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So, I took my first vacation over seas.

I started out in New York City (Photos), which isn’t over seas, but which I’d never been to before. Then I went to Italy (Photos), Greece (Photos), Turkey — for a few hours (Photos), and a one night layover in Zuric Switzerland.

You can read an entirely too long travelogue, if you want, but it’s really long. Really, Really, Really Long!

European Travelogue

Thursday, May 5

Leaving Los Angeles
So, here I am in New York for the first time. I should be excited. I should be vibrating with the energy of the city. Mostly, I just miss LA. I’m going to chalk it up to just being worn down from traveling, and hope that tomorrow this city seems better to me.

I had to get to the airport by 9:30 AM. This after being up until 2 doing laundry and packing and just generally not being able to sleep. I got there though, and got through security and got through the waiting and got on the plane. There was no meal service (it was an American Airlines flight). I couldn’t believe it! I had basically no breakfast followed by no lunch. They did give me two sodas and a little bag of pretzels, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. That’s certainly enough to keep me going during the 5-hour flight.

I had purchased the complete Firefly series on DVD (looking forward to that movie), and a spare battery, so the flight actually went pretty quick (you know aside from the unbearable hunger).

I caught a super shuttle to my hotel, and got checked in. I’m staying at the Super 8 on Times Square. The room is ridiculously small and ridiculously expensive, but my impression is that’s just what you get in New York. I had been led to believe there would be free in-room WiFi access. There is not. That sucks hard as that was really one of the main reasons to choose this room.

I can’t even seem to get a dial-up connection out to AOL. Every single number is busy. Not sure if that’s a problem with AOL being busy or the hotel blocking those types of calls. They want to sell you some stupid internet access through the TV. Yeah, no thanks. I’m more than half tempted to look for another room tomorrow because the one I’ve got really sucks.

So, I got settled in and decided I’d better go get myself something to eat. I walked around for a little bit looking for someplace that looked promising. At first I went into some side-street deli. I wanted a meatball sandwich (no food, no WiFi, a long plane ride – I wanted comfort food). The guy told me it was too late. It was like 8:30 or 9. I thought the deal with New York was that everybody ate late. I couldn’t be sure because I couldn’t quite make out what he said through his accent, but I think he told me that they only have meatball sandwiches for breakfast. That sounds incredibly wrong, so I’m tempted to think that I misheard him.

Anyway, I walked a bit more, and found some Irish pub. It was an Irish pub only in that the menus had a bit of green in them, and the placemat had a picture of a leprechaun. And, I guess they probably served beer too. I was torn between getting the turkey and goat cheese wrap, and the French Dip. I decided on the French Dip (see no food, no WiFi, long plane ride – want comfort food). It was OK, but I really wish I’d had the wrap. It just sounded a lot better.

I also had a slice of cheesecake. I figured I hadn’t eaten all day, and well, I was in New York. They invented cheesecake or something like that right? This one came with frosting on it. Frosting! On cheesecake! I don’t know, maybe that’s an Irish thing.

Feeling tired and beaten down, I decided to just cruise back to the hotel and make an early night of it (god I miss the internet). I really don’t travel well. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Friday May 6
A Visit to the Park
Today did turn out to be better. It started off far too early though. I woke up after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep and couldn’t get back to sleep. Instead, I puttered around the hotel room for several hours waiting for 7, and my complimentary continental breakfast. Fortified with a healthy, all-bread snack of donuts and bagels, I got my camera and my coat, and I started walking north to Central Park.

I like Central Park a lot. I would certainly enjoy having something like that in my backyard. We’ve got the beaches, and Griffith Park, but it really isn’t the same. I saw a lot of people out walking their dogs. I couldn’t believe how many of them were without a leash. They all seemed to be incredibly well behaved and surprisingly socialized to other people and dogs. I’ve never seen dogs so well behaved off a leash. They must have some incredible dog trainers in this city, or maybe it’s just that walking in the park is such old-hat for them. I don’t know.

Walking up to Central Park, and then walking around Central Park and then back down from Central Park, I covered about 10 miles. Seriously, there’s no hyperbole there. In fact, if anything, it’s probably a pretty conservative estimate.

That’s all well and good. I can certainly use the exercise, and when in New York…, but I also went into the Metropolitan Museum of Art while I was up in the neighborhood. I really wish I’d gone there before walking all over the park. Museums wear me out on a fresh day. And, by the time I got to the museum, it was far from my freshest day.

It didn’t help that I started my museum tour with one of the (many) Egyptian collections. Oh my god, it was just endless! The pieces are all so similar to me. I want to approach them with some kind of reverence, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve really seen them all. I always feel bad about not being able to work up the energy to care about that kind of stuff. I have the same reaction to Hindu or Buddhist or Christian iconography to say nothing of Andy Warhol’s work.

Eventually I stopped even pretending to care and made my way out to one of the other exhibits. They were having a Dianne Arbus exhibit which seemed promising. Part of this is probably just that I was SO worn out at that point, but once again there was really just too much there to appreciate. Every time I turned a corner thinking I’d reached the end of the exhibit, I found 20 more rooms of photos. That curator really needs to work with an editor. They’ve got the collecting thing down. Now they need to work on winnowing the show down to representative samples instead of every single photo the person ever shot.

It’s too bad too because some of the images were truly remarkable, but they just get lost in the noise of all the images that are just OK, and of course all of the images that are just uncomfortably exploitative. I know that was kind of her shtick, and it’s sort of what a lot of people like about her work (although, they’d probably argue that it isn’t exploitative and that it’s loving and respectful and all that BS that’s supposed to make them feel better about going in to gawk at the circus side show). It just makes me feel a little cruel to be looking at the stuff — like I’m pointing the finger of superiority just by virtue of my viewing the images. Maybe that’s a problem in myself that I bring to the work, but I don’t think so.

They did have a couple of her cameras on display, which I thought was pretty interesting. By the time I got through all those photos, I was really just completely at the end of my energy reserves, so I decided to sit down at one of the cafes to try to rest and recover. Here’s where I began to really hate the Met because it became painfully clear what a labyrinthian mess that place is to navigate. To go to the rooftop garden cafe, you need to take this escalator down to the ground floor, and then walk through 2 wings of the museum, and then take the stair up to another floor, and then get on the elevator that only goes up to the top level. Oh, and this elevator only goes up to the second floor, and this one only goes up to the fourth floor, and on and on and on…

I really prefer smaller museums. You know, something like the Norton Simon that you can do in about 2 hours. That is really the antithesis of what the Met is all about. A lot of people told me to do the Met instead of MOMA, and I guess I can sort of understand why, but for me, I’m guessing MOMA would have been a bunch better.

Anyway, I gave up WAY before I saw even close to everything they had to offer, and I walked back down to the hotel to lie down and take a brief nap. From there, it was a walk a bit further south to check out the New York Public library. I was really just going to use their free internet access, but I’m so glad I went. That has got to be one of the coolest libraries ever. It’s still just like it was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where you ask them to get you a book, and they go get it and bring it out to you.

Personally, I like to be able to browse through the stacks, so I’m not sure that I’d like that kind of ceremony on a day to day basis, but it’s still kind of nice to know that something like that still exists. They only allow you a half hour of internet access a day, and you need to give them your ID, which seems intrusive and stupidly constricting. It was enough to check my e-mail and get the monkey off my back for a bit though. I’m still really annoyed that the free in-room WiFi I was expecting doesn’t exist and that I can’t get connected to AOL through a dial up. I was able to confirm that it’s probably a problem with the hotel’s phone lines as opposed to AOL being busy since even at 3:30 in the morning, all the lines in this area code rang busy.

I was going to walk over to Time Square tonight to try to get some nice look at all the bright gaudy signs photos. It started raining though, so I decided to skip it. Maybe tomorrow. From what I could see last night, the whole thing looks tacky and Las Vegasy anyway.

Saturday, May 7
Subway Bound
All that walking yesterday must have really taken its toll because I was finally able to sleep through the night. I woke feeling more than just a little sore – particularly my ankle. Putting any kind of weight on it made me feel like somebody had tried to unscrew it from my leg. Getting my shoes on helped a bit.

Still, I decided I should probably cut back a little on the walking today, so I got on the subway and rode in style. You know, you hear about the subways being dirty and full of graffiti. I always assumed that was an exaggeration or at least that it’s been cleaned up a lot. It probably has, but not as much as I was expecting. Still, you can get all over the city pretty easily. I’m a bit jealous. I’d love to have good trains that I could ride in LA instead of sitting on the Freeways in a parking lot.

Of course, if I were living here, I’d probably be dreaming of the freedom of just being able to get in my car and go wherever without needing to worry about transfers or service outages.

Anyway, my first stop was Grand Central. I got off, and it looked like the other two subway stations I’d been in, so I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Once I got up to the top level though, I saw what everybody was talking about. The space is truly grand in every sense of that word, big and ornate with classic styling. I took a ton of photos, but none of them really captured it.

From there, it was down to the southern tip of the Island so I could catch the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry provides nice views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. It also provides an OK view of the Brooklyn Bridge (at least I think that was the Brooklyn Bridge, when I look at the map it looks like that bridge is further away than the one I saw).

I was outside so I could get plenty of photos. I had a jacket on, but I was still pretty cold, so when I felt like I’d shot all I could shoot, I went back inside where it was warm and sat down for a bit.

Back up the subway, and up to SoHo and Chinatown. The crowds of people where impassable, and they were all pooling around the sidewalk vendors hawking their cheap crap. I have to say, I don’t really get the appeal. I guess people convince themselves they want to live in that area (with all the “life of the city”) because that’s the only place they can afford to live. At least that’s the only think I can think of. I’d much rather be up around Central Park, which from what I’ve seen was the best part of the city.

I was getting kind of tired, so I headed back to my hotel to rest and take some of the pressure of my ankle. Then, I went out to buy razors (I knew I was forgetting something when I left home), and track down some New York style pizza. The crust is really tasty, but there was too much cheese and not enough sauce for my taste. The sauce is what really makes pizza for me. It’s a weird balancing act between too much and too little, but when you hit it you hit it. I guess in NYC, the thing is the bread. I guess that’s good if that’s what you’re into.

Back to the hotel to wait for darkness so I could get some photos of Time Square. There were lots of lighted billboards, but ultimately, there isn’t much too it. It’s like Vegas without the art – which if you’ve been to Vegas paints a pretty grim picture. I hadn’t planned to walk very much today, but I did anyway, and I’m pretty beat. Tomorrow, I fly to Rome.

Sunday, May 8 and Monday May 9
Waiting … And Waiting … And Waiting
Today was a major travel day. I spent most of it waiting. I woke up, and waited for checkout time. I checked out and waited in the lobby for my SuperShuttle to take me to the airport. I got to the airport and waited on line and waited for security and then waited forever for my plane to board. I got there a good hour and a half earlier than I needed to, but I figured since I had to check out by a certain time, and I had big heavy bags to deal with, I might as well be at the airport.

We finally boarded, and I was lucky enough to have an isle seat with the seat next to me empty. I had plenty of room. But then I had to wait for everybody to take their seats (which they refused to do despite several calls over the PA system, and I had to wait for the plane to take off, which seemed to take about an extra 30 minutes more than it should have. Finally, we got airborne. I probably should have waited for dinner, but my goal was sleep, so I put on some music to block out the cabin and engine noise, and started trying to drift off. I even took a sleeping pill, which did just about nothing. I did manage to sleep for maybe 2 hours – you know, just long enough to miss dinner. For the rest of the 6 1/2 hours it was DVDs and restless hunger for me.

And then, I landed in Rome, where I waited again to have my passport stamped. The dude barely even glanced at it as he waved me through, I don’t know why it took so long for all of those lines to clear. Then, I got my bag which was there just as I got to it (or which had been circling for the 30 or 60 minutes I was waiting to get through passport control. Then, I got out my documents to figure out where I was supposed to meet my tour guide. I had 2 different documents which each told me to meet the guide in different places, and both of them were wrong. I did eventually find her, and what do you suppose she did? That’s right, she told me to wait for another 2 hours for my scheduled ride.

I got to the hotel and got checked in. They had WiFi (it cost 6 Euros, but it was so worth it to me after being denied for so long in NYC — OK, maybe it wasn’t really worth it, but I bought it anyway). Of course, after checking e-mail, there was more waiting. This time it was for the rest of the tour group to arrive and an orientation meeting that late afternoon. I didn’t want to wait, so I asked the hotel clerk where I could walk to if I wanted to take nice pictures. He told me pretty much nowhere. This hotel has WiFi, but it isn’t very centrally located it seems. I asked about public transportation, and he said yes, and then wrote down a few things for me that I absolutely couldn’t figure out. Eventually I decided to just start walking.

I walked to the Roman Baths, and Circus Maximus where the gladiators used to race. Of course, I didn’t know until later that, that was what I’d seen. It all pretty much just looked like a lot of old, bombed out ruins to me. All the walking in NYC, combined with the walking in Rome conspired to work up some nasty blisters, so rather than walk any further, I decided to hobble the 3+ kilometers back to the hotel.

So orientation happened, and they got their first chance to sell me on extra excursions. This one was a trip to the Trevia Fountain and a dinner tonight. You’ll remember I missed dinner on the plane, and aside from the muffin/bagel chips/dried fruit they gave us for breakfast on the plane I hadn’t eaten anything since a stale turkey sandwich in the airport the day before. An overpriced dinner and site seeing trip sounded pretty good to me, so I decided to take them up on their offer. The meal was good.

The fountain wasn’t much for photographs. It was dark, but not so dark I needed a tripod. But, the thing is that it was really tough to get the white balance right. I kept tweaking a few of the pre-sets in the camera and finally found one that sort of worked. I could have custom set it, but I didn’t really have a good source to balance from, and I sort of forgot how to do that with my camera anyway. Normally the Auto White Balance works great, so I don’t really need to worry about it. There must be something funny about Roman light.

I got back to the hotel at about 11 PM. I’ve been up for about a million hours, and all I want to do is sleep. I have to get up at 6 to get an early start on the scheduled day tomorrow though.

Tuesday, May 10
I’m a Threat to the Pope
I really wanted to sleep, but I woke up about 4:30. This is a really loud hotel. In almost all other respects, it is better than the one I had in New York. Although, they don’t have a shower so much as a really deep bath with an attachment that you have to hold if you want a shower. I want a shower.

Getting out of the deep tub seems like an accident waiting to happen. Maybe that’s why the have a cord in the tub that you can pull to sound an alarm down in the lobby. There’s a bidet too. I wanted to try it out, but I’m sorry to say that I can’t quite figure it out. I think I get how they’re supposed to work, but the nozzle seems to point down rather than the up that I was expecting. There’s also some weird vacuum looking think hanging on the bathroom wall. I’m guessing it might be a hair dryer. Damned if I can figure out how to even turn it on though.

We had an early start scheduled, so after breakfast, we got on the bus and headed to the Vatican. If you bought one of their extra excursions, they had a local guide to take you into the museums and Sistine Chapel. I decided to skip that one (I’ve seen pictures, and religious iconography isn’t all that interesting to me anyway. So, I got dropped off out in front of St. Peters to do some self-directed sight seeing.

I took some photos of the fountains and the outside of the basilica. I tried to go in, but security wouldn’t let me past because of my pocketknife. I know not to take it with me on the plane, but it never even occurred to me that it would be a problem in a church. I guess they thought I might be a danger to that new pope they’ve got or something. Christ’s disciples wore swords, but I can’t have my little tiny knife? WTF Vatican?! It’s just as well. Like I said, I’m not all that into religious iconography.

So, I found myself with a little bit more time on my hands than I thought I was going to have. I wandered around taking pictures of this or that statue and street and whatever. Then I went to a cafe for my first gelato. I was ordering in the barest of really bad Italian, and he was responding in much better English. It seemed to work out OK. I sat down for a bit (my blisters were really starting to hurt, so it seemed like getting off my feet would probably be a good idea). I got to watch as some German kids got covered — I mean COVERED — with bird crap. One kid who got hit the worst was freaking out. He stripped down and ran over to one of the fountains in front of St. Peter’s to take a bath while all his friends laughed and took pictures. I was kind of surprised security didn’t come running out to tell him to get out of the fountain.

Eventually the tour meeting time arrived, and we all joined back up to get on the bus and drive over to the Coliseum and the Forum. That was a bit more interesting to me, maybe because I had a guide for this part of the trip. It didn’t last very long though. The scheduled excursions ended at about 2. There was another paid one tonight, but I skipped that one too. I was thinking about staying in town to do some more sightseeing, and then just walking back to the hotel. Somebody was telling me it was only like 10 kilometers (a guess which was probably even high). Ultimately, I decided that would probably be pretty bad for my feet, so I got on the bus and returned early to the hotel.

I rested for a bit and then decided I was hungry and that I should probably pick up some band-aids. I walked (oh cruel irony) to the farmacia for the band-aids. They had very few items, but a surprisingly large portion of the items seemed to be foot related. I guess I’m not the only tourist to have blister problems. Must be all the uneven cobblestones. Band-aids in hand, I started walking back to the hotel. I stopped into a pizzeria along the way. Boy, my bad Italian gets considerably worse when the other person doesn’t speak English back to me. I managed to pantomime what I wanted though.

Now, I’m in for the night. Tomorrow we drive to Pisa and then on to Tuscany. I’m looking forward to Tuscany. I hear it’s very beautiful.

Wednesday, May 11
No Sleep For You
I didn’t get nearly enough sleep last night. My neighbors got home feeling extremely drunk and extremely amorous at about midnight, and they kept me up with their loud racket until about 3:30 in the morning. Since I had to get about at about 6:30, I wasn’t very happy.

I made sure to play my TV just a little bit louder when I did wake up in a passive aggressive attempt to share the wealth. I probably didn’t even need to turn it up. The walls in this hotel are paper thin, and even a whisper from next door makes it seem like the person is in the room with you.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty drowsy on the bus. I kept drifting in and out of sleep, which is too bad because the Tuscan countryside that we were driving through is truly beautiful. I hear they have sunflowers in June, but I was just a few weeks early for that.

We stopped for about an hour in Pisa (of leaning tower fame). I thought it was a huge waste of time and a giant tourist trap. It was like driving a couple hours out of your way just to see the world’s largest thermometer or something. There were people everywhere and street vendors hawking their cheap crap, and we had to get on these seriously over-crowded shuttle busses to be shunted over to the area of the square.

The whole time, I was thinking that there must be other more beautiful villages that are nicer and emptier as a result of not being quite so famous. I would have much rather been taken to one of those places. I heard some of the other people in the group raving about how wonderful and fun the experience was though, so I guess I’m out of touch with what people want.

The rooms in Florence are much better than the rooms in Rome or New York. It’s only about 9 PM, but I can’t keep my eyes open. I think I’ll make an early night of it tonight and try to catch up on some of the sleep I’ve been missing.

Thursday, May 12
Old World City, Old World Charm
Florence is beautiful. The hotel is actually about 30 minutes away from the city center. I was expecting picturesque views of the Tuscan countryside, but you don’t really get that here. Rather, it’s a lot of tall buildings with narrow alleys. It creates interesting photographic challenges. The light is like cut in half here. Either the tops of the buildings and sky are over exposed, or the people and the streets are under exposed. Still, there are some gorgeous church facades and sculptures, so you have amazing photographic subjects in every direction.

We don’t have nearly enough time here. There’s just two nights and one day. I was planning to stay in-town when the tour came back this afternoon at 4. For some reason though, despite getting loads of sleep last night, I was completely wiped out by the time 4 rolled around. So, I went back to the hotel and fell asleep early again. My sleep deficit must really be catching up to me.

Friday, May 13
Ah, Verona
This morning was a mad house. The elevators were full through 3 carts. I finally decided to walk down the five flights of stairs to breakfast. It was even more crowded there. It was like there were fifty million people all trying to get breakfast at once, and no good places to sit.

We’re on the bus again today traveling to Venice. Our first stop was Verona. They sell this stop as going to see the balcony where Juliet waited for her Romeo. Now, I thought that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a tourist trap and a waste of time, so you can only imagine the low expectations I had for Verona with that kind of a billing.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The city of Verona is beautiful. This was easily my favorite afternoon so far. I didn’t waste my time looking at a manufactured balcony from a fictional play, but I did wander out through the city a bit more.

After about an hour and a half of walking, I stopped in at this little restaurant, which turned out to be bigger than I thought. They sat me on their terrace with a nice view of the river and birds chirping in the distance. The food was great, and just the whole place was so lovely and restful I didn’t want to leave. I had about 15 minutes to figure out how to get back to where the tour was supposed to meet though, so I paid my bill and started walking some more. I was actually closer than I thought and got back with a good 10 minutes to spare, so I got myself a strawberry gelato and took 15 seconds to confirm that the Romeo and Juliet balcony was just as crappy and silly as I suspected.

Back on the bus with another scheduled stop at Padua. Padua is another cute little town. They have a park with all these sculptures and canals. All the kids in the city (I guess there’s a famous medical school around there) seem to go out to the park to lie in the sun and flirt with each other. It was quite nice, but the hour we had to spend there was probably just about right.

After a surprisingly long day, we finally made it to our hotel outside of Venice. I thought about taking the train and boat in to see the city, but I was feeling pretty wiped out again, so I just walked over to get some pizza (which ended up being a much longer walk than I anticipated) and went to bed early.

I don’t like these rooms at all. The rooms in Florence were much, much nicer. It’s so unpleasant to go from the best rooms of the trip so far to the worst. We’re only here for two nights though, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.

It’s about four in the morning right now, and there’s nothing I’d like more than a nice, cold, bottle of water. The sleepy little town we’re staying was already closed up pretty tight at 9, so I really don’t think that I’ll be finding anything until breakfast. Maybe I’ll take a look in the mini-bar to see what they have in there.

Saturday, May 14
Lost in Venice
And, the contrasts continue. As much as I loved Verona, this is how much I hated Venice. Don’t get me wrong. It’s visually interesting, and I got some of my best photos ever there. I also got rained on, and I got lost for like an hour in the labyrinthian and surprisingly slum-like back alleys. This caused me to miss a scheduled trip out to some island where they make lace.

I was looking forward to that trip, so as my deadline approached, I was sprinting down the narrow little passages that all seemed to dead-end and twist around on themselves. I was getting pretty hot and sweaty, and at one point I swear to you that I saw the bones of Daedalus himself — picked clean by what I assume could only have been the minotaur.

Despite my best efforts, I ended up getting to the meeting place a good 30 minutes late. I was so frustrated and angry, and I felt the weight of vast crowds like waves trying to crush me and block my passage at every turn. Why do people always walk so goddamn slow? And why do they always stop randomly with no thought to who might be trying to follow behind them, and why do they always walk side-by-side stretching out to fill whatever space is available for passing?

There’s a park at one end of Venice. It’s not much, a few trees and some sculptures, but it’s shady and practically no tourists seem to make their way to that side of the island. All the tourists seem to prefer, for reasons that I can’t begin to understand, to congregate where all the other tourists are, looking through what seemed to be the exact same store repeated an infinite number of times — selling the same masks and the same glass, and the same posters. Seriously, if you’ve seen half a block of that and a few canals and the church, you’ve seen all there is that you’re going to see. It’s a town that requires about 20 minutes of attention, and I was there for about 8 hours.

But the park, back to the park. I went there early in the day. The tour director called it a garden, so I was hoping there’d be a lot more to it. Still, I sat down for a moment of quiet reflection before moving on to find lunch. When I missed my meeting time though, and I was down to the last dregs of energy for the day, and I still had four hours to kill before I could get off that god forsaken island, I went to the park. I sat down in a little bench in a pool of shade (because the Venice sun (and to be fair, the Verona sun) burned me up a little bit), and I took off my shoes (because you know the blisters, which had been healing, were not at all happy with all the running), and I listened to the birds, and I watched the children play, and I spent a quiet hour. I paint an ideal picture, and it was soothing, but I was also fighting an internal battle that went something like — I’m bored, but it would hurt too much to move, but I’m bored, but it would hurt to much to move, but I’m bored, but it would hurt to much to move…

About 20 minutes before the boat was supposed to pick us up, we were hit with a flash downpour. Normally, I wouldn’t mind getting wet, but I didn’t think it would be good for my camera, so I went into one of the nameless faceless stores that are all the same, and I pretended to browse through their posters of Venice and their ugly looking glassware.

We went back to the hotel for a crappy meal (but it was included, so at least that was something). And now it’s off to bed, my spirits buoyed by the knowledge that tomorrow I leave this horrible, horrible hotel in this horrible, horrible city. I can’t imagine I’ll be returning to Venice anytime soon. The bitch of it is that I really did get some amazing photographs there.

Sunday, May 15
A Bus and a Boat
Today, I leave Italy behind. I think on the whole, I’m glad to have been. I got some nice photographs and I saw a lot of the places that people always talk about. I’m ready to go though. At this point, I feel like I pretty much have Italy photographed. We stopped for lunch at Ravenna, which was very nice. I found myself falling back to the old standbys though, shooting pictures of children and flowers and the like. At least for the moment, I’ve grown a little bored with shooting quaint, old-world buildings and the like. Hopefully, Greece will offer a change of scenery.

We got on the overnight ferry without much problem. Italy was sort of civilized in that people generally weren’t allowed to smoke in buildings and while there was more smoke than I typically run into in California, it wasn’t much more. Greece, I’m told, is much more like Turkey in that everybody smokes — a lot! Judging from the ferry, I think that’s probably true. The place is rotten with smokers. I can’t even comfortably walk down the halls or go into the restaurants. I’m looking forward to the beautiful landscape of Greece, but this could be a pretty miserable week or two for me.

I was concerned about my room on the ferry. The literature said that even people who paid for single rooms would have to share on the ferry. It’s getting pretty late though. I’ve watched a couple of DVDs, locked away in my room away from all the smoke, and I’m about ready to go to bed. So far, a roommate hasn’t shown up, so I may have caught a break.

Monday, May 16
My room got incredibly cold last night. The thermostat must have been put on the wall to tease because I turned the heat up to the maximum setting and I don’t think it ever kicked on. I never got a roommate either, so at least I froze in private.

We were on the boat until 4 PM today. I stayed in my cabin for most of that time, only venturing out to get food, and when they needed access to the cabin to clean it. From there, it was back on the bus for a 100 KM drive to Olympia.

From what I could see from the bus, the scenery is spectacular. Italy was mostly about urban centers, but here, I think (hope) we’ll have a chance to photograph some of the natural beauty. There is just a terrible lot of smoking though. In Italy, most places didn’t allow people to smoke inside which was a relief. In Greece, everybody smokes (A LOT). I’m getting a little sick just being around it all the time.

There was a buffet tonight at the hotel. I had grape leaves stuffed with rice and some other kind of spices and filling. It was OK, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again. They also had some kind of meat that I couldn’t identify, and something that looked like corn bread, but it had been soaked in that sweet syrup stuff that they soak baklava in. It was different. There was also a complimentary glass of ouzo when we checked in. I had wanted to try ouzo, but I was too busy taking advantage of the WiFi internet access that I discovered was available in the lobby, and so I didn’t have a chance to get my drink. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, May 17
Olympia is stunningly beautiful. By that, I mean the landscape more than I mean the town. I honestly didn’t have much of a chance to see any of the town, and I honestly don’t know if there’s even much of a town there to begin with.

I had hoped that at Olympia, I’d be able to see Mount Olympus. It turns out, that’s about 500 Kilometers from here (or some equally large number). What they do have is the site of the original Olympic games. I took a guided tour of that. The ruins weren’t all that impressive to me, but as I said before, the surrounding landscape is incredible. I was just looking around thinking that our local tour guide was so lucky to be able to live there, but then, she’d probably like to leave and go to a city where there’s more to do than look at the same hills and trees day in and day out.

She was fascinated by the fact that the original Olympic athletes performed in the nude. Seriously, she said Naked like 20 or 30 times. I hope she meets somebody soon. Apparently there isn’t much to do in Olympia, so after a night and a morning, we were back on the bus on our way to Tolon.

Tolon seems like a small little resort community. There’s a sea or lake or something within easy walking distance of the hotel. It’s beautiful to look at, but the water doesn’t seem very inviting to me. There were some people swimming in there, so I guess it must be OK.

I got the weirdest room. Most people were put up in the hotel proper, but me and about 5 other people were put in this extra building out behind the hotel. You have to climb up a mountain to get to the place. OK, maybe it’s more like a really, really steep hill, but there aren’t any roads or steps or anything, just a very steep dirt path with lots of loose gravel and the biggest ants I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m pretty sure that 5 of those ants could take down a full-grown dog of the small to medium sized variety.

I can manage the hill without much problem (although it’s a good thing I don’t have to carry my own bag). A few of the people who were put up in the same building really can’t manage it though — at least not without a sherpa guide and an oxygen tank. I guess they’ve never staid in this hotel before. It was a last minute change. They didn’t know and didn’t think through it all very clearly. I’m guessing there will be some room rejiggering.

The room I got though is awesome. It’s more like a little apartment than a hotel room. There’s a kitchenette and a loft with a couple spare beds. And the view from my balconies and the easy roof access is AMAZING.

Tonight there was an included dinner and then I went walking around the town a little bit. There isn’t much there, but what there is, is charming enough.

Wednesday, May 18
I woke up early today (what else is new?), so I climbed up onto the roof to wait to try to get a picture of the sunrise as it came up over the water. It was OK, but not as good as I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll get some better sunsets or rises on the cruise.

Anyway, you remember that mountain trail and how I said I could handle it without much trouble? Yeah, it turns out no. No, I can’t. I was walking down to breakfast this morning, and I hit a patch of loose gravel and fell right on my ass. Well, actually my hand (and by association my wrist) took most of the damage. It hurt liked I’d jammed it up something good for a bout a half hour. I was concerned I may have sprained it or something for a bit, but it fixed itself before too long, so I guess it wasn’t any big deal.

If there was almost nothing to do in Olympia, there’s even less to do in Tolon. I would like to stay a bit longer all the same. I could use some relaxing about now, but early in the morning we were back on the bus and heading for Mycenae on the way to Athens.

Mycenae is the city that went to war with Troy in the Trojan War. It’s mostly just an archeological ruin now. But, it’s way up in the hills, and the views are mind-numbingly great. I was hoping for some nature photos in Greece, and I certainly seem to be getting what I was hoping for. We spent a couple of hours, had some lunch, and jumped back on the bus to continue through to Athens.

I was loving Greece, but boy do I dislike Athens. We got checked into the hotel, which is all right and is just across the street from the Aegean Sea or some body of water like that. It was still pretty early, so I headed out to do some exploring. Oh my god, this city seems to wear despair like a wet and humid, dirty blanket. It’s suffocating. I don’t know how anybody could live here.

I’m walking along the ocean, and you can see where they tried to lay out some nice parks and walking paths or whatever, but it’s like nothing can stay beautiful in this town. Decay seems to creep into these open spaces that should be beautiful and eats them like mold. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s oppressive and miserable.

The Greek people are wonderful and kind and generous, and even the people I’ve met here are like that. The Greek countryside is amazing and gorgeous in a way that words (to say nothing of my photographic abilities) completely fail to capture. But almost everybody in the country lives in Athens, and I just don’t understand how or why they could live in this place.

I got something to eat and then went to hide in my room and play around on the Internet for a bit. I’m here for two nights before leaving for my cruise. I can’t get on that boat soon enough.

Thursday, May 19
So, it turns out I may have misjudged Athens. Maybe it was the oppressive heat and humidity. Maybe it was being tired after spending so many days stuck on a bus. Maybe it’s the fact that our hotel is actually in a slum, I don’t know, but today was much better.

We started out driving up to the Parthenon. That whole area is really impressive, and there were some nice 360-degree views of the city. Then we drove around a little bit for a city tour. The local city guide took us to see the presidential palace (or royal palace or I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening all that closely). We stopped for 10 minutes to take pictures of the palace guards dressed up in their ceremonial uniforms or costumes or whatever you’d call it.

I didn’t care very much about taking pictures of some kid in a guard outfit, but the Royal Gardens were right across the street from the presidential residence. They were open to the public, and they were beautiful. I was running through there taking pictures of this or that. Ten minutes was not nearly enough time for that. I wish I’d had more time. But, then I was one of the only ones who went into the gardens, so I guess that once again, I am completely out of touch with what your typical world traveler wants to see.

We headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before driving an hour south of Athens to visit Poseidon’s temple in Cape Sounion. The drive took us through some of the ritzier suburbs of Athens. For how expensive it’s supposed to be to live there, I still think that Athens seems a bit run down, but the coastal region was back to the spectacular vistas I’ve come to expect from Greece.

I assumed that since our hotel was on the water it was in one of the nicer areas of Athens, but I’m thinking it must be in one of the worst (although, tonight I walked up one of the streets, and the neighborhood seemed very nice — I don’t know why the road along the water seems so depressing and crappy).

Tomorrow, I get on the boat for my 3-day cruise.

Friday, May 20
The cruise ship seems nice. It’s bigger than the ferry (and thankfully, there’s way less smoking), but it’s not quite as big as one of those typical cruise ships. The pool is tiny. It’s more a bathtub than a pool — not that I would have been likely to have gone swimming, but I was surprised.

I’m not sure if I’m a cruise type of person. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to do. There are some scheduled activities like “Learn to Salsa Dance at 3 PM”, “Team Trivia Quiz at 4:30”. I guess that could keep you pretty busy if you’re into that kind of stuff. Then there’s laying around in the sun, which I generally try to avoid, and plenty of opportunities for eating, which I really should try to avoid. Mostly, I spent the first afternoon sleeping in my cabin and listening to music on my computer. It’s a good thing I brought my computer.

At about 5:30, we pulled in to Mykonos. I absolutely adored Mykonos. Love, love, love that place! It’s beautiful with the crystal blue water and the little white houses dotting the hillside. And, there are all of these little art galleries, which always gives a place that creative vibe that just sings to my heart. All the people are so nice too. It’s like a little paradise.

I wanted to try to find a painting or something. I’m not a souvenir type of person, but I do like art, and I thought a nice original piece would be a good remembrance of the trip. I just didn’t have time though. We were only there for like 3 hours. It absolutely broke my heart to leave the place so soon. It wasn’t nearly enough time. I need to come back and spend like a week.

Although, I do have to say that all of those steep roads with uneven cobblestones really did a real number on my legs. You’d think that after all this walking, I’d be used to it by now, but walking down the stairs from dinner tonight, my calves felt like they’d been hacked through with a rusty saw. Hopefully sleep will cure me because tomorrow morning we dock at Rhodes.

Saturday, May 21
I woke up early today, and went out on deck to shoot some pictures of the sunrise. After a short half hours wait for breakfast followed by another short 45-minute wait for disembarkation, I was on a tour bus getting a run down of Rhodes. This is a pretty big island. We were driving for like an hour to get to some place called Lindos where they have an Acropolis at the top of some hill.

It looks a bit like a castle. In fact, this whole island seems to be covered with castles. There’s another one at the pier where the boat was docked. We toured both of them before returning to the ship for a late lunch.

We’re actually in port until 7, but the town wasn’t that interesting to me. Wouldn’t you just know it? I’d love to have more time in Mykonos, and I only got a few hours. I don’t care all that much about Rhodes, and we’re here for 12. Don’t get me wrong. The island is beautiful, but you really need a car to see it. In the tour bus, we zipped right past a few spots I would have loved to have stopped. I guess a lack of freedom is one of the prices you pay for these tours.

So, stuck with nothing much to do, I decided to treat myself to a massage. It’s seriously overpriced, but after being on the go for more than two weeks, I’m feeling a bit ragged. This was only my second professional massage, and my first getting massaged by a dude. I’d like to be above caring about that because seriously, what difference does it make, but it was still pretty weird laying there under a towel while some guy puts his hands all over my naked thighs and butt. I have to admit that I found it a little difficult to relax. I’m so lame.

He did a good job though. They wouldn’t let me put a tip on my ship account for some reason, and I’m fresh out of cash. Well, I have a little, but I’m going to need that to eat in Athens. Sorry dude.

Now it’s like 5, and I still have a few hours before dinner. There’s supposed to be some choral singers show at 6:30, but it doesn’t sound very interesting to me. I went to their show on the first night, and I was seriously unimpressed. This was in direct contrast to the old guy sitting next to me who was applauding and laughing and shouting out “oopah!” at any conceivable opportunity.

I’m all greasy from the massage. Maybe I’ll take a shower.

Sunday, May 22
There were two island stops today. First was Patmos where John wrote Revelations. It was a very small island. There was a tour of the grotto (now a church) where John did his writing. They wouldn’t let you take photographs inside the church though, and there was a service going on which made it seem weird to tromp through like Joe Tourist, so I stayed outside taking pictures of the bay and flowers while the rest of the group went through. We didn’t stay on the island for long.

This afternoon we docked at Kusadasi Turkey. Kusadasi seemed very modern and wealthy to me which is strange since I got the impression that Turkey was just barely coming up to the standards that the EU and IMF wants to impose on them. Maybe it’s just that Kusadasi is a tourist point. We toured the ruins of Ephesy, which were pretty impressive as far as ruins go. Usually, you go and there’s just like 3 pillars or something. Here, it’s clear that they’ve put in a lot of time to reconstruct some of the buildings. It’s still just a bunch of ruins (and frankly after a few weeks, you get a bit tired of seeing ruins — I guess I’ll never be an archeologist), but they’re impressive all the same.

After touring the ruins, we went for a sales pitch for Turkish rugs. I’m not a rug person, so I left pretty quickly while everybody else shopped. I walked along the beach for a bit before making my way into their bazaar. There was nothing interesting for sale in the bazaar, so it’s just as well that the ship left as early as it did.

A lot of people mentioned liking Turkey a lot (and it was a relief to see a more modern looking city), and several people mentioned not liking Mykonos all that much. So, once again, I seem to be the complete reverse of most of the people I was traveling with. I’m not sure why that is.

Monday, May 23
Today the cruise ended back in Athens where it started. I spent a bit of time playing around on the Internet. Then, I got on a local bus to go into the city center. I walked around a bunch there looking for things to photograph, but I’ve been taking so many photos (3,280 so far) so I think I’m done with that for at least a few weeks.

I’m not much of a shopper, and there didn’t seem to be much else to do in the city center, so I hopped on a bus back to the hotel to take a nap. Then I went and got something to eat, and played around on the Internet some more. Tomorrow, I fly to Zurich for a 24-hour layover on my way back to California.

Tuesday, May 24
My plane ride to Zurich was delayed by about an hour. There was some kind of mechanical problem. I didn’t mind though because my seat was awesome. I had an isle seat in the largest exit row I’ve ever seen. There was leg-room for somebody twice my size. And, the seats are all those nice deep leather seats that you just melt back into. I felt like I was in first class. And then, I asked for a little water, and they asked me for four Swiss franks (they took the equivalent of $3.50), and I realized that I certainly wasn’t in first class. There was no meal either, but they did give us all chocolate bars (I think because we were stuck on the ground for so long). There was a lot of turbulence too. I mean the kind of violent turbulence where if you didn’t have your seatbelt on, you might well have been flung out of your chair. Even with the delay, it was a pretty short flight and I was in Zurich before I knew it.

In Zurich, I had plans to meet up with this guy, Sebastian, who I’d met through a web site where I occasionally post. He was a nice guy, and was kind enough to show me around Zurich a little bit. It was too dark for photographs (I got one or two nice ones of the sunset), but we did ride the train into the city center and had a few beers. I don’t drink all that often, so a few beers was about all it took to get me feeling a little loopy. I made it back to my hotel with no problems though.

These rooms are the nicest of my trip — very comfortable and elegantly designed. It’s a shame to leave them (and a shame that some of the other rooms on the trip weren’t more like this one), but I am looking very forward to being able to sleep in my own bed.

Wednesday May 25
Oh my GOD! What a long flight that was. I think we got started a little late, and then we were in the air for like 50 million hours. OK, it was probably closer to 12 or 13, but MAN! Then when we finally landed, we sat on the runway for 40 minutes waiting for a gate to clear. That’s 40 minutes! Stuck on a plane after being on there for like 13 hours! Grrrrrrr!!!!

I forgot to charge one of my PowerBook batteries before the flight, so I was only able to watch one DVD. Fortunately, the flight did have movie on demand with personal TV screens. I watched Hotel Rwanda. What a depressing film that was — it was OK, but I don’t know that a plane with crappy headphones is the best place to see it. I also watched The Life Aquatic. I typically like Wes Anderson’s stuff. I wasn’t sure about this one though. The funny thing is that I LOVE Buckaroo Bonzai, and it seemed to me that Life Aquatic was strongly influenced by Buckaroo (right down to even having Jeff Goldbloom), but it didn’t work as well for me for some reason. I didn’t like Rushmore on first (or second or third) viewing either though, and now I love it, so I may give Life Aquatic another shot.

But, I’m home.

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