Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bloggo Quinto: A Botched Trip, and Making Up for It

Just when you were thinking that the good Dottore was such an expert travel planner…I really botched a trip I was planning. In fact I mentioned it in Bloggo Quattro: Chichester and Brighton. I booked hotels, I bought a ticket for a play, I thought I was all set, but I hadn’t booked the travel.  I won’t go into great detail but Southern Rail in England has a fairly awful website. I had looked briefly to see what the rates were and was delighted to see that I could get from London to Chichester for about 10 pounds, from Chichester to Brighton for about the same, and then back to London same again – great rates, right? But when you start to look at seats available at that rate, you scroll down and see zero, zero, zero…so you go to the next price and so on up the line. It was almost impossible to get to Chichester by rail the days I wanted to go, except for very expensive rates. And even with those I was unable to get a reserved seat. Having stood all the way from London to Edinburgh on a train I had long been resolved to make sure I had a seat reserved before I booked. So I checked the National Coach (Bus) Service and found trips available – but they would have lasted nearly four hours, with an hour wait at Gatwick Airport.

So while I had lost some pounds (and I don’t mean as in weight, though I have lost a little) I decided that the ordeal of getting there and back was too much, cancelled everything I could, and decided that I might take a day-trip or so from London instead.

And then…the next day, I got the itch to look again at one of the trips I was planning before I chose Chichester, and started researching North Wales. This apparently gorgeous area is accessible by train, and the hotels, even in the middle of summer, are very reasonable. I was able to book my round-trip (or “return” as they say in the U.K.) for a mere £35 and a well-recommended seaside hotel as well.  Three nights, from 29 July to 1 August, for $201 total! I’ll be living in an unpronounceable Welsh town called Llandudno, which Bill Bryson (love that writer!) has called the most beautiful beach town he has ever seen, and which also features dramatic heights, requiring an 18 minute cable car ride to reach the top -- see the pic just above the posst. All this and a Punch and Judy show. What more could I want?

Oh, and, lessoned learned, this time I booked the train first!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bloggo Quarto: Dottore Gianni Books a Trip

There are days when I wonder if I should be more spontaneous about travel. It seems like a more adventurous way of dealing with seeing new places than the way I usually do. But for me, particularly in recent years, being certain (as certain as it’s possible to be in an increasingly uncertain world) that I have a seat on this train, that I have a hotel (with ensuite facilities) to go to when I get off the train, that I have a full schedule, trump spontaneity. La vita e breve and Dottore Gianni does not want to waste a single moment of a single trip!

As those of you who have been reading know, I’ve already plotted and booked hotels and transportation for every move I’ll make during my highland fling in mid-August. I am now working on other trips, one even earlier than the fling. I have never spent more than about an hour in Wales, and I looked into a trip to the coast of North Wales, specifically to the easy-to-pronounce Llandudno, immediately after arriving in the U.K. I also thought about a few days in the Lake District, spending more time in Yorkshire, and/or heading down to Plymouth, and even nearer land’s end, Penzance (perhaps I’d spot a pirate or two performing patter songs on the beach – you never know). And then I remembered my budget.

I may well see all of those places during the course of my year in the U.K., but I opted instead to attend the prestigious Chichester Festival for the first time ever! It’s only an hour and a half from London and more affordable than the above-mentioned trips. In fact I’ve already booked a hotel, know the train rates (VERY inexpensive) and know as well that I will NOT be able to see Ian McKellen in a world premiere – sold out some time ago. But there are other interesting plays in the line-up and I’m excited to see the theatre that was the model for the Olivier Stage at the Royal National Theatre, as well as a city that I understand is quite lovely.

It’s also near Brighton, where one of my favorite alums, Bridgett-Ane Lawrence, is living, so I may swing by that seaside resort for a quick visit before heading back to Londontown.

In case you’re interested, the method to my meticulous madness in arranging travel is to focus on a town, or an event, or an historic site, a performance festival or museum, or an alum I really want to see and leap into action! I used to be a great fan of a series of travel books called The Rough Guide, and still am, but paper weighs more than you might think, and Rough Guides are thorough, therefore thick and heavy books – and anyway, Barnes and Noble (a fine free research site, if you can keep yourself from spending money on the coffee) is much more partial to Lonely Planet and other guides.

So I tend to spend much of my time researching on line. The highland fling, for example was born by a desire to see the Isle of Skye, the Orkney Isles and to taste Oban Single Malt Scotch at its source. So I found information on day trips to the first two places from a highland town I’ve been curious about, Inverness, and about tours and tastings at the Oban Distillery. As soon as I discovered that there were day trips with available places for me I started to sketch out the rest of the trip. Where would I begin? Not Edinburgh! Height of the festival, if not impossible to get a place to stay at this point, impossible to get a reasonably priced place to stay. And I’ve never been to Glasgow. So I looked at National Rail schedules, found an affordable trip from London to Glasgow, found a pretty reasonable hotel in the center of that city booked train & accommodation, and moved onward from there.

One of the many things I love about research is the moment when I discover something I had no intention of finding. Occasionally such a discovery becomes more interesting than what I was looking for in the first place. More often it adds a dimension to the research that makes the original subject more compelling than I’d thought it could be. A very simple travel example or two: the train ride from Glasgow to Oban is said to be one of the most scenically stunning trips in all of Scotland – and that is one scenically stunning country! Also, in addition to being the home of Oban Single Malt, the village of Oban is called (on Oban tourism sites) the seafood capital of Scotland! These discoveries helped me realize that I could do Oban in a day trip, rather than booking another hotel, and be rewarded by a beautiful train ride and a tasty piece of fish for lunch, as well as a wee nip of a fine Scotch. It would also allow me to get back to Glasgow, see a bit more of that exciting city than I’d planned, and get a ridiculously inexpensive train fare from Glasgow to Inverness: a 3 ½ drive for £10!

And that’s how I build my trips. You may say, “That’s how I want to travel!” Or you may say, “That’s nuts – and anal as hell!” It’s just one way of doing it and it works for Dottore Gianni, who is now off to plan his September trip to Paris, in much the same fashion! Ciao tutti! A prossimo bloggo!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bloggo Terzo: Heading to the U.K. and a Preview of a Highland Fling

It’s been quite a summer on several fronts (medical issues, sorting out retirement, social security, medicare, etc), but I’ll focus in this post on getting Jack to the U.K. Britain has recently changed its visa requirements, causing a scramble of activity from ICLC, particularly Bill Sheasgreen and Claire Mokrauer-Madden, to get Dottore Gianni a Tier 2 Work Visa for a full year in the U.K. They started work well before the summer, and their request was denied twice before finally being accepted. Then we had to make sure that my end of the deal, the application for the visa, the appendix to the application, biometrics, proof of pay from Ithaca College for the last 12 months etc etc etc (I COULD go on) was in order. And processed in time to get me to London before the fall semester began.

I was moderately frantic through the whole process, calmed a good bit by Claire’s and Bill’s confidence (seeming confidence?). I was introduced to SKYPE during the process in a 90 minute chat with Claire. It wasn’t a complete skype success because I could see her but she could not see me, but the substance of the chat was more than worth it, as we went through, line by line, the application and the appendix (appendix FIVE but who other than I is counting? So now I do skype! No more details (certainly not my skype name!) from the process. Suffice to say that on Monday 20 August I was informed that I now had a U.K. entry permit and on Tuesday t21 August I received my passport with the all-important page containing the visa in it. That seems like some time ago, though last time I checked today is Wednesday 22 August! WHEW!

Later in the day I was finally able to purchase my round-trip flight to London. I leave the U.S. on 27 July and return on 7 May 2012. I have been partially packed ever since graduation – in other words I am keyed up about my last year in academe, my full year based in London and traveling to several other places during my residence there.  As the blog is primarily a travel journal, in the weeks leading up to my flight from the U.S. (there’s a double meaning in that!) I’ll describe some of the places I intend to visit. And if you care to comment, please make suggestions as to what I should do in these places (I have a lot of good ideas but am always open to more), what other places I should attempt to visit, and any other thoughts you have for the good professor.

As I noted in my introduction to the blog, I have already completely booked a “highland fling.” I did a day trip to the Highlands with one of my favorite alums, Jessica Martenson, a few years ago, and it was fun, but a bit of an exhausting race to see how many sights we could see in 12 hours.

But this time I'm giving it a week. Let me tell you a bit about it. I leave London (after I’ve got there of course, heh heh) on 11 August and train to Glasgow. I’ve never been to Glasgow, even though it’s only an hour from Edinburgh, a place I’ve been many times as many of you know, some from direct experience. I was convinced that in all my trips with students to Edinburgh, if I chose to spend an afternoon in nearby Glasgow, that would be just the afternoon on which a student would break a leg (and I don’t mean that in its theatrical sense) falling down Arthur’s Seat. That has happened, but not on my watch fortunately!

So I’ll spend the 11th, 12th and 13th there, staying in a hotel named Rennie Mackintosh City Hotel, designed by and named for Charles Rennie Mackintosh, famed Scottish architect, engineer and designer, who specialized in Art Nouveau.

I’m also taking a day train trip from Glasgow to Oban, from what I understand one that abounds in scenic views, to lunch on excellent fish (Oban is known as the seafood capital of Scotland) and to wash it down with a tasting at the Oban Distillery, home to a fine single malt Scotch!

From Glasgow I head to Inverness in the highlands, which I will also investigate, and from which I will take two other day trips: one to the Isle of Skye, the other to the Orkney Isles where I’ll see places like Skara Brae inhabited as early as 3200 B.C.!

From Inverness I head down on 18 August to Dundee on the sea, primarily because it’s close to Edinburgh, but also to nose around another interesting Scottish town. Then on 19 August I arrive in Edinburgh in time to meet the students at Waverley Station, on my last excursion to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Of course I’ll provide a more detailed account after I’ve finished, but…that’s Hrkach’s Highland Fling!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bloggo Secondo - a Trip to Florida

I think that I am unlike most bloggers, in that I’m not all that sure what I should write about! I imagine that most bloggers have something they really want to circulate through the blogosphere, whereas I had to be coaxed into it. So you might call me Dottore Gianni the reluctant blogger. Or you might not call me at all...(drum roll)

It DOES happen that I was moved to begin writing my introductory note while I was actually traveling – on a visit to two of my brothers and their families in sunny Florida! Probably not the most interesting travel tidbit for followers, but great fun for me, so I think I’ll describe it briefly in…bloggo secondo!

I must confess that my attitude toward Florida is somewhat bittersweet. Sweet in balmy January and February, bitter in hot and humid June, July and August. Sweet in its beaches, bitter in its politics. Sweet in some of its cities (Sarasota is lovely) and bitter in others (Orlando is an overgrown theme park). But it is always a pleasure to see my family, even in June. I had to cancel a trip to see them earlier this year, in January, and as I leave soon for a year in London, and as I found a very good deal from the Ithaca airport (and that, followers and friends, is UNHEARD OF) I jumped at the chance.

And was rewarded by beautiful weather, comparatively dry for summer in that state and breezy enough to feel balmy, even in the midday sun. My brother Tom, about seven years younger than I, lives with his wife and daughter in Melbourne FL just off Wickham, a road that seems to go on forever. They have recently added a pool to their property, and have added it tastefully, increasing the charm of their place immensely. My brother Rob, at least fourteen years younger than I, the youngest in our large-ish Catholic family, has been, like his oldest brother, a renter all of his life, until very recently when he and his fiancée bought a lovely home on Merritt Island, which runs along the Intercoastal Waterway. They live on a canal off that waterway, and have seen Manatees and such from their backyard pool. They have room for Rob’s daughter (and my godchild, a rising senior at University of Central FL, who visits frequently) and his fiancee’s son.

The fact that both brothers have pools and that I had not been in a pool for over a decade had, by the way, nothing to do with my taking the trip. I want to assure all of you on that!

We did just about what you’d expect during my brief visit: breakfast on Satellite Beach, at a place cleverly titled “Sun on the Beach” (read it quickly and slur it a tad) followed by a beach walk – lunch at a place in Port Canaveral, dinner at a marina, all in the same day, the food accompanied by such beverages as margaritas and Key West rum runners…on another day (not sure which day – Sunday I think, but every day was Sunday on this trip) a cook-out, plenty of pool time, a game of darts, several family chats, etc, etc. A highlight was an evening at Grill’s Riverside, a great seafood place on the Indian River, at which my brother Tom’s band played – great evening! A little less usual was the inclusion of two Harry Potter films (4 & 5) and thanks to DVR an encore of the Sondheim 80th birthday concert, as I had managed not to have seen any of the above.

A grand time was had by all – but it was not my usual vacation. I very seldom travel to relax. A typical Dottore Gianni trip is well researched and packed with activity. One of the reasons I travel alone (and there are several) is that I generally exhaust any fellow travelers! More of that sort of travel entry beginning very soon, probably with my “highland fling” in mid-August, in advance of my last trip with students to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So stay tuned for that, for reports from Paris, Spain, Oslo, the coast of Croatia and other such places, throughout my year abroad!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bloggo Primo: By Way of Introduction

A few weeks ago two of my students, senior Kelsey Burston and junior Jen Shaw, made their way into my office with a purpose: to show me how to begin a BLOG! I was VERY dubious, but Kelsey and Jen insisted that they would miss me and wanted a way to find out what I was doing, so that, as Kelsey put it “we can live life vicariously through you.”

So, we set up a blog. And I have done nothing with it since! Then a day or so ago Kelsey (now an alum interning at Wolf Trap Opera) wrote me with a question about theatre history (and I always love fielding questions about my favorite subject) but then slipped in, “P.S. I see there's been no updates to the blog .............”

I’d forgotten about it (well, perhaps not really) and I wasn’t sure how to begin – I had no idea what to say, and more importantly that I had anything worth saying!

But begin I must, so perhaps I should start by explaining the title of my blog. La vita e troppo breve per Dottore Gianni, for those of you Italian-challenged souls out there, means Life’s too short for Dottore Gianni. That’s not meant as a negative in any way. Whether I should do this or not, I tend to divide my life into parts, or sections, or acts if you want to be theatrical about it, and why wouldn’t I want to be theatrical about it?

Act I: The first twenty years: the birthing and bringing up, at home and at school, of the young Dottore.
Act II: The second twenty years which includes
Scene 1: College/Air Force/College
Scene 2: Marriage (oi!)
Scene 3: attempting to work as an actor (and paying the bills in other ways)
Act III: The third twenty years: Ithaca College
            Scene 1: before tenure
            Scene 2: post-tenure
Act IV: The fourth 20 years – beginning about now – fingers crossed for a fine retirement
Act V: well, we all know what that is –tragic (?), but that’s the way of the world, friends, the way every play ends…

It’s pretty clear from the “play” above – tragedy? melodrama? farce? (btw, I could and probably will expand on those “acts” during the course of blogging) – where I am in La Vita – it IS getting troppo breve, when you look at the entire span, “but the days grow short, when you reach September” as the old song goes – I want to live what’s left to the fullest, and while la vita e troppo breve I mean to make the most of it.

One of the ways to do that is to travel as much as possible. I think that Jen and Kelsey were hoping to read about my travels in this blog primarily, and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful way to begin: one year at the Ithaca College London Center (ICLC), teaching one day a week! I have already planned a “highland fling” before I meet students at Edinburgh, and I’m working now on a fall break, possibly to the Adriatic coast of Croatia, from where my father’s fathers hale. I am teaching the same seminar I did in fall 2005, A Tale of Two Theatrical Cities: Performing Arts and the French Revolution, so each semester there will be a field trip to Paris. Of course the usual ICLC trips to Bath, Stratford etc are on the agenda as well. So look forward to those if you like, to additional adventures during 2011-12, and even more exciting ones beyond that.