferry to Olbia on the island. Unfortunately I didn't have time to venture further than that city before heading back, to Civitavecchio on the mainland and from there back to Rome. Sardinia seemed beautiful, although I was somewhat at odds as to what to do there in just one day when the wind was too cold for swimming. I mainly just walked around and watched the sea.

And then it was just heading back, via Civitavecchio where I sat for a couple of hours watching the sea.

Almost forgot, Italian food is amazing! And so easily vegan. All you really need to remember is "senza formaggio" (without cheese), and you can get the most amazing food you've ever had. And in the home of pizza, having it without cheese is normal and pretty common, so no-one will question your sanity. The same goes for pasta. The last day wasn't good food-wise though, for one thing I ended up being in the wrong places during the proper meal times and restaurants don't like to serve food other times. For another, Air China forgot my vegan meal as they so often do. And for a third, the restaurant at the Roman airport has "pizza rossa", which is just pizza with tomato sauce basically, but they use pizza bases that already have some cheese in them, rather than making the pizza there. So not for vegans. But overall vegan culinarists will have delicious times in Italy.