(France, Spain, Italy)
I am not in Sarajevo yet, but I am slowly inching my way east and I should (key word) get there by Wednesday or Thursday.
This trip is turning into the theme song from Gilligan’s island, ” A Three hour tour, a three hour tour”. I planned on getting to Sarajevo in two weeks, and it’s going to take me more than 3, oh well, what’s the point of having plans when you have a life like mine and things change at the last moment?
I’ll give an overview of the trip since Amsterdam.
On the way to the train station in Amsterdam, I ran into an Estonian girl I went to high school and college with, she is also a friend of my cousins. It is such a small world. I also met 2 other people in Amsterdam who know people I know. This happens to me a lot, so I guess it is not such a coincidence.
I had a five hour lay over in Paris, so I walked from Montparnasse Train Station to the Louvre, and then walked along the banks of the Seine to the Hotel des Invalides and then I walked back to the station. It was great to just sit in front of the Louvre with my pain au raisin (raisin pastry) and coffee looking at the gargoyles change shades as the clouds moved above. Despite the beauty of Paris, I felt no inclination to live there. This is amazing since 5 years ago when I came back to Paris on a visit, I fell in love with the city again and decided that I wanted to come back to study. Funny how my desires have changed over the years.
Though I didn’t get the urge to just plop down and start living in Paris, being in Toulouse reminded me why I am such a Francophile. The city itself wasn’t amazing, but just spending time with my friend Gaetan and his Friends and co workers made me wonder about living in France again. The first night when I got to Toulouse, we went to a dinner party and it was so incredibly refreshing to be in an environment where the conversations were so much more thought provoking than the superficial banter of Silicon Valley. Instead of mutual funds, computer programs and cars, some of the conversations I participated in were about philosophy, life, travel, and music.
As I took the train from Toulouse from Barcelona, I started seriously thinking about living in the south of France. The countryside was not just gorgeous, but serene and relaxing.
Thirty minutes before reaching the Catalan capitol, I got kicked of the train. But it actually turned out to be a good thing, really. As the Train conductor hadn’t come by yet to check for tickets, I hadn’t marked my train pass with that day’s date. So when he did come by, I took out the pass and was ready to mark down the date and he said that I should have done that before boarding the train. He was following the rules, which no train conductor has ever enforced in the five yrs that I have been traveling with Europasses) and that I had to pay for the whole trip. Since I had very few pesetas on me, I didn’t have enough money to pay for the ticket, so the train conductor made me get off of the train. At the station, I bought a ticket for Barcelona and since I was already so close to Barcelona, it was 160 pesetas (less than $1). The train conductor never made me mark my pass, so I basically went from Toulouse to Barcelona for less than $1. Hey, it worked out for the best!
Ever since I came to Barcelona five years ago, I have been dreaming of Coming back to that city full of wonderful buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi, a cool Gothic quarter and a great coast. The city seemed much dirtier than I remembered, but I was still happy. When I walked out of the pension and started wandering in the fascinating labyrinth of the Gothic quarter, I thought again “Wow, it would be great to live here!”. On my path, I saw an English institute and I walked in to find out if they were hiring.
On another day, I was walking around I ran into a playground near some apartment buildings and I was so happy to see so many parents outside playing with their kids at 8pm. A normal scene, one would think. However, coming from Silicon Valley were people work around the clock and have no time for themselves, and much less their families. That scene put a smile on my face. I thought, wow this would be such a great place to raise a family. Strange as it is, Spain has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. A Catholic country with such a family oriented culture and yet so few children.
From Barcelona, I went to Rapallo on the Italian Riviera near Genova. I stayed there for 3 days with a 70 year old Italian woman I had met on a trip two years ago. The coastline was of course breathtaking, but it was strange to see such small rocky beaches were people actually pay to be crowded in between lots of other beach goers. I have never seen private beaches in California and the beaches near Rapallo were almost all rocky, so I can’t fathom why somebody would want to pay money to stay there. If that is your only option, I guess you have to take it.
Hospital in Pisa
After Rapallo, I came to Pisa on Monday and stayed until Thursday morning with my friend Marina. Having only caught a glance at the famous leaning tower, I started my first full day in Pisa at the hospital. Yes, what would an adventure a la Susan be without a flying passport, a self destructive passport, wobbling around Brazil on crutches or attempts to hitchhike to the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank???? No, no life would be too boring if I had a “normal” life without all of the funny experiences that I have. I was feeling pressure in my left eye and I didn’t think that it was urgent, but I didn’t want to wait to get to Bosnia and have it get worse. Imagine me in a hospital in Sarajevo with war victims in the waiting rooms and I walk in, not speaking the language trying to get help for an eye problem. Not a pretty sight. I decided to get it checked in Italy, where I do speak the language. The ophthalmologist saw me immediately and it was all free. He said that I just had a small infection and prescribed an antibiotic eye drop. At least I can say that I got to buy my eye drops at the pharmacy in front of the famous Leaning tower.
Pisa is a quaint city and I enjoyed spending time with Marina and Her friends. After my high school physics lesson in the laws of gravity and how the leaning tower of Pisa actually stands, it was cool to see it.
My day in Rome was the beginning of the scavenger hunt I sort of Finished today. As I mentioned in my previous email, my motives to come here were not just tourism related. After checking into the youth hostel, I tried to find the market where my dad had sold things we had brought from the former USSR while we were en route to the US. After 20 years, it has changed a lot and is not nearly as big as my Dad had described it to me.
Ostia….. My mom told me that our apartment was next to the Mormon Mission in Ostia. I thought that I could just call the Mission and then find the apartment. Not so easy, the mission is not located where it was 20 years ago. Though I couldn’t find exactly where we lived, I still was happy to see the city to just get an idea of what my parents first impressions were of the West. (Actually, we went to Vienna first.)
I have to laugh at myself because I didn’t imagine Rome to be as big as it is. Duh!!! It only houses the Coliseum, the Vatican, many Roman ruins…. What was I expecting? A little village? Though I expected to be much more thrilled with the city than I am, I have to say that I am ecstatic to be here. Just seeing the ruins has brought back so many memories of history classes I took a long time ago. When I was in Piazza Venezia, I remembered reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in the 9th grade when I had to read Marcus Antonius’ role “Friends, Countrymen….” (I can’t remember that famous line). The Coliseum….. reminded me of watching the movie Ben Hur in the 7th grade when we were studying Roman history and the activities the Romans organized to keep their people happy.
On My way to the Forum…
Today on my way from the Coliseum to the Roman Forums, I walked by a church and saw a group of people sitting in chairs and a piano. I came over and saw that there was a class going on in English. It was a master class from the International Opera School and students were singing arias and being corrected by a professional opera singer. A young woman sang “Quando m’en vo” from La Bohème and that just did it for me, goose bumps went up my arms as I marveled at her incredible voice. Puccini is my favorite opera
composer and hearing her gorgeous singing was such a treat and surprise as well. The opera singer corrected her technique and explained to the others how to perform the piece correctly. I learned so much in that hour about opera music and performing.
After having left that great class, I was still trying to get to the Forum, but yet again I was interrupted. Behind the Coliseum, I saw some men playing soccer and I heard South American music playing. “Am I in Latin America? No, I can’t be the Coliseum is right there. The Romans went far, but the Andes were not in their conquests.” It turns out that there are lots of Ecuadorians and Peruvians who come to work in Italy. These guys playing soccer and the people picnicking around them, were from Ecuador. How is it that wherever I go I find Ecuadorians and Cubans? Funny, eh?
I have ascended to culinary and aesthetic heaven. Though my eyes dance at the aesthetic charms of the Italy, my mouth and stomach sing in joy. I have to remind myself that my euphoria is so strong because I am a tourist. (If it weren’t for the kilometrage I am intensely inducing on my body from my long, long walks, my gastronomical temptations would be kilograms padding my body.) I am not looking for a place to live, but I am tempted to stay almost everywhere I go. So, I have to keep in perspective the reality that I may be attracted to a place but I shouldn’t decide to live there unless I have good friends there already. Loneliness already struck me like bullet train in Argentina and I don’t want to repeat that again.
Tomorrow, I leave for Milan and then after a short visit to Venice, I am off to Zagreb to catch a bus to Sarajevo. I can’t get info on the Ferries from Bari to Dubrovnik, so I am going by land instead.