From Italy to Eastern Europe, via the Balkans and the Middle East. A year-long backpacking trip.
This humble corner will attempt to serve as a travel journal of sorts, cataloging all the ins and outs as, whatever way and in whichever direction the mind meanders, the body does likewise. Likely, if you have arrived here, you know me, and know at least some of the details of this trip. Irregardless, welcome, fellow traveler.
a plane ticket
on Sep. 1, 2008
folder no 320487
departure date: 02-sep-08.
printed date: 13-aug-08
agent: santiago fajardo
acc code: 2046
page number: 2 of 4.
date service description status unit price no units total ...
the day in New York
on Sep. 8, 2008
My red-eye from San Francisco left at 10pm, giving me ample time to fail to get any sleep, ensuring that when I arrived to New York I was completely exhausted. No better place for a quick nap, though, than the NYC subway at 8am - joining the morning commute from Brooklyn to Downtown, only slightly out of place. And with peace of mind, since I had been previously assured that the combination of a ~10 hour layover and American Airlines, at JFK no less, was an almost assured way to loose your checked luggage. I knew ferries for the Statue of Liberty left from the southern tip of Manhattan, and the subway map revealed a “South Ferry” station thereabouts, a good choice. Disembarking a giant terminal for the Statton Island ferry looms, which at the time sounded about right for where I was supposed to find this statue. I jumped on as the giant glass security doors slid shut, some official looking guy giving me a strange look as I asked if I needed a ticket to get on.
I settled in for the ride, and was happily greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty in a few minutes. Getting closer, I became a bit confused how the ferry intended to stop there, absolutely dwarfing the miniscule docks. My confusion was cleared up as we slid on by, and continued on another twenty minutes to Statton Island, where apparently the most popular thing to do was to get off the ferry and immediately reboard back to Manhattan - signs encouraging tourism extolled the virtues of the island and begged against exactly this. I gave it a half hour, and caught the next ride back. Walking down to Battery Park I discovered the real point of departure for my destination, complete with a money devouring ticket office. After passing the explosives swab of my laptop, along for the day’s adventures, I joined hundreds of other tourists complete with little point-and-shoot camera taking pictures of everything in sight.
The Statue of Liberty is... small. Perhaps I was misled by Hollywood, I can think of no other explanation. So it’s not actually small, 151 ft (46 m) tall according to Wikipedia. I figure I was expecting about 5x that. Other than that, quite satisfying, except that you can’t actually go inside it anymore - access to the base of the pedestal even is a VIP affair involving time delay tickets sought after long in advance, not my area of expertise. Having had your fill of Liberty Island your ferry ticket entitles you, free of charge and without choice, to a stop at Ellis Island. The immigration museum and sites were actually interesting, though a small archaeological dig tucked away in the corner held my attention longer. Ellis Island having once been part of a network of harbor defenses (including Battery Park) for NY, they had unearthed the original foundations showing the original size of the island - added land has since pushed the coastline back a hundred feet or so.
Having had my fill, I made my way back to Manhattan and via a series of confusing subway transfers, mastered earlier in the day, to JFK Airport. Early and bored was not a problem, I got through security about 45 minutes before my flight left, just enough time to grab a muffin and coffee from an overpriced venue - have to stay awake for the movies! Settling in I met my first Italian of the trip, Massimiliano. Our conversation began with him asking, in Italian, if I spoke Italian, and my negative response was obviously frustrating but to be overcome. Furthermore disappointment in me when I revealed I did not have any sort of English-Italian dictionary or travel guide. Not to be stopped, he briefly befriended our third companion in the row, long enough to "borrow" the pocket dictionary he had been studying in order to speak to me. He located a few choice words, giving me the impression that he wanted to give me a ride from the airport into downtown Rome, to La Sapienza where I would be working (an hour drive). My reply, in Italian, something along the lines of "thank you, but the trouble for you makes me not content," prompted him to locate "No problem" in our booklet and repeat it until I acquiesced. I piled into his car, our group including his wife and three kids, and was dropped off in front of La Sapienza (at, once again, 8am), armed with two backpacks, a name of someone supposedly waiting to meet me, and the phone number and email address of Massimiliano.
on Sep. 15, 2008
I avoided it for two weeks, but on my second weekend in Rome I joined countless others in, what seems to me, the classical tourist's footprints through the Centro Historico. It seemed best not to delay too long, though, and never end up doing things - a phenomenon I ran into in Chicago. I disconnected from the subway network at the Colosseo stop, and joined the river of people streaming towards the only obvious destination.
The Colosseum is... small. Well, not to the degree that the Statue of Liberty was, but scenes of galloping horses drawing chariots filled with barbarian warlords were simply tough to fit inside. Not to say that Gladiator lied, and once to the upper levels the vastness of things became more evident. I decided I wish I knew Latin, at least written. The inscriptions on everything, dedicated to So and So The Great in the year XMXIXXVVI, and the creative abbreviations whenever a chunk of marble wasn't quite big enough to fit the message.
With the crowds of tourists following their pre-determined paths, dictated to them through the earphones of little audio guides or walkie talkies - the new form of guided tour I take it, where the tour guide only speaks into a microphone and need not actually be with any of his guidees - hung about the neck on bright yellow lanyards. It helps the identification of clumps of tourists, helps explain the strangely absent voice they all seem to be listening to.
I bailed on the Colosseo and passed by the Arch of Constantine (above), entangled in a prickly looking fence, though still impressive, en route to Palatino (Palatine Hill) and the Roman Forum, admission free courtesy of the mandatory (lucky me) fee I'd already paid at the Colosseo. The ancient center of Rome, where the two brothers Romulus (Rome so named) and Remus were found. The remains of a massive palace are the featured attraction, including the House of Augustus. It overlooks the Circus Maximus to the South and the Roman Forum to the north. Below, a view of the forum with the Temple of Romulus and the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, sunset nears.
I decided that it is difficult to enjoy ancient ruins, one after another, when you have no way to differentiate them. Ancient Rome seems firmly set against any sort of explanations when it comes to half standing buildings - this includes a name on a signpost. Historical context makes all the difference, even if you don't remember any of it after. Sometimes, though, no explanation necessary.
My second favorite picture from the day, I'll call it "Bastion di Basilica Constantino". Although I had no idea what I was looking at was half of what used to be a church, it was still impressive nonetheless. Looking for looking and looking for photography is very different, have to make time for both. Running about the entire day were professional photographers, trailing recently married couples. With flash assistants in tow (whose meaningful task it is to stand nearby, at some interesting angle, holding a flash). I saw at least a dozen weddings, or the evidence thereof. I like how the gaze of each actor is on a different place, has a different focus. In the background, half of the massive Arch of Septimius Severus. Why never in the U.S. can I ever remember having seen a wedding couple wandering about in public? Perhaps because every major intersection hasn't been converted into a Piazza with at least one church standing watch on some corner.
I've decided that to navigate the dizzying myraid of buses in Rome I have to learn where all the Piazza's and Piazzale's are, as the standard units of destination, and hop from one to the next. Midnight bus adventures would have to wait a week, though. Up to Campiidoglio (will have to return), and through Piazza Venezia, I completed my giant, eight hour loop, and finding myself once again at the Colosseo metro stop, only a fleeting hour from home.
the day of churches
on Sep. 23, 2008
After reading every (all 3) books I had brought with me a quick Google search for english language bookstores in Rome revealed a few potentials. I jumped on the tram, for a change from the metro, which wound through the Piazza di Porta Maggiore en route to the Termini main station. The Piazza must have been an intersection point for ancient aqueducts, crisscrossing overhead. The road is divided into lanes split between columns holding up some nameless ancient wall, 1000 years old perhaps, as cars zip around it. It acts as an intersection point for several of the tram lines, which slow to a crawl and grind their way through the pedestrian filled zone before branching out again. I disembarked near Termini, knowing the bookstore was somewhere to the North, and decided to wander.
The Piazza della Repubblica. Announced loudly by a caravan of SUVs, horns blaring, announcing yet another happy marriage. Sitting on the edge of the Piazza was the Santa Maria degli Angeli, an imposing building which from the outside didn't seem particularly big nor impressive. A hastily scrawled sign on the door warning for vigilance against pickpockets. Inside, perhaps one of the most impressive church I've ever seen. Huge open spaces with domes high overhead opening into caverns of religious worship on all sides.
The architectual highlights - a vaulted ceiling desinged by Michaeangelo, an ancient sundial in the form of a long strip of marble running along the floor with a point of light beaming out the mouth of a carved figurehead high overhead the marker. Also a giant organ, which made me want to hear some booming Bach or Mozart mass live. No indication that this one was actually played, but perhaps at some point in Italy. Onwards, discovered my bookstore (or the remains thereof) across the street from the Opera House. I'll need to find another bookstore. The street deadends into an impressive facade, fenced off on one side, tourists streaming in, I discover, on the other.
The Santa Maria Maggiore, a much frequented church for tourists, was twice as big and even more impressive than degli Angeli. At last, something that assuredly was not… small. Confessionals lined the walls, placards on their sides announcing the languages spoken. Coin operated, electronic, candle offering stands - really? Disappointing. Two strange features I've seen in churches since but never before, a giant canopy looking thing with tassles and no sides, always near the front, and a small lower section with stairs leading down near, featuring perhaps a statue of a pope (?) and a giant chalice of sorts. I suppose I should know the significance, but no idea. I learned a new photographic technique. Lay your camera on the floor pointing at the ceiling and take a picture.
Moving on, via foot, past the Quirinale - some sort of royal residence? Featuring guards in funny looking costumes standing at attention, always a sign of someone important. Made it to the Trevi Fountain, swarming with so many tourists you couldn't actually see the fountain. I didn't stay. First gelato (Pistacchio) of Italy, not bad. Made my way atop the Spanish Steps and alternated watching the sunset over the rooftops and an artist sketch a boy with charcoals. Quite impressive after he spent about 45 minutes on it. Nighttime, I made my way to the Teatro Marcello, an ancient theatre from Roman times which later had a palace built on top, which is still privately owned (!) and lived in. Not a bad place to reside, considering. There is a night concert series, preceeded by a guided tour of the archaelogical site, which was awesome. From the outside the Teatro resembles a mini-Colosseo, and at night with the site closed and no other tourists around the feeling was incredible. The concert, a chamber ensemble, was pieces by Crusell, Ahmas, Sallinen, and Brahms, the first three modern (I didn't know) and absolutely terrible. Oh well. I wasn't the only one looking around at times when it seemed absurd that we were all sitting there listening to this.. music. We lost a few during intermission.
The next night, the view from my apartment. What is a beautiful sunset without something man made to complement?
home of the Pontifex Maximus
on Sep. 29, 2008
I knew the Vatican Museum was free on the last Sunday of each month - the perfect opportunity for the thrifty student. I arrived prompty at 1230 (can't wake up too early), just in time to discover its oddly coincident closing time. I suppose free goes hand in hand with shorter hours. I followed the wall surrounding the Vatican City/Nation, eventually making my way to the Piazza of San Pietro, an impressive sight with more tourists in a single eyefull than anywhere else I'd seen in Rome.
Desgined by Bernini, the Piazza is where the Pope gives public audiences - every Wednesday morning, perhaps I will ditch work one of these weeks. Centerstage is a 40m high obelisk stolen from Egypt and brought to Rome by Caligula. Love it. A giant semi-circular line of tourists shadowed the colonade - the entrance line for St. Peter's Basilica. A building which at first I thought modest and unimpressive, perhaps for another day. But after seeing the prohibition signs attempted to signify, without words, that shorts and/or miniskirts were not permitted when attempting to gain entrance, I couldn't resist.
What I had thought modesty was actually gargantuanity (?) from a distance. It was everything of the Santa Maria Maggiore multiplied in scale and extravagence. After stepping inside and seeing how immense it really was, I decided it was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen. I followed the streams of people, wandering. Every corridor branching into more and each inset with tomb after tomb of popes long dead and paintings of nameless (to me) Italian masters.
I came to a barrier guarded zealously by young Italian men in impeccable suits. Seemingly at random they allowed some people through, towards the main pulpit and some ongoing ceremony, while rejecting others. I didn't know what was going on, and decided to try my luck. I walked forward, and was confronted with "Where?". I gestured vaguely forward, and was shot down. A few minutes more of observation, and of course, only those who were actually going to the mass, no visitors. The backpack sold me out. Never fear though, a new guard at a second entrance happily waved me through after I was able to answer the mass to whatever query he might have said in Italian. It wasn't the most interesting thing, being in Italian. But, flanking the priests, on either side, were two enormous organs in full service. I definitely wasn't the only one more interested in the experience than the mass - as soon as it concluded and the priests dispersed the general congregation seemed happy enough to pull out cameras for closeups.
On my way out I decided that giant religious frescoes aren't really my thing. Not really knowing the importance of the scene, they all blur together. Also saw the Pieta by Michelangelo, of which the following tidbit pertains.
According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà, Michelangelo overheard someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari. Michelangelo then carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it) on the sash running across Mary's breast. It was the only work he ever signed. He later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work.
Underneath the Basilica is the Vatican Grotto, including the tomb of John Paul II which was surrounded by guards (in suits), signs demanding silence, and a multitude of watchers. And of course, the Pope's personal Swiss Guards in their funny outfits.
I later made it back to the Vatican Museum and managed to get in with my dubious student card. An enormous and impressive place, I can't believe I spent nearly five hours wandering around. Highlights included the Museo Chiaramonti, filled with Roman sculpture. Christian along one wall, Pagan on the opposite. Though, I found strange, almost every statue of note was marked as "copied from a Greek original circa ...", or were often replicas of Greek work with the heads of prominent Romans of the time dropped on top. The "Statue of the Nile" is an amazing sculpture with the Nile River represented as an old man reclining on its banks. The matching Statue of the Tiber is in the Louvre. The Museo Egiziano (Egyptian) with papyri of the Book of the Dead. The Map Gallery, with dozens of maps covering all of Italy painted directly on the walls, fresco style. The rooms of Raphael, including The School of Athens, which I must have stared at for ten minutes listening to a little narrated story detailing its intricacies. The Tapestry Gallery not so much, the execution is interesting but not the content. And of course, the Sistine Chapel. No pictures allowed - I watched a guard take some lady's camera and delete photos before handing it back, while another shushed the assembled crowd every 30 seconds to no appreciable effect.
I added another qualification for my eventual house. Besides the library with bookshelves from floor to ceiling, aquarium as a wall, and observatory, it will also need something large, intricate, and made of marble, antiquity style. Perhaps a 3m circular bath made from red porphyry - the single largest piece known and of course from the party palace of Nero.
on Oct. 10, 2008
En route to Ostia Antica, about 30km southwest of Rome. Again my dubious metro pass provides free transportation on a regional train out to the site, a port city of ancient Rome at the mouth of the Tiber. The river itself, I learned, has migrated away from the site over the centuries - its status of port is no more. Following vague signs from the train station, an unknown site imposing in the way:
Apparently the castle of Guilio II, who later became a pope, and made his castle out of stones piligied from the abandoned Ostia. The ruins were actually quite impressive. At first I wandered down the main cobblestone road, ruins stretching away to either side. After seeing glimpses of people wandering about, in and out of houses long abandoned, I learned that visitors actually have free reign over the ruins. Except for one or two of the most frequented mosaics being roped off, the ruins are entirely accessible. Wander about and walk over 1000 year old mosaics to your hearts content. Because of this fact alone Ostia is more interesting and impressive than any of the other sites of ancient Rome I've encoutered thus far. A building dedicated wrestling, as apparently evidenced by the mosaic in the center of the main room.
And it's huge. Together with it being off the beaten path for tourists, I wandered in and out of plazas, temples, and houses for hours without seeing evidence of anyone else. The public bath house is huge, with multiple rooms for both hot and cold. The heating system runs underground surrounding the building. A dubious staircase led down at one point, no warning signs in evidence. Europe is not as protective of its tourists as the United States is. After reaching a descent to an even lower level, the transition marked by the carcass of an unidentifiable creature which I had little doubt could have escaped if it so desired, I decided I had had enough of isolated explorations of dark tunnels for the time being.
A small lookout building I discovered, on top of a hill. Even part of the ruins? I wasn't quite sure. But the sun setting made the world glow orange, and dust billowing from the road seemed to catch fire. I climbed to the third story of what had been, long ago, the house of some rich merchant and watched the day turn to night. The site closed an hour prior to sunset, I had read, but seeing people off in the distant reassured me there was no rush. Worst case scenario, I was locked in and could hop the fence to get out I thought. Still, I was glad when I made it back to the entrance and found it just closing - the fence was taller and spikier than I had remembered.
on Oct. 27, 2008
My trip to the Pantheon was interrupted by a string of supporters carrying flags and banners for the "Partito Democratico" as they marched down Via Cavour. As the stream passed by I noticed the slow approach of a line of flashing, blue lights. It seemed odd the that the police escort was behind the protest, instead of in front. A wall of Polizia vans, filled with SWAT looking fellows, followed by a marching line of police on foot, with motorcycle-enabled versions zooming about to stop cross traffic. And then, the actual march, as tens of thousands of people followed behind the police on their route. The Pantheon could wait, I joined in.
We wound around the forum and the colosseum, finally arriving at the Circo Massimo, converging with marches arriving from other areas all over the city. The last time I had seen it the Circus Maximus it had been a dusty dirt oval, with a few scattered people jogging or lounging about. Now, it was filled to the brim with people, covering the ground and sitting all along the sloping edges. 800,000 apparently, while a similar protest against funding cuts to education attracted over a million - one out of every four people that live anywhere near Rome.
I didn't have one of the ubiquitous PD flags, but I snagged a sticker and stuck it on my backpack. An outsider blending in. Speeches must have lasted for hours, I stayed long enough to get my fill of Italian I didn't understand. A hot day turned into an ominous evening, dark clouds gathered and tourists scattered from Piazza Navona, where I had arrived.
Some amazing musicians, good gelato, and art on exhibition. An amazing sky filled with my first real sight of the birds of Rome, flocking together and swarming over the city as night fell. A brief stop at the Pantheon, though it was closed to visitors, being Sunday? I'll have to sneak inside another day.
The clouds reminded me of a nebula, rho-Ophiuchus. I jumped on a bus back towards a metro station, any metro station, as it started to pour. I jumped off in front of the Colosseo stop, and then saw the crowd of thousands forming an impenetrable semicircle around the entrance. The rally had gotten out, and of course I had decided to head back towards the closest metro. Mob rule, I decided all public transportation had become free for a few hours as people headed home.
The next day and Via Appia Antica. The Catacombs of San Callisto, a huge underground maze of dark, musty rooms. All actual remains gone, looted or removed. At each intersection branches leading off into the darkness in either direction. It would be unfortunate to loose track of your tour guide down here. A sculpture at the Basilica of San Sebastiano.
the birds of Rome
on Nov. 3, 2008
Once again I was sidetracked from my original goal, a common theme it seems. Walking past "the" [monument to] Vittorio Emmanuel II I noticed it was crawling with people, though I had thought maybe no visitors were ever allowed. The building itself is massive, and easily mistaken for the Capitol building or similar. The view, overlooking Piazza Venezia:
I passed by an old man playing classical guitar, sitting on his amp on the side of the road, competing with horse-drawn carriages whirling by and a strange techno-accordion setup down the street. This trip already makes me want to do all kinds of things, none of which can really begin until it's over. Strange. Up the wedding-couple-lined steps to the Musei Capitolini, very cool and not nearly enough time. The highlight is the original status of Marcus Aurelius on his horse, while the fake is outside in the Piazza. A nearby statue, of what exactly I have no chance at recalling - "Thinker With Club".
An amazing mosaic, done with how many thousands of little stones. What really impresses about art from thousands of years ago is the color that remains. And Piazza del Popolo at night.
I also ran across an exhibition on the excavation of the Forum in the 30s? Lots of old, black and white photographs, demolition of apartment buildings to make way for the even older ruins underneath. Graphite sketches of alleyways and plazas made me want to do something similar. Perhaps where it is sunny, warm, and beautiful. The evening sunset performance was courtesy of the starlings of Rome, which dominate the skies every night as the sunset sets, flocking together in amazing formations.
Apparently, a group at La Sapienza actually studies "self-organization and collective animal behavior", with juicy tidbits like:
Flocks are relatively thin, with variable sizes, but constant proportions. They tend to slide parallel to the ground and, during turns, their orientation changes with respect to the direction of motion. Individual birds keep a minimum distance from each other that is comparable to their wingspan. The density within the aggregations is non-homogeneous, as birds are packed more tightly at the border compared to the centre of the flock.
I could definitely be as content working on starling flocking as on physics.
Napoli and Pompeii
on Nov. 10, 2008
While the apartment in Rome was still a home-base I wanted to head South, at least once. The target was Napoli, not quite as large as Rome but still a big city, described as frenetic, dirty, and dangerous for wallets. A t-shirt, water bottle, keys, and a fistful of money, and I jumped on the first train. I had been warned to validate my ticket (requiring, of course, the purchase of a ticket), which I did so dutifully. A man next to me on the train apparently wasn't familiar, although he was Italian, having foregone the ticket altogether. He proceeded to get into a twenty minute argument with the conductor about (my surmise) why the system was how it was, such that buying a ticket on-board wasn't possible. They confiscated something that looked like a national ID card, replacing it with a long filled out document no doubt detailing the fine. Best to buy tickets for trains then.
I arrived in Napoli Centrale and immediately got on a second little train, the Circumvesuvia, out to the ruins of Pompeii. Famous for their preservation after being buried in the aftermath of the volcanic eurption of Mt. Vesuvias, AD 79. It was huge, I have no idea how many miles I walked. Good and bad as compared to Ostia - not as much access, streets and the majority of buildings were off limits to the public. But, minus roofs, everything is in amazing condition. Particularly creepy were casts (I later learned) of bodies in the exact positions they had died - the "Garden of the Fugitives." The usual staples of Rome were there, including the Forum:
Compared to Ostia, though, absolutely crawling with tourists, hundreds, though they all stuck to the biggest streets and dropped in density as you got further from the main entrance. Standard occurence for such things. Sunset, and heading back towards Naples. A trek from the train station, a bit longer than expected, landed me at a cool little hostel near the marina. Up seven flights of stairs I toiled alongside two other new arrivals weighed down by huge backpacks. The lift costs exactly one five-cent coin, you see, which none of us had. At the top and we are merrily informed that the lift is free on weekends, of course. The hostel was nice, one of the nicer I am likely to find I think, people just hanging out and 16€ for the night. The next morning I wandered around Naples, saw some fishing, Napolese (?) style.
And a man on the way to work, same style.
One of the main squares, Piazza del Plebiscito was completely blocked off, dozens of military police confining people to the far edges. For a movie shoot, I thought I heard, so I decided to stick around for a bit. Guys on rooftops are setting off smoke bombs, filling the piazza with the sweet memory of the 4th of July. Ten minutes later everyone is pointing at the sky and shouting, never good. A half dozen skydivers drop into the empty square, trailing flags, to the glorious applause of their impromptu audience. Who knows why? I have no idea.
I decided to jump on the ferry out to Sorrento, on the other side of the bay. Touristy little town with everything perched on cliff tops overlooking the sea, and plenty to buy. I joined in a crowd watching a football game inside a completely closed stadium, which didn't prevent us from looking through keyholes, standing on nearby walls, and of course all the nearby balconies were packed. And the nearby police presence and pointless road blockade. All preventive in the case of rowdy sports fans, I assume, though I have no idea what the game actually was, to admit no fans. I missed a bus over to the Amalfi Coast - Sunday not the best day for assuming buses. The Circumvesuvia takes me back to Napoli as night falls and I buy a train ticket home. A ticket half the price as my original, on the cheapet, slowest, and most crowded type of train, just right. I hurried back in order to give a presentation on Monday, which of course got moved and unfortunately I hadn't been on the email list for that message. Sucks, else I would have spent the night in Sorrento and explored Amalfi the next day. It, and everything South, will have to wait for the next trip to Italy.
Italy :: Part I
on Nov. 15, 2008
Leaving Rome and my job behind, onward to Florence. At night, the narrow cobblestone streets lined with designer stores come alive; taking the Ferrari out for a bit of shopping. By day, the Duomo, and the view from the campanille over the city rooftops.
Florence traffic jam from above: a stand-off of the old and new. And the classic, unavoidable pose at the leaning tower of Pisa.
Heading north, towards Cinque Terre in Liguria, hiking along the coast and through the hills. Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. What names.
And what sunsets.
Italy :: Part II
on Nov. 21, 2008
Escape from a brief detour through Bologna leads me to Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet. I was only planning to stay the day and carry on into the snow and mountains tonight, but I discover one of the few times I have tried to make a reservation the hostel is actually full. I wander over to the local HI and find a bed for the night. The count: about 10 backpackers and a group of 200 Swiss schoolkids, absolute mayhem.
An early train into Bolzano, where the locals speak German and wear awesome (funny) hats. Unfortunately, this makes Italian the second language, bumping English to third. But, as I was told by several Italians, everyone's English here seems better than anywhere else I've been. The city isn't particularly captivating, but it is ringed by hills with castles perched atop, quite cool. The day I get in is gloriously sunny, if freezing.
Two days of hiking around Bolzano is enough for the snow. It would be awesome to come back in the summer, the Italian trail/park system seems quite nice. On to Venice, minor issues with the water levels. So Venice has since suffered slightly worse floods, 1.5m, which would put the water just around the man's chin? Beautiful Merano glass work, faithful tourist shoppers.
The second day I bought a vaporetto (water taxi) pass and went island jumping in the North Lagoon. Wandered into a glass furnace on Merano and watched some assembly-line style glass blowing. Burano, substituting for Torchello which I was forced to promise I would visit, full of bright pastel houses, laundry, and late night works.
And Tripoli? I still am not quite sure what it is - I arrived after dark and could only see a giant parking lot. Typical Venice on the Grand Canal. And Sleeping Gondolas, taking a rest from carrying tourists about.
A wet Piazza San Marco. Wet is a common theme, it seems.