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!