Lucia and Carlo's Nuptials

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
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Trip End Oct 11, 2006


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Saturday, September 9, 2006

SIXTH PIT STOP: Gubbio, ITALY (Local Name: ITALIA)
Wedding of Lucia and Carlo

After spending a week in Germany, I was ready to start my 14-day tour of Italy. There was something special about the natural beauty, the delightful cuisine, the enchanting history, and the cultural richness of this country that would always hauntingly summon me back. Although this would be my fourth trip to Italy, I already sensed this would become the most memorable one yet. This time, I was invited to attend the wedding of my very good friends, Lucia and Carlo, in the hilly region of Umbria. And after that, I would travel down to the seafaring region of Campania (Naples) to visit a group of special friends who used to work in Houston. Later on, I would fly up to the industrial region of Lombardy to pay a visit to my sweet friends in Milan. The next two weeks, I'm anticipating, would be filled with joyous reunions and unforgettable experiences.

FRIDAY, SEP 8, 2006: FRANKFURT TO GUBBIO

Jana and I left Frankfurt at 7AM. Although the sun was peeking out from the vanishing clouds, the weather was unusually cold for this time of year. We allotted ourselves plenty of time to travel to Frankfurt Hahn International Airport. As soon as we reached the airport, I was struck by a comforting sense of familiarity. It was here two years earlier that we had arrived to visit our group of friends in Bonn. One of our good friends from Bonn, Christina, was to meet up with us at Pisa Central Station for our train ride together to Gubbio. Being a senior student in medicine at the University of Bonn, Christina was in the process of applying for ENT (Ear-Nose-Throat) residencies across Germany. She, like any senior medical student around the world, had the luxury of an abundance of free time.

On the plane, Jana had the hots for an Italian guy with a crew cut and tattoos smeared all over his arms. He looked like the type Eminem would select as a back-up singer. Being too shy and linguistically intimidated, she admired him from a distance like an untouchable piece of expensive art.

Upon crossing the Swiss-Italian border, we saw the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps spiraling above the rocky landscape. Finally we arrived in warm, sunny Pisa at Galileo Galelei International Airport. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day in Italy - sunny weather with temperature in the low 80's. Around the airport, I found it appealing to immerse myself once again in the melodic cadence of spoken Italian - whether to get a cappuccino at the bar or to buy a ticket from Pisa-Aeroporto to Perugia-Stazione Ferroviarria (11.90 Euro).

As soon as we boarded the train, I sent Christina a text message of our arrival time to Pisa-Stazione Centrale (Central Station). Since 2004, Jana, Christina, and I had found some occasion to reunite - may it be Jana's first trip to Europe in 2004 or Christina's Internal Medicine rotation in Switzerland in 2005. Now the occasion was of an immense and celebratory significance - Lucia and Carlo's wedding in Italy in 2006. I was very precise about our seat location on the train, so she could wait for us directly outside our train carriage. That would be easier for us to jump directly on her for a big bear hug.

Five minutes after leaving the Airport Station, the train began to come to a halt. I pulled the door lever down and pushed the heavy doors open. Jumping onto the platform with my luggage, I noticed a familiar face approaching me. There she was, sporting a fashionable pair of Chanel sunglasses, a pink Polo, and white pants, preppy Christina came rushing towards us. Reunion at last! We then boarded the next train bound for Florence-Santa Maria Novella Station. The 90-minute ride was dominated by lots of catching up between Christina and Jana. Christina used to do her research elective in Houston for a year from 2002-2003, so she was interested in finding out from Jana all the news of her old friends. It was funny being reminded of Houston while the rolling hills of Tuscany were enveloping the landscape.

At Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence, we had about 25 minutes to change to our last train for Perugia. The station was rather crowded with backpackers and seedy-looking people. We decided to walk in a line to watch each other's back. This station offered a veritable challenge for us to understand the Italian train system. We approached the main timetable to find the platform of the next train, but to our chagrin, there was still no information. Christina and Jana were already sitting down, watching our luggage while I was running around, trying to converse with the authorities in Italian, in hopes of obtaining information. Time was rapidly ticking away, and I received only different responses from various people. With five minutes before the departure time, one official gave me some information that corroborated with an announcement overhead. We found the platform, rushed into the train car, and collapsed in near-exhaustion. We thought our problem was over, only to be confronted by another problem. The train conductor looked at our tickets and asked only in Italian why they were not validated by the ticket-punching machine. I tried to offer him an explanation, or more like an excuse, of unfamiliarity of the train system. He showed no clemency; we were each fined 5 Euro.

On the almost 3 hour ride to Perugia, I sent Lucia an SMS of our new arrival time. Upon reaching the medieval university town of Perugia (pop 150,000), I was flooded with sweet memories of our visit two years ago - lots of late night festivities with Lucia and her friends. The train station had not changed much at all. Carlo was waiting for us as we disembarked from the train. It was at the same time nice and surreal to see Carlo, with whom I would hang out often in Houston, standing in his native Italy, ready to show us a good time.

We drove another hour on the winding mountainous highway to Gubbio. The rolling hills, with small villas perched dramatically on the top, were radiantly glowing in the twilight. We picked up a friend of Carlo's along the way: Rosendo from Granada, Spain. While studying Spanish in Granada, Carlo befriended Rosendo, who came across as a nice, reserved lawyer by day, but a deadly, spectacular Salsa dancer by night! There we were, so internationally scrunched up in the car: from the US, Germany, Italy, and Spain. English was the unifying language, but I did not hesitate to practice in all the other languages.

We arrived at the house of Lucia's parents. The atmosphere was already very palpably festive. Fragrant bouquets were decoratively arranged around the living room. Relatives and friends were also visiting. It was nice to see her parents again. They were very hospitable to us,
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