Sunday, 18 October 2009

Travel Edition Ricochet - Week 1

Listen as I sing the deeds of Ricochet Abroad!

Bright was the sun and high were our hearts when we set out on our... Eh, when I say me and really my heart wasn't high so much as going gang-busters in my chest...

Alright I'll start again!

11th Oct - The trip official didn't start until the 12th of October but the bitching starts on the 11th.
I'd just spent a rather nice 5 days away for a work thing in Adelaide which was, as I have mentioned lovely, but we had booked it quite a while before I decided (twitching and daring people to challenge me on the point) that I was going to go to Italy for three weeks.
So on the evening of the 11th my workmates and myself landed at Tullamarine airport, fought through traffic and distance and an hour and a half later were back where we all live, then I loaded up my car with all my 'crud to pack later', drove another hour back to my parents' house, almost hit a kangaroo, seriously, I was less than 5 m from the damn thing when it finally decided to hop out of the way, got home, unpacked, sat up until 3:00am packing my bag, stared at the darkened ceiling for 2 hours commanding myself to sleep dammit and finally somehow drifted into an unconsciousness of a jittery, unsettled type.

12 Oct - I woke up at 6:30am (briefly convinced I had missed my flight) TO DO MY TAXES because otherwise the damn things would be late and I would be fined or something, finished packing, said goodbye to my sister before she went off to work, rang my friend who had offered to drive me to the pick-up for the airport shuttle, rang her again, started to get worried, checked her other phone, several times, started getting panicky, woke up my confused and grumpy brother, rolled him out of bed and into a car and commanded him to drive me to the shuttle, got onto the shuttle, breathed a sigh of relief, received an apologetic phonecall from my friend who had left her phone in the bathroom over night and not heard my calls*, fell asleep on the shuttle because buses are my narcolepsy zone, arrived at the airport a good 3.5 hours before my flight, got rid of my little suitcase, changed some money, gummed a sandwich, had a quick expensive flutter on the internet and then got on a plane to be plied with food and drinks for hours on end.

13 Oct - This involved a bit of time zone swapping, I stubbornly stayed awake as long as possible to try and minimise jetlag, landed in Milan, braved the metro system, found my hotel, checked in, had a shower and actually started looking around.

Milan is pretty. I don't give a damn about fashion** but the city itself is quite lovely. I decided that either I could curl up in a little jet-laggy 'Dear God I'm by myself in a foreign country!' ball of panic or go outside. Before I could think too much about it I quickly went outside and found myself at Castle Sforzesco which is a huge beautiful old building crammed with museums.

Oh and there was a market between the castle and the metro station, the food was delicious, yes it was.

If I'd known how many museums the castle contained I might not have gone in but luckily I was blissfully ignorant as I forked over my ridiculously small entrance fee and then spent the rest of the entire day wandering through museum after museum, level after level, gawping at paintings, sculptures, armour and weapons! Oh how I love ye olde armour and weapons, they're so fancy and yet the dings and holes in various pieces show they were definitely for business as well as pleasure.

Once I staggered broke free of the endless tempting succession of museums and staggered weakly out of the castle, I loaded up on bits and pieces from the market, found my way back to my hotel, gorged myself on my finds and then lay there in a coma like state watching BBC News on how we're all terrible and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
But it's hard to be too bothered about that when you have arancini and dolci.

Oh and here is a statue of a fat guy with his brains scooped out just because it is excellent.

14 Oct - I woke up, remembered who I was and where I was and went to have a proper look at the Duomo***. From the outside the church looks like a cake. A giant elaborate marzipan monstrosity.

I honestly spent the best part of a day walking around the church, in the church, on the church roof.
I find that I miss the smell of churches. I miss the ritual and the responses. I don't miss the religion so much, not at this point, but I miss the familiar scents of frankincense, linen and years.
The rest of the day was spent wandering up and down some of the streets just enjoying the unfamiliar familiarity, the people and the coffee, oh the coffee!
Just in case you're getting worried and you're not sure you're still in the right blog here is a photo I took of a bronze horse butt!

I also bought a mobile telephone so I'd be able to contact my Italian rellies and my parents and then shamefacedly had to ask the receptionist at the hotel how to open the damn thing so I could put the battery in. He was very sympathetic, very tall and had a lovely pony-tail. That is all.

15 Oct - It was time to move on so I checked out, found my way to the train station and got the train to Verona, the home of 'Romeo and Juliet', also the home of a delightfully flustered and slightly embarrassed gay B&B owner. Turns out the room I'd booked was in the B&B he was in the process of repainting (as evidenced by the paint smudges on him, his boyfriend and their two dogs) but he had another B&B around the corner they could accommodate me in.
I walked all over town, went to visit the amphitheatre which would have been a lovely place to watch gladiator fights back in the day and which now offers opera, just as bloody in its own way.

I also had a trot up the tower and went to see 'Juliet's House'
which was covered in excited love notes, surrounded by people who were frantically rubbing poor statue Juliet's breast into a concave for good luck and general jollies and full of period furniture and quotations. I've always hated Romeo and Juliet for it's 'everybody is an idiot and if you'd just run away properly you wouldn't have ended up dead like a pair of assholes'-ness**** but I can't deny I love Shakespeare's way with words and I'll be re-reading my collection when I get home.
I picked up a take-away panino and an aranciata from a bar near my B&B to take home for dinner - onion baked into the bread, tuna, cheese and capers *drool*.

16 Oct - I'd cheated actual jet-lag but still woke up at a few odd times during the night and then early enough in the morning to get out and about, this time to spend most of the day in another castle *glee*.

I went for a walk down by the river, visited the Castelvecchio, had another art trawl through a maze of levels and corridors, took far too many photos, including this one of a child with their drawing (the more things change, the more they stay the same)...

... and then continued on over the bridge for a quick geek out over the pattern of the cobbles...

... before going for a wide-ranging ramble about town that ended in me eating an entire large mushroom and prosciutto pizza by myself. I regret nothing!

17 Oct - I sort of crapped up the start of this day, I had a luxurious sleep in which I rather enjoyed but which meant I didn't get into Bologna until about 2:00pm, a ridiculously easy amble into the centre of town later I found my hotel, checked in, popped into the Piazza Maggiore to get a map from the Tourist Information Centre just in time to join in on a walking tour run by a local lady. It was full of contradictions (eg. Bologna has never been conquered! Except for by the Pope, the Germans, a few other people...) and I have to admit I spent a bit too much time looking at this tiny dog one of the other ladies had brought along with her...

The different churches, the parts of the university, the fact that they built the famous arched walkways just so they could house university students (at least according to our guide), the two towers built by competing powerful families (one more successfully than the other, unless leaning is a sign of power) were all lovely...

...but I have to admit I got a little bit more excited by the view out of my hotel window...

This is the first time I've travelled with money not budgeted down to the last cent and I've been able to stay in hotels instead of hostels, less people to meet but it has its compensations.

Sorry, I'm sounding weird again. Here is a picture of Neptune with his willy out and a pigeon on his head.

18 Oct - Today was a bit of a jumble, I spent the morning wandering about taking photos of arched walkways...

... and buskers playing tiny electric guitars with their speakers/amps/whatever mounted on their motorbike...

... before heading back to the train station to meet up with my parents who were swapping trains on their way from Venice to Florence.
We're all 'functionally fluent' in Italian - which means we can ask for directions, hold halting and slightly stilted conversations - but Dad had apparently been unable to get any information out of the disinterested Venetian train station employee they'd bought the tickets from. Based on information Dad has SMSd me I'd worked out they'd been sold regional tickets which would mean an unnecessary 4 hour stopover in Bologna before a regional train to Florence was due so when he and Mum turned up I stole their tickets, upgraded them to a direct service and we all headed off to Florence to find our apartment and prepare for the 2 week language and cooking course we'd signed up for.

The first thing we did to prepare was stop in at the closest café to our apartment for coffee and the start of what looks to be a pastry splurge, before Paolo came to meet us with the keys, then it was time for dinner and a bit of light collapsing and blissful slumber.

*To be fair we hadn't set a time or confirmed but she had said 'Call me if you need a lift' which I think is fairly clear cut.

**Whilst at the same time admiring people who have their own style.

***As last time I was in Milan we carefully went to see The Last Supper (woo!) then had a quick decko around he middle of town and quickly ran off to another city/country/everywhere else.

****It's not that I'm NOT romantic, I just think that there are better ways to go about things than sucking and dying.

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