Letti inclinati e albicocche

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mike Goes to Venice

November 29-30 I decided to take a quick trip to Venice. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the last trip I took, since exams and seeing everything in Milan one more time took up more of my time than I thought. I really liked Venice, though. Since I went so late in the year, it wasn't very crowded, which was nice. It really seems like the kind of city that would be more enjoyable with company, though, so maybe I'll make it back someday.

Canals look cool at night

During the day they're cool, too

The ruler of Venice used to be called the Doge. This is a picture of the courtyard of his palace (now a museum). I spent a lot of time here, because the museum is huge.

I could be a doge...

This covered bridge leads from the Doge's Palace to the prison. It's called "The Bridge of Sighs" because, apparently, as criminals crossed it on their way to prison they got one last look at Venice, and would sigh with sadness.

Gondolas are too expensive for me to ride, but taking pictures is free.

This is what Venice looks like at night (if you're looking through a decorated shop window at a Christmas scene inside).

A lot of the buildings along the main canal need renovation. so when they put scaffolding up, companies pay to have pictures of the building's facade printed on the scaffolding. It really makes the city look better.

The breakfast room of my hostel in Venice

Some steps in my hostel

Me on a waterbus on the Grand Canal

Me in front of St. Mark's. This trip marked the first time I used the tripod Tim brought with him from home. I don't think Tim used it at all.

St. Mark's again

San Giorgio Maggiore. It was closed when I tried to visit, but it still looks cool.

These masks were too expensive to buy, so I just took a picture.

I did lots of other stuff in Venice too, but I really need to study for an exam now. I'll show you more pictures when I get home.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Absolut Icebar

The other day Tim and I went with Nisha and Stephanie to the Absolut Icebar, which is a bar made of ice. It was cool. We just chilled out for awhile. Then Nisha shot me an icy look (sending shivers down my spine) and said crisply that if I made one more pun she'd cold-cock me. Benumbed, I froze.

This is where you get drinks

You get a big coat when you pay the cover charge

We had to bring our own lightsabers, though

Friday, December 08, 2006

Parents in Italy: Venice, Assisi, Rome

Mike and Mom and Dad sampling a high-quality Milanese meal of Pizza Guy pizza and Turkish doner kebaps... blog post on food soon to come.

My parents came to visit from Nov 3-Nov 14 and we had a wonderful time. Mike and I even visited some sites we hadn't been, like the Duomo roof.

Impressive, huh? This was done a few hundred years ago, and I'd take it over most any modern "art" any day.

View of the piazza below

Unfortunately, the rest of the entry won't have pictures since Mike caught me trying to steal his camera.

After Milan we took a 2.5 hour train to Venice. It was pretty much what I expected it to be: unique. There's nothing like it. But I wouldn't want to live there. Apparently there are more tourists each day than residents, and the effects of this are obvious: you have to look really hard to find a shop that doesn't cater to tourists as its main target, and this means ignoring countless Venetian mask and trinket stores while spending extra long trying to find what a quality meal. That being said, many of the restaurants offer a tourist menu of three courses for a reasonable-for-Italy price of about $15-20 each. If you go to a normal Italian restaurant and order three courses, you're looking at about another $10 each.

Anyway, St. Mark's was awesome. It's a beautifully golden-mosaic'ed Basilica, large enough to impress from the outside but structured so as to remain intimate inside. Probably my favorite church in Italy so far, and by no coincidence it houses St. Mark, my Confirmation saint. Also, Don ("Father" in Italian) Giuseppe led me through the sacristy to a small chapel in the back for 8:00 am daily Mass. How many people get to do that? Yet another benefit of going to daily Mass. (And thanks to Fr. Bill and Fr. Gareth for emphasizing the main points back in freshman year at the UMD Catholic Student Center.)

Assisi was next on the list. All three of us were captivated by the time-travelled medieval aura almost as soon as we arrived. There were very few people around, which isn't a surprise given that this mountain-top city's population is only about 30,000. The few lights enhanced the feeling as we walked through narrow stone alleys gazing at buildings probably dating 200-1000 years old.

During the day, Assisi retains its charm but can't hide the touristy shops that keep the town financially afloat. It's easy to forgive their presence, though, since the Basilica of St. Francis is open only during the day. The massive church houses Giotto's famous frescos comparing the lives of St. Francis and Jesus, along with St. Francis' body in a lower-level tomb.

If you go to Italy, go to Assisi.

Rome was last, and although I had seen much of it already, was still enjoyable as every visit is an opportunity for prayer, education, and graces for saying hi to the many saints buried here. We also had a great tour of Palatine Hill, the original foundation of the Eternal City, which was fortunate because the first tour I had a few months ago left me wondering why the site was even on the map. It's hit or miss with the Colosseum-Palatine combo tours in English.

A few points on studying abroad and parents: it's very easy to get frustrated, restless, and complacent as the study abroad period comes to a close, especially when you haven't had much time to study the language and therefore really get to know the native people and culture. But sometimes you're reminded of the practical side of things-- the experience should be fun, educational, and in every way valuable, but often has to be made, not merely expected-- by those on the outside. In this case my parents are to be thanked.

Also, on this the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a shout out to Mary, Mother of God and the Church, who always brings us to her son. Happy ~2025th Immaculate Conception Day!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The End of Our Irish Adventure

On one of our journeys we had to switch buses in Limerick. As far as I know, the only thing famous in this town is its name, but we wanted to have a look around anyway.

"Down at the Red Rose Cafe..."

In the church here we found a statue and prayer to Our Lady of Limerick. Much to my disappointment, it doesn't even rhyme...

We eventually made our way to Dublin, the last stop on our multi-city tour. It's a big city, so we did a lot of stuff. There are some notable highlights, however:

There were Carroll's Irish Gifts stores all over the place. They have a lot of stuff here. If you get an Irish Christmas present from one of us this year, thank Carroll's Irish Gifts.

Because my last name is Carroll, I was allowed to have anything I wanted in the store, free of charge. Just don't tell the real owners, please. It's...um...a secret.

Naturally, we had to take a tour of the Guinness Brewery. The first part of the tour explains how Guinness is made, and is a lot like a museum. It was pretty impressive. A lot of work goes into producing the bajillion pints of Guinness the world consumes every year.

A copper has a 600 barrel capacity.

There was also an exhibit on Guinness advertising. My favorite ads were the "Guinness is good for you!" ads, especially the ones with testimonies written by doctors. Who knew beer was a health drink? We also watched a video about cask making, which is something I've always been curious about (seriously!). After watching the video, I realized how much people today take their mass-produced containers for granted. I bet if everyone had to be an apprentice for six years before spending all day making a barrel, they'd be a lot less likely to just throw the thing away when it's empty. Barrels look way cooler than plastic tubs or aluminum kegs, too.

At the end of the tour, you go to a bar at the top of the brewery for a free pint of Guinness and a view of the city. Dublin's skyline isn't anything special, but did I mention the free beer you get for looking at it?

The woman holding the camera for us hadn't had anything to drink, so there's no beer-goggle effect going on. We really just look that good.

Not wanting to play favorites, we felt obligated to take a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery as well. At the end of this tour you get a free drink also (we were in Ireland, duh!). Tim got extra lucky, though, and was chosen to participate in a whiskey tasting session. Tim apparently forgot where we were, because he didn't pick Jameson as his favorite from the group of Irish whiskeys. To make matters worse, he then chose Scotch whisky as his overall favorite. The tour guide was so angry...

Whiskey tasting

While in Dublin we stopped in a few different pubs, but our favorite was The Brazen Head Inn. The earliest recorded drinking on the spot happened in 1198, easily making it the oldest pub in Ireland. The Trinitarian order, which eventually founded DeMatha High School, was also founded in 1198. It was a good year. For information purposes only, and not as part of any agenda of my own, I should point out that the Jesuits were doing nothing at this time, since they didn't even exist, and no one had even heard of a "Linganore."

Inside The Brazen Head Inn, oldest pub in Ireland

Outside The Brazen Head Inn, oldest pub in Ireland

Some travel TV show was filming at The Brazen Head Inn the night we were there. The guy being filmed stood right next to our table, so we definitely got on TV. It wasn't quite as exciting as the Cicada Cook-off, but I'll take any fame I can get.

We also stopped by Trinity College in Dublin, to see an exhibit of illuminated (aka illustrated) manuscripts of the Gospels. We couldn't take pictures, but believe me, they were pretty cool. I watched a video about book-binding while there, so now I want to try that.

At the end of the exhibit, I decided to wait outside while Tim looked around the gift shop. As soon as I got outside this girl approached me and said something I couldn't understand. I asked her to repeat it, which she did, but I still didn't understand. I guessed that she said "Are you from the States?" But I wasn't sure. I answered, "Yes." Then she asked me about a bank or something (I can't really remember), and I realized that what she had probably said was, "Are you a student [here at Trinity College]?" That's why she was asking me where the bank was, or whatever. Well, I told her I didn't know, she looked like she was leaving with a group, so figured that'd be the end of it, and went to sit down on a bench to wait for Tim.

I figured wrong. She came over and sat on the bench and started talking to me again. I wasn't feeling 100%, and I really just wanted to read the Irish ghost stories book I'd just bought, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try to be polite. After all, Tim would be out in a minute, and then we could go. The conversation was weird, and I couldn't really follow it. She seemed to jump around a lot, maybe she was nervous. I did, however, understand her when she asked if I had a girlfriend (I said no), and when she said she didn't have a boyfriend. I also understood when she asked if the friend I was waiting for had a wife (Tim doesn't). She also asked me about church (I told her I go, she clued me in that she does also).

Tim, I was noticing about this time, was taking forever in the gift shop.

We talked for awhile longer, about school, our majors, our hobbies, how I like the U.S. (she's Irish, but I think she said she'd been to the U.S., or at least wanted to. It was awhile ago, I forget.) Her parents were visiting Trinity College at the time, she said, and were currently at her apartment. That's why she was waiting on the bench outside the library - she didn't want to go back until her parents had left. At some point during this conversation, Tim came out of the gift shop, looked around for me, and saw me on a bench talking to a girl. Being the stand-up guy that he is, he thought, "Oh, Mike met a girl. I'll go look around the shop a few more minutes to give him some time to woo her with his amazing wit and charm." Normally that'd be the right course of action, but in this case I wish he has just come straight over.

Anyway, Tim did eventually come over. I introduced him to the girl, and then we had to be on our way. Afterward, though, I felt kind of bad. I was worried I'd been rude to the girl, or made her think she was boring to talk to. Hopefully not. In reality, I was just confused from the very beginning.

The Rock

...of Cashell is just a short cab-ride away from Tipperary. This natural formation (on which, obviously, a castle was built) was where St. Patrick explained the Trinity using a shamrock back in the day. Who said it's a difficult concept?

The Rock of Cashell

St. Patrick's Cross

Mike's note: Tim took like 100 pictures of this thing. Kept saying it looked like him, like maybe whoever carved it used someone in his family as a model. I knew that was bogus, but I went along with it. After all, I couldn't blame him for being a little jealous. The name "Carroll" could be seen all over Ireland; but we didn't see "Daniel" anywhere. I say if it makes him happy, let him think what he wants.

Inside the chapel at the Rock of Cashel

A familiar face at the Rock of Cashell graveyard. Travelling emphasizes the meaning of Catholic: universal, the way Christ said it would be.

"It's a Long Way to Tipperary"

So goes the song, and it's true-- it took Mike 22.5 years to make it to the county of his Irish origins: Tipperary. There were no tourist sites in small Tipperary Town, 3 hours southwest of Dublin. So, after finding a bed and breakfast at a great price, we did the first thing any true Tipperarite would: bought some Chinese food and Belgian beer.

We watched The Simpsons, too

Later that night, we chose a small but lively bar for a nice drink to wash down the classic Irish tunes played by a live, local band. I think this is a picture of it, but I suppose it could be from Killarney. It's a win-win for you viewers, though. We look just as cool in any pub in any town.

It's not that Mike was tired of beer, he just thought he'd expand his horizons

The next day we went to claim Mike's inheritance.

Mike's mini-motorcycle shop

Mike's ambiguous Irish shop

For history's sake, we left the shops where we found them. (Mike's note: Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday, so even though I saw many, many "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" stickers and such in store windows, I couldn't buy any.) (Mike's second note: Check out that cool new hat, which I bought in Ireland.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ireland: Kissin' some Blarney before Killarney

Our flight from the UK arrived in Dublin early in the day so we took the first available bus to Cork. From here, it was only a short (30 min) bus ride to Blarney, the site of a castle and a small stone slab reputed to grant life-long eloquence to all who give it a kiss.

Tastes like stone soup.

Don't fall down the hole!

Nice view from the top

The gardens were also quite impressive, like the illustrations you'd find accompanying a fairy tale.

Who's that?

Where'd he come from?

Notice how green these Irish pictures are compared to those of Italy.

We then made our way to Killarney, a small city on the west coast of Ireland and very close to the Ring of Kerry, supposedly one of the country's prettiest sites. Unfortunately, we never got as far as the Ring, but did find a national park and Ross Castle nearby.


Good to have a third person take a picture everyone now and then.

Next: the search for Mike's Irish roots!