Pontedera is one of those small towns whose beauty has been blurred by the more over-rated big cities that people visit. You can only truly appreciate the simplicity and solitude of this town, once you start living here.
The next day after your arrival in the Biorobotics Institute, you will be introduced to your supervisor and the team that you will be working with. You’ll be given a map of the town which is a really interesting way to discover nearby places. You’ll definitely get lost but find great shops and restaurants on your way. Somehow, you’ll find your way back.
To make the most out of living in Pontedera, I have written short pages on everything that you need to know about.
When I settled down on the plane to leave from Pisa to Rome, I started to panic. I wanted to get off the plane, out from the airport and call out to my friends (who just dropped me) to take me away.
You never know that you truly love a place unless you are going to leave it and not know if you’d ever come back again. It felt like someone close to me was dying and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t control the swell of emotions building up inside me as memories of Italy started to flood my mind.
Leaving Italy was hard. I had to hide my face in the airport bus as tears kept rolling down without my permission.
As is with anything that you attach yourself to, letting go is really hard. You will always suffer.
You have the right to mourn for this place that you called home for two months. Allow yourself to cry. This longing would probably last for a whole month or until you get busy with your life again.
Sometimes though, you can get something good out of your sadness. I wrote this blog to make myself feel better. By guiding others to live a better life in the place that I did is nothing less than experiencing it all over again.
Talk to your room-mates about your longing. They are definitely feeling the same way. Post pictures and throwbacks on social media. Write a similar blog sharing your own experiences. Keep in touch with your friends in Italy and reminisce of the good times you spent.
In the end, you’ll look back at it not with a desperately painful longing, but a beautiful memory.
On weekends, when you don’t have to sleep early, you should drag your guest house buddies and go for a late night walk by the riverside.
Every weekend, at 10 pm, I would go to the riverside accompanied by one or two friends and walk between thousands of fireflies lighting up our way. As we kept walking, we reached a lamp post that was covered in an intricate spider web, lightened by fireflies, as if it were a forgotten gold necklace.
However, your days to see the light, the way Rapunzel did (except for the boat part), are limited. When we visited the riverside later in June nights, not one firefly could be seen. Just like a magical moment that lasts too short, these luminescent insects disappeared in the summer.
So, don’t miss a night without these walks. They are nothing but magical.
If you want to propose to your girl friend, this is the place boys!
On weekends, crowds of local Pontederians bustle in this part of the town to drink, dance, shop, eat and make out with their partners. You’ll hear loud music blasting out in both English and Italian from several cafes – loud enough for your soul to start dancing.
You can reach the downtown from the riverside. Just cross under the train bridge to the other side and walk a short distance until you reach the famous bridge of Pontedera.
Climb up the stairs and head over to the roadside. You’ve reached the downtown.
Picture credits: Sahana
Picture credits: Sahana
Picture credits: Sahana
You’ll see teenage girls dressed in cute summer outfits while their hair’s dyed to a shade of dark purple or blue; their admirable defiance clearly visible in their gait. They walk in groups with their friends, most of them holding hands with their boyfriends that are equally charming. Sometimes they’ll stop midway for a short kiss.
These teens are an important part of Pontedera because their opposition to “blending in”, gives the town an exciting touch of sassiness and badassery. This “rebellion” was also alive in the paintings and writings, seen all over Pontedera.
However, it is not only the youth that inspire liveliness in the town. I’ve never seen the elderly spread such happy vibes before, just by their mere presence.Sitting on the benches along with their grand kids, these adorable grand parents can be seen devouring their cone and cup gelatos while keeping watch of those pesky kids.
The grand mothers are dressed in their cute knee length dresses that match their bracelets and earrings, while their graying hair cut short. The grandfathers sit close to their spouses on the bench and together they watch their grand kid, in deep admiration, whizzing around.
They represent a much older version of the teenagers that significantly stand out from the rest of the crowd. While their grey hair reminds you of the passage of time and wisdom gained, their evident playfulness will fill you with the awareness of now. Just like the youth, they too add a touch of sass into the town.
Pontedera is of course incomplete without those perfect couples that make out in corners and even in the middle of the street. If it weren’t for Pizza all around town, being single would have been a nightmare.
Pontederians love to dress fashionably, which explains the diversity of the designer and cosmetic shops present across downtown. Mark your calendars now so you don’t miss the crazy sales that start from July 1st. Summer is also the time when several events will attract people from the other towns and cities.
One such event that was held, in the beginning of July, was the “Notte Bianca” which literally means “White night”. Several stages were set up all over the downtown where musicians and singers performed, starting from the evening and stretching all the way to midnight.
Drinks including but not limited to sangria, cocktails and beer were sold by people dressed in hawaiian costumes. Several dessert stalls were set up by the local cafes, selling pastries with cream and chocolate filling. The Pizzerias had their own stalls that offered huge slices of cheesy and tomato filled pizzas.
Men and women played brass instruments on the streets while couples and friends danced in the midst of it. That night, as I danced around with the rest of the crowd and enjoyed my chocolate pastry, I stopped holding onto my past or worrying about my future and for the first time, decided to live in the present.
Maintaining a happy work life in the Biorobotics institute is really important since it covers a huge chunk of your day time. You’d be working from 9 am in your laboratory and finishing work at 6 pm in the evening.
You need to mentally prepare yourself for starting work on the same day that you are introduced to your team. Ask good questions about the project and talk to them about your major and relevant courses that you took. I know that these are already included in your CV but your whole team might not have read it.
The institute is more like a family of scientists who work and hangout together everyday, trying to make the world a better place. I could not see any difference between students, research assistants and professors. Every one were such jolly old friends. You could totally be best friends with your professors. The social freedom was just so overwhelming! It relieved you of your anxiety of talking to someone in a higher authority than you.
Depending on the difficulty of the project and your qualifications, your supervisor would assign you to a specific task to complete. In the beginning, you might feel useless for completing simple tasks. You might think they are just trying to get rid of you by keeping you aside from the “real” work. However, as the weeks pass by, you’ll be asked to complete more challenging tasks that would in the end contribute to the research project.
In reality, if like me, your internship duration is two months, it is not at all enough for working on a large scale research project, that would take years to be completed. Just do your best in whatever task is assigned to you.
As per the words of one of my team members, “The first few months are spent mostly in learning the required software and getting familiar with the requirements of the project.”
The more crucial aspect of your work life is to develop a sense of trust with your team members. Show your dedication to your tasks by constantly updating them on your progress. I admit that I myself was too shy to interrupt them during their work in case they were busy. Most of my will power was consumed by mustering up the courage to go up to my team members and talk to them.
Words would form and build up inside me and just when the volcano of words was about to erupt, they’d disappear into a mist on my lips. I was always afraid.
What if they were working on something important? What if I disturb them? What if I put a bad impression or do something stupid!
Building a good relationship with your team-mates is extremely important. At the end of my internship, I asked the most senior of my team members for a critical feedback. I had braced myself for getting criticized for all sorts of flaws in my technical education. Yet, I found myself completely shaken off by her comments.
It was not my lack of technical qualifications but instead the limited amount of interaction I had with my team members. In fact, she had been quite impressed by my technical skills.
Thus, speaking from personal experience, don’t be shy! You’re an important part of the project and they need to know what you’re up to. In real jobs, it is all about team members interaction which reflects upon the end product.
Looking back now, if I had spoken more often of the challenges I faced, I would have completed my work more productively and might have progressed to even more complex tasks.
Sometimes, tackling your problems alone is not bravery but sheer stupidity!
One of the advantages of living inside the guest house of the institute is that you’ll have access to three bicycles. I cannot stress more of how big of a blessing this is and you should definitely utilize this opportunity!
After work hours, ask the guardian to give you the keys to the bike number that would fit you. On my first week, I had asked for a bike that was meant to be for tall people. Not surprisingly, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. I also had the embarrassment of falling face first on the roadside in front of a couple making out. Good thing they were busy!
Ride towards the right of the institute and you’ll find yourself looking at a breathtaking view of the sun setting in between the mountains. A cool wind will blow gently across your face and might compel you to close your eyes and stop in the moment.
Be careful! You’ll be cycling alongside cars so you need to take care to avoid getting hit. After you pass a roundabout, you’ll reach a vast area of a car park with a very tiny garden in the middle.
Every afternoon I’d ride around this place in circles and wait for the sky to change its colors and the sun to finally set in between the mountains.
Cycling in that car park of Pontedera was more sacred to me than any other forms of spirituality. The only thoughts that would engulf my mind were the cries of sea gulls, the singing of the wind and the dance of the sun’s rays.
Walking around natural places always get your clothes dirty especially when you plan to sit on the sandy edges of the riverside. Every week, I’d have a huge pile of dirty clothes collected at the end of my bed; like a huge pre-bonfire.
I used to take my laundry for granted at home. It was the least important thing on my mind and I didn’t give it much thought either when I left for Italy.
Yet, it is quite a big deal especially when living on a budget.
The coin laundry in Pontedera charges 5 euros for your washing and you’d have to carry a bag full of dirty clothes all the way to downtown. Honestly, I never visited the coin laundry because I didn’t intend to spend that much money every week on washing clothes.
I had two choices then:
Stink at work
Wash my clothes by hand.
Buying oxygen masks for people around me would have cost even more, so I decided to go for the second choice.
I got my washing powder and learnt to wash clothes by hand from here.
It is best that you do your laundry work on Sundays. Put on some music and sing along, while you build those muscles!