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Friday, July 27, 2007

Cortona, Italy

Time to travel back in time to the time when we were traveling: Day 13 of the Big Trip. Dana and I have left Sydney and been to Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef and Palm Cove, all in Queensland, Australia, before popping by Singapore on the way to Rome. A short train ride took us north from Rome to the Cortona/Terontola train stop. One more stop on the train would have brought us to Cortona/Camucia, where Dana's mother was waiting for us. Ah well, Susette and Marvin got to see a bit more of the Tuscan countryside following the train tracks to us. Thankfully they had the good sense to drive on the road, and not the tracks themselves.

We stayed with much of Dana's family, soon to be my family too, in a villa on the hill on which Cortona stands. There will be more on the villa later, but here's a bit about our experience in the city of Cortona...

We drove up to the old city for dinner one night. La Bucaccia was an excellent choice. I'm not sure what an old, authentic Tuscan restaurant should be like, but this certainly seemed to set the standard for all the supposedly authentic Tuscan restaurants I visit in the future. The owner, Romano, took great care of us and served us his recommendations. This is handy when you can't read the menu. His daughter, Francesca, served the wine. The food was excellent, as was the entire experience.

Dana and I went back up later in the week to see some of the sites. Since it's built on a hill, like many Tuscan cities, you can be sure you'll get a good workout. We started at the town center - Piazza della Repubblica. The city seemed to be nearing completion of some revitalization construction... digging up the roads and putting in the proper cobblestones. I'm sure they were authentic medieval cobblestones. The streets of Cortona are very narrow and extremely steep, and I constantly found myself daydreaming about how much fun it would be to have a bowling ball... or even a slinky.

We started off with a visit to the Museum of the Etruscan Academy to study the ancient artifacts there and learn about the history of the city. The Etruscans brought Greek traditions and styles to Italy, which had a profound impact on the Roman Empire. The city saw building and revitalizations during the Etruscan, Roman and Medieval times. This is most evident in the Medici Fortress, at the highest point of the city. The museum displays archaeological findings as well as information about important historical sites just outside Cortona. When we arrived we were notified that the museum was still under construction... we spent hours there and can't imagine what else they could add.

With the swallows ceaselessly circling overhead, we hiked up the city, stopping by nearly every church and corner shrine. I struggled to get some decent photos of the inside of the churches... it can be a challenge using only natural light. The best views were from the Medici Fortress, from which we could look down on the city and see as far as Lake Trasimeno. The Fort was built on preexisting foundations in 1556, by Cosmo Kramer. His name might have actually been Cosimo I.

After all the uphill walking it was a treat to go downhill... even if it was 3 kilometers back to the house.

All photos from Cortona here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Big Trip Ends

Yesterday we woke up at 2AM and went to bed at 11:59PM, or we woke up at 8AM and went to bed at 5:59AM the following morning... it depends on if you look at it from the NY or Belgian perspective. Either way, it was the last day of our Big Trip.

The day began in the home of our friends Jan and Maxine, in Brussels. There will be more on these good folks later, but for now I will say that they showed us a fantastic time in Brussels, and our three latest nights in Europe were spent in their company: even later than the sing-a-long in GP and the night with the Rastafarians in the American Cafe of Lyon. They also provided the best breakfast and softest pillows of the trip!

Now for the departure:

The airport was particularly nice, which is good since this is the capitol of Europe, but why do they sell condoms in the bathrooms here? I have seen hand dryers with video ads playing and chewable mouthwash... but never an airport that promoted joining the Mile High Club. Maybe this is something Branson and the fellows at Virgin thought of.

The flight to London was not much more than a puddle jump... except that we didn't really jump over much water but just a fair bit of land. I expected Heathrow to be a disaster, but it wasn't that bad. They had cask ale at an airport pub, and at a little over 2 pounds a pint, it was by far the best purchase in the airport! Unfortunately, it was still morning NY time, so we had to call it quits after eleven pints.

British Airways delivered us to JFK and did it well: the movies were on-demand and diverse, the food was decent, the staff was attentive, and the plane didn't blow up or crash. I think I need someone to explain to me why all these planes still have ashtrays on them though... are they all really that old?

And so we arrived in NY, jobless and with nothing more than the clothing on our back, just like our ancestors did 10-200 years before*. Well, we did also have family to help us get settled and pick us up from the airport, and we also had about 100kg(220lbs) of luggage including some scuba gear, and we didn't have smallpox.

My parental units picked us up and drove us, willingly, to their home in Jackson, New Jersey. The last bits of the day were enjoyable. Pleasant conversation was interrupted only occasionally by an involuntary quick nap, but this was understandable since my dad was very tired. OK, I was a bit tired too, but I was only "resting my eyes".

Thus ended the last day of our Big Trip. Over 3000 photos have been loaded onto the Mac, and about as many tidbits are in my head, waiting to be loaded onto paper or the computer. Please stay tuned.

*Immigrant reference credit: Glenn Mason. The Glenn on the left, that is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bye Bye Holiday

Dana and I are packing up our stuff for the last leg of our journey: to home. Well, we don't really have a home yet, but we'll be staying in the homes of various family members until we find something a bit more permanent. Belgium was incredible, and photos & stories will soon be up on the blog... in the meantime, enjoy this photo of a dancing statue. Or a statue of a dancing baby human. Or maybe it's a real baby human dancing up there and that would explain that woman who was screaming. She was screaming something like, "Please help! My baby is dancing on top of that picturesque Flemish building! And that cloud is just perfect! Please help my baby or at least take a photo!"

I obliged.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Deine Karte Bitte Nehmen!

I had a rather unpleasant experience the other day here in Germany. I have found nearly every German to be extremely pleasant and helpful, so the rude encounter was even more of a surprise. I went to get cash out of a bank, and the teller asked if I wanted to be helped in German or English. Of course I preferred English... and the teller proceeded to shout every request and statement at me. "Please take your card!" and "One moment please!" Thankfully the transaction was a quick one. It was an automated teller machine, but still, do they need to keep the exclamation points after every statement just to make it feel like a more authentic German experience? I took my money and the machine was already shouting at the next customer, "Deine Karte bitte einsetzen!"

It was a bit like our one bad experience in New Zealand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Special Day

Yesterday I turned the big three oh. That's right, 30. This event, of course, initiated a great deal of introspection, as evidenced by the photo to the left. That's me thinking about life while gazing at the sky.

So far 30 does not feel much different from 29 except that Dana said I'm starting to get wrinkly. That must be from all my days out on the range wrangling wild horses. The good news is that my hair is staying put, the bad news is that my sisters-in-law all say that hair will start to sprout from my back this year.

My birthday festivities started in the German Alps and will continue, officially, until tomorrow. Tomorrow we head to Düsseldorf, so I hope to find a proper way to end the tridectatinal of my life. Last night, on my actual birthday, Dana surprised me with a desert of three crepes filled with Nutella. When the crepes came, I thought, "Oh perfect, a crepe for each decade of my life," and then Dana ate a half of a decade.

and happy birthday John Tesh & Fred Savage.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

My Last Night As A 20-Something

We're about to head out for a night in Bamberg to celebrate my pre-birthday. Tomorrow I turn 30, but we're dragging it out a bit. I should say that I am dragging it out as an excuse to get more Bamberg beer in me. Judging by the signs around the city, there's no wrong way to turn...


Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Week and a Half Left

With just about ten days of our Big Trip remaining, it's starting to feel like the kind of holiday most people would take. Most people in Australia, that is, not the US. Americans would call a 10 day trip a honeymoon. Aussie would call it a weekend away, and a honeymoon would be three months long. Three moons made of honey, ken oath. Struth mate.

It's just as well that we start to make our way back. The food and drink has been incredible. Italy, France & Germany... you can imagine what we have been eating. If you have a really good imagination, then you can also imagine what we ate in Switzerland, Singapore and Lichtenstein.

We are now in Bamberg, Germany. This is a photo of our room, which is more like an apartment. It was a great find, and it's right in the middle of the old town. The kitchen area is separate from the bedroom, which is perfect for Dana while I tippity-tap into the blog.

Good night and Happy 777.

German Sing-A-Long

On Thursday night, Dana and I were in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, staying at Gasthof-Fraundorfer. Dinner here in the Alps was quite an event. There was traditional German music, dancing and plenty to eat and drink. A BMW biker convention was descending upon the town, but some of the other guests were from overseas like us. Here's a slice of the night.

*Warning, this video contains explicit lyrics... well, one explicit lyric. One word, really... but it's the big one. Sorry Mom.

Pictures from Rome

We have free high speed at the hotel here in Munich, so I finally got around to putting up the photos from Rome. Check them out.

I'm still way behind... Italy was three countries ago!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Getting Slap Happy

Tonight is our first night in Germany, and we're set for a big dinner right in our guest house. Check it out. The town is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, just a short, five hour drive from Interlaken. Dana did almost all of the driving... through Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and finally up into Bavaria. The drive was astounding, with waterfalls on both sides nearly the entire way.

Dana's napping now, prepping for a big night of German food, German beer and German dancing. From what I hear, we'll all be slapping each other by the end of the night. I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Greetings from Switzerland

Apologies for the lack of posts: Internet access has been sporadic and very expensive. And it's also very hard to find certain keys on these foreign keyboards. Like the exclamation point and the at symbol, especiallz. And the y is where the z should be.

Rest assured that we are accumulating lots of photos and stories for future updates. We've had a bit of rain these past few days, but the Alps are still gorgeous. Tomorrow we head to Garmerschnitz-Picklebaumenn, I think it's called, in the German Alps.

Dana and I have been working on our German. We're not very good, but we've learned that if we yell in our attempted German, then it sounds more convincing. For example, 'Can we please see the wine list?' is 'Das wein karte, bitte! VINTZNELL!'

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Greatest Toilet in the World

The Beginning

The Sitting

The Experience