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Terry's Big Adventures

Day 10, Wednesday, April 5 (My birthday!)


We finally arrived at Bari, a city of 350,000, at 9 am. Because the captain was having trouble landing the ship it took the deck hands an additional 45 minutes to finally tie up. (I guess those Italian jokes ring true.) I staggered off the ship with Miguel leading the way.


Miguel had an address for a hostel and we began our search. We walked . . . and walked . . . (I'm glad my luggage had wheels) . . . and walked. We asked directions several times but no one knew of the hostel and we kept getting different directions to the street we were looking for. We stopped at a city administration building and they also gave us wrong directions. After an hour and a half of walking a taxi cab driver finally made a phone call and found out the hostel had been closed down for some time. He drove us downtown to an inexpensive hotel. (90,000 lira for one night!?--You've got to be kidding!--Oh, that's only $45.) Since I was still seasick I racked out for a couple hours. It was about two in the afternoon when I came to. Upon the desk clerk's recommendation Miguel and I decided to go to Oldtown, the city's main attraction.


We negotiated a mile of sidewalk through the city and came to the main entrance of Oldtown. As we walked up several stairs toward the large stone gateway a young man suddenly came up to me and grabbed the chain that was attached to my wallet. PICKPOCKET!! Before I knew what was happening he broke the chain and began to flee. I ran after him and came within two inches of nabbing him as he hopped on the back of his accomplice's motor scooter. They sped off into the maze of streets. Not-in-the-nick-of-time, the police drove up and I alerted them by waving my arms yelling that I had been pick-pocketed. One policeman ran down the alley where the scooter had disappeared. Within 30 seconds there were four more policemen on the scene. (Meanwhile all the other young men standing by the gate who witnessed the crime fled the scene.) I reached to check my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. The ring that had held the chain was still intact and the chain attached to my belt loop had saved it! WHEW! I thanked the police for their effort and they told us to stay out of Oldtown in the afternoon and definitely at night. (Now that’s an endorsement for tourism!) It’s probably a good thing I didn’t catch the thief. I might still be in an Italian prison for what I would have done to him.


I had told Miguel it was my birthday so he bought some chips, meat, and wine to celebrate. Then he went to a delicatessen and asked for some “good” cheese. They understood him to say "gouda" so they sold him gouda cheese which is usually used for cooking. We ate only a few pieces of the horrible-tasting stuff then fed the rest to six adorable kittens that were in the courtyard outside our window.

That night we went to a bar and drank some beer and Tequila (a good combination) and conversed with two Italian women that spoke a little English. Miguel said I was a record producer from Seattle. They weren't impressed and asked "What the hell are you doing in Bari?" I said, "Celebrating my birthday and getting pick-pocketed!"


Day 11, Thursday, April 6

What the hell were we doing in Bari? That morning we bought train tickets to Rome. It was Miguel's idea to take the midnight train. It was cheaper and we could save money by sleeping on the train and not having to pay for another night at the hotel.

It was a beautiful 70-degree day and I donned my wildest Hawaiian shirt. Along with my Mariner's baseball hat and sunglasses there was no mistaking where I was from! (All the locals were wearing sweaters and coats.) We had all day to kill before the train left so we went back to Oldtown in the morning hours. It was your usual 16th century corridors of narrow streets, shops, colorful people, old cathedrals, yadda yadda yadda. The rest of the day was spent doing more cultured activities--like drinking beer and having Miguel kick the crap out of me in pool, billiards, and foosball.



By now I was getting a taste of Italian culture. Most of my encounters with people was on the sidewalk where there is no etiquette. (In the U.S. it’s like driving--you normally walk on the right and people usually yield to each other in a polite manner.) In Italy walking on the sidewalk is an exercise in avoiding territorial confrontation. You have to move out of the way of other men as they were walking towards you and often a group of aggressive young men would be taking up the entire sidewalk. I observed that women had to "slither" along the side. No such thing as chivalry here. Besides the lack of sidewalk courtesy, every time we entered a shop, restaurant, or bank, we were met with either indifference or outright rudeness. (This was not because we were foreigners--they were just as rude to each other.)

Back at the hotel we engaged in conversation with the afternoon desk clerks, a young man and his girlfriend. They both spoke very good English and said they were folk-rock musicians who had recorded in Dublin. He played guitar and mandolin and was very impressed with my instrument. (All they have in Italy are the crappy-sounding "roundbacks".) These two people were so refreshingly pleasant that I gave them each a genuine tortoise-shell guitar pick as a gift. A professional lute player on a concert tour was also staying at the hotel. He happened to walk into the hotel lounge with his instrument. I asked to see it and he took it out and played a fantastic classical piece for us.

That evening we ate dinner in a Chinese restaurant we had seen earlier. (The asian owners were were very polite.) The only other customers there were two U.S. Navy personnel. We had seen their ship in the harbor when we arrived. They heard us speaking English and promptly invited us to sit with them. Brian was from North Carolina and Jerry was from Orlando. I was glad to talk to some Americans. They shared our observations about Italy and told of one of their shipmates who was stabbed and robbed in Oldtown the previous night. Miguel was having a hard time following our conversation because they talked fast with a southern accent. Dinner was excellent and cost about the same as it would have in the U.S.

Later that evening I took my mandolin to a public square and played. The music set up a protective barrier--young macho "toughs" ignored me while other people occasionally sat nearby and listened.

I bought some wieners and fed the kittens. At 11:30 pm we bid adieu to the hotel and made the five-minute walk to the train station. We were able to get a double seating compartment all to ourselves, promptly stored our luggage, and laid down for our six-hour journey to Rome.


Day 12, Friday, April 7

"Roma! Roma!" The conductor's announcements woke us up as we pulled into the city. Dim morning sunlight penetrated our window as the train whizzed by dirty old apartment buildings. We came to a slow stop at the train station. There we boarded a bus that dropped us off in the vicinity of a hostel Miguel knew about. We walked . . . and walked . . . and walked . . . asked directions, then walked some more. This time we actually found the hostel, a large institutional-looking building. The man behind the counter was rude and told us they didn't take bookings until 10 am and you couldn't get into a room until 2 pm. We bought breakfast at the cafeteria and sat down with some American college students. They told us the place was run by the Gestapo and that it was horrible.

We hopped on a bus that we thought was going toward downtown. By the time we got off we didn't know where the hell we were. Damn the cost--I finally decided to hail a cab. The cabby drove us back to where we started--the train station. Lo and behold--next to the train station was a street filled with cheap hotels and hostels. (A hostel is an inexpensive hotel with no TVs, no phones, and one communal bathroom per floor.) We shopped three times and decided upon the Hotel Tokio (Italian spelling), a one-floor hostel up a creaky two-person elevator on the fourth floor of a dilapidated building. It was operated by a nice mama-mia who didn't speak English. Total cost was 75,000 lira, or $37.50 for the night. Ah, home sweet home.

Rome is a city of three million people and most of them are out driving cars or walking on the sidewalks. It is by far the noisiest city I have ever been in and as far as rudeness it made Bari residents look like advocates of Miss Manners. We set out for downtown and after avoiding many confrontations on the sidewalks we arrived at the Coliseum. I was thirsty but all the souvenir stands wanted 7000 lira ($3.50) for a can of warm coke. I’d rather suffer than pay that. Around the outside of the coliseum were men dressed up as authentic Roman soldiers. Two of them started horsing around with me and asked my name. I had Miguel take a picture of them stabbing me with their swords, then one of me stabbing them. As I was leaving they asked for five thousand lira. I gave them two thousand and as I walked away they were yelling "Terry, you cheapskate! Terry you cheapskate!!".



I was surprised that admission into the coliseum was only 10,000 lira ($5.00). It is an amazing old structure that has withstood time. One is free to roam the premises or to join a tour group.


From the coliseum we walked three miles to Vatican City. I didn't realize that I was about to see what has to be the number one man-made wonder of the world. Words cannot describe it. It is an immense structure that is three-cathedrals-in-one. Everywhere you look there is fantastic paintings, sculptures, mosaics, gold plating, holy artifacts and alters, hand carved marble pillars, etc. etc. etc. I was standing on a floor that would probably cost over a billion dollars to make if you could find the artisans to make it--but you couldn't today. I swear the Roman Catholic Church scammed half the world's wealth over hundreds of years to build this place. We spent a couple of hours looking at everything and then headed back to the hotel. After seeing this, anything else would have been anti-climatic.




We walked another three miles along the Tiber River to the Piazza del Popoloa, a large public square with a fountain that seemed to be a major hangout. It was 75 degrees in the late afternoon and everyone but us was wearing sweaters and black leather coats. We rested for a spell then trekked up a steep hill and through a large park. We encountered several police on horseback. I had noticed that both men and women police were totally into their uniforms--the more gaudy the better. Most looked like Nazi S.S. with high-fronted hats and shiny storm trooper boots.


By the time we got back to the Tokio we were dead tired from having walked close to twenty miles. I went next door to the train station to make a phone call to my nephew in Croatia. For contact purposes I had given Joe's email address to a good friend of mine, Steve Saylor. Steve, a guitarist, works for Boeing and they were going to send him to Italy for a business trip. We were possibly going to meet in the city of Gaetta, one hundred miles south of Rome. (We had a fantasy about playing bluegrass in the town square.) Making a phone call to Croatia proved to be impossible and I could not find anyone to help. After forty-five minutes of perplexing failure I was gritting my teeth in frustration. My head was spinning in this huge station filled with the din of a thousand people when a miracle happened. STEVE SAYLOR WALKED BY TWENTY FEET IN FRONT OF ME!! I thought I was hallucinating and did not believe it at first. I watched him for two minutes as he stood reading a train schedule. I approached him from behind and then saw his face. "They'll let anybody into this country, won't they?" I said. I wish I had a camera to record the look on his face. His jaw dropped in disbelief. "This is surely the hand of God,” I said. (It must have been the visit to the Vatican.) Steve agreed. He had just flown in and arrived at the train station only to miss his train to Gaetta. He also had not slept for 36 hours and was also at his wit’s end. Unfortunately he had not brought his guitar with him so our fantasy was to be unfulfilled. Steve had forty minutes before his train departed so we sat and BSed, contemplating how many hundreds of uncontrolled circumstances led to our meeting at the train station in one of the world's largest cities nine thousand miles from home.


After saying good-bye to Steve I decided to buy a train ticket to Barcelona. At the ticket counter I met other Americans who couldn't wait to get out of the country. I procured my ticket then returned to the hotel where Miguel had just made another attempt to buy cheese. This time the vendor sold him bleu cheese. (Miguel--If you're reading this try swiss, cheddar, or havarti next time.) I told him that I was heading to Barcelona the next day. He decided he would go to Venice.

That evening we did our laundry, a normal mundane event, except that to get to the laundromat we had to walk two blocks through threatening gangs of black-clad young delinquents. (Everyone in Italy dresses in black.) These dipwads are there during the day and they take over the streets at night. You just have to put on your meanest look when you walk by and I had no problem because several days in Italy put me in a mean mood. I was impressed that the laundromat had five computers with connection to the internet. What a great idea! No wonder--the owner was a friendly American. He apologized that all the machines were full and offered to do our laundry for us. "Come back at 10:30 and it will be done," he said. (He had even folded it and put it in bags!)

Miguel and I both snore so whoever gets to sleep first suffers least. That night Miguel got to sleep first and I forgot to bring earplugs. I fumbled in the darkness and found my cassette player and headphones. Kenny Smith serenaded me to sleep.

Miguel was an interesting and intelligent 26-year-old with a good sense of humor. He had recently graduated with a degree in Economics from a university in Santiago, Chile. I was fairly knowledgeable about recent economic and political changes in Chile so we had some good conversations. Miguel was fluent in three languages--Spanish, English, and German. He was burley and had a black belt in Tai boxing, someone you would want on your side if trouble began. His father was German and his mother was Indian (native Chilean). His parents were well off and owned a company in Chile that specialized in spinal transplants. Miguel was traveling around Europe on his father's Visa Gold Card and was not too far from the credit limit when he met me (thus the crackers and cheese). He was supposed to pay his father back when he got a job. Like most young men he was a party animal and kept trying to talk me into going to Prague (Czech Republic) with him where "you can drink and live like a king for $10.00 a day." I resisted the temptation. However, based on what he told me of his travels and my good experience in Croatia, eastern Europe sounds like the way to go.

Day 13, Saturday, April 8

Miguel's train to Venice left at 11:00 am. As we said our good-byes we knew we would never forget each other, having had many conversations and sharing completely unique experiences together. Sometimes you can know somebody after four days better than other people after several years. (I'm sorry I didn't get a good picture of Miguel. So Miguel, if you read this send me one and I will display it here.)

My train left at 1:00 pm. I was to arrive in Barcelona 20 hours later. It was sunny and warm as the train wound out of Rome and northward along the coast. I had a compartment all to myself for the first hundred miles and then had to share it with a smoker for then next hundred. (Almost everyone in Europe smokes. Marlboro is the favorite brand.) By the the time we got to Pisa my compartment was full and I was disappointed I couldn't see the leaning tower from the train. By now the glamour of a twenty hour train ride was wearing thin. Opposite me was a young woman who was reading and making reference marks in a book. I presumed she was a college student and I asked her if she spoke English. "Yeah, I do," she replied. I was startled that she spoke so nonchalantly and without an accent. She confirmed that she attended a university in Florence. Her major was psychology and she was reading a book on Freudian theories of capital punishment. I was surprised to find out she was in favor of it, mainly so as to bring closure for the victim's family. (No European country has capital punishment.) Good conversation makes time pass quickly and before we knew it she got off at her home town of Genoa, a run-down od city built on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean that smells like it’s in need of new sewers.


I watched a gorgeous sunset as the train rattled along the Italian Riviera. There was an hour layover before transferring in a town just before the French border so I spent my last lira on a good dinner at the station. I like that a lot of Italian restaurants prepare and display the food cafeteria style. You take your pick of what you want to eat but I have no idea how they figure out what to charge. I stood in line to pay and just as it was my turn to get waited on two men elbowed themselves onto the counter on either side of me. By this time I was fed up with Italian rudeness and yelled "HEY!!" and pointed behind me. They meekly got into line.

Maybe it's unfair to judge an entire country based on encounters with, uh--let's say about two thousand Italians--but of all those maybe ten showed a degree of civility (and I'm counting the Asian restaurant owners in Bari!). As many positive things I have to say about the people of Croatia I have negative to say about Italians. If you get away from the cities perhaps the people are nicer. On the positive side Italy has a rich historic past and lots of cool stuff to see.

I had heard horror stories about France so I was glad to just be passing through on the train. There were only seven people in our entire car and I took out my mandolin and played. I could tell people were enjoying it and I would get occasional smatterings of applause. Four young jerks entered the car and began to behave obnoxiously. They were walking around, smoking (it was a no-smoking car), and talking loud. They sat down around me as I played. Their leader, King of the Jerks, said he played guitar and wanted to play my mandolin. "NO WAY," I retorted. (I could just envision him running off with it.) I just continued to play and ignore them. Maybe out of musician's respect they moved on to hassle another passenger. The conductor entered and they promptly made an exit to the next car. Upon examining my ticket the conductor told me I was in the wrong car. When the train stopped in Cannes I transferred to the front of the train where I shared a compartment with a man and his granddaughter and a young couple from Santiago, Chile. (They didn't know Miguel.) We tried to sleep but there wasn't enough room to spread out and the seats were uncomfortable. Basically it had turned into the train ride from hell, but at least I was out of Italy. It took six hours to get to the Spanish border where I had to transfer to another train. During the two-hour wait I met a couple of women from New York City who had been traveling all over Europe for two months. One of them told me her horror story about not eating for two days then drinking tequila and spitting up blood. She wound up in a Greek hospital for three days with tubes sticking in her. My complaints now seemed petty.