Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Epic Rome Sept 24-29, 2015

Epic view from our rented Pigneto apt:

Epic meltdown:
It's a perfect storm---PMS, fatigue, nothing in the way of predictability and routines, late nights, food deprivation for long periods while we sight see, raucous noise, pollution, everybody around us smoking... Trish blows and has her customary trip meltdown. Then of course she feels guilty for holding me back. I think, "my God, 6 more weeks with her". The next day she remains in the apt. And rests. I must admit wandering without worries was rather liberating at first. The next day she's back to herself. That's my monkey. We recover and we move on.

Epic traffic and urban decay:
We've ridden public transport in 8 cities so far this trip. And Rome's roads and Metro are a tangled mess with worn infrastructure. 
Here the traffic was so bad all  passengers just got off and hoofed it.

In the Netherlands they had to build pathways to accommodate  2 wheelers. Here 2 wheelers learned to improvise and no urban restructuring was necessary.
The urban blight, crumbling infrastructure and all around feel that things are well beyond its shelf life are palpable but not new. People know it and acknowledge it, and seem to accept it as status quo.
Yet whole families going through dumpsters, eternal traffic jams, indifference, disenfranchised migrants looking on while tourists and hipsters enjoy la dolce vita are unsettling. Forty two per cent youth unemployment has a way of taking the starch out of hope and optimism.
How does a national train station allow itself to look like this?

Epic Coliseum and Forum:
And it truly truly is.....
I never understood why the centre of the stadium had all those crumbly walls. Turns out its part of the underground backstage, where animals, gladiators, props where stored and readied for performances. Elaborate stage settings, trap doors, pulleys were constructed well below ground.
Even prior to this, the arena was staged for sea battles, with water fed in from the acqueduct.
80 entrances, a ticketing system, banners marketing nobles, music, food....opiate for the masses and nobles.

Epic night lights:

(See the full moon?)
Epic crowds:
Every fourth Sunday the Vatican Museum is free. Thousands wait,... I couldn't be bothered so I hang around St Petes Square.
Epic Pius IX looking very...pius

Epic Pasquale:
It's good to know that in these insecure times, major institutions like the Vatican are heavily guarded by the likes of Pasquale.

Couple of Epic Fountains
Piazza Navona

Trevi Fountain....been under reno forever
Piazza Venezia
Epic pigs on a final epic day:
Our fav day was our last full day in Europe. A couple of buses took us to one of many catacombs outside of Walls. There was a time when people couldn't be buried in Rome, so thousands upon thousands were laid to rest atop one another, and underground in the volcanic soil. Popes, martyrs, commoners... All the same...
If we never have another panini con prosciutto again we'll die happy. But not all ham is the same. This little piglattoria only did wine, cheese and ham/salami. And they did it exceptionally well and wiith flair.

Epic end to Europe:
A month barnstorming through Europe, great people, how do you beat that? Japan, we hope. Rome was somewhat overshadowed by that big prize, not that the craziness of tourist Italy was disappointing. It's an incredible place. We took a walking tour but did few paid attractions....the entire city is a museum and all the churches are free. So whether it's the stunning Pantheon where Christians built into and around ruins..

...or the little St Trastevere, a Byzantine masterpiece and Romes first Christian church.....it's all eye popping. Here we stumbled into a funeral ...

This was the quieter part of the high season. I can't imagine coming during peak season except to visit our couch surfing buddies and the scores of ppl Trish chatted up. Five days gave us a chance to feel Rome's enormity and craziness, but it was enough. It was il primi to Japan's il secondi.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Florentine Confessions Sept 19-23, 2015

The white and green marble of Sienna's Il Duomo

We Blabla'ed our way from Padua to Florence, Europe's car share service. Sharing a car comes in at half the train costs and a chance to meet someone interesting, maybe. Daphne for example breeds rag doll cats, when she isn't a dental assistant, married to her childhood sweetheart and still only 27. She cruises her German made Opel at 135km an hour, all the way with the same aplomb as though she were brushing her cat. She slows only for the toll which charges her $20 Cdn for an hour on the hwy.
After Daphne drops us off at he end of the tram line the first person we meet in Florence turns how to be a hired gun tour guide. She was scurrying home after an out of town gig. Speaking impeccable English, she described herself as a Florentine through and through but for her sanity, had to leave every winter for New York. There she revels in the American can do spirit whereas Italians are incredible whiners and complainers, resting on their laurels on past glories. 

Her clients are shocked to hear this, but she'd know better than us. We met others who complained bitterly about politicians (wouldn't you after years of Berlusconi?), and an uncertain future, that Italy would go the way of Greece (not likely).

So with her assistance, we jumped into a bus and the madness of Florence, the former Queen Bee of the Renaissance.

Florence, Ponte Vecchio
We found a large 1950s apt in Bellarvia, on the edge of the historic core (about 56 euros a nite) and a short  bus or bike ride away from the masses. The apt was billed as 'real Florence and convenient'. If real is families with kids whining all day, and if real is construction going on whenever the sun shines, then they kept it real. While everybody in the hood still sells pizza, pasta, panini, and gelato, at least there are no signs catering to tourists. Nor are there tourist prices. One little pasticerra is quiet but they offered to make us spaghetti in tomato sauce, though it would be a twenty minute wait because they start from scratch. Trish was in heaven. Five simple and fresh  ingredients went into the sauce---tomatoes, garlic, celery, onion and carrots. We go back the next night and they make us gnocchi and veggies with baby shrimp, pasta carbonara. All this local joy for 7 euros each.

David replica outside the Academia Gallery

Looking out from Pitti Palace...yes it's really called that

Il Duomo in the morning light
Unfortunately I keep losing things. Both water bottles, most of our gadget cables and accessories, and ALL but these unedited pictures of Tuscany that were slated for deletion. What a loss and what a LOSER I am. Some images can be pilfered from the Internet. But it begs the question....just because you don't have pictures, is the experience any less meaningful? Did it really happen? Just because you haven't shot and tweeted every moment was it any less relevant?

Nikki's hubby, Tom takes 30lbs of camera equipment when he travels. In contrast our buddy Marc has to be cajoled to take a weekly iPhone shot when he goes on his long journeys, though he'll Need each one as he gets my vote for most likely to get early onset of Alzheimer's.

On our last full day in Tuscany, I ordered Trish to remain in bed. She had some sort of bug which I likely got, having used her toothbrush. That it rained all day made us feel less guilty about missing out on so many things. But a second day off after 3.5 weeks was long overdue and we're tired and snarling at each other like an old married couple.

First Confession:
I'm tired of the food.  There, I've said it. We cycle through the 3 Ps and a G: Pizza, panini, pasta and gelato. Most with little protein or foliage. OK, I'm not tired of gelato... Most of the time it's on the go, or its late in the evening, though we had some decent meals in Padua. Loads of food everywhere, but pizza, pasta and sandwiches are the vanilla staples for mass tourism. It's even worse here as the locals assume that's all we want. We can see how Italy has the world's highest rates of celiac disease.
We get desperate and hunt for chips. We scour the corner stores and supermarkets. All we come up with are Pringles and some low end Lays facsimile. Can you believe this? Are we not in a G8 country in a mono food-world? What is this, Kazakhstan? No wonder many locals feel they're only a step behind Greece. Get some Sun Chips damnit, this is the Mediterranean, or at the very least Doritos.

Favourite Tuscan spot: San Gimignano 
Jeff and Terry were right. If you ever go to Tuscany, top of the list should be a night in what we call San Gimme Gimme. Imagine a wealthy fortress like town suddenly emptied. In this case it was the 14th century Black Plague that drove people off or killed them. This left everything perfectly pickled. 

At one point each noble family engaged in a big penis contest and built these towers to prove their...size...of fortune. Fourteen are still erect. A few Euros and you can climb one or two of these shafts.
The crowds are relentless. The most common tourist gadget for sale is the selfie stick. Apparently use of selfie sticks have led to more deaths than shark attacks. Time to go shark diving.

Ok let's get smarmy: Local lads set up great vantage point to see the tourists in San Gimme Gimme
Second Confession, and this one really hurts:
Not wanting to pay 10-12 euros for mediocre plates of spaghetti, we cheap out and get desperate for protein. Trish says McDonalds for cheeseburgers. Guess how much I bitched and frown at her. The next two times I gladly take her pickles and add them into my burgers. Fortunately no photographic evidence exists, so it never really happened, right?

Next, Roma


For Wayne Ng's latest travel adventures and book " Finding the Way: A Novel of Lao Tzu ," please go to his website and blog at...