Saturday, May 28, 2011


The towers of Florence reach upwards, as if trying to climb out of the Arno river valley. The highest point in town is the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore; its sun-like color still marks it as a triumph of human design, and one of the primary emblems of the Renaissance. Hearing it was not an experienced to be missed, we decided to climb to the top.
In North America, you pay ten dollars for entertainment and take your seats in the movie theater. In Europe, you pay the same amount and are then expected to climb five hundred steps so you can get a good view. As we ascended, I thought how clearly the changes of altitude in this landscape must have influenced Dante's journey through heaven and hell:

…“This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.” (Purg. IV, 88-95)

And it is true: as we came to the top of the winding staircase in the Duomo, we were greeted with the most remarkable sights. First, the inside of the dome itself, seen from a balcony that ran along the circumference. Painted on it was a vivid scene, seemingly straight out of the Divine Comedy. People walking on the church floor below were scarcely bigger than whispers.

But we left them, too, behind when the balcony turned to the outside. Having to climb another hundred steps, we finally arrived at the summit. Florence was all around us. The old spires, sandstone houses, olive-covered hills.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Even though we only left Venice yesterday, it already feels like a long time ago. We hopped on a train in the morning and went to Verona. We spent a couple hours there, walking the streets and looking at an old castle.

Then we took another train to Florence. This was our first high-speed train, and I really enjoyed it! it reminded me of flying in an airplane (the way it was set up in the train) but with the difference being that one could look out the window and see beautiful Tuscany pass us by. At times, though, we couldn't see anything but darkness, due to the train passing through long tunnels. I didn't mind, and simply used the time to get in a couple short naps. After what felt like a long day of travels, we finally arrived in Florence!

After settling in at our hostel, we crossed a bridge on the hunt for a restaurant and enjoyed the gorgeous sunset!

I was extremely excited when we found a spot right under a fan in a little restaurant. Best pasta I have ever had!! Yum!

On our way back, we crossed a different bridge, which had little shops and houses ON the bridge. A guitarist was sitting at the side of the walking bridge, wooing the passersby into a sweet romance with the city.

As I saw this car, I had one thought: Dustin.
(Cousin, make sure you check out the license plate..I think you own this)

We're heading off for supper shortly - more pasta!! Thanks for being a part of our journey! Love hearing from you, so leave a comment! :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

through rose-colored glasses?

It was in Venice that I received my first rose one this trip. It was the fifth man that was trying to get my cousin Adam to buy a red rose for me. After calling him a bad husband, he handed me a rose. I thanked the man and was surprised when, as Adam was explaining that being married to me would be illegal, the man gave me another rose! You may ask why I took the roses..but then here is my question to you: What would you do if a beautiful red rose gets handed to you? Yeah, I thought so. Anyways, so as I was awkwardly holding my prized possessions, the man turned to Adam and asked for 5 euros. I started laughing (probably more out of unease than anything else). Adam was adamant (haha) about not paying the man, which was fine by me. I told him he could have the roses back, because we really didn't want to buy any, but he won't take them back! So I just said ok, I would buy one. He took the other one back, I handed him some coins, and we were on our way.
(There is a sequel to this story, but you'll have to ask me in person. It's getting late and I want to put some pics up and not bore you with my rose stories. In short though, there are two fresh roses in our room tonight...and yes, same man.)
One of my favorite times here in Venice was when we took the water bus all around the main island.
The sun was setting and the setting was beautiful!!

Another one of my favorite things in Venice!! (the gelatto, that is :)

Some other pics of beautiful Venezia!

Ciao for now!

Postcards from Italy

The nine o'clock bell rings on our last day in Venice. It is, in a word, oversaturated. The main streets swim with trinket shops and tourists. The water is almost too green. The sun is sweltering hot in the open "campos". But for all this, a mystery remains in this city - stuccoed over with a few hundred years. It is this mystery that keeps me searching the shadowed alleyways, where daylight only lasts from noon until three. I seek out the house where Ezra Pound lived in the early 20th Century, I visit the prisons of the Doge, cross the Bridge of Sighs. Today, I walked for hours looking for San Barnaba, after confusing it with San Barbaro (I walked by the lute player in that square five times, from different angles). San Barnaba (at least the facade) is the location where Indiana Jones breaks a hole in the library floor and finds the tomb of the Knight Templar.

We have, for most of our nights here, slept in a place that calls itself "The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World". It has a back door right onto a quiet part of the canal, and many books are stacked on top of two out of use gondolas that are placed in the middle of the store. Perhaps that mysterious force of Venice guided us to those little rooms, not advertised anywhere. We found out they had dorm rooms on a simple inquiry into the bed and breakfast they had on a different floor. No other visitors came the four nights we stayed. The only other people that crossed our path there were a Romanian family, and K-----, an ex-American writer (with a desire to open up her own nude beach on the islands) who looked after the place. She regaled us nightly with her opinions on the CIA's activities in Venice. As for sleep, our beds were nestled among overstocked books, underneath chandeliers and a paint-flaked ceiling (I've attached a picture of the unused master bed below). A courtyard was ours to use during the day, with a clothes line to hang our washings and several cats, who liked to rest upon the table. It was from this home base that we would strike out daily in our exploration of the city. More on that, later.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Looking back: Incarceration in France

That is the feeling I had as we wandered the streets of the beautiful city for the last time. The amount of words coming out of people's mouths was fascinating, as I pondered what in the world they were talking about. It was not a good feeling, being unable to communicate, being left in the dark...especially when those that were talking to me wore such grim expressions. But, having moved on, I choose to remember the good of Paris. So that is what I would like to share with you in the following pictures.

Notre Dame Cathedral:

We attended a service with some hymn sing in French.

Behind the cathedral was a beautiful little park, where we broke out our lunch.
(Grandma - there were beautiful roses EVERYWHERE!! Made me think of you often :)

Had the birds eating right out of our hands!!

I suppose this is what we looked like quite often, but....

...we sure had our fun as well!! :)

And on that happy note, i suppose I shall leave you for now. Although I cannot stop myself with putting up one last beauty.
Eiffel Tower at night, moon in background, and in the forefront, people who didn't listen when their mothers told them not to play with fire. Neat show!

Night Train Paris to Venice

I am on the night train from Paris to Venice. We boarded at 7:27pm, a bit uncertain. The rooms were muggy, claustrophobically so, and the train older than the others that pulled into the station. I felt like I stepped onto a vintage reel of North by Northwest. To add to the delusion, Nadia and I have been given rooms in two different train cars. I haven't seen her since the Bercy station. My bunk-mate is a sixty year old man who speaks only Italian. He has taken off his coat, revealing an off-white undershirt and a boarish belly. When he is out of the room, I accidentally start drinking from one of his Amerino carbonated water bottles, thinking it is complimentary on the train. When I realize it, I try to cover up my mistake by screwing the cap back on tightly, and disguising the bottle I sipped from behind the other, unopened, one.
He re-enters the cabin, and is somehow drawn right to the fizzy water. Taking one up, he points it towards me. My embarrassment grows: he is offering it to me. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong bottle. I take it, using my non-existant Italian to best convey my emotions.
Interestingly, his flourish of kidness continues. He asks me, in a word, if I want a “cafĂ©”. I nod, and follow him down to the back car of the train, past a cluster of dining tables set out with orange tablecloths. Here, a small bar is set up, manned by another Italian. He buys a tall coffee for me, and a short for himself, and we sip them, silently. There are little villages passing by outside the window, and white cows ressting comfortably at the bottom of the hills.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Recipe from the Heart of France

We're fortunate to have spent the first four nights around Paris with the Elmers, a couple of expatriate Brits who have lived in their new home for 28 years. They shared this recipe with us for a delightful Date and Walnut Loaf. We took a little bit with us into the city each day for lunch. They gathered the nuts off of the neighbor's tree, although I'm sure the recipe would taste -almost- as good anyway you make it.

Date and Walnut Loaf

8 oz dates
8 oz Self Raising Flour
2 oz chopped walnuts
2 oz butter
2 tblsp Honey
3 oz sugar
1 egg

Chop dates and steep in 1/4 pt boiling water.
Cream together butter, honey and sugar
Add egg
Stir in flour and nuts, then add date mixture.
Place in loaf tin and bake at 325°, gas mark 3 for 1-1½ hours

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts on Eiffel's Tower

The bust of Eiffel himself is raised up, indignant, at the north leg of the tower. His mustache is strict, and bird droppings run down his head like sweat. His creation has overtaken him. The beams of this tower are so much bigger than his own. When, in a thousand years, a lonely human digs up its remains, he will think he has found an anchor that once tied down the sky.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oh la la Paris!

When we arrived in Paris, we looked at how to get to the right train station that would get us to the Elmers' house in a small village outside of the city. We were just off the plane, trying to get our legs going (never mind our sleep-deprived brains) and looked at French and English signs that were oh so confusing. A man standing next to us heard what we were looking for, took us under his wing, and led us to where we had to go, explaining everything on the way. I must say, I was still thoroughly confused, but Adam convinced me that he knew what was going on, so I went with that.One airport shuttle and two metros later, we arrived at the train station that would take us to the village. We decided that enough was enough, we HAD to see some of the city! We walked out of the station, and the first thing we saw was a small 'Crepes' restaurant.

We (or I) decided then and there that it was
time for lunch! Mmmm, whole wheat crepes with ham and cheese (and mine had tomato
es and
something green...not sure what, but it was really yummy!).

Oh yes, and as you can see in the pictures, it was beautiful weather! Warm with a slight breeze... just lovely!

So after we went for a walk
down several of the Parisian streets, we hopped on the train (definitely NOT meaning in a literal way here) and went to meet the Elmers'.
We got to the house w
here we are staying for a couple days and immediately fell in love! Love the people, the house, the surrounding area, etc.

After freshening up a bit, we headed out for a walk in the forrest. It was a lovely time, sobeautiful and quiet. I do not remember the last time I was as relaxed as I have been here in the village. It's wonderful!

We got back to the house and had a scrumptious meal, then went for a walk through the village.

(Here's a taste of what the village looks like. We have many more beautiful pictures, but me thinks I'll save some for when I get back ;)

Friday, May 13, 2011

First Flight

I just finished searching a garden for glow worms.
No, this is not a typical end to a day in and around Paris. Our plane landed at Charles de Gaulle, 11:30 this morning. It was the second flight I had taken in my life. The first came hours earlier, a short two hour jaunt from Winnipeg to Chicago. A Canadair RJ: smaller and more outdated than most wooden roller-coasters. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, these faults, there was something magical about this first flight, something sublime. As we lifted off the runway, I could only think of how proud old Leonardo would be that this miracle could be achieved, how jealous it would make prince Rasselas, and how it would astound even Aristotle. This was so much on my mind that, when passing through that lowest level of cloud - and seeing the grey give way to vibrant white - I was almost surprised I did not find the other side filled with cherubim. Instead, a foul smell filled the cabin, and I saw a businessman put down his bag of cashews and clutch his stomach.
This, I believe, is the most unusual thing that most travelers would describe in recollecting a flight. There were not many people with window seats who even bothered to look out. Is it because, even 100 years after Kitty Hawk, we still don't deep down believe the physics of flight? Or do we have to ignore the strangeness in order to feel secure?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just About to Go

Glad you could make it. I thought we'd almost have to leave without you!
The tickets are booked for a 2:52pm departure on May the 12th. I have spent the last few hours working in preparation for this deadline: photocopying my passport, showing off my bedroom to a potential sub-letter, trying to get my antiquated printer to connect to any computer in the house for a single sheet of an airline receipt. With this done, I can relax. Europe unrolls like the sea monster's spots on ancient maps. I have heard accounts of wonder and of danger, too. In the end, this will be nothing more than one account among many. Another sentimental journey through France and Italy (to borrow the title from a book by Laurence Sterne, which I haven't read). Maybe all such accounts are flawed, unable to grasp what is truly sublime, those things that make a European experience valuable in the first place. Otto Von Bismarck said, "Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong: it is a geographical expression". But at the least, this page will be a little porthole where you, the ones left behind on this continent, can peer across the divide into that antipode on the other side where our travels will begin.
Our flight should land in Paris by midmorning on the 13th. Our days are not planned in detail, we will string them together around the sights we want to see. The Louvre, the Tower, the Catacombs. For this night, and a few to follow, we have secured a spot to sleep with some generous family on the outskirts of town. The rest of the journey will not have such accommodations. We will wind south through France, stopping at castles, green valleys, and perhaps the old residence of the antipopes in Avignon.
From here, we cross the northern part of Italy, ferry down into Greece, then make our way around the Mediterranean into Spain. This all should take the course of two months. The final leg of the tour is a flight from Madrid into Dublin, Ireland, where we will spend another two weeks exploring some distinct countryside there. The attached photograph of a globe - marked in red - traces some possible paths our journey might take.
I do not promise to post on a regular basis. It will depend on time, and internet access, and surely the current phase of the moon. Hopefully, when posts do come, they will be informative. Hopefully they will be accompanied with pretty pictures. Hopefully, they will give you a chance to learn a bit about the human spirit, that uneasy desire in all of us, to see something new.