Dispatches From Italy
Jonathan Easterbrook, director of marketing services for the university and the voice of Hartford women’s basketball, is traveling with the Hawks and keeping a journal of the team’s experiences and impressions. Following is the first installment of Easterbrook’s journal.
Day 1 - Friday, August 19
The Dattco bus driver comes into the Sports Center and asks, "someone call for a taxi?" And thus begins an 11-day adventure across the Atlantic for the University of Hartford women's basketball team. A traveling party of 34, including a handful of players' and coaches' parents and four-month-old Holden Sullivan (son of Head Coach Jennifer Rizzotti and Assistant Coach Bill Sullivan), is transported to Boston's Logan Airport for a 2 p.m. arrival. A moderately long line at the ticket counter and an even longer line at security shows why you arrive at the airport with time to spare. We stop at a food court area in the international terminal to eat before heading to the gate for our Air France flight to Rome with an early morning stopover in Paris. The flight leaves a few minutes after its scheduled 5:35 departure time, but a complete dinner not long into the flight makes up for that.
Day 2 - Saturday, August 20
A few hours after dinner, and yes, a light breakfast is served. We arrive a few minutes early into Paris, about 6:15 a.m. local time. We step out of the plane not into a gate, but into a shuttle that brings us to the terminal passageway. Then we load onto a bus that takes us to other terminals. We had a two-and-a-half-hour gap between legs of our flight, and we need much of that time to get through a long line where we have to show our passports (the man does not stamp it) and then another pass through security. The plane is smaller to Rome and flight time of under two hours goes by rather quickly. We touch down, get our luggage, exit WITHOUT even having to show our passport (many are disappointed not to get a stamp), and find our bus. With many in the party operating on no sleep and all on minimal rest, Saturday sightseeing begins.
We meet Sarah, our English-speaking tour leader. She will be with us the entire time as we move from Rome to other parts of Italy. It is great to have someone to turn to in a foreign land who can help with most anything and everything.
We tour the Colosseum (72 AD), one of the most famous of ancient monuments. This gigantic stadium held 50,000 spectators, though what we and all visitors see today is only one-third of the original structure. After three hours of walking, we board our bus and head to the first of four hotels on the trip, the Star Metropole. There, we find nice accommodations but some things to figure out. Among the lessons: you must put and keep your room key in a slot inside to have the lights operate (the Europeans have found a clever way to avoid guests wasting electricity) and be prepared to use the one towel given per guest to mop up the flooded bathroom after each shower (no shower curtains).
Our welcome dinner that night at the hotel introduces us to authentic Italian cuisine. With pasta to start and gelato to end, there is no doubt: we have arrived in Italy.
Day 3 - Sunday, August 21
The bus gets the day off and we take a walking tour, with sunshine alternating with intense showers. Sarah leads us to see the government buildings, with heavily armed guards standing watch. She also helps many in the group talk down those selling umbrellas in the street from the asking price of five euros to as few as three euros. The highlights of the day are Trevi Fountain, one of Rome's most enduring monuments, and the Spanish Steps. But the evening turns out to be memorable as well, as the entire group comes together for a festive multi-course meal at a local restaurant. As three musicians help us celebrate, we all realize how special it is to be in Rome--and to be together.
Day 4 - Monday, August 22
Getting a 6 a.m. wakeup call less than 48 hours after arriving doesn't help the adjustment process to European time. Nevertheless, the bus departs at 7 a.m. for Vatican City. It is amazing to see what you have viewed on television so many times firsthand. You can just picture the Pope waving from his window, the throngs in St. Peter's Square, or the white smoke signaling the election of a new Pope. We spend about 3½ hours being led through the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, and its vast array of museums. Many just sit and stare at the beauty of the famous Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo worked for 4½ years lying on his back to produce one of the greatest art masterpieces ever, the "Story of the Creation." How big is St. Peter's Basilica? Double the enormous St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and you will pretty much have what we walk through and admire on this day.
About 11:30 a.m., the group breaks up for lunch, heading a few blocks away where several trattorias are located. The bus arrives back at the hotel about 1 p.m., where for the first time since departing the Sports Center Friday, we have some free time to shop, relax, sleep, and--of course--eat some more.