Sunday, December 24, 2006

Trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Saturday morning. Gorgeous day to go out for a field trip. A friend of mine had been to this park half a year ago, with his wife and kids, and they thought it'd be really nice for me to visit.

They have a butterfly farm, frog rooms, snake rooms, a hummingbird area, a trout pool, and plenty of hiking through the tropical rain forest to some waterfalls... Pretty place. Steep entrance price, definitely geared towards foreign visitors, but the $25 were kinda worth it.

We took tons of pictures, here's a small sample of Costa Rican fauna and flora!

Friday, December 22, 2006

New scars, and my doggie charge.

So there I was, ready to start another day of tanning and relaxing. I figured I'd hydrate before playing at being a lizard. I had a bottle half-full of water. I needed a big glass to pour the water in it. I looked in one of the kitchen's many cabinets, and find a nice, big, 2004-olympics-edition coca-cola glass. Neat!

I took it out, and saw a nice crack in it. Ah well, if they still had it in there among the glasses that were being used, it'd probably still hold. I did remember that I had to wash it before using it, though, 'cause this wonderfully warm country is the perfect breeding ground for cockroaches, and they get their filthy paws everywhere, so it's a good tip to rinse anything that was kept away before using it.

I was all energetic, looking forward to the sun, so I just quickly put water in the glass and started rubbing the edge in a circular motion, trying to rub off all the little pawprints...


All I felt was a stab on my thumb's knuckle. My first reaction was to start cursing, upset that I had been so dumb as to use a cracked glass. I looked at my hand. A small semi-circle was drawn in dark red on it. Now I had to worry about bleeding all over the place... I just stood there, frozen for a couple of seconds, seeing the cut and wondering what I could grab that wouldn't remain stained. I finally ran for some toilet paper in the bathroom.

The cut was small, but seemed deep. Nice big drops of blood kept forming on the surface. After the anger, I started to worry. I was alone in the house. Just last week I went to get a vaccine and I had fainted. Visions of me splayed on the floor, bleeding, with no one to find me for another couple of days, got me up and running.

The phone. I had to call someone. One of the nephews of the family whose house I was staying at lived nearby, and he had been helping me over the week to run errands and answer any question I had. He was also the same guy that had gotten more scared than I had when I fainted at the pharmacy... So I wasn't sure how useful he'd be for an emergency, but he was the only person I could call right away.

The first thing he asked me was if I felt faint. ;) I said no, but last time I had also felt fine up to the moment we were leaving... I seem to have a delayed-reaction fainting system... :P He said he'd call some doctor and come pick me up. I started to get ready, trying to get dressed while holding the bandaging in place... left food for the dog, closed all the doors.. At some point I did start getting woozy. I couldn't let myself go! I started jumping up and down, kept saying "no!" and looked for any sugary stuff in the kitchen. I poured honey into my mouth straight from the bottle, and ate cookies. Then I went outside to wait.

He showed up half an hour later.

In a scooter.

I looked at him, worried. Yeah, he means well, but definitely not the right person for emergencies...

It didn't help that on the way over we almost ran over a child.

His girlfriend's brother was the doctor we went to see. He was home for lunch and he could check the wound, see if it needed anything serious.

Final verdict: had he been in the office, he might have considered putting some stitches in. As it was, he disinfected it and put a band-aid on it. Said it should be fine if I didn't bend the thumb too much.

We were on our way back after about 15 minutes, where I took the time to calm down and be sure I could get back on the scooter.

I didn't think to take pics right away, unfortunately, but I did take some the day after. You can check the wound out, and see also pics of the doggie I'm taking care of (in this trip I've taken care of more pets than I've had in my whole life...!) and another cool nature shot.

'Til the next adventure! :)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Costa Rica xmas

I just realized I haven't posted any pics since october...! Sorry about that. But I kinda finished the touristy trip. Since then, if you recall, I've gone through Italy to search for my roots, with a quick side trip through Europe for work-related stuff. Starting from Genova two months ago, I've been through the Island of Elba, Pisa, Florence, Valencia, Madrid, Amsterdam/Utrecht, Milan, Turin, Elba again, and then a quick Rome-Dusseldorf-New York-Costa Rica week. Hmmm. Maybe I've been traveling a bit much... ^.^

Since I was running around with a purpose other than tourism, the pictures are scarce, but I do have some. Here is some picked at random.

After the quick run-through NY, where I managed to see only a fraction of all the people I wanted to say hi to, it was time to fly down to Costa Rica for the usual xmas holiday among "family".

I'm going to be here through the New Year, dealing with the plants business and chilling and getting ready for Milan. And writing. Gonna give it a shot at a book :) I foresee random updates, and lotsa email/chat contact when I connect the wonderful 128bps phone modem... :P

Friday, December 01, 2006

concluding a cycle: 8.5 months later...

December first. I'm back in the United States, back in the home where the trip started. It's been eight and a half months of travel through Europe. I've seen 7 countries, met tons of people, even my own grandma. And because of her I've decided to settle in Milan for now. I have left her for a little, to get my stuff in the Americas, to give myself a little breather, to get used to the idea... but it's a given that I'm going to be next to her from now on.

Eight and a half months of living out of a suitcase. When I returned to my things, kept in a neat pile in my friends' basement, I felt elated to see that I had more than just 3 pairs of pants and the same 7 shirts... Although the happiness quickly turned into worried thoughts on where to put all the stuff, and how to get it there... and, where? I still don't have an apt or anything set up in Italy! I'm going to miss the freedom of having no material responsibilities... :P

I was worried that this trip wouldn't change me. I had gone a couple of months and felt the same as always. Then I started to dig up all the family past. And met new people. Put myself out there a bit more. My eyes opened a bit. I realized that I had never really grasped much of the words of wisdom I could emptily repeat. Like "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". I have known that phrase since I was little. But only now I've understood the difference between those people that accomplish and those that don't. There's a dedication involved. Kinda like what drove me to find out about the family. It was an imperative to accomplish. Any obstacle was to be surmounted, not left to be out of procrastination, laziness, shyness, or anything. It's like a different state of mind. I willed myself to it, really dedicated myself, and I accomplished.

Anyhoo, for the more practical details: I arrived this afternoon in NY, after 2 days of travel. From Elba I stopped in Rome one night, met a new friend. Then stopped in Dusseldorf one night, met an old friend. Another phrase I've assimilated is the one that says "It's not the destination, but the traveling that matters." Even though it took me almost 3 days to get to NY, what I experienced and found along the way was so much more important!

I'm here in NY 'til Tue, then I'm off to Costa Rica for the holidays, a last tropical escape until I have to reach the grayness of Milan. I don't have a USA phone number yet, but I'm going to look into the prepaid cards.

A slow learned, alright, but at least still learning, and finally enjoying the trip! :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

America here I come [back]!

I've been in Milan for almost 2 weeks. My hosts, found through a friend of a friend with just a few phone calls, have been amazingly patient and kind and didn't kick me out after my stay of a couple of days turned in a couple of weeks... ^.^

I have to say that I never believed in the networking thing. I thought hard work and skills had to make up for knowing the right people. I've changed my mind a bit on that. While I still think that one has to prove to be hard working, much of what I have accomplished has been thanks to knowing people that could put me in touch with other people... the help I've gotten from that supersedes the shyness I feel in asking so many people for so many things...

As of now I'm convinced that grandma is well taken care of, while I need to take care of things and get my stuff in the USA. So I'm going ahead with the trip back to the Americas as originally planned. So confirmed Croxleys for December 1st :) And I'll be on campus that whole day, visiting as many people as I manage to. I'll have only 'til Tue to visit everyone in New York, then I'm moving on to Costa Rica mad early dec 6.

Unfortunately I can't comment on anything about Milan as far as sight-seeing goes... I did pass underneath the Duomo, but only running to catch the metro to reach one place or another. I barely had a chance to be amazed at its architecture. Doesn't help that it's surrounded by construction stuff for some remodeling. I have no pics to share on the city yet. It'll have to wait for when I come to settle here. I can say that I found the weather very cooperative. It was real nice the first week. Then the grayness that Milanese complain about showed up, and hasn't really left. It's a city of mist.

That's all for now. I have 10 more days to run around before leaving Italy, all family-related. Looking forward to seeing everyone in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

life is random. here is proof.

I have only to convince myself of something, and make a statement, for Lady Luck to change things around. Sometimes I think it's a personal game she plays with me...

If I dubbed Genova a city of possibilities, Milan has been a city of unearthing long forgotten past. Thanks to a bit of hard work, and a string of coincidences and luck (of course... always luck...) I started off Tuesday morning with no family, and in only 12 hours I had a grandmother, alive, in an elderly care facility.

I've had a week to digest the information, think on what to do, and make a new plan. She needs someone, that's for sure. All things point for a settling down in Milan, at least for a while. I'm still going to try and work out the trip to America, but details are hazy.

If anyone knows anyone in this city, that can offer a bit of hospitality, let me know. It doesn't make sense for me to rent a whole apartment with a long-term contract until I figure out the trip, the legalities, and the job options, but I also feel the need to be here for Christmas.


Yeah. I've learned to take life as it comes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

catching up on procrastination... ;)

I've spent 2 weeks in Holland, hooked to broadband... and here I am, 20 mins before leaving to the airport, updating the blog. ;)

Besides playing with my friends' baby, who has upgraded her backwards crawl to a full running around the house causing mayhem since I last saw her, I met up with friends from Costa Rica, took them around Amsterdam one day, attended the Horti Fair, and saw a bit of the new environment my friends moved to. Pretty place!

This afternoon I'm flying over to Milan, staying there a couple of days and see what I can find out about my family. I've made some headway in my research these past weeks! I foresee lots of running around in the near future... Good thing I bummed around for two weeks to recharge :P

I am bit less organized this time around, I have no clue where I'll be staying past this week, but I already bought a plane ticket to head back to the Americas Nov 30th! I'll be in NY dec 1st through the 5th, then I'm flying down to Costa Rica for my annual xmas time there. It's hard to break the habit... ;)

If you are in New York, you can make it, I'll be at Croxley's happy hour on Fri Dec 1! That's in Long Island, New Hyde Park.

And Italy... broadband connection is much scarcer, so hang on 'til the next update!!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hotel Westin Valencia

I didn't get to see anyone, but we were told by the consierge that one of the nights we were there, some famous people were around, for different events. Claudia Schiffer, Elle McPerson, Ana Obregon, the daughter of some Contessa... Other than the first name, of the supermodel, I didn´t know anyone. But I guess it was cool to be there :)

The down side to this hotel is that it's still under construction! The stay there wasn't exactly as great as I thought it should be, there were tons of things not quite working... and there were more TV channels in the sucky hotels in Serbia than they had here!! I wasn't very impressed.

Ah, and the food. Served in a moderately fancy restaurant, but definitely needs improvement! We had a paella valenciana with some very tough meat, a sushi appetizer that was all cheap vegetables, and a crepes dessert that was pretty sad, just the dough with trays of sauce. I had better crepes in Eastern Europe, for a tenth of the price! We ended up buying stuff at the supermarket and getting together in the terrace to munch. It was quite funny, actually. Here we were, fanciest place we've been in a while, and we're eating crackers and tuna from the cans... lol

Still, I get to say I was in a 5 stars hotel. :D And this one is aiming to be the biggest and better in Valencia. ...Maybe next year, when they are done fixing it...

Now I'm in Madrid, attached to my friend's colander... lol. Yeah, it's the right word. She rigged an antenna out of a Belkin device and an aluminum colander, put outside the roof window... Ghetto, but it works, so I'm not complaining ;) I can't get *my* computer conected, but her works just fine for email and basics. From fancy to ghetto in one day. Can't say I don't have variety in my life ;)

Partying has been cancelled for this visit, so I won't have much to tell on that front. My friend twisted her ankle pretty badly a couple of days ago, falling from her bike, so she's home, and goes out and about on crutches. Not quite useful for going out dancing :P

Oops, it's raining, I have to close the roof window... lol

'Til the next one!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Pisa was an interesting stop. I also did a side-trip to Firenze for half a day, on Monday. Didn't get to see a thing other than the train station and the Piazza della Repubblica. But I met some interesting people. More material for this book of mine... ;) I'll have to come back for a more touristy trip.

On Tue I flew to Valencia. One of them Ryan Air flights. It was the first time I used them. I was surprised by not having assigned seats, no option to lower the back of the seat, no complimentary magazine, not even the net you usually put those in, in the back of the seat. All refreshments were to be paid. But, it only cost 22EUR, all included. No turbulence, flight was noisy but safe. Can't complain ;)

Valencia is technically a business trip. So I get to enjoy a 5 stars hotel, attend a business environment, and "work" for 3 days. *grin* Then I'm off on Sat to Madrid for a couple of days. My friend says she has found an internet connection in her home, so I might be able to keep up with the update! I still think of that place as the party town... No other place has been as much fun and has so many clubs and bars!

Funny how I start to work in circles. I am retracing almost all of my steps. It seems that once I find something good, I stick to it ;)

Still gotta work on some pics, will come soon :D

Monday, October 16, 2006

randomness and other unexpected journeys

This is so random, it's funny, and I have to share it. Turns out I own two pieces of land in Italy. One is a piece of "macchia mediterranea", a dry, small, dense wooded area in Tuscany. Even if it was flat and clean, it could barely fit a small house. It's in the middle of nowhere, far from any other construction, between a road and a ditch, unpracticable and unbuildable. The other piece is a bush. Literally. Next to a road, 10 square meters between the entrance to a home and the road. It *might* fit a tent. It's all pretty much worthless, but it's mine. How about that? ;)

Besides this, I have discovered puzzle pieces of my past that have started to fill in many holes. There is more to this battlegirl than just a woman from nowhere and everywhere. I should have done this much earlier... I have spent 4 days that have covered almost a century's worth of history!

But as far as traveling, an hour on a Ferry from Piombino takes you to the Island of Elba. This is a tourist haven, used mostly by Germans and Swiss, besides other Italians from the north. It is filled to the brim in the summer, and becomes a desert in the winter. The weather was unseasonably warm during these couple of days I've spent here. Mid october, and there were people on the beach. Sun shining all day, a small sweater at night but nothing more. Very pretty.

The water is gorgeous, clean and clear. The small towns are picturesque, build either on the sea, or up on the hills. All the roads between the major cities are twisting curves around the mountains.

I took few pictures in these days, but I'll upload some when I have a more permanent connection.

Sunday I left for Pisa. Unable to find a hostel or cheap hotel in the city, I was accompanied to an agroturismo in the countryside. Very pretty, even if far from anything. I took a side trip to Viareggio in the evening with some friends. It's right on the water, and many yachts and other boats are parked in this affluent town. An odd detail was that a piece of a road from the countryside to the city, near an industrial zone, is full of transvestite prostitutes! Apparently there is a gay scene nearby, that brought this market of men from Brazil that are all done up and parade along this road...

A bit of warning: I am going to keep traveling, but I think from here on my journey is going to take a slightly different turn. While I knew that coming back to Italy would allow me to do some research on my origins, what I've discovered has given me lots of work to do. I'm still going to Spain and Holland this week and next, but then I have to come back on Italian soil to further some research. The sight-seeing is going to be converted into work a bit, so there might not be as much carefree sightseeing from here on. And the Americas are going to have to wait...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Emilia Romagna

Lugo, Ravenna, Bologna, Mirandola, Verona... it was an interesting week! 5 hours and 3 trains east of Genova is the not-so-small town of Lugo, home of the Ferrari logo! Their local hero was a plane pilot in the war, and his logo was the horse that you see on the famous car. His mother knew the founder of the Ferrari, and when he was looking for a logo for his company, she suggested he used her son's horse. Baracca, the hero, had died during one of his raids.

I was in Lugo for just 2 days, but my wonderful hostess (I can't help but call anyone that I've visited in this journey a wonderful person... they're the ones that have made possible 7 months of travel!) took some time off her busy schedule to show me a little of Ravenna, the main city nearby. One of the most renowned schools for mosaic restoration is here. The little stones create designs all over the local churches.

On Thursday I left Lugo to head towards Mirandola. Since the train stopped in Bologna, I took a couple of hours and walked around that city. I didn't take many pictures here, I had an unsafe feeling right off the train station, but I walked for a couple of hours under the "portici", the archways that line most of the sidewalks of the center. I read that they total 80Km worth of covered walking space! Who needs an umbrella here?! Like most medieval towns, it is a network of alleys and small streets. I even found a "Via dell'Inferno" (hell's road), but it was a very anonimous, no-shops, short street.

I arrived at Mirandola in the evening. I spent some summers and Christmas holidays here, when I was little. I don't remember much about it, but the home I used to visit is up for sale, abandoned... The girl that used to play with me in the yard is now a woman with her own family, and the town has grown in size, with many new buildings under construction. I biked all over with her, running errands, and we visited the local castle. I've decided I'll show my artwork here some day. After centuries of abandonment, it has been restored, and inside there is a museum, but also offices, conference spaces, and galleries! It's a bit out of the way, but I loved the space. Yes, I'm focusing on this being-an-artist thing, finally. Still not sure on how to actually get to it, but the idea is taking a better hold. And once there's a will, there's a way!

Saturday we took an afternoon trip to Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet. The historical center starts at the "Arena di Verona", an international concert venue. It's like a mini Roman colosseum. We walked through the narrow streets for a couple of hours, strolled by high fashion shops. It's amazing how even the smaller towns are full of shops with mad expensive designer stuff. I don't understand this cry of economical problems. It can't be just tourists that spend 1000EUR for a bag... how do many shops thrive even in the small towns??

Pictures are here, of course.

I returned to Genova Sunday, just to head back to Torino on Monday. I met a friend of my parents there. We spent 2 hours talking about them! It was enlightening. But that is a story for another blog... or book ;)

Tomorrow I'm headed to Isola d'Elba, for another chapter of battlegirl-meets-her-past. And next week I'm leaving Italy, with no date on when I'll return yet...

Next week will also mark 7 months of European travel. I have another month or so planned in Europe, then I foresee winter at the tropics, in Costa Rica. And since I'm on that side of the world, the plan is to visit the USA in the new year. So start preparing them guest rooms! :D

8 months of travel through Europe. I am starting to envision a product of this gestation... hopefully it'll come out with all 10 toes and 10 fingers.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Balkans: an overview

Sorry for the delay, folks. I've been back a week already, but I spent it all sick with the flu, and I had tons of pics to sort through, as well! Here is a rundown of the experience.

The trip overall was great. All my concerns about safety were unfounded. The only semi-threatening thing we had to watch out for was racism in Macedonia towards Serbs, left-over from old wars. But even that, it was more of a general sense of being looked down upon when we used Serbian words. It never came to physical violence. Well, unless you count the incident in Ohrid where the clerk of a mini market made a disgusted face and forcefully threw the receipt in our direction when she thought we were serbians... but as soon as she realized we were Italians, she was all smiles!

Let's see, the itinerary was roughly like this:

Sun 10 arrived in Belgrade, Serbia
Mon 11 drove south all day, into Macedonia. Arrived in Ohrid
Tue 12 explored Ohrid
Wed 13 day trip to Sveti Naum, south, at the border with Albania
Thu 14 drove north to Skopje, explored the city
Fri 15 drove north back to Serbia, to Vrnjacka Banja, stopping at Nis and Sveti George on the way there
Sat 16 day trip to Studenica
Sun 17 drive back to Belgrade, stopping by Golubac and Smederevo on the way there
Mon 18-Sat 23 Belgrade

The trip revolved mostly around city centers, churches and monasteries. The latter are everywhere! It's very interesting to see all the different religions co-exist in these countries. Due to the various conquests in their history, the population is now a tollerant mix of orthodox, catholic, muslim, and jewish faiths. Most cities, especially further south, have both minarets and steeples dotting the city's skyline. We didn't enter any mosque, ignorant as we all were of their customs and not wanting to offend anyone, but I have come to learn a bit about and appreciate the orthodox church's architecture.

An important note on the trip was the economical power we had. It was like japanese people coming to visit the west. Serbia still has its own currency, and the cost of living is much lower than Italy. We often dined at expensive restaurants, the best in town, the most picturesque... and paid only a third of what we would have spent in a just-good restaurant in Italy! To give you an idea, the most expensive meal we had cost us 15EUR each. And this was a huge, delicious, home-made-style meal at a gorgeous restaurant, drinks included! The only truly expensive parts were the car rental for the first week (gas prices are high even here, no escaping that) and the hotel in Belgrade.

Hotels in Belgrade... now, *that* is a sore spot. There are no true budget accommodations, and the hotels we found were falling apart! In the first, we paid 52EUR for one night, one room with four dorm-style beds, and a bathroom whose door handle fell off, the curtain was help up by a tube and wire, and the towels they gave us were floor mats. Pretty run down, overall. No bugs, that's true. And TV with satellite service. This was the Royal Hotel, where we stayed the first night.

The second week, we had 6 nights at the Slavja. We were in a mini-apartment. Maybe 20 years ago this was a deluxe accommodation. Today, it is a run-down, hot-water-not-quite-working, clogged-sinks, old place.

The people were the highlight of the journey. Starting with the two wonderful hosts we had, friends from a previous trip, who went out of their way to cook us dinner and take us out, and the new friends we made on the bus. In Serbia, not many speak English, tourism is still mostly from Eastern Europe itself, but we found several occasions where people went out of their way to help us out. At the bus station, we were trying to ask for directions to someone who wasn't able to communicate in English. So he left his post, and went around until he found someone else that did speak English, and explained to them what we needed, and made sure we understood! Looking for a frizer (a barber) we walked into a ladies' salon, and the one girl that spoke English walked us over to the other side of the street, and explained to a barber exactly what we needed...

While still sore from their troubled past, and with many political issues up in the air, like the Kosovo situation, the Balkans seemed to me a great spot. I'd recommend anyone to travel there, especially before the European Union takes over and the cost of living becomes insanely high.

But I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Here are the Balkans

Right now I'm in Genova, almost all better, just coughing a little. I'm headed to Emilia Romagna this Tuesday, and will spend a week in that region, visiting two different friends. One is a woman I met in New York, and it's kinda cool to see her here. The other is another childhood friend, in 15 years I only saw her once! I'm meeting her 3-years-old child, can't wait.

Blogging time might be a bit limited again, but I 'hope you're all still tuned!

Monday, September 25, 2006

quickie: back safe and sound!

The last days in Belgrade were spent at a very lazy pace, and we took a combination bus/train to return (about 24 full hours of travel to make it home!) without any significant hitches. I'm working on sorting pictures, writing up an extended blog entry, and will upload as soon as I have a chance!

Monday, September 18, 2006

quickie: belgrade

We made our way safely out of makedonia and back into serbia. One of our last stops was Vrnjcka Banja (yes, I learned how to pronounce 6 consonants in a row!), a town built around thermal waters, full of spas that charge the insane amount of 6EUR to use the jacuzzi-style pool of sulphuric waters, and 10EUR to get a massage... Next time, I'm spending a week here!!

It was funny how we felt relieved to be able to talk serbian freely again, with no fear of discrimination... Belgrade is going to be our base for the rest of the week. We returned the rent-a-car, so I'll soon experience the ultra-modern rail system. ;)

The only down-side to Belgrade is the insanely heavy air pollution. Cars here are still old-school, you can smell the lead going into your lungs...! Ah, and wait until I tell you of the hotels...

Return trip is set for sat evening, so we'll be back in genova later on Sunday. Another bus trip, diff. company. Let's hope for the best :)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

quickie: onwards to skopje

3 nights in Ohrid, we saw all the churches around, the one gutted-out fortress, the historical center, a town nearby, Saint Naum, at the border with Albania (and technically one of us crossed the border for a minute while chasing a peacock for a photo!), enjoyed the lake, great weather, good food, and we finally managed to avoid looking like serbians, so all is well. ;) We are now headed towards Skopje, the capital, for one day/night of exploration. We've been warned to keep our serbian rent-a-car in private garages... Let's see how we get out of this one ;)

Monday, September 11, 2006

quickie: alive and well in makedonia

the bus trip was 17 hrs, but somehow they went by smoothly and quickly! I would have never believed it... Eurolines service gets my kudos. Belgrade is an interesting town, still recovering from the war in places, and it is a mixture of extreme poverty (gypsies mostly), old grandeur, and modern life. We were there only one night, so we saw very little, but we plan to dedicate some days to it again towards the end of our trip.

This morning we rented a car and made our way to Makedonia, aaaall the way to Ohrid. The only warning we had for the trip was to avoid Kosovo at all costs, and to park overnight in garages (a car with serbian plates can get pinpointed by certain locals...). So we first headed to Skopje using a combination of highway and mountain roads that circumvented the area, then we looked for the next highway to keep going south, to Ohrid. We got on this tiny road, figured it was an underdeveloped section of the country... and all of a sudden one of the guys reads a sign: "Kforce border patrol 1.5 Km" (I'll get back to you on the actual spelling of "Kforce", I forget what it actually was...)and asks us "Kforce? What does the Kosovo military have to do with this zone? Aren't we in Makedonia?" We suddenly realized we had taken a *very* wrong turn north and had headed straight for disaster! We did a quick u-turn and high-tailed outta there. No harm, no foul. But a nice scare to wake us up after the long, boring drive we had gone through.

We reached Ohrid late, found our hostel with some difficulty, but were pleased by the contrast of quality with the hotel we had in Belgrade. That one was a filthy, broken-down, almost scary place. Here, instead, things are run by a family, it smells nice, and even though when u look closely the bathroom is a bit yucky, overall the presentation is so much nicer!

Mistakes not to repeat: even though the languages are similar, do not use any serbian words in Makedonia! Ppl seem to get quite irate and dangerously unamicable when they think you are serbian... So we are defaulting to English, but try to make sure they understand we are Italian. That seems safe... Ah, and learning the cyrillic alhabet comes in very handy... I can muddle my way through it now!

We are keeping a communal offline diary with all the coolest adventures and things, so I'll have plenty to write about when I have a longer chance. Toodles until then!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

center, north, and onwards east!

bdays come and go, but the memories of good times remain... Saturday we had a combination party for myself and another girl who was also turning 30, just 6 days before me! Yummy bbq, good friends, 4 home-made cakes... it was so nice! :D

Then on Sunday I headed off with Claudio to Torino. He had to go for work for a couple of days, so I tailed along and caught the chance to get to know another city closely related to my past. My mother used to live there, I think. A couple of days before going there I mustered the nerve to call a phone number, of a lawyer whom I didn't remember, but my father had told me he used to hang out with my family and was friends with my mother. He was from Torino, so I was hoping to seeing him. His son answered, and *he* remembered me from when we were children and we played together! The father made me feel like it was only last year we last spoke, and was so glad I called, and was looking forward to meeting me to talk. He wasn't going to be there that days I was visiting, but once I return from Macedonia I have that to look forward to! I wonder how many things he will be able to tell me about my mother, my family, my childhood...

Torino gave me the impression of a quietly grand city. The center is all old palaces, but besides a couple of markedly different buildings, or churches, they are a bit homogeneous. It could also be that we arrived before everyone returned from vacation, so the city was emptier than usual. The northern part has succumbed to the onrush of poor immigrants from all countries, so it is a bit unsafe, but overall it has a good atmosphere. I finally got to see the Po, the biggest river of Italy, and the first you learn about in school.

I only spent 36 hours there, 'cause I returned reeeeally early to Genova Tuesday to meet with the Social Services about the residence thing. I explored another section of the city, but besides that, I didn't get much more out of the deal. It seems they will do anything for hoboes, but a clean, educated professional in limbo like myself doesn't really "deserve" assistance, I can manage on my own. The girl I spoke with put in my application anyways, to see if I slip through the cracks, but she suggested I take up residence with a friend and get health papers like that. I hate to be in this limbo where I know I could use some help, but I'm just intelligent/able/energetic/educated enough for people to think I don't need it. I understand the nicety of helping the less fortunate, but the country would benefit a lot more from helping me out a little now, than helping a druggie hobo for the rest of his life..

Ah, and I looked into getting a medical check-up privately, and it's indecent the amount of money doctors ask for, even here. I guess since I am in no bad health, I just need routine maintenance, I can put it off for another couple of months. Ah, and I barely started to fully consider the implications of having worked and contributed to social security in the US for 10 yrs, which I'll never see, while in Italy I have no right to a pension 'cause I never worked here... *grumble grumble*

Anyhoo, the rest of the week was spent here and there about Genova, running errands and getting ready for the next leg of the trip: Serbia and Macedonia! We are leaving this evening around 8pm with an Eurolines bus, that goes almost non-stop to Belgrade. 16 hours (if all goes well) in a bus!! I've never done something like it... 'Hope it won't be a horrible experience... Once there, we are spending the night to recover, and then we are renting a car to go south to Ohrid, a city on a lake, famous for a monastery and some other stuff. I'll learn things along the way then write about them, I am totally depending on the other two to be fully prepared (and they are...) ;)

From there we will lazily make our way back up north, stopping here and there. The guys want to pass by Sarajevo... I am a bit nervous about the area, these are places where not long ago war and massacres were at play... There is still much political tension.

Wish me luck and look forward to hear back from me in 2 weeks! There should be internet along the way, I might be able to put up a quick update once in a while. Until then, here are the latest pics.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Genova, city of possibilities

[original snippet written Aug. 27]
Sunday afternoon. A lazy Sunday afternoon. New setting: the balcony of an apartment in Genoa. Gorgeous sunny day, it's still summer, but it's not as hot as Crotone. The breeze is cool. It caresses my body while I read a book about Calabria. A book of a passionate man and his family, his history, his traditions and focus on rebuilding a legend. The rumors of life bubble around me. Snippets of conversation. A child crying. A dog barking. Planes overhead, far away. Going to other places. And for a moment, I am still. Amid such movement, mental, physical, my emotions are quiet. A sense of peace. A hint of possibilities. The constant doubt of the future. But I feel the ghost of a life. Or rather, the soul. A ghost is of things gone. A soul is of things to come.
[end snippet]

Many things have accumulated since my last full entry. Let's pick it up again from Crotone. I realized I should write down something about the places I've seen...

Crotone itself is a small town, but its historical center is built over and around a castle/fortress on a hill. In the last blog entry where I posted pictures you can see some of that. As far as beaches, once you have a car it's an easy thing to take on of the winding coast streets and stop anywhere, and hike down the semi-cliff to the water. Many small beaches dot the coastline, and the locals know and use them all. They also have this habit of taking along tents, tables, even portable gazeboes, and set up an all-day eat fest. And we're not talking sandwiches... They take along lasagna, eggplant parmesan, sausages... and they'll offer you it all if you get too close, forcing you to fill up until you can't stand anymore, and then you lay in the heat for hours, comatose... The friends we visited, who had a camping spot on a private beach, were more reasonable than that. We ate cold pasta and watermelon. 'Til we burst, too, but at least it was healthy food :)

A couple of days we drove around to nearby towns to see some sights. Among them: Le Castella, a much-visited castle on a tiny island (pic was in last blog). The gorgeous thing about that place was that we witnessed a huge storm approaching from the sea. The lightning was so violent and there were so many hits, that I managed to take several pictures of it! I also took the stormy clouds behind the castle, the look of the rain approaching, the boats running away from it all... We had to run, too, into a bar, to escape the violent downpour for the 15 minutes it passed over us. I love storms. Such power!

Santa Severina is a medieval stronghold town built over a hill further inland. It also has a small castle in it, and we found our way to a small hostel known to our hostess, where she had simply called the night before saying "prepare a meal for 6, of Calabrian specialties". For a couple of hours we sat and kept passing around plates of cheeses (eaten with honey!), assorted cured meat, olives, pasta with mushrooms, a home-made fruit tarte dessert, and several bottled of "digestives", which are a staple at any italian table. Amazing all the different herbs, fruits, and veggies you can add to alcohol!

Back near Crotone is Capo Colonna, an archeological site where both the Greeks and the Romans established temples and residences. A new museum opened just last month, with artifacts found during excavations. Such richness of culture and soil in those parts. Unfortunately, much of it goes to waste, unorganized, unvalued, and unpublicized. The "Colonna" (column) that gives the name to the place is the single remnant of the temple to Hera that used to be there. It is a solitary sight, but the stories behind it, all nicely retold within the museum, talk of much prosperity in the past.

We visited several other places, but the names escape me at the moment. The book I mentioned in the first paragraph talks of the whole region. Alexander Dumas was said to have passed through it, and the book kinda revolves around that. Don't know if there is a translation, but the original is titled "Tra Due Mari" by Carmine Abate.

After the week spent with the group of friends, I spent the couple of days before my own departure organizing my things and my thoughts. I clocked in several hours at my trusty internet spot, the "Maxim Cafè" [ciao Antonio!] and basked in the last of the heat. By some weird law of impossibility I managed to pack my luggage with the couple of extra things I bought while I was down there, and it all fit! I even seemed to have some extra space!! One of them mysteries of life...

My friend accompanied me to the train station on Thu morning... and I nearly didn't make it back north! Out of 3 trains I had to take, the first was cancelled altogether. Loosing all my connections and seat reservations, I had to re-form my travel plan. The original 14 hours of estimated travel time became 22. The wonderful thing about this trip is that I never have to be anywhere at any specific time. So I sat back and relaxed in the chair of the customer services office, while I observed an interesting exchange of thoughts between the local employee and a yelling girl that was upset 'cause her train had left exactly on time, leaving her behind. She kept yelling things like this was outrageous, how dares a train leave on time, here in Italy! No, this isn't Italy, this is Northern Africa! She demanded her money back, and an apology! The employee, a philosophical fellow, had a very unhurried manner, and insisted on taking time to explain to her his thoughts on the matter. Lucky for me he pushed her aside (with a humorous "since you're already upset, let me make you even more upset, sit there and wait while I take care of this lady...") and sat me on the next train going in the right direction, with some sketches of possible schedules I could take, if I found space.

Lightly worried, but still unhurried, I carried on. Had I stayed, it would have been a week before I found a spot. End of august the population that migrated south for the holidays migrates back up, so trains are overbooked... The first train became a combination local train and bus. Then I had to spend the trip from Lamezia to Naples on the floor at the entrance of the wagon, 'cause all the seats were sold out. At Naples I sat around for 3 hours waiting for the overnight to Genova. This was a claustrophobic "cuccette", a 6-seats-turned-beds where all sorts of women travelers played tetris with their luggage and bodies. Nothing like the happy experience I had coming south...

I finally sat foot in Genova around 5:30am. Still pitch dark, I spent the 15 minutes previous looking out the window to a gorgeous sight of a storm over the Ligurian coast. Genova, here I come!! ;) At the station was my new friend and host Claudio. New city, new set of keys. To a gorgeous small apartment in a nice neighborhood just outside of the city center. First order of the day: focaccia! Second was a shower and some sleep... then we spent a long weekend going out and about, visiting Genova, meeting friends, getting to know the neighborhood... I have no clue what the names of the streets are, but I finally know my way around :)

The time here has been great. I have savored some more of the local life, shopping at the indoor markets, learning about food, eating more than I should but loving every bit of it. (I finally bought a scale today to keep track of the belly... lol) The map I have of the city is a flat rendition that gives no justice to a land that winds its way up the hills through narrow streets, stone stairways and even "funicolari", mini trains used to simply go from one level of the city to the one above it. A plaza reached that way gave us a gorgeous overview of the center. I took some pics at sunset, on a clear day. Beautiful thing.

Tomorrow night, Sat, we are having an actual bday party at my friend's home. Tonight it's "aperitivo" time! This is another custom that seems particular to Italy: you go for a drink before you go to dinner. Kinda of the happy hour we used to do in NY on Fridays, but it's a lighter deal. Just one drink, some munchies, and then you go eat real food. If you meet up with friends during the evening, you usually go for an aperitivo. Drinking yourself stupid doesn't seem to be a widespread custom. Munchies are served as part of the drink order, for free. So the smart thing is to know which bars give you the best/most munchies :)

Aaight, it's pictures time. This is Genova!

PS) After many phone calls and visits around several city offices, it seems there's a way for me to become a resident without having an actual home... My being in limbo poses bureocratic questions, I can't even visit a doctor for routine check-ups, 'cause I don't appear in the system... more on this next week, after I go to my appointment!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

quickie update

thx all for the bday wishes! i started celebrating a couple of days ago, still going strong through the weekend... ;) internet connection is scarce, and i admit i have been slacking on the blogging offline front, so unfortunately i don't have many details or any pics to show yet.

preparing for my trip east with my two new friends from genova, i arrived a week ago to spend some time here. in this time i got to know more of this beautiful and yet-undiscovered-by-tourists city. i'll post some nice pics next time. oh, and the food... ah, the food. luckily i have no scale to keep track of my weight. all my clothes still fit, but i often find the need to walk after a meal just to be able to breathe... ;)

this sunday morning we're taking a side-trip to Torino, for a couple of days. then the final departure east is saturday evening.

more blogging soon! time to go celebrate some more! :D

Monday, August 21, 2006

week of ferragosto

Memorable. We have spent plenty of time at the local beaches, a new place every day. Visited a couple of sight-seeing spots, like the castle at Le Castella, or the town of Santa Severina for a dinner of typical regional food (heavy on the cheeses and the sausages...) Mornings of sleep for all. Me, lots of sleepless nights. Enjoying the company, feeling every moment. Communal lunches and dinners, games of cards, walks around town... fun fun!

I have finally dug into some of my italian roots. Being with 5 other italians, all my same age, has given me a chance to fill 15 years of cultural gaps. It's like an accelerated course of adolescence through adulthood. I even found someone who understands all the languages I speak. I can switch between them, mess up, and I am still understood. I still live a borrowed life, I am still the foreigner... but I am slowly integrating, I found some vestigial roots. I am starting to feel complete. I have even had brief fantasies of settling down and start a family of my own. I might be finally achieving balance. It is scary. But It also feels right. I have a feeling of home. I missed it.

No worries, I still have some ways to go. I am still a random speck in the world, the battlegirl you all know. A friend has dubbed me "Miss Brown". A particle constantly in motion, pushed by the environment. I still have to backtrack to my earlier childhood. Find some family information. Place myself into this world a bit more. But it's getting closer. Life is funny. It is full of surprises if only you give yourself a chance to be open and try to experience things.

As I look back on pictures of this trip, the people I've seen, the people that have come and gone, those that will always remain, those that I will possibly never see again... I feel a mixture of elation and sadness. What is there to life, really? What are the things to worry about, and what are those that are so superficial, they just hurt you in an instant, but are not to be considered for the long haul? Morals, cultural definitions, they are all so subjective... It's all about respect for those around you, but for yourself most of all.

I wish there was a way to integrate my worlds a bit more. Make the physical distances shorter. I miss everyone so. Some I will always regret not having gotten closer to when I had the chance. But life can always be amazing, if you give yourself the right opportunities. You never know what can still happen.

Aaight, enough philosophizing. The last visitors left yesterday morning. It's now back to myself and my friend. She is back to her 9 to 5, so I have a chance to catch up on blog and things. I got a train ticket to go back to Genova Thu morning. My 30th bday is coming up, there's some celebrating to do! Through Sep. 9 I am going to be hanging around up north, looking up other friends I haven't visited yet. Then I am embarking on the trip to Eastern Europe, which has been confirmed. My two new friends have planned what sounds like an amazing experience. I just hope we won't run into any civil unrest... But we should be near internet spots along the way, I hope to be able to keep blogging. The trip will be 2-3 weeks. Then we'll see.

I'm closing down this blog entry with some new pics that have been in the making all this while. Definitivamente, in Crotone, me` scialat'! ('hope I got that right... spero di averlo scritto bene...)

5 months. I can't believe all I've seen and all I've met. Lucky, lucky me.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

company and shootings stars

After another 3 days of beach, walk aimlessly around, and sleep, Thursday of this week the company finally arrived. Started off the day with a friend of a friend, a local girl who's on vacation from studying, and she was nice to take me around and tell me something about the city. We walked the castle, took pictures, the went through the narrow streets and got lost, took some more pictures, then visited the local park and took pictures at a tree that must be mad old and composed of several fused trees...

Before picking up the first visitor for this weekend, we tried to pick up some fried calzones from a local pizzeria. A specialty I was told I *had* to try. They have the pick-a-number-at-the-door system. Our number: 82. The number on the screen: 8. No kidding. After 20 minutes of waiting, they ran out of food. It was only 1:30pm and they closed down! After picking up visitor #1, a friend from Genova, from the bus stop, we drove around trying to find *anything* open. We ended up at a small food store that had ran out of bread but sold us the ingredients to make a carbonara. So we had a nice hot meal in the early afternoon of the south.. lol.

Since then, it has been one cool experience after the other. We attended a greek play outdoors, it was a modern twist of the story of King Oedipus, done amazingly well. It's a theatre company that does has been doing outdoor plays in archeological sites of the region for 3 years. The background to the stage was a full moon. And since it's the night of the shooting stars, we saw a huge one run across the sky right. The play right at that moment called for some loud noise, and we thought it was the meteorite that had fallen nearby! Oh, and since I finally bought myself a tripod, I took some gorgeous pictures of the rising moon above some clouds. Amazing night.

The next guest arrived late that night. After the play and some yummy pizza on a restaurant overseeing a cliff, we went back to the apt, and since the hostess still had to work (life sucks sometimes...), her and her bf went to bed early. Myself and the other guest went to see shooting stars by the docks. I am not sure if it was the ambient light or what, but we didn't see that many! Isn't this night supposed to be one star after the other kinda deal??

Yesterday was a very lazy day of beach, walk aimlessly around (but it's so much more fun with company!) and then in the evening we all grouped for the meal. The last two guests arrived yesterday evening. We are now a total of 6 people in the apartment, and they are all cool, fun, nice, wonderful!

Last night we tried to see some more shooting stars, but we didn't have much more luck. Either this night of San Lorenzo isn't all it's cracked up to be, or we missed something... Tonight, we're supposed to do the fire on the beach at night, so it'll be the last chance for it :P

Unfortunately I had some probs with the computer and I haven't been able to download pics yet, so I'm leaving you in suspense about the pictures. The internet cafe is closing for a week. I'll be back Monday 21st. Happy ferragosto!

PS) This holiday, Aug. 15, also marks month #5 of my trip...!!!!!

Monday, August 07, 2006

first week in the south

I have been here a week already! I have basked in the hot sun, enjoyed the local hospitality, relaxed and rested, and finally got myself a cell phone number (email me if I forgot to send it to ya). Could I really be trying to settle in? And yet my future is still full of planned trips to other countries...

Tue my hostess started her regular work week. For 4 days I had a chance to do the tourist thing, exploring the city and its people. I found the tourist office down an under-construction alley, a tiny door with a simple "Turismo" tile over it. Luckily the shop guys I asked directions to were good. On my way there I saw no signs to indicate the way. It seems they're just starting to promote the area to tourists. They are doing a lot of work in advertisement, but I'd call it still "under construction". The fact that the office girl kept repeating that she had no official calendar of events for the month, as no one had called to confirm, didn't quite spell professionalism. I did get plenty of brochures and a simple map of the area to help me navigate the streets. I found the beach, and learned that from 1:30 to at least 4pm, but often later, the city shuts down. Only a few food places remain open, but even those close at some point. The heat of the south still mandates life here. Human beings and industrialism haven't overrun nature yet!

In the evening we had guests over, some coworkers that came to enjoy a Genovese specialty: pansotti con sugo di noce. They are a type of ravioli with ricotta and herbs inside, made fresh, and the sauce is made of nuts. Heavy as all hell but yummy, of course! It's a wonder the pasta managed to survive the extra-long plane trip. ...although the sauce did have an odd flavor... :P Still, no stomach ache from anyone the next morning, so it was all good. The fun part was to hear all about their work place during the dinner. Stories of people with mental and physical impairments caused by accidents... just the thing for a pleasant dinner. ;)

Wed. After having explored the town, it was time to hit the beach. Amid the pay-to-enter establishments there are small strips of "free" beach. The only difference being the lack of bathrooms, chairs, umbrellas and bar services. Having a home nearby, and not planning on being there more than a couple of hours, I had no need to pay money to enjoy the clean, sandy beach, clear water, breezy hot sun, and work on my tan!

The next couple of days were more of the same. A stroll about town, looking for summer clothes so I could change the only pair of shorts I currently own. Then the beach, then home to hang out with my friend, tired from a day of work, but up to showing me some spots and do the dinner thing.

Saturday and Sunday we hung out with another friend at a camping area. They are locals but like to have a camper by the beach. Great idea, in my opinion. :) It was a nicer beach than the one in town, in a curved piece of coast. One of the amazing things was the weather. Sunny one moment. Then dark clouds. Then sun. For lunch we had a huge downpour. Then sun. Then when we had to leave, the skies opened up again. The view was amazing. The dark clouds in the background, and the coast of the small beach all sunny. Luckily I brought my camera the second day. So you can see some pictures of Crotone and its beauty!

The next couple of days I am planning on doing some cultural things. Then starting Thursday we're going to have guests. A whole bunch of friends from the north are coming by for the big Italian holiday of Ferragosto, the middle of August. I don't remember what the holiday actually is about. Kinda of a mid-summer day, and as it's usually too hot to do much in August, many businesses just shut down for the whole month and not much gets done. Why not celebrate that? ;)

I'm going to try and work on more pictures. I have been slacking this past week! And there are too many nice places not to photograph. 'Til then!

Friday, August 04, 2006

southern crooks and the (foreign) visitor

Finally! After 5 days of checking out every internet point I found in town, and of being denied in each one to connect my computer, I found one right around the corner from where I live that does it! Still expensive, but now I have the freedom to upload blogs, pics, check email, chat... :D

Here is the first blog entry I had offline. Nice and long to cover your weekend :) Subsequent entries were still incomplete, but I haven't done much more than the beach and walk about. I'll try to have more on Monday, for all of ya bored at work. ;)

Monday evening. I left Genova at 5pm on Sunday, by train, to go to Crotone, at the bottom of Italy. I was scheduled to take 3 trains over 14.5 hours. My friend had a plane reservation for that evening, a trip of just 3 hours. She kept trying to convince me to go by plane with her. ...I ended up getting to her workplace before she did! Her airline was a mess and she didn't get in until 3pm today. My trip, albeit long, was uneventful. Even the half hour delay of the first train didn't mess up my schedule. I found the overnight train with 10 mins to spare, and my companion in the 2-bed cabin was a woman who was very nice and showed me everything there was to the trip, even gave me tips like putting the top bed's ladder in front of the door to prevent break-ins.

Then came the fun part: I arrived at the train station in Crotone. I had 1.5 hours of sleep Sat night. And about 5 hours and several 20-mins naps from the trains Sun night. I went to call my friend, who told me she was still stuck in Rome, all planes delayed. She told me to get to her workplace, get keys to her place from a friend, and make myself at home. I was tired, but not exhausted, and I figured it'd be easy enough to go the 3 miles to her work and then another 3 to her home. So off I went to find a cab.

An older guy offered me his cab, showed me to the car, helped me out with the luggage, asked me why I'm here... the whole nice guy routine. Then we took off. After such a nice train trip, I was all optimistic, and never imagined I'd run into trouble. But I'm older and wiser than I look. When he told me we were taking a shortcut, my little antennas stood to attention. I non-chalantly made sure to say that I just wanted the shortest and cheapest route. And he said it's still going to cost me about 20-22EUR. This for a 5 Km trip. My eyes popped open. Great, so much for a good trip.

I calmly told him that was insane. So he starts going insane. Granted, it wasn't that bad. He just started blabbering that I was insulting him of being a coward and cheater. Still calmly I told him not even in NY we pay such prices. Then he starts to try and make a deal. 15EUR to get there. I told him no. He threatened to take me back. I told him he could leave me there for all I cared. I could give him something for his trouble, but I wasn't going to pay that amount. In the end, he took me 500 meters and back to the station. I even tried to get him to use the meter, which he refused to do, of course. He even said how I just ruined his day, how I was insulting him, how he put in motion this thousands euro machine to give me a service and I was denying him money... I didn't budge, but didn't get upset. I knew the routine. I told him I wasn't a rich tourist with money. I was dropped off at the station unceremoniously, had to take my own luggage off, and he took off with some other tourists.

Back at the station, a group of men, other taxi guys, crowded around me and started asking me what happened. I explained. They told me he *was* taking me the right way, but then they started talking in southern italian among themselves, which I don't understand, and I didn't know if they were unhappy with him or me. I assumed the latter. I went in and asked the customer assistance guy about buses. He was too shy to be a scammer, but told me the buses were the trains' competitors, so he couldn't give me much info. I should ask the guy at the bar, which also sold bus tickets. So I went to do that, got bus tickets, and went back out to wait.

The taxi guys didn't relent. One of them told me he would take me for 10EUR. I told him I already got bus tickets. Then they all started saying the buses were on strike. I was reaching the crying in frustration point, but I figured it'd get me nowhere, and I was better off toughening it up. Back to the bar I went, all the while dragging all my luggage back and forth (never again am I packing this much crap, btw...). I told the bar guy what I was being told, he said he didn't think there was a strike. Back outside I go, and since the cabs were lining the bus stop, I went across the street from there, in the station's parking lot, and waited there.

10 minutes later, one of the taxi guys walked past me, towards one of the cars behind me. I nodded. He went to his car, put some music on, and waited. I didn't even sit down. I had my backpack on, my huge ass luggage on the floor, in the shadow of a tiny tree, hot sun beating on the cement, but wasn't too hot yet, and I calmly waited. I figure he was waiting for me to crack and beg for a ride. My will points were boosted by that, and I resolved to wait there as long as it took. My friend was late anyways, it's not like I had anywhere to go. After 15 mins, he turned the radio off and got up. Somebody he knew stopped by, in a car. They talked. 5 mins later, he came by and told me: "Miss, the buses are *really* not coming today. My friend here is willing to take you. Just give him 5-6EUR, it's all good." I smiled in what I hope was a grateful way, said thank you, walked towards him. Then I had a moment of hesitation, considered the option of being kidnapped and mugged to be shown a lesson... but I figured I was making a point of having no money, the driver didn't look too shady, so I went with it.

The guy was a skinny, silent person. Didn't talk at all during the trip. I tried being alert, observing the route he was taking. He took me straight to the institute my friend works at, helped me with the luggage, and refused any payment! I went from a 20EUR ride to nothing in half an hour! Naive touristy girlie 1, locals 0. :D ...I wonder if I'm riding on the good karma of donating all my good stuff to charity. Thousands of dollars worth of life to the little cement house in Hempstead, NY, to be used by the homeless and whomever that institution helps. The only thing that bothers me at times is that I never seem to repay, but rather pay forward, or sideways. In the bigger scheme of things I guess it works, but I wonder if in the personal world of the people I deal with I'm seen as ungrateful. Know that I'm not! :)

The people at my friend's workplace were real nice, offered me a nutella croissant (yum!), and even a ride to my friend's house. In the end, and all I wasted was the cost of 2 bus tickets, a whole 1.80EUR. :D [note: I later found out there really is a strike of buses this whole week...!] My friend finally arrived in the afternoon, had the stamina to show up for work for a couple of hours, and then we had a pleasant but short evening, as we were both exhausted.

Crotone is a small town, but it has some interesting tourist attractions, including a castle right in the middle, and an archeological museum that highlights its Greek past. It is the home of Pitagoras, the mathematician. It's on the sea, so the beach is a whole 10 mins walk. The water is that transparent clean, clear blue color you see in postcards. The town seems peaceful, just a couple of shady parts. I was told that unemployment is high. My friend's home, which she calls a dump, is a beautiful, big apt in the center.

The heat can get to be a bit too much at night. During the day, from the moment I wake up throughout the day, there is this wonderful breeze that makes the hot sun in the cloudless sky bearable. At night, unfortunately, the air becomes still. AC is seldom used in Italy. So I depend on a cheap fan to work through the night and not melt. :)

The only other thing I have to learn to deal with is that constant reminder that I don't belong. In Italy more than in any other place, since it's my home country, being pointed out all the non-italian characteristics I picked up along the way, all the messes I make of languages and expressions... and being called an American...! It's a bit depressing. Plus the danger of the tourist treatment puts me constantly on alert, which is stressful. And yet, when I really reflect on things, I think I have learned to depend on being unique and separate. I take a sense of comfort in it. Probably not quite healthy, but I'm ok with that, too. All artists need their quirks after all ;) And for every person that doesn't understand me, I have a treasured friend that knows my past, knows me, and to her or him I am just "Val", the sum of an odd life, but a good person deep down. :)

Now let's just hope my stay here will remain safe.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

talked too soon...

Greetings from sunny Crotone! The town is tiny, but it has a castle and the beach with 5 mins from where I am staying. Internet connection is mad expensive and I can't find an internet point that will let me connect my computer, so I will be blogging offline and working on meeting the rich locals, hoping for an at-home connection I can get hooked to... ;) I will be checking just my gmail account once in a while, and I guess I will be reduced to working more on my tan... man, i gotta stop complaining ;)

cross your fingers and send good charm vibes my way, to help me find that internet conenction! :D

Sunday, July 30, 2006

now we're talking...


I finally found a fiber optics connection to hook my computer to for a couple of hours... the place is amazing, a robotics lab in an old palace in Genova... a wonderful mixture of high-tech with old-school. and i get to visit it at 3am... lol. Man, this is the life. I've really spent a great week here. :D

I'm off to the south of Italy this afternoon, sunday. Should arrive monday morning, and then I have to find an internet connection again... *sigh* good news is, there shouldn't be much to do in Crotone, so I'll have time to update the blog :)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Genova: 15 years after.

My health has been holding up. One up for designer pills! :) So I have been out and about town, scarfing down as much focaccia and "baci di dama" and Genovese specialties as I can.

Even though I do not have a hometown now, I have had several in my past. This was my second. I have been visiting some old friends, seeing their lives, hearing their stories. I haven't seen them in 15 years. All I remember is their personalities as pre-teens. It's interesting to see that in the adults of now.

Down memory lane there are also other classmates, and I heard scraps of their stories. Many surprising reversals of fortunes: the nerds that became druggies or developed serious disorders. The underachievers who now have normal and good lives, with steady jobs, or became entrepreneurs. A few expected endings, both good and bad. It's amazing to hear all this. And to be still considered a good friend after so much time. My friends are truly my family.

Besides the mental walks, I've done some real-life ones. I have taken some pics of places and people, but unfortunately this block of email and chat includes sftp, so I can't upload anything to my server. I need to find a better connection... ugh.

Anyhoo, we have done several group outings, I met new people and old friends. We walked the boardwalk in Nervi, a beautiful town. Hung out by the water on a small pier. Had ice-cream and anything cold enough to make the heat bearable every day. Tried a local restaurant, up a hill, middle of nowhere. No way a tourist can find his way up here.

I did not have the camera with me these past two days, I spent them in a camper at the beach, and I didn't want to chance salt and sand. Besides the good food, sun, and the gorgeous, clean, transparent blue sea, I had the good company of Lore's family. Her 6.5 yrs-old daughter is a cute terror. I forgot how malicious kids are! But we got along and spent hours of fun at the beach. Until we started seeing medusas. :( The tropical-like weather has brought those damn things around the Italian coast. We only saw one tiny one, slightly purple, and I managed to get a nice welt a couple of inches long. Luckily the stinging sensation passed quickly. Only a bit of skin remains burnt now.

This Sunday the friend I was staying with is going back to work. Her vacation is over. Her job is on the southern end of Italy. I'm supposed to go with her, but I have yet to book my train ticket.

Man, it's been hot this week...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Italian public wifi spots... useless

Confirmed: email clients are blocked at a public wifi spot. And so are chat clients, apparently. So I'm stuck with webmail and public internet. Definitely no checking of my bank account here...

I'm surprised that the blog client works. At least I got one thing! Although now I have to worry about my traffic being watched... passwords snooped, usernames logged...

The place I'm at now is not very accessible from where I am, but I'll do my best to try elsewhere. Cool news: I might have found travel companions for a trip through Eastern Europe in September! 2-3 weeks semi-planned by other people :) More news on that if and when they take shape.

I'm freeeeee!

...of fever, at least. There might actually be something to these designer pills. Headache is slowly melting away, and I even dared to go out yesterday night for a chill evening down by the old harbor. Genova is not often associated with beauty as far as cities go... but I like it. Where I lived it's outside the city, in one of the nicer neighborhoods, apparently, so I was lucky. But even walking through the city, the little streets, the palaces, and the old harbor, felt and looked good.

They cleaned things up a lot over the years, and now the historical center is a cool place to hang out and even live. In the harbor there is an aquarium that is supposed to be the biggest in Europe. I made a note of visiting it, and I am curious to compare it with the experience in Valencia. Near it there is a funky construction of masts, which hold a 360 elevator, and at night it illuminates the sky so brightly, that a cloud of seagulls circles over it, creating a stunning visual effect. Next week I'm going to try and photograph it!

Today Thursday I dared lie in the sun I have been avoiding for all these days, to try out a bit of tanning. I'm used to the tropics, where I have to time each side I tan on properly or I burn. Here it's hot, but it doesn't seem to burn quite as quickly. Tomorrow morning we might venture to the actual beach! Ah, it feels good to be well again!

If you're reading this, I finally found an IV of life in the city. Internet connection! It's frustrating to be cut off regular communication with the world... The internet is really what is allowing me to maintain this international identity. If I'm cut off... a lot of me will be lost.

Still, all is well, I am around friends, and I'll try to connect as much as I can with updates. I'll definitely keep blogging offline, take pics, and hope to find spots to upload from as I go. Although I envision dozens of minutes spent downloading spam the moment I get my computer online...

Adventures in the Italian Health Care System

It's Tuesday night, July 18. With no internet connection in sight, I'm doing some offline blogging.

I've been in Italy 3 whole days! Yey! I'd almost say home sweet home... but that expression is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I still have to experience much of what I came back for. All I've seen up to now is my bedroom, in the beautiful home I'm staying in... and the emergency room. Kinda sad. When I arrived after 10 hours of traveling, I was taken straight from the train station to the nearest Pronto Soccorro. Not really 'cause I was in an emergency. But given the fever and the soreness, that would be the only place to do all the blood tests on a Sat night, and check to make sure it wasn't anything contagious or serious.

6 hours later, they confirmed that my blood was fine, x-rays said I had no lung infections, the antibiotics seemed to be doing their job, so I could go home and finish taking the recommended dosage. If, at the end of the antibiotics, I was still with fever, I was told to go back. I should have taken their offer to take me in for the night. I spent the next three days cursing a constant headache, on a fever roller coaster. I had 38 degrees when I woke up this morning. Same as every night since Sat. I was tired of seeing only the inside of the house, as nice as it is. We decided we'd eat lunch, looking forward to another long wait, and then head to the hospital again. By lunch time, though, the fever hit a low and went away. Figures. If I showed up now they'd probably decree me cured and send me packing. So my friend decided to run errands, and I returned inside, back to my cage.

4pm, fever check: 37.3. I figured it'll only climb higher, so it was enough to warrant going back. The first run to the hospital was kinda slow, but when I finally got to see the doctor I was listened to, asked questions, and cared for. I was quite impressed by the system. I went back looking forward to a similar service, hoping for a cure. Silly me.

Different reception guy, kept being interrupted by emergencies, and I observed him send away an old guy, bloodied, who needed a transplant, 'cause him and the wife, old people, made the "mistake" of calling emergency rather than take a cab to their surgeon! The old guy was actually, somehow, walking around. The nurse declared a bureaucratic tie-up, and told them to either take *their* surgeon but expect no transplant, or go take a cab! And then they are horrified by the stories of USA health care system. Bureaucracy seems a shit on both sides of the world. Although you have to admit that in the USA it revolves heavily around money. Here money is not the object. Just the right papers and right stamps for the right procedure.

Back to me, he was in no mood to listen to my pitiful sore throat/headache/fever story. He deemed me a non-urgency, and sent me to a throat doctor in an annex. After a dispirited check-up, I was sent back to emergency with a list of blood exams. They told me very nice, I could go and get them done elsewhere. Surprised, I tried to explain my situation. I currently have no residence in Italy, which means no pre-assigned doctor that can assign the blood exams. No pity. They told me the paper said "suggested" tests, not "required"! I tried again, telling them the nurse that took care of me Sat was there, he had recognized me in passing, he would know. I was taken by the guard direct to the doctor, a different one from Sat, though. The nurse did try to explain about me, but she'd have none of it. She told me to have my friend's doctor prescribe me the exams (technically illegal, as he's not *my* doctor) or try the infectious diseases annex in the morning.

In the end I was sent home up with a new antibiotic prescription from the throat guy's 2 minutes check-up --and he didn't look like he tried hard to figure out what I had. "Let's try a new molecule" he said. "A newer, stronger antibiotic, to see if it works." You can imagine the warm and fuzzy feeling that put in my belly. With no other option until morning, we went to the pharmacy. And got free, mad expensive, new-generation stuff. Free 'cause Italian health care system prices its services, including medicines, based on income. Having none, the price was zero. If what I have happens to be one of the strains it's designed to combat, I should be set. If it's not... I am ingesting 66 euros worth of designer pills and building immunity for nothing.

So now I'm back to the room of a wonderful home in the Italian Riviera... the blue sea only 5 mins away... and yet I'm inside, watching cheesy American shark attack movies dubbed to Italian, headache still there, blogging offline, and waiting 'til morning to try the Italian Health Services offices and see what they tell me.

In every place I've been to I was well prepared, had guides in hand, researching where I went before arriving... figures that my home country is the one to give me troubles! Although I admit that my hostess is up to par with all the hosts I've had throughout my trip. She has taken me up and down without a complaint. How nice it is to have childhood friends... almost like having family :) And her father is also mad kind. I've eaten nothing but home-made gourmet food, all natural... Italy might have corruption, bureocracy, lazyness, pollution... but it's hard to beat its food culture!

As far as the emergency service... next time I'm going to take my friend's advice, and play it up at the reception. Tell them I am in paaaain, I need heeeelp, I've been huuurting... you know, the Italian way ;)

Friday, July 14, 2006

not cool things about being sick in europe...

I think they gave me a dosage too low of antibiotics, afraid that it would hurt my liver. 'Cause now, 2 days later, I have fever and feel like crap. The soreness *is* a bit better, but now it's concentrated in a shoulder, and the fever is a bit high. I already booked my ticket for mad early tomorrow, and I'm better off going to Italy than staying here alone in a country I have troubles communicating.

No clue about the internet situation yet, so hang on tight for news... ;)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Paris to Italy

My neck is sore, my throat is sore, my head hurts, my body is blah, I am tired, and in no mood to go anywhere... I think the insane heat and then the cooler nights got to me. My current hosts leave for vacation reeeeal early Fri morning, so I was supposed to leave tomorrow, Thu. They're willing to leave me with keys, nice people that they are, but then I have to coordinate to drop them off with a friend of theirs that lives kinda far. My friend in Italy doesn't get to Genova until Sat, and one other person I got in touch with (the old fashioned way, they don't even have voicemail...) was too busy 'til Sunday. So I'll be chilling here for Bastille day, and I should be seeing some fireworks :)

While searching information about Italy I ran into the wikitravel article for it, which reads:

"The Italian government has recently passed a law requiring all public-access internet points to keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID. Accessing e-mail service has been also forbidden. However, if you bring your own laptop you should be able to check e-mail, but not avoid ID recording. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record ID. Publicly available wireless access is forbidden unless the provider has a special government license. This has caused only major phone-like companies to be able to afford that, so wireless access is generally expensive."

How insane is that?? My connection future is looking gloom. Most of the people I know have no internet at home, I think... :P

Cool thing about being sick in Europe: health care is basically free. Not for locals with a job. They get to pay lotsa insurance every month, and have to pay the doctor 20EUR every time they visit on top of that... But since I have no insurance, I went to a pharmacy, told them I needed antibiotics, they weren't sure what I could have, so they sent me to a local doctor, who saw me right away and told me I didn't need to pay anything! All I had to pay was 9EUR for the pills and some throat spray. She thinks I just have laringitis and tonsillitis, combined. Soup, chamomile, rest, medicine... all in 30 degree celsius heat. lol. Sucky weather to be sick.

Only other thing I've done since the weekend was go shopping for shorts (It's probably why I got sick, overheated in corduroy long pants...). Summer officially started ;)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back to the future. Or rather, forward to the past.

I keep retracing my steps. A part of me feels bad, thinking I am wasting my time. But I recognize that feeling as that same little voice in me that also keeps nagging I'm never doing anything good. So I tell it to shut up and I go ahead with my trip.

Dog owner arrived on Friday as scheduled, we got together, chatted, walked about, I spent the night there, and had a reservation for a train early the next morning. Ah, one really good news: I found my camera's flash card!!! As I was packing to leave, I found it in one of the thousand pockets I have, in my backpack... behind a bag of chamomile tea... lol. So I have some cute pics of the doggies I talked about. Then from Brussels I took one of them mad fast trains to Paris. First class, too. They had a half-price internet promotion that ended up being 15 euros cheaper than a regular 2nd class ticket! Got free breakfast and nicer seats for less money. Now, *that* is making good use of my money :) Only scary part of the trip was how badly the train shook throughout. After hearing about the Valencia metro accident all I could think of was that this train was going to derail, too... I even got motion sickness! Took one pill, tried to sleep most of the 1.5 hrs it took to travel, and arrived with no problems :)

The idea for this leg of the trip was to make a brief stop at the same friends' place as I visited last time, research travel options like last-minute deals and all those good promotions, and work my way south through France to Italy, where I am meeting another friend half-way in July, before heading south to Crotone (aaaall the way at the bottom of mainland Italy) for all of August, to chill by the beach. One thing I didn't consider was that July 14 is a major holiday in France, Bastille's day. Same as the 4th of July in the USA. So traveling this week is kinda insane. Another tiny detail that is hampering my progress is that my friends' internet connection broke exactly the day I arrived!! I'm writing this offline, hoping it'll be resolved on Monday. [editor's note: they finally got it working on Tue night! They're still troubleshooting the details, but I was able to start checking email at least :) ] Now I have to plan a week's trip in one day. How the hell did people do it back in the day...?? I mean, I *could* just go to the train station, pick up a brochure, pay full ticket fare, and find my way as I go... but stuff like that always leaves you much poorer and hassled at the end than if you had figured out the right itinerary and cheapest route first.

Anyhoo, I already had lotsa fun these two days back in Paris. Sat we went shopping at an outlet mall. Unfortunately if I buy something, I have to leave something behind, my suitcase can't squeeze anything else in it (and I've already left pieces along the way...!) and I didn't find anything worth that. Even though I'm dying with my winter corduroys and sneakers in 30 degree heat.

Sunday we went to mini-France. Similar concept like Madurodam in Holland, but this one is actually geographically accurate. They recreated France, and built representative miniature sites in their corresponding spots. I saw a couple of sights that I really want to try and go see. The one that stands out the most in my head is Mont Saint-Michel, dubbed the Wonder of the West. It seems to be a tiny island with a castle and an old town in it. Gorgeous model. I hope the real thing is similar. It might be more than a day trip, unfortunately, so I have to plan for it.

Cool extra thing about this place was a mini theme park half-way through the models. Oddest thing was that all the rides were completely do-it-yourself! There was one pirate ship-looking thing, for just two people, whose instructions were actually to find someone to lock the gate and push the button for you from the outside!! The coolest, and hardest, "ride" was a climbing tent. The foot/handholds were barely enough to put your fingertips in them, making the ascent really hard! And other people climbing would shake the surface, since it was a tent and not a hard, stable thing. I held on for dear life for what felt like forever near the top, until I found the strength, coordination, and quiet surface to reach the last two steps! We later found that we started on the hard side... the other side had a lot more footholds, and without socks it was a cinch!

Both evenings we watched the World cup matches. I'm glad that Italy won (even though 3 other people in the room were rooting for France) but I can't say that a final won through penalties is much of a victory. You should have heard the quiet in the neighborhood... ;) And Germany did get third place at least, Lila ;)

Tomorrow everyone is going back to work. Which leaves me stuck with no internet and roaming the streets of Paris, aimlessly, alone... Feel sorry for me yet? ;) Here are the pics for these couple of days.

PS) The worse tease about this lack of internet is that my computer recognizes other wireless connections... but they are all securely locked! If only I could find out the owners, to ask for temporary access... Ana and Nico don't really know their neighbors, so they have no idea who it could be. Ugh. [ note to self: getting to know your neighbors might be worth the hassle ;) ]

Friday, July 07, 2006

a quiet week

Dog sitting isn't anything like cat sitting. This having to take walks 3 times a day is hard work!! This whole week I fell into a routine of waking up (late), showering, take a 1-2 hours walk, come back to eat, chill for the afternoon, playing offline videogames mostly, since my internet connection is so flaky, then 6-7pm another walk, this one a bit shorter, no more than 1 hour. Then home again, to play some more. While watching the world cup if it's on. And one last quick walk before sleeping, so I don't feel bad if I sleep late ;) Their owner is dues back in only a couple of hours. In a way I'm relieved. I take the responsibility seriously, and I have been stressing over them. In another, I am going to miss them...

I tried to keep things varied by taking a different route every morning. I think I have visited every major park in a mile radius! I haven't made much human contact, so I've taken to observe the two doggies. One is an older female chihuahua mix. Almost looks like a macho chihuahua, if that was ever possible. It has scraggly hair and it's bigger than a regular rat... but, alas, while it doesn't have the huge pop-out eyes and the shakiness typical of that race, it's still as submissive as it can be. At least with humans. It takes no shit from its companion, though, a Yorkshire Terrier Mix. Much younger, only 2 yrs old, it's a little ball of energy that keeps the other one active. But has a similar submissive reaction when handled. They make an odd pair, sticking together through most things, while still being different. They're both likable. But it's easier to be happy and energetic around the little one. The older, when approached, will just put her head down to be petted, looking completely surrendered. And won't play, letting the little one take the toys. She plays and becomes confident only when the little one nips at her and provokes her. Then she switches personality, becoming just as energetic for a couple of minutes. And I feel sorry for her. She looks at you with sad eyes, wanting attention, but just sitting in her corner until you go up to her...

Then I think about people. We all have different personalities, too. Some people are more shy, some are more energetic and care-free. Throughout my life I kept being told by my peers that I was too serious, too quiet, I had to be more energetic, fun, outgoing... I always had to strive to be more, better, different. The world, after all, belongs to the ambitious ones, the confident ones, the ones that push themselves out there. And I did try, being proud of myself every time I broke through my lack of confidence and accomplished something that labeled me as cool, fun, with personality, with style... But feeling bad every time I didn't manage to do so, and I was just plain me. Where do you draw the line between being ambitious, bettering yourself, and accepting who you are?

What makes for different personalities? Where is confidence? How much of it is learned, and how much is what you're born with? What is different in the brain? Does it all come back to chemicals? We take drugs to alter ourselves, often losing our inhibitions, gaining confidence, or, rather, loosing fear and care of consequences... the world becomes acceptable for a little while. Life is good. Medicine is hard at work to alter the nature of the human body.

I keep coming back to the idea of human beings being just a random flow of chemicals...

And it's all, always, random.

Random, random, random.

And, yeah, Italy is in the finals. *\^o^/*

Sunday, July 02, 2006

piccies.. the last for a little bit :(

I finally get around to adding to my photo album. I have pics of Amsterdam, none of Brussels. But I thought I'd take some pics of the doggies, my new charges, to add on. I take the camera, says no CF card. I go to take it out of the computer. It's not there. I panic. Then reason. I was running out, I probably put it in a side pocket. Yeah. That's it. I go search my luggage. Nothing. I search it again. Still nothing.


All I can do is email the lady whose apt I was staying at, and hope she finds it and can mail it. A 2GB Compact Flash card would put an extra dent in my pocket I wasn't planning for.

So, here are the pics I have for now... Seems like I am doomed to not take pics of Belgium :P

- Aalsmeer and Amsterdam: the flower auction, and a couple of street shots.

- The Heineken Experience: being an indoor touristy thing, I had no fears of having my camera out all the time. So plenty pics here!

Enjoy... and I'll keep you posted on this week's adventures :P

PS) Italy is in the semi-finals... Forza Azzurri! *\^o^/*

dog sitting in brussels

Uff. This didn't quite start off with the right foot. I arrived yesterday, friday, at 5pm, at the door of the apartment in Brussels, where the doggies and the couple taking care of them were supposed to be. No one was home. So I sat in front and waited. For about 40 mins. Which was fine, I knew they were given a 5-5:30pm leeway. Problem is, while I was waiting, the owner of the apartment came by, to show a place for rent to some girl. He of course asked me what was I doing there. I didn't quite give him the full story, but I mentioned dogs. He got upset. He said no dogs are allowed here. I shrugged and said I don't know, I'm just supposed to meet someone here, I don't really know them. Which I'm sure sounded mad suspicious... but the innocent face for once worked in my favor, I guess. He let me be and went in with the girl. He did check on me one more time, trying a couple more questions, but I didn't give him much, so he went back in.

10 mins later the couple arrived with the doggies, I walked them away and explained that the guy was there, maybe if we waited a little bit he'd leave and then we could go back in. He did drive away, but I had a gut feeling he was going to just circle around the block and check on us. We walked to the apt, the keys didn't work, and, of course, the guy drove by, parked again, and asked what were we doing, and the kids lied and said the dogs were theirs, they were just visiting... I kept quiet, glad that he was questioning them, not me. But then *I* was the one to have to spend the next week avoiding him! We went inside, waited for a little, they planned on leaving with the dogs and coming back. Which they did in 10 mins. Then they left. And now I'm stuck here dreading the twice-a-day walks they are supposed to take...

Now, I sent an email to the owner of the dogs. She left her cellphone in the apartment (...) and I pretty much have no other way of getting in touch with her. Only thing I know is she'll be back on Fri afternoon. If I see the apt owner again I can only explain my situation and hope he's not some angry guy who's gonna have a fit and throw me out. I hope he'll let me stay and deal with with things when she is back.

Meanwhile, I am dreading leaving the house alone, for fear they'll bark. And I don't really wanna go out with them, for fear of being seen. But also 'cause being about with two dogs you can't really just walk into stores. Sucky, eh? And it's a nice day out... although I think I've seen as much as I wanted to see of Brussels last I was here, so I am not really feeling like I'm missing out.

One good thing is, I finally found a spot in the apartment that catches a public wi-fi signal properly! Kim kept complaining that the connection she found kept dropping, and she hadn't found a spot where it'd work better than other spots. Turns out her "bedroom" (one of those crawl-in holes near the ceiling) is the nearest point to the signal, and it seems to be holding!! I was getting so frustrated being stuck here *and* not having a connection...!!!

Now I just have to find people to come visit. The place is tiny, but it's cute. Anyone visiting Brussels this week? :D

Saturday, July 01, 2006

last day in Amsterdam!

Ah, let's see, this one is going to be a long entry. Lotsa stuff since last Sat! Although I'm about to go to the train station to catch my train to Brussels... So please excuse any inconsistencies. I'll re-edit when I have a chance. And will add pics :)

Sunday, the 25th, was real cool. One of the new ladies I met volunteers as a cook at a squatters' farm near the park. It used to be a regular food farm, building was abandoned, squatters took over, and got organized so well, that they ended up making a deal with the government to restore the building, and they work a bit as a half-way home for people that need to "take a break from the world" for a couple of months. And they also have workshops for children. And while I was there, they ran two movies from DVD, they had a project setup!! Cool place. The building is half in ruin, but it's cozy from lotsa loving living in, and has a great garden setup. Random people come in and out, some volunteers, some residents... many dogs, random furniture, but good and extremely cheap food. Met one of the organizers, a half Dutch half Italian guy, and we philosophized for a little while in Italian. I even managed to find their website he mentioned, so I can make up for forgetting the cf card for my camera and not taking any pics... lol:

We got there around 2pm, but then ended up getting stuck there late, as it poured for most of the afternoon! We finally made it back a little too late to catch the beginning of the Netherlands-Portugal game. We went to the local bar to watch the second half, and we didn't miss much, as they ended up loosing. A dejected group of customers left, and they closed the bar soon after. But since keys lady knows the owner, we hung out a bit after, chatting up the staff. From there we felt like keeping the party going, so we went off to the local lounge to dance a bit. I ended up getting some dancing out of my system, with a random guy that seemed to be into it as I was. When they closed *that* place, he said he knew of another place that still had music going. I hadn't danced in a while, and it felt good, and the guy seemed safe... so off I went! It was the first time I can remember that I rode in the back of a bike!! I finally can say I biked in Holland ;)

The place we went to was one I had looked up and had wanted to go to, but hadn't dared to go alone. The name is Korsakoff, and it seems to be the local heavy rock/goth/industrial joint. Well, not quite goth. More like the heavy metal look. A bit Europeanized... no one looks too crazy. Music similar to what they run in the main room at the Batcave. We closed that place down as well. Wasn't even that late, 3am :)

Monday I have to admit I was hurting. Not only my stomach from the all day and night partying, but my butt, too! And not 'cause of what all of you dirty-minded people might already be thinking... ;) but rather a little from the dancing, and a lot from the metal of the bike I kept bouncing on whenever we ran over bumps!! I tried to use my sweater and his jacket as padding, but it didn't quite work... lol. So I spent all day inside, recovering.

Tuesday I walked about a little bit. Days are starting to blur here... I think I went to the Electric Lady Land, which turned out to be one psychedelic experience. Not so much for the facilities, but the hippie dude from Brooklyn that explains everything to you, and shows you every piece he's got under long- and short-wave UV rays. Trippy.

Wed I woke up at crack of dawn to go to the flower auction in Aalsmeer. It's the biggest commercial building in the world!! Cool thing is, I got a private tour, since the guy I met is one of my father's business clients :D Impressive the volume of material and money that goes through!! On the way back we also stopped by another impressive feat of Dutch engineering, The storm barrier. Once back to Amsterdam's Central Station, I decided to go off the opposite way I came from and see the Nemo museum. The half-ship looking thing. Walked aaaall the way to the entrance, to be told the museum card was not accepted, and the roof was closed. Not worth 11EUR. So from there I walked through the red light district to get to the Cannabis College. Not much to it. You can find out all you want about pot. They will even direct you to coffeeshops. And they have an indoor pot garden, but I didn't pay the 2.5EUR to go in...

I also finally visited Anna Frank's house. Interesting experience. Nicely set up exhibit and signs. But the most interesting part was a temporary interactive exhibit about human rights, with interactive voting.

From there, I realized I was running out of time and I haven't tried nearly enough pot products. So I searched for the famous brownies. Had some regular food first, then had the dessert. I was a bit anxious, never tried them before, so I made my way home quickly to wait for the high... which never came! As far as I could tell, I was sliiiiightly relaxed and happy, which I guess *could* have been from the pot. But I didn't feel anything in my head resembling a high. *shrug*. Gonna try one more time. The brownie *was* good, though :D

Thu I woke up rather late, and I had set an appointment to meet keys lady and daughter at the park again in the evening, so I made time for just one touristy spot: the Heineken Experience! This is a cool place, worth the entrance money, especially since it includes 3 beers and a souvenir. Highlights were a mini-ride in front of a screen, on a moving platform, titled "Be a Heineken Bottle"! Best way to experience the experience is to go with a small group of friends. Many of the activities are geared to groups, and it's more fun to hang out in the two internal bars when you have ppl to chat with. I was alone in the first one, I quickly downed my beer and continued the exhibit. But the last 2 I couldn't quite rush through (I'm a slow drinker!) and I ended up chatting with a group of 4 girls and one guy. It was hilarious, none of the girls wanted to drink beer, among the 4 of them I think they only had 2... so the guy ended up with 8 glasses in front of himself!! The were from Ireland (hehe) and I just *had* to take a pic. I ended up making little notes on their map about places to see. I then realized I was gonna be late for my appointment, so I rushed out and went home.

Fed the kitty, went to the park, hung out, went back home... by 11pm, I decided to head back to korsakoff by myself. Today had been a gorgeous sunny day, weather was still fine and not cold. And I had gotten a decent sense of the place from last time I was there, figured I'd be safe. I arrived there too early for ppl to be there, so, bored, I started doodling... you can see my results in the photo album :D I should make a series of "bar coasters art"! The night was mellow, spent most of the time at the bar itself, then headed off to the dance floor, but wasn't quite feeling it. Only a couple of guys started chatting me up at random times. I was polite but didn't express any interest, so wasn't bothered too much. I ended up doodling and staring more than dancing. But went home content.

Fri I had just one mission: find brownies! Given last experience, I figured I'd eat real food, buy two brownies, then go home. These did hit me. A bit too much, as I fell asleep on the couch mad early, missing the italy soccer game! lol. With more time I think I'd try to experiment a bit more with them... find the right mix of food and those and just get mellow... ah well.

I'm off to the train station in 10 mins, going to Brussels for 6-7 days to take care of two doggies. Internet connection there will probably be crappy, but I'll try to keep up. Although 2 puppies are a lot more interactive work than one cat... *sigh* sometimes I don't think things through :P

Overall, Amsterdam gets thumbs up!! \^o^/