05 August 2006

culinary delights, marvelous sights, and...

I have always wanted to visit italy. I think it started somewhere around grade 6m when my audrey hepburn obsession was at its peak, and I obsessively watched Roman Holiday. It was piqued again when i started to study opera, then when I studied italian for 2 years at western. I think my desire to go was even heightened by more embarassing forces of coercion, such as guiltily going to see Under the Tuscan Sun in Theatres, or reading yet another cheesy Richard Paul Evans novel. Well ,I finallymade it. I have to say though, that although my romantic notions of italy were in fact confirmed, my time in italy was also marred by 'bad' tourists, pushiness, and an unhealthy amount of other peoples' BO.

We began in the floating city of venice. It was interesting that Venice was founded by locals who settled in the marshlands to avoid Attila the Hun and fellow barbarians. Interesting because I met my fair share of tourist barbarians ON the islands, squeezing past me in the narrow alleys, sho oting dirty looks at anyone who was closer to the ubiqutious glass and carnevale masks than they, and sweating buckets beside me in the hot, hot sun.

When you first arrive in Venice , its alleys and dead ends seem charming and novel. After a few hours in the heat, with no affordable food or drink in sight, all the sights swirl together, every canal and bridge looks the same, and you find yourself brattily cursing everything in sight. Maybe I can't blame the other tourists after all, since we were all stuck on the same city 'boat'. I did feel better after some gelato and the weirdest pizza I'd ever eaten i.e. asparagus, shredded carrot and ricotta. Brian and I fed pidgeons in St Marks sq and I got an epic photo of him releasing one into the air. It wasn't until later that we considere the risks of the avian flu...hmmmmm. At night we sat and watched other peoples' overpriced gondola rides, listened to an off-time and off-key band on a boat, and then enjoyed out air conditioned hotel room and hilariously bad and scandalous Italian late-night TV. Venice was lovely, but I felt a bit claustrophobic, and was ready to move on after 2 days of being constantly lost.

Apparently I wasn't the only one to have been enticed by a Diane Lane flick. Florence was FULL of tourists as well. We fought the crowds to see the Duomo and the 3 hour line to see the Uffizi, we struggled through barterers in the leather market, and navigated the specialty food stores to find just the right souvenirs. We ate lunch in a traditional Tuscan kitchen and I had pasta with at least 50 olives in it for only 3 euros or so. Gill, you would have loved it. At night we had Chianti Classico just to get the free appetizers at cocktail hour. Great deal, and great food. Olives everywhere, let me tell you. One night I had a spinach ravioli with a basil cream sauce that looked so pretty it made the french couple beside us sigh in envy. And, thanks to Pranay's copy of lonely planet, all this food was on the cheap.

During the evenings, we hiked up to Piazzella Michelangelo to watch the sunset over the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, and to see the hills turn purple at dusk as the city lights began to glow. I'm not that mushy of a gal, but this was pertty romantic. I listened intently to the live music down below, and remembered my not-too-long-ago-still-here ambitions to be an opera singer. Damn you, italy and puccini!

We said goodbye to the softness of Tuscany to jump into the insanity that is Rome. Good god, that city is full of lunatics.

First of all, when I wasn't afraid for my life walking anywhere, I was trying not to be smothered by huge groups of Japanese and German and Hungarian tourists. It seems a sort of tradition for large youth groups to go on pilgrimages to Rome and visit significant sites of the origins of Christianity. Rome is a very hot city, where a human body will sweat a lot. All of these people in the tour groups have just hit puberty. None of them wear deodorant. They all need to. desperately. Especially in small spaces like most tourist sights. Enough on that matter. Just know that the odour seemed to scent the entire city.

Anyways, Rome doesn't exactly welcome you in like a grandma at Christmas, because it doesn't have to. It knows a million people will still flock with or without invitation, because it's been around for ever and has everything. Once you give it a chance, it will grow on you, especially if you try out some of the less obvious attractions.

We saw the Coliseum, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel ( which would have been one of the coolest moments of my life had my blood not been bubbling with rage caused by the countless idiotic tourists snapping away forbidden pics and constantly blinding me. Benjamin had it right, by the way, about art in the age of mehanical reproduction, or this case, of digital obsession), The Crypt of Cappucini, which I'm sure Brian will talk about, the Spanish steps, the pantheon, the trevi fountain, and all the obligatory and AMAZING sights. I also led Brian on an Angels and Demons tour without him realizing (or he never would have agreed to it) , and took pictures at said sights. At night we went to Travesterre for a cute meal, and a browse of the nightlife beside the Tiber river. There, I was happy to hear Feist's music from the speakers, and then captivated by a stage of tango dancers in beautiful shoes (yes, most of the men had ponytails). Brian was not quite as captivated as me, but he was paitient...

The last night brought about a different turn of events. We met up with Kate and her roommates and decided to go on the cheap pub crawl offered by our hostel. It was all fine and dandy until some good ole boys from Kentucky got out of control drunk and idiotic, called Canada 'useless' (which Brian vehemently defended) and tried to fight Brian, and eventually, Kate and I. It was terrible, infuriating. Never in my life have I met such ignorant neanderthals, nor seen the doctrine of revisionist history and misguided 'patriotism' rear their ugly heads in such a disgraceful way. 'oh, I bet you guys wear canada flags on your bags too, don't you?' ... yes, we do, and I am proud to say I can do so and be welcomed and respected by people in the country I visit. I'm also glad I seek to maintain my country's reputation by conducting myself with dignity and humilty when I have the priviledge of being a guest in another country. It's a long story, but i'm sure you can guess how it unfolded.

Also of concern was the explicit racism we witnessed in Italy. Graffitti talks, and here it did not say very nice things.

In short, we ate a lot of gelato, sucessfully avoided train station gypsies (whose tactics I became fascinated with), came head-to-head with ignorance, choked down the BO, unknowingly (or at least on brian's part) did a Dan Brown tour, were awed by the raw history of this place, and sweat...a lot.

Italy was an undeniably beautiful place. Its cuisine is delicious yet comfortable. I would love to visit again , but maybe less touristy cities and in the off-season. I apologize for the length of this post, but Rome wasn't built in a day, you know. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Now we're in the south of France, and starting to wind up the trip. I'll keep you posted.



Erin said...

I'm glad you were as enraged in the Sistene Chapel as I was. Cameras clicking, flashing lights at the ancient fresco ceiling, and the TALKING...I actually prefered the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica, but the Chapel was completely disrespected by tourists during my visit. I can proudly say I stood silently with my camera in my purse.

The catacombs are amazing. And yes, Rome smells strongly of BO, though I don't think it was solely the children. We must have been there only a few days strange. I feel like I'm stalking you around Europe.

Take care, hi to Brian.


Gillian Edworthy said...


first off, the food sounds incredible! how have i knot thought up asparagus on pizza!? i will be attempting this soon...
plus the olive fest! mmmmm, haha remember the time you ate the whole jar of them... haha, too funny

the stereotype american and BO encounters sound frustrating and brudal - but over all it sounds like your having an amazing time!

i miss yah like crazy!
love yah,
cheers :)

Gillian Edworthy said...
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