Or, The Thing with Two Heads Stumbles Around a Continent
Everyone’s got’em. Those things that sound so amazingly fantastic that we view them through the most gauzy, vaseline smeared, pinkish, romantic lens of desire and we do this precisely because they aren’t real. Wide, dewy eyed expectations never need be challenged because they live in Tra-la-la Land.
I have the equivalent of a hectare’s worth of dense herds of unicorns scrambling around my brain. I say “herds” because Europe is an example of a herd of unicorns. Italy? That’s a family of unicorns in the herd. Rome is the stallion, Florence the mare and then you have all the colts. Naples, Milan, Venice, Pompeii… well, there you go then.
These were places I’d always wanted to see, but they were unicorns. I assumed Europe would be too costly. At least the way I travel, according to Jo and… *ahem*. YeahyeahIknowshe’sright. Anyway. Let’s just go back to…
Four Months Prior. May 2017…
This would be our first trip to Europe. We’d talked about it but it looked pricey, so I didn’t think we’d ever really get there. Then opportunity knocked in the form of friend I’ve known since I was 10. We’ll call him “The Translator” because it sounds cooler than “Steven Frauzel” and gives kind of a shadowy, Bourne Identity feel to everything.
The Translator was a gifted pianist when we first met at the age of 10 and was instrumental in my musical development and as a guitarist. Instrumental. Guitarist. Good thing I don’t have a day job to be told not to quit. Continuing on, he left for Italy in 1978 when he was 18 and we’d lost track of each other. About 10 years ago we hooked up again and I discovered he’d taken a musical hiatus but now spoke seven languages and was living in Moscow translating documents for a shipping company. The Translator is nothing if not an exceptionally talented and fascinating fella.
He would occasionally visit Nova Scotia to visit family and friends. During one of these trips he mentioned he’d just bought a house in Tuscany in a walled medieval town called Lucca and would Jo and I like to visit? We could have the entire downstairs suite to ourselves. The flint had been struck. My thinking was we’d just stay at The Translator’s for a week. If we take hotels out of the equation, then the trip becomes a lot cheaper, right? Maybe it would only cost airfare and food. Yes? Huh? I mean, JUST LUCCA, right? Yeahbut… Rome’s right there. Pompeii is just a hop, skip and jump away from Rome. Just Italy, right? RIght. But you know… Switzerland is “due up” from Italy and I’ve always wanted to… you can see where this is going in respect to Joanne’s earlier point. Heaven bless her, she just lets me roll.
From flint to flame is one thing, controlling the blaze can be quite another.
Planes, Trains and an Eight on the Stupid Scale
By the time we took off from Halifax on September third, the trip had expanded from “just Lucca” to a Global Eurail Pass, five cities in eight days in Italy, then five cities in five countries over the next eight days. I’ll bet that second photo makes a whole lotta sense now, huh. You’d think this tight itinerary would have to be rigidly organized, but seeing as I was arranging the itinerary you’d have to think again. My plan consisted of booking planes and trains but not hotels with the exception of booking a room a working monastery – Casa di Accoglienza Suore di Santa Elisabetta – for three nights in Rome. Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a monastery, I always say. I booked this way so we could be “flexible,” you understand. There’s always an upside in respect to you have lots of grist for the story mill, but there’s a reason I was calling it “The Amazing Race Chatham” on facebook once we got underway in the second half.
The first time I go to a destination, I hit it hard because you never know if you’ll get a chance to go back. I have fourth degree prostate cancer which is in remission, so there’s a bit more urgency for me when opportunity presents in whatever form. Jo knows this and understands. When we do return to a destination, it’s a much more relaxed, organized and frankly, sane proposition. Our second trip to Hawaii was more conventional than our first. It was Joanne, “Island Time” style. Staying somewhere for a week, walking the beach and Pali in the mornings, maybe doing something or maybe doing nothing in the afternoons and evenings. First trips for us are a tad more frenetic like this on our first trip to Hawaii.
For some reason planning Europe was somewhat overwhelming and so there was a lot of “seat of the pants” travel scenarios once things got rolling. Yeah. As this series progresses, you will learn what not to do through actual case studies.
I can safely say that Halifax to Toronto to Brussels was not a problem and by the time we landed in Brussels, I was stoked with anticipation.
Once we arrived in Brussels on the morning of September 4th, we only had to show our passports to a man wearing a hat behind glass once. Alas, the days of passports as a fun keepsake with stamps from all your travels has ended. Bummer. At least you don’t have to clear customs every time you cross a border.
As we flew out of Brussels and over France, my gaze was constantly drawn to the landscape scrolling by below. Coming from North America, the European Plain looked similar to flying over the mid-west but there was a notable difference.
Roman legions had once crossed this plain and garrisoned towns. In my mind I could picture columns of Knights Templar with their supply trains bound to the Holy Lands . It was a French Knight, Hugues de Payens who co-founded the Knights Templar during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the in the 12th century. We were crossing the skies where dogfights were fought between the Lufwaffe and well, everyone else. A sky crossed with contrails from B-17’s bound for precision bombing raids on strategic targets. Panzers and Nazi troops had swept across the ground below in the German blitzkrieg of 1940. So while the sights were unremarkable from 40,000 feet, my sense of history found much to draw my imagination. It’s a different vibe than our own rich, North American history and I’ve always had an appreciation of history. Now we were heading to Italy where you can’t swing a dead cat without smacking something of historic significance. The fact the cat itself is dead lends an 8% probability that the cat itself may have historic significance.
Die Schweizer Alpen, which according to Google Translate is
Swiss German for ”the Peruvian Andes”
K, the caption is false news although Google Translate was hit or miss for us. To be fair, it might have been my fault. Garbage in, garbage out. Of one thing I’m certain. In a market stall far below there is someone selling Alpine aerial photograph duvet covers for around 130 Swiss Francs a shot.
I was very excited overflying the Swiss Alps as precursor to a bucket list thing (my bucket list is very flexible). When I was a child of six, my father had a small book with a gold cover which was embossed with the Swiss flag. It was approximately 5”X 5” and contained black and white photographs of the Swiss Alps. The diminutive captions were in English, German, Italian and French and it caught my imagination. It was compelling. The book was lost in a move when I was 10, but I always remembered the pull it had for me so a trip to Switzerland was baked in later in the journey and this overflight heightened the anticipation.
The Alps are much broader than the Rockies and the overflight was a significant portion of the trip between Brussels and Florence. Watching them scroll by from 40,000 feet, I was quite surprised to learn that Switzerland is actually “in color.” Huh. Go figure. Two hours after takeoff we’d crossed the Italian alps and the gorgeous Tuscan countryside rolled in to view. Bonus! Also in color. Great green and gold patches slid beneath us as we approached Florence and then with a gentle bump, we touched down.
The unicorns had stampeded into reality.
Next Up: A Pisa My Mind