June 2002

Cup of Soup

Mon, Jun 3, 2002

I have stated before that the best gift a SPU can get is the gift of Oreos, but the second-best gift is the gift of ball-hockey groove. Last night a bunch of guys and I rented a rink to play for a couple of hours, and it was apparent right from the start that the lot that showed up played often; two of them even tried out for the Ottawa Senators. Quite the challenge for wee old me, whose only accolades include C-league campus recreation championships.

That also means it was quite the time to get the ball-hockey groove. Countless numbers of 2-man breakaways and 3-on-1s, but time and time again they met with the Mighty Wall of SPU. So many goals that - in a just world - would have been celebrated and admired, but were instead ripped from their natural order in the universe and cast away to the abyss of "things that would never be", like peace in the Middle East, tastey cauliflower, and a cheap apartment in Manhattan.

Yes, it was a very good game indeed.

Mon, Jun 10, 2002

Relaxation. Exertion. Planning. Spontaneity. Nostalgia. Foreshadow. Calm. Suspense. Comfort. Awkwardness. Party. Serenity. Hype. Surprise. Joy. Disappointment. Acquiescence.

Lots of little things add up to a big weekend.

Fri, Jun 14, 2002

Convocation tomorrow, and I am left to wonder why we never learned math like this:

  • Rufus is a pimp for three girls. If the price is $65 per trick, how many tricks per day must each girl turn to support Rufus' $800 per day crack habit?
  • Hector knocked up three girls in his gang. There are 27 girls in his gang. What is the exact percentage of the girls in the gang that Hector knocked up?
  • Supplied with the exact speed of travel and the number of seconds it takes to load a shot gun, another test question asked students to calculate the distance Billie - a skateboard thief - would be able to flee before getting "whacked."

And they say university prepares us for the real world. Pshaw.

Sun, Jun 16, 2002

Today I leave for my vacation to Europe. My access to the internet will be limited if at all existent, so cups of soup will be brewed offline and served when I return.

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go...

Actually, I do know when I'll be back: in three weeks. As well, I'm quite looking forward to going; rather excited, in fact...

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I'll be back here in three weeks' time
Oh babe, ...woo hoo!

Mon, Jun 17, 2002

Day 0 - London

Off I go, on my own, to strange new lands. I don't know a soul out there; it's all starting from scratch, and it all starts with the flight. I get on the plane, find my seat, and discover there's an attractive young lady in the chair next to me. A good start to the trip, I think to myself, and take my seat.

We chat for a while about this and that, school and travelling, and somewhere along the line I mention how I found out about the Contiki tours. I say that a friend of mine introduced me to them; she was going to go on one, but then she got a job in Sydney, and so she's spending the summer in Australia instead. She interrupts me and asks "Are you talking about Sabs?"

I do a double take, and then do it again. I blink at her stunned for a moment as I confirm her suspicion. It turns out that by pure coincidence, the girl sitting next to me on the plane went to school with two of my hometown friends, and she's just starting a backpacking tour of Europe on a spur-of-the-moment decision.

So, I started the day out nervous and alone, but by flight's end I had a new travel partner for the day. Defying jet lag and on 4 hours of sleep over the past 60 hours or so, we scuttled around London in the sweltering heat, lugging backpacks to and fro, finding our hotels and seeing some sights.

As an aside, while we were at the airport I discovered a brochure for a musical performance of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". That movie has been a favourite in my family for decades, but it carries with it a certain peculiarity in that no one else has ever heard of it - even the Disney-classic-mad collectors; I have two - maybe three - friends that have seen the movie. I point out the brochure to my new friend, and of course, she has never heard of the film either. At that moment, another girl standing a short distance away interrupts us saying she knows the movie well and knows exactly my dilemma; nobody she knows is familiar with the film either. We share our frustrations for a moment while my travel partner scratches her head. So, I made another friend at the airport; Gatwick has been kind to me so far.

By evening, I had a meeting for my tour, so I parted ways with my new friend, each of us on our own exciting journeys, full of adventure, excitement, and discovery.

Then jet lag kicked in and I passed out like a drunk on a St Patrick's Day afternoon.

Tues, Jun 18, 2002

Day 1 - London, Dover, Paris

I'm coming up so you'd better get this party started...

Apparently it needs to be made clear that Canberra is the capital of Australia - not Sydney, nor Melbourne. This reminder comes from a fellow traveller on my tour who found it frustrating that I appeared to be the only non-Australian - which meant about half the group - who knew this simple fact. Well, now you know.

We bussed out of London at a bastardly early hour this morning and hopped on the long road to Paris. We sped past the English countryside as we made our way to the white cliffs of Dover and onto the ferry to the land of croissants and baguettes. Along the way, we caught a glimpse of the monument to Canada's greatest military achievement, Vimy Ridge. It was an eerie feeling to think that the area through which we were travelling was one of the main battlegrounds in two of history's most destructive wars. Now it's full of trees, and I'm left to wonder what the trees ever did to deserve the destruction.

We eventually arrived in gay old Paris, and got a good lesson in European driving habits, not the least of which involved what to do when a little motorcycle is taking up a parking space which would nicely fit a bus about the size of our coach. The answer, of course, is to get three strong guys and give the bike a friendly introduction to the sidewalk. The lesson wasn't lacking thrills, either. Many are familiar with the chaos that is the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. Our driver demonstrated to us that the only way to get through that mayhem - particularly in a large bus - is to blast Blur's "Song 2" on the CD player and step on the gas pedal. Imagine a huge wall of cars spanning four or five lanes heading straight toward you as the bus leans at a precarious angle attempting to make it's way around. Woo hooo!

Before this trip, I had always heard that Paris was this amazing place that everybody loved. Well, I had my doubts coming in; it's only a city after all, how good can it be? Tree-lined boulevards, wide streets, open-air atmosphere, people that aren't quite as rude as their reputation warrants... It turns out that Paris is much like Raymond Barone; despite your best efforts to feel otherwise, you can't help but like it. I can hear Ray's brother Robert right now... "Evvvvvverybody loves Paris..."

Wed, Jun 19, 2002

Day 2 - Paris

Nobody is talking about the World Cup over here. I wonder why?

The day didn't start off too well, as we got reminded that we should keep a tight grip on our belongings. One of our tour members had her bag stolen from the hotel restaurant, which contained her clothes, money, and Taiwanese passport. Another two people had wallets lost. I made sure to keep my belongings in inaccessible places.

We got a driving tour of the city this morning, with visits to Notre Dame and Napoleon's Tomb. The tomb was pretty impressive; they really don't build golden domes like that nowadays. I guess there just aren't enough imperial tyrants exploiting their subjects anymore, but I suppose that's a good thing.

I think this trip will be accurately described as 17 days of climbing stairs. First we climbed the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, then the winding, treacherous stairs of the Arc de Triomphe. Then countless stairs in the Louvre. I guess this will work off all the chocolate I'll be getting in Switzerland. We saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo in the museum today, and - like most people - I left wondering what the big deal is. Oh well, it was a very nice picture. That little excursion was followed by a marathon run back to Place de la Concorde to catch the bus in time, and I made it with a triumphant effort and a lot of coughing and hacking by the time I stopped.

I also ate lunch on a terrace on Avenue du Champs Elysees. How chique.

In the evening, we went to the world famous Moulin Rouge. Nicole Kidman wasn't there. The show was interesting - very different, very French, lots of breasts. The food, however, was terrible. Disgusting. Never ever eat there, unless you like your salads tasting like motor oil and your steak like rubber.

After the show I found my way to a friend's place to find out how an English pig-dog survives living in Paris without having people torture him for his franglais.

Thurs, Jun 20, 2002

Day 3 - Paris, Luzern

Damn Australian colds; they fill me with so much sand. This is what happens when you're on a bus all day with the same group of people. All it takes is one person to be sick, and it slowly spreads to everyone else on the coach; looks like I'm the first victim. I guess sitting in front of the person with the cold for two very long trips in a row targets you for it.

Today's drive was a long one that spanned several smelly service stations. Fortunately, once we reached Switzerland, we were greeted with some breathtaking mountain scenery. Lucerne is a lovely little town; little traffic, flanked by mountains, lots of chocolate. Unfortunately, I was too woozy to enjoy the chocolate part of it. We got to our hotel (which was converted from an old jail; very cool), had dinner, and then we were going to go to a bar boat and take full advantage of the Bailey's slushy machine onboard. I was not feeling at all well, so I decided to take a little nap before hand and join the others after my snooze. My alarm buzzed at 10:00 and I didn't move an inch until I was woken by my roommate coming in at 1:00 in the morning. I literally missed the boat, and I blame it all on that blasted Australian cold, and the Australian that gave it to me - you know who you are! :) At least I'm well-rested.

Fri, Jun 21, 2002

Day 4 - Luzern, Vaduz, München

Most of this morning was spent shopping. Let me introduce you to my new friends Lindt and Toblerone; they have wonderful taste in junk food. The other focus of the morning was football; we witnessed Brazil oust England in World Cup play, followed by a partying parade of Brazilian fans, as well as a few high-spirited English fans.

That afternoon, during the drive to Munich, we made a pitstop in Vaduz, the capital of the little country of Liechtenstein. There wasn't really anything to do there, partly because it's a small place, and partly because it rained the whole time, but preparations were being made for a concert, and they kept playing "Luka", so I was eager to get back on the bus and keep moving. I found it fascinating, however, that the prince of Liechtenstein is all that's left of what was once the mighty Hapsburg family empire. They went from ruling most of Eastern Europe to just a small little principality known for producing false teeth.

We arrived in Munich by evening, and headed straight for Hoffbrauhaus - the local beer hall. I enjoyed a plate of haxe and three giant steins of beer. Most of the night, however, seemed to be spent singing songs with the Aussies; I think I've been getting a bigger dose of Australian culture than any European one.

When night's end came around, we made a monumental effort trying to get back to the hotel, since our only directions involved "turning left" after leaving the subway. Which exit to use on the subway and what street on which we were to turn left were complete mysteries to us, so it took us a while to find our way. That makes the fourth European city in which I have been lost during my various travels over the years.

On the upside, I think all the beer killed the Australian cold that was plaguing me.

Sat, Jun 22, 2002

Day 5 - München, Dachau, Hopfgarten

I think Bavarians must like giant things: giant steins, giant pretzels, giant cuckoo clocks. We saw what must be the silliest attraction in Europe: the glockenspiel. It's a big cuckoo clock that plays music out of tune while little statues turn round and round. Other than that and a shop entirely dedicated to Bayern München, there wasn't a heck of a lot in Munich - at least nothing we knew about.

On our way out of Germany, we made a stop in Dachau, which housed a concentration camp during the Second World War. An educational but morbid visit; it added a further sense of reality to the many stories we've always heard about the war, which had previously always seemed so distant and unreal to us.

As we continued on our route toward Austria, we made a pitstop at what must be the most beautiful service station in the world. It was situated next to a mountainside lake, and there were people swimming there enjoying the weather. We briefly considered staying there a few days, but decided we didn't want to miss schnaporama that night.

Not surprisingly, we knew we had crossed the Austrian border when our tour manager started playing "The Sound of Music" on the CD player. The scenery in the Austrian Tirol is absolutely gorgeous; rolling hills, tree-covered mountains, alpine houses complete with balconies and flower boxes. I could have spent hours on end simply sitting there watching the scenerey. We arrived at our hotel by evening; it was a large alpine house run by a small family. My room was part of a five-person suite complete with kitchen and giant bathroom (although the toilet had barbed wire caked inside the seat, which was kind of scary).

We all spent the evening in the beer garden drinking weissbier and schnaps. The girls were quite taken aback by our servers, Hans and Wolfgang. Hans looked just like Patrick Swayze and Wolfgang was a skier, snowboarder, and photo model. The schnaporama continued until 1:00 in the morning, when one of our tour members accosted the bride having her wedding reception next door with his Australian buggery, at which point I decided to call it a night.

Sun, Jun 23, 2002

Day 6 - Hopfgarten

I mysteriously woke up very early this morning, so I decided to soak in the scenery and sit on the balcony for about an hour before breakfast. It wasn't long before I realised that I was probably woken up by a cow and its incessant mooing.

That morning we headed into town for a mountain biking trip through real mountains. The scenery was gorgeous and provided for many pictures, but I discovered that most people really can't ride a bike. The trip was only 22km, and I was perfectly fine by the end of it, but many of the others were complaining of sore legs and lack of energy. Everyone, however, complained of the uncushioned bicycle seats. Ow, my ass! There were a few casualties, however. One guy threw up due to too many schnaps the night before, and one girl almost fell while turning to look at me as I passed her. It must have been my dashing good looks; I'm stopping traffic.

After the trip, some of us decided to hop on the chairlift to get a nice view from the top of a mountain. Threats of lightening, however, closed the lift, and today being Sunday, everything else was closed so we had nothing to do but wait there for the lift to open again. We eventually got on the lift, but not without some bitching from the operator, who actually told us we were stupid for wanting to go up with a thunderstorm in the distance. The ride up was rather rickety, and the thundering in the distance was a little nerve-racking, but by the time it was over the skies were clear and it was a beautiful day again.

That evening was much like the evening before, but without a bride to be harrassed. The end of the night involved a pair of struggles: one with the hotel's internet station as my unstable cycling friend and I tried to check our email without having the timer cut us off mid-message, and then with the numerous amount of bugs that had invaded my room during the evening.

Mon, Jun 24, 2002

Day 7 - Hopfgarten, Verona, Venezia

Other than yesterday's chairlift incident, and the fact that the heat had melted and remelted all of my chocolate, the weather has been pretty nice to us. The only times that it's rained have been overnight or when we were on the bus, so it hasn't really interfered with our excursions. This morning's rain caused some low-floating clouds among the mountains and some more lovely pictures. As we headed out of Austria, we stopped in Innsbruck at the Swarovsky Crystal Gallery, where I was able to get a few presents for the ladies in the family.

We continued the drive into Italy and reached our first stop in fair Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet (ignorning the fact that Shakespeare never did once set foot in Verona). We saw Juliet's balony, and as legend has it, if you grab the right breast of Juliet's statue you will have luck with love. I suppose I could use all the luck I can get, so add another cheesey photo to my collection. It was extremely hot that day, so we made a visit to the gelati shop, which I'm sure will end up being the first of many.

By evening we made it to the storied city of Venice, and the crappiest hotel so far. We were in Venice, at the Hotel Vienna, which was run by a group of Asians; an interesting mix. The shower had no divider from the rest of the bathroom, so taking a shower would flood the whole place. The food was crappy and under cooked. The service was slow and the only server that seemed at all competent and interested in pleasing the customers was a lovely young lady named Catalina, but that impression may have only been caused by the tight pants and stiletto heels.

While the lame people in our group decided to stay at the suburban hotel or turn in early, a small group decided that we didn't come all this way to stay in a hotel lobby, and we were determined to get into the city for a look around. After getting conflicting information from our tour manager and the hotel receptionist, we made our way to the train station, trying to get to Venezia St Lucia.

This is where the adventure begins.

It took us about half an hour to find the right place to buy tickets for the short train ride into the city. When we finally got them, the clerk told us to go to platform 4. We made our way there and looked at the sign; it said 'Vienna'. "Hmm," we thought. "This doesn't look like the right train at all."

The sign at platform 3 read 'Venezia St Lucia', so we asked another member of the staff. "You want to go to platform 5," he said. "That will take you to Venice."

We walked over there to find the sign read 'Lucca'. "That's not right either. Maybe the gentleman didn't understand us."

We asked someone else, who told us to go back to platform 4 and take the train after the one currently waiting there. We waited for the train to leave, and the sign changed from Vienna to some random town and back to Vienna again. By this time, we were quite ticked off. Three station personnel had given us wrong directions. One of our travellers started freaking out, not wanting to board a train that may take us four hours in the wrong direction.

It was time to make a firm decision. I had been lost in four European cities before this one, two of them non-English speaking, and I found my way around by following the signs, not by asking the people. So, that's what we did; we boarded the train that read 'Venice' and that's exactly where it took us.

At long last, we made it into town, and found that we had until 12:30 to get return tickets back to the hotel. We wandered the streets and canals for a while, and haggled a gondalier to a price that was eight euros less than what we were going to be paying the next day. A little after midnight, we returned to the station to make our way back, and attempted to buy tickets.

"Sorry, we're closed." the clerk told us.

"But the sign says you close at 12:30."

"It's past 12:30." he claimed.

We looked at our watches. "It's not even 12:15 yet."

"Too bad, you can't buy tickets."

We stood there fuming for a few moments, infuriated at having to deal with the rudest, most incompetent service staff we've ever come across. What the hell are we supposed to do now? We need to get on that train, but that jackass refuses to sell us tickets; I refuse to spend the night sleeping in a Venetian train station.

Well, screw 'em. Tickets or no tickets, we're getting on that train. If someone stops us, we'll pay him the goddamn 95 cents, but I'm not spending another moment here.

So that's what we did, and the next morning we made sure to tell everyone that if they needed to take a train, then they should buy their tickets early, follow the signs, and don't even think about asking any of the staff for directions.

Tues, Jun 25, 2002

Day 8 - Venezia

We took the bus and ferry into the city this morning, and made our way to Piazza San Marco. We had a little glass-blowing demonstration, and then made our way to St Mark's Basilica and the Pala d'Oro. They say Venice is sinking, and the floor of the church is evidence of that; it's more crooked than a Liberal cabinet minister - or, more accurately, than the Venetian train station staff.

Countless tales have been told about the wonders of Venice, and I must agree it is a lovely city, but I am certain I could never live here. Firstly, getting lost is a way of life here; the streets and alleys are indistinguishable, so following a map is a futile effort. Secondly, while the thought of a city on water and streets of canals is a lovely idea and very romantic, I'm certain I'd tire of it within a week; what an incredible hassle! We were convinced of this problem when we witnessed someone trying to move. He had his boat parked at the side of a canal, and was attempting to overcome the mountain-moving struggle of getting a large desk onto his tiny boat without tipping it over. Now, imagine trying to move an entire apartment - ouch. Finally, everything here is twice as expensive as everywhere else; even the public toilets are 50 cents whereas everywhere else in Europe it's only 20. Why? Because they can; the tourists won't stop coming just because they have to fork over an extra 30 cents to take a whiz. It seems the locals have a similar opinion; over the past half-century, the population of Venice has halved, and the average age is now over 50. Within the next 50 years, Venice will be nothing but a theme park, with all other businesses and residents having moved to the mainland.

During our six hours of free time, I saw a street gambler that wasn't very good at his job, and had I participated, I'm certain I could have scored 200 euros before having to run away really really quickly. I also saw the Academia art gallery, and had very good 5-euro pizza in an area that was very pleasant aside from the pushy accordian player that only knew 3 songs. Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent people-watching. Unfortunately, the person that sits in my mind most vividly is the slimy Italian guy that didn't know that the 1970's ended over twenty years ago. Ew ew ew.

No trip to Venice is complete without a gondola ride, so this is what we all did before dinner. Our gondalier didn't sing, but explained about the years and years of training required to do the job. I was hoping to be in the same boat as my bicycle-riding friend, but she picked another boat, probably because I was threatening to sing cheesey Italian songs to her; I guess that's understandable, then. :)

That evening we had an overpriced Venetian meal complete with accordian player and singer, a drunk guy that insisted on kissing the old, fat accordian player, and a pushy flower guy that wouldn't leave until someone bought something from him. There was also some low-quality wine, but that didn't stop me from drinking a lot of it.

As we were walking back to our meeting point after dinner, I found my cycling friend. "I would have bought you a rose, but I didn't know if you wanted one." I joked to her. She was amused and said it would have been nice. "All right then," I said. "The next time we run into a flower guy I'll get you one."

She knew I was just joking around, but I guess she didn't expect I would follow up on my promise. As soon as we reached St Mark's Square not two minutes later, there was another flower guy pushing his product. I got a rose with the loose change in my pocket, stepped behind my attractive cycling friend, and presented her gift. She blushed with embarrassment and the crowd peaked with interest. At this point, the flower guy decided to help me out a bit. He walked up to us and in his broken English and Italian accent asked "Why you no kiss him?"

The crowd erupted, and my friend turned even more red. She seemed very apprehensive and lost, so I decided to save face and say "All I want is a smile." A few "Aww"s from the crowd and that was that. During the walk back to the boat she gave the rose away and didn't really talk to me very much for the rest of the trip, so I guess Juliet's good luck hadn't kicked in yet.

On the ferry back, we had another encounter with the drunk guy from the restaurant. He tried to start a fight back in the square, and now he was content in repeatedly giving everyone the finger. The driver of his tour was watching over him, and eventually his tour manager just got fed up. She walked up to him, gave him a big loud slap to the face and told him to shut the hell up and grow up. It all made for an amusing ferry ride home.

Wed, Jun 26, 2002

Day 9 - Venezia, Pisa, Firenze

Another scorching hot day, another long drive. Thank goodness the coach is air conditioned. We made a stop in Pisa to get a cheesey photo of us pretending to hold up the leaning tower, and avoided the pickpockets. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing to do. Back on the bus and off we go. Still a long drive into Florence, so we passed the time playing poker.

We arrived at the home of the Renaissance in the evening and got a brief city tour, including the former residence of our tour manager. There are many statues around the town, and thousands of mopeds. I don't think the streets were originally designed for these things, but every single one is lined with masses of parked mopeds; there must be more mopeds than people.

After dinner we were led to a bar for our night out, but I believe it was suggested to us only because they advertise in the Contiki booklet. It seemed solely a tourist bar; I don't think there was a single genuine Italian there. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time with some drinking and dancing, and witnessed a few events that certainly weren't overlooked in the gossip circles, I'm sure. But, as my roommate so cleverly put it, "loose lips sink ships"; a self-explanatory comment, I would think, but it seemed to stump one of our fellow travellers who was persistent in his questioning.

Thurs, Jun 27, 2002

Day 10 - Firenze

Volare! Oh Oh! Cantare! Oh oh oh oh!
Nel blu dipinto di blu, felice di stare lassú!

The morning started off with a leather-making demonstration; somewhat uninteresting, and all the merchandise was overpriced. However, right around the corner was the best gelati shop in Italy; wow, that was good. A guided tour followed, where we saw some of the churches, and tombs of various famous people like Michelangelo. More stairs were involved in this venture, naturally, as we climbed the bell tower of the Duomo for a lovely view of Tuscany. We later went to the Academia to see the statue of David, which was guarded against photographs by short, fat, surly-looking staff that would yell "no photo!" continuously at the tops of their lungs. Our afternoon travels concluded with the gardens of the Piti Palace, which involved many more stairs and steep hills to climb.

The most memorable (or not, as will soon be revealed) part about Florence must be the food. We had a Tuscan dinner this evening, and it was heavenly. The lasagne was so good it brought tears to my eyes; I've never had a better meal. I could spend hours sitting here recalling how it seemed so simple - just meet, cheese, and pasta - and yet it would melt in your mouth like an angel was giving your taste buds a massage. The pastrami sandwhich in New York was stale bread and processed meat by-products in comparison to this lasagne. Yum.

The dinner also included an opera singer, and plenty of cheesey Italian music. We were all led in a group singing of 'Volare', and invited to the dance floor for some other Italian classics. One of our fellow travellers must have thought I wasn't being energetic enough on the dance floor and decided to pick me up and throw me around like a rag doll. He must have had a lot of wine; in fact, I don't think I saw him sober throughout the entire trip.

Speaking of wine, that played a big part in tonight's festivities. We were provided with unlimited Chianti at the meal, and our tour manager warned us of the "Chianti monster", which would sit on your shoulder urging you to have just a little bit more before it attacked and your sensibilities would vanish. As she put it, there were three types of wine provided: white, red, and "vino colapso".

I kept the Chianti monster as a pet, and thoroughly enjoyed the vino colapso.

The rest of the night is kind of foggy, so I will piece it together using what I can actually remember and what other people told me the next day.

After the Tuscan dinner, we were bussed off to Space Electronica, a local discotheque. This also seemed like another purely tourist spot, but considering the condition I was in when I arrived, it didn't really matter.

The first piece of information comes from one of the girls in my group. I apparently walked into the club with her, and before she could ask me if I wanted to get a drink, I had already zipped off to the dance floor and was grooving up a storm.

The next piece of info comes from the never-sober indivdual in our group, who must have been impressed that I was more drunk than he was. He apparently warned some of the others in our group to keep an eye on me because I was standing on my own in the middle of the dance floor, sort of waving around to my own particular rhythm.

Info #3 comes from my own recollection. I was near a small group of people, dancing very closely with one particular girl. The length of time I was around this particular young lady is in question, but it was considerable. Chunks of info #4 and #5 come from two separate people in my group that saw me dancing with her; one of them referred to her as my "chickie friend". Nice; I'm liking this story so far. If I had remembered to note it at the time, I'm sure I would have thought that Juliet's luck was finally kicking in.

Info #6 comes from my own recollection, and this is where the story turns tragic. I was still dancing with my "chickie friend", and when one particular song ended, she said to me "I have to go to the bathroom; don't move!" These are the only words I specifically remember her saying. I responded with an emphatic "OK!", determined not to move my feet. Not 30 seconds later, however, I determined that I also needed to use the restroom and hoped I could go and come back before she returned. I would have been successful if I could have remembered where I was supposed to be waiting in the first place. Oops. I wandered a bit trying to figure out what spot was the right one, when all recollection thereafter fell into obscurity once again, perhaps into the Chianti monster's souvenir bag. Info #7 was a short memory of thinking I may have found her again, but she was with another group of people.

If that isn't amusing enough for you, memory #8 really adds some mystery to the story, and really makes me wish I could remember a bit more of the night. I was sitting on a bench, resting for a few minutes, hot and tired. A guy walked up to me, leaned toward me, said "I thought I told you to get out of here" and then walked off. I gave him a confused, who-the-hell-are-you kind of look as he walked away. I was desperately trying to figure out who he was, but just couldn't remember it. Bouncer? The girl's boyfriend? Random jackass? Who knows? Not me, that's for sure...

I managed to find some people in my group and we caught a cab back to the hotel. So, I lost my "chickie friend" - didn't even know her name or where she was from - and I am apparently on some strange guy's blacklist. Perhaps Juliet's luck hasn't kicked in after all, but at least I can say I picked up in Florence. How many people do I know that can say that?

Fri, Jun 28, 2002

Day 11 - Firenze, San Gimignano, Roma

I woke up today feeling refreshed, not the least bit hungover, and absolutely amazed that I did not lose my camera last night. I don't ever recall carrying it in the club, but it somehow made it's way to the head of my bed in the hotel room by morning. Phew...

Our drive down to Rome involved a quick stop in a little walled Medieval town called San Gimignano. I climbed the bell tower (more stairs) and got a nice view of Tuscan landscape. It was far too windy and dusty in that mountain town, however, and my contact lenses were paying the price for it. Finally, it was back on the road again off to Rome.

We got into Rome and had a mini tour of a few of the sights, like the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (I did the triple-coin toss - I'll let you know if the wishes come true), the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. We found a restaurant for dinner and I had some strange noodles, the name of which I can't remember, but it was quite tastey. I then wandered the streets at night with another guy in our group, seeing what was around.

Have you ever had that feeling of excitement mixed with awe mixed with relief when you've finally done something that you've wanted to do for the longest time? That's what I felt tonight. #1 on my supposed "list of things to do before I die" was visit Rome, since I've spent so many years reading about it. When we stumbled upon the old Roman Forum lit up against the night, it finally hit me: I'm in Rome. I just like saying that. I'm in Rome. R-O-M-E Rome. There's the Forum of Augustus, and the Senate House, and Arch of Titus, and the Colosseum in the distance. This was the centre of the universe for hundreds of years. The world was controlled from this spot. The most powerful men strut their stuff down this road. You can almost still hear the thousands upon thousands of people chanting "Roma victor!" Now, all that's left of them are some stones and crumbling pillars; concrete proof of how nothing is permanent, and the even mightiest have their sunset. It's almost a religious experience.

We had a little trouble getting back to the hotel, since we weren't quite familiar with the landmarks. We took the subway to the right stop, and got on the correct bus, but we couldn't seem to figure out where to get off. Eventually, the driver stopped the bus, turned off the lights, and opened the doors; end of the line. Uh oh. "How far is it to our hotel?" we asked the driver, showing him the address.

He didn't understand English, but made motions suggesting it was a very long way behind us. Uh oh. We were about to get off and figure out what to do next, when the driver closed the doors on us and started driving again. We soon came to realise just how far off we were as it was a ten minute drive before the driver pointed to the sign for the street where our hotel was. We thanked the driver graciously for his help; we made a friend in Rome that night. Make this the sixth European city in which I've been lost.

Sat, Jun 29, 2002

Day 12 - Roma

This morning we had a guided tour of the ancient ruins of Rome - the Colosseum and the Forum - as well as some of the newer sites like the monstrous monument to Victor Emmanuelle II. Immediately following that we bussed down to the Vatican to check out St Peter's basilica. The Pope gave mass that afternoon, but we missed it while in line for the basilica dome. We've climbed numerous sets of stairs throughout the course of the trip, but these ones must have been the most treacherous. Some of them spiraled, some of them were slick, some had no banisters, and the others had curved narrow passages that no overweight person or someone with any sort of back problem could hope to traverse. The view from the top, however, was spectacular; imagine being able to see an entire country from your vantage point.

We had a streak of bad luck for the rest of the afternoon, however, since today was St Peter's Day. That meant the Vatican Museum was closed, including the Sistene Chapel, so we didn't get to see its famous painted ceiling. We then made the long walk over to the Ara Pacis, just to discover that it was under renovation, and was completely closed from viewing. Augustus's tomb was next to it, but it has been mostly left unkept and unimpressive. We decided to chance taking the city bus back to the Pantheon, and we discovered that the information on the signs and the routes the busses actually take do not correspond whatsoever. We hopped off the bus at a random intersection, attempted to determine where we were, and walked the rest of the way. We eventually found our way to the Pantheon just to discover that it was closed as well. Fiddlesticks.

We checked out the Capitoline Museum and then wandered the city a little aimlessly until our luck improved. We stumbled across a stage being set up. We decided to stick around a while to see what was going on. A little while later, seemingly spontaneously, a huge crowd of people emerged from down the street into the open square. They were cheering, and carrying flags, and riding floats, and.... umm... dressed in drag... Uh.... What kind of concert is this, anyway?

It wasn't long before we noticed the rainbow flags. Well, we seem to have stumbled upon the gay pride concert.

We stayed a while on the outskirts of the area to see what the party was like, but the acts were so tacky that we just couldn't take it anymore and left. We later made our way back to the Pantheon in search of a cheesey souvenir and stumbled upon an Italian film festival. We stayed to watch a few of them just to soak in a bit of the local culture, but couldn't understand anything of what was going on, so we decided to call it a night.

Sun, Jun 30, 2002

Day 13 - Roma, Pompeii, Brindisi

An early wake up this morning for the very long drive across Italy to catch the ferry to Greece. We drove through Naples and saw some of the derelict houses left after the earthquake all those years ago, and made a stop in Pompeii to view the ancient excavated city. Our guide pointed out Mt Vesuvius in the distance, which erupted in 79 AD and buried the town for nearly 2000 years. It looked like there were two peaks, but in fact it's actually a tremendous crater. Nearly half the mountain exploded when the volcano erupted, which blanketed the entire area. Unfortunately, a lot of the interesting sites were closed for preservation, but it was an interesting tour nonetheless, and it was nice to see another place I had studied in school.

The rest of the day was spent on the bus. A very very long day. The entire night was spent on a ferry. A very very long night. A group of us stayed on deck for a while, just hanging about, but the dance floor was full of children, which didn't quite inspire a party atmosphere for us twenty-somethings.

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