Writing Abroad- Italy

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St.Peter's Church and Vatican For our fourth stay abroad, we chose Italy. Our client, MD Conference Express®, had a contract to cover three conferences and agreed with us that it would be cost effective if they sent one team, especially a married team, to attend all three congresses. The first meeting was in Rome, the second two in Milan. We left the evening of May 31 and returned home on June 25.

For the first 9 days of our trip we rented an apartment from a friend. It was about one block from St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican so this was pretty much where all our days started. There were several good local restaurants right around the corner, a few mini-markets, and a Carrefour not too far away. Arriving the 1st of June, we had time to do some sightseeing before the start of the first conference. We toured the Vatican (awesome), had an audience with the Pope (along with another 2000 tourists in St. Peters Square), and visited the Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Catacombs, and all of the great Piazzas and Basilicas we could walk to or get to by metro. Rome was crowded, hot, and filled with tourists, but I would put it on everyone’s must see list. The Vatican is amazing—so many paintings and sculpture stuffed into one place, representing thousands of years of history and the work of the best artists the world has ever created. Do the night tour if you can since it’s less crowded. Because it’s free, the lines for St. Peter’s are long (3 to 4 hours on some days) – check it out around 4PM on a Sunday afternoon, we somehow lucked into a

Maria attended the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). We’ve covered this meeting several times in the past in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Barcelona, and Paris; this year it was in Rome from June 10th to the 13th. EULAR probably has some of the best science of any of the congresses we attend but unfortunately it is not the easiest conference to cover (more later). This year, coverage was made more trying by the location of the conference center, which is a good 45 minute chartered bus ride from most hotels, practically unreachable by public transportation, and a 45 Euro taxi ride. Despite this it was a good meeting and very well attended.

Galeria Vittorio Emanuele II While Maria remained in Rome I took the Frecciarossa train (travels over 200 MPH) to Milan to attend and capture content of the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) meeting, which took place June 12th to the 15th at the MICO Milano Congressi. The MICO is a brand new futuristic-looking congress center, the largest in Europe. It’s very pleasant and with the new metro stop, easy to access. BTW: Milan is very busy this year – from May 1 to October 31 it is hosting the Universal Exposition a non-commercial exhibition that encourages dialogue on hot global topics. This year’s topic is Feeding The Planet: Energy for Life (Michele Obama attended on the 17th of June).

We also rented an apartment for our stay in Milan – this time through VRBO. The apartment was well-equipped and in a nice residential area that was within walking distance of the MICO and also close to the metro. The ESH Congress was well-attended and focused on, besides hypertension, cardiovascular protection, diabetes, stroke, and the new oral anticoagulants.

Maria joined me at the apartment the following Sunday, exhausted and frustrated with the EULAR conference organizers. Ironically, she also managed to get tossed-out during the last day, last session of the conference. I say ironically, as this also happen to me the last time we covered EULAR in Paris on the last day, last session. EULAR has very strict rules for capturing content-you can’t. Without content (audio and visuals), there is really no reason for us to attend. Our job is to write up a review of the sessions assigned to us, as many as 12 or more (10,000 to 14,000 words). Sometimes these sessions have six or more presenters each with 30 to 40 slides and 20 minutes speaking time. If you are only interested in highlights, I guess you can write a story from press releases but that’s not what we do. For the articles we write, taping and photographing are necessary for a good write up.

After ESH we headed off for some sight-seeing: the Duomo (magnificent), the Last Supper painting (truly inspiring – and we are both convinced it is Mary Magdalen not John), Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and lunch with the locals at Luini. It rained a couple of days, but this took the edge off the city heat. Some days the weather was quite good. Of note, the pizza in Rome was great everywhere we had it, while in Milan it was bad everywhere we had it. Don’t know the reason for this, maybe just the luck of the draw.

Grand Canal In the middle of week, we took the train to Venice, a lovely, charming city, with no cars, only boats and gondolas. Yes, we toured the Grand Canal, went to Saint Mark’s Square for lunch (paid way too much) and San Giorgio Maggiore, and went for drinks at Harry’s Bar (hard to find). Harry’s is famous for the Bellini and for having been the favorite spot of many writers – especially Hemingway. We stayed on Lido Island, home to the Venice Film Festival, and stuck our feet in the Adriatic Sea.

Back in Milan, we got ready for European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) meeting again at the MICO center. This 4-day conference ran from Sunday 21th to Wednesday 24th and emphasized a multidisciplinary and translational approach using modern electrophysiology in the diagnosis and therapy of arrhythmias and conduction disturbance. Maria and I covered this together splitting up the duties of photographing and recording. We made some interesting contacts that maybe will turn into long-term clients.

On our off time we enjoyed hanging in the apartment and visiting the neighboring cafes, which surprisingly offered some good food. However, the best meals we had in Milan were the ones Maria cooked in the apartment with fresh ingredients from the local market. It was good to get home. A month is just the right about of time to get to know a place and get homesick.

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