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Mike's Excellent Adventure to Europe 1993

Part 9: Vicenza

The place we were being sent to was Vicenza, Italy.  We were going to an Italian Air Force base in support of a NATO operation.  The plan was to go there, set up the software, and get out of the way, so that they could continue their operation.

When coordinating our visit, they told us to just pull up to the base, present our IDs, and someone would come to meet us.  They told us to come out Sunday afternoon.  So, upon arrival, we checked into the hotel, put on our uniforms, and drove out to the base.  I went into the visitor's center in uniform with my American military ID in hand.  I was met with a loaded gun (a very scary situation that I don't recommend anyone ever experience).  The Italian conscript on the other side of the gun (who looked like he was about 15) didn't understand a word I was saying.  He just kept repeating "NATO ID" while pointing his gun at me.  I told him I would come back "tomorrow."  He kept staring at me blankly.  I said "manana, manana" hoping my Spanish was close enough to the Italian word for "tomorrow" that he would understand.  I think it did - I left and I didn't get shot.

So, the next day, we called our contact who came out to visit us, and presented us with the NATO IDs that would get us past security (they were simple pieces of paper that said "NATO" on them with a date typed on it in a plastic sleeve).  So, we put on these low-tech, easily forgeable IDs, and the conscripts didn't give us any more trouble (until I got too close to their three-legged dog, but that's another story).  Anyway, off we go to the building we were working in.

The operation was a temporary one, and had already been underway for six months.  It was funny, because they used the headquarters building to host the operation, and the commander's office was our makeshift server room.  Our plan was that we would install the software and modify the system in the evenings and conduct on-the-fly training with the operators during the day.  So, we went in at around 7 AM and left each day around 11 PM.

Some highlights of the week

One night, I was watching Italian TV waiting for the stripping show, when they break in with a breaking news report.  As I don't know Italian, I did recognize three words.  The first two had me concerned - they were "Milano" which I knew was Milan and the second was "bomba" which needs no translation.  So, I am watching the news closely, making sure that I wasn't going to have to use my anti-terrorism training.  Then, I recognized a third word - "Mafia".  Turns out that the Mafia bombed a number of places, including the cathedral in Milan.  I wasn't completely at ease, but I rested better knowing that the bombings weren't related to our on-going NATO operations.

I don't have many pictures from Vicenza, because we were at work all day, and when we did go out, it was always late in the evening and dark.  I do have one picture of a castle near there, though.

I don't know the name of the castle.  I'll call it 'Fred's   Castle.'
A castle near Vicenza.

Every other American flying out of there flew in and out through Milan.  This is where I thought I would be flying out from.  Instead, the government travel office had me flying out of Venice, which I much preferred (Venice was only an hour away, whereas Milan was three hours away).  The beauty was that no one knew how to get to the Venice Airport, so my boss and I took off Thursday afternoon to figure out how to get to the airport (and do some sight-seeing).  No one minded, because we were ahead of schedule, and because they were conducting operations, they wanted us out of their way.  Also, we had been requested to stay an extra day, so we had to go to the Venice Airport to exchange my ticket.  So, on Thursday afternoon, we broke out early and headed to Venice!

Continue on to Part 10: Venice