Friday 26 December 2008

Traveling... Italian Style - part 2

As promised, here I am with the second part of my Italian traveling experience. A bit late, but it's better later than never, right? This is more of an Italo-Romanian experience, to be truthful, because it involves my friends who are or were my colleagues too.

I'll go back a little in time, to explain it for people who don't really know me... Starting with 2001, I had the pleasure (in some moments, anyway) to work for the national railway company, implementing projects that were financed by the European Union. It was an entertaining job, which kept me busy most of the time, putting me in contact with loads of people from different environments and of different nationalities. By the way, this is how I first met Mr. L. I'm sure he doesn't remember me from back then, but I think I would start forgetting people too if I had his position and his busy schedule. Moving on...

The most enjoyable part of the job (and I'm not saying this because I know some of my ex-colleagues are reading my blog) was that I made good friends. Most people remember dearly the friends they made in school or highschool or at the university. I don't. I mean, sure there are people I still enjoy seeing from school and highschool, but I wouldn't say we're friends. From the university... jeez, the only person I'm keeping in touch with is Ionootzoo who was also my work colleague and... that's it. It wasn't really the best part of my life, I'll tell ya. I'm more and more regretting nowadays that I didn't study to be an engineer. Instead, I was stuck in an institution full of students who got good grades only because they had a good memory and could learn a lot of things by heart, not because their intelligence was one of a kind. Or maybe it was, but not in the good way... That's another story and this post is not about it, so I'll continue with what was initially meant.

About one year and 5 months ago, I left the railways, but not for good. I just changed jobs and crossed over to the "enemy" camp - the one of the consultants and contractors hired for different jobs by the railways. If you're an outsider, you probably stopped a little at the word "enemy". I'm sorry to say this, but unfortunately, down here, the habit is to welcome your contract partner by being suspicious and clearly thinking that they are not going to do any job, we know that, they are here just to rip us off. Discussions are held with guns and knives on the table. Not literally, of course, but you know what I mean. Of course, there are exceptions, but then you risk being considered corrupted... Yeah, only because you're nice with your contract partner and that you actually understand that both of your efforts are meant for getting a good output could get you in trouble. What a nation... How could you not love it, right? ;)

The company I work for now is supposed to do the management of the project that the Italians, together with other nationalities (German and British, fun! fun! fun!), have with the railways in relation with the local subcontractors. I know, I know, I'm getting too technical here, but you need to have the whole picture, believe me.

All this being said, you will understand that when the Italians had to prepare a very interesting course (on my opinion, anyway) for the railways, we decided to also participate. It was even cooler because it was held somewhere in the mountains, in quite a difficult to reach location, but beautiful nevertheless. It was also a good opportunity to spend some time with my old colleagues whom, due to the serious lack of time, I don't get to see or talk to properly anymore.

Guys, if you're reading this, please don't think I changed and that I don't love you anymore, it's just that I'm really, really busy, sometimes in uncomfortable situations, there are dozens of you and I just cannot give to each of you the attention I should. Big big BIG apology to y'all! I know it's easier to see someone's flaws instead of qualities, but, before you hate me and think I'm full of shit, just remember the good times we had together and how I used to be with you. I still am like that, despite the changing of times. You, of all people, should know how I am, how insecure, emotional and shy I can get. Remember that most of you HAVE what really counts in this life: husbands/wives, children, loving families, everything that REALLY matters. This is why I am the one looking UP to you and under no circumstance down to you, ok? :)

We left on Thursday, at nearly lunch, due to some unforeseen events. We = Vlad+wife, Orlando+wife and yours truly, followed by Mr. L+wife. I must admit, when I heard his wife was coming, I was very curious about her, how she would look like and how she was in general. We met them in front of Baneasa airport and I shook hands with this little skinny very modern woman, who was going to drive just because otherwise she would've got (to get - got - got, if YOU're reading) car sick. Adorable! She's called Emanuela.

We got to our destination some time around 2.30 p.m., after really believing we were lost. The road to the house we were staying in was very very damaged and difficult to take. Since the guesthouse at which my ex-colleagues were going to stay was fully booked, we stayed in a house which was very nice and were joined by Mr. L, his wife and later on by Mr. C. This all took place in Pestera, near Moieciu de Jos.

Some of us had been munching on pretzels the whole way to Pestera, but some were hungry. Since there was still quite some time until dinner which we were supposed to have at the guesthouse with everybody, we decided to let Mr. L prepare his lecture for the following day, while the rest of us went to a restaurant to nibble on something. It was very funny from the beginning because we decided to go only by one car. There were six of us and only five seats in the car. This is why Daniela, being the smallest one of all, decided to have a seat in the trunk. Do not panic, it was a hatchback car, so we didn't need to put some bullets through the trunk to allow her to breath! :P

After our snack, if you can call tripe soup+beer a snack, we went to Bran and then to the supermarket to load on beer. Also, since we had a barbeque in the yard, we thought it would've been nice to make our own dinner the following evening, while Emanuela decided to prepare spaghetti alla matriciana. As I said, adorable! And did I mention she has an awesome laughter? :))) It got more interesting when we started mixing languages: English, Italian, French and Romanian, quite the Tower of Babel, really.

For some weird reason (because people don't usually like me too much, since I'm arrogant, badly-mannered, not too diplomatic and not very well-cultured, plus other things that people who know me are aware of), Emanuela grew very fond of me. She explained she had two sons, one was 28 (like myself) and one was 15. She was missing having a daughter, so "now you are my daughter" (try to imagine the lovely Italian accent with that).

We joined my ex-colleagues at their guesthouse for dinner, in time to have a laugh, take funny pictures and play some pool... Or tzurka... or something similar... HILARIOUS!

I was about to start having my dinner on Emanuela's left-hand side ("You stay with me!"), when Mr. C called Mr. L to ask for directions. He was supposed to join us together with other three colleagues, but they had taken the wrong road and ended up in another place. It's when I offered to go, find them and bring them safely to our location.

Since none of the guys with cars (Vlad+Orlando) trusted me to go on my own, I got Mr. L's car keys, only that Alex was sent to watch over me. Pfff, such trust! Y'see, Alex is the guy who let me drive a car (not his own, of course! :P) on a forest road even before I got my driving license, but under no circumstances he was going to let me drive that night. Hmm, I just realised I had had a beer before! LOL!

So up we went, Alex driving the little Fiat Panda, "testing" it for an eventual purchase. Of course, we took the wrong road because I was giving instructions. :)))) We just stopped to set the navigator and turned around to find the lost bunch. After 10 or so km we found them, in the forest, on a very "friendly" road. I hopped on Mr. C's car, was introduced to Paolo, the ERTMS expert, and off we went towards our long awaited dinner.

The night ended quite peacefully, with a general blackout in the village, over candles and a couple of (I think there were only a couple) bottles of red wine. Could've been some Heineken involved too, but I don't remember everything... Because I'm old, not because I lost consciousness! :)

The next day, things got serious! Early morning, we had to attend the course. Just Vlad, Orlando and I, because the girls had spare time to go sightseeing and beer buying.

It was Mr. L who began the course, talking firstly about traffic forecasting, then moving on to explain what the Cost-Benefit Analysis is, what is the economic analysis, what is the financial analysis, what the outputs of this analysis mean and how based on the outputs you can realise if the project you're looking to implement is feasible or not. For example, this cost-benefit analysis proves very well that the alternative of alignment that the railways want on our project is completely unfeasible, but... who cares?

Look what was going on outside in the meantime. Beautiful, huh?

What Mr. L explained was great and professionally done, but I will admit I wasn't very much attracted to it. I am not very fond of this part of the projects, despite my university training. As I was explaining earlier, I'm more into technical stuff, which made me love what followed next. Mr. L bet I was going to fall asleep, though. I proved him wrong! Heeheehee!

It was my all time favourite Italian man who continued with the course, meaning Mr. C! We all pledged our undying love to him because he's such a wonderful man! :) He was very passionate about explaining all the chosen alignment alternatives for two railway sections and tried to propose a new alignment, with tunnel from Busteni to Darste, which very nicely decreased the time travelling. It was unfortunately dismissed by the railways, based on the following affirmations: Why not have a tunnel from Campina to Darste directly? Why not travel with 300 km/h? It does sound nice indeed, but it's not what we need now, guys... Sorry to be bursting your bubble and having to bring you back on earth, but... what we need now is a line for combined traffic of passengers and freight, freight that would not run with more than 120 km/h and would not run on a highspeed line anyway... We need to rehabilitate the crappy existing line and let the economy increase, not fuck up what's left of it due to the poor infrastructure... Sorry, I got too serious once again. Mr. C was great though! Big up, Mr. C!

And in the meantime, outside...

What followed in the afternoon was a bit disappointing to me, not from the course point of view, but from the people's reaction to it. Ok, so... you have some (good) money on a contract dedicated for the training of your personnel... Great! Take advantage of that! Ask that SMART consultant you hired (coz that's why you hired them, because they are smart and have experience in the field) to teach you about the things you're working with. Listen Mr. Consultant, I heard about this, care to enlighten me a little? Instead you choose the easy way: let the Consultant propose you some subjects. Fair enough! But when the Consultant (important Italian company) is bringing the head of structure department, the head of tunneling department, an ERTMS expert, the leader of the team working in Romania and the head of designing for a railway section to teach you stuff, and you're acting like a spoiled bored 5 year-old... allow me to be mad! Guys, as much as I love you, allow me to express my disappointment on some of your behaviour. It was not polite towards these people who strived to bring their best men and to show you what we could have if only we started assuming responsibility and growing up! It was not funny! Far by that! I can understand that it got a bit TOOOOOO technical and most of us were overwhelmed, but close your mouth, open those ears of yours, try to understand what is logical and possible, what you don't understand, ask someone nice enough to explain it to you (a.k.a. Mr. Orlando Craciun whom you all want back as director and Mr. Vlad Manu) and MAYBE we will evolve. I might sound a bit (or more) arrogant and maybe I am, but I have evolved a lot and learnt a lot since I started applying this method. You will definitely not become an expert in tunneling or whatever, but it will for sure help you to understand the entire phenomenon you're involved in. I don't know which is more arrogant: me telling you these things or SOME (again, not all) of you not realising how much you embarrass yourselves in front of people who don't know you or don't care about you when you state: "Pfff, don't tell us things we know very well, because we have been working with these contracts for years, we know very well what they are about!" and then, when asked an easy question, you start beating around the bush! I'm telling ya, a mouth shut in good times, can bring you more respect. I rest my case... and probably receive a lot of booooo's from the audience... But I had to say it. And I was happy hearing some of you mentioning how interesting it was!

It was Mr. A.P. who ended the day with the very technical presentation about tunnels. Amazing structures! Very risky! You are playing with people's lives, so safety measures are more than important. And who was there to teach us about tunnels? The Italians... If you have traveled between Austria/France/Switzerland and Italy, I'm sure you were impressed by their tunnels in the Alps. Or the tunnels and viaducts in Genova area towards the border with France. Just amazing! And they have done this for a hundred years... Interesting nation, after all... My hat's off to you, no matter some of the people, the stories about the Mafia and so on... These structures are there, can be seen and will remain standing for many years to come. In the meantime, we keep filling the gaps in the streets every 3 months...

We have decided to have dinner at our guesthouse, a barbeque and pasta prepared by Emanuela. This was a bit misunderstood by some people who thought it was more of a networking dinner than a dinner between the friends we had become. It was nice though and we were joined by someone who was adopted by Mihaela and Vlad, someone who was named Moti...

When I woke up the following morning, it was very cold, but the view from my balcony was amazing!

During the same morning, we had the pleasure (including Moti) to attend the presentation of Mr. E about bridges. Very nice and Mr. E was very nice too. Very busy guy, couldn't get off the phone. As you may see in the picture above. After the coffee break, it was Orlando's time to enjoy the presentation because it was all about ERTMS and he's the expert! Paolo did a good job, he also explained about ETCS Level 3... Again... what are we, Romanians, still doing in this business??

The afternoon was spent in Poiana Brasov and later in Brasov, but we got back just in time for the last supper, oops, dinner! :) Afterwards we fooled around a bit, having a karaoke session. It was fun! :) It was great to see another face of Mr. L while singing along his wife "Nel blu dipinto di blu". Check it below! And listen to Emanuela's laughter!!!! Cute, cute, cute!

Part 2 of my Italian style traveling's conclusions:

1. I loooooove Emanuela! And I really wish all women her age (which I will not say, because it's not polite)... ok, 25 years old like her, would be so cool! Thank you for your gift which I will cherish forever, especially because it goes great with most of my clothes. ;) Grazie mille!

2. I have four people that are becoming a lot more than I could ever wish for: my colleagues, my friends, my parents, my alcohol-experience tutors! Kidding about the alcohol thing... ;)

3. It was great to spend time with my ex-colleagues and I truly wish we had more times like this one. Remember, even if I cannot spend more than 5-10 minutes with you when I'm in your building, I'm always just a phone call away and I'd be very happy to see you somewhere for a drink or two... or more. :)

4. This mini-holiday/learning experience was exactly what I needed after a year full of hard work. So I hope we're gonna have another one soon! :D

5. There will be part 3 of the Italian style traveling, because I'm gonna spend New Year's in Rome. Be prepared for many many many incredible photos.

6. At the end of January, gonna start taking Italian classes! Can't wait!

Cheers everybody and have a Happy New Year!

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