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So, in the past year or so, I've gone to Europe, to Montreal, to D.C. For someone who normally hates travel, that's a fair bit of travel -- and I enjoyed most of it.

So I've been reconsidering my aversion. And I have a hypothesis: I think that most of my aversion to travel is aversion to airplanes.

When we traveled by car, train, or bus, I did basically fine. I found nine or ten hours on a bus perfectly acceptable, even though two hours on a plane is horrible. I hate planes, I hate airports, I hate airport security.

Buses aren't fantastically comfortable, but they're fine. Driving is tiring, but fine. Trains are wonderful. Flying sucks.

Lis may yet succeed in getting me to go on more trips. . . .
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The good part: I can post from the bus! Vamoose Bus lines has WiFi on the bus.
The bad part: It's a bus. It's got bus-seat sized seats. It doesn't have airplane trays or anything. So I've actually got a laptop on top of my lap. No outlets, either, and the WiFi is a little flaky at times.

But the good news is -- I can post from the bus! And I've got lots of books, anyway.

Montreal

Sep. 7th, 2007 10:41 pm
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Lis and I are in Montreal, to help [livejournal.com profile] papersky celebrate her book.

Montreal is a great city. Montreal is a city which believes that french fries need gravy and cheese on them. In this, as among other things, Montreal is right.
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As many of you probably know, I was dreading the trip to Europe, because I don't like travel. But then I went to London and Italy, and there was lots of neat stuff, and I had fun, and saw cool things. I've now been home for about a week and a half (and I still haven't blogged about Trieste, yet), so, what's the verdict? I had fun, so, would I do it again? Was the good parts of travel worth the hassle and inconvenience? If I could somehow go back in time and make it so I didn't have to go on the trip, would I go on the trip, anyway?
Read more... )
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Of course, not everything in Europe was wonderful.

London: is there any square inch of London you can be in where you're NOT being taped by a closed-circuit television? MAN, that's creepy. How do y'all get USED to it? I really loved the city, but I couldn't live there, just for that reason alone. WAY too much surveillance. Just. . . creepy, man. Orwell was a Brit, after all. . .

Italy: um. Doors that need a key to unlock from the INSIDE. See, I guess it's just a cultural difference, but, here in the United States, we have this thing called "fire". . . sometimes we accidentally get "fire" on our buildings, and then we need to get out of the buildings. And so, we like to be able to get out of buildings pretty easily. So we do things like have doors that you lock and unlock with a key from the OUTSIDE, but, from the INSIDE, you just use a knob or something, so that you can get out easily.

Freaked me out some, it did.

The other thing that I didn't quite get was the caribinieri. There's something creepy about having your civilian policing done by your military. I just don't like it -- rubs me the wrong way. They seem like perfectly nice, competent people (and the impression I was getting is that they're among the ONLY competent authority figures around -- c.f. my story about the woman fainting on the train to get an idea about the competence of all non-caribinieri first responders in Rome. . . ), but still -- the military is the military and the civilian is the civilian and it seems kind of worrisome to have one group do both.
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We didn't find any place to blog from in Trieste, but I did try taking notes about the last part of the trip. Still, as I didn't have my cane, I was pretty wiped, so my notes are extremely vague, and this won't be in as much detail, or written as well, as I'd have liked.

But, anyway. . . onward to Trieste through Venice.
Read more... )
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3) Fashion

Fashion in Rome is weird. There is something uncanny about the city itself.

You know how totally moronic and ugly Capri pants look? They don't, in Rome. I don't get it. I mean, I was looking at someone walking down the street, looking good, and I noticed that she looked good, and that her clothes looked good, and I imagined her in Boston, and was shocked to realize that she would have looked awful back home. Same outfit, same person, but, in a different city, a totally opposite effect.

So Lis and I started watching more carefully, and we noticed that ALL the outfits we saw looked good in Rome, and we mentally transported them to different cities.

A few of them would have looked good in Florida. A different set of them -- almost no overlap between that set and the first set -- would have worked in New York.

None of them would have worked in Boston. And the only difference was setting.

Noticing this fact saved Lis from buying a couple outfits that would have looked adorable in Rome, but, once we got them home, would have gotten us wondering what the hell we were smoking.
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2. How [at least the subset of] People [that I talked to] view Americans

I have friends and family who wear Canadian flags on their backpacks when they go through Europe, and I understand why. I think Europeans have plenty of reasons to be annoyed with Americans. But, Lis and I are Americans, and didn't try to hide it.

We do have the advantage of being from Massachusetts, so we're the ones who hate Bush as much as they do. . .

The folks we talked to don't blame us for Bush any more -- or less -- than they blame Italians for Berlusconi. It sucks, but every once in a while, a democracy manages to saddle itself with a dangerous moron. Okay, the United States is bigger, so the amount of damage Bush can do is more widespread than the damage Berlusconi tried to do, but the principle is the same. So long as we're trying to do something about limiting the damage our dangerous moron is doing -- and they do appear to perceive that we are at least trying to -- they don't hold it against us, personally. Lis and I are on the same side. Sure, as American liberals from perhaps the most liberal state in the United States, it does mean that we're more conservative than most of the people we were talking to, but still, we're not so far to the right that we're insane.

And, for what it's worth: there are Italians of a certain age who still consider Americans to be "the guys who helped us kick out the Nazis after we got rid of Mussolini". Sure, they're perfectly aware that, since that time, we have not always lived up to those ideals -- but they don't forget what it is that we are supposed to be, and they still love us for it. We, of course, have to do a better job of living up to that, but they wouldn't let us forget what it is that we are supposed to live up to. It's useful to have someone who actually holds you to standards.

Almost all the "anti-American" graffiti was actually anti-Bush and anti-war -- and there was less of that than there is in Boston. As is only right, of course -- it's more OUR responsibility to fix than theirs, so we should be more vocal about it. The ideological wars which were being fought in white spraypaint on the walls of Rome were largely anti-fascist rhetoric on one side, and anti-communist rhetoric on the other, and, in Trieste, were largely anti-immigration (sad, but not uncommon in border cities).

We did see one genuinely anti-American graffito, but it didn't bother us. We're Bostonians. We like graffiti that says, "Yankees Suck!"
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0230 GMT; 0430 local (Central European Time, Summer)Wake up, shower, dress, brush teeth, pack final bits, like pajamas and toothbrushes just used. (Rest of luggage already packed)
0330 GMT; 0530 local (CET, Summer)Check out of bed & breakfast, walk to train station
0400 GMT; 0600 local (CET, Summer)Arrive at train station, make one final check for the train tickets that we were pretty sure we had lost, and purchase replacement tickets. Board train from Trieste Centrale to Venizia Mestre
0430 GMT; 0630 local (CET, Summer)Train leaves Trieste
0635 GMT; 0835 local (CET, Summer)Train arrives in Venizia Mestre station, in Venice, only 15 minutes late
0650 GMT; 0850 local (CET, Summer)Board bus that goes from Venizia Mestre train station to Venice Airport
0720 GMT; 0920 local (CET, Summer)Arrive at Venice Airport and get in line to check in for 1125 flight to Gatwick airport, outside London
0740 GMT; 0940 local (CET, Summer)Wonder if the line will ever start moving.
0755 GMT; 0955 local (CET, Summer)Note that we have now been in line for over half an hour, and the line has moved about two yards.
0825 GMT; 1025 local (CET, Summer)Note that it is now an hour that we've been standing here, and, while we are visibly closer to the front of the line, we're still not exactly what you'd call close, and we still have to clear security and passport control.
0900 GMT; 1100 local (CET, Summer)Get to front of line. Check in. It takes about 30 seconds, even though Lis and I don't have our reservation numbers. See, we're traveling carry-on only, and the hold-up has been that they've apparently not been able to figure out how to put baggage into the system properly, so it's been taking, like, five minutes per bag. Since we have no checked baggage, we whisk right through in no time at all. Spare a thought to the half of the line that is still behind us. . . i
0915 GMT; 1115 local (CET, Summer)Board the plane.
1000 GMT; 1200 local (CET, Summer)The 1125 plane takes off. They really couldn't let the plane leave until all the people who'd been waiting in line for the past two hours actually did get on. I can't blame them for that decision to hold the plane. Being half an hour late would suck so much less than to be at the airport in plenty of time and have the airline's own incompetence prevent you from getting on the plane.
1200 GMT; 1300 local (British Summer Time)Plane lands at Gatwick
1230 GMT; 1330 local (BST)Have cleared passport control, and are on a bus from Gatwick to Heathrow
1320 GMT; 1420 local (BST)Arrive at London's Heathrow airport. Check in. Discover that, because the luggage requirements are so strict at British airports, we have to check our luggage, even though we've been able to use it carry-on on every other part of our trip. Oh, well, didn't get to do the WHOLE trip carry-on-only, but we did pretty well. Look around, get a meal at an airport restaurant, wrestle with my conscience about buying a bottle of absinthe, illegal in the US, at the airport duty-free shop, and smuggling in into the US. I lose, and don't buy it. It sucks. My instincts as a bartender told me that I had a responsibility to get it, so I could judge the stuff. However, my instincts as a bartender ALSO told me that I have a responsibility to uphold the laws and regulations of my country, state, and city, regarding the import, sale, serving, and consumption of alcohol. I know I'm the only person in the entire world who looks at it this way -- I don't think Bacchus even HAS Paladins (frankly, I'd think Maenads are chaotic neutral at best. . .)
1635 GMT; 1735 local (BST)Board plane to Logan Airport
1730 GMT; 1830 local (BST)Plane takes off
0000 GMT; 2000 local (Eastern Daylight Time)Plane lands at Logan Airport in Boston
0030 GMT; 2030 local (EDT)Through customs, passport control, waiting for luggage
0050 GMT; 2050 local (EDT)Got luggage, meet Dad, who came to pick us up. We coulda saved 20 minutes if we hadn't had to wait for luggage. Big deal.
0135 GMT; 2135 local (EDT)Got home.
0300 GMT; 2300 local (EDT)Post this. I have now been awake for over 24 hours. Well, not really -- I napped a little on the plane. Still, I should go to sleep now.



How was your day?
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1) Cash
I didn't even think about this until I glanced at a travel guide in London -- one of those humor books which actually has good points in it. Naturally, I looked up the US in it, and and they had a bit about money. Everyone in the world who comes to the United States is annoyed that all of our paper money is the same size, shape, color, and design, with the only differences being a few numbers in the corners -- written smaller than the numbers in any other currency -- and which basially-similar-looking white guy has his basically-similar-looking portrait on it.

They pointed out that Americans aren't bothered by this (or, for that matter, that we have a $1 bill rather than coin -- I think that other countries believe that, if your average vending machine sells stuff more expensive than your smallest bill and your largest coin, you're doing it wrong) because we almost never use cash.
Read more... )
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When I was writing my last post, I was in an internet cafe at 8 or 9in the morning local time, which is about when LJ is down for scheduled nightly maintenence. So, when I tried to post, I couldn't, but it DID autosave properly. So I later logged in through Lis's cell phone, loaded the draft, and posted from there.

I guess the LJ Mobile interface has a shorter character limit than the regular interface. . .

You saw how much I was able to post, and then I left you all in the middle of a story. And, unfortunately, because it DID load up the draft, the draft is lost, so I have to attempt to reconstruct what I was going to say from memory. So, here's my best guess as to what I was going to say:

On our way back [from Ostia Antica], we were exhausted, and, even though I wanted to take the train farther out to go to the beach, we were too tired, and got on the train back to Rome. The train was packed by people coming back from the beach -- women wearing swimsuits under their wraps, with hair that had clearly just been in salt water -- you know what people coming back from the beach look like. Standing right next to me was a pretty young woman coming back from the beach who was just about old enough for me to feel comfortable looking at her every once in a while, so I saw the whole thing, and I got to see how the Italians deal with emergencies.

I saw her rub the back of her neck, and adjust the strap of her swimsuit top which was tied around the back of her neck. And a few minutes later, I saw her eyes roll up into her head, and she fell straght back and collapsed on the floor of the train.

Immediately, I handed the bottle of water in my bag to the woman who was travelling with her, who poured it on her face, as she was elevating the fainting woman's legs. Another woman standing next to her took HER bottle of water, and starting wetting the fainting woman's neck and face, and massaging her handsRead more... )
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Yesterday, we saw the Trajan's Forum area, went back to the Jewish neighborhood for lunch (I'm pretty sure I haven't blogged yet about how cool the tour of the old ghetto neighborhood was -- our guide was a young (cute!) woman whose family lived in the ghetto for hundreds of years (until her mother sold the apartment in the eighties, just BEFORE the neighborhood was gentrified and their old apartment is now worth hundreds of thousands of €, not that she's bitter at her mother or anything), who knows EVERYBODY in the ghetto neighborhood, and loves Rome, and wants you to love Rome, and, specifically, the Jewish neighborhood of Rome, as much as you do.

It's a good tour, if, y'know, you are okay with having the tour interrupted every once in a while by people coming up to your tour guide and talking to her and introducing themselves to your tour group and talking at you and telling you stuff. Which I am quite okay with.

Anyway, so, yesterday, we went back to that neighborhood to show at the synogogue gift shop (it's a synogogue that was built in the early 20th century when the ghetto was turned from an absolute sty of a slum into a pretty nice neighborhood, and it was designed to compete with all the cathedrals around, which it does), and then we got lunch there.

And then we went to Ostia Antica in the afternoon.Read more... )
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So few bathrooms I'm willing to use, so many fountains with constant running water. . .
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Rome has fountains everywhere. And by "fountains", I mean "big decorative things that throw water into the sky", but I also mean, "water bubblers", aka "drinking fountains". They're of the "always on" model, and some of them are decorative, and some of them are just functional, just arcing a stream of water onto the ground.

The functional ones are kind of a standardized form: a cylinder rising out of the ground, with a curved pipe with water coming out. Perfect for re-filling water bottles, or soaking your head. Not quite as easy for drinking from directly, but there's a hole drilled on the top of the pipe, just where it's bending. Block the water coming out the end, and it squirts out the hole in the top, instead, so you can drink from it that way. All Romans are apparently adept at blocking it just exactly enough to shoot the water exactly high enough to raise it to the level at which they like to drink. I would be very surprised if Roman kids were not also adept at spraying passerby with this trick.

What I saw today, on the way back to the hotel, is that they are also absolutely PERFECT for filling water balloons. You stick the balloon on the end of the pipe, so the water squirts out the top, and block the top hole with your finger, and the water fills the balloon just perfectly.

Our hotel is in Chinatown. I don't know what Rome calls their Chinatown, or if it's even recognized as a neighborhood, but it meant that there was a Chinese import shop a couple blocks from the hotel where we could buy a really, really GOOD pair of compact binoculars for €12. Lis bought a folding fan (green laquered wood slats painted with a flower scene, held together with a green ribbon), which looks really good, for €2. When Mom saw it, she HAD to have one, too, so I took her there and she bought a red one for herself, and a maroon one for THIS family member and another one for THAT family member. . .

Lis wanted me to mention that I finally figured out why Italy does so much with really sexy shoes. See, in Rome, if a woman doesn't have legs that could stop traffic, how else could she cross the street?
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I'm sitting in an un-airconditioned overpriced (€3.50/hour -- I was paying €1/hour in Florence, and £1/hour in London) Internet cafe a couple blocks from the Vatican, as Lis and my uncle Bob go on a guided tour. I'm catching up on email, and trying to think about what I want to blog about the second half our our time in Tuscany, and what Rome has been like.

The thing which I noticed about Tuscany is that it's so unafraid to actually live up to its reputation.

I mean, my parents and I were at a small restaurant, sitting outside in comfortable chairs on a narrow cobblestone street, or really, an alley, between medieval stone walls. Our table was set such that we could all see down a cross-alley, and we could see down the hill, out to the horizon which was covered with rolling hills raising to low mountains over fields, vinyards, olive groves. . .

The food we were eating was extremely simple food done so well as to stagger credulity. And just as I was thinking how blatantly stereotypical this was, that this was a parody of what we all think Tuscany is, a flock of swifts swooped down the alley eating bugs.

And yet -- it's NOT a parody.

I remember once writing in this blog about the Wisconsin Dells, and how they were honestly and sincerely tacky -- that there is no irony in their tackiness. Vegas and Atlantic City may be aware of what they are, but the Wisconsin Dells have an innocence about them -- they are every bit as tacky, but are totally sincere in their tackiness.

Tuscany has the same sincerity. But it's about its sincerety. It is honestly and sincerely honest and sincere. Tuscany is aware of how beautiful it is, and is aware of how beautiful people think it is. And you'd think that, when it realized that, it would start trying to hard.

It doesn't. It just sits there being so beautiful as to be a parody of itself, but with no irony.

I feel that trying to describe it is to destroy it, because every description I say about it sounds like every description I've read of that. And that makes me feel that I'm saying it is this way because other people have said that it is this way. And yet -- it IS that way, despite the fact that everyone says it is.

So.

What of Rome?
Read more... )
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We came home from the farm, and had a couple of hours until our dinner reservations at a relatively-nearby restaurant (at which Fabio's son-in-law worked). Some of us took a dip in the pool, or a quick nap, or chatted, or whatever, and then, eventually, we all changed for dinner and came down.

Nobody particularly came UP with the idea of changing for dinner -- it's just that ONE person started putting together an outfit, and then someone else thought that changing was a good idea, and we all dressed up just a little -- not much, but enough that Nonnie noticed, and said, "You all look nice," and looked pleased that we all had demonstrated that we thought that spending a night out with our family was important enough that we'd do a little something to mark it.

In any case, it was the last night that Meghan and her if-he's-not-scared-off-by-this-he's-gotta-be-a-fiancee Patrick were going to be around, as they were going home the morning of the 23rd, so that was another reason to just, y'know, look a LITTLE nicer than usual.

It was a traditional Italian meal, and we ordered it as such -- antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti. The place was known also for its pizzas, which, I guess, you could get served either as primi or secondi.

Nonnie was convinced that we'd ordered FAR too much food when she realized that the antipasti plates that were being brought out were brought one per PERSON, rather than one per every three or four people.

And yet. . . we pretty much cleaned every one of those plates.Read more... )
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So, that was the ruined castle. Then we went on to the winery. Although Fabio is a part-owner, he's not the vintner, so he only knows the basics of how everything works: there were things about which I knew more than he did. Still, I learned a lot, especially about the business end: they have a bottling license, which is expensive, and so other local vineyards need to go to them for fermentation and bottling, and it was neat to learn about how that all worked.

In Tuscany, you DON'T need a bottling license to sell your wine in 45-liter jugs. So some taverns have local wines more-or-less on tap, or at least in unlabeled bottles that they decant the big jugs into.

We finished off with a bit of a wine-tasting, and then headed off to Fabio's father-in-law's farm, on the other side of town. He has a few cages of rabbits, some small chickens for meat, a flock of larger chickens for eggs, and some cages of turkeys. There's a kitchen-garden with vegetables and fruit (right now, their strawberries and squash are up). A few fruit trees -- peaches, plums -- some nut trees, and so forth. But the main part of the farm is vineyard (although with olive trees planted throughout -- simply because at one point, he was considering switching over to oil production instead of wine). He grows three types of grapes, and I forgot to take notes about what, specifically, they were.

He does all the work himself, except during harvest. (Although, I would suspect that his wife has a bit to do with the chores, as well. . . )

And then we went into the house to see HIS winery -- a much smaller, and entirely traditional, affair.

That was ALSO incredibly interesting, but I'll only mention one thing which I learned: how to put a cork INTO a wine bottle.

They have this machine -- you put the full bottle on a little platform, with the neck of the bottle right under this gizmo with a lever, and you put a cork in the top, and you pull the lever, and the place where the cork is irises closed, squeezing the cork, and, pulling the lever further, there's this peg on the bottom side of the lever, which pushes the cork into the bottle.

After that, we headed back home, and I now have to do some cleaning and stuff, so that's a good place to stop THIS post.
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One of the other things we learned back on the 21st was that the 22nd was going to be a train-strike day. Only a few critical trains would be running on Friday.

So, we let everybody back at the house know this, and suggested that this made an excellent excuse to just chill and take it easy.

See, my grandmother is an Italian Catholic (not hugely practicing). My grandfather is Protestant, at least technically.

They run the family business together, along with my father, his brother, and his brother-in-law. Plus other people, too, but the point is, what happens when you add the Italian temper and temperament to the Protestant work ethic?

You end up with a situation where, when you suggest to my generation the idea of having a day just hanging around the beautiful villa, lying out by the pool, maybe wandering down to the village for a beer or coffee, and generally taking it easy and hanging out, they react not only enthusiastically, but with genuine relief. Lis and I hadn't been in Italy when everyone else took the day trip to Lucca, but, frankly, I'm GLAD we weren't there. Everyone agrees that Walter is an AMAZING driver for being able to take the ten-person van down the medieval streets in which they had to fold in the mirrors on both sides in order to fit, but nobody seems to really dwell on the fact that they were only IN those streets because everyone was completely ignoring Patrick, who had the map and was saying, "Um, we need to turn left here to avoid going into tiny little medieval streets in which our van isn't allowed. . . "

In any case, Fabio, who is the owner of the villa we are renting, came by and asked if we all wanted to go on a car tour of the area. He'd take his van, we'd take our van, and he could show us cool things in and around Bucine.

This seemed like an excellent, low-key plan, and we did it. We drove over a bridge in which the structural part was Roman work, and above it was medieval work, and then they put modern pavement on it. We stopped at an apiary to watch them extract honey from honeycomb. We went to a partially-restored medieval castle, which is now a village with five families in it. We went to the winery that Fabio is part-owner of, then went to Fabio's father's farm, and saw the more traditional setup with which his father-in-law makes and bottles HIS wine. As well as meeting the gentleman and wandering around his farm. And then we went out to dinner.

That's the overview. Let me now zoom in and tell you a couple cool bits from here and there around the day. . .
Read more... )
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We used Lis's cell phone to call my parents to let them know we'd be late, and sauntered off to the train station, spending as much time as we wanted just looking at stuff. And we got to the train station in plenty of time to catch the next train. Which we couldn't figure out where it was. On the track that we THOUGHT the train was supposed to be, a different train was. We were a bit confused, and after a few minutes, we watched that train pull out, and I looked at the schedule on the wall again.

"Hey, Lis?" I said. "Do you think it's significant that, when we look at the schedule for THAT train that pulled out, and the schedule for the one WE wanted to take, they both leave from the same track at exactly the same time, and go to exactly the same stations?"

"Hmm," she said, and we wandered off to find someone who worked for the trains, to ask if we had just missed the train that we wanted which was disguised as a different train.

We found someone, and he looked at me, and said, "Shalom!" He was the third or fourth person who recognized me as Jewish -- I forgot to mention that the guy selling the leather jacket was ALSO Jewish, and recognized me as such.

Now, I don't consider myself to look, y'know, NOT Jewish, but I don't think of myself as looking TOTALLY OBVIOUSLY Jewish, either.

Apparently, however, I need to re-evaluate.

And, yes, of course, that HAD been our train.

We shrugged, and wandered off to the cafe in the train station to get a soda or something, and phoned my folks to let them know that we were going to be even later.

We wandered around the station for a bid, and Lis said, "Hey! Look at that!" "That" was a woman in an incredibly cute short black dress, bolero jacket, heels, and pearls, who just swayed VERY nicely while she walked. She was quite a worthwhile sight to look at, which showed that there were some compensations for missing our train.

And a thought came to me, a useful thought for being on vacation in Italy: "Yes, where I'm going is going to be very nice. But, where I am is ALSO very nice. It will be good to be THERE, but it is also good to be HERE. So, I will get THERE when I get there, and it will be nice, but, until then, I will be HERE, and that's not bad, either."

We got back to the villa, and everyone had put on a big spread for dinner for all of us, which, as we were a couple hours late, we hadn't had to help cook. And it was really good, as well as just being good to hang out with everyone.

We started to finish up eating, and my sister and a bunch of my cousins took some of the plates and stuff into the kitchen, and came back with carrying a cake with a candle in it, and singing "Happy Birthday" to Lis.

All in all, a pretty good day.

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