Monday, April 14, 2008

Trip to Venice

The first week of April I had my second NY visitor! Char decided to spend her hard-earned tax refund on a trip to the yet-unseen Italy... and invited me along to a trip to Venice. Having never been there, but knowing it was one of those places that *have* to be visited, I immediately took two days off from work and off we went!

Venice is an island. From above, it looks like someone took a messy, shallow bite off of Italy, leaving only a few remnants behind. On the biggest one, they built the city. The train takes you there, passing over a 3Km bridge, and then just heads back. There is a car park at the very beginning, but the only transportation once there is either on foot, through the most confusing and extensive alley network I've seen so far, or by boat. Boat buses, boat police, boat ambulances, boat postal service... it was a little surreal.

Overall, it was awesome. We skirted all of the major tourist places, choosing instead to loose ourselves into every dead-end alley we could find. After watching several people disappear in what looked like the corner of a plaza, we became expert alley-sighters. "There's a shadow! Those buildings aren't touching! There's a street there!" Sometimes it'd literally be a 3-feet gap but it seemed a common route for locals.

We did pass by the major sights, the Rialto Bridge, the Piazza San Marco, and even Murano, but those were the lowest points. I can't imagine how crowded they are during peak season... we took naps in the gardens, breathed fresh air, and just relaxed. The hotel Char found was really cheap but clean, on the opposing island of Lido, just a short boat ride from Piazza San Marco.

We stayed two days and one night. We almost remained an extra night, just because we didn't know that the last train to leave was at 7:50pm! Right before finding a restaurant to eat, we figured we'd get the tickets for our return trip, and realized we only had 20 minutes before it left! The ride home was long but uneventful and we continued our touristing in Milan.

And that is a story for another time. For now, enjoy some new pictures. Finally! ;)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

election day

Today was the first time in my life that I got to vote. Living overseas for all of my adult life, I never had voting rights in the countries I lived in. While Italy has an overseas voting system, I never followed any Italian politics so I never knew who to vote for, nor did I care.

I have now lived in Italy for a year, and while here I finally learned a bit about what has been going on. When the government "fell" a couple of months ago, and they called for new elections, I knew it was going to be my first chance to be part of the democratic system.

It was pretty anti-climactic. Urns today were open from 8am 'til 10pm. Someone just yesterday night suggested that dinner time was going to be the best time to go, so I waited until then. My district was holding the voting 2 blocks away, so I left my cell phone home, walked up, went straight to the wrong room, was told to go two rooms down, handed my fancy voting registration card (a piece of paper) and my ID, and off I went behind the curtain to carefully put my X in the box. No wait, no questions, nothing. An inch worth of graphite marks on a paper was all that it took for this momentous moment...

I barely watch tv, so I wasn't too familiar with the candidates and the parties. While the election form had 17 parties, giving an illusion of choice, the truth lies in a bi-polar party system. From far-right parties that promote the expulsion of all immigrants and the division of northern Italy from the southern part, to the far-left, communists and socialists, and everything in between.

2 minor parties are "allied" with the major ones. So voting for one of those gives the final vote to the leader of the bigger party. The only difference lies in the senate and parliament, where the people of the minor party can bring their own people if they won.

The little knowledge I have was gathered purely through conversations among friends and acquaintances. My roommate explained to me why he'd vote for a certain guy, and it sounded good. Many other people I respect and trust on an intellectual level were also going to vote for him. So my choice was based on that. I couldn't follow any of the political talks on tv or the confusing snippets of news on the internet.

Does that count as democracy? The right to vote while being ignorant of its participants and its system? I still do not understand how politics work here. All I gathered is that even after being voted for, politicians can change parties, corruption is paramount, and the economy sucks.

This felt just like Bush vs Kerry. Most people simply voted against the worst evil, even though the opposing party sucks.

I'm curious to see how things will turn out now...

And I'm still pretty sure that Italy will not be my home for much longer.