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!