This is my first log of my 2 week trip to Italy. Here I am on the airplane. The flight is full and actually, they had to get a bunch of volunteers to take another flight, going to Dusseldorf via Manchester. Anyway, it took them some extra time to unload the baggage of the passengers who took the other flight. They said it would be an extra 10 minutes, but in fact, between unloading the baggage and waiting to take off, we left Washington about an hour late. I don't really care because I'll have to wait for a few hours in Dusseldorf anyway. In other news, I was under the impression that movies would play on a main screen, but in fact, we have seat-back televisions with multiple channels for our viewing pleasure. I'm seated between some youngish guy and an Italian lady who is here with her daughter-in-law (German?) and grandchildren. They seem to be speaking mostly Italian, but whenever the grandchild started grabbing stuff, it was a constant stream of "Nein, nein, nein, nein..." I got so tired of hearing that word, repeated over and over and over. I think one of the grandchildren needs a diaper change. Ew. The grandchild has been crying on and off but never for too long, thankfully. I'll check back here after meal service.
Dinner was chicken and pasta with a fruit cup, a roll, and a piece of carrot cake. I ordered a kosher meal to be sure that I'd be able to eat whatever they served me. It wasn't too bad. After I finished watching "The Majestic" (too sentimental for my taste) on my video screen, I settled down for a very fitful "sleep". I doubt I slept more than an hour or so, it was so uncomfortable. Whenever the lady next to me had her grandchild in her lap, I got kicked by the grandchild and I got to hear a steady stream of "nein" from the grandmother. I expect to sleep better on the return journey, when I'm very tired.
Breakfast on the airplane was a roll with butter. In spite of the fact that our plane left an hour late, we arrived in Dusseldorf only 20 minutes late. Something interesting that I noticed on the plane was that people spoke German to me: flight attendants, etc. who knew both German and English. I thought that was interesting. I must look German or something. When we arrived at the airport, it was only about 8am, so everything was very quiet. We were told to go through passport control if our connecting gate was on the other side. Unfortunately, since we had arrived roughly 4 hours before my flight, my flight was not listed on the monitors yet. I was unsure of what to do, but only 2 or 3 gates were on my side of passport control, so I decided to go ahead and pass through. It turned out to be the correct decision. For the time I had to kill in the airport, I browsed through the few stores they have here. (a book store, a duty free store, a couple mens clothing shops, and a café) It looks like a very new and high-tech place; they must have remodeled recently. They have escalators that move very slowly until you step on, at which time they speed up, a nifty technological innovation that I have not encountered before. Everything looks very new and clean and shiny. Lufthansa offers a variety of amenities at its gates here, such as a selection of newspapers and free coffee and tea. I considered eating a light lunch in the airport, and indeed, I saw a bagel sandwich with lox and cream cheese that looked quite good. However, the food I'm carrying is heavy, and I'd just as soon eat it to get rid of the weight. I ate a bagel and some dried fruit. My eyes are feeling very dry from the lack of sleep.
The flight to Venice was interesting for a number of reasons. First, I went to the gate where the transfer check-in people told me to go. Within 10 minutes, the destination sign at the counter changed to read Hamburg. I asked the desk attendant about it and she told me that Venice was moved to another counter. I went to the counter she'd indicated. At that counter, the lady denied that it was the Venice gate. So a whole bunch of confused passengers sat and waited to get word. We eventually did board from the second gate. Once on the (cramped, run-down) plane, about an hour into the flight, we ran into some severe turbulence. It was actually kind of fun, but I tried not to smile. I thought that if we died in a horrible crash, it would be really bad to have been smiling and enjoying the weather that led to my demise. I had ordered a kosher meal but evidently it didn't make it into the computer for this flight, so I did not get lunch. It was ok though, since I had eaten at the airport. Lufthansa really needs to get their computer systems straight. According to my tickets, there was a cold meal on this flight but not on the return flight from Rome to Frankfurt. However according to my e-mail itinerary, there should be a meal on the Rome/Frankfurt flight but not this one. I bet Lufthansa's computer wasn't even sure, so my kosher meal listing somehow never made it in. I was exhausted, so I slept for part of the flight.
Finally, I arrived in Venice. I really would have liked to look at the island on the approach, but the one time when I would not want an aisle seat, I actually got an aisle seat. Oh well. Customs was basically non-existent except for a dog sniffing all the bags. I met up with Manuel very easily, Venice had a small airport.
We took a bus and a vaporetto (boat bus) down the Grand Canal to get home. As soon as we dropped off my stuff, we began walking the city. We walked over (seemingly) the entire city, and I got my first look at many of the well-known Venetian sites, including the church/library from Indiana Jones 3, the San Marco basilica and bell tower, the Doge's palace, and the Jewish ghetto. We also saw a large park and military academy on the edge of town, hoardes of tourists at the waterfront, and the many bridges for which Venice is famous. Manuel's family lives near the Rialto bridge, an area jammed with tourists. However, since nothing of tourist interest is located in the alley where they live, it's fairly quiet. I am sleeping in Manuel's room, and Manuel is sleeping on the floor, elsewhere in the apartment. In the evening, we ate dinner. For the prima piatto (appetizer), we had slices of baguette with tomatoes or salmon on top. Dinner was eggs fried with potatoes and onion, bread, locally made Asiago cheese, sliced tomatoes, and prosciutto (though not for me). After dinner, Manuel and I walked the city some more. It was much easier to walk around without tourists, and very beautiful at night. It was hard to keep myself awake, but I was making a sincere effort to get myself into the new time zone. First impressions of Venice: I really loved the canals, the historical buildings, the general character of the place. The crowds of tourists did detract from the sight, but it was much better at night, when all of the tourists clear out. My first view of the Piazza San Marco was fairly breathtaking. I suppose it's not as cool if you live there, though I must admit that every time I exit the Smithsonian Metro station on the Mall, and I look at the Washington Monument and the Capitol, I think it's kind of cool as well. The Piazza was full of tourists, pigeons, and cafes with small live orchestras playing. The basilica, externally, was one of the most colorful and beautifully decorated churches I've ever seen. Though I don't usually go for church architecture, I thought it was really cool. Manuel seems to have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the city, so I was able to learn a lot of interesting stuff about the buildings I saw. I really love it here so far.
Today was another busy day of walking all over the city. Manuel and I went to the train station so I could buy my ticket to Milan, the next stop on my trip. On the way, we saw a barge full of unicycles. A man on the barge was riding a stationary one. It was amusing when a gondolier on the sidewalk took notice, and shouted (in Italian, translated to English via Esperanto) "Take courage, you'll arrive first!" An interesting note: you think of Venice, with its many bridges over the canals, and you don't really consider that walking in Venice would be more tiring than any other city. However, each one of those bridges is like walking up and down a flight of stairs – just to cross the street. (more like 2 flights of stairs from the 3 bridges crossing the Grand Canal). In any case, today was basically a repeat of yesterday – walking all day and all evening, returning home only for meals. Plus, we rested a couple hours after lunch (pasta with grated cheese and stir-fried zucchini slices). We didn't really eat breakfast, but when I found myself in need of sugar, I bought a lemon gelato (E 0.95) and it was quite refreshing. We went on one of the walking tours (#10) listed in Manuel's book about Venice, which he carried with him like a bible about the city (which it basically was). Later in the day, he said he'd heard of an English translation available, so we went in search of it. We were at about our 3rd bookstore without any luck, when the proprietor called another bookstore, who indeed had it. We proceeded to the other bookstore, where we found out that it was the only bookstore in Venice to sell it, and that they had only 6 copies left. We both flinched when we saw the price, but Manuel bought it for me as a gift, which was a very kind thing to do. I bought some millefiori pendants for friends and family after price matching for a bit. Anyway, we caught the western part of the island today, which includes a prison and some industrial areas where even Manuel had not been before. In the evening, Manuel, Valentina, and I ate dinner at a local Chinese place, which was very good. Dinnertime conversation flowed surprisingly well considering that Manuel was translating back and forth. I tried the "sweet chicken" (it looked exactly like sweet and sour chicken but it was in fact just sweet with no sour), the curry chicken, and the chicken with mushrooms. For dessert, Valentina got a fried ice cream. I did not know that it was associated with Chinese food in any way, but Valentina said that every Chinese place in Italy serves it. It makes me wonder if the fried ice cream in our Mexican restaurants is not really Mexican. Another interesting aspect of the restaurant was that the plates were about half the size of those at American Chinese restaurants, and about half the cost, so each person generally orders two items. At the end of the meal, as we left, I got a plastic beaded bracelet; apparently this restaurant customarily gives a small gift as you leave. In the evening after dinner, the three of us walked around and saw many of the same sites Manuel and I had seen earlier, but with less people and less light. It was entertaining nonetheless. Late at night when we returned, Manuel and I watched The Hunt for Red October, which was enjoyable. (though I would be very curious to know how well Sean Connery spoke Russian at the beginning, and it's worth noting that I felt it may have been better if the entire crew of the Russian submarine spoke with the same accent; some had Russian accents, some British. I don't believe I heard an American accent, at least)
Actually it's really weird to be on this trip and write these logs and it's not even June yet. Which reminds me of how yesterday, Valentina remarked that when she worked at a museum gift shop, the English speakers very often used the word "actually." And when Manuel translated that remark for me…actually…I smiled and laughed because I realized that it was true, I use the word all the time. In any case, on to today. Since Manuel and I stayed up so late watching the film last night, we slept fairly late (9:30 for me, 10:30 for him) though it may be more of a Sunday morning sort of thing because everyone else seemed to wake up fairly late as well. Erm…..unless they were kept awake by the sound of the movie and didn't actually get to sleep until we did, which is another possibility. In the morning, we lounged around, looked at a computer game (Max Payne), which kind of ripped off some things from The Matrix. Well, a bit more than "kind of". We ate lunch (pasta with egg, tomato, tuna, and cheese for me and Valentina and Manuel's mom, and pasta with marinara sauce with meat for Manuel and his stepfather). After lunch, Manuel and I went out and took my English edition Venice book for a test drive, walking tour #3. It was not very easy, because we followed it backwards to make it more convenient to us, and sometimes it was difficult to find the right street: especially since the street names in the book were written in standard Italian, and Venetian street signs are written in the Venetian dialect. Manuel was, of course, able to translate, but when I was the one guiding with the book, it was slow going: especially when I was looking for a particular street sign, and it didn't occur to me that the sign I was looking for may not match the words written in the book. The tour took us through some poor back neighborhoods (according to the book), to a couple of famous churches (Venice has more than 200 churches, if I remember correctly), and to the northeast coast, from which one could see the island of Murano (where glass items are made) and the graveyard island (duh). There was a very nice "historic boardwalk" sort of feel to the place, which included buildings and shops looking out over the water, with a wide sidewalk, though without typical US boardwalk seediness. We bought gelato.
Incidentally, in the US we have "ice cream" and we have "Italian style gelato", separately labeled and clearly different. In Italy, it's all "gelato" (which just means ice cream in Italian, after all) and it's all like the stuff labeled "gelato" in the US. (that is, somewhat smoother than ice cream, and coming in different flavors). Plus it's cheaper here, about a euro for a scoop of gelato, as opposed to $2.50 or some similarly obscene price for the exact same scoop of "Italian style gelato" at some US shopping mall. In the daily travels, we also returned to the southern coast, which is very beautiful and breezy, and overlooks the island of Giudecca. We sat down in a garden and had a long conversation. In the evening, we came back home and ate dinner (salad, chicken cooked with oil and white wine, bread, tomatoes, and celery) As I had heard before, salad dressing consists of bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the table, and each person pours on whatever quantities they want of each. Manuel's family has an electric cheese grater, which I think is kind of neat. After dinner, Manuel and I hung out and talked for a while about the US and other countries, then watched "A Bug's Life" on DVD. Finally, before we went to sleep (at an obscenely late hour as usual) we made plans for tomorrow, when he will have to work: I will meet him at the bus terminal in the evening after he gets off of work. During the day, I'll tour around myself. I think I'll do some more shopping. Also, I'll try to get myself oriented around the city a bit better so I can be helpful when Claire comes. Really, I thought I was improving, but Manuel was helping me plan a route to the bus station with the help of a map, and I realized that I have no idea what I'm doing. The city isn't large, but it's a real maze. Streets simply aren't laid out in a neat grid, most of them look very similar, and many have dead ends in canals. For all that I've traversed most of the city in the last couple days, I'm mostly just following Manuel, so I haven't really had to learn anything. I guess it's sort of the same as riding in a car with someone; you're traveling the same route that they are, but you aren't really paying attention to the road, so you couldn't repeat it if you had to.
My last day in Venice! Or so it seems, though I'll be coming back with Claire. Manuel had to work today so I was sort of on my own on that front. In the morning, I took it easy, reading the news online and also reading my e-mail. It has been really convenient to have such easy internet access here, I'm really spoiled. In the late morning, I watched as Valentina made pasta for lunch: squares of pasta were filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, then their corners were pulled together over the filling like a dumpling. Valentina said it was a common type of pasta to make at home. While she made the pasta, we chatted in English about various topics, such as our dogs. The Giorgini dog Mir is very cute; I spent some time playing with him in the morning. He looks like a yellow lab but is about half the size. He is very energetic, and customarily barks his head off whenever anyone leaves or enters the apartment (this is something of a problem when Manuel and I come back late at night; Valentina has to wait for us to return, and hold him in the kitchen so he doesn't wake the whole household). After we ate lunch, Valentina took me to the post office to mail a postcard. It was a good thing she came with me, because (at least on the side of the building where we entered). The building was huge; not quite as big as McKeldin library (the main UMCP library) but close. It had a central atrium where most post office functions seemed to be located. The 3 or 4 stories of the buildings had balconies that looked down upon this central atrium. I mailed my postcard, and also bought some stamps for a friend who collects stamps. The post office worker gave me a very strange look when I asked him for 2 stamps of the lowest value they sell. Afterwards, Valentina took me shopping for some glass items, souvenirs for family members. She tried to show me to a place where prices would be reasonable (some stores have insane prices), but understandably, if you live here, you aren't exactly buying touristy glass items, so it's hard to know where to go. I bought several items. I later saw lower prices for some of these, but by then it was too late, and it was only a few euros in difference, so it wasn't a big deal anyway. Next, we headed up to the ghetto. When we arrived, I found out that you can only visit the synagogues with a guided tour, and I just wanted to pop in and look, not to listen to some long speech about the history. We returned to the apartment, I dropped off my purchases, and I set out alone to wander around a bit more before meeting Manuel at the Piazzale Roma bus station. I went into a store, picked an item to buy, and placed it on the counter, saying nothing. The shopkeeper spoke to me in English, in spite of the fact that I was carrying nothing but a purse, did not have a visible camera, and was wearing a button-down shirt and a skirt, not a super-american looking outfit. "Can you really tell I'm a foreigner by looking at me?" I asked Manuel later. He said that I'm far too blonde to be an Italian. I had heard that northern Italianas are lighter than southern, but I suppose they're just not as light as me. I continued to wander around looking at stores, which I didn't really do with Manuel (shopping with guys is just kind of strange). Suddenly, it began to rain. Fortunately, for all of my wanderings, I was very close to Manuel's apartment, so I went and rang the bell to be let in. After Mir's obligatory overreaction, I was let in. I picked up my umbrella and went out again. I forgot to bring Manuel's city map, so I bought my own at a store, something I'd been meaning to do anyway. I made my way over to the bus station. It was not actually necessary to use the map, as Venice has signs scattered throughout the city, pointing you to the locations that are generally important to tourists. The four that I saw most often indicated the paths to the train station, the bus station, the Rialto bridge, and the Piazza San Marco. The signs are relatively easy to follow to any of these places, and even if you take a wrong turn and get lost, you can simply wander a bit and you'll find another sign soon. I met Manuel without incident and we returned home. A bit later, we went out to eat pizza for dinner. The custom is that each person orders their own pizza, which is about equivalent to a medium pizza in the US, but is much thinner, so you can eat more of it. I got pizza with pesto on it, and Manuel got his with ham and mushrooms. It was good, though the pesto made everything a little too salty and oily for my taste. I had heard that Italians folded pizza in half before eating it. I always wondered why, then I found out that it's impossible to eat the pizza without folding it in half, short of using a knife and fork (which Manuel did). If you don't fold the pizza, it is too thin to support its own weight, so it promptly flops down and all of the cheese falls off. Incidentally, the name of the restaurant was "Ae Oche"; "ae" is the Venetian dialect version of the word "alle." Venice has its own dialect, which varies from a simple venetian accent to a full-blown dialect, with many words substantially altered from the standard Italian, and many other words completely different than the standard Italian. All street signs are written in the Venetian dialect, which makes it somewhat difficult, on occasion, to match the street signs with Manuel's guidebook "Venice and its lagoon", which uses the standard Italian. After we ate, we took a long path home and extended our dinnertime conversation. Arriving home, we talked some more and watched the end of "The Empire Strikes Back", dubbed into Italian, on TV. I fretted about not having received a response from Claire, to my e-mail about where to meet on tomorrow's trip to Milan. I am worried about it. Finally, we went to bed at about 2am. We need to wake at about 6 in the morning so I can catch my 7AM train to Milan. In spite of that, I was sorry to go to bed. I really enjoy talking with Manuel, and I will miss him when I leave Venice for good. He has really made my visit to Venice wonderful.
We woke up early in the morning so I could catch my 7am train. We were running somewhat behind on time, so there wasn't time for any long goodbyes once we reached the train station. I got on the train to Milan with a feeling of sadness, like I was leaving home. In addition, I never got a response to my e-mail to Claire, so I didn't know how to reach here and didn't know how I would meet up with her. I meant to sleep on the train since I've gotten so little sleep lately, but instead I read my Venice book and worked on yesterday's daily log. I arrived in Milan, and Claire was not at the track where I told her to meet me. This was the expected result, but it was disheartening nonetheless. I didn't know what to do, so I decided to go to the youth hostel. I went to a tourist information center to ask how to get there. I asked about the metro, then they said "It doesn't open until 3:30." I was very confused, wondering what kind of backwards city would have such a metro system. I asked about walking and about a taxi (too far and too expensive) then finally decided to go see this closed metro for myself. The metro station was full of people, so I decided to try the metro. I arrived at the hostel's stop, which turned out to be in a peripheral portion of the city. After some wandering around, I finally found the hostel…….and saw on the gate that it would not open for the afternoon until 3:30 PM. So that was what the tourist info clerk meant. I took the metro back to the center of the city and decided to meet Claire at the Last Supper painting at 5:15 PM, the reservation time quoted in her last e-mail. I looked at the famous Milan duomo (cathedral) from the outside but didn't go in. It was a large church (the third largest cathedral in the world, I believe) but I didn't really feel the trip to see it was worthwhile. I briefly looked through a plaza with some stores, and wondered how to spend the rest of my day. It was not even lunchtime yet. I was intensely grateful that I'd left my large bag in Venice. Even my single backpack was getting heavy, and it was a hot day, in an uninteresting city, filled with a lot of banks and fashion-related businesses but very few tourist sites. I saw a phone center and bought a phone card, but for some reason, I could not get it to work to call Claire's (Spanish) cell phone. I looked at my tourist guidebook and decided to go to the Sforza castle, an old fortress. The fortress itself wasn't very interesting. It contained several exhibit halls showing carvings excavated from old churches, tapestries, and antique musical instruments including harpsichords, spinets, and virginas, and also some early pianofortes. It was a way to pass the time in an air-conditioned building but was still not very interesting. I hung around the duomo plaza a bit more, ate lunch (dried fruit and a can of juice), then took the metro once more to the hostel when it was late enough. Incidentally, with the E3 all-day pass, the metro was a great deal, plus it was fast and easy to use. When I arrived at the youth hostel, after waiting in a long line, I found out that you have to be an IYH (International Youth Hostelling) member to use it. The membership plus the lodging fee meant it would cost me nearly as much as a cheap hotel to stay there (in a common room with a shared bathroom, at the edge of the city). I asked if Claire had come by, and they said no, so I said I would check in later when I found her. I proceeded back into the center of the city, and to the church, in whose side building the Last Supper painting is found. I waited for Claire, then asked the people at the desk if she'd picked up her ticket yet. They said no, and that actually Claire had reserved for 5:45. I waited some more, and finally Claire arrived. She said that she hadn't been able to find an internet connection in France, so she didn't get my e-mail until she reached an internet connection in Milan. At 12PM she went to the meeting place cited in my e-mail, but by then I was already gone. She went to the youth hostel in the afternoon, after sightseeing, but I was already gone from there too. The hostel people told her I was waiting outside, so she looked all over for me, but I was not there. Finally, she took a taxi to reach the Last Supper in time, but arrived a few minutes too late for our reserved time. We had to wait to join another group that had less than 25 people, so we finally got in at about 6:30 PM. We saw the painting; it was on the wall of a church rectory. It was on a wall of a former (dining hall?). It was much larger than I thought, covering a significant portion of a large wall. After we saw the painting, we checked into another youth hostel that was listed on some of the Milanese tourist literature: it was private, so no membership fee was required. I found out that for our trip to Venice, Claire reserved for a hostel on the island of Sant'Erasmo, which is a long vaporetto ride from Venice. It is one of the outlying islands, and nothing interesting is there. In the evening, after an extended search involving many broken payphones that accept only cards and no cash (grrrrrr good thing I bought the phone card earlier) I called Manuel. I wanted to let him know I found Claire, and also to ask some questions about how late the vaporetti run between islands. I hope we are not confined to Sant'Erasmo in the evenings. Claire and I bought some bread and ate dinner (bread, cheese, dried fruit, water), then made plans for tomorrow's travels. Claire informed me that she cannot get up before 7am, and needs at least an hour to get ready, so we will have to take the 9:05 train to Venice instead of the 8:05, which I really would have preferred. I am anxious to get out of Milan and back to Venice as soon as possible. I wish I had never left. I have not enjoyed my trip to Milan at all. When we were ready to go to bed, I saw tiny green bugs all over my bed. It was really gross so we closed the window to keep them out, then squished the rest with a tissue. (sidenote: I have yet to see a screen on a window. Manuel informs me that it is not generally necessary in city areas, only in the country). Quote of the day: "I'm leaving the squisher here in case you need it in the middle of the night."(Claire, as she put her tissue on the windowsill.) We went to bed.
The beds at the hostel were stainless steel, and squeaked loudly if you made even the slightest movement in bed. During the night, someone got up for some reason, so there was a dreadfully loud clanking noise as she descended the latter from the top bunk, then again when she ascended again. I think it woke the whole room. About four people's alarms went off at 7am, though only Claire and I got up right then. When I awoke in the morning, I found that the previous day's blisters were still on the heels of both feet. Though I didn't walk an incredibly distance in Milan, the distance I did walk was probably enough to send me over the edge into blisters, after my extensive walking in Venice. We were leaving before 9am, so we'd been instructed to turn in our keys at a drop box. We did so, then went to the main gate, and found that it was locked. We could not figure out how to get off the grounds of the hostel, so as a last-ditch solution, we decided to climb the fence and pass our bags across to each other. A lady in an adjacent building saw what we were about to do, and she came out. I told her that we could not get out, so she produced the key to the fence and let us out. Claire and I finally reached the train and boarded, but it was so crowded that it took us a long time to find empty seats, and even then, we had to split up. I had to pay extra for my ticket because I forgot to validate it at the train station, so I was annoyed that I had forgotten about it. Finally, after a train ride of about two and a half hours, we arrived at S. Lucia station in Venice. I was so glad to be "home" again. I felt incredibly relieved to be back in Venice, in spite of the Sant'Erasmo youth hostel reservation, which I was very unhappy with. From the train station, Claire and I tried calling a cheap hotel and another hostel, but neither had any vacancies. We tried calling a second hostel that previously told us it was full, but we thought we'd call anyway to see if there were any last-minute vacancies. The phone was busy, so we were unable to get through. We decided to check our bags at the station and tour the city while we decided what to do about lodging. First, we headed for the Piazza San Marco, taking a winding route that crossed the Rialto bridge. We stopped in several stores in the tourist district so Claire could buy some gift. I bought a few more items as well; I am planning on buying almost all of my souvenirs in Venice, since they are so plentiful here. I have almost all of my souvenirs now. Venice has an unusually nice selection of tasteful gifts, mostly Murano glass items and such, though I have seen a significant number of cameos in windows, and I wonder if it is another Venetian specialty I didn't know about, or if they are just a popular Italian tourist item. It was interesting to see obscene glass figurines in stores that otherwise sold items that were very tasteful. After viewing the P. San Marco and eating bread, cheese, and dried fruit for lunch there, Claire and I headed up to the Fondamente Nuove, the northeast coast that overlooks the cemetery island. We looked at the vaporetto schedule and determined that going to Sant'Erasmo late at night will not be a problem, assuming we are forced to stay there. While waiting to use a bathroom, we struck up a conversation with two Americans who said they had a 2-star hotel room near the train station for $50 a night. Claire and I thought that such a room would cost about the same as a hostel room, plus vaporetto fare each day, so we called the hotel. The hostel said that they did not have a $50 room without a bathroom to offer us, but they did have a $60 room with a private bathroom. Claire and I decided that the bathroom and the convenience of no vaporetti made the extra $5 per person per night more than worthwhile, so we reserved. Greatly relieved due to our revised housing arrangements, Claire and I toured the southern waterfront and looked at many of the small shops there. Claire still had souvenirs to buy. I really enjoy the southern waterfront. It's very breezy and cool, and it's relaxing to stroll along, looking across the water at Giudecca, and enjoying the view. We wandered through the park on the southeastern corner of Venice, then wandered around many of the streets on the eastern side of the city. It was a very non-tourisy area, so there were no signs directing us to the train station or other points of interest. By navigating using my map and the sun to point us in the right direction, we eventually made our way back to the central, touristy part of the island. It took us a substantial time to figure out what we were doing. We kept running into dead ends that lead to canals without bridges. We sat down and ate dinner (bread, cheese, and a plum, a nectarine, and a tomato each). We proceeded to pick up our bags from the train station and check into the hotel, then we finally set off to meet Manuel at the bus station when he returned from work. With Manuel, we ate some gelato and slowly toured the central part of the city and some of the southern waterfront. Manuel and I spoke Esperanto, and I translated his comments for Claire. Some of Claire's English questions he responded to directly, and some I translated. The whole system worked fairly well, until one point when Manuel, out of the blue, said something in English, and I, in full translation-mode, promptly translated it into Esperanto. Of course Manuel and I promptly realized what had happened and burst out laughing, and of course Claire had no idea. We had a wonderful time walking the city in the evening, tourist-free. I was able to recommend some locations that I had enjoyed on my first evening tour of the city, so we visited them and Claire could enjoy them as well. (the Indiana Jones church, the picture of the Campanile on P. San Marco when it fell, the dock where the fireboats are kept, etc). Finally, Claire and I had to return to the hotel and go to bed.
Claire and I woke up, got ready, and went to a bakery to buy a pastry for breakfast. We each bought a twisted Danish with chocolate in it. Interestingly, the pastries were sold by the gram, so we ended up paying 3-something euros for a pastry costing E1.99 per 100 grams. Probably it was outrageously expensive (actually definitely it was) but a couple of euros aren't such a huge deal, we've been eating so cheaply otherwise. We walked down to the Doge's Palace, by the P. San Marco, and took the tour. Unlike many places, we were able to get the student discount even though we are not EU citizens. In fact, it was the first tourist site I saw that offered the student discount to non-EU citizens. I found it to be an interesting aspect of European life. I have never seen that in the US; either all students get discounts, or no students get discounts, but I have never seen a place where only US citizens got student discounts. At the palace, admission was free for residents of Venice. The palace was very interesting. Many of the rooms were full of beautiful paintings on all of the walls and ceilings. The government of the Venetian republic (really an oligarchy) met in the palace, in a large, ornate chamber. Lining the walls of the chamber, near the ceiling, were the portraits of all of the doges (dukes) of Venice. One doge was executed for a crime; his face was blacked out, and a white Latin inscription on the blacked-out region explained that he was a traitor. Claire and I also passed through the famous Ponte dei Sospiri ("Bridge of Sighs"), which connects the Doge's Palace to a prison. The prison would have benefited from some explanatory notes, but it was interesting anyway. The book Manuel gave me included an itinerary for viewing the palace, and it included much useful information that was not included on the explanatory placards in the rooms of the palace. Next, we viewed the San Marco basilica. We noticed the mosaic outside that shows the early Venetians smuggling Saint Mark's body from Egypt to Italy through Turkey, by hiding it in pork so the Turks wouldn't try to confiscate it. The topic of the mosaic was an interesting tidbit of information that Manuel mentioned last night, but since it was dark, we weren't able to identify exactly which mosaic it was. We bought some fruit and ate it in a small park near the P. San Marco, where I sat with Manuel before. Claire and I decided to get something else for lunch whenever we ran across it, but I was not really hungry. We shopped in the stores around the Rialto bridge; I got a Murano glass bracelet and a lion of San Marco patch for myself. Claire ate a piece of pizza, but I didn't really want anything. Today, many gondoliers went on strike. In the morning, as we passed over the Ponto Rialto, we saw gondolas congregating at a nearby point in the Grand Canal. Later, we passed by again, and there were rows of unattended gondolas, blocking half of the Grand Canal, while the gondoliers stood on the sidewalk arguing with passersby. Later in the day, Claire and I went to the hotel and rested for an hour or so. We met Manuel at the bus station after he got off work. When Manuel got back from work, I asked him about it; he said the strike was to protest the illegal immigrants who sit on the sidewalks and sell knockoff purses, etc. While it was still light, we went to the "Yankees Go Home" graffiti (actually it was one of about three I saw around the city), and also to the Indiana Jones church, so Claire could take a picture of it during daytime hours. Then, we proceeded to Manuel's apartment, where Claire and I checked our e- mail and I gave Manuels's family the Navajo pot I brought. We went in search of a place to eat dinner; it was very hard to find a place with good food and decent prices (and not many tourists, though when I asked about non-touristy places, Manuel said that Venice contains no such thing). We finally settled on a pizza place. I could only eat slightly more than half of my pizza (mushroom). Manuel told me (2 pizzas too late) that you can ask for a smaller pizza. Doh. Fortunately, Manuel and Claire were only too happy to finish off what I could not eat. After dinner, we walked around some more, but Claire said she was tired and wanted to go to sleep. Manuel and I walked her back to the hotel, then went off by ourselves to chat and wander around. I wanted to return to the P. San Marco for one last look before my departure from Venice, but instead we ended up finding a bench at a campo in the middle of the city. That was fine as well; I have seen the P. San Marco multiple times by now, and I can always catch it again if I come back sometime. We talked until after 3am, and though it was very enjoyable, we both needed to go to sleep, so we said goodbye, Manuel told me "yankee go home", and I went back to the hotel. It would have been a long trip for Manuel to escort me back, and we were both tired, and he assured me it was safe, so I went by myself. It seemed quite safe, except for some weird guy who started following me when I got close to the hotel. The guy started talking to me in Italian, and asking me what languages I speak. I ignored him and kept walking, but he kept following me, even when I switched to the other side of the street. He followed me nearly all of the remaining distance to the hotel, though mercifully he didn't follow me all the way to the door. I finally went to bed, exhausted and disappointed about my impending departure.
Claire and I left Venice in the morning. I was very sorry to leave, but Manuel assured me many times that I would not hate Florence as I did Milan. I believed him to a limited degree; after all, he didn't warn me that I'd hate Milan. I called him on that when I returned to Venice, and he told me that in fact, he hated Milan as well, but didn't want to ruin my trip there before I even went. He assured me that this time he was telling the truth. Claire and I rode a very nice commuter train to Mestre, then took an IC (inter-city) train from Mestre to Florence. We were in a smoking car (ugh) and some lady kept smoking in our compartment, even though it's technically prohibited. My throat was feeling somewhat sore already from the general lack of sleep, and the lady's toxic fumes didn't exactly help. We arrived in Florence and found our hotel with relatively little difficulty. Once we got ourselves situated, we bought some bread, cheese, and yogurt for lunch (are you noticing a theme here?). We ate lunch in the small Piazza San Marco, near the Accademia art gallery. In spite of the cars, it was a nice place to eat, and the lion of San Marco carved on an adjacent building made it feel somewhat "home-like". We had some time to kill before our 4pm reservation to see the Accademia, so we went into some small touristy shops and looked at Florence's large and colorful duomo. We went into the museum at 4pm and saw Michelangelo's David, as well as a bunch of renaissance and pre-renaissance art – 90% of it religious in nature. The David was much larger than I pictured it. Perhaps it was not twice as tall as a real person, but certainly much bigger than life size. There was an interesting exhibit of some old musical instruments: some Stradivarius violins and various examples of other old stringed instruments. After the Accademia, we went to the Uffizi Gallery. We did not go inside, but we looked that the sculptures in one of their outdoor courtyards. We ate a dinner of fruit, bread, and yogurt near the gallery. We also went to the river Arno (the gallery is on the banks of the river) and looked around a bit. It was quite scenic. At around 8pm, we found our way back to the hostel. We went to sleep early, exhausted.
Claire and I woke up and ate crackers and fruit for breakfast, then set off for the day. In the morning, we went to the American Express office to buy train tickets (as suggested by a guidebook, to avoid the hassle at a train station), but found that they do not sell tickets on Saturdays. We bought cheese and bread for lunch (Edam and Asiago cheeses) and we browsed through some nearby souvenir stands. The local specialties seem to be nice stationary, textiles, and leather products. We proceeded to the Uffizi Gallery, where we had a 12:15 reservation. However, we had to wait in line for at least a half hour to get in. Finally, we got in. It was a large gallery (and supposedly one of the three best in Europe), which contained mostly religious art from the renaissance. I enjoyed it, but I would have appreciated greater variety. Perhaps 40% of the paintings showed "Madonna and child", and they all looked sort of the same after a while. After the gallery, we went to the train station and bought tickets for the next legs of our trip. Claire and I will split up after today. Some general thoughts about Florence: it has many beautiful buildings. Many of the smaller side streets are paved with stone (and some larger ones as well), so they remind me of the back streets of Venice. Sidewalks are very narrow, so many people walk in the road in the smaller back streets. It has an atmosphere very like that of a pedestrian mall, until a car or a vespa (motorbike) comes around and nearly runs you over. I can tell that it is a more "normal" city than Venice. It has touristy shops, but also has normal stores for residents. Venice has very few of the latter, which makes it somewhat difficult to live there. A side note; I have a mild cold today, a sore throat and I'm a bit sniffly. I hope it goes away soon. The blisters on my feet are finally gone, thank goodness. In the late afternoon, Claire and I rested for a bit in our room. In the evening, we went out again to buy food for dinner, and for tomorrow's lunches. We bought bread, cheese, and little single-serving packets of Nutella (which I thought were pretty nifty). We decided to prowl around until we found a decently priced internet connection to read our e-mail. All of the internet cafes we saw were in the range of E1.50 for 15 minutes, which is ridiculous. Finally, we crossed the Ponto Vecchio and saw a place offering an hour of use for E2, an offer that was valid after 9PM. We read our mail there. When we emerged, we found that Florence has a thriving nightlife, with streets full of pedestrians, and those in the center of the touristy area seemingly blocked off for motorists. Unlike Venice (which seems to shut down and get very quiet at 6 or so, except for a few restaurants and gelato shops), there were tons of street performers and sidewalk vendors of bootleg items, outside vending their wares. We watched a Charlie Chaplin-style show by one performer. Claire actually got pulled into the show, but when she was somewhat uncooperative (to be fair, I also would not have done what he was asking her to do), he sent her back and got someone else. Later, we returned to our room and went to bed.
Claire and I woke in the morning, ate the last of our sweet crackers for breakfast, and packed our stuff. We took a walk in the morning, and stopped in an "85 cent store" (much better quality stuff than most dollar stores, actually) and bought some plastic cutlery. I saw Claire to the train station to catch her 11am train to Pisa, then I took a walk until my 12:45 train to Naples. I went back to the river to look at the scenery, to the duomo where I saw a military band play, and generally just looked around. It was a beautiful day. Most shops were closed (Sunday) and church bells were ringing everywhere. I picked up my belongings at the hotel then headed over to the train station. The station had set up two large screen flat panel TVs showing World Cup soccer, and large crowds had gathered to watch. I would have watched too, if I had more time. I boarded my train to Naples, and about 5 hours later, I arrived. The Neapolitan station also had the large TVs; I wonder if they put them in every station? Or just the main ones? Anyway, Naples is possibly the dirtiest city I can imagine. Well, maybe not quite, but it is definitely on par with the dirtier sections of China. In the region of the train station, there was trash everywhere in the streets, and the drivers drove about the same way as Chinese drivers. (that is, they have a death wish). I stepped out of the train station and picked my way around a large construction site and some really dirty streets to reach my hostel. It had a kind of "urban wasteland" sort of feeling to it. Everything was closed, since it is Sunday. I was very wary about theft, as I have been warned about it repeatedly by the tourist guides and by other people who have visited here. I am so glad I made sure to arrive here before dark, and also that in Florence, I bought sufficient food for my time here. I don't really want to go wandering around in these streets looking for a supermarket. The traffic and the reports of high crime rates are scary to think about. I got to the hostel at about 6:30PM. I spent the rest of the evening resting and reading. At 8 or so, two American girls came in. They took a bus tour of Naples today and said that aside from the area around the strain station, it's a nice city with some interesting stuff. I might accompany them to Pompeii tomorrow. The two American girls are the only other people in the room (there are two empty beds), and it seems to be working out well so far. The girls (Anne and Shanna) are students at Iowa State University, though Shanna is actually from New York, not Iowa. They went to bed early (10PM or so) and I decided to follow their lead. The street outside was very noisy; it was possibly one of the noisiest nights I ever spent, but I was too tired to care much. The pillow was actually lumpy, as if it was stuffed with somewhat hard chunks of cotton. I didn't care much about that either. I think I'm still catching up on sleep I lost in Venice. I wish I could go back, I miss it.
I got up at the same time as Shanna and Anne, and we all went to the train station. I bought my ticket for the commuter train to Pompeii, and we were off. The guy who runs the hostel recommended not taking a purse, so I put very little cash in my wallet and buried the wallet in my backpack. I wore my document belt with some money in it, in case I needed more. The area of the hostel looked less forbidding in the morning, with more shops open and more people milling around. We arrived at Pompeii at about 10 in the morning. It was a very large site; we wandered around until around 1pm and still did not see everything. Many of the really interesting places were cordoned off, and the "Domus Vettii," one of the most interesting sites, was closed for restoration. In any case, the amphitheaters were very well preserved and interesting, as were the "Villa dei Mister" (a country house on the outskirts of town) and some of the temples. Some of the buildings had beautiful paintings and mosaics in them, though many of the best were taken to museums. It was a warm day, and there was little shade in the city, so it was quite a tiring trip. We left Pompeii and arrived back in Naples at 1:30 or so. Shanna and I decided to go to the Naples Archeological Museum, while Anne decided to go back to the hotel to rest, as she wasn't feeling well. The museum had a large quantity of Roman statues, household items, frescoes, and mosaics. Much of their collection (aside from the statues) was taken from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I was especially impressed by the detailed, intricate, and life-like mosaics. In addition, Shanna and I had a good time talking as we toured the museum. I think she was glad to have a change of company. When we finished touring the museum, Shanna and I stopped in to use the bathroom. I had a hard time getting the door to my stall to lock; I fiddled with it for a couple minutes then decided that I might have it locked. So I used the bathroom, and suddenly, someone banged on my door, pushing it in. I didn't know how to say, "I'm in here" in Italian, but as it turned out, the person was French. I pushed back on the door to prevent it from completely opening, and the lady got the message and moved away. Still paranoid, I held my arm on the door to keep it shut. Less than a minute later, Bang Bang Bang! Another French lady was banging on every stall's door to find out which were open. I was glad I'd taken the precaution. I got out of the bathroom and found that Shanna had basically the exact experience that I did. After the museum visit, we returned to the hostel. On the way, we bought lemon flavored ice to eat (E0.60, yum) and went to the supermarket so Shanna could get food for dinner. We had a quiet (at least, as quiet as the street noise would allow) evening at the hostel. Two German girls came in, filling the remaining 2 beds in our room. Fortunately, they were quiet and it was not a problem.
I gulped down a quick (free) cappuccino at the hostel for breakfast, went to the train station, and departed for Rome without incident, at 9AM. I arrived in Rome at about 11:30AM. I had a bit of trouble finding the hostel, since it was not very well marked and the map they gave did not match the written directions. I was able to get to the correct street fairly easily, but then I had to wander around a bit until I found the hostel's tiny sign. I checked in. The hostel, "Gulliver's House", was very nicely decorated and clean, with a sitting area complete with some small café-style tables and a sofa, in front of a large TV. No weird lumpy pillows and reception areas the size of a closet here! My room has 8 beds in it. It is a coed room (this hostel apparently doesn't offer single-sex rooms) but the only male here is someone's husband and he seems nice, so that makes me feel less weird about it. I have not yet met a guest at this hostel who is not a native English speaker (though within the range of English speakers, it's been fairly diverse; so far I've met Americans, Canadians, British, and Australians). There could still be non-native English speakers here, but if there are, I have not met them yet. Anyway, upon my arrival I was given a map, and one of the owners of the hostel highlighted important sites and routes on it. It was quite helpful. Once I was settled, I went to the Colosseum and ate the last of the cheese I brought from Florence, with some bread, dried fruit, and water. I toured the Colosseum, the forum, and Palatine Hill. Once more, the student discount was for EU citizens only (very annoying!) The Colosseum was very impressive. There was a wooden platform built over the ruined underground passages, so tourists could walk across what was once the main floor of the arena and look down at the ruins of the subterranean levels. What looked like a very small archaeological dig was going on in a small pit inside the Colosseum; they had a small box full of what looked like bones and bits of stone that they had dug up. A similar operation was going on at the Forum, on a somewhat larger scale; it was interesting to stop and watch for a bit. Palatine Hill was mostly piles of brick; very little was recognizable as the former center of Roman religious and political life. At first, I was somewhat surprised that most of the ruins seemed to be terracotta bricks rather than marble blocks, until I stopped to consider that these buildings didn't just get ruined by accident; the marble was pillaged away by successive generations, to make new buildings. Some parts of the hill were landscaped into a relaxing park. I wished I'd eaten lunch there instead of at the Colosseum. The forum was more piles of bricks, randomly scattered marble blocks, and a few solitary columns still standing. It was interesting nonetheless. I wandered down to the river Tiber, which runs through the city. As I had been taught in high school Latin class, it was very shallow and tame. Next to the river was what must have been the old Jewish quarter (a museum, 2 restaurants that at least claimed to be kosher, a kosher bakery, and 2 Judaica stores). I wandered around some more and eventually found my way back to the Colosseum (I think my sense of direction has improved a lot on this trip). At the Colosseum, I bought a couple of souvenirs. Helpful souvenir tip that I just figured out today: Follow the Indian tourists, let them haggle down the prices, and get the same reduced rates from the stand that they get. (Quote of the day—storekeeper, "This is my special Indian rate, I will not go lower than this"). I passed by another souvenir stand and looked at their items for a few minutes. The man at the stand tried to talk to me, but I didn't feel like listening to his sales pitch, so I pretended not to speak English (and truthfully I did not speak any of the other languages he tried on me). The man kept listing languages, trying to figure out what I spoke, but I just kept shaking my head. I really should have started talking to him in Esperanto, but unfortunately I just don't think that fast, and good ideas always come to me too late. I set off for the hostel. En route, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some food for dinner (coconut yogurt, Asiago cheese, store brand cola with a label proclaiming "American-Style Taste"). I brought the food back to the hostel and ate it for dinner (with the addition of some bread from Florence, becoming rather stale by now but still edible). In case you were wondering, the cola did indeed taste just like American cola. I chatted with some of the other guests in the common room (a Canadian guy, an American mechanical engineering grad student, a young American married couple, 2 British girls). In the late evening, I went to an internet café to read my e-mail. The internet café had an interesting system of charging; you go into the café and buy a ticket from a machine, for a set amount of money. I bought my internet time in one-euro increments. Then, the amount of money per minute varied based on how busy the café was. For example, the same one-euro ticket that might buy only 10 minutes of time in the middle of the day may buy an hour of time at midnight. In this case, my one euro bought me about 40 minutes at about 11PM. I read my e-mail, then returned to the hostel and went to bed.
General impression of Rome: like all of the other cities I visited, the streets were mostly stone or brick (unlike the asphalt of US streets). I was told that it was very safe at night, so long as I avoided known trouble spots, such as the area around the train station. I was glad to know it; it meant I could go out late at night, alone, to an internet café to read my e-mail. The streets are somewhat chaotic, though not even close to as bad as Naples. I used the same strategy for crossing the street that I used in Naples: if you simply prance out into the middle of the street, in front of the cars, they generally stop. Some streets had no late markings, and the cars didn't even travel in "invisible" lanes. I was glad I was not driving. Nu, on to my day. I inadvertently slept much later than I wanted. At the hostel, people generally go to bed early (before midnight) and get up in reasonable time. A good night's sleep is valued at this hostel, so the drapes are kept tightly shut and there are restrictions on noise until 10AM or so. This morning, I kept waking up, seeing that it was dark, and going back to sleep. By the time I bothered checking my watch, it was nearly 10AM and I was the last one left in the room. Yeesh. I got up and prepared myself for the day, and headed off to the first site on my daily agenda, the Circus Maximus. Once a Roman race track, it is now a grassy plain near the Colosseum, with some ruins at one end. I wandered around it for a bit, then headed over to the Imperial forums, near the main forum that I visited yesterday. I looked at those ruins for a bit (more piles of bricks with some marble blocks and columns thrown around for good measure). I ate my lunch of cheese, dried fruit, and by-now-extremely-stale-Florentine- bread-most-of-which-I-gave-to-the-pigeons in the gardens surrounding the Domus Aurea, the emperor Nero's "Golden House". The palace used to be above ground, but it was (intentionally?) buried. I bought a ticket for a tour of the ruins. Though most of the stuff was pillaged away or buried by successive emperors, the rooms themselves are still generally intact (albeit now underground and almost always sans artwork). The sheer size of the place was very impressive, with 3-storey high vaulted ceilings. There were a very few frescoes and mosaic floors left in the barren rooms, but they were interesting to look at anyway. They presented a small taste of how impressive the palace must have been in its prime, covered with beautiful, intricate paintings and mosaics. I completed my tour of the Domus Aurea and proceeded on to the Trevi fountain, which is…a…fountain. I hadn't planned on going there but it was still only mid-afternoon and I had nothing better to do. It turned out to be huge, with really cool sculptures of rocks, sea animals, and sea deities. I sat and watched the fountain for a while, and ate a gelato cone. I went on to the Spanish Steps, a large staircase leading to a palace. I was not impressed, and did not really understand why the steps were so famous. Next, I went to the tomb of the emperor Augustus. It was basically two concentric brick circles with a mound of earth inside. Finally, I proceeded to the pantheon, a very old Roman temple. When I first arrived there, I was amazed that unlike most other Roman buildings, it was still standing and in reasonably good condition (i.e. it was not a huge pile of bricks, sans marble). When I approached the doorway, I realized why it had survived: it was turned into a church. This seems to be the only way that anything was saved from destruction. I briefly popped into a local McDonald's restaurant to confirm what Shanna and Anne told me in Naples: that Italian McDonald's restaurants serve a pork burger. Indeed, they had spoken correctly, and to my horror, they were accurate on the name of the sandwich as well: the McPink. Ecch. I went back towards the hostel, stopping at a grocery store to buy some yogurt and oily, crunchy, rosemary-flavored flatbread for dinner. In addition, I bought an Italian orange soda that claimed to be natural and did, indeed taste natural. (produced by San Pellegrino) I returned to the hostel and watched their "7:30 PM English Movie" (actually it was only 5PM but it was in fact an English movie. Apparently the 7:30 PM movie is shown at any time from noon till midnight, depending on whenever someone feels like watching a movie). The movie was "What Women Want", and I enjoyed it. Though it was not exactly high quality, it was fluffy and fun to watch in a group. I ate dinner (my grocery store purchases plus the last of my Asiago cheese) while I watched. Later, I chatted with some more of the guests. One of them (the husband in the young American married couple) is learning to make violins, so he visited Cremona, where many famous violinmakers, such as Stradivarius, got their starts. Later I packed my stuff for the trip home, watched part of "Bridget Jones's Diary" in the common room, and headed off to the internet café for a last e-mail check. I got 38 minutes when I went at 9:30PM and 50 minutes when I went again at 10:30 (then, inexplicably, 38 again at 11:15PM). I returned to the hostel and went to bed.
My last day in Italy! I slogged off to the train station with my heavy bags, and took a commuter train to the airport. I had to wait around 45 minute to check in at the desk. There was some hold up in the line in front of me. I heard that a flight to some city was cancelled, so I think the man stuck at the front may have been trying to make new arrangements. I proceeded to my gate, made a final call to Manuel with the remaining minutes on my Italian phone card (I hate to keep harping on this but it really bugs me that you can't use cash in pay phones here), then went to my gate and waited. I got on the plane and the flight went more or less without incident. I was glad I ordered a kosher meal, because the meat served to the rest of the flight looked suspiciously like ham. Unlike my Dusseldorf-Venice flight, this time they had brought my meal. However, it was a bit strange. My dinner on the Washington-Dusseldorf trip was more or less in standard airline packaging, just with extra plastic wrap on it. This meal came in a plastic clamshell, and most items contained within were canned. It was a cold lunch on the plane, so my meal was cold also. There was a….. canned rice dish that seemed to be composed of rice, vegetables, chopped turkey hot dog, and too much oil. It was strange but edible. Next was a small can of pate—I couldn't read what kind it was (it was written in French), with some crackers. I didn't eat the pate (which I don't really like very much) so I decided to save it and the crackers for later, in case I got desperate. There was also "Compote du pommes," which I assumed was apple chunks in syrup, but was in fact just apple sauce. An interesting note about the meal: the packaging was all in French, though the supervising rabbinical authority was Spanish. We landed in Frankfurt, and I puzzled my way to the gate. Apparently, this time I did not need to check in again through a transfer center. Security was incredibly tight. To get to my gate area, I had to take off my shoes to be passed through a metal detector (they seemed to be asking about 2 in every 3 people to do it). They patted everyone down and scanned everyone with a wand. Next, I proceeded to the gate. Every passenger was asked questions about where they had been, and why, and with whom they had stayed. The standard baggage packing questions were asked twice. I had to show my passport 4 or 5 times before boarding the plane. Unfortunately, the tight security meant that the gate was sequestered from the rest of the airport, so I could not go look at the shops while I waited. It was ok though. My time between flights was only about 2 hours, and it took me about 1 hour to get through various security precautions. Apparently I was one of the lucky ones, too; I saw a couple people lead into a booth for a strip search. The plane ride to Washington was uneventful, though we got off to a late start because of bad weather in Frankfurt. I watched some lame Britney Spears teen-road-trip movie and a couple of Discovery Channel programs on my seat-back TV. In spite of the fact that I usually sleep very well on return flights, I slept little. I just couldn't get comfortable, and I guess my rest was just too good at Gulliver's House! Meals: though I had one meal that was on-par with the rest of the flight and one meal that was probably of lesser quality, my food on this flight uniformly looked better than the non-kosher fare. Dinner was a hot dish with chicken, rice, and vegetables, plus a cold plate of two thin slices of chicken or turkey with grated vegetables. Dessert was a sort of fruit cobbler. It has lemon in it, and I think a variety of other yellow fruits. "Snack", for the rest of the plane, was a box containing a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a Twix bar. When the stewardess handed me my meal, she said "I hope there's something good under all that plastic". It was good. Under the plastic, I found (kishka? Slices of a roll of ground meat, wrapped in a thin slice of chicken/turkey), a cold plate of kidney beans and other vegetables, a sponge cake pastry with jam, and two rolls—as with my other meal on this flight, everything came on real china, with a real tea cup, on a tray with a real cloth on it. My meals on this flight were all supervised by the Amsterdam beit din. Interestingly, while the OU meals on the flight to Europe were all hamotzi, these were all m'zonot. (Though the OU hamotzi meals suggested saving the bread for later if washing was inconvenient). We arrived in Washington late, due to our late departure, but otherwise without incident.
Iru al Venecio
Go to Venice
Iru al Romo kaj Pompeio
Go to Rome and Pompeii
Iru al Firenze kaj Milano
Go to Florence and Milan