Sunday, June 13, 2010

Europe Part II: Cinque Terre

I speak about as much Italian as Brad Pitt, but I’m pretty sure Cinque Terre literally means “five earths” which is the Italian way of saying five cities. So named because Cinque Terre consists of five cities located on the Mediterranean: Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Monterrosso, and two others which have names but I can’t remember them. These cities are all connected by a trail approximately 5-6 miles long. It used to be one of those hidden gem locations you here about from a friend of a friends cousin who said it was the greatest place in Italy. Well word finally got out to everyone and now there is a fairly large amount of tourism. Tourists notwithstanding, Cinque Terre is still one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever been.

We arrived in Riomaggiore with some vague directions on how to find our hostel. Turn right, walk through a tunnel, walk up a hill, look for a middle-aged balding Italian man wearing outrageous shorts; this could have been anyone. We passed two ladies in the tunnel. One of them was complaining furiously about having to pull her own luggage on the cobblestone street. I briefly considered offering to help her until I heard some of the things she said. At the end of the tunnel the street turned a corner and became a hill with about a 35 degree grade. Joe and I both laughed, we never did see those ladies again.

We found a middle aged balding man wearing bright green mid-thigh shorts with calico cats printed on them sitting outside on a stool and correctly assumed this was the place. He collected our money and then walked us back down the hill to a building overlooking the Mediterranean. From what I could tell our “hostel” was basically just a room in an apartment complex. The steps inside the building were so steep I can only assume they were built like that to discourage fat patrons. We had been warned in the hostel reviews on the internet not to trust the rope banisters as they had been known to break. Our room was actually three rooms; we had the middle room which coincidentally had the only entrance.

Our roommates were two American girls studying French so they could teach English. We met the first girl who seemed normal enough. I definitely thought we would end up hanging out with these girls, until her friend walked in with an expression on her face like she had just seen Sasquatch making love to a panda. Usually when one walks into a room in this manner there is an expectation of an accompanying story explaining the circumstances behind the expression.

“Hi I’m Joe” “I’m James” we both extended hands.

“Oh you don’t want to touch me I’m a biological hazard hahaha”


“I’ve been deathly ill five times since we’ve been in Europe haha”

“She was quarantined for four days in Rome” her friend piped in.

“Yeah the doctors didn’t know what I had haha. Do you guys speak French?”

“uhhh un peu”

I slowly began to get that feeling you get when you watch a horror movie and the random guy you know is about to die inadvertently walks into the room where the 7 year old girl had been strangled and hung from the ceiling 50 years ago and is now back for revenge. I noticed her expression never changed, after several minutes I came to some conclusions:

  1. Wild eyed and bewildered was the neutral expression of her face
  2. this was because she never knew who her next victims would be
  3. the door was nearby and we should probably make use of it

We grabbed a bottle of wine on our way out.

We walked down to the rock beach (there was no sand here) and waded out into the water; after swimming around for a minute I turned to Joe;

“Swim in the Mediterranean: check.”

I don’t actually have a list, but as soon as I said this I decided it would be a good idea to make one (I still haven’t made one).

We finished swimming and walked up the trail a ways until we found some good rocks to scramble across. We perched on top of some rocks jutting about 20 feet out of the sea opened up our bottle of wine and commenced to watch the sun set. At one point Joe got caught up in the spirit of the moment; with bottle in hand he stood up and gregariously belted out the chorus of ‘That’s Amore.’

We returned to our room and discovered two more girls had checked in next door. These girls turned out to be much cooler; they invited us to join them at a restaurant near our hostel. The restaurant we ate at was fantastic; the bruschetta exquisite; the wine excellent and hands down the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. I was so happy I broke one of the wine glasses in celebration of the excellent food, at least that’s what I tried to tell the waiter as he was cleaning up the mess. After dinner we found another nice rock over the Mediterranean. Joe and I smoked pipes; the girls enjoyed the smell. We made plans to walk the Cinque Terre trail the following day.

The following morning we paid our 5 euro fee and started out with the two girls on the via del’amore which connected Riomaggiore from the second village. I was slightly shocked at the number of people on the trail and slightly embarrassed that many of them were fat Americans. We walked for about half a mile on a flat trail before we started seeing people stopped along the side gripping their love handles and breathing heavily.

“(gasp) hold on Fred (wheeze) I think I’m having a coronary.”

Despite the number of people on the trail the view was fantastic. The Mediterranean as far as the eye could see and the cliffs of Italy jutting out of her at odd angles like British teeth.

We had several goals tentatively set for the day

  1. Complete the 6 mile walk through all the cities
  2. Find a good cliff to jump into the Mediterranean
  3. Take shots of grappa in each city (This was not a great idea)

We arrived at the second town, walked through the streets for a bit and took our first shot of grappa. In case you are wondering grappa is basically grape brandy from Italy; taking a shot of it is like lighting a grape on fire and swallowing it. I don’t recommend it. Joe and I both jumped into the water in this city, if I remember correctly for the purpose of relieving ourselves.

The second stretch of trail was very similar to the first; generally flat with a gorgeous view. There were fewer people here, the majority of the masses were either still at the first town trying to summon up the courage to walk another three quarters of a mile or succumbed to the American stereotype and given up entirely. As we neared the next town we started seeing what I could best describe as Italian hippies selling bracelets, necklaces and other such brick-a-brack. I bought a necklace for 10 euro and for as much as I wear it 10 euro was a steal. I definitely recommend that hippie to anyone who happens to walk by him in Italy. If you tell him I sent you he’ll give you a discount.

The third city along the trail; Corniglia, was probably my favorite of the five. It sits high up on a cliff overlooking the sea. The final test for the American tourist as they approached the town from the trail was a switchback staircase that rose up from the edge of the sea to the town about a hundred feet up. A loose cloud of obscenities hovers at it’s base; fed constantly by a stream of curses from disgruntled tourists. The bones from failed assents litter the path. We pushed through the cloud of obscenities and bounded up the steps. Half way up we passed two individuals who had given up all hope.

“(gasp, wheeze) Haven’t these people ever heard of an elevator?”

As I said Corniglia was probably my favorite town in Cinque Terre I think because it embodied everything I imagined a small Italian hideaway should be. The streets were narrow, probably well established before the invention of automobiles. The shops were all small and quaint. We walked through them, examined their wares, took a shot of grappa and continued on. In the center of one of the squares we found the absolute creepiest statue ever of a young naked boy cast in bronze. I don’t know if it was because no one had ever cleaned the statue or what but the little naked green kid’s eyes were black and there were black tears running down his face like something out of a horror movie. I kept expecting him to look down and deliver some creepy one word epitaph;


Later on in the day it would occur to us,

“The guy from our hostel!”

From Corniglia only the most intrepid explorers continue on foot as the distance to the next town was something like 2 miles, a seemingly insurmountable distance to most of the people we saw walking the trail. We passed through the olive fields spread across the hillside in blissful silence. The view continued to be excellent.

I don’t remember the name of the fourth town; I don’t think anything significant occurred there, save another unfortunate shot of grappa.

As the day drew to a close and we neared our final destination my search for a suitable cliff jumping location became almost frantic. Early on in the day I had passed on several possibilities thinking we would find something better later on, only we didn’t. I mentally kicked myself in the butt for squandering the halcyon hours of our day. We rounded a corner and saw the beach (this city had sand), we crossed over a small bridge situated about 50 feet above the water and I did a double take.

“Joe how deep do you think the water is here?”

“I don’t know, it’s hard to tell”

The bridge filled a gap in the cliff face; it wasn’t very wide, but from the middle of the bridge I was looking straight down on clear blue Mediterranean sea.

“Is there a way to get down there to check?”

“Probably at the beach up ahead, but that’d be a long swim back.”

With reckless abandon I leapt over the edge, plunging fifty feet before hitting water and then rock. My legs shattered. I struggled to the surface to warn Joe not to follow me in this foolish endeavor, but an angry Italian merman pulled me out to sea and fed me to his sea turtles.

“There’s got to be a way to climb down.” I said after the aforementioned scenario played out in my head.

A little further up the path we found what we were looking for. After climbing down to water level I got in and immediately began swimming back along the cliff face to our proposed jump site. I dove down and realized I couldn’t touch the bottom; golden. Joe still hadn’t reached me so I climbed up the rock face about 30 feet to do a test jump. The climb was sketchier than it looked.

“Joe, I’m jumping”

With reckless abandon I leapt from the edge; plunging into the water before bobbing back to the surface.

“How was it?” Joe asked

“On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give it an awesome.”


When Joe jumped off he cut his foot on the rock. I made fun of him for having weak genes, but then I cut my foot on my next jump and the irony occurred to me. One of the girls jumped too after standing on the edge of the cliff for like 5 minutes. The sun was getting low and we decided we wouldn’t have time to go back up to the bridge to try the ultimate jump; plus from down low the bridge did look really high…

We boarded the train for Riomaggiore and slid into our seats like jellyfish. The six miles, the swimming and the grappa had taken it’s toll, but we could finally just relax. At least until the conductor came up and discovered one of the girls had forgotten to validate her ticket. He took one look at her ticket and you could see his eyes begin to twitch, his lips curled and his hands shook as he held up the ticket and said in a thick accent

“No Validation!”

This was the extent of his English, but judging from his facial expressions and body posture I gathered that to an Italian not validating your ticket is roughly equivalent to punching an old man in the face and peeing on his dog.

The girl tried to explain that she had only forgotten, but the conductor just got angrier.

“No Validation!”

He began scribbling on his paper. Joe and I looked at each other and exchanged helpless glances. The girl looked like she was about to cry. The conductor finished his scribbling and threw the paper down in front of the girl. At the end of some Italian was a number with a Euro sign next to it. She handed over a bill; he pocketed it and left I’m pretty sure he used it to buy a bottle of Napa Valley wine.

If memory serves me correctly (and it is a little foggy) that night the four of us drank five bottles of wine.

The following day we returned to Corniglia by train (and with validated tickets). The previous day we spotted a little secluded wine bar tucked away in the hillside; a place we deemed had enormous potential of being spectacular. We arrived in the early afternoon and were warmly greeted by an older Italian gentleman who spoke excellent English in a strong Italian accent. His tables were all covered by a network of vines growing over wire framing an unbelievably gorgeous view of the Mediterranean. He kindly explained the wine options and then recommended some delicious pastries. We ordered wine and pastries and the man walked away.

“I’m in love with him” said one of the girls.

“I was about to say the same thing” said the other.

“Me too” I said, I kind of felt left out.

We stayed all afternoon.

Early on when the man saw we planned on staying and sampling many of his excellent wines he went into greater detail on how he hand selects all his wines from local growers. You could see the excitement in his face as he talked about his wines until he would suddenly pull a bottle of the shelf and say ‘you have to try this.’ I decided that Shangri La does exist, and it’s located in a little town in Italy.

The sun was beginning its descent into the sea when we finally left.

We said our goodbyes to the two girls that night and turned in early; the following morning we woke up before the crack of dawn to catch a redeye train bound for Switzerland.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Europe Part I: Rome

There are no drinking fountains in Europe. This was the first thing I realized upon arriving in Milan Italy because this was the first thing I looked for after spending eight and a half hours in a plane where water was rationed out in Dixie cups once every two to three hours. The stewardesses do this because they don’t want people in the back of the plane waiting in line for the lavatory where they can overhear them making fun of the passengers. I know this because this is exactly what I would be doing if I were a steward. This is the story in coach class anyway; in first class the passengers are probably using full water bottles to cool there armpits while gargling water in between bites of sushi. They probably throw the full water bottles away after their armpits are cooled…or serve them to the coach passengers in Dixie cups.

So I arrived in Milan at around 8 in the morning Europe time very thirsty, very tired and a very first-time-in-Europe-don’t-know-what-the-heck-is-going-on look on my face. I was meeting my brother at the airport; my plane arrived at 8; Joe’s plane was scheduled to arrive at 8:50. As soon as I got off the plane I realized our plan for meeting in Italy was poorly thought out. Our only method of communication was meeting face to face. Plan A was to meet at the airport, plan B didn’t exist; if plan A fail I was at the mercy of the local Italians; hence my anxiety. I made it through customs with no difficulty and hung around the baggage claim area pondering my next move. Fortunately Joe arrived on time. We caught a bus from the airport to Milano Centrale, aka the train station. By the time we got there I really had to pee.

Me: dude I have to use the bathroom

Joe: just wait till we get on the train

I can’t wait that long

Alright but I think your going to have to pay

That’s ridiculous why would I have to pay

Cause this is Europe

I finally found the bathroom and discovered the gatekeeper charged 1 euro for his facilities, this was the first and last time I have ever paid to ‘throw water’ as they say in Indonesia. Needless to say I took my sweet time.

Initially we had planned on catching a train to Cinque Terre from Milan. The day before leaving for Italy the weather report for Cinque Terre was unfavorable; so we called our first audible. When I’m on vacation the last thing I want is a schedule, particularly one that dictates when and where I need to be. I have a job that does that quite enough. One of the nice things about starting our vacation in the middle of September was we never had trouble booking a hostel the day before arriving. I feel sorry for these people who buy travel packages where you spend your entire vacation with a group of people on a set schedule. We saw some of these mothball conventions during our travels.

“Alright everyone stay together.”

“We’re going to go see this thing over here.”

“No we all have to stay together.”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

“okay but be back in ten minutes.”

What is this kindergarten? Anyway, all that to say instead of taking a train to Cinque Terre we boarded a train bound for Rome. As soon as the train left the station Joe and I promptly fell asleep.

I had never stayed in a hostel till this trip, but I quickly fell in love with them. A hotel is a hotel, they’re the same no matter where you go. They all come with a bed or two, a TV, a coffee maker with bad instant coffee and a shower. They all smell like anti-smell spray on top of old tomatoes, and if you’ve ever taken a black light into one you probably ended up sleeping on the floor. A hotel is a place you stay, a hostel is a place you experience. Every place is different, every place has it’s own unique characteristics be they good or bad, and if you stay in a hostel you are guaranteed to meet some interesting people. They’re also very cheap. Our first hostel experience was a place located in downtown Rome called “The Yellow.”

From the train station we only had to walk a couple of blocks to The Yellow. We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by several Aussie’s working at the front desk who referred to us as “mates” and gave us a good orientation to the city. We had to leave a deposit at the front desk to get some towels because neither Joe nor I brought one. In retrospect I deem the decision to not bring a towel with me to Europe as one of the poorer decisions I made. (This hostel being the only time during our trip that I had the use of a towel; at every other location I dried off with dirty t-shirts) We walked up to our room which contained a total of six beds, four of which were already occupied.

“Joe I think there’s at least one girl staying here.”

“Why do you say that?”

“There’s a pink suitcase under the bed.”

“could be a guy who likes pink.”


Despite our fatigue (we had slept maybe three hours in the last 36) we headed out into the city to find some dinner.

We took the bus to an area of Rome our Aussie friends at the front desk had declared “non-touristy” and began looking for a delicious dinner. We walked down an old cobblestone street that was lined with restaurants. Deciding on a restaurant with Joe was like shopping for clothes with my sisters. The following scenario played out several times during our travels.

“Hey Joe this place looks good.”

“Hmm let’s keep walking down.”

“This place looks good.”

“yeah uhh let’s see what’s at the end of this street.”

“Okay but let’s sit down soon I’m starving the only thing I’ve eaten today was a bag of peanuts.”

“yeah I’m hungry too.”

“Well this is the end of the street, here’s a good place.”

“What do you think about the first restaurant we passed?”

Stunned silence; “Joe I just want to eat.”

“yeah but there was a lot of people there so it’s probably pretty good.”

So we walked back. It really comes down to differing philosophies.

My Philosophy: Regardless of where we sit we will be eating Italian so finding a place with fewer people is preferred so we don’t have to wait to be served.

Joe’s philosophy: look at every restaurant in a two block radius and then go back to the first restaurant because it’s the busiest.

As you can see there exists a slight difference of opinion. We eventually received service. I ordered lamb, it was served with cold eggplant and squash; it was not excellent. The wine, however, was. We wandered around for a while in the streets of Rome. We stopped at a pub and had a beer.

“Hey Joe.”


“I’m really tired”

“Me too.”

I caught myself falling asleep on the bus so I stood up for the rest of the trip. We had already been warned that tourists who fall asleep on the streets of Rome wake up with their pockets cut off. We arrived at our room and quickly fell asleep; our roommates were not there.

We were awakened at approximately four in the morning when four drunk girls burst through the door into the room. Their first words being and I quote,

“What’s Up Mother F@#$%!!!”

The following is my best effort of recreating the events that followed.

“Shhhh I think they’re asleep.”

“I’m going to puke can someone hold my hair?”

“okay let’s go throw up.”

Vomiting in the bathroom

“How did we get here?”

“We took a cab.”

“Did I throw up in the cab?”


Toilet flushing, more vomiting

“Why are these guys sleeping? Why didn’t they come out with us?”

“Where’s my hairbrush? Someone took my hairbrush”

More toilet flushing

“Why am I on the top bunk? Can someone help me?”

“Are you girls done puking in the bathroom?”

“Why are these guys sleeping?”

My mind drifted back to the time right before Joe and I had passed out.

“James do you want some earplugs?”

“For what?”

“People can be loud at night.”

“No thanks.”

This was the second worst decision I made on the trip behind the towels.

The next morning Joe and I were careful not to wake the girls.

Our tentative agenda for the following day was to tour the Vatican. There was a flyer in the lobby of our hostel about a guided tour, which we figured was a good idea since we had no idea what we were supposed to even see there. We breakfasted at the Yellow Bar located next to the Hostel and toasted our espresso to an excellent day.

Our guided tour met at another ancient church in downtown Rome. The doors of this church had the strangest statues growing out of them. The left door had an armless legless man with a cross carved out of his midsection; the right had an eyeless angel’s torso with a face bursting out of his wing. Apparently these are commemorating the macabre book of the Bible not part of the original canon where people cut off their arms and legs in penance and angels decorated their wings with the faces of slain false prophets. That of course is entirely made up, but it does emphasize the reason why we needed a guided tour; namely to make sense of what we were about to see in Vatican City. Our tour guide was a guy from Canada in his mid twenties who had a very dry, sarcastic and, because of the surroundings, sacrilegious sense of humor which I found hysterical. He went in depth into the history behind the building of the Vatican, all the intrigue, rivalries, scandals etc that surrounded it.

We started the tour at the Castle St. Angelo or something like that anyway. We then moved to the Vatican square outside St. Peter’s Basilica, then to the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Cupola and finally inside the Basilica. Some of the more interesting history I learned during our tour: one of the Popes who was overseeing the construction of the Basilica and Square (it took like 120 years to build) died of syphilis; Pope, syphilis, hmmm. A lot of the marble used in the construction of the Basilica was taken from the Coliseum. The bronze used to cast the 9 story solid bronze confessional inside the Basilica was stripped from the Pantheon. Michelangelo designed the dome for the Basilica committed the plans to memory, destroyed them without telling anyone the plans, and then died before it was constructed. The Vatican museum has a giant circular bathtub originally belonging to one of the Caesars made of extinct red marble. Apparently this red marble was only ever found in one place in Egypt and the supply was exhausted over a thousand years ago. The marble is now worth 30,000 dollars per cubic centimeter making the two ton bath in the Vatican museum quite possibly the world’s most expensive tub. Everyone knows Michelangelo painted the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel; many people are also aware that he painted the far wall of the Chapel known as “The Last Judgment.” The Last Judgment depicts Jesus (or as our tour guide referred to him “Big Sexy Jesus” because Michelangelo painted Jesus with massive guns) Judging the earth; calling the saints to heaven, casting the sinners into hell etc. Controversy surrounds this painting of Jesus because He looks peculiarly similar to a statue of the pagan god Apollo which is still sitting in the exact same place it was when Michelangelo was painting Jesus; approximately one hundred feet away in the Vatican museum. Michelangelo was called before the Pope and asked why Jesus looked exactly like Apollo; in answer he stated he had searched Rome for the most beautiful face he could find and apparently the most beautiful face in Rome at the time was the statue of Apollo.

After the guided portion of our tour we took the stairs to the top of the Basilica also known as the Cupola which is also the highest point in Rome. The view was great, but there were way too many people and I can’t begin to tell you how aggravated I was with the line going up the stairs that stopped every 20 steps so the fat American tourists could catch their breath. The BO in the stairwell is so bad the Vatican assigns 75 nuns to pray prayers of binding over the stench to keep it from killing people.

After the Cupola we entered the Basilica. There’s really no way I can describe St. Peter’s Basilica; it completely blew my mind. You kind of just have to see it for yourself.

We returned to our room to find the girls still asleep. We quietly grabbed what we needed and headed out to find dinner.

We found a restaurant after examining every establishment in a two block radius. As we were waiting for our food a man wearing a black and white striped shirt and socks, white face paint and a hat with a flower in it sat down on a bench in the square near where we were sitting (our table being outside, almost every restaurant in Rome has outdoor seating). Obviously this strangely dressed man drew our attention. He was in fact a mime and contrary to what you have probably heard about mimes he was absolutely hilarious. At one point he began sneaking up behind people as they were walking by and imitating their gait. This is of course an extremely childish thing to do…unless you’re a mime, and then it’s hysterical. After about fifteen minutes he ran around with a bag and demanded money from people. How does a mime demand anything you might be wondering, well I don’t know but he did; he accosted me and I gave him two euros.

Street performers spawn in the streets of Rome like rabbits, here is a brief list of what we saw in two days: the mime, a sidewalk artist spray painting a portrait of the time we all remember so vividly when the Virgin Mary flew over the Coliseum and the Pantheon during a solar eclipse, standing still was very popular we saw several variations of this including: king tut twice, Cleopatra (I think), a smiling business man which was kind of creepy and I want to say there was another one but I can’t remember, also very popular was pushing around a shopping cart full of junk and shoving a dirty hat in your face, that one was hysterical. We saw a comic act where a man blew a whistle and that was about as funny as it got, several street musicians and a lot of people shooting off these brightly colored helicopter things into the air, I’m not really sure what that was all about.

After a delicious pizza at the restaurant we wandered around for a bit until we stumbled upon a place called Sloppy Sam’s of Rome. Yes, this place actually exists. We stopped in for a drink and met these two girls from New Jersey. After talking with them for two minutes I had a strong idea that one or both of them had recently been dumped and this trip to Rome was their way of “sticking it to him.” I only mention them because during the course of our conversation they said they had tickets to the Rome vs. Sienna Italian league soccer game the following night,

“Really, soccer game tomorrow night? Joe I’ve always wanted to go to a European soccer match.”

“Yeah you guys should come meet us there.”

“Yeah.” We had absolutely no intention of meeting these girls anywhere, but we did have strong intentions of catching this game, which is how we found ourselves the following night standing outside Olympic Stadium discussing whether or not we should scalp tickets from a greasy haired Italian ten minutes prior to the start of the match; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We arrived back at our room around midnight.

Around 12:30 the girls returned, we were still awake.

Guys: “It’s nice to finally meet you girls.”

Girls: “Yeah sorry about last night did we wake you?”

Guys: “Seriously?”

Girls: “yeah sorry, here you can have the rest of this sandwich, I’m not going to eat it.”

Guys: “Thank you” I never turn down a free sandwich “So who was puking last night.”

Girls: “What?”

Guys: “Someone puked in the bathroom last night.”

Girls: “Are you sure? I don’t remember puking; I don’t think I did; maybe I did, I don’t remember anything after we got in the cab.”

Guys: “Wow”

We talked for a while, they were much more amiable than the previous night. They invited us to Florence; we made vague commitments without committing.

The next day we walked to the Coliseum. We entertained the notion of renting little scooters, but eventually decided the odds of getting run over by a bus were too high. The Coliseum was pretty amazing to see, it was built 1400 years before the discovery of America and its still rock solid. We once again opted for a guided tour so we could get the history behind it, which was well worth it. Our guide recommended watching Gladiator because it’s very accurate, except for the part they left out about using Christians as torches to light the night games. You won’t see that in Gladiator but apparently it was rather common until Christianity became the official religion at which time they started using gypsies.

After our tour we wandered around some of the other ruins in the area. There are so many ruins in Rome if it’s not at least a thousand years old it’s not worth seeing. Our last stop before heading back was this monument built about 100 years ago to honor some guy who united Italy. This monument is enormous and at the center is this thirty foot tall bronze statue of this guy on a horse. (I don’t remember his name, you can look it up if you’re really interested) The sculptor apparently felt it was necessary to cast the horse as lifelike as possible, consequently hanging off the back of the horse is a set of bronze testicles the size of my torso. (you’re probably asking if it was necessary for me to share that; yes it was)

On the way back we purchased some Cuban cigars. We smoked them at the restaurant outside our hostel while we talked with our new roommates, two guys who really don’t factor into this story very much so I won’t mention them again.

Around 7:30 we hopped onto a bus bound for Olympic Stadium. We decided it was probably a good idea to buy tickets at the stadium instead of buying in advance, not exactly one of our more brilliant decisions. The path up to the gate was littered with trash and beer bottles; apparently we had missed one heck of a tailgate party. We arrived about 20 minutes before the start of the match only to discover that the box office was closed. We turned around dejected. Enter greasy haired Italian.

“You need ticket yes?”

“Yeah you got two tickets?”

“Ci, very good ticket yes.”

“How much?”

“Ticket is 47 euro, yes, for you 50 euro.” He pointed at the ticket where the price of 47 euros was printed. And in case you don’t know 50 euros is like 75 dollars per ticket. Joe and I looked at each other.

“Dude what do you think?”

“I don’t know he looks legit.” Meaning he wasn’t pushing around a shopping cart full of junk.

“I really want to go to this game.”

“Yeah me too.”

We carefully examined the tickets, “It’s got an official looking seal on it.”

“Ticket is good Yes, no problem”

“Let’s do it dude, when in Rome.” (yes I know what that phrase means, I am using it sarcastically)

“These tickets had better be like on the sidelines.”

So we each forked over 50 euros. We crossed our fingers and walked up to the gate. It was automated, when you scanned your ticket the green light would come on and the turnstile would let you through. The moment of truth; I put my ticket up to the scanner and did a Hail Mary.

We had amazing tickets; we were literally sitting at field level about 10 feet from the grass. There was not a single person sitting in front of us. I could have walked right out on to the grass if it wasn’t for the mote in between the last set of chairs and the field, which I can only assume was filled with man eating crocodiles and piranhas. The game was already underway so we quickly sat down so as not to offend the locals. Our plan to avoid getting beaten and mugged after the game was to cheer loudly for the home team (Roma) and pray that they won. Looking at the huge crowd I had a vision of 60,000 angry Roman soccer fans taking out their aggression after a loss on some unsuspecting American tourists. The only thing we had going on our side was we were suspecting. I mentally chastised myself for not bringing a sack full of coins.

Even with that many people the stadium still wasn’t packed, but there was one section behind one of the goals that was suspiciously empty. The Sienna fans were safely cordoned off in their own section behind plexiglass and security guards, I am not joking about this. 20 minutes into the game Roma scored the first goal on a penalty kick and I breathed a sigh of relief. Shortly thereafter a bomb went off, or at least that’s what it sounded like. Joe and I looked at each other wild eyed and then looked around. The players kept playing the fans kept cheering.

BOOOM! Another explosion, and then it was like the flood gates were opened in the empty section of chairs as people started pouring into the stadium and within a minute had filled up the section. No joke it was 20 minutes into the game before the hardcore Roma fans were let into the stadium. The rest of the game they continually waved flags sang songs and threw bombs. Perhaps the craziest fan of all was this old woman sitting in our section a few rows behind us. We kept hearing her voice above everyone else chanting things and yelling at the referees. At one point one of the Sienna players committed a hard foul, this woman wearing her Team Roma pajamas came waddling down the steps to the edge of the mote, she had to have been in her 70’s, and began yelling things entirely unrepeatable (in Italian, if I knew what she said in English I’d repeat it) at the opposing team. When she had finished she waddled back up to her seat amidst a round of applause from the stands. The game ended final score Roma 3, Sienna 1. I didn’t need the sack of coins after all.

The next morning we packed up our gear got our deposit back for our towels and boarded a train for Cinque Terre. We had checked the weather report the day before, it said the next three days in Cinque Terre were sunny with a chance of awesome.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nothing Whatever

So my life is officially in limbo and will be for the next couple of weeks, which is not necessarily a bad thing especially considering I am being paid to be in limbo; however it leaves me with an inordinate amount of free time. Initially I was excited by the prospect of unlimited free time until I discovered there are a limited amount of things to fill your day with especially when everyone you know is either working, or gone. Today I was going to play disc golf but the threat of thunderstorms effectively kyboshed that plan, (I was just pleasantly surprised to find the word kyboshed is in spell check) and so instead I am sitting down in a coffee shop writing a blog (strangely blog is not in spell check) about, well, nothing. I hope you enjoy it.

I recently purchased a pair of Five Fingers shoes.
If you haven’t heard of them you can probably deduce from the name that these are shoes that fit individually around each toe; like toe socks, only shoes. I’m wearing them right now. It’s the closest thing to walking barefoot short of actually walking around barefoot that I have found. I love it. They are an excellent conversation starter, which usually goes something like this.
Walk by and double take or stare at the shoes; usually followed by laughter and a discussion with a friend.

“Do you see those shoes?”

“Are they shoes?”

“I don’t know” approach me.

“Excuse me are those shoes?”

“Yes they are.”

“Are they comfortable?”

“Very, it’s like walking barefoot, which if I could I’d walk around naked so these are the natural next step.”

Laughter “I didn’t need to know that.”

“Well if you like walking barefoot I’d highly recommend them.”

More laughter “Okay.”

There is a fairly large male sitting outside the coffee shop wearing a classic “Legend of Zelda” t-shirt and smoking a cigarette. It strikes me as very ironic because he looks like the sort of person who never really grew up. Cut away 15 years and I wager you would find a 15 year old kid playing Legend of Zelda and smoking a cigarette.

The Little League World Series is over and much to my chagrin a team from California won it all. I’m not ashamed to admit I was rooting for the other team even though the other team in the final was Chinese Taipei. I’m not against California in general; I’m against LA, San Francisco and any of the other liberal hotbeds that pollute the otherwise pleasant landscape. I’m also against that supposed twelve year old on team California who was 6’2 205 pounds and hit like 20 homeruns during the series. Seriously... seriously. Who is checking birth certificates over at the head office? I propose that certificates written on Waffle House napkins should not be valid. To put it in perspective there was a kid on team Japan who was 4’6.

I would like to go on record as saying I think it’s hysterical when the kids cry after losing in the little league finals.

I would also like to go on record as saying it’s been a while since I’ve heard some good pipe organ.

My parents were in town the other day and we went to the Duke Gardens. As the name implies it was a large garden with a lot of flowers, trees, shrubbery and such. They had this amphitheatre set up that was full of exotic plants; some people were setting up to hold what I could only assume was a wedding ceremony. There was a little pond at the bottom of the amphitheatre where they were growing giant Lilly Pads. I could have curled up inside one of these things and taken a nap. Maybe some mad scientist could genetically engineer them to be carnivorous and they could eat the wedding guests. I think they should get bonus points for eating bridesmaids. The groomsmen would probably try to save them, and they’d probably get eaten too.

Random song lyric: Feral dog on my right/pissing on a rose bush on this clear frozen night/tell me Mr. dog do you feel alright? - “Bobcat Tracks”

According to the news today is eat outside day. I haven’t eaten outside today but now that I know I guess maybe I’ll go outside and eat something.

So I moved in with a buddy of mine just for a couple weeks because I’m moving soon and I needed a place to rack out (there’s more to this story but I don’t feel like going into it). There was a little confusion about the milk situation and long story short, I used his other roommate’s milk on two consecutive days which resulted in a confrontation about whether or not I was going to be buying my own food. Of course this made things very awkward and now my buddy is gone for a week and it’s just me and this other guy at the apartment so things are very awkward. On the plus side the apartment has a balcony outside which is perfect for smoking my pipe and reading a book.

Speaking of books I’m reading four at the moment. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson; Neal is unapologetically sarcastic which is why I enjoy him so much. It’s a fiction loosely based on historical people i.e. Isaac Newton, Huygens, Oliver Cromwell. He’s also very intelligent and he writes about binary code and integral calculus in a way that you can at least understand what he’s talking about. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway; self explanatory. In Harm’s Way by…uh I forget. It’s about the sinking of the U.S. Indianapolis in WWII and how something like 600 sailors got eaten by sharks because the Navy couldn’t find them. Finally Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley, this is a frivolous read for me. I read a biography about Theodore Roosevelt that said he would be reading Thomas Aquinas one minute and penny pulps the next. So that’s my justification for reading frivolous fiction. I was at the bookstore and the thought occurred to me that I hadn’t read any epic fantasy in a while and I picked up this book that had a blurb from a review on the cover ‘putting the epic back in epic fantasy’ – Bob Readsalot, Time Magazine. So I bought it, and it’s pretty good.

I’m on my second cup of coffee.

The weather gloriously changed today, the high where I’m at is 72 degrees. The day before it was 93 with 110% humidity; how that’s possible I have no idea but believe me it is.

Well this blog started nowhere, which coincidentally is also where it seems to be going, so in keeping with the theme I will end it abruptly.