Eggnog and Passionfruit Gelato?

Hiren in Florence

I'm back from my extended trip to the wonderful country of Italy. Officially I was there for a conference, but really it was a good chance for me to meet a whole bunch of people I hadn't seen for ages, and some other people who I'd been meaning to talk to. The conference was in Florence, and I got in on Friday afternoon a week and a bit ago. Being a conference, I had decided that I would try and look as formal as possible, so I packed a whole bunch of neater looking jeans, and a pile of shirts. On landing in Florence, I had the impression that I really made the wrong choice, with the beautiful warm temperatures, and the not so great humidity calling for numerous pairs of shorts. It was a bit like being back in Sydney.

The next week was spent bumming around Florence, turning up to interesting sounding lectures, and generally kicking around with the old crew (Niclas, Fredrik and Matt) from PSL. I think that all my talking to various people at the conference actually really helped me out, and I've even got a few ideas to explore when looking for my (new) topic idea.

Florence looks fantastic, and has a great feel to it. It's sort of medieval in it's architecture, and chaotic most of the time. The funny thing about walking around in Florence, even though I had no idea about the language, was that it was all really easy. I don't think there was a single worry for me during my time in Florence, and I can see why people enjoy going to Europe to do the travelling thing. I didn't really do very much other stuff while in Florence though - I walked around one museum, but I didn't really engage myself in the full set of historical activities that Florence had to offer. I don't think that I was really that interested to be honest. The number of statues, paintings and historically significant buildings might mean something to me if I'd done some initial research just to read up on the (presumably interesting) history, but just walking around the city with none of this background knowledge, I was little more than just another tourist. That's not to say I was completely devoid of culture whilst in Florence - I managed to get to a few gigs there, as there was an open-air stage set up just down the road from my hotel. The first gig was god-awful. If anyone is a sound engineer, there are plenty of jobs available for you in Florence. Just try to make sure you don't spend three hours setting up the sound, and then still screwing it up. The other concert was ambient electronic music - with the dude rocking out on his Powerbook on the stage.

I'd decided to make a side-trip to Rome after the conference, so I headed up there on Saturday morning. The train system is pretty nice in Italy, and I'm totally sold on their train-ticket machines, which make it easy for any old gringo to buy a ticket in their native language. The trip from Florence to Rome takes about 2½ hours, and is a good opportunity to check out the Tuscan countryside - especially with the towns that have a ludicrous number of houses perched on top of hills. Rome train station isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I had done some cursory research on Rome, reading that I should be wary of the gypsy kids running up to me getting off the train and stripping me of any valuables in my pockets before I can say "I don't understand" in Italian (Yeah, I don't know how to say it). To avoid that, I packed all my possessions into my backpack, applied a big-arse padlock to it, ready to walk through Rome with total immunity from the pickpockets. That was possibly a bit of overkill, as I didn't even have a single kid run up to me, and I was a little disappointed that I hadn't managed to outsmart them.

So the main reason that I headed down to Rome was to catch up with Sara, who has been spending the last year working at hostels in Italy. I managed to get a dirt-cheap room at the Yellow Hostel, which is pretty luxurious as far as hostels go. You realise just how many Australians, Americans (especially Texans it seems), and English kids are making their way around Europe when you stay at a hostel like Yellow. It's like a whole little world inside the rest of Rome.

Rome's a lot bigger than Florence, so I could spend a fair amount of time checking out all the major sites there. I think I managed to see most of the things to see in Rome - the Colloseum, the Vatican City, the Spanish Steps, and various other monuments. Some of them are quite impressive and grand. A lot of them have managed to steal the obelisks from Egypt, and just put them up all over the place. I wonder if the Romans actually bothered to translate the obelisks before they put them up? Were they the ancient equivalent of having a tattoo or t-shirt of some Japansese or Chinese, without knowing what it means? Is it entirely possible that the obelisks really say something like "This way to the public toilets"?

The best things I found in Rome weren't the ancient things there. I'm not denigrating history or anything - but ancient things aren't particularly interesting without an interesting story to go behind them to me. I'm also too cheap to spring for a tour-guide, so I had to settle with just oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the monuments. The most interesting and fun things were a little off the beaten track. The first was a bar I went to on the Tiber, which was the end point for a drinking session organised by the hostel. We had to get there by bus, so we all piled on to a bus going from Rome Termini to wherever this was. Now, this should have been a relatively short bus ride, doubly so at 12:00 midnight. Rome doesn't really work that way it seems - as the roads, and the bus was absolutely packed. There was a huge traffic jam across Rome, and the streets were just filled with people, as it looks like the night is just starting at 12:00 there. After eventually getting to the bar, there is a band playing some music, which I'm not particularly plussed about. However, once the band shuffles off, the DJ kicks in. The guy's name is Dylan, and he works as a tour guide with someone associated with the Yellow hostel. He's got a kick-arse taste in music, and his track selection, and the diversity of the set was great (although I think the mixing could have been slightly more creative). Plus, you've got to love anyone who finishes a set with a little bit of Louis Armstrong.


My other highlight of Rome would have to be finding this somewhat ad-hoc "gallery" set up by an artist who I completely forgot to find the name of. Anyway, you'll be able to find him (in summer at least) around the Mausoleo di Augusto. I don't have any further directions to get there - but if you're not randomly wandering around Rome looking for cool stuff to see, then you're missing out on half the fun of travelling to start with. Anyway, this guy uses pieces of rubble and waste to set up a series of little exhibits. It was really quite creative, and worked really well. I was sold as it being the best gallery in Rome. You probably need to just see some pictures of the exhibit. Just keep clicking through to the next picture to see them in some kind of order.

I capped off my trip by ticking off a visit to Pisa, and seeing the tower there. At the very least, I can say that I've been there now. Pisa was actually quite close to the airport which I had to fly out of, at about half-past ten in the evening. My plane, with Ryan-air, was about an hour late, which meant that I had missed my connecting bus from Frankfurt Hahn to Heidelberg. Now, a couple of posts ago, I had mentioned the sleeping in airports web-site, and sort of mentioned in jest that I could sleep in Stansted airport. I slept in Frankfurt Hahn airport on Sunday night. On the floor. The hard, cold, concrete floor. I wasn't particularly happy about that. Especially considering that I arrived at the airport at 1:00, and then had to wait till 7:10 for my 2½ hour journey down to Heidelberg. For future reference, you can sleep in the airport, but you'll be paying out of the nose for water (since the vending machine refuses to accept your €2 coins), and you'll need a sleeping bag for maximal comfort.

I'm back at work now, and just to prove that I'm fully recovered - How cool is the iPod Nano? I want one!


Bhautik Joshi *

Ok.. questions. First off, was this guy doing the robot, or practicing some ninja moves? Did you notice the car??. Is this guy the artist of whom you speak?

All that aside, you can't pay money to get photos like this . Awesome.

Hiren Joshi *

The guy was some random Italian who was singing quite loudly with his headphones on in a marketplace. I did in fact notice the car, and I believe a Ferrari was also involved somehow in the crash - but I didn't notice anything on the Ferrari. And yes, that guy is the actual artist in question.

Bhautik Joshi *

Fair enough.. he looks like a distant cousin of everybodys favorite crowbar weilding MIT graduate, Gordon Freeman.

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