Italy Jeff Taylor recalls his first trip to Italy, where he was defeated by a phone card.

It’s hard to say how this trip came about: part boredom and restlessness, part curiosity and intrigue. I declined the opportunity to do the European contest circuit, simply because it bores me. I’ve been to Europe several times, and its become like watching a Super-8 foreign film playing on a loop. Don’t get me wrong. It’s always fun but was approaching monotonous–the same places, same contests with the same obstacles, the same long train rides, etc. In all my travels in Europe, however, I’d never ventured into the land of the ancient Romans, the fashion capitol, and site of some of the richest and oldest museums in the world–Italy. A scheduled U.S. tour fell through, and I was left with an open summer. So when I was asked to organize a trip to the spaghetti land for some demos, I thought, “Hmm … this could be cool.”

So a few weeks, a thousand phone calls, a hundred faxes, and a couple trips to the passport office later, we were ready to go. Our tour group consisted of Rick Jaramillo, Ed Selego, Forrest Kirby, and me. I knew it would be an interesting trip. For one, Forrest and Ed had never been to Europe. It’s always cool to see someone’s reaction to such a different place. Also, the trip had been set up to allow us enough free time to see some of the sights in Italy. We were tourists, weren’t we?

In just twelve hours, we were taken from familiar L.A. and dropped into Malpensa, an airport in a town about an hour from Milan. All we had was a cell-phone number for Giorgio Tresse, a distributor. It’s funny how sometimes when you’re in a foreign country the simplest things seem impossible. Our first puzzling encounter was the Italian version of the pay phone. These bright orange boxes had a slot for phone cards built in–looked easy enough. I bought a phone card and after twenty minutes of trying to get the card into the slot, I finally found someone to help me. When I showed my Samaritan that I couldn’t fit the card into the phone, he looked at me like I had the word “moron” tattooed on my forehead. He took the card, broke the corners off, and put it in the phone. Oh, how dumb of me not to know you had to break the card for it to work. After all that, I dialed the number and got no answer.

We decided to go ahead and take a bus to the Central Station in Milan. After arrival, I bought and broke another phone card, but still didn’t get an answer. It looked like we were on our own. Sitting outside the station, I had three sets of eyeballs staring at me. “What now?” Our only plan, take the train downtown, find some stuff to skate, and try to hook up with the distributor tomorrow. As we headed for the train, we ran across the biggest stroke of luck on the whole trip. Skating down the sidewalk, we passed an old man who shouted in perfect English, “You wanna ride those? Go around to the square on the other side of Central Station.” We took his advice. When we turned the corner and laid eyes on the square, all of our jaws dropped. Not even 50 yards from where we stood was one of the best skate spots we’d ever seen–countless white marble ledges, steps, and gaps filled the square. We spent the rest of the day sessioning the Embarcadero-like square. As it turns out, Central Station is the main spot in Milan, serving as a meeting place and hangout for all the locals.

The next day, we spoke to Giorgio and after skating Central Station for a while, took the subway to meet him. Milan’s underground transit system is incredibly efficient–commuting around the city is cheap and easy. Using a simple map, we went everywhere in Milan. Sometimes the subway cars got a bit too crowded. This wasn’t good for a couple of reasons. First, there’s little or no air conditioning in Europe. A crowded train on a hot and humid summer day isn’t especially pleasing to one’s sense of smell. Also, when it’s standing-room only, everyonhas to reach up and grab the overhead bar to steady themselves for the ride. Not only does this add to the stench, but also transforms the subway car into one big moving exhibition of women’s underarm hair. Being stuck next to a woman’s sweaty, smelly, hairy armpit for an hour isn’t something you easily forget.

Giorgio informed us that our first demo was at a youth social center called Leoncavalo. This was no normal rec hall, though. The city had made an agreement with the kids that they could pretty much do whatever they wanted there, as long as they kept it in there. This became obvious to us the second we walked in. Right inside the front gate were at least a dozen eight-feet-tall marijuana plants, and just beyond that was a concert hall with a bar and mini ramp.

There was a big turnout for the demo and everyone had a lot of fun. I’m not sure a place like Leoncavalo would be possible in the U.S., not only because of the legality, but I don’t think America’s youth could handle it. Everyone at the social center showed a genuine respect for the place, resulting in sort of an organized chaotic scene.

The next day we were escorted around some skate spots by Luca Basilico, a talented skater and the creator of an Italian skateboard magazine called Wimpy. Luca and his friends took us to a concrete park about an hour south of Milan. The park, called Gratosoglio, was mostly filled with transition walls. One side closed in like a bowl with escalators gradually getting smaller. There were two hips as well, one big and hard to get to and the other smaller and easy to ride. Local Stefano Brancalion ripped the place with big ollie grabs and 360 flips to fakie. Even Rick, who is rarely spotted on trannies, busted out some moves and seemed to enjoy the change. Later on, a local skater on a scooter that looked like something out of a Mad Max movie led the way to a few more spots.

We headed two hours south to a town called Reggio Emmelia for the next scheduled demo. We met Felix Arguelles, Chany Jeanguenin, and Kenny Anderson, touring for Converse, there for the demo. The skatepark, sitting on a slab of concrete in the middle of a field, was reminiscent of the old skatepark of Houston–with blue metal quarterpipes, banks, and pyramids scattered about. Stoked to hook up with our friends, it made for a healthy session. Ed and Kenny both threw giant kickflips over the pyramid right away, while Forrest gradually worked his magic with a backside nollie heelflip. All smiling as we left the demo, we were treated to a five-course meal in our honor by Giorgio’s company S.R.D. and Converse. Thanks again.

We parted ways with those guys that evening and began our trip to Rome the next morning. No demos were set up, but Giorgio had arranged for an S.R.D. rep to show us some of the sights and skate spots in Rome. Enter Fabrizio. Fabrizio picked us up from the main train station in Rome as soon as we arrived. Rome is a large and beautiful city, with evidence of the ancient Roman Empire everywhere. At one time, the government of ancient Rome controlled two-thirds of the entire civilized world (I watch the history channel). The Romans were some powerful people and it shows. Many of the ancient Roman temples and various other architectural structures still remain relatively intact. Of all the famous sights I’ve seen around the world, I was more impressed by the sights of Rome than any other place. Rome was built on seven hills and to this day some of the original structures still stand on the hills.

Fabrizio was an excellent tour guide. Born and raised in Rome, he explained that there was so much ancient Rome to see that even he hadn’t even seen it all. Forrest and Ed, always on the look out for skate spots, found a gap to ledge over three long stairs right in front of the ancient Roman Coliseum (the most easily recognizable sight in Rome), and Forrest crooked grinded it. Ed discovered a set of stairs in front of a church. Fabrizio told us the church had been built in 1128. We were almost positive we wouldn’t be allowed to skate there, but were pleasantly surprised as the priests came out only to watch Ed kickflip the marble handrail in front.

Fabrizio seemed to have hook-ups all over Rome. After a long, hard day of being tourists, he took us to a summer fair and got us all in for free. Then took us to a restaurant/bar for a party setup. We had all the food we could eat and more drinks than we could drink. We woke up a little late the next morning. Fabrizio wanted to show us more of Rome before we skated because he thought it’d be too hot early in the day. He was right, it was too hot. The entire trip we were all so hot that it caused an insatiable thirst. We must have spent a couple-hundred-thousand lire (Italian currency) on bottled water alone.

In the center of Rome lies a political boundary unlike any other in the world. One political state sits entirely surrounded by another (sort of like if Nebraska were its own country inside the United States). The state I’m referring to is Vatican city. Home to Pope John Paul II, the Vatican covers about the area of twenty city blocks squared. A giant wall guarded by the prestigious Swiss Guard surrounds the holy city. The Vatican museum holds some of the world’s most valuable art, including pieces by Leonard Da Vinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio. It is also the home of the famously amazing Sistine Chapel. It took Michaelangelo, lying on his back, four years to paint the roof of the Chapel 1508 to 1512. I’m really not very interested in famous art, but the Sistine Chapel still left me breathless.

As the day cooled off, we met up with some local Roman skaters. About twenty people were skating when we arrived, but one stood out from the rest. Alessandro Martoriatai showed us what he was all about. He ran through a list of tricks on a ledge of stairs, so long it was annoying to some. When I decided to shoot something of him, he quickly and confidently 50-50 grinded a ten-stair rail close by and worked his way into a five-0 to tailslide. Alessandro was probably the best skater we came across on our trip, however, popular belief is that Giorgio Zattoni is the best Italian skater. One Italian skater I spoke to even referred to Giorgio as a national hero. Giorgio has his own family fun skatepark in Italy and I hear his brother has some skills as well.

The owners of a local skate shop called Hotline greatly helped us on our last night in Rome. They treated us to dinner and drinks at a restaurant in an area called Trestever. It was exactly the kind of place you picture in your head when you think of the streets and shops of Italy. The cobblestone streets were lined with dining tables and people watched a play on a little stage. Hotline even lent us their car so we could have a ride to the train station. Thanks, guys. Hotlines rules!

The trip wound down to an end. The curiosity and intrigue now had answers and the boredom had been relieved. Italy is a truly amazing place and we all had a great time. A huge gesture of gratitude goes out to everyone who made it possible and to my tour mates who really made the trip unforgettable. I think we all would highly recommend Italy as a stop on anyone’s world tour. “Bella Gnocca ’98.”

the church had been built in 1128. We were almost positive we wouldn’t be allowed to skate there, but were pleasantly surprised as the priests came out only to watch Ed kickflip the marble handrail in front.

Fabrizio seemed to have hook-ups all over Rome. After a long, hard day of being tourists, he took us to a summer fair and got us all in for free. Then took us to a restaurant/bar for a party setup. We had all the food we could eat and more drinks than we could drink. We woke up a little late the next morning. Fabrizio wanted to show us more of Rome before we skated because he thought it’d be too hot early in the day. He was right, it was too hot. The entire trip we were all so hot that it caused an insatiable thirst. We must have spent a couple-hundred-thousand lire (Italian currency) on bottled water alone.

In the center of Rome lies a political boundary unlike any other in the world. One political state sits entirely surrounded by another (sort of like if Nebraska were its own country inside the United States). The state I’m referring to is Vatican city. Home to Pope John Paul II, the Vatican covers about the area of twenty city blocks squared. A giant wall guarded by the prestigious Swiss Guard surrounds the holy city. The Vatican museum holds some of the world’s most valuable art, including pieces by Leonard Da Vinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio. It is also the home of the famously amazing Sistine Chapel. It took Michaelangelo, lying on his back, four years to paint the roof of the Chapel 1508 to 1512. I’m really not very interested in famous art, but the Sistine Chapel still left me breathless.

As the day cooled off, we met up with some local Roman skaters. About twenty people were skating when we arrived, but one stood out from the rest. Alessandro Martoriatai showed us what he was all about. He ran through a list of tricks on a ledge of stairs, so long it was annoying to some. When I decided to shoot something of him, he quickly and confidently 50-50 grinded a ten-stair rail close by and worked his way into a five-0 to tailslide. Alessandro was probably the best skater we came across on our trip, however, popular belief is that Giorgio Zattoni is the best Italian skater. One Italian skater I spoke to even referred to Giorgio as a national hero. Giorgio has his own family fun skatepark in Italy and I hear his brother has some skills as well.

The owners of a local skate shop called Hotline greatly helped us on our last night in Rome. They treated us to dinner and drinks at a restaurant in an area called Trestever. It was exactly the kind of place you picture in your head when you think of the streets and shops of Italy. The cobblestone streets were lined with dining tables and people watched a play on a little stage. Hotline even lent us their car so we could have a ride to the train station. Thanks, guys. Hotlines rules!

The trip wound down to an end. The curiosity and intrigue now had answers and the boredom had been relieved. Italy is a truly amazing place and we all had a great time. A huge gesture of gratitude goes out to everyone who made it possible and to my tour mates who really made the trip unforgettable. I think we all would highly recommend Italy as a stop on anyone’s world tour. “Bella Gnocca ’98.”