DAY 8: Men's Basketball in Italy

ROMA – For the final time from Italy, ciao!

Since today was a free day for everyone, there was very little crossing of paths among the travel party. Personally, I joined my roommate on this trip, athletic trainer Phil Samko, as we checked out some of the many impressive historical structures around the city. We also enjoyed a nice lunch and later a nice dinner near Piazza Navona.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of the impressions that we were left with -- the talking points of a group that featured many first-time overseas travelers (including yours truly, believe it or not)…

*Water was inexpensive and plentiful, soda was expensive (3 euros for a 20-liter bottle; that would be more than $4 American). Could that help explain why obesity doesn’t seem to be nearly as big an issue here as it is in America?

*Speaking of soda, refrigeration does not seem like a big thing to Italians. All three cities we were in, the refrigeration of drinks was minimal, and ice was never included. A lot of our guys cannot wait to get home and get their drinks cold again! As Samko said tonight at dinner, “when we arrive at the Philly airport, I’m buying milk.”

*Air conditioning was also kind of a rumor. Are Italians just trying to save money? Each of our hotels had it and I could hear it, but I don’t think I slept under my covers for any of the eight nights. That seemed to be a prevailing theme with our group.

*Whenever restaurants served us bread, they did not include butter. They would then seem amused whenever Samko would ask for butter. It made me wonder: as much as our groups sat around and discussed the lack of cold beverages and other things, do they converse the opposite about us when they visit America? (“The soda here is so cold! The AC is too high! They serve butter with their bread!”)

*Cars are small, but so are lanes and highways. What was really interesting was noting that, on the Autostrade, different LANES had different speed limites sometimes. Also, trucks were basically kept to the right lane, except to pass. I wonder if we could solve some of our traffic issues if we followed those same rules?

*We had some seriously angry bus drivers here. They seemed annoyed whenever we asked them to do something. (Watching Coach Allen negotiate with them was always entertaining!) In addition, they drove with reckless abandon, I think even more so than you see in Philadelphia. On the highways, they had NO problem riding right up on people, flashing the lights and honking the horn to get them to move over for passing. That was disconcerting, especially for the people at the front of the bus.

*Judging from the number of antennae on rooftops (and the occasional satellite dish), it appears cable television is only a rumor here. If the TVs in our four-star hotels are any indication, HD TV’s might be as well, but I’d like to believe otherwise.

*Anyone who knows me knows that I’m basically addicted to Doritos, for better or for worse. They were nowhere to be found over here. However, Pringles are HUGE. Just throwing that out there.

*Anyone who knows Phil Samko will love to hear that he was annoyed that every restaurant was, you guessed it, essentially a pasta-and-pizza joint. They also featured meats and salads, but from top to bottom the menus were basically the same everywhere. The variety of restaurants and food we can get in America was nowhere to be found in the areas where we stayed.

*It is August, and things are “slow” right now in Italy. That said, it was always interesting to see a place with a sign out front saying that they were closed for a three-week holiday. They were more common than you might expect, in all three cities!

*About a month ago I read Dan Brown’s new book, “Inferno,” and the entire story took place in Florence and Venice. Having now been to both of those cities, I’m going to have to re-read it. Having walked as much of Rome as I did, looks like a re-reading of “Angels and Demons” is in store, too.

*You know how you have certain TV ads that you see so much they just start to annoy you? I have one here. Pretty much every time CNN International went to break, they busted out a Czech Tourism ad about “The Land of Stories.” It got old quick.

*The beer here is way stronger than in America. Found that out the hard way one night (and the next morning).

*I know I touched on it during previous blog entries, but the art here is stunning. Especially in Rome, you could not turn a corner without seeing something that was visually spectacular. Eight days was not nearly enough time to cover it. Looks like I’ll have to come back!

The travel party will head straight to the airport in Rome first thing this morning, and landing back in Philadelphia on Friday afternoon.

Ciao Ciao, Italy! Arrivederci!