Another Summer-time Adventure
The story of Andrew Steves on his own in Europe...again in 2006.
Off to Europe... Again! (May 20)
Yes, it's that time of year again, travelling season. It's the night before I leave for my 2nd tour of Europe without my parents. This time, I'll be travelling completely on my own. Innumerable thoughts are running through my head, and I can't seem to hold on to any one of them long enough to complete it. But I'm pretty sure that's the mind set of anyone about to leave the comfort of home for an extended period of time.
Last week, I finished my first year of school at the University of Notre Dame. I've had the time of my life there, and it couldn't be better (unless it was situated on a nice beach in the Carribean). I was in the engineering program during first semester, but quickly learned it wasn't for me. I've settled into a double major: a bachelor of fine arts in industrial design, and Romance Languages and Literature- French and Italian. I kept myself busy throughout the year by joining the cycling club. We raced 6 or 7 weekends this spring, and I actually pulled out 5 individual vistories. I'm really looking forward to next season. And I must say, Notre Dame football is like no other.
About my upcoming trip. I will be in Europe for 70 days, leaving May 20th and returning to Seattle on August 8th. That is a daunting number. I'm sure the way I will split up my time will make the days fly by. For the first two weeks, I'll be studying at a language school in Cefalu, Sicily. This should be an interesting time, and I hope to make great progress in my Italian language skills. After that, I will take a night train to Rome, and assistant guide on my first Family Friendly tour. People ask if I'm following in my dad's footsteps. Technically, I guess I am, but I just see it as a cool summer job...really cool summer job:) Over the course of the next seven weeks, I'll be assistant guiding for six of them (3 2-week tours). The last of my tours ends in Paris on July 21st. This is two days before the Tour de France finishes in that very city. Those of you who kept up with last year's blog already know what I plan to do. I've made reservations through the 25th, just to make sure I catch all the action. After that, I don't really know what I'll do, except that I have to be in Dublin by the 1st of August. There I'll meet up with my family and hopefully enjoy some nice food for a change, and maybe a ride in a taxi. We plan to spend that week in the city of Dublin, and finally leave Europe on August 8th.
So, get ready for Andy's travels, take 2. It'll be a great time.
Italia (May 23)
Ah, to be in Italy again! Where there's more mopeds than flies. Where pedestrians most definitely do not have the right of way. Where men care as much about thier looks as their dear mothers. Where the sun shines all day, and at 4:30 in the morning. I'm just finishing my second day in Cefalù, Sicilia. It's a beautiful place. Undiscovered by Americans, the small town is inundated with Germans and touring French daily. I'm keeping busy by attending a small Italian school for foreigners. My first day was quite intimidating, because while teaching, teachers don't automatically switch to english when there's trouble with grammar or phrases. Instead, even though I know they speak english, they look at me with a blank stare when I forget a word or two. As tough as it is, I believe it may be the best way to really learn Italian.
In my class of four, there's a Norweigan girl, a Swedish hydro-engineer, and a Swiss guy on a long vacation. Something like 9 months. Because my trip is going to be so long, I thought I was being smart by bringing a pair of clippers to give myself a haircut whenever I felt like it. Yesterday, a few moments after I plugged it in with an adapter, but not a converter, I began to smell the familiar electrical smoke. It reminded me of the time my beloved Sega (I forget the name, game something or other) blew up in Paris many years ago. I unplugged the clippers as soon as I observed the smoke leaking lazily out of the appliance. E morto. So today I went and bought an itlaian pair of clippers. I started my haircut at about one and didn't finish until around four. After my first couple swipes, the batteries died! So I was left with a fraky pile of half-bleached hair, until I could get it to work again. In the end, it all turned out alright, and I survived with a smart haircut ;). I'll get at you later, Andy
A Tuesday Evening (May 24)
Yes, to be in Italy again. Where the guys have more game than Michael Jordan did in his prime. Last night I was invited to go to dinner with a group of friends by the Norweigan girl in my Italian class. "Of course," I said and we exchanged numbers. Three sisters were visiting her on vacation from home that she met 13 years ago in New York. We planned on her giving me a call around 8:30 for dinner and we parted ways. I later jumped into the water around sunset to shake off the jet lag. Jump ahead four hours later to 9:00 and I awoke to my phone ringing. They were finally ready, and said to meet them in 5 minutes out front the duomo. Its was all good, and we decided to go to a nice restaurant on the beach. There, we met up with 4 italian dudes they had met earlier. I was a little dissapointed, until I saw one of them was wearing fashionably-ripped jeans with flowers sewn all over them. Dinner was great, I had a spicy pepperoni pizza, shared a bottle of wine, and had desert of chilled fruit. The best cantaloupe in my life, and some other fruit that I never heard of before. The Norweigan sisters spoke Norweigan (obviously), French and English. The Norweigan in my class spoke Italian, English and Norweigan. The Italians spoke Italian and French. And I speak English, and a bit of French and Italian. So at any one time, there were four languages flying around the table at once. Almost gave me a head ache. What comes next was amazing.
The youngest of the sisters was sitting next to one of the italians. Over the course of the evening, I watched him swoon her in french right in front of two of her sisters and a friend. Any man can attest to the difficulty of breaking down the impassable barrier of friends any single girl might have. But sisters? Impossible, but here, right in front of my eyes, this dude was doing it! More and more touchy, and more and more flirty. Until, finally, at the end as we left, he rode off with her on his moped, and I didn't see her again. It amazed me to no end and still does. Andy
PS Do buffalo still exist? And are there any around Naples?
Appartamento Mio (May 26)
Si, Italia, where the buildings rival those drawn by MC Esher in complexity and creativity. A little about my humble aode: for it, I'm paying forty euros a night. I requested an appartment for just myself, but was luckily placed in a much larger one. Theres a total of four beds in two bed rooms. A living joins the two rooms. There are two bathrooms, one stemming from the bedroom I sleep in, and another accessed through a kitchenette off the living room. My appartment is in a very central location, only about 2 minutes to walk to class, but far enough off that the incessant moped sounds dont keep me up all night. My living area is on the third or fourth floor. Its hard to tell because there are doors half way up what I think would be a floor. All I know is I go up two and a half flights of stairs, before I get to my door, and must continue up on more flights of stairs beore I'm actually in. Yesterday was like Christmas morning when I found the A/C. Before, I had been sleeping in a room near 85 degrees, sweating like a pig. It was funny though, at first, I found the A/C in the bedroom I didn't choose to sleep in. I spent the day thinking about starting to stay in that room until, later that afternoon I found another A/C appliance in the first room. My problems solved, I sleep great now : ).
From my appartment, I have a view into some of my neighbors windows, La Roca, a side view of the duomo, and of course, the Mediterranean Sea. Every morning I see an ancient woman peering out her window at nothing in particular. Its really strange. She's bent over almost half again, and dressed in old Sicilian clothes, and greay-white hair. Yes, that's my appartment.
School (May 30)
I'm going to talk a little about the school I'm at. Education is not the only thing I'm paying for here. With the bill of two weeks of language school, I get a group of teachers who, at least it seems to me, care about me in class and out. I can ask them questions any time of the day for anything from sightseeing to grammar problems. Besides that, the school puts on fun activities to do in the afternoon that keep me from getting bored in Cefalu. Also, I realized I haven't yet eaten a dinner on my own thanks a lot to the other students I've met at the school. I'll try and recount the days. Last Monday, we had a great dinner put together by a friend of the schools. It had my typical dishes of Sicilia. Tuesday was the one I wrote about where I went to dinner with the three norweigans and 3 sicilians. Wednesday, I had dinner with my teacher from Notre Dame who had arrived in Cefalu earlier that day. She's taking language lessons at the same place as me. Thursday and Friday night, I had picnics with a group of students with nationalities ranging from German and Japanese, to Swiss and Swedish. Saturday and Sunday I ate agai with my old teacher. And finally last night, I ate with three French Canadians I met earlier in the weekend. This just shows, if you're purposely extroverted, You'll never be alone in your travels. The people I've met in one week are from all over the globe, and its baffling at how scary a trip might seem at first, then turn very convinient as you go along.
Remember... (May 31)
In Italy, big engine sounds creeping up behind you don't necessarily mean big vehicle. but more importantly, small engine sounds don't always mean small vehicle : ) Yesterday, I went on a Giro d'Italia of my own. Yes, I rented a moped. 125 cc's to be exact. Last time I brought the idea up with my dad before my last trip, he told me the only serious scars he has on his body are from a moped crash in Italy. That scared me last year, but the fear faded since then. "Have you had experience with a moped?" the attendant asked. "Of course," I lied, and off I went after a 20 second tour of the features. "This is front brake, rear brake, and here's the gas. ciao." Confident with my new moped know-how I decided to do a loop into the interior of the North side of the island. My grand plans were forgotten when it took me 45 minutes to find the way out of the city.
Twice I realized I was going the wrong way down a one-way street. Finally, I escaped the swirling vias of Cefalu like the Millenium Falcon out of the Death Star. My six-and-a-half hour tour was filled with panoramic vista after panoramic vista. Most of it went uneventfully until I followed a small road that eventually teetered out into a pebbled path. Then it turned into a dirt path, then a rutted one, then a completely unkempt one. My moped was not meant for offroading, but somehow I managed through the rough. There were several times I felt like turning around until I realized I had just passed a point-of-no-return type of terrain each time. Ah well, I eventually made it out and returned to Cefalu via some highway, where I hit 60 mph on this little dealio. I returned sun-burnt, happy, jittery and bug-encrusted ten minutes before closing time. It was a good little tour.
To Roma (June 2)
My two weeks here at Kulturforum have gone by fast. I arrived exhuasted, apprehensive and a bit intimidated by the colossal length of the trip I had just started. It only took a day or so for me to get settled into my surroundings, and quickly made friends with the people in my class, and others attending the school. You can read my other postings for details on those. I'm leaving this school much more confident in, if not my fluency, my ability to get by in Italy. In class, the focus was much more on conversation, very different from my experience in classes at Notre Dame. At first I didn't like it, but then realized the language is more about conversing vocally, then through writing and technicalities.
Tonight, Im taking a night train from Cefalu to Rome, where I'll rest up and hopefully do some laundry. I'm assistant guiding a "family friendly" tour that starts there on Sunday and continues to Paris at the end of two weeks. The weather here the last couple days has been regretable, but Im not much of a beach guy anyway. I've loved hiking up La Roca usually everyday. I often brought a lunch up there to dine with a magnificient panoramic view. With the first leg of my trip done, I'm looking forward to many more soon to come.
Tour Finished. Now in Toulouse
I'm writing to you from Toulouse now, on a french keyboard that I don't really know how to work : ). I finished my first tour last Sunday morning. It was a great learning experience for everybody on the tour, including myself. I am always intrigued by the social climate of each individual group. There are no requirements for getting onto a tour besides having a relatively large expendable income. The itinerary for our tour was as follows: two nights in Rome, two nights outside Florence, two nights in Venice, two nights in Austria near Neuschwanstein castle, two nights in Switzerland, one night in Beaune, and the last two nights in Paris. There were twelve children on the tour with fourteen adults. People asked me how much of the itinerary we changed to deem it "kid friendly," but I came to realize just having kids on tour is really most of the fun.
I remember tours when it was just me and my sister under the age of forty, and that is never the way any adolescent wants to spend his summer. There were many highlights of our tour: luges in Germany, hotels with pools, great food, boat cruise in Paris, and many other things. For me, I had been to almost all of the sites before, so the simple socializing with tour members was the most interesting for me. There are many things I'd like to write about, but remembering them is like having sand run through my fingers: as soon as I think of something I want to talk about, I've forgotten another. Check back soon.
My dad has pointed this out to me in the past, but it never really hit home until I got to know my tour's bus driver. Over these past two weeks, I spent a lot of time getting to know him. What I learned was amazing. His family has been in the tour bus industry for three generations. He takes so much pride in his bus, he washes it almost every day, sometimes twice. Another time, he started talking to me about shoes and how they must match with the outfit, randomly in the middle of a conversation about his bus. I realized later, the "shoes" he was talking about were his rims, and how they must be shiny clean at all times. He also carried himself as a billion-dollar business man might back in the states. Even though Richard, our driver, must have been on relatively modest means, he'd wear Hugo Boss, Gucci, and Yves St. Laurent just to name a few. I admire that, because here's a man who's found his niche in life, a small one, but a niche nonetheless and he takes as much pride in his work as would Donald Trump.
I think you can find this all over in Europe; whether it be a baker, a fisherman, a waiter it doesn't matter. In the US, if you asked someone what they do for a living, and he happened to be a janitor, he'd probably be looking at the floor as he told you. But anywhere in Europe, the same janitor would look you in the eye, and tell you through a smile.
Smokin' France (June 20)
At the moment, I'm visiting a friend who I met two years ago back home. She was staying at a family friends, and I was called to entertain her. Since then, we've kept in touch, and now I was finally able to see her after two years. She's had to work nine to five, but I've spent the days with her second cousin who's as hospitable as she is nice. Yesterday she walked me around Toulouse (a city that didn't make it into my dad's book, I'm still deciding if I like it). After our "petit tour" she took me back to her place and made me an amazing potato, tomato and ham salad. Sounds disgusting, but it was great.
France is a huge contrast from Italy. A couple years ago, Italian law forbid smoking in public places, but the law never made it over to France. It's astounding how early the French start smoking. I'll see school groups of kids in fifth or sixth grade walking around with cigarettes! And they chain smoke like no other. One after another after another. I watch Gimmet, my friend's cousin, nonchalantly pop the filter out of cigarettes, and light up inhaling without any form of protection from the thousands of poisons. And they do this all day. Parents with kids, friends with friends. Also, because the tax is so high, younger kids buy straight tobbaco and roll their own. These are without filters as well. The great friends I've made are hardly ever seen without a smoking cigarette in their hand. I have yet to understand the French view on life. I was told by an American spending a year here that the French see life as you only got one, and they intend to enjoy as they can. To me, I enjoy clean lungs, not to mention the thousands of dollars I would have spent on smokes by now if I had started up when I was twelve. Interesting and sad.
Why the French Don't Like Americans
"Do you know why the French don't like Americans?" Claire translated over the candlelit dinner we were enjoying at her grandmother's countryhouse, while her grandmother, who posed the question, omnisciently grinned as only grandmothers can do. "They're jealous," stated as plainly as one might state that grass is green. "jealous of your power, your wealth, your consumption." How we got on the topic, and why, I don't remember. All I knew was that we were 20 miles outside Toulouse, here I was sitting down to dinner at 10pm in a 400-year old house with three young French ladies and a grandmother old enough to recount tales of WWII. "My mother and father helped Jews escape Nazi Germany." The countryhouse was, I guess on something like the underground railroad route for jews during the 1930s and 40s escaping towards Spain. Her grandmother, barely able to look over the table she was so small, told another story of bandits coming to the house taking advantage of the lawlessness of the war.
They came to steal whatever valuables they could. She remembers her mom being walked through the house at gunpoint being forced to uncover whatever might be worth something. Luckily, they had hidden their things, like the ornate candlestick that was lighting our very dinner this night, in the shed out behind the house. It is baffling to be in the presence of such history that Europeans live in every day. A day before, as I was visiting Claire's other grandparents, who live in a castle, they showed me the original deed: one-thousand years old. My French friends just shrugged at it, but I can't get over the sheer number of years that everything has in Europe. You see dates on a plaque next to a museum exhibit, but its a totally different thing to be in it, and among history. Its something worth searching for.
Grumpy Old Lady on Train (June 24)
So I had to take a train from Paris to Toulouse last Sunday. On longer train rides, like on plane trips, you're always nervous about getting stuck next to the guy who smells funny, or the lady who really should have bought two seats for her size. This time I was stuck next to the grumpy grandma, who immediately started ranting at me in French and pointing at her knee and rolling her eyes. Enough, I thought, I'll just plug in my earbuds and kick back with some music. So I did for a while, until I started getting the grumblies. Luckily I had a bag of peanut M&Ms in my backpack and brought them out. At this time I decided to offer some to my fellow bench sharer. "c'est gentile!" she exclaimed, so nice! I struck up a little conversation in my broken French and turns out she had broken her knee six months before, and was still recovering. She was on her way to visit family also. After that it was a relatively pleasant trip. Its amazing what a few little M&Ms can do.
Half Way... (July 1)
Or actually 6/10ths. This weekend marks my sixth week away from home in Europe. Am I homesick? Do I miss my parents? My family? friends? American food? Eh, no. Am I a heartleass, ungrateful and unsentimental child? I wouldn't say so, but I think I've kept myself so busy, I just haven't had time to miss people or things quite yet. Ive been keeping in constant contact with my mom so that's fine. I want to reflect on my past six or so weeks, but it feels like a dream. Something that has happened, that is real but not really there. I've had so many close calls with dangerous accidents, but have come through alright. I've also had many many experiences I never want to forget, like my time in Cefalu, to eating dinner with my friend's grandma in Toulouse, to a long conversation with an Irish girl on a night train, and countless others.
The way I've travelled has brought me closer to other people in Europe. So, I can really see their daily lives and experiences, and the real problems they struggle with. From here, it makes it easier to extrapolate their views of the world, as well as legitimize their opinions. I think this is a critical difference from the way I see how most Americans, and virtually all Japanese travel. Because of this, I shy away from my camera, and prefer to burn the images that surround me into my mind, rather than an CD. From here, I have about five weeks left, 3 of which are on tour, 1 on my own, then 1 after I meet up with my parents and sister in Dublin.
I Swear this Kind of Thing Ony Happens on Seinfeld (July 4)
Alright so here I am, in an un-airconditioned attic, on an old IBM. There's been a miscommunication with my next hotel. We need 4 triples and a quad, but they can only accommodate three of the 5 rooms, and Im trying to convert a couple doubles into two tight triples for my tour. So I call the hotel, and five minutes later, we both are struggling with the language barrier. And temperatures are rising beyond comfortable. Randomly, in mid-sentence, the guy on the other end says "Hello....... hello? ENCHSHHCNENCHSENNSHCH" And then hangs up. I was befuddled, confused, suprised, and a bit impressed. This guy on the other line held this static noise with his mouth for a good 8 or 10 seconds aithout taking a breath, and almost pulled it off. So that left me sitting there, staring at my phone wondering what to do. My tour of 28 people will arrive at the hotel the next day at noon, and I have a clown that can't handle a phone conversation. So I wait a few minutes, and my call is picked up, then hung up immediately. I wait fifteen minutes and call back. "Oh yess, yess, I am so sorry. What weer wee talking about?" And I am finally able to work it out.
As I have been explaining all along, travel lets you draw your own conclusions from foreigners and foreign things. One may believe the French are snooty from the way our media portrays them. Another person may believe that the Swiss aren't far from mountain goats. The other night, I walked into a hotel in Murren, Switzerland at 9:30, and asked if I could borrow their bike to ride down to Gimmelwald. Anybody who's been to Murren would understand what a strange question this would be. And anybody who lives in Murren knows that the only place a young guy like me would be going would be the youth hostel down in Gimmewald, with a full bar. Still, the lady let me borrow this single gear, back-pedal-to-brake bike (probably from the 60s) to ride half way down the mountain in the dark. All this without any kind of deposit or payment. Today I was doing my wash in a laundromat, and asked for help translating some of the complicated important-looking signs around the washers. Ladies, cut me some slack...it's not always the same three steps: load, shut door, push start. Sometimes you even have to select a temperature over here. Anyway, after helping me on my way, this nice guy let me have the rest of his detergent. It was enough that I didn't need more for either of my loads. Just two little random acts of kindness.
World Cup (July 6)
Last night, I was done with my tour group about 7:30, and needed to run an errand near the Eiffel Tower. That errand turned into a walk that led me to the Arch d'Triomphe, and down the Champs Ellysees. I was at the Triumph Arch at about 8:20, which was about 40 minutes before game time, last night. France was playing Portugal. Already the excitement for the match was tangible and electric. There were 2 gendarmes, military police, on every corner, and camera crews and their trucks took up entire city blocks. Cars were flying past me, horns screaming with young Francaise fully extended out the windows acting as poles for the French flags they held. It was game time by the time I reached the end of the Champs, and the streets were vacated. People were drawn to TV bars like bits of metal to magnets. Sadly, I had to return to my hotel because I had to get up early the next day. Weak, I know, but I'll be in Rome for the final game. I had plenty of room to stretch out on the metro home.
RyanAir (July 8)
"Justh look at thisth fabulousth sthtorm out here to our left, guysth," our flight attendant said as we started descending into the turbulent Roman air yesterday. I had finished my second tour at breakfast, and left my hotel at 1100 for a 1500 flight. I had to take the metro to the bus stop on the outskirts of the city, and the bus ride took about an hour fifteen. After I checked in, we waited in a tent out on the tarmac for the plane to arrive. The plane landed, and we boarded in a smooth fashion. The plane ride took about an hour and a half, landing us at Campino outside of Rome. We then got on a bus to take us to Roma Termini station, a short walk from my hotel. It was a Ryan Air flight, and I was pleasantly suprised at how pleasant, and relatively painless it was. I was using the plural first person since Paris, because I was with the same people essentially from the start of my trip at the bus station, all the way to the train station in Rome. And I'd do it again
Don't Know Yet (July 26)
I'm going to use this as a brain storm session for when I get time to write some stuff—
World cup in rome — so much passion a bit scary
Aran islands — remote and friendly
Tour de france — another american on top
Eiffel tower — top floor
Second mountain bike ride with the group — no injuries this time
Fran — a chance meeting with a real irishman
You know zee fast and zee furiouss? zis is mee
- Return to Part 3 of Andy and Alex's Journal
- Return to Part 2 of Andy and Alex's Journal
- Return to Part 1 of Andy and Alex's Journal