Firenze → Palermo
sparkles
amw
From the Lido to the lido deck. I am on a ferry from Livorno to Palermo. What a pain in the ass it was to get here. I guess this is a preview of my container ship voyage. This route is almost exclusively freight. There were two motorcycles, a handful of RVs and about 10 cars. And one other foot passenger. It was a 20€ cab fare to get to the dock, way out in the industrial port between chimney stacks and a maze of containers. Getting on the boat was fun too, since no one spoke English.

The up-side is that my 4-berth cabin is now a private cabin. Ain't no lady truck drivers in Italy. They're still loading, so i headed up to (where else?) the bar. It's amazing. There is a DJ and disco lights and about 3 truck drivers here. This is already the best bar i have been to in Italy. Beer from the bottle. Seats. Music.

Okay, wait. Dude is not just a DJ. He just started busting out some Billy Joel. He's a piano man. With a cheezy synthesizer and an Italian accent and everything. I guess it's tourist off-season so every song is the saddest song. This is the fucking greatest bar of my life.

-o-

Thank God for the Greek-themed gift shop. I got a packet of peanuts and one of those sesame/honey bar things. The lunch buffet was predictably awful, and i skipped breakfast too since it was no different to the sweet pastries of mainland Italy. But with this bag of peanuts, a sesame stick, a beer and the banana and apple i brought onboard with me, i will be just fine.

I was thinking to myself when i wrote yesterday that beans and tomatoes are two of my favorite foods. In the context i meant, i was thinking more of specific ingredients that shine by themselves. What are my other favorites? Definitely peanuts. And corn. Potatoes. Bak choi. Regular cabbage. Cilantro. Sesame seeds. Pumpkin seeds. And - of course - garlic, ginger and chili. All stuff that is amazing pretty much exactly how it comes out of the ground.

I love to watch Top Chef - a TV cooking competition - and in particular the challenges where they restrict the ingredient list. Of course, since the contestants are professional cooks, they always pick salt and a fat (either butter or olive oil), but it's interesting to see what else they find indispensible. Aside from garlic/ginger/chili, i find it very hard to cook without peanut oil, sesame oil and dark soy sauce. Plus olive oil and balsamic for uncooked food like salad and pickles. That's like the most minimal kitchen i could have and still make food that makes me happy. I wonder what everyone else's desert island list is?

-o-

Jesus this town is a chaotic mess. But in a good way. Tiny alleyways. Little-to-no signage. Noone speaks English. There's no ritual at the coffee shops, just whatever goes whoever goes. But the food, oh, the food! Within two hours of dropping my bag i had eaten at three different joints and everything was delicious. There is some kind of amazing deep-fried rice ball with various fillings i had to try. And a toasted sandwich no different to the ones on the mainland except there were tons of vege options. And i dropped into a random hipster bar in some dark alleyway where i got a plate with my drink and a massive buffet was laid out with all kinds of vege and meat dishes. Not a pasta, pizza or panini or in sight. Green beans, bruschetta, potatoes, couscous, gnocchi, ragout, eggplant, zucchini, zomg. And i wasn't even looking to eat anything, it was just right there. I passed a half dozen other places i wanted to try on the way back.

Those alleyways, though. Bro. I need to adjust my habit of walking down every dark alley just in case there is a photo op. There is plenty of cool graffiti, but these alleys are rough. There's probably nothing to be afraid of, but it is a bit disconcerting to have kids throw bottles at you, or be greeted by a huge off-leash mutt gnawing on a giant bone. This isn't the Disneyland oldtown of Venice, or Florence, or Vienna, or Prague, where the worst thing you're going to encounter down a dark alley is another gaggle of tourists. This is a real city where you need to keep your wits about you. Oop.

But fuck, it is an awesome city. Every building is amazing. Every alley is amazing. There is graffiti everywhere. Market stalls all over the joint. People hustling on every corner. Palm trees. Mountains. Ocean. It's the most beautiful city i have seen since starting this journey. The most multicultural. The most interesting. The best food. It's challenging to navigate, but so worth it. I booked another day immediately.

Anyway, this morning i finally found the bus to Agrigento with about a minute to spare. Yes, i was caught up in the chaos, but i eventually found it and now i am zooming through highrises clinging to the cliffs. This is fucking awesome. Northern Italy felt very uptight to me. This feels like a mad hatter's tea party by comparison. It reminds me of Istanbul - up until now the most interesting (though not the most relaxing) place i visited in Europe. When i was in Istanbul i felt like i was catching a glimpse of the future of Europe. That's what it feels like here too.

-o-

This drive is incredible. I want to look out the windows but i need to make notes so i won't forget it. So, so many abandoned buildings and crumbling bridges. The weirdest thing - unfinished highrises with no windows or stucco and then one occupied unit with windows and everything in the middle. Stunning landscape. Craggy peaks tearing up from meadows of wildflowers - three shades of yellow, blood red and rich violet. Scattered olive trees and palms and cactuses and neat rows of what look like oranges. Solar farms and wind farms next to buildings that could be hundreds of years old. Now i feel like i'm in the land of antiquity. I can see the Sicilians of old eking out a living up here, trading first with the Phoenicians, then the Greeks, the Romans, then who knows? This valley feels old and hard and real.

This drive also has the most ridiculous stretch of road i have ever traveled. 45 minutes of utter stupidity. Here the bridge is built but there are no on-ramps or off-ramps. There traffic in both directions is detoured onto the single-lane frontage road. There we have to do a full S-turn off the highway, over the highway, back onto the highway on the other side. Now there is a couple hundred meters of dual carriageway, but only one side has pavement. Now we are back on the old road and there are concrete pilings right there ready to build a viaduct but no fucking viaduct. Chicane onto this lane. Chicane back to the other lane. Cars coming straight for us. One way traffic light. I don't think you could plan a more complex way to go ~30km through a relatively straight valley if you tried.

-o-

Yes, i am finally in Italy. The Med is off the edge of a cliff in the distance. Mopeds are zooming by. There is a guy with mirror shades and a loud shirt and spotless white pants. I think he might be Howard Jones. At a bar with a huge bowl of couscous, fresh mozzarella, cabbage, mortadella and soppressata that came - unrequested yet complimentary - with one simple drink. The sun is beating down and i am listening to slow, sweaty dance music in a language i can't understand.

-o-

Well, fuck. I lined up and spent money to see a tourist site. Who does that? Oh, wait, tourists. Like me. The Valley of the Temples is epic. I think the drive back will be too. I wish i had just come here in the first place. Sicily is so great.

-o-

No pictures for now, because the internet here is abysmal.
Tags: ,

bread soup
sparkles
amw
After my big rant yesterday/this morning, i decided i should try to really push myself to find something Italian and delicious. I walked through the market this morning and saw a nice looking bruschetta with just some fresh chopped tomato on it. Of course it was the only Italian dish in an otherwise Hungarian food stand. It was perfect - fresh, oily and well-seasoned - exactly like something i would make at home. I also had a banana, which is pretty much my go-to fruit here in the absence of any decent restaurants. I did not have a lampredotto sandwich, because the line at the stand was insanely long. It was mostly Chinese in line, so it was probably amazing, but i hate waiting in line for food (or, well, anything).

But, never fear, i did go to a very fancy restaurant to make sure i would get a Michelin experience. The kind of place that has steak for 60€, and where a single glass of wine costs 6. I chose this one in particular because instead of only pasta and steak and ossobuco, they also had two Tuscan bread soups - ribolitta and pappa al pomodoro. They also had vegetable sides. So, for 25€ i got one glass of wine and a bowl of tomato and bread soup and a side of beans and an espresso.

It was... alright. The tomato and bread soup tasted exactly like canned roma tomatoes and bread with some basil and garlic. The beans tasted exactly like a can of cannellini with olive oil. Since tomatoes and beans are two of my favorite foods you can't really go wrong, though it didn't exactly blow me away with flavor. But what it did do was improve my mood immensely, and help me to not give up all hope that Italian food is universally awful. So yay. Now i am prepared to head to Palermo! First stop, Livorno. I probably won't have internet for another few days, so never fear if comments go unanswered. I always read 'em.
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another Tuscan day, another empty stomach
sparkles
amw
My legs are killing me, and i won't get to lie down for hours. Because i just missed the slightly more direct train back to Florence (2 hours) i am taking the very last train of the day the long (and expensive) way around. I'll be halfway to Rome before i am back.

I walked well over 20km today. I took the train to Asciano, which is a small Tuscan village, then wandered through the countryside for a couple hours to visit a nearby abbey. It felt a bit like pilgrimage, counting down the mile markers under the hot sun.



There seemed to be a lot of people at the abbey, considering it's way out in the ass-end of nowhere, but after lighting a candle and saying some prayers for N [a friend who passed away Friday], i climbed a little higher and found myself in a tiny village on top of the highest hill in the area where a festival was going on. There was music and markets and wine and the works. It would have been nice to stay if it wasn't a few hours walk back to the train station.

So, you know, yet another fucking day where the only thing i have had to eat is fruit, nuts and dry bread. Italy is the fucking shittiest place in the world to eat. It is so, so bad i can't even. They are so uptight about the right time of day to serve food and drinks and what you are allowed to order when. It feels like eating by committee.

I am getting pretty tired of the whole thing right now, and it's not just the elaborate ceremony around food. I find myself exhausted by all the ritual and dressing up and pomp and circumstance with everything. Put on a glove before you pick up a piece of fruit. Pay for your drink at one bar, then walk to another bar to hand over your receipt and order the drink a second time. Stand up, don't sit down, or it will cost more. Hit confirm on about 10 different popup windows to get your train ticket (not even joking). Then confirm the ticket in a different machine that you already spent 10 minutes confirming on the first machine. I thought Germany was unnecessarily fussy and bureaucratic but Italy really takes the cake. This is what i expected in China, not Southern Europe.

Anyway, tomorrow i am taking a ferry to Palermo. I think i will like the landscape there a little better.

Though, not gonna lie, i specifically chose to take a day trip to Asciano because it is in one of the most arid areas of Italy. There was definitely some cracked earth, and a few olive trees. Unfortunately on my walk i didn't spot the biancanes (white domes), but i did find some badland-ish cliffs. Not a patch on South Dakota, or Wyoming - not to mention the real deserts of America - but beggars can't be choosers. It was a lot more more appealing to me than the dank snail farms of the Alpine foothills.



The walk was fantastic, and the monks all in white robes and pious faces were a sight to behold, but i wasn't so hot on the local bartenders. Grumpy and pointedly refusing to speak Italian to me, even for something as simple as hello and here you are. Not to mention the neo-nazi graffiti, again. After Florence with its very clear and present antifa movement, it was a shock to once again see those sun crosses and sig runes. Especially in areas of the country that depend so heavily on tourism. Sigh.

So, in conclusion, Italy has some beautiful places, but the food situation is dire and it's the most exhausting place i have visited. Let's see if it's any different down south.

-o-

I am seriously about to cry right now. I just want a fucking coffee for this fucking shit layover in this fucking shit town on fucking shit Sunday and... "sorry, it's 21.36, we can't make coffee after 21.30".

This was a pretty great day, just wandering alone through the country. And i did prepare myself mentally to face starvation before i got here. But i at least thought Italians could make good bread (they can't) or i would be able to fall back on fucking Asian food for fuck's fucking sake. Like, seriously. It's like the only food you are allowed to eat here is sticky pastries, dry white bread, potato chips, pizza (i.e. dry white bread) or panini (i.e. more dry white bread). Oh, and bland-ass noodles. Fucking hell, guys. Put some fucking seeds in your bread. Leave the germ and bran on. Stop cutting the goddamn crusts off, i mean, what are we, 5? Le verdure. Use them! Spices, too. And for the love of God open your fucking restaurants all day so people who don't live some kind of weird cult lifestyle where lunch and dinner must be at incredibly specific times can still eat. Honestly, everywhere i have visited in Europe has had better and more diverse food options available. I mean, i thought Germany was a barren wasteland, but at least you could get a decent piece of bread. Italy is like a food desert in suburban America, except instead of McDonalds you have fucking pizza, which literally every Italian i meet goes out of their way to tell me isn't real Italian food at all. Well open a fucking restaurant that is, then! I really want to cry.

I guess i didn't realize how important good food is to my mental health. I just want some food that makes me happy. It doesn't take much either. Good bread. Olive oil. Rice. Beans. Greens. Tomatoes. Peanuts. Garlic, chili, ginger. A goddamned burger and fries. Anything that isn't just limp white bread with melted mozzarella on top, for God's sake.

-o-

I am calmer now. I was getting hysterical last night, i think because i was completely exhausted from my walk and so desperately just wanted something to eat at the end and nothing but pizza and pasta joints were open. Downstairs there is "breakfast" waiting for me. You know. Microscopic espresso, sweet pastries and maybe a solitary strawberry. Sigh. I miss Andalucía so fucking much right now. Good bread, fresh tomatoes, olive oil and a steady stream of coffee.

Maybe i should go to that lampredotto cart for lunch, or find some bread soup. It was likely a mistake to order in Chinese on Saturday, but i was very badly hungover and wanted comfort food. I figured even very bad Chinese food at least still has good rice, plenty of garlic and maybe some fresh bak choi. It basically only had that. The last time i felt this sad was at dad's place in the first few nights where he kept making all this lovely food for me but it was all fucking lasagne and risotto and couscous. I cooked a few dishes myself later on - nothing crazy, just using Euro ingredients like beans and potato and cabbage - and i started to feel normal again. Mainly, i guess, because i made solid food with plenty of heat. Perhaps i should pull a Hillary and carry around a bottle of hot sauce so i can make this weak Italian nonsense taste like real food. I'd still miss beans and vegetables, though.

You know the saddest thing about all this? I sound like that stereotypical American who goes overseas and then ends up eating at McDonalds. And, well, basically, i am. People say Italian food in Italy is different from Italian food elsewhere. It totally isn't. It's exactly the fucking same, just cooked better (i.e. noodles aren't a soggy mess and coffee is strong). What's not the same is that there aren't 3 other restaurants next door that cook something else, not even modern global/fusion cuisine.

Here is a picture of the grain elevator that stood there to mock me with the memory that food in square/flyover/red state America was better than in a Tuscan village.



Okay, okay, hyperbole. I know there are plenty of other restaurants in Florence. There are lots of students and (apparently) vegan anarchists about the place, and i am sure they don't just eat penne arrabbiata and spaghetti aglio e olio all the time. I'ma need to find a hipster joint and get a really good meal before getting on the ferry where at least everyone understands and expects that the food will be bad.
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Venezia → Firenze
sparkles
amw
This is my favorite place in the Venice metro area. Pellestrina island. After doing my laundry this morning i took the bus and ferries all the way down to Chioggia, which is a cute little suburb/town with canals and bridges and a street market. I had some coffees and Aperol and was given a tapa! Or whatever Italians call it. It was an open sandwich with some kind of fish and a slice of boiled egg with herbs and olive oil. Eco vegan won't waste free food. It was delicious.

Anyway, after nibbles and getting shat on by a seagull, i took the ferry back north one island, which is this one. The bus takes about 10 minutes to travel end to end - there is just one road that follows the seawall. Literally, the island is just a seawall with a beach on one side and a block of houses on the other. There is no one here. It's awesome. Walking along the beach i feel a million miles away.



These are the best places. Quiet, isolated, free - but accessible by public transport and with plenty of bars nearby.

It's weird to watch the container ships pass knowing that in a few weeks i will be on one.

-o-

I am back in the first bar i visited in Venice. I was an Italy noob when i got here. Now i feel like a pro. Here's my tip: don't sit down. Ever. Stand at the bar, drink your coffee. Stand at the bar, drink your beer. Stand at the bar, get a tapa. Eat peanuts and olives. Sitting is for the weak. And the rich.

Standing (sigh) here listening to Puerto Rican hip-hop i realize Spain is still my true love of Europe. They do the same shit but lazier. They sit when they get tapas. They don't dress up. Even the language feels lazier. I am starting to pick up enough Italian to get by, but it's actually an effort to speak. You need to push your voice up and down and gesticulate. I miss Andalucía where the more you mumbled the better people understood.

-o-

This trip is getting hideously expensive. I am not really a fan of traveling on a shoestring. I'll sacrifice a little cash for quality of life. For instance, i am on a 50€ train instead of a 40€ one that left 2 hours later. But it does annoy me a little that it costs 50€ in the first place. And - even more - it annoys me that there is no hotel in Florence, or Siena, or Arezzo for under 60€ a night. It's not cool to have such a big gap between hostels and hotels.

So now it's time to talk about privacy. A couple of entries ago benicek helpfully suggested a hostel in Venice, but... eh. I know that hostels are not only cheaper than hotels but also come with a built-in social network and maybe even a kitchen and laundry. That saves even more money! But the cost is your privacy.

It might sound odd coming from someone who posts their most personal thoughts on the internet for all to see, but i am a very private person. Or, more to the point, i absolutely need solitude to be able to recharge. Every time i interact with someone it costs me a spoon. Whether that is a friend or a family memeber or a stranger it doesn't matter. I am far from antisocial and few would call me introverted, but when i am out of spoons i am done. I do not want to have to deal with anyone when i am done. I just want to be alone - to be free.

Perhaps it's some kind of neurosis or anxiety disorder. I don't know. I have no problem taking public transport or sleeping on a plane or striking up conversation with strangers all over the world. But i need time to myself too. At least several days a week. That's why i don't want to stay in a hostel. I am happy in the tiniest, dirtiest flop as long as for the time i pay for it it's mine.

Which brings me back to cost. It's sad when accommodation prices in a city get to a point where you need to make a pretty serious investment just to have some privacy for the night. In places like NYC and Toronto it is well and truly there already. But i kinda hoped Europe wasn't there yet. Certainly in the places i have visited in Spain and Germany it's not. But so far on this trip it seems the entry fee for privacy is 60€. So unless i absolutely adore Tuscany, my next stop will be Sicily. I hope the south of Italy is a bit cheaper. And perhaps a bit more like Spain - shabby and relaxed.

-o-

I am at a pretentious cocktail bar in Firenze on my third drink. There is very little that i will frivolously throw money away on, but hard liquor is one of those things. Yes, i am a cocktail snob, and here they are making them right.

I figured out why it's so goddamn expensive right now, by the way. It's a triple holiday over here. Easter last week. Liberation Day this week. Labor Day next week. The clerk at my hotel explained all this to me while circling the neighborhoods i should visit to get a drink. He also pointed out "the tourist area" with the implication not to visit. (I did. It was much, much less awful than Venice.) And he told me to try the local speciality - a lampredotto sandwich. But today i am staying vegan. It's Friday, after all. Plus i finally found a vegan restaurant in a piazza scrawled with anarchist and antifa graffiti. Living off of crusty bread and fresh fruit and antipasti sounds very Italian and romantic in theory, but sometimes you just want to eat a big fat burger. Or, you know, maybe tomorrow a panini with cow stomach.

Anyway, Florence is the fucking bomb.



-o-

Guess what, everyone? I have a raging hangover. Again. It's 11:30 and i can't get out of bed. So much for visiting the Tuscan countryside. But, to be honest, i discovered that everything is closed on Sunday, so if i want to eat something that isn't train station food i have to do it today. I asked the guy at the lampredotto kiosk when he was open and he said 14:00 is the end of everything, which was echoed by the hotel clerk when i rolled in around that time yesterday.

Last night i met a sommelier who 20 years ago had given up law to follow her passion. I wish i had the guts to do that. Though i am not sure what my passion really is other than traveling about aimlessly. She was a close friend of one of the bartenders and had dropped by because it was his birthday. We all had a lot to drink. She described how after years of being with men she is now dating a woman. It must be quite something to only realize you are bi in your 40s. She laughed when she heard i was vegan but wanted to eat lampredotto. She said i should also try ribolitta, which is soup or stew made with bread and vegetables. She sort of apologized that it was poor food, like i would prefer some kind of pretentious haute cuisine. I most assuredly would not. I only get pretentious with my cocktails. Bread soup sounds amazing.

Florence is so, so much nicer than Venice, by the way. The main islands of Venice felt like a theme park (which i guess is great if you like theme parks) and the suburbs felt a little empty and sad. Still interesting to visit, of course - i don't think i've ever regretted visiting anywhere - but not a place i would want to live. Florence feels very livable. Lots of bars, lots of restaurants, lots of people just sitting around in the park, drinking beer, reading books, hanging out...

Which is what i should be doing right now. I am starving. I am a little trepidatious of feeding my hangover offal. I think i shall have a shower then walk out and see how i feel when i get out to the piazzas.


LJ 18th anniversary
sparkles
amw


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Venetian hangover
sparkles
amw
Perhaps it's just because i have a hangover, but holy hell the main islands of Venice are a bore. When you take a boat past the outside it looks spectacular, but when you start ducking down alleys it's just Yet Another European Oldtown. Shuffling hordes. Big-name stores. Overpriced restaurants. And pointless knick-knacks galore.

I am on a train to Mestre (the mainland) because there is nowhere to buy a clean phone here. I guess it's not worth it to ship Windows phones over when only the nerdliest nerds buy them these days.

Here's a thing i never knew about Venice. It's a handful of islands in the middle of a lagoon. So all those canals are seawater. And up until ~150 years ago literally everything had to be shipped over by boat. Knowing that makes all the ornate masonry even more ridiculous. For some reason i always thought the city was just a regular town on a river somewhere. The guys who built this stuff must have been hideously rich.

And now it's Disneyland Italy.

-o-

Mestre is great. It has such a seedy 70s holiday town feel to it. Most of the shops are closed. I don't know if that's a "thing" in Italy, like siesta in Spain, or if it's just really economically busted down here. No doubt malls have bitten out a chunk. But a mall is exactly what i need right now.

I'm at a restaurant that lured me in with a sign saying "vegan burger". I'm drinking a fresh fruit smoothie to soothe my hangover. The burger patty is some kind of homemade vegetable croquette, fat and oily and delicious. Solid.

-o-

So here is something great. Mestre. But i'll get back to that. What is great is discovering that there is a bus that goes straight from the Venice islands across the causeway and all the way to this exact shopping mall. It took me several hours to walk here from the Mestre train station. When people said to get lost in Venice this probably wasn't what they had in mind. I tried to follow a (circuitous) bus route, but without a map and no understanding of the language i zigged and zagged all over the place.

But what a walk! Mestre is much more than the shabby hotels, Chinese groceries and halal chicken joints near the train station. I walked through a delightful little oldtown, along tree-lined streets and highrises, and past some epic mansions. Army barracks, meadows and parks. So much to see, and space to enjoy it.

Everyone seemed chill, unlike on the main islands. Each shop had its own character. The hardware store. The hair salon. The fruit shop. The bar. The tobacconist. People squatting on the sidewalk puffing their smokes. Young parents ducking in for an Aperol spritz. Teenagers kicking about with nothing to do. Normal, everyday people. People dressed like me. People just living their lives. If i'd taken the bus, i would have missed it all.

I had many photo opportunities. Without crowds blocking the view, every building and wall caught my eye. Sadly no phone does not just mean no map and no phrasebook, it also means no camera. You'll have to trust me when i say it was lovely. Such a stark contrast to the depressing genericness of the main islands, and the upscale - if a little sleepy - vibe of the Lido.

Driving back along the freeway it's remarkable how a mall can turn a whole neighborhood pedestrian-hostile. The walk to the mall was largely pleasant - little alleyways and streets with separated sidewalks, bike lanes, trees and so on. Small businesses dotted everywhere. But the last mile or so was like something out of nightmare. Or, you know, the United States of America. The signposting was dire, and i couldn't follow the bus stops any more because it went onto the freeway. I ended up walking completely out of Mestre altogether and spying a billboard advertizing the mall from the other side of the freeway, so i crossed back only to get trapped in one of those appalling suburban cul-de-sacs that is right fucking next to where you want to be but the roads are built in such a way you have to walk all the way round in a circle to get there. By the time i finally got to the mall i almost wanted to fall to my knees and touch the left foot of a mannequin.

I had some beer and chips after picking up a replacement phone. It was great. Coffee, 1€. Vegan burger and smoothie, 12€. Beer and chips, 3€. Mestre is the fucking bomb and don't let anyone tell you different.
Tags:

Ljubljana → Venezia
sparkles
amw
I guess some stereotypes have a speck of truth. I am sitting in the bus next to a Slav in a tracksuit and an Italian in a leather jacket. Me, i look like i stumbled out of a trailer park. I am not used to getting mis-gendered for it, though.

Ah, Italia, the moment i got on the bus i was already there. Jovial, well-dressed folks chattering and laughing. I don't think Slovenians laugh. Or chat. Huh.

This morning was cold and wet. I guess i was lucky to catch a little sun yesterday. Now we're crossing some damp hills to Italy. I know all this green keeps our planet habitable, but i'm happy to leave it to the Alpine nuts.

Pine nuts make pesto. Pesto is green.

-o-

It still surprises me when i cross a border how the houses change. In Europe, border crossings are ancient history, but the building trends remain. Here in Italy they have white-washed homes with red tiled rooves, and they don't have that inexplicable chopped-off corner like in Austria, Czech Republic or Slovenia.

I can see the sea! It's gray.

God, the ocean. It still looks cold out there, and it's definitely windy, but it's the ocean.

When i was young i was scared of the sea. In New Zealand i was teased mercilessly - a nerd, a "pom" (Brit), a poor swimmer. I will never forget one weekend at the beach when i was bodysurfing and a wave dumped me hardcore. I didn't know which way was up. I thought i was going to die. The currents terrified me after that. I didn't swim in the sea again for almost 15 years.

But looking out on the ocean does bring peace. It's like the desert. Clean. Pure. Lots of perfect nothing.

-o-

That little Italian girl just gave me un dolce. Chocolate money, the universal candy. I wonder when they switched from the chocolate Lire to the chocolate Euros? There's something comforting about kids all over Europe eating the same currency. I can't decide if it's capitalist or anti-capitalist. Anyway. Chocolate.

I wish i knew a little more Italian. Everyone is so animated. They're like Americans.

-o-



-o-

Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncini. Aside from pizza marinara it's the only vegan-ish thing on the menu.

Sitting alone on the Lido drinking my half liter of rosé, bitch.

It's the only affordable way to drink here. God knows what the affordable way to eat is. That small plate of pasta was 8€. I will definitely need to supplement this nonsense with some fruit or nuts. Fortunately there are plenty of fruit shops, and a grocery store around the corner.

-o-

Bloody awful. Breakfast. The coffee is 3/4 froth. It's a fucking black coffee, for God's sake. The Italians invented espresso, how can you mess up black coffee?

Nothing for breakfast. Some canned fruit and dry bread. No olive oil. No margarine. No nothing. Just butter and meat. Fuck Venice.

Well, don't fuck it too hard. Last night i had a very long and hilarious drunken chat with one of those charming Med Men. You know, the guys who hang out at bars on the Med - locals - looking to pick up tourists on their holiday fling. Great sources of conversation and (often) free drinks.

He worked at a hotel. Made some mistakes in his life. Getting anything out of him was like trying to find coffee in this godawful cup of foam. He did the typical pick-up artist/con man technique of turning every question back on you, and trying to answer every question with your own words. It must drive people like that nuts when i don't have a simple answer to "where are you from?"

Anywho, i have a feeling there was some truth to the story that he was divorced with several kids, and that although he was born here he grew up elsewhere. There was some regret, or sadness there. He loved his nonna. "A pure love." I spoke to him about how important it is for me to respect other people's lives and choices and he kept coming back to that all night. I felt like i was in a mafia movie, with this Tony Bourdain looking guy buying me drinks and talking to me about rispetto.

I'm not sure where he was really from. The only place in Italy he told me to visit was Venaria Reale, a small town near Torino. I am going to assume it meant something to him. Turin would be interesting to visit because the mayor recently declared it a vegetarian city, but sadly it is not on my way.

In the past i have followed whimsical suggestions from drunken strangers. For example, visiting Battle Mountain, Nevada on the advice of a trucker in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That was a pretty damn fine chicken-fried steak.

Oh God, what i would do for a chicken-fried steak right now. What i would do for any meal that didn't cost a fortune only to be Italian. I fucking hate Italian food. Why did i come here again?

Oh yeah. I have a blistering hangover. The absolute worst. And last night i smashed my phone, so i also have no camera and no map. You all will have to enjoy Venice through the power of my prose. I will enjoy it with a headache and an empty stomach, once the whole place stops spinning.

Wien → Ljubljana
sparkles
amw
This girl will grow up to be an actress. Every word is enunciated. Every emotion laid bare. Reading from a book, playing rhyming games, hamming up the enjoyment of her Austrian Railways ham sandwich.

My brain is not working so well. I have a throat ache. Don't really like it up here in the mountains. Too many trees. Too claustrophobic.



-o-

This is what a train should sound like. The pitter-patter of the wheels on steel. An open window and a compartment in faux-wood. Creaking and crawling up the pass between the snow-capped mountains.

And when it pulls away from a station - the music! Like an ambient intro, building...

Tunnel.

-o-

I have never seen so much neo-nazi graffiti. It's shocking. I thought as i walked in toward the city it might decrease, but here i am in the middle of the tourist area with swastikas and sun crosses and scratched out antifa tags. I know most people i meet here are unlikely to be nationalists, but letting this stuff stay up is chilling.

It's also chilly. This place is up in the mountains... i guess? It was pissing down with rain when i arrived after nightfall. Easter Sunday too, so nothing was open. I made a bee-line for my guest house but, given it's a few km from the station, i arrived sodden. I should probably have marched back to Klub K4 to dance to the Techno Oldies Goldies anyway, but i was zonked. In the daylight turns out this is a charming little town. Tons of trees. It's cold. And wet. But at least the sun is out now.

Weather report says it will be gone by lunch, so i'm getting an early start. I was considering hiking up a mountain that is apparently nearby, but after the rain i'm giving that idea a pass too. I love walks, but i hate muddy forests. Rain should only fall on concrete and neon. The countryside should be dry and barren, like my non-existent womb. Otherwise it just gets dirty and distressing.

Usually graffiti makes me feel safe. It makes a place feel lived-in. It shows the youth aren't oppressed. Maybe some of them are artists. Hopefully they are politically active. To me the amount of graffiti in a town is an indication of its freedom. Here there is a ridiculous amount of graffiti, but the neo-nazi scrawls have left me feeling very unsettled.

-o-

I had to sit down to watch some kids playing to regain my faith.

I did stumble across a squatted warehouse that appeared to be a little anarchist commune. I will have to look that up later. And i ate a reasonable Chinese meal. They made me red bean cakes! That was my Easter treat.

Anyway, in general i couldn't shake the neo-nazi imagery that greeted me when i left my guest house this morning. It's colored the whole experience of this city for me, though i know it shouldn't. Is that skinhead a nazi? Is that guy in the black hoodie a nazi? Are those dudes cruising past on their motorcycles nazis?

Are these kids going to grow up to be nazis? They are zooming round and round on BMXes while their moms and dads drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and nurse beers. They all look like nice people. But how can you tell?

-o-

Now i am back at my hotel, typing in these notes of the last 24 hours.

I've had a few beers and i am a bit calmer. I did a bit of research on that squat. It's about 10 years old, and of course they are shining happy antifa crusaders. Go team. Turns out a large piece i took a photo of is by Blu, a fairly famous Italian street artist who has work up in a lot of cities all over the world.



Speaking of blue, i think i am in the midst of first-day blues. Some cities instantly capture me, but most need some time. And when you're passing through, well, you never really understand a place anyway. You just capture some moments and move on. I follow a few blogs of people who dive deep into the places they visit - they are historians, passionate about learning the stories. I guess i am a bit more of a haphazard wanderer - sometimes i wander into something great, sometimes i don't, and that's all i'll ever know. I'm okay with that. Wandering lets me feel free.

So, Ljubljana, how do you make me feel on day one? A little suspicious that you are all a bunch of racists. Which i am quite sure you aren't. But Easter Monday there is not much going on. This is a small town, and today it really feels like one. It's cold. All the trees and the moss and the snails and the damp, depressing, oppressiveness of trees and mountains doesn't make me want to stick around. But there sure is a lot of nice graffiti, if you ignore the swastikas. And the doors are great. I really like the doors here.



I also like the Slovenian lady this morning who fussed over my breakfast. When i refused eggs she sliced and put a huge hunk of rye bread on my plate, presumably thinking this sad vegan would surely starve to death eating only an apple and 4 slices of white bread with olive oil. She also gave me a special Easter cake made by her mother - some kind of rolled pastry with tarragon. Wiki makes me think it is štruklji. I guess she got that egg into me after all.

Next to my guest house there is a meadow full of dandelions and one white cock. No pun intended. It's delightfully rural, despite being walking distance from the train station. If i had a bit longer here - and if it was hot and dry - perhaps i would go climb that hill behind the Tivoli gardens. Perhaps i will tomorrow. My bus to Venice only leaves at 11am.

I should probably write more about mountain people vs plains people. And my discomfort in forests. No doubt i will bump into both again over the next few weeks, so there should be plenty of opportunity. Instead, i will leave you with some gender non-binary political graffiti, which warms my cockles to see popping up all over Europe over the past couple years.

Tags: ,

as soon as we started to move
sparkles
amw
I am currently sitting at Vienna central station watching croissants getting wrapped up for hungry Easter Sunday travelers. Why am i not among them? Because the ticket agent convinced me to take the 14:30 instead of the 12:30. It didn't take a lot of convincing. In exchange for 2 hours of waiting i saved 60€ on the ticket price. Sure, i'll roll into Ljubljana in the dark, and will stumble my way blindly across town to find my guesthouse, but that's part of the experience, right?

Walking along the platform from the tram stop to the ticket agent, i finally felt like i was getting started. Prague was not really the same because i knew it was just a pitstop on the way to dad's and a city i already knew reasonably well. Now i am traveling light and headed for a city i have never been and a country i previously only passed through on the way to Croatia.

This morning i got pretty mercenary with what i took with me and - unfortunately - left a bunch of books behind. If i'm going to travel lean and mean, i'll have to leverage that Kindle. I still think i have too much with me - a 65L pack and a drawstring bag. By time i get to Piraeus i would like to be able to fit everything in the pack. Finishing two of the three books i still have with me and donating them would be a start. I am tempted to toss one of my two pairs of shoes too, since they are on their last legs.

If shoes had legs we'd never have to walk...

What should be my last hurrah in the DACH (Germany/Austria/Switzerland)? In a couple of hours i will be heading out to countries where i can barely speak the language, where i will be a complete clueless foreigner. What would you do if it were your last 2 hours?

One of the first things i ate when i came to Germany was a Schinken-Käse-Croissant - a croissant with ham and cheese baked into it. Very Not Vegan™, but it was one of my favorite snacks for a while. Great train station food. Drink a beer? I guess that's a good call, since Italy and Greece aren't exactly known for beer. Do Slovenians drink beer? Listen to some techno music? God knows it will be a culture shock to go back to countries where rock music gets played in public, but i think the whole of Europe is happily onboard with electronic music as the default music. Eat a wurst? Maybe just a pretzel.

Or perhaps, like when i left Berlin, just go and don't look back. This verse is over for me. Perhaps there will be reprise, perhaps not. No point getting sentimental when there is so much ahead. I'm finally free again.


Shannon - Let The Music Play

death in fiction
sparkles
amw
Is it weird to feel uncomfortable with the level of violence in Star Wars?

I decided to spend my Good Friday very slowly uploading backups to OneDrive (i found another 80 gig of lossless CD rips) and watching sci-fi. The last episode of The Expanse i watched was another heart-wrenching depiction of the horrors of war and how civilians are the ones who really suffer the costs. Now i am watching Rogue One and i almost want to vomit at how nonchalantly the "heroes" mow down hundreds or thousands of enemies. That much slaughter should not be celebrated. Was Star Wars always like this? I guess so. It's in the name, after all. I love the awesome spaceship flyovers and widescreen alien landscapes, but putting on some jolly music reminiscent of Snoopy as the Red Baron doesn't change the fact there is a shit-ton of triumphant murder going on.

-o-

It happened to me in computer games too. When i was a teenager i loved to play Doom. In my early 20s i got into Counter-Strike. I am sure i killed thousands of virtual people and animals. Nowadays the only shooters i can deal with are the ones that make you feel very, very shitty about that killing. Far Cry 2. Spec Ops: The Line. War is hell. If your player character kills, he should be broken in a million pieces afterwards. And if he isn't, he should be a depicted as a sociopath, not a hero.

I even feel a little uncomfortable in the games where you are forced to take out a bunch of guys non-lethally. Because that's the alternative in so-called stealth games. Instead of killing people dead with a bullet or a knife, you "disable" them with a tranq dart or a baton. I dunno, man. Still seems like a pretty extreme way to solve a problem. Sure, some people don't listen to reason. But most games don't even give you the opportunity to have that conversation before having to fight for your life. It's shameful.

I guess this is why i mostly play walking sims or narrative adventures these days. In walking sims you just potter about aimlessly. In narrative adventures you choose scripted dialog that fits the role you want to play, and deaths - if there are any at all - are treated with the weight they deserve.

Am i becoming hyper-sensitive in my old age? I'm not really a peacenik or anything. My father was in the military and i would rather sit down for a drink with a soldier than a cop (most of whom i would rather punch in the face). I just find it a bit distasteful when art or the media depicts war and murder as something glamorous.

Maybe i am just particularly sensitive right now because the past week in the real world has been a nightmare of saber-rattling and brinksmanship. Sigh. Yeah, this nonsense is why i wanted to go on a container ship for a few weeks and not worry about politics for a while.

Three and a half weeks. I got three and a half weeks to make my way across Slovenia and Italy and Greece and hopefully not watch any idiots pick up the red telephone before i am in a boat and can stick my fingers in my ears and go lalalala.

?

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