Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Happenings

So... it has been a while, and I have an hour to kill before my train leaves, which leads to the conclusion that I will end up with a poorly edited and hoaribally spilled blog post. Or a really short one that is spelled correctly.


Too Cold for Ice?

In Salzburg, Austria, I decided to go see this great wonderful "largest accessible ice cave in the world" one day. I looked up which town it was in, got a train ticket, road that for an hour, hopped out into middle of nowheresville in the snow (both ground cover and air filling), followed some obscure signs and about one mile into the five-to-six mile walk, found a sign that said the ice cave is closed for the winter. October to April, closed. The Ice Cave. What the hell, Ice Cave People? Too cold for you to keep the thing open? :( So, walk a mile back to the train station (Pausing to discover that the only other thing in Werfen, a castle with an occasional falconry show, is also closed for the winter), get another ticket, and ride back to Salzburg. Later, disgustedly look up that ice cave in the Lonely Planet Western Europe book again, and discover that they had actually printed the months it was closed, so the whole excursion was due to my inability to read properly. Oh well, it was an experience.

Pardon me, can you break a $2000 bill?

Upon arrival in Prague, I went to an ATM to get some local currency (as they do not take Euros). Figuring petty cash for food and such for a four night stay, and doing the conversion into Czech Crowns, I selected the option for 2000 crowns. The machine gave me a single 2000 crown note. Now, really, that is not a great deal of money (around $100 I think), but it is still enough to cause most cafes or retailers to choke and say "we cannot break this", kinda like that freakin' Swiss ATM that gave me a single huge Swiss Franc note (500 I think? Been a while, memory is unclear) and caused a Starbucks barista to soil herself. Whatever happened to ATMs spitting out yuppie food stamps like good little machines? When your bank is dinging you $5 per transaction regardless of volume, you kinda want to avoid doing multiple little transactions just to get usable bills.

"Sign so I can buy drugs?"

Actually they ask if you will "sign against drugs." And they specifically target foreigners, often near train stations or touristy areas. I am speaking, of course, of what seems to be a profitable scam running all around Italy.

Drugs are bad, right? Of course you'd sign something that is against drugs! I was instantly reminded, however, of some show that was out to prove how stupid the average American is by setting up elaborate tables with little flags and clipboards and asking people to sign against women's suffrage. Suffering is bad, right? Of course you'd sign against women suffering! At least, if you had a poor vocabulary, you might.

The fourth man to ask me to do this was actually clever enough to try to strike up a conversation about something else first, so I would not just say 'no' as I kept walking. So I looked at his little piece of paper. Up until this point, I actually was not 100% certain that it was a scam, but his table full of papers and clipboards was not very convincing of legitimacy. Should you wish to make money hand over fist, simply go to Italy, print out a piece of paper with 3 color pictures of a large house on it, and many lines for people to sign. Title your columns with Name, Country, Profession, and of course, Donation. Tell people you are running a rehab house for people who got diseases from using drugs. If his paper was any indication, he had already sucked in a couple hundred euros that day... of course, he could have just signed a bunch of fake names (kinda like I did.. Bob Henry, Canadian Traveller, $0 donation because Bob is a broke traveller!) and written in the 20 to 40 euro donation amounts so that people who did get sucked in would feel obliged to chip in similar amounts rather than just 5 euro or so.

There is probably a 0.05% chance that this guy was actually legit. If so, guy, I'm sorry for dissing you here =p. But when the same thing happens in 3 different cities all with the asked phrase "Do you speak English? Would you sign against drugs?" it doesn't really match up with your single rehab house idea.

Das Dae'Mar

The Great Game. The Game of Foraging for Pizza. While I was in Lucca, this was my most common method of eating. The rules are as follows:
  1. Walk around until you either find the perfect pizza-by-the-slice place, or are too hungry to care anymore.
  2. Enter, and through a combination of pointing and gestures, indication how many slices of which pizza you would like, for take-away. Only get one slice.
  3. Continue walking as you eat. It helps if you are walking down a dark street if you are eating a type of pizza you have never eaten before, as some things that look horrifying in the light are actually tasty, so when you cannot see what you are eating you may enjoy it more. (Artichoke hearts, anyone?). Your goal here is to find another pizza place around the time you finish your first slice.
  4. Keep in mind that you should not eat from the same pizza place twice, even across multiple days. You are not likely to run out of options.
  5. Repeat from step 1 until you are done eating. This typically takes 2-3 slices. Slices are big, here.

Sometimes you run across pizza surprises. For example, my first day in Rome I walked into a random pizza place and saw what looked like a ham and pineapple pizza. Yay! I had not yet encountered pineapple on any pizza in this country, and was drooling at the thought of the typical high quality pizza combined with my favorite pizza topping in all the world. Excitedly, I fumbled for cash, yanked my pizza out of the proprietor's hand, growling like an angry bear and huddling it to my coat as I darted out into the street to consume it while walking. Biting into that sweet, succulent... wait.. what the HELL? That was not pineapple! It had the yellow color, and the size and shape of pineapple chunks, but... well, near as I can tell, it was some close relation to a potato or a squash. Whatever it was, it has NO business being on a pizza. Still edible, but not as good as the hype.

By the time I get home, I may never be able to eat pizza again. Two reasons: one, the pizza here is very good, which will make the pizza back home pale in comparison. Two, just count how many times the word 'pizza' has appeared in this post. That is probably a lot fewer times than I have actually eaten pizza in the last two weeks. I believe the technical term is 'overdose.'

Some other random fun things that have happened in the last month or so:

  • Arrived in Bern, Switzerland just in time to see all these marching bands going around the olde towne in crazy costumes playing bombastic music. Apparently, it is the inauguration of their festival which takes place in February. What happens between November 11 and February regarding the festival? Nothing, according to the person I was asking. Go figure! Still, the bands were neat. I got a short recording of some of the music, too.
  • For 2 euros, got a place in the "stands" for a performance at an opera in Vienna. The stands being the back of the very top balcony, aka the nosebleeds, but it was still neat. The opera in question was Romeo et Juliette, a French musical version of Shakespeare, and there were little LCD screens on the roof that translated the lyrics into English and German (And French too, I think, though mostly everyone there spoke English or German so few if any screens were set to French for very long)
  • Saw the Red Bull Hangar 7 at the Salzburg airport. Cool, but not as cool as I had hoped after spending 2 hours finding the place on foot...
  • Encountered a zombie hobo in Rome. Shuffling down an old style cobblestone alley, feet twisted inwards as if from broken bones, hands stretched out towards the nearest warm body (me), moaning something incomprehensible or Italian (likely both), face invisible beneath a low hat and layers of grime... I escaped with my brain still inside my skull, though.
  • Free salt at the bar? This hostel gives stacks of free pizza slices away every night at their bar. I think the components, in order of volume, are crust, tomato sauce, salt, cheese... must help their drink sales for those who drink more than tap water =P
  • Ruined Ruins. In the park at the Schonbrunn palace grounds in Vienna, there are some Roman ruins. Not that the Romans ever built anything there, but at some point in the 1800s it was fashinable to have ruins, so the rulers commissioned an architect to build some Roman Ruins on their grounds. The best part is that these fabricated ruins later fell into disrepair, and in the not too distant past (see how vagueness covers up the fact that I don't know the details? woo!) they had to be restored to a proper ruined state. Regardless, they looked really cool. After all, who would fabricate crappy ruins?
  • Angry Violin Lady. On the main pedestrian route in Lucca, there was a lady playing the violin for the coins people would toss into her case. I walked by her a few times that night, and at one point the music had a decidedly unpleasant twang. I can only assume that she was punishing the passers-by for not giving enough money. Later it was pleasant once more.
  • Dachau. After visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, one of my roommates at the hostel asked if it was enjoyable. No, it is not. But it is an effective monument.
  • Sistine Chapel, next 4 miles. Pretty much right from the first steps inside the Vatican Museum they have signs and arrows in four or five languages pointing the direction to the Sistine Chapel, given that it is probably the most famous thing there. However, they have been clever enough to make those arrows point down an incredibly winding route that takes you through almost the entire museum first (I wasn't following the arrows until I finished seeing everything else I wanted to see, but it was still a long slog even then!). After all the build-up, the actual chapel was kind of a let down :p

Ok.. train leaves in 25 minutes, so I must depart. Without proofreading. Sorry for all the typos and grammatical errors in the above.