August 14, 2010

101 Blog Posts - August 2010


I've posted 100 wild crazy fabulous adventures since I began my veggie-a-go-go blog way back on June 15. Gee, only 2 months ago. Nah. That can't be right.

Ah, but it is.

So, to commemorate this auspicious feat, I'm going to ... well, travel a little bit more. Tomorrow, I'm off to London for a couple of nights and then back to beloved Kuwait. (Beloved by whom? That's a good question.)

But stay tuned. I got a whole bunch of Dublin posts itching to get published, if I'd just get around to actually writing them. Been busy ... I'm traveling, you know.

Plus, when this current trip is done, I still have hundreds of other stories from around the world. We'll laugh. We'll cry. We'll order pizza.

For all of you out there who are reading this (my estimation: 4), thanks for letting me share some stuff.

For all of you out there who aren't reading this, well c'mon. Get with it.

August 12, 2010

How Bad Is My Travel Day – Sunday, Aug 8

Chaotic is the best term to sum up this day. Starts out stupidly and gets stupidly-er.

In Rome, I go to the wrong terminal. Sure, Terminal 3 has all intercontinental flights, which one would assume means KLM to Amsterdam. But no. It's a joint flight with Alitalia, which means it's out of Terminal 1. The highlight of the confusion...the giggling, positively giddy info desk woman who couldn't see that I am frantic. She just keeps laughing, refusing to give help me for the first couple of minutes. However, Terminal 1 is only a 5 minute walk. I'm there. I'm checked in. It's all cool.

Amsterdam is fine, except they change my gate 2 times, bouncing me all around before I finally get to the right one. The highlight of this annoyance: er … none.

In Heathrow, I have a 4-hour layover. Boring. I lay out on the couch and nap for about an hour. Type up almost all of the Rome posts you've read. Eat lunch. Walk around. Ho-hum. The highlight of this flight: for the first time I actually see my luggage being loaded onto the plane. Sweet!

I arrive in Dublin 30 minutes late, but manage to get my bag, my bus, and get a hotel upgrade to a double room for free. I guess they like my smile.

So, all said and done … bad moments were offset by some quite good ones. I'd give this travel day an 8.


Positive/Negative – Rome 2010

Time to rate Rome, based on my week here.

Overall Opinion: Wow. You know, after Barcelona, I wasn't sure if I have the energy (or emotions) to really get into another city. Plus, on top of that, Rome has this built in reputation: romantic, beautiful, fun, open, etc. I didn't doubt it before arriving, but I also keep an open mind. I want the city to unfold for me personally, regardless of what other people think.

And I love it. The week flies by, and I barely explore half the city. I visit as many areas as I can, but some days this means a quick stroll through the neighborhood without a chance to really slow down and observe. Part of the reason is the huge tourist crowds. Chunks of my day are spent planning to wait or waiting in line.

Yet, with the heat and the crowds, this city deserves its cred. It is beautiful. It does capture so much fun and adventure.

[Holy crap, some guy just sneezed all over my arm at the airport while I type this!]

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I love this city. I must come back, but not alone. Rome needs to be experienced with others. Each part offers something unique – it's like you add your personality into the mix. I'd like to see that interaction with others. Shall we all make a plan to meet here?

Lost and Loving It – So easy to get turned around and lost here. But that's part of the fun. Each side street leads someplace different, unexplored. Rome is built in layers. Walking around is a joy, even on the same streets as you see architectural details or small cafes missed the first time.

Surprises – I've mentioned it a few times, but it's true. Rome surprises you. With the buildings. With the locals' openness and hospitality. With the energy that permeates every neighborhood. Every day is something new.

Diversity – Rome attracts the world to its center. And with that, you get the fun of interacting with so many different people, all here for the same reason. It's not uncommon to hear 3 or 4 languages in St. Pete's Square. Or just walking on the street. Yet, at the same time, Rome is filled with Romans. It's their city and they live throughout it – much like my comments about Barcelona. When there, you feel a part of something so much larger.

History – Of course, if you're into the whole time line, historical, past influences the present type of thought process, then this is the place. Once again, the layers are amazing. How much history is built on top of what came before.


Crowds – It offers diversity but at a price. The crowds of whiny, tired, lost, irritating people can get to you. I'm sure in the off season, it's not quite as bad. Yet, I'm unsure if I'd want to be here without sharing the experience with so many other strangers. But then again, I've done it once. Next trip can be timed for a more low key of year.

Graffiti/Trash/Crap – This is my one real knock against this city. Though it's relatively clean for a place that hosts millions of tourist, Rome still has a trashed look to it. Gang graffiti covers surfaces everywhere. Something needs to be done about that. Some of the metro trains are covered roof to rail. Most of the streets are clean, but still there are areas where general trash piles up. Not a pretty site. And finally, Italians love their dogs and it shows in the numerous “gifts” left on the sidewalks. Though not overwhelming, it's enough to be noticed. A big steaming pile of used dog food underfoot does tend to take the sheen off the wonderful architecture overhead.


August 11, 2010

Loose Ends – Rome 2010

Just a few left over pics and vids from this week. Not being able to upload all this stuff in real time is really a bummer. It removes the spontaneity of the blog. Sure, all the posts eventually get logged; it's not the same.
I'm glad to have a proper internet connection (though really slow here in Dublin). Things are back to normal.

Now, here's a few misc pics.

A comparative vid:

Here are the mandatory pics of me in famous places.

How about a self-portrait video (following yet another theme), taken at the Modern Art Museum.

We'll end with sunset on the Tiber.

August 10, 2010

More Modern Art – Rome 2010

I've realized that this blog seems more an art critique than a travel diary, but hey … going to museums is what I do. And going to Modern Art museums is what I especially enjoy doing.

So, on my last day in Rome, I decide to spend a little time in the morning to check out what they have. I am surprised by two things.
  1. “Modern” in the modern art means anything from 1830 to 2000. Um...okay, considering Rome's long, long history, I guess the past 170 years is relatively present day.
  2. I really really like this place.
You surprised too?

I know. I've ragged on practically every piece of art I've come across in these type of places: Stockholm and Barcelona. I've even taken time to disparage poor Van Gogh in Amsterdam. So, when I show up to the museum (and I'm almost the only person there – I suppose Rome has other attractions a bit more famous – I don't expect much. I'm thinking I'll add to my “Viewers of Art” photo collection or just take a couple of pics and make fun of stuff. Wrong.

The first floor is filled with sculptures and paintings from the mid to late 1800s and they are … well … mesmerizing. Huge, wall-covering pieces of battles or forests. Detailed portraits of Greek mythos. All done is expert realism, with the fine strokes of someone who knows what he wants to show, and then goes out and shows it.

What's really amazing, is the the “modern” take on the old classical style. There are replicas of the statues seen in the Vatican museum, but with a 1850s impressionist twist. The paintings harken to Rembrandt style with influence from Picasso, Monet, and Matisse. Most the names are unknown to me, and they seem mainly Italian artists. Yet, many times I enter a small room and stop to stare.

The 2nd floor is for more recent works, from the 1900s and up. Again, I don't expect much (but I do have hopes after the shock of the first floor). I'm in for another surprise. Though this museum doesn't have nearly the quantity of works I saw in Barcelona or Amsterdam or Stockholm, what they have is interesting! Take for example these pieces.

Or even better, take a look at this. From a distance this huge “painting” appears to be a series of black dots scattered across a white canvas. Take a look at the video.

Yes, what you see is what you see. Those aren't painted black dots. Those are rose thorns attached to the canvas. A thousand of them. Maybe more? See, for me, that changes everything. Suddenly where I first saw an abstract splish-splash of paint, now I see a dedication of time. Lots of time. (And maybe a few drops of blood?) That in itself, means something. It adds depth to the piece. Makes me step back and take another look. That's the difference between art and creativity.

Okay, not every piece was great. Like this:

But then this more than made up for the duds:

I could go on – there were many works which are fabulous. Yet, you get the picture already. I'll end with this simple statement: this is by far the most interesting modern art museum I've ever seen.

Finally, I Get the Recognition I Deserve – Rome 2010

My students arrange for a little memorial in my honor, as greatest teacher ever!

My Italian Friend – Rome 2010

Throwaway Churches – Rome 2010

Throwaway churches is the term I use for a magnificent, ornate church interior that would be the showcase of any other city. But here in Rome? Not so much.

Ah, I stumble upon one on a side street. It's empty. It's unnoticed. It's spectacularly beautiful.

Here's a pic; perfect example of many of these settings I found throughtout Rome.

Something For Those of You In Love – Rome 2010

Rome does infuse everything with a certain …. lust.

But Then … There's This – Rome 2010

The Pietà.

It's smaller than I expect. And more powerful. As I noted earlier, it's the detail and lightness of the marble that first catches your interest. Then the power of the message. It's a wonderful piece about sacrifice and love and faith. Yes, faith, which is not a word I often use.

Does this reverse my previous negative thoughts about all that other crap I just wrote about St. Peter's? No. But even out of selfishness and self-importance, something great can emerge. The building, the artwork, the creativity of the Basilica is inspiring. It pays homage to what humans can accomplish, regardless of the motivation.

Do I still believe this edifice is built to stroke the egos of those in power? Absolutely. But even acknowledging that, accepting that as a given, the end result is something unique and magnificent. Almost makes you believe in a higher power, doesn't it?

On Day Four, Success – Rome 2010

How can I come to Rome and not manage to worm my way into St. Peter's Basilica? Answer: I can't.

So, new day, new strategy. I wait until 15:30 and then walk down to Vatican City. The line is half the length compared to the 3 other mornings. Sun is at a gentler angle and there's a cool breeze. This I can handle.

So, beyond reason, they allow me to enter the most sacred cathedral in the world. Somewhere, monkeys are going crazy.*

St. Pete's is majestic, that's for sure. The amount of sculptures and paintings and marble work and ornate gilding is mind boggling, by which I mean it boggles the mind. Is it beautiful? Yes. Awe inspiring? Yes.

However (and there's always a however with me), whenever I enter a cathedral/mosque/church/temple, I can't but think about the money, time, energy, and lives it takes to create all this. And for what? In St. Peter's Basilica, almost all of the artwork is celebrating the importance of men. Memorial after memorial for pope after pope, hiding behind the facade of the “grace of God”, when in actuality it's all built to honor those in power – little different than the pyramids. What could this time and money have done for those in need? What if all this energy is poured into making life better for those poor individuals who need it most?

I know, it's useless thinking this. The work and effort are over and done; the blood is spilt; no sermonizing by me is going to change that. Yet, those thoughts just keep on bouncing inside my head.

*This is a movie reference. Anyone know which one?

August 9, 2010

Three Strikes and … Then What? – Rome 2010

For the past 3 days, I stand in front of the St. Peter's Basilica and hope for a change.

Day #1, Tuesday, finds me gawking at the line which extends along the circumference of the square (which is really a circle) all the way around to almost meet itself at the beginning. Probably 1,000 people standing in the heat and sun, suffering just like the Pope wants us to for our sins. Nope. That's not for me. I've other things I can do.

But I take a good pic:

Day #2 and I hit the Vatican museum early...well, early by my holiday standards. I'm in line at 8:30 in the morning and here is what I'm facing:

Don't these people have better things to do? Well, I make it through the line and the museum with little fanfare. Afterwards I decide to give St. Pete's another chance. “None Shall Pass,” the Pope says to me personally (by text – hey, we're pals!). They're having some sort of pep rally with thousands of young kids roaring for JC. Plus, silly me, it's Wednesday, which is the traditional day for public service at the Vat. No one without a pass is allowed in. And that means me. Foiled again.

Note: I would later see most of these minions at a center piazza. Very very nationalistic:

Day #3. Thursday, and time is running out. Okay, not really. But I'm a little tired of this. I don't get myself up and out until 9ish and, doh!, that brings a typical result. Hence the vid:

But I do get another great pic from a nearby castle that was virtually empty.

All of this is very symbolic. Well, that's true if you're familiar with Catholic history, which is engrained in my thought process due to 12 years of Catholic schooling. Beaten into my psyche, you muse? Okay. Fine.

For all of you nonbelievers, here's the sage. Pete was one of JC's favs. The whole “Upon this rock I will build my church” was said specifically about Peter. No pressure, dude. Just everything I stand for is resting on your shoulders. Good luck with that. Well, JC doesn't think this is enough stress, so he also predicts that Pete will “deny me” three times. That's bull! Pete responds, because who likes to be called traitor before the treason actually happens? So, as with all things written after the fact, the prediction comes true. As JC is being crucified, the blood thirsty mob is looking for more and one of the them sees Pete hanging around, probably looking both a scared and guilty. “You!” the woman says (why is it always a woman?) “You are one of his followers.” No way, Jose! Rinse and repeat. Hence, Pete denies knowing his best bud while watching him die at the hands of the Romans. Thus, I am also denied.

Wow, that's quite a stretch to somehow connect my lack of patience to stand in line with one of history's more notorious back stabs. But there you have it.

Now the big question on your mind is: Do I try a fourth time? Well, I'm here in Rome. Would be kinda silly to miss out on the most recognizable landmark of the area. So ...

Dome in the Dome – Rome 2010

Sort of got in the mood for this theme.

Vatican Museum – Rome 2010

Maybe I'm the only one, but I've always thought that the Sistine Chapel was part of the St. Peter's Basilica. I mean, in my casual planning, the paintings are part of the interior dome itself.

Well, that's not true. The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museum, which also includes room upon room of artwork, sculpture, and elaborate architecture, all kept in a labyrinth of rooms and stairways. Well, learn something every day!

Of course, the security is of the utmost quality to ensure the protection of these irreplaceable objects.

Here's a little vid about my namesake, John the Baptist:

My main interest is the Chapel, so I admit that I only pay casual attention to the rest of the stuff as I wind my way through the buildings. Am I jaded, or what? Frankly, I don't understand how people can stand and stare at a marble stature for minutes on end. I mean, look, absorb, snipe, and then keep moving. However, I will say this. What does give me pause is the attention to detail that these famous sculptures are able to achieve. Here is but a brief sample of what I mean:

This is marble we're looking at. It's not like you make a mistake and get a do-over or something. My pictures can barely capture the texture of the skin, the folds of the clothing – hell, the toenails! This is talent. Sure, after you see your hundredth in a row (and yes, the Vatican Museum has that much and more), it gets a bit repetitive. But still, this is something to admire. The real amazing thing is that Rome is filled with these types of statues. In some cities, many of these would be the prime attraction. Here in Rome, a lot are sort of “throw aways.” You'll stumble on a couple in a small piazza, sort of like a afterthought.

Oh, back to the Museum. There are rooms of paintings, including Dali, Matisse, Picasso, and others. However, this one really caught my eye. It can be added to my “Viewers of Art” collection I started in Stockholm.

“JC On My Back”

Moving on now. Of course, the Sistine Chapel is at the end – the big finish to the whole shebang. The reward for the 30 minutes of maze running. No photos are allowed! So, of course, I sneak a few:

Much the artwork itself has become so famous as to be a bit ho-hum upon viewing – like “Oh, I've seen that, but a lot closer up.” But stop. Think of the amount of effort and years and artistry it took to complete all this and then the awe sets in. Each panel with a different story. And frankly, no matter how many times it's been shown, and satirized, and used in tv commercials, the panel of Adam and God reaching out to each other is still breathtaking. There I am. Standing and staring at these classic images, sharing these emotions with so many who come before and after. It's a unified moment, on this spot. Yes, emotions may slightly differ. The impact may vary. Still, we are here to witness the work. We are affected by it. This is amazing.

You now have the answer to why I travel.

Wacky Videos – Rome 2010

I know you can't get enough of these. Your appetite is insatiable.

August 8, 2010

Veg Restaurant Scavenger Hunt – Rome 2010

After this, the next day, this happens.

Then, of course, this:

But all is not lost:

Now that's I'm talking about it.

Not much luck for this endeavor here in Rome. The result from another veg restaurant, one with great reviews online:

Okay, I give up. It's not like there aren't other options. In fact, it's hard to sit down without a cheese pizza suddenly appearing on the table. Another sidewalk cafe, another veggie meal. So, I suppose Rome will have to go on without any veg restaurant reviews from me. Just more pics of the cheap, fast, easy type of food you can get almost every corner of this beautiful city.

Travel Gods – Again With The Stairs? – Rome 2010

Normally, these trends tend to play themselves out by now. But nope. I think the TGs are having quite a good time throwing these tricks at me every day.

Another Hotel Quirk – Rome 2010

My surprise when I first arrived after 15 hours of travel:

I'm Back - Dublin 2010

I have internet access again and will upload the huge backloads of posts. Hooray! (or Oh No! depending on your viewpoint.)

Hotel Quirks - Redrum – Stockholm 2010

[Because of internet problems, this Stockholm post is a wee bit late.]

Well, this certainly reminds me of a more famous movie hotel.