Monday, July 25, 2005

Catching up

We are back in the good 'ol U.S., but I am WAY behind in my blog posts.

I threw up a few pics, and will be adding in the text later.

It's just so hard when the days are so busy to commit a couple of hours to write out the blog files. However, I did keep a journal and it contains very copious notes about our travels.

Look back soon for the real blog entries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Florence, Italy

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Marseilles, France

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tunis, Tunisia

Monday, July 11, 2005


Thursday, July 07, 2005

The News Hole

An odd thing happened tonight. It’s interesting how when one is traveling and trying desperately to cram into his or her head the history, language and culture of a new place, how isolated one becomes from the rest of the world.

At home, I am a confessed news junkie. I spend at least an hour every morning reading the New York Times on the Web and and keep up with various news bulletin services throughout the day. Bethany is probably not typically as hungry for news as I am, but she reads every morning and keeps up with current events,

This evening, we were both on our way to the Piazza del Popolo to find dinner, when the events of the world suddenly intruded upon us. As we entered the metro (subway), I tried to run our day passes through the validator, and it simply would not accept them. We tried machine after machine with no luck.

Suddenly, a huge surge of people emerged from the lower levels, looking irate and weary. Then another flow of people began to pour through the unmanned entry station to descend. Confused, we shouldered our way into the second mass and once through the gate, walked right past the security officers, who though unusually on edge, seemed to care little that we had not validated our passes.

Then the intercom crackled to life, and a voice said in several languages, “The metro station is now open for passengers. Thank you for your patience.”

I wondered aloud if perhaps there had been a mechanical malfunction or even a power outage.

It wasn’t until the following morning that we learned about the bombing of the British transit system.

This reminded me of the real tragedy of terrorism: the experience of the innocents. By definition, terrorism is an unexpected attack. What if the bomb had gone off in the Roman subway instead of the British subways? As we stood pressed against the thousands of people crowded shoulder to shoulder in the dank, hot darkness of the suddenly unventilated metro stations across the city, would we have any knowledge of what was happening? How can anyone recognize any such event as an attack until afterwards?

But I know that’s not the point of terrorist attacks. Rather, the point would be whether we, after hours of fumbling blindly across treacherous subway platforms, feeling our way up non-working escalators, fighting down the natural urge to panic as hundreds of people try to pull and pry their way to safety from the dank darkness … after all of this, would we have the courage to venture back into these subterranean stations again?

That’s what terrorism does. It turns the trusted into the enemy, the reliable into the frightening. And I think the terrorists in question would be more than happy if none of us felt comfortable riding the subway again.

But I suspect that most of the world had the same reaction to the British transit bombings as I did: I shrugged my shoulders, said a quick prayer for the victims and the emergency rescuers and went on with my life.

Rome, Day 1

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Rome: The arrival

Everyone's trip to Rome will be different. Although this seems obvious on the one hand, another part of me finds this paradoxical. When so many people come to the same place, how can the experiences be so vastly different?

Yet they are. Perhaps this is why so many sages and students throughout the generations have embarked on Roman pilgrimmages. No matter how one gets there or what one does there, a trip to Rome seems to change a person.

Our Roman pilgrimmage got off to a rough start. Landing at 7:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. CST) after an 8 hour "overnight" flight, Bethany and I were both severly exhausted, but very excited to off the plane. And I think we let the adrenaline of running through our systems fool us into thinking that we weren't THAT tired ...

"Should we take a taxi or a train?" Such a simple question, but one with dramatic consequences for us.

I asked Bethany if she were up to a train ride followed by a five block hike (with our luggage, mind you) to the Hotel Europa, our first place on the itinerary. Bethany said "sure," probably not realizing that we were both shortly in store for an adrenaline crash.

As we scrambled to board the "Leonardo Express," a direct link between the Fumicino airport and Rome's central train station (Stazione Centrale Roma Termini), we had our first of several stressfull moments.

I had read in one of my traveller's guides that one should be sure to get one's ticket punched before boarding a train, but as we raced along the boarding platform with luggage in tow, no ticket controller was in sight.

Seeing a man in uniform helping a woman to lift some heavy baggage onto one of the passenger cars, we boarded the train and hunted him down, only to dicover that he was an American airline pilot. We asked a few passengers for help and one finally responded that on the airport end, the ticket validation was automated. So we disembarked and I ran to get our tickets stamped.

We missed the train by mere moments. But we waited about 12 minutes and the next one promptly arrived. That's the great thing about Italian trains (at least in the post-Mussolini era): they run like clockwork, even at the extreme ends of the line.

As we joined the rippling tide of humaity that had gathered for the rush-hour train, a tide surging towards the incredibly narrow channels that were the train doors, we divided our luggage between us. I took the two larger bags (plus my backpack), while Bethany took the two smaller roller bags (plus her purse/toiletry bag and Buddy's camera case).

If Bethany struggled to get her bags through the narrow doors, up the steps and around the corner, my struggle felt Herculean, as one of the bags I was carrying (for the record, it was mine) was so heavy I could hardly lift it alone, much less with the additional weight I was carrying.

In the end, it was the rolling tide of humanity that made the difference for me. Every time I would buckle under the weight, I was held upright by the constant press of human bodies behind me.

The loenardo Express bypasses all the regular metro and train stops. As we blazed by stop after stop, I tried to triangulate our position on our maps to no avail (I was later told by a local that our "American maps," though written in Italian, were far from complete.

We finally arrived at the Termini stop, and then the fun really began. Which I will have to tell you later, because it is not time for dinner.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Project Rome

The next several entries in my blog ill cover our trip to Italy. Bethany and I were married on July 2, 2005, and after a brief stay in a Bed & Breakfast in Austin, we boarded a plane and flew to Rome.

These entries will probably be a bit haphazard. Our days are likely to be very full of site-seeing, shopping, and ... well ... honeymoon activities?

Mostly these are going to be notes that I can later clean up for our wedding Web site. They may come in out of order. Plus, I will be typing these entries on an italian keyboard, and you can forget spell-checking.

My first entry will be about the plane trip. Or maybe I'll save that one for later.

Either way, these posts will be the "raw footage" for the honeymoon album.