Saturday, March 31, 2012

Around the World: Freiburg

March 31, 1992

Before leaving Geneva this morning, I stopped in at a large department store.  I wanted to find a coffee pot like the one Sabina used to make her delicious coffee and after finding something similar, I turned to find the cashier and discovered Nirvana.

I'm gonna need a bigger bag.

A store employee found me blissfully saucer eyed and held out a plate with little chocolate samples.  It would be blasphemy to decline free chocolate in an aisle devoted to it.  The chocolate in Switzerland is mrf mur mum... (I shouldn't write with my mouth full).  Oh, my good gracious, it is delicious!  Maybe it's the mountain air.  Maybe it's just really good chocolate.  At $1 a bar, debate amongst yourselves while I make my way to Freiburg to mail a small container of this stuff home.

The youth hostel, known in German as a "Jugendherberge" is clearly marked on the map, but that doesn't make it any easier to find.  After a two hour hike through scenic Freiburg, I finally find the hostel and grateful that it has a bed available.  It is currently inhabited by 150 small fry that only scream in German.

There's a park bench by the river where I can quietly enjoy some of the chocolate I didn't package up to mail home and a sandwich.  Coming toward me on the path is another confused backpacker with a map searching for the elusive Jugendherberge.  I offered him directions and a handful of crackers, knowing he's already been on a long journey.  He was grateful for the snack and the information and continued on his way.

There are three other girls sharing my room.  The hostel relocated the young students who were given the room earlier to accommodate the new arrival of backpackers.  The four of us shared some wine and gave me directions to the post office.

• ¤ •

"We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Around the World: Geneva Reunion

March 30, 1992

Sabina and I spent yesterday talking and looking over our photos of Egypt.  She works at a nearby stable, taking care of horses.  Her life seems so idyllic, living on the outskirts of a small town, working at a job she loves with creatures she adores.  Her enthusiasm for life is infectious and inspiring.

This morning, I created a magnificent spread of toast and cheese omelets for breakfast.  Sabina makes wonderfully strong and delicious coffee with lots of warm milk.  She drove me to the train station after a very leisurely breakfast that lasted almost until lunch.  I'm off to Geneva, and hopefully a chance to meet Alain again, India's Ajanta caves' sanity saving jester.

I have been on a seasonal rewind.  I left at the beginning of winter, had a sort of leftover autumn on the west coast of North America, a few months of summer in the South Pacific and Asia and now it's spring in Europe.  In a few weeks I'll be home to do it all again in reverse, but in the right direction. 

Geneva appears to be a generic city with a spattering of parks.  There's nothing of particular interest that I want to see.  I find a public phone booth and call Alain.  He is thrilled to know that I am in Geneva and rode his bicycle to meet me.  We spent a couple hours talking and laughing at a bar on the patio over a few pints.  Unfortunately, our visit is brief.  Tomorrow, Alain begins his compulsory military service, as all Swiss males are required to do, starting with 15 weeks of basic training. 

• ¤ •

"You must take personal responsibility.  You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself."
~Jim Rohn

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Around the World: A Saturday in Switzerland

March 28, 1992

I am in Switzerland on a lovely Saturday afternoon.  After a brief stop in Zurich to look around, I was able to get in contact with Sabina, a fellow backpacker I met in India and again in Cairo.

Tourist information in Zurich provided me with a map and a list of museums.  The first one I visited had a display of rocks.  If I was into pebbles, stones and rocks, it might have been interesting.  I was more intrigued by a series of time lapse photographs of changing shadows and colours on a mountain side as the sun set.

Outside the museum is an ambulance distributing clean needles to drug addicts.  Next to the ambulance is a bridge that passes over a creek.  I see someone with a gun chasing another person under the bridge.  Passing pedestrians don't appear to take much notice.  It all seems so commonplace.  That's all the encouragement I needed to leave this part of town.

Just add water...

The second museum, much to my delight, is devoted to coffee.  After a short tour, I am invited to sample some coffee and chocolates.  Full of caffeine and sugar, I return to the train station to catch the train to Grenchen, where Sabina lives.

Sabina meets me at the train station and drives me to her place, a little house on the edge of town.  Outside her house is a grassy hill that leads to an abandoned barn.  Sabina and I are enjoying what's left of the warm spring sunshine, talking and laughing over a few glasses of wine and enjoying the music playing on the radio.  It's all so very soothing.

• ¤ •

"The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal Nature bade me weep no more."
~Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Around the World: Dachau

From the time I was old enough to read short novels, I enjoyed reading stories, written in diary format, about girls around my age.  I liked the day to day happenings written with that unique personal honesty that a young girl approaching adolescence is apprehensive about expressing to anyone.  At a local garage sale, I found a very well read copy of "The Diary of Anne Frank".

Until I visited Dachau, I did not truly understand what I held in my hands.

• ¤ •

March 27, 1992

On the way to the train station, I stop to hear the Glockenspiel chime and watch the little figurines dance about before figuring out how to get from here to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial.  The line that will take me there is free with my Eurail pass.

Dachau was the first of Nazi Germany's concentration camps.  From the station, the memorial is a clearly marked 45 minute walk.  There is a monument that greets visitors with the words "Never Again" written in five languages.  Not far from the entrance is a museum of photographs on display that paint a very graphic and detailed description of life in the camp.

There is a long list of authors under the caption "Hitler's undesirable book burning", followed by a quote by Heinrich Heine,  "Where books are burnt, humans will be burnt in the end."

Only two barracks remain.  The room is covered in photographs with survivor's quotes that clearly describe how prisoners were treated and what is was like to exist in the camps.  The words of one survivor explains that even though they were prisoners, they still had privileges that could be taken away.  Food.  Sunshine. Life. In some of the photographs, the number tattoos are visible on the prisoner's arm.  I remember childhood friends whose grandparents had similar tattoos.  They may not have survived this particular camp, but they were still subjected to the suffering inflicted upon them because of their ancestry, their beliefs, or their opinions against Hitler's agenda.  When Dachau was liberated, American soldiers reported that 1600 prisoners were crammed into each of the barracks, originally designed to house a maximum of 250 people.

I walk through the camp, past the concrete foundations where most of the barracks used to stand, toward the crematorium.  The gas chamber here, disguised as a shower room, was never used.  Air-tight doors on opposite walls are designed to seal the room shut.  Standing inside, I resist the selfish urge to cry, out of respect and sympathy for those who were slaughtered in a room like this one elsewhere.  I don't dare make any noise that alters the haunting silence.

The visitors congregate around the crematorium, the barracks, and the museum.  Away from the crowds is a stone monument tucked into the foliage, almost overgrown, near the perimeter wall just outside the crematorium.  It catches my attention, beckoning me to investigate.  The memory of reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" when I was younger reminds me that children were not spared any of the horrors of the Holocaust.

It says, "Think about how we died here."

Otto Frank was separated from his wife, Edith, and daughters, Anne and Margot, upon arrival at Auschwitz in September, 1944.  Children younger than 15 were immediately sent to the gas chamber, a fate Anne was spared by only three months.  Having been found in hiding, the women were sent to the punishment barracks for hard labour.

In October 1944, Anne and Margot were selected for transfer to Bergen Belsen.  Their mother, Edith was left behind and died of starvation shortly after her daughters' departure.  Tents were erected at Bergen Belsen to accommodate the addition of 8,000 prisoners in the already overcrowded camp. In March 1945, a typhus epidemic claimed the life of Margot and a few days later, Anne, just weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945.

The last thing I see at Dachau is the large iron gate that prisoners walked through on arrival. When American troops arrived to liberate the camp, they were so horrified by the conditions, several American soldiers shot and killed an estimated 40 camp guards after their surrender. The words "Arbeit Macht Frei" are laid into the iron bars on the gate.  Translated it means Labour Means Liberty, or literally work (will) make (you) free.

I am truly ashamed to know the hatred that humans are capable of inflicting upon one another.  The anger wells up inside me and I cannot hold back the tears.  I can imagine the sickening disgust those soldiers must have felt after reading those words and finding the camp overcrowded with emaciated, typhus infected prisoners.  Although a court-martial investigation was initiated, all charges against the soldiers were eventually dropped.

The stone monument I passed on the way in holds a great deal more meaning for me on the way out.  I thought I knew what the Holocaust meant.  I knew about the concentration camps that systematically killed some six million Jews and mass murdered another eleven million Gentiles for being homosexual, disabled, communist, political opponents, religious non-conformists and otherwise "non-Aryan".  Seventeen million people.  Murdered.  All in the name of hate.  Prejudice must never decide the fate of any group, or any individual again. 

Not ever.

• ¤ •

All photos are courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Monday, March 26, 2012

Around the World: Willkommen

March 26, 1992

Today, I walked around Salzburg in the daytime.  The gardens are beautiful to walk through on my way toward the castle.  The outside is all I will see, as I can't afford the admission.  It looks like I'll be heading to Munich a little bit earlier than I had planned.

Munich has placed an hour long stroll between the hostel and the train station that takes me through a park with plenty of pleasant scenery to offer distraction.  I could have taken the subway, but the criss-crossing lines were too confusing to figure out over the single, well-marked cobblestone path to follow to the hostel's front door.

The hostel is busy, but I'm able to find a bunk in a 4 bed dorm with a family of three from France.  The husband and son say very little other than civil pleasantries.  The wife is quite the dictator, friendly but very matter-of-fact about where I should put my bag and making sure I am aware of which bed belongs to whom.  I only have to put up with her for a few moments now and while I'm asleep tonight.

Picnic basket by Jonsu Sampson

The scenery I was mentioning earlier is worth a much longer second look.  A nearby grocery store has all the ingredients for a lovely park picnic, including wine at $1.40 a bottle, some chocolate and fixings for a sandwich.  There are musicians scattered about the park jamming cohesively with other musicians within earshot, and a group of people engaged in a role-playing game of chess.  Each person represents a chess piece called to move by another person perched on a tower chair.   It appears to be a very intense game. 

Human Chess game in progress.
Photo courtesy

It's warm and sunny and I am in Germany.

• ¤ •

"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why. "
~Eddie Cantor

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Around the World: Salzburg

March 25, 1992

Last night I dreamed of music.  An endless stream of unheard tunes played constantly in my head while I slept.  I didn't realize how much I missed the sound of familiar songs.

It's a drizzly, damp day, but a little misty rain won't stop me from exploring Vienna on my last day here, especially with a loaned umbrella.  After a long, leisurely and filling breakfast, I go to visit an artist exhibition of optical illusions before departing for the train station.  I almost made it to the station before I realize I still have Uwe's umbrella.  I walk back to Uwe's apartment and push it through the mailbox slot and brave the drizzle on the way back to catch my train.

Salzburg is a very small place.  I think I saw most of it by night on my way to the hostel and the rest of it searching for a night club or just somewhere to listen to music.  The place I find is a small bar, where I can stand while I sample the local beer.  I don't recognize any of the music, but it's not terrible to listen to either.  Still, it's not quite the fix I was hoping for.

• ¤ •

"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Around the World: Budapest

March 24, 1992

Budapest is just a short train trip from Vienna and gives me an opportunity to visit Hungary.

The tourist information booth at the train station is a bit like accomplishing a task in India.  Once I find the booth, I am sent upstairs to wait in line for 20 minutes only to discover that maps are not available here.  Another booth that changes money downstairs has maps for sale.  It doesn't take long to discover that only major streets are marked, which is often not the type of street I am on.

Sausage Goulash

Not knowing much about Hungary or the city of Budapest, I search for postcards to point out sites of interest.  I can't find those either.  I do know that Hungary is famous for goulash, a thick stew that simmers for hours, making the meat delicately tender.  There are different varieties so I decide to seek out a restaurant that boasts their goulash as the best.  The place I choose does not disappoint.

On a search for a souvenir to bring to Uwe, I discover that my rear end is once again in sampling territory.  Tired of being constantly checked for freshness like a bushel of produce, I find a can of goulash in a small grocery next to the train station and head for the safe haven of Vienna where my butt isn't treated like a loaf of day old bread.

Budapest, leaving the train station.

Vienna is a different animal at night.  As I walk from the station to Uwe's house, I pass several prostitutes advertising their availability, each of them wearing more or less (well... less) the same thing, like a sort of uniform.  Not far from the train station, I notice I am being followed by an unsavory character.  He's lanky and not terribly good at being discreet.  To test my theory, I stop to look at a dress shop window display and notice he stops to examine a window display of fine china and tea sets.  When I start walking, I can see in the reflection of store windows that he is trailing me again.

I have to turn a corner just a few blocks from Uwe's place, and not wanting to be followed home, I duck out of sight into the shadows of a doorway and wait for my lanky stalker to make the turn and continue past me.  I don't know what he saw; if the shadows and the additional height of the step made me appear threatening, but the sight of me startled him.  He increases his pace, now walking ahead of me and looking back over his shoulder frequently.  Whether he is trying to keep track of me or I am making him nervous, I don't care.  I adjust my pace to duck into the alley that leads to Uwe's while he's not looking.

Safely home, I offer to cook the goulash from Hungary for dinner.  Everyone is curious what goulash from a can could be like, but it's actually pretty close to what I had for lunch.  Hopefully, that's a good thing, considering the directions to make it are only in German.

• ¤ •

"We don't live in a world of reality, we live in a world of perceptions."
- Gerald J. Simmons

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Around the World: Vienna

March 22, 1992

It's Sunday and nothing is open today except the museums, which Vienna has a variety to offer.  I spent the day exploring as many as I could.  The clown and circus museum has pictures and miniature circus figures.  The doll and toy museum has teddy bears, trains and handmade dolls that date back to 1740.

The Anker clock marks each hour with a historical figure marching across the clock's face.  At noon, all the figures appear in a sort of parade, each with their own unique music from their respective time.  When the parade began at noon, a person appeared from within the crowd draped in a white bed sheet holding his hands in the air, one hand displaying a peace sign, the other thumbs down.  I wonder if this is part of the show or one individual's protest on the passage of time.

Figaro house was once the residence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart where it is believed he composed The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro.  Most of the furniture from that period has been destroyed or lost, but the museum does boast a desk where Mozart sat to compose his music.

Back at Uwe and Elisabeth's flat, friends of theirs are listening to Uwe's tales of India.  After some Campari with orange juice (tastes like cold tea mixed with rye), we head out for dinner and later to a nightclub.  Nobody likes the music playing so we go to the nearby flat of one of Uwe's friend's and listen to their stereo and talk over a few glasses of wine.

• ¤ •

“Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.”
~Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happy World Down Syndrome Day

Join Down Wit Dat on the 21st of Every 

I always find children to be a bountiful source of inspiration.  Looking for something inspiring to post for World Down Syndrome Day, I asked my six year old twins if they had a message for the occasion.  To put it in age appropriate terms, I asked them specifically, if they had a message for Wyatt, their best friend's baby brother (who turned a year old with his twin sister just over a month ago) who has Down Syndrome.  I found a SMILE treasure trove of Support, Motivation, Inspiration, Love and Education in their responses.

"What do you love about about Wyatt?"

If you could make a wish to give to Wyatt, what would you want him to have for his future? 

This came out of my daughter's mouth almost verbatim. Wow! I'm glad my husband replenished the reachable kleenex supply yesterday. My son's response made me equally proud, especially after several conversations about keeping our hands to ourselves:

After a long list of "firsts" that most infants transitioning into toddler-dom experience, we agreed that we could sum up the first steps, first teeth, first words, first jump, skip and hop, first tree climbed, first joke shared and the endless other firsts that continued after into the following:

Happy World Down Syndrome Day, Wyatt.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day to all.

Around the World: Vienna Comforts

March 21, 1992

After a light breakfast, I walk to the train station and phone Uwe, one of the backpackers I met in India.  He arrived home just a few days ago and is excited to learn that I am in Austria.  When he hears I am planning to visit Vienna, he gives me directions to his home and invites me to stay for a few days.

At the station, I get on a train, thinking I'm bound for Vienna.  It's a chilly day and drizzling cold rain so I'm more preoccupied with finding a warm and dry shelter rather that checking where I'm going.  My lack of attention delivers me to a switching station a few kilometers outside of Graz.  The station master invites me up to the tower, out of the rain, and pours me a cup of tea.  I think he's as delighted with the company as I am to be waiting inside for another train to arrive.

An hour and a half later, I'm back on a train, this time headed in the right direction and soon arrive in Vienna.  Following Uwe's directions, I am unprepared and delighted with Vienna's open and expressive architecture.  I'm used to doorways, pillars and windows on older buildings being decorated with a human form.  This human form is usually female, covered in a loosely draped cloth that walks a fine line between modesty and pornographic.  It's a human body.  It's art.  It's not intended to be nor should it be taken as offensive.  The first of these architectural adornments I discover in Vienna is of a male form.  All that is the defining glory of man is right there, covered in nothing but a warm breeze.

After being in places where women are considered inferior, and after being subjected to the unwelcome and unwanted physical contact of presumptuous perverts, this doorway decoration fills me with hope.  The plentiful carved figures of naked men and partially exposed women adorning the buildings gives me the sense that I, woman, am now in gender equal territory.

Naked is the form the human body comes in.  It is not intended to be, nor should it be taken as offensive, and it certainly shouldn't be abused or molested.  Whether this is true of Vienna culture or not is unknown, but for the first time in months, it's certainly refreshing to have the sense that my personal space will be respected.

"Careful with that axe, Theseus"

Uwe lives in a small, one bedroom flat about an hour's walk from the train station.  He leaves shortly after I arrive, apologizing that he promised to meet a friend for a sauna, but invites me to make myself at home until he returns.  I decide to prepare dinner for Uwe and his girlfriend, Elisabeth to thank them for their hospitality.

Vienna closes at noon today (Saturday) and won't open again until Monday morning.  It's nice to have a place to stay that won't lock me out during the day.

• ¤ •

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice.”
~Abigail Adams

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Around the World: Graz

March 20, 1992

Breakfast includes a giant pot of coffee, buns with jam and pretzels.

The hostel is close to the university and the old part of town.  I followed the hilltop clock tower to find the Schlossberg, or Castle Mountain. 

Castle Mountain.  Photo by Jean François Riemer,
courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

After climbing the twisty steps to the top, I am greeted by a delightful scene of spring in all its glory.  Flowers are in bloom and two small cafes are bustling with people enjoying a pleasant day and the scent of flowers on the breeze.

Clock tower. Photo courtesy
Wikipedia Creative Commons

Using the clock face to tell time is disorienting, and it takes me almost 20 minutes to figure out why.  The original clock only included one hand to mark the hour.  A smaller minute hand was added later.  Every time I look at the clock for the time, I have to take this into account and find it's just easier to ask someone with a watch.

Around 2pm, it starts to rain.  When I arrive at the hostel, the front door is locked and a sign hung on the window explains that this happens everyday between 1 pm and 4 pm for an afternoon nap.  I wish I had known this about an hour ago.  Fortunately, a nearby store opens at 3, and as long as I can feign browsing the selection of wine and chocolate, I can stay dry until the hostel unlocks the entrance.

When the hostel finally opens, my most important mission is to warm the damp out of me in the hot shower.  Back in the room, my Australian roommate greets me with a bottle of wine to share while we look up words and phrases in my German - English dictionary.

• ¤ •

"Ticking away the moments 
That make up a dull day, 
Fritter and waste the hours
in an off-hand way..."
~Time, Pink Floyd

Monday, March 19, 2012

Around the World: Springtime in Austria

March 19, 1992

Checked out of Innsbruck today and picked up buns, bread, the best cream cheese I've ever tasted, wine, cherry jam, chocolate, nuts and pretzels for under $20.

Austria is gorgeous as signs of spring emerge from what remains of the snow.  The mountains and the castles are absolutely breathtaking.

Jugend & Familiengästehaus, Graz, Austria
Photo courtesy Hostel International

Graz is a student town, and the second largest city in Austria.  The hostel looks very much like a university residence and has a number of students living here for the school year.  I share my room with a Japanese girl studying piano and a backpacker from Australia.

In the courtyard is course for taxi drivers.  My new Australian friend and I have combined some of our snacks to nibble on.  My upper bunk serves as comfortable platform where we can observe the driving lessons and take in the view while enjoying some English speaking company with a glass of wine.  

• ¤ •

"Springtime is the land awakening.  The March winds are the morning yawn."
~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard in Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Around the World: The Brenner Pass

March 18, 1992

It's absolutely amazing what a quiet night in a room to yourself will do for a tired girl.  Well rested and freshly showered, I'm heading back into Italy to travel through the Brenner Pass to the tiny town of Merano.  It's not an easy place to get to, requiring transfers in Fortezza and Bolzano before arriving in Merano.

Autobahn through the Brenner Pass.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Brenner pass is the lowest of the few mountain passes in the Alps that connect Northern Europe with the popular Mediterranean destinations in the south.  The view is breathtaking. The surrounding mountains are enormous and still full of snow.  Around every corner is a castle more beautiful than the last and the hillsides are littered with vineyards and cattle grazing fields.

Merano is a quiet, peaceful little town of little boutiques and cafes.  Thinking I have just enough time for an ice cream and wiener shnnitzel from a street vendor, I arrive at the station just in time to watch the last train bound for Innsbruck pull out of the station without me.

Merano castle, vineyard and mountains.

Where there's a will...

A train leaving in half an hour arrives in Bolzano at 20:40, another leaves for Brenner at 20:43 and arrives at 22:15.  From Brenner, another train departs at 22:20, and arrives in Innsbruck at 23:10.  In Brenner, three German skiers and myself have to negotiate two freight trains and five rail lines to just barely make it to the train in time.  Once I finally arrive in Innsbruck, I learn that the last bus going near the hostel left half an hour ago.  Fortunately, it's only a thirty minute saunter.  The time passes quicker with a frankfurter to nibble on.

• ¤ •

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."
~Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Around the World Innsbruck

March 17, 1992

Just before the Italian - Austrian border with a little over an hour left in the trip to Innsbruck, an empty couchette becomes available.  I pull out the seats and get some sleep in between several ticket and passport checks.  When I wake up, I discover that I have overslept Austria all together.  I'm in Munich.

Luckily, a train is departing for Milan through Innsbruck shortly.  I jump on and finally arrive in Innsbruck.  Tourist information is of no help.  Instead, I am given directions to go down the street and around a corner to find a map.  Realizing that these are directions to become completely disoriented, I head back to the train station where I find someone who knows where the youth hostel is, how much it costs and gives me a very basic map of Innsbruck with just barely enough information to find it.

At the hostel, the room is cheaper than it was quoted at the train station, so I opt to call this place home for the next two nights.  Tired, but curious, I head out to explore the town.  The old part of the city is really close to the hostel and so very old world Bavaria.  It's very quiet wandering through the cobblestone streets with a stunning view of the Alps on the horizon. 

Innsbruck, the old city
Photo courtesy American Greetings

Groceries include wine, crackers, chocolate and juice.  Tried to call home, but the phone ate my 10 schillings and cut me off even though I called collect.  I try to fight off the fatigue with some knoedel soup, dumplings in a thin broth.  Very delicious, but only makes me more sleepy.

Innsbruck and the Alps.
Photo courtesty

It's not long until sundown when I wake from a two hour nap and decide to address some laundry fermenting in my knapsack.  My room has a sink so I gather up my socks and a skirt that smell strangely of fish.  After rinsing the clothes three times, I lather up some hand soap and scrub my socks and skirt before rinsing everything clean.  The rungs from the top bunk bed serve as a convenient clothesline to dry everything overnight.  The hostel has a laundry service, but after rinsing out my skirt, I realize that had I chosen that option, everything I own would now be stained purple.  I also would have missed the sock stalactite art I've created out of the adjacent bunk bed.

It's almost 8pm and I can keep my eyes open no longer.

• ¤ •

"Our way is not soft grass. It's a mountain path with lots of rocks. 
But it goes upward, forward, toward the sun."
~ Ruth Westheimer

Friday, March 16, 2012

Around the World: Milan & Venice

March 16, 1992

Milan doesn't offer much for the wayward tourist, but still interesting to wander around for the morning.  Explored a small museum / fort and "Duomo", a beautiful cathedral. 

Milan's Duomo Cathedral

The detail in the cathedral's interior and the stained glass windows for each station of the cross are brilliant.  Found a little grocery and bought some supplies to eat on the way to Venice.

Interior of the Duomo Cathedral

 Venice is a stunning city full of artsy boutiques and oozes with creativity.  Everything from finely detailed trinkets to glass work, to jewelry, paintings, clothing, Carnevale masks.  The only way to travel around Venice is by foot or by boat.  The first floor of Venice's older houses are completely submerged leaving staircases and windows under the water line.  The city continues to be threatened by floods that raise the water level by a few inches following certain tides.

Venice Gondola and Gondolier.
Photo by SwilkArt

I'm happy to have finished my tour of Italy in Venice.  At least I'll leave Italy knowing there is much that is good about this boot-shaped country, most of it north of Rome.  Accommodations for the evening will be another overnight train that arrives in Austria come morning.

At the train station, I join a large queue of people trying to make travel arrangements or, like me, trying to figure out why their train is late.  The timetable says my train departs at 8pm, but there's no sign of it.  The young Japanese girl and her mother in line ahead of me want to take the train to Greece, but the clerk won't let them.  He tries, patiently to explain that there is no service on this line, but the daughter doesn't understand and keeps showing him that there is, in fact, train tracks that go from here, through Yugoslavia to Athens.  Finally, both parties in this discussion are exasperated with each other when the mother finally asks, "Why can't we take the train to Greece?"

"Because," the clerk bellows, trying to contain his frustration unsuccessfully, "There's a war on!"

Now, it's my turn.  Amused from the previous exchange, and trying to lighten his irritation, I approach him with a welcoming smile and inquire about the train delay.  "This is incorrect," he says, scribbling on my timetable, "The train will arrive at 8:30 and depart at 10 p.m."

So I wait.

A typical couchette car provides seating for 6 people.
The seats on one side meet up with the seats on the
opposite wall to create beds for 3 people.

When the train arrives, all the doors to the couchettes are locked.  Finally, a conductor informs me that there are seats available in the car ahead of this one.  The train is full and I am sharing this couchette with an older man from Miami and an American soldier, both on their way to Munich.  The other two girls sharing this couchette preclude the possibility of stretching out for some sleep.  

• ¤ •

"There's something beautifully soothing about a fact - 
even (or perhaps especially) if we're not sure what it means."
~Daniel J. Boorstin

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Around the World: Pompeii

March 15, 1992

Preparing myself for the trip to Naples to see the preserved ruins of Pompeii.  I remember the story of Pompeii from my grade 2 Italian teacher who showed the class a movie about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD.  Now, it may seem an odd thing to show a bunch of 8 year olds, but at the time, I was already fascinated with hurricanes and tornadoes.  I was captivated watching a recreation of Vesuvius being able to destroy in seconds that which took generations to create.

The train to Naples takes longer than I anticipated and a few delays add to the travel time.  It's almost 3pm when the train pulls into the station and I quickly figure out how to take the subway to Pompeii.  When I finally get there, a little after 4, the site is closed for the day.

I see what I can through the locked, iron bar gate.  I'm disappointed that I won't get any closer to the ruins than I am, but also a little glad.  I learn at the gate that not only is there a charge for admission, there is an additional charge to hire a guide and you kinda have to take the whole tour.  I don't think I could handle an entire day devoted to death.  My morbid curiosity is satisfied with the purchase of a few postcards.

Plaster injected into voids in the ash layer
recreates the forms of Vesuvius's victims.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Naples is filthy.  Dogs and birds have marked everything possible.  Street signs, sidewalks, benches, even the subway platform is not immune.  On the way to the station, I pass an elderly man walking through a park.  Pinch! With only him and me in the park, there is no mistaking who is the culprit.  Irritated with Italy and fed up with men handling my behind, I drop my bag of water and oranges and chase after the pervert.  He obviously knows what's in store for him and wisely runs faster than I can.  Content at delivering an assortment of obscenities and insults, I walk back to collect my bag, regretting that I hadn't thought to bring a few oranges with me.  Picturing myself chasing after an old man while pelting him with blood oranges makes me burst out laughing.  I get a few odd stares from the other people I pass on the path, but at least they keep their hands to themselves.

• ¤ •

"I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humour in it."
~Frank A. Clark

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Around the World: Florence & Pisa

March 14, 1992

Found a cheap pensione in Florence last night and washed the experience of Rome down the drain in a wonderfully hot, steamy shower.  I was pleased to discover the bed was fairly firm and didn't fold up around me.  Actually had one of the best night's sleeps I've had in a while.

A grocery store not far from the train station supplied my breakfast of cheese, bread and juice, plus a few oranges to snack on while waiting for the train to arrive in Pisa.

Pisa is a very small town, and easy to find the touristy attractions, like the leaning tower.  The tower is being reinforced to prevent it from leaning any further.  Without this work, it would eventually just succumb to the effects of gravity, destroying the town's economy.  At one point, visitors could climb the tower, but that option has been suspended until the efforts to save the tower have been completed.  I did manage to take a couple pictures and buy a little touristy trinket.  Tower seen, leaning confirmed, I headed back to Florence.

Florence is a very pretty city.  The Ponte Vecchio bridge offers beautiful views of the river and gondolas that carry passengers through the canal.  It's difficult to absorb though, as I have to be on alert for dog droppings, pick pockets, butt pinchers and other pedestrians while trying to orient myself with my map and look for street signs.  I find the whole exploring thing quite stressful, actually.

Florence is preparing for Carnevale.  Shops have masks and costumes on display in the windows.  So beautiful, so colourful.  Florence also has pedestrian dedicated areas with wider passageway that make it easier to avoid the hazards and annoyances of traveling on foot.  I decide to stay another night in Florence. Tomorrow, I will brave Italy's dirty and perverted south one more time.

• ¤ •

“Do not insult the mother alligator until after you have crossed the river.”
~Haitian proverb