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Showing posts from 2017

At the Heart of the Ancient City

Rome is old.  Old in a way most places are not.  It;s not as old as Greece or Egypt.  But it's plenty old.

Today I walked through the remains of the Imperial Palace on Palatine Hill.  A palace so ancient it is the literal origin of the word 'palace'.  It was hard, among the ruins, to imagine the day-to-day lives of the emperors and citizens and slaves.  But I imagine they too complained about the heat, enjoyed the view, and thanked their good fortune to be where they were.  Well, probably not the slaves so much, but the other ones definitely.

After the Palatine and the Forum (the heart of Roman society) it was onto the Colosseum.  Tickets and entry for the Palatine were quick but even with the ticket that was good for the Colosseum it would've been a hell of a long wait, especially with the added crowds thanks to the Vatican Museums being closed.  So I opted to skip the line with a guided tour.  Fifteen Euros.  Easily the cheapest of the line-skippy tours, thanks to m…

You Could Say I ROME'D Around!! (But you probably shouldn't)

Took the train into Rome from Florence this morning.  No issues with the high speed train.  Took a quick cab (less than 10 Euros) to my hotel hidden in the back streets of Rome's central area.  I mean it's basically right in the middle of the city centre.  Only problem is that the 'single' bed, which in Florence was slightly smaller than a double, is real small, like dorm room small.  Four nights.  Hopefully I don't roll onto the floor.

Since I had the afternoon I took to seeing the outdoor sights nearby.  The first was Piazza Navona, a big plaza with three fountains and an assload of tourists (including me).  Then a two millennia-old temple to the ancient gods called the Pantheon -- it's technically a church now -- but it's still in the Roman style.  Took a ten euro quick tour with a guy they said was an 'archaeologist'.  I have no idea whether or not that's true but the tour was entertaining and worth the ten euro.  Plus I learned that Raphae…

Oh! Venice!

I was not hyped for Venice.  I booked the tour a few days ago--three hours in a bus, followed by half hour on a train before we even got there--and how good could it really be?  You've heard all the superlatives -- most beautiful, incredible, unique and stunning etc.  I'd heard it all too, but after three and half hours of travel even the perfect can seem disappointing.  Still, all the movies and the pop culture and the travel cynicism in the world didn't mean anything when I turned the first bend on the Grand Canal.

Believe the hype.  Venice is amazing.

It's a testament to human adaptability and ingenuity -- founded to escape barbarians after the fall of Rome and built on top of trees forced so deep they became petrified in the ground.  A city that became so rich that art and beauty is literally everywhere you look.  St Mark's Basilica (or San Marco's) (no pictures allowed) -- the largest church in a city with over sixty of them -- has a mosaic ceiling but in…

A Few Days in Florence

Today is my last full day to experience Florence and I spent the morning at Uffizi Gallery, built on the collection of the De Medici's, and expanded for centuries.  Many of the statues are copies of Greek statues but even those copies date to the Renaissance and those copies still needed to be carved by masters.  Makes you wonder--at what point does it being a copy mean anything at all?

It did have several original paintings including, of course, the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, who was so good for his time it was scary.  Plenty of other greats too, Raphael, Caravaggio (whose style was well loved by the De Medicis), and Leonardo's great unfinished masterpiece, the Adoration of the Magi--which is returning after being under restoration.

So a big day for art.  Yesterday was more of a city walk type of thing where I lined up to get into the Florence Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore).  That's its full name but mostly it's called Il Duomo for it's massive dome contain…

Au Revoir Paris, Buon Giorno Florence!

France provides a very strange sort of triage for taking pictures.  Sure, that building is beautiful, anywhere else it'd be worth taking a picture, but in Paris?  Is it even top 20%?  If no, I'm saving my phone's hard drive for something else. 

On my last day in Paris I saw the Cathedral Notre Dame on the island where Paris was founded by the Parisii celts years before the Roman Empire came in and took over.  The Romans changed the name to something suitably Roman (Lutetia) and then to Paris in because people never really stopped calling it that.  I guess it was just supposed to be Paris.

Notre Dame was big and impressive but not beautiful, not spectacular.  For that I went to the Church of the Madeleine right near the Place De La Concorde.  Absolutely gorgeous Napoleonic-era Church in the Neo-Classical style (so much so it looks like a Roman Temple from the outside).  I had some Steak-frite at a local brasserie and then went to bed for an early flight to Florence.

I took…

Juste le... le... how do you say bill in French?

If I have any regrets on this trip it will probably be not allocating enough time to Paris.  After an afternoon arrival thanks to my absurdly fast Eurostar train -- seriously the outside world looked like it went by in fast forward -- I took in the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and then the Grand and Petit Palaces.  Everywhere I turned there was something new and yet more attractions of history and art on my map pulled me just beyond where I was.

My big plan was to go to the Louvre tomorrow (my last day in Paris) but I just found it the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.  Only Tuesdays.  Why?  Ask the Louvre.  Still I plan to be in the area anyway to take a good look at the Notre Dame Cathedral and a whole host of things I probably don't even know about yet.

I'm getting by okay on my crappy high school french, augmented with a little help from a translation app.  I'm nowhere near conversational though.  I do the verbal equivalent of pointing at the menu.  Still when pu…

Tubes and Towers and Treasures

One thing I've learned from this trip is not to push myself too hard in the service of seeing something instead of taking a necessary rest.  I have to be on a train tomorrow and exhausting myself makes me irritable and unpleasant, and no one wants that, least of all me.  As a result I missed the National Gallery today, which is a loss, but one I'm willing to take in service of not feeling like a zombie tomorrow.

I did see the British National Museum today.  One the one hand it was incredible to see such a huge collection of antiquities from around the world.  On the other it was sort of like Britain bragging about all the cool shit they stole when they were overseas.  I did enjoy the Roman treasure hoards hidden under English farmhouses and being able to see the Rosetta Stone up close.  Also I have no idea how anybody read cuneiform -- it takes a sharper eye than mine that's for sure.

Also, I did make it out to the Tower of London.  Had to take the tube which is not exact…

A Dreamy Day in London

London is a not-very-attractive city surrounding an incredibly beautiful city.  I suppose that's true for most cities but it's especially true of London.  Coming in from the east end (I arrived at London City Airport on CityJet -- basically their version of Porter but with jets -- the level of shift in aesthetics was jarring.

I took an Uber in to save a few pounds and he turned out to be a reasonable tour guide on the way, pointing out the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as well as some other landmarks.

I arrived at around 8:30 at my hotel which understandably did not have my room ready yet.  I knew this was likely, so operating on a questionable amount of sleep (I can never sleep well before and early flight -- my brain always thinks I'm going to miss it) I headed out into London.  I stared at the Underground map for several minutes and then decided to walk.  I picked this hotel because it was relatively close to everywhere and it paid off today.

It's right besi…

Saying Goodbye to the Emerald Isle

Wow, record viewership numbers on that last post.  Apparently I need to publicly consider giving up more often.  Builds the readership!

Alas, I'm not leaving Europe just yet.  I'm also not planning on spending endless amounts of time (and money) drifting from place to place like a rootless playboy -- though it'd be a fun couple of months.  No, I went back and hammered at an itinerary until I ended up getting something into shape that I could live with as my first European trip (of hopefully many) .

This means whirlwind tours through London and Paris -- and I'm taking the eurostar from one to the other so I'm looking forward to that.  Spending a little more time with breathing room in Italy.  A little over week there thanks to surprisingly low hotel prices -- probably because it's super-hot.  Athens was potentially on the docket but I couldn't make a plane flight out of there cost anything in the way of reasonable, so it's Rome to home.

Asia is still a …

Ireland, the Devil, and Me

The Irish have a saying, "May you already be in heaven before the devil finds out your dead."  Our bus driver told us that as he dropped us off back in Dublin after a long day out in Northern Island with a quick ride through Belfast, and up along the northern coast to the Giants Causeway--a span of basalt pillars reaching out into the sea.

Maybe I was expecting too much.  Maybe I've been spoiled by the Grand Canyon.  But I found the Giants Causeway somewhat unimpressive.  It was weird shaped rocks by the sea basically.  I will admit the overall tour was pretty good.  We saw the peace walls still separating the Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast.  And we got to see a bunch of trees that were apparently used in Game of Thrones.  The weather started bad but ended up prettying itself up quite nicely.  The tour itself was only 50 Euros--probably one of the best tour deals I've ever been on.

Incidentally absolutely no passport checks entering Northe…

(Barely) Made it to Dublin

Well, I made it to Dublin.  Took some doing.  Got a great airfare out of Toronto with the caveat that I needed to take a ten hour layover in St Johns.  So I figured: Bonus, free day in Newfoundland.

St John's is a pretty city filled with nice people.  Smelled like the sea.  And a fair bit of weed. They like to blaze out there.

Went up to Signal Hill, the big central attraction which has a beautiful view of the harbor and the city and has historical significance not just for being a former fortification but the place where Marconi first heard the telltale beeps of the wireless coming across the ocean.  It was a good day even though I was exhausted at the start of it thanks to my overnight at Pearson, but I slept most of the flight out.

They almost didn't let me in to Ireland.  My fantastical dreams of meandering around Europe indefinitely got dashed pretty hard by the customs officer.  Apparently they don't love people who show up with no established exit time or ticket.  …

Holding Pattern

So I'm here in London (Ontario) for the next week or so.  I would've been long gone by now but I have a long-standing opportunity coming up next week in Toronto it would be unwise of me not to try to take advantage of.  If it doesn't happen, no big deal, and if it does I should still have plenty of time to explore the world.  I'm in London vs. Toronto for the week because this is where my family is, and the hotels cost a hell of a lot less.

London is a mid-sized Ontario city.  Being close to the 'downtown' as I am makes for an interesting juxtaposition between the small wholesome suburb-like city one imagines when they might bother to think of London and the reality of a core just as sketchy as one back home.  Within a few blocks I've seen beggars, guys getting arrested, and people clearly on drugs.  Outside of that small area?  Clean-cut with the slightest hint of hipster.

For the most part though, it's kind of boring.  But the free time gives me some…

Final Thoughts on Sin City

Somewhere in the tumult of the walk through the Casino floor to get to the elevator to my room on my last day here, the thing that had been building all week became  clear:  I do not care for Las Vegas.

There is an argument that could be made that the gambling and the artifice and the appropriated culture and the top-down enforced unnatural 'classiness' -- all designed to separate tourists from money -- is somehow refreshing in its frankness.  At least Las Vegas is honest about what it is, the argument would assert, and that's noble in its own way.  But I won't be making that argument, because I think it's bullshit.

Las Vegas, has, since the mafia first moved in, been a city that has fed on -- feasted on -- hope and optimism.  People looking to have a great time and being served substandard entertainment, 'top-quality' food at absurd prices, and of course the opportunity to win all of it back.  Or you know, lose a bunch more.

This is not a hot take.  This …

The Canyon that Earned its Name

There are things that always seem less impressive in pictures.  I mean, the Grand Canyon is something we've all seen a million times in a million ways.  But standing there, as close to the edge as I was willing to get, I couldn't help but be completely awed by the sheer... grandness of it.  Miles wide, multi-colored, and shockingly beautiful--it was the absolute highlight of my trip to Vegas and of my whole travel adventure thus far this year.

I got picked up at 6am by the friendly tour guide at Pink Jeep tours (a concierge recommendation -- and it was a good one).  Our tour guide was Debbie, a woman in her sixties who was responsible for driving us all the way to the Canyon while simultaneously entertaining and educating us.  Her enthusiasm for her job was terrific and her energy level was higher than anyone else on that bus.

Accompanying us were a family of three from Ireland, an Australian gentleman in his late fifties, a young woman who arrived to attend a bachelorette ea…

Fare Thee Well Love/Wakin' Up in Vegas - A Medley

Yesterday I woke up so close to the Atlantic I could smell the salt in the air.  Today I woke up in a city carved out of the desert.  Modern travel is weird.

Spent yesterday with my long-lost buddy Mike (long-lost in that I hadn't seen him in 25 years -- he knew where he was the whole time).  I had a mild scare with fusion-Dave (they saw some mild damage which I told them I took a picture of at Pearson but they had no documentation on hand -- later they called me back and said it was on the record as pre-existing so crisis averted).  Afterwards Mike took me out to Peggy's Cove.  You know Peggy's Cove, with the rocks and the lighthouse?  Even if you've never heard of it or seen it, just imagine what Nova Scotia is.  Yep, that's it.

After quick visit to the Swissair Memorial nearby it was lunch and the airport.  Getting out of Halifax was only slightly later than expected but I was on edge.  I only had 85 minutes of layover time according to my boarding passes.  By …

Just the Hali-facts Ma'am! OMG I'm so hilari

Yes, I had the lobster. For lunch.  That's what everyone always asks when you go out east.  Did you have the lobster?  I did.  It was tasty.  It was not, as legend has it, dramatically cheaper than it is in Toronto.  Maybe that era is gone for good.  Globalism finally run roughshod over the crustaceans.

Halifax is scenic, but not the most scenic city on my tour so far.  Quebec has that crown.  Still, it has a fun waterfront with unique museums and areas of historical interest.  The Citadel of Halifax is not entirely unique.  Hell, it's not even the first citadel I've been too this week.  Comparing the two, I'd say Quebec is more interesting historically but Halifax puts on the better show.   Admittedly I didn't see the change of the guard in la belle province but this citadel had regular musket firings and I was right on time for noon gun, which is a gun they fire at noon.  It was also free, thanks to my Canada 150 parks pass which they conveniently handed to me u…

A Night of Miles and Danger

Night driving is a zen exercise for me.  The dark empty road lit only by the sky and my headlights pushes me into a form of self-meditation that evokes a feeling of tranquility and reflection.  And that's how it was for most of the night trip from Quebec City to Halifax.  The last couple of hours, however, were a white-knuckle terror ride.

Hilly roads where you lose sight of what few vehicles are in front of or behind you.  Opposing traffic visible for only short stretches before being hidden beyond trees -- giving you the feeling of being alone in the world.  An onslaught of torrential rain.  Curves that seemingly pop up out of nowhere and run the gamut from relaxed to near-hairpin.  And of course, utter and total darkness beyond what meager visibility your headlights can give you in the downpour.  All of this made me feel like I was driving a hellroad straight into oblivion.  It was not especially fun.  But it did keep me awake.

The drive out of Quebec was fairly uneventful.  A…

Insérer le Titre Ici

I was there.  On the Plains of Abraham.  The battlefield where the control of our young nation was decided in blood and gun smoke.  And there, in the distance, was a woman.  Doing soundcheck.
It turns out Quebec City has a pretty kickass music festival every year.  And the main stage is in Battlefield Park where the British finally defeated the French and took control over what would eventually be Canada.  Even as a I took a tour of the Citadel, the great fortress that was never taken (and never attacked), we could hear the music in the distance.  The ominous echoes of a violent history overtaken by alternating francophone and anglophone folk-rock felt particularly... Canadian.
The Citadel, still technically an active military base, was an interesting look into the British era of control over Quebec and how a francophone battalion (now regiment) came into being and won honour for the country.  In front were two soldiers in full red regalia, bearskin caps and all.  Their faces never w…

Beauty and Pain in Montreal

No one in Montreal eats lunch at their desks.  Today, around noon, every sidewalk cafe was full.  Every restaurant was buzzing.  Every park had people eating bag lunches or doing the picnic thing -- with blankets and baskets -- the whole nine.  It felt good.  Made the city feel alive.  Unlike Ottawa, which is 20% historical attraction 80% standard issue Ontario town, Montreal is proper city.

One with crowds and traffic problems and everything you could possibly want or need.  Felt like home.  Only, y'know, Frencher.

I started at the Basilica Notre Dame which seemed like a good central spot for my Uber to drop me off.  Quick aside: This is the first time I ever used Uber.  I know they're a shady company that's done some questionable, disgusting, and probably outright criminal stuff, but wow are they convenient. 

I actually had little-to-no interest in the Basilica but I figured since I was there and the line wasn't so long...

I was honestly shocked at how beautiful it …

Saying Hi to Bytown

The thing that occurred to me walking around the Parliament buildings is how defensible they are.  At least by 19th century standards.  All three blocks were open to the street but the back end is basically a sheer cliff down to the water.  It would take significant ship-based cannon fire to do any real damage to them.  And to do that you'd have to dodge the cannon placements that would undoubtedly be on the riversides.  So it's either that or take the whole city first.

This is what I think about when I walk around a place with history.

Ottawa turns out to be a lot nicer as a pedestrian than a driver.  I checked out Parliament (though I was too late to grab an inside tour), went to the new Bank of Canada Museum (did you know you're the raindrops in the great wave that is the Canadian economy? Because you are), The National Gallery (which I went into because I happened upon it and ended up spending a ton of time in), and the Canadian Museum of Nature (which was fine but I&…

A Hundred and Fifty Years of Beers by a Lake

What does a hundred and fifty years of Canada really mean?  I think for most Canadians it means going a little more special on their July 1st celebrations and a small but relevant tingle of patriotism that feels warm and good and inclusive.  And that's a great thing.  Canadians worry a lot but we don't have all that much to worry about.  We're not in an active war zone, our economy is doing fine, and no one is attempting to strip us of our rights and freedoms.  Canada has been a pretty good country on the whole, and it deserves another 150 years.  If it screws up, we'll make a call then as to whether to continue or not.

I picked up the new Dave for an 11 day journey out from Toronto to Halifax.  2017 Ford Fusion.  Drives nice but you can tell it's the base engine.  It's fairly pep-less.  Got a really good deal which I assumed was related to a specific car needing to go to Halifax but I upgraded to a different vehicle with no issues, so... I don't know how …

At the Metaphorical (and Literal) Crossroads

At last I can breathe a sigh of relief.  Things that appeared to be in limbo have now become solid and I am free to begin wandering in earnest.  Mexico turned out to be pretty great.  I'd recommend Playa Del Carmen as a resort town with a little more for those willing to pay for it.  And the historical stuff is well worth the visit as well.

I'm back in Toronto for a couple of days.  Due to certain outside forces I can't really leave the continent until August (and then you better believe I'm getting out of here!).  My hotel runs out on Friday so I needed to make some decisions about where I'd be spending the majority of July.  Looked at Vegas, which still remains very much on the list, but I've decided -- as was my original plan -- to see Canada.

Rental cars are a weird thing.  For a simple 11 day trip between here and a coast it can cost upwards of 2 grand.  Unless it occasionally costs far less for some reason.  I would assume because a car needs to be taken…

A Strange Familiarity

Globalization travels along many different wavelengths and frequencies but always with the same familiar shape -- golden arches.  I was a little uncertain taking the cab into Playa Del Carmen as I wasn't sure what to expect.  I'd been by and it looked like mid-sized coastal city but I'd never been to the tourist area.  Now, I've been to tropical 'tourist areas' that were hot urban sprawl nestled between megamalls and others that were barely a group of markets with a gravel lot for buses.  Hell, I'd been to one of the latter on the way to Chichen Itza.

I needn't have any concern at all.  There would be no fear, no worry, no potential for trouble.  Playa's Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) is the perfect representation of the modern tourist trap.  Some street entertainers, including a living statue so good it actually freaked me out, with some local colour and restaurants all the while layered with the usual diaspora of global branding--Old Navy, The Nik…

Tales of Chichen Itza

Canek had been awaiting a sign but none had come.  His priests had sacrificed a captured boy from an enemy state by throwing him into the sacred cenote to drown, but there was nothing.  The king had called together a game in the ball court--it had lasted hours and both teams had played honorably--the winning captain met his death with no fear.  Still, nothing.

Kukulkan was real, the king knew, as real as the seasons and the harvest--everyone had seen the god's undulating shadow come down the temple steps every spring to bring life to the crops to come.  But, he also knew that the winged serpent was nowhere near as predictable as the stretch of days, so long ago mapped out by the learned men of the Mayan people.

Kukulkan was displeased at him, for taking his finest warriors to Uxmal and taking Sac-Nicte for his own.  She was so beautiful, and she loved him, in a way that Ulil would never know.  But Canek had broken tradition, had broken the laws of the Maya, and for as long as the…

A Rainy Day in Paradise

The tropical air hits you--a mass of humidity and heat and the feel of a people who've been hustling in all of it one way or another for millennia.

I'm in Mexico.  It was a long night at the airport since I decided to save money by staying there instead of a hotel.  An airport in the wee hours is a weird place, a confluence of long-day exhaustion, too-early risers, and the few people working the scattered food places still open.  There's an eerie quiet to a place normally swarming with activity and a kind of unspoken human understanding between those waiting a long while to get away from there as fast as they can.

I was up all night for a 6 am flight.  The good news is I slept through the flight from takeoff until the announcement it was time to fill out the Mexican custom forms.  The tiredness did catch up to me eventually, and I slept the rest of the afternoon at the hotel.  Not such a terrible loss since it was raining heavily.  A tropical storm is making its way thro…

The Continuing Adventures...

It's been a long time since I last typed out words in this somewhat crappy (though reasonably improved!) blogger interface.  I ran my own site for a while before I realized my ROI on that was basically zero.  I have been bitten by the travel bug yet again, and so I decided to resurrect this rusty bag of digital bolts.  Anyways, some updates for you 1-2 readers who probably already know me anyway.

1.  Dave the Charger has gone to the farm upstate.  By that I mean I sold his ass back to the dealer.  Dave was a good car and we had some good times.  But in winter he failed me, and so he needed to go.  It was probably my fault for buying a rear-wheel drive car in Canada anyways.  Now I feel bad for Dave.

2.  In honor of my sudden sympathy for Dave the Car, I have decided that all cars I drive for the purposes of this blog (and there may be many) shall be referred to as Dave.  If any people-Daves happen to be met during my travels they will be referred to as Dave Jr to ensure no confusion…