Italy Ski Trip - 1993

The following is a synopsis of my trip to Italy in March 1993. I will start off by summarizing what was seen on a regular basis, then break up the trip into each separate day. There are five aspects of Torino Italy that was prevalent during my stay:

  1. Everywhere you go, people are drinking mineral water, both carbonated and non-carbonated. Not little 6 ounce Perrier style drink like here, but full liter bottles.
  2. Smoking. Extreme high ratio of smoking. There is no such think as no smoking areas. Smoking is not frowned upon here, and there is no information about how bad smoking is.
  3. Walk down the street and see people everywhere carrying their car stereo's with them. The crime rate doesn't seem to be unusually high, however there is a high car stereo and spare tire crime ring. There are stories about people who put all these alarms on their car to protect against theft of spare tires, and the thieves just use a blow torch to cut a hole in the bottom of the car and then remove the tire.
  4. I think it must be the law to ski.
  5. Ice cream is big here. Even on the coldest days I was there, people walk through the streets eating ice cream cones.

Friday, March 5 (NY)/Saturday, March 6 (Italy): First, let me say that I was supposed to leave at 7pm NY time, and land 8:30am Italy time, which would make it 2:30am NY time. Then I would catch a 10:30am bus to Torino and pull in at 12:30, or 6:30am NY time. This is not good. The flight from Kennedy leaves from gate half hour late, the we taxi for another 45 minutes. We land at Malpensa (which means "bad choice") at about 10:30am Italy time. I hoped the bus would wait. I was a little worried that maybe customs would search me, find the copied software I brought, and jail me for pirating software. Of course this was silly. I get through customs really quickly, ask where the buses are, and get to the Alitalia buses. I ask for "bus to Torino," and the non-English speaking driver informs me that I have found it. I was 90 percent sure it was the right one, after all, he should have been able to figure out the "Torino" meant "Torino." I am the second person on the bus. A third gets on, then we take off 10 minutes later. If my quick run through customs wasn't so quick, or my flight was a little later, I would have been in trouble. The only thing I know how to say at this point in Italian are curses and "I don't speak Italian."

The bus ride is supposed to be 2 hours, and I was originally supposed to arrive in Torino at 12:30. I think I amy have slept for about 20 minutes on the bus. I arrive a 1, and there is Trok, walking from across the street. He told me that he was worried, since he got to the bus stop at 12:30, and I wasn't there. He didn't know if the bus got there early and he missed me, or if it hadn't got there yet. Where does he think I would go if the bus was early? He was waiting 20 minutes and got more worried. Being that it was a Saturday, Alitalia was closed, so he couldn't find out. In any event, it all turned out ok. By this time, I was still living on NY time, and it was 7am to me. I did get to sleep for about an hour on the plane, so maybe that was good enough. The first the we did after I dropped off my stuff was to go to an American-style pizza place near his university to meet his advisor (Trok had to work with his advisor on Saturday and Sunday, then his advisor was leaving the country). We took the street-bus, which are like San Francisco trollies. Funny thing about these buses; They require a ticket to ride, but no one ever checks them. Whenever you buy an item or eat in any place along the bus route, you are given a ticket, and you are supposed to validate it on the bus. Rebellious Americans like us learn quickly and opt not to validate the ticket, so that we may use it at a time when they do actually check tickets.

We get to the pizza place. I had a pizza (of course), which I am told Italians don't really like. They like their crappy Italian-style pizza. After this, we go to the university a couple of blocks away, and Trok has to meet with his advisor all day, so I play on the Internet. We leave the university at about 5-6 pm, and go back to the apartment. Trok gets a call from some friends who want to go out after dinner. I decide to stay in and sleep. I watch some inferior TV programs, and get to bed about 11pm (4pm NY time). So I got about 1-2 hours of sleep since I woke up for work on Friday.

Sunday March 7th: This day should have been a wasted day, and it was. I wake up at about 1pm, finally adjusted to the time change.

Trok calls me and tells me I should meet him in front of the building in 20 minutes. I leave the apartment, and go into the quad, but because it is Sunday, the main door is closed, so I don't know how to get out. There are many doors, and I can't tell which is the one to the street. After walking around dumb-founded, someone walks in the correct door, and my problem is solved. Nothing is open during the day on sunday in Italy except eateries owned by foreigners. We had to go to a Chinese restaurant. We went with Trok's advisor again. His advisor ordered some strange Chinese beer. It came in a huge bottle; at least one liter. When he saw the bottle, he sent it back because it was too big, and just asked for a Hienekin. We noticed that our food was brought out by a different waiter. His advisor told us a story about what probably happened. The owner, seeing that the beer was returned, executed the waiter for bringing us the wrong beer, or the waiter was in the back drinking it himself.

We went to the university, and while trok was busy, I was using the Internet, and loading the games I brought with me onto the PC there. I spent about 6 hours doing all this. We leave about 7pm. At this point many of the eating places are open. I forgot where we ate. We watch the Partridge family and Robocop in Italian, and go to sleep about 11pm so we could wake up early and go skiing tomorrow. Every time there is a commercial break, the stations play movie previews. La Armeta De Teneabre always seems to be part of the group of previews. This is Army Of Darkness. Whether it is one preview, or 10, this one is always shown.

Monday March 8th: We woke up at 7:45 to get an 8:30 train right to the mountain called Sauze D'Oulx, on the French border. The train is a 5 minute walk away, and the train ride is only 45 minutes, with the second stop being out destination. It was pretty foggy on this day, but Trok assures me that once we pass the mountains, it clears up. The further east we go, the more snow there is no the ground, but the fog is still there. We pull into the station at 9:15, and wait only 5 minutes for the 20 minute bus ride to the top of the mountain.

It is not that cold out, but pretty damn foggy. When we get to the top, we then have to walk about 1/4 mile to the ski rental place for Trok. I just leave my sneakers in the shop. We walk to the ski lift right across the street. We take the wimpy trail first to "test" the snow. Not good visibility; maybe 90 feet. We then go to the top using the toe rope. It gets very steep being pulled by these things. The fog lifts halfway up the mountain, then comes back when we arrive at the top. All through the day we had fog problems. Trok is not good at recognizing trails to begin with, and with this fog, we were in for an adventure. We got lost once, but eventually found our way back to populated area. Then, we went on a trail with many left/right choices, and must have taken one too many wrong turns. After a while we finally saw some guys from Austria, and waited for them to go by so we could follow them. They said they were waiting to follow us. The fog is so bad now, that we could only go about 20 feet, and then must pause so we don't accidentally go down some cliff. A couple of minutes later we lost the Austrians, and we hear absolutely nothing. We are going about 20 minutes without hearing a sound. We don't know what country we are in. At this point, we aren't really on a ski trail. It looks like a walking path or a long driveway with snow on it, and what looked like bombed-out shacks that must have been damaged in World War II. We eventually see some people, and finally get to the end. I must have been right about the driveway, because there is a car here, and a house, but no ski lift. We had to walk up a big hill to get to a ski lift.

We take that lift and it brings up back to the main area where we eat. In europe, people don't lock up their skis; they just toss them on the ground. It is quite warm at this time (about 60 degrees). The rest of the day is on and off fog, and we play it safe by using the trails that other people use. The rest of the skiing day is uneventful. On the train, we get a compartment rather than a regular seat. After we start moving, some guy comes in our compartment. He starts sucking his teeth. HOW ANNOYING!!! I couldn't take it. The train back is 90 minutes, because it is a local. After dropping off our stuff at the apartment, we go to some pizza place, where the sign on the door says, 'English spoken here." Trok jokes saying that this means english is spoken there by him when he goes, and not by the employees. We had dessert along with out pizza. It turns out that the dessert was 6000 lira, then same price as the pizza. We go back to the apartment and watch the Partridge Family and some video music show. The movie previews are still showing Army Of Darkness every 10 minutes on every station.

Tuesday, March 9th: This was a day of rest. We went back to the university to do the Internet, and from there, walked around a little to get the "little" things out of the way. We went to the bank for me to convert my money to Lira. $200 in travellers checks converted to 310,000 Lira. We were thinking of going to Switzerland for our next ski adventure, but had no idea where to start. We went to some travel agents and asked about skiing in Switzerland, but all they would want to do for us was to sell us skiing vacation packages. We went to the train station to look at the train times to Geneva. Our plan was to go to Geneva, and once we got there, figure out what to do next. The four hour train wouldn't pull into Geneva until 1pm, so we couldn't ski that day. We would have to spend that day asking around where to find good skiing and how to get there. The only train back leaves Geneva at 1pm, so we would have to come back the day after skiing. This would for all intents and purpose waste that day too, so we would use up three days of my eight day vacation. We decided against it. As we were walking out we saw a car rental shop, and decided to go in and ask how much it would be to rent a car for the day. This way we could drive to Geneva, ski, then come back the same day. It turns out that with the pollution problem, car rental seems to be for the rich. It was 125,000 lira for a manual, and 375,000 lira for an automatic. This translates to about $100 and $300 respectively. No go. Lunch was free this day, because Trok has meal cards. Three course meal. Wow! It must be a custom that at the end of lunch, you can't leave the building unless you srink this little cup of coffee. Everyone except we Americans waits on this long line just to get this shot-glass of coffee.

Wednesday March 10th: Wake up same time, to take same train to same stop. When we got to the train station we would decided on one of three places to go, since it is the focal point for many ski areas. Choices are Claviere, Sestrieres and Bardonegria. The bus to Claviere wouldn't come until 11:30, so that was out. We just missed the bus for Bardonegria, so that was out. We end up at Sestrieres, and it turned out to be great. No fog, and many trails. The snow was not perfect, but it was good enough. From this ski place, you could ski to all the other ski resorts.

We ran into some guy who works at the Club Med which was located right at this mountain, but he did not know Skippy or Jake. We kept skiing further to the left every time we came down, until we got so far from our original point, that we ended up at an "Expert Only" trail. We took it, and it was no problem. We then went all the way to the right, and ended up in what seems to be a new climate. The snow was thinner, and grass was growing up between some areas. I also fell off the toe rope on one of the lifts. When the ski day was over, we had to wait an hour for the bus, so we went to one of the bars and got hot chocolate, which is not the same as we get here in America. When I say hot chocolate, it is a literal. Their hot chocolate is hot chocolate pudding that is in a thick liquid form.

The bus was scheduled to pull into the train station only five minutes before the train was to pull in. Any traffic would cause our half hour trip to be dangerously close to being late. We made it. We take one of the private compartments again, and as we were speaking, the girl in the compartment with us says, "You guys were on the same car as me this morning. Your American." It turns out she came to visit five years ago, found a husband, and moved here. She is about 30 years old. She was telling us how no one speaks English in Torino, and was surprised when she heard us in the morning. The 90 minute trip back went quickly since we had someone to talk to, except for one thing. By some utter coincidence, the guy who sucked his teeth on Monday, somehow was on the same train as us again, and sat in the same compartment as us. I was ready to get up and throw him out the window! After getting back, we went to get gelate next door to the apartment, and watched tv.

Thursday March 11th: Another rest day. We hadn't decided whether we should ski tomorrow, because we were definitely going to ski on Saturday, my last day. We spent the daytime at the university again, and ran into some problems that only a computer expert like myself can fix. Trok's friend Stefano said he would drive us to Switzerland if we wanted to on Friday, because he had to give his thesis today, and wanted to celebrate the next day by doing anything we wanted. While at the university, we were told that Orcad, a CAD program would not load anymore. I said I would fix it. I spent 2-3 hours trying to figure it out but could not. I was determined to get it working. Since it was now 6pm, and everyone else was leaving, this determined that we would not go skiing tomorrow, and I would try fixing this problem. We went back to the apartment, and Stefano called and said he was really tired and wouldn't want to go skiing tomorrow anyway.

We went out to dinner with Trok's cousin, then has some really good ice cream, that we brought to one of his cousin's friends house. They spoke english, but this was their first time in 2 years that they had to, so it was not perfect.

Friday, March 12th: Back to the university, and we finally fixed it by re-installing. This was a day to get the last minute things out of the way, since tomorrow would be skiing, and I would be leaving Sunday. So the search was on for Torino candy. The rest of the day was uneventful. At 8pm, we got a call from Trok's friend who said he would go skiing with us tomorrow. I heard Trok give him directions over the phone from the highway. He told me that he hasn't even spoken to Maurice (we call him Mo) in 2 years. He knew about our ski trip because Trok left him an Internet message. I asked him why he didn't have Mo just meet us in the morning in front of the building. He gave me a good reason. "Mo is coming from Switzerland." HUH?! It is hard enough to give people directions from the other part of town, but from another country. Sheesh! He said it should take 3-4 hours to get here. So that would be midnight. I go to sleep at 11, and sure enough, at midnight there is a knock on the door.

Saturday, March 13th: Stefano picks us up at 8:30am. We should have went by train. The train would have taken 45 minutes. It took us 2 hours to get there with the traffic. The reason we went by car is so that we wouldn't have to be rushed when we were done. The four of us were supposed to meet some of Trok and Stefano's friends there. We went right to the top and after about an hour, we ran into them. Our group was now 8-10 people. They were quite a bit more advanced than myself, and I was always in danger trying to keep up with them. By lunch time, our group was up to 20 people. A funny thing about lunch at the ski places, is that the true Italians take a sunbath. they lie out on lounge chairs with red faces and white lips.

The snow was in good condition, but as the day went on, there were plenty of moguls which I was not happy about. Toward the end of the day, our group grew to about 30 people, and it was getting hard to keep everyone together. Right before we ended out ski day, our group dropped back down to 6, and we made it to the bottom. We then went to Paula's (pronounced Pah-oolah) house. We had hot Chocolate and cookies. trok wore his "If You Missed Ned's Atomic Dustbin - Then You Fucked Up" shirt. Paula asked what that meant, and we didn't really tell her the truth. We left about an hour later, and got back home at about 10pm. That's when the fun began.

The phone rings.

I hear Trok laugh, and he comes into the room and says, "It's for you." Who could track me down here in Italy? It's my mother. She says that NY is in the middle of a blizzard. They may get up to two feet, and all the airports are closed. Wow! After I hang up, I must now find out if I can go home tomorrow. The plane doesn't leave for another 14 hours, so the airports may be open by then.

WARNING: This part is not completely accurate because I am writing it 2 months after I got back. I am a slacker.

Getting progress to my dilemma is impeded by the fact that I don't speak Italian, so I have Trok do all the phone calling. First we call Alitalia in Milan. No Answer. We call American Express in Rome, because I bought my tickets through their travel services division. They tell us to call an 800 number. We are hooked up to a woman in Britain. She is very nice, and is really trying to help us. She hooks us up to a guy who says he will call Alitalia for us. He must have some secret phone number, because he calls Rome, where we just called and got no answer, but he gets one. We are hold, but can hear his conversation with Alitalia. It is in Italian. It is a very long conversation, and the American express guy is heard saying, "Yo capito" many times. This means, "I understand", but not the happy "OK, I understand", more like the "Shit! I guess there's nothing I can do." Alitalia hangs up and the American express guy tells us that Alitalia has cancelled all flights to NY on Sunday. Well that's settled. I will be in Italy at least one more day. What are we going to do? If there is one day of the week you don't want to be in Italy, it's Sunday. As you recall, nothing is open. If you forgot, go back to page 2. We go to sleep, but Trok says he is going to call Alitalia in the morning, because one can never trust the Italians. They do not know how to run anything, and somewhere in the middle of the night they may reschedule all the flights. After all, I have to catch a bus at 8am, which gets to the airport at 10am, and the flight leaves at noon. Is I miss that bus, I am stuck in Italy another day.

Sunday, March 14th: Wake up at 10am. Trok tells me he called Alitalia, and it is true; No flights to NY. Now me have to make a shitload of calls. We call Alitalia in Milan. No answer. We call Rome, and they are no help at all. Their computers are down all weekend, won't be up until Monday at 8am, and cannot give me any information at all about whether there will be any flights on Monday, or if there are any open seats available. After all, everyone who was supposed to leave on Sunday, will want to go home on Monday. They suggest I go to the airport in Milan and wait. Ha! I can't even call Monday at 8am to make a reservation because I will be on the bus already.

At this point, I decide that I want to go home like an American, and start calling American carriers. We start with Delta. They say they will honor my ticket, and that they are flying to NY today. The plane leave in 15 minutes. Can't do that. It would take me 2 hours to get to the airport. We then call American (or United) and they said they don't fly to NY from Milan, but that I could go to Milan, take a flight to Rome, and they would get me on a plane that goes to NY by way of London. Too much hassle. We call Delta again, and ask about their Monday flights. They have one at 10:55am. The Alitalia bus pulls into the airport at 10am, so this would be cutting it pretty close. Traffic and customs could cause me to miss the flight. I book it anyway, with no guarantee that there will be space by the time I get to the airport. Trok says he would call Alitalia in Monday morning at 8am to book me on their flight too. With two reservations, I should be assured of a spot on at least one of them. Now that this is all settled, we must somehow get past this day.

I now have a second chance to finally do some sightseeing. Mo is still with us. He will stay an extra day, since there is nothing for him to really do. We go to he Moulet (or something like that). It is a tower where you can see all of Torino from. It is like the Washington Monument. As we are walking there, we notice that it is deserted. Trok tells me of the Italian Siesta. Everyone goes to Church, then go home to sleep.We go to a park where they have some little castle, and buy hot dogs that don't taste like hot dogs, and beer. You are not prohibited from walking with open beer bottles in public. We also go to the university to see if we can get any info on the Internet about the storm. As luck would have it, a new news group was created called "," but don't really learn anything we didn't already know. When we are walking back, we make a turn onto a main road, and where there were no people when we started, there are now thousands. It is like the twilight zone. There wasn't anyone on the streets before 4pm, and now it is like a football stadium let out. The day ends, and Mo goes home. I wonder what the next day holds.

Monday March 15th: I go to the bus at 7:45am just to make sure. The bus is there already. I am one of two people on the bus. We leave right at 8am. We get to the airport at 10am, and before I can get off the bus to grab my luggage, an Alitalia skycap grabs it and carts it off to Alitalia. What nerve! I take their bus, and plan on using a different airline, and they take my bags away assuming that I am using their airline? Oh well, at least everything is all set now. I check in and am told that the flight is delayed by half an hour. no problem. I call home (which is 4am NY time) to tell my mom that I would be coming home on Alitalia and not Delta. I would by Delta, and their 10:55a, flight which I was booked on, is delayed until 1:45pm. I guess I was lucky. Italy must give first preference to Italian airlines. I sit and wait, and get an ice cream, which I have to ask for in Italian, and get by with no sweat. We finally take off at 1pm Italy time. The flight was very long, and two movies were shown: Honeymoon in Vegas, which I saw already, and Under Siege, which I thought would be good, but the accompanying sound was in Italian only. All four tracks were in Italian. One was supposed to be in English, but I guess they fucked that up too. We land at 4:15 NY time, and I wait a long time to get my luggage. I walk out and my parents meet me. They said that called the airline, and was told I wouldn't be landing until 5pm. They got there only five minutes ago. Goodbye.