Polkoff Diary: Where's the cheese?
We are currently on a bus en route from Bologna to Bergamo. We spent the last two nights in Bologna, traveling and touring during the day and playing matches in the evening. On Monday, we arrived successfully at our hotel, having taken a train from Venice without our coaches. We spent the day wandering around Bologna, checking out the local shops. Afterward, we headed back to the hotel where Stephania, a member of the volleyball club we were playing, came to take us to the gym. She had pretty good English, so on the way there we were able to talk to her, which was pretty cool because she is 19, just like most of us. In Italy, none of the schools have sports teams, so all the sports are played on club teams in sports complexes, like the one we went to. On the bus ride there, we passed Stephania’s high school. She said they attend high school for five years (she is a senior), and then go to university for three or five years. She was hoping to go to a local university in Bologna, and take all her classes in English, so talking to us was a great opportunity for her to practice English.
When we got to the complex, there was only one court in the gym, which was in use, and we hadn’t done anything physical in three days, so we did our warmups outside on the parking lot. We even obtained a volleyball and did a little bit of serve-and-pass in the parking lot, even though it was pretty disorienting without a net. To be honest, we played pretty poorly on Monday. We were adjusting to the European style and playing so far from home, so it took us almost the whole match to get back into a rhythm. Tuesday night, we played the same team, but we had much greater success, playing with much more confidence. The team we played was not very tall or physical, but they were smart and skilled at the game. The competition tonight and the rest of the week is only supposed to get better, and we are looking forward to the challenge.
One thing that continues to fascinate us is the bunnies we saw outside the gym. They are huge and floppy and look like pets — almost like cats. Except they hop. There must have been at least 10 of them outside the sports complex when we came out, and some of them had hopped up on a little concrete step and appeared to be watching the soccer game. They were so cute that even Jocelynn, who had laid in their poop by accident, forgave them.
Yesterday, before the match, we all split up and were sent to different cities around Bologna: Ferrara, Modena and Parma. These cities are much less touristy than a lot of the other cities, and very few people spoke English. I’m not sure if they thought we understood Italian, but many of them would ramble on as if we understood, possibly taking our confused nods and occasional “si’s” as encouragement. After that we learned that sometimes it was better to say “hi” instead of “ciao” so they would know we didn’t speak Italian. Nevertheless, I have been continually surprised at how friendly everyone has been to us throughout Italy — especially in the small towns. Also, we were impressed by how many people ride bikes everywhere, even the old people and moms with children.
The group that went to Parma went with a specific mission: to find and bring back parmesan cheese. So after exploring a beautiful theatre and a huge basilica, they went on a hunt for the cheese. Their waitress at lunch had indicated a street loaded with cheese stores, but by the time they got there almost all the stores had closed and wouldn’t open until four in the afternoon, making the expedition a challenge. After checking every store that even looked like it might have parmesan, they entered a promising one. All they had to say was “hi,” which apparently indicated that they were American, and the lady at the counter exclaimed, “Oh, parmesana!” Needless to say, their mission was a success.
My group went to a castle in Ferrara, called Castello Estense, which was fantastic. The dungeons were the coolest part — very dark and cold with ceilings that were possibly half our height —resulting in us basically crawling through the doors. All of the ceilings in the main part of the castle were intricate and ornately decorated, and on one balcony there was even an orange garden and a view that overlooked the city.
Today we are headed into Bergamo, touring around the old renaissance city called the “Citta Alta” before heading back to play a match tonight.
Ciao for now!