Trip to Germany and Italy, April 2003

Thursday 4/3

As we were packing, Alan found something online that says the import and export of dog and cat hair is illegal. We were both convinced they wouldn't let us out of the country.

Friday 4/4 and Saturday 4/5

This was really all one long day for us, as the sun rose over Germany at around 1:00 AM Boston time. Heathrow airport, which I remembered with such fondness from '95, led us a merry chase (well, walk) of at least a quarter mile between terminals and made us ride a bus. We got some Euros and I disgraced myself by squealing "Look at the funny euro-notes, they're all different colors!".

Monica and Galen met us at the airport in Frankfurt, and on the drive back to Randesacker (where they live) we discovered the one major mistake we made on this trip, namely that they don't live all that near to Frankfurt, we wouldn't be visiting there, and we shouldn't have bought train tickets starting from there.

We went home to unpack and try German yogurt, which doesn't contain gelatin or whatever makes ours so plasticky, but does contain big chunks of yummy hazelnuts. Well, the hazelnut flavored kind does, anyway. And we got to see Galen in his handmade armor, at right. Dazed but not wanting to miss our first day in Deutschland, we then went shopping in Wurzburg, the nearest "big town" to Randesacker. I didn't buy much, just a really good nail file and some honey--they have about a million flavors of honey there. In late afternoon, when Alan looked about ready to fall down, we got dinner at a nice restaurant. I had Wasselin Something-schnitzel, which was heavy and meaty and yummy just about like German food is supposed to be. (Nothing I saw of Germany was much of a surprise to me, thanks to everything I'd learned about it from my teachers and my mother; but that was okay, it was still neat to actually see it.) We went home and crashed, although sleep proved a bit fitful.

Sunday 4/6

This was our only chance to see a German castle called the Residence, but we slept in until 10:30 (okay, I did that; Alan had been up since 5:30 or something). So this became our day to simply catch up on old friendships and/or work on new ones. I also made my most intimate acquaintance yet with old-style German toilets, you know, the kind where your output lands on a little shelf mostly out of the water where you can examine it at your leisure before you flush. Augh. :b

Anyway, I had a generally wonderful time catching up with Monica. Here she is, glowing just like a pregnant woman is supposed to and still looking 10 times cuter than I ever will. We got in a little girl-talk about marriage, pregnancy and so forth; they have all these plans to move to the suburbs of Alabama and more or less turn into the Joneses, and since this makes them happy, more power to them. In the evening there was a baby shower for Monica, and of the four games that weren't purely luck-based, I won three of them. Tee hee. Prizes. And we chipped in on a really cool stroller for Aidan Reed (the baby).

Monday 4/7

Monica had to work, but we went with Galen to Rothenburg to do some touristy stuff. Rothenburg is a very old walled city, so we parked outside the walls and walked in. Here we saw lots of gabled roofs and stores selling random German artsy stuff. And food, of course; we tried Schneeballen and (marvellous!) unsweetened hot chocolate. The guys put sugar in theirs but after a couple of confused sips, I decided I loved it just as it was. We looked at a small museum, climbed a tower and took some pictures. After that we shopped, and I got to practice my German, which to my happy surprise wasn't bad at all. I also parted with a few more euros than before, buying a cool metal cat and a feisty little glass-and-wire insect and a funny doll on a spring.

Upon our return at maybe 12:30, having consumed some great bratwurst mit brotchen on the way home, we left Galen alone to get some work done. Dunno what Alan did, but I tried to read Dune and fell asleep on the couch. Wheee. When Monica got home, we gathered in the library and hung out--the picture at right shows girly bonding at its finest, of the sort only possible when both girls have really long hair--then got us bundled onto the evening train for Münich. (I forget when this became clear, but it turned out that since Wurzburg is on a valid train-path between Frankfurt and Münich, we were able to use our original tickets despite our mistake. Whew.)

On the train, we studied Italian numbers and phrases, and our indispensable guidebook Rick Steve's Venice, with the slavish intensity of people who suddenly realize they're going to be all alone in Italy when they wake up the next morning and they don't speak the language, yikes. At Münich we changed to another train in which we had a sleeper compartment, and the conductor kept our passports overnight, presumably so that we couldn't jump train in Austria. Would you, could you, on a train? We're not telling.

Tuesday 4/8

Morning came WAY too early but we managed to get ourselves off the train and onto a vaporetto, which is a lot like the Boston subway except that it consists of boats running up and down the Grand Canal. One of the first things we saw was a big banner saying L'ITALIA REPUDIA LA GUERRA, with a smaller rainbow PACE (peace) sign hanging below it. We were to see tons of these PACE flags all over Venice, though we were never treated with the slightest prejudice that we could tell.

Alan led us straight to our hotel near St. Mark's Square (San Marco after this), where they weren't expecting us until late night, and we asked if we could leave our backpacks there. They let us. Which was a good, good, bene thing, because we must have proceeded to walk about 15 miles that day. We walked to San Marco, which was cold dead empty because it was still before 8:00 AM, and then wandered to the Rialto where we found some unsatisfactory breakfast. Then we walked and walked some more. I have to explain about downtown, old-town Venice: it's entirely alleyways and canals. There are no cars and only 20% of the passageways are wide enough to drive a car down... it may be a little tiny alley to you, but it's a perfectly good calle to a Venetian and you might find some quite upscale stores packed in there. You are not so likely to find grass, or other greenery, much of anywhere; Venice was built where there was no original land, and it shows. Anyway... we kept wandering, doing the "Rialto Bridge to Frari Church" walking tour in the guidebook, and around 10:00 we found a spinach and ricotta calzone worth being maimed for. (If you ever go to Venice, these can be found right across from the Frari church.)

As we were splitting the calzone, we ran across Dick Girl, pictured at left. Yes, she is wearing a large dick on her head, and huge breasts on her front. She was reading off a poster, surrounded by the small crowd as shown, and every few lines people would cheer and laugh uproariously. A few yards down the street, some guy stripped to the waist and his little crowd started coating him in flour and water. Or something. We still have no idea what all that was about, but I know he must have been freezing, because I was freezing all day and I was fully dressed.

So we kept walking. We got slightly lost trying to get back to the Frari Church and ended up finding a nice mask seller (I bought a mask) and a nice Venetian kitty (I took its picture). Then we got in and toured the church, which contains Titian's tomb.

After fortifying ourselves with pasta and soup and cappucinos (and sitting for quite a while to rest our feet), we went back to San Marco to be closer to the hotel and do some touristy things. Here I am feeding the pigeons. Note my look of demonic glee--it's more fun than it looks. We toured St. Mark's Basilica, which is right there, and gloried in the golden mosaic ceiling... and even more so at the incredibly neat tiled floors. So many different tessellations in such a small space. Nobody ever told us some of the Byzantines were nerds, but they were, and we liked it. The other thing we liked was sitting up on top of the basilica in the sun (note the important word there: sitting).

We forked over 6 euros to go to the top of the campanile (bell tower), which really wasn't too special, then got pizza and gelato from somewhere and went back to the hotel to sleep.

Weds 4/9

After 9 hours of sleep, we chose to get ripped off by a tourist trap in exchange for a somewhat normal breakfast. We wandered, then spent the hours between 10:00 and 12:00 in the Peggy Guggenheim museum of modern art. It was, to not bother coining a phrase, really neat. I want to read her book now... anyway, we went from there to a David Dalla Venezia gallery, then headed north for fruit and more calzones from the same place as the day before. Yummmm. We also found this woodworking store we loved, but couldn't have afforded anything there aside from the catalog and a tiny wooden book, so we regretfully took a traghetto across the grand canal and found a nice osteria to have tiramisu and cappucino in. (Tough life, I know.)

Went back to San Marco and, following the guidebook, got a glassblowing demonstration at one of the major glass stores on the square. It was really impressive, to both of us, and was followed by an education on how different colors of glass are made... and a pretty hard sell on their merchandise. It worked. Alan bought a lovely little vase of cobalt blue with gold 17th-century designs, and I bought a necklace that I think I'll wear for my wedding. So pretty. Venice is so full of gorgeous things that one practically trips over them. We looked at some expensive little bookshelf miniatures, and did more window-shopping, then headed back to the hotel and the Mephisto sandals I'd seen for 65 euros the night before. The same design sells for around $110 in the States, so that was a good deal.

We had dinner at Osteria al Bacareto, the same place we'd been that afternoon. It was very local-feeling, not listed in the guidebook and the waiters didn't speak English; good signs all. Alan had lasagne and I tried the Venetian specialty of cod with polenta (okay, once I was able to get past the strong caper-and-anchovy sauce). We also split some chiccheti, Italian finger-food that turned out to be delicous, and when the bill came they gave us some kind of orange liqueur in tiny chocolate cups.

On the way home we were accosted by a really aggressive rose-dealer who tried to sell us roses and then (maybe) was trying to simply give them to me. I took them by reflex but we were still trying hard to say no, thank you when we walked by a statue of a lion. In desperation I gestured to it, said "Gatti!" in an attempt to say "here, we'll give the roses to the cat", put the roses on its paws, patted its nose and ran. We later found out that gatti means cats, not cat as I had hoped. Whups.

Thursday 4/10

I awoke with my stomach protesting the excesses of the night before. We decided that familiarity was more important than coolness, and sent Alan out to the local McDonalds only to find out that it didn't serve breakfast. So I simply skipped the whole food thing and we went our separate ways for individual shopping. By this time I was having a lot of fun learning Italian and dealing with the shopkeepers. Languages bring out something playful in me, and in some ways the intellectual stimulation of having several of them around me was the best part of the whole trip, though I know that's getting lost in all the talk of food. I think this morning, being alone, was when I had the most fun of all with that particular aspect of the trip.

Back to the story: it was raining pretty hard, so after getting soaked through I bought a small ombrello and headed back to the hotel to deposit packages... where I ran into Alan doing the same thing. So we went back out together for more communal shopping. I got a wedding present for our friend Sheri, and candy to bring home for work, and a glass knick-knack, and small masks to give to friends, and heaven knows what else... oh, goodbye, goodbye, little euros. Alan bought some more glass stuff as well.

The rain drove us back to the hotel around 3:00, and we got in the bed because it was the only warm place to be. A long nap ensued, after which we walked north to another osteria in the guidebook for dinner. We had more cicchetti, and salad made of some nice little leaves I've never had before, and beef with rosemary, and some really nasty gnocchi (not their fault, I just wasn't up to the cheese sauce). Finished it off with some excellent gelato tartuffe and wandered home the long way, which means we got really lost. It was by then a nice night, no rain, so getting lost was no real hardship; we got back, found most of our receipts and packed.

Friday 4/11

It took nine vehicles and over 18 hours to get us home: vaporetto, bus, plane, bus, plane, shuttle, Blue Line, Green Line, Red Line. But home is where we successfully ended up. Our three little gatti were so happy to see us! And that's the end...

The End.