Yesterday at the recommendation of the professors of Plus3, I visited the ruins of Pompeii, a city that was frozen in time when mount Vesuvius, the giant mountain in the pictures from my vico equense update, erupted. This explosion covered the city in ashes for thousands of years and kept everything incredibly well preserved. The site was not discovered until about 1829 (I forget the exact date). The uncovering of the city gave us great insight into the culture in the early Roman Empire.
The town was extremely sophisticated for its time, and I was surprised to see how they solved various issues back in their time with the limited technology they had. For example, they used a spring high on the mountain so the force of gravity powered the water pressure. If the water pressure was too high, the pipes could burst, so they also built towers in the town where the water could rise and fall to keep a steady pressure. Seeing engineering techniques like this at play merely shows that these people were just as smart as us, except they had many more limited resources of knowledge and schooling than we have today. Another example for the ingenuity of the city was the “sewage system,” where people placed all of their garbage in the street. This would be considered extremely unsanitary today, but they also built sidewalks that people could walk on, and raised stepping stones to cross the dirty streets, like our common day crosswalks. These raised stones were built so that chariots could still pass over them in between the gaps. When they got rain, the roads would turn into rivers and the garbage would be washed away. The raised stones were a safe passage of the streets during the rain also.
Another interesting aspect of the city were the commonplace brothels. The city had a large number of them throughout and had landmarks throughout the city to point towards these places. Even back then, sex was not only used for reproduction, but also as a source of pleasure. This is yet another example of how even though times were different, people were still, pretty much the same as us today. Here is a picture of the “arrow” they used to direct citizens to the nearest brothel.
The coolest part of the city was the extremely well preserved molds of the citizens in the ash. When Pompeii was discovered, the archeologists discovered hollow parts in the ground they were excavating. They filled these with plaster and let them harden, creating molds of people and even dogs. When the ash covered the bodies, they decomposed and left a hollow area in the ash, which is why these holes existed. These molds really put you in the shoes of the Pompeian citizens as they watched in fear as their entire world around them ended. It really goes to show how fragile human life is to the power of nature and to external events.
The past two days in Vico Equense have been surreal. I have never been to a more beautiful beach than this one. The water is extremely clear and it is possible to dive deep into the water with great visibility. What makes this my favorite place in Italy so far is the authenticity of the Italian culture. So far everywhere I have travlelled in Italy has been catered to tourists, but this place is so off the radar that there is hardly anyone who speaks English. This place is much cheaper to stay than Sorrento because it is not marked up for tourism, and the vacation season here hasn’t really started yet, leaving the beaches all to myself. Furthermore, the water is warmer than lake Garda and the sun has been shining everyday.
Yesterday ended a little unfortunately. Ryan Barrow and I walked down the rocky barrier towards the ocean, and climbed down to jump into the water, but instead a wave smashed me back into the rock pile that I climbed down from. I got a pretty deep cut on my hand and many other cuts all over my feet because the rocks in the water had sharp oysters and other marine life attached to them. Walking back towards the resort, I was sure I was going to need stitches but thankfully a bartender there was able to patch me up very well.
Today I found a path of stairs leading up the cliffs that brought me into the center of town. It was an exhausting walk up the entire winding path but it was absolutely worth it for the view I saw. There was a viewing area on the tow of the cliff that provided a wonderful spot to take pictures and enjoy the sight. There was also a supermarket up on the hill which allowed me to buy some cheaper groceries than anything down in the beach area.
The food here is also spectacular, mainly because Napoli is home of the Pizza, and as our taxi cab driver said, Napoli has the best mozzarella cheese in the world. This place is so wonderful that instead of continuing the backpacking journey through Italy, I booked an extra two nights here just to relax and unwind after a busy school year and study abroad experience.
Today Ryan Barrow and I made the trek to Rome for the start of our vacations throughout Italy. We got situated and then we went about to explore, checking out the Coliseum, which was massive compared to the one in Verona. So far Rome looks to be a really cool place and hopefully we will be blessed with good weather for the remainder of our trip.
Today we visited the Linea-Pelle Leather Company which is a company that produces premium leather products. Their presentation was by far the most informative out of all of the meetings that we had this trip. Up to this point, I saw different types of leather but still had no clue what the leather actually was or what it was made of. It was very interesting to see the actual science behind the leather and how the different skins of animals produced different textures of leather. We viewed an array of different animal skins ranging from chicken to crocodile to even deer skin. Each type of leather could be given a different design by pressing it or by imprinting different skins onto each other. This company receives the raw leather and then produces and refines it to create a finished product that can be sold for to retailers and shown at expositions that the company organizes.
Because they specialize in extremely high quality leather there is no threat from the cheaper and increasingly invasive fast fashion companies that have started to move into the area. These companies produce lower quality products for a cheaper price, but this does not affect the high-end quality leather market that this company has control of. The leather products produced from this company come out in new lines a few times each year and they hold shows to market their products to sellers. By coming out with new lines often, they are constantly creating and designing new products for their consumers.
It was really cool to see just how many different types of leather the company had because most other company visits did not show each different type of leather. Some of the skins were from animals that could no longer be hunted, so instead these animals are farmed for their skins and flesh. This is an lot more expensive but a sustainable model that will be able to sustain a changing market. Being able to farm these animals means there is a limited supply, but is is constant and reliable. Furthermore, the animals that are farmed have much better skins than wild animals because they are fed a diet rich in the nutrients that promotes healthy skin.
After the site visit we we had a free day until we had the farewell dinner. The dinner was at “hotel una” which we had a meal at before. The meal consisted of smoked salmon and perch baked in a red sauce with olives. I personally didn’t enjoy the meal because Im not too keen on seafood but it was nice to eat with the group one last time before the program came to an end. After our meal and gelato across the street we toured the park at night one last time with our group just to hang out. The park was really nice lit up at night and quite scenic.
This program was a wonderful experience that not only showed the real world applications of sustainability and efficiency in supply chains, it also gave me a great background in immersing myself in the culture 0f Italy. Being here for two weeks made me not want to leave, and thankfully I have ten more days here to backpack throughout the country to Rome, Sorrento, and wherever else I choose.
Today was filled with business program meetings. First we visited the Consortium, which is a company that helps smaller companies finding business by selling individual artisans and retailers who are producers but not so much sellers. These companies definitely fill the niche of high-quality products because each small shop really cares about the clothes they make. Instead of producing quantity they produce quality goods that will last a lifetime. These products are a little more expensive, but in the long run they will not fall apart like cheaply made mass produced clothes. Helping out these small companies continues the tradition of producing high quality products in Italy for the Italian consumers. The problem they are currently facing is the infiltration of the fast fashion market by companies such as H&M. These companies are also able to market much better, which is one of the greatest weaknesses of the Consortium. The president of the consortium said that the market is changing incredibly fast now so it is essential to be keeping up; in the business world only the strongest and fastest to adapt will survive. Another problem with competing companies is cost, because the Consortium sells higher end products for a higher price. Younger generations would rather shop at department stores such as H&M because the price is the more important aspect of the purchase. I know that when I am shopping for clothes, I could care less where certain things were made but instead I check the price tag.
Next we visited a small tailoring shop that sells high quality and hand made suits. This small shop was filled with busy workers sewing suits together. The work environment seemed busy but not very stressful or particularly hard. There was music playing in the background which always make doing work easier for me. Furthermore, the good treatment of workers ensures that each employee cares about the product they are making. When workers are treated poorly, the product can often times suffer. This company creates about 12 suits a day and each one is completely hand made. The suits are rather expensive, but this is the staple of Italian fashion. This suit is made with care and is expected to last you a lifetime, making the purchase more of an investment rather than a splurge.
In between each of the rides from sites we travelled on the Verona football club private bus. This featured premium leather seats and air conditioning for each passenger. Falling asleep during each ride surely made the day go faster and made me less tired during each of the meetings. The bus was by far the nicest I have been in yet this whole program and very pleasant to ride in.
Once we got to the MF1-Mario Faroni Knitwear Factory we were given a tour of the knitting machines and the cutting edge technology they employ to knit clothes for companies. The coolest thing about this company was the actual hands-on tour that we got to see. I haven’t seen any of the actual machines in action and as an engineer it was really neat to see the machines at work knitting the yarn. This factory is also a very sustainable and eco-friendly operation because they recycle all of the boxes and plastic wrap that come with the yarns. We also traveled upstairs to the collections that were sitting upstairs. These clothes are sometimes used by designers for inspiration in designing new lines. The place had the most clothes I have ever seen in one room. This sight was a great example of a sustainable production that took raw materials and made them into a finished product to ship to the brands that made the orders. The online computer design was also a new way to design clothes that use less waste than creating the actual prototypes. Making them online allows multiple prototypes to be developed before someone decides which is the best model to use.
After we got back, we decided to walk around after dinner one last time in Verona. The streets were almost empty, and the castle overlooking the river was even more picturesque because it was not packed with tourists. One of my favorite experiences so far in Italy was sitting on the castle ledge overlooking the ruling water below me, only imagining how many people have done the same thing over thousands of years. Verona at night was extremely peaceful and a great city to walk around in at night. The views and the quiet were so much nicer than the crowded and dangerous streets of Florence, all while having the rustic old look that gives the city a rich history.
Today we visited Verona by taking a train in the morning that arrived in the afternoon. Before we went on our tour or checked into the hotel, we went to a small pizza and gyro kebab shop for lunch. The inside was small but had two large lambs roasting behind the counter. Once I ordered, the worker shaved off some fresh lamb and put it onto my sandwich. Needless to say it was great and really shows the best part of dining in Italy, the fresh food. Each place we have eaten so far has had fresh food that is served as soon as it is prepared. This trend is everywhere in Italy because servers will bring your food out immediately after it is done in the kitchen versus waiting for everyone to get their food at the same time. In fact, no servers here even have large trays like in America, because there is no need to bring out 10 dinners at once. Instead they will bring out each meal as soon as the chef or cook finishes making it so it is as fresh as possible.
The walking tour of Verona showed some of the remnants of the Roman Empire with an arena and many other old structures that mostly lay underground the city. Some of the city walls are still up, bringing you back to the time when the city was the only safe place and going outside of the walls of a city was extremely dangerous. We even toured the house of Juliet from the old shakespearean play “Romeo and Juliet,” where people could also write notes on the wall in hopes of finding true love.
After the walking tour, a group of us decided to go towards the river to see some of the scenic views that Verona boasted about. The river water was extremely clean and the bridges were still intact because of constant restoration efforts. A small group of us then traveled to what looked like a castle on top of the city to get a great view. After climbing the steep and winding road up, we found ourselves at a church overlooking the city and a view that was breathtaking.
Next we visited the old castle that had been built into the city so that one could travel across the river. This old castle is kept in very good condition and the views here were great too. It was a great sight to see and I really was able to view a lot of Verona today.
Today we visited the Milan Textile Center, which is a company that provides small retailers a way to get their products into bigger stores and more markets. Allowing the small time artisans and retailers to find business continues the trend of high-end products that are produced in Italy. Today our speaker talked with us about the differences in the US and Italian fashion industries. In the US there is less emphasis on the high quality products that leads department stores to sell cheaper clothes and accessories that are made across the world in a cheaper manner.
This trend is starting in Italy now too, because our speaker told us that clothes that are worn 5-6 times then thrown out are becoming increasingly popular throughout Italy. These clothes are not made in Italy, because they pride themselves on producing high-end materials that last a lifetime. This trend is becoming more popular because they are cheaper than buying the expensive clothes in current stores. Economic distress may be hurting the high-end clothing industry more than expected, because buying clothes that are cheaply made is becoming a better option for people who are feeling the everyday pinch of economic woes. Before Italy switched to the Euro, the Lira was the main form of currency in Italy. Changing currency caused a great deal of economic distress because the prices of everything doubled overnight. In tough times, it isn’t feasible to purchase a two hundred dollar shirt even if it will last longer. This is why the trend of cheaper clothes can be attributed to the current economic distress that the country is going through. If the Euro continues to lose its value, the country will be in worse and worse trouble.The deflation of the Euro will also slow down the production of most goods throughout Italy, because production usually drops when currency of a country depreciates. Depreciation of the Euro will follow with an increase of imports of foreign products. These products will include clothes that are made elsewhere but are cheaper than the clothes produced in the country.
If there are no laws or tariffs imposed on the foreign importation of textiles made in Milan and Italy, the current fashion industry and supply change could change drastically because imports of lower quality clothes are going to be more common. Our speaker said if nothing changes and the Italy’s economy continues to get worse, then the entire high end and high quality fashion industry of small artisans and retailers will quickly decline. Small store owners’ lives and careers are on the line now because it is up to the government to figure out how to reverse the current trend. If nothing is done, Italy could soon become more like America, where single store boutiques and shops are few and far in between. H&M is becoming more popular throughout Italy, and walking around Milan I noticed many ads for their store plastered up on billboards and walls in the city.
The Milan Textile Center is trying to help all of these small time store owners to succeed and flourish, but if the recent trend of purchasing low quality clothes that are thrown away continues, there will be no business left for the small shop owners and retailers. I love the small businesses found around Italy and it gives the country a character that cannot be found in America. I hope the Italian government will be able to help out the textile and fashion industry through these tough times so that small business continues to dominate the Italian market.
Today we had a day full of travel again getting back to Milan from Florence. Luckily when leaving Florence we were not showered with a rainstorm but instead were blessed with some more sunshine. The train ride back allowed me to think about the transportation systems throughout Italy. Instead of individual cars that everyone drives, trains are used by typically everyone because the systems are developed enough that they are more efficient and cheaper than owning a car and paying for gas.
The train system and the proximity of each city allows people to travel about and visit different cities all the time. Pair this with the more lax work conditions for people here to create a big traveling and tourist industry throughout all of Europe. Even in Milan, there are an entire network of trains above and below the ground and a bussing system. The prices are extremely affordable, leading most people to take the public transportation just about everywhere.
Florence is not nearly as big of a city as Milan so there is no need to have any sort of subway transportation throughout the city. There are other differences between these cities too. Florence is a much less modern city and everything has a Renaissance look to it compared to the modern looks of some parts of Milan. The city is mainly a tourist attraction, so keeping the looks of the past alive makes sense. In Milan, tourism is not the main source of GDP for the city so building new modern buildings does not hurt the economy as much as it would hurt Florence. This trend is obvious throughout in the bigger tourist areas of most historic cities because the main source of income is gained from the tourists who come to view the rich history of these cities.
Once we returned to Milan, I decided it was finally time to get my laundry done as I packed very light for this trip. The hotel’s prices were very steep and I wouldn’t have gotten my clothes back until Wednesday, so I had to call an audible. After searching online, I found a small laundromat close enough to the hotel that I could walk there in 10 minutes. The owners of the laundromat spoke only Italian, but I was able to convey that I needed washing and drying. They were very relaxed and they sat there playing chess with each other. After a game was over, I asked to play against the winner and was promptly crushed. It seems that sitting there playing chess all day makes you a much better player, because they were much better than myself. This laundromat gave me a good insight into the lives of a typical citizen in Milan. They led simple lives of cleaning clothes for city inhabitants and seemed to be enjoying the day just fine. They were very laid back and relaxed, as this is their typical day for them while this was my first international laundry experience.
I also found that speaking Spanish here is a more useful tool than speaking English half of the time. I never appreciated learning Spanish in high school but now I really understand the importance of language and communication in the world. Something as simple as getting my clothes cleaned can be extremely challenging when you do not speak the language of the people around you. I hope to learn to speak Spanish a little more in the future now that I realize the necessity of using a second language. The real world application of what you learn in school really makes you appreciate everything you learned.
Today we were finally blessed with pleasant weather and we even saw the sun for the first time in a few days. The tours today included the Gucci museum and the Uffizi gallery. Museum trips have really started to grow on me this trip and I find myself becoming more interested in a variety of different arts and sciences (not so much the purses and dresses in the Gucci museum however). Immersing yourself in another culture after living in your homeland for your whole life gives you the chance to adopt new perspectives and gain new insights into the world around me.
This will be my last blog post out of Florence but I feel certain will return to this city in my lifetime. Times were tough these last two days for the Plus3 crew, we got poured on walking into the city then some students were victims of pick-pocketing both yesterday and today. After watching these crimes first hand, I decided that analyzing the black market of thieves in cities throughout Europe. As long as tourists travel through the city, there is a constant supply of basically free products, which can range from cell phones to wallets to laptops. What makes the theft worth the risk is profiting for a relatively short amount of time “working”. If a city has few tourists, there is not much of an income of the prized goods that make the business profitable. Furthermore the language barrier between tourists and the general population makes it hard to convey a message of theft effectively, and they also do not readily know how to properly contact the authorities. This business is incredibly sustainable because the pick-pocketers have a system figured out that preys on the constant groups of fresh and inexperienced travelers.
The Uffizi gallery was much more interesting than expected because our tour guide expertly revealed the depth of paintings and the multiple messages that the artist can convey through subtle tactics such as lighting, shading, and layering of images. When I first glanced at the paintings I admired their beauty but our guide was able to explain some very in depth ideas that a trained eye could glean from some paintings. For example, Michelangelo’s most popular painting had the holy family in the front and a group of naked men layered behind them in the background. I thought these were just angels and didn’t think much about it, but the guide explained a complex idea; that Michelangelo was trying to find a perfect harmony between the old pagan religions and the emerging and ever growing Catholicism of the time.
After the tour, a group of us traveled up to the high points outside of the city and we arrived at a picturesque time of day where the sun painted the city of Florence bright red and white. The beauty of the city really came out today as the weather cleared up and the wonderful views are not doing the city justice. Florence will not soon be forgotten.
Today after leaving the train station we unfortunately got caught in a rainstorm as we traveled to our hotel with all of our luggage. This put everyone in a bad mood because we were completely unprepared for this storm and our bags got soaked along with the clothes in them. After we checked in and ate lunch at a small café across the street, we toured the Duomo of Florence, which is actually the third biggest Catholic Church in the world. The art on top of the dome was incredibly beautiful and was actually painted by Michelangelo’s student. This church revisits the theme of rich history throughout Europe and the trends towards restoring old buildings instead of destroying them. The sustainable buildings constructed with stone have withstood the test of time and gives Florence the old and classic Italian look that brings in the tourists.
After the short tour, we then visited Florentine Leather School to see how artisan leather accessories and clothes were produced. The raw skins of animals and the dyes necessary for turning them into colored leather are brought into the School. They take the raw materials and create the product within the school, meaning they do everything in the supply chain after receiving the raw materials from their suppliers. This allows them to have great flexibility with their designing process because the artisan leather workers can use their creative talents to produce quality products, something a machine cannot do. The one specialist in purse designs said that the purses she makes are one-of-a-kind and there are never two exactly the same. Because of the rarity of each one, the Leather school can sell these customized accessories for a much higher profit than a department store. Also, in the school the artisans are taught not to cut corners in order to create a wonderful and sustainably lasting product each time. This company prides itself on the sustainability of their work, and the public responds warmly to the high quality of each product by giving their business to the school. The shop within the grounds of the school provides a simple end to the supply chain, as the transportation is negligible. The custom designs can also be shipped to the people who personally order them, but shipping companies can handle that.
Because this school is known for producing high-end accessories by hand, the workers need to be skilled and trained well. The worker who created the golden coaster was trained for years before he was allowed to make such products because the expensive raw materials such as the gold sheets are extremely expensive and messing up a single coaster can be costly if it happens often enough. Each artisan is paid handsomely because of the skills and knowledge they possess with their leatherworking abilities. Many of the students who graduate then possess the skills to go on to create their own leather shops. Some students go to this school to gain knowledge into the supply chain of leatherworking so they can more or less manage a store compared to making leather products.
This company must be concerned with the dyes they are using and the waste produced from leatherworking. Florence is a beautiful city, and the inhabitants would not be happy with a company that does not care about the environment around them (the city itself). This company seems to balance all of these aspects of leatherworking to create a successful, sustainable, and profitable process.