Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First Leg of the Euro Tour

I have been a terrible blogger and for that I am truly sorry. I had promised to give you all an overview of my trip around Europe and I have failed miserably. So here is a very brief, in my terms, overview of a wonderful trip that gave me an insight into thousands of years worth of culture and western civilization.
We started the journey on the train from the small town where I had been at school to the Grand City of Firenze, Florence to the rest of the world. Olesia and I dropped our bags with the restaurant that I would be working for after our trip had ended. The remarkably overpriced but of the highest quality in both service and food quality, Enoteca Pincchiori(Peen-key-or-ee). For those not in the know it is a Three Star Michelin restaurant that is hidden away on Via Gibelina near the center of Florence but far enough from the main attractions to not be littered with Tourists. It boasts the largest wine cellar in all the world with 250,000 bottles of the finest wines the world and Italy has to offer. I have to separate those two, the world and Italy, because Italians hold themselves to a different ilk than the rest of the world, they will hardly talk about wine unless using their language because of the subtle nuances that are lost in translation would discredit the truly amazingness of the wine. But more on that for a different blog.

Upon meeting the chef we had traveled for six hours by train with around 90Kg if luggage in a hurry because our plane was to leave on a day when the restaurant would be closed for a holiday unbeknownst to us. We left the school so that we could arrive on the Saturday prior to the Tuesday departure of our plane. Needless to say we were looking quite shabby, I had my long hair and full beard was sweating profusely, Olesia was glistening brighter than any Goddess I have read about and again we were carting 90Kg of luggage. Not exactly a great first impression I will admit but there you have it. The Chef, Italo Bassi, was so unimpressed that he would not even let me into the Kitchen for a quick tour but insisted that before I was to return if I still wanted to work I would have to pull a Samson and chop the mane and clean up the face, a polite way of telling me I looked like shit. Then he did has best to looked pained at the fact that BOTH my and Olesia’s Bags would be taking up about a square meter of an fairly empty storage garage just down the way from the restaurant. We shook hands with a promise to return in one month’s time and were off to the cheapest accommodations we could find in Florence, Camping Michelangelo. Not really as bad as it seems, it offers a spectacular view of the city was a few minutes away from the Piazza from which it gets its name, Piazza Michelangelo after the great sculpter, painter, true renaissance man Michelangelo Buonarotti. Plus we would get a chance to get used to living out of backpack and tent which we would get more than our fill over the next month.
Since we had a few unexpected days to kill we took the time to do a lazy stroll through Florence careful not to see too much because, after all, we would be living in the city for the remainder of our time in Italy giving plenty of time to catch the sights and culture of this amazing city. We walked along the river that flows through Firenze, the Arno, over the famous Ponte Vecchio, a place where the Gold trade flourished (forgive the pun) in Florence. We strolled through the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery filled with statues of great Italians throughout the ages. Walked around but not up the Duomo thought we did not climb to the top, one because it is expensive, two there isn’t an elevator to bypass the 463 some odd steps, and three no Duomo, Chiesa or Church we have come across compares to the Duomo in Milan, atleast for all we had seen in Italy. So After a few days we packed up our backpacks and headed for the Airport in Pisa where we would Take RyanAir to Barcelona. The thing about taking a Budget airline like RyanAir is that they have a very strict policy on the weight of the Bags. There is a 15Kg limit on the Checked Bag and a 10 Kg limit on carry-on. The problem for the Traveler for one month is that you need to bring with you enough gear to live for a month and that tends to add-up in weight fairly quick. Olesia and I did some careful shuffling og our gear and distuibuted the weight as best we could. The loophole in all these weight requirements is that they don’t count what you can fit in your pockets. Being a fan of cargo pants and shorts I put the name cargo to the test. Our bags came out as weighing 14.6Kg for Olesia and 14.9 for Me. My carry-on weighed in at 9.5 and Olesia chose not to carry anything on. I made quite the spectacle of myself when I was going through security and pulled thing out of my pockets for a good five minutes, it was like watching a Clown-car unload its passengers. I explained in my very poor Italian that we were flying on a budget airline,(consisting of me raised my shoulders with hands splayed saying RyanAir) the security guard gave me an understanding chuckle as I and my bags turned out not to be carrying any WMDs. A few hours later we were off.

We chose to go to Barcelona first because we had friends that had spent a month or so circumnavigating Spain, we cleverly plotted that we meet up in Barcelona for some good old-fashioned fun and conversation that only had the American accent attached. We finally arrived at the campground at 10:00 PM a mere ten hours after our departure from Florence. We met up with our worried friends who thought they would be the late arrivals and began to wonder if they had the right campground. We pitched our tent had a quick dinner at the bar and started chatting about our travels up to that point. The next day we took as a day of rest because of the aforementioned ten hour voyage we had little intention of heading out to see anything, we would spend a week there and could afford a sun-soaked day on the beautiful little beach just down the way from our campground. We were happy to be with our friends Lyndsie and Avery, and they were happy to be with us. The next day we headed into Barcelona, because our campground “Camping Barcelona” was a bit of a misnomer and was in a small town 30 minutes by train north of Barcelona called Mataro(Ma-Ta-Row for the gringos, including myself, who mistakenly say “Ma-Tar-oh”). Our first goal in Barcelona was to take a walk guided by the Rick Steve’s Spain book Lyndsie and Avery had with them. Travelers from Washington are slaves to these books, but they do offer insight to a world we might have just offered a passing glance without actually knowing what we were looking at. After a walk around Barcelona we hopped on a Metro and headed for Gaudi’s magnificent posthumous contribution to the world La Chiesa di Segrada Familia. Apart from being the coolest, most interesting, and possibly being the only church I could see God calling Home, is that it is yet unfinished. Gaudi began working on the church at the turn of the twentieth century. I allows the modern person to see just what it was like back in the renaissance when similar buildings took literally hundreds of years to build and no one seemed to mind much because they knew that one day it would be a sight to behold, of greatness and glory. Unlike today when we throw up huge buildings in a matter of months. Gaudi knew that this building was going to take some time to build and lots of commitment he even had a school built on the site so that workers could have their families with them without hindering the children’s education. Let’s face it they would probably be continuing as the labor force to finish the church and the building itself is mathematically planned and perfect you don’t want any moron trying to finish such a magnificent piece of functional art. The design is exquisite, and organic using the mathematical truths found in mature, the Golden Rectangle the Phi Ratio ell carried out in grandness and beauty. You can see the time is well spent even though the building won’t be finished until 2020. Amazingly enough many of the original plans for the building were destroyed during WWII but contemporaries of Gaudi have salvaged the notes and some remaining blueprints and have survived so that the building once completed will still hold the original ideas that Gaudi set out to construct. A building that I have every intention of returning to see when it is completed.

The next day we went to the Picasso Museum. It was amazing to see that the artist had an entire career outside of the cubism and warped still lives that we are most familiar with. We saw his Art develop from early childhood through art school and into the autumn of his life where he explored pottery and drew very cartoonish pictures explaining simply that he had spent his youth exploring the classics, the art of the adult world that as he neared the end of his life he wished to return to the art of children that he had been deprived in his youth. A truly amazing collection from an artist that I found out I knew very little about. After the visit to the Picasso Museum it was off to see another of Gaudi’s works. It seems that Gaudi did some work in civilengineering as well as architecture. He developed a kind of modern community/neighborhood that was never to takeoff in his lifetime. The heighborhood consists of a few houses built in the famous Gaudi style which looks like a real life work of Dali with surreal building which appear to be melting back into the earth on which they were constructed. The reason this design railed was because the wealthy that it was meant to house did not want to live on the outskirts of the city as they do today but instead wanted to live in the center of the city, it would be too unfashionable to live on the outskirts of town amongst the poor. It is a true mark of the times where today the poor live in the center of town and the wealthy live outside of town away from the hustle and bustle of life in the city. Gaudi was definetly a man ahead of his time, even the benches of the courtyard of the were ergonomically designed so that these cement seats were some of the most comfortable I have sat on in Europe. The rest of the time we spent in Barcelona was on the beach walking through town and simply looking and taking in the beauty of the town that is both Modern and Ancient at the same time.

At the end of our week Olesia and I headed for the Airport and Lyndsie and Avery headed off to continue their journey around Spain. Ole and I Slept in the airport that night because the other thing about budget travel is that it usually leaves at ungodly hours of the morning and night. We didn’t really sleep because most of the good spots were taken so we unrolled our sleeping pads and slept on the floor. In a great turn of luck, Not, there was a power failure in the airport which scrambled the computers and caused quite a stir in the morning, Ole and I were then happy that we had stayed in the airport or we could have well caused us to miss our flight. The third thing about Budget flying is that the tickets are non-transferable and non-refundable even if it is the airports fault that you miss your flight. But we did barely catch our flight and we were off for Paris, France, incase you were confused. At this point I thing I will save paris for another blog because as per usual I have been a bit long-winded and am a bit tired of typing so…Ciao for now, I promise I will be quicker with the next post.