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7/23/2000 - 7/29/2000
7/16/2000 - 7/22/2000
7/9/2000 - 7/15/2000
7/2/2000 - 7/8/2000
6/25/2000 - 7/1/2000
6/18/2000 - 6/24/2000
6/11/2000 - 6/17/2000

About this blog:

On May 20, 2000, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree from DePauw University. And what better way to celebrate selling my soul to the University of Wisconsin graduate school than by spending five weeks in Europe? Since Europe is allegedly riddled with these "cyber-cafés," I plan to update this travel weblog as often as possible to let loved ones know how i'm doing, and what they're missing. I'll periodically check my email from over there, too, so drop me a line.


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«Saturday, July 22, 2000»

5:20 PM... 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...

Today 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.

Now 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!

On 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.

The 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.

But 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.

Yesterday 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").

Last 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!

Today 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.

Monday 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 install.

Yesterday 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.

On 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.

Upon 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.

Well, 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.

Among 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!

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