It’s been weeks of heat .. almost Central American heat but in September and in a place that more resembles Southern Ontario climate wise. The kilometers we have covered are starting to take their toll on our footwear .. sandals that were brand new 3 weeks ago from the Timmins mall, are now looking like weather beaten slabs of plastic encrusted with mosaic stains of dog shit, gravel and the remains of dead insects.
Our legs experience a new kind of pain on a daily basis .. our feet, knees and every joint creak and groan after about the 4th kilometer of every day. I think we marched a good 9 kilometers yesterday alone on our visit to the ancient site where now resides the leftovers of Devin Castle. This was especially difficult because of the fact that the castle was completely in ruins, thanks to Napoleon, and therefore provided very little shade. Plenty of open ground and nowhere to hide from the relentless sun.. we haven’t seen rain for many days.
In an incredible reversal of life, the food here is slowly eating away at our health. Last night we were so bloated before bed, we were able to see ourselves 15 years in the future .. a future where we completely give up and let ourselves go. Cheese, gravy and bread with every meal .. waking up to a coffee and a full-on sandwich made always of some hard bun stuffed with meat, cheese and veg and coated with some thick sauce .. always. The dumplings dipped in brown salty gravy are making us crazy. They have the texture of soft rubber and absorb any liquid, water or oil based, with the efficiency of the Chamois. They are irresistible, and it’s almost impossible to leave any on the plate. Smearing sauces with bread has always grossed me out, but these past few weeks have made me a master… it’s like cleaning a babies bum.
But the greatest challenge has been the walkers, who seem to have grown in numbers and are becoming more and more aggressive. Large herds of 30-40 are now the regular thing and we are keeping a close watch trying to spot them at least a block away so we can change our route or face them head on.. prepared. Sylvie is on full time walker duty, which is taking away from site seeing and ice cream hunting. I thank her everyday for her hard work and dedication but really, I need to start doing more myself.
The audacity is what is most disturbing.. the longer the walkers stay in their herds, the more they adopt the mob mentality.. the more they feel like they are in a bubble.. unaware of anyone outside the herd.
We were caught by surprise yesterday as we were inspecting a very excellent looking large golden compass inlaid into the cobble stone sidewalk. It showed the directions, obviously, but also had different cities around the world dialed in around the circumference of the compass, showing distance to those cities .. in kilometers of course. We were trying to find a Canadian city, our attention clearly not where it should have been. In a moment of Aha! I spotted the upside down word of Toronto but before I could place myself to read it correctly, they were upon us. A vial group of about 25 walkers had engulfed us.. One brightly dressed, brochure holding biter came directly at me, and started walking all over the compass frantically searching for his city, trying to understand this strange pattern on the ground … directly in front of me .. as I was clearly looking down reading and inspecting. He completely blocked my view, invaded my personal space and had me actually take a few steps backwards in order to avoid being backed into as he discovered a familiar city. All proud of himself, he declared “Toronto!” .. he was Canadian .. how embarrassing. The rest of them plowed in the area pushing Sylvie and I aside like Costanza during a fire alarm. We were invisible .. we didn’t exist. They were loud, obnoxious, and very entitled to the entire sidewalk. We had been caught with our pants down .. we had strayed from the system that had been so effective for us and now we were suffering for it. It was a lesson learned, and tonight we will come up with new strategies to deal with the walkers.
The herds are a challenge for sure, but the smaller groups of 2-3 can also be very difficult do deal with.. they pose a different kind of threat. They can be very stealthy and they can remain a problem for longer periods of time than the herds, as the herds are always on the move.. always on to the next activity. The small groups aren’t locked into any particular itinerary though, and can remain in place for a long time, confused, lost and as always, unaware of their surroundings. My patience is running thin.
There are beautiful sites around every corner in these European cities and it’s been heaven learning how to take proper photos .. so many subjects to frame .. so many ways it can be done. But we are not alone in this, as there are many other enthusiasts roaming around with cameras and wanting to take those special shots. As a human being in training, I look around us and see these others and take note of what they are doing and where. We always try to avoid stepping into “the shot” as much as possible. But the walkers .. unforgiving .. oblivious .. completely lost .. Sylvie warns me as they approach ..
”You have about 5 seconds before they arrive Pol .. hurry!” .. 5, 4, 3, 2 … and it’s over .. stopped right in front of us, confused, usually looking at a map or a brochure .. usually slurping or chewing on some sweet sticky mess that lured them in 5 minutes ago .. and now, they are standing in front of our shot .. oh forgive me .. everyone’s shot. And then you wait .. and you watch them .. and I begin to hate .. to seethe .. and they argue with each other .. she digs in her purse for napkins .. he stretches out the map … I start thinking of rude things to say .. and they go on .. now the cellphone is out, and she is cleaning herself up in order to take the cellphone from him and show him how it’s done… and then 2-3 more walkers show up and … I pack it in and move away before I embarrass us. It hasn’t been easy .. Europe has been amazing and beautiful but … oh.. my .. gawd .. In all our travels, never have we had to share the space and deal with so many walking dead.
We started this journey at the beginning of September in Germany. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about .. I wanted to see where WW2 was centered on and I wanted to see German engineering first hand. What a place .. it runs like a finely tuned Ferrari .. errr Mercedes Benz. This place should be the poster child for how cities and countries should operate. No it’s not perfect, but I would have to say it’s leading the way there.. everything happens as it should .. people follow rules .. things are extremely organized .. places are clean .. freedoms are maintained .. and it’s beautiful.
We stayed in Berlin for a few days. Our first Airbnb experience was excellent .. we had a huge room in a neat apartment in a great neighbourhood devoid of walkers, with everything we needed close by. We spent some time visiting some WW2 sites and memorials and found it very interesting that in all the informational literature available to tourist that we read .. with all the videos, photos and other media available .. we saw the word “Hitler” only once .. and it was on 1 plaque of 25 in the Holocaust memorial museum .. I thought there would be loads of “Hitler” to see and read about .. not so .. it’s buried. Don’t get me wrong, the war and the atrocities are not buried .. very transparent and full of acknowledgment and accountability .. just that word “Hitler” seems to be neatly tucked away and hidden from view.
We went next to Hamburg to meet up with Lasse from Denmark and had a great time with him. He was our master of ceremonies during this part of the trip as he knew everything needed to navigate and have a good time in a European city. We did all the standard attractions in the old quarter and then ended up on Reeperbahn in the evening .. the red light party district. Lasse is a young man and had no trouble drinking beers after a long day of walking .. by 7-8 pm, like an old man, I am usually done and ready to bed. We got our buzz on though in a very cool Danish type underground bar.. I was looking for Strider sitting in a dark corner .. A short but good return to Lasse.
We headed west to Bremen next, an old style city with some awesome architecture and history. It was a quiet place with few walkers.. a different side of Germany. We came back to Berlin for a few days and visited the Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam. This was a summer palace of Frederick The Great. It must be nice to be so rich to own a huge property populated with 3 palaces and multiple other large buildings, structures, woods, ponds, creeks and fountains .. just as a summer retreat .. a national park.
We had a very nice break from the walkers when we took a solemn visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside of Berlin. Apparently, walkers aren’t interested in hard history .. and there is no food sold here either. Good, we’ve found a possible pattern to their migratory habits.. very useful knowledge. This was early September though, and there were many class trips of about grade 8 students coming here in their first week of class. The Germans are doing their best to keep the newer generations informed and aware .. The students seemed… disinterested.
A few general observations about Germany .. Slow traffic to the right and passing to the left .. on the escalator and on the autobahns .. without fault. You won’t find anyone standing to the left blocking others wanting to walk up.. people following rules that make sense. This same concept, which I have met people who deny back home, slow right, pass left, allows for very smooth and speed limitless autobahns. In fact, they went so far as to make a law forbidding motor vehicles to pass on the right. I was in awe watching from our bus cruising at 100km/h, Volkswagens and Mercedes zipping past us easily doing 160km/h … it’s not just a dream.. it’s happening over here and from what I have read, their accident rates are lower than most.
There are so many bicycles as well and they have bike lanes everywhere .. everywhere. You always had to be careful that you were walking where you are supposed to be and not in that bike lane. Organized. And the kids on their bikes .. hilarious and adorable.. Very young kids riding regular versions of adult bikes, but obviously smaller.. no pedals and no training wheels! The kids have to walk or run their bike forward and then glide like a scooter or skateboard. To me, a much better way to learn to ride a bike then the training wheels.
Germany was an amazing introduction to Europe for us.. We thought wow, if all of Europe is like this, we are in for a very smooth ride…
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia
We headed south east next to the Czech Republic and the city of Prague. This city boasts some of the best buildings, palaces and churches of the entire trip, although at this time of writing, we still haven’t made it to Italy. Prague was awesome .. but with this beauty and grandeur comes even more walkers. I had an especially hard time here .. It was worse than Disney Land mid summer on the weekend. They were very bold here as well. When sharing the narrow sidewalks, it seemed that Sylvie and I were the only ones moving out of the way when encountering others .. We’ve adopted a new technique of simply stopping and have them move out of the way, or bump into us .. oh, sorry, am I in your way? It just makes me feel better..
Slovakia came next for a few days.. and by now Sylvie and I were realizing that our Europe trip was becoming a tour of the capitals. We weren’t planning any country side excursions, or any treks through the forests or mountains .. just sticking to the main cities of the countries we had chosen. So be it. It’s been great so far. We stayed in a huge private room of an old ladies apartment in Bratislava .. she was very old and very weak but had the best private room yet. She had everything organized and laid out for us .. coffee maker, tv with a guide she had prepared .. maps and tourist information .. she had even printed out a few pages of the history of Slovakia. We did our best to be quiet when we got home and not ask much of her .. what a great Airbnb. More buildings .. more old town .. more castles .. more dumplings and gravy ..
Onward to Hungary …. err Budapest .. for 6 days. Here we booked an entire apartment and lived the European dream.. What a great city. Loads of walkers yes .. but their seemed to be no end to the space and neighbourhoods to support them. Usually, the “old town” of any city will be where all the tourists congregate and hang out.. and “old town” of any city is usually quite small .. a few blocks in each directions. But in Budapest, or in “Pest” I should say, the city center is very large and complex .. and full of streets, alleyways, nooks and crannies .. bars on every street .. pubs .. restaurants everywhere .. restaurants in basements, hotels and boats .. the walkers are more spread out. There are also very cool bars called “ruin” bars. These are basically ruins of some old building which have been made into a party complex. There are multiple “bars” each with their own feel and look .. a grill or 2 for food .. a shisha area and a live music venue .. a bunch of rooms and areas within 1 ruined building designed with old and “ruined” things to keep the look going. These places are packed with people. We spent one evening in such a place, Szimpla Kert, and watched a Jimmy Hendrix cover band .. great stuff.
Another highlight of Budapest is the bath house culture .. These are large facilities of various types of pools .. from shallow heated pools to large central ones where people just hang out, chat and look at each other .. and one classic “swimming” pool .. Inside there are like 20 different temperature pools for “healing” and such .. we liked the 38 degree one the best. There are also aromatic steam rooms and a couple very hot saunas. There were also a couple ice cold pools for cooling off after the saunas. They had a large patio with hundreds of lay down chairs and an entire section of the multi leveled structure full of lockers and private rooms for changing and storing your belongings. This was an intricate spa complex in an amazing old architecturally cool looking building.. Our first time in anything like this and if Szechenyi thermal bath wasn’t a $50 activity, we would have been there everyday.. healing..
We next had 2 quick layovers in Zagreb, Croatia for a couple days and Ljubljana ( no idea how to say that), Slovenia for an afternoon. Zagreb was very old school and very cheap. We were starting to see a pattern emerging from the European map as you head in a direction. North, very organized, modern and progressive .. and as you move east and south, things get looser .. older .. wilder. We thought this would reach peak looseness with Zagreb .. and yes Zagreb was pretty loose and wild .. off the beaten path for sure. Not as technologically on the up and up yet clearly “European”. They have just joined the EU recently so we can say they are in a transitional period .. not everyone using the euro yet, still clinging to their own currency.. Internet and cell providers still not up to speed with the rest.. But these are the observations of people who have spent a total of 6 weeks in Europe .. We know nothing.
In Zagreb, we stayed in an Airbnb that was the size of a walk-in closet .. brutal .. I had to brush my teeth with one leg in the bathroom and the other in the sleeping area.. A plastic curtain instead of a door for the washroom … hearing every delicate nuance of the voiding experience. It was super clean and tidy .. close to public transit and a bargain at 17 euros per night. Not much else to report on our stop in Zagreb .. just more beautiful buildings and cheap food ..
Italy.. The pattern continues for sure .. oh my ..
Venice was our first stop for 3 days .. 2 days too many if you ask me. I’ve always had this romantic vision of gondolas and Lady and the Tramp spaghetti dinners, but this was destroyed within minutes of crossing the first of many gorgeous bridges in Venice. We thought we had walker problems before … no way. This was a walker nightmare .. people by the thousands crammed into thin alleyways .. window shopping .. gawking .. strolling .. chewing .. sneezing … coughing .. dropping .. And hundreds of sad folks from other countries selling useless plastic selfy sticks no one bought .. or jelly toys you splat on the floor, that reforms itself within seconds…. Again, no one buying these either. Gelato stands every 20 meters .. restaurant after cafe after jewelry store .. and again thousands of people trying to maneuver around each other through the walkways .. everyone annoyed with everyone. Everyone guilty of doing the sudden “power stop” to either change directions or to look at something that caught their eye .. killing any minor flow that might have developed. At one point, this lady was doing a circle trying to get the right angle to photograph her kid with an ice cream cone .. I mean, I guess the kid never had ice cream before, this wasn’t in a particularly scenic spot or anything .. and as she was circling, crowds were shifting, being moved out of the way .. she kept circling and circling, and in my mind I was swearing hard trying to navigate around her… but then, in a moment of self betrayal, I heard my words loud and clear .. “FOR F*CK SAKES!!” .. what had I done!!?? and then a huge sigh of relief as I realized it wasn’t me.. Some man snapped and yelled it at the top of his lungs .. at her obviously.
Venice was full of lessons for us. One particularly excellent skill I developed was the aggressive use of the GoPro with the selfy stick extension. A commonly used tool for framing videos of hard to reach places, or for filming yourself. Well, we were in a quaint little square / courtyard that we wanted to photograph. Normally, we wait … and wait .. sometimes 15 minutes to get the shot without people. At this particular square, we had waited about 5 minutes .. people coming into the shot .. stopping .. standing around pulling out their water bottles .. pointing at things .. it’s normal, we do it as well .. but we generally try not to do it right in front of the center piece of the place … And at this particular time, that’s exactly what we had. A young couple wandered into the shot, and stopped right at the center piece. A well. I don’t even think they looked at it or even realized it was there. They stopped and started digging in their day packs .. we waited .. and then they decided to stand there and take a break .. and we waited .. then I had an epiphany. I need to go on the offense. Sylvie was armed with the camera, ready to take the shot. I drew the GoPro and extended the telescopic stick .. I didn’t turn it on, although I should have.. I pointed it straight at them and started my walk across the courtyard to them. I walked right up to them pointing the GoPro directly at them .. and then just at her .. her face to be exact. I was less than 10 feet away from them, pointing a GoPro at them with zero expression on my face .. as serious as I could be. It worked like a charm .. She got very uncomfortable as they tried to move out of the way of “my shot” … I followed .. then they turned around and left the area in a hurry. I did a 360 back to Sylvie all proud of myself and we snapped the shot. It just makes me feel better.
I remember a funny scene we witnessed in a quieter alleyway as we were taking photos of the canal. A French family was approaching and the little girl was saying to her mom.. “Maman, les gens me derangent avec leurs sacs” (mom, the people bother me with their bags) .. and right away, I thought of Sylvie and I with our day packs .. and wondered why this little girl would be bothered by our bags? But then, just a few meters back from the family .. walkers were coming .. 4 of them .. slow and lumbering .. the shopping kind .. with large cubic shopping bags packed with crap they bought in Venice (really??) on either side of them. The bags were hanging low at the same level as the child.. as large as her .. and I could just picture being her size and being bumped and hit by these massive bags as the walkers roamed by the family. We looked at the little girl ahead, and she was looking back at the walkers approaching .. she turned around running to get closer to her mom, constantly on the lookout for bag carrying walkers .. it was hilarious.
These are the experiences of just the alleys and walkways. Never mind reaching San Marco’s Square! I think the town of Cochrane was gathered there .. easily 5000 people at any given time .. crammed .. all taking the same crappy photos with a thousand people in them.. And of course, no one respects the photo .. no one .. not here .. and not us anymore. Stand where you want .. walk where you want .. if you don’t, someone else will .. guaranteed. Those beautiful cafes to have that romantic candle lit Venetian dinner … jammed packed with hundreds of people bumping your table as they walk by staring .. And of course, the money … the jewels .. the Gucci .. the dresses from the opera .. the pretentiousness of the foreigners trying to fit in .. unreal. I apologize to the fans of Venice. It was definitely the most beautiful area/town we’d ever visited .. it’s absolutely divine and perfect if you subtract the tourists .. The guide book had advised us.. love Venice then leave her.
Trips always change me is some way. Italy taught me to appreciate art in a whole different light. I can draw almost anything you put in front of me so I have always liked sketches and paintings.. but I never understood those wild painting from the Renaissance with hundreds of characters in them doing a hundred things to each other. In the Doge’s palace and museum we got to feast on these massive paintings and frescoes .. dozens of them adorning cavernous government assembly rooms on the walls and ceiling. At first we were like “meh” .. but then after a few of these rooms it started to click. There are endless stories and scenarios going on in these paintings .. so many little things going on .. so much detail ..it’s like reading a book or watching tv. And if you worked in this room back in the day, you would surely find yourself staring at the paintings to make some of the downtime go by .. and you would surely share your findings and observations about the paintings with others in the room and they would be doing the same.. the ultimate conversation peace .. a tv or film for times when these didn’t exist. We stared for hours ..
And the sculptures .. another lesson for me.. my whole life has been .. “sculptures, meh..” .. but now after seeing so many sculptures from different artistic periods and countries these past few weeks, I am getting it. From what I am understanding, the Greeks were the masters of sculpting.. Those perfect human statues we see in the movies ( or in European museums! ) are from the Hellenistic period .. around 350 BC. Then the Romans came along and conquered Greece which is when the “good” sculpting ended for a time. It’s not till the Renaissance, almost 2000 years later, that we see the reemergence of realistic looking statues in all sorts of different poses and forms.. This time done by Romans .. Sculpting isn’t easy… it’s drawing or painting in 3d and you have to have some serious spacial perception skills to pull it off. Appreciation gained.
Pizza and pasta .. well guess what? Once again, in Canada and the US we have taken something pure and simple and exaggerated it. The pizza and pasta here are amazing .. it’s the OG.. it’s the best right? And it’s so simple .. the sauces are simply crushed tomatoes with garlic and basil .. a bit of salt and pepper .. pizzas have 2-3 ingredients on them .. simple and superb. Sylvie and I had already gone the simple route back home with pasta sauces but pizza will be next. Thanks Italy.
The bus ride from hell to reach Naples .. looking at the map, we rode over half the country of Italy over night sitting at the back of the bus surrounded by .. the unhappy and the unwanted .. My night started bad when this woman who made the bus wait while she smoked and carried on outside the bus, finally boarded and sat right behind me .. not before complaining that my seat was back and there wasn’t enough room for her and her 3-4 shopping bags she had with her .. like I cared. People always put their seat down in front of me.. that’s just how the bus goes.. the bus sucks, get over it. I didn’t budge .. she whined and moaned for a few hours giving me the odd kick in the back. Everyone around us were ..not from Italy .. and they were constantly complaining about everything .. the words “Italy, Basta country” would be my new catch phrase for the next few days to drive Sylvie nuts. When my kicker got off at about 2 a.m. the second worse passenger possible boarded and took her place .. and of course, she started with the same complaint about the seat – I looked at her and pointed to all the other seats .. I ain’t budging .. This one moaned like the last and eventually I started feeling bad so I moved my seat upright.. it’s the middle of the night .. sleeping time. She gets on her cell phone . “Hello … ok … ok … blah blah blah” .. oh my gawd .. after 15 minutes of the cell phone, I put my seat back again and kept it there the rest of the night. Every 20 minutes, she picked up that cell phone .. waking people up around her and on the other line, because it was just “Hello .. ok … ok “ then silence .. They don’t care about your bus ride .. they want to sleep, like the rest of us … Basta Country!
Naples was next and we had no idea what we were getting into .. another beautiful Italian city ..but with some pretty noticeable differences. Right off the bus we thought we were in down town Guatemala .. gang members, pick pockets and thieves staring and evaluating you.. run down buildings .. garbage EVERYWHERE. We composed ourselves .. we remembered our traveling roots .. we’d been to worse kept places. We made our way to the old town and things didn’t change that much except the buildings turn to medieval style, black with mold .. dark thin cobble stone roadways packed with vendors and pedestrians .. very dark .. and garbage EVERYWHERE. It took us over an hour and 13 euros to finally locate some wifi to communicate with our Airbnb.. they aren’t big on technology around here. And cafes bait you with wifi advertisement but it usually doesn’t work .. thus the trial and error of 13 euros. We finally got settled in and did some research we hadn’t had time to do before arriving.. it’s been pretty busy. We learned … that the Camorra is a mafia that runs Naples and the surrounding area .. joy .. they are badass and have many side gangs within the organization that feud often and kill each other in the streets.. great! And how do they oppress and extort their area of control? Just like the Sopranos .. Waste management. There is garbage EVERYWHERE.. piles of it on the side of main city streets, or small walkways .. in every crack of the sidewalk or in holes where stones should be.. we saw a few dead rats .. a dead pigeon .. just there .. people walking by. There is dog feces everywhere .. new and very old. Dirtiest place we have ever been to. The big bad Camorra are not even good at what they do. A huge fail for the Camorra and a real hardship for the people of Napolis.
We visited an ancient site of the city that was buried twice .. once on purpose by the Romans when they took it from the Greeks over a couple thousand years ago .. and again by a giant mudslide that consumed the city. They have been excavating this area that is now 10-40 meters under ground .. amazing! We were able to walk around parts of this ancient neighbourhood without following a tour guide or anything .. we had the place to ourselves .. streets, shops, tunnels, archways, staircases .. like downtown King’s Landing. Loved it.
And Pompeii .. another buried city but this one by the volcano Mt. Vesuvius in the 1rst century.. A 2000 year old ancient city in excellent condition, still being excavated as we read. The whole city/town would take a couple days to explore, but we did a very good chunk in about 4 hours. This place is fully intact with all the streets, squares, parks, stairs and alleyways.. The ceilings on most buildings are the only parts missing really .. within reason .. it’s over 2000 years old! They give you a detailed map and you basically wander around reading up on all the sites you choose to visit. There are also a few casts of citizens at their time of death. They were buried alive or shortly after suffocating and then they decayed and left an empty cavity in the shape of their body at the time of death. The archaeologists then fill the cavities with plaster and voila! a very accurate replica of the person. Many were lying down .. obviously .. another looked like he was leaning on a tree .. there was even a few small children and a contorted dog lying on his back with his hind legs up in the air. Some folks argue about this being controversial and to let the dead rest .. to bury the casts? I am not signed up for any of those beliefs .. historically excellent place to visit.. and of course the very place Pink Floyd filmed their classic video.
Then Rome .. I can comfortably say the climax in many ways .. The craziest place yet. Walkers .. yes more than Venice .. We have the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Vatican .. I have no words to describe more walkers than before because I used up my repertoire of descriptive text going on about Venice.. MORE. This city is congested to the max .. too many people and not enough infrastructure. The traffic is ridiculous .. the buses are packed to the limit, to the point where crowds of people at the stop don’t even make it on the bus.. the subway is the same .. The tourist sites had ridiculous lines .. I haven’t stood in a line since Disney World or a ride at Wonderland. The Colosseum and Roman Forum were easily 2 hours total waiting time .. the Vatican the same. Yes these are huge and important sites to see, but it completely paralleled their traffic and public transit crisis. This place is crammed tight… oh, and disorganized … the guidebook warned us to “have patience for inefficiencies”. Understatement.
So the Colosseum was enormous .. this huge ancient structure out of nowhere .. surrounded by .. traffic. It’s the largest ancient thing we have ever seen. It was incredible .. we circled it .. did all the sites around it .. kept the entrance for last. And once inside, wow .. wow .. wow .. I have no words really .. and the pictures don’t do it justice. We were told by a few people to skip Rome .. no way. The Colosseum alone was worth the many hardships of Roma.
The Vatican was also unbelievable .. in a different way. I’m not sure I would have been as impressed if it wasn’t for the other 10 000 people waiting to see the same things as Sylvie and I. The lines and masses alone added to it’s grandeur. Outside in the square was incredible on it’s own .. but then we entered St. Peter’s Basilica and it’s the largest and most beautiful church anyone has ever seen. We checked over each corner of that place and we were thoroughly impressed. Then we started thinking .. imagine if we actually believed all this? How amazing and life changing this experience would be?
We then headed to the Sistine Chapel .. no clue what that is .. heard about it my whole life.. read about it in the Davinci Code, but never knew what it was .. Sylvie, same. Well .. you don’t just go to the Sistine chapel .. no .. You go through the Vatican “museum” .. oh yes .. first you wait in line for an hour in the sun .. then you try to figure out the maps and whatnot.. then you give up on the maps because they aren’t big on organization around here, and follow the signs that say “Cappella Sistina” and figure it’s just around the corner. It takes about an hour to reach the Sistine Chapel through the “museum” .. and that is done consumed in a horde of people .. an assembly line of people .. slowly moving through this very vast and intimidating place. The plaques of information were very poor .. but that didn’t matter, because you didn’t have any time to read any of them .. you had to keep up with traffic and keep moving forward on the assembly line. Through rooms and rooms .. and these massive 120 meter long halls … and all you see is people slowly marching forward .. constantly hitting you from behind .. constantly bumping you from the side.
So I paint a negative picture of this place with it’s flow and density. I’ve left out the best part .. This massive “museum” is filled with treasure .. not just filled like “oh this place has a great collection of art archaeological relics and historical artifacts” … no .. not even close. This place was like THE treasure horde of planet earth. I’m not kidding. It’s like, for the last how many hundred years, the Catholic church has been buying up every best ancient sculpture, map, tapestry, book, vase, contraption and painting .. the best ones ever created and horded them here. Like Smaug’s treasure pile. There were entire halls dedicated to thousands of sculptures that are over 1500 years old .. then entire halls for maps .. paintings everywhere .. the best paintings the world has ever seen. And then more rooms with colossal sculptures of gods, heroes and rulers .. and once again, the best ones .. the oldest ones. It’s value can’t even be determined .. but if the catholic church ever lost all it’s followers and dim payers, they could easily sell off this collection in the course of another 2000 years and keep paying all the employees and clerics .. no problem .. I had no idea .. the power of history and money in that “museum” is off the charts. Again, no wonder the bible is the best selling book of all time.. there are very wealthy people keeping the dream very much alive .. Let’s not be fooled by the declining enrollment back home. As much as it pains me to write this, my atheist friends, this religion is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Sistine chapel we arrived at.. we didn’t know what to expect… and it wasn’t what we guessed. It’s basically a large rectangular room .. pretty much empty. I don’t remember any pillars or busts or statues.. just a cavernous empty room. Empty yes, but featureless no way .. the entire room was painted with scenes from the bible. Amazing paintings .. obviously. The huge ceiling had so many scenes and characters .. people in every which pose .. The famous “Creation of Adam” right in the center .. amazing. It took Michelangelo 4 years to paint the entire ceiling. You would have to see it to understand it, so I won’t bother describing it. This room is used for special services and for papal conclaves .. when they vote for a new pope. On tourist days it houses probably 2000 people all jammed into the “center” of the room as the assembly line continues to funnel in more people.. a constant annoyed reminder every 3-4 minutes to “silencio” .. “silence please” .. people obey for about 15 seconds and then the cycle starts again. It’s like asking a gym full of kids to be quiet when there’s a dog there as well.. impossible.. oh well.. I guess their god requires silence in a room painted 500 years ago /boggle It was awe inspiring to say the least… and just imagine if you believe all these stories?
And finally, an afternoon to visit the Pantheon .. 2000 years old .. fully intact with restorations over the years. Raphael’s corpse is there .. as well as the first and second King of Rome. It’s immense, incredible and beautiful .. We highly recommend it .. With Venice, Naples and Rome, this has been the most incredible destination to date .. We haven’t even scratched the surface of this country .. we flew through most of it in a bus .. at night. But we leave here knowing that this is one of the most important places on earth .. just incredible.
The history of Europe is probably the most impressive thing I have ever encountered in writing. The real stories of people with power … the 1% .. It’s staggering how much information is available to consume .. the amount of history on just the few countries that we have visited is unbelievable. This man became a Lord after his father was killed by that woman’s father … who later joined the military and rose to the rank of General .. and led the struggling party of the time in a war against the dominant party and won after a battle of eight years .. and then was assassinated by the man who would later become king .. who only ruled for 3 years before the great empire of Whatisitcalled came through and burned the city to the ground .. and on and on and on. There are plaques everywhere to read .. never mind the actual history books one could read .. just the plaques alone are enough to make Game of Thrones seem like Montreal, 1910.. and I struggle hard keeping track of the seven kingdoms and all of it’s players. But this real history is too much. It actually bums me out that I can’t keep it all straight in my head.. and just when I think I have it correct, and I move on to another piece of the puzzle, I forget a name or a city or a battle or a time that is needed to understand the new stuff I am reading.. I think you could spend a lifetime studying European history and still not get it all. I’ve resigned myself to learning the major players and only the most important battles and empires .. For a cliché example, one name that comes up the most here is Napoleon. He is like “the man” around here .. he is in every country’s recent history and is revered as the revolutionary king of how societies operate today. He was the catalyst to ending absolute monarchies and establishing actual governments .. I had no idea .. I still don’t.. I’ll have to go back and read it again.
Financially, this Europe trip was like the huge rockets of the space shuttle .. the ones they burn first for take off and then jettison when they reach a certain altitude .. Our money burned up fast in a short period of time .. but now that we have broken free from Europe’s strong currency, we can cruise on easy mode to new places for a much longer time. I have to say that our Canadian dollar is a very sad thing .. We rank very low and that is nothing to be proud of.. whether you like traveling or not. We are “the poor” westerners the minute we step outside of our borders.
Tomorrow, we are headed to Kathmandu, Nepal to trek the Himalayas .. Once we begin the trek, we may not have Internet for a few weeks .. it will be a bit tense being out of contact for that long if this is the case… But even if they have wifi up there, this trek will be the greatest challenge of our lives.