Monday, June 15, 2015

The Babe Goes To Amsterdam

Our last weekend in Europe had a cast of six. My darling wife Raquel, the Israeli Ukrainian Alex, the perpetually stoned Dutchmen Eric, his infinitely optimistic Japanese wife Nolico, and our begrudgingly kind tour guide, Eric’s friend Seger. After a night of drinking jaegermister in Utrecht and a morning exploring this picturesque town in the Netherlands we set out for Amsterdam.

We arrived in Amsterdam around the serendipitous time of 4:20, and set out to find a coffee shop. Our brains addled, we set out on what Seger contemptuously described as a time honored tourist tradition of Amsterdam: wandering aimlessly in search of food.

To our credit it wasn’t entirely the fault of the tetrahydrocannibinol, there were factors working against us. The first pizza place we went by had a long line, the middle eastern shop had decent enough falafel for a snack but lacked ambience, the burrito place was sold out of everything except grisly beef, the slew of Italian restaurants we passed didn’t have room for six, and the two signs for Indonesian restaurants were inexplicably hung over either empty boxes or a brick walls with no windows. An hour later, to my delight and Seger’s dismay, we ended up at a restaurant three doors down from the coffeeshop that we’d started at. We dined on mediocre pizza that our munchies made into something amazing.

Fed and thirsty we set out for a bar. Again, indecision is the enemy of the stoned, yet we managed to find a string of bars quick enough. Fearing that we’d end up walking in circles on the sidewalk, I tried to lead the group into a spot boasting craft beers, but Eric intervened.

“We are in Amsterdam! Why do you want to drink Brooklyn Lager?”

I stammered some lame excuse but followed Eric into the place he described as punk-rock with little argument.

Inside, I realized for the umpteenth time how great it is to visit someone instead of somewhere. The bar was called “Ruig,” Dutch for “Raw” and it was amazing. It had exposed wiring on the ceiling, plywood for a front door, old exposed brickwork and 4 hipsters arguing over which funky piece 80’s vinyl they were going to put on next. Bless that Dutchmen’s sense of smell.

“All they need is an old Japanese man and this place would be perfect!” Alex declared.

We ordered Belgian style trippels from the oldest brewery in Amsterdam and proceeded to party. Before too long we found the couch, and half lounged, half danced with skills so hot we lured the whole damn city to come party Ruig-style.

We drank and smoked and drank some more. Laughing and reminiscing and just generally making me realize how important friends are on this great big planet we all call home. Here we were, people from Texas, Isreal, Japan and Utrecht, all laughing and dancing our hearts out because we were with people we loved enough to feel at home.

So comfortable were we that Nolico fell asleep with her arms wrapped around Eric’s belly. Try as he might, Nolico could not be revived from her slumber until he told her it was time to go. We did our best to hide our tears and hugged our goodbyes to the people that only need good music and a couch to make us feel at home anywhere on the planet.

With half of our party departed, Raquel, Alex and I kicked it up a notch.  We kept the beer flowing and the dance moves bumping. So notorious were we with the bartenders that they made a point of putting more of our precious trippels in the fridge for us.

“There’s only two left, don’t worry, we’ll bring ‘em to you once they’re cold,” they said and we felt all warm and cozy.

“Do we need to close the tab before we run across the street to the coffee shop?” Alex asked.

They looked at him as if he’d spoken Japanese.

“You’re coming back right?”

“Yeah! this place is great!”

“You can pay later of course,” the thought of us bailing on the bill never crossed their minds. They must’ve known we liked the music too much.

Across the street we wandered and proceeded to do the exact opposite of what we’d been told to do.

We’d just met a man named Willem, a Scottish Dutchmen, who’d assured us that yes the coffeeshop was open, but that for the love of Bob Marley don’t get that “tourist-hairspray-stoned-off-your-ass-shit” He swore by the stuff mixed with tobacco, and told us that the green stuff would knock us on our ass and end our party.

But when confronted with a menu including the likes of White Widow and Purple Haze, I couldn’t bring myself to make my darling wife imbibe more tobacco, so we got the green stuff, went back to the bar, lit up, and realized Willem had been 100% correct.

“You guys kinda got a going home vibe,” he told us and we shook our heads no and told him that we weren’t going anywhere until he turned his back. We giggled while we paid the tab and got the hell out.

We wandered home through the red light district, lingering just long enough to sense the unmistakable charge of sexuality the ladies of the night exuded, yet not long enough to be nauseated by it.

The next morning we set goodbye to Alex and wiled our day away lounging in the park, going to Van Gogh museum and thinking about our two month adventure through Europe, and our year abroad.

So now’s the time I should say my grand realizations about life, the world, and everything, but alas doing so feels too grand a task for one as ignorant as I, so instead I’ll quote that woman of infinite wisdom, that muse of magic and lover of life, my darling Raquel.

Raquel loves travelling and hates to travel. She says there’s no better feeling than running for a train or the moment when she first sits down on a plane and knows that she’ll soon be somewhere she’s never been and can’t possibly imagine.

But arriving is always a disappointment.

Travelling is expensive, exhausting, and the big stuff’s always a let-down. The monuments are smaller than you thought, less garish than you’d expect. The lines are only worth the wait because there’s nothing else to do. Raquel says that what really matters about a place is the people and the food. If you’re fed the food that they’d feed their mama, life is good, and if they do it with a smile and share a drink with you the meal’s all the better.

I think she’s awfully jaded for such a young beautiful woman, but then again, I can’t really say a thing. My experience is different from hers for every dish I taste, every joke I crack, every monument I photograph is made sweeter by her smile, her laughter, her presence. For me travelling with My Babe is effortless because everywhere we go is an adventure of amazement or the absurd.

Are there places I still want to go? Of course, but as long as she’s with me, it doesn’t have to be any farther than the grocery store. At least until she wants to run for another train. I’ll be racing to keep up.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Desoration Go hit Utrecht

My half Mexican, half Columbian wife Raquel and our Ukrainian Israeli friend from a village in Japan met our Dutch friend and his Japanese wife in a bar on the streets of Ultrecht. Only they didn’t know Raquel and I were coming.

We sat quietly giggling while Alex talked to Eric on the phone.

“Yes… yes… ok got it. Ok We’ll be right there.”

We’ll?Raquel and I gasped, “You’re going to give away the whole surprise!”

The three of us piled into a cab, eager to surprise them yet all quite convinced we’d already ruined the show. We were driving past the bar when I spotted Eric hanging onto a door frame, grinning like a fool.

Stop the car!

We all piled out. We had a plan, and we almost stuck to it. Alex went off first, muscled his way through the crowd, and greeted Eric with a big hug and a bigger exclamation of, “Oh Eric so nice to see you!” We lifted our newspapers up and approached.

Alex still swears we botched the surprise, because Eric and Nolico didn’t actually see our newspapers, but everyone else on the street did. Dutch men and women poked and prodded at the two Americans pushing through the crowded street reading newspapers by the light of a streetlamp. One particularly bold Dutchman even tried to light my newspaper on fire. Hardy-har-har!

Despite the Dutch’s murderous sense of humor, we managed to get next to Eric and Nolico without being seen. Now, the plan was for us to simply wait there, reading our papers at 11:00 at night until Alex said something like, “if only, if only the young Americans were here!” then voila, we’d drop the papers and grin, but adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I had no patience. So instead of waiting the ten to fifteen seconds it’d take Alex to say the line, I dropped my newspaper to the ground and threw my arm around Eric’s shoulder.

“What the fuck?” he managed to say before his mouth seized up and contorted back into that foolish grin of his.

“Nolico, look what Eric got for his birthday,” Alex said and Raquel dropped her paper and exposed her winning smile.

I once thought that I had experienced joy. Certainly that Christmas when against all odds my dad got me a playstation2, or when my darling wife walked down the aisle into my arms, but after seeing Nolico’s reaction, all of this falls short.

She began with a high pitched scream that silenced not only the patio, but the people inside and at the bar next door, then moved in to an amazingly acrobatic series of jumps and mid-air twists before squeezing Raquel so tight I thought she’d pop. This accomplished she grinned at me and began to repeat “un-fucking-believable” until this overwhelmed her so much she dropped to her knees and we had to drag her back to her feet.

I will remember her reaction to that surprise for the rest of my days, and I’m sure the rest of the bar will too.

They certainly remembered us that night. Indeed, it seemed we’d been marked. We moved on to drinking Dutch beer and Jägermeister, an explosive mix if there ever was one. We got to chatting, we hadn’t seen any of these people in months after all, but the bartender was none too pleased with our excitement.

“No shouting, you can sing, but no shouting,” he said and hid behind the bar.

Alex and I looked at each other as only enraged drunkards can.

“No shouting?” Alex asked.

“No shouting,” I replied.

“But we can sing?” Alex asked.

“But we can sing,” I replied.

“Then we will S-I-I-I-I-I-I-INNNG!” Alex belted and Raquel and I cackled louder than any of our previous shouts.

Each time the bartender came by Alex would ask for further stipulations on this no shouting rule, “What about yelling? Can we yell?”

The bartender was not amused.

So displeased was he in fact that when Nolico ordered the third round of Jägermeister, he brought waters instead. I think Nolico’s hair was about to burst into flame she was so furious.

“Never in my life! Never have I been declined a drink!”

“In Holland anything can happen,” Eric said from behind that foolish grin.

I giggled enough to wake up from my nap, but after all the excitement, I was actually relieved to have a reason to leave the bar. We had a day in the Netherlands to prepare for, and I was going to need my rest.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wwoofing in a Herd of Goats

Its hard to get past the goats on Glean Gabhra. There were over a hundred of them, a hundred and fifty if you counted the bleating kids who wanted nothing more than to be constantly fed either hay, kibbles or the sweaty end of my shirt.
Our jobs, really all jobs with animals, really only involved two basic concepts: food in, shit out.
Each morning we had to measure out portions of the equivalent of kibbles and bits for goats into planting trays (for the goats would destroy anything else less sturdy), serve the most delicious hay (the stinky silage was for the older goats) and give ‘em all fresh straw. I was amazed at how much the little creatures could eat. We’d feed them at 9:00, and by 10:00 their food all be gone.
I brought this to the attention of Dominic who told me to start ratcheting up their food intake. The sooner they get up to weight, the sooner they can get off milk, the sooner we could put them all in one big pen instead of 8 smaller ones. They were kept in smaller pins for two reasons: one, the slats in the pallets they had for walls could actually contain them, and two, if they were to all stay in the same one, it would be impossible to give them all milk.
We were also especially eager to get them all into one central pen because then we wouldn’t have to water them all by hand. There was no hose nearby, so the only way to get them all water was to fill up two buckets, one for each hand, and carry it to them. This quickly became my least favorite chore.
“Entire cities have risen and fallen because people didn’t have to carry water!” I’d rail on, while Raquel would grunt and fill another bucket for the goats. But I understood why we couldn’t mix them, they were always so voraciously hungry. One pen was so monstrously excitable one of them managed to snag her ear on the handle of the bucket and rip her tag clean off! And the little monster didn’t even mind, she just kept slurping away, her bloody ear painting half of her face like the goat version of Rambo.
My favorite of the little goats though, was one of what Dominic affectionately called the Gremlins. The Gremlins were the free range goats. There were about six of them, and they’d all come to be Gremlins for different reasons, some were born early or late so were too big or small to mix in with the others, some hadn’t been dehorned, but they were all equally adept at escaping their pens.
I spent an entire afternoon rounding up gremlins. Well, not exactly. To concentrate on catching a goat that knows you want to catch it is to concentrate on finding the end of a rainbow. Ain’t gonna happen. So instead, whenever Raquel and I were deep in conversation, or Dominic was asking me to do a new task, I’d lunge out and snag a gremlin. By the afternoon they were all penned up, until the next morning when I discovered that five of the six I’d worked so hard at catching had escaped. One even seemed to like the game. She followed us everywhere, and responded to any grabs by snuggling. We named her Peggy Sue, and we love her.
Another day I had to try my hand at wrangling adult goats. 17 of them were Dominic’s herd, and the other 80 or so were all recently purchased, so he kept them separate because  that was about the size of a milking batch. This all worked great until Tato (His finest and goatiest goat) managed to open her gate and lead her crew to mingle with the goats from Holland.
Dominic asked if I could round them up, and to my credit, I got about a dozen of them. I chased them down, cut them off, cornered them and finally corralled them away from the herd and back to their pen. I was sweating, tired and angry that a bunch of animals whose big questions about the universe can be answered by chewing on it, had managed to out-maneuver me! I simply didn’t have the emotional fortitude or the physical energy to chase the rest down.
So what did Dominic do? He all but looked at the last ones and they walked over.

“Its in the eyes, see.” He tells me.

I guess that means I fall somewhere else on the food chain, but I still think he was messing with me. He’s got those goats trained to show city-kids how to break a sweat, the only ploy I should’ve seen through was Dominic’s.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wwoofing on Glean Gabhra

Between the goats, the cows, the garden, and the liters of sweat, milk and pus, it’s hard to measure time on a farm. To sort time on a farm chronologically is an impossibility because each day is not a day unto itself. The tasks blend together. The time spent in the garden can be condensed into watching the tomatoes grow, while hours passed milking flow together as surely as the milk of Glean Gabhra’s one hundred some odd goats.

I have to sort my memories by subject, for then the two weeks seems a time of growth and learning, of beginnings and middles and never-endings, instead of what it was: a non-stop rollercoaster work, fun and farming.

The first thing I noticed on Glean Ghabra was a cow. She had no name, but her two sons, Hamlet and Henry were strong and healthy. Dominic had the mind to raise them as oxen to pull carts in the movies. The only problem with these two beautiful calves growing fatter by the day was that their mother wasn’t the least bit interested in eating. It takes grass to make milk, and without it her calves had turned her into a skeleton.

I met her shortly after being asked if I would go twist the cow’s tail. Thinking this was some kind of Irish expression for good old-fashioned fun I headed outside with a grin on my face. What I found was Dominic wrestling the cow into a paddock of fresh grass.

“Move!” He bellowed.  

But she didn’t. Not an inch.

Here she was, ribs jutting from sunken flesh, standing in front of a paddock of lush grass, and she wouldn’t go in to eat. So Dominic told me to twist her tail.

I grabbed her thick ropy muscle of a tail, thinly veiled in hair, and gave it a half-hearted tug. I mean, I didn’t want to hurt the poor girl. Dominic frowned and asked if I understood the concept. She wasn’t going to go in for pleasure, so we had to try pain. I stared at this man I had just met as if he’d asked me to throw a box of kittens into a volcano.

“Harder,” he said, and I obeyed. I twisted a bit more then a bit more and before I knew it I’d forgotten all about the cow’s feelings. I just wanted her to move, Move, MOVE! But she wouldn’t. I twisted with both hands, I tried different parts of her tail, but nothing. Finally I drew my hand back, like I’ve seen cowboys do in countless movies, but Dominic stopped me.

“Don’t hit the cow,” his eyes were ice.

Dominic went behind her, grabbed her tail, and bellowed in an angry mixture of Flemish, Irish and English. Whatever it was, it was terrifying, and it got the big girl to move. She did a lap or two around the paddock then stopped and stared at us.

We went in for dinner, and afterwards I watched Dominic sip his cup of coffee and watch the cow.

“Do you understand how bizarre this is? A cow does not stare. A cow is either eating grass or chewing cud.”

I found myself wondering how could this man who’d been so willing to inflict pain on this poor defenseless animal care so much about her. He watched her every move, every twitch of muscle, all the while mumbling under his breath, cursing, begging, and praying that she would eat.

And I realized I had no conception of what a cow is or what a cow does. I didn’t know how much they ate, or how often they drank or why an electric fence is better than barbed wire. I didn’t know how long ago she calved or how a normal cow behaves. All I knew was that this man cared deeply for the health of this animal, and that I had a lot to learn.

But not to worry, livestock have a way of educating even the most urbanized of us brainless humans. For my adventure with Henry and Hamlet’s mother was just beginning. For it was time to put her to bed.

It was 10:00pm, and nearly dark, and Dominic wanted to get her back into the barn for fear she’d break the fence. I, for the second time in an hour, doubted the wisdom of this man who’d been farming for a lifetime. After all, I’d vaulted the fence earlier, and it hadn’t so much as jiggled, but I followed him out to meet the cow.

She wandered around the paddock, away from the door.

“I was afraid of this,” Dominic said and motioned for me to cut her off.

Perhaps too many Nature documentaries of hunts on the saranghetti have duled my brain, for I figured stealth was my best option. I hid behind an old chicken coop while Dominic led her around the far side. Right when the cow was about to round the corner and discover me I popped out and reached for the rope dandling from her face.

She did not like this.

She did not like this at all.

She liked this so little she obliterated the fence that I’d so recently hopped. But obliterated isn’t the right word. One second, there was a fence, the next second, the cow was where the fence was and the fence was no more. I was frozen, my mouth hanging open in stupefied horror at what I’d let happen. Dominic didn’t have time for that though.

“Don’t let her get into the field!”

She was heading for an open pasture that even my city-borne senses knew that if she made it into it she’d be impossible to control. Adrenaline surged and some ancient herdsmen instinct kicked in and I took off to block her. I made it to the entrance, spread my arms, tried not to close my eyes, and prepared to be trampled to death.

Somehow, perhaps realizing she’d have to dirty her hooves, the cow changed direction. She headed off towards the barn, where Dominic was able to corral her back to her two young calves.

She quieted down, and Dominic sent me off to bed.

She got a visit from the vet the next day. The consensus being her rumen wasn’t working, so I was tasked with holding this 1500 pound animal while Dominic squirted, not one, not two, not three, but four batches of the grass-digesting bacteria down her throat while he clamped his fingers in her nose to keep her head up and mouth open. Again I found myself somewhat revolted in this barbaric behavior. Here I was, allowing this man to pour liters of foul-smelling bacteria down her throat. Clearly the cow didn’t like it. You could tell by her face that she thought it was all yucky!

How could he do this to such a poor creature? She was much happier with the hay I gave her once Dominic left. She liked it so much that she spit it up and ate it again. After the previous night’s encounter even the sound of her broad teeth masticating grass sounded powerful to me.

I told this to Dominic, that maybe she just needed to be hand-fed and he looked at me like I’d just spoken Japanese.

“She’s eating?” he managed to ask.

I nodded.

“And you saw her chew her cud?”

I nodded and Dominic almost burst into tears. And for the first time on the farm I felt I understood but a fraction of this enigmatic man.

If she didn’t want to eat, he knew that he’d have to make her or she’d die.

Over the next week I watched in amazement as this skeleton of a cow returned to health.

Dominic later confided in me that the farmer who’d asked him to care for the cow didn’t think she’d last another week. And all I could do was smile and do my damnedest not to let him know how close I had come to opening my fat mouth and telling him not to hurt her or force her to eat and to just leave her be and let her starve, because at least she’d be happy.
City kids. We know nothing.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Italy in 5 Days: Venice

Venice is magic. To get into the city of canals we crossed a bridge on an old train half-limping along. Thousands of tourists disembarked with us and headed towards San Marco square, so we headed in the opposite direction. Over canals with singing gondola drivers and between buildings fighting over alley space we walked, desperate to get lost. After three dead ends and two empty canals we found it utterly impossible to find ourselves and stopped for a sandwich. We shared a bench with an old woman feeding pigeons and admired a community garden next to a fountain pumping water into the square. In Rome I understand the fountains, but in Venice? There was no aquaduct next to the train. Are there clean springs that flow hidden in the muddy water?

Hungry only for adventure we decided it was time to become found again. And it’s not hard to find the famous square in Venice. Simply follow the shops. If you start out in the area, as we did, with plumbing stores and children’s dental clinics, you are far, far away from the action. Follow the sound of the accordion. You’ll come to a square with postcards and bottle openers. You are getting closer. Look for masks and marionettes. If you see the shops with men laying papier-mâché you are getting closer to the madness. They will not notice you, nor beckon you to enter, but you should step inside to masquerade as someone else. Step out of the shop and back into yourself and go further, towards the din of the people, the smell of lousy coffee. You’ll come to a bridge filled with more masks and blown glass. This isn’t the handmade stuff you saw just a few twists and turns ago, this is mass-produced bullshit made to sell to the masses  who don’t want to spend the extra ten bucks it costs to get something handmade instead of a stolen forgery made of plastic.

You are close. Follow the hordes, don’t stop for the overpriced pizza or pasta, go on to San Marco square. You won’t miss it. After the twists and turns of Venice back alleys it is sprawling and wide and open. To be sure, compared to getting lost in the streets it’s not as fun, but its worth waiting in the line to go into the cathedral for thirty minutes. While you wait you can watch the first digital clock in existence. It has a twenty-four hour hand that spins through the zodiac while every five minutes the minutes roll over to mark time’s passage. You must watch, for the line moves fast and you wont have many chances to see it move.

Once inside the church, we paid the three euros to see the treasure. Inside we found: St Pete’s leg discovered in 971 (begging the question, where was it kicking around?), a shrunken hand, various ribs, teeth and fingerbones encased in rock crystal or glass and locked away with golden hinges and jeweled locks, and the piece de resistance, a rock. At least, that’s all it appeared to be to me at first inspection. Rather than being encased in rock glass it was mounted in the center of a crucifix. Raquel deduced this could mean only mean it wasn’t any rock, but the rock, that is the most famous rock in Christian history. That’s right. We saw the rock that some dude through at Jesus’s head. Upon closer inspection, I reckon I saw some blood still on it. Chilling.

Legs seen and rocks admired we set back out into Venice to get lost again. We managed to do so quite well, only this time in conversation with an English literature professor and his main squeeze from Denmark near a shimmering pool of beer. We talked of past injuries, my inevitable fame, and the importance of travelling to famous places and keeping the hell away from famous places.  The conversation flowed quite easily we stayed late enough to nearly miss our train, but thankfully we piled upon it with nary a hitch, and were off to Lugano.  

Thus my tale is completed. Italy: 5 cities in 5 days. I do not advise travelling like this, it is a tiring and smelly but then again, when every day’s an adventure of fresh horizons, with new people to meet and great places to snub its certainly better than a week at the office. Your turn.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Italy in 5 Days: Margherra

After a brief wait in Florence when Raquel offended the locals, we boarded our train and made it to Margherra, a town just outside Venice. We marched thirty minutes, much further than our AirBnB host had promised past buildings with overgrown lawns that had fresh laundry drying on the line. Exhausted and annoyed we arrived to find the cutest AirBnB host the world has ever seen.
She showed us around her place, explained how the busses worked and asked if we were hungry. When we told her we were going to try to go into Venice that night, she gasped.
“But it is 9:30, the busses stop running at midnight, and you look so very tired and hungry.”
Well, maybe we should just eat instead.
“Yes, that is good. Come with me I will take you to a restaurant. It is good.”
So, dressed only in her pajamas and slippers, so led us around a corner, past a prostitute skillfully jiggling her wares and to the best meal we’ve eaten in Italy. But of course we didn’t know that yet. All we knew about Italian food was that it is overpriced and designed to look good on a menu. Taste is unimportant because most people will never return. We had decided days before to eat only while standing up. They may ruin a plate of pasta, but it seems against the Italian nature to serve lousy bread or salami. Yet here we were, about to sit down at a restaurant, throw our money away because we were hungry and tired and out of options.
“It is good, sit down,” our host said, and was gone.
We briefly debated setting out for somewhere else, but seeing as the only other human activity was prostitutes, we decided to go ahead and eat there. We sat down and the waitress began to chatter away in Italian. She obviously recognized me look of bewilderment for she focused her verbiage on Raquel.
“Yadda-yadda-yadda antipasti?”
“Uh…” Raquel replied.
 “Yadda-yadda-yadda primeri spaghetti?”
Even I know that one.
The waitress vanished and Raquel turned pale.
“I have no idea what we just ordered.”
I shrugged. I was hungry enough to eat a horse. How bad could it be?
Twenty minutes later the waitress set before us an enormous silver platter piled high with crawfish, shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, fish and ricotta cheese, all smothered in tomato sauce on top of spaghetti. it looked amazing, like something Poseidon would have for dinner. It was the most surprising and exciting dish she could have possibly brought us. I was already excited we had this visual feast instead of something like lasagna, where the flavor hides beneath the noodles.

We dug in. The Crawfish were brain-slurpingly good, the shrimp and scallops the perfect texture but the mussels… my gods the mussels. They were succulent and tender and went amazingly well with the tomato sauce. The clams became repositiroes for the ricotta. Each bite was half shellfish have tomato infused cheese. We washed it all down with half a liter of white wine and followed it with tiramisu.
It was utterly divine, or to quote the babe, “That meal was stupid good. Do you think she just saw that we didn’t understand anything and decided to blow our minds?”

I think so, and I think that’s the advantage of escaping the tourist destinations, with their monuments and overpriced everything. To go to Margherra was to see a piece of Italy not in the guidebooks, and to eat at a restaurant that needs people to eat there more than once. If you visit Italy I highly advise seeking out a small town that no one's ever heard of just to eat, and while in the big cities, stick to the street food and cheap bottles of wine from the cold drinks shops.

If you liked this story come visit Florence with us!

Italy in 5 days: Pisa


We arrived in Pisa at night and explored the city armed only with a bottle of wine. We found droves of youth buying booze in tiny alcoves labeled ‘cold drinks.’ We found street performers and falafel shops and a square overflowing with people. We found Italian protestors, their words and their cause indecipherable, their music though, was easily understood and compelled even the homeless to dance. There was an energy in the air that was infectious.

There was still energy the next day, but it had morphed into something far stranger. We found the famous monument and its brethren in a grassy field so large it dwarfed the marble structures. The  tower and the church it accompanies seem like children’s toys, dollhouses built of stone long ago in the time of giants. Maybe its just the lean of the tower, but something about Pisa during the day is terribly whimsical, and compels even the most stone-faced of tourists to shuck away any remaining self-respect and try their best to immortalize themselves holding up the tower, kicking it over, or whatever other perspective-defying hijinks have been done there since the photograph was invented. 
We, of course, tried our hand at this most venerated of tourist pictures, and proceeded to fail miserably. But we still had a great time. I tried to take photos of as many people as possible attempting to hold up the tower in one frame and Raquel searched for Japanese tour groups to parade me through with Kumamon on my back. After a month in Europe, the bear has lost a lot of his charm (A man in Greece asked us, “and this is the best thing to come out of Japan?), yet the Japanese still love him. A Japanese woman who was taking leaning pictures of Pisa, when confronted with the cabbage-loving ball of cuteness could do nothing but gasp, “Kumamon? Kumamon kawaii!” the equivalent of “SpongeBob? I love SpongeBob!”

Pictures taken we boarded a train for Florence to make a transfer to Venice. But that transfer never happened. I spent my time on the train scribbling away while Raquel helped every person aboard get off at the right stop except for us. We disembarked only to find we’d gotten off at the second Florence stop, when we should have gotten off at the first.

Our brains melted into puddles of self-loathing and incompetence while we waited in line to see if we could change our tickets. Italilain train engineers are amazing, for when we showed the woman at the counter our now useless tickets she was able to get us on the next train and even refund us a couple euros.
Chao bella! Te amo!

If you liked this story come to Rome or try out Vienna!