Friday, July 31, 2009

The Scene In Which I Am Not A Fizz-icist

This scene maaaaaay have started because I maaaaaay have had a small issue translating military time when reviewing our itinerary, and as a result, Traveling Companion and I maaaaay have arrived at the Madrid train station to catch our overnight train to Paris about, oh, two hours earlier than we actually needed to.


Regardless, we were hungry and we needed some down time anyway, so during the small, ummmmm, interlude between the time we needed to arrive and the time we actually did arrive, we went bowling in the Madrid train station (yep, I said bowling) and bought snacks for the trip, including a bottle of Coke to go with our sandwiches.

Now, maybe a year or so ago, a friend of mine was over at my house after a party helping me clean up, and we had several half-finished bottles of soda. Before putting them away, my friend shook the bottles so the bubbles bubbled up. Seeing my look of curiosity, they explained that it helps retain the carbonation longer if you do that before you put them in the refrigerator.

Because I am not all that scientifically inclined (the only two C's I have ever received have both been in science, and in fact I was so horrible at chemistry in high school that I opted out of physics and took botany instead. As I'm now a florist because of this experience I'd say it turned out rather well, but that's another story), I didn't question the validity of this statement, and because the two-liters did in fact stay fresh for several additional days, I went with it.

I'd like to think that this slight ineptitude towards all things math or science is sort of endearingly, adorably cute, but in fact it's just sort of embarrassing (though, I will admit, funny) when scenes like the following happen.

Back to the train.

We had opened the bottle of Coke and drank about half of it. I happened to be the last one to take a drink, so after I screwed the cap back on, I absentmindedly shook the bottle gently and placed it back in the bag.

And looked up to see a puzzled look on Traveling Companion's face.

TC: "Why on earth did you just do that?"

Me: "Because it keeps it carbonated longer if you shake it a little bit."

Moment of silence.

TC: "Are you joking?"

Me: "Nooooooo......?"

TC: "Ahhh hahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah...."

Me: "What?!?!"

TC: "Hahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!"

Me: "Stop laughing!!"

Traveling Companion eventually composed himself enough to assure me that I was, indeed, misguided on this point, and (still-chuckling) several days later, he explained the actual scientific principles to me.

After that he also informed me that this was "like something a 12-year old tells an 8-year old as a joke and then when the 8-year old turns 12 and realizes that it's not true, they tell another 8-year old because it's funny," to which the only good response was to scrunch up my face and offer some variation of "your mom."

I'll tell you what, though- that damn Coke stayed fizzy for two days after that train ride.

That's all I'm saying.

The Scene In Which I Go To Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris

I am going to apologize in advance because I'm totally not going to do any of these cities justice.

I got back from my trip nearly a month ago and I still haven't written these posts. Hellooooo, I work from home now. If I can't get them done by now, let's face it, it's never going to happen.

And they were going to be really funny and insightful, too- full of witty anecdotes and accolades for the lovely B&B we stayed at in Barcelona (Ally's Guest House- STAY THERE!), lush descriptive passages about strolling around Barcelona's Montjuic hills where the Olympics were held and down the bustling Las Ramblas, viewing lovely art at the Joan Miro museum, and my take on Sagrada Familia (From an artistic standpoint, incredibly important. From a personal standpoint, I totally hated it.)

Then I would have told you about Madrid and the lovely time we had strolling around the Reina Sofia, the Prado, and through the Plaza del Sol. I would have described in vivid detail how we encountered the Madrid Pride parade almost by accident, and how Traveling Companion and I had a fantastic time mingling with people from all over in a huge crowd of thousands and thousands dancing in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, and how hilarious it was when we weren't sure who was getting hit on because of the language barriers.

And our overnight trip to Paris on the train, when we arrived at the station nearly two hours early because I, well, have a small problem telling military time. For more, read The Scene In Which I Am Not A Fizz-icist.

Paris, as you can imagine, would have been full of the descriptive prose you might find in a Victor Hugo novel, inspired by the trip we took through his house/museum. A lavish review of the Eiffel Tower views at sunset. A hilarious reporting of our trip to Versailles with our two spontaneous Canadian friends, Ashley and Kristin, who spent four hours of our trip with us and at least three of those hours being shocked that we a) had only brought one backpack each on the trip with us, b) had been wearing the same clothes multiple times, and c) had not, and were not, planning to do any shopping on our trip beyond the two sundresses I bought in Madrid.


I had even planned a funny (as in, laugh AT me) post describing our flight home from Paris, during which we encountered the type of turbulence that makes the pilots yell for the flight attendants to sit, the aforementioned attendants to squinch their eyes closed, and for half the passengers to actually scream as we nose-dive several hundred feet in about, oh, two seconds.

But that story was too anti-climactic, because after the seat-belt sign was turned off again, I cajoled one of the flight attendants to sell me a small bottle of wine, which I downed my second Xanax with and spent the rest of the flight in a drooly haze.

So instead, I'll leave you with a story that happened in Madrid, which I will carry with me the rest of my life, as I will all the memories from this fantastic trip - those which I have been able to write about, and those which I haven't. It's better live, so if you know me, ask me to tell you this story sometime.

It was Sunday in Madrid, and Younger Brother had merrily made his way to campus to check-in with his summer program while Traveling Companion and I made our way to the Prado museum. After several lovely hours there, we left and went in search of a quick bit to eat before taking the metro up to visit Younger Brother's new dorm for the month.

As fate, coincidence, karma or whatever you'd call it would have it, the bar we chose was closing for the day- but we stayed and had a glass of wine before walking up the street. With each step taking us closer to the metro station, we were growing hungrier and slightly tipsier (ok, that was just me.)

And then, like a beacon of shiny light, the answer.

Doner Kabab.

Two tables, four stools, three husky waiters, and some yummy-smelling, unidentifiable meat spinning slowly on a spit spewing out 400 degrees of heat at the customers just inside the door.

We sat on two of the stools next to the only customer in the place- a girl, probably about my age, TINY, sporting a blue flannel shirt, a humongous shoulder bag, and a head full of red hair that she kept shaking wildly the entire time we were there.

She recommended the falafel enthusiastically (around a mouthful of it) and then proceeded to quiz us on our lives at the same time she filled us in on hers.

She was there for an artists retreat- had taken a class elsewhere in Spain for a week and then come to Madrid for vacation. She didn't know anyone and didn't speak Spanish well.

She was from Philly but had gone to school in Pittsburgh and wanted to be back there, although she wasn't sure if she should make the move, since she taught art and didn't have a job lined up and thought that was maybe too risky and what did we think??

Because this was karma, or fate, or whatever you want to call it, both Traveling Companion and I had actually just recently quit our own, steady, responsible jobs- him to move cross-country for grad school, me to start my own business. So we told her this.

She was as enthusiastic about this as she had been about the falafel, perhaps more so, and by the end of the lunch she had decided to go for it. To make the move.

Like so many people we met abroad, we never learned her name. We didn't exchange info or promise to keep her posted. Instead, we shared a 20-minute conversation over falafel gyros and the sense that there are people in this world who you are destined to meet, for whatever reason.

And then, in a whirl of blue flannel and red hair, she was up off her barstool, tossing her bag over her shoulder, and out the door, leaving us only with a "Okay guys- I don't know- good luck with your lives!"

Good luck with your lives, indeed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Scene In Which I Go To Milan

Halfway through the trip we spent a ridiculously brief time in Milan, with the sole purpose of our presence in that city being that we needed to catch the overnight train to Barcelona from either there or Rome, and Milan was closer to Florence, where we had come from.

But I felt like it would be rude not to mention Milan, especially since in the three hours we were there I think I basically managed to ensure we'd never be invited back, at least not to that huge open-air shopping center that's right across the street from the Duomo.

You see, on one end of the shopping center, there's the Duomo, and on the other side, there's a fountain with some nice benches for, say, resting in the middle of a 6-city, 13-day whirlwind tour of Europe. Hypothetically.

We'd been told that the Duomo was the one thing to see if we only had three hours in Milan, so when we arrived, we hopped on the metro and came up in the plaza immediately adjacent, took some photos, and then.....sort of shuffled back and forth staring at each other waiting for inspiration to strike.

So we wandered through the shopping center, which in case you are wondering, is THE place to be if you have a ridiculous amount of money to spend on things you don't really need that have labels with ridiculous names on them. In short, it was shopping high-society style, and needless to say the three backpackers from Indiana weren't going to be doing much spending there.

And on the other side we found the aforementioned fountain with the nice benches. Younger Brother and Traveling Companion settled down with books, and I relaxed in the sun for a few minutes, then decided to leave them (and my backpack) there and take in the Duomo.

Which was lovely. Go, if you go to Milan.

I spent about 30 minutes inside the niiiiice, daaaaark, cooooool cathedral and exited reluctantly back into the humid, sunny afternoon.

And that's when I saw the gelato cart.

If you know me, you'll already know that there was no question at this point, it was just a matter of digging out some cash.

If you don't know me, there was no question at this point, it was just a matter of digging out some cash.

I figured the boys would enjoy gelato as well, and as it was REALLY REALLY frozen solid, I felt that I could carry the three cones safely across the small street, through the 100 yards or so of the open-air-shopping mall, and to the fountain.




Within the first three steps, the cones began to sweat. And then they began to trickle. And then they began to melt.


Seriously, the townsfolk of Pompeii had more reaction time when the volcanoes started erupting than I did when those three cones started doing the same.

So I did the only thing there was to do, really.

I tucked my head down, mushed the three cones together in the hopes that they would support each other like little Leaning Towers O' Melting Gelato, took a deep breath, and lit out for that fountain like my life depended on it.

I should mention at this point that I've been using the term open-air shopping center rather loosely in this post, thus far.

Because it was far nicer than what you're picturing.

Tiled floors.

Marble walls.

Golden chandeliers.

Flagship stores.

I'm pretty sure that they frown upon women in blue cotton dresses from Old Navy blitzing down the main corridor, melting gelato running in rivulets down their hands and arms, wearing the kind of panicked expression that one wears when you realize that 100 yards may seem like not much but is actually a REALLY REALLY LONG WAY AWAYand that you are in real, immediate danger of losing all 7 euros worth of rapidly disintegrating sugary goodness right down the front of your dress.

In the end, I made it out to the boys with all three cones relatively intact, though I will say that most two-year olds eating gelato don't fare as badly as I did, wearing-ice-cream-wise. My hands were a mess, my arms had streaks of gelato all the way to my elbows, my feet had drops dotting them, and even my dress bore the brunt of a couple errant dabs, not to mention the couple strands of hair that had dragged through one of the cones during my panicked flight.

And if/when I ever go back to Italy, the first word I'm learning is "Bowl."

The Scene In Which Younger Brother Doesn't Actually Like U2

As was the case with several interesting things on our trip (Baby Jesus, Brown Cow, etc.) Florence was the place where this scene originated.

Younger Brother, Traveling Companion and I were sitting at breakfast one morning commenting on the amount of album covers that had been framed as artwork and hung in the communal area of the hotel. Quite an eclectic mix, actually, and rather as an afterthought I pointed out a U2 album.

Younger Brother took a bit of cereal, chewed, and swallowed.

"I don't like U2," said Younger Brother. "Well, actually, I don't like anything they did after 1992. I guess before that was OK. But now everyone's all 'Oooooh, U2, la la la,' and Bono's is all 'AIDS in Africa' and I'm over pop stars trying to pretend like they're going to change the world. And in that one song, when they count One, Two, Three, Fourteen, I don't care what it means, it's dumb."*

Bite. Chew. Swallow.



"What?" I said.

"What?" said Traveling Companion.

Younger Brother looked at us like we had perhaps lost our minds, then proceeded to go on one of his 5-minute long rants about the completely strange reasons as to why he likes or doesn't like something, in this case, U2 and "Bow-Noe".

If you've never seen this happen, it's hilarious.

(Massive apologies to Younger Brother- I HAD to relate this story!)

I'm totally not judging him for his dislike of U2 or of Bono in particular. He has his reasons, and while I personally like the band, I respect that. Cool. Right on.

And if it was Traveling Companion, instead of Younger Brother, who had uttered this pronouncement, we would have conversed, finished our cereal, and moved on with our lives in general.

But it's Younger Brother, and hilarious irony tends to follow him, even in Italy.

So suddenly, U2 was everywhere.


It was akin to, say, someone pronouncing they don't like the color green.......right before taking a big trip to Ireland in the springtime.

The news was covering Bono's latest press conference right as we walked by. Restaurants were playing U2 songs. Fans of U2 (because of course, they were touring in Europe at the same time) were wearing shirts, Bono's face flashing at us as we walked down the Italian streets. Even the street musicians were in on the act, covering U2 songs on the corners and in the train stations. And in Barcelona, U2 was actually playing a concert the first night we arrived, and you can imagine the amount of U2-mania that generated- all this only serving to add to our hilarity, and unfortunately irritate Younger Brother even more. Literally, RANDOM STRANGERS were talking to us about U2. Even after we left him in Madrid and went on to Paris to fly home, U2 followed us.

"Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce...."

*Younger Brother's quote created from a series of paraphrased one-liners from the rant, nearly three weeks after it actually happened.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Scene In Which The Baby Jesus Is Everywhere

In Spain and Italy, particularly in Italy, there is quite a bit of religious art.

More specifically, there is quite a bit of art centered around Jesus.

Even more specifically, there is quite a bit of art centered around the Baby Jesus.

The Baby Jesus is, in fact, everywhere.

And occasionally, he is a ginger.

That's right, all you "Jesus is white, brunette and a chubby cherub" folks- Jesus was, in at least three paintings, a flaming redhead looking for all intents and purposes like he's about to pull the tail of the kitty sitting near him, just outside the frame. There's also several remarkable paintings of him holding a bird, which wouldn't be creepy in the least until you realize the bird looks kind of dead.

He's tall. He's short. He's chubby. He's skinny. He's sitting. He's standing. He's smiling. He's frowning. He's sleeping. He's yawning. He's cute. He's creepy.

Beyond the paintings of Jesus with the obvious choice of Mary, it was also apparently quite fashionable to have your own portrait painted with the Baby Jesus, or to have someone else painted into a group scene as a gift.

He's with Mary. He's with Joseph. He's with the Holy Family. He's with the Brown Cow and the Gray Donkey. He's with Saint Anne. He's with the Angels. He's with the Saints. He's with the Martyrs. He's with Saint George. He's with Saint Peter. He's with Saint Paul. He's with Mark the Abbot of Some Unknown Church in Florence. He's with Paul the Descendant of Mark the Abbot of Some Unknown Church in Florence. He's with The Neighbor Who Invited You to that Ball Last Summer. He's with the Holy Mother of the Abbess of the Order of the Flowers of the Forest. He's with the King. He's with the Queen. He's with the Royal Children. He's with the Guy Who Should Have Been King but got Killed Instead. He's with the Deacon of the Priory. He's with the Prior. He's with Larry, the guy who comes to the stables to feed the Brown Cow and the Gray Donkey.

Those more religious than I will argue that these paintings represent the intangible "He is EVERYWHERE" argument, and I have to say that I agree with them on this point, because the Baby Jesus is quite possibly the most-painted subject ever.

In fact, if the Baby Jesus were living among us today, I daresay he'd be more sought after than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's kids - that is, if they didn't just adopt him themselves.

I just don't buy that he was a ginger.

The Scene In Which The Brown Cow and Gray Donkey Make Their Debut

It happened at Galleria Accademia.

Strolling through the first of many Italian painting galleries that we would stroll through that day, I was distracted by a flurry of activity, a hushed giggle, a minor interaction in front of a small painting in the corner. An American couple, probably not more than a couple years older than I, were examining the painting closely.

Husband: "See? See?? I told you! It's hilarious!"

Wife (wearing a classic "Really? Seriously? This is what we came to Italy for?" expression on her face): "Mmmmmmmhmm."

They moved on.

Naturally, I had to go see what had so amused Husband, and thus encountered the Brown Cow and the Gray Donkey for the first time.

The painting was one of perhaps a couple hundred we would see over the coming weeks depicting the Birth of the Baby Jesus in the Manger in Bethlehem. The Baby Jesus is kind of a popular subject in Italian and Spanish art, as you'll learn more about as we move through the trip.

This particular painting also featured a Brown Cow and a Gray Donkey in the background of the scene, sharing a stable stall.

And from the looks of things, Gray Donkey was a bit - er - surprised by Brown Cow.

Hence Husband's, and quickly followed by Younger Brother and Traveling Companion's, hilarity.

As we moved past the painting into the next gallery, we began to observe an interesting phenomenon. Previously unnoticed, Gray Donkey and Brown Cow were suddenly EVERYWHERE.

Apparently, we missed the memo that all the Spanish and Italian painters from the 14th to the 17th century received about the only animals that were allowed at the Birth of Baby Jesus, because these two found their way into probably no less than 200 paintings we saw.

They grazed on hay outside the stable. They lay in the mangers next to Baby Jesus. They stood affectionately behind Mary. And they, ummmmm, had relations.

A lot.

Throughout the trip, we continued to see Brown Cow and Gray Donkey in works of art spanning hundreds of years and multiple countries. We Googled them several times, but came up empty. Brown Cow and Gray Donkey are apparently a mystery that has been lost to this time, and while we can guess as to their origins, we can't ever really know the truth.

Now, the inevitable morals of this short story:

First, no matter how much you think you know, don't ever assume you know the whole story. I personally have never read a Bible that specifically mentions the Brown Cow and Gray Donkey....yet for hundreds of years, painters from different countries speaking different languages painted them as a matter of fact into this very important Biblical scene. Coincidence?

Second, look beyond the obvious. Beyond Gray Donkey and Brown Cow, many pieces of art (and many things in life, for that matter) contain tiny little details that, when caught, can cause you to look at something in an entirely new way.

And, most importantly, third: When a 14th-century religious painting captures the attention of a 30-something American male tourist, it's probably something you're going to want to see.

The Scene In Which We Learn To Drive

We interrupt these vacation blog postings for an important service announcement.

To all drivers of bluish-green, dented-bumpered, rusted-out pickup trucks out and about in Indianapolis today, we'd like to bring your attention to the following suggestions for better road etiquette:

When driving down a neighborhood side street, it is considered impolite to drive 45 miles per hour.

When driving 45 mph down a narrow neighborhood side street, it is considered impolite to arbitrarily decide that the street is a one-way street, regardless of however narrow you personally feel the street becomes due to the row of parked cars along one side.

When driving 45 mph down a narrow neighborhood side street that you have arbitrarily decided is a one-way at the moment, it is considered impolite to take up the entire rest of the street with your vehicle by weaving back and forth.

When driving 45 mph down a narrow neighborhood side street that you have arbitrarily decided is a one-way at the moment and thus should be driven on in a weaving fashion, it is considered impolite to honk ferociously at other cars coming the opposite way.

When driving 45 mph down a narrow neighborhood side street that you have arbitrarily decided is a one-way at the moment and thus should be driven on in a weaving fashion while honking ferociously at cars coming the opposite way, it is considered impolite to give said other drivers the finger.

This concludes our public service announcement for today.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Scene In Which I Go To Florence

Part 2 of our journey found us in Florence, after an early-morning train ride from Venice during which Traveling Companion taught me to play gin rummy. He then proceeded to kick my ass at it for the next four train rides (final scores will be revealed in the Paris blog entry!).

I would say that Florence was amazing, but I already used that for Venice. Florence, rather, was unexpected.

After two relatively tranquil and absolutely gorgeous days in Venice, where there are no cars and enjoying life seems to be the priority of everyone you meet, I was expecting Florence to be more of the same. To sweep me off my feet with its romantic grandeur. To escort me up cobblestoned lined streets. To show me beautiful old churches with bells pealing above. In short, I've seen "Under The Tuscan Sun" way too many times, and since Florence is in the heart of Tuscany, I wanted to be Diane-freaking-Lane, and while I was at it, I wanted my hair to look as good as hers did in that movie despite the heat, humidity, and low water pressure.

The jackhammers drilling down into the street in the construction zone outside the train station weren't part of my grand vision.

As we made our way down the grit-encrusted asphalt under the chain link construction barriers to our hotel, the taste of dust on our tongues, hungry and tired after getting up at 4 AM to catch our train, I really wanted to go back to Venice.....and possibly never leave again.

Luckily, the boys, recognizing my despair and dropping blood sugar, graciously escorted me to the nearest cafe where we enjoyed a most delicious lunch and I made a full recovery as we planned our next two days.

Well, that's kind of the way it happened, anyway. I certainly didn't do anything like announce that if I didn't get fed I was going to kill someone in the middle of the square outside the Duomo.

Regardless, we ate. And it helped me like Florence more.

In our two days in Venice, we visited Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo (photo, above left), Palazzo Medici and the Medici Museum, San Lorenzo, Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Davonzati, Palazzo Vecchio, where the mayor of Florence lives, and watched an extremely bizarre movie about voodoo that featured Billy Zane and was inexplicably show in German dubbed over English (and that was all Day 1).

On Day 2, we went to Piazza de Pitti and visited the Boboli Gardens (right), where we saw tons of amazing statues. Despite there being some serious inclines, Boboli Gardens was one of my favorite places in Florence and I'd recommend that you visit, when you make the trip. We also went to the Galleria d'Accadamia where we saw the David, and where we first made the acquaintance of Brown Cow and Gray Donkey (for more on this infamous twosome, check out their posting later). We finished Day 2 with Piazza della Liberta and Palazzo della Mostre, where we discovered a lovely little fountain that didn't actively forbid wading (pictured left), and later, a small park where it is actually legal (as it is most places in Europe) to drink in public. Later we ventured back to Palazzo Vecchio with a picnic dinner to watch the street musicians that perform nightly there.

In a seemingly unrelated aside that proceeded to take on a life of its own, we also discovered that Younger Brother is not a fan of U2. Specifically, he is not a fan of anything that U2 did after 1991 and, more specifically.....well, I'll leave that for it's own post.

On Day 3, before we had to head to Milan to catch our overnight train to Barcelona, we visited the Uffizi Gallery, where (in addition to Brown Cow and Gray Donkey), we saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "Advertising Helps Me Decide." If that's not a bigger plug for half my friends' professions, I don't know what is.

Florence is different from Venice in just about every regard, but it wound up being a wonderful place to spend two days, and I'd definitely return. Next up- Milan!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Scene In Which I Battle Inanimate Objects....Take 3 (In Italy)

In Venice we stayed at Locanda Armizo, which was an eight-room guest house located roughly three seconds from the Rialto Bridge.

Unfortunately, it took us about 45 minutes of walking every which way except that way, and one very interesting phone call with the receptionist who spoke virtually no English, to figure that out.

Rather than "just a short stroll from Rialto!" which is true but, ultimately, extremely unhelpful, the website directions should really be more specific, such as, I don't know, "Walk down the sidewalk next to the Grand Canal even though the other sidewalks all point away from it. When you kind of feel like you're walking towards a dead end, because you are, don't turn down any of the streets with the other hotels on them. Rather keep going until you literally hit the dead end. Then, go under the low, unlit archway that looks like it should be the entrance to some creepy person's house but in fact opens onto a very nice square. But if you actually hit the square you've gone too far; the door is under the archway."

I should also point out that that door is, in fact, the ONLY door to the hotel, a fact that we learned later on Saturday night. Because there were only a few rooms, the trick to the hotel is that you get a key to the front door in addition to your room, and you treat the place like your house.

On the inside of the door, there is a sign asking you to please be sure you secure the door for the benefit of your fellow guest.

Unfortunately, a Chinese couple that spoke neither Italian nor English misinterpreted the sign.

Thus, we battled the door, in The Scene In Which We Get Locked Out Of The Hotel.

Back to the story. Upon returning for the evening, the couple pulled the door shut, made sure the regular lock (openable with the key) was secure, and then slid the 4-inch brass deadbolt (not so much openable with a key), solidly into place.

Which brings us to how we came to be standing outside the hotel with a lovely family from Chile, waiting to see how the hotel management would handle the situation.

After ascertaining that, indeed, the door was firmly locked and that seven adults each attempting independently to open it hadn't just all been idiots, the manager proceeded to the square to ponder the open window of the Chinese couple.

First he tried calling.

Then he tried shouting.

Then he went into the bar, borrowed a broom, and beat on the side of the hotel.

This was all good, but not good enough, so he went back into the bar, borrowed a chair, placed it on the cobblestones outside the bar, balanced himself precariously, and beat the upstairs window with the broomstick. In case you are wondering this does look as funny as it sounds, and here's a photo to prove it.

This yielded a seriously confused guest, who after many vigorous hand gestures, finally understood the concept and came and unlocked the door.

Just to be sure the concept was enforced, the next morning the slide-latch had been taped over, with a large note proclaiming "Do Not Locked" on it.

That battle went to the door, as did the Battle of the Air Conditioning Unit, which the website had enthusiastically promised we'd have. And we did indeed have one- unfortunately, it was just located sort of behind the armoire, whose doors we'd opened without thinking to put away bags and which then sort of shielded the unit from us until the afternoon of our second day, when Traveling Companion was doing sit-ups on the floor and shut the armoire to have more space.

All in all, Locanda Armizo was decently recommendable, if not enthusiastically. The rooms were clean, the staff helpful, and they serve a lovely little breakfast to you in your room (mostly because the entire hotel is rooms, and there's nowhere else to eat). If you don't actually want to spend a lot of time in your hotel room it is a wonderful place to stay, perhaps a bit pricey but the location can't be beat. I'd also recommend that you steer clear of the restaurants right on the water nearby, as a far more affordable meal can be found just a few streets in from the canals.

And don't lock the deadbolt.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Scene In Which I Go To Venice

The trip started in Venice.

Side note-if, in reading my rambling thoughts and stories on this blog, you've ever found yourself really relating to me, then you need to go to Venice, because you will love it. GO. Go right now. Seriously, stop reading this blog and go book your ticket, and leave it open-ended, because you will not want to come back.

In a word, Venice is amazing.

Every corner is a beautiful scene, with two-, three- and four-story crumbling homes built straight up out of the canals and ancient wrought-iron balconies anchored to the sides. Windowsills and doorways are cluttered with terra cotta planters crammed full of every kind of ivy, greenery, hot pink geraniums, trailing peonies, and daisies. If you go, definitely go up in the tower in San Marco Plaza, because the views are stunning. Actual conversation from Day 2 of our travels:

Me: "Wow. Look at that."

Younger Brother: "What?"

Me: "That. That's just so beautiful."

Younger Brother: "Yeah...I feel like in Venice, that's just kind of redundant."

And it's true. You literally can't point out every beautiful scene, or photograph it, because you'd just have your camera pressed up to your face the entire time. So while I did take a ridiculous number of photos, we also took in the sights, including (deep breath): San Polo, San Salvador, the Rialto Bridge which was literally just seconds from where we were staying (photo of the Grand Canal, left), Manin district, Point Accademia, the Collection Peggy Guggenheim where the three of us took a short nap in the sculpture garden (probably frowned upon, but eh, whatever), Santa Monica della Salute, San Fosca, Ca' d'Oro, Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Chiesa di SS Giannni e Paolo, Monuma Colleoni, Palazzo Ducale and the Doge's Palace in San Marco Plaza, which is where I got attacked by the seagull.

Mmmhmmm. That's what I said. Attacked by a vicious.....seagull.

The three of us were eating lunch sitting at the bottom of a bridge where one of the lesser canals dumps out into the bay by San Marco. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the gondolas were floating by to let the tourists take in the scene- children playing, old ladies feeding pigeons in the square, seagulls circling and calling to each other high above our heads as I took a bite of yummy mozzarella panini and (quite luckily) turned my head towards the boys to comment on something or another.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of movement, and then a dark shadow fell over me. The next thing I knew a massive beast had landed on my upturned hand and was ripping the sandwich away and flapping its wings furiously against my shoulders and the sides of my neck as I (between the mouthful of mozzarella) managed to get out an "EEEEEEEEEEEK!!"

As soon as it began it was over, the offending gull flapping away victoriously with a hunk of panini clenched between its beak, though not before it managed to take a chunk out of my finger, which instantly swelled and began to bleed.


The looks on the boys faces were priceless - jaw dropped, eyes wide, and I'll give them credit that for about three seconds they managed to look concerned for my well being, until I came out with "WHAT THE F just happened!?!!? I can't BELIEVE I just got f-ing bitten by a SEAGULL!" and they (and, oh, about three hundred onlookers) burst into laughter.

Ironically, it turns out that the bridge we were sitting under is a well-documented bridge and the subject of several paintings that we saw throughout our trip. Should you ever stumble across a work depicting San Marco, look to the right-hand side of the painting at the bridge connecting the Doge's Palace to the square....and there you will find the infamous site of the Great Seagull Attack (pictured here, post-attack).

And that was Venice.

The Scene In Which I Go To Europe

As many of you know, I had the incredible opportunity to spend the last two weeks in Italy, Spain and France.

If you're wondering why you didn't already know that, ummmmm, it's because I had the incredible opportunity to spend the last two weeks in Italy, Spain and France, and instead of spending time blogging about being there, I just kind of enjoyed it instead :)

But now that I'm back, I have some pretty amazing (and funny) scenes to share with you all, including:

The Scene In Which I Go To Venice/Florence/Milan/Barcelona/Madrid/Paris, in their respective order, where I'll be sharing fun sites that we saw, what I would (and wouldn't) do again, hotel reviews, and generally amusing stories that Younger Brother, Traveling Companion, and I found ourselves in.

Other, longer stories to look forward to include:

The Scene In Which The Baby Jesus is Everywhere

The Scene In Which the Brown Cow and Gray Donkey Make Their Debut

The Scene In Which I Am Not a Fizz-icist

and one that I'm sure is going to be tons of fun to relive, The Scene In Which We Feel Like We Are Going To, But Don't Actually, Die On The Plane Coming Home.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, here's a quick rundown of how I wound up on this fantastic adventure, and an introduction to those who came with me:

The trip was originally conceived when Younger Brother announced that he wanted to take a monthlong law class in Madrid this summer. At the time, I was gainfully employed and had both a surplus of PTO time and a steady paycheck (hah!!) so, naturally, I wanted to go visit while he was there. Younger Brother's Good Friend, who is also a friend of mine and will be known as Traveling Companion henceforth, wanted to go as well, so the three of us decided to leave about a week before Younger Brother had to be at his program in Madrid and do some traveling in Spain.

Quickly realizing that flights to Spain from the States are outrageous, we researched the most economical places to fly into and chose Italy as our arrival point and Paris (since Traveling Companion has studied French extensively and speaks it fluently) as the leaving point for Traveling Companion and I, after we left Younger Brother in Madrid.

For the numbers people, our trip included 1 boat trip, 2 overnight train rides, 3 flights, 5 total trains taken, 6 cities visited, 10 nights in hotels, and over 100 miles walked.

So while I can't wait to tell you more about our adventure, for now, I'm off to take a quick nap!