Sabbatical 2011, Part 1

Overview

I spent some time in 2011 doing some traveling. I started off by traveling around Europe.

Legend:
House — Overnight; Arrow — Day Trip.
Black — Train; Orange — Plane; Blue — Boat; Green — Bus; Red — Car.


View Sabbatical 2011, Part 1 in a larger map

Six-Word Summaries

With all this traveling, I felt like I should keep a travelogue or journal to track my adventures and to have to look back on when I’m old and gray. On the other hand, I’m pretty lazy and that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I’d do a good job keeping up with. So instead — inspired by the very short story often attributed to Hemingway, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” — I’m going to try to summarize each place I visited in just six words.

  • Madrid, Spain: Vibrant mix of historical and modern.
  • Segovia, Spain: Roman ruins justify throngs of tourists.
  • Lisbon, Portugal: Perfect weather, beautiful sights, delicious pastries.
  • Sintra, Portugal: Picturesque country estates; must enjoy climbing!
  • Marrakech, Morocco: Sensory overload. Bright, loud, fragrant, pungent.
  • Tangier, Morocco: Marrakech’s laid-back, beach-bum cousin.
  • Tarifa, Spain: Like a quiet NorCal beach town.
  • Gibraltar, United Kingdom: A quaint subtropical slice of Britannia.
  • Seville, Spain: Effortless style sprinkled with Moorish treasures.
  • Granada, Spain: Last Caliphate stronghold; mostly tourist trap.
  • Barcelona, Spain: Feels European, but not quite Spanish.
  • Meyrueis, France: The nearby Abîme was simply gorges.
  • Millau, France: There’s something other than the Viaduc?
  • Remoulins, France: Those Romans were pretty clever fellows.
  • Nîmes, France: Additional Roman wonders, with more gladiators.
  • Toulouse, France: Nice enough road trip sleep spot.
  • Carcassonne, France: Almost as fun as the game.
  • Tours, France: Convenient base for chateaux day tripping.
  • Paris, France: What can I say, c’est Paris!
  • Geneva, Switzerland: Lovely lakefront; hefty per diem recommended.
  • Montreux, Switzerland: A jewel on the Swiss Riviera.
  • London, United Kingdom: Royal wedding double-bank-holiday weekend.
  • Windsor, United Kingdom: History dating from William the Conqueror!
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands: Old world city where vices abound.
  • Leiden, Netherlands: Canals and windmills and tulips galore.
  • Luxembourg, Luxembourg: Truly a Gibraltar of the North.
  • Strasbourg, France: Surprisingly scenic for a bureaucratic capital.
  • Munich, Germany: Bavarian heaven, with the best würste.
  • Ulm, Germany: Birthplace of Albert Einstein … among others.
  • Prague, Czech Republic: Bohemian heritage, and a tricky language.
  • Kutná Hora, Czech Republic: Monuments funded by medieval silver mining.
  • Vienna, Austria: Leading candidate for European cultural capital.
  • Bratislava, Slovakia: Few sights but tons of atmosphere.
  • Budapest, Hungary: Enchanting, despite the Iron Curtain years.
  • Brașov, Romania: Transylvanian treasure trove, but no vampires.
  • Bucharest, Romania: Still recovering from the Ceaușescu era.
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Vibrantly beautiful: what doesn’t kill you…
  • Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Nice bridge, and many wartime remnants.
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia: Beauty and history befitting Venice’s rival.
  • Split, Croatia: Ferry hub for many island paradises.
  • Zagreb, Croatia: A baroque tangle of narrow streets.
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia: Pint-size capital of alpine Slavs.
  • Bled, Slovenia: Azure lake, island church, clifftop castle.
  • Copenhagen, Denmark: The compact yet vibrant Danish capital.
  • Hillerød, Denmark: Site of Christian IV’s lakefront castle.
  • Elsinore, Denmark: Hamlet’s castle, and lucrative ocean tollbooth.
  • Stockholm, Sweden: A cosmopolitan city across many islands.
  • Gothenburg, Sweden: A charmingly industrial counterpart to Stockholm.
  • Fredrikstad, Norway: Small-town introduction to scenic Norway.
  • Oslo, Norway: Beautiful, tiny, and expensive waterfront capital.
  • Bergen, Norway: Picturesque city on the southwestern fjords.
  • Gudvangen, Norway: Forgettable launch point for unforgettable Nærøyfjorden.
  • Lærdal, Norway: Port with historic village and market.
  • Tromsø, Norway: City on top of the world.
  • Rovaniemi, Finland: Advertised as the home of Santa.
  • Helsinki, Finland: Far further north than it felt.
  • Tallinn, Estonia: A fantastically complete medieval old town.
  • Milan, Italy: Fine example of the New Italy.
  • Rome, Italy: Frenetic city with millennia of history.
  • Vatican City: Richly appointed palace of the popes.
  • Pompeii, Italy: Remote but well-preserved Roman ruins.
  • Florence, Italy: Heart and soul of the renaissance.
  • Pisa, Italy: Tourist town with a teetering tower.
  • Venice, Italy: Elegant legacy of a seafaring empire.
  • Verona, Italy: Romantic setting of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Milan, Italy: Must be nice, went there twice.

Random thoughts

April 2.

Nearly every travel guide says about every city that it is safe “compared to most major cities”. (One exception: when I visited Peru, my book made no such claim about Lima. It had instructions on which neighborhoods to avoid at night, and which to avoid even during the daytime.) Lonely Planet makes this safety claim about Madrid, and while it may very well be true, I think it may just be the case that it’s hard to be afraid of thugs when they speak with a Castillian lisp.

April 4.

First overnight train of the trip. I was in a compartment with four beds. Of my companions, one had continual breathing problems resulting in an “excuse me” cough every five minutes, one fell out of bed onto the floor in the middle of the night, and one person snored. A good start, I think.

April 5.

The Lisbon Metro was closed this morning. When I went to the tourist office to buy discount monument tickets, the woman there helpfully explained that the workers were on strike, “but don’t worry, it’s just a little one”.

April 7.

First travel mishap of the trip. I was to fly direct from Lisbon to Marrakech on Royal Air Maroc (booked from the airline’s own website). I arrive at the airport a little over two hours before departure, and the flight is not listed on the departure screen. There is only one Royal Air Maroc flight listed for the whole day, to Casablanca. I go to the check-in counter for the Casablanca flight and am told that my flight does not exist! Not delayed, not canceled, just … missing. Luckily, they do have record of my ticket and are able to rebook me onto the Casablanca flight with a connection to Marrakech soon thereafter. Amazingly, it all goes off without a hitch and both I and my checked baggage make it to Marrakech.

Of course, I arrive quite a bit later than I was supposed to and the driver from my hotel has already left the airport without me. So I instead take a taxi (which is OK). But then, after getting dropped off at the edge of the pedestrian-only zone, I can’t seem to help but get escorted from where the taxi drops me off to the side street where my hotel is located (which is less OK). Unsurprisingly, the two gentlemen who escorted me want a tip for their trouble. I figure a couple euros is more than enough to make them go away. But no, they demand 20 euros (no way, but I’m willing to haggle the tip too I guess). We go back and forth and, surprisingly, one of the men gets angry and threatens physical violence! The other guy tells me I better do what he says, so I assume this is some good-cop-bad-cop thing. Nonetheless, the “bad cop” is pushing me and kicking my bag, and my fight-or-flight reflex kicks in heavily in favor of flight. I give the “bad cop” ten euros; he then snatches another ten from my hand, but I manage to snatch it back. He starts yelling at me, but luckily the front-desk attendant emerges. The “bad cop” is now yelling at me and the attendant, but after a few minutes I guess he realizes he wasn’t going to get more and that he should quit while he’s ahead. So, he and his friend leave. Welcome to Marrakech!

April 10.

Why do people keep offering me drugs? Both in Marrakech and here in Tangier I’ve been getting at least a half-dozen offers a day. I wonder: do I look desperate for a high, or is there an assumption that people with illicit preferences leave nearby Spain for comparatively conservative Morocco for the taboo thrill of it all?

April 13.

I hate buses. I spent 4.5 bumpy hours on one today to travel the less than 100 miles between Gibraltar and Seville. Why can’t trains go everywhere? Or, alternately, why can’t these be like the Chinatown buses of the northeastern U.S.? They’re bumpy too, but at least they travel dangerously fast.

April 15. Gazpacho Soup Day.

Gazpacho soup, paella, and sangria for dinner. It was hard to resist calling the chef over and asking him to take the soup away and bring it back piping hot. 😉

April 19.

Proof that the Spanish are a more advanced civilization? “Barbecue Ham”-flavored potato chips. These people sure love their pork.

April 21.

Man. Even the shitty restaurants in France have excellent bread. I wonder if I could find a banh mi shop here…

April 25.

…apparently not. While in Paris, I looked online for Vietnamese sandwich shops, and all the ones I found got bad-to-middling reviews. So sad, although I’ll bet the problems with the sandwiches were not bread-related.

April 29.

Terrorist attack yesterday in Marrakech, Morocco. Eerie to see bombed out a place you easily recognize. Just three weeks ago, it was my landmark for the souk that led to the riad where I was staying. It’s the terrace and green awning visible in the center:

There but for the grace of God… Thoughts go out to the survivors and to the families of the dead.

May 1.

It’s royal wedding weekend. At this point all the hubbub is over, but it was quite the spectacle with people and Union Jacks and royal couple decorative plates everywhere in London. Before the wedding itself, many Londoners seemed quite dismissive of the whole ordeal (for example, “Only the visiting hordes of American journalists actually care.”). The emotion felt similar to how most New Yorkers feel about Times Square in general and New Year’s Eve in Times Square in particular. However, after watching the TV coverage and seeing some of the mob first-hand, it seems that the Britons (including Londoners) were quite well represented in the crowd. In retrospect, I wonder if people were embarrassed to be excited about such a clichéd event…

May 3.

Things in Amsterdam seem to be an interesting mix of direct and indirect. For example, in the red light district, sex is discussed quite … um … well, explicitly. On the other hand, discussions of marijuana seem more discreet. I saw a coffee shop advertising itself as “Coffee Shop. Smoking Allowed. No Tobacco.”

May 4.

Stopped by McDonalds today. I’m not one for frequently needing “a taste of home”, but I do enjoy seeing how huge multinationals adapt to local customs. So I enjoy seeing weird local menu items. The Luxembourg addition: “Emmantaler sticks with cranberry dip” — basically fried cheese sticks with 25 mL of half-tart-half-sweet cranberry dipping sauce. Pretty tasty, although at more than €3 a bit overpriced; price per calorie is probably reasonable though. Menu items which I did not sample include the “Grand Royal” burger and the “McRib Sandwich” (same as the cult classic in the US? — I guess we’ll never know).

May 7.

Took the 7:00 AM train to Munich. Around 8:00 AM, a handful of German guys boarded. Every pocket of every suitcase had at least one beer sticking out, plus they were carrying another case separately. They proceeded to start drinking almost immediately — indeed before they even sat down. As if that weren’t exciting enough, at around 10:30 AM with about 30 minutes remaining until we reached Munich, they proceeded to one-by-one visit the toilet and return wearing Lederhosen. It put a smile on my face.

Separately, while walking around Munich, I came across a statue which was covered in Michael Jackson memorabilia. Apparently nearby the statue is the hotel where Jackson once infamously dangled his child from the balcony; since his death, the statue has been appropriated as a memorial.

May 8.

Gah. People in Munich overwhelmingly do not jaywalk. The vast majority will queue at the crosswalk until the signal changes, even if there is no traffic in sight. I’m normally a believer of When in Rome…, but this particular cultural curiosity is trying my patience. After all, one of the main reasons I decided to move to New York in ’08 was so I could jaywalk at a semi-professional level. So far I’ve abstained, but it’s a good thing I’m not staying here long-term.

The wide variety of street and portable food goes a long way in making up for this errant pedestrianism, though. Between various würste, schnitzel sandwiches, and fast food carvery, I’m a happy camper.

May 9.

Went to Ulm today. It’s not on the standard tourist track — in fact, the city is not even listed in my guidebook — but a personal connection to the city drew me to it.

The city’s main attraction is the Ulmer Münster, which was the tallest building in the world at the turn of the 20th century and is still the tallest church in the world. (If Barcelona’s Sagrada Família is ever completed, its tallest tower will be about 10 meters taller. It’s hard to imagine, but actually the Sagrada Família is progressing quickly by the standards of the Ulmer Münster, whose construction proceeded over a period of more than 500 years!) The cool thing about the church tower is that you can climb nearly all the way to the top. There’s no elevator, just an endless series of narrow spiral staircases that only end when the spire becomes too narrow for them to continue.

There’s more to Ulm than the Münster, but I don’t want to cross the line between enthusiastic endorsement and sales pitch (too late perhaps?). Suffice it to say, if you’re in Munich and have some extra time on your hands, consider a day trip to Ulm.

May 11.

Starting to have some language fun. Given how many countries I’m visiting, I know it’s hopeless to try to get even a tiny grasp on each local language. However, not everyone knows English; pointing is a useful skill, but I’ve found it’s also useful to be able to read text aloud. So, I try to get a grasp of at least basic pronunciation rules. With Czech, I’m beginning to think I just don’t have the requisite mouth muscles. It takes a lot of effort to use so few vowels! My favorite example so far, třičtvrtě (three quarters, as in “of an hour”), just seems like vocal cruelty. Yes, everything that looks like a consonant is one. (Listen to Google’s suggestion.)

May 15.

Met a full-fledged conspiracy theorist on the train today (where “met” means “was cornered and talked at by”). Many people have sympathies towards a single conspiracy theory, but this guy seemed to believe them all: that there were dozens of cures for cancer (including hemp oil), all suppressed by Big Pharma; that perpetual energy has been discovered in the Philippines using an elevated coated aluminum plate (the coating was apparently the key innovation), suppressed in the US by the electric companies; that handprint scanners are part of an international plan to track everyone’s movements and transactions and turn them into slaves; and so on.

I get the sense that some people just believe everything they read on the Internet — scary! On the other hand, Send $1 to Happy Dude…

May 18.

The Hungarian language makes Czech looks like child’s play. Apparently, English is more closely related to Sri Lanka’s Sinhala! It’s a good thing I have no need to say “simultaneously” in Hungarian.

May 19.

More interesting fast food observed (but unfortunately not tasted). McDonald’s had the “McFarm” (two pork patties with bacon and cheese) and Burger King had the “Fondue Steakhouse” (just a bacon cheeseburger but with fancier cheese, I think).

May 20.

Tried a lángos for lunch today. Near as I can tell, it was like a ham and red onion pizza, but with tomato sauce replaced by sour cream and the dough fried instead of baked. Delicious, although I’m sure it single-handedly took at least a year off my life expectancy.

Separately, I just today realized that the women here in Budapest do not wear high heels. They’re not totally absent, but it’s like 1% of women at most. And half of those seem to be tourists. Maybe the huge amount of cobblestone has something to do with it?

May 21.

Saw Budapest’s Iron Curtain memorial today. Quite moving, I thought.

“It isolated the East from the West
It split Europe and the World in two
It took away our freedom
It held us in captivity and fear
It tormented and humiliated us
And finally we tore it down”

May 22.

Took an overnight train from Hungary to Romania; total travel time a bit over 15 hours. I was in a three-person sleeper, which required a first-class ticket. Of course, the compartment was first-class in name only, being cramped and stuffy, not having AC or even a fan, and with too-short and holey sheets on the bed. On the other hand, the ticket only cost around $20 and, since the train was nearly empty, I had the compartment to myself. Actually, it turned out to be quite pleasant after an open window cooled the compartment down to a reasonable temperature.

One interesting experience along the way was passport control between Hungary and Romania: the two countries’ passport control offices are not in the same place. On what looked like a deserted section of track on the Hungarian side of the border, the train was stopped and some uniformed officers came aboard. They examined my passport and then took it with them off the train. (I had read that this might happen, but it didn’t stop me from being nervous. Luckily, they did bring it back with an exit stamp a couple minutes later.) Then, the train started up again and went for about 15 minutes before stopping again. Another set of officers, this time Romanian, came aboard. They went through much the same routine, except it took them more like 10 minutes to entry stamp my passport and return it to me on the train.

May 24.

Bucharest is another city that the guide book does not claim is comparatively safe. Here the danger comes from “community dogs”, the large number of stray dogs that wander the streets. Apparently bites are not uncommon and rabies is a worry. As far as I can tell, the problem is worsened by two factors: that many people are hesitant to neuter their dogs because they worry that it is inhumane; and that people are more likely to abandon dogs on the street than to either euthanize them or find someone to adopt them.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed some strays that have ear tags. The Internet confirms that there is a program to catch strays, spay or neuter them, and return them to the street. Apparently, there is a fervent debate in Bucharest about whether this is the best way to solve the problem or whether mass euthanasia would be preferable. The Internet further claims that a majority of Romanians think that stray dogs are the most important local issue, which helps to explain the fervor.

May 27.

In the news, there is word that Ratko Mladić was arrested yesterday in Serbia on war-crimes charges. Nicknamed “the butcher of Bosnia”, he is accused of being responsible for the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. There were fireworks in Sarajevo last night, and on the train from Sarajevo to Mostar today his arrest was a frequent topic of conversation.

Bosnia looks and feels much healed from the conflict 15 years ago, but it’s still the case that the adults here all lived through that violent and turbulent time. The country’s vivacity seems like quite a tribute to the spirit of these people, many of whom were wounded (emotionally or physically) by those events.

On a related note, I was strongly moved when I happened upon a cemetery whilst wandering around Sarajevo. What struck me the most was that nearly all the deceased had died within a few months of each other. It really drove home the impact of those years of war, which is otherwise so easy to forget even here in its epicenter.

May 28.

Saw some evidence of foreign aid at work while in Bosnia. In Sarajevo, the multilingual tourist information plaques had logos for USAID (motto: “From the American People”), while the city buses in Mostar had the Japanese flag on the side with the text “From the People of Japan”.

Separately, I had a 5-10 minute conversation (in English) with a receptionist the other day while checking in. Her English was excellent, one of the best I’ve seen throughout my trip so far. At one point, she asked me my nationality, but before I could answer she guessed that I was Hungarian. I feel like that must say something about me or the way I speak, but I haven’t yet been able to figure out what…

June 3.

I’m in Zagreb, and it seems like nearly all of the city’s lovely baroque sights are under reconstruction of some type. Unsightly restoration has been an unfortunate trend throughout my time in Europe. I mean, I’m all in favor of preventing historic monuments from falling into disrepair, but only insofar as it doesn’t disrupt my sightseeing!

Actually, in Zagreb, it’s even worse than that. The Pope is visiting town for the weekend, arriving tomorrow. So, in addition to the normal cavalcade of construction, now there’s also scaffolding to hold speakers to amplify speeches, barricades to contain crowds, stages from which to present, and stands from which to listen. It was bad enough today during the preparations, it’s supposed to be awful tomorrow. Luckily, I’m leaving town by train at around the same time the pontiff is arriving by plane.

Well, having the city’s treasures hidden for restoration is a shame, but I guess there’s just no getting around it. Like they say, if it is Baroque, do fix it. 😉

June 4.

I must have good timing. As I was walking to the train station today, I got passed by the pope’s motorcade. Interesting to see: more vehicles than I would have expected (although I don’t know how many were from the Vatican and how many from Croatia), and a lot of people genuinely excited for this pope’s first visit to the country.

June 10.

I feel poor. Scandinavia will do that to a person. I think the cost of living here is even higher than in Geneva, which was — until now — the highest of my trip. In Copenhagen, it’s been quite difficult to get any meal below $10 per person (even at McDonalds), I have yet to see a half-liter (~16 oz) bottle of Coke under $3, and I’ve seen $8 coffee and $40 dinner menus at unremarkable, un-fancy establishments. Even 7-Eleven hot dogs are $3 each.

The Internet tells me that Danes spend nearly twice as much on food as Americans as a percentage of income (10.7% vs. 5.7% in 2007), and those numbers seem reasonable based on my experiences. I guess it’s the kind of thing that feels normal when you grow up with it, but it would take me a long time to adjust, I think. On the other hand, Danish visitors to the US must be constantly thinking, “Man, all this food is so cheap!” and perhaps also “Use more mayonnaise!”

June 15.

I’m on my way from Sweden to Norway, and it seemed like a good time to reminisce about my Swedish food adventures. I managed to add a couple new animals to my eaten list: wild boar (unsurprisingly quite like regular pork: delicious) and reindeer (firm texture, but the taste was less gamey than I expected). Apparently the Swedes are crazy about herring, so I tried some herring-with-mustard that was offered at breakfast — it was OK, although a bit too fishy for me.

Last but not least, I tried some salt-licorice-with-chocolate candy, despite some major reservations about Scandinavian salt licorice (in part caused by one man’s journey through the Finnish variant). Despite its relatively unappetizing name, Plopp, I actually enjoyed it. I generally enjoy sweet licorice, and in this case the salty licorice and sweet milk chocolate were actually a pretty good combination. I’ll have to try more when I get to Finland, I guess…

June 17.

I guess I do have good timing. I traveled from Oslo to Bergen today; if I had gone yesterday instead, I would have been on a train that caught fire and was completely destroyed! Thankfully, reports are that everyone on board was safely evacuated.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of this fire is that a large section of the railway is closed pending major repairs. Luckily, instead of canceling services, they ran the train about two-thirds of the total distance and had a bus service substitute for the middle one-third. Because of this, we missed the widely acclaimed train scenery from this middle third. On the other hand, we did have some pretty decent scenery on the bus ride too. We also drove through Norway’s second-longest tunnel, the seven-mile-long Gudvanga tunnel. Plus, we … you know … made it safely to our destination.

June 18.

About a week ago, I incorrectly implied that the cost of living is high throughout Scandinavia. The truth is that the cost of living is high in most in Scandinavia, except Norway where it’s insanely, astronomically high. One night at my hotel in Bergen would have paid for a week’s room and board in Romania. You could spend $20 at McDonalds here and leave hungry — and that’s the cheap option. (You might leave McDonalds bored too; their most interesting-sounding ‘wich is a meh-inducing “Chicken Salsa Burger”.)

On the other hand — McDonalds aside — you can get some interesting things. Yesterday evening I picked up a whale sandwich. It was different: I was worried that, like much exotic seafood, whale meat would be too fishy for me. As it turns out, whales are not fish and the meat was not fishy at all. The meat had a very dark color to it, almost a burgundy. The taste was actually pretty bland, a bit reminiscent of roast beef. The meat was surprisingly lean (no blubber here), a bit firm, and had a strong grain to it. I’m not sure this last one is a good quality in a sandwich meat, since it means that if you eat against the grain you end up pulling out the whole slice of meat. Overall good, but for a tiny six-inch sandwich probably not worth $12. But if I’m going to have to pay $10 for salmon, you better believe I’m going to pony up $2 extra for whale!

June 19.

On my way back from my fjord day trip, I went through Lærdalstunnelen; at 15 miles, it is the world’s longest road tunnel. On our way through it, I happened to doze off; when I awoke, we were still inside.

Separately, I saw a t-shirt that said “If we had dolphins, we’d kill them too” with a picture of a Norwegian flag impaling a whale. Classy. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there is some controversy around Norwegian whaling…

June 21.

Above the Arctic Circle on the Summer Solstice. Cool. I’d celebrate by staying up until sunset, except that won’t be for another month. 😉

I was surprised when I learned that the Arctic Circle is not actually a fixed circle around the globe. It’s instead a circle surrounding the area where the midnight sun is visible, and thus it changes as the Earth wobbles on its axis. The more you know…

Luckily, the jet stream is in full force making the weather here surprisingly mild, given how far North here is.

June 24.

Took a midnight hike last night. Nothing too long or strenuous, just a five-mile jaunt to and from Tromsø’s Botanical Garden. The walk itself was a little eerie though: the midnight sun was bright enough to make it feel like normal daytime, but very few people were out and about (presumably, even here, normal people need to sleep at a reasonable hour on a Thursday night). That all the shops were closed and the streets and trails empty while it was light out gave the city a distinctly post-apocalyptic feel.

Of course, the payback for staying up late is feeling tired and cranky when waking up early: 5:30 feels very early when you go to bed at 2:00. Luckily, I had a nine-hour bus ride through endless boreal forest to sleep through.

June 30.

I flew today from Estonia to Italy. While at the airport in Tallinn, I noticed the TVs in the terminal were playing a Mexican soap opera dubbed into Estonian. Spanish-to-Estonian translators must be hard to find, because this particularly soap opera was dubbed by a single man. Quite odd to hear a romantic conversation between a man and a woman with both parts voiced by the same man.

July 5.

Tried very hard to visit Pompeii, but Fate did not make it easy. First, after many sunny days in Rome and a forecast of “Partly Cloudy”, it rained today. Not sprinkling either, but real honest-to-god rain in both Rome and Naples and everywhere in between. As a result, the train arrived late in Naples. Not that it mattered much, since the local Circumvesuviana train service from Naples to Pompeii was not running from 9:30 in the morning until 1:15 in the afternoon due to a workers’ strike.

But, despite the setbacks, things managed to work out OK once the train started running again: the train ran express toward Pompeii, and the clouds and rain were replaced by bright sunshine. As a result, the actual stay in Pompeii — shortened though it was — was pretty nice.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. On the return to Rome, the 70-minute trip was delayed about 75 minutes by a group of protesters — manifestanti — who had climbed onto the track to prevent the train from leaving. Apparently they were protesting in favor of freedom … or something. Once the police in riot gear showed up, they decided to leave peaceably. In the end, I don’t think their protest convinced many people: most of the passengers were pretty hostile to them after the first hour had passed.

July 15.

Back in the States. Fighting jet lag and, oddly, culture shock. Fun going through immigration with my overflowing Form 6059B:

Countries visited on this trip prior to U.S. arrival:
Spain, Portugal, Morocco, France, Switzerland, U.K., Netherlands, Luxembourg, + 16 more.

Strange that I should get heat from immigration due to information on a Customs Declaration, but such is life. Sadly, the officer skipped my favorite part of entering the U.S. — the “welcome home”.

After Europe…

After my European sojourn, I spent some time bumming around the States.