Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ravenna Ross Reunion: Where the MBAs Meet the Adriatic

What better place to prepare for your MBA program than a small town on the northeast coast of Italy?

For the past two days I had the pleasure of being a guest of Nicola Sebastiani, a soon-to-be classmate of mine at University of Michigan. And not just me; another incoming student (Alexandra), plus a graduating student and his fiancée (Will and Annie) were there as well.

Ravenna is a small town, but we got the royal treatment. Two afternoons of beach, two evenings of delicious food and drink.

On the first day, we went straight for the beach. Perfect sand, good sun, and all the wrong women sunbathing nude.

Our evening began with appertivos. (Follow along with me.) Here's how this works: in the early evening, when you buy a drink, they bring you a giant plate of delicious snacks that could easily make a meal. But don't be fooled. The meal comes next.

For dinner, a first course of piadina, a typical dish from Ravenna. An indescribably good bread (like a thick, dense tortilla) is piled high with delicious goopy cheese, vegetables, and myriad varieties of shaved ham and sausage. Nicola showed us how it's done.

This, of course, is accompanied by San Giovese red wine and followed by the most delicately textured, mouth-wateringly flavored pastas. The white one looks unnerving, but looks can be deceiving.

The next day, Will and Annie begin their eight-train trek to Gimmelwald, Switzerland, and we eat lunch in a converted movie theater.

Nicola's girlfriend Laura (pronounced: Lauuuuu-rrrah) joined us from Modena, then it was back to the beach!

Before the sun fully set, it was time for our 10pm dinner at the marina. After Nicola translated the entire menu line by line for us, I decided on a seafood risotto and the delicious branzino you see below. (Yes, that is indeed more seafood and a potato crust topping the branzino.)

On the other end of the marina, it was time to join all of Nicola's hometown friends for a night at the club. This should give you some idea of it.

YouTube Video

Two things struck me about my experience staying with Nicola. First, seeing a town through the eyes of a local is immeasurably better than seeing it as a tourist. The most ordinary activities become enchanting. And second, I will be entering my program this fall with truly good friends.

Thanks for a great few days, Nicola! Go Blue!

Location:Ravenna, Italy

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cote d'Azur in a Day: An Instruction Manual

Here are some instructions, in case they should come in handy, on how to get from Barcelona to Cote d'Azur and back on your way again in one day.

First, on the 12 hour rail zigzag from Barcelona to Nice, bond with everyone in your cabin because "first class" in Spain apparently means "put me in the beige car from the 1960's with the seats that spontaneously detach from the floor."

Hop from train to train with them: a couple in the Canadian army, a Kiwi husband and wife who import railway steel, and maybe a post-study abroad girl who seems happy to be in Europe, and indifferent as to where in Europe she is or in which direction the train might be headed.

At the reservations counter, hide behind your new Canadian friends because they speak French. When all else fails, use broken Spanish to communicate. As your third train of the day leaves the station, regret not bringing beer on board.

Plan to meet up with them later that night, but realize that the bar is closed on Tuesdays. Sip a Heineken on the doorstep waiting for them to come. Give up, and treat yourself to a meal of Moules Frites instead.

(Side note: Just now I asked a very sweet woman at the bus stop how to spell moules frites, and we ended up having an hour-long conversation. She promised to read the blog, so, hi Valerie!)

Back to the narrative. Wander the town and beach of Nice at midnight, admiring the spectacular urban lighting design.

Get a quick night's sleep at the hostel. The next morning, store your suitcase at the train station lockers because your hostel owner apparently takes a nap from 11 to 4 each day and that's when you need your bag.

Take the city tram to the 82 bus to Eze. Get off when you see a beautiful hilltop town that looks like this:

Meet a few girls from Philadelphia and wander the town with them for a few hours. Don't miss the cactus and sculpture garden.

Then quickly get back to the 82 bus, hop the tram to the rail station, grab your suitcase, and get on the first train that seems like it's going in the right direction.

Where to next? Oh, I don't know... let's say... Milan.

Location:Cote d'Azur, France

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Barcelona: the Gaudi-er the better

Barcelona was SPECTACULAR!

In two days, I walked the beaches of Barceloneta, ate a big bowl of paella in El Borne, hiked through the gardens of Montjuic, and had my mind blown by Modernista architecture. Above is the rooftop of Gaudi's La Pedrera, an apartment complex. Below, a couple photos which don't begin to do justice to the scale, complexity, and beauty of La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's church which began construction in the late 1800's and will not be done until around 2030.

I toured the Palau de Musica, walked around the old Olympic stadium, and did a cursory walk down Las Ramblas, the very epicenter of Barcelona's tourism and pickpocketing industry.

A group of us from the hostel went to see a classical guitar concert one night, and the next night went for dinner on the beach. Here's what happens when you give a bunch of Americans too much sangria:

Clearly not a very coordinated bunch. Oh, and here's that paella I was talking about.

That's Jake, who is living in Barcelona for the summer. He has an apartment like real people do. Amazing.

I am currently on a train to Montpellier, and I'm hoping to reach Nice by the end of the day. There is some question as to whether I will get there due to the uncoordinated rail system between countries... but here's hoping!

Location:Barcelona, Spain