While arriving at the Malspensa airport after the 10 hour flight from Newark, NJ to Milan’s airport, an interesting observation happened very soon after we left the flight. When using the restroom, I saw two very well dressed women who were on the flight and applying makeup in front of the sink. Compared to the general population that I saw at the Pittsburgh and Newark airports, the Italian women were dressed more in “the name of fashion” rather than “the name of comfort.” Soon after leaving the airport and boarding the bus that would transport us to the hotel, I noticed a lot of young women and men smoking cigarettes with their luggage before getting inside their designated cars. This was fascinating to me cause smoking in the US has continued to decrease significantly, but it seemed like all of the young men and women were smoking when they had the opportunity. I also noticed right outside the airport was a long lineup of familiar luxury vehicles parked outside the airport— such as Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW. Between seeing cars frequently driven in America on the highway, the aggressive nature in which they drove, and the drastic decline in speed as the cars entered the tunnels, I felt as if I were still in Pittsburgh for a moment. This caught me particularly off guard, considering I expected a drastic difference in transportation upon arriving. I was also intrigued by the elaborate and attractive bridges that we saw on our way to the hotel. While Pittsburgh is known as the “City of Bridges,” most are built with the idea of functionality rather than exterior appearance. The bridges had elaborate tubing extending from the top that created a unique architectural appearance. This reiterated the feelings I got while at the airport in regards to fashion vs practicality. I was also intrigued by many of the small homes we saw on the way to the hotel as well. These homes resembled the ancient Roman casas (summer homes) with the terra cotta roof and rustic look.
When we arrived at the hotel, I was definitely in culture shock when entering my room. I struggled to figure out how the lights worked, and I was definitely confused how the shower and toilet worked. The room was much smaller than the average hotel room, and there were only two outlets in the entire room. Eventually, I figured out how work the appliances and was able to successfully plug in my adapter to charge my electronics. I then took a stroll along the block of our hotel with the rest of my Plus3 group. I felt oddly at home when walking down the streets due to Milan’s city feeling. I felt as if I were in Oakland again, surrounded by restaurants with apartments above. Milan, however, was much more beautiful and the apartments I’ve the shops had gorgeous plants and gardens overflowing from the overhangs. I was also amazed by the different colors of brick, which our ISA guide Diego explained was due rebuilding after many bombings destroyed houses during the war.
We arrived at a restaurant where we were served numerous courses of food. I was expecting some delicious food when I arrived here, but I was served that and much more. We started our feast with bruschetta bread, covered with olives, tomato, or caramelized onions. The bread was covered in olive oil as well, and this appetizer alone began to fill me up. I thought the next plate would be our main course, and this plate consisted of a large serving of pasta. This was very surprising to me, because usually the size of this pasta dish would have served as the singular meal of an American entree meal. We were even more shocked to see three large meat platters arrive at our table after the pasta. Because I don’t eat meat, I received a vegetable omelet, but the meat looked savory and way more substantial than any American dish that I had ever seen. My table even discussed how much the Italians must have to exercise and walk to burn off the calories! The vast difference in portion sizes compared to America was one of the biggest shocks to me, because I had always thought Americans oversized their meals to begin with. Seeing the extreme portions made me re-think the previous bias I had towards our American meals.
In my first 16 hours I had experienced many vastly different characteristics between Italy and the US, as well as some vague similarities as well. This trip has already proved to be and continue to be an incredible experience for me and I look forward to the upcoming company tours!