Archive for May, 2011

Okay so I’m in Rome waiting for my train. Armed with some old rolls (bun thingys), a jar of peanut butter (from Canada) and some chocolate chip cookies we found our train car and hopped on. Welcome to travel by Eurostar high speed train. Depart Rome, see flat countryside with orange colored buildings, enter tunnel at high speed…ouch…my ears…see flat countryside with orange colored buildings, enter tunnel at high speed…ouch…my ears..see flat (repeat for 4.5 hours as needed).

Arrive Venice search for Vaporetto (also known as water bus). Think you are at the end of the line (you aren’t). Get in wrong line up but try desperately to figure out how to scan your ticket. Figure out the ticket scan (don’t insert just sort of wave it in the vicinity). Line up at wrong Vaporetto stop and wait. Wait some more, Figure out you are an idiot and go to extreme right of pier to find correct Vaporetto stop. Go down Grand Canal…make ooh and ahhh sounds.

Dump luggage in room and go wander, find out there are way too many pretty shops here with exquisite window displays that make you want to hand over all your credit cards and cash. Try not to do this, do it anyway. Figure out that it is the displays you like so just take photos instead. Discover that the 5 minute walk to St. Mark’s Square is 30 minutes or more if you window shop and get sucked into each shop. Find dinner at restaurant overlooking Grande Canal (which I will spell differently everytime so watch for that). See giant cruise ship pulled by canal ferry, canale fairie, tugboat with pilot thingy. Try to do the math to figure out how a ship that large goes down the Grande Canale. Put away your napkin and pencil, it’s not possible. Take a movie instead note that all canal traffic has mysteriously disappeared, cry silently and hope a few gondaliers survived. Finish your spaghetti al pomodoro, your bun, your Coke or Iced Tea (iced tea abounds in Venice now, nothing quite as refreshing except gelato). Immediately ask for the bill (il conto per favore) and head to the nearest gelato stand (not more than 10 feet from your table).

The next day is time for your Venetian rowing lesson on a batela with forcola. A batela was an old working boat in which you stand and row. It is about 27 feet long, the oar is 9 feet long and the forcola holds the oar (every gondola has a forcola). Take water taxi to marina on other side of Venice, take a movie while you go up the Canal Grande….awesome! Find marina, find Jane, find batela, learn stance for rowing, practise for 10 minutes, step in boat and row. Head to Venezia Lagoon (not the canal), the big, huge, bloody, lagoon with fast boats and wake which wakes you up and tries very hard to make you fall over. Try to remain standing and rowing and keep your oar in the forcola. Try to sing “O Sole Mio” which is not a Venetian song, admit you don’t know any Venetian songs and get reprimanded. Learn stearing (or go in circles which was my specialty). Try to not remove oar from water while steering (stearing)…whatever! Just keep your oar in the water, feather, make sure you keep those wrists moving, why isn’t the top of the oar up by your shoulder? Rock back and forth the rowing is done by your legs not your arms. Make all motor boats stop, you have right of way. Row…row…row…row. Realise all the pictures taken of you rowing are from behind and including just a huge butt shot and very little else. Do not post these pictures on the internet or your blog or in fact put them in your album. Decide that learning to row Venetian style is the most fun you’ve ever had in your entire life. Enquire on the cost of your own batela (there’s only 2 in the world…and they’re not for sale…sucks to be me).

Say goodbye to your instructor (Jane you awesome teacher you) and find gelato as you deserve it (well you actually always deserve a gelato).

Walk back to your hotel (about 30 minutes). Take photos, get lost, find a forcola maker named Paulo and buy your own forcola (all you need now is a gondola and an oar). Get Paulo’s picture with your forcola.

The next day we learned how to break out of prison (Cassanova style), and how to be in the Venetian Secret Service (love popping out doors that from the other side look like a filing cabinet…cool). Can’t take a picture because then it wouldn’t be secret anymore would it?

Find friends you hung with in Rome and take them for a coffee and the world’s most expensive coffee shop (Florian’s) in St. Mark’s Square. Take several pictures of the coffee/hot chocolate and sweets, you deserve photos at least. Desert and coffee just set you back over $200.

At night ensure you have a full moon and then hang around and wait for the moon to appear before taking 1200 photos, 1198 of which are blurry. Feel very pleased with yourself that you got 2 good pictures of “la luna”.

Wish that you never had to leave and vow to win the lottery so you can return to Venice and take months worth of lessons and then build your own batela. Oh and in case I forget, please ensure that you get at least one photograph of that certain Gondolier that looks like Tom Cruise

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Snuzie & Alistair at the Colosseum

Snuzie & Alistair at the Colosseum

Today I volunteered to stay behind and let my brother’s Alistair and Snuzie have their own special day at the Colosseum. The following is my interpretation of Alistair’s adventures today.

Alistair left very early this morning, some would say too early. So early in fact that he was the first one at the Colosseum and I don’t mean just tourists, I mean no souvenir vendors, no staff, nobody. Well a couple of feral cats that live at at the Colosseum. So apparently pictures were taken, dirt was abducted (decided to actually take dirt from Rome, specifically Colosseum dirt) as a souvenir. Italy is now smaller by approximately over 1 teaspoon and 1 very small piece of marble. This marble could have been a seat in the Colosseum for all I know. It’s not really a rock, more a tiny pebble. Luckily I’m not the one going to jail as I wasn’t there.  Apparently Rome was invaded by the likes of my brother who claimed a tiny peice as his own. Now he thinks he’s Ceaser Alistair because he conquered a teaspoon of dirt. Next thing  you know he’ll want one of those shiny crowns, a toga, some sandals and a palace or palazzo and slaves and a garden and a monument and an arch and some columns. You get my drift.

At 9:40, Alistair the Evil, went below the Colosseum where they used to keep the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). Alistair is convinced that he’s the only bear that has emerged from the cell under the stage alive in one piece. Well him and Snuzie and they think they are both pretty special now. They have pictures to prove it. They saw the Gate of Death (where the gladiators entered the arena and the Gate of Triumph where they departed if still alive). The saw where the elevators were raised with the animals in them. Then they climbed all the way up to the 3rd level where the women and slaves had standing room only seats. They said they liked that view a lot but it was super windy up there, way up high. I wonder if the boys sat lower down to look up the ladies skirts (oops, did I say that out loud?).

Anyway they had a super time (Alistair said they were very first in line at the Colosseum, at the very front and when you think 30,000 people a day go through they were the first of 30,000).  They loved that they virtually had the place to themselves for the first 15 minutes.

To thank me for letting them go without me they bought me a present. Something I really wanted but was told I couldn’t have because it was too expensive (30 Euro). But I really wanted my souvenir and they knew that. Apparently they found one for less money and so when they got home there he was. Just for me. My very own Pope John Paul II Bobble Head. I call him P.J. That stands for Pope John even though he kinda mostly went by Pope Paul. He has been busy trying to do a mass on our sofa in our room. No conversions yet although he’s doing his best. My new friend was from Poland, lived in Krakow. That’s like 20 minutes from Auschwitz. I’m glad he made it, he was an actor before being a priest and a pretty good one I understand (and handsome too, nice 8×10).

So that’s my story for today. I hope Alistair doesn’t have to go to jail because that would mean he’d likely be killed by a gladiator in the Colosseum because he was a naughty boy. He shouldn’t celebrate any victory until we’re safely back in Canada. He says in exchange we can send all that Lire we still have that’s no good now.

Offical report by reporter Baxter as told to him by Alistair the Bear (World traveller).

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Okay…okay…it’s a city not a town. Today (oggi) we put all our undesirables (dirty undergarments) and walked a whole block to the laundry. You hand them the bag, they take your name and 2 hours later it’s washed, dried and folded. You hand the nice boy about 11 Euro and depart with a smile on your face.

To the Metro then and beyond…to the Colosseum stop. Keep walking, keep walking…past the forum…to the Victor Emmanuel II Momument (first King of Rome). Took pictures, took more pictures, saw stupido tourists get in trouble for sitting on steps as signs everywhere say “Stupid tourist don’t sit on steps”. We climbed up the steps to the regular folks viewpoint but paid our 7 Euro to ascend on the elevator to the tippy top (best durn view of Roma except the blasted sun). The sun washes out the view cuz it’s so bright and then all that reflection from the white momument because…well it’s awfully very white you see.

Now I am up high in the sky near the sun which is baking my little head and turning my brain into a mush bath. But the sun is not done with me, no my little friends the reflection of the light off all the white raises the heat because now it’s coming up at me hotter than it comes down. Mush brain now liquid brain…can’t concentrate, tummy upset, pretty sure about to die but stumble onwards taking shaky pictures of the view and trying to find shade (ha..ha..funny…what shade?). Crawling now on all fours, panting like a dog (oh yeah I am a dog) I have found my way back to the elevator and head down. Someone has put in a cafe with mist water fan things. Need water! We go inside and purchase a fruit bowl, a Coke and a bottle of water and now we wait…and wait…for a table. Finally we are rescued by an Italian couple and when they left the table, we rescued a lovely couple from Peru by sharing our table with them. I said to her “Parle Inglese?” Luckily she spoke English and Spanish so we said it must be quite easy to understand Italian if you speak Spanish. She said yes she thought it would but hasn’t understood a single word they say. She was funny. We left together, now less baked and slightly more human.

And now a word from our sponsor.

The horse statue out front of the monument is 43 feet long and is the largest equestrian statue in the world. The king’s moustache is over 5 feet wide and a person can fit into a horses hoof. To climb up to the first view area we had to climb 242 punishing steps. Ha.. ha…they don’t know squat. They oughta climb the stairs from the platform of the Metro Line B from Castro Pretoria to the street level. Forget Saint Peter’s climb to the dome, this is the only time Mom had to stop (twice) and was out of breath. The stairs are spaced quite far apart so you have to lift your knees up and by 1/2 way your knees say (piss off stupid human type) and that’s it. Stuck forever half way up from the Metro.

Word for Dan…we saw a man making little motorcycles and thought of you and bought you one but then something horrible happened. Something horrific.  My brother’s Spookie and Norbert discovered that they are a perfect fit. Spookie being a ghost is now “Ghost Rider in the Sky”. I  can not guarantee you will now actually get this bike unless you pry it from Spookies cold dead hands (don’t forget he’s a ghost). Good luck with that! |Oh well it’s the thought that counts, right?

And now I leave you as it’s time to depart on our Roma by Notte Tour with Paulo. He was a flight attendant with Air Italia for 25 years. It’s a private tour of 3 hours so better visit the toilet before I depart (Io parto).


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Apple Bouquet

Apparently some soothsayer said there would be a massive earthquake on May 11, 2011 and that Rome would be leveled. Apparently according to the BBC several local folks left the city “just in case”. Rest assured there was no shaky ground here, I know because we walked all day and nothing shaked, not even a little bit.

What is it about Italian fruit? It is a million maybe a trillion times better than fruit from California or Hawaii. It is so sweet and fresh and tasty, why it’s almost as good as the gelato. The strawberries are to die for, the bananas….num…num..I wish I could bring them home. They even put them in floral bouqets. If you’ve never seen a apple and rose bouqet you are in luck because I shall put a picture here for you. Aren’t they pretty?

Today we were so early to the Sistine Chapel/Museum and because we pre-purchased our tickets in advance we skipped the entire line, walked in like friggin celebrities. Straight in, no wait at all. So we got pictures of stuff with no folks around to bother  us at all. I like feeling like a celebrity. Did you know that celebrities existed even before Christ, who is quite the celebrity around Rome, darn pictures everywhere, worse than the tabloids on Angelina and Brad. The only person with more pictures plastered around here and his very own bobble head doll (Dad says I can’t have one but I have pocket money), is Pope John Paul II. I think I need a bobble head Pope, Dad says he’s all poped out but I’m feeling a little bobble head coming on. Perhaps I can sneak one in my luggage. I’m trying to find a mini scooter (cuz there are millions of scooters here, everywhere you look there’s another 500 scooters). Anyway I want to find a little scooter for Mr. Dan but they are all ugly and cheap…even too ugly for Dan and that’s really ugly.

Did you know the best gelato place is the White Restaurant. It’s called that because the whole place is white and black. Really pretty nice, especially the gelato. Course we had a good one today (gelato I mean) too. Oh, who am I kidding, we have gelato and pastries every day. In fact a feel a pastry coming on in about 9 hours. Better make room in my tum..tum.

My friend Desiree from Halifax has arrived and we took them for walkies tonight. Tomorrow we spend the night with them terrrorizing Rome. Maybe that’s the earthquake that was predicted! The downfall of Rome thanks to Baxter and his gang of Canadians eh!

Later people who are anywhere but Rome tonight. I feel sorry for you!

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Baxter at St. Peter's

Baxter at St. Peter's

Why hello Senore Swiss Guard man, I have a lovely sheet of paper for you. No, I don’t want my picture taken with you just a quick wave of your hand and a nod of your head and I shall continue on my way to the Scavi Office. Hey I thought you were only letting people in 10 minutes before. I say dear fellow with your pretty blue and yellow and really quite flamboyant garments, what have we here? Why some are an entire 30 minutes ahead of the allowed “wave through”. Never mind, I have exchanged my paper for actual tickets and taken the allowed photograph.

With our British tour guide whose name I remember not (because I couldn’t hear it) we gathered in the little room where a model sat. With white pillars and sort of imbedded into a wall (actually part of the wall) we learned that this was the trophy of Gaius. Nothing at all like a trophy, no bowling ball on top, no little molded statue of a mini golfer. This trophy is like a little alter that goes over or shrine over a tomb. There was a hole where you could have originally tossed coins which I think was to pay the ferryman to take you across that final river when you died. I think I’ll swim across and save my coins for the gelato man who I hope is on the other side.

We now enter the necropolis or city of the dead. This particular one is under St. Peter’s in Rome. They had little streets and little houses for their dead and you were expected to visit and perhaps have a picnic and hang out with those who passed on. Not every dead person was buried in these tombs in the same way. Some were cremated (they were in jars, not like a peanut butter jar, more like a vase), others were in coffins, others were in their own sarcophagus (with really nice carvings and a Latin inscription) telling how long they had lived, right down to the hour. It was important how long you lived not when you died.

Now these cities of the dead were where the dead could all hang out together and take care of each other. You were expected to visit. You could even bring food or wine or even  blood from a sacrificed animal which you would pour through a hole in the floor of the little house where you’re dead relatives were. If my family was down there I would put gelato and chocolate biscuits down the holes.

Lots of children died young, 50% before the age of one. That’s why there was a rule that you were supposed to have 6 children. 2 would die before age 1, one would die before adulthood, 1 would die before they had children so if  you were lucky then 2 would survive to keep the population the same. Makes sense until you have health care and then you overpopulate the world and make a big fat mess of things. But I digress.

In this underground city that lay some 45 feet underneath St. Peter’s I was most surprized to learn that Roman mythology was rampant, lots of frescoes of various gods and the Christians were an illegal little Jewish sect that had to hide the fact they were Christian so various symbols were used to indicate they were Christian but it was a secret code, early vandalism I call it.

I loved walking throught this little underground city, poking into the little rooms, looking at the art still visible on the walls and especially I liked the peacocks. Lots of drawings of peacocks as they stood for eternal life because the skin doesn’t rot…or something. They believed this to be true anyway.

We made our way up the little streets and learned that a lot of reinforced walls had to be built because by digging out this hidden city it meant that nothing would be holding up St. Peter’s and we don’t want the church to fall down, I’d be squished for sure.

At the end we saw the corner of the wall of St. Peter’s tomb and entered a lovely little chapel where we could look up through a grate in the floor and see the baldacchino which is like a giant alter. That’s where the Pope and only the Pope can give a service from. The people above us have no idea we are down there. Although the original little alter for St. Peter from back in 200 AD is all there we could see only 1 pillar of the original. Finally the highlight for many was Peter’s bones. They are incased in tiny cases and put into a crevasse in the wall near where they were found. I’m glad they are there and not divided up around the world to be shown in various cathedrals. I was glad to see that although disturbed and analyzed they kept them here. I told Peter to say a quick hello and pass on our thanks to Grandma Kinshella as she was the one that ensured we were on this tour. She would have loved to have come to St. Peter’s herself as she was a super duper Catholic. Still we brought her ring so something she often wore made it to see St. Peter. If she had a little house under St. Peter’s I would definately have stopped by for a gelato and a visit.

I wish we could have stayed in the necropolis longer, the hour and a half flies by. The tour really is an underground cemetary tour. My Mom used to give cemetary tours too so we felt at home. No ghosts I’m afraid and I don’t think St. Peter is down here hanging out. I’m pretty sure he took his keys that Jesus gave him and spends time in that really nice place somewhere over the rainbow. Sorry I feel a song coming on….

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It was a dark but not stormy night and all was not well in room 104. Alas the tired travellers had retired for the evening at the hour of 8:00pm but it was the male of the dastardly duo that awoke at 3:15 am. He had no wish to disturb that which lay beside him (neither it a Baxter or pillow be) and made haste to the lobby where he settled in to await the morn. He was not alone our intrepid explorer for in that same lobby was none other than “The Night Auditor” or for Italian purposes the “Notte Auditor”. He had alternate plans for his evening which (doth I say aloud) may have included a silent slumber upon the divano. Alas he could not now that the reader had arrived and sat opposite. And so it went until some 3 hours hence until the arrival of the female who had awoken at 4:15 am and was now ready to find her missing partner.

And so it was the couple would depart from the angry gaze of the “Notte Auditor” after leaving him with their key while they departed some 60 minutes before the introduction of breakfast foods.

The couple wandered nye the neighbourhood and found that it constantly offered up venues of fresh pastries of delectable vision to the eye and the aroma of coffee permeated the morning air. The visions of culinary delight beckoned through glass fronted eateries that were just steps apart but our heros only feasted with their eyes as their own colizione beckoned upon the hour of 7:00. And so they returned at that hour and made way to the banquet table upon which were pastries and fruits of all description on fine china and the mistress sipped upon the frothy milk that sat sweetly upon her Caffe Americano.

Many would have stayed at the sumptious table but they bade farewell to journey forth to the basilica to gaze upon the wonders of Michaelangleo and Bernini and to discover all that which lie some 45 feet below the alter of St. Peter. And in that most holy place did they see the bones of the apostle and the frescos of the peacock and hoped that they would not be required to soon have a coin of their own to pay the ferryman to take them across that final river.

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This is a test to see if I can post from my IPod thing a ma jiffy. Laptops are too heavy and cumbersome…not cumberbund as that’s a tuxedo thingy I thinky.

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