Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cars, cars, cars

I have problems with cars.  Or, more specifically, some entity has a problem with me having a car and punishes me with an abnormally high number of car problems.  I no longer have a car it Italy and I find this kind of nice.

Since I first had a car:
Attempted thefts: someone tried (and failed) to steal the Chevy Lumina I shared with my brother.  They succeeded in pulling the ignition out but that was about it.

Major breakdowns in the middle of nowhere:
1) My car broke down on the highway between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh.  Strange men in camo overalls offered to take me and the two girls with me back to their place "for motor oil".
2) My car broke down again on the highway between W-B and Pittsburgh, this time alone.  A guy pulls over and gives me a bag of marijuana.
3) My car died completely in my move from Chicago to Wilkes-Barre.  I was driving with a Uhaul trailer (carrying all of my stuff) on the back of my car and right around the midpoint of my trip, the car stops going on the highway.  I call for a tow and they manage to get my car and trailer to some small town in the middle of Ohio.  I spend the night in the Econo Lodge (classy) and the next morning get the rather unfortunate news that my car has a busted transmission and will not make the rest of the drive.  Now I have a car and a trailer with everything I own and no way to get back home.  Trying to figure out how to deal with all of this was like one of those puzzles where you have to get things across a river on a raft (  Except every time I figured out a solution, something happened that made that solution impossible.  My final solution involved me driving my car (with a broken transmission) 30 miles away to pick up a Uhaul truck with a car dolly, hiring movers to my stuff from the trailer to the truck, and returning the Uhaul trailer.  Then the tire on the Uhaul truck popped as soon as I got to the house in Wilkes-Barre.  Worst.  Move. Ever.

Idiots running into my parked car:
1) People in Pittsburgh ran into mine numerous times.  To the point where I lost both side view mirrors and had my passenger side door bashed in.  All on different occasions.
2)  When moving from Evanston to Chicago, I was planning to use my car and had rented a Uhaul trailer to move myself and my new roommate (Megan!) to the new apartment.  The night before the move I watched from my window as a carjacker, fleeing the police in a stolen vehicle, crashed into a bunch of parked cars...and then spinning around to come crashing into mine.  Oops.  Some frantic calls to Uhaul later, they gave some beat up old truck for my move and the insurance company gave me a rental car (which got a flat tire and was almost hit by a falling tree branch).
3)  Just for fun, I had a plain old hit-and-run last fall.  I went outside to find that someone crashed into my car damaging the tire, the door, and the sideview mirror.

And that's just the major problems.  Interestingly (and thankfully), I've never been in any accident when I was driving the car.  So, I'm actually quite glad to not have to worry about having a car in Italy :)  No worries about street cleaning, digging it out of the snow (and dibs, oh my lord, dibs), or what to do when someone crashes into it or it dies in the middle of nowhere :) :) :)

Some people have suggested that I should get a Vespa to cruise around on but I have a feeling that would just lead to me crashing into things and injuring myself.  I'm accident-prone enough as it is :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Alissa Attempts to Exercise. Encounters Wildlife.

So as many of you know, I can be a bit of an exercise nut.  Mainly, I do triathlons, running races, and competitive stair climbing races.  This summer things kind of fell apart with trying to finish things up at Northwestern (dissertation?  what?) and moving twice (Chicago--> Wilkes-Barre --> Italy) as well as apartment hunting and preparing to move to Italy.  Now that I'm getting settled, I'm ready to get back to training and figure out some races to do.

I started out one day with a nice run along the coast.  I live right by the sea, but unfortunately the part of the sea that is blocked by train tracks and large buildings necessary for a port city.  So I have to run a bit before it gets less industrial and prettier.

So I found the beach!  Well, what Trieste calls the beach.  Here's a picture:

Notice anything missing?

The beaches here don't have sand!  People relax on the concrete and rocks.  I kept running and it didn't change.  Bummer.  But it is still pretty to run by the sea!

The next time I went running I decided to switch it up a bit and tackle some of the hills. Trieste is right on the coast but it shoots up into mountains pretty damn fast (remember my first post about the bus not making it up the hill?).  Chicago is a totally flat city so I figured I should take advantage of the hills (and stairs).  I went running (slooooowly) uphill with inclines up to legs!!!  Surprisingly, running downhill was not as fast.  The roads were twisty-turny and some parts were lacking sidewalks (and not lacking in crazy Italian drivers).  At one point I almost crashed into a cement pillar that popped up out of nowhere.  That could have been unfortunate.  Perhaps I need to wear a helmet while I run?

These are some views of my run...coming from sea level.

The run I did today was meant to be along the coast and flat but I found this crazy steep hill and figured I should try to run up it.

According to my Garmin, the max incline here was 35.8%  Urrrrg!  It wasn't a long hill but look how high up it took me.  These hills will kick my butt back into shape :)

Also, on one of my runs, I stepped on a rat.  A big, dark, city-dwelling rat.  It squeaked and then started running and I (having not noticed it prior to stepping on it) jumped, tried to run away, and ran into a parked Vespa.  Awesome.  I don't have a very good track record with animals on my runs.  Once, in Chicago, I accidentally punted a pigeon who didn't get out of my way.  I don't do these things on purpose, I'm not trying to attack the wildlife.  But any animal who hasn't evolved to get out of the way of the bigger animal who is loudly running towards them probably deserves a good kick.  Sorry PETA :(

I'm also taking advantage of the warm weather to get in some swimming in the Adriatic Sea :)  The weather here has been lovely (actually too hot at times) with highs in the mid to upper 80s.  I went back down to the "beach" to try some open water swimming.  I brought my lovely (but probably unnecessary) PacSafe anti-theft bag.  People here don't seem to have a problem leaving their belongings unattended but I'm a bit protective of my electronics after some hoodlum tried to steal my phone on the train platform one night in Chicago.

Anyway, I get in the water and it's pleasantly good for swimming.

The good:
1) water temperature, warm, not too warm.  I need to find where it's listed around here but I estimate low/mid 70s.
2) salt water buoyancy- it's like wearing a wetsuit!  I didn't have to kick! (I hate kicking)
3) Fishies everywhere!  So many fish were swimming around, especially where there were big rocks underwater.  The fish were bigger, different, and more numerous than in Lake Michigan (little fish, bigger fish, long skinny fish).  This wildlife encounter was much more pleasing than the rat on my run.
4)  In open water swimming, you have to sight something in front of you so you keep going in the correct direction.  This was my sight going north:

Yeah, I was sighting a castle.  Sweeeeet!

The bad:
1) The saltwater tastes gross and made me so thirsty!  I need to work on keeping that out of my mouth.
2) Potential for many more dangerous animals.  Jellyfish.  And sharks.  Everyone here thinks I'm crazy for being afraid of sharks in this part of the sea, but I've watched Shark Week.  Sharks can appear where you least expect them and eat you.  I assume that all shadows in the water are sharks. Sharks who want to eat me.

I wish the beach was a bit closer but I'm planning to get a bike when I manage to save up enough euros which will make it easier to get to (it's ~ 1.5-2 miles away, but there's a bus).

I'm starting to think about races to sign up for now that I'm getting back on track with my training.  Spring marathon, anyone?

Monday, September 12, 2011


So a few short days after arriving in Italy, my hometown undergoes the worst flooding in history.  I spent half of my first week in Italy nervously glued to the internet and constantly refreshing the news for updates.  While there was widespread devastation along the river, my hometown was lucky.  The water crested at a record high but didn't go over or break the levees.  My house is protected by the levees and if they broke the flooding would have cause major damage (other parts along the river were completely submerged, some houses were even washed away- a video on youtube showed a house floating down the river and exploding into a bridge).  It was very close but luckily everyone is safe and the house isn't damaged.

So, whew, I can relax.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Alissa Moves to Italy

So on September 5th I loaded up two checked suitcases (one of which was expensively heavy...ouch) and my fully packed carry-on luggage to head to Italy for my new job.  Left Wilkes-Barre and promised my mom that we would Skype (and that my brother would show her how to use Skype).  Wilkes-Barre--> Philly flight was fine.  Philly to Munich flight was fine- slightly delayed, too crowded, and I was stuck in the very back row in a seat that didn't recline all the way, but they did have my vegan meal.  Yay!  Landed in Munich and went to pick up my Lufthansa boarding pass for the last leg (Munich--> Trieste) but that flight was canceled.  So I stood in line for a good 20 minutes to figure out Plan B.  Turns out the flight was canceled because Italy was on strike in the afternoon.  I was on standby for a flight that arrived 4 hours later and definitely booked on the last flight that arrived 8 hours later than I originally planned.  I was tired, sleepy, and didn't smell particularly good.  I camped out at various places in the airport and drank free coffee.  Munich doesn't have free wireless (though I swear the last time I was there it did because I was chatting on facebook with various other people about the Munich airport).  This delay really hampered my plans which involved a carefully planned meeting with my new landlord (who does not speak English).  Luckily, the people in the SISSA lab helped out by calling my landlord and rearranging my plans and hiring a cab to pick me up at the airport :)  Success!

Day # 1: Alissa fills out paperwork
On my first day here I went up to SISSA to start to fill out my paperwork.  I hopped on the bus which takes a twisty road up to the top of the very steep hill.  Unfortunately, when there are too many people on the bus, it can't quite make it up the steep hill and starts to roll backwards down the hill.  That was fun.  So a bunch of us get out and walk to the top of the steep hill before getting back on the bus.  Apparently, this is not really uncommon???

I finally make it to SISSA and start on my paperwork adventure.  I go to Office # 1 and fill out paperwork.  I go to Office # 2 to fill out paperwork.  Then I have to go back downtown to Office # 3 where I fill out more paperwork.  Then back to SISSA for lunch and return to Office # 1 to give photocopies of the paperwork from Office # 3 to Office # 1.  Then to Offices # 4 & 5 to try to get my SISSA login and password set up (side note: it didn't work).  Then downtown to Office # 6 to get my permit of stay.  That's in the post office, which I was told was right down the street from the last bus stop.  I walk down the street see the big sign that says it is the post office but it looks shady and I think there are signs telling me to not go in.  Luckily, I can't understand those signs and I go in anyway.  Oops.  I found the service entrance to the post office.  Luckily some nice guy takes me to the right spot.  He is impressed that I am from Chicago, which makes him the second Italian I've met who is really impressed by this.  I'd tell him I'm from Wilkes-Barre but I don't know if they really watch the Office here.  Anyway, I wait in line and the woman hands me a mountain of paperwork.  It's all in Italian.  If I want help filling it out there is an office like 3 blocks away that can help.  I forgot my map at SISSA and get lost.  I finally find Office # 7 but it's closed.

I give up for the day.  Nap time.  After a nice, comatose-like nap, I wake up somewhat disoriented and figure I should go to the grocery store.  I wander around for a while and figure out where everything is.  I like things that have labels in English :)  They are few and far between.  It's hard to figure out which things have milk products in them.   I bought a bunch of things, though I doubt I could actually make a full meal out of my items.  I was a bit hodge-podged in my selection.  I couldn't find any non-dairy ice cream, which I will make my task for another day.  People warned me that peanut butter would be expensive:

That's 4.29 Euros for a tiny jar of pb!  I know what I'm bringing back from the US next time.  Also, there were no frozen Amy's burritos :(  Probably for the best though, frozen burritos aren't really good for you, even Amy's.  But I really do like them.  I also didn't find any jars of pre-made thai curry mix that I often just eat with some frozen veggies and tofu mixed in.  Or rice.  Well, there is rice, but no instant minute rice and I somehow manage to burn it every time I try to make it myself.  Even if there was minute rice, I don't have a microwave.  I appear to have some sort of newfangled toaster oven.  I guess I will be forced to improve on my cooking skills :)

Stay tuned as I keep trying to get my permit of stay, a cell phone account, and a bank account (among other things).