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 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…



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,



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 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.