Saturday, May 31, 2003

Irish Wash Woman

I make the mistake of eating a huge pile of pasta carbonara for lunch, and now I'm feeling immensely lethargic. But I must carry on, so Debra, Amanda, and I check out the masterpiece Gaudi church which is rumored to be under construction until 2038. It's quite a sight, but we decide not to go in since it costs 5 euros, and I'm super cheap. Besides, it's under construction, so what is there to see on the inside, anyway? I even ask the ticket guy-

Me: "What is there to see on the inside, if I pay 5 euros?"
TG: "Construction."

I decide to just say no.

We head over to the Gaudi park instead, even though I've already been there with Lace. This time we follow the correct route, thereby skipping the pain Lace and I had to endure, a humongous uphill excursion of multiple escalators that didn't work. I actually pony up 3 euros to go inside Gaudi's house, but even so, it's pretty anti-climatic. I do manage to take an illegal picture, flash and all, so I still get my thrills. The Gaudi park, (otherwise know as, the parc Gueill, don't you feel fancy?) is very fun. There are immense caves that look like something out of "The Nightmare Before Christmas", gingerbread-looking houses (hehe, I stole that description from Lonely Planet), and immense, colorful tiled benches.

We sit on said bench, in a dark cave, where an American-looking hippie is playing the guitar. He entertains us with such favorites as; Tool, Jewel, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then he throws his hat on the ground, and looks anxiously at the tourists passing by. No one pays him, so we start to feel bad, and Amanda throws in a couple pitiful coins as we pass.

Then Debra makes the horrible discovery that her locker key is nowhere to be found, so she needs to head back to her hostel, to ensure that people haven't broken into her locker, and are having a party with her passport. Everyone's been on edge since Stephanie's 600 euro digital camera was snatched in Nice. A passerby offered to snap a pic of her and Amanda. What he was really offering was an opportunity to sprint away with her camera in tow. This has affected Steph adversely, and now she's an anal Annie when it comes to planning. We're not allowed to camp, we have to make all reservations in advance (including resteraunts), and she doesn't like it when we talk to strangers. Fucking European con artists, cramping my travel style.

Debra heads back to her hostel, and we go to the beach, where the water is too cold for me to jump into naked (damn). We meet Debra again for dinner, (don't worry, her stuff is safe) at a seafood resteraunt. I'm still trying to make everyone eat kebaps, but they won't agree, because they're too scared. I find the prospect of eating seafood disturbing because there is a tank of fish swimming directly behind Amanda´s head, (well, the fish in the tank were swimming, not the actual tank itself). Opt for chicken instead. We call it a night early, and as a result, I'm able to get up even earlier.

I'm spending the morning doing laundry, which means I'm on my hands and knees in the bath tub, with a bar of hand soap, like an Irish wash woman, attempting to save precious quarters. My clothes are now strung haphazardly across our hotel room dripping dangerously onto the wooden floor. (Hopefully, Steph won't come home early enough to witness this monstrousity.) The others are going to a church I have already seen. We all know how much I appreciate churches. Not at all. I've been left behind to nurse my boil.

It looks as if my inner organs are trying to burst out of the boil in my armpit. I think there's a distinct possibility that an alien curled up in my armpit one night, laid eggs there, and now they're on the verge of hatching. Just like "Alien", which I watched through the living room window at age 5, when my brother was supposed to be babysitting me, but locked me out of the house instead. Maybe I should leave my childhood battle scars out of it.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Dangerously Close Gorillas

I meet up with Amanda and Stephanie in a bar in Nice. We're meeting to watch a soccer game, and I intend to stir the pot and create a ruckus, by voting for Italy rather than France. This ends up being pretty anti-climatic, considering that North Italy is playing North Italy. Who am I supposed to root for, North Italy? It's Milan vs. Juventus, so I go for Juventus because I like yelling their name while cheering. Ended up picking the wrong team though, because not only did they lose, but they played with some nasty tactics.

We're leaving Nice and taking a train to Barcelona. I end up sitting next to a homeless man, with a cute, but mangy dog. This is all well and good, until the dog pees, and we both change seats.

Upon arriving in Barcelona, Amanda and Steph are freaking out because we haven't lined up a place to stay. They obviously haven't travelled Colleen-style. I try to explain it's better this way, because you're not forced to stick to an itenerary and worry about being in the right place at the right time. It always works out (well, except in Florence on All Saint´s Day, when I slept on the ground of the train station with my new, Mexican friend, Cesar). I tell them not to fear, and lead them to the hostel I stayed at the last time I was in Barcelona, and as luck would have it, the three of us snag the last three beds.

We go out to dinner (even though it's 11:30 pm, I like this Spanish lifestyle!) We order tapas, but nothing too exciting, (to my dismay), like octopus ink. We stay mainstream, and order croquettes, bruschetta, and mini-omelettes. Entertainment abounds, acrobats are juggling and doing gymnastics. One picks up Amanda and put her on his shoulders. Amands sits back down, and resumes her meal. Then she glances at my head, and lets loose a blood-curdling scream. Debra and I, on the other side of the table, whip around to see what she is screaming at, and there is a gorilla two inches from my face, growling. I practically have a heart attack. Everyone in the resteraunt is roaring with laughter.

Tom Green-esque human experiments are the new wave of street art in Barcelona. The man in the gorilla suit growls at people, surprising them. They scream, and everyone at the resteraunt dies with laughter. Then he passes his gorilla head around and collects money for entertaining us. The best part is seeing how the unsuspecting victims react. Some people (like me) think it's funny, and join in the laughter. Other people become violently angry (one lady actually smacks the gorilla). Most people just keel over in shock and fear.

The street artists have "taken it to the heart", in the words of ex-roomie Rene. Rather than the usual selection of frozen mimes holding still poses, clad all in one color, we get a variety in full costume, dressed as American indians. (I'm not sure why, considering we're in Spain, but that's not all). I see a husband-wife team, that are dressed as two ents (you know, those tree things from the Lord of the Rings?), standing on super tall stools, with elaborate costumes and makeup that could rival Kabuki theatre. They have an exquisite, focused, performance art pattern of waving their arms that that is conducted to an exact science. Even their collection cans match their outfits. I could watch them for hours. To their left, is a fragile, old man who swallows swords and lays down on shards of broken glass for a living. I'm feeling more than a little concerned for him, but someone tosses him a coin, and he pops right up and dances a jig. Apparently, he can take care of himself. And that's more than I can say about myself, sometimes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Shape-Shifters

Albanians are constantly slapping me on the back, shaking their head in disbelief, and congratulating me for being a tourist in their country. They think it's funny to stare at my passport and make comments about it, very slowly, as if there aren't a million people standing in line behind me.

"Oregon? What is that? You are in this country as tourist? Why?" Then they get excited and thank me for helping their economy. (At this point I feel bad, because I'm a budget traveler, and actually doing very little for their economy.)

Holly and I took a ferry (titled Egypt Express) from Albania back to Ancona. Kind-of concerned I would end up in Egypt again, not necessarily that I didn't want to, but I REALLY wouldn't want to figure out how to get from Egypt to Spain in 24 hours to meet Amanda. Maybe this ferry was named after Egypt because it was the most ghetto ferry I have ever seen. Still, it felt like civilization after our extended travels in the East. We had become truly weary of traveling, and to make matters worse, we boarded the milk run train to Bologna. We didn't get there for another three hours, and at this point, I was ready to jump out the window of the train. Of course, it was moving too slowly to have made any real impact on ending my life. Sometimes I feel like the entire course of my existence is one endless train ride.

Two more seemingly endless train rides were in my future. From Bologna to Venice, and from Venice to Nice. It was time to say good-bye to Holly, my traveling companion for the last 3 1/2 months. There were the usual tears and drama that can only be associated with train station good-byes. I scream in anguish and pound my fist on the train window. It starts to pull out of the station. I attempt to give chase, waving frantically to her through the window, but my backpack causes me to topple over, as she presses her tear-streaked cheek to the glass and disappears from sight. (Okay, so it wasn't that dramatic, but wouldn't it be fun, for once, to have a REAL train station good-bye?)

I board my own train, and it's a beautiful ride. The sizzling sun is sliding well below the horizon. One last dazzling display, an homage to my time in Italy (which is about to come to a rude end).

Arriving in Venice, I board the overnight train to Nice. This is one of those confusing trains, which is splitting off into four different directions. Luckily, the "Nice" portion of the train is practically deserted. I slide all six seats together to create one giant bed. Great, I think, I'll finally get some well-deserved shut-eye. What follows is one of the strangest nights of my life. Content to be curled up in my own compartment, I start to drift off.

Soon I am joined by a random man. I ignore him, but push over to the side so he has room too. Am awaken again by the ticket man, wanting to check my eurail pass. I turn to the random man to see how he's getting along, but he has magically transformed into a Japanese lady. She laughs at my suprise, and I shove over even more to give her room to lay down. So much for my king-size bed. I lost track of how many shapes the random man shifted into, but later he becomes a belligerent Nigerian, who enters the compartment, wakes me up, and procedes to cause a ruckus. He heaves my monster of a bag into the wire rack (great, now how am I supposed to get it down in the morning?) Then he relocates that I should only be sleeping in two seats rather than three. I'm starting to get irritated with this sick game of musical chairs. First it was six seats, then three, now two. I assume people will be joining us in the compartment. Nope, he simply feels that he deserves four seats, while I only deserve two. I'm about to point out the injustice of his seating chart, but I just can't drum up the energy for an argument at this hour. Besides, I rationalize, I'm short anyway, so I really do only need two seats.

Re-dedicating myself to catching up on sleep, I start to nod off... Wait a second, what is his arm doing on my shoulder? I shove over further away from his arm, but it drifts over again, and then a third time. Gross! I make a big production of scrunching myself into the corner and glaring at him. I'm not sure if he gets the message, because the next time I wake up, he's gone, replaced by a smarmy Italian. Ignoring him also, I roll over to fall asleep again. Only this time I make contact with not only his arm, but his entire body pressed up against mine. What is he doing? Spooning?! I huddle into the corner even further, and although I didn't know it was humanly possible, he burrows closer. I turn over, ready to read him the riot act, and he actually says, "I am cold, can I share your sleeping bag?" I give him a slightly too-defiant "no", and he storms out of the compartment. Good riddance.

Upon arrival in Nice, I wake up with a hacking cough. Probably due to all the shape-shifters ruining my good night of sleep. I make a groggy-eyed trip to the toilet and attempt to get myself together, preparing to disembark from the train. I return to my compartment, and my clock is gone! POS only cost me five bucks, but that's the point. Who steals that? None of my other stuff is even worth five bucks, though, so I don't have to worry about anything else.

Arrive in Nice, minus one alarm clock.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Glass-Bottom Fun

The day has arrived for our all-encompassing, wonder-filled, glass-bottom boat tour. In which we see... Nothing. Very exciting. We meet up at the travel agency, and the van doesn't show up for another fifteen minutes, so we are running late. The "van" turns out to be tiny, the Greek man driving, huge. Not only huge, but crazy. As we whiz down the sides of 500 ft. cliffs on our way down to the port, I am clinging to the seat, breathing hard, and praying for my life. Especially when Mr. Crazy-Huge decides we should swerve around the huge tourist bus on the two-lane highway of death. I swear, I feel the tires slip off the pavement and onto the dirt road, and it's mere seconds before we go careening off the side.

The journey to our glass-bottom fun seems endless. We take the van, then ride another boat to get there. Holly and I eagerly peer into the glass, waiting for something exciting to swim by. Nothing. And then... Still nothing. I try to convince myself that the changing colors of the Mediterranean are fascinating; one second it looks like neon green hi-c, and the next, a beautiful shade of aquamarine. The worst part, though, is that once the boat starts moving, all you can see are bubbles. I'm confused, I mean, isn't the point of sailing on a glass-bottom boat to see fish?

We arrive at the volcano. After a quick, yet strenuous uphill hike, we reach the crest. There is definately an alive, smoking, sulphurous volcano. Being the smart lassie that I am, I stick my face in the smoke, to try to feel the heat in the rocks. I end up with a face-full of nasty sulphur, bleh! But it is pretty exciting to see the earth randomly smoking. Exciting, until I realize, oh wait, I am standing right next to a patch of earth that is randomly smoking. Then I remember "The Land Before Time", and imagine the island being engulfed in hot lava as the earth splinters apart and I fall into the crack. Or worse, I am standing on one side, like Little Foot, and the rest of my tour group (representing all of humanity) is on the other side, and I wave good-bye to the human race, and transform into a brontosauras and spend the rest of my days eating ferns. Wait, maybe I'm getting carried away.

We get back on the boat and arrive at our next stop, the hot springs. I do a flying dive, and we swim to the springs. As the water miraculously heats up, I notice that the springs are really a huge bayou of muddy sludge. Fat men and women have plunked themselves into the muddy banks and are rubbing nature's concoction all over their arms and faces, determined to get a spa-style treatment for the cost of the tour. Sounds good to me, so I get a little too carried away, and bury myself in layer upon layer of mud, with streaks of it adorning my face. (Finally a tribute to my Wasco indian princess heritage!) Holly and I realize that everyone else has already swam back to the boat. Crap! We crawl-stroke it back, while the crowd waits impatiently. I am still dripping with remnants of reddish-brown mud that strangely resemble a fine-looking tan. I wonder how long I can get away with not bathing and sporting my fake (and free) tan. (Probably not too long, considering I am covered in dirt.)

Next stop is a little village, where once Holly and I aspired to ride donkeys. Not so anymore, because we are muddy, tired, and hungry, and on top of all of this, broke. We just had the realization that there are only two ferries to Thessaloniki a week, and one of them is leaving tonight at midnight. So now we have to buy tickets, that cost 38 euros a piece, that bloodily rapes and pillages my 30 euro per day budget, that I have, until now, kept up. So now we have no money for donkeys. We pull up a piece of cement near the water and watch the waves creep in while eating cheap grub from the grocery store. Ah, the life of a budget traveller. We return to our glass-bottom boat, and at last, the purpose of the glass bottom becomes clear!!

The captain announces that we are now going to drift slowly over a coral reef, and everyone should gather around. So we all do, our eyes are open, we are eagerly scanning for something, anything to happen! Suspenseful music starts wafting out of the PA system... Man, they have this tourist trap business down to a science. I feel like I'm in 20,000 leagues under the sea and I'm waiting to spot abandoned treasure or some horrible monster from the depths of this peaceful-looking reef. A little too peacful to be sure... Guess what happened? A big fat nothing. Damn glass-bottom boat, and the glass-bottom fun I was expecting to have.

We propel back to shore, where it is now starting to rain. We pile into the van of death with Mr. Crazy-Huge and work our way up the slippery, muddy banks chanting the mantra, "We will not die, we will not die, we will not die."

2 1/2 hours later I wake up (don't worry, I'm safe in my tent, not in a hospital bed). It's still raining, the clock says it's 7:40, and I need to take a shower. I haven't taken one in five days, and I'm currently covered in mud. While existing on the island we have reverted to our caveman, primitive origins, and we just haven't seen the point in taking a shower. We're going to jump into the salty, naked ocean later that day anyway. And who needs make-up at the beach? And why shave when it justs gives you boils? And it's so hot, we've basically been wearing our bathing suits and sarongs day in and day out. But now that I am leaving paradise, and have taken on the image of a bush woman, tangled-salty hair and wild look about the eyes, I decide it's time to take a shower.

As I emerge, feeling clean and refreshed, I realize I can still hear water beating down all around me. Crap, I forgot to turn my shower off! Oh wait, that's the rain outside. And now there's lighting, and thunder? Christ, we're in the middle of a tropical storm. Ah! The tent!!!! Holly and I, working like we're on speed, take the tent down, and lob it into the bathroom, the only place that is both light and dry. Our sleeping bags are sopping, all our belongings are sopping, my treasured collection of English books is sopping...

When we finally got our crap somewhat dry and packed up, we venture out into the rain. Blast! It's 9:15, and the reception closes at 9. This is a problem because they have my passport, and it's the last ferry until Tuesday. Irritated, Holly and I resign ourselves to spending a night in the dry (but scarily outfitted with spiders) bathroom. As we're heading back, we run into the creepy undertaker who has always conveniently appeared by the beach whenever Holly and I are naked. He does us a favor (well, he should, right? He's seen our boobs.) He checks us out, (out of the campground, I mean), and doesn't even charge us for today (I feel like a dirty prostitute.)

It's time for the never-ending ferry ride to Thessaloniki, Greece, (in which we spend the night on top of a pile of life jackets, very comfortable). The reason I choose this destination, is because it's closest to the mainland of Turkey, Macedonia, and Albania. Eager to ditch Greece and travel on, we decide we'll take the first bus to any destination. And the winner is... Albania! We're going to Albania! The most random country in the world!

We're wet, tired, annoyed, and we're waiting for the bus. Our gigantor backpacks are propped up on the bench next to us, since they are impossible to put on any other way. A Greek lady taps Holly on the leg. Then the lady starts ranting and raving because our packs are taking up too much room (even though there is plenty of space on the other side of the bench.) Holly is not a happy camper. She glares at the woman and refuses to move anything, because she hates it when weird people touch her. So do I, actually. The other day, this kid was hanging onto my sleeve, and I dragged him down the street. He was begging for money, and when I told him no, he started screaming "fuck off" at me. Infuriated, I flipped him the bird, as Holly and I stormed away. Then I realized that I just flipped off an Albanian orphan. Whoops, had a moment of remorse.

I am about to start flipping off the world at large, because more people join in the taunting of Holly. Finally, she agrees to put her bag down on the floor, but not without a definat blaze in her eyes and a show of attitude. The taunting continues, and it's all-out war. Holly is taking up as much space as humanly possible and proclaiming about some "fucking bitches". I grimace as I realize that "fucking bitches" is easy to translate, and soon we will be under attack by the Greek masses.

Luckily, it's time to catch our bus to Albania. Which isn't without incidence, since we are on a bus full of scary-looking Albanian men. We also realize, having just thoroughly read the Albanian section in my Lonely Planet, that is states we'll be fine, as long as we don't travel at night. So what are we doing? Taking a night bus? A night bus that requires us to go through a metal detector? The first mate appears. (Well, what do you call the random guy who sits next to the driver, the co-pilot? For our purposes, we'll stick to first mate. Or do they only have those on Albanian buses?) He gives us a huge grin, and a lot of assistance. Remembering the harassment I endured during my busride to Bosnia, I inform Holly that we're sticking with the first mate. We sit directly behind him, and my nerves are temporarily assauged.

What ensues is the strangest busride I have endured. We attempt to sleep, and are startled awake and fearing for our lives, as the driver randomly shouts out in Albanian. The first time I think the harsh sounds are directed at me, and I need to put my feet down (they're probably digging into his back), but since I don't speak Albanian, I decide not to worry about it. Until we stop on the side of a dirt road and pick up a huge load of twenty random people in the middle of the night. Now our bus is packed. We stop again, at a restaurant, at 1 in the morning. Holly and I opt to stay on the bus, keeping one eye open, and regarding our fellow passengers happily munching potatoes with suspicion. After the half hour "dinner" break, we arrive at the passport check. Holly and I roll off the bus, and wait for an hour, in the cold, with hordes of Albanian men staring at us. We get to watch a stray dog attack one of the passport officers (that was interesting, at least). These are my first impressions of Albania.

PG: You are from America?
Hol: That's what my passport says.
PG: Ah, I see. California. Guys. Sun. Beach.
Hol: Yep.
PG: And you come to Albania to visit?
Hol: Yep.
PG: (With great burst of laughter) Go back! You leave California for Albania? What is here? Albanians? Go back!
And then he continues laughing, as if it's the funniest thing he's ever seen.

We return to the bus, and stop again at some weird little shack, where we buy entrance visas for ten bucks a pop. An Albanian stranger asks, "You need ride to Tirana?" This is our final destination, and our bus won't take us all the way. Against my better instincts, I hear myself saying, "Yeah." And then realizing that I have now promised to take a ride with some random guy. He must have noticed my reservation, because he assures me, "We go in mini-van, with others from this bus." Well, at least we won't be alone. We're hesitating, wondering if we should fetch our packs and get in his van, when First mate gestures for us to get back on the bus.

"You remember, be safe here, because Albania is not Europe." Here, he leans in conspiratorily, as Holly and I are thinking, "Uh, then what the hell is it?"

And he says, "We are in Africa!!!" And starts laughing. Christ. We are in Africa, and we just agreed to take a ride with a stranger.

So we get back on the bus, and watch Stranger chase us in his mini-van. We are relieved that First mate saved us from our poor charachter judgement, as Stranger is obviously a lunatic. We arrive at the last stop, and are mobbed by taxi and mini-van drivers, all eager to drive us the rest of the way to Tirana. We're actually relieved when Stranger plucks us from the crowd and promises a secure ride.

Stranger's brother is driving. Suddenly the van pulls over and Stranger gets out. At this point, we have come to trust him, and cling to him as if he is our one true Albanian friend. Noticing our alarmed looks, Stranger reassures us.

"I get out here, no worries, my brother take care of you." Not sure if we've just sold ourselves into sex slavery, we decide our best recourse is to rest up in case we need to bust out some fighting moves upon arrival. Sleep eludes us, since all of Albania is paved in dirt, with massive potholes, and my head is bouncing abrasively off the window I am trying to lean against. Behind me, a very happy man is singing along to a horrific Albanian "Phantom of the Opera" type-of musical theatre extravaganza. If someone had presented me with a gun at that point, I'm sure I would've gladly pulled the trigger.

We watch the sun rise, and realize that Albania can be astonishingly beautiful. We are careening along cliffs, with the sparkling ocean below. Our spirits are lifted. That is, until all the other passengers exit the van, and we're alone with Stranger's brother. He wants to know where we're going. I select a hotel from Lonely Planet that is listed as "excellent and cheap" and I tell him to take us there. We begin the typical eastern european taxi adventure, which consists of lots of driving in circles and asking people where we are going.

We hit a slight snag in that we have no Albanian money. Stranger's brother is content with a ten euro note, but not the other taxi driver (who we followed when we were lost). Just as we're fearing getting our hands chopped off, the owner of the very-sketchy-looking-bombed-out hotel comes running outside, pays our driver, and carries our backpacks up to his house.

His wife fussed over us, she brought us orange juice, (since we told her we didn't like coffee), and let us watch their TV as our rooms were arranged. Then we were shown into, I shit you not, the greatest hotel room I have ever stayed in. (Well, okay, I have probably done better, but I'm used to slumming it.) There were two beds in the room, and one of them was king size. We had our own refrigerator, and our own bathroom, containing towels, shampoo, etc. Everything was immaculately clean. But the greatest treat of all was a cable TV, including a channel that played English movies constantly. All this can be yours, for only 12.50 a night. But before we got too excited and decided to spend our entire time in Albania wallowing in luxury, we decided to go see the sights. Unfortunately, nothing except the mosques were open, as it was Sunday.

So we ended up in a mosque, learning to pray. At first I was really into it, I felt like I was learning the secret handshake which would enable me to access all the cool clubs in the East. As time wore on, we realized there was something fishy about the guy teaching us, and in our judgement, we had mistaken "overly friendly" for "verifiably insane". While their foreheads were pressed to the mats in supplication, Holly and I made a run for it. We abandoned the frescoed ceilings and chanced upon an English cinema.

Our next stop was the zoo, but the heavens opened up and poured down upon us. Not wanting to witness a bunch of soggy animals, we headed home (while encountering the orphan brigade previously mentioned in this post.) Our plan was to travel on the next day and head to the coast city of Durres. From there we would take the ferry back to Ancona, Italy.

Some strange facts about Albania. Everyone stares at you. All the women are beautiful, and dress extremely well. You are supposed to change currency with the men standing on the street holding calculators and wads of money. Truly, even Lonely Planet recommends it, you don't have to pay commission that way. You are also supposed to randomly get into mini-vans and drive places with strange people you don't know. There are tons of children employed here; little orphan boy stick-looking things. I swear, I saw the kid from "Lilja 4-Ever", standing on the corner trying to pawn all his belongings. Finding a bus to Durres was an adventure, and we let some raggedy kids drag us to a dusty bus lot. As soon as every seat was filled, a driver appeard out of nowhere, and we went to Durres, simple as that. My impression of Albania is that it's a country ruled by chaos. The system is that there is no system, just madness.

The Mis-adventures of Button, the Mini-Cooper

Easy. Naked. Ocean. Relaxation. Paradise.

Me: "This naked in the ocean thing is better than sex! Oh wait, it is sex, it's like I'm fucking the ocean."

We retire to our green and silver tent. How great is sleeping and waking with the sun? (Shit, I'm just making love to nature all week long, eh?) We arise with the intention to rent a car and drive every single road on this island. We accomplish this through much tooth pulling. Holly is too much of a baby to rent a car, at age nineteen, even though she has been driving for three and a half years. But we are in Greece, (practically a third world country, right?) so in the end, we get the car. Holly is now deathly afraid we will prove them right and something will happen to the car. And guess what? Since we have been robbed twice, it is just our luck that something does happen to the car. (How's that for a cliffhanger?)

It's a brand new mini cooper, that we affectionately dub "Button". Slight problem though, it's a stick. And the island consists of many hills. You know it's bad when the girl who doesn't know how to drive is giving shifting instructions.

Hol: "I didn't even kill it this time! You saw that! It just died! I didn't do anything!"
Me: "Um, I think that's the point, you're supposed to do something, you're supposed to change gears when you change speeds. Here speed up, now change gears, okay, NOW!"

Amazingly, none of the following befalls our car: We don't kill the transmission, we don't burn up the tires, (we torched some serious rubber, though, trying to start on those hills), and we didn't even kill the emergency brake when we drove for fifteen minutes with it on. Nope, none of the above equate the misfortune awaiting Button.

The day begins with some stress, but it's also exhilerating to feel the wind in my hair, with the tunes cranking on the radio, while riding shotgun. Well, they aren't really "tunes", seeing how the music is Greek and sounds more like some Morton I-don't-have-a-Solvik crap. We drive to Fira and Oia, stopping at the red sand beach, to take a mini-hike.

We return to the car. Someone has side-swiped it, complete with scratches and dents. Decide fuck-all, since we paid for full insurance, we're going out to dinner. In the morning, when we return the car, they don't say anything, and neither do we. Thank god for incompetent workers. We eat breakfast and decide to spend the entire day on the beach.

Me: "Shit Holly, I'm getting really exhausted from doing well, nothing. How about you?"
Hol: "Yeah, nothing sure is hard work. What do you want to do now?"
Me: "Welllll... We could... Or wait, how about nothing?"
Hol: "Okay."

So we lay around all day (topless again), and swim in the ocean (naked again). Tomorrow, however, we have decided to be productive, and we even booked a glass-bottom boat tour.

We're thinking about leaving on Saturday. Oh wait, or never.
The only bummer is that I have two new boils, in my left armpit again. Fucking bastards, I'm done shaving. Not only will I be a naked European, but a hairy one as well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Naked Time

Melina gives us directions, and Holly and I black ride to Victoria station. We don't know how to get to the taxi stand, but we do have a map, and we know we're at the right stop. Fat lot of good that does, since we can't figure out which street we're facing. I ask a local girl, and she puzzles over the map for about five minutes, at which point I've figured out where we are, and I'm just waiting for her to figure it out. What she figures out is the opposite of what I've figured out, so I thank her, and continue in my direction. Turns out I'm wrong, and now I look like an asshole. We wave at her as we turn around and head back the way she told us to go in the first place. I swear, I don't know why Holly puts up with me.

I hate taking taxis, because I've been studiously following a thirty-dollars-per-day budget. I make another educated decision (mind you, now that we've reached the taxi stand) that we're marching back to Victoria station and taking the subway instead. Alas, there are no maps to point us in the correct direction, so I decide we should just jump on a train, going in any direction, and find a map on there. Why they have maps on the trains, but not in the stations, I have no idea. Fate is a friend, and we're heading in the correct direction. Four stops later, we have to flag down a taxi anyway, because due to my excellent leadership, we are well and truly lost. At least the ride comes complete with a hot, young, studly driver.

Studly promises us he knows where he is going when I show him the address. As I prepare to haggle with him about how much it's going to cost, all the cars in the street start blaring their horns in protest. I'm about to flip them off when I realize our interaction is occuring in the middle of a huge freeway. Since we don't really have a choice, we get in the cab. Then the driver admits-

Stud: "Well, I know not really what this is, but we find together, okay?" Big smile, as if we're about to embark on the greatest adventure of our lives thus far. We drive for a bit, with me clinging to Holly's sweaty hand, (these drivers are insane!) All of a sudden he pulls over at a bus stop, starts shouting in Greek, and a young, blond woman jams into the car with us. They converse rapidly, and ten feet later, she gets out of the car. I start to wonder if we have just witnessed a hooker-ish deal, that Holly and I are financing, since the meter is still running. The taxi pulls over again, picks up a middle-aged woman (not sensing the street-walker appeal as much this time), and she is also let out after ten more feet. The taxi screeches to a halt a third tme, but this time it's in front of Melina's house.

She is ecstatic to see us (and us her, after having been given the visual tour of Athenian ghettos). She takes us to an awesome Greek resteraunt across the street from her house. As usual, I make an ass out of myself, trying to use Greek phrases in the appropriate manner. We get a smorgesbord of food, including Melina's "healthy" alternative, fried zucchini. Melina's 35, incredibly shy, and a bit spinsterish, so it's always a struggle to converse with her. Have realized through all my interactions of late that I'm always the one who is carrying the conversation, asking all the questions, and leading the group. This is starting to irritate me. Why must I make all the decisions?

Melina gives us a ride back to our hostel, and Holly administers god awful eye drops into my eyes, as they are having problems due to allergies, and we get ready for bed. We meet two Canadian girls who will accompany us to the Santorini ferry at the tender hour of 5 am.

In the middle of the night, our comical receptionist knocks on our door, wearing only a towel, and demanding that Holly and I accompany him to the bar. We blow him off and go back to sleep.

The next morning the alarm goes off brutally early, and I lead the way to Victoria Station. I'm feeling smug, since I miraculously know how to get there from the opposite direction. I figure out which way we need to go to get to the port. We get on the subway. I am wrong. The smugness rapidly evaporates. We get off the subway at the next stop to switch directions. Mad chaos ensues. Turns out you can't switch directions at this stop. We rush around trying to solve this mystery for about fifteen minutes, before the Canadians figure out we need to take another line, and switch three stops later in order to go in the correct direction. We are losing time, Holly and I hope to buy a ticket and get on the ferry by 7:20. We arrive around 7:05, get our ticket, and go to sleep.

We wake up around 11, and I decide to take a shower. Bad idea. Go up to the deck with showers, which is also overloaded with people. Get in the shower and realize that the shower curtain is completely sheer. Every time the door to the woman's room swings open, I am naked, and on display for men and women alike. Since I have no problem being an exhibitionist, I don't mind the folks peeking in, until I realize that the shower head has been removed. All that remains of the shower is a horrible spurt of scalding hot water around hip height. I proceed to take a very horrible shower for all the world to see, which involves me crouching under the faucet like a hobbit, and hopping on one foot to avoid burning myself. Do the walk of shame out of the bathroom with my head down and my tail between my legs.

We eat as much nutella and peanut butter as we can with our Canadian friends. I am on a mission, determined to finish the peanut butter, and transfer the remaining nutella out of it's heavy glass container into the lighter, plastic peanut butter container. This turns out to be more challenging than you would expect. Use your imagination. Holly and I don't realize we're approaching our destination, and after a narrow miss in which we have to re-pack our bags, we barely get off in time.

We are in love with Santorini, from the moment we arrive, and we decide we're staying here for the rest of our lives. We finagle a ride to our campsite (the guy thinks he's giving us a complimentary ride since we'll be renting a room from him. Oh wait, it's such a nice day, I think we'll camp instead.) With overly-filled sacks in tow, we arrive at our camp site, and attempt to set up camp. We struggle with the stakes, so we opt for heavy rocks shoved into each corner of the tent instead, and marvel at our girly cleverness. We put on our suits and race into the Mediterranean.

I decide to have a one-with-nature experience, and since I'm in Europe, I whip off my bathing suit and float on my back, contentedly naked in the Mediterranean. Holly sees this and starts cracking up. (Although she's not as amused when my current causes me to drift into her naked bubble comfort zone.) Overall, we're pleased as punch to have assimilated to European culture so well and be enjoying some naked time.

All good things must come to an end, so we head back to our tent to get ready before dinner. But where is our tent!? Gathered together, exactly as we left them, are our backpacks, which were tucked neatly under the rain flap. But there is no rain flap. Holly screams-

Hol: "Our tent has been stolen! Dear God, why would someone steal our POS tent!?" I start to panic.
Me: "My sister needs that tent later, I'm just borrowing it!

As we begin to panic (you would understand if you've been robbed as many times as we have), we notice our tent a few campsites over, rolling around like a gigantic green tumbleweed. Maybe we aren't as clever as we. It's blow away; rocks, stakes, sleeping bags and all! We scramble to put it back together (properly this time) and head out for the restaurant.

We have an amazing Greek dinner, stuffed peppers and calimari. We even have a cute waiter! The boys in Greece are HOT, we are truly in paradise!

Monday, May 19, 2003

Bootleg Eurail passes

It's time to get ready for our travels, so I take the last shower I will take in god-knows-how-long, nurse my bug-bitten body, and get ready to jump on a train to Ancona, where we will take a ferry to Patras, Greece. Hopefully, Holly won't yak this time, like when we went to Croatia on the ferry, and even Peter Pan (aka Corey, or Satan) was feeling the motion sickness. And he claims to be a big, strong man. No worries, as I'm armed with a roll of dramamine.

We buy Linda some lillies before we leave, and try to time our departure for when she's not home, because I hate saying goodbye to people. We dash off a note, and try to burst out through the front door. Just then Linda comes breezing through, and immediately starts spasming, because my backpack won't fit through the door. It's a pretty classic way to go; Linda hollering about how I need to repack my bag, Holly trying to pull me through the door, and my tent spearing everyone as I stumble through. That about sums up the Florence experience.

Let me explain my backpack. It's a veritable beast of a bag, loaded down with a huge glass container of Nutella, my tennis shoes, thirteen books, my tent, my sleeping bag, and the bare minimum of clothes and toiletries. It weighs something sick, like 90 kilos, and I don't know how long I am going to last because the 20 minute walk to the train station kills me.

We end up in a train compartment that is completely full, complete with psycho, raving, Italian woman. I can't bench-press my bag into the luggage rack, and even if I could, it wouldn't fit. I have no choice but to put it on the seat next to me. Crazy lady proclaims that I better move my shit, cause she's coming in. So Holly and I do this quasi-lesbian thing, where we are squished into one seat, flanked by our bags. Folks are staring at us with shock, since I'm bascially lying in Holly's lap, and she's rubbing my shoulder throughout the entire train ride. Luckily, as homos, we're given a wide berth.

We narrowly make it on my bootleg catch-me-if-you-can eurail pass. (We had set up a lab in our Italian home which included; tweezers, an erasable pen, and a pot of water. With some expert water staining, and a little pen on pen action, we were able to turn Holly Hayden into Colleen Dilts, and change the date several times over.) Holly happens to be a magnificent mormon con artist, but despite her skills, the pass is starting to wear thin, and it's only a matter of time before I get caught.

Holly and I are too ecstatic about our freedom to let anything get us down. We're strangely not nostalgic for Italy yet, even after 48 hours of travel. At the train station in Patras, we make two new friends. Jodi, age 19, going to be attending Dartmouth, from Mississippi, and completely reminiscent of the "southern girls" from Vienna, whom we love to hate. Bret, her companion that she picked up on the ferry the day before, is a real douche bag. He's an overly intellectual painter dude, 20, from Indiana, trying to introduce numerical theory into painting. He tries to make it sound as complicated as possible, and when I try to discuss various painters with him, he makes such condescending statements as-

DB: "You know, I don't even know how to answer that question? It's so strange even talking to someone on your level about this stuff. You can't even begin to comprehend the conversations I have about art with fellow artists."

He clearly needs to be punched in the face. Is he implying that I'm on "retarded ape level?" I redeem myself later by making some good "artistic" points, that he can't refute.

I sound like I hate these people. I definately don't, (well, maybe a little), but we do have a great four-hour train ride from Patras to Athens. Great, except that it involves me changing seats about seven times, with my monster bag. Unfortunately, we don't have reservations, and everyone else does. I decide I've had enough, and stand between cars for the remaining two hours. Holly, Jamie and Douche Bag join me. I'm having an interesting time conversing with some Greek guys, because they're speaking Greek, and I'm speaking English/pantomime. Jamie exclaims-

"Holy shit, you're speaking Greek! How many languages do you speak?" I have to remind her that the words coming out of my mouth are actually English.

All together we head to Hostel Aphrodite, where we meet our extremely comical receptionist. He puts us in a room with buff, egotistical Australian man, who joins us for kebaps. Over dinner, Douche Bag impresses us with his randomness. His hometown contains the largest sycamore stump in the world, and he is very proud of this fact. I don't get it, but I guess that's Indiana for you. Return to the hostel, go down to the bar, and have my welcome shot of Ouzo, which I hate. Gotta have it though, cause it's free.

"Rob", who's quite drunk, is sitting to my right. He accidently-on-purpose spills beer all over me, then gropes me while cleaning it up, simultaneously apologizing, and telling me that his name is Rob, spelled R-O-B. This kid has game, he obviously thiks it's a very clever approach. As he's groping me, "Chickie", on his left, grabs his hand, starts rubbing it, and glaring defiantly at me. I glare back, she can have the spelling bee champ, I didn't ask Rob Zombie to spill on me. To prove my point, I start to converse with boy on left, Aaron (and yes, he informs me that it's spelled with 2 A's). He's a frat boy from Michigan, and I've had more than enough of those for one lifetime. Needless to say, Holly and I call it a night.

In the morning, our funny receptionist informs us that Aussie boy knocked on the door to be let in at a late hour. I guess he had some butt-naked chick, and was fucking her over the railing, right outside our room. Apparently, when he was finshed, (although she wasn't), he slapped her ass, got dressed and went back down to the bar, without another word to her. You gotta love hostels, with their brothel-like nature. I observe her now, trying to cozy up to him at breakfast, although he's clearly trying to get away from her. Serves him right.

Holly and I head to the Acropolis, sit on a rock, and gaze at the glorious view for hours. Then weird French guy, who I think is decent and normal, starts talking to me. I'm responding halfway, but trying to look busy while writing in my journal. All of a sudden, in broken English, he bursts out with-

WFG: "I'm sorry, Colleen, but would you go with me and have a drink?" He flings his hand out, across the landscape, gesturing to some far-off bar. I didn't realize our conversation was heading in this direction, and now he's approaching, looking slightly menacing. I grab Holly and we make a run for it. I'm getting sick of creepy foreign men, but, at least it's not as bad as Egypt. Or so I think, until we board the subway, and are accosted by big, scary Greek guy. Now we've reached our threshold for pain, so we decide to head back to Hostel Aphrodite, before calling for some local re-enforcement (aka Malena, our Greek ex-Italian roommate.)

Malena wants to know what we're doing for the rest of the summer. Since I'm a commitment phobe, I intend to go wherever the wind blows me. One thing I will be doing, though, is religiously and piously walking across Poland on a pilgrimage with God-knows-what-kind-of-weirdos. Maybe some random person reading this blog will decide that they are destined to travel with me, or maybe I will pick up some strays along the way.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

The Dreadful "Last Supper"

My posts are now subject to the whims of the traveling gods (aka, whenever a computer is available.)

Mike is here, and as a result, I fail my big, fat, final Italian exam. For our last day in Italy, we decide not to go to class, say good-bye, get our test grades, or go on an interesting Italian day trip. Instead, we stay in bed and have feminist discussions. Pretty interesting to see Mike (the feminist) and Holly (the mormon) rip into each other. Then we wander around Florence, pet the good luck boar for the last time, eat our favorite gelato, and sit on the cement hill in front of the Palazzo Pitti (haven't these people heard of grass?) Now Mike is leaving, and Holly and I are eating "the last supper" with our family.

Rather than a relaxing and emotional supper, we are put through the ringer by Linda. Back when Corey visited, we smuggled him into our room, and had a story all planned out, about keeping his backpack while he stayed at a hostel. We were nervous, but prepared, and she never approached us about it. Out of nowhere, Linda asks-

L: "So did Mike stay over last night?" (Bear in mind, I'm stuttering, trying to lie in Italian.)
Me: "Um, no, he didn't."
L: "Then why is Rene's bed messed-up?" I freeze, unable to recover, and look desperately to Holly for help.
Hol: "I slept in there, because Mike came over and he and Colleen stayed up late talking in our room. But don't worry, he went home."
L: "I don't care if he did stay, I just want the truth."
Me: "Mike would never stay in a girl's room, he's very old-fashioned and respectful towards women." Pure golden bullshit, finally my skills at lying are translating.
L: "That Mike is such a noble, wonderful man. (Ha!) Did you girls get your test results today?" I relax, finally a change of subject.
Me: "Erm, we sort-of didn't want to, because we know we failed."
L: "You didn't go to class for the last day!? Shame on you!"

Pretty fucking feeble, and I can tell by the look on her face that she's not impressed with us. I'm dying of embarassment.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Have Fun Washing!

My Italian paper just crashed and burned! Even though I was saving frequently, I was saving incorrectly, and thus, unable to retrieve my paper. Can't believe it, dialogue with Holly goes something like this.

Me: "I want to shoot myself in the fucking head, I can't believe I wasted that much quality BS time. I fucking hate this paper, and I fucking hate everyone."
H: "Good call, I fucking hate music, I fucking hate opera."
M: "Let's go break something."
H: "Let's go vandalize something, I know, let's torch an opera house!"

This about sums up my mood for the rest of the day, which culminates in a large fight with my mom, in front of my aunt. It's awful, so I wake up Holly when I get home, to tell her how much I hate my mother, and we stay up talking until 4 in the morning. This causes me to be a little late for the 9 AM train to Cinque Terre, but we still manage to jump on board without further mishap.

Until my aunt calmly shows me her empty money belt, and says,

AP: "I was robbed."
Me: (In utter confusion, I mean, who gets robbed from their money belt?) "WHAT!!? Are you serious!? How on earth did that happen!?"
AP: "I don't know. (She pauses.) Well, there was this man...
Me: "Hey Mom, Aunt Patti got robbed!"
Mom: "Aunt Patti has what?"
Me: "No Mom, it's what she doesn't have, her money!"
Mom: "I don't get it."
Me: "Mother, I said she was ROBBED!"
AP: "Wait, just kidding, it's in my pocket. Whoops, false alarm."
Me: "Man, you guys have been reading way too much Rick Steve's, you're not going to be satisfied until you actually do get robbed. Shit, Aunt Patti, you even had a scenario already figured out."

I don't think it's humanly possible for those two to get robbed. They have bag leashes and extra locks, in addition to several different brands of money belts. That duo is prepared for disaster. They even have detergent wipes on-hand for when I throw my entire plate of fried fish on myself at a fancy dining establishment. I am graceful.

Spend the afternoon floating on my back in the ocean. The sea here is ridiculously salty, and makes me incredibly buoyant. As I'm bobbing up and down, becoming one with the seaweed, I notice a strange hippy man with a guitar approaching. He feels the need to share in my zen-like experience and starts to do half-naked tai chi in the waves.

This leads me to believe that perhaps hiking will be a more peaceful endeavor. And it might have been, if I didn't feel the need to kill myself, running up the steep path as fast as I could. I'm feeling the urge to get my heart rate going. But more than that, I'm determined to cut my nemesis, Rick Steve's hiking time in half. No way am I letting that old man beat me. So I complete the 5+ hour hike between the 5 cities in less than 3 hours. Eat my dust, Ricky.

Afterwards, my ear starts gushing blood. Well, it's not like a volcano or anything, but it feels pretty terrible to be bleeding out of the ear. lnstead of a nose bleed, I'm having an ear bleed. The latter is so much scarier, makes me think I have SARS or ebola or something equally horrible. Needless to say, I'll be making a trip to the doctor on Monday.

I'm staining Holly's new tank top with my gruesome ear blood. I go to read the washing instructions, and the tag inside says, HAVE FUN WASHING! First of all, there is nothing fun about washing, and never will be. Second of all, did the person who designed the tag actually get this approved? That's the best idea I've heard all week, spending extra cents per letter, writing inspirational messages to consumers about the joys of laundry. Great shit.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Clogging and Flogging

Blogging sounds like clogging, or flogging. Very fun words, but I'm getting distracted. Writer's block, anyone?

My life should be entitled: "Aventura nella strada", (adventures in the street.) Started out the day by stepping in a steaming pile of dog poo. (Poo, that's a fun word too, let's see how many times I can use it in one paragraph!) Not just normal dog poo, the rankest dog poo known to mankind. (Most rank? Crap, I can't remember English anymore.) Last night, Holly and I encountered two huge, black rats that busted out of the gutter and charged us. We must have paralyzed the entire population of Florence with our screams. Feeling safe in broad daylight, we encounter a chubby gray rat taking a nap in the middle of the street. Everything here is festering, because it is so bloody hot.

Speaking of festering (or bloody), my boil has miraculously healed. Thank God it's not the Hungarian hospital experience all over again. Need to knock on wood, though, because a replacement boil is threatening to move in. I'm trying to hold the evil forces at bay, but only time will tell, if the boil inferno shall reign again. Today's affliction is an old ear infection that's back with a vengeance.

Mom, Aunt Patti, and I go to the Museo dell'opera Duomo, and see my new favorite sculpture by Michelangelo, "The Rape of Sabine." Maybe not my all-time favorite, since I am a big fan of the "David", but who isn't? He's hot! My Italian teacher (who I like to pretend is stalking me since I've ended up in his class fourth months running) looks exactly like David, and I'm in love with him.

The opera history paper isn't exactly flowing, after spending three hours researching, I have only nailed down one page, my thesis and introduction, and I'm not even sure I like those. Five more pages to go to finish tonight. I guess it doesn't help that my topic is, "Opera Buffo, a journey from Intermezzo to Donizetti's "Don Pasquale"". I know, it sounds like a party.

My Italian conversation skills have improved drastically. After I returned from spring break, I was ready to rumble, and able to remember more than I knew when I left. I'm bummed to leave now, because it's incredible how much I've learned in just four months. I suppose that's what happens when you have Italian class for four hours a day. We ask Linda how it is to always say good-bye to her houseguests, and now I feel like crying.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Dirty Toes

Dinner is a dazzling festival for the senses! My tastebuds are reeling from sensory overload. Every night in the Vicini household begins with a fresh pasta dish. Despite the fact that I have lived here for three months, we haven't once repeated a single type of pasta. I can respect any culture that is so full of innovation when it comes to a simple noodle! Next we have salad; fresh veggies from the Vicini farm, drizzled in olive oil and vinegar. Then, after an extended bout of jubilant conversation, we move onto the main dish. This is usually some type of meat, served with more than one side dish. Tonight's offering is no exception; veal, quiche, and caprese. Following this is bread, then cheese, then fruit, and finally, dessert. Of course, there are also plentiful servings of wine and water throughout. Although I've put on pounds, I will never forget or regret these dinners for the rest of my life.

Nimo was amusing everyone with his hilarious anecdotes, including a re-enactment of how he and Linda met, molto carino!Mom and Aunt Patti behaved, attempting to speak Italian and ingratiating themselves rather well. They were even invited to eat with us again on Tuesday night, when they return from their day trip to Siena.

I'm awakened this morning by a full body pounce from Holly, who's bearing gifts and stories from her week travelling by herself. I'm a proud mama, having taught her how to travel by herself. She has come so far from the girl who arrived in Italy having never even ridden the bus. She's my best friend, we're constantly doubling over with laughter. I'm going to miss the simple pleasures we enjoy together, a day of reading, or playing pinball on Rene's computer- days when we're far too tired for any activity, after our extended weekend bouts of travelling, and we pile into our double bed to enjoy excessive amounts of chocolate, coca-cola, and English books.

Crazy girl loves me so much; she actually carried a kebap from my favorite stand in Vienna for 13 hours on the overnight train. So this morning at 7 am, I enjoy a squashed kebap, and what a kebap it is, rendered that much more tasty due to the effort put forth in bringing it to me.

I'm having a hard time getting moving this morning, due to pain from my latest freak-of-nature affliction. Maybe it's not a boil, just an ingrown hair. Is that the same thing? What exactly is a boil, anyway? I blame Mike, for entertaining me so well in London, resulting in my lack of sleep. It would be too weird to blame my mom for a lack-of-sleep induced boil, because who wants to admit that their mother is more active than they are? That always seems to be how I get them, immune system retaliation. So it appears I have entered (once again) into boil hell.

I buy my busabout pass for the summer and plane ticket home. Not sure I can financially handle it, so perhaps I'm counting my chickens before they hatch. And apparently, turning into my mother by mixing-up sayings. The other day I actually caught myself saying something that made no sense, like, "Don't worry about it, you saw it, so you called it a spade." Yesterday I had the horrible realization that I absolutely AM turning into my mother. At least I don't go around comparing people to Dr. Phil.

Quotable quotes from this week: "You know it's bad, when the man with no legs is trying to cheer you up." (Train ride to the airport in Milan, last weekend, on my way to see Mike). "Hold on, I have to go wash my toes before my voice lesson."

Sunday, May 04, 2003

The Cult of Rick Steves

I take Mom and Aunt Patti on their first train-ride-extravaganza. I don't think they fully appreciate the part where we switch trains in Bologna. I consult the schedule, and realize that the only train bound for Florence is the one leaving in exactly one minute's time. At this news, whooping and hollering, we pump our short legs as fast as they can go, running and leaping onto a train which has just begun moving, suitcases and all. Rick Steves would have been proud. As the train rattles on, we drag our bags through compartment after crowded compartment, looking desperately for empty seats. I'm starting to feel like a tour guide, as I've attracted a trail of tourists pleading with me to employ my elementary Italian skills, and find them empty seats as well. I'm feeling a bit flabbergasted by my sudden elevation to travel messiah. Since when is finding empty seats a talent? But then I glance downwards and notice disdainfully, a Rick Steves guide clutched in the hand of each tourist. Just as I suspected- helpless.

I glance upwards and observe their youthful appearances. Wait a minute! These cult members are barely older than me! I was under the impression that Rick Steves was fine for anal, type-A, older people. What is my generation doing at a Rick Steves seminar when they should be reading Lonely Planet and contemplating getting off the beaten track? Shame on them. Let's all take a moment and bow our heads in shame.

Mom and Aunt Patti are coming over for dinner tonight. I'm in love with sharing my daily Italian dining experience with visiting friends and family, because it's utterly amazing. Course after delicious course of authentic Italian food is served, while Papa Nimo gesticulates wildly, and Mama Linda shrieks at baby Samuele. The quintessential Italian family, always arguing, and always loving. As the most jr. member of my own clan, I am eager to demonstrate my language skills at the dinner table, for Mom and Aunt Patti. I wanto to show off how well I've assimilated, and feel their hearts flush with pride at my accomplishments. So vain- I will forever be branded by my status as the attention-junkie baby in my huge, exceptional family. That's the performer in me, my biggest strength and my biggest weakness rolled into one.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Virgin

This is my first blog. This is my first blog entry. This is also my first foray into the wide world of "my published works, via the internet." Maybe I am merely transitioning into becoming a true computer geek, and getting sucked into the world of "blog". Wow, I can indulge myself, and record every random thought that pops into my head in a permanent place! Maybe someone out there in the wide world of cyber space will actually read it! I can feel the addiction sinking in already.

To avoid total nerd conversion, should probably never use the phrase "blog" again, or, (heaven forbid), such horrible on-line acronyms as; LOL, TTFN, BFF, NPR, etc. I'm feeling like an uncertain virgin in a porno shop. Technology? What's that? Now that we've established I have no idea what purpose this document is serving... Let's begin with today. All great novels begin with today.

I'm currently in Venice. (It's lovely to say that as if it were a mundane statement, like, "I'm currently out to dinner with Sally," or, "I'm currently in class, finishing this assignment.") Nope, I'm currently in Venice, tapping away at a keyboard, while the city slowly sinks into oblivion.

We're visiting San Mareno island, and I'm absolutely chomping at the bit to enter the enthralling world of blown glass (note sarcasm). Slight problem though, considering they don't actually make blown glass on Saturdays. (Don't panic, they make it every other day of the week!) Everyone conveniently forgets to tell you such pertinent facts until you are already on the island, having already paid for the tour. Especially Italians- those crafty, scheming buggers. Not that I'm particularly interested in the makings of colored glass, since I posess an acute hatred for crafts. Which, I might add, is contrary to my personality, because I love art. But I hate early art. If I have to see another madonna and child, I think I'm going to vomit. Since my mom and aunt have a cult-like obsession with Rick Steves, (as all middle-aged women do, apparently), his guidebook leads us through not one, not two, but four museums containing early art. Thanks for that one, Ricky.

Perhaps I've been in Europe for too long... I used to be able to wander inside a European church, revel in it, sit for an hour absolutely alone with my thoughts, and have a splendid awe-inspiring moment. Now I can barely stand entering churches, for they've all begun to look the same. You know it's bad when you can tell the difference in the textures of gelato, and find yourself snobbily rejecting certain brands. I'm becoming utterly spoiled, eh? (And I'm becoming utterly Canadian, judging by the amount of "eh's" I've used throughout this entry. Aw, bugger off, I'm an Alaskan, all right?)

My God, there is nothing more enjoyable than sparring with an invisible audience, I can see the appeal of the world of "blog" already!

Back to the good stuff- while Mom and Aunt Patti meander through the lovely stores of colored glass, I spend my time staring off into the sea blankly, contemplating my lack of femininity. Ever since I began this travelling adventure, I have picked up an extreme disdainment for shopping. Not sure whether this is due to my hatred of taking off my shoes in dressing rooms, or just my hatred for throwing down the mean green. Perhaps I have become spiritual, like the buddah, and desire nothing material. Glancing down to see if I have magically acquired a pot belly, I realize my addiction to technology and coca-cola might omit me from the rank of the enlightened. Not wanting to know what the buddah would say about me wasting my life in front of a computer screen, I head back to the hotel room to get some work done. (And yes, mother, I decided to walk- even though you made me buy that 22-euro vaporhetto pass that I told you I would never use!)

As an opera student, "work" is a series of god-awful vocal exercises, in which I sound like an ungainly parrot stretching my chords into odd positions and attempting various "tricks" I have yet to master. I don't think the passerby who eavesdrops on my practice sessions realizes that the ugly inevitably has to precede the pretty. Perhaps that's why the maids actually made me stand in the hall to do my vocal gymnastics while they changed our linen. The most embarassing part, though, was the American who kept snickering at me and flashing me the ol' thumbs-up as he strolled by one too many times. (Leave it to America to come up with such a blatant, universal gesture.) I told my new American buddy that when he was able to master a difficult Rossini aria and hit a high C with ease, he was allowed to flash me the ol' thumbs-up. Until then, he needed to stick that thumb where-the-sun-don't-shine.

My mother says that I remind her of Dr. Phil, because I'm so blunt. This is bad for two reasons; a) it makes me realize how much I have missed in terms of American culture, although if it is anything like that horrible Britney Spears movie, "Crossroads", I'm not missing much. (Help! She also said that Clay was her favorite on American Idol, am I a complete tool for having no idea who Clay is?) b) I don't know anything about this Dr. Phil character, but if I did, I would be very scared indeed.
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