Monday, June 1, 2009

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Bicycles

I returned yesterday from the NET2009 conference in Rome, Italy. Taking a taxi at 7:00AM on a Sunday to the Rome airport allowed me to experience free flow traffic in that usually very congested city. Rather than an hour trip between these two points as was my experience the previous Tuesday morning during rush hour traffic, the trip took only 20 minutes. There was congestion, however, in the Rome airport where the queues even at that time were sizable due to many departing international flights. Serendipitously, while standing in the line for security I started a conversation with a gentleman next to me who works for American Airlines and had received a PhD in industrial engineering from Purdue University several years back. So, of course, we talked about faculty and students that we both knew.

Our Air One flight (Alitalia and Air One have, in effect, merged) left an hour late but we still somehow managed to arrive on time at Logan in Boston. The food was terrific on the flight and the air crew and staff very gracious and friendly. The flight allowed me to reminisce about the experiences in Rome for the past several days, which included (over and above the conference experiences):

being asked by a nun in Italian for directions (for some reason, almost any place I have traveled to I have been asked for directions in the native tongue, including in Japan),

seeing the effects of a multi-hour transportation worker stoppage on a Saturday in Rome (busses, taxis, trains did not operate, with a consequence that some tourists were left to walk for miles since the tour busses that had deposited them would not move),

after consuming wonderful pastries, which, I suspect, had too much rum in them, ending up wandering "lost" in Rome, trying to find my hotel (luckily, the train and huge police stations are good central locations),

getting to know the staff at the Casa dell'Aviatore (the home for aviators) quite well since I had spent 5 nights there,

watching Italian news and television in the wee hours due to disco/rock bands playing "outside" my bedroom window and, hence, my inability to get to sleep (Italian TV can merit pages of blogging but it is incredibly entertaining from the news shows to the extravaganza song and dance shows with nuns usually getting front row seating),

finding a huge, simply magnificent cemetery next to La Sapienza where I walked in tranquility admiring the incredible mausoleums and memorials with mosaics and even photos of the deceased in ceramic and tile and decorated with flowers and plantings (another side benefit was that, while walking there, I came up with an interesting angle with which to tackle/unify two research problems on supply chains that I had been working on),

eating delicious meals at which people linger and enjoy the food, each other, and the conversations,

navigating the traffic as a pedestrian,

trying to decipher the graffiti (a huge problem and an eyesore in contrast to the glorious architecture),

and enjoying the elegance and charm of the people.

Thank you, Rome, for an experience unlike any other!

PS As for those of you who follow sports, yesterday, the Giro bicycle competition ended in Rome with Menchov the victor.