Monday, March 31, 2008

La stanza è piccola

Today I moved. One of the disadvantages, as I found out, about the other apartment was that there were three cats there. Even though I love cats, I seem to have developed a cat hair allergy, so the couple of nights I spent in my room there I had a stuffy nose and woke up every few hours. So on the weekend, in addition to a telephone, I found a new room. The advantages: no cats, private bathroom, and a very central location near the San Lorenzo church. The disadvantages: the room is extremely small, not only lengthwise but also height-wise. Also the bathroom is comical. There's no room for a shower stall, and when you're on the toilet your knees almost hit the sink, but they found room for a bidet. I guess you need to have your priorities straight.
Still, I'm looking forward to finding a more permanent place and moving into that. Hopefully I'll be able to find something soon. I'm sure my parents can help with that when they're here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Buying a 'telefonino'

One of the essentials in Italy seems to be a cell phone. Probably even more than in the US, people walk around with a phone glued to their ears. Even the bus drivers regularly talk on the phone while driving (though they do seem to use a hands-free headset). So to have some sort of means of communication, I had to get one as well. After doing a bit of research online, and trying to figure out all of the Italian terms for 'plan' and 'recharge' and 'fees' and such, I went around to the stores of the four major providers (TIM, Vodafone, WIND, and 3) and got some brochures to compare plans. That's not so easy, since there's monthly plans and pay-as-you go plans and at least 5 different offers from each of these companies, along with many other options. While 3 seemed to have some decent priced plans, they only sold locked phones, for which you needed an Italian ID, so I ended up going with Vodafone, who had similar plans as all the others, with the added advantage of an English language website. So now I am in possession of a phone and an Italian phone number, which I will be glad to give you if you email me. But be warned -- calling cell phones here can be expensive for you, since the caller pays for all the cell phone fees (it's free for me to receive calls). In return, it's expensive for me to call anyone outside of Italy (about 70 cents/minute), so I expect to have Skype pretty soon. You can check with me about the status of that, as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

First Day

The first day at work. A bit anxious, I left the apartment at around 9 am and walked to the train station (I still needed to get a bus ticket). I had been warned by my roommates that getting to the Polo Scientifico, where LENS, the place I work, is located, would take a long time. So I waited at the train station for about 40 minutes until the bus I needed showed up. I guess it's supposed to come every 20 or 30 minutes, but one failed to show up. Since the bus only goes directly to the Polo Scientifico between 7 to 9 am and 5 to 7 pm, I had to change in between and wait for a different bus. In the end, it took me about 2 hours to get from the apartment to work, which is not a good thing.
In the end, it didn't matter too much that I came so late, since the Professor that'll I'll be working for had an exam that he was administering. Even later in the day, he was pretty busy with meetings and paper writing, though we did manage to plan my first task: to apply for a Marie Curie fellowship that is due in one week. This would fund my second year here in Florence, and seems ideally suited to my situation: a European citizen returning there after a long stay in another country. We'll see how it goes.
On the way back from work, I stopped by a Coop (a supermarket chain) to get some milk and cereal and other necessities. Here, as with most other things, prices are pretty reasonable if you convert 1 Euro into 1 Dollar. If you try to use the real exchange rate, you will not want to buy anything. But I'm going to be earning Euros soon, so it's good. At the apartment, Claudio had invited a friend over and prepared duck with potatoes and red cabbage, which was pretty good. Also good was the fact that I didn't have to cook - the kitchen is pretty tiny!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Firenze

After only a brief two-day stopover in Germany, I flew from Frankfurt to Florence in the afternoon. I checked in online the day before, but when I got on the plane, there was already someone seated in 4D, my seat. After asking the flight attendant, I sat one row back, where there were two free seats, but after phoning someone, she came back and put someone with crutches in that seat and me in 3D, which was in business class. Being a small plane, business class was not much different, though I did get a magazine and a better meal (Caesar's salad instead of a ham and cheese sandwich).
After a little more than an hour, we landed in Florence, and were taken from the plane to the terminal by bus (it's a small airport), even though the distance was maybe 20 m (about 20 yards for the metrically challenged). From there, I took the bus to the train station and then a city bus to the apartment where I had rented a room for a month. I had done this in advance over the internet, since I need a place to stay for a while while I find a more permanent apartment. The transfer there wasn't a problem, though I was carrying two suitcases and a laptop bag. Nevertheless, I made it and met Claudio and Sandro, temporary roommates. They seemed nice enough, though we didn't chat for too long, since I was tired and wanted some internet access (the apartment has wireless).