A Short Trip
The account of my excursions through continental and extracontinental Europe,
although the latter were more akin to mere dabblings.
Supplementary material at the end.

16 June 2007

So after a sort of late start—the plane from Toronto left late because it had the wrong luggage or something—I've landed in London. And it's raining. I'm at the International Students House on Great Portland Road—my first encounter with a hostel. It's shabby. And not so easy to get to; it was actually quite a journey.

I stepped off the plane and into London Heathrow, and felt as though I had just awoken from a long sleep to find myself in a strange place. Well that much was true. I followed the signs—err, people in front of me—and eventually entered a queue (when in Britain, speak as the Britons do?) to enter the country. At the end there were several desks where crabbed looking middle-aged men and women pestered the invaders, trying to persuade them not to visit London... My turn was up. "Passport," said the lady as I handed her my small, crisp blue booklet bearing the title UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I also gave her the immigration card before she asked for it, and she eyed it for a moment, then asked: "What are you doing in London?" I replied, "Oh, just here to look around... see the museums, eat the food—" She cut me off: "And you're staying for two days?" I nodded. She continued, "And then what?" I said, "Oh, well then I'm going to Paris..." "How are you getting there?" she attacked. "By train, I have the ticket booked already." "Well, can I see the ticket?" "No, I don't have it with me... It's an electronic booking, and I will pick it up at the station..." She seemed to be getting angry. "How much money have you got?" "Um, well, do you mean cash on me right now?" Seeing her impatient nod, I added, "I think like $40 US." She now flusteredly diverted her attention to my passport ID page, noticing that I was underage. "And do your parents know that you're here wandering about Europe?" I replied in the affirmative, but she did not seem convinced... I then remembered that I had a note from my mother stating something of that nature, which I then produced and showed to her. She held it as if she had just discovered a suitcase of counterfeit bank notes infested with rotting earthworms, still not entirely convinced. She sighed, and stamped my passport with an expression on her face as if to say, "I hope I don't get fired for this."

I followed some more signs, and eventually came to the way to get to the city, as London Heathrow is situated quite a distance from anything worthwhile in London. Two options: the Underground, which took about 45 minutes, and some Heathrow Express business that took 15 minutes to get to Paddington and cost about 5 times as much as the Underground. Being parsimonious, I opted for the Underground, and bought a day pass for £7.50. I followed the signs to the Underground, and as I was about to enter, a man in a yellow-striped orange security vest stopped me. "Where is it you're trying to get to?" Not yet used to the accent, I replied, "Sorry?" In a condescending tone, he said, "What road do you want to go to?" Suddenly understanding, I said, "Great Portland Street"—although it took a moment to recall the name. He seemed to shoo me, saying, "Take the Heathrow Express, it's much faster." And with that, he wouldn't let me through to the Underground. Confused and desperate, I closed my eyes as I purchased a ticket for the Heathrow express, which was about £25, or $50 US.

The ride was fine. Short, smooth, and I overheard the people in front of me talking about how they don't have television in Singapore. Altogether, however, the ride was not worth the obscene cost... I stepped off the platform in Paddington (Mind the gap), and began my long journey to Great Portland Road. And then of course the International Students House was on the very northern tip of the Road. Figures. So my plane got in around 6.40, and I arrived at the International Students House at around 11.30, and was told check in wasn't until 12.30. So I left my bag in the luggage check, and went for a walk, as if the several-hour-long excursion I just finished wasn't long enough. I found a phone card and called home, and then walked down to the National Gallery, took a brief walk-through, and I will go back more thoroughly tomorrow, as the admission is free. And maybe go to the Globe Theatre and see a show. Othello is playing tonight and Romeo and Juliet is playing tomorrow.

I checked out the Southwark (I think that's what it's called) along the Thames—there are lots of great things there: music, people, performers, shops, and I believe I have some plans for tomorrow: PS
Props to London for having some free do-ables... It almost makes up for the expensive £ and the 20% included sales tax.

Things I did: saw Big Ben's tower, heard Big Ben sing, walked on Drury Lane (no muffin man as far as I could tell), got a greeting from a skirted Scot, saw a fake Caravaggio on a city street, saw a real Caravaggio in a museum.

Added June 18
Oh I forgot to tell you. In London, there was a poor old man sitting on a sidewalk (Oxford St) with a few pence on the blanket on his lap. As I walked by, a woman walking the other direction (toward me and the man) carrying a Coke, a banana, and a sandwich, and she bent down to the man: "Excuse me," she said, "I brought these for you." ♥

17 June 2007

Today was great—I spent most of it by the Thames.

I went to the Globe Theatre in the morning, but tickets were sold out (bummer), so I visited the gift shop. I had lunch at EAT, then visited the National Gallery. It was cool; there was some Korean diversity festival thing going on in the plaza so there was music etc. At the Gallery, I was afforded the beautiful opportunity to see all the great paintings: The Arnolfini Wedding by Jan van Eyck, which I have idolized since I laid eyes upon it in my art history book, Pope Julius II by Raphael, Madonna of the Rocks by Leonardo, Botticelli's panoramic Venus and Mars, The Ambassadors by Holbein, a version of The Battle of San Romano by Uccello, The Bathers by Cézanne (the same version of which I have a print, thanks to Mrs. G-S), and a whole slew of Turners. The Gallery was absolutely brilliant, and at the right price (ie free).

Then at the River I watched a guy playing with a soccer ball—he was really good (read English), breakdancers, various musicians and bands, people pretending to be statues (a new fad of street performance, it seems).

No roommates right now... Pete and Drew from the US, left for Poland today, Ian from Scotland left for NYC at 4.00 this morning.

Odd Things

Oh yeah, I saw the Halls of Parliament... Westminster Abbey (which was closed per today is Sunday, unfortunately)
Tomorrow I leave in the AM for Paris!

My feet are so tired, sore, blistered!!!

18 June 2007

Sooooo... It's 10.57 and I'm at the train station—Waterloo Int'l. Missed my 10.40 train by a few minutes but the wonderful people at Eurostar let me swap for the next train to Paris at 12.09. So besides having to sit here for another hour, I haven't lost anything... Oh yes, why was I late? Because I underestimated the time it'd take for me to walk here... that, and I took a wrong turn onto Fleet Street, which went along the river, not across it as I had planned, haha.

Bon soir! It's the evening in Paris and I'm at the Aloha Hostel... finally, after 3 or more hours of walking. I had reached the edge of the map from my guidebook, and only then realized that there was a tiny arrow saying "#28 (the hostel), 2 km". So I wasn't sure where to go, and I was basically walking aimlessly. Then a man and his wife approached me while I was studying a map of the area on a bus stop shelter, and gave me some directions to the metro. Ah, wonderful. The discovery of the metro made Paris so much more reachable...

Anyway, it seems cool here, lots of young people. The only frustrations: no towel, apparently (it's okay; I have my small one), and the rooms only have one key, so if I take a nap I must be prepared to be awoken to open the door for someone.

I forgot to say... At the train station before, an old lady fell down the escalator... on top of another lady, and they both went tumbling down, knocking down everyone below them. Luggage and bags flew everywhere. It was quite comical; don't worry: no one was seriously injured. However, my feet are so tired right now, I feel like an old lady.

19 June 2007

Well I only have 10 detergent packets—8 now—so every 3 to 4 days has got to be laundry day. My clothes are on the line, and dripping.

Anyway, today... I went to Parc Champs de Mars (Tour Eiffel) and stayed there all day. Among other things, there was the BEACH VOLLEY WORLD TOUR 07!!! So I watched games of doubles volleyball most of the day.

I started collecting wine bottle corks. I find them lying on the ground, pretty much everywhere I go. I think I have four.

Saw some horse cops: GARDE REPUBLICAINE. And I ate some pain aux raisins.

And... Perhaps most notably, I encountered the people who I like to call the Speak English? girls. They wear these dresses... they look Middle-Eastern but I have no idea, and they hang around touristy areas (like the Eiffel Tower) and ask people: "(Excuse me,) Speak English?" If they get a response, they hold up this little folded notecard that is scribed in messy, blocky capitals with something like:

and such and such. There's some variation on these; I've had the opportunity to see a few of these cards. Honestly, and regrettably, the first time it happened, it caught me so off guard that I couldn't shoo the girl away while still being pleasant, and ended up giving her a tiny little snivel of the granola bar I had been eating.

Odd Things

20 Juin 2007

Went to the Louvre today. Wonderful! It was actually quite a maze, even harder to navigate with the "helpful" signs posted everywhere... Oh well. But eventually I saw all the main things I had set out to see: da Vincis, Vermeers, Ingreses, the old Sumerian effects... And I also discovered the work of Pieter Boel, which is glorious and marvelous, and not to mention quite precocious, for he lived in the 1600's.

I must say my favority part of the Louvre was seeing the other artists painting reproductions of the works in the gallery... Simply marvelous.

Then I walked down to Notre Dame, got a baguette sandwich (expensive; quite good but not worth the €) and whatever. The Speak English? girls were at Notre Dame too, by the way. I walked by Sainte-Chapelle also, but was deterred by the entrance fee. (I found out afterward that the chapel is free admission for under-eighteens, but I never went back).

I walked to the Arch du Triomphe. It wasn't quite as cool as I had imagined it would be, but I saw some breakdancers on the corner there... and then I saw them get breaked by the cops. Lots of good-looking people here too.

Oh yeah, saw some more BEACH VOLLEY at the Champs de Mars.

Tried to call Mom but she wasnt around :\. 3 times. :(


Roommates changed again... Brazilian girls are still here, English Aussie guy moved spots, and the other 3 left town (I suspect the male of that group stole my contact solution). Not sure if anyone else is coming.

Postcards here are like over 1€ each. Whoa! Glad I'm not getting any of those... Oh and there are four French girls in the room now, and they're pretty annoying.

21 June 2007

Hello. Today I went to the Museé d'Orsay—it was nice—and free!! It's nice to be minoirs de 18 sometimes. I got to see some Whistlers, Cézannes, Monets, etc. And they even had a nice Rousseau there—I was mesmerised. Who'da thunk?

Then I went to the Galeries Lafayette and poked around... Lots of fancy French (expensive) clothes, I got a pair of shorts. Dunno how much they cost exactly; firstly the price was in €uro and secondly there is a 19ish% VAT included—yuck. Yes, you can get a VAT refund if you're a foreigner... provided you spend at least $250 in one place on one day. No thanks. So then I had lunch there... trop cher, if you know what I mean.

I must get a new bottle of contact solution. I am still convinced that guy stole it, because the day the left was the day I couldn't find it, and he was the only other person I encountered so far that wore contacts... and had momentary access to some of my things. Grumble. Tomorrow I leave to Nîmes.

There are some new girls in the room. The other ones. And the Australian guy is still here. Haven't talked to him much; wonder when he's leaving...

Oh also, I picked up a copy of The Road. Gonna start reading.

Added 22 June
Went to the Eiffel Tower again until late... This was per the Australian guy's advice, who told me, "Man, you don't come to explitive Paris and stay in all night!" At any rate, it was great; there was music everywhere along the Seine and at the Eiffel Tower, and I stayed around till about 0.30 in the morning. I thought it would be okay because the metro is right near the Eiffel Tower, and I was just going to walk there... The metro was closed.

I pondered for a moment, wondering what the best course of action might be, when something I read on the pamphlet for the Aloha Hostel popped into my head: "Only a 10 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower!" Okay, I thought to myself, I can do 10 minutes—and I set off. I'm unsure whether it actually took ten minutes; the number of times I sung "The Legionnaire's Lament" to myself on the journey seems to suggest otherwise. Also, spending my energies to constantly be alert of possible mortal threats probably made the time tick a bit slower. That, and I only really know the first verse of that song.

I made it to the hostel unscathed in the end, but the way was quite scary. Not only did I take a route that was significantly non-direct, but at one point I was almost certainly about to be stabbed: A man is walking quickly behind me. I slow a bit, to let him pass, and he does so without stopping up his pace. After a moment he gravitates to the left, slowing down to allow me to pass. I steal a glance over my shoulder, and see him lingering on a corner for a moment, seemingly observing my motion. He immediately resumes walking in my direction, even more quickly this time. As he nears me, a blue spike shoots up my spine as every hair on my body stands on end and goosebumps erupt from my skin. I brace myself. And he passes, and walks on as if he had never stopped.

22 June 2007

Ah! I want to cry! It's been a week... And feels like forever. Friends, family are but a memory... Sore feet and neverending frustration are my reality.

There were no trains to Nîmes, so I took a train to Nice, which would have been the following destination. I don't know what I was thinking, but I booked a hotel at the train station—over $150 a night I think—and I'm gonna be in Nice now for 3 days, not just 1. Not sure what there is to do... On a more positive note, the hotel is very nice and not too expensive, and the privacy and amenities will be nice for thw first two days, after which I will resume my schedule by staying at the hostel I have booked.

Finding the hotel was quite an ordeal... The lady at the Paris train station said the hotel was near the Nice train station, which would have been convenient. But it was actually not convenient at all, because the hotel is by the AIRPORT, which is a two-and-a-half-hour walk from the train station. After two hours, I had no idea how much farther I had had to go, so I broke down and boarded a bus, and asked the driver where the hotel might be. Good thing I did, because I am certain I would have collapsed under the hot, Mediterranean sun and my backpack before I arrived. The bus driver made a special stop right in front of my hotel, and let me off free of charge. Nice guy; very helpful.

Ah I feel better. It's funny how much difference a short call home can make. I went for a walk (phew), got a pizza and a Coke, and saw at least seven hookers on the way back—clearly night had fallen. And of course they were cliché hookers, dark-skinned with obvious bleach-blonde wigs, short skirts and busty blouses, leaning over the hoods of cars, and some leaning into windows. Hmmm...

The pizza was great—except for the whole olives (with pits) that were on top (a bit strange). I'm saving some for le petit dejeurner. Then I took a bath. Now I'm watching cartoons in French, and I have no idea what's going on in them. C'est la vie.

23 June 2007

Aujourd'hui: Oh yes. It's officially been a week since I landed in London. 1/4 way done, yay. I miss home like nothing else.

Borrowing cans from the minibar to roll underfoot = blissful.

24 June 2007

Today I went to the hostel. Hotel for 2 days was 247.60€! At least it was nice... I walked along the Promenade des Anglais, saw parts of the Ironman Triathlon (yeah, I know). Got my train ticket for tomorrow morning and did some shopping—got paper, a coloring book for Christina, and a birthday card for James.

Got a panini+Fanta for supper, and an ice cream—last night in France!

Oh yeah. I went to the Museé Chagall and Museé Matisse. They were okay. Not sure whether I actually like either artist much, but at least I saw something at each place that was intriguing. And of course I saw lots of people playing bocce ball. I watched for a while, but I am still no closer to discovering how that game is actually played. And I saw some strange homeless(?) people—one was cooking tomato stew in a pot over a fire set inside an assembled ring of rocks. And I saw a lot of faint-looking people, evidently exhausted from the triathlon. One actually looked dead, and his friend was holding him propped in his arms... By the way, I have some new blisters.

I finished The Road (it was very good!), called home, got sort of semi-lost in the Islamic ghetto north of the train station, and discovered that absolutely nothing is open on Sunday!

25 June 2007

I'm in Milan... yes. There's much to do here but I have no time. Bah! So I'll be spending time at the Duomo—it's dark and late now and I'll write more tomorrow. I'm in bed and the roommates are talking about the old Russian granny hookers that are apparently outside the window. Strange?

26 June 2007

So, I guess yesterday I miscalculated and before I knew it, I was in a dark room falling asleep. Hmm... So what did I do? Well, I landed in Milan, and after slight confusion and Italian frustration in the metro station, I found my hostel. It's not the best—in fact, I'd venture to say it's the worst I've stayed at so far. But what can you do—it's a cheap stay. Then I went to Piazza Duomo and ate, looked at the shops, and wrote some letters home on the steps of the great cathedral. Right.

So this morning was breakfast: a piece of bread. They did have hot chocolate and biscuit things and banana (!) juice, which was interesting.

Today I went shopping—couldn't help it, I am in Milano, after all. I got two shirts (a deal for 20€), a shirt for Charlie (hope he likes it). The clothes stores are nice, but mostly outrageous prices. Actually they're not nice; they're quite intimidating. Here's a sketch:

From outside, you walk past the decorated manequinns in the windows, poring over the fashionable raiment that they are showcasing. An employee is usually standing right outside the door, daring you to enter. I'm not sure about most people, but I generally don't enter a store if one of the workers is standing outside looking at people. Anyway, if you do enter, you will see it's quite empty. Over a vast space, you'll see that there is a check-out counter, and at the far end of the store, there is a solitary hanging-pole with about four different pieces of clothing upon it: the store's entire selection. The idea is that you fall in love with one of the specimens, and then go and ask the employee for help with choosing the appropriate size for your body shape. Of course the workers are eager to help, but something about the whole encounter is a little strange. And it doesn't help that each of the four pieces of clothing are priced in the triple-digits €.

One store in particular, La Rinascente, is particularly fervent when it comes to showcasing its cutting-edge fashion. Instead of having clothed manequinns in the window, they have a real live lady on a beach chair reading a magazine, surrounded on the ground by sand dollars. She looks up every once in a while, and then returns to her magazine. Must be a boring job!

I also can't grasp the whole have-a-whole-floor-for-underwear thing. I guess underwear is a big deal for fashionistas... After all, nobody sees it.

Most annoying things... These black guys were at the exit of the Duomo metro station, handing out "free" bracelet things. Little wound-thread friendship bracelets. As you walk past, they grasp your wrist, put on a bracelet, and make conversation as they fit and trim the bracelet. If you resist them, they shout at you, "Free! Free! Free!" until you allow them to fix a bracelet upon your wrist. They're charming and very nice, but of course they ask you for money once they've finished tying the bracelet. I gave the first guy a 20-cent coin to make him go away (he didn't look too happy when he looked down at the worthless coin—but he was the one who suggested that spare change was okay!), the second time I told the guy that I had no money left—and from then on I ran away at full speed whenever I saw, or took all measures possible to otherwise avoid, these men.

In other news, I paid 4€ to climb the narrow stone steps to the top of the Duomo. Well worth it; seeing the great white marble spikes up close was breathtaking, although my legs are absolutely killing me. My whole calf, not just the foot anymore.

Train leaves for Venezia tomorrow. Exciting.

27 June 2007

Venice is wonderful. It's strange to think that I always knew a place such as this existed, for it seems so fantastical now that I'm actually here. Surreal even. Like my own little romantic dream world, but for a thousand Chinese tour groups.

All the roads are canals, and the only cars in the city are parked at the train station, which is at the city's very edge. I took the vaporetto (bus boat) to the hostel, then took a tour of the beautiful Grand Canal. I spent some time at the Piazza di San Marco, had a gelato there (cherry and strawberry, if you were wondering). For lunch I had a sandwich... I think it had feta cheese chunks with some herb and thin slices of some kind of meat. It was strange... the meat was kind of hard to chew and very stringy and spongy. Supper was a slice of margherita from the pizzeria next door.

The hostel here is great! Sixteen-bed dorms but they're sort of divided up by faux-walls. It's cool. Like some kind of summer camp bunker. I guess they serve dinner here—I bet it's expensive. But I can't complain because right now some French tour group girls have decided to sit by me... Well the fact that they have dinner here might indicate that the breakfast here is superior to that of other hostels. Let's hope.

My world is still gently rocking back and forth, back and forth, like I'm still sitting on the vaporetto. Tomorrow I'm going to the Accademia I think, probably back to the Basilica di San Marco (didn't get a chance to go in today). Remind me to do some watercolors here. (With canal water).

Oh yeah, it rained today. Maybe it still is. It was pretty great.

There are lots of (quite) young people here—and lots of languages. I love the atmosphere, Beacoup!

28 June 2007

I almost didn't write today, so I hope you enjoy this. Well I still love Venice—it's absolutely great. I walked around today... Went to the Galleria dell'Accademia and inside the Basilica di San Marco (reverse order). Both were nice, but I wish the Accademia had more stuff... I was enthralled, however, to see a beautiful Madonna by Titian that was simply brilliant.

Besides that, I finished two watercolors from yesterday (I started them in the rain) and did a third, and several drawings... well sketches. I read a lot about Florence (train at 9.17 tomorrow) in the guidebook I found at the hostel in Milano, and some chapters from Oliver Twist, which is a great book. It makes me laugh. Charles Dickens is such a great writer, although I cannot help but think that any English teacher who says the same is a dirty hypocrite because Charles Dickens doesn't follow any of their pragmatic rules that are required of 'good' writing. He just writes, and it's rather entertaining.

I'm still wearing this bracelet from Milan. I suspect I shall be for a while. And I got 7 peaches for 0,99€, and my feet have these funky zigzag tanlines from the straps on my sandals.

29 June 2007

I've had the most wonderful day!

I did miss my train, which was unfortunate, and I had to pay 15€ to get the next one to Firenze, but that's in the past. I landed in Firenze, found my BEAUTIFUL hostel (it's clean, large, lots of art, a garden, cheap...), reserved tickets to the Uffizi for tomorrow afternoon.

And then Stephanie found me. She and Katie were walking along some out-of-the-way road—the very same road that at the very same moment I was walking across, but in the opposite direction on the opposite side. I heard my name shouted, and looked up, alarmed but at the same time I recognized the voice and a warm bubble rose in my throat. We met with an embrace, and walked and talked. They took me to their group, and I met up with Seth and Kyle among others, and had dinner with them (free buffet for me, I won't argue)... It was just marvelous. And then Stephanie and I spent some time at the Piazza de San Croce as the sun set. A little surreal experience to bring some cheer from home. ♥

Tomorrow I will go to the Mercato Centrale, Il Duomo, an art bookshop by San Croce, and the Uffizi at 13.00. It will be a great day. In the evening I will do many drawings.

30 June 2007

Today... Might have topped yesterday. First, I went to Mercato Centrale and got two oranges. I was expecting them to taste good, or to at least taste like oranges, and when I took the first bite, I looked down to be sure that I wasn't accidentally eating the plastic grocery bag that had held them moments before. Unfortunately, I was truly eating the orange, and instantly realized that i had wasted 0,80€ on tasteless, colorless, rubbery oranges. I threw 'em away.

Then Josh (roommate) and I went down to the Duomo and climbed to the top of the dome—it was ASTOUNDING, the view and how unbelievably high it was! Wow!

Then we accidentaly got 9€ gelate... Way too expensive... Funny.

After that, I went and hung around the Uffizi, keen not to miss my reservation time. I picked up a bracelet for Casey McM, and a book on Florence. Then at 13.00 my reservation to enter the museum was up...

Wonderful! Amazing! Brilliant, in all senses! In particular, Botticelli's works were ace, as were those by Filipo Lippi. When I walked into the Botticelli room, my whole body went numb and cold; I had goosebumps. I was not immediately aware of what I was seeing—I guess I was in a sort of shock. And then it dawned on me: my eyes were upon The Birth of Venus, the painting that I had pored over on the computer screen and in my art history books ever since I first saw the Venus as the iconic splash screen of Adobe Illustrator 10. I realized that for the first time in my life, I was actually looking at that beautiful work of art, the tempera spread over wood so many hundreds of years ago, something that was actually touched by Alessandro Botticelli himself. The crisply, fancifully defined figures, the gold leaf accents... I stood for many minutes, unable to divert my eyes from the piece. All feeling dropped from the pit of my stomach, and my mind began to haze. I felt faint, but knew that I would be okay as long as I was looking at Botticelli's masterpiece. People next to me glanced at the work and moved on—how I coveted them, that their legs actually moved on command! I, on the other hand, was stuck in place, though not regrettably. Inexplicably, tears came to my eyes; I am still not sure why. Whenever I recall the incident in my mind, though, the feelings I remember so clearly swell up inside my body, and I feel as though I am standing in front of that large painted panel once again.

As though that was not enough, I soon discovered Madonna of the Pomegranate, a work that I am not sure I had ever seen before. The graceful, peaceful, smooth, crisp, beautiful faces of Madonna, the Child, and the six surrounding angels on the tondo lit some spark inside me, and I stood gaping, trying to figure out just how Botticelli achieved such astounding effects with paint, something so trivial that I myself have been working with for a spell now.

I am sure that these paintings are the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I got a book on Botticelli from the gift shop. Remind me to get the big Taschen one someday... it's around $100 I think, and it's huge.

Breakfast here is great! Tonight I am going to an orchestra concert at the Piazza della Signoria.

1 July 2007

Today I woke up late, had French toast, did my laundry, and sat, read, and napped on the steps of San Lorenzo church for several hours. Afterwards, I trekked long and high to the Piazzale Michelangelo, from which I beheld a striking view of Florentina.

I decided then to visit the Accademia. On the way, I came across a 99-cent shop, which was largely unremarkable. Unfortunately, the Accademia was largely unremarkable as well—waiting in line for two hours and then having to pay 10€ when admission was supposed to be 6,50€ certainly did not help. But the price of admission was certainly worth it, seeing the mammoth David, which looks much larger in its rotunda than its duplicate in the Piazza della Signoria, and the other sculptures by Michelangelo were a unique and singularly astounding experience.

Then I had a ham and cheese calzone (delicious) and sat at the Ostello reading Oliver Twist

2 July 2007

Today was nice. I went to San Croce and visited Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. The church itself was beautiful, and Giotto's frescoes were magnificent. Regrettably, the apse was being renovated, so I didn't get to see the church in its full splendor. Predictably, the admission fee was not reduced.

I walked around for a while. Saw some great sidewalk chalkers doing da Vinci and Botticelli and I got this sweet Felix the Cat shirt from a bookstore. Lunch was Mozz and tomatoes, dinner a pizza (a steal at 4€).

Other than that... New roommate from Argentina. A little shorter than me, tan skin, longish dark sort of curly hair. I think he said his name was Marcos, but he said it with an accent so I'm slightly unsure. He's pretty cool; we talked for a while. He's my age (something rare). Too bad he's leaving tomorrow, or we could hang out.

3 July 2007

Today was great (do I always start like that?). I took a train to Pisa and sat at the Campo dei Miracoli (where the Campanile (Leaning Tower) is). Unlike in Florence, the area around the Pisa Duomo is made for people to sit and lounge around—a big grass area. So I sat and slept and read and got a pizzeta and sat some more. Watching the people, listening to the people. It's a big fad to take a photograph as if you are holding up the Belltower. Then I took a train back to Florence.

On the return, I was sitting across from this little old lady who, in want of a portable music device, pulled from her purse a radio... four or five inches square on the face, about one inch deep, with an old-fashioned analog tuner and a long pull-out antenna. She turned it on, tuned it to something desirable, and then turned the volume down quite low so it would not annoy anybody nearby. She then pressed the speaker of the radio up to her ear and sat, evidently enjoying her music. The scene was quite... funny? No, not really funny. It was just nice, and made me smile.

4 July 2007

So I haven't seen any fireworks here. But some people are drinking wine; maybe they're celebrating. Or maybe they're just in Italy.

I spent most of my day at the Arno. Drawing, watching, sleeping. It was beautiful and cold and I was the only one there in my secluded wildlife sabbatical. I saw a lizard scamper across a rock. I saw many fish jump from the water. I saw many birds singing and dancing and swooping near me. SUch a wonderful break from the otherwise tourist-infested swarms of Florence.

Did a watercolor at the hostel; it turned out pretty well. I had another calzone prosciutto (yum)—must make these at home—and tomato/mozz chomping lunch. Tomorrow is Lucca day! Oh, and happy Fourth back home.

5 July 2007

Today I took the 8.38 train to Lucca, which is a brilliant little city enclosed by a wall about 25 feet high, maybe more. The wall (and herein is the brilliance) is probably 25 feet across, and has a road running along it, with two rows of great trees on either side, and lots of lawn and benches. At the corners of the city—there are maybe eight of them—the path expands into great parks (from a bird's view, these corners would be shaped something like the spade icon on a deck of cards). Some of these parks are just covered in trees with a path running through, some have swingsets, some have a restaurant... Well, the wall was great. Simply perfect for biking or walking or running—countless people can be seen doing this constantly—or sitting and reading or napping or thinking.

The city itself is nice, lots of beautiful old deteriorating villas and palaces, and the Duomo is a treat. Not only was it architecturally beautiful (constructed of gleaming white marble), but inside I was surprised to behold Tintoretto's The Last Supper!

Had a meat sandwich thing, lounged around, read, and slept. It's only 19.15 right now, so I've got to find something to do... Oh yeah, I found a British copy of the fifth Harry Potter book at this hostel. Sweet. Computer time?

Yesterday I forgot to say I visited inside San Lorenzo Basilica. Judging from the outside, which is rather plainly made of red brick, as the facade was never completed (or started), one might expect the inside of San Lorenzo to be just as dull. What a surprise, then, to enter perhaps the most striking perochial interior in all of Florence! The harmony of gray and black and gold, of squares and arches, epitomize the Renaissance ideal of perfection. The interior was designed by Brunelleschi, who also (more famously) pioneered the titanic dome atop the Duomo.

6 July 2007

I missed breakfast today :(. Slept in I guess, not sure how that happened. It's okay though, I ate some chips left from yesterday. Not quite as brilliant as the breakfast the hostel serves, but it gets the job done. No, not really, I know. So I explored the Oltrarno and walked some, then sat around my spot at the Arno—so gorgeous. E dopo... nothing,. I sat at the hostel, did some paintings, drawings, and read some Oliver Twist.

And now I'm packing my bags... For Siena. I've been in Florence for so long it feels like home! No, not quite.

7 July 2007

Well for the great epoch of the year (07-07-07), today wasn't so wonderful. Well Siena is nice, the centro storico is charming, and the Campo is brilliant... but the hotel is not so great and, tantilizingly, is situated right next to the obviously superior hostel that was, unfortunately, booked full. Why is the hotel so bad? It was a weird atmosphere—perhaps it is the Umbridge-evoking kitten paintings that plaster many of the walls. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, 2 km from the centro storico. The hotel does not serve breakfast. There is no opportunity to exchange communication with another human being here. There is nothing to do here but sleep and watch Italian television. There's no supermarket nearby, and there is no swimming pool here, as was advertised. Oh well, it's only three days here I guess. A saving grace: there is a pizzeria across the street, which is basically a freeway. Right now I'm eating a pizza I got for 4€, I think it will be breakfast too. And I'm drinking a black Fanta... Thought it might be interesting, but it's rather nasty. The flavor is Chinotto, and it tastes like a mix of tree bark and black licorice.

So tonight I'll watch some sweet satellite television (although there are only ten channels) and then explore tomorrow.

8 July 2007

So I was really down for a while today, but it turned out okay. I visited the friendly internet point and got a phone card, and sat in the piazza for hours. Then in the evening, the festivities began.

Throughout the day the drummers had been parading and waving the goose/duck flag proudly—I assume because the... Oca won last week's Palio (big twice-a-year horse race in Siena). Well then at like 17.00, the parade began in the Campo. Drummers and flaggers at the lead, followed by an array of moms pushing strollers containing children wearing baker hats—all wearing the Oca scarf. Then an army of small children with baked goods commanded the walkway. A purple (Torre) man. Singing girls in Halloween costumes—including pumpkins and reapers. Then a wine car. Then some guys banging on metal barrels. Then a guy dressed like a nun. A bunch of girls with Dutch blonde wigs and wooden shoes. Some singers. Some more cars. Another wine car. The Miss... of all the planets (ie Miss Luna, Miss Neptunia). Some Oregon Trail-dressed people in a wagon, weilding squirt guns. A great coach with a little man wearing a white tuxedo. Some "doctors" with IV carts that had wine in the bad instead of medication. More music people. The Carabinieri (Italian FBI) car. Some Roman soldiers. Some more drummers and flaggers. And a giant green/red ship complete with pirates. Oh, and the ghostbusters were in there somewhere. (Strange Italian custom)

After the parade, all the cars parked in the campo, and the whole city partied... Lots of free food, wine in red plastic cups, music (courtesy of the barrel-bangers), lots of men in drag with photocopies of 50€ notes stuffed just about everywhere they could reach, and balloons and confetti. It was beautiful.

So I stayed there until people started leaving. It was fun, but the entire time I couldn't help but feel like such an outsider, intruding upon an important Italian cultural tradition... I went to the supermarket and then walked back to the hotel, took a nice cool shower and am currently quite tired. Good night.

9 July 2007

Today was delightful. I woke up by 10.00. Left by 11.00. And read in a piazza under the shade of a tree until maybe 15.00. Then I went and got a train ticket for tomorrow. I stayed at the hotel for a bit until it cooled down outside, then I went out to read again.

I went back to the same place, which at the evening hour was the apparent meeting place for a group of old people, and I was there reading on a bench while they were gathering and talking. The old guy next to me kept nudging me and telling me to stop "studying" and go for a walk. He apparently didn't understand the beauty of a good book, but his lady friends did, and they continually reprimanded him for bothering me. In time, he tried to hook me up with one of his lady friends, saying that we should go for a walk together because that's what people are supposed to do (rather than study) and because I needed a ragazza. Anyway, this whole ordeal was quite distracting, and the Italian translation made my brain strain, but in time I finished Oliver Twist. Five stars, Outstanding.

Then I went to the Centro and had my one restaurant meal. Fat spaghetti with beef sauce and un bianchere di vino bianco. The food was yum. Then I sat in teh Campo and watched the birds dance and felt the breeze and listened to the music and singing and it was beautiful. The sun was down, and the stones around me breathed in relief from the heat.

Then on the way home I got a slice of pizza and a red Fanta. Just because. I was full. But just because. The pizza was delicious. and the Fanta was delicious, given that it was not an unusual flavor. Italy is just wonderful, once the sun passes over the mountains and it starts to cool down... Now I pack up—Rome tomorrow, and I leave at 8.06.

10 July 2007

Train to Rome was fine... Found the hostel okay. A little frustration over phone card issues—added stress because I was supposed to pick classes today. Oh well, I'm sure Mom did fine.

Saw the Pantheon, San Carlo, San Ignazio, Ara Pacis (and some wonderful concept art in a homeless man's open-air museum), St Peter's. It was awesome. Just a lot of walking. And I'm glad for the free water; you Romans are such the innovators when it comes to serving the public.

Very tired, more tomorrow. Tim.

11 July 2007

No Entry

12 July 2007

I don't feel like writing.


Today é tutto! Three days left, and then I'm going home.

13 July 2007

I just now realized that it has been Friday the Thirteenth all day and I didn't even know it! I guess they don't have that in Italy.

Today I was in the Baroque section... First got my butt wet by sitting on a great soaking marble bench at the Fountain of Trevi, but it was fine; it's just water. Then I stayed and drew for a while. It was also a mistake to sit beneath a light post—I got pooped on by stupid pidgeons. Twice.

Then I proceeded on a Church tour. A small one, but a good one. First church was... something. Andrea della Valle? Something like that, I'll look it up later. Anyway, it was big and Baroque and didn't allow photographs inside. Sitting on this church's portico, I was Buongiorno'd by a man from Paris (his name was... Silver? Silvon? Unsure) who I suspect was a priest, or at least in seminary, given how he constantly suggested that I should consider priesthood. As he explained to me, he found it appropriate to discuss churchly matters with me as he discovered me sitting on the steps of a church. Though the real reason of my choice in bench was that Rome has no benches but church steps, I did not have the heart to tell this man, so I continued to listen to him talk. He told me about Fattima in Portugal and other cities where the Virgin Mary has appeared. He was fascinated with the significance of the number 13, which he suggests is significant because there were 13 present on Holey Thursday. He told me he was interested in the principles of numbers and other fields of mathematics, attempting to tie together the fields of mathematics and religion in his illogical conclusions. He suggested that becoming a priest was the only alternative to becoming an engineer. At this point I didn't like the man very much, and I tried to think of a scheme to abandon him without being rude.

At one point he asked if I would accompany him to the Vatican to see Saint Peter's and the tomb of the latest Pope, but in time I suggested that we go to San Luigi dei Francese, which was a short walk away. He was evidently in Rome on a religious pilgrimage; I just wanted to see the paintings that were inside the churches. San Luigi, in particular, housed three brilliant Caravaggios in one of its chapels, including The Calling of Saint Matthew. Together, this unnamed priest and I examined the paintings in each chapel of the church, and he explained to me the significance and some history behind the various scenes, connecting some of them with the importance of the rosary or their place in the large scheme of church history. It turned out that his speeches were quite interesting, though convoluted with religious patronage, and soon I looked forward to hearing him tell me of the other works. He was very knowledgeable, and his English was excellent. From time to time I had to help him recall a certain term, but not often.

But then he disappeared, and I looked all over the church for him, but couldn't find him. And I waited outside for five minutes, hoping he would turn up. No sign. So I left, and never got to say goodbye. In fact, the only proof I have that he ever existed is a small piece of white cloth that he gave me, which he procured from a small town near Milano. The cloth is a memento representing the mantle of the Virgin, and the man explained to me that the piece of cloth holds a prophecy as long as it remains intact, uncut. The nature of that prophecy, he never explained, and didn't seem to notice when I asked.

Well, then I went to Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini's Ecstacy of Saint Theresa—which was marvelous and much smaller than I had imagined it would be. But so beautiful.

Today I ate two slices of pizza, three Fantas, and a sandwich preceded by a big breakfast—to make up for yesterday. Food is good. I'm still not quite sure how I managed to forget to eat yesterday... That was strange.

And tomorrow at 13.00 I have a reservation for the Galleria Borghese. Here's to my last weekday in Europe.

14 July 2007

No Entry

15 Luglio 2007

As my trip comes to a close, after 31 long days, I find myself sitting and reading Harry Potter amidst a city of great cultural layering, sipping an orange Fanta. Yes, orange, because I am through with trying different flavors.

Well let's see. In the spirit of Art History, I think I will write a reflection:

On this trip I've seen many things. Wonderful art and artifacts from all different cultures—all of the West from ancient Sumerian carvings to modern day social commentary. I've seen the world's largest and most magnificent cathedrals, ancient monuments, and other architetural marvels. I've analyzed the brushstrokes of Caravaggios and Raphaels and Whistlers and Bacons. I've drawn some pictures of my own—and taken plenty of photographs, but most of all the existence of this trip lies abstractly in my memory—but this is fleeting.

I've spoken to people from all over the world, shared bedrooms and conversations with fellow travelers, and spent a lot of money despite my strigent attempts to be as frugal as possible. I've seen people without food, without money, and wihtout limbs. I've ignored beggars and I've sneered at beggars. I've been ready, at any corner, to confront and dramatically deal with a thief or criminal of some sort. I've learned to communicate without speaking any particular language—rudimentary, possibly crude, but effective. I've eaten all kinds of foods, some wonderful—I want to cook them at home. Some not so wonderful, but I am glad to say I've tried them. I've spent an awful lot of money on museum admissions, and I've no doubt they were worth it.

And by some horrible conspiracy, I've come to consider 1,50€ ($2.10) a reasonable price for a 12oz can of soda.

I've lived, for the past month, alone. With no real companion but the books I've read, and some minor interactions with the people around me. Of course, I did call home and check my email and Facebook often enough.

My only regret right now: being unable to find anything particularly clever or even suitable for Selena/Tristan/Dad for their birthdays, all of which I've missed while I've been gone. Alas, I will not let this worry me.

So here's the tail end.

I'm taking a shuttle tomorrow morning at 5.20 to Fiumicino Airport. My plane leaves at 9.00, and I have two other flights after that, before I reach Milwaukee. My plane should get in around 18.00.

And the road goes ever on...

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