Friday, July 30, 2010

hindsite is 20 to life

So, once upon a time, I was a girl who was looking for a job.

I had been living in Chicago for almost two years and had had the same job for most of that time (although it had gone from just part time to full time to my own office to having my own office being "too far" from my boss and having it taken away to basically spending every day trying not to scream and punch kittens in frustration).

So it was finally time to look for a new job. Having no idea what I wanted to do with my life (except knowing that I didn't want to work at my current job) I started applying for anything that sounded admin-y or artsy or that it wouldn't include taking off all my clothes.

One of the very first resumes I sent out, I got an e-mail back about, almost right a way. I was astounded by my good luck, I went to the first interview and listened to the girl who I would be replacing talk about what sounded like an ideal job, full time, benefits, some flexibility, a decent salary (she didn't give me a number but said it would keep me comfortable). I describe all the adventures I had undergone with my bosses and she was impressed (as would you, buy me a beer and ask me about my first real job in Chicago - it is the stuff terrible rom coms are made of).

So after the first interview, came a second interview with the guy I would be personal assisting for... he came off kind of strong but not like a bad guy. He was very interested in telling me about all the traveling I would do, and the perks of the gig and then he named the price.

Without giving specifics - it was a BIG price tag he was willing to pay to have me run errands and answer phones for him, with the added perks of a computer, car allowance and blackberry (back when I was 22, a blackberry sounded super sexy and cool).

We had another meeting and a couple of phone calls and it got to the point where the job was mine and I had a few reservations and finally, at the last second, backed out. I was afraid that a job where I was jetting off all the time would put a serious cramp in my improv jam.

Anyway, I ended up with my Museum job, and then my current job and my life is pretty good, but while talking to my current boss I thought of this job that I never took and how different my life would have been if I had been making at least twice what I'm making now.

So I went online to look up the company that I would have worked for to see where they were located and what their deal is, and their website was gone. Which was weird. So then I did a google search and what did I find?

The guy I would have been working for was charged with $3.7 million bank fraud scheme this past May. He's been doing shady business since 2007 (which means he was bad news before I would have started working for him) and is looking at 30 years or a cool $3-mil owed to the bank.

So - it goes to show a couple things. 1 - If you have a funny feeling about something...just go with it. 2 - Money doesn't buy you not having a boss who goes to jail. 3 - being the personal assistant of someone who gets charged in a crime like this probably doesn't make your life very easy.

Anyway - I love my job and I'm happy with everything about it but if someone would like to give me a lot of money, but not send me or anyone I know, to jail...that'd be awesome.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The case for "line dances"

I am going to a wedding this weekend for some good friends of mine (the bride actually, in a round-a-bout way could be blamed for me and the Boyfriend bothering each other with love all the time). I was told today that there is a No Line Dances rule in affect for the event and I have to say, I'm kind of disappointed.

After voicing my sadness to the Boyfriend, he said he was relieved, because (according to him) line dancing blows.

So then I took the debate to facebook. And my friends are very opinionated and very split on this particular topic.

So here is why I think line dances are acceptable at weddings.

First of all lets clarify a few things: when I say "line dancing" I mean: cupid shuffle, electric slide, that other one that is kind of like cupid shuffle but more complicated and if you're feeling really classy - the booty call. That's IT. No hokey-pokey, no macarena and NO chicken dance. Come on people, lets get serious.

If you have a group of people who come in a variety of ages, sizes, and coordination - a line dance can really get the party started. There are some people who need a little extra push to get on the dance floor.

Imagine that all the "first" dances are done and you've played some wedding standards (I'm looking at you Whitney "Saving All My Love For You" Houston, and people are a little tipsy and its time to get the party started.

If you put on some Luda or Chris Brown and then just demand that Grandma get up and dance. She will bashfully shake her head and clutch the table cloth for dear life.

If you put on a Boyz II Men or U2 slow jam, those singles hanging around playing 7th wheel at their table are just going to drink straight vodka until they vomit miserableness and scallops wrapped in bacon.

If you put on Journey or Eddie Money people will sing, but they're not drunk enough to jump up and down like college kids at a Sig Ep "anything but clothes" party.

So what do you play to get everyone on the dance floor??

Okay - the obvious answer is "Brick House."

That'll get you at about 70% but then WHAT? You'll lose them with the next one if you're not careful.

This is when Cupid Shuffle comes in handy. Because the instructions are IN. THE. SONG. No one has to work too hard or feel like a giant flaming turd pile. Plus there are no partner bits - you don't have to worry about being the ONLY one without someone to dance with. AND its got enough groove to get you feeling good, but not so much that you need a shot of jager to make it happen.

So then, everyone is up (and by everyone, I mean the wedding guests that don't suck) and you can do what you like. Play some Jay-Z, and then followed by a little Mraz if you're feeling frisky. Later, when everyone is starting to fade - you play the electric slide. To get everyone back up because they all know it.

FACT. In 8th grade, in preparation for life (and the 8th grade formal) we spent an entire period learning the chicken dance, the electric slide and something else (it may have had something to do with "Achey-Breaky Heart", which there is no excuse for, but we lived in the country...and that's my excuse). Allow that to sink in...the administration (at my National Blue Ribbon middle school) thought that it was worthwhile to take time away from learning Math and Science ed? to learn exactly how to do the electric slide. It is a valuable tool for a productive life.

And I get it, people don't like line dances because they're dumb. Which is valid. But my Aunt L. who is super buttoned up for the most point, will at weddings, get real liquored up and ONLY dance to the electric slide (well, and Brick House - but duh). And it is. AWESOME. She will probably never dance to Single Ladies (and nor should she, being married and all) but its okay because the electric slide is worth the decade or so wait.

So of course they're dumb, we can agree on that, but everyone can get down - and shouldn't that overrule having an undumb wedding? Having fun?

And this is an excellent segue into my disdain for weddings that are "too cool for school," but we'll save that for another day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Au Revoir Paris (and Europe)

Guys! This is my last Europe post! You can get back to hearing about my boring normal life. Woot. Woot.

Also - I am starting to forget things now (like when we went to that crazy big flea market north of the city - and if we went to lunch at the Tuileries before or after the Eiffel tower) so its good I'm almost done.

So, on our last real day in Paris - we had to do everything we hadn't done yet. Which would have been fairly obtainable except all of a sudden J. gave us a list of all these things we should do and there was no way we were going to get to all of it. So we figured we would do what we could and hope for a magical 30 or 40 hour day.

We started at the catacombs. I explained to Bear what they were and she was like, "um, okay?"

So we walk and walk and walk and continue walking under ground for what feels like forever and we keep wondering if we have missed the bones and we keep walking and finally Bear is like, "where are the effin' bones?"
Oh. There they are.

So. Many. Bones. It was unbelievable.
Finally Bear was like, Um...okay - I'm done. And it was pretty crazy how far the bones went. But finally we climbed up the longest spiral staircase ever (Seriously, what is wrong with Europeans why must things be on such different levels?).

After the catacombs we velibed our way over to the Tuileries for lunch. We discovered the glaring flaw in the velib system, when it took us 4 or 5 bike racks to find a bike near the catacombs and then 4 or 5 bike racks to find a place to put them near the Tuileries. Other than that, no complaints.

After lunch we decided that after spending some qt in Monet's hood we should probably see some of his paintings. Except there was a LINE for Orangerie and we discovered it was going to be 9 euro each (or so we thought) - and we were very rapidly running out of money, due to all the buying of the stuff. So we skipped Orangerie because Bear wanted to spend her money on the Eiffel tower instead and I didn't want to deny her a tall building opportunity. So we velibed over to the tower and waited in line for that instead.

I got a lot of pictures of Paris from the top of it, which are way less interesting than I always think they'll be.
Really, my favorite part was the actual building itself. I don't know when I became such an architecture nerd, but I had so much fun learning about Gustave Eiffel and all the neat stuff he did. Even though, due to my current city I have to say I hate the Eiffel tower, secretly, I love it.

After the Eiffel Tower and some fun getting lost - we headed to the Centre Pompidou for some art (Finally! Seriously, we did not see very much art while we were in Europe, I have a certain God-mother who is probably livid at this confession, but probably not too surprised). The Pompidou is awesome and full of amazing things. My favorite (that we saw) was the Dreamlands Exhibition which I'm sure is a traveling piece. So very cool. There are a ton of other great things going on, but that was my favorite.

My other favorite? Bear got in free for being under 18. Apparently Europe thinks that cultural learning is so important for the youth that they let them do it for free. This helped incredibly when it came to funds.

(this is not actually art, its the shadows cast by art, which I thought was infinitely cooler).

Then it was off to the crepe place which was open! And we juuuust managed to have enough funds to cover it and leave a tip for the nice waitress who explained nox to me. I could not remember that one. We had a breakfast-y crepe and then a one with salted caramel. I think we were so hungry that we didn't enjoy it as much as we should have. But it was incredibly delicious.

Then it was home to bed to get up way to early for our plane home. J. warned us that there was a transit strike already planned for that day, but that it wouldn't probably affect us. How kind of the transit workers to let us know they're planning on effing up our travel plans.

We got on the Metro and got off at the stop we were told to get off at, transferred to where the train to the airport was supposed to be. After a few minutes of there not being anyone around and no trains on the schedule, I began to panic.

Finally a woman in an orange vest came up to me and asked me a question. It took three or four times of her saying it for me to get it. Then I took a minute and crafted my question back to her. Then she talked and then I did and then her. And it was ALL in French. I had a full conversation in French about TRANSPORTATION. Not going to the biblioteque or what I was wearing or anything else I learned in Madam Bensing's class. I was very stressed, but so pleased with myself.

Anyway, we got on the train, and then got to the airport, spent our last 5 euro on some Bueno bars and an Orangina and then got on the plane.

We were sitting on the plane for about 10 minutes before I realized we hadn't started going anywhere. I asked the flight attendant what was happening. I didn't understand her french so she tried it in English,

"the French workers, they don't want to work today."

Despite my frustration this made me laugh. Ahh, well, when I don't want to work - I normally just suck it up and do it, but not the french.

We sit on the plane for another 40 minutes or so and I start to panic about the fact that I only have about an hour and 40 minutes to go through customs and catch my next flight and Dulles isn't known for being connection friendly.

Luckily, I have eight hours to worry about it. And so I do. I also eat the food and get a little tipsy (if you are going to offer it, I am going to drink it).

Once we start our descent, I tell Bear that she can either make a run for it with me, or she can take her time and go through customs alone. I think she was done keeping up with me - and so let me race ahead. I got to customs and waited in line for what seemed like ever. My exhaustion from not sleeping for 10 or 12 hours is catching up with me. Finally it was my turn to be questioned.

Customs and Immigration Guy: So where do you live?
Me: Chicago
CaIG: So what do you do there?
Me: I run a circus.


CaIG: Seriously?

at this point I realize I have made a grave error. I could have simply said I work for a not-for-profit, or youth development organization. I could have even just said that I work in the arts but no, I went whole hog and now I am getting Doubting Donny and the precious seconds to catch my next flight are slipping away.

Me: Yeah.

He ponders this as I look impatiently at where I need to go.

CaIG: Okay.

And those are three minutes of my life I'll never get back. Rookie mistake on my part.

So I rush and run and finally I get to my gate and Of.Course. my flight to Chicago is delayed two hours. Sigh.

In all the excitement I also realized that my phone had turned on and then died in Europe so I was without a cellphone in 2010. This was almost more than I could handle. It required me buying peanut M&M's, so that I would get quarters so that I could use a Pay Phone to call Boyfriend and my Dad (my Dad to tell him that since my phone was on in Europe I might have a $700 phone bill) and then just wait and FINALLY. I got back to Chicago. I was greeted with a sign with my name on it and a hug and kiss.

And that was my trip to Europe. The End. Regularly scheduled nonsense to come back the next time I post.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 11 - So. Much. Paris. and Day 12 - So. Much. Giverny

Monday was a race to see as much as humanly possible. Naturally this was impossible but we crossed off a number of things on our to-do list.

Champs Elysees

The Louis Vuitton flagship store, which was really just depressing. So beautiful and overpriced. Also, the sales people were so needy...or they thought we were going to steal stuff

Gare Du Nord - where we had to wait patiently for a ticket seller who spoke English. I tried out some French on her and she was amused by my attempts but answered everything in English.

Sacre Couer. Take the tram! Do not take the stairs! It is not worth it. Walk to the tram and take it. Believe me. Oh man, the Europeans love stairs. What a bunch of sadists.

McDonalds! Mmmm, McDonalds lunch.

McDonald's also had the most accessible free wireless of the whole trip. Apparently all the parks in Paris have free wi-fi, but you have to register and it wouldn't let me from the ipod touch. Also I managed to communicate with the non-English speaking cashier and explain that we wanted a 1664, not a six piece chicken nuggets. Progress!

Moulin Rouge - waste of time

Pere Lachaise - Fun gravestones. My most favorite was Oscar Wilde

The idea of desecrating a gravestone with lipstick is not something that ever crossed my mind as an acceptable idea, but its pretty wonderful. Also, Victor Noir. No one ever told me the story of this guy. But we went to check it out and sure enough:

The women of the world are nuts.

After Pere Lachaise we hauled to the crepe place that J. said we had to go to. Naturally it was closed and no matter how many times I said "ferme?" they said "um, yes?" In despair went back to J.'s apartment. We were exhausted but he convinced us to meet him out and enjoy fete de la musique. We listened to lots of bands and had a weak street mojito before finding a delicious Pakistani restaurant with an excellent band playing a bunch of instruments I had never seen before.

Then we came across this drum corps that took up the street of an entire block. They were so amazing. Pictures and videos don't really do it justice but I tried.

That was enough to send us almost right home...with just enough time for a night cap.

On Tuesday we woke up bright and early to use our very last Eurail trip out to Giverny. The train trip itself was fine, except no one stamped our little vouchers which made me mad. If I had known it was going to go down like that I would have planned another trip for us, but c'est la vie.

Once we got off the train we got ready to get on the bus. This was a disaster. You would think the people of Giverny would be better prepared for the influx of people who come ONLY to see Monet's hood and so have enough buses to not have a stampede, but no dice.

Finally we get to where Monet lived and it is adorable and wonderful. We wander around for a bit and then realize that if we actually want to see Monet's house we have to get in this long line of people and pay for it. Sigh. Fair enough.

Since we paid the "young persons" rate it was totally worth it. Monet had quite the house/garden/bridge under the highway to a pond.

I was devastated that you couldn't take pictures inside Monet's house, because it was gorgeous. Especially the kitchen

Thank you Ariane for this gorgeous picture. It was the perfect kitchen and it was connected to a bright yellow dining room. It made me rethink having a yellow dining room was a bad thing.

After we had had quite enough garden and house we went to find a meal that would not cost all our money. Impossible, so we settled for some of our money for a sandwich and the most perfect cup of cider.

We wandered around until the heat made us feel kind of dizzy and then we headed back to the train where once again our vouchers weren't stamped. I was kind of mad, I spent an absurd amount of money on those suckers and the fact that I feel like I didn't use them all the way was frustrating.

After we got back we had dinner, just Bear and I, and I managed to get all the way through that without embarrassing myself too badly. Some of the French people I encountered were so nice and patient as I slogged through my brain to rediscover the french I learned over 10 years ago. It kept me going. Had everyone has been as rude as the women on the first day - I probably would have just never opened my mouth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Night of Day 9 - and day 10. Train people and Paris.

So as I mentioned - one of the major flaws of Milan was when we got there they told us that our sleeper car was not female only as we thought we had been promised. So I spent a lot of the panicking about what sort of whackado Europeans we would be spending ten hours with. That paired with the fact that when we were in the Police station (confirming that we were not going to get deported because we didn't have Italian stamps in our passports - which we didn't) - we saw a woman who was really, really upset and had no things, so we are assuming had all her things stolen, which was super scary.

Naturally the first thing that happened was we realized that our car was Alllll the way at the end of the very, very long train - I had read multiple times that occasionally trains leave the station very quickly so I insisted we RUN to our car with our 50 lb. bags. Bear was not amused.

Anyway, we get to our car - here were our train roomies:

1- A bitchy french woman (is there any other kind?) - she doesn't understand that she is on the bottom bunk, and then insists its broken and tells the conductor she wants a switch - naturally he fixes it in about 30 seconds which I think pissed her off more. She ALSO had like an absurd amount of bags. WHY? Do you not understand how small the train car is? Where do you think that is going to go, because if you think it is invading my personal space you are SORELY mistaken.

2&3 - A pair of 50 or 60 year-old Italian men. They seemed to be backpackers of the real serious variety. They were far fitter than I could ever dream of being - their backpacks looked so light and sensible. I am sure that a peek inside would have proven that they did not bring a formal shirt, jic. Once they established that we didn't really speak Italian at all they took charge - they got our bunks all set up, put the dumb french lady's bags up and out of everyone's way. Even though one of them snored for most of the night - it was forgiven because they made us feel safe.

4- At the very last minute a gentleman walked into the cabin - he was probably in his late 30's and looked like your stereotypical french man. He was dressed in what looked like a fairly expensive three piece suit and white button up with what had to have been four-figure boots on his feet. He promptly took off his jacket and fell asleep. I was mesmerized by his clothing. How do you sleep in a suit that costs more than my rent? I don't think he said anything the whole trip.

Anyway - the train trip itself was pretty uneventful. I discovered that the rolling of the train does not put me to sleep so much as it keeps me awake. But it was a pleasant awake.

When we got into Paris - we arrived at the Bercy station. I wanted to see if we could get some information about going to Giverny so I walked up to a person sitting behind a desk that said information. In my exhaustion the first words that came out of my mouth were in English. You could see her immediately shut down and get bitchy. She shook her head in disinterest in what I was saying.

I sighed. Of Course everyone was right about the French. So I tried another line and this time attempted some weak French. This girl rolled her eyes and repeated what I had said in a disdainful way. I realized my error and tried to correct myself but the damage was done. She was never going to help me. So I gave up.

We got on the train and went directly to J's. J went to college with my Mom on her first go-round at university. He is tres American but has been living in Paris for a couple years and has had quite the adventure. I would tell you about it, but it would ruin the fantastic book he is going to write in a few years. He was a perfect tour guide and after a quick croissant breakfast he took us right out to experience the Bastille Market.

The Bastille Market is a HUGE farmer's market that has every food I could ever think of. I so desperately wanted to take pictures of all the fish and the piles of tomatoes and perfect pieces of cheese. But there was not that much elbow room to begin with, and the people at this market were not there for photo opps, they were there to buy groceries. So I kept my camera in my bag, mostly because I am afraid of the French.

After a quick coffee J. got us our first Velib. Velib is my most favorite part of Paris. So we tooled around and got a wonderful bike tour (Notre Dame, Louvre, fancy bridges) until we got to the Eiffel Tower and it started to rain.

Please note - this picture is in color - it was just that gray. This was one of the two days of bad weather we had and it was actually a nice respite from the 85 and Sunny of the rest of the trip.

Then there was lunch and then the Hunting Museum. The hunting museum (or Maison de la Chasse et de la Nature) is probably in my top 5 of best Museums ever. For a few reasons.
1- Its a huge old house from back in the day - and it still looks like a house for the most part.

2- the ceiling made of owls.

It was hard to take a picture of but - seriously the ceiling of this (rather small) room, was covered in owl pelts. Many of the other ceiling had antlers and such on them. These paired with the classy chandeliers was pretty much my dream decor.

3 - This guy.

Polar Bears are consistently on the short list for my favorite animal and to get to stand this close to a real (albeit dead) one, was pretty amazing. They are much taller than you think. For reference, I am 5'2.

And many more things (the videos that teach you how guns work, the boar in the hall and the deer in the salon, the pictures of puppies in the touring exhibit) - the bad news? The gift shop was terrible? It didn't even have any good postcards. Just books and books do not do the place justice. I left empty handed and disappointed - try harder Hunting Museum.

Then it was home for dinner (Bear's first duck! So delicious) and game planning for the first full day in Paris.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Venice, yay. Milan, boo. Day 8 and 9

Venice is a great city to spend exactly 2 days in. There is a lot of walking involved in Venice and so.many.stairs. I feel like no one bothered to warn me that anytime you go over a canal, you have to climb way more stairs than feels necessary. But its so small that you can get a solid feel for it in 2 days.

We woke up early and got poppin' on our to-do list that Luigi had so nicely mapped out for us. Most of the things we saw were just big religious buildings, which (again) doesn't really get me all jazzed. But I understood the beauty. I was shocked by the really poor condition of most of the buildings. Chipped paint, exposed cracked plaster - it was so upsetting, because it makes me want to buy one and spend my days fixing it up. But even in those crappy conditions, these buildings cost bajillions of dollars. Sigh.

One of our first adventures was to Piazza San Marco. Venice is a city that has completely dedicated itself to the tourist trade and so on most streets there are signs telling you exactly how to get to all the biggest tourist attractions. It is SO useful (also Venice is like a triwizard cup maze, without those signs people would probably just get lost forever). So we got to San Marco in record time and since we got there really early (like 8:30 AM) we were able to go right up to the top of the bell tower. Fun fact, all the roofs in Venice are red.

Piazza San Marco is pretty during the day, but you should really go at night to listen to all the bands play. And then it was on to more buildings - but mostly the Teatro La Fenice. Which is the main character in one of my favorite books. You should go in and just see the book store, its totally worth it and you can get an idea of how totally gorgeous the place is, post-fire. Or, you know, go see an Opera.

After all this outdoor walking it was time for some indoor time - at the Peggy Guggenheim, natch. Basically she collected art in her gorgeous house and when she died - they made the house an art museum, full of all her art. The best part is all of the pictures of the house when she was living in it with all of the art on the walls. That is exactly the kind of crazy old lady I want to be.

Also she is buried with all of her dogs (there are like 15 of them) and their names are on the gravestone. And apparently she had her own gondola and would just ride up and down the Grand Canal waving at people. Seriously?! Best old lady ever. And her front porch view is not to be effed with.

More walking, walking, walking. Discovering that you pay more for food if you eat it outside at the cafe (boo). Finding the best sheets in the world (they have baby tigers on them!), buying lots of presents for myself (and others), and finally going back to the same bar we ate dinner in the night before to watch more soccer and drink more Beer. I know this was poor form of us but we were exhausted and hungry and didn't want to walk in circles to find something that was in our price range, had the game on and was close to where we were staying. Plus it gave me chances to take pictures of the sunset.

And then we went right to bed to get up (way too early - again) for the train. Most of the getting up early had to do with getting out of Luigi's apartment. He was a very, very, very hospitable host, but also a total European bachelor (nothing creepy happened, but we could tell he wanted his space back).

We got to the train station with our bags that had gotten MUCH heavier in Venice. Oops. We were hoping that Milan would have a bag storage place at the train station much like Venice, Rome and other cities. We get on the train and realize we know nothing about Milan. No problem, won't the Dolce and the Gabana be right there like, waiting for us?

Of COURSE not.

We get to Milan and it is raining, there is no place to check our bags that we can find, and we find out, after a half-hour wait in a line, that we are NOT in a girls-only compartment for our overnight train to Paris. Milan already had its 3 strikes and yet we were stuck there for the next 16 hours.

We haul our duffle bags around the train station for awhile deciding to wait out the rain with some gelato. NO GELATO in the WHOLE train station. Here are some other things that there aren't: wireless internet (even that you pay for), free bathrooms, televisions. What a disaster, Milan.

What there IS, is a fantastic bag store. It is apparently only in Italy (not quite true - but its only in Europe) which gave Bear and me huge fashion boners. The bags are crazy affordable for how nice they are - so we got new purses, which was awesome because then we got to carry them around ALL DAY. (Such geniuses).

Most of our day in Milan was spent walking in concentric circles near the airport looking for something/anything to do, food that wasn't gross/crazy expensive and some Effin' internet. No dice on any of them really. In retrospect we should have gotten on the trolley/tram situation and just gone somewhere, but our bags were too heavy and it was too rainy and we were pretty grouchy. So instead we wandered around and were just mad at Milan, which was far better than being mad at each other in retrospect.

Eventually we went to a cafe to get our last prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich of the trip and OF COURSE it was terrible. They put lettuce on it? wtf? So disappointing. And of course we ordered a beer without choosing a size, so we got 50 cl. beers which was way more than we wanted. So bogus.

Eventually we just went back to the train station and called the day a wash. Bear and I obviously had not packed enough books and so traded which meant she got to read The Namesake (amazing) and I was stuck reading The Summer I Turned Pretty (horrible, so horrible Blogger won't let me tag it). Lose.

Anyway - finally our train got there and we could leave Milan behind.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Day 6 & 7 Rome to Venice.

So, the Venitian adventure started actually on our last day in Santa Severa. It was decided that Bear and I should stay at Eugenio's house the night before our train to ensure that we made it in time. This meant that finally we were going to be on our own. No more hand-holding or translating or standing silently while Dad does all the talking

This was something I was incredibly nervous about. For some reason I wasn't nervous about Venice or Milan, I was mostly terrified of the moment we got to the bus stop in Rome and our ride was not there to pick us up. Then what? No phone, no internet, heavy bags. And like most parts of the world, the bus stop in Rome is not in the best neighborhood. But I sucked it up and got on the bus with Bear, saying goodbye to the lovely beach with the piles of trash and dirty water. Buttmunch lost in an epic game of Egyptian Rat Screw which actually screwed me over, because it meant he wouldn't take all the clothes I had regretted bringing home with him. Instead I still had a 40 lb. duffle bag that I was regretting every minute. If I ever do something like this again (read - travel anywhere) its back packs all the way.

We get off the bus and stand in the designated meeting place. Our bus was running a little bit late which peaked my optimism into thinking that maybe whichever cousin was coming to meet us would already be there.

Nope. No cousins.

We do some laps around the "station" to see if we recognize anyone. Nope. No cousins.

I bite back my panic.

We make a plan that if no one is there in half an hour we look for a payphone. If that doesn't work, we go back to Santa Severa on the next bus and admit defeat. We're not proud (a trait comes from the other side of the family).

After about 20 minutes a cousin shows up!! We are not going to be kidnapped or robbed or anything. Miracles. Ricky was just running late, and had been given the wrong time anyway. Like I said - a very loose relationship with time.

Ricky takes us back to their house on the subway. The Roman Metro only has two lines. Apparently this is because anytime they try to make a new subway line they start digging and run into ruins. Like actual historically significant old things. So they gave up. Which I found hilarious.

After a delicious dinner and much translating by Ricky (the oldest of Eugenio's kids with the best English) we go to bed. I decide that insomnia and a massive panic attack are exactly what I need before a 6 hour train ride and brand new city. So I am very worse for the wear the next morning.

I wanted to give us at least an hour to negotiate the train station that wasn't in English. Ricky said we would need 20 minutes. I won, as I tend to do with things like this and we got to the train station WAY too early. Of course. But we got to people watch and panic about why our train was the only one without a track number before getting on the train.

I had never been on a train in Europe before. I guess I just thought that they'd be situated like American Amtrak trains with the rows of two seats. Naturally - this was incorrect (at least for 2nd class, who knows how the rich bitches seats look). The seats are 3 across and they're each in their own little compartment. And there is not a ton of space - particularly when the stereotypical Italian lady and her "Ma-Ma" get on with their 6 pieces of luggage.

Anyway - it was a long 6 hours. But it ended in Venice! Venice is kind of amazing, because you have to go over all this water to actually get there - and then you're in the train station and you've kind of forgotten about all the water (mostly because you're appalled that they're asking you to pay 80 euro-cents to use the bathroom) until you get outside and there is the Grand Canal. Amazing.

We had another fun/terrifying wait for someone to pick us up. This was way worse because all we knew was that his name was Luigi, he was 37, had brown hair, and was tall. As you may have guessed, this describes about 98% of men in Italy. So basically we just stood around saying "Luigi?" in an a-little-bit-louder-than-normal voice. Then half an hour or so later, we see a guy with a sign with our names. Of course!! Luigi works in the tourism industry (which is pretty much the only industry left besides trash collector and gondola driver) and so knew what he was doing.

Luigi believes that all American girls between the age of 17 and 30 only have one goal - to get drunk. This, naturally, was not really our scene and despite our insisting otherwise, he was sure we wanted to get wasted and come home at 4 AM. I am sure that after we were in bed by 11 every night he is just confused.

The first day we were pretty confused and exhausted but we went on an adventure to find gelato. Instead we found a prosciutto sandwich which was almost as good. Luigi gave us a map that only had about half the streets labeled on it which, if you know Venice, is almost more trouble than its worth.

I tried to calm my OCD and allow us to just get ourselves lost and it worked out okay. There was a lot of excess walking but it was fun. There was so much to see.

We didn't talk to that many people, but the ones we did encounter were all incredibly friendly and willing to work within the confines of our limited Italian. We explored until 8 when we watched our daily world cup game and each drank an Italian beer which was surprisingly delicious before heading back to Luigi's and going directly to bed, despite the fact that we were American girls.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Day 4 - 6: More Santa Severa and Universal Health care

The next three days were very low-key for me. Which was nice in preparation for the tourist-gasm that was about to go down a few days later. I spent the time sleeping, discovering that the castle was closed for repairs (lame), and working on my sweet tan.

The best part of the last three days was the meal we had up in the countryside of Santa Severa. It was about a 20 minute drive into the mountains from our beach house. We got to spend time with Lei Lei and Christine, his wife, who is the ONLY person (out of all 4 adults) who remembers me from when I came when I was four. She said I looked exactly the same, which I have no doubt, is totally true.

The restaurant we went to was basically in this huge enclosed porch off of an old house. It was the traditional Italian country dinner you've heard about. We started with three types of bruschetta and appetizers, then two or three different types of pasta, followed by Pork, Beef and Mutton. All probably killed within the week and served with greens and potatoes. Bear really liked the pork, and the mutton was over done and dry (although I think I was expecting lamb, so over done is probably normal) but the beef was perfect. It was just rare enough. It was amazing, and we just ate and ate and ate until I had literally made myself sick, but I so wanted to keep eating because I hardly ever get meals like this. It was perfect.

While we were living a life of hedonism, Buttmunch was also kind of dying.

Its a long story, but the moral of it was Buttmunch was on antibiotics when we got to Italy. The first day I notice a red rash developing on his arms, and back and legs and really everywhere. The rash got worse and worse and basically left the kid a pile of hot mess by the time we were in Rome.

He was a champion about it - dutifully walking around with us as the sun blazed overhead. But it got to a point where he was resembling a tomato more than a human and was too tired to be sarcastic.

So he and Dad hoofed it to the pharmacist where he was told that he was for sure having an allergic reaction to something (probably the antibiotics) and he needed an antihistamine and he should go have a chat with a Doctor.

The next day, Buttmunch, Dad and Lei Lei drove out to one of the two or three doctors within a 20 mile radius and just walked in, saw a doctor - found out what the dealio was (a reaction to the sun while on the antibiotic) and got the medicine he needed. Total cost - NOTHING. Not a dime. (Well, the drugs might have cost something, but the doctor's visit was on the house).

Can you imagine if someone from Italy walked into a clinic (any clinic) in the US (especially in a resort/beach/country area) and had a crazy rash? No matter what kind of explanatory paperwork they had - there would be a battery of tests, an epic wait and then a bill akin to dinner at Alinea.

So THEN, Buttmunch takes the antihistamines and feels moderately better, until he takes the antibiotics again and busts into a Oscar-worthy asthma attack. We no longer have access to a car (and so the clinic from the day before) so they hoof it back over to their new bff - the pharmacist - who tells Buttmunch to throw those antibiotics away - and gives him an alternative drug and an inhaler to deal with the whole not-breathing thing. Sure these cost some Euros - but here's what they didn't cost - a prescription, a doctor's visit, or a waste of everyones' time.

I was consistently amazed by how much treatment he got for so little. What a civilized society.

*** edited to add the part about our delicious meal, that I had forgotten all about in the discussion of health care***

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Day 3 - Roma

One of the things that remained completely unplanned during this trip was our schedule while we were in Italy. When I left, I dutifully typed out an itinerary of where I thought I would be day-to-day (as told to me by Dad) and then it promptly was untrue. Thankfully nothing bad happened as no one would have known where I was.

So after much changing of plans, on Sunday, we took a bus from Santa Severa into Rome. The bus is apparently for poor people and foreigners (of which we are sort of both) but was very comfortable and air-conditioned (sort of).

When we got to Rome we met Eugenio, my dad's other cousin. Eugenio (pronounced exactly like that because I don't know how its actually spelled) wears black Armani Jeans, drives a car with two sun roofs, and speaks a very little bit of English (but is excited to try).

He was about fifteen minutes late picking us up. This is also a common theme of Italy. Everyone takes their time, or forgets the time, or is meh about time. Trying to not panic about this was something I didn't really get better at all week.

Eugenio picked us up and took us right into the Vatican. Where he found parking thanks to a handicap hang tag he keeps around for situations just like these (being tourists at the Vatican on a Sunday - or I guess taking an elderly aunt to doctor's appointments...but mostly the first one).

I found the walls around Vatican City somewhat intimidating, but was excited to learn that the Pope used to walk along the top to get to Castle St. Angelo when things got rough at St. Peter's.

When we got to St. Peters we met up with some of our first-cousins-once-removed (Eugenio and Lei Lei's kids - who are Bear's age, and younger). They are all very nice, but all of them were over a decade younger than I am so we didn't have really anything in common, but it was interesting to see Rome from teenagers' perspectives.

We got to St. Peters right before noon which meant A- it was blazing hot, and B- we were told that if we waited a few minutes we might get to see the Pope. The Pope is a big enough celebrity that we were willing to wait a few minutes (once we found some shade) to sneak a peak.

According to my cousins (the younger ones) the Pope's Italian is terrible, and he has a very heavy German accent, making him almost impossible to understand. He also did a few verses in German and English which was interesting to listen to as we walked down to get in line to go into St. Peter's.

St. Peter's is a very large church. While I find churches somewhat interesting, they don't quite get me whipped up into the historical, theological, artistical frenzy of some others. The most interesting thing that happened at St. Peter's was that when they attempted to enforce the dress code (no tank tops) on my 18 year-old cousin she refused to put on a sweater or figure out a plan B. Instead she just sat outside and waited for us - her reasoning being, "if they're allowed to molest small children, I'm allowed to wear a tank top." I was impressed with her ballsy-ness. Especially since it seemed like no one else was remembering that the Vatican is embroiled in some pretty messy business right now.

I really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel because its one of those things I felt that I should see but we were on a pretty tight schedule, apparently - so this ceiling was going to have to do. I enjoy all the sky lights I discovered in European churches. I feel that sunlight is probably as close as you'll ever get to "God" so you should let it shine in from on high.

After St. Peter's there was a very fast trip past the Coliseum, and the University of Rome, Engineering Building before going back to Eugenio's house for lunch. We didn't actually go into the Coliseum because the family said it was a waste of time. It was one of those things where people in Rome have much different opinions on what you should and shouldn't see. As I am sure people in DC/New York/Chicago are opinionated on what are the most important landmarks. It just seems different because the Coliseum is so much older? I don't know.

Lunch was an amazing yet, so simple, affair. Pasta with tuna, basil and tomatoes were served first. We assumed that that was all we were getting because it covered a fair number of food groups so Bear and I had two helpings each (tuna in the Med. is so delicious, it has something to do with their water). But then there was a buffalo mozzarella ball the size of my whole head
This picture doesn't really do it justice, but it was huge and so delicious. And then after the big, milky pieces of cheese, there was prosciutto, and then cantaloupe to eat with the prosciutto. And by this point my stomach couldn't possibly take anymore. So we stopped for a while before having this amazing ice cream cake desert (the name of which totally escapes me, but it is loaf-of-bread shaped and it has like a hard chocolate top and vanilla-y ice cream and there are various flavors - tiramasu, neapolitan etc. Ugh...this is going to kill me- please leave a comment if you know the name of what I am talking about, it starts with an "S?").

After an enormous lunch there was more walking around the city with family. We saw all of the typical tourist landmarks which was satisfying, and I eavesdropped on my cousin and sister as they talked about the differences in teenage life in Italy versus America. Mostly I just looked. I really, really love European architecture, and this will become a serious obsession when we get to Venice. But there is something about the structure and colors of older buildings in Europe (or at least Paris and Italy) that I really love.

Eventually we headed back to the bus stop, where we discovered there was no where to buy bus tickets. And then we discovered that apparently no one buys tickets for the bus because they hardly ever check it. Naturally, my father insisted that on every other ride we buy a ticket - but for this one, we rode home like locals - for free.

**edited to correct some silly mistakes - 7/6/2010**

She's pint-sized and amazing.