Sunday, July 26, 2009

Italian pizzas rule the world!

Italy was hot. I never realised how hot the crazy pasta munching place could get. The whole week I was there--except for one day--was in excess of 33 degrees C. But that aint all together bad...

So what did I think of the place?
I think I liked it. History smacks you in the face with all that you see; the food is wonderful (the pizza, damn and heck! Homer would drool for a week); the towns are chaotic and the streets madly narrow (too narrow for cars, in all seriousness, but do you think that stops them?); the wine flows like water, and the folks are direct and to the point, but forever saying prego (you're welcome).

See? That road just aint a road...

It's hard not speaking the language though. Makes ordering dinner quite a challenge and a real adventure. The number of times I sat there looking at the food, wondering what the hell I'm now supposed to eat... But you get that in foreign places.

I learned some Italian before I left home (hi, thank you, you're welcome, I'm sorry but I don't understand, I don't speak Italian, honestly I have no idea what you're talking about even if you talk slower), but everytime I tried explaining I don't understand, the strange rolling words would get tangled on my tongue, leaving me looking like a toad. My expression of complete ignorance said more than any attempted Italian ever could.

On the last night of the course, the class all went out to dinner, then to a pub hidden down one of those crazily small backroads of Urbino, the mad, labrynth walled city:

The bar was called 'The Bosom Bar' and nope, not one of 'those' places. It was just a pub, albeit one with brick alcoves and arched brick ceilings. And it was filled with people. The streets of Urbino were nearly empty but this pub was full. Obviously where everyone in town went to at night. It closed about 2am, when everyone spilled out into the tiny street, taking their drinks with them (it was then I understood why they were serving us in plastic cups). About half an hour after that, someone yelled "To the next bar!" and this motley collection of Italians and Germans, Begiums, Dutch, Columbians, Egyptians, Kiwis, Canadians, Poms, all friends and strangers alike, went as one big bunch of suddenly close people. It was mad. A drunken United Nations out on the town.

God knows how we managed to even talk to one another. So much beer and wine had flowed by then that we were all probably speaking our native tongues in perfect understanding!

I escaped at close to 3am, still having to shave, shower, and pack before my 7am taxi. Then began the homeward spiral; a taxi, a bus, two trains, another bus, a plane from Paris to Florence (and damnit if the Alps weren't covered by clouds), and one further train ride for good measure before I reached my destination in downtown Paris at around 11pm. Piece of cake eh? As my Belgium colleague was saying by the end of the course, Sweet As, Bro.

The Alps from the plane... ah, if only I'd taken my camera on the way over...

My hotel in Paris was 200m from Notre Dame, so that's where I arranged to meet Rosscoe, me ol' kiwi mate - only it turned out that the hotel was 200m from this Notre Dame:

Not this one:

Which was actually about a 10 minute taxi ride away...

Hmm... good start. But pretty much what was expected, to tell the truth :) We've been lost in NZ in the past.

Paris was a blast; that's one way cool city. Ross and I only had a day there, but from snails at midnight to gargoyles at noon, the place rocked. Oh, and the taxi ride around the Arc de Triomphe!! Fuck me. That is the most insane roundabout in the world! We'd spent the morning watching the traffic navigate the thing and worked out that traffic on the roundabout has to give way to traffic coming onto the roundabout!! Think about that for a while; it's just not going to work. The roundabout just gets busier and busier.

The taxi driver was great, although I'm sure his eyes flickered nervously when Ross asked him to take us round the Arc. But he did it, God bless him. And there were cars everywhere. Every-fucking-where. At all angles! Any space you see, you go for it, but if someone beats you, you slam on your brakes so you don't hit them. And the first chance you get to get off, oh boy do you take it!

Simple. If you're stark raving bonkers.

But now I'm home, and as cool as the trip was, and as great as it was to catch up with Ross, I'm glad to be home, although my jetlag is making me wake at odd times and fall asleep when I should really be awake. I'm supposed to be heading to Kuala Lumpur in two weeks time, then South Korea two weeks after that. And that's a problem, cos I really don't like long distance travel..... It's so nice of the airlines to give you a tour of First Class and then Business Class, before leading you into the cattle pens.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Such a long, long trip...

Well, that was a hell of a trip!

Thirty-nine hours spent on a plane, train, bus, or waiting to get onto a blasted plane, train or bus! Urgh. Hell, Australia is a long way away from here... The last leg was the worst; the 1 hour, 25 min bus ride from Pesaro to Urbino, at 6pm, 34 degrees C. Even I could smell myself by then. It was only because the bus was packed with people that anyone sat next to me, I’m sure of it (I did notice it was the last seat filled).

But I made it, and oh how I slept (so much for not packing sleep!). Same again last night; another 10 hours straight; I had 2 beers with the class after the course had finished for the day but declined the offer to head into the old Urbino town for dinner. Tonight, we’ve got dinner at the Summer School, where the course is being held (with panoramic views of the rolling hills – what an awesome place to go to uni), but otherwise we’ll be heading into the old walled township every night so there is ample time to check out this medieval place. And I’m looking forward to it.

But it wasn’t going to happen last night. Jet-lag and the beers had conspired against me by then. The idea of a 20 minute hilly walk—“it’s about 20 minutes,” they say—was so beyond me I doubt I’d gone even if they’d promised I’d see Kate Beckinsale clad in leather fighting werewolves up behind that mysterious giant stone wall.

Actually, that might’ve gotten me moving...

There was one cool thing about all the travel (besides me now being in Italy!), and that was the flight between Paris and Florence. We passed over the Alps, a truly spectacular mountain range; massive craggy peaks, some crested in snow, with great rivers scything their way through the ranges and glaciers rolling their ominous way down towards the towns cradled within the valleys. The peaks faded into the distance, first losing their details to a fine blue mist, then becoming indistinguishable from the surrounding clouds. I really have to take my camera in my onboard luggage on the way back, cos this is a sight that needs to be taken. It was breathtaking. I’m flying to Paris in the afternoon on my way back though, so the lighting may be completely different and the magic might not be visible, but we’ll see.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Italy, here I come!

All right then. It's off to Italy tomorrow, via 3 planes (24 hours travel time), 2 trains (3 hours) and one bus (1 hour)... Boy, it'll be an aventure just to get there!

I'm heading to Urbino, halfway up the calf of the big boot that is Italy. There's a week long Advanced Workshop on Dinoflagellate Cysts (work stuff) being held there, and I'm still wondering how I managed to talk my bosses into agreeing for me to go.

On the way home I'm spending 24 hours in Paris and get to catch up with me ol' kiwi buddy Rosscoe, who is now living in Oxford. Two lads from Hawkes Bay having a wine under the Eiffel Tower... how cool :)

Ross and I once got lost in NZ on our month long tour of the North Island; we couldn't find the ocean at one stage. So I'm a little concerned over our up-coming efforts in Paris. I can see us wandering the backstreets looking for this pointy thing that pokes up into the sky.... Our hotel is 200m from St Michel/Notre Dame, so at the very least, I should manage a cliche picture of me looking longingly at the gargoyes: 'Why was I not made of stone... like thee?'

Such a powerful and heartfelt line, that. Damn good movie, too.

So many sights to see over the next 9 days. I've decided not to pack sleep and will catch up on that when I get back. It's just a pity I don't have time to fit in a ghost tour, as I like doing when I go overseas (I'm heading to South Korea next month for more work, so I'll have to do so then). Still, I do plan on visiting the Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris - I'm practicing my French), and that should satisfy my macabre needs... maybe I'll stop in on Jimmy Morrison too, say G'day.

Oh, and some great news to head off on; my short story Black Peter has been accepted for publication in Tasmaniac Publications's Festive Fear anthology! Woohoo! A lot of secret thanks to make here (whisper-whisper, you know who you are...), plus some cudos to the boys and girls of the AHWA Crit group. Bring on December the 1st!

I've only subbed two short stories this year because I've been working hard on my novel. Thus far, I've had one acceptance, and my other story is still warming the slush pile. So at the worst, it'll be a 50-50 year.

I'll see if I can dust off the, er, dust, from this here blog and post something from the land of Pizza and Mafia...