Postcards from Abroad: Verona

Sean Finnan takes time off from exams and leaves Verona to explore the wonders of the Alps The return to Verona after Christmas was depressing. Leaving your bed to catch a cold early morning flight only makes it worse. My mind’s focus remained on the previous three weeks and not the infinite lures of returning to central Europe. The impending exams had been ignored all Christmas and the immediate return to Italy would be focused on their passing. After this, Central Europe was once again mine to explore.Unlike UCD, the examination system in the University of Verona is frustratingly disorganised. My first exam was at nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning, a fortnight after arriving back. All examinations are oral. Also, these examinations are worth one hundred per cent of the grade, meaning technically you can pass the year without lifting a pen. The format of the exams, however, is a nightmare. Although my literature exam was scheduled for nine, all forty or fifty of my classmates had been scheduled for the same time. It was to be taken in the front of a crowded, small lecture hall filled with bored students waiting to be examined by just two lecturers. After six hours, it was my turn. Unfortunately, I had left the lecture hall for a much needed break when I was called and I had to argue my presence to even be allowed take the exam. Although successfully argued, I then promptly failed the exam and now have the whole process to look forward to again in a few weeks’ time.One of my New Year’s resolutions was to (significantly) improve my Italian. I started learning it over the summer but, paradoxically, my standard slipped when I arrived here. The bewildered stare I encountered when I spoke made me realise that primitive gestures were much more effective at getting my point across than constant misunderstandings. I met a local guy through a friend who, as a result of his national pride, strove to improve my efforts with the language. However, like most Italians, his national pride came secondary to regional loyalty. After ten minutes of my first lesson, either my ignorance of Veronese churches or my banal use of his language drove him to bring me on a tour of Verona and its churches. The lesson ended with him promising to bring horse (a traditional and incredibly popular Verona dish) for dinner for our next lesson, much to the disgust of my vegetarian flatmate. I have been using Rosetta Stone ever since.At the weekend, every exit of the Brenner Pass is crowded with skiers and snowboarders waiting for a coach to bring them to the mountains. Although the highway leads to Austria, most are heading to the Italian Dolomites, approximately two hours north of Verona. We drove first to a small Italian town called Cavalese in the Dolomites early Sunday morning after befriending a thirty-year-old Slovak with an Opel Corsa. The Brenner Pass is also a catwalk for Italian motors. Throughout the drive, Peter, our driver, overtook Alfa Romero after Ferrari after Lamborghini with ease. I took one glance at the speedometer and never looked again. It read 160km/h. We covered roughly 400 kilometres that day in four hours.We didn’t snowboard in Cavalese but continued into the mountains until we reached San Pellegrino, about twenty kilometres onwards. Cavalese matched none of the beauty of our new destination. We were surrounded by the peaks of the Alps that in the morning remained unhidden by clouds and dozens of slopes, all freshly covered in last night’s snow. It was minus fourteen degrees and so far our improvised snow gear was paying off. Our instructor let us off after an an hour to explore our own course on the piste.The frustrating part for a beginner is trying to get up on your board. Everything else is great but getting up is a nightmare. The board constantly slid forward as I attempted standing up, leaving me flat on my back again. Once I conquered this, everything became easy. When I sailed on the board through the slopes it felt more like a high-speed tour of the beautiful surroundings than a high-speed board, and when I thought this while boarding, I fell. So then I concentrated on the snow in front of me and I still fell. The improvised clothing that I was so proud of earlier had frozen and by then, so had I. I scratched the icicles on my face and we left to commence the unpredictable journey home.To quote Shakespeare’s Romeo, “There is no world for me outside the walls of Verona.” I wish I could have introduced him to Peter.