Monday, August 3, 2009


Good day gentle reader. I have returned from traveling the wide world, I have yearns to spin and tales to tell and observances to… stuff..
The Itnerary:
Fly from Seattle to Vancouver to Montreal to Paris.
Spend 3 nights in Paris and take the night train to Venice.
Spend 1 night in Venice and take the regular train to Florence.
3 nights in Florence, and meet up with some homies.
Take the train from Florence to Vernazza (aka Cinque Terre) spend 3 nights there, and depart homies for Rome.
From Rome to Montreal to Toronto to Seattle.

Notre Dame, climbed the Arch de Triumph, the Catacombs (coolest thing I have ever seen), the Eiffel Tower, the Branly Museum (world-history-artifact-art museum thing), Rodin Guarden, and Versailles.
Notre Dame was cool, didn’t go in.
Climbing the Arch de Triumph was very cool, great view of the city.
The Catacombs were indescribable (see the picture) the remains of 26 million Parisians laid out. One of the most artful and reverential statements on mortality I have ever seen. Most people touring them either were walking really fast, or were nervously laughing every few seconds. Remember, thou art mortal.
Eiffel tower, meh.
Rodin Garden was fantastic, if a bit long. I love the fact that Rodin was drawn to sculpting ugly people/things. Life takes a toll. People with no scars have no stories to tell. Same with art. On this trip we saw hundreds of classical marble statues, they’re soulless, boring. Rodin was a great contrast to them.
Versailles is astounding in it’s opulence. It is enormous. The “summer house” is bigger than I’d have thought it possible for Versailles to be. Walking around and looking at the excess I am not surprised the poor of France put the King to the guillotine.

Venice: Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace, San Marco Square.
Grand Canal was cool, especially at night.
The Doge’s Palace was a fly speck after having seen Versailles, but the Prison beneath it was still intact and was very interesting.
San Marco Square was a nice place to have some coffee and people watch.

Florence: I got food poisoning (probably from something I ate in Venice) so I didn’t see much of Florence.
Duomo and the Central market.
The Duomo is really cool. The dome and the view of the city is well worth the wait and the climb.
The central market was fantastic. More on that in the food section.

Cinque Terre: Not too many sights, lots of beaches and seaside cliffs.

Rome: Vatican (St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the Sistine Chapel), Palatine Hill/Coliseum/Circus Maximus, Trevi Fountain, and a hundred other roman ruins that are around every corner.
The Vatican is very moving in that there are hundreds of devout Catholics for whom this is a true pilgrimage. I saw the tomb of St. Peter, and the final resting place of John Paul II both of which were very moving, but the rest of the Vatican (much like Versailles) was maddeningly opulent. It was disgusting. To see statues of Christian martyrs carved out of marble and surrounded by gold made me ill. Too much good needs doing for that many billions of dollars to be on display for display’s sake.
Palatine hill/Coliseum/Circus Maximus: Palatine Hill is very cool. Just a big open park of the ruins of old Rome. Coliseum is cool, but a huge tourist trap. The Circus Maximus is now just a big hole in the ground. What struck me most about these ruins is how crude they seemed in contrast to the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Trevi Fountain: Is beautiful, and on a scale that I can’t describe, but it is crowded, and claustrophobic. People squeezed in, hawkers selling chotchkies and crap.

Paris: Paris was beautiful, and has an undeserved reputation for rudeness. It would have been even better if I spoke more than sesame street French. All of the resturaunts cater some to tourists, but also have the good stuff. However, even when you order off the deep end of the menu, if you’re American, they will bring you catsup (I shudder to think why). The metro is complicated, but there are signs everywhere and people will take pity on you if you look lost. Navigating the city itself is pretty simple because of the Eiffel tower is visable from almost anywhere and the river runs along most of the landmarks. If you’re polite the people are generally very nice. Paris was my favorite city of the trip. There is so much to do that we had to skip the Louve (mostly due to long lines).

Venice: Venice stinks like a wet fart. The people treat tourists like exhausted parents dealing with unruly slow children. It is difficult (or was for me) to find a restaurant that didn’t cater to the tourists. That said it is a great city to sit, drink coffee and watch people bumble about, but navigating is damn near impossible without a map. Once you see the square and watch the sun set, there isn’t much to do in Venice.

Florence is lovely, the people are nice (especially if you duck a way from the tourist trap market stalls). The food was great, and we went into the central market and were well taken care of buy the vendors we patronized there. I spent our first night and a good part of the next day there terribly sick. I didn’t see much but the inside of our hotel bathroom for that part of our trip, but once I was feeling better I had a great time walking around, drinking good strong coffee and just generally plundering around the stalls looking at everything and watching everyone. I did miss out a bit by being sick.

Cinque Terre: Five small towns on the coast. Are where the Italians go to vacation. Set into the seaside hills they are really beautiful. Not much to do, spend time on the beaches or in the cafés. Which suited me just fine. There are hiking trails between all of the towns and are pretty strenuous. If you’re going to go leave early in the morning to avoid the heat, and be prepared to get stuck behind slow moving Germans on the way back. I lost my favorite pair of flops to a rogue wave on the beach, and had to replace them. It was a sad day.

Rome: Rome would be great if it weren’t for the Romans. There are a million things to see. The food is great. The people are the worst stereotypes of New Yorkers and Parisians combined. You’ve got to go. If you’re in Italy you have to go to Rome, but be prepared to be fleeced, ignored, and the damn near run over. The train system is near non-existent, and the busses are crowded and incomprehensible if you don’t speak Italian. Just walk and enjoy looking around.

Simple good things. In Paris I ate something that was revolutionary to me.
It wasn’t the startlingly good macaroons. It wasn’t a crepe, or pastry. It wasn’t unpasteurized cheese, or cured meat. It wasn’t some fussy confit of duck, or house made sausage. I did eat all of those things, and they were tasty. The thing that I ate that affected me most on this whole trip was a pint of strawberries. They weren’t prepared in any way. I bought them from a little produce market, to eat with some cheese that we’d bought, and they were fantastic. They were small, about the size of the tip of my thumb, and they were ripe, sweet, tart and tasted every bit like a strawberry should. They were completely unlike the wooden, pithy, sharp, gigantic, one note strawberries we get here in the states.
All of the produce was like that, fully ripe and perfect. We in the states have let our standards drop for the sake of shopping once a week. In France I watched a woman buy 1 small tomato, a double handful of greens, and two figs. Maybe a salad with dinner tonight? Maybe not, but clearly she was shopping for a meal that was to be immediately eaten. Here you can’t do that; you can’t get an avocado that isn’t rock hard, bananas that aren’t green and woody. We have strawberries that will last a week, but at what cost? That is the true secret to food in France and Italy: simple things purchased as their height and used to their greatest effect. Do not take the simple things for granted, if anything they are more important! It’s not the béarnaise, it’s the steak. It’s not the sauce it’s the pasta. It’s not the cheese, it’s the baguette. I have a feeling that if we got back to that a lot of the health problems in this country would not be problems.

In Italy they have 100 different ways to order strong coffee, and all of them are fantastic. In France they roast the beans to oblivion and look at you like you just got of the latest Viking long boat if you order coffee without milk.

Physical culture:
In Cinque Terre I spent a lot of time on the beach, and I noticed Europeans don’t exercise. They eat better than we do in a lot of ways, but sport very little excess contractile tissue. The perception is that Europeans “don’t get fat” is not entirely correct. They don’t get massively obese. However most of the adults that I saw were probably sitting around 15-25% body fat.’ Now full disclosure, I am solidly in that range (although it seems that I haven’t gained any weight on the trip in spite of the bread, pastries, and pasta) but with a fair amount of muscle underlying that body fat I would submit that I am far more healthy than the people I saw on the beach. They were ‘skinny-fat:’ low body weight, but still a high percentage of fat. They had no muscle. There were two people that I saw with any muscle at all: one was a young guy lounging on the beach with his gal.. don’t know his story, the other worked at the local boat rental place and had to row the boats out of the harbor day in and day out. That was it. Struck me as very strange. We really do have far more of a sporting culture and I submit if we can get our food sources and nutrition in line, we could be the most physically healthy nation in the world, but until we get our food issues sorted no amount of physicality is going to help us out.
That said, I didn’t do much structured exercise. I did some SMR, and stretching every other day. I did a couple of workouts with body weight and the TRX. I did one hike that was fairly difficult. But honestly I haven’t taken any significant time OFF since I started this blog (March 2007). So it was high time.

All in all I had a fantastic trip. I will post a review of books I have been reading here shortly along with the training I’ve done since I’ve returned.

The trip home was epic. We got up at 6 am Friday morning in Rome, walked 2 miles to the train station, where the wife realized she left her wedding rings in the hotel. We grabbed a cab. Cabbed it to the hotel and back. The wife went off to get out tickets and I sat on the bags. She came back about 10 minutes later, and we made it on the train with about 15 seconds to spare. We jumped through all the hoops in the airport and got to the gate just in time to board. I watched a the watchmen (again), and listened to some fitcasts that I’d saved up for the trip home. We landed in Montreal behind schedule, had to grab our bags (checked).. ok hold on… for all that is holy people when you’re waiting for your bags step back 2 steps until you see your bag, so ALL OF US can see the belt. Don’t be a numbnut and stand all jammed up against the conveyer so that I have to peer and poke around your giant cranium to see if my bag is coming. Don’t be a dick… So after I almost belt a guy with my bag because he was in fact being a dick, we trot through customs, and then recheck our bags and jump in the security line. This is where things get bad. You get to the fake end of the line and a woman looks at your ticket and assigns you line 1,2,3,4.. whatever. Well either she didn’t actually look at the tickets or.. something because she put the wife and I (who had 15 minutes) in the slowest security lines in Christendom. The line I was in had 3 old codgers in front of me that couldn’t figure out that metal detectors detect… METAL and was staffed by one less person that all of the other lines.. I still made it through my line in enough time to check in at the gate, and buy two coffees and a sandwich before the wife got through security. In spite of the slowness and stress we made our plane and landed in Toronto. We stopped there and got a sandwich, and were felling like we had hopped the biggest obstacles and were heading to the home stretch. We got on the plane, and patiently waited. The captain came on and said “we’re having some mechanical issues, and we’re going to have to reboot the plane.” Uh-oh.. this isn’t good. Oh and by the way rebooting airplanes: they don’t have air conditioning. It got hot. I got sweaty.. The reboot didn’t fix the plane. Fortunately for our captain friend that is no longer his problem he comes back on the overhead “sorry folks this delay has run us out of flight time for the month, you’re going to have to wait for a new flight crew. Double suck. We wait, the conditioned air comes back on. A new captain comes on, sorry folks we’re going to have to reboot the plane again. They do, I sweat. The plane comes back up. Captain number two comes back on, sorry folks that didn’t work, they’re going to (for lack of a better) jump start the engine, that means another reboot. More sweating. Captain number two comes on for a final time, sorry folks this plane is busted, and this flight crew just ran out of hours. Please deplane and you’ll meet a new plane and your third flight crew at gate 163. After another hour and a half of deplaning, waiting and replaning we are under way. We land and the rest is pretty much a blur. I woke up in my own bed. The cat has been very needy for the past couple of days, but I think he’s convinced we’re not leaving again for a while. I’m still not caught up on sleep from the 28 hour journey home, but I’m getting there.
I hope you didn’t miss me too much.


Wife said...

Let's go back!

Code name: 1% said...

What an awesome trip! I think I would spend the whole time in Cinque Terre on the beach/boat, though. And ditch the whole flying back experience. Glad you guys made it back safely!