I apologize for the long delay in updating again. I've been terribly busy with traveling, mainly. This entry will probably be broken up into three over the next couple of days. I'll send out an initial e-mail for this and then an e-mail when everything is complete.
Going back in time awhile...
The weekend of February 20 to 22, I, along with two friends, took a recreational trip to Italy. We traveled by train to Milan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milan) and subsequently to Turin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turin). Milan is obviously one of the conventional main Italian destinations. Turin may not be, but it was a necessity - actually first on my list of places to go on Europe. Two reasons, really. First, it was the most recent site of the Winter Olympics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Winter_Olympics). Second, it is the locale of one of my five favorite movies of all-time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Italian_Job). This was actually the first trip of my own accord I've been on in Europe - everything else has been done through the program, and will continue to be that way until April. One day for a city of these sizes is hardly sufficient, but one must do the best they can with limited time and money.
The first thing that we learned is that once you are outside of Germany, trains rapidly become less reliable. We missed our connection in Zurich, which necessitated ad libbing trains across Switzerland to reach Lugano (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugano). Lugano is the starting point in Switzerland for the Italian train system, though it is still on Swiss soil, so we would be able to more easily catch another train to Milan.
I did not actually mind the extra delay, because it gave me a small opportunity to explore Lugano for a few minutes. It's actually a beautiful city. Had I been blindfolded and dropped off there, I would never guess I was in Switzerland. It looked and felt completely different, if the palm trees were not obvious evidence enough.
Ultimately, we reached Milan two hours late. Given museum scheduling and our travel schedule, this meant we would be unable to see the Last Supper, but that was the only real casualty of our delay. Strange hostel prices for the beginning of fashion week resulted in hotels being cheaper than hostels, so we ended up with a four star hotel in Milan. The hotel itself was, naturally enough, quite nice, but in a much less nice neighborhood. In fact, despite our posh accommodations, was not terribly keen on the city of Milan. That is, until we made it to the very central part of the old city.
I know this picture is small. I think it's too detailed to be at full size, so the blog site reduced it. Sorry about that, you can find it either on Facebook or when I return at normal resolution. Anyway, that is the Piazza del Duomo. Il Duomo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Milano) is the massive church on the right, which we could not go inside because it was hosting a fashion week event. On the left is one of the most famous shopping areas in the world, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galleria_Vittorio_Emanuele_II). After spending some time in this Piazza, we moved through the Galleria to the area around La Scala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Scala). Here, in la Piazza della Scala, we unexpectedly encountered a large-scale performance art demonstration with bungee cords on the neo-classical facade of the building opposite the opera house.
It was a little absurd, but it was a pleasant surprise. Then to make a long story short, subway line shifts necessitated a slightly longer walk home through the sketchier part of town to our hotel. I got to watch the theft of a late-model Fiat - I have never actually watched a car theft happen, so that was a new experience. The next morning, we saw a couple more major sights in Milan, the San Siro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Siro) - one of the most important soccer stadia in the world - and Castello Sforzesco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castello_Sforzesco) before catching a mid-day train to Turin.
The central areas of Milan were beautiful, but they covered a very small part of the city - the same cannot be said about Turin. The preserved old city in Turin covers a huge area of the city a seemingly endless stream of things to take pictures of, all the while completely surrounded by the Alps and other mountains.
The first night we were there, however, we had a different project: the Olympic Stadium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stadio_Olimpico_di_Torino):
The Olympic legacy in Turin is actually surprisingly subdued. There is no indication that the stadium was used for the Olympics aside from the name. Well, and the giant torch. But the purpose of the torch is never stated, and an unknowing passerby might consider it merely modern art, as the flame doesn't burn once the Olympics have left the location. The only rings that remain are on the building next store, which hosted the main skating venues.
There is not much to say about the old city, except that it is amazing and to show you a couple pictures:
The Mole Antonelliana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_Antonelliana) is the primary structure that dominates the old city.
The Po (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Po_River), historically one of the most important rivers in Italy. If you look carefully, you can see an Alp (is that the singular of the Alps?) in the background.
A typical Turin piazza.
I enjoyed both cities, but Turin rates, along with Paris, as one of the most consistently visually impressive cities to be in. I will say that I felt considerably less safe in Italy than most of the rest of Europe, including both Paris and Berlin. Interestingly, the only other city in which I felt equally at risk to Italy was Brussels, the Capital of Europe. But more on Brussels later, for I returned to Freiburg at 12:30, Sunday evening. At 7:30, Monday morning, I would be boarding a bus to Brussels...