Il Dolce Far Niente

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July 21st 2012
Published: July 25th 2012
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Amsterdam Canals Amsterdam Canals Amsterdam Canals

Beautiful sight, even after a hard rain.
It has been a few days since I have written in this bad boy. There is reason for that. What I want to do is write stories to entertain, not the boring play-by-plays of every little thing that I have done abroad. If you want something like that, you can go buy a Fodor's, Rick Steve's, or Lonely Planet travel book. I want to give you something unique.

Over the past week and a half, I have been to Amsterdam, Brussels, Nice, and Milan. Now I am relaxing on the beautiful shores of Lake Como. Everyday has been an adventure that's for sure. But stories don't always come along with adventures, no matter how different they are. Amsterdam-whatever you have heard about Amsterdam...that was my trip (plus an amazing bike ride out into the country side of Holland). Brussels was a beautiful city, but the only thing I took away from it was a life times worth of waffles, chocolate, and beer. Oh man, that was a good week for my taste buds, but a bad week for my physique.

After Brussels, my schoolwork was done and I had a week and a half to explore Europe. Europe
Bike ride out into the country sideBike ride out into the country sideBike ride out into the country side

I need to write a blog about this, it was a great experience.
was my oyster. I could go to London, well tried to go there (it seems to be bursting with crowds) to watch the Olympic games. I could go to Russia (I know it's not really Europe, but hey, it is pretty close) and shot my liver while drinking vodka with the locals. I could go and hang out with the Swedes, and maybe meet one of those beautiful Nordic girls (that was really, REALLY tempting). I could be crazy and visit the far corners of eastern Europe and compare my mustache with the old ladies of the of Estonia, or Latvia. Or I could just go to the French Rivera and get some sun...Yeah, that seemed like a safe bet.

I choose Nice, and it was nice. I explored the mountains, ran through the woods from Vence to Saint Paul de Vence (that was a funny scene, I'm sure I looked like I had just escaped an insane asylum, sprinting into a small tourist town, dripping in sweat with my shirt off, while old people fresh off their tourist buses dressed to the nine's and reducing their 401(k)'s by buying luxury goods). I then found what I thought was
Vuex Nice Vuex Nice Vuex Nice

Pleasant square
another running train closer to Nice, but ended up just climbing up the stairway to heaven, and spending the rest of my energy. Before retuning home for the evening, I did find the perfect little beach with locals, and had the most refreshing dip in the sea.

Perhaps when I get back to Ohio, and I have a little less exploring to do, and more free time I will write blogs about those places. But for now, I am going to skip ahead and take you to a day full of action, confusion, and a long, long waiting game.

Waking up the day after my full day of hiking, swimming and living Cote 'Azure dream, I was ready to head to my next destination, Milan. In Milan I had a guest waiting for me. Someone back state side, just a week ago, decided that a pleasant trip to Italy would be a good way to escape the heat wave raging across the country. That person was none other than my mother, Nancy. I can hear the groans all the way from here! Why would a 21 year old want his mother to come to Europe with him!? Well,

An absolutely beautiful town in the mountains.
she is about the easiest person to travel with, and when we get on each others nerves, we just go off on our separate ways and do our own things. So no more groans!

This is where the story starts to get interesting. She left our house in Maumee at 8:45 Friday morning and it took her just about 21 hours to get from Mamuee, Ohio to Hotel D'Este in Milan. That well over a 4,000 mile journey. Not bad if I don't say so myself. I had a simple 90 miles to get from Nice to Milan. Simple reasoning brought me to the conclusion that 90 miles by car is about an hour and a half drive, by train that would be about two, two and a half hours. On the way, I was going to gamble with the billionaires in Monte Carlo, go cliff diving off the rocky cliffs of the Italian coastline, and get some salami in Genoa. It was going to be the greatest day thus far...But as I tried to book a train ticket online, it said the transaction could not be made because of all the different train transfers. Uh oh. This might not be a walk in the Rivera, like I thought it would.

The best alternative to buying a train ticket online is to just go into the train station, (if you have the patience) wait in line and the friendly agents will find you the best ticket at the most convenient time. Plus if you are lucky enough (to be under 26) they will even give you the student discount. That is exactly what I did, got a ticket from Nice to Ventimiglia, Italy then from there I would go straight to Milan. Perfect, thank you.

With my ticket in hand, I realized that I couldn't be able to make all the little side trips like I first thought I could. But that was probably a good thing. If I had gambled in Monte Carlo with the billionaires, I would have lost every penny I had (all one hundred of them), I wasn't a professional cliff diver, and those rocks lurking below the water aren't something to play around with, and salami usually makes my tummy hurt. I would just play it safe and get to Milan in one piece. I was to leave Nice at 9:40, then
The most refreshing dip The most refreshing dip The most refreshing dip

After a long day of running and traveling around in a hot bus, a swim in the sea was just what I needed.
Ventimiglia at 12:00, and I would be in Milan by 4:00. It wasn't a two hour trip like I thought it would be, but it wasn't too bad.

9:40 rolled around, and was hanging out with the beach bums on the packed platform, but the train was nowhere in sight. 9:45, should be here any second... 9:50, any second now. 9:55 the trail finally came strolling in, taking its sweet old time. I wouldn't have cared, but I only had a fifteen minute "layover" in Ventimiglia. I am not very good at math, but those numbers don't add up. I was going to miss my train to Milan. Awesome, I guess that is the southern France lifestyle for you.

Forty-five minutes late, sweating, frustrated and ready to take my anger out on someone, I had missed the train to Milan. I went to the information desk (with about a dozen other passengers experiencing the same problem) and asked how they could help out and get us to Milan. They told us we could just board the next train at 2:50, we just had to pay an 8 euro penalty fee for missing the first train. Wait, what? I had to pay a penalty fee for their mistake!? What kind of a place was this! Would I ever get to Milan? I called the hotel in Milan where Nancy was waiting for me, and told her that I was going to make it to Milan, I just had no clue when.

With not enough time to do anything, and too much time to do nothing, I just got some coffee and gelato, read my book and tried too cool down.

At 2:30, I boarded the train (without paying the penalty fee) and waited for the departure. Some lady kept talking over the speakers, but I don't speak a lick of Italian, and she was talking faster then the speed of light. Some important information was probably going right over my head. Oh, well.

Two hours later we stopped in Genoa. Genoa? That wasn't on the list of stops for my first ticket. Apparently this was deluxe, super far out of the way trip, that was much longer than my original trip. Boy was I lucky! After taking a huge chunk out of my book, and a couple of naps later, it was 8:00 and Milan was finally coming into view. I then remembered that I had left my apartment in Nice at 8:00 that morning, that was a 12 hour, 90 mile trip! It would have been faster if I had taken a donkey.

But I had made it! It was very nice to see my mother. Exhausted from my deluxe train ride, I was ready for a drink(s). Thankfully Nancy chose our hotel wisely, we were just down the street from an up and coming district called Naviglio. Naviglio is full of canals that were once used during an industrial boom to ship raw materials. After losing power during the 80's it had now been transformed into a pleasant nightlife quarter full of restaurants, cafes, and street performers.

As we were walking down one of the streets, Nancy froze. I thought she stepped in dog poop, oh wait, this was Italy, not France. Then she asked if I heard that? What, the street cars and the clatter of silverware on plates? Yes, course I heard that. No, she said she heard a saxophone. Huh? I didn't hear that. Perhaps with aging comes bat like hearing when it comes to any instruments that are related to jazz. We crossed a bridge, turned down a side-street, did a summersault, and sure enough, right there in front of a beautiful cafe was a jazz band playing away. This was the perfect place for us to have our drink.

As the sun sunk below the low Milan buildings, the mid-summer heat began to dissolve and in no time turned into the perfect weather to sit outside and enjoy the music. We somehow grabbed a table that was right next to the performers, each ordered a drink, and let the jazz work its magic. The band, the weather, the cafe, the canal, the drinks, the customers at the cafe (us) all added up to make a beautiful scene. As people walked by, they took many photos. Perhaps we would get a share of the coins that were pilling up in one of the musicians hats. We were truly an intricate part of the beautiful scene.

The slow then fast pace beats and rhythms lulled us into a state of oblivion. Time had stopped. Nothing else mattered. Nothing was on our minds. Nothing else got in the way of enjoying this perfect evening forming in front of our eyes. Well, almost nothing. We had thought time and stopped, but of course it didn't, it was now getting late and kitchens would be closing soon. It was already 11:00! We paid out bill and sought out the first restaurant we could find. Because time was short, we didn't have the luxury of time to pick the perfect place, we just went to the mom and pa restaurant across the street from our hotel.

Peeking our heads in, a woman who greeted us but hesitant to give us a table. We told her we just wanted a main coarse, not the full blown 10 coarse traditional Italian meal (1. pretzel stick things, 2. crackers and rolls, 3. bread with tomato, 4. appetizer, 5. pasta first dish, 6. meat portion, 7. more bread, 8. coffee, 9. dessert 10. limoncello, all this while downing endless glasses of wine), that takes over two hours to consume. She said a few things to herself in Italian, and decided that we were worthy to enter her humble abode.

We were glad she did, because the meal that followed was the greatest meal we had ever had. White wine, bread, more bread, fresh pasta (how did we know it was fresh? A little old lady could be seen in the kitchen rolling out more pasta for the following day) with sauces that were unlike anything we had tasted before, then gelato covered in coco powder for dessert with coffees, and finally that delicious traditional digestif called; Limoncello.

It wasn't just the food that made the meal so good. It was the fact that it was at an authentic Italian restaurant, and the only other customers in the place were locals who had settled in for the night with friends and family for the two hour feast. As each table finished, the bill was paid, and a long procession of hand shakes, hugs and kisses followed, with the owner, the chef and the one waitress. It was a beautiful sight. I don't think I have ever heard my mother sound so excited. She will talk about this meal to the end of time, that is for sure.

Classic drinks, jazz, and the perfect meal definitely allowed me to forget the pains that I experienced during the early hours of my long day. I was glad to have my mother join me in Milan. If anyone is capable of adding humor, new twists, and mystery to my already strange journeys, she is it. Even if we are just listening to jazz and enjoying the perfect meal in Milan, we were enjoying the nothingness, we were enjoying the country. We were enjoying Italia.


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