Friday, April 4, 1997
We woke up at 5am to catch the shuttle to San Francisco International from the beautiful El Rancho hotel. We made it early (we got there at 6:45am for an 8:55am flight to Chicago!). I bought a Vanity Fair magazine with some great pics in it to pass the time (Special issue full of movie stars). En route to Chicago, we encountered an extremely rude flight attendant. The poor German guy next to us got harassed over his coffee (Milk? You said Black). I guess she had a bad night. Rest of the flight was a bit cramped, but OK. Met up with Gary in Chicago, and called Kris. He said he might take some time off to meet us at the airport for our 2-hour layover on the way back. From there we sauntered over and boarded the continuation of our flight to Paris. Flight was comfy and non-eventful. I skipped the movie “The Evening Star”. The Flight AAtendant and mom bonded over passenger horror stories. The plane was 1/3 empty, so I didn’t feel claustrophobic. I fell asleep for quite a bit of the trip. I must be getting used to these long flights.
Saturday April 5, 1997
Plane cruised into Orly a bit ahead of schedule. We got to see Paris from the air as we came in for a landing – quite the rare treat. Mom received a bottle of champagne as a token of her bond from the flight attendant. We rode the Air France bus from Orly to the Palace de Invalides Metro Stop. From there we Metro’ed it and walked to our hotel. Along the way, Mom was spaced out and was having Bag trauma. Her bag kept falling off the rolling suitcase every time she went over a bump, and on cobble stone streets, hilarity ensued. We arrived at the hotel and were greeted by the friendly staff, including the ever-friendly Noel who was featured in our Rick Steeves travel guide. Our room was 4 walls and a bed mit dem WC. The beds were OK, and the water pressure was FAB! We were glad Nathan was able to reserve it for us on such short notice. We settled in and Mom and Gary crashed. Nathan came over and we went for a walk. Be cause we were so drawn into our catching up, we walked a loooong way.
We went from our hotel (very near the Tour Eiffel) over to the Champs de Elysais. We stopped at the Virgin Megastore to see Jarre related items. Interesting that DVD was already in the stores here. From there we dined at Quick (sort of a McDonalds/KFC knockoff) because Nathan was feeling light-headed. We continued to saunter down the Champs catching up and ended up at the base of the Arc de Triumph (am I ever gonna spell this right??) Nathan wasn’t feeling any better, but we pressed onwards. We headed to a shop to look at some groovy shirts. Nothing stuck out, so we headed back to the Hotel to see how Mom and Gary were doing. They had moved a grand total of 3 inches. Nathan and I decided to take a quick nap. (He listened to Oxygene 7-13 and remarked that he heard Oxy 8 on the radio!).
After our nap, we headed out to get some vittles. We were both borderline ill by then and we suffered through a meal at Nathan’s favorite French restaurant. (Note: I am not very fond of French food, but I pressed on and ordered some undercooked veal with some funky sauce. Nathan assures me that the place if fabulous, but I was left with less than a stellar impression.) After two illustrious hours of French cuisine, we headed off to Nathan’s pad. Approximately 100 stairs later we arrived! It was very quaint olden building with the WC in the stairwell – not very conducive to loud explosions which 7 districts of Paris can hear because of the acoustics. At this point we both realized that no way were we going to make it out dancing. So we just kicked back and hung out gabbing until 5:30 in the morning about out lives, the people in them, what we want and where we were going. Very nice to have a nice sincere conversation with Nathan as we rarely get a chance to do it. When I left, Nathan was out cold. I took the Metro back to the hotel (Lots of people on it.. Some going to bed, others getting up..) I finally crawled into bed at 6:15am.
Sunday April 6, 1997
Mom and Gary awoke at the ungodly hour of 9am and headed off to the Louvre. I was so pooped that I barely was able to meet them at 12:30 at the pyramid. From there, we walked to the Palace de Concorde (site of Jarre concert in 1979). I was beginning to feel ill again (Hmm maybe sleep deprivation?). I went to McDonalds against my best judgement, and the food was good and actually made me feel better. (this was the McD’s on the Champs not too far from the Virgin Megastore). I called Nathan and he hadn’t gotten up yet, he was still illin’. Before heading over, Gary and I hoofed it 240+ stairs to the top of the Arc and I took a great Panorama 360 of Paris. I ran into a couple who worked at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.. Too Weird.. Took the Metro to Nathan’s pad and fetched him some OJ, Carrot Soup, and some water along the way. I also donated 2 batteries for his CD player. We jabbed some more and listened to some music. I e-mailed Roger and left at 11:30ish as Nathan packed and went to bed. I was finally ready to tackle the stairs again, and Nathan agreed to meet me in Florence on Friday to go out dancing – finally!
On the way home, I was approached by some crazy French guy. I have no idea what he said to me, but he grabbed my shoulders, said some French words of advice, and pointed me on my way. I never got any hostile vibes. He seemed like he was just out having some fun. I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t go out in Paris, but I was glad that Nathan and I bonded. (Mental Note – ask Nathan to be sure he brings the Jarre article when he comes home or mail it to me).
Monday April 7, 1997
Awoke around 11am and checked out of the hotel and quickly vamoosed to the airport. We were 2 hours early, so I sent off postcards to Roger and Matt, but I have no idea if they will ever get there. No one in the airport knew what the correct postage to the US was. The Air France flight to Prague was great. I was disappointed I did not have Discman access, but otherwise it was groovy. After an Emerson Fittapaldiesque ride in a taxi, we arrived at the uber-swank Movenpick hotel (there are a few umlauts there somewhere). We sat around a bit and tried to get our bearings. The Czech language is difficult, but there are lots of tourists, and I heard many languages being spoken. Finally, we went to Old Town Square, and had some Pizza. (that fine Czech food rates up there with French on my foreign food scale). It was very cold outside, but there were a sizable number of attractive people about. We walked up and down Wenceslaus square and decided to take a tour tomorrow, then to shop. I’d like to go dancing tomorrow, but I will wait and see if I am up to it. I make a mental note to try and weasel some friends into traveling in the future. I think we could get into all kinds of fun most of Prague is spectacular, and I hope to take some good photos tomorrow!
Tuesday April 8, 1997
Awoke at what seemed like the crack of dawn to catch our tour of Prague. Ate the hotel’s complementary breakfast and then headed out. We had to stand around Old Town Square for around 15 minutes or so in the nippy morning air before our tour started. It was at this point that I realized I needed to get a book that explains what each building is. There is no way I am going to remember them all. The tour was in German and English which started to give me a headache because I kept trying to translate what she was saying, and not having any luck. The tour was definitely the best way to see everything. On the tour we stopped and hiked around the castle. It was here, just a few short steps away from Vladec Havel’s office that one of the steps proved disastrous for Mom. She tried to get a perfect picture and for her effort, fell off of a particularly steep curb and sprained her ankle badly. We did not realize how bad it was, and Mom was a trooper and finished the castle tour limping. (She didn’t really have a choice. The bus dropped us off at the top of the castle, and we had to hike down about 150 steps to greet the bus again.) A kindly man helped mom most of the way back to the bus. After the tour, we went to get her a bandage at a pharmacy. We walked all through Old Town and took pics of the St. Charles Bridge, the castle, and the spot where they filmed Mission: Impossible. We walked back to Wenceslaus Square and I found a Czech Soccer Jersey – way cool. We ate at the Czech McDonald’s (Quite good actually – Weird that it is better in Prague than in Davis). Mom, ever the trooper and still hobbling (If I don’t see it now, I am never going to see it!) bought some crystal at a shop where the lady behind the counter spoke Czech and German. While Gary and Mom tried there best to buy stuff and have it shipped back home, I gave up translating (where’s Joe when I need him??) and wandered among some of the shops. I had plans to sample the local club scene, but Mom’s ankle was hurting worse and worse.
After getting back to the hotel and realizing just how big Mom’s ankle had expanded, we decided to take her to the Diplomatic Hospital. (Apparently it caters to Americans and other foreigners that trip at the castle). The hospital was something that was a cross between “Gigantomania Soviet Era” craftsmanship and the movie Coma. The taxi driver introduced us to the front desk lady (Now mind you this is a fairly large size hospital on a cliff – we did not see another patient the whole time we were there.). We sat down and waited for a bit and finally the lady took us down a long hallway. Several turns and a dinky elevator ride down one floor, we arrived a HUGE steel door with that friendly radiation symbol on it. After pounding like someone at Frankenstein’s castle, the door swung open and another nurse came out, gave us a once over, and mentioned us inside. We were led down some more empty dark hallways until we came to a waiting area. Gary and I sat down as the nurse led Mom into the X-Ray room. The nurse motions mom towards this platform that she leans against. She grabs on some handles and the platform tilts horizontal and Mom’s leg is put up against the machine. After all the lights in the hospital dim, they release her. The doctor confirms the good news: “No Break!” He exclaims in broken English. We are then led back upstairs to the original waiting room (mind you Mom has been walking the whole time). After a few minutes we hear a large clatter. A door swings open and the nurse pushes out a wheel chair. Mom gets excited until the nurse says “Not for You, Come here.” Mom then proceeds to be examined by another doctor. They giver her a prescription and some numbing topical cream, and then they re-wrap mom’s ankle.
Finally, we are led back out to the front, and we call a cab. The cab takes us to a 24 hour pharmacy, where the lady behind the window tells me “Three times daily.” The box of drugs is in Czech, so we have no idea what they are, but mom confirms that they indeed work. One final note, I found out that my grandmother had to be rushed to the hospital for internal bleeding. Apparently it was a result of an angioplasty that left something to be desired. She is doing fine now, but since my grandfather died as a result of complications from heart surgery, it was quite a scare. I also tried calling Roger to see how things were in his neck of the woods, but he was not home. Bagged the idea of going out that night because it was past midnight, and we were off to Rome tomorrow.
Wednesday April 9, 1997
Again with the crack of dawn stuff. It seems like the only time I get up this early is on vacation. Mom is still limping around, but doing OK. We made our way over to the airport without breakfast. Those Lender’s bagels are sure coming in handy. I tried to spend all of the Czech money I had at the airport (Which by the way was undergoing extensive renovation and looks fab!). The flight to Paris (I love Air France – they use Paris as a hub city to connect everywhere in Europe.) was mostly empty and I got a much needed break to write in my journal. The crew was there usual Parisian best. We arrived at DeGaulle Airport with plenty of time to make our connection to Rome. Now remember Mom has a sprained ankle and is limping badly, but, alas, there is no French with Disabilities Act. So we had to go up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and then down the stairs to the bus to take us to the stairs to get on the plane. I managed to pick up a mini-Eiffel Tower, an Air France die-cast metal 747, and 2 Kit Kats for a meager US$20 – gotta love Airports. I did notice that as I boarded the plane to Rome, that yes, I love Paris, and can’t wait to visit again – hopefully seeing Nathan again. Flight to Rome was not as good as the flight from Prague. It was full, warm and a bit smelly. Not really the fault of Air France, but the many Italians on board who looked like they needed a shower. I took a snapshot of Mount Blanc aka Matterhorn from the plane. Once we arrived at Rome’s DaVinci Airport, we walked (well mom limped) another mile from the gate to the taxis. Emerson Fitipaldi’s nephew was kind enough to take us to our hotel, which according to my sense of direction, seemed to be the furthest point from the airport without leaving Rome. Our room was nice, but there was a distinct stink from the sewer (as I like to say, Musky, yet not unpleasant). The guy who runs out hotel is named Guiseppe. He gives me a bad time about being a Catalfo, and not knowing any Italian.
We decided to take the “Rome by Night” tour which included dinner. The tour was fun. Mom unfortunately didn’t see much of the Trivoli fountain or some of the other sights because she was lagging behind. Dinner at the White Elephant restaurant was good. The pasta was excellent, though some of the later dishes were a bit too much drenched in sauce for my taste, but everyone else seemed to enjoy. We had a great time with the people at our table: Dick and Jeanette from New York (reeeal Italians) and Miguel and Inma from Valencia, Spain. Miguel and Inma didn’t speak much English and since I had two years of high school Spanish, I was nominated translator. I sure wish Mr. Cabanero was here. He would do a MUCH better job. After getting a little liquid inspiration, we got the Italian guy on the stage who was doing a funny job doing Karaoke, we had him perform “My Way” and “New York, New York”. Dick and Jeanette suggested the Macarena, which was a hoot with all the Italians looking at us like we were psychos. We returned to the hotel and crashed hard – not sure what our plans our for tomorrow.
Thursday, April 10, 1997
For once, woke up after noon! We didn’t have time to go over and see St. Peter’s Square, so we taxied it over to the Forum and Coliseum. First up was the Coliseum. Tre Chic! It was a pretty cool experience to be inside a place that was that old. After some great Gorn shots, we walked around the Forum and Palace grounds. Pretty darn huge, with lots of good vistas of Rome. One can only imagine what it looked like two thousand years ago. After a couple of hours, we started walking to get something to eat (A decision mom regrets to this day – this was probably her time of greatest pain on the whole trip). An hour and a Metro line later, we ended up at a pizzeria next to the train station. After confirming the time of tomorrow’s train departure, we Metro’ed back to the hotel, of course we had to do quite a bit of walking! I think today we walked a total of 6 hours non-stop. After resting a tad in the room, I decided to check out a local club. But wait, it was Thursday, and the taxi driver had dropped me off in front of a closed up club. This was not cool. I had to walk by myself back to the train station to catch a taxi back to the hotel. I passed some not-so-tourist-friendly places, but managed to make it over to McDonald’s for a quick snack. I went into the train station and called Matt. We were gabbing away, and I had not realized that the police had locked up the train station. It was not until a nice police officer offered to escort me out of the station that I realized I was locked inside. I think my conversation with Matt ended: “Uh, I have to go, the police are here”. I did manage to catch a taxi back to the hotel and hit the hay. Today left me with a bitter taste in my mouth about Rome. I think if we hadn’t walked so much, we would have been left with a more positive image of Rome, instead the beautiful Coliseum and Forum were overshadowed by a Los Angeles clone with better dressed people.
Friday April 11, 1997
We are back to our morning departures. At 9am, we were having breakfast at the hotel, and shortly thereafter taxied it over to the Vatican. First stop on the tour was the Sistine Chapel. There is a big sign outside that says “Please be silent and do not take pictures to preserve the holiness of the room”. Inside the Chapel, there were several hundred people talking and taking pictures and crowding around. Despite the crowd and noise, the Chapel was awe-inspiring – too bad I paid attention to the sign, a Gorn/Sistine Chapel picture would have been great. Oh well. The best part of the early tour was the Hall of Maps that showed all of the Christian areas of the world in the 1300’s. (One of which is emblazoned on a T-shirt I now posses). I picked up Roger a postcard and mailed it so it was postmarked “Vatican”. From there, we hoofed it back to St. Peter’s Basilica-Square-Pope Motel. I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience. When you walk inside, it is like you can feel a presence. The prayer room off the main part of the Basilica felt like it was a T-1 connection to God. I said a few words and asked God to look out for Granny as she recovers, and posed for a picture in front of St. Peter’s statue which everyone was rubbing for good luck. I also was given a big frown by one of the guards after snapping a shot of the Gorn in a beam of sunlight that shone through the top of the Basilica.
We headed back to the hotel and picked up our bags and headed to the train station. From Rome we were off to Florence. Luckily we paid another trip to – you guessed it McDonald’s – the train was simple and had no amenities. The train ride was about 3.5 hours and relatively uneventful. We took a taxi ride to our hotel and discovered that it was strategically placed no where near anything. Oh well. There was no message from Nathan yet, and I was wondering if he was going to make it at all. I gave up on Nathan after a great dinner, and headed out on my own around 10pm. Inside the disco, I ran into a couple of American couples. One of them was from Denver and was going to San Francisco soon. I gave them a few of my Club passes that I happened to have in my jacket. We all had the same travel guide which failed to mention that that night at the club was “Ladies Night”. Nathan and his friend showed up around 11ish, and confirmed that he called our hotel a few times, but they said we were not staying there. (Apparently he called before we arrived.) We danced and hung out together because Nathan’s friend couldn’t get into this other club we wanted to go to. I finally called it a night at about 3am, but not until the DJ played Jarre’s Oxygene 8 (I believe it was the Sunday Club mix – but not sure). Found a cab with Nathan’s help and agreed to meet again tomorrow.
Saturday April 12, 1997
Decided to stick with our reservations and stay in Florence. It was worth it, for this was our best day here, and possibly the trip. Our first stop of the Day was the Galleria de Academia to see Michaelangelo’s David. Now that is a big statue! We then went to the Duomo and climbed the tower. By this time Mom’s ankle was feeling better, though she only made it 2/3 of the way up. Gary and I made all 408 stairs up and 408 stairs down. The view was worth it, despite the “Suicide Grate” which surrounded the top of the tower. After catching our breaths, we shopped around. I decided I wanted to see Boticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Ufizi. Mom and Gary opted for more shopping. Inside the Ufizi, I had several Deja-Louvre moments where I couldn’t find my way around or the painting (apparently in my excitement, I missed the complimentary guides to where everything was at the entrance). After an hour of searching, I found the painting and some other great pieces of art by Leonardo, Rafaelo, and others (again with the no picture rule). After the Ufizi, met up with Mom and Gary. We got steam-rolled by Andre Agassi’s look alike at a leather shop. End result: Mom and Gary were the proud owners of new coats. Fortunately I was too poor to even think about it. We wandered through some other shops, and then grabbed a quick pizza. Made contact with Nathan regarding tonight’s plans. After wandering for an hour, we finally settled on a nice restaurant for dinner. We ribbed mom endlessly on her Rick Steeves love affair after we spent most of the hour looking for an Ice shop. After dinner, it was back to the hotel.
Nathan called and I met him at the disco from last night at about 11:15pm. We had a great time. We managed to meet some new people at the Disco, and Nathan disappeared for awhile. I was chatting with some people who didn’t speak much English, but a good time was had by all. Let’s see: I was speaking English to Nathan, he was speaking French to this one guy who was speaking Italian to this guy Andre, who seemed pretty nice (at least through 4 people), Nathan and Andre headed off on their own, and I went with the Franco-Italian speaker and his friend Simon (who spoke OK English) over to the other disco. We had a great time, but I finally had my fill of Italian fun at around 5am. I went to bed thinking about the 5 short hours of sleep I will have until we are on a train for Venice.
Sunday April 13, 1997
Was I awake? Where am I? I am not sure, but I have this foggy recollection of checking out of a hotel at around 9:15am and departing for a train station. It also seems that we had to catch a 10:07am train, but when we found out that we would have to change in Bologna, we decided to wait until the 11:18 to Venice. Hmm I guess I was awake after all. We had some Florence McDonald’s and headed off to Venice. From what I recall, the train ride was through some great scenery. We were in a little cabin with some guy who didn’t speak English. I think we scared him off, because he got up halfway to Venice and never returned. The ticket lady informed us that we had to change trains in Mirenze to go to Venice. Ugh! The rest of the train was uneventful because I slept most of the way. Though I am not sure I ever woke up this day. So maybe the day began when we neared the Mirenze train station.
We arrived in Mirenze and the great shuffle began. We looked for the Venice train and saw Dick and Jeanette from NY running like crazy and crossing the tracks (not actually permitted by the station police, but they didn’t see them). Dick and Jeanette made it on the train that was leaving. We were not so lucky. After having to cross over and under tracks, we waited about 30 minutes before the next train to Venice showed up. Once in Venice, I saw a copy of the Gondola lamp that I received after my grandfather died that was given to him by a cousin who must have bought it at the train station. (Geez, I better get Chuck something before I go!) We then hopped the Venetian equivalent of a bus that took us over to St. Marcos Square (after no less than 13 stops). We found a sucker of a porter who took our bags to the hotel. Hmm I guess we were the suckers. It cost us like 40,000 Lire. After a brief rest (Maybe this is when I actually woke up – though we didn’t stop for long because we were all dead tired, but wanted to see Venice before the sun went down), we walked around the square and did some shopping. This lady from Boston was wearing new Doc Martens and showed me where to get them via some awful directions. After several twists and turns in the labyrinth of passageways, we found it. They weren’t very cheap (around 90 bucks), but they were still cheaper than in the stated. I also found another killer soccer jersey that was again a) way cool, and b) not very cheap. It had some groovy colors in it though. We had dinner at the Grotta restaurant. I managed in one sitting to eat Spaghetti, Meatballs, and a Pizza! On the way back to the hotel, mom got steam-rolled again into buying yet another bag, She loudly complained back to the hotel until Gary offered to take it off her hands and give it to a relative. We chuckled about some of the highlights of the trip, and Mom groaned about her foot.
We have to wake up at the UNGODLY hour of 4am to catch out water taxi back to the train station to go back home. We had a great time chuckling in the room and I took a picture of Mom’s ankle.
Monday April 13, 1997
I really can’t believe that it is this early. Things started out in a rush, and never let up. We got ready and vamoosed out of the hotel at 5am and hoofed it over to the water bus stop. Boarded the bus at 5:15am and was at the rail station at 5:30am. We crawled onto the train with about 15 minutes left before our 6:05am departure to Milan. I made a dash out to the train station for some drinks. After breaking some bills at a newsstand, I still only had enough for one Coke Light. I am glad I filled up my container of water before we left the hotel. I jumped onto the train with a minute to spare and had to walk all the way to our car from the back of the train. Good thing I jumped on when I did, the train started to pull away right on time. By the time I reached my seat, the train was well underway, and Mom was panicked that I missed the train. I dozed on and off during the train ride. Fortunately, we did not have to switch trains, so everything went smoothly. We arrived at Milan around 9:30am, and went about searching for the bus to take us to the airport. The info desk informed us that the bus usually comes every 10-15 minutes, and 30 minutes later, one showed up. Mom nearly gets trampled in the ensuing stampede. Finally after shuffling and running, we made it onto a bus. The Departure of our plane was at 12:15pm, so by the time we arrived at the airport, we were already an hour into our 2 hour check-in window. Milan Malpensa was very crowded and unorganized. We checked the bags, Mom toured the duty free shops, and I got my customs info stuff stamped (Editor’s Note: It’s been two years and I have yet to receive any money back!) Finally, we made it to our gate, and unfortunately it was a full flight with the majority of passengers being rude, obnoxious Americans (including the token Economy Class baby).
After much ballyhooing, we were on the plane and in the air. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the flight, especially considering the conditions of the Milan airport. Maybe it was because of the condition of the airport. I think part of the reason was because I was so tired after getting such an early start. Another reason was the fact that American was showing Star Trek: First Contact. It was amusing because during the big Borg battle sequence, the plane hit turbulence – Better than Sensurround! We made it into Chicago a bit ahead of schedule, but there was no sign of Kris. Mom had a little problem with the customs people and proceeded to panic because she couldn’t find her luggage key. I was waived through with no problems. Finally, Mom was OK, she found her key and we were able to proceed to our gate for the next leg of the flight. We bummed around the terminal awhile (Mom had to go back to the X-ray machine, in all the commotion, she forgot her purse – a good 20 minute walk!). I exchanged my remaining Lira notes and was surprised that I actually had $13. As we boarded the plane back to San Francisco, we said bye to Gary and took off. When we got on the plane, we realized that somehow we ended up in Business Class. Ohh-La-La! I can get used to this. I wish that I could have sat in these seats on the way to and from Europe. I slept through the movie “One Fine Day”, and overall, the flight was pleasant. Upon arriving in SF, Mom tried and successfully got on an America West flight to Phoenix (She’d arrive there about 12:30am or 9:30am Venice time). I took the bus back to the El Rancho Hotel and retrieved my car and drove back to Davis, making one bathroom/gas stop in Cordelia. I stumbled into my apartment around 10:30ish, and was I pooped. It was a great trip, a bit hectic, but lots of fun. I will always treasure the time with Nathan in Paris and Florence, and the whole Czech hospital bit. I am unsure when the next time I will be traveling is, but I can’t wait!!!!