Jared in Prague

Hello world, come on, get happy.

I have been in Prague for the last few days….what a city! I had no idea it was such a gem of a European capitol! I mean, compared to Sofia, Bulgaria, this place is a paradise. But by any standards, the architecture of this city is so profoundly beautiful that I was quite shocked. Around each and every turn, there are myriads of enormous buildings with ornate facades, towers and castles, beautiful bridges, statues, plazas, and squares full of markets, bustling tourists and locals, restaurants, and Bohemian culture (we are really in Bohemia by the way…). I don’t know what to take a picture of, because there are just so many things that are worthy of a picture.

We arrived by train in the early evening and went to the accomodations office in the train station to see about getting a place to stay. Stupid me, I had torn out all the information from my Let’s Go Europe book on the Czech Republic, because I didn’t plan to come over this far…but when I met Elyse in Bern, she said she wanted to come here, and I always wanted to anyway, but just thought it was too far of a trek. So, we had no information upon arrival.

The office set us up with an amazing Pension, but it was a bit of a hike from the center of town. We took a cab and got ripped off, but when we arrived, we found a very clean, new hotel with a beautiful room and a gracious host who helped carry our bags…which is always welcome…believe me, I am so sick of these bags, I am often tempted to toss them over a bridge (and I have crossed many). The hardest part about arriving in a new city is finding a place to stay, and until you do, you feel laden and disoriented, worried about what will happen…and it never gets easier. But once you get a place, it’s like you have a home base from which to explore, and you can store your bags and feel free to roam. So, once again, we set out in a new place to explore.

We bought a guide book that gave some information on the standard sights in Prague. There is just so much history here, and I can’t really get into it (mostly because I don’t know) but it was a major cultural capitol in Europe for a very long time, especially for Jewish life (OH NO, he’s gonna rant about the Jewish stuff again…oy…)….well, what can I say? It’s important to me.

We crossed the Charles Bridge, the main bridge crossing the river from the Old Town portion of Prague to the other side, called the Lesser Town. The view of the city from the bridge is spectacular….rows and rows of beautiful facades lining the river, with many spectacular examples of Eastern European architecture. The bridge is lined with many statues and carvings, and is itself an interesting site – old and made of cobble stone.

There was one interesting statue on the bridge of a crucifix with Hebrew writing surrounding it…not something I have ever seen before. There are many street musicians everywhere, as well as vendors selling the local trinkets. Another thing, there are TONS of chamber music concerts all over. We bought tickets for an early evening performance of a violin quartet, to take place in a medieval church….exciting.

We crossed the bridge and walked around the Lesser town a bit, where I dropped off some rolls of film to be developed (and thankfully they came out ok…pictures of Venice and Dachau. I was really worried that they would not come out, because my camera is a piece of crap and I have lost some pictures because of that). As we walked around, I got the sense that I was in a truly Medieval town with buildings that were so old, and original, that I felt like I was back in time. Of course, that is ruined by the zillions of tourists and the modern trappings, but it’s still incredible. This city rivals Rome in architectural beauty. We walked up the hill of the lesser town to the Prague Castle and had some stunning views and pizza….

The chamber orchestra concert was quite impressive. I had never really heard live music like this before…and even though I am a musician myself, I was quite blown away. Classical music is in a completely different league, and I can’t even begin to understand it. The violinists were so right on, and their performance of the classics was perfect, in a beautiful little medieval church in the center of old town Prague. We spent the evening admiring the views of the lit up old town from the bridge…it looks like Disney World, but it’s for real.

Next day, we were thrown out on our asses, because we could only get the room for two nights. Apparently, everything in Prague was booked…hard to believe. This is a very touristy town. I think there was some holiday in Germany that was drawing all kinds of excursionists. We had to drag our stuff all the way back to the train station and go through the same booking speel we went through when we first arrived…but by the time we found a place, checked in, and rested from the exhausting shlep, it was about 2:00pm and half the day was lost….but we set out again.

This time, we wanted to see the Jewish Quarter of Prague. This city was the center for Jewish life in Europe for a long time, and there is a rich Jewish history here and many old synagogues. We spent the afternoon wandering through them and around the old ghetto area and into the cemetery. That was interesting, the cemetery…fields of grave stones with Hebrew writing looking very ancient…

If anyone has ever heard of the Legend of the Golum, Prague is where that story began. Back in the middle ages, so the story goes, a Rabbi fashioned a human body out of clay and brought it to life using some secrets from the Kabala (sort of like a Jewish Frankenstein) and the Golum lived and served the Rabbi. But one day got peaved about something and started wrecking all kinds of things..so the Rabbi had to put the Golum out of its misery. Bottom line – There’s all kinds of Golum figurines being sold, and I felt it appropriate to buy one. Ahhh, a souvenier.

Tonight, we attend services in the most ancient synagogue of Prague, the “Old-New” synagogue….should be fascinating. Don’t worry anyone, I am not becoming religious, just tasting the history and culture as much as I can.

OK, that’s it…see ya next time…

Jared

Jared in Germany – Part Deux

Whoa…I have been a lightning streak all across this dang continent! Last I wrote to you, I was in Munich, Germany, getting ready to visit some castles and stuff, and I will tell ya all about it.

Right now I am in Prague! Elyse and I decided to make the trek out here…it was an eight hour ride from Munich and we had to switch trains twice…we passed a lot of freaky little towns with really old looking stations, and a lot of train tracks that were overgrown with grass. They brought images of cattle cars and deportation to mind.

For the entire time I was in Germany, I really could not help but be overshadowed by the fact that this is where the holocaust took place. I mean, I tried very hard to see it objectively, and it is very beautiful land – don’t get me wrong – some of the most beautiful landscape I have yet to see, but everywhere I turn, I can’t help but think about the enormity of what happened. In every town I see, I wonder about what may have occurred there…and every elderly person I see, I wonder what role they may have played in the holocaust. Some of you may say that I have allowed emotion to overtake me and ruin the German experience,  but to you, I say this, “Come to Germany and visit Dachau. It’s a concentration camp. Look at the ovens. Stand in the gas chambers. Touch the barbed wire. Then talk to me”.

OK, so Germany was very beautiful. After I left you last, we hopped a train to a town called Fussen, which is close to the Austrian border and the the end of a region called the Romantic Road, a stretch of Bavaria containing much beauty, many castles and medieval towns. Fussen itself wasn’t much to rave about, but it is the base from which to explore two pretty dramatic castles built by Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria in the 1800s.

The castle that we decided to visit was the Neuwenstein Castle, if I can spell that right…and it looks very much like Cinderella’s castle in Disneyworld…in fact, it was the inspiration for it. It’s nestled into the Bavarian hills, surrounded by mountains, valleys, a river, and a waterfall…very dramatic, yet packed with tourists. We had to climb for half an hour up hill to get to the castle, then wait two hours in line to get in. That was pretty frustrating, lemme tell you…no information…no one came out and said, “Hey guys, you will be waiting for a while, so you may want to consider whether or not you really wanna see this friggin castle”. But no, we stood, two hours, and every 1/2 hour the line would move maybe five feet. By the time I got into the castle, I was pretty jaded. It was an impressive, but short tour. King Ludwig was one crazy guy. Check out some pictures on the web.

Two hour train ride back to Munich…fun fun fun. I have been spending so much time on the train…the sight of climbing down from the train and seeing the platform, and walking towards the gate is becoming all too familiar. It’s like I keep re-living the same moment over and over.

Munich is a pretty nice town…most of it was destroyed in the war, so a lot of it looks new, but there are many old buildings that survived the war, giving the city a very authentic, Bavarian feel. The main center of the city is the Marianplatz, a giant church with an extremely ornate facade sporting gargoils and a spire with moving characters that dance several times a day.

We sat in the center of the plaza having coffee and enjoying the view of the church, listening to the many street musicians and watching the tourists pass. We wanted to have an authentic German dinner, so we picked what looked like a local restaurant, and sat down. They serve pretzels instead of bread! Most excellent…but I found out there was no chicken on the menu 🙁  So, I had a choice of pork Weiner Schnitzel, Fish, or Beef. I went with the beef even though I am not much of a slab eater….what I got was exactly that…a big, vein full, slab of beef with two heavy potato dumplings…yum yum…uhhh….yeah. That was the last of the German cuisine. Stuck with McDonald’s after that….no offense to you Germans out there…but…uhh…lighten up on the food.

The next day was perhaps one of the most profoundly saddening days of my life. It was the day we visited Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, and model for some additional 3000 camps throughout the Reich. Dachau is a town located 1/2 an hour outside Munich that is reachable by train. It was most eerie for me to take a train and get off at the stop with a sign reading “Dachau” and hearing the conductor announce “Dachau.” I was overcome with emotion the whole way there.

I have to say, recently, the holocaust and the tumultous history of my people have been in the forefront of my conciousness, so the very thought of what happened was enough to bring me to tears. So, I could not hold them back when I arrived at the Dachau station. The town looked relatively normal, but what can I say? It was Dachau. I don’t know how people can live there.

We took a bus to the Concentration Camp, which is now a memorial with a museum exhibiting pictures and artifacts from the camp. On the way to the camp from the station, we passed many neighborhoods and houses that were just outside the fence of the camp. I wonder how people can open their windows and look out at such a place as that…does it phase them at all?

We got off the bus. We began to walk towards the camp, and the first thing I saw was the guard towers and barbed wire. Tears. Couldn’t hold them back. I was outside the barbed wire that held in over 200,000 “prisoners”, and I was looking in as a free man. They didn’t know if they would live through the day…if they would be shot by a Nazi guard on a whim, or because they went too close to the fence, or some soldiers felt like amusing themselves.

We entered the camp, passing through an opening in the the barbed wire. The whole area was open and covered with stones. In the center there were two barracks that housed the inmates….they were reconstructions….the originals were torn down, because they were so wraught with infestations due to the overcrowding (the barracks were constructed to hold 200 prisoners, but were forced to hold nearly 1600 each).

I entered the barracks. I saw the beds that they were forced to sleep on…nothing more than wooden bunks in which four prisoners were crammed into the space of one twin bed. I took some pictures, in a state of shock. We walked around the perimeter of the barbed wire, passing some guard towers, to the memorial. There were several memorials there, some Christian, and some Jewish. We went to the Jewish one…very sobering. We put a stone on the memorial, a Jewish custom, shed a few tears for the victims and moved on.

Outside the immediate viscinity of the camp is the crematorium, a building housing the gas chambers and ovens. I entered on the left, stood in the gas chambers for a while, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be told you were about to take a shower, then enter a room, have the doors locked and sealed, and see the gas begin to come through the little holes in the ceiling. I imagined the panic that must have been felt, and the chaotic struggle for life that was fought and always lost to Xyklon B.

I passed out of the gas chambers and into the next room, which is where the ovens are contained. Once again, overcome, I stood and gazed at the ovens and wondered how many thousands of people were cremated here. I put my hand inside one of the ovens and felt a shiver as the ghosts of the place surrounded me from every direction. No words can really describe what it felt like to stand in the place where one of the worst crimes in history was committed.

We left the crematorium and made our way to the entrance of the camp where all inmates passed through upon arrival. The gate of the camp has a sign that says “Albeit Macht Frei” or “Work Makes One Free.” That’s what they saw as they entered the camp….and I think it was one of the biggest lies in all of history.

After many hours of roaming the camp and experiencing some of the most intensly emotional moments of my life, we left, taking the bus back to the station and the train to Munich. After such a sad afternoon, we decided we wanted to have a  positive Jewish experience and seek out a Synagogue and meet some local Jews who live in the country where millions of their people were murdered.

There are a few active synagogues, and we located one. It was a bland looking building with a very small sign. It appeared, when we arrived, that there was no one there, but I rang the bell and an Israeli man came to the door. It turns out they were about to hold evening services, and we were just in time to attend. He asked to see our passports and questioned us about our reasons for being there…standard Israeli security questions, and I am quite familiar with them…I said a few words in Hebrew, assuring him we were Jews and just wanted to meet some of our people in Germany.

The synagogue was orthodox so we sat separately. The service was chaotic, as most are, but it was very comforting to be there. It was soothing to hear the Hebrew prayers and feel the aura of the place…it was a statement that we are still alive…we go on…even after such a horrible thing as the holocaust, we are still here, and we persevere. I have never been so proud to be Jewish, to be alive, and to be free.

After the service, we spoke to an elderly man, via translator, who was a survivor of Aushwitz, the biggest extermination camp of them all. He was hesitant to talk about his experiences. I would have thought that survivors would want their stories to be known, but I realize now that what we hear about the holocaust, the horror stories and all the events of World War II, are all the story of his life. And if that were my life, I would want nothing more than to forget what happened and try my best to live normally. But to me, this man was a living memorial. After the war, he was a refugee, and no country would allow him in because he had typhoid. So, he was forced to remain in Germany. I couldn’t imagine being forced to live in the place where you were nearly the victim of genocide…every day, walking down the streets where Nazi soldiers once stormed about, dragging Jews from their homes. I am sure he could have given me a more interesting tour of the place.

Sorry if this has been a heavy chapter to read, but I had some heavy experiences, and they still weigh heavy on my heart. So, I am sharing them with you so you may know how it feels to see these things. May the world never forget what has happened here, and may the memory of those who perished live in our hearts for all time.

I am in Prague, though I have just arrived and seen nothing as of yet…so once I get some good stories, I will report back. Thanks for reading. Oh, by the way, I am sorry if I offended anyone in my previous chapter about my experiences at the Vatican. At times, I take it for granted that everyone shares my point of view on things, and I know that’s not necessarily true. I mean no offense.
Thanks,

Jared

Jared in Germany

Yodelayheeeehoooooo!

Hello everyone…I am now in Munich, Germany, and this will be short, because I have to catch a train to some medieval castles in 20 minutes, but I wanted to write and give a short update….

After my last note, I stayed in Venice for another day. What a beautiful city. I can’t say that enough. The canals, the facades of the buildings, the people, the stores, the air, the boats, the gondolas, and the unique way of life that exists nowhere else that I know of…incredible.

On my second to the last night there, I decided I wanted to do a little public playing, so I searched out the most beautiful bridge I could find, overlooking a canal that stretched down a medieval looking water alley. I stood on the bridge and began to sing softly. Immediately, a whole crowd of people gathered around me, and started requesting different songs. Pretty soon the whole bridge was full of people sitting down, talking amongst themselves, watching me play, listening intently. I went through my list of covers and some originals….and I put out my hat to see if I could make some money and within minutes it was nearly full…I made $10 in less than half an our….hello dinner! What a great experience!

The next night was the first night of Passover, and I was feeling bad that I didn’t have a seder to go to. I felt pretty disconnected. I am not a religious person, but it feels good for me to be a part of the Jewish holidays. As I was moping about it, I decided to walk to the train station to check the schedule for trains to Switzerland, my next destination. On the way to the station, I passed through the Jewish Ghetto section of Venice. That made me even more sad about not having a seder. But then, I crossed a bridge, and on the right I saw a whole crowd of people gathered around a table, wearing Yarmulkes, preparing for Passover. I thought to myself to go over to them, that I belonged with them, and that they would not turn me away.

So I did…I went up to one of the people bustling around getting ready, and I said to him in Hebrew, “Ani Yehudi, aval ein li shulchan Pesach” (“I am Jewish and I have no Passover Table”). Without any questions or hesitation, he said to me, “Here is your Pesach Table”. I almost cried. There were no seats left, and the whole place was completely full, but there was one empty seat being held by a woman who was waiting for her husband. She said I could sit there until he arrived. He never came. It´s like there was one seat left, just for me. There I was, in Venice, in the Medieval Jewish Ghetto, celebrating the Passover with Jews from Italy who didn´t know me from Adam, but accepted me without hesitation. What a beautiful tradition and common bond we all share.

The next day I took off for Switzerland where I met up with Elyse in the capitol city of Bern.  Not too much going on there, and the airport was basically a tent with a runway….but we met up without incident.Next day we went to Interlaken, the prime tourist spot in Switzerland….right in the middle of the alps. Pretty dramatic mountains. We had a serious view from the hotel window…unreal to think I was in the midst of such mountains…snow capped, jagged peaks with little guys blowing horns and shouting “Ricola!” We took a cable car to the top of a mountain and spent an hour just gazing at nature’s creations….

Next day we hopped a train to Munich, Germany, from where we will see some Castles and Medieval towns and stuff…and then Dachau…a concentration camp. Don´t know how I am gonna make it through that one…but I will do it…it´s my duty to see such a thing a remember and understand what happened. So that´s where I am now…tomorrow we head to Prague!

Will write more when I can, probably after May 1st I will do more writing….

Jared

Jared in Venice

Well Hidey Ho! This trip o’ mine just keeps getting more interesting every day!

After I got forgiven of all my sins in Rome, Jeff and I took a train to Florence…it was a 3-hour ride. We could have taken the EuroStar train in one hour had we known how cheap it was to buy a supplement for a rail passes…whatever.

So, Florence. Medieval and stuff. City of Michelangelo, Dante, Monticello, Leonardo, and several other Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have not been blessed with good weather in recent days, so I have to say the scenery was considerably diminished by the lack of sun. WHY ME? I mean, how often do I come to Italy? You’d think the Earth would cut me some slack, but I guess not.

We checked into our hotel, to a find a biting dog waiting for us on the chair next to the receptionist desk…I was about to pet him when the lady behind the desk said, “Trickie da bita”….and I looked at her with a dumb blank expression. Turns out she was trying to tell me that Tricky, the dog, was a biter…there’s your accent again for ya. So I left the dog alone…I don’t need anymore dog attacks on my trip!

Florence is really beautiful. I have to say I liked Rome better…a lot more going on there. But Florence has some really nice places…its set along a river and there are all kinds of very old looking buildings and bridges across the river. There is a big plaza with a castle looking thing and many beautiful statues around…in the middle is the spot of the Bonfire of the Vanities where much priceless art that was burnt at the hands of the religionists. The main attraction of the city is a HUGE church called the Duomo….its facade is quite incredible, made of adorned and colorful marble, and the inside is rather plain looking except for the dome, which is painted with incredible scenes that look to be straight out of Dante’s Inferno…I think one inspired the other, though I am not sure which came first…

The highlight of Florence for me was Michelangelo’s statue of David. I suggest you look at pictures on the Internet. I was so impressed, I stared for at least 1/2 an hour. Michelangelo’s creation was so real looking, so perfectly proportioned…it looked like a real human body. There David stood, his sling over his shoulder, stark naked, looking off into the distance….and his mouse was out of the house. One thing Michelangelo forgot to do was chop off the foreskin…David was a Jew, after all….

We blew out of Florence a day later…I wasn’t so in love with it…I mean, it was nice and all, but I had just come from Rome, and to me, there was no comparison.

Took the fast train to Venice…3 hours later, I was utterly floored by a city that is so beautiful, magnificent, and dwarfing then any other city or place I have ever been to, anywhere. Venice is so amazing. We got off the train, got conned by a hotel hocker, given directions on where to go, and we set out. The instant I walked out of the station, my jaw dropped. In front of me was the main canal and water taxis and gondolas went up and down with fervor. The buildings look so medieval…it looked like I was in Disney World, but real. I can’t describe how incredible this place is…there are no words.

We got onto the water taxi and took it four stops to where our hotel was located. We found the place and discovered the rooms didn’t look quite like they did in the brochures…this tiny room with two small beds and ZERO space to walk around, cost $80 a night. Rip. Venice, apparently is very expensive, but it’s worth it to see this beautiful city. We set out of the hotel and began walking around the narrow streets, crossing bridges over the many canals…I felt like I was in Madonna’s Like a Virgin video…touched for the very first time. It was great.

So, I have been in Venice for a few hours now…just hung out in San Marco’s square for a bit. I refer you to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…lots of clips of Venice. Once again, no words can really describe how awesome it is to be here…I feel so….overcome…with…..Gelato.

Pardon me, my gondola is waiting. Venice, another place I have heard of and always dreamed of coming to! And Josh, I think it IS built on Tree Trunks! But, I think it’s sinking and in a few hundred years, it may be no more…heaven forbid.

Jared

Jared and the Pope

Great news! I have been completely forgiven of all of my sins! How cool is that? You see, this year has been declared a Jubilee Year by the Vatican, and if you walk through the Holy Door at the St. Peters Basilica, you get your slate wiped clean free of charge! Once I found that out, I was psyched to know I could sin up a storm in Rome and make one last trip to the Holy Door before hopping on the train as a forgiven man.

I have been doing some exciting stuff. Let me see if I can do a recap for y’all…I am sitting in an Internet cafe and it’s about to close, so this may very well be written in chapters over a day or two.

Yesterday morning, I checked out of my dormitory hostel, because I was thrown out on my ass due to lack of room….hmmm…what to do….well, I had a busy day ahead of me because Rob, illustrious owner of the Luna Lounge (a kick ass club in NYC that I play at a lot) was coming to town for a little romantic getaway with his woman, but he had a day to kill in Rome and we had been planning to meet each other and chill for a few hours. Plus, I also had a friend that I met in Athens, Jeff, coming into Rome the same day and we planned to get a room together and travel ensemble for a while. He wanted me to book a hotel in Rome so that he could have a place to go when he got off the plane, all tired and ragged, needing sleep…and I also needed to coordinate with Rob, so I figured it would just be best to check into Rob’s hotel, give Jeff the address, meet Rob for the day and come back in the evening to meet Jeff. Well, it all went super smooth. I booked a room in Rob’s hotel, showed up, checked in, left a message for Jeff and met up with Rob.

(Rob, it was great to see you man…I had an awesome time hangin in Rome with you…one of the best days of my trip so far…)

Rob and I walked all around, saw the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon…pretty much all the stuff I had seen already…but it was good to do it again, because I began to feel like I really knew the city…and that was my goal here. We pigged on some Gelato and took in the atmosphere. We ended up getting lost in Palukaville Rome while trying to find these underground Catacombs where all kinds of ancient dead people are buried…but we got super lost and walked all over the place. We ended up seeing the original walls of the city, from way back in its earliest days.

I am still floored by this place…it is so beautiful and I hope to come back many times in my life. BY the way my feet hurt like living hell, because I have been walking so much…but I think I have lost a few pounds and I am feeling mighty fine.

After I left Rob around 6:30pm (he had to pick up his woman at the airport and light the fire…), I went back to my room to find that Jeff had checked in and everything worked out according to my evil plan. It turns out the hotel is a bit of a hike from the center of town, so we had to hop the train and ride on into town. We had an immediate dilemma to solve of where we would be staying the following night, because Rob’s hotel was kicking us out cuz of reservations…so we walked around for a bit, looking for hotels, but they were all crazy expensive. Ended up finding a cheaper hostel type of place near the Vatican….

Ahhh, the Vatican. Seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the most powerful entity in the world. In fact, it’s an autonomous country. They have their own coins printed, as well as their own stamps and post. They make their own laws and do as they please…wielding much influence over the world at large….and it’s perhaps the most amazing complex of buildings I have ever seen….home to some of the most incredible works of art ever made, at the hands of Michelangelo, Raphael, just to name a few….housing the Sistine Chapel, the Basilica of St. Peter, the Pieta, a Papal McDonalds, incredible architecture in general, and an all around kick ass view. Swarms and swarms of people gather here to see the place, its museums, all the sights I just mentioned, and also hordes of pilgrims come to attend Mass and maybe catch a glimpse of John Paul, the man himself. He appears in a little window every now and then, and I am sure that causes quite a ruckus when he does…he is, after all, to Catholics, God’s chief rep.

So, the next morning, we cabbed over to the new hotel, checked in, threw our crap on the beds and hauled to the Vatican. It closes at 1:00pm on Saturdays, and we didn’t want to miss a thing. By the way, I feel like I have checked in and out of so many hotels and hostels, sometimes I strain to remember where I stayed last night, or what my current place looks like. This trip has been one big series of check ins and check outs.

So, we made our way to the Vatican. As we approached, you could see the walls of the city that stretch a great distance, encircling the entire complex and meeting at the great big plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope I am spelling Basilica right…. I am sure many of you have flipped through the Christmas Mass broadcasts at the Vatican on Christmas Eve…all that takes place in St. Peters. Recently, when the Pope decided to apologize for all the sins of the Church throughout its mighty long history of sinning, they had a big to-do in St. Peters that was broadcast as well. So, you may have seen it at some point.  But, you cannot even begin to fully grasp the enormity of the place…not just the Basilica, but the entire plaza that stands before it, surrounded by marble columns….so magnificent…no wonder people feel as though they are entering a holy place.

We didn’t go into St. Peters right away because the Vatican Museum closed at 1:00pm and that was where we had to go in order to see another little shack that you may have heard of…ohh, just a little itty bitty place called the Sistine Chapel. Ring a bell? Michelangelo laid on his back for 8 years on top of scaffolding, painting the ceiling full of scenes from the Bible…the most famous of which is the Creation of Man, in which you see God and Adam almost touching the tips of their fingers….I think Steven Spielberg ripped that off when he made E.T. (ouuuuuch….Eeeeelllliot…..boooo boooo.)

So, we walked around the walls to the entrance of the museum, only to find a line that was at least a mile long. It stretched around the corner for another mile, so it seemed. But, it was moving steadily, and we didn’t wait for more than 1/2 an hour. As we approached the entrance, looming in front was a sign for our favorite chain of world dominators, McDonald’s. I guess the Pope needs a fix every now and then too. They have all kinds of special products, like the McPapal Shake, Carbonated Holy Water, Supersized Holy Fries, and if you purchase a value meal, you get one voucher for a free transgression.  Mmmm…..transgressions….

We entered the museum and paid the RIDICULOUS price of $9 to get in…as if the Vatican needed more money…and began to make our way to the Sistine Chapel, as did everyone else, because it’s pretty much the only thing that average sinners like me have heard of….we followed the signs. They lead you through a veritable maze of hallways and corridors that are so incredible, I was aghast.

The ceilings were adorned with gold and it seemed that each corner of every part was hand painted in the finest detail with scenes from the Bible, angelic figures, Christ, Mary, the whole gang. It was so impressive. The hallways went on forever, and they lead through the Frescos of Raphael (yes, Joseph, I had to see them, lest you never speak to me again…). Raphael was commissioned to paint the Pope’s apartments and boy did he do a good job….creating such dramatic scenes in beautiful detail, it was so breathtaking. Each room had a sign that read, “Sistine Chapel”, and pointed in a direction.

So after each room, I was sure the next room had to be the Sistine Chapel, but I had to wait a long time and see a lot of statues, paintings, hallways, and stuff before we reached it. Finally, we began descending down some stairs and we heard recordings saying, “You are entering the Sistine Chapel. Please observe silence and refrain from flash photography. This is a holy place.” As we finally entered the Chapel, we were greeted by a million tourists swarming about yelling at each other and snapping pictures of the ceiling with abandon…sneaky folks…so much for the Holy respect. The actual Sistine Chapel didn’t look much like I expected…but it was still impressive. Jeff and I craned our necks upward for 20 minutes, checking out all the paintings that I recognized from books….the Last Judgment…the Creation of Man. There they were, and I was amazed that yet again, I was standing in a place that I had heard of my whole life. That’s been happening to me a lot lately.

After that, we checked out the rest of the museum and sat in the Vatican courtyard for a bit, enjoying the view of the domes and gardens. One word – Amazing. For all the issues that I may have with this entity called the Church, and I won’t get into them here, I will give them this:  They sure do know how to build a Holy looking place. We left the courtyard and went back to the Plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Intermission:  Pizza & Gelato

I am back.

I wanted to go into St. Peter’s, cuz that is where all the sh*t goes down. So, we headed up through the doors, which were full of masses of people trying to get in. We passed the threshold and little did I know that, at that very moment, God gave me a complete and full pardon for all those Transformers I lifted from Sears when I was a kid……lucky for me…cuz that would have been enough to send me straight to hell, without passing GO. (By the way I passed through the town of Monopoly on a train ride a few days ago.)

What can I say of St. Peter’s? YOU NEED TO COME HERE. Words just cannot describe this building. As if the outside were not impressive enough, the inside was just sensory overload…domes, paintings, statues, carvings, huge altars, gold everywhere, all the trimmings. Unreal. And it is HUGE. As you walk through the Holy Door, immediately to the right you have Michelangelo’s Pieta, his famous statue of Jesus, laying dead in Mary Magdalene’s arms.

Check off another thing on the list of stuff I have heard about my whole life. Boom. Snapped a picture of that. There were millions of people, some pilgrims praying, others just groping around in amazement at clearly some of the most magnificent artwork and architecture ever made. Me too…I just roamed around and gawked. So amazing. OK, I have said that enough…but really, it was incredible.

As Jeff and I were gawking, all the sudden, hordes of people started to funnel through these ropes, up to the front of the Cathedral where the altar was. We wondered what was happening…maybe the Pope was gonna come out or something…so we got into the horde and found a seat in the pew. There I was, a Jew in the Pew…in the Vatican, in Rome, the source of so much misery for my people, yet I could not help but be drawn in by the power of the place. It wasn’t religious…I certainly wasn’t converted…but it was so inspiring to be there. We sat down and waited for the action to begin. What were we about to see? I kept poking Jeff and saying, “I am gonna shit if the Pope comes out…” Imagine that…If I saw the Pope at the Vatican…how many people can make such a claim?

But, no Pope; however, they commenced holding Mass. Now, I had never been to a Mass before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But they began playing this incredible gothic organ music that filled the cathedral with eerie notes of inspiring resonance. The crowd began to sing. In walked a procession of priests and altar boys carrying giant crosses made of gold….and the singing became intense. Singing, Latin liturgy, more singing, more organ, then some handshaking….and then the Communion. That’s when we decided to bolt….I couldn’t take communion even if I wanted to….

What an experience. What a place. They certainly built it to feel like heaven on earth. Me, a Jew, I could appreciate it as one of the most amazing creations of mankind ever, and it felt spiritual…but that’s as far as it goes.

Later that day I met some friends who I originally met in Turkey…Frazer and Katrina Cain…a really cool couple from Vancouver who came to Rome at the same time. Had a blast with them for a few hours and called it a night.

Next day, hopped on a train to Florence. Yep, I’m in Florence now. Just went to see Michelangelo’s David. Let me tell you, I am continually amazed with all these works of art, but as far as statues go, David is by far the most incredible sculpture I have ever laid eyes on. The details are phenomenal. I dig Florence so far…just got here, so I have yet to do much else but get rained on…

So, I will wrap it up now. Thanx for reading and see ya next time…

Pontificus Jaredicus Maximus

Jared in ROME!!!

Intro:  Accordion, soft, sweet tune…sets a nice mood…conjures up images of romance and relaxed dining….

I have arrived in ROME! Unbelievable! I think perhaps this is the most shocked I have felt on this entire trip, because Rome is so full of places and things that are icons in western history, and to see them and touch them is like reaching for a valuable jewel, holding it and knowing it is real.

The sights, sounds, and smells of this city are perhaps the most impressionable of any city I have been as of yet. It is truly a beautiful city. No words can really describe the feeling that I have of history and culture right now. Immense. To know that I am in the city that was the seat of the greatest and most influential empire to ever grace (and then wreck) this earth, is a profound realization.

To walk around and see all the architecture…..to wander the back streets and little alleys full of shops and restaurants….to see some of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen…and people of this place who rush to and fro…I bet they take it for granted. The architecture looks….well….Roman. What can I say? We all know what Roman architecture looks like…it has influenced so much of our own, even in New York City. If you served jury duty, you know what our courthouses look like. If you have ever been to Washington DC, you know what many of our government buildings look like. Well, you have tons and tons of that type of buildings here, but it looks so much more authentic, ancient, and colorful.  In fact, all the ones we have are copies of the ones here!

I arrived yesterday by train. It was a three hour ride from Naples. I was glad to leave Naples behind. But the gods snubbed me with sunny weather on the day I gave up the hope of seeing the Amalfi coast. Well, I saw parts of it anyway, but without the sun, it wasn’t so incredible. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. The train ride passed through some pretty impressive landscape….as we neared Rome, mountains started to spring up. I thought to myself, “Hmmm…these are pretty ancient mountains…the same that Caesar himself looked upon.” How profound of me.

We pulled into the train station, called Termeni. I got smart and booked a hostel in advance, because I heard it was getting pretty busy in Rome and I might have a hard time if I just show up and start the typical quest. I was glad I booked it, cuz I had a destination straight away, and that always makes it easier. But the problem is you never know what yer gonna git, if you book ahead. Gamble.

Once I checked in and got settled, I made a beeline for the nearest laundromat….whoa boy, was I in need. After dropping off the goods, I decided the absolute first thing I must do is go to the Coliseum.I mean, that is THE epitome of Rome and Italy, pretty much, right? It was a bit of a walk, but walking is the best way to see and get to know a new city.  I set out.

As I walked down the avenue called Via Cavour, I approached the Coliseum piazza…and I caught a glimpse of it through an alley way. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I stared. I thought “Whoa. That’s the freaking Coliseum. I am in freaking ITALY. THIS IS ROME. HOLY SHIT!”  Nothing I had seen so far in Italy had really brought home the fact that I was in Italy. But when I saw the Coliseum, it was a pretty heavy realization. It’s one of those things you see in movies, in books, or hear about all your life….it’s like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s THE thing you associate with Rome, more than anything else, at least for me. And there I stood, in its very presence. I kept walking until it came into full view. There is no way to explain how it feels to come to a place like this. I hope I am doing a good job.

The whole area was crowded with tourists, as expected. Around the Coliseum, you have a lot of the standard sights and archeological areas, so it’s a big attraction. I went to the entrance and bought a ticket and went inside. Again, I thought, “I am standing in THE (insert exclamatory 4 letter word) Coliseum!!” It was here that the Romans staged some of the most elaborate spectacles of ancient history, from naval battles to Gladiators fighting for their lives against lions, to prisoners being thrown to the very same lions, much to the amusement of the roaring crowds who gathered to watch in gory fascination. It was here that the Emperors gave their famous “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” calls when the life of a prisoner was in question. Thumbs up, he lives. Thumbs down, he dies. It was all for the sake of entertainment. And there I stood in amazement. I tried to imagine what it must have been like…but I don’t think anyone can ever really know the depth of what went on here.

By the way, I have not been pick pocketed yet. No one has thrown a baby at me…though I saw one women who looked like a baby thrower…. but I folded my arms and passed her by….

After I left the Coliseum…I was there for several hours, just taking it in…I went back to my hostel, after picking up my clean laundry (oh thank gawd!). I met some people who were staying in the same room as me, and we all decided to go to a “Pub Crawl.” Anyone know about these? WHY HAVEN’T YOU TOLD ME THEN??? I had such a good time. Basically, you pay a flat fee and drink as much as you could want for an hour, and then pay discounted prices for whatever else you drink. You all get together at one bar, stay there for a bit, then go to another, and then another, and then another….and each place gives you a free shot. Needless to say, I was more wrecked then I have been in a great while.  Wrecked in Rome. I met some really cool people and had a great time hanging out. It was nice, because I was feeling a bit lonely. We started at 7:30pm, so by midnight I was pretty ready for bed. Took a cab back to the hostel. Found out about “night fees.” RIP OFF.

I’ve still been eating pizza for almost every meal. Gelato too. Can’t get enough. Found a cheap pizza place near my hostel…they cut you a slab and then weigh it….

Next Morning:

Woke up. Waited approximately one hour for my chance to bathe…ate pizza for breakfast….set out to explore. I headed for the area of the Coliseum again, because that’s where a lot of the sights are located, as I stated above.

I wanted to go to the Palatine Hill, the plateau where the Emperors and senators lived, and one of the first settlements of the city. I climbed up the hill, turned around and got another view of the Coliseum, had another wave of shock…and then plowed forward. The ruins on the Palatine Hill are not as impressive as the knowledge of what went on there…but I can save you the history lesson…look it up…truth is I don’t have a clue.

After the Palatine Hill, I went to the Roman Forum, which is a huge conglomeration of ruined temples and buildings that were important to the empire. Between the two, I spent maybe an hour and a half.  From the Forum, I walked a ways to the Pantheon, an impressive building of 2000 years, housing a perfect semi-circle dome made entirely of poured concrete, as well as some fascinating statues and paintings.

Onward. Had to cover the bases. Next I went to the Fontain Di Trevi, the absolute most beautiful water fountain I have ever seen. It comes out of the side of a building and water cascades down several tiers, in the midst of daunting statues of the gods and heroes.I threw a few coins in, at my mother’s request. It’s a tradition…..

Moving on, I went to the area called Campo De Fiori, which, under Papal rule, was where lots of nasty executions occurred. Now, it’s basically a vegetable and meat market, but there is an eerie statue in the middle of it of a hooded guy looking down…he looks all evil and stuff. Coooooool. I sat under the shade of the statue and read a bit of Lord of The Rings. I was getting tired at that point, because much walking was taking place in between all these sights. It’s a HUGE city ya know.

Afterward, I made my way to the Jewish Ghetto. Being a Jew, I had to see it. Nothing much of the Ghetto still exists, but it was fascinating to know I stood in the midst of what it once was. There is the Ashkenazi Synagogue, inside the former Ghetto, which is an immense and beautifully adorned building. There are 16,000 Jews living in Rome today…many of whom are descended from Jews who came in 160 BC, sent by Judah Macabee to request that the Romans help the Israelites defend their land against the Assyrians….so I saw that too.

I did a lot of walking and stopping to sit where there were amazing views, and that was many many times. There are so many breathtaking sights and views, that it is really sensory overload. It’s late in the afternoon of my first full day here, and I am very tired from all the walking. Tomorrow I am meeting Rob, owner of the Luna Lounge…he’s coming to Rome for a little vacation and we’re gonna hang for a day while he waits for his woman to join him. Come on down, Rob.

I think that’s it for now. My feet really hurt. Need a nap. I’m getting old. Last night I hung out with 18 years olds…I have never hung out with someone born after 1980…weird for me….

Till next time,

CIAO!

Jared

Jared in Italy – Part Deux

Mangia Mangia….oy, that’s all I’ve been doing. If I lost any weight in Turkey or Greece, surely Italy will have remedied that by the time I leave here. I have eaten pizza and Gelato for every single meal since I have arrived here……here is an analogy for you.

Carpet shops:Turkey, ________:Italy. If you guessed Pizzerias, you win the Cannoli. They vary from great to “eh”, but the great ones are pretty serious in their pizza making craft….mama mia. And, no I haven’t heard anyone say it yet. But I have seen a lot of old ladies hanging their clothes out to dry, so that’s pretty stereotypical.

I ditched Naples, big dump, for Sorrento, a nicer and smaller town on the other side of the Bay of Naples. Today is my second day here, and Jupiter has cursed his land with rain. He must have known I was coming and didn’t want to me to enjoy the full affect of the Amalfi coast. But damn him, I have seen some pretty cool stuff. It was raining as I arrived in Sorrento, so I had to drag my bags around, getting them all wet, during the usual quest for a place to stay. I finally found a hostel, and I went way out of my way to do so…if Woody had made a left instead of a right, this never would have happened (getting all wet). So, I checked into the hostel, found out I had the room all to myself, cried out in joy at that fact, and set out to explore thisa fina towna.

It looks pretty Italian…how can I describe it? Think of all the pictures and movies you have seen about Italy…..and there ya have it. Italians talk just like you would imagine. You walk into a store, or a restaurant, and they say “Prego!” I guess it’s more than a spaghetti sauce….it actually means “welcome”.  When Italians talk in English, the accent is pretty much like you would expect:  “You want to a go a to a the stahhhtione? You musta make a righta and thena lefta…prego.” Hand gestures abound as well….take your thumb, press it together with your index and middle finger, while folding your pinky and ring finger to your palm. Wave back and forth generously.

The weather for the last two days has been crud. I so badly wanted to go see the Amalfi coast, but you really can’t get the full affect of it when it’s drizzling and overcast. You need the sun to illuminate the land! But I did get a taste…I met up with a New Zealand chap whose granddaddy is Italian, and he was here to visit for a while. We walked all over Sorrento and down to the port where all the ferries leave to Capri. The entire coast of the bay looks like cliff walls that are holding back the towns, seemingly built into the mountainside. I am sure it would be amazing when the sun is out, but even then it looked so dang impressive.

After taking leave of the chap, I returned to the hostel to find someone had checked into my room! How dare they? Well, at least he took the bed on the far side of the room. But when he fell asleep that night, he began snoring like a horse in labor. My luck. Earplugs in and all…but I could still feel the vibrations. Somehow I managed to fall asleep, but the next morning, he went first into the bathroom and stayed there for at least an hour. I wondered what he could have been doing. I heard the shower go on, and then off, and then 10 minutes later, on again. Making all kinds of gagging noises and grunts…I was getting a little worried that I’d have to call the authorities. After 45 minutes, I was gettin kinda antsy and knocked on the door saying “hello??? Can you hurry up there?” No answer. Ten minutes later, he began to struggle with the door, but couldn’t open it. I laughed to myself. Finally he got it open and stood stark naked in front of me….and he said “wha?” I was a bit shocked, and shifting my eyes quickly to the window, I said, “How much longer will you be? I need to get ready”. No answer…he closed the door…more strange noises…hacking and coughing…and he came out about half an hour later….how bothersome.

The morning weather was a bit cloudy with a few spots where the sun broke through.  I decided to make for Capri…I was either going to see the Amalfi coast and Capri, or just leave and go to Rome. I had heard so much about how amazing the landscape was, so I decided I had to do it.

Walked down to the port, paid the 28,000 lira for the boat ride, boarded the boat, set sail and enjoyed the view. I have been on a lot of boat rides so far on my journey, so it felt pretty standard. As we approached Capri, I was reminded of my several approaches to the Greek islands….very similar. Capri, apparently, was the home of Roman Emperor Tiberius, who had built several villas there. The port town was pretty standard…gift shops and restaurants. Everything was extremely expensive.

I wanted to see the Blue Grotto, a cave bored out by water in the cliff side of the mountain that is illuminated by light passing through holes in the rocks under the water; thereby, giving the whole cavern an eerie blue glow. It was pretty neat. I took a boat to the Grotto, paying 9,000 lira for the ride, thinking that was my ticket to get in, but when I got there, I had to get on another boat at which time they informed me that I had to pay another 15,000 lira. I was in shock. How many more people would I have to pay before I got to see the damn grotto? But it was nice. The guy who rowed my boat through the cavern was singing opera all the while…I guess for effect. “Oooohhhh, sooolo mioooooo”. What does that mean anyway?

After the blue grotto, I checked out the two towns on this small island. Very quaint and the views were lovely. What else can I say? It’s all starting to look the same….

It began raining while I was still on Capri, so I caught the first boat back to the mainland, heading for the hostel and dry clothes. That’s where I am right now, drinking a cheap beer and hoping to meet some fellow travelers this evening. I have been reading Lord of The Rings, and it’s really great….check it out, if you haven’t already.

May Gelato be with you, always…

Ciao.

Jared

Jared in Italy – Part Uno

Bonjourno! To say the least….

I am in Italy! I cannot believe it! I get that feeling every time I arrive somewhere new…I usually go through a state of shock that lasts a few days, but once I settle in to a country, get used to its money and learn a few words, I lose that state of shock. But, it’s only been a day since I arrived, so shocked I be. Let’s go back and say a few more words about that crazy 15-hour boat ride that got me here…..

Put it this way, I still feel like I am rocking back and forth. Boat rides mess with your head. Screws up your equilibrium and stuff. The boat was pretty big….semi luxurious and had 1st and 2nd class cabins….of course I didn’t get a cabin, because it would have been wayyyy expensive to do so. As a matter of fact, I expected to have a free boat ride, because my Eurail pass was supposed to cover it.

I got to Patras, Greece, where all the ferries to Italy leave from, barely in time to catch what I thought would be a 6:00 boat…only to find that my Eurail schedule was a waste of paper. The boat, luckily, wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:00…but the kicker is that Eurail passes are only valid on certain days, and yesterday wasn’t one of them…so if I wanted a free boat ride I would have had to wait two days, and that would have meant spending much more than I would have spent on the ticket, just to stay and wait for the free boat.

So, I bought the ticket, which was roughly $25, but then they nail you with a “port tax” of an extra $6. So, $31 to sit in an airplane seat for 15 hours….but like I said, the boat was pretty nice and you could walk around, up on deck, and they had a bar, restaurant, TV room/Gambling room. But I had to sleep on the boat….no way I was gonna try to stay awake for 15 hours….so in the area where all the airplane seats were located, it wasn’t too full, thankfully. I stretched out on the floor in between a row of seats, bunched up my jacket for a pillow and tried to sleep. I suggest you try to sleep on a hard floor….and report to me the situation with your back……cuz mine hurt like hell. I kept waking up every three hours, shifting around, trying to find a comfortable position….and you can get pretty creative in these situations…feet up on the chairs, back on floor…or crunched up on a seat….or the fetal position….you name it. It was like this that I passed 15 hours. Some of the time I spent up on deck where I met a guy named Aaron, who I ended up coming to Naples with.

So, we arrived. Let me tell you, I was pretty nervous about coming to Italy, because many people have told me stories of pickpockets, thieves, groups of kids pulling scams on you….gypsy women throwing their babies at you, forcing you to catch them out of reflex, thereby occupying your arms long enough for a kid to stick his hand in your pocket and make off with your wallet…..so by the time we pulled into the port at Brindisi, I was expecting to have to beat off hordes of kids and baby throwing women as I got off the boat.

Well, of course I was over worked about the whole thing. I didn’t even see one gypsy kid as I walked from the port to the train station. Actually, Brindisi turned out to be a nice little town. I hung out with Aaron, and we had some time to kill before our train to Naples (we had both decided Naples would be a good first stop to see Pompeii), so we made our way to the first Pizza place we could find. Mission:  In Italy, must eat pizza. They don’t sell it by the slice here, so you have to order a whole pie, but the pie wasn’t too big and easy enough for two healthy boyz to chow readily. It was good pizza, but honestly folks, we got it better in NYC. OH YEAH.

The train ride from Brindisi, which is on the east coast of Italy down near the beginning of the boot, to Naples, on the west coast, took about 6 hours. Before this train ride, I thought Greece had the best countryside I had ever seen…but Italy beats Greece, hands down. Everything is so green…fields, hills, mountains, rolling plains….tons of farms and vineyards…you can see grapes growing just about everywhere….it looked just like it does in the movies.

I passed the time on the train playing some guitar and singing my entire list of cover songs.  An Italian girl named Daniella came and sat with us in our cabin….oh by the way, you sit in cabins with two rows of 3 seats, facing each other…..and she was clearly drunk, because of the way she smelled and acted….and she only spoke Italian, so we had a hard time communicating, but she motioned to me that she wanted to play my guitar…so I let her. She couldn’t really play, but I was nice about it…smiled a lot….encouraged her….until she started banging on it while strumming, and she had a metal watch on which could have scratched up the surface….so I swiftly snatched it back and said “Bueno! Graci!” She smiled and mumbled some more and eventually left, saying “Ciao!”

So, I had heard a lot about Naples (Napoli) before coming here….mostly bad stuff….like it’s very dirty, there are pickpockets everywhere….the Mafia runs the town…it’s crime infested….etc. My reason for coming here is that I wanted to see Pompeii, a Roman city whose ruins are remarkably preserved, because it was buried in volcanic ash when Mt. Vesuvia erupted and spewed its lava all over the area (that sounds gross…) in 79 AD. But I was definitely nervous about coming to Naples for all the aforementioned reasons. As the train neared Naples, the landscape got progressively more dirty and city-ish. Mt. Vesuvia, Europe’s only still active volcano, loomed in the distance, overshadowing the entire area. If Vesuvia erupted, that would be the end of Naples and the entire Amalfi coast. The train pulled into the station as I readied myself for war against the pickpockets….

Exit train station. Immediately I felt like I just walked out of Port Authority on 42nd street and 8th avenue….but before Rudy took over and cleaned it up a bit. Shoddy looking people everywhere…vendors lining the streets selling the same crap we have in NY….like the little rubix cubes, or barking dog dolls that move their heads….I felt like I was home. It did not feel safe, and I did not like it, right off the bat.

The rumors were true. So I held onto my stuff tightly as we made our way through the scary people to the hostel we wanted to stay at. Of course, when we arrived, there was no rooms available….so yet again begins the quest for a place to stay. We checked around at a bunch of hotels, but most of them were overpriced, and you couldn’t stay there unless you were a card-carrying member of the Mafia. Finally, we found a place for 80,000 lira a night, per room…about $40….so Aaron and I shared a room, $20 each…not so bad.  But imagine staying in a dumpy hotel right near Penn station….that’s where I am right now.

As we were dragging our bags up the stairs to our room, the front door of the hotel opened. In walked an old man, hair greased back, shades, pin stripe overcoat slinked over his shoulders….2 young Italians covering his back in Dick Tracey looking suits. The receptionist/owner looked nervous and began to say, “I’ll pay!  I’ll pay!” And some money was handed over. The old man looked satisfied. Then he leaned towards the owner, grabbed him by the collar and said in rough, whisper-like voice, “Bambino….. never…never….never go against the family.” He pulled out his gun and pistol-whipped the owner, turned around and walked out. We locked ourselves in our room….only to come out for pizza and beer.

Next morning, we made our way to Pompeii. There is a train called the CircumVesuvia, which connects Naples to the other towns around the bay of Naples, and stops at Pompeii. The ride was 40 minutes.  Out of the right side of the window you could see Mt. Vesuvia towering over everything. What if it erupts? I might be buried in lava like the Romans! Oh my! So, Pompeii, ancient Roman city, being buried in lava for 2000 years and all, is pretty much a scene of Roman daily life frozen and preserved quite well for us to check out.

The lava encased the entire city and kept intact many of the houses, streets, bodies of its citizens, mosaics, paintings……quite fascinating. They have plaster molds of people still in the positions they were in as the lava rained down on them, enveloping their remains in stone, to be revealed again only by modern archaeology. It is quite eerie to see these molds and the positions people made as they died….with their arms over their faces…or crouched with their knees against their chests. Looked pretty painful. You can actually go into some of the houses and see murals on the walls, or the original doors, still encased in lava rock. The murals are fascinating…many of them depicting sexual exploits, different positions, and various other erotic artwork. Romans lived very decadent lives, at least the rich ones anyway. I took tons of pictures of Pompeii….hope my camera is working…guess I’ll see when I get the film developed.

That night, we decided to check out Naples and see if there was anything in town that was worth seeing. After filling up on pizza and Gelato (their version of ice cream, and goooood), we began walking. Everything looked closed and there were not many people on the streets…and the ones who were there didn’t look very friendly. We passed a few packs of bad boys who were eyeing us….we just kept walking. The city looks nice, but I think the safety factor sorta kills the experience. And then, as we walked, a stray dog jumped out and started barking wildly, teeth bared….what the hell is it with me and stray dogs?!?! They must have a conspiracy to attack me wherever I go in the world. I yelled at it and stamped my feet at it…hoping it would go away, but it just kept advancing. I guess we were in its territory. My heart was racing, again, and I slowly walked backward away from the vicious pooch. After a while, we put some distance between us and its territory, and it backed off. I was getting ready for some fight or flight action…..but I lucked out again.

Naples is a dump….don’t come here. If you want to see Pompeii, stay in Sorrento, which I hear is much nicer, and I am going there tomorrow. I will be checking out the Amalfi coast, supposedly some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world….and the island of Capri, also supposedly amazing and touristy.

Before I leave Italy, I absolutely have to hear someone say, “Mama Mia!” I also gotta hear some good accordion music….

Well, that’s all I have to say about Italy so far…..thanks for reading.

Jared

Jared in Greece – The End

Wow…I am actually at a computer again! You have no idea what I have been through since my last chapter….but I’ll just tell ya this much…there ain’t no computers in the middle of nowhere in Greece.

OK.  It’s been a few days, so I will try my best to fill you in with all the exciting, adventurous details of my excursion through the wild.

After I last wrote to you, I spent one more day in Athens. Athens. What can I say of it?  It is fairly dumpy. The buildings are not much to speak of, and neither are the people for that matter. I encountered so much rudeness and sarcasm from the Greek people, not to generalize or anything, that I was rather turned off. But there are some very nice parts of Athens, for instance the Acropolis and the surrounding areas. There are many quaint, ancient looking streets weaving in and out of the area around the Acropolis, paved with stone and lined with the standard restaurants and gift shops.

The gift shops are full or Greek statuettes, religious icons, and more chess sets. It seems each country has its own chess set to, ahem, pawn on its tourists. Jonathan and I, who were still hangin together at that point, climbed the hill directly across from the Parthenon on our second to last night there. It was like a hike up an ancient mountain, the path looking all old and stuff. The hill was where the ancient Greek senate used to gather…I think…I am not the historian or anything…but it made for a great view of the city and the Acropolis. You could see for miles, and Athens seems to stretch forever. As the sun went down, the city slowly began to light up, and the view of the Parthenon was quite dramatic. The entire Acropolis lit up, and the Parthenon began to glow like a beacon in the middle of chaos. I felt like I was on top of the world…well…Greece anyway.

After a few days in Athens, I was ready to get going. There really isn’t too much going on there, plus the mosquitoes seem to run the place, and they attack at night while you sleep. Each morning, I woke up with a fresh set of bites that itched like crazy…and I was down a few pints of blood. Nothing a little feta cheese couldn’t fix. I was trying to decide where to go next. Jonathan wanted to stay in Athens, and I was ready to leave, so that meant we part company. Fine by me. I decided I had to go to the Oracle at Delphi, since it was the only other place besides the Parthenon that I remembered from my obsession with Greek mythology. I almost didn’t go there in favor of Corinth, but I became convinced when a friend emailed me and said he was psyched about me going there…you know who you are…

So, I managed to find the bus station, which was quite stupidly located very far away from any sort of public transportation. So, I had to hike through the nasto streets of Athens, dodging the crazy drivers, toting my bag on wheels behind me. That was fun. I arrived at the bus station to find that the next bus to Delphi was not for two hours, so I set out to wait in the station and kill some time.

I decided to play some guitar for a bit. I don’t think the people liked that too much…or the dogs who seem to rule the underworld of the bus station. As I was strumming…not singing…only strumming, mind you…a dog approached me and just stared at me for a few minutes. I smiled at the dog and made the stupid noises that people make at dogs…”heeellllooooo puppy!” And it then decided to bare its teeth and began barking viciously at me, like it was preparing to attack. My heart was pounding, and I started to think I would have to hit it with my guitar or something….but some kind Greek came and took the rabid pooch away. Thank the fates for that.

The busride to Delphi was 3 hours long, but I passed the time listening to my cd player and rockin out. The people around me probably thought I was a freak, cuz I really get into music, as you all know, if you have seen me play. The Greek countryside is absolutely beautiful.  I have seen a lot of countryside in my day, but so far, Greece took the cake (up until Italy which is where I am now). Mountains, valleys, rolling plains of ancient stones and fields. Amazing.

We arrived at Delphi, which is a small town set on the side of a mountain, overlooking an incredible valley that empties into the Gulf of Corinth, the body of water separating northern Greece from the Peloponese peninsula. I met some people on the bus, and we decided to try and find a hotel together. We happened upon a hotel that looked decent, and we rang the buzzer. This little old Greek lady came down the stairs, and we attempted to communicate, but it turned into a screaming match when we tried to haggle on the price of the rooms. “You pay 10,000 drachma!” “No, I can only pay 5000!”  “NO!  YOU PAY!!!”  We finally settled on 6000 drachmas for my room…about $18, not so bad to have your own room for that much.

The next day we set out to explore the ruins of the Oracle. It was pretty amazing to come to the place where the ancient temple of Apollo stood for centuries, where the priestesses of Apollo spoke the prophecies of their god to kings and heroes who came to seek his advice. The place, set on the side of the mountain with the same view I just described, FEELS holy. It’s breathtaking. Now, if it weren’t filled with tourists and buses, and people clamoring everywhere, it would have been a lot nicer. But, I climbed the hill, weaved around the paths and all the fallen down columns, to stand before the ruins of the temple where the oracle would sit and dispense the advice of the gods. Apparently, the way it worked was there was a funny smoke that came from the bowels of the temple, and the oracle would stand in the midst of the smoke and speak her words. I wonder what the smoke could have been…hmmmm….any guesses?

After two nights in Delphi, where there is no Internet by the way, I decided to make for Italy.  I had enough of Greece at that point, and I wanted to get to Italy and put some distance behind me. I had a 15-hour boat ride and a 6-hour train ride to Naples ahead, so I needed to get it over with. I hopped on the 3-hour bus ride to Patras, where the ferries to Italy leave from. I arrived just in time to board the boat…it was pulling away from the pier and I had to make a running jump and throw my bags…I just made it….I caught the edge of the boat and hung by my fingers and someone helped me up….whew.  of course, it didn’t happen that way, but it makes for a nice story.

The boat ride was soooo damn long. I didn’t have a cabin or a bed, only an airplane like seat on which to sit….I ended up stretching out on the floor for 12 hours, in broken sleep. Horrendous.

I’m gonna leave it off there…..suffice to say, I am in Naples, Italy right now, and I waiting for some friends to go to Pompeii, the ancient roman city buried in volcanic ash….will write more later.

Jared

Jared in Greece – Part Deux

Greece is amazing! I have been here for 3 days now…I think…I am sort of losing track of time…I don’t even know what day of the week it is! It’s nice to feel that way sometimes, but also very strange….and strange to wake up somewhere and have to think for a minute to remember where you are. I have been hopping around quite a bit in the last month!

So, to fill you in on what’s been happening since my last Bat Episode:

After I left the Internet cafe on Samos, I walked around the perimeter of the U-shaped port, back towards where the ferry boat was due to launch. I met that guy Jonathan at a cafe, because it turned out we would both be on the same ferry….he was going to Athens and I was going to Mykonos. We had to get some food, and I was dying to have my first authentic Greek Gyro.

We picked a little dive where they were turning out the Gyros by the dozens….I saw them and they sure were small…much smaller than the Gyros in the states!  So, we ordered a few….and they came with a strange looking meat. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I tasted it and it was pretty dang good, so I didn’t question it. Of course, it turned out to be pork.  Eeegads! Well, I should have asked. If you don’t know, a Gyro (pronounced “Yeero”) is a pita with meat, onion, tomato, and “tsadziki” (yogurt sauce) all wrapped up conveniently.

After our gyros, we stocked up on some munchies for the long ferry ride and boarded the boat. This was a huge boat, bigger than the Staten Island ferry, and was borderline luxurious. It had lounge chairs, indoor bars and restaurants, gambling, video games and lots of people. We parked ourselves up on deck and enjoyed the view of the island as we pulled out of the harbor. Ahh, my voyage across the Aegean had begun. I thought to myself how weird it was to be there on the boat, when but a month ago, I was so unsure of how I would accomplish this portion of the journey. I have discovered my ability to deal with challenges as they arise.

Jonathan was on route to Athens, but I was telling him of my plans to take in some of the Greek island life, and that convinced him to join me on Mykonos. So, after a 6-hour ride, we pulled into Mykonos harbor at night. I could see the hillside of the mountain dotted with the lights of the little port town. We got off the boat and made our way toward the town, stopped at the first hotel we found and discovered a reasonable rate….$15 per person in a double room…not so bad, but the beds were really uncomfortable, and I was in pain the next morning.

Mykonos is extremely touristy and overpriced. The bay is lined with restaurants and cafes.  Behind the row of restaurants is a small town that extends up the hillside. All of the houses have white plaster exteriors and blue shutter windows, to give a very Greek feel to the place. The streets of the town are very narrow and confusing…apparently designed this way on purpose to strike confusion into pirates who attacked the island periodically. It was like getting lost in a maze. We wandered through these streets aimlessly for a while before encountering a pair of American Navy dudes who were on leave from their ship, which was docked just off the coast of the island. It turns out, actually, that the entire island was over run with drunken Navy guys who were acting like idiots. As we walked around, I felt like I was back in college, and it was fraternity rush week….18 year old newly enlisted kids walking around in a stupor, making asses of themselves and America. I was embarrassed for us all. But hey, they are defending our interests…so……yeah.

Mykonos got old pretty quick. The only people there were the locals and these Navy guys, who I didn’t really care to be around. The island is in a frenzy to get ready for the upcoming tourist onslaught, so the locals were not to be bothered.

The next day, we wandered more around the town and got lost again. We decided one day was enough on Mykonos, so we bought ferry tickets to Athens for the next day. I was going to try to go to Santorini as well, but I figured it would be similar to Mykonos, and I was beginning to miss city life. Plus, the Greek islands are a really nice place to go with a loved one for a romantic getaway of sorts…but alone it’s not so fun.

We were told not to leave the area of the town, because the rest of the island was virtually abandoned at this time of year. It’s OK. I saw plenty of countryside on this trip so far…after a while, a mountain is a mountain and a valley is a valley. I did spend a lot of that afternoon playing guitar in front of my hotel while looking out at the water and town. It was an inspiring view, and I met a few of the sailors who figured I was American…

Next Day:

We hopped on the ferry to Athens. VERY CROWDED and people were smoking cigarettes everywhere so it was hard to escape. I think I second-hand-smoked 3 packs in 6 hours. I managed to quell my fury and bury myself in a book to pass the time. I spent much of the time leaning against the railing, just gazing out into the sea thinking to myself, “I am sailing ancient waters that inspired myth and poetry in the ancients. The Islands I see now were the very same ones seen by the heroes of old as they sailed off to battle…perhaps to Troy or even beyond”. That’s what I thought.

We arrived at the port just outside of Athens and subsequently thought to ourselves “uhhh…what do we do now?” Here is where my new philosophy of making no plans was put to the test. I read in my Let’s Go Europe book of a few hostels that were in the area of the Acropolis, which is really all I wanted to see in Athens. We just didn’t quite know how to get to Athens from the port. We thought about taking the train, but it turns out the train was not working. That left us with the challenge of finding which bus went our way. As we walked towards the buses, we saw in graffiti on the wall of the station “FUCK THE USA!” and the “s” in USA was a swastika. Nice welcome.

A nice Greek was kind enough to tell us we needed to take a bus to the next train station and then a train to Athens. After a lot of maneuvering, we managed to get to the area and find the hostel we wanted to stay at. But! NO ROOMS. Oh crap. We set out to the next hostel on the list and after dragging my bags for what seemed a mile, we arrived. Oh wait! No rooms there either! I was ready to fall into hysterics. Our third try was successful, and we checked into a dumpy place where I fell onto the bed in exhaustion. But I was hungry.  Wendy’s. Sleep. Noise from the streets. Earplugs.

Next Day:

My mission was to go straight to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon, the glorious temple of the Greek Goddess, Athena, namesake of Athens. My whole life, I have dreamed of coming to this place…as a child I was obsessed with Greek mythology. Now, I had arrived. When you come to a place that you have heard about your whole life, and seen pictures of, it becomes real to you. It becomes a part of your reality. Today, a dream of mine was realized. We set out early in the morning to find the Acropolis, which is not hard to see since it’s a mountain plateau smack in the middle of the city. As we approached, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I am sure Jonathan was annoyed and thinking, “Why the hell did I come with this guy?”

We began the ascent up the hill, fighting off the usual torrent of people selling post cards and guide books and made our way up the slope, passing the amphi-theatre where Yanni rocked the house a few years back….bahahahaha….sorry. We bought the overpriced tickets and followed the crowds through the gates, and behold, the Parthenon came into view. I had to stop and gaze. It was beautiful, even in its ruins. It’s falling apart, so there is scaffolding and a crane they are using to replace pillars, but nonetheless, amazing.

I walked around it several times, just looking, staring. I am here. It is real. We sat atop the acropolis for an hour, gazing at the sprawling city that seemed to stretch to no end. A dense cloud of smog hangs over Athens. But the feeling of history here is so immense, in a modern, bustling city, built around the remains of the mother of democracy and western civilization.  I am glad to be here.

OK, thanks for reading. It’s been fun. I will be in Athens for a few more days and then on to the Oracle at Delphi….perhaps my future will be revealed then.

Jared

Greece has Crappy Keyboards Too

Ahh, the Greek Islands…

How I have wanted my whole life to come and see them…to hop from rock to rock…feel the history…breathe the air…gaze at the mountains that seem to grow right out of the sea…set sail on the many ferry boats that take you from Island to Island. Well, here I am.

I arrived this morning on the Greek Island of Samos, which is only about a 2-hour boat ride from Turkey. You can still see the Turkish coast in the distance, so it’s not really that far of a trip, but it’s definitely a different country! I could sense that immediately, as our tiny boat sailed into the port of Samos Town, Samos. The town sits on the slope of a hill that leads down to a U-shaped bay that serves as the island’s main harbor. What an amazing site it was to stand on the bow of the boat, with the wind blowing in my face and see the quaint, white houses with red roofs….it’s a very Greek feeling…if you can understand that….and hey, what a coincidence…it’s Greece!

I ran into a guy on the dock that I have been running into all over Turkey…and now here.  His name is Jonathan, and he’s from San Francisco. So we ended up hangin out around town for a few hours and treated ourselves to a Gyro (I am sure you know of this Greek standard), and a stroll through the back streets of this small town. The weather is great and I feel very alive and excited to be in Greece! This afternoon, in about an hour, I will be boarding another ferry that will take me to Mykonos, an island that many have suggested I visit, so I will; thus, begins my voyage across the Aegean Sea.

So what have I been doing for the last few days? I have been in Selcuk, Turkey…as I stated in my last email. This is a town on the Aegean coast and a good base from which to see the ruins of ancient Ephesus, a very significant Greek city of biblical times, where many events of Christian importance took place. Paul the Apostle spent much time preaching there, as well as St. John, who lived out his life and was buried there, as well as Mary, mother of Jesus, whose house you can actually visit – well, uh, so they say.

I arrived in Selcuk and checked into the best hostel I have ever stayed in – The Artemis Guest House. I have never met more friendly hosts who went out of their way to make me feel welcome and included. Plus, I had my own room and my own bathroom, with hot water! What a blessing! I also ran into Jonathan there, mentioned above. We first met in Istanbul, and then again in Pamukale…so I wasn’t surprised to see him in Selcuk, or Samos for that matter. The next day I was supposed to go on a tour of Ephesus, but my travel agent called and told me it was canceled, because I was the only one who signed up! That’s the low season for ya. But lucky for me there was another tour the next day, so I signed up for that instead. That meant I had a day to kill in Selcuk.

The next day I decided I had to have a souvenir of Turkey and since I have been getting into playing chess. I decided to get a nice chess board with wooden pieces….and since my friend Henry wanted one too, I got him one as well and shipped them both to New Jersey (uhh…Henry…you owe me, son). The whole procedure of shipping something was a huge hassle, and it will take about 3 months for it to arrive, because it’s going by boat.  The shipping cost more than the chessboard!

The first night in Selcuk, I met two Canadians and an Australian fellow, and we all hung out till the wee hours of the morning indulging in Turkish beer and getting silly. When I revealed that I had a guitar, it was the start of a big ruckus. The Australian guy knew every song ever written, so we sat around for hours singing Counting Crows songs…his favorite band, and a favorite of mine as well. We developed quite an audience of the entire hostel and their neighbors and I became famous in the small town….so much so that the next day I went out into the main square and did a little concert for the locals….picture lots of old Turkish men sitting around drinking tea and playing backgammon, thinking to themselves “who the hell is this?” It ended when someone offered to sell me drugs, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm, Turkish prison?  Uhh, no thanks.”  End O’ Concert.

Next day I toured the ruins of Ephesus, which are quite well preserved and astounding.  You can walk down the ancient streets paved with marble, go into what’s left standing of the ancient library, which once housed many ancient documents, subsequently destroyed by religious zealots. Shame. Roman columns line the streets and you can see where the houses and baths once stood. There is a giant amphitheatre dating back 2000 years, which is still in use today…recently played by Tina Turner. In the afternoon, the tour brought us to the house of the Virgin Mary where she supposedly lived out her life. It’s at the top of a mountain, reachable only by a very windy road, but Mary had a hell of a view in her old age. You can see all the way to the coast, as well as the entire valley and region around Selcuk for miles…or should I say kilometers….

After Mary’s shack, we went to the tomb of St. John, which is nothing more than a pile of rubble.

After the tour was over, I bought a Turkish carpet. Well, my friend Mohammed was begging me to get one for him, so I obliged. As I am sure I have stated in previous emails, the Turkish Carpet industry is crazy here. There are soooo many shops and soooo many guys trying to sell carpets that it’s hard to know who is for real and who is just trying to rip you off.  I ended up getting it through the hostel which has a store……after about four hours of viewing rug after rug and finally haggling frustratingly….Mohammed is the proud owner of a very nice rug.

Well, my thumb is tired from the space bar on this Greek monstrosity of a keyboard….and I have to catch my ferry to Mykonos…so I will sign off. Some of you people have not written to me in a while. No excuses!!

Jared