Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Twelve grapes

At midnight on New Year's Eve, church bells chime twelve times, once for each month of the year. People have twelve grapes in their hands, and they try to eat one grape for each chime. If you manage it, you're blessed for the next twelve months. 

It's a neat little tradition.

Being thinking a bit about this year. It's been a strange one, an interesting one, and ultimately a rich and rewarding one. I'm a bit numb at the moment, and my mind kind of flits in and out, but I'm pretty bloody grateful that I'm here. The novelty of travelling has mostly gone, and most of it is pretty mundane. But every once in a while, you get this little thrill at being in these strange new places. 

It's something I hope I never lose. 

I'm down to my last €4 euro, though, so it'll have to be window shopping and Burger King until my funds top up. I'd probably starve if it wasn't for Burger King. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reyes and Sevilla

"Despite global warming, London is still too cold for him."

- Arsene Wenger, on a homesick Jose Antonio Reyes

In the early 2000's, Arsenal were top of the pops. We were powerful and strong, with world-class players along every line. We were stocked to the brim with leggy French brilliance, and we ruled the Premiership. 

What's more, we played with elan

Our golden boy of that time was Jose Antonio Reyes, late of Sevilla, and one of the most promising kids around. He was the symbol of our coming dominance. He was fast and unpredictable, and gooners were wetting themselves thinking of the partnership he'd strike up with Thierry Henry. Good times lay ahead.... Premierships, Champions Leagues, even Carling Cups.

It didn't turn out that way, of course. Abramovich came along, and Chelski was formed. We sold Vieira, we sold Pires, we sold Henry, and we're sinking slowly into the morass of the middle reaches of the Premiership. We're terrible at the moment, and we've all got the horrible notion that nothing's going to arrest our slide. 

And of course, Reyes got homesick and eventually went home to Spain. 

While I was in Madrid, I didn't see what the point was. Madrid in winter's a nice place, but chilly. It doesn't snow, but there's a bite to the air that's definitely uncomfortable. It's not much different from London, I suppose. 

Now I'm in Sevilla, I can see what the fuss was about. It's the middle of winter, and it's 17 degrees. People stroll around at night in windcheaters. Today, there's a glorious blue sky and a freshness to the air that sets your pulse a racing. It's a far cry from dreary, wet London. Even in summer, London's climatically unimpressive.

Frankly, considering the weather in Sevilla, I'm surprised Reyes lasted that long at Arsenal. 

Monday, December 29, 2008


"When you get to know it, it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people. It is in Madrid only that you get the essence."

- Ernest Hemingway, lifted from a travel article

For a city with such a big reputation, Madrid seems awfully quaint. The heart of the city's a plaza called Puerta del Sol, and it's really just like a friendly little shopping arcade. It's the geographical and cartological heart of Spain (all distances are measured from a little bronze plaque in the ground), but there's nothing there but a statue of a king on a horse (Carlos III) and a statue of a bear eating a tree. 

It's a brilliant little town, though. They have pub crawls for 10€ a night, with free shots in every bar. They have "museums of jamon" (my translation) which treat the stuff like fine vintage wines instead of just legs of cured pork. They have museums with almost endless galleries and paintings which would be the envy of any in the world. And yet somehow, they've retained the ambience of a lazy little outpost town. 

It's really quite fascinating. 

I saw the Guernica the other day. It was a bit of a shock, just bumping into it in the Reina Sofia. I wasn't prepared to see anything interesting in that museum, and all of a sudden, I'd seen more Picassos and Dalis than I could imagine. It's a stark little painting, the Guernica. Emotive, too. I think every Spanish artist of that generation must've tackled the Spain Civil War, but the Guernica tops them all. Also saw El Bosco in the Prado. Even if he wasn't a great artist, El Bosco would be famous for his name. The Spanish have got a way with nicknames, don't they? 

But I can't stay in Madrid for long. It's New Year's soon, and the place is booked out. Decided to go south to Andalucia instead. Sevilla first, then Cordoba and Granada. Orange trees, balmy days, Moorish architecture... it sounds lovely. After the cold of Madrid, it'll be good to walk around without a scarf, a beanie and a permanent shiver. 

I feel a bit guilty leaving Madrid because I haven't seen much of the city, but I'll be coming back to Madrid at the end. So I can still see Real Madrid and Atletico, see the Prado and the Reina Sofia again, walk through the royal palace... 

But it'll have to be manana - definitely manana. 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Buon Natale

"It's the Venice of Italy."

- my brother, in the comments section

So after all the deliberations and stress and minor psychosomatic aliments, I'll be in Venice for Christmas. It's still Christmas Eve here in Europe, but since this blog's set to AEST time, I'd better do the blogging now, rather than tommorrow. Don't think I'll be waking up in time for that.

Venice is a profoundly depressing place to be in at Christmas. It's cold and wet and there's a permanent mist that covers everything. There's this sense of brooding melancholy about the place, as if the city's dwelt too long on it's long and sordid history to really give a damn about the present. The paint's peeling, the plaster's cracking and the buildings are slowly sinking back into the mud.

Plus, there's no one around. Just a few tourists taking advantage of the low season. And just a few leeches taking advantage of the tourists. There ARE locals around (I see them in the supermarket sometimes), but you've got to know where to look, I suppose. They tend to stay out of the tourist streets. And tourists tend to stay near the tourist streets, because once you stray two blocks away, you become hopelessly lost.

My dormmate said that Venice is a dying city, and that's right for a lot of reasons. It's drowning in a sea of tourists. It's drowning in a sea of brackish water. It's drowning under the weight of its own history. And it's losing people because, these days, it doesn't generate anything othet than tourism. You get the feeling that in 20 years time, Venice will consist entirely of B&Bs, hotels, and street hawkers. And considering this city used to be the strongest maritime power in the Mediterrean, that's a bit sad.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Milan, not Madrid

"So how long have you been in Madrid?"

- me, earlier today, having a complete spatial meltdown

The Brazilian girl looked at me funnily when I asked that. She asked me to repeat the question. It was only when I said it again that I realised what I'd said wrong. 

We're in Milan, not Madrid. 

In my defence, I was booking a flight to Madrid while I said it, so I got a bit confused. Also there are many similarities between Madrid and Milan - both are elegant cities with a reputations for stylishness, both have great football sides, and both start with M. But really, it's a sign that maybe I've been travelling too long and I've been in too many cities. 

I think I'm suffering a mild form of spatial incontinence, where the places are coming and going so fast that I can't figure out where I am. I woke up yesterday in Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre, spent the day pottering around Genoa, spent the night watching AC Milan at the San Siro, and spent today walking around Milan. I'm a bit discombobulated at the moment. My brain can't handle the fact that I was bathed in warm air, sunshine and blue skies yesterday, and smothered in cold and fog today. 

One thing that contributes to that feeling is the number of Duomoes I've seen. There's been one in every Italian city I've been in. And they keep getting bigger, and grander and prettier. It started with the Naples one, with that flask of water/blood. Then there was the candy-cane striped Florentine one, and the liquorice one in Sienna. And now, there's the Gothic splender of the Milanese one. 

It's awe-inspiring. In the fog, from a distance, it looks like it's made of ice and mist. When you're up close, the detail is mind-boggling. It's white, and enormous, and covered with flying buttresses and spires. There are statues on every ledge and gargoyles poking out of every conceivable corner. And there's the nicest view from the roof terrace. I'm not sure why I've got this compulsion to climb every pretty cathedral I see, though. 

One interesting thing I've found is the apertif hour. From about 6 p.m to 9 p.m, bars provide an open-slather buffet of cold cuts, pastas, cheese, breads and salads - all for the price of a drink. I think it's all over northern Italy, because I've heard people talking about it in Turin and Venice. Really good deal, and I wonder if it could catch on in Australia? 

Monday, December 22, 2008

5-1 to Milan

Saw Milan pummel Udinese tonight. 5-1, with Pato and Kaka doing doubles. Remarkably pretty, but a bit disturbing. It was 3-1 after eighteen minutes. There was no defence to speak of. There was expansive passing, incisive moves and attacking formations. It wasn't the Serie A as I remember from the TV. 

What's the deal with Italian football now? What's with all these goals?

Mind you, I'm not really complaining. No team with Pato, Kaka and Ronaldinho leading the line can play anything other than beautiful football. Kaka is mesmerising. Pato is clinical. And Ronaldinho is Ronaldinho. He's a circus act in the middle of a football field. He does the flicks and step-overs that lesser Brazilians would baulk at. Once, instead of kicking the ball out to touch, he flicked it up, swished it behind him and back-heeled it over the line. Yes, he's unfit and lazy and he's not the player he once was, but he's still Ronaldinho. 

And the San Siro is so beautiful at night. I've only ever been to functional stadiums here in Europe, such as the athletic track/football stadiums of Roma and Napoli, or the soullessly corporate Emirates in London. In contrast, the San Siro is beautiful, from the winding stairwells that line the perimeter and the roof that's suspended above the stands, to the sight-lines within the stadium and... I don't know, it's just a perfect football stadium. 

And the Arsenal drew 1-1 against Liverpool. I was somewhere between Genoa and Milan at the time, so I've no idea what happened. A quick glance at the table shows that we're 5th, about 3 points behind Aston Villa. Wenger had better start acting like a proper manager soon, because it's starting to look scary. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cinque Terre

"It's about a 1 hour walk; about 2 hours if you're taking photos."

- Elisabeth, about the path between Corniglia and Manarola

Around the 11th century, a Ligurian peasant decided he'd spend his spare time carving a terrace out of a mountain face overlooking the Med. The land around the coast is too steep to be arable, and it must've seemed like a good idea at the time. But it quickly got out of hand. The result is about 2,000km of stone terraces along some pretty inaccessible stretches of coast. 

The Cinque Terre area is certainly arresting. You walk along the cliff face and there's a picture-perfect view every ten paces. It's terribly frustrating because the intensity of the sun means that a third of the shots will be in shadow, a third will be too bright, and the rest will only remind you of how much better it looks in real life. 

Elisabeth was right. It's no joke; you really do spend half your time there taking pictures. The fishing towns are perched on steep rocky valleys; sometimes, houses are built right on the cliff-top. The trails wind through vineyards, forests, cliffs... and then there's the Med, all sparkly and blue and perfect. 

There really are some places too beautiful to be true. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008


There's no mistake, I smell that smell
It's that time of year again, I can taste the air
The clocks go back, railway track
Something blocks the line again
And the train runs late for the first time

- Stereophonics, Local Boy In The Photograph

Went to Siena today. Saw the Tuscan countryside by the bus. Saw the black-and-white Duomo and the Campo where they have that biannual horse race. I'll have to write something about it a bit later.

I'd had this song in my head for the past couple of days. I only know a few lines, so I've been singing those under my breath over and over and over again. Driving me crazy.


Turns out my 6 month open-ended ticket expires... after 6 months. Who'd have thunk it? It's a bit fucked up because I was budgeted a bit more time, but there you go. I'll be back in Melbourne by the 18th of February. It's depressing when the end is in sight, and you're down to counting down the weeks.

Fucking hell. Back home in 2 months time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Michael M'Angelo's "Dave"

"Well there he is, Michaelangelo's Dave."

- Homer Simpson, the Itchy and Scratchy episode

Jian and I were sitting behind the Dave, in the middle of a group of French schoolkids. The Dave's a stupendous sight, an awe-inspiring example of delicacy, sensitivity and strength, all carved out of solid rock. There's a pretty good reason it's the most famous statue in the world, and we were speechless for a good while. 

Still, we were sitting at the back of him. 

"So what do you think of his arse?"

Jian looked at me funnily. It's not the kind of question she was expecting, I suppose. 

"It's a bit flat and uninspiring," I continued. "The front of him's so tense and sculptured, but his arse is so loose and relaxed. Really strange. I thought it would've been a bit more perky and rounded."

She starting giggling in spite of herself. The Dave's supposed to inspire awe and admiration, and from the front, it usually does. It really is a fabulous statue. His face is soulful and doubtful as you approach him from the front, and but his expression turns into steely determination as you walk around him. His hands are tense and he holds that stone so pensively that it's poetry chiselled out of rock. His feet are perfectly balance, at that moment of rest before rapid, violence action. 

But if you've been staring at his arse for ten minutes, the lasting impression is that the Dave's a remarkably calm boy. His buttocks are flaccid and flat. It's a sign of repose. Of calm. Of the certainty of knowing that he's in the hands of God, and not even a Palestinian giant can harm him. 

You gotta admire a faith like that. And you got to admire the genius of Michaelangelo, who's so good that he can use a pair of flabby butt-cheeks to remind one of the confidence of youth and the power of faith. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


"They're dogs! Playing poker!"

- Homer Simpson, one of the Halloween episodes

The Duomo looks like a big stick of green-red-and-white striped candy cane.

It's strangely appetising. From the side, it looks festive and happy, as much unlike an cathedral in Europe as I've seen. There's an adjoining bell tower that's about seven stories high and made of the same coloured marble. I had to fight the idea of licking the building to see if it tasted as sweet as it looked.

There's a dome atop the Duomo. It's impressively vast and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Climb to the top (and 468 steps later), you've got panoramic views over all of Florence. The dome's the barrel-vaulted egg-shaped thing that Brunelleschi built. He got the project by crushing a hard-boiled egg on a table in front of the Medicis. Strange way of winning probably the most difficult project in Renaissance Italy, but there you go. Sometimes, you've got to present with flair to win the client.

Got to say, the Medicis had good taste in architecture, and sculpture, and paintings, and art in general. I think the Renaissance would've turned out a whole lot different if the first Medici prince had a penchant for vivid pink and puke green, and a liking for cute puppies and fluffy kittens. We'd have a giant marble Cheshire cat instead of the David. And a painting of dogs playing poker instead of The Birth of Venus.

Actually, the last wouldn't have been too bad. I like Dogs Playing Poker - it's freaky and disturbing and tres avant-garde. I remember watching this video presentation in a park in Manhattan once, with dogs dressed as humans, going activities normally associated with a park - gardening, serving hot dogs, sitting on a park bench.... it's oddly disturbing.

As Homer Simpson would say, "They're dogs! Playing poker!"

Monday, December 15, 2008

3-2 to Roma

I went to the Stadio Olimpico the other day to watch the Roma-Cagliari match. I'd seen Roma play midweek in the Champions League, thought they were far, far better than 14th place, and wanted to check them out in flesh. Also, the tickets are surprisingly cheap - €15 a piece.

It was a little disappointing for a 3-2 win. Epic result, and very dramatic (Roma equalised in the 80th minute and scored the winner in the 87th), but they really shouldn't have been in that position. They dominated possession and hit the goal posts twice. Caligiari's goals were against the run of play. They were weak, jammy goals as well - I think breaking an offside trap, and a deflected shot.

What was irritating was that Roma lacked a genuine striker. They had all this great link-up play, but they didn't have anyone up front to focus their passing. Totti's not a striker, and Baptista played like he did for the Arsenal. It made for a strangely Arsenalesque experience - a lot of pretty passing and not a lot of end result. A lot of missed chances, too. They improved substantially once they subbed in Montella and Vucinic.

But the thing that really surprised me was the number of goals in Serie A. 3-2 to Roma, 4-2 to Inter, 4-3 to Lazio (I think), and later on, 4-2 to Juve against Milan. Some from the Juve game were great goals (Amauri's chest-down effort was impressive), but still.... it's a lot of goals. What's happened to the Seria A?

Friday, December 12, 2008


"That's how people talk in Italy, Jerry - they sing to each other."

- Kramer, Seinfield

Sometimes, I think Claire's right and I am letting the best bits of travel pass me by. 

I've been seeing some really great things in the past few days. I never thought I'd see Raphael's School of Athens, or the Sistine Chapel. I never thought I'd walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum. I never thought I'd ever see the Pope. These are all fine things, but then you're on a crowded bus and you're peeking over a girl's shoulder at the SMS she's writing, and you start to think that there's more to the city than what happened a thousand years ago. 

And if you pay it the attention it deserves, you do start to notice things. 

When you walk across the road, it's like an elaborate game of chicken. The cars don't stop for you; you've got to make that first step on your own. The cars don't slow down for you; you've got to keep walking at trust that they'll slow down and let you pass. But at least they don't honk at you if you're jaywalking, or straying too far from the kerb; it's all part of the give and take of life here. 

Pizzerias in Rome bake in metre-long slabs and prices are charged by the kilo. In Naples, pizzas are individualised and made with care; in Rome, they've become another victim in onslaught by industrialised fast food. They sell jumbo-sized salamis, as thick as a man's waist. And there's this obsession with Nutella - I came across a bar with its window space full of Nutella jars, and I had a Nutella gelati (which was delicious). 

They are so freaked out about internet security here that I have to login in my passport number everytime I use the internet. At other places, they restrict access to certain times of the day, or direct you to a local internet cafe. And yet, I beeped when I walked through a metal detector at the Campi Museum, and the guards waved me through. 

At the Santa Mara Maggiore Cathedral, they were having the evening mass in a chapel on the side. I sat in the main hall listening to the words, and like Kramer said, they really do sing to one another. There was one guy bending for confession - he had his luggage next to him and had obviously come straight from a trip - and I figured he must've had one juicy confession on his hands. And it's all in a building that's 500 years old and still a living part of that community. 

And we saw a mechanic washing down the walls of his garage with a hose, and leaving the car untouched. That was just strange. 

I'm thinking that if I had more time, I should camp in Rome or Naples for a while and really get to know it. I'm worried about being run over (the game of chicken always ends in tears) and I dread that slippery feeling of stepping in dog shit, but still, I like it here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Me and Il Papa

When I was seventeen
I drank some very good beer
I drank some very good beer 
I purchased with a fake I.D.
My name was Brian McGee
I stayed up listening to Queen
When I was seventeen.

- Homer Simpson, It Was A Very Good Beer

I saw the Pope today. 

It was an intimate affair - just me, the Pope, and five thousand screaming, singing, flag-waving Catholics. We were herded into a hall beside St Peter's, and sat patiently through Benny's message. I sat patiently, at least. The grandmas over to the side were whopping up some noise and the nuns up front showed us why they were sent to a nunnery all those years ago. 

It was like a religious experience. 

My first thought was that it must be extremely boring for the Pope. He sits through the same thing every week: the same groups, the same choruses, the same fanatical, spiritual fervour. My second thought was that it must be extremely humbling to be the receptacle of so many people's faith and devotion. My third thought was that I wish the Pope came with subtitles. 

And I had a Duff last night. A very good Duff. A surprisingly very good Duff that I bought with a foreign ID. It's brewed in Belgium and has distributories in Asia, Europe and Africa. And here's a photo:

Can't get enough of that wonderful Duff. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When in Rome...

The thing that I really like about Rome is the unexpected. The city's so crammed with history that Roman ruins and medieval churches are living cheek by jowl with Renaissance palaces and run of the mill apartment buildings. Buildings that would be considered historical landmarks in other cities are just the local bank or shop or church in Rome. 

It is the strangest thing. You can be walking along any innocuous street, and once you turn a corner, you can come across an amazingly old church that would be a historical landmark in any other city in the world. Or you look up from the dog poo covered road and you're standing right next to an apartment building that was built 100 years ago. Or you find out that the bench you've been sitting on was right in front of Trajan's column. 

We went to the Vatican today. 

St Peter's is as vast and as grand as you'd expect. Cathedrals are meant to inspire awe and fear of God, and St Peter's Basilica does the job nicely. I was so impressed by the altars and the statues and that vast, gilded roof that I was ready to fall on my knees and convert to Catholicism. Imagine what a 16th century Italian pilgrim from the back of beyond would have felt. 

The Raphael rooms are amazing. It really is a shock to be confronted by something like The School Of Athens and realise that you're actually seeing these things in real life. The first impulse is to take as many photos as you can. The second impulse is to stand and stare. I think I wasted about fifteen minutes in front of that thing, just trying to pick out all the people in the fresco. 

And the Sistine Chapel is what you expect - awe-inspiring. It tells the story of Man, from Creation to the Last Judgement. And it's such a grand thing to stand in a big crowd of people, all of us with our heads craned up, watching all of history unfold. I'm kind of pissed off that my camera died halfway through, but you know, at least I was there, and at least I've seen it. 

Oh, and gelati. Love gelati. It's so cold and so sweet that it makes me teeth hurt and my head ache, but it's worth it. I knew a girl at uni would existed on a pure ice-cream diet for a while, and I'm starting to think that she had the right idea. Love gelati. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A thousand words

"Roma, non basta una vita."

- just something I picked up off Lonely Planet

The Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, St Peter's.... I've been wanting to go to Rome since I was about ten, since I first became interested in Roman history. When you're interested in something, you always want to go to where it all started. It's natural, I suppose, and I've been thinking about Rome for a very long time. 

The strangest thing is that it's just as impressive as I've always imagined. 

I'm not really sure what to write. I'm sure it'll come to me in time, but for now, I guess a thousand words will have to do:

Monday, December 8, 2008

2-0 to the Napoli

The street leading up to the Stadio San Paolo was flanked by police cars and divvy vans. A couple of side streets were barricaded, and policemen where stationed at the intersections. A police helicoptor was doing lazy circles in the sky. 

And all this for a soccer game. It's a far cry from a game at the Emirates. 

Inside, the stadium was half-full, about 30,000, but it was so echoey that it seemed like the ground was packed. Fans were standing on the seats with no one telling them to sit down (imagine that!). Flags were waving, there were melodious chants (it sounds much better when you don't know what they're singing) and flares in the stairwells. 

It's a pity the game was pretty mediocre. Napoli play like the Arsenal on a bad day - a lot of over-elaborate passing that doesn't go anywhere, with a striker (Zayaleta) who prefers to miss sitters rather that score. They beat Siena 2-0, and should've won 4-0 or 5-0. Very much an Arsenal performance 

Actually, I'm pretty glad they only score twice. This crazy Italian guy would jump up and down and give me a bear-hug whenever Napoli scored. Kept trying to talk to me in Italian about the Napoli side. Friendly people, these Neapolitians. Or is that Napolese?

I don't know. 

Here's a picture of the biggest tub of Nutella I've ever seen. And no, it's not a perspective thing, it really is as big as that girl's head - 5 litres all up. Apparently, it's only found in Naples. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pete's getting married

"It's a nice day for a white wedding."

- Billy Idol, White Wedding

I'm not certain, but I'm fairly sure Pete and Felicia are married by now. 

I was told the date of the wedding was the 7th, but that's a Sunday, and most weddings are on a Saturday. It's academic, though. I'm a bit hazy about the time difference, but they're probably in the early hours of the 7th in Australia at the moment. So either way, I suppose it's appropriate to blog about it this afternoon. 

Pete and I have known each other since we were ten years old. We pretty much grew up together. It's strange to think how old we've become, and how seamlessly it happened. I can still remember those Sunday afternoons when we played cricket until it was too dark to see the ball, and then board games after dinner. It's making me a bit guilty because I really should be there, instead of here in Napoli. It seems a bit silly to be roaming around Europe when important things are happening back home. 

Makes you realise just how myopic and self-absorbed travelling really is. 

Speaking of which, I've just come off a pizza-crawl of Napoli - five pizzerias in two days - and I'm starting to feel the effects of it. My blood's half cheese at the moment. My hands get shaky around two o'clock if I don't have a slice in my hand. I keep seeing Margherita pizzas everywhere I go, and I get cold sweats at night and nightmares about being chasing by giant basil leaves. 

And the Arsenal beat Wigan 1-0, in a hideous display of football. Apparently. I was lining up for a Margherita at the time. A fifteen minute wait for the fourth best Margherita I've ever had (the dough was grand, but the cheese was a bit thin). Pity I missed the Arsenal win, but when you're chasing the red-yellow-green dragon, you lose sight of the things that matter.

We love the Arsenal, we do.

Friday, December 5, 2008


"Caecelius est in tablino."

- the first sentence from the Latin textbook I had in Year 7.

I remember we studied Latin for one semester in Year 7. It was held in the second storey of the MacDonald building, a converted Camberwell mansion in the middle of the school. The walls were covered with dingy laminated photos of Rome, forums, theatres and Pompeii. And we studied from a book about this guy from Pompeii called Caecilius.

Caecilius lived in the town of Pompeii, shortly before Mt Vesuvius erupted. The book pretty much went through the daily adventures of Caecilius, his wife Marcella, and his son Quintus. The first thing I ever learnt in Latin was that Caecilius est in tablino. Later, I learnt that when he was in the tablino, he would bibit. Much later, I learnt that he'd also go into the scriptorium to scribit.

It's scary to think that I remember that much from a book I last read about fifteen years ago. But as I said, I really liked Latin. All in all, the best language I've ever been exposed to. It's so logical, so precise, so simple and completely dead. It's probably the reason I was so interested in Roman history when I was younger. 

We went to Pompeii today, and I walked through the same streets that Caecilius did all those years ago. I wandered through the theatre where he would've seen the plays, went in the amphitheatre where he would've seen the gladiator fights, and even when the brothel where lovely ladies would *ahem* bibit a bit of ol' Caecilius. 

It's remarkably well preserved. Unlike most ancient ruins, you don't need an active imagination to see it laid out in front of you. Most of it is still there. You can still see graffiti scratched on the walls, and signs painted on the streets. It's possible the best thing I've seen during this trip. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Margherita Pizza

"When the moon hits your eye
Like a giant pizza pie
That's Amore..."

- Dean Martin, That's Amore

I had my first pizza pie in Napoli tonight. 

The place came recommended by the hostel, so we set off for the old town with the map and a vague sense of direction. Went down series of narrow alleys and crowded piazzas. Almost run over by a cacophony of scooters and cars hurtling down those one-way streets.  Past little of grannies taking their groceries home, and kids playing soccer in the squares. 

I had a Marghertia at the old town's local, a tiny corner restaurant that's buzzing with orders even after seventy-odd years. Almost weeped when I took my first bite out of that pizza. It's an amazing experience to eat the genuine article in the city where it all began. I almost felt ashamed of all those years spent ordering bastardised pizzas like Meat-lover's and Supreme pizzas. There is something magical about mozarella cheese, tomato paste and basil leaves. It's almost spiritual. 

Spent the rest of the night at a cafe overlooking one of those cramped little piazzas with a glass of red. Watched the locals gather in a corner of the square, and scooters buzzing through the alleys around us. Saw the moon and the stars peeking out through the clouds. And I thought to myself that there are much worse ways of spending the European winter. Freezing your arse off in Belgrade is one. Developing DVT on a long-haul bus is another. 

It's an amazing city, and I wish I had more time here. 

It's more ancient that Dubrovnik, and you can feel two millennia of human occupation when you walk through the streets. You see buildings built on top of massive vaulted archways, and churches tucked in amongst the towering apartment blocks. You see washing lines strung up high above you, and feel soiled socks tramped in the grime beneath your feet. And you can kind of understand how it must feel to live in a city where the history is so palpably a part of everyday life. 

Oh, and Arsenal lost 0-2 to Burnley in the Carling Cup. It's a pity, because I would've liked to have seen our kids win the damn thing for once, instead of just depantsing a couple of Premier League clubs in the early rounds. I mean, the performances of Wilshere, Ramsey, Vela and co. really should be acknowledged in some way. 

Then again, we did beat Chelsea 2-1 on the Sunday after a truly shocking first half. I only got to watch the first half (the bar owner was hooked on a Bundesleague match instead), but it was bad, bad, bad. Shock of my life ot find out a few hours later that we'd actually won that match. Maybe we'd used up all our luck in that game? 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On Leaving

"When you're telling people about Dubrovnik, are you going to say "oh, the old town was nice, and the city walls were nice", or are you going to tell them that you got drunk and went down to the beachfront at night and got soaked sitting on the rocks?"

- Claire, an Irish girl from last night

It's my last day in Dubrovnik tomorrow. Getting the overnight ferry to Bari tomorrow night. And tomorrow, it all pretty much changes. I'll be back in the Schengen zone, back in the West, I'll be heading back to London, where it all began.

Dubrovnik in winter is a bit temperamental, and I've been stuck in the middle of a bad patch today. It gave me some time to mull over a few things. Like the above quote. Like some of the people I met last night; professional travelers who work in a country, travel around it, and then move on. Like what I wanted to do in this trip, and what I've actually done.

When you listen to people tell their stories, you can feel it calling at you. There's that temptation to just let everything go, to just slip away and let the currents take you where it will. Some people have. And the freedom of it seems intoxicating. There is something exciting about being dumped in the middle of a city, with no idea where you're going to go. And it's amazing to be in a new place every week or so. If you can get over the homesickness, I'd imagine it's a pretty hard life to let go.

Claire was right on a few things. To travel, you've got to experience the culture. You've got to take these set of pretty buildings and nice scenery (is this a sic?) and make it your own. You've actually got to get off your arse, meet some locals instead of hanging out all the time in backpacker hostels, and establish a bit of rapport with the populace.

You've got to make an effort.

And to be honest, I really haven't made much of an effort since I've come to the East. I look back now, and there's nothing much that's really stuck. I've seen some nice places, and I've eaten some weird food. I've been to places I never knew existed, and I've had the most surreal experiences (like being yelled at by a crazy old guy in a Salibury supermarket - he thought I was a homosexual and coming onto him because I stood too close to him in the queue).

But to make your experiences stick, you've got to do something extra. You've got to creep to the end of your comfort zone and jump over that boundary every so often. Travel's to do with expanding your horizons, and I admit that I've been cosy in my comfort zone since about Berlin.

Probably missed out on a lot of things.

And that night on the beach really was exceptional. Secluded rocky cove. Whipping winds. Black sky, black rocks, black sea. Big, crashing waves. In the day, the Adriatic seems beautiful. In the night, it's threatening and powerful and menacing. It's a buzz to feel the power behind each wave. And it's exhilarating to get drenched by a particularly large wave.

Of course, in the cold (and rainy) light of day, we were probably looked like a bunch of drunken wankers. So maybe it's just a matter of perspective? Something to think about on the ferry, I suppose.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On Kotor

I spent about six hours on the bus yesterday to get to Kotor. It's a small town in Montenegro, and has an Old Town that rivals Dubrovnik is prettiness. There's a bunch of winding, cobble-stoned streets and tall, looming buildings. There's a castle that's built high on the hill and there's the most spectacular bay just across the harbour.

Still, I don't think it was worth the travel. Three hours to, three hours back, and about half an hour to potter around the town. It's nice and all, and it's cool to get another stamp in the passport, but there are only so many pretty little seaports you can see before it gets a bit samely.

Dubrovnik's nice. Took a walk along the city walls today, and it's quite a lovely view - just a bunch of orange terracotta tiles staring back at you. And the walls are built hard against the sea, and bits of the foundations are actually in the sea. Very dramatic stuff. Makes you wonder how the Serbs could've bombed something to pretty. And they're starting to set up for Christmas - there's a big tree in the town square.

Wish I knew where I'm going to spend Christmas. It's so far ahead, about four weeks away. And I'm a bit nerovus about it - got these visions of spending the night in deserted hostel, pulling a little bonbon by myself. Dreading the thought, really. Really need somewhere cheerful to go.

I've been thinking about Rome for the religious aspect. And Germany for the Christmas markets. And Seville or Barcalona, simply because they're probably a couple of the prettiest places in the world. But I don't know. I had a snowfall in Sarajevo, and I'm kind of wanting something similiar on Christmas Day. Never had a white Christmas.

If anyone's of a mind, you can vote on the right hand side.