Mississippi State's men's basketball team is traveling to Italy in a couple of weeks. You have actually been on a trip similar to Italy with another basketball team. Who was it with?
"When I was at Arkansas we went to Italy. And we actually flew into Milan went down to Como and finished in Rome. We are going the opposite way on our trip."
What is it like in Italy compared to the United States. As an example, how are the hotels different?
"They are very different. Their hotels are older. They are still nice but they are older. The hotels room are about half the size of rooms in the United States. And there is not much air conditioning."
What are some differences at restaurants?
"The food tastes different than ours. It was probably more bland than spicy. They aren't going to have our type bacon for or sausage for breakfast. They are going to have eggs, fruits and canadian bacon for breakfast. They will have salamis out for breakfast. They also have toast but not much.
"What was funny was the last time I was there somebody asked for bread and olive oil before the meal and they got extremely upset. They said, "you Americans, you just want to get full on bread, get big." And they wouldn't bring it out because they said it is for after your meal. It is for things like if you have a pasta dish you can soak up the sauce after the meal. When you ask for water they will ask you if you want fizzy or none. That means regular water or something like Peoria. They don't have tea. And if you order a glass of water they might bring you one or maybe two cubes of ice. They feel like ice is a luxury that you don't need.
"Pizza is not the same over there. And if you walk by a restaurant or deli the meat is hanging or setting out. So, that is a little bit different. But most of the meats are the type meat you can do that. It's more salami and cheeses.
"There are hardly any fast food restaurants. There may have been one McDonald's in all of Rome."
Did you liked their pizza?
"I didn't mind it. I loved the food when I was over there."
What are the gyms like in Italy?
"A lot of the gyms that we will play in won't be air conditioned. The last time I was there the temperatures were in the high 80s, low 90s. And they said that was unseasonable warm and not normal. It wasn't too humid so it was bearable."
What about the buildings in Italy?
"The history over there is unbelievable. You can't imagine it. You see it in textbooks growing up or read about it on the internet. But once you get there and actually see it the size of some of the monuments are huge. It is difficult to explain to someone because it actually blows you away. You see the Vatican and see how big it is. The roads in the towns are brick and very narrow."
Since they have narrow, brick roads in Italy, are there more bicycles than we see over here?
"Yes, a lot more bicycles. And you will see a lot more people walking."
What are the people like? And do they speak english?
"They are very friendly. And I didn't run into many that didn't speak english."
How will the people react to the basketball team when they see them?
"They will ask to take pictures with them."
Are there any other unique things about Italy?
"Wi-fi is very limited. When are in a hotel it is not going to be in the hotel room. If they have it in the lobby and five people are on it, it is likely kicking you off. So, if you want to get on it you need to be down there when nobody else is on it.
"There are rules and regulations over there that you have to abide by. Let's say you take a bus trip that is four hours driving. You will have to stop for a hour to allow the bus driver to take a break. And the bus will have to be completely shut off. They can't leave it running like we can in the United States so we can keep the bus cool. Then, when you get back on the bus it takes awhile for it to cool down inside.
"Another thing you see a lot of are markets where the people will come up to you trying to sell you things. And you can negotiate the price with them. They have department stores like we have but most of the time if you are going to do shopping it will be at their markets. You can get five silk ties for something like 15 dollars. The reason for that is most ties are made in Italy.
"Also, when we were there in August a lot of people shut down their businesses the entire month of August. So, a lot of things won't be open. It is some kind of Italian holiday."
(Ferragosto, or Assumption Day, is an Italian national holiday celebrated on August 15. Many businesses and shops in Italy are closed on August 15 although on the coast and near major tourist sites some shops are more likely to be open. Most museums and tourist sites are open on August 15. Traditionally, Ferragosto marks the start of Italy's vacation period so if you're in a city during the second half of August, you may find a number of restaurants and shops closed for vacation, chiuso per ferie, however near tourist sites there will be some open.)
Mary Ann and I enjoy going to movies. Do they have theaters like we do?
"While I was over there I didn't see them. One thing that is unique are their soccer stadiums. Even in a town as small as Como they have a totally bowled in soccer stadium that has about 25,000 to 30,000 seats. When you go to a place like Milan their stadium is huge. It's similar to stadiums in the United States like Jerry's World in Dallas."
Listening to you this is going to be a huge culture shock for all of the guys on the team.
"It will but they are going to be able to spend a lot of time together. So, it will be a great bonding experience for them. How much time we will spend with each other is one of the things that is exciting about the trip."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.