«Saturday, July 22, 2000»
Last night we were
going to go to a nice Italian disco, but the one we read such good
things about had been closed by city ordinance (that's all we could
gather from the sign, our knowledge of French and German was little
help in discerning why), and the other club we could actually
afford was Space Electronic, where I went once four years ago and
seriously doubt has gotten any less cheesy. So we decided to buy a
liter of Peach Vodka and a couple of large McDonald's fries and sat on
the steps of the Duomo until 3:00 am. There we met a clan of French
Canadians (so I've been able to practice speaking French with three
native speaking nationalities: French, Canadian, and Swiss) and some
dudes in a Florentine rock band called "The Puddings." There were also
some kids from Madison, Wisconsin, where I will be in about one month
starting graduate study. But they were a little too... how shall I
say... liquified... to be interesting conversation. Still, I only wish
I had my camera with me...
after lunch, Mike and I between us had about $3 worth of Italian Lire.
Of course, our pockets weighed 20 pounds in 50 Lira ($0.02.5) coins,
but we were still pretty broke, and had a decision to make: check
Internet or have one more cup of kick-butt Italian ice cream? Ice cream
won... but then we found this place called "Internet Train"
that not only has American keyboards (which are remerkably confusing by
now), but took American currency! So I handed the man a $5 bill and
bought Mike and I each a half hour online... and here we are.
we have only one more hour to kill until tonight's 15 hour train ride
to Paris, where fellow college friend (and former fellow Lexingtonian)
Marie-Claire Dunne will meet us at the train station and offer lodging
until my flight out on Tuesday. Tour-de-France, here I come!
«Friday, July 21, 2000»
6:19 PM... Wow.
July 21. I arrived in Paris exactly one month ago today. Last May I
thought a month was too long a sejour in Europe, but now it feels it's
not long enough!
Thursday I headed into Venice proper at 10:00 and walked the city, all
the time asking myself, "Why is this place considered a romantic
getaway?" Seriously, Any other city in the world with no streets, dirty
walkways, smelly canals, mangy dogs, millions of pigeons (and therefore
pigeon doody everywhere), disentigrating walls, and tons of street
vendors would be considered a slum. But Venice, man... it's Venice!!
I spent the better part of the morning feeding pigeons out of my hand
(and thankfully didn't get pooped on once) in the Piazza San Marco.
Then I saw the Rodin exhibit which was okay, but all of the bronzes
were copies and only a few of the plasters were originals, and half of
the pieces were for sale (so I saw an auction rather than an exhibit).
It was still really interesting the see his unique mastery of human
muscle, form, and expression. It's sort of like Jimi Hendrix on guitar:
sloppy but perfect.
lines for the Catedrale San Marco were hours long, so once again I
didn't get to go in and see it... and the Vivaldi concert I saw the
poster for was not performing on the 19th. However, Mike and I did
stumble upon a smaller performance by the San Marco Chamber Orchestra
(a septet) in a small chapel off the Piazza with only 140 seats (they
were £25.000 = $12.50) performing Albioni's "Adagio," Vivaldi's "Four
Seasons," and Pachelbel's "Canone." It was really, really fun, too. The
lead violinist too a few liberties during the "Four Seasons," but
still... It was Vivaldi and it was live and it was in a church in Venice! No worries.
the concert wasn't until 20:00, and we had about four hours to kill, so
we ate at a Chinese place where the waitress not only seemed bothered
by our business, but she also spoke no English, Italian, German,
French, or anything else we either knew or were in our handy
Euro-phrasebook. but my pineapple chicken was still pretty good. Then
we fed more pigeons and sat on the steps of Piazza to people watch and
write in our jounrals when Mike yells, "Is that Yoder?!?!" Lo
and behold, it was the one and only Matthew Ingram Yoder (college buddy
and floormate of both me and Mike) along with his travel clan, fresh in
from Greece. We only had about an hour and a half to hang out, because
our concert would let out about an hour before their hostel's curfew
and it wouldn't be worth trying to meet up later, but it was still
quite an interesting coincidence.
we took the noon train to Rome via Florence (getting off here in
Florence, my favorite city in italy), not having made lodging
arrangements. By now you know the story: we spent 45 minutes calling
every hotel and hostel in our liturature: booked, booked, booked,
booked. And then we tried one more that was buried somewhere in one of
my computer printouts: OPEN! not only was it available, but it's on the
second floor of a fifteenth century pensione halfway between the Duomo
and Piazza della SS. Annunziata (both in perfect view for the street
below our room). The best part is, it's costing us each about $12 per
person per night to stay in a double room suite with a living/reading
room and our own bathroom. The innkeeper is a seventy-five-year-old
woman we've started to call "nonna" ("grandma").
night we met up with some Aussie chicks to go club hopping and, after
an hour of wandering without a club in sight and these girls getting
progressively more annoying, we strategically ditched them in the
street market and each bought a bottle of wine which we nursed over the
next couple of hours while strolling about the whole city. By 1:30 in
the morning we had finished off our wine, were completely lost without
a map, and started craving fries. So, we committed one of the cardinal
sins of eurotravel: McDonald's. But it's justifiable because nothing
else was open at 2:00, and it was on the way home!
I got up at 8:30 to get to the Ufizzi early and beat the monster line,
but the line was still an hour and a half wait once I got there, so I
called to make reservations for tomorrow (only $1 more), and I spent
most of the day wandering, haggling with street vendors (but actually
buying little), napping, and eating ice cream. Tonight we nit some
discos and tomorrow we hit museums before catching out night train (14
hour ride!) to Paris. Four days left.
«Wednesday, July 19, 2000»
9:41 AM... I
think I've just about kicked this illness. Sunday morning I woke up
either with allergies or some 48-hour-cold (yesterday when I woke up my
eyes were even sealed shut with crusties). But between the resting I
did Sunday and most of yesterday, the antihistamines I bummed off of
Mike, and the herbal tea ("La Mélange De L'Abbaye" or "Monk Mix") that
Gueseppe's wife whipped up for me a few times, I'm 90% back up to speed.
morning I went to Mélide, a small town south of Lugano to see the
"Swissminatur" attraction, which is a park in the shape of Switzerland,
loaded with all the major attractions and monuments of the country at a
1:20 scale (give or take a few). There were a lot more people
that I was expecting, and it was hard to even walk around. I only
recognized one of the sites (the Waterfall I hiked in Lautenbrunnen
last Wednesday). But still, it was interesting to see. I actually got
to see a model maker painting one of the new exhibits they were soon to
Mike and I got on a train to Milan to catch a connection into Venice.
We sat across from a fellow who claimed to be a US Congressional Medal
of Honor recipient (from WWII), to have the actual flag replicated in
the Korean War Memorial, to have spent 20 years as a Chiropractor all
over Africa developing a method of relaxation therapy for which he's
written an 85-volume journal, and despite not being publishished by any
reputable scientific sources, has still been asked to be interviewed by
Oprah Winfrey after he moves back to the USA for the first time in 46
years. This guy was so full of it there were brown stains on his seat
when he got off the train.
our connecting train the only free seats were handicapped seats, for
which we thought about faking deafness/blindness or showing Mike's
Thyroid surgery scars in case we were questioned. But we had no
problems... I suppose being American tourists in Italy qualified as
handicapped. At any rate, we got here in Venice around 16:00 and, not
knowing where to stay, not being able to get ahold of the hostels on
the telephone, and the information desk only dealing with hotels
(minimum of 100,000 Lira = $50 per night), we were fortunate enough to
run into some Norwegian girls named Lin and Kirentsa (sp?) and a blind
fellow from Boston named Zach (ironically on the same train we were on,
in a non-handicapped seat) who were all headed to a campsite that was
only 19,000 Lira = $8.50 per night. So away we went, and here we are.
Today I venture into the city for seeing/smelling the canal and the
pigeons in San Marcos Square, and hopefully seeing the Rodin exhibit
that's allegedly around here. And maybe, just maybe... if we
read the posters right yesterday... there will be a performance of
Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the Vivaldi memorial thatre tonight! But more
on that later.
«Sunday, July 16, 2000»
4:18 PM... After
two nights with the Filisetti's (and two fabulous consecutive
French-Swiss dinners), the stay came to an end and I hopped a train to
Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland, by Marc's recommendation.
Unfortunately, the third train connection had an hour and a half leg on
it with few-to-no unreserved seats, and having a Europass had to
relinquish my seat to folks with reservations. So I spent an hour and a
half in the little area between cars with some Germans going to Nice,
complete with lawn chairs set up and boom boxes blaring Green Day and
the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But for the last half hour of the trip I sat
next to a lovely French-Swiss couple who said they were impressed with
my French. I told them that I had house-stays with Grég and Marc to
thank for that.
arriving in Lugano Saturday around 13:00, I tore off my long sleeve
shirt and unzipped the bottom of my convertible short-pants because it
is so beautiful here... but here's the skinny: Saturday was the
last day of the annual Lugano Jazz Festival, the start of the Swiss
Jehovah's Witness Convention, and some Swiss Bagpipe Society street
event... in addition to being 26°C, clear and sunny, while the rest of
Switzerland was cold and drippy. Needless to say, every single hotel
and hostel was booked up already. But nothing could have been worse
than my experience in Nice, so Mike and I went to the hostel next to
the train station where we met Ian (a Berkeley U. kid with a UN
internship in Geneva, in town for the night) and Brendon (another
Californian and backpacker, who's story I can't quite recall), who were
also out of luck in the place-to-stay department.
in short order Mike and I charmed the blonde behind the hostel counter
into looking for whatever "alternative" lodging she could find for us.
A few minutes later she had dug up a Chinese restaurant that rented out
rooms on the second floor for 55 SF per night, and the private
residence of Giuseppe DiClemente,
an Afro-Italian entrepreneur, who rents out the back room of his house
(with exactly four beds) for 25 SF per night, including breakfast with
him, his German-Swiss wife, and their three children. So that's what we
did. This morning after breakfast was an impromptu jam session in the
garden with dejimbé drums, guitars, recorders, and whatever other
objects we could find with musical potential (including water bottles,
bottle caps, cigarette lighters, and a die-cast toy truck). Mike,
Brendon and I are staying again tonight.
other things yesterday, we all went out on the lake in a paddle boat
with a twelve-pack of Kroenbourg and went to the Jazz Festival last
night (where we got to see Wynton Marsalis and his band perform). But
today I'm feeling a little spacy... so I'm laying low, resting, and
catching up on my journal. Tomorrow I plan to go see "Little
Switzerland" nearby and take a night train to either Venice or
Florence. But right now, a nap. Ciao!