Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Europe Day 13: Merry Old England

We left our hotel in Torino on schedule early in the morning, and got our luggage down the tiny elevator (6 loads? 7?)

Then we encountered the Torino airport. 8:00 or so on a Sunday morning...shouldn't be that busy of a time...and it wouldn't have been, if they had had any sort of organization. I don't know if it the crowds and delays there are typical or not, but I can't imagine how it must have been during the Olympic games. As it was, the security line stretched around the first entry room of the airpot past the luggage check lines and to the street door. Once we finally got through security, there was a passport line that merged into a line for our flight gate. Once they announced the free-for-all that is Ryanair unassigned seat boarding (half an hour late), we went out the gate expecting an airplane, and found...a bus. Stood in the very crowded bus for a good 20 minutes, then finally were driven to the airplane.

Once we were on the airplane, the flight actually was decent, and arrival in England was smooth. They did actually check passports (after Torino had check passports literally 5 times), and we all made it via our chartered bus to the hotel. In London, we stayed at the Royal National hotel in Russell Square, which, while hardly a 5 star hotel, was an immense improvement over Torino. I like this hotel...It also turned out that Luther uses the Royal National for all their J-Term classes in London, so there was another class staying on the 5th floor besides ours on the 1st floor. Took the tube to Leicester Square for dinner (Burger King), then nearly all of the class went to a service at Westminster Abbey commemorating the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, mostly because it's free to get into the Abbey during services.
I, however, really wanted to visit Holy Trinity Brompton, the church that created the Alpha Course, which is a basic introduction to the Christian faith class that Ascension, my church in Fond du Lac, has used. I think I've spent something like 72 hours of my life watching videos of Nicky Gumbel (the Vicar at HTB and founder of Alpha) speak, so I was eager to visit the church in person. I had a Google map to where the church was, so I allowed an hour and a half to get there, and figured I'd be in plenty of time for the 6:30 cafe before the service at 7. However, once I finally started to figure out London street signs, I wandered around and around a block looking for a church, and not finding one. At 6:40, I finally found a little door in a row of offices with a tiny sign saying Holy Trinity Brompton and Alpha International. Quite confused, I attempted to go in, but found the door was locked, and no one answered the buzzer. Eventually, a man came out, and I asked him if there was a service. He was quite nice, and gave me directions down the street and around the corner to the actual church of Holy Trinity Brompton, and I made it there about 6:57, just in time.

The service was great. Very similar feel to Focus (my contemporary service at school), but with about 300 people, and in a cathedral. I was greeted at the door and immediately handed an Alpha brochure. I really enjoyed the contemporary music and feel of the service in a historical cathedral. There was an 11 piece band, including drums, guitar, cello, upright electric bass, violin, and vocals. After a couple of songs and sharing of the peace, during the offering collection, they played a video with "HTB News," the announcements for the week, then Nicky came and interviewed 3 people who had gone on the Alpha course and invited anyone who had not come on the course yet to come check it out. The Alpha talk took about 20 minutes, followed by a 25 minute or so sermon, and then closing songs, with an invitation for prayer ministry after. Also an invitation for refreshments afterwards in a pub down the road, which was a bit different...I was a little surprised that there was no scripture reading in the service beyond the one verse that the pastor directly talked about, and slightly disappointed that there was no communion, but the service took about about 1:45 as it was. Excellent service...I'm really glad I went. I'm now all excited for Alpha...even though I won't be at home for the course...
Went to hotel, went to bed. Yay for a country where they speak English!

Europe Day 12: Egyptians and Catholics and Zombies, Oh My!

Self portrait:

Somewhat surprisingly, Torino has the second largest Egyptian museum in the world (behind Cairo), so we spent Saturday morning as a group touring that.

We had a guided tour...saw all the usual things associated with Egyptian history...mummies, statues, pottery, really really old bread, etc.

Above: Really really old bread.
Nice museum, not related to the Olympics, but worth going to, I suppose.

Following the Egyptian museum, we split into groups to explore more of the city. The group I was with saw the Roman ruins in Torino:

Then, we went literally across the street to see the shroud of Turin. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this here, but I had not quite connected that since the shroud of Turin is in Turin, and since Turin is the same place as Torino, therefore the shroud of Turin is in Torino...anyway, gorgeous cathedral, of course, and impressive shrine to the shroud. My understanding is that the shroud of Turin is supposed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. I believe I've read substantial evidence that the cloth itself is not old enough to actually be authentic, but I don't really know much about it, and the Catholics at the cathedral certainly seemed to believe it.

The shroud itself is obviously very valuable and delicate, so what we actually saw was the shroud of the shroud of Turin, but it was impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed directly...

Above: a glimpse of the shroud of the shroud of Turin (Torino)

In the spirit of trying new foods, I ordered veal at the small restaurant we went to for was good, but apparently when you order veal, you get...veal. Two little pieces of veal. And nothing else. Tasted good, but not much food...
After lunch, we went to the National Cinema Museum. The cinema museum is located in a huge building that was constructed in the 1860s as a Jewish Synagogue, but after extensive cost overruns, the Jewish community backed out of paying for it, so the structure was never used as a religious facility. It was apparently the tallest masonry structure in the world, until part of the top collapsed, at which time it was rebuilt not out of masonry.

The museum itself was really cool. It started out with displays on the history of cinema, including optical illusions, magic lanterns, shadow puppets, stereoscopic photography, etc.

After the history of cinema technology displays, we moved into the main dome, where the museum sort of wrapped around the walls of the dome. The featured displays were on vampires, zombies, ghosts, and mummies in film, so there were posters and history from hundreds of films about the undead.There were also very elaborate displays on parts of the process of filmmaking, notable films, etc. Amazing museum...I think our group's only complaint was that with clips playing from movies around every corner, a lot of the playing films weren't labeled...but the rest of the museum was awesome!

In the center of the dome was an elevator to the observation deck atop the tower. This elevator was unique to me in that it was only suspended on cables. Never seen anything quite like it.

We went up and had fantastic views of the city of Torino from the tower.

For our class group dinner, we went to a cafeteria down the street from the hotel, where I ordered a pizza with some toppings listed in Italian. Turned out to be good, but...different:

Yes, that's French fries and pepperoni. And...that about covers our last day in Italy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Europe Day 11: Italy, and the Italians Therein

Friday morning we had a presentation from several local retired Italians who had volunteered at the Torino Winter Olympic Games in 2006. They shared with us about their experiences as volunteers, and the effects that the Games had on the city of Torino.

It was interesting to hear about their experiences, but not the most informative presentation of the trip.
Following that presentation, we were joined by Stephano, an acquaintance of our professors, who had arranged much of our Torino schedule, for the walk to lunch, through what had been the Olympic village for the Torino games. We went across a massive bridge:

to a former Fiat manufacturing plant, which now houses one of the largest shopping malls I've ever seen.

Had some decent lasagna for lunch at a very large grocery store/cafe actually just outside the mall, called "Eataly."
After lunch, we walked again through the former athlete's village. Torino presents a sharp contrast to Munich regarding the legacy of the Games. Where Munich had a beautiful park left from the Games in 1972, and had their athlete's village converted into housing, Torino's athlete's village looked like a ghost town. It was creepy how empty and deserted the area was. It's hard to believe that the Olympic Games there were just 5 years ago.

Our next stop for the afternoon was a company called deltatre, which none of us had heard of before. Even the professors weren't really sure what to expect, as the company had been recommended to us as a stop by our contact at NBC Sports in New York.

It turned out that deltatre is a sports technology company, involved in internet sports content, television broadcast graphics and production, and other sports technology. For instance, they were responsible for the FIFA World Cup website, and they will be responsible for the London 2012 website during the Games.

This was probably my favorite presentation thus far, as they covered some of the technologies and applications of technologies that I have been studying as a computer science major. There were definitely parts of the presentation that only Brad, myself, and Aaron, the other computer science major on the trip understood, but I think everyone was impressed with what this company does. They showed us some of the software that they have developed that does things like track where exactly each player and the ball is constantly during a soccer match, and some of their custom interactive online video players. Finally, they took us downstairs to their operations center, where they handle live streaming and packaging of sports events.

My kind of place:

Also (and this was way more exciting than it probably should have been...), they had a Microsoft Surface table in the lobby of the building...first time I'd seen one in person. (Look it up)

I went back with a different group of people to the same restaurant as the night before, but made far better choices in and split a bottle of wine...much better meal!

Ended the night with a ridiculously long hunt for the first gelato I've had in my life. Interesting fact about Torino: Everything in the city closes at 7, except for sit-down restaurants, which don't open until 6:30 or 7...It took us about an hour to find a gelato shop that was open...but we finally succeeded!

Europe Day 10: To Italy!

Thursday morning, we left early from the hostel and boarded a train for Bern, Switzerland, where we were supposed to have about 45 minutes to eat lunch at the station, and change trains for Torino, Italy. Unfortunately, our first train was about half an hour late (impressively, the only late train on the entire trip), so we ended up barely making our connection and didn't get lunch. The second train was another regional train without reserved seats or luggage room, but we all survived the trip. As an introduction to Italy, it was an interesting experience with a man being left at a station partway because he didn't have a ticket, and police chasing some boys through the train (we think they were panhandling on the train...hard to tell, since none of us spoke any Italian.) Finally got lunch late in the afternoon in the train station...

We found the hotel, where it turned out that the hotel itself only occupied floors 4-6 or so of a building. We carried our luggage up to the 4th floor, to the reception desk, only to find that we were actually in the next building over, also on the 4th floor...longest stair climb ever!

There was a lift (elevator), but it could only hold 3 people, and riding in it was one of the more terrifying experiences of the trip thus far...

The hotel itself was rather a disappointment as well. Some of the rooms were fine, but the room I was in was clearly a two person room with a two extra beds stuffed in, which left essentially no floor space. The doorknob on the bathroom was broken, the shower curtain (yes, curtain, not door...) was moldy, and the electrical was about as scary looking as the elevator...also, we ended up spending about $500 out of the contingency budget for group transit passes that were apparently not included with the hotel, regardless of what the hotel website led us to believe.

On the positive side, our room did have lots of closet space, our group had the entire floor to ourselves, and the free breakfast (in a room on our floor that we had entirely to ourselves) turned out to be excellent.
After walking around the neighborhood, a group of us went to a restaurant called 8 3/4, where I made the foolish choice of ordering something I had no idea what it was (Risotto, which I probably should have known). Was not very good...also discovered that they do not serve tap water at some places in Italy, so I somewhat accidently got a bottle of water for two euros. We also learned that it's standard to have a cover charge in Italian restaurants for bread at the beginning of the meal...another 2 euros. Good day overall, but a lot of frustrations...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Europe Day 9: Cathedral and University

Wednesday morning was on our own, so I woke up and went on my own back to the Lausanne Cathedral, where I paid two Francs to climb the Cathedral tower. Well worth the money and the climb. Fantastic view, and just a great peaceful feeling being alone in the cathedral. The tower itself was also quite impressive, especially considering the age in which it was constructed.

Had some cheese and crackers from the grocery store for lunch, then we went as a group to the University of Lausanne for two presentations. The first presentation from a professor at the university was on the structure of the Olympics and the IOC. Interesting presentation, but I think most of us had picked up most of the information through the course of the course so far.

Side note: during the break between presentations, we also found what seems to be the only bubbler / water fountain in the entire continent of Europe:

The second presentation was from a professor who was actually from the University of Ottawa, Canada, but was on sabbatical in Lausanne. His presentation was on the general topic of Olympic marketing, with an emphasis on "ambush marketing." Most of us had never heard of this concept, but it was actually quite fascinating. Much of the funding for the IOC comes from sponsors, specifically the 11 or so participants in the TOP sponsors program, such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Each of these sponsors has guaranteed exclusive marketing rights in a product category, for which rights they pay in the neighborhood of $100,000,000. After the $100 million licensing rights, each company usually spends 2-3 times that amount on activation of those rights, that is, actually doing marketing. Confusion arises when an athlete or team has their own sponsors which are not Olympic sponsors. Ambush marketing specifically happens when a company that has not paid to be an Olympic sponsor attempts to obtain some of the benefits of being an Olympic sponsor.

For instance, Subway ran a tv commercial with Michael Phelps swimming through the land towards Vancouver. The ad clearly was implying something about the Olympic games, but Subway did not have the rights to mention Vancouver, Olympic, Games, etc, so the ad very carefully just showed a map of Canada, and mentioned that Phelps was swimming "to where the action is." Does the ad give the appearance that Subway was an Olympic sponsor? Yes... Is that bad/deceptive? Possibly... Is it illegal? Actually, yes, in Canada during the Olympics, as Canada had passed a rather vague bill specifically to protect Olympic sponsors. Anyway, it was a fascinating topic and discussion.

We concluded our day with a group dinner at a cafeteria type restaurant, where I had a very large pizza made in front of me...
Craig handing out dinner money:


Europe Day 8: Olympic Museum

Tuesday morning we went to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The museum was very impressive. We started with a group guided tour, which was somewhat interesting, but not nearly as interesting as just wandering around on our own was.

I learned a lot about the history of the different Games...if anyone is ever in Lausanne, the Olympic Museum is a must visit place...

Had another kabob from another Greek fast food place for lunch, which was again quite good...then we had the afternoon I took a nap. Much of the group went on a lengthy walk to a tower that apparently would have been much cooler if the weather had not been so foggy.

For dinner, I went to a little tea shop with a couple people and bought a rather dry, lousy sandwich, then went with a different group to a Chinese place near the train station, which was much more satisfying. That pretty much covers Tuesday...