11 February 1980

Departure from Rome to Poland for an academic semester abroad

By way of background

I was a student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service from 1978 to 1981. In the Spring semester of 1980 I wanted to enroll in G.U.'s "semester abroad" program. Among various options, G.U. offered an exchange with Poland. Well, it was a one-way "exchange", in that no Polish students were allowed to the U.S.

It was not a happy time, the USSR had just invaded Afghanistan and NATO was about to deploy its euromissiles in Europe. One day I was having lunch in our cafeteria with my friend Andrew, and talked to him about this opportunity. "Would you go? I am not sure I am into spending a semester in a Communist country on my own" I said. He replied "Well I am not sure I would either, but if you go, I'll go".

Author and Andrew in Rome with Giallina
Three months later Andrew came down to visit me in Rome, Italy and then the two of us and Ann, another fellow SFS student, were on our way to Poland in an old, bright yellow VW beetle nicknamed "Giallina" (the little yellow one). But to get to Poland we had to cross Austria - easy, piece of (Sachertorte) cake - and Czechoslovakia with a 24-hour transit visa, very poor maps and, of course, neither GPS nor GSM...


So the moment of truth has arrived, after months of preparation we are off to start our semester abroad.

Andrew, Ann and I depart from Rome at about 9:30am. We reach Florence at about 2:00pm where we stop for a short walk in the old city. Start again and after having the car's tires checked we drive on until Mestre, just outside Venice. I was looking for an Agip motel but it's no longere there. We book a room at the "Vivit" and then we go to Venice to explore.
In Florence

Walking around this magic city is always an experience to remember for life. One most memorable moment is when we approach Piazza San Marco late in the evening, at about 1:00am. It is totally empy! An eerie sensation. The ground is shiny from the rain of the day and the lamp posts emanate a tenuous light. We stand in silence for a long moment before heading back to the ferry that will take us back to Mestre for the night.

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