Wikipedia says: "Italian cuisine
is characterized by its flexibility, its range of ingredients and its many regional variations." My experience was slightly different. Italians have no concept of hot food and everything is floating around in olive oil. They have two hundred varieties of pasta but to me they are all equally nauseating. Gastronomically speaking, my week in Italy was a nightmare.
If you haven't heard of Bertinoro, Italy, I'm not the least bit surprised. The place has no airport. You have to get to Bologna (which itself doesn't have direct flights from the U.S), take a train to Forli, and complete the adventure by bus. Almost. The bus will take you half way up the hill that is Bertinoro, and you have to climb the rest of the way up. When my advisor said the workshop organizers chose Bertinoro so that participants wouldn't run away before it ended, I thought he was joking. After eating Italian food, I'm not so sure.
In spite of all that, I must say I had a great time. Having been an aloof geek up until less than a year ago, there is nothing I enjoy better these days than meeting people and giving talks. Half the people at this workshop were cryptographers/computer scientists and the other half were statisticians and neither half had much of a clue what the other half was talking about. It was weird but a lot of fun.
Sightseeing was interesting. The Churches in Ravenna were from the early Byzantine period, 5th/6th century A.D. The last time I was sightseeing in Europe the tour guide was proudly showing off "very old artifacts from the 17th and 18th centuries", so seeing genuinely old art was fascinating. I found one wall mosaic in particular
hilarious. It was created by the Ostrogoths who were kicked out by the Byzantines who superimposed their own art on the extant mosaics. They didn't do a very good job. Notice the hands sticking out on the first and third columns, for instance.
Fate had reserved the best for the last. On my return journey I got caught in the Dallas storm. It took 36 hours from the time I left Bertinoro to the time I reached Austin.