Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My Trip to France and Italy

A few "highlights" from my trip to France and Italy:

LYON The main purpose of the trip was to go to my brother's wedding, which was held outside Lyon on May 21. Lyon is the second-largest metro area in France and some sort of gastronomical capital. Sadly, I can't comment on this since we only saw the airport. The wedding site was WAY outside Lyon in a tiny village called Saint-Romain.

The countryside in that part of France is redolent of upstate New York, and the air is redolent of cow feces. The local highlights include a paper mill (it's a really old paper mill) and the Chaise-Dieu cathedral, which loosely translates to "God's ass."

Max's wedding was great, despite a downpour during the reception (bad omen?). And as is always true of French weddings, the party went late into the night. (The French have a saying: "Bitches ain't leaving til 6 in the morning." No wait, Snoop Dogg has that saying — my bad.)

The DJ tried to cater to the foreigners in the crowd by playing "American music," which apparently meant "obscure Kool and the Gang." This was unfortunate, since most of the Americans present had never heard these songs. But it was all good.

MILAN The next day Kelly and I hopped on a train for Milan. It was weird going from France to Italy. When we first got onto the train, the car was positively sepulchral, dead silent. We felt the need to whisper. As more Italians got on the train, it got louder and louder and louder. I thought Americans were supposed to be the loud ones. These people were YELLING into their phones. And hello, what's with the hand gestures during phone conservations? (THEY CAN'T SEE YOU!) But I digress.

We really liked Milan. It reminded me a lot of Paris. The Milan train station, commissioned by Mussolini, is AWESOME. I linked to a picture, but it doesn't really do it justice. You have to go inside and experience the cathedral ceilings and the classical-style friezes — it has kind of a menacing art deco vibe. Really cool.

We also checked out the duomo, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe. The cool part is, they let you run around on the roof. It was raining when we went, so this seemed especially unsafe.

La Scala (the most famous opera house in the world) was not holding performances while we were there, but they did let us go inside and look around. The building itself is not very striking — on par with our own War Memorial, I would say. But they do have one of the coolest collections of busts I've ever seen (including a terrifying one of Toscanini).

We ate really well in Milan. The first night we got there too late to eat at a real restaurante, but the hotel directed us to this pizzeria that was great. Some of the best pizza I've had in a long time (though maybe not a whole lot more authentic than what you'd get in North Beach).

The second night we went to a place for some real Lombard food. This was great too, though there was an incident with one dish. I believed it to be a salad, and was eating it eagerly since I hadn't been getting many "greens" since arriving in Italy. Turns out it was strips of belly fat marinated in vinegar. Ooops. (I also had a problem later when I ordered a teabag — what, what, who said that?)

ROME Whereas Milan was cool and rainy, Rome was hot and sunny (just like you'd expect). In fact, Rome seemed determined to reinforce every preconceived notion I had of the place. For instance, when we got to our hotel, the manager told us they had lost our reservation. Then he told us they had an expression in Rome but seemed to have trouble translating it...from what I could tell, it meant "shit happens."

The good thing was, they put us up in another hotel that was actually nicer. And it was pretty close to the subway, which we mastered pretty quickly (not hard since there are only two lines). The subway was totally jammed with sweaty people...I got so used to saying "scusi" that I continued to say it a week after I got back to America.

The subway also only runs until 11:30 p.m. — and in practice, it stops earlier than that. This resulted in a couple marathon treks back to our hotel (and a bus ride from hell). Kelly also practically assaulted a flower vendor in an effort to get exact change for the subway, but she wasn't in a "good place" just then.

Rome was packed with Americans, which was kind of annoying. But it did make it easy to sneak into English guided tours without paying for them. Did you know that the contests at the Coliseum included a fight between two gladiators and a hippopotamus? (They didn't say who won.)

VATICAN Apparently the pope makes one weekly address, at 10:30 on Wednesday mornings, and we just happened to show up at St. Peter's Square at this precise moment. But we had no idea what was going on at first — the place was overrun and we had to squeeze through metal detectors. We made it out into the square and realized the pope was blessing us...or something (couldn't really follow what he was saying).

We finally made it over to the Sistine Chapel, which was OK. Not sure it was worth waiting in line, but I guess everyone has to see it sometime.

GELATO This was the real highlight. I think we had gelato approximately every 6.2 hours. It was always good, but I'd say the best we had was in Rome near the Trevi Fountain. Definitely beats a belly-fat salad!