Thursday, November 09, 2006

Under the Tuscan Sun

When 'under' the Tuscan sun, it is hot. As soon as the sun goes down, however, it takes with it every morsel of warmth. This was especially apparent at our campsite in Florence. We had cots in a tent. Even when under four thick blankets and a sleeping bag, I was still freezing! It must have been at least -20°C! I really think Italy should consider a more equal distribution of heat throughout the day!

Other than the cold nights, Florence was delightful. From our view above the city, we could see endless red rooves, the Duomo, and hints of Tuscan countryside on the out skirts. Florence was really busy. I can see why people who only visit Italy's big cities may not enjoy their trip as much as they should. In big cities there are always lines (queues), pick-pocketers, crazy drivers and angry Italians. If the big cities are seen in between small towns, though, I find them much more enjoyable. We even splurged into the Uffizzi Gallery, which has rooms of famous pieces like Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Giotto, Titian, Parmaginino (like the cheese) and even the only canvas Michelangelo finished.

Florence, we heard, had Italy's best gelato. Obviously, we had to see for ourselves. Let me tell you about my extensive research. Pistachio is best with less pistachio-ness; the chocolate is usually like dark chocolate, with more cocoa than sugar; if banana is yellow, it is made from a mix (it is supposed to be grey coloured); if it is in a metal tin, as opposed to plastic, it is more likely to be homeade. Store owners let you taste flavours before you buy them (rice flavoured gelato?). Jonathan and I have very different tastes. And most importantly: you can NEVER get enough gelato!

On Our Minds

We are exhausted. Travelling is taking a lot more out of me than I thought it would. I am tired of bus and train 'schedules', my bag, my clothes, walking, Jon's beard, gross showers and, our staple meal: crusty bread and jam. Don't go feeling sorry for us though (I'm sure you weren't) but even though all of the above is true, I am still somehow having the 'time of my life'. I have just come to realize that 'time of my life' is much more of a 'travelling experience' (with huge ups and downs) rather than a perfect vacation. Anyways, in no particular order, this is what I would ask the genie for.

aka. Top 3 Things I (Kristen) would REALLY like right now...

1. A bed that is comfortable with soft, clean sheets, an actual pillow, a duvet in an actualy room (not a tent), which is very close to the bathroom (not a five minute walk in the dark, cold night).

2. Pancakes! or waffles with blue berries from the cottage (well, while I'm fetching blueberries, I might as well imagine being at the cottage too), whipcream, fresh fruit, PC syrup...oh and maybe chocolate chips (yes, ALL of that).

and...(drum roll please)

3. That Jonathan would shave his prickly beard and cut his winged hair...people are starting to look. I think they are going to start denying us entry into places. While we are giving him a makeover, lets give him new, clean, not-too-reeky socks. Sigh. Wow. That was a wonderful five minutes in my head.

Tuscany is beautiful and its small towns are charming. It is also, however, a big pain when you have to use public transport. Different bus companies run to different hill towns, so you can't get tickets or schedules in advance. You have to buy tickets at newsstands or 'tabbachi's', which aren't close to the bus stops. On holdiays and Sunday's you can barely get to a town. It is beyond frustrating it takes four times as long to get places, as buses and trains are infrequent, even on weekdays and often require hours of waiting in stations, clinging to your luggage. Er. Although I probably shouldn't complain as transportation here is probably better than it is back home. I guess it is all part of the 'travelling experience'. You just have to weigh it against things like watching the sun rise over the Tuscan hills. Is it worth it? Definitely.


More than any other travel accessory, fannypacks are predatory merchandise. Their buyers are the prey. Marketing lures in the unsuspecting vitim. Without ever having bought a fannypack myself, I can only speculate what the typical thought process is leading up to a fannypack purchase.

Risking sounding too much like a pessimist, my first thought is that fannypack buyers, leading up to their blunder-of-a-purchase, are terribly mislead by directing their attention only to the positive features of the fannypack. Score that a success for the fannypack marketing department and a loss for the buyer. The 'selling points' of a fannypack can be summarized as 'somewhere to keep all your valuables close to your person'. Legitimate enough. You can put all your valuables in a fannypack. With the monsterous size of most you cou8ld also put a small dog in there to guard all your valuables.

It is true that your valuables such as your passport (which is skinny), bank cards (skinny) and other important documents (again, most likely to be skinny). What, then, is the problem with the fannypack? Sorry, 'is the problem' implies there is only ONE problem, singular. That was the wrong question to ask. My bad. The proper question should be, 'What are the problems with the fannypack?'.

First, and rather ironically, they are desinged to accomodate not the careful traveller, but the careless one. Fannypacks are large enough to be packed indiscriminately. So, the fannypack owner thinks (i speculate), 'Why should I pare down my wallet and documents to only what is pertinent to my trip? I have lots of room!'. But, c'mon, do you REALLY need your Costco card? The careful traveller leaves all but the essentials at home. Because fannypacks are so large and accomodating, they are also highly visible to everyone. I do mean everyone: you, me, uncle Buck and every pickpocket, gypsy and thief from here to Vatican City. This is another reason fannypacks are predatory merchandise. They cannot be hidden under you clothing like a moneybelt can. Knowing every fannypack is plum full of presents, thieves, I imagine, target fannypackers.

The second problem with fannypacks is that, just as easily as they can be buckled tightly around your waist, they can be unbuckled. Yet another reason fannypacks are predatory merchandise. As if that it is common knowledge that precious credit cards and passports are hiding in there and that they are highly visible and theft-friendly is not enough, fannypacks are also easy to unbuckle. Hmm... The fannypack marketing department conveniently leases this tidbit out when selling their product. But don't fret, fannypackers, if your fannypack is stolen, you can be sure the thief won't sneak into Costco on YOUR card...


Let's play the Assisian numbers game!

Ninety percent of Assisi is motivated the dollar of tourism. Ten percent of Assisi is motivated by imitating Christ. One hundred percent of the town is proud of its spiritual past, namely its two favourite saints, Francis and Clare. Ninety percent of the tourisits to Assisi come to experience what one hundred percent of the locals are proud of, but what only ten percent of the town can be considered an authentic descendent of. The other ninety percent of of the town has come into being because ninety percent of the tourists come for the other ten percent. This ninety percent is the tacky exploitation of what only ten percent of the town has true roots in, but what one hundred percent of the town is proud of.

We observed the general store-breakdown of the ninety percent to be painfully souvenir-rific. These shops shamelessly sold shoddy rosaries, St. Francis figures made from cheap plastic to gawdy ceramics to expensive crystal and many other materials, too. Also crucifixes, guns, cross-bows, nunchuks (those were pretty cool, actually), chalices, plates, pope-wine, among other Niagara Falls-quality wastes of money. Another ten percent of the ninety percent were gelato cafes and the final ten percent were pizzerias/ristorantes. Together this makes the ninety percent one hundred percent lamentable and painful.

But the ten percent (which one hundred percent of the locals are proud of) that ninety percent of the tourists come for is not a waste of time. There are many churches that boast architectural feats and many that are architecturally humble. One hundred percent of the churches were visited by us.

We also observed that one hundred percent of Assisi's churches had prayer kneelers. Our knees, however, observed that zero percent of the one hundred percent of churches in Assisi had cushions on their prayer kneelers.

All in all we enjoyed Assisi and are glad that Francis (of Ruette fame) encouraged us to visit the small town. But what about all those numbers, you ask? If we were to process these numbers into a one to ten rating, one being a 'definite no-go' and ten being a 'quit your job and go now!', we give Assisi a 7.2.

Now, class, if there are any questions, raise your hand.

p.s. we know Assisi is not in Tuscany. It is in Umbria.

p.p.s. This is the sign we are looking at right now in the internet cafe. Can you make any sense of it?

Please without use internet you dont use the chair for sit .Eat or anything direction Thanks.

Commenting on the Comments

Well, Dad, I actually wish that that was my laundry hanging out of a window, having been done by some nice Italian lady, and being returned to me fresh and clean, as opposed to the stinky, worn out clothes that I wear EVERY day. Would I ever wear a shirt more than twice at home? No, but here, the shirt still feels fresh if I washed it only two days ago. Honestly, the highlight of my day yesterday was showering. Before I start losing friends, Im going to move on. Hi everyone at the Rainbow Bridge! Im glad to hear you are enjoying my adventures, even if you arent commenting (Doris) Just joking. I am so happy to hear that Jaime had her baby boy! I cant wait to meet little Ty! Finally, thanks for the thesaurus link, Bron and Dave!


Anonymous said...

Can't believe you're leaving Rome already. OK... so you don't think fanny packs are a good idea!! U. Joe... did you notice the "Dolce Vita" sign over the gelato store??

love MOM

Chandra Lee said...

I love the bit on fannypacks but the photos....are breathtaking...please continue the blogging, i look forward to reading about ur adventures!

Anonymous said...

Kristen and John.
You've made my day.....actually my week. Always looking forward to your next adventures. The photos are gorgeous and the stories keep me laughing.
Keep them coming.
I like Johns beard!


Marta said...

Kristen...look at the bright side of Jon, he could be wearing his bathrobe and stinky moccasins :)