Today was our last full day in Italy unfortunately. The only planned activity we had for today was a visit to the LineaPelle Leather Company. This was the company my group was originally supposed to research, but we couldn’t find any information about it so I was excited to finally learn what they were.
Today we left Verona to head back to Milan. On the way we stopped at lake Garda which was only a short train ride outside Verona. When we arrived there it was raining a little bit, which was unfortunate because I would have liked to see the lake in nice weather. We walked from the train station past parts of the lake and through a tunnel in one of the walls surrounding the city. Eventually we made it to a little square surrounded by cafes, where we met our tour guide. The first thing we did was walk outside the city to look at a map and the outer walls. You could see the differences in the walls which showed how the different ruling groups reenforced the city throughout history. The map showed where buildings were depending on which group built them, whether it be the Austrians, Romans, venetians, or modern. From there we went to look at most of these buildings and some ruins. What was really cool was being able to walk on top of the walls that surrounded the city. They gave you a great view of the lake outside as well as the city inside. We took a quick stop in one of the buildings. It had the lion statue that was originally above the entrance to the city. Then we went upstairs to see some military uniforms of Italian and Austrian soldiers. In one of the rooms we got to see the marks on the floor where bunk beds that housed soldiers used to be. Even though they were just circles pressed into the floor, it was still cool to see that history was being preserved. We then headed back downstairs and while on our way the tour guide pointed out the worn nature of the stairs. Apparently the soldiers used to have to run up and down them which is why they were so worn down. Outside that building we passed a lot surrounded by fences. That area is where cannon balls were once produced since this was a military city. The tour ended back in the square, but on the way we noticed a lot of people gathering around blocked off roads. I learned that a 1000 mile old car race in Italy passed through the town today, so throughout the day I saw some really cool cars. At this point we were free for a few hours until the train back to Milan. I wanted to explore the city more, but it started to pour so we just took shelter in a cafe. At the cafe we met a man from Northern Ireland whom we talked to for a while. It was really neat to talk to someone and hear their perspective on the city and travel in general. Our time in Garda was unfortunately cut short due to a medical emergency, so we got an earlier train back to Milan. After a long day of walking and traveling I got back to the hotel and caught up on some much needed sleep. I woke up for dinner, but it was at a time where most restaurants weren’t open yet so we had to find an alternative. We saw this African restaurant that Diego had recommended, so we decided to eat there. The owner and all the staff didn’t speak much English at all which made it a little difficult to order, but when he brought out the food we all knew how to tell him how good it was. Between six of us we barely finished the giant plate of food. Even though we never found out what any of the food was, it was one of the best meals I had on the trip.
Today was an early day, but that is because we were visiting 3 different companies all around Verona. This morning at breakfast I think we were given a more traditional Italian breakfast. It wasn’t the big buffets like at the hotels in Milan in Florence. In this case it was just a single pastry and a roll, which was eaten along with coffee, water, and orange juice. It was very good, but not very filling, which is why I think Italians have very large lunches and dinners. After breakfast we went outside to see a giant black bus with a logo on the side. Apparently the only bus available was Serie A team Chievo Verona’s private bus. I am a huge soccer fan so I was extremely excited to be on it, even if it was just to take us from company to company. Our first stop was at the Mozzecanne Fashion Consortium. It was about 30 minutes outside of Verona. It is a private business that is made up of 140 smaller fashion companies. It’s main purpose is to help these smaller establishments compete with some of the larger big name brands like Gucci. Bringing together all of the small companies under one name allows them to be more well known because while they are focused on producing and selling products, the consortium is the one marketing for them. Another job of the consortium is to help its businesses interact with each other. There are companies from all parts of the supply chain and it is much easier for them to work together than to have to go to outside sources for materials and other needed things. Our next stop was a suit tailoring place that is part of the Mozzecanne Fashion Consortium. It was once part of a larger company that broke up into 6 smaller pieces, the only one remaining being the company we were visiting now. The owner greeted us then gave us a tour of the factory. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but that was probably because I’m used to thinking about factories that mass produce products. This company produces about 80 suits per day with the average time per suit being around 4 hours. It is run like an assembly line. It starts from one end of the factory floor, merely as pieces of fabric, ending up at the other end as a customized jacket. All of the fabric and sewing materials come from either Italy or England depending on what type of suit is requested and what other accessories are needed. The modes of shipping from England is by plane since that is the most efficient method, while planes and trucks are used within Italy depending on the destination. The products are either given right to the customer at the shop or are given to the company that purchased the jackets and are then sold under that brand name. In terms of safety concerns the owner told us that with all the safety precautions and protocols put in place, the only safety concerns are small injuries like pricked fingers or other minor cuts. Nothing is wasted and so they are very environmentally friendly. It is important for the workers to be highly skilled, but according to the owner the number of people going into the industry as artisans is decreasing greatly. There is a need for people to learn these skills in order to continue the hand made products that Italy is known for. After the tailoring place we went to the knit wear factory. There they use yarn and different styles of stitches to make high end clothing. It was amazing how many different things you could do with knitting. I didn’t know there were so many different types of stitches and that you could even make normal clothes by just knitting. The machines in the factory that made the knitted fabric were amazing. From my little time there I was not able to completely understand how they worked, but it blew my mind how they could do such intricate work. From there we went to the part of the shop where they put everything together. Each piece was hand sewn together, ironed, washed, and inspected before being prepared for shipping. We went into a room which I thought was where they shipped everything due to its large size and large amount of boxes, but it ended up being the yarn supply room. They had 100s of different types and said they could go through that entire room in about a week. Seeing both these companies and how their products were made really helped me understand this part of the supply chain in fashion companies.
Today was another travel day. This time we were going to Verona. We met in the lobby pretty early with all of our luggage, but thankfully we only had to bring a small bag or backpack with us for the 2 night stay away from Milan. We walked as a group to the train station and went about everything as if we were pros, since this is the second time we were at the station. We had to wait around until our train arrived which it did quite quickly. This was one of the bullet trains again so I knew the trip was going to go by fast. Finding out seats was a little bit of a struggle because the number system was very confusing. Roommates got numbers next to each other, but that didn’t mean you’d be sitting anywhere near them on the train. I for example was 38 and sat with 31, 32, and 33. It didn’t turn out to be all bad because I met a couple from Australia. We talked about where we were going and other random topics like politics. It helped pass the time because I was unable to sleep unlike most of the other people on the train. At the last stop before Verona, our destination, we saw a small town with a beautiful lake. Luca pointed out that this would be the lake we would spend Thursday at as long as it doesn’t rain. It looked a lot cleaner and clearer than lake Como and apparently was good for swimming. We continued on toward Verona which was only another 20 minutes of travel. We got off at the train station and walked to our hotel. It was a lot more straightforward than the one in Florence. We walked straight down one street and after a few minutes we were there. We couldn’t check in right away so some of us went to go get something to eat for lunch. We found a gyro place a few blocks down and decided to go there. The food was really good and was a nice change to all the Italian food I’ve been eating. After we finished eating we went back to the hotel so we could check in quickly before the walking tour. Ryan and I got unlucky with our room because it was smaller than most and our shower was not separate from our bathroom. We didn’t have high hopes on how dry the bathroom would be after a shower, but it won’t matter because we weren’t planning on being in the room a lot anyway. It was time for the tour so we went down to the lobby to meet with our guide and the rest of the group. The tour started by going down the Main Street toward the center of Verona. We passed where there were old walls outlining the Roman city. Then we walked through a small park with a fountain and passed a colosseum structure. We walked around for a while longer looking at old parts of the city and different landmarks. Finally it was time to see what Verona is most famous for, Juliet’s balcony and statue. It wasn’t anything nearly as fancy as I first thought it would be. The courtyard was quite small, but it made sense because Verona is a relatively small town compared to other places in Italy. That is where the tour ended and the free time began. There was a tall bell tower that a few of us climbed and took pictures at. The view was amazing. You could easily see the entire city from up there. From there we went to see the colosseum. It was not as cool as I had expected because there were modern stadium seats everywhere and a construction crew working on some sort of stage. It was disappointing that such a cool piece of history was being covered up by people. It was getting late so we decided to get dinner and gelato at a local restaurant. Both were very good and a great way to end a long day.
Today we had a later start than usual. We met in the lobby then preceded to walk to a restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. Right away they began to bring out appetizers. There were so many and they were all very good. I was full before I even got my pizza. This pizza was different than all the other ones I’ve had so far. Those were all thin crusted, while the one I had today was extremely thick. I think this was my favorite pizza here up to date. It was shaped as one piece, but it was huge. I think I was one of the only people there to finish my entire slice. After lunch we walked back to the hotel where a private bus was waiting to take us to the Milan Textile Center. I didn’t realize what it was until we got there. I thought it was going to be a single company that made textiles, but it turned out to be a group of smaller fashion companies that were under a bigger name. Right now there are 160 out of a possible 170 companies in this group. The speaker told us about how these companies are constantly trying to keep up with fast fashion and compete with Asian companies that are in Italy. There are a lot of factors that affect the Milan Textile Center some of which include political, economic, social and technological aspects. In past years Italy has been faced with an economic crisis. This has impacted the fashion industry because people will have less money, or or less inclined to spend it on luxury clothes. The main part of the industry that is hurt by this economic problem is the small business which is what the MTC represents. In terms of politics, recently the euro was introduced to Italy replacing their old form of currency. A euro is around 2 leera and despite this currency change most prices of fashion items did not change. This means that most products are being sold for double the price than before the introduction of the euro. Fast fashion plays a major role in fashion companies. It has a lot to do with supply and demand which is based on trends going on at a certain time. A fashion company does not want to be making a product that is not desired by a consumer, so they must quickly switch what they’re currently making, to something that better fits the trends in the fashion world. This is how society influences fashion companies like the MTC. I learned a lot from the presentation and hope the others will be as interesting. After we got back a few of us went toward the Brera neighborhood and Duomo to shop and get coffee. I was able to get a few small souvenirs and also haggle down one of the vendors for a pair of soccer jerseys, one for me and one for my brother. By the time we finished shopping it was time for dinner so we took the metro to the canals. I had never been there before, but I wish I would’ve gone more often. The canal and shops/restaurants surrounding it was a beautiful sight to see. We found an appertivo place which was amazing. They had a surprising amount of American food, which I believed was to satisfy some of the picky tourists. Afterward we crossed the canal to a gelato shop. I think it was the best gelato I’ve had to date. We are that on the way back to the metro. Since its a travel day tomorrow we decided not to do anything else and just have a night in and get some much needed sleep.
Today was just a travel day so not much happened. We were given some free time in Florence in between checkout and when we had to go to the train station. I decided to take that time to explore a market type thing which had a lot of cool things including clothes, leather products, jewelry, souvenirs, and what I was most interested in, soccer jerseys. I saw a vendor, but the jersey I had my eye on was a little out of my price range so I decided to try to bargain for it. It was fun because you can almost never do anything like that in the United States. Unfortunately the vendor wouldn’t drop the price so I came out of that adventure unsuccessful, however I did get to see another old church which we had not passed on any of the walking tours on the city. It was much smaller than the Duomo, but it was still very cool. I got back and we walked to the train station without any problems and more importantly it didn’t rain this time. The train ride seemed to go fast for me because I slept most of the time. I was so tired that once we got back to the hotel I slept for another few hours until we went to dinner. We found a very small pizza place that turned out to have amazing food for a good price. After dinner a few of us decided to take the metro across Milan to see San Siro which is AC Milan’s stadium and where the champions league final will be held next week. It was much larger than I had expected as it rivaled most football stadiums in the United States. Unfortunately we got there too late to take a tour and see the museum, but it was still an experience to see it from the outside. There are no soccer stadiums nearly that big back home. After walking around the stadium we headed back to the hotel, exhausted from our day of traveling. I have not had much international traveling experience until this trip. I had only visited Mexico with my family a few years ago, so I’ve never done anything like this study abroad program and traveling with peers. When applying for Plus3 my first choice was Germany while my second choice was Italy. I wanted to go somewhere in Europe because it seemed the most interesting to me and I’ve never been there before. I also thought that it was be the best place to learn about topics that I can relate back to engineering. I knew a little bit about the culture coming into this trip and more about the background of supply chain management because I have taken classes before that went over that topic. However I did not know what it was like in the fashion industry. Although Italy wasn’t my first choice I’m really glad I ended up coming here. This country has a lot of amazing things to offer and my peers make it so much more exciting.
Today was our second and final full day here in Florence. We started out by going the Gucci museum which I thought was going to be a lot more interesting than it actually was. They mostly had purses and dresses on display which although were very cool, I didn’t have any special interest in them. I think the coolest thing I saw in there was the Gucci Cadillac. It was white with the Gucci logo all over it. Only 200 were made worldwide. Another thing we saw were a few dresses that were worn by celebrities. I didn’t care much about the dresses themselves, but it was cool to see something that famous people wore. After that museum we went to an art gallery to look at sculptures and paintings. Normally I don’t really like art very much, but some of the artworks we saw in this museum changed my mind. I can’t remember all the names of the artists we saw works from, but from what I could understand they were extremely famous. One of the artists we saw a painting of was also the person who painted the inside dome of the Duomo here in Florence. It amazes me how they can be so detailed and draw such large paintings. Some of the ones we saw almost took up entire walls of the gallery. After leaving the gallery we walked to the big bridge I had visited yesterday, however today all the shops were open and it was crowded with people. It looked so different than how it was the night before, but the view was still beautiful. That is where out tour ended and our free time began. We went to lunch at a small cafe and after we went to get gelato. While at the gelato shop one of the girls on the trip had her wallet stolen. This does happen in the United States, but not nearly as often as it does in Italy. Although we didn’t get the wallet back and the conflict was unresolved we learned that the culture here is very different. This is an extreme example, but it shows how we are American tourists and that makes us targets for things like this. Besides this most of the Italian natives we interacted with were very understanding and helpful. They used whatever English they knew in order to help us to the best the could. They do treat us differently, but that is to be expected because we are foreigners visiting their home. Many people we see look like middle or upper class citizens, but there are still a decent amount of beggars and gypsies that are in the lower class. Even so, I don’t think there is as large of an economic gap as there is in America. I didn’t talk too much about the politics of the country, but I think it is not as controversial as it is with the presidential election going on now. According to some people Italians generally like Americans, but I feel like that is not the case for everyone. We can be very obnoxious as tourists, but I hope eventually we’ll learn to fully respect one another.