40 days in Europe: Days 32-40

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This is a continuation of 40 days in Europe: Days 23-31, a blog post about the adventures of Heidi and me on our travels through Europe from October 1 to November 9, 2012. (Want to start from the beginning?)

Lucera, Italy coat of armsThursday, November 1: Rome/Lucera – Day 32

  • In the morning, we ate some food at our Rome hotel’s not-so-good breakfast buffet and then did some sightseeing around Rome (it’s not raining) before our afternoon train journey
  • Visited Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
  • Colosseum and Arch of Constantine
  • Visited Palatine Hill (Palatino) and sat down to rest in the middle of Circus Maximus, which was an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium
  • On the way back to our hotel to retrieve our checked backpacks, we wandered through a park and more endless Roman ruins, and grabbed takeaway lunches from an unexpectedly expensive deli
  • Train Departed Rome at 2:45 PM on Le Frecce 9355 train and arrived in Foggia at 5:41 PM. We were picked up by my cousins at the Foggia train station and driven to Lucera
  • In Lucera, we met more cousins, compared/merged our family trees and talked genealogy and they fed us a large, multi-course dinner
  • After dinner, we took a walk around Lucera at night. We visited the Sanctuary of San Francesco, which was built in the early 1300s and incorporates materials from the city’s ancient Roman amphitheater
  • We also walked through a park on the edge of the city and my cousins pointed out surrounding villages, such as Biccari, by their lights on the nearby hillsides
  • Today was All Saints’ Day. In Italy, All Saints’ Day is known as Tutti i Santi Ognissnati. The Catholic holiday commemorates the saint martyrs
  • Hotel Stayed with my cousins in Lucera, Italy

Saint Mary, the Black Madonna, patron saint of Lucera, ItalyFriday, November 2: Lucera/Biccari – Day 33

  • Friday was All Souls’ Day, which is set aside to honor loved ones who are deceased. In Italy, it is customary to visit a cemetery and place flowers at the graves of deceased loved ones
  • We visited Lucera and Biccari, which are neighboring cities from which my dad’s father’s family emigrated in the early 1900s (which represents the southern half of my Italian ancestry and 25% of my genes)
  • Foggia/Puglia is an important region in Italy for growing grain for pasta, tomatoes and olives. Each city is located on a hill, including Lucera and Biccari, and much of the space in between cities is occupied by farm fields and olive groves. Lots and lots of olives
  • We visited the Biccari cemetery for Memorial Day (Day of the Dead) and then walked through parts of Biccari, including a church and many houses that were dwellings of living family and ancestors
  • Visited the Augustan Ampitheater in Lucera, which was built to honor Caesar Octavius Augustus and host Roman gladiatorial fights between 27 B.C. and A.D. 14
  • We ate a huge, delicious lunch with family. Each meal with my family is followed by a shot of liquor, either one infused with fennel (30% alcohol) or herbs (40% alcohol)
  • We were fortunate to experience a Day of the Dead dessert called ceci cotti (literal translation: cooked chickpeas), which my family only eats once a year. We just happened to be there on the right day. Ceci cotti, which is specific to the Puglia region of Italy, is made from soaked grains, chocolate pieces and finely chopped nuts that are mixed with sweet wine that has been boiled for five hours
  • Just before 6 PM, after everyone had a nap, we went church-hopping in Lucera. We visited three churches, including the 14th-century Angevin-Gothic cathedral devoted to Saint Mary (the Black Madonna), patron saint of Lucera. We also visited a church with a crypt that was filming its service for a Catholic TV channel
  • Hotel Stayed with my cousins in Lucera, Italy

Saturday, November 3: Lucera/Rome – Day 34

  • Visited the Swabian Angevin Fortress, Lucera’s medieval castle with two round towers (known as the King/Lion and the Queen/Lioness) and a deep moat, dating to 1233. The Muslim settlement of Lucera (and thus the Black Virgin being the city’s patron saint) is a very curious history
  • Visited the “G. Fiorelli” town museum in Lucera, with many interesting archaeological and artistic pieces
  • After lunch with family, my cousins drove us back to Foggia to catch our train. Having leisurely eaten another delicious multi-course lunch, our cousins were slightly concerned about making it to the Foggia train station on time. After hurrying a little to get our bags and selves into my cousin’s car, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” amusingly started playing as we zoomed away from their neighborhood in Lucera. We were also given a sack of food to take with us for dinner
  • Train Departed Foggia at 2:24 PM on Le Frecce 9354 train and arrived in Rome at 5:20 PM. This was our last intercity train ride of the trip, which meant it was the final series of traveling through long tunnels cut into mountains. Long train tunnels started to get on our nerves because of their dramatically higher atmospheric pressure that makes our ears have to pop. It’s like we’re scuba diving or something when we’re in those tunnels
  • We checked into our secret hotel in Rome (located behind three locking doors, four if you count our room key, in an almost-unmarked apartment complex next to Mas Pellicceria at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele) and enjoyed the sack of food that was given to us by my family in Lucera
  • Hotel Room 42 (2nd floor) at Hotel Maikol Rome ($79), Rome, Italy

Mount Vesuvius eruption mapSunday, November 4: Rome/Pompeii/Naples – Day 35

  • Bus Day trip from Rome to Pompeii via Viator (operated by Dark Rome) tour bus, departing at 7:30 AM from Piazza del Popolo in Rome and returning at night
  • Visited Piazza del Popolo
  • Toured the ruins of Pompeii, which was fascinating and amazing to experience. Our Dark Rome tour guides were two of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. They spoke excellent English and were very friendly and knowledgeable
  • In Pompeii, I particularly enjoyed the tiled dog mosaics that served as “beware of the dog” warning signs
  • Another Pompeii highlight was the ancient brothel with its walls covered by sexually explicit frescoes depicting available sexual positions. This “sex menu” was to assist visiting sailors in communicating the kind of intercourse (or other weird shit) they desired. In ancient Pompeii’s red light district, all you had to do was point and grunt. To further assist horny but confused sailors, penis symbols were carved into cobblestones on the road to point men in the right direction
  • Had a very good Margherita pizza lunch at Tiberius in Pompeii
  • It was slightly unnerving but beautiful to be so close to the stratovolcano Mount Vesuvius. Vesuvius is one of the most dangerous active volcanoes in the world, particularly because of the three million people living nearby (basically on it!). Wasn’t the lesson of not living next to this volcano already learned in A.D. 79? No?
  • Toured the large Naples National Archaeological Museum, which included many artifacts, mosaics, statues and artwork excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum
  • By the way, Naples is a trashy, trashy town. We heard from one of our tour guides that mafia corruption prevents regular and reliable pickup of refuse in the city
  • We are back to a time difference of -9 hours from Oregon, now that daylight saving time has ended in the United States
  • Hotel Room 42 (2nd floor) at Hotel Maikol Rome ($79), Rome, Italy

Monday, November 5: Rome – Day 36

Sistine Chapel, Vatican City postcardTuesday, November 6: Rome/Vatican City – Day 37

  • Returned to Piazza Barberini and visited the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, which contains the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order. Bones are nailed to the walls in amazingly intricate patterns and also hang from the ceilings as light fixtures. I was in awe at the level of artistry involved in this arguably fucked-up desecration of human remains
  • Giardino Nicola Calipari, which was right by our hotel at Piazza Vittorio and which consisted of ruins and gardens with more cats
  • After the crypt and the garden, I dropped Heidi off at the hotel so she could rest and headed off to explore Vatican City on my own
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Toured the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. (See the 3D virtual tour, in which you can zoom in on every part of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.) The Sistine Chapel had its 500th anniversary last week. It’s weird to be in the same city as the Pope
  • Walked around Piazza Adriana, Ponte Sant’Angelo, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palazzo di Giustizia in Rome as the sky turned to night
  • I returned to our hotel at around 7:30 PM and together Heidi and I went to Krishna 13 for dinner again. Once again, our meals were delicious. This was the only sit-down restaurant we ate at twice on the entire trip
  • Hotel Room 42 (2nd floor) at Hotel Maikol Rome ($79), Rome, Italy

Wednesday, November 7: Rome/Paris – Day 38

  • We found out that President Barack Obama had been reelected first thing in the morning (which was late at night on Nov. 6 in the United States)
  • Train Took the nonstop Leonardo Express train from Rome Termini train station to the Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO)
  • Plane Departed Rome (FCO) at 12:25 PM on Vueling Airlines (Iberia 5961) and arrived in Paris (ORY) at 2:35 PM
  • After arriving at Orly Airport (ORY), we took numerous metro lines to reach our hotel in Montmartre. After finally getting to our room, we weren’t very excited about rushing off to visit the Musée du Louvre as planned, even though it’s open until 9:45 PM on Wednesdays. Instead, we set out to buy a French newspaper (for fun) and find a place to eat dinner
  • Still tired of European fare, we ate Indian food for the third straight night, this time at an Indian restaurant on our street in Paris. We had to wait until 7 PM for it to open, like many restaurants in Europe. The food was acceptable/mediocre, which only reinforced the mythical deliciousness of Krishna 13 dishes in Rome
  • At a newsstand just outside our hotel, I bought the “Election 2012″ special edition of Le Monde newspaper with President Obama on the cover; it’s interesting to see how other countries cover your home country’s politics
  • I was tempted to visit Vert d’Absinthe (store) or La Fée Verte (restaurant) for one more absinthe experience, but took the lazy route of staying in the room with Heidi instead. This meant that my schedule of things I wanted to see was jam-packed for my last full day in Paris
  • Hotel Room 36 (3rd floor) at Hotel de Paris Montmartre ($84), Paris, France

President Obama on cover of Le Monde newspaper, Paris, FranceThursday, November 8: Paris – Day 39

  • In the morning, I set off on my own to visit Roland Garros Stadium, the French Open tennis complex, because I would like to see all four Grand Slam tennis venues. After figuring out how to enter the complex, I ended up walking around inside Court Philippe Chatrier, Court Suzanne Lenglen and the smaller venues as well. It was a lot of fun. Previously, I had only seen the U.S. Open venues in Queens, New York City. Wimbledon and the Australian Open will have to wait
  • Visited Hotel des Invalides, but I did not go inside to see Napoleon’s Tomb. He was a dick anyway
  • Place de la Concorde
  • Visited Musée du Louvre for about four hours
  • Then I went back to the hotel to pick up Heidi, who had skipped the majority of the day, and together we visited the Musée d’Orsay, which is open until 9:45 PM on Thursdays
  • Our last stop was Moulin Rouge, which was quite near to our hotel (only one metro stop away), just to see it illuminated at night
  • We ate Chinese food (fish with rice) from a random deli for a late dinner, making it four straight nights of Asian food
  • If we had even more days in Paris (and the inclination), we would have visited the Catacombs of Paris and explored more of Montparnasse. We also might have gone to see Château de Versailles or Chartres Cathedral, which are southwest of Paris. Or we might have visited Fontainebleau, which is southeast of Paris
  • Hotel Room 36 (3rd floor) at Hotel de Paris Montmartre ($84), Paris, France

Friday, November 9: Paris/Iceland/Seattle/Oregon – Day 40

  • Plane Departed Paris (CDG) at 1:20 PM on Icelandair FI543 and stopped in Iceland (KEF). Departed Iceland (KEF) at 4:55 PM on Icelandair FI681 and stopped in Seattle (SEA) on the way back to Portland (PDX). Arrived in Portland via Alaska Airlines AS2627 at 8:18 PM. Time zone change of -9 hours from Paris
  • Just like our first day, most of our last day was spent suspended in a pressurized flying tube over Greenland, Canada and frigid salt water with icebergs
  • We bought Japanese food/sushi at the Keflavik International Airport in Iceland, which stretched my days featuring Asian food to five straight. It was a nice cuisine switch to end the trip
  • However, the first thing I did once we made it through customs in Seattle was buy a burrito. And the first thing I did when we arrived at our house was eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hadn’t tasted a burrito or peanut butter in 40 days. These important (to me) foods hardly exist in Europe. Nutella, on the other hand, can be purchased at any store in any city across the European continent. Nutella practically runs in the streets like water; or, more accurately, like thick mud. And that’s all I have to say about that

I didn’t want to return home from our adventure, but it’s also good to be home.

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