De-Florenced.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Italy - Florence | Posted on 29-03-2010

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So sometime in the past (lets refer to it as “this morning”) I left florence and caught a flight to zurich and had a layover and then caught a flight to montreal, where i’m currently sitting killing a few hours layover with a pint of beer and a burger. I wanted to get a few notes down about florence before I get back into home mode and the feeling of the place fades into a memory state…

[Note: my brain is currently splattered across many timezones and beer is holding it together. Incorporate that into this read…]

So…
Florence…

*OLD*.
Beautiful.
Amazing.

Rome has old stuff, but Florence is all just old. It’s a beautiful middle ages city on a river with squares and bridges and this church cathedral that you can’t even begin to imagine.

Monday: Chris had day off so we went on a tuscany wine tour with a crew… it started off as a civilized venture, but something about drinking heavily before noon before continuing on to multiple wineries lent itself to some serious fun, with some *really* amazing wines tasted along the way. Most surprising taste of the day? Real, proper olive oil. On a cracker. That’s it. And it blew my mind how good it tasted. The rest of monday was a bit of a write-off, but we went out for a nice dinner and then back home to bed early.

Other than that, it was just a bit of a great cycle… work in the morning, head out around noon to grab some lunch… everything shuts down at 2, so I’d just do some sightseeing around the city, and then head over to the venue for dinner before heading back to the hotel to do a few more hours of work before chris got home.

The city had some amazing sights… you could just wander and get lost forever in the tunnels of streets and alleys, which of course were all lined with some serious shopping…

Ended up on a mountaintop one afternoon at a church that was built around 1000AD and had more inlaid marble than I’ve ever seen in my life. Can’t imagine the amount of time it took to build, but it was stunning… Got shooed away by monks starting a mass, so I went and caught the sunset overlooking the city.

(burger just came so my notes might be short and greasy now…)

one afternoon ended up at the Boboli Gardens which were seriously epic… hedge mazes and miles and miles of trails with renaissance art just dotting the paths and hiding in the hedges. The park itself is half the size of florence, so it took a long time to make it through and I was too late to check out the palace that’s attached to it, but I did manage to find the statue of Bacchus – essentially the Italian budda riding a turtle waving his junk to the world and looking quite austere and amused about it.. (reminds me a lot of someone i know – heh).

Chris’s day off on friday we checked out the statue of David, which i didn’t think i’d really care much about, but as with the Picasso museum in Barcelona, you suddenly get what the big deal is… There’s no way you can’t look at it and have your jaw drop at the marble marvel it is.

We spent the rest of the day eating, drinking coffee, and shopping (not for anything in particular, just as a serious learning curve as the italians know how to dress). We did come across this shoe store that was a whole level above anything we’d ever seen… a Japanese shoemaker who lives in Florence and who’s store is simply one showcase showing samples (“I make everything custom. These are just examples.”). Seriously, these shoes were *art*… they take about 6 months to make a pair, and start at about 8000euro… But just knowing they’re out there stepped up our shoe game 😛

But yeah… wandering wandering wandering in awe at the awesome. Espressos beyond dreams. Cities older than anything I’ve ever known.

Food and wine continued to blow expectations away and just got better and better (dinner one night? Antipasti plate -> Octopus Carpaccio -> Pear Raviolo -> Florintine Steak… omnomnomomg)

Hanging out with Chris’ crew keeps getting better, travelling w/ chris keeps getting better, I’ve got the work/tourist thing in balance, and we continue living our dream of seeing the world without going broke in the process.

Don’t really know what else to say except life is good, and any chance you get to trip around Italy, jump at it… not sure if life’ll really be the same afterwards.

(note: gallery is too big to post all thumbs… click next button below to see more…)

Now back to Vancouver for a couple weeks of adventure, dj-gigs and appointments before I take off next…

La vita è buona.
🙂

Rome wasn’t built in a day… (But it was visited in one)

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Italy - Rome | Posted on 27-03-2010

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Last I wrote, we were headed off for a couple nights in Rome… Hopped a train on Thursday night after work, and got in around midnight. Could have gone out, but opted instead to chill out and make the most of the luxuries of the Grand Hotel (read: comfiest bed *ever*)… Glad we saved our energy because the next day set some serious personal records for sightseeing.

So Rome itself feels kind of like any other major busy city (NY, London, etc) except that it’s old. And by old, we’re not talking some cobblestone and brick. We’re talking about old pieces of the city sitting at the side of the road that are older than the country from which we call home. We’re talking affirmative proof that redneck zealots who think the world was created 7000 years ago have really just never left their backwood shacks.

We started the day early with some espressos and pastries before hopping the metro to the old city region. We’d learned that your entry pass is good for all the sights in the area, so instead of waiting for over an hour for a ticket at the Coliseum, we started with a 10 minute line over at the old city site on the hill. The entire hill is ancient ruins that you can stroll around and through, and descend down into a main drag of seriously old and massive structures. There’s temples, arches and ornate architecture dating from BC. Of course, a lot of the original meanings were wiped from our collective past by the church, and the whole area was off limits for centuries to try and prevent unwanted ideologies from surfacing. Luckily, strong technological architecture lasts longer than passing belief systems.

After coming to grips with the ancient nature of the place, we hopped over to the Coliseum, which is a giant stone structure that used to hold 50-60,000 people for gladiatorial competitions. It was also a theatrical and technical masterpiece, in that the area under the floor was hollow and consisted of a complex system of pulleys and elevators that would allow props and elements to appear magically on the stage. The astounding complexity goes so far as to have allowed the flooring area to be flooded and filled with water, and they could actually sail ships within and have battleship competitions, before draining it away for the next event.

Of course, the events were mainly gladiatorial (man vs man) or hunting (man vs animal), in the name of sport. Exotic animals were frequently hunted and killed during the events, including bears, tigers, hippos… As someone with animal cruelty trigger issues, my initial instinct was to recoil, but then I realized that our ‘civilized society’ might actually be better off to turn hunting back into a spectator sport – if animals are going to be killed for food anyways, might as well not pretend it’s not happening, and milk some entertainment value out of what’s an inevitable dinner-based fact (see also: bullfighting vs feedlots and what’s actually a more cruel punishment). UFC is an example that we’re really still all just wishing to observe structured violence in the name of sport — the Romans just actually went of the money-shot rather than pussyfooting around it and acting like it’s not what everyone really just wants to see…

After the Coliseum we went and found the site of the old forum (a horse racing track that used to house 250,000 spectators), and wandered through some old ruins in the jewish part of town before a nice lunch (as standard, maybe courses, with wine, and all fantastic).

We wandered deeper into an old neighbourhood and though I’m not sure we were supposed to, ended up inside some official looking library-esque building that had an amazing collection of statues and intricate carvings on all the walls. The statues were old enough that all their dinks had been cut off (seems there was an overzealous pope in the 11th century who had all the genitals cut off of male statues to prevent the immoral decay such indecencies would incite), and it was stunning to see such historic artifacts just hanging out subjected to the elements in their natural habitat.

More wandering took us through squares and down alleys and past palaces until we ended up at the Pantheon, which has the biggest concrete dome ceiling in existence, and it was built 1700 years ago. Of course, wikipedia will tell you all you need to know about the historical context of the building, and how like every other building of note it was offered up to a pope or church body as an offering, but what struck me as most interesting was a bit about concrete. Romans figured out how to make concrete around the year 300AD and built this giant dome which is still a modern marvel. Around the year 400, people were dying so quickly from plagues and for “having ideas or beliefs not in accordance with the church” (such as many of the technological masters of the time) that the recipe for concrete was actually lost for about 1000 years. It got me to thinking that if something like concrete could be forgotten about, imagine all the millions of things people have learned over time that have disappeared from our collective consciousness. How many home remedies weren’t passed down to the next generation? How many equations and calculations are lost in stacks of paper? How many revelations weren’t shared by the ruling party of the time and revoked from existence?

Sorry if I’m obviously embedding bitter bias throughout, but it’s been really hard for me to digest a country that’s 98% Catholic, and that every single piece of history on display has a Christian tale woven into it, because otherwise it’s been literally destroyed or had it’s history re-invented. It’s also disturbing to see the blasphemous wealth poured into churches and their expenditures – funding for classics all came through the church (ceiling frescos, statues, architecture). As someone who considers Christianity to be a passing fad and just a distraction from any actual connection to God, the bitchslapping that history and culture has taken is immeasurable and simply another occurrence of a recurring cycle through history (see also: Aztecs, Conquistadores, Native Indians. etc…) It just saddens me to imagine what could have been produced by humanity without the timewasting distraction and if we’d collaboratively pooled our knowledge.

Damn…
I digress.
Let me get back into fluffy Lonely Planet mode here…

After the Pantheon we wandered from square to cafe to stunning beauty to more old world to fountains to the Spanish Steps and then back to our hotel for a short chill-out.

We had the concierge recommend something up our alley for dinner, and he nailed it – great multi-course gourmet fiasco paired with delicious wines that left us feeling fabulously gluttonous.

From there we went to a place I’d been wanting to check out for years – a bar modelled after the Moloko Milkbar in A Clockwork Orange. As someone who happens to have a tattoo related to the work, it seemed more than appropriate… Great atmosphere, and after a couple Chocolate Absinthe Amaretto Milkshakes (Diablo – #66 on the menu – mmmmm) we stepped back into the night… Since I heard about it, the visit’d floated around in my head as “one day” knowledge, and it was a great feeling to be able to look at it as a memory rather than an item on the wish-list.

Of course, nothing tops off a little Milk+ like a trip to the vatican to visit the Pope. We’d hoped he’d pop out to bless our engagement, but St Peter’s square was quiet at that late hour and we had it mostly to ourselves.

Back at the hotel we sunk again into the “comfiest bed ever™” and slept until it was time to get up and catch our train back so Chris could make it to work on time…

At the time, seen through the distorting filter of new experience, it didn’t sink in how much we actually did in Rome or how much we saw, but after realizing that there were over 250 photos on the camera from the day the memories triggered and settled in.

Unbelievable day.
Kick-ass adventure.
And a new personal best for self induced touristy overload 😛

Italians do (some things) better…

Posted by jswt | Posted in Italy - Bologna, Italy - Pesaro | Posted on 18-03-2010

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I’ve been in Italy for a week and a half now, and I’ve been having too much of a lovely time to post much…

Things I’ve learned about Italy:

1) Their food is *amazing*. Their restaurants are stellar, and their grocery stores make ours look like desolate Quick-E-Marts. I can’t even call what we get back home pasta now. Even their $2 bottles of wine are good – let alone the good stuff. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

2) Everyone here is better dressed than us. I still don’t understand the puffy shiny jackets, or the excessive purple, but they’re rocking it.

3) I’m unsure how anything gets accomplished in this country. *Everything* is closed in the afternoons, and might/maybe open around that, apparently dependant on the mood of the shopkeep. Nothing happens quickly, or on on the first request. You just have to keep asking, and remember that 95% of a conversation is communicated through the hyperactive waving of hands, and high volume dramatics. It’s just how it is.

We spent our first week in Pesaro, which is a small little beach town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. It’s March, so it was really quiet and not too hyper, but there was a wonderful old-world downtown area that we could wander to and through.

On the tour’s transfer days, there’s a troupe of wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, and miscellaneous partners who tend to travel ahead and file into the hotel. I was part of this early-arrival posse on Sunday evening, and we went out en masse for a nice dinner and stumbled onto a chocolate festival that was going on in the main square.

Monday was Chris’ day off and we spent it wandering Pesaro – it was pretty cold, but still a nice day for a walk along the beach. We’d hop into cafes along the way for unbelievable coffees, brilliant pastas and antipasti, and always amazing wines.

Weds night was our 4 year anniversary, and Chris took me out for an unbelievable 6-course seafood dinner and wine pairing at a restaurant overlooking the river. The 4 years that we’ve been together have been amazing – we really understand eachother, share a lot of the same drives and motivations, and are compatible on more levels than anyone I’ve ever met. I’d realized a while ago that my life is made a whole lot better with him in it, that I’d be quite happy growing old with him, and so that night on our hotel room balcony overlooking the ocean, accompanied by the rolling sound of crashing waves, I got down on one knee and asked Chris if he’d marry me. He said yes, and instantly turned into a giddy princess, to whom I was engaged.

The rest of the week was rather uneventful – we were both working, the town was pretty quiet and aside from a couple visits to the local pub we just laid pretty low…

Sunday we transferred to Bologna, Italy (where I’m currently writing this)…

I rolled into town with a couple other tagalongs, and rather than heading directly to our hotel out in the burbs, we spent a lovely day checking out Bologna. It’s fantastic, with that super old town square centre magic feel.

Not much was open (it being Sunday, and the afternoon, and just generally Italy), so we just wandered around sticking our noses where we could. We found a great little underground vaulted cavern where we ate lunch of delicious antipasti plates (mmm – proscutto wrapped pineapple), and I was introduced to Lambrusco wine. Not sure if it was the wine with lunch, but shortly thereafter, climbing the largest tower in town seemed like the right thing to do, and after a 20 minute spiral hike upwards we were returned an unbelievable view of the whole city from a few hundred feet on high. One of our group spotted a flea market in a square a few blocks over, so that was our next stop… Tons of antiques and jewellery and vintage designer accessories, and definitely more nazi memorabilia than I’ve ever seen in one place, but for sure regretted my limited luggage space with the things I’d like to have taken home.

The next day, we hopped a morning train over to Venice… It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to visit, and Chris never had, so we didn’t want to miss the chance and were so glad we didn’t. It was as if we were walking through a dream: a city built out of nothing apparently drifting and floating while fending off and nestling up against the elements. We hopped off the beaten path and spent the better part of 8 hours doing our best to get lost via the maze of little streets and alleyways and walkways and tunnels and magic gardens, many of which are literally older than the country from which we come. Words can’t even begin to capture the sense of wonder and pleasure the city inspired, and I hope that one day I’ll get a chance to get back.

As I mentioned, the hotel’s a little out of the city centre, so I took the past couple days to lock myself down and do some long days of heavy development on a project I’m working on… My spidey-sense is telling me it’s going to be worth the effort, and I’m feeling good about where it’s at, so I’m going to take a guilt-free adventure pause…

For a bit of an engagement celebration, Chris has booked us into a very, very nice sounding hotel right in the heart of Rome… We’re leaving after work tonight, and taking the train down for 2 nights/1 day, and then coming back before work on Saturday. Only a few things on the list that we want to see, but mainly just looking forward to experiencing another beautiful Italian city and the sights, sounds and flavours that it has to offer.

More on that… IN THE FUTURE!
🙂

O(lympics) Canada!

Posted by jswt | Posted in Canada - Vancouer, General | Posted on 06-03-2010

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So I’m packed and ready to resume my role as JetSetWhiteTrash, but I thought I’d be a good idea to look back on the past few weeks where I had the opportunity to play tourist in my home town during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the years leading up to the olympics, I was rather neutral about the whole thing – I knew it’d be great for Vancouver, but there were a lot of negative issues being ignored, cost overruns and some shifty dealings.

But I remember it first settling in as to what it meant when I was in Geneva back in December, and I started to realize that it was bigger than Vancouver. Every time I’d see a TV, they were showing Vancouver. Every time I’d open a newspaper, they were saying something about Vancouver. Walking through airports and malls and venues, there’d be posters showing Vancouver. Everyone I spoke to, when they found out where I was from, was asking me all sorts of questions about Vancouver.

It was then that I realized that no matter what issues we might have with the olympics at home, they were coming, and the world was going to be arriving on our doorstep shortly.

The event itself overlapped for a week with Chris’ tour break, and we both just kept ourselves clear to make the most of the events and see what came to us… We also had some good old friends of mine from DC stay with us for that first week, which seriously added to and helped encourage our own sightseeing and touristiness of it all.

Pretty much every night we’d end up downtown in the throngs, revelling… hi-5ing… drinking… singing… cheering… and it was unbelievable. Our regularily no-fun-city was giving everyone the respect to go out and enjoy themselves, and everyone was making the most of that gift.

Canada is not usually anything more than a politely patriotic place – I mean aside from sporting events, the national anthem is rarely heard (even on most July 1st/Canada Days). But something about this event woke people up and made them realize they were so proud of where they came from, and who we were as a country, that they literally erupted into song. You heard people singing everywhere – on the trains, in the bars, on the streets, in the mall… It was unprecedented, surreal, and rather marvelous to experience.

We went into the whole thing only having some tickets for some long track speed skating, but whether it be karma, luck, or an openness to extreme possibilities, we ended up having a pretty full schedule of awesomeness: Medal ceremonies, hockey games, closing ceremonies, skating, superultra hair metal madness with Steel Panther. Chris even got a ticket to the mens moguls event where Canada won it’s first gold medal on home soil (and got us to some late night party with some of the canadian team).

In the end, Canada walked away with the record for most gold medals, and more importantly to us as a country, the gold medal in hockey — which symbolically stamped success upon the game

I think the most important thing that’s going to come out of this olympic experience for me is the hope of what it means for Vancouver – that we’ve for the first time realized that we’ve got a collective spirit that we’re proud of, that living in our city makes us part of something unique, and that we’re about to experience unprecedented growth that’s going to take us to a metropolitan level.

We’ve never actually *celebrated* as a city before… We’ve gone downtown to watch some fireworks, but that was a “get in, get out” type deal. We’d never been given a chance to just hang out and party… But now, we’ve not only taken the babysteps needed to be comfortable partying with our neighbors, we’ve all reailzed what a fantastic sensation it is to come together as a group and be part of the whole… (of course, say the festival goers and hippyfolk, but… that vibe you got the first time it all clicked — the masses just saw it, for most, their first time).

Similar to what Expo86 did for the city, we’ve just stepped up onto the world stage, and it’s going to be interesting to watch how we step up as a city, because the world has now seen Vancouver and the fantastic smile we flashed back to the world.

As I felt last year when I realized the world was coming to Vancouver… this is bigger than us now.

The secret’s out…
And it’s going to be an interesting wave to ride.