I think I simply was lucky. I was given the opportunity to live in Italy for nearly two months as part of my PhD, and so I lived in Pisa since early April. Sadly, today I say goodbye to this wonderful country and I am taking home (back to London) thousands of experiences and funny anecdotes.
For the past few days, I’ve been wondering what the best part of being in Italy was. Not an easy thing to answer. One of the first things that come to my mind is the weather. Compared to London, sunny Tuscany, sunny almost every day I was here and almost every city I went to, could be a good choice.
Food was clearly relevant. Every single pizza, every gelato I ate and every glass of wine I drink had that special ingredient. I will certainly miss a spaghetti carbonara and in Genova I tasted the best pesto that humanity has ever created.
The landscape could also be a good contestant. From the centre of Milano, you can actually see the Alps, and I was there when they were still snowy, and so white mountains right by the city are gorgeous. But not unique: Genova has beautiful mountains too, and Pisa, every day I walked to my office I could see the different shades of green of the surrounding mountains of the city. The cliffs from Cinque Terre deserve a special mention too. From each point on Cinque Terre, you get an impressive view of the whole shore.
The cities I went to could also be the best part of my trip. I went to loads of places, sometimes by bus, some by train and even some by the local buses from Pisa (like Livorno and Lucca). It is even difficult to choose between Milano, Roma, Firenze and Genova which city surprised me the most. Each city has its own charm, so going to Porta Ticinese in Milano or climbing its Duomo made it a day to remember. The Colosseum is something that will never stop surprising me: centuries ago they built such a large “stadium” that if it was used nowadays as a stadium, it would still be one of the largest in the world. The Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo… every corner in Florence is beautiful. Is like a city-museum. From Genova, I relly enjoyed its character, its authenticity and its multiculturalism, and how did they manage to construct such a large city in such complicated geography? The walk to Boccadasse, something to remember. Every city, even the five hours I spent in La Spezia, was special. In Pisa, I enjoyed the river and its bridges, the piazzas, the wall around the city and I even took the mathematically best picture of the Leaning Tower.
The music is also right at the top of my list. I already liked Italian music before, but living in Pisa, I went to a concert in Piazza Cavalieri in which the Pisa Symphonic Orchestra played, for free, the soundtrack of movies like Jurassic Park, 007, Superman and even the music from Zelda, the Nintendo game. The square and the music made a magical night. Also, walking through the streets of Roma, I was looking for a pizza and some wine for dinner and I arrived just at the right moment for the MTV European music awards, live from Piazza del Popolo. I stayed for the whole ceremony and for the DJ set (Gabry Ponte) that closed the event. I saw at least 7 live performances and I changed the pizza and wine for a few beers in the piazza. Crazy night, awesome music. Also, my Italian friends recommended me a few singers and bands, most of them quite good. Not this one :).
A highlight of my trip to Italy were Italian drivers. When I first moved to London, I thought it would be complicated getting used to drivers on the wrong side of the road, but I got used to it very fast. Coming to Italy, I thought that drivers would be irrelevant, but there is a strong difference between driving on the wrong side of the road, as the British people do, and driving on whichever side of the road, as Italians do. Traffic lights and signals are merely a suggestion and most drivers won’t stop for pedestrians crossing the road, but half of them show their hand in an apologetic sign when they pass you by.
My project in Pisa could also be one of the highlights. I worked with brilliant people and we tackled some serious questions. I really laughed when my computer-scientist colleague was horrified because I used Excel for working with a really small database. Definitively, working with multidisciplinary teams makes research more successful since personal weaknesses are covered by the other’s strengths. I learned a lot and every day was a challenge.
My project, the music, the food, the wine, the landscape, the weather, the gelatos, they could all be the best part of my trip… however, the winner, clearly, is the people. I was warmly welcomed by everyone. I invaded with my English, my crappy Italian or my Spanish and they always made the effort to communicate with me. My housemates (which I found through Airbnb) were the kindest couple I could ever imagine and the best hosts. More than just flatmates, they became friends. My colleagues were always suggesting me places to go to, a new pizzeria I haven’t yet tried or the best place to eat a gelato. We played four or five times football and the mandatory pints after the game were always there. I honestly believe that the best part of my experience in Italy was its people. Always greeting me with a big smile, waiting for me to finish my lunch (as I was almost always the last one to finish). Happy people, with nothing but a big smile on their faces to share with me. Italy is a country in which its population is alive, with so much energy and so much character.
I am going back home and I take with me the experience of sharing with a handful of people one of the best projects I have ever taken part of. I am aware that a couple of months is perhaps a short period, but I am leaving behind in Pisa are friends.