10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
The trip on the ferry from Corfu landed at Brindisi Italy. Another new adventure as I have never been to Italy. I was raised a Catholic so Rome, in particular, was something I had heard a lot about. I also studied Latin for 4 years , so the prospect of actually seeing some of the sites that had captured my imagination, was at hand.
Brindisi was a rather non-descript sea port. There was an election on in Italy and every post seemed to be filled with posters. I later learned that there were many parties , including some 17 communist parties. So one saw a plethora of election related material. One thing that was interesting was that cars would drive the streets throwing their propaganda in all directions. As I came to discover, Italy is a vital and vibrant country but trash, at times, was not always picked up
I was traveling with the blonde Canadian girl I had met in Corfu. She was going to Rome to meet a boyfriend; but, as I had surmised, having a blonde hitching partner was a definite asset. We set out for Naploi ( Naples) and I would stand behind a tree with our backpacks while my friend lured the drivers. On a couple of occasions ,when I popped out from behind the trees, they would take off. But, we did make good progress. An elderly fellow picked us up and was headed all the way to Napoli. And, as with most Italian drivers, there was only one speed, fast My friend was in the back seat and told me she was quite concerned. I don’t speak Italian; but, I was able to use some French to say that my friend was not feeling well as she was having a baby. The driver slowed down. She asked what I had said, “I told him you are pregnant“. A pregnant pause followed .
Naples was quite pretty, we stayed at a hostel and wandered the streets. If I got more than a meter or two from my friend, the local “Romeo’s “ would prance up to her. “ Hey where you from, you like to come with me for a pizza?” I found it amusing ;but , she was not as jolly about the whole affair J . I was wearing shorts and a few times I ventured out on my own. Apparently, at that time in Southern Italy, a man in shorts was considered gay. The sign for “gay” was to tug on one’s ear and look at you with a laugh. After about 50 times I began to understand my friend’s annoyance with the attention she drew. One time I was walking along and a small FIAT with 4 guys in it honked their horn and they all made the ear pulling gesture. I walked over to the car, it was one with a roof vent. I seemed to be about 2 feet taller than most locals so I gave them a cold stare and a “WTF” verbal question . J . They seemed a tad worried when I approached them but I was biting my tongue to keep from laughing . On a bus I was also the object of stares. I wasn’t uncomfortable but it got to be a tad boring after a while
There were two local attractions that were a must. Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. It is one of three volcanoes in Italy the others being Etna and Stromboli. The eruption of Vesuvius near Pompeii that is the one that is best known. This was in 79 AD, when the towns of Pompeii and Herculeum were covered and wiped off the map, or at least submerged for centuries . Vesuvius is still active although no major eruptions have occurred in centuries. But it is only 9 km from Naples, which has a population of 3 million. Should it erupt it would be cataclysmic. The bus and foot trek to the edge of the crater was quite awe inspiring. There were some cloud type columns rising gently from the floor of the crater. One could only imagine the terror that struck when it erupted in 79 AD.
Pompeii was buried in up to 6 meters of ash in 79 AD. It lay hidden for almost 1700 years till it was accidentally discovered. When I was a student ,studying Latin, Pompeii was a major interest to me. I recall reading how the discoverers of the ruins came upon a hollow area in the lava. Wisely they poured some plaster into the opening . These revealed figures of people fleeing, others of dogs which were tied to posts out side of houses. I of course sought these examples of Pompeian life and gazed on them in almost reverent silence. After all they did represent people who had perished so long ago.
One home was preserved to the extent that one could almost sense the fragrance and aroma of cooking food in the nearby kitchen. A table still had dishes set, the chairs and tables were intact. Virtually a still from a real life movie, as it were.
The streets were also a time capsule to me. Between sidewalks at intersections there were raised stones at the crossings. I was told the streets were often flooded during rainy season and the raised stones provided a dry path. At each crossing there were gaps between the crossing stones where chariot horses could make their way and where the chariot wheels could maneuver through the intersections. As I was discovering Italian drivers tended to be a tad heavy on the pedal. I smiled to myself wondering if the lads in the chariots also had a similar macho presence
I wandered about Pompeii as though it were in fact a vibrant modern town, such was the state of restoration. I visited a couple of two story equivalents of apartment complexes, complete with closed in courtyards. Balconies, individual dwellings all much as one would find in small 4 -5 family dwellings.
One place was a bit of fun. It had been a bordello. There were erotic paintings on the walls. And behind a curtain was something I found particularly amusing. A man, who was well endowed , had his penis on one end of a balance and a woman was placing gold coins on the other half of the balance. Presumably when the balance was even she would have earned a bit of time with the lad. The fact that it was discreetly behind a curtain added to the aura
Later when I was in Montreal my father asked if I had seen this particular painting. He had visited Pompeii after the war while on duty with RCAF transport command.. Like father like son I guess . One could of course add that the apple doesn’t fall far from the scale.
The following day I visited Mount Vesuvius. AS I have elaborated above. Looking down at a volcano is an interesting geological sight. Some plumes of smoke and steam . And of course I did do a double take in case these grew
I also spent an afternoon back at Pompeii. I was alone so I could plan my visit with out imposing anything on anyone. My Latin studies had excited in me a desire to one day visit Pompeii and I was not disappointed. A trip well recommended to anyone.
I spent an evening wandering about Napoli, I spent some time by the water and was getting geared up for Rome. The next day I set out for Rome , easy to find as all roads lead there J Just outside of Napoli I got a ride in a sporty Lancia car who driver was heading to Rome. He didn’t speak English and I do not speak Italian; but ,we communicated somehow. It was a beautiful open countryside. We passed near Monte Cassino, which was an important battle in the allied road to Rome during World War II. The British , Americans ,Canadians ,New Zealanders, Indians and Polish troops fought. In all over 125000 casualties were suffered by both sides. Several war memorials commemorate this battle. Later in life I discovered that my father-in-law had fought with the Polish army at Monte Cassino. I was not then fully aware of the total implications of this important battle but I could feel a sense of sorrow realizing so many young men of my age had died in that region.
I was silent for some time contemplating what I had seen. But, then a few hours later the outline of Rome appeared. Again I was in my usual historical flashback mode. I could completely identify with the marching Roman Armies as they entered the city. Of course my driver was a speed artist and I couldn’t help but smile was we neared the 5 lane road near the coliseum at a fairly good clip. It was a combination of an historical , architectural and a pedal to the metal moment. Actually very memorable and more than a little amusing and fun.
He let me off just past the Coliseum and I bid him a thankful farewell. I was fortunate to have had a long ride and he was proud of his country ,as I no doubt showed a lot of spirit and emotion at what I was seeing. I made my way to the Olympic village youth hostel. It was a large complex and full of fellow travelers. So I was again in my element. As was usually the case , one could make friends easily and a part of this was finding out what to see, places to visit and little insights in local colour and attractions. I still feel this type of travel is far better than a big hotel, which is why I like bread and breakfasts, as one can converse with fellow travelers.
The hostel was full of people from around the world. One interesting fellow was from Japan. He had been studying in Paris so I gave him a chance to check out my Canadian accent in French. Even in Paris I was told I was not understood, so I took great care to try to alter my accent…all to great fun . Rome is one of the cities I had yearned to visit. Again my Latin studies were a catalyst in this. Even walking ordinary streets near no attraction of special note, was a multi-sensory experience. The weather was warm and conducive to walking about. It was mid May just before the really warm season . I of course wanted to visit the Vatican but I also wanted to see the Coliseum .
Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).
Capable of seating 50,000 spectators,[ the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
It was at once an architectural marvel and is considered one of the great works of roman architecture and engineering. The fact that gladiatorial contests and executions were held there left me a pause to reflect on the sad aspect of this site. I thought back to the many gladiator movies I had seen and the atmosphere of the Coliseum added to the serenity of the tour. As often occurred in my travels I took pause to reflect on the human aspects of some of the sites I had seen, this was another.
Another marvel of architecture was the monument dedicated to Victor Emanuel
The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Motherland) or "Il Vittoriano" is a monument built to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, located in Rome, Italy. It occupies a site between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill. The monument was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885; sculpture for it was parceled out to established sculptors all over Italy, such as Angelo Zanelli. It was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1935
Although I found it an attractive site there was apparently some controversy surrounding the destruction of some medieval areas nearby. As well some find the overall effect of the monument harsh and pompous. I wandered about the area for some time ,just taking in the sites and sounds of this area. Again a little personal tour based on multi-sensory perceptions I found it an interesting and regal monument.
Another world famous land mark of Rome is the Trevi fountain. Again it was not disappointing. It dates back to 1762 and is a common meeting place for travelers such as myself. “Let’s meet by the Trevi fountain.” Was a popular directive I heard a few times. Apparently some 3000 Euros a day are tossed into the fountain, most of which goes to needy agencies. But, apparently many coins are taken by local fast fingered folk J According to popular myth one coin will mean a person will return to Rome, two means romance will happen and three will guarantee a marriage or a divorce. I have always found fountains to be a restful pause in a travel day from Trafalgar to many other locations. The Trevi fountain was no exception. I visited several times in my 10 days in Rome.
Another popular attraction with visitors, especially the younger set, were the Steps of Rome
The Spanish Steps: Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rclimbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei i church at the top. The Scalinata is the widest staircase in Europe. S I spent many an hour talking to fellow travelers, getting information on places seen and places to see. Again a nice ritual that was integral to the “Hippie” part of my travels. A relaxed setting which lent itself to pleasant and interesting conversation. All a must for the laid back traveler. Something I always felt was that one need not see everything in a day. I was never one for seeing 10 capital cities on one trip, same with visiting a city. All in due course.
When in Rome do as the tourists do, hmmm is that a paraphrase ? I of course planned to visit the Vatican. On my trip from Naples to Rome I heard a news announcement . It was in Italian ;but ,between my basic, very basic, Italian and my driver I was able to make out that the Michael Angelo statue of La Pieta had been damaged by a psychiatric patient. He was an Australian of Hungarian descent , named Lazlo Toth. A few fingers on one of the hands had been fractured and the statue was taken away for repairs. It was ironic that this was one piece of art I had wanted to see, among many of course.
I did a walk about , the Vatican was a lot larger than I had imagined. It was magnificent to understate the obvious. I recall seeing a large tourist bus near one of the columns and the comparison I had was that it looked like a Dinky toy from my childhood. Such was the scale of the shrine. Of course all was in proportion to other fixtures in the Vatican. Statues, columns etc , were all scaled to each other.
I ,of course ,walked into the main area and felt a sense of awe at the marvels that surrounded me. I was to return several times. I wanted to visit the Sistine Chapel to see the legendary work of Michael Angelo. My first day I just visited the main part of the Chapel. It was a combination of religious awe and artistic wonder. Some of the statues were very large and where different colored marble met there was barely a discernible junction. As a dentist , where accuracy is paramount, I was particularly impressed.
I just wandered about in a solitude of silence, feeling somewhat small in many ways, but the splendour and immensity of the sights I was seeing. My Catholic upbringing gave the moment a particularly emotional aspect. It sounds less than poetic to say ; but , “It was larger than life”. The light and colour seemed to come from all angles, from the floor to the ceiling, between walls, through windows and reflections off paintings. It held a plethora of delights that were over awing yet not unfriendly.
I was just getting my bearings and I planned to return. I was told that the “route” to the Sistine Chapel was through several museums and one should take the time to appreciate and take in the history of these as well. The next day I returned to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. I seem to recall going through about 5 large rooms , all filled with art. Paintings on the ceiling tiles, window glass that depicted art through the centuries, paintings in large frames and a number of statues. I really think that I took in every piece of art. Some of the ceiling paintings were worthy of the finest museums. From paintings of landscapes to lakes and flowers and everything in between. One should never rush through these collections. By the time I reached the Sistine Chapel I had what we might now call “Computer overload”. My hard drive was full J So I found a small bench in one corner of the Chapel and took a 20 minute nap. I am fortunate to be able to do this and when I awoke I was refreshed and was able to incorporate all the splendor of the Chapel. It was undergoing a renovation, or a refreshing of the painting so there were scaffolds. But , in a way this seemed to add to the majesty of the site. It was an active and living presentation.
I left very tired in a positive sense. I had seen art that I was not expecting and the Sistine Chapel was awe inspiring. I went back to the Hostel and had a relatively quiet night. The next day I decided to drop in on the Canadian Embassy where a friend from a year ahead of me in High School ,was an immigration representative . It was a Friday near noon time by the time I arrived ; but, sadly my friend had taken a long weekend. I left him a nice note and in which I expressed my regret in not seeing him. He was a graduate of Royal Military College and in a way he fostered my interest in joining the Forces. So it would have been a full circle to meet him while returning from duty with the UN Force in Cyprus. I meandered about, as I often do, not going to any particular destination but just enjoying the sites and sounds of a foreign city. I was particularly enthralled by the Tiber so I walked along and enjoyed the flow of the water…hey I am easy to please
I wandered back to the Hostel with the intent of taking a nap then perhaps joining some fellow travelers for a supper at a nearby restaurant. On my bed was a note from my friend at the Embassy, Terry had come back for some work and decided to stay. What an exciting treat. I always enjoy running into friends far from home and this was unexpected. I called him and he graciously said he would love to have me over for supper. Again an unexpected but welcome treat. After a few minutes he told me another exciting bit of information. Richard my friend since I was 12 was also in town with a girlfriend and was headed to Turkey. Rick called and Terry said , “Hey I have a visitor here who might want you to come over”. Rick was floored and we met at Terry’s. The next day I moved into a room in the same Pensione, a B&B, as Rick had found a relatively inexpensive but well located ‘pied a terre’. We had a great supper at a local restaurant, near the pensione. The next day we set off for the Vatican . Rick had a copy of Europe of $25 a day, expensive by our standards In it they described a door in the Vatican which lead to stairs that took one up inside the dome to the highest point in the Vatican. It was on the left as one walks towards the altar and about 2/3 of the way down, in case anyone wants to make the trek. As it turns out there is a dome within a dome. The stairs wind up the space between them. About half way up there is a door that leads to a balcony that is over the main altar. Rick had learned , in the Europe on $25 a day book, that if one goes to the opposite side of the balcony one can whisper to friends, who remain near the door, and the whisper is carried at almost full volume. So here we were , looking down on the most sacred shrine in Catholicism , and we were playing whisper games. So if there is a Purgatory, I may be in a whisper room for a while.
At the top one came out into a roof top , or would that be Dome top, balcony. Not large ;but, the view was amazing. All of Rome was at our beckon call. Interestingly this splendid side trip did not appear to be well known. We ran into only 5 others who made the trek. I was particularly impressed with the statues of the 12 Apostles below us. It was a truly hidden gem.
We wandered about with no particular destination in mind. We made our way to the aforementioned Trevi Fountain, to the Spanish Steps and as it was a very hot day, around 33 C or mid 90’s F, we rolled our pants up and stepped into a fountain. A moment captured forever on film J Rick read about a particular restaurant that was recommended in the Europe on $25 a day book. So we meandered into an area that seemed to have a nice group of culinary destinations. The recommended restaurant seemed to have a large crowd. We all figured that this was due to the recommendation. So we went to a place nearby, which was also large. We were sat at a table for about 10 people. This of course is what I enjoy, meeting fellow travelers and this was no exception. There was a couple of Americans, a few Brits and two South Africans. One South African had a few friends in Montreal. He asked if we knew a fellow who was friends with from home. It turns out we played rugby with him in Montreal. Again the axiomatic…”The world is a small place” . I don’t recall the details but I do remember that the tastes seemed exotic. I was only familiar with the standard Italian dishes such as spaghetti, now I was presented with culinary treats that again presented new experiences and delights. As in Cyprus, where I had a new world of food adventures, I now was enjoying yet new delights. It was what I call a multi-sensory evening. Good food, fine friends and great conversation. I am indeed fortunate to have had these opportunities.
The next day was a Sunday and we made our way to Vatican square to see the Pope and receive his benediction. As a Catholic it was a moving ceremony. Some aspects of Church bureaucracy have caused me considerable self introspection but this was a solemn moment . We again took to wandering about the Vatican slowly taking in so many of the sites that one cannot just pass by too quickly. Rick made a good observation, some contest the wealth of the Church as being an evil; but, he offered the wise proposition that much of the art we were enjoying would not exist were it not for the Church. A wise statement indeed. It was a busy event with the square almost filled with both the religious and the curious.
We were parting company the following day so it was a quiet wander about. I still thank the stars for joining us up in Rome. Totally coincidental ; but ,it added a broad dimension to the city for all of us. I purchased my ticket to Geneva that afternoon and we took a low key excursion around the city. The next morning we bid our adieus and I set out for the station. I found a car with Geneva on the identifying side plaque. And lo and behold my carriage mate was the twin sister of Sofia Loren ( said he ) …she gave me a warm big smile and I realized that my prayers had indeed been answered. But, wait, a train pulled up beside us and I realize that although I was on a Geneva train the one beside me was in fact my transport. Time was a factor as I had to be in Lahr in two days so I reluctantly bid Miss Sofia a ciao .
As I made my way to Geneva I enjoyed the sites outside the train. One interesting site was when we crossed into the Italian section of Switzerland. As I had said, there was an election in progress in Italy and parties used cars to toss party promotion paper out the windows onto the streets. The streets were full of campaign paper. As we crossed into Switzerland there was not a piece of scrap about. I was told that this is typical.
As I wound my way to Germany a lot went through my mind. In the 11 months since I had left Canada I had visited 3 continents, 11 countries and had both fun and educational experiences. I feel I had “grown up” in many ways. My culinary tastes had been sharpened . This may not seem earth shaking ;but, I discovered both a variety of delights . I have continued, with an open mind, when it came to “ethnic” cuisine. My social life had been almost constant. And my mind was expanded to take in so many places, events and sites. Many acquaintances, encounters and friends left deep impressions on my mind. In fact I still am in e-mail contact with two of the Australian Police officers I served with in Cyprus. I still find myself mentally wandering back in my imagination. Such a broad scope of adventures. It certainly rounded out a major part of my life.
I arrived in Lahr in the Black Forest area of Germany and I met a few of my dentist friends. We had a few pleasant evenings in Lahr, taking in both the scenery and trying the wonderful wines. I learned that they were able to take sommelier courses that showed the distinction between wines grown high on a hill, on the lower side etc. Depending of the seasonal moisture or sunshine there was apparently differences in the palatal quality of the wines. They all seemed great to me ; but, as I later learned there can be wonderful differences in wines depending of such factors.
I boarded the flight to Canada with a feeling of fulfillment. I of course would have loved for it all to continue ;but , in reality I was grateful for the experiences I had been privilege to . Back to my short haired state after close to 40+ days in hippie mode. Life is good .