Sunday, June 13, 2010


If you want to look at every one of the 1,000,000 photos we took, click here.

Last Day. Cool Day.

Sorry it's taken me about a month to say what happened in the last day of our trip.  I hope it's better late than it would be never.

First thing: Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy.  Really cool.  It's in another one of those no-name churches.  (With free entry.  Best part.)

Have you ever stood in line two hours for an art exhibit?  I don't think we ever had.  We read about this Caravaggio exhibit, where they were bringing together a bunch of his works from all the phases of his career.  In fact, we were pissed earlier because the Caravaggio section at the Ufizzi in Florence was closed, since they were loaning things to this Roman exhibit.  Anyway, yesterday we came down here to find a super long line, and decided it wasn't worth it.  We tried going to another church that houses his works, and just our luck, Thursday was the only afternoon when the church closed.  So we came back to try and get in line for the exhibit this morning before the museum even opened.  It was still long, though not quite like yesterday.  We waited about an hour before the door opened, then they started letting the people without reservations (the long line we were in) in 10 at a time, every 10 minutes.  We figured we still had a good hour and a half, but decided it was worth it-- we'd been foiled at every turn in our efforts to see Caravaggio, and he's one our favorites, and we were going to see him, darn it.  Anyway, we sent Nate back to the hotel to get books for us to read in line.  But-- big surprise-- the line started moving fast as soon as he left.  We had to let a few groups go ahead of us as we loitered at the front of the line before Nate finally returned.

Can I tell you, though, it was all so worth it.  Caravaggio was incredible.  So human.  He killed a guy during a tennis game and spent the last four of his 39 years on earth in exile.  The exhibit was so gorgeously set up, too.

After that was the Vatican.  I have to say it's cool to actually see these places that made such a deep impression on you in Martha Peacock's art history class freshman year.  Bernini's plaza out front of St. Peter's Basilica, with these colonnades that reach out like arms to gather you up into the arms of God's love.

Then we waited in line for the Vatican museum before finally getting in, and being swept along in a current of human sweat past about One Million Chunks of Classical Statuary.  It was sincerely ridiculous.  But we did see this gem:

There was actually a lot of great stuff there.  We saw some Raphael frescoes, including the School of Athens, you know, that famous one with Plato and Socrates, that guy from history.  Everyone was so intent on getting to the highlight at the end of the museum-- and there was just such an exhausting quantity of stuff-- they were just walking right past all this modern religious art toward the end of the museum.  Dali, Chagall, Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros-- it was really cool stuff, and Nate was the one who noticed it.  People were seriously just walking past as if it were some kids' kindergarten fingerpaintings that had been on the fridge for 7 months already.

Well, finally, we got there, and it was worth the wait: the Sistine Chapel.  It really was totally breathtaking.  Just go see it for yourself.  Photos were prohibited and I didn't want to be one of those farts who was trying to take pictures of it anyway.  A picture does nothing for it.  But man, did they pack the people in there.  It was practically shoulder to shoulder with people from all over God's great earth.  Which, you know, some might say cheapened it, but I actually thought it was kind of cool.

St. Peter's was also really impressive.  It's big, it's gold, it's fancy.  Fancy pants.

We sent postcards from the Vatican post office, with Vatican stamps-- it's its own country, after all.

Outside the Vatican, in one of the numberless touristy souvenir shops in the nearby streets, our backpack got stolen when we put it down to try on hooded sweatshirts.  Luckily I left this laptop in the hotel that day, so we didn't lose anything very pricey.

It rained, and we bought umbrellas from the Bangladeshi guys selling them on every street corner.  We were almost out of cash, so one guy took pounds.

Well, we had a few errands to run on our last day.  I have about 77 friends who got married while I was in Europe, so I wanted to get them something nice and also distinctly Italian.  I asked the hotel manager where I could get my hands on some good olive oil, and he directed me to a well-known wine shop a few blocks away.  TRIMANI.  The place was awesome-- huge-- shelves on shelves on shelves of wine, with one corner dedicated to olive oil.  Still, there was enough variety, and I'm enough of an olive oil novice, I asked the guy working there which olive oil was the best.  His name was Alessandro, and he's awesome.  He said, "It depends on what you want to use it for.  To drink . . . I prefer wine."  He then proceeded to tell us which oil was best for using with fish, and which oil was overpriced because it came from a famous wine farm, and which oil came only from one species of olive tree.  When I decided which one I wanted, he wrapped up the six or seven bottles I bought in bubble wrap since I'd have to pack them in my checked luggage.


We asked Alessandro if there were any good places to eat close by, and he thought about it really seriously.  He called over his boss Paolo, and they furrowed their brows trying to find the perfect place within our price range.  Paolo called a bunch of restaurants on the phone: "Nico! Paolo Trimani."  Yeah, as in, Trimani wine shop.  "Look, I've got three American kids in my shop looking for a good place to eat.  Do you have any tables tonight?"  Apparently a lot of people like the restaurants our new benefactors like, because the first couple of restaurants Paolo called were full for the night.  Finally he managed to reach Mauro at Tram Tram, who booked us a table.  We thanked Paolo and Alessandro, and Paolo said, "Tell Mauro, Paolo says hi."

We had to take a bus to Tram Tram, in the University district.  We delivered Paulo's greetings, and Mauro said he'd been expecting us.  The meal, guys, was exquisite.  Mussels-- have you ever had those?  Delicious.  Fried anchovies.  Swordfish.  There was a lot of other great food I can't even remember.  Panna Cotta.  It was awesome.  Mauro himself was our server.  

Then we came home.

So that was the trip.  Let's do it again sometime.


Sunday, June 6, 2010


So.  The Cherry Hostel.  Without a doubt the shadiest place we stayed.  It was run by this skinny guy named Silvio, with the help of an Asian girl who was dying her hair in the kitchen sink the night we got there.  There was a plaque on the front desk that Silvio had won at a poker tournament.  We had problems from the beginning - we had booked our reservation with the Asian girl, who apparently hadn't written it in the log or something.  So we stood by while she and Silvio shouted at each other for a couple minutes, then she led us to our bedroom.  The next morning at breakfast, people were talking about bedbugs.  Nate got a few bites.  Oh, and even though there were "No Smoking" signs everywhere, the owners of the place were smoking in the kitchen.  So we decided to make other hostel arrangements.  As we were leaving, this guy named Dino popped out of nowhere and demanded that we pay for an extra day because we canceled our reservations.  After some fruitless arguing, I said, "We have to go."  And we left.  It was kind of awesome.

That day we had the greatest focaccia sandwiches for lunch.  We knew we had found the right spot when we realized no one in the restaurant was speaking English.  We saw the Appian Way and got an awesome tour of the Catacombs from an Indian woman.  


The tour guide really was the highlight of the tour.  A guy asked if whether all the dead bodies would have made the catacombs really smelly, and she said, "You can be sure that it would, sir."  

It was nice being a little outside the city-- the Appian way just goes by these nice big spacious villas, and it's actually really pretty.  There's one part that still has the original black polygonal stones the Romans built it with.  Pretty cool.  We drank some Lemon Soda while we waited for the bus.  It's so good.  It has pulp.

(Did you know they make potato pizza here?  I guess you've probably heard of that before, but it's so good.  Like when you roast chunks of potato with rosemary, they just take those and put them on top of the pizza and cook it.  It's divine.)  

When we got back into the city we threw a coin in the Trevi fountain for good luck-- Rick Steves says it's supposed to mean you will come back to Rome next year.  Fingers crossed.  We got the second-best gelato in the world at San Crispino.  Mmm, ginger.  I think this is the day we saw Christ Bearing the Cross.  One of the cool things about Rome is that there is so much art to go around, even some of these little no-name churches get to have some.  There's this nondescript church with an elephant statue outside it, and inside is Michaelangelo's Christ Bearing the Cross.  Really lovely.  Oh.  Michaelangelo's Moses is a similar thing.  So awesome.  He's actually in the church that also holds the chains that held St. Peter.  Pretty cool.  

We went to the Spanish Steps, which is, according to the guidebooks, a pretty place where locals like to hang out, so of course we heard absolutely no one there speaking Italian.  But it was pretty.  The house where John Keats tried unsuccessfully to recover from tuberculosis is right next to them.  (We went to the bathroom in the McDonald's nearby-- in Rome, McDonalds's are CLASSY.  We were standing there agape when some Canadian people started sympathizing with us.  Clean, well-lit, well-designed-- everything a McDonald's in the USA is not.  There were screens playing video ads on the urinals.)  From the top of the steps, we watched for probably a half hour as these Bangladeshi guys would walk around with a bouquet of flowers, hand one to a girl as if it was free, and try and get the guy she was with to pay for it.  It was really funny.  Nate's the one who noticed what they were doing.  

From there we walked up the hill into Villa Borghese, kind of the Central Park of Rome, which was really nice.  BIG.  We only walked through a tiny chunk of it but it was really nice.  We've loved the parks in every big city we've been to-- Hyde Park, Engilscher Garten, and Villa Borghese.  

This is where we sat and tried to plan out the next day, our last day in Europe.  Villa Borghese park is up on this hill, so we walked down a different way than we'd walked up, along Via Veneto, which has all these swanky shops and restaurants and the enormous American Embassy.  Then we went home.

Rome metro.  It's a beautiful thing.


Thursday, May 13, 2010


Nate has discovered, through observation and experimentation, that in Rome’s metro the escalator handrails move slightly faster than the escalators.  If you put your hand right next to you at the bottom of the escalator and hold on for dear life, by the time you get to the top you’re reaching three feet in front of you, if you can even still hold on at all.  The world is a mysterious and beautiful place.

I’m reading Howards End and remembering why it’s one of my favorite books.  Sometimes I forget that I love reading, but I think that’s largely because I forget to read books I love.  It’s good to hang out again with old and loyal friends.

We’ve been here two days, and I think I’m in love.  The first day, we set out from the hostel to visit Ancient Rome, accompanied by a Brazilian couple staying in our hostel just as lost and disoriented as we were, who asked if they could come with us.  We found our way down to the Colosseum, where Carolinha and Tiago had to go buy their tickets whereas we already had ours and could skip the line.  Did you hear that?  We were the ones on the ball for once! 

The Colosseum was a lot cooler than I expected it to be.  We got to walk around this very old and very enormous structure, reading explanatory blurbs that made the place seem frighteningly similar to the average modern-day sporting event.  They’d fill it up with 50,000 people by advertising that there would be prize giveaways or that the crowd would be sprayed with flower petals or perfumes.  There was even a canvas they could stretch over the top to protect the spectators from the sun—operated by sailors from the Roman fleet, who knew all about hoisting canvas with ropes.  There were underground tunnels they’d keep the lions and bears and boars in to surprise the gladiators as they popped out from any side of the arena.  Oh, and in early incarnations of the building, the tunnels could be dismantled and that space filled with water for reenactments of naval battles.  I mean it was a really cool venue.  They even had preserved ancient graffiti scratched into the stones from like 200 AD.

The rest of the ancient ruins were spectacular, but I don’t have time to tell you all about them here.  Briefly: the Forum, the original senate hall, a bunch of legal buildings, the rostrum where Roman citizens could stand up and speak their minds to the multitudes, temples, basilicas, palaces, an emperor’s private stadium, and my favorite: the huts of Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders.  All these buildings were in varying states of ruin, but more than anything it was just cool to look out over the huge square containing all the ruins and imagine what it must have been like in its heyday.  This is pretty much where Western civilization as we know it took shape.

There are tons of Baroque churches in Rome, or medieval churches with Baroque facades.  In fact, we’ve come to the conclusion that most every church in Rome has the same history: ancient Roman basilica, burned in a fire, rebuilt by a later emperor, sacked with the fall of Rome, rebuilt as a fortress, burned, rebuilt as a Christian church, burned, rebuilt as a Renaissance or Baroque church. 

However: there is one church with a slightly different story.  The Pantheon, the most impressive of Rome’s ancient buildings because it was never burned or sacked, but has been in continual use since it was built in the first or second century after Christ.   It’s got this huge dome with a hole in the top you can feel raindrops come through.  The place is just stunning.

Nearby we found the best Gelato of our lives.  I’m not going to tell you where it is so it doesn’t get overrun with tourists, but it has a signed photo of Chris Cornell on the wall.  The pistachio tasted like pistachio, the hazelnut tasted like hazelnut, and the grapefruit tasted like grapefruit.  They were the most true- to-life, not-too-sugary flavors any of us had ever encountered.  I just, ah, there are no words.  There are no words. 

Tried going to a movie to get out of the rain that night, but we couldn’t find any original language theaters—“only Italian.”  Which was cool because walking around and talking to people, we got to just see a lot of Italians.  Rome is a COOL place to watch people.  Italians are awesome, and there are lots of Latinos and tons of Asians.  Bangladeshis stand on every street corner to sell you umbrellas when it rains—I bought one—and our hostel was actually in a very densely Chinese area of town.

Ah, our hostel.  There’s so much more to tell you about that, and about our second day in Rome, but I’m falling asleep at the keyboard and we’ve got another earlyish morning tomorrow, so I’ll leave it for now.  Oh, SPQR stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, or something, meaning, the Senate and People of Rome, in use since ancient times, and now the city’s motto, on ancient statues and modern manhole covers and taxis.   Oh, and on the old public drinking fountains everywhere.

It’s uncanny how often on this trip one sight or sound or word evokes the same response in two or all of us— recalling a piece of family lore or supplying a quote from Little Britain or something.  Annie and Nate even spontaneously started singing the same song at the same time once.  We really do share a culture.  It’s cool to be reminded of that.

Photos tomorrow.  Love y’all.



We slept in on Tuesday morning, ate breakfast at the hostel, and set off on the road toward Vernazza, town 4 of Cinque Terre.  After walking for a few minutes, Nate had the idea to see what happened if we tried hitch-hiking.  So when the next vehicle passed – a tiny pick-up truck with barely the umph to make it up the steep hills – we stuck out our thumbs.  The nice farmer driving it let us climb into the bed of his truck!  So we zoomed up the hills that would have taken us hours to walk.  

The engine was revving loudly, but we made it to a fork in the road where the driver let us out, refusing to take any coins for his trouble.  He said something to the effect of “jkdaos fjksda nfdkas nowndkj Vernazza,” pointing to the path on the left, and “sanogan osdagn owekgks qoasdets San Bernadino, cinco minute!”, pointing us straight forward.  We actually ended up taking the path on the right, which was a foot path towards San Bernadino.  Oh, I forgot to mention the weather.  It wasn’t raining yet, but the hills were immersed in a deep fog.  

As we squelched along the muddy path, we couldn’t see farther than 100 feet ahead.  We made it to the tiny town of San Bernadino, which was completely closed up because of the weather, and headed off for Vernazza.

We had some difference of opinion as to whether we should take the foot path or the road.  Just like last time we were hiking, Nate’s insistence that we keep going on the “path less travelled” turned out to be exciting.  Almost too exciting.  As we traversed the steep slope of rocky switchbacks toward Vernazza, the threatening grumbles of thunder became more frequent.  After a particularly loud one, it started pouring.  

The rain was heavy and wet (thankfully not too cold!).  We were lucky we had reached the outskirts of town by this time, where the paths were mostly stones.  If we had been caught on the muddy hillside, we would probably have slipped off the edge.  We could hear cheers and screams and see camera flashes coming from the train station below as we ran toward Vernazza.  It was epic.  The second time we have become a tourist attraction in and of ourselves in Cinque Terre.  Needless to say, we were soaked by the time we reached the train station, so we just trained back to La Spezia (there wasn’t much to do in Vernazza in the rain) and took the rest of the day to recover from the flash flood. 

We tried the two typically La Spezian dishes – a soup made of garbanzo beans, white beans, and wheat berries, and Farinata: basically a giant pancake made of garbanzo flour.  They were both really good, but probably our favorite treat in La Spezia was churros con nutella y chocolate blanco. 


P.S. to B,J,C:
I write this from the train going to the place where all roads lead.
It’s not the city our family lived in while Wayne was in Elementary School.
It’s not the opposite of “less”.
It’s certainly not the way some Koreans might pronounce the name of the little red monster on Sesame Street.
Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Old Testament Experiences

Wow, what a day.  Cinque Terre is amazing.  We woke up in Florence yesterday and walked through those charming streets one more time on our way up to the train station.  The train to La Spezia was nice but nothing special.  My favorite trains so far have been the German trains.  We arrived in La Spezia and we were starving.  We found this place owned by a Pakistani guy that sold Doner Kebab sandwiches and it was totally bomb.  He loaded each one up with so much meat!  It was truly grande.  

We moseyed trough La Spezia down to the sea to catch a ferry to Cinque Terre.  We helped some Canadian people on the way and they gave us some brewskys. . . . .not!  But we did help them.  Unfortunately the ferries to Cinque Terre were not running because the seas were "too rough".  So we walked back through the town up to the train station and caught a train to Riomaggiore, the first Cinque Terre city. 

Okay, you really have no idea how awesome these little coastal towns are.  They are beyond picturesque.  They are so incredible, that they have made Cinque Terre an official national park.  Dead serious.  So we walked around Riomaggiore for a bit and then we started to hike toward the next Cinque Terre city, Manarola. 

Let me tell you how these hikes work: The five Cinque Terre cities are connected by a large paved path that goes right along the shore.  This is the path that most everybody takes because it’s the most direct, the least strenuous, and the most popular.  We took this route from Riomaggiore to Manarola, called the “via dell’ amore”.  But this shore line tourist path was closed from Manarola onwards, so we had to take the mountain trails.  These trails are 10 times cooler.  They aren’t paved and they often go through people’s vineyards and gardens.  It’s radical.  We took one of these routes to Corniglia.  It was one of the coolest trails I’ve ever done.  It seemed like we were in New Testament times, hiking through the mount of olives, or going to the sermon on the mount.  There was even this little stone structure that looked like it could’ve been the place where they laid Jesus in the tomb.  Plus, we got to go through this tiny village at the top of the hill called Volastra, and there were countless vistas overlooking the Cinque Terre that were too beautiful to even try to describe.  So we took this round-about mountain path to Corniglia but it was well worth it.  Seriously it is one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. 


Steep mountain paths.

Garden tomb?  There were olive trees AND fig trees all around the path.


Okay, before hiking from Manorola to Corniglia, we wanted to swim.  Unfortunately, we all forgot our swimming suits, so we dropped 52 euros on swimming suits and goggles.  We changed into our trunks and then headed down to the rocky cove at the seaside edge of Manorola.  It was pretty cold, but it was so worth it.  There was this big rock that you could climb up on and I went to go check the depth next to it because I wanted to cliff jump.  It was plenty deep so I climbed up this rocky mass and jumped off.  It was SOO AWESOME!!!  It was probably a good twenty feet maybe 25.  Anyway, we all did it and got some sweet pics too.  Other tourists were watching us, and we got some applause and I even heard a ‘bravo’. 

After swimming we were faced with a dilemma; we wanted to change into dry clothes for the hike, but we didn’t know where we could change.  Wayne decided just to strip down and change right there on the rocks.  So he did.  After all, as he said, it’s Europe right?  So a few people in Manarola saw a full-moon on the shore yesterday.  Classic.  Annie had the guts to do it too, with the help of Wayne providing some privacy with a towel.  I was the chicken, so I hiked in my swimming suit. 

We got in to Corniglia around 9:00ish PM and checked into our hostel.  Then Wayne and I went to search for food while Annie showered.  We found this excellent restaurant called La Posada and sat down, planning to just get take out.  When we tried to explain this to the man who seated us, we had some problems.  First of all, he spoke very little English or Spanish, so communicating that we wanted to take the food to our sister in the hostel was a challenge.  Finally he understood, and he was very adverse to our proposal.  It was preposterous to him for us to not eat in the restaurant.  So Wayne and I decided to just eat there and just save food for Annie to take back after we finished. 

The meal was AMAZING.  It was legit---super good spaghetti with pesto sauce and incredibly fresh, delicious sea food.  We set aside portions of everything to take back to Annie.  When we tried to explain to the man that we needed a box or something to take back the food to our sister, he rolled his eyes, but consented.  He was actually a really sweet guy.  He came back out with nice ceramic dishes---they had no boxes for take out.  That’s how authentic this place was.  He was so nice, he let us take his own dishes and asked us to bring them back tomorrow morning. 

Thus ends the 18th day of the Europe trip of Wayne, Nate, and Annie.     


Monday, May 10, 2010

not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4: 5 lands.

Today was a landmark day.  I want Nate to tell you about it.  But there's been so much beauty and such fantastic smells that we're all tired like dead baby log-dogs.  So we'll tell you about it soon-- maybe even when we wake up from a deep, dreamless, and refreshing sleep-- but in the meantime, we'll let your brains chew on THIS to figure out where the heck we are.  

Yeah, you read that right:  crossword puzzle!!!!  Maybe if you just click on that picture, guys, you can get a big version of it to print off.  Anyway:  here's the rules of the game.

The only clues in this puzzle are down.  The bold-outlined boxes going across the middle spell the name of the city we're sleeping soundly as dead log baby rock dogs in.  


1. Concentration camp outside Munich
2. "Exit", in Paris
3. Burts' dog
4. Letters in David's calf
5. "Bless you", in Berlin
6. Beatles drummer's first name
7. 3 ne. 11:12.  3rd line, 2nd word
8. "Los Suns" hometown
9. Best point guard in the NBA, no matter what happens in today's game.