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Showing posts from March, 2023

Europe : Italy Venice Cram Tour - March 23

 The bullet train's only hiccup, thankfully was the text to speech announcer and we made it into Venice. A city hollowed out by AirBnBs and skyrocketing costs of living. Before the pandemic it got approximately the population of Canada in tourists every year. A romantic city, a city that seems only fit for secret agents or heiresses taking a break from the yacht. Thanks for not killing us, pal! It seems that going from Rome to Florence to Venice we've been gradually getting into smaller and more cramped streets with every jump. Rome was tight and packed but at least cars seemed to get up to a fast enough speed to do some real damage to a family of four. Florence, or at least historical Florence where we went had mostly pedestrian ways that grudgingly allowed cars, and most often just seemed to be scooters. Venice is entirely people. People and boats but a boat isn't going to run you over unless you are doing your walking tours, really, almost impressively wrong. One gets th

Europe : Italy BULLET train to Venice - March 23

It's time to say goodbye to Florence. Pack bags, finish what we can of our meagre groceries, separate the trash, double and triple check we have everything, huff it down the eight flights , and cross town, pass the magnificent Duomo. A cathedral that makes no sense to a Canadian mind, just massive, but unlike the medieval churches we saw, gilded and decorated past comprehension on the outside.  In a tip to my lapsed Catholic upbringing, I did want to see the inside. It is pretty amazing how, me, a mostly Asian man from Canada who was raised Catholic can still feel comfortable in such ornate surroundings. The main features of a Catholic church are repeated around the world, and it almost has a homey feeling. I realize this is odd, as among the Christian faiths, Catholicism has the most Baroque and ornate ceremonies. Odd statues and rites.  I remember the first time I visited a Protestant church, being struck by how austere and simple everthing was. Where were the station

Europe: Italy Uffizi Gallery - March 22

 And we finally get to the day of the Uffizi Gallery, the motherload of them all for us plaque readers. Just plaques upon plaques bolstered by an audio tour and some judicious googling. A vast array of art and sculpture, first started by the Medici family, and later pieces added by, I think some non-profit society. I can't help but wonder what sort of fund raisers this non-profit runs to afford ancient works mouldering in some minor royal's mansion. Or if it's just a front to wash ill-gotten krugerrands (why were krugerrands such a staple of 80's action movies?(oh right, apartheid, yowsa)). So, back to the Uffizi, literally, the Office, where the Medici's did the bureaucracy of ruling, directly and indirectly so much of Tuscany. One can imagine it being filled with drones, one scribe saying to another that  yes, we are double sealing all scrolls level 4 and above and if he could come in during the Sabbath to finish up the filing and gold leaf calligraphy that'd

Europe : Italy Cinque Terre - March 21

 Ah, the Italian Coast, where, international magnates of dubious fortune launch their yachts and where tech CEOs go to recenter themselves after laying off ten thousand or so workers. I think it's the word Italian, it just brings to mind luxury. I don't think there are words that are not bolstered by adding the word Italian: Italian Paper, Italian Chairs, Italian Industrial Repurposed Polyurethane... Ok, maybe the last one. Anywaaays, there is a set of 5 towns along the coast that are quaint, raked at an angle steeper than a Agatha Christie theatre, and all painted lovely pastels. Here the streets are narrower, if that's possible, and their economy is entirely (or so much so that the difference is negligible) tourism based.  We are on a tour, and this tour's purpose is not so much to inundate us with tasty facts but just to herd 50 of us through one 2 hour bus ride, and a handful of train rides to the different quaint towns to spend our tourist dollars. We do get a burs

Europe: Italy Florence Walking Tour - March 20

It's the day of a proper walking tour of Florence. Of my muddy understanding of it, there's quite a bit of violence, backstabbing, assassination, and backstabbing assasination. Also vengeance, petty rivalry, toxically large egos. Outside of outright in full daylight attempts on lives, current politics hasn't changed drastically. This is the land of "The Prince", that gave us the term Machiavellian.  Our guide is Elisabetha, a guide who speaks at fifteen thousand miles an hour but the stories and tidbits of fact are so interesting that it's forgivable. I do feel sorry for the folks from other countries who select an "English" guide since the there is no guide in their first language. I can only hope understanding snatches of phrases from context helped them out here. We weave through the narrow streets of Florence paste the stalls selling, invariably, leather to the Palazza Vecchio (Old Palace), where Florence was ruled from fo

Europe: Italy Train to Florence - March 19

The 19th we traveled to Florence. So pulling our wheeled carry on through cobbly too narrow streets for twenty minutes to get to the Roma Termini. It's a given that the closer you get to the central train station the dodgier it gets. My guess is nobody wants to live near a rumbling train filled with annoying tourists so the real estate is dirt cheap. Maybe it's also a way to inoculate visitors with the maximum dodginess just as they come off the train, everything else will be a breeze? In any case, we take the hike, get to the train station, and get to the platform where the train is leaving from, which, if I'm honest, is at least as far as we had to walk from our VRBO to the station.Warnings and stereotypes aside, we haven't really experienced too many late trains. But maybe it being off season plus our easy going Canadian nature seems to blur that a bit.  Another 20 minute walk from the station to our Florence VRBO. It's much like Rome: narrow streets,

Europe : Italy Rome Random Thoughts - March 18

Completely random takeaways that really fit nowhere. The colosseum is pitted with those large holes because they used to be filled with metals, but during the Dark Ages they were stripped and melted down, apparently for weapons. The same goes for many of the classical greek statues in Rome, which were of bronze. The marble statues we think of as the original classic style are just Roman carvings that survived the Dark Ages. Our tour guide in Vatican City constantly referred to these beautiful Roman marble statues as 'copies', meaning, not the larger bronze Greek statues. One of the pope was a fan of the Egyptians, Pope Gregory. So he decided the year would have 365 days just like the Egyptians, so two very Roman sounding months July (Julius) and August (Augustus) were squeezed in before the original seventh month, SEPTember. OCTober, NOVember, DECemeber were simlarly knocked down 2 pegs. This feels like a factoid I once knew with a weird pride, but having rediscover

Europe: Italy Vatican City - March 18

First off on our second day in Italy we get breakfast, preferably this time, in a place where prices are visible. Google finds us a lovely little cafe, where we get pastries and rolls and I get a capuccino. The proprieter has the world weary look of a dad who has maybe seen so much, beaten to quiet, grim perseverence.  Minutes later his son appears, tattoes all up his neck, and, while he was perfectly civil you can only imagine the heartache and shouting matches he's had with his son. Even with the various proprietors and waiters we've chatted with, some of whom have rather excellent rapport and well rehearsed openers, this man, who could not have said more than 5 words to me, illicited most of my sympathy. We decide to brave the subway. Jets and sharks be damned. It, of course, is a smooth ride. Get the tickets, get on the right line (compared to London, the simplicity of lines here is a welcome change), and head to Vatican City. It's just the media diet of the average Nor