Roman Forum 2006

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bloggo Tredecisimo: My Weekend in Llandudno: 2 of 2 (except that I'm adding a third)

So, what did Dottore Gianni LIKE about Llandudno? Plenty! The sea air, to begin with, is invigorating, and the days here have been lovely thus far – supposed to be not so nice tomorrow. The Promenade, a wonderful pedestrian and bicycle zone all along the shore, and between it and the sea itself a rocky beach, probably unpleasant to lie on, but a lot of people were doing just today, as it was quite lovely outside.

The Pier, said to be the prettiest in all of Wales, filled with food and souvenir shops, arcades, kid-friendly places to play, and at the end a lovely Victorian pavilion. 

The Punch and Judy show! The oldest remaining one in England. Begun in the 1860s, “Professor” Codman’s Punch and Judy Show is said to be the longest running such show in the world – and it’s still in the family. Silliest stuff you ever saw, but well executed (Punch even finds a way to beat the devil), and the children, the prime target audience, LOVE it. I did too, I’ll admit! 

It’s played outside, on the Promenade, just off the Pier (notice the alliterative titles? Promenade…Pavilion…Punch and Judy – it doesn’t continue, I promise). The Victorian houses and hotels, which give it a dignified air, probably more so than it deserves.

The history of the place is interesting. Before the late 1850s this was a very quiet spot, only fishermen and a few cottages. Then the main source of the income in the area, copper mines, began to dry up, and Lord Mostyn and a friend sat in The King’s Head Pub and came up with a plan – to turn the place into a seaside resort, a sort of vacation plan not all that popular with the British before this time. For example, the famous piers in Brighton were built after the pier in Llandudno. If Brits wanted a beach they went to the south of France, or to Italy. But of course only the privileged few had that pleasure. So Mostyn was vital to the success of Llandudno, which is why its main street bears his name today.

Long before Lord Mostyn transformed Llandudno in the 19th century, the area was Christianized in the 6th century A.D. by a man who would eventually become Saint Tudno. He built a chapel and lived in a cave within the cliffs on the amazing limestone formation called The Great Orme, which towers over the city and offers spectacular views. Across the bay from the Great Orme another such formation is called The Little Orme. 

“Orme” is a Viking term that means “worm” (in this case a gigantic one) or “sea serpent,” which is probably what it looked like to the marauders as they sailed towards it. The Great Orme is these days one great reason to visit Llandudno. There are several ways to get up there – the easy ways (the ones Dottore Gianni always chooses), which include The Great Orme Tram 

and The Great Orme Aerial Cable Cars (above the sign)

that will take you to the summit; and the drive along Marine Drive (either on your own or via bus with a knowledgeable tour guide) that will get you close to the summit. I took the photo below from the moving bus:

The hard way is to walk up, which people do all the time, but not this blogger! I took the tram day before yesterday and the bus yesterday. If I weren’t going to Conwy today I’d probably take the cable car! Any way you go, you will be rewarded in a breathtaking manner, as the views are spectacular. In this pic, you can just make out the island of Anglesey in the distance:

Llandudno is home to the North Wales Theatre, located in the Venue Cymru, a contemporary design that still seems a decent fit with the Victoriana surrounding it. I thought I might attend, but the summer fare is pretty predictable, with rock ‘n’ roll based reviews leading the way. In Landudno on Tuesday nights the men’s choir sings. Sorry to miss it, as Wales is known for pretty beautiful singing by fairly ordinary men. There is a museum that has fewer operating hours than I’d hoped, and takes a break for lunch from 1 to 2 pm. As I walked in they were about to leave for said lunch, and by 2 pm I was on to other adventures. Oh! There is an interesting connection to Alice in Wonderland here. The Liddell family spent time in Landdudno. Optimists among historians claim that Lewis Carroll visited them there, the pessimists claim that there is no proof to this. So much for history.

At any rate, it hasn’t stopped the town from from installing a small topiary of Alice’s pals next to the pier, and a statue of the White Rabbit near the Liddell residence. Daughter Alice Liddell, you may recall, was Carroll’s inspiration for the wonderland Alice. There is, or was, even an Alice in Wonderland Centre! No, I didn’t make a visit. The place fell on hard times and closed down in 2008. You can still find it on the web – lots of pictures of cute, but some bordering on scary) dolls. Apparently the owner is looking for a museum that will take the dolls and other Alice paraphernalia. Why doesn't the Llandudno Museum step up to the plate?! Please don’t count me as an Alice-phobe (or do if you like) but I probably wouldn’t have visited anyway.

One of the most pleasant pastimes is simply walking along the promenade enjoying the sea air, 

particularly for a person of my tastes and sleeping habits, early in the morning (particularly when breakfast at the Winchmore does not begin until 9 am). I ventured beyond the promenade this morning, just beginning the climb along the sea to the Great Orme – may go even farther tomorrow, as I have little left to do here and my train doesn’t depart until noon.

p.s. I lied -- I noted two parts to this, but the tale has become epic, and requires a third and last part, I promise!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bloggo Dodicesimo My Weekend in Llandudno: 1 of 2

Welcome to Dottore Gianni’s first official “trip” posting of fall 2011. Of course it’s still high summer, though the day I left, Friday 29 July, was a gray-ish one in London. I boarded a Virgin train at Euston station, travelling in the quiet coach – very smooth ride, very pleasant. I departed that luxury (relatively speaking) liner at Warrington Bank Quay, not far from Chester, relegated to a much smaller, slightly bumpier train which services Wales, which followed a marshy waterway, passing small villages made up of small, redbrick houses with it seems several chimneys in each, and arrived at my destination in 45 minutes. I negated much of the unpleasantness and the jabber of my fellow passengers by making use of my “total” sound system, an ipod Nano and earphones. Lively music courtesy Antonio Vivaldi significantly upgraded my journey as we chugged along a coastal area in North Wales. One of the places stopped at is named Rhyl, a good Welsh name, but a sad-looking place, a seaside resort gone sour. I decided to have a look in the Rough Guide Wales that Bill Sheasgreen kindly leant me. The very small segment on Rhyl begins: “Anything you can do in Rhyl you can do better elsewhere…there’s almost no reason to stay in this decaying Edwardian resort completely disfigured by amusement arcades.” Apparently I was right about Rhyl.

We passed Gwrych Castle (wonderfully and unpronounceably Welsh – not at all unlike  the Croation Hrkach) and stopped a few moments later at a place called Colwyn Bay, whose name sounds lovely, but whose prospects seem low. It’s nearly as dismal a place as Rhys.

As luck would have it, I had, in choosing Llandudno, picked one of the best, perhaps THE best place in the general area to spend a few days, along with Conwy, which I will visit on a day-trip over the weekend.

And then, after another stop at Llandudno Junction, apparently closer to Conwy than to Llandudno, we arrived! I was toting a fairly light bag, but didn’t want to go off in search of the tourist office until I’d dropped it at my hotel. I took a one of the shortest taxi rides on record (at a total cost of £2.60) and entered the Winchmore Hotel, on the Promenade next to the beach, well, “next” not counting the road, pulsating with traffic, that one has to cross before one attains the beach.

This hotel is one of the strangest I have ever spent a night in! Note to self: don’t merely look at the rating (8.1 on – a very good rating), also look at the reviews themselves -- you might learn something. The location couldn’t be better, granting that you can cross the street and remain alive to brag of it, but it is not quite as genteel-looking up close as the photos make it out to be. A sullen young woman greeted me in a sullen young manner after far too long a wait at the front door. She checked me in dutifully but told me nothing at all else that I needed to know. As we walked up the stairs I asked if there was a map of the town. She paused, thought about it and finally said, “Yes! Hanging in a frame on the wall near the entrance.” I supposed I was not to take it with me. Once I got into the room I realized that I’d forgot to ask about the wi-fi password, went down to find her, but she had disappeared into some dark passage or other of the Winchmore. I went back up to the room and had a chance to look around – that didn’t take long, as this room…well, let’s just say that if I was a medieval monk it would have suited me fine. 

I’ve grown used to it, but it may be one of the worst little rooms I’ve ever stayed in – and I’ve stayed in some pretty bad little rooms. Calling it Spartan is to take it up several notches from the correct description. And yet it has its unusual charms. For example, though there is nothing hanging on the wall saving an explanation on what to do in case of fire, if you look at the bland wall closely…VERY closely…you’ll see that it is textured and patterned to a point, if nearly invisible: 

And while you I am able to fold twice two of the three pillows provided, the third is quite sturdy. Oh, and I also want to point out that while the hotel faces the beach, not all of the rooms offer a sea view. Here's the view from mine:

Breakfast is offered between 9 am and 10 am only (?) – short and late – so all 20 + rooms are served virtually at once – you are assigned a table, the continental-style choices are so woeful (toast, cold cereals, grapefruit wedges from cans, and prunes) that you’re nearly forced to order the full-English breakfast, which was not very well prepared. Breakfast is served by a tall skinny urchin, whose hair, styled straight up on his head, makes him look even taller and more gawky than he is. Finally (for the purposes of this post, but I have many more examples), as breakfast started so late for any sort of early riser, I decided to take a health walk down the promenade, getting back just in time for the food – but I couldn’t get out the front door of the hotel! It was blocked off because the entrance had just been re-painted – this at the height of tourist season, and on a weekend! I finally found a way out (back door basement) and had my walk, but is this any way to run a hotel? 8.1 rating?? But the price is right. And, some of you are thinking, "You get what you pay for, Dottore Gianni..."

To be continued in part 2 0f 2! And don't worry -- not all of it is negative -- some actually quite pleasant! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bloggo Undicesimo: Crossing the Pond

Hello again!

I’ve been through a few very hectic days attempting to leave Ithaca – moving furniture to Claire and David’s, emptying the apartment, giving or throwing SO much stuff away – some of which even I, the opposite of a packrat, may live to regret – leaving boxes and suitcases with Mary Scheidegger (thank you ma’am), leaving my car with Johnny Kontogiannis (thank you sir), cleaning my apartment to the best of my abilities – the lower back almost gave way several times – and will someone please explain to me why no good angel balanced upon my shoulder and whispered, “Dottore, that red wine you just spilled all over your beige carpet – it needs lots of salt to clear it up,” on that wonderfully tipsy evening when I just didn’t bother – and there goes the deposit! These last days weren’t hectic 24-7 – there was the celebration at the Nines after JMAN Theatrical Movers – great fun, the dinner on Tuesday night with Claire and David – you know who I mean, yes? Dear friends and colleagues Claire Gleitman and her husband David DeVries – at the fun restaurant Ciao! But I was exhausted at the end of it.

There is also to consider the enormity of this move for me. I’m moving, as I noted in my introductory blog post, that I am heading into Act 4 of that great play (as all the world’s a stage) La Vita di Dottore Gianni – it’s a BIG transition, and while exciting in the extreme, also daunting, in too many ways to relate while the focus is on “Crossing the Pond.” Let me just say, “Whew!”

So…this morning I awoke at 4:45 am and at 5:30 am was in a taxi, driven by the nicest cabbie I’ve ever met in Ithaca, from the vastly overrated (if anyone really bothered to give it a high rating) Ramada Inn (I could go on, but no, dottore, you really mustn’t) to the Ithaca Airport. Everything there went smoothly and efficiently, even though as usual people had to strip to their knickers for fear that the alarm might go off when they passed throu security, causing a full body search to ensue, then hurriedly and clumsily re-dress. Even with that, one of the great things about beginning an international flight out of Ithaca is that Ithaca deals the security and passport checks. Walking into any really large U.S. airport and seeing a sea of humanity waiting first to check in, then to get through security is daunting, whereas in Ithaca a “sea of humanity” equals at most about 30 people – then, when you land at the large airport, in this case Newark, you’ve done all that, bags are checked thru to the final destination – a benefit, no question. The flight was not full, and left a bit ahead of schedule, the journey in the turbo-prop was smooth, the day beautiful, and we landed at Newark well before the appointed time.

I noted on our little plane’s long drive after landing to the Newark terminal area an ominously large gathering of large jets jockeying for position to be next to take off which foreshadowed the only real glitch in the trip. I got to the gate for the Newark-Heathrow flight easily, the boarding process started on time, that flight too was far from full, we pulled back right on time – and then we waited on the tarmac…and waited…and…yes, waited some more. It was only a 45-minute wait, which is short in comparison with some ridiculously lengthy ordeals while waiting to take off, but it meant that we arrived on time in London, whereas because of the kind prevailing winds blowing east across the Atlantic you often get in an hour earlier than expected. But again the flight was mostly very smooth, the movies mediocre but what else is new, babies were on board but not one of them cried and screamed (wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles) and the wait at passport control was MAYbe two minutes! If you’ve been through that at Heathrow you know it can be another ridiculously long ordeal – I waited another maybe five minutes for my luggage – I was at Paddington Station less than an hour after the plane touched down. The cabbie that brought me to the London Center took me for a “ride,” which surprised me as I don’t find that taxi drivers in London are like that, but I crawled up the six flights lugging more luggage than usual, sweating profusely, growing weak, but at last attaining the summit – I am unpacked, a bit tipsy from the very large Stella Artois and now, after jabbering probably too long about a relatively uneventful trip across the great pond, I am really ready for bed – and am going to fall onto it immediately!

More interesting stuff I should think next time, when I write from North Wales…

ps – I was so tired I forgot to publish the blog – so, here, on a Sunny London morning, it is!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bloggo Decimo: A Brief Pause

One week from today is Dottore Gianni's first day in London! And the following day he heads to the coast of North Wales for a long weekend. Until that time life is hectic, frenetic, a tad off-balance for the good doctor, so he is taking a break from blogging. He hopes to have something quite interesting for you from Wales, and the following week from the Scottish Highlands. That trip will end in Edinburgh, there is the possibility of a trip to Oslo in early September and he has booked a trip to Paris from 14 to 18 September. Before that he'll join the ICLC-ers on a trip to Bath, Glastonbury and Stonehenge, and after the Paris trip he travels again with ICLC to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford. He is leaning strongly towards Sicily for fall break -- so there's a lot to look forward to!

However, this is meant to be a travel blog, primarily, and let's face it, the doctor has not yet begun his travels! Stay tuned! A presto!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bloggo Nono: Nothing to do with Travel; or, A Tale of Two Dottores: An Anti-social Social Networker

I have been thinking a lot about this subject recently, but what gave me the urge to write about it was that a few nights ago I attended a quite lovely opening night at the Hangar Theatre, invited by alums and old friends Jesse Bush and Cecelia Behar. He had a major role in the show, and she needed a “date,” so they very kindly asked me.

The strange thing is that I accepted!

Flash back several decades, to when I was piccolo. I was an Air Force brat. If you haven’t had parents in the armed services you may have no idea what that means, but those of you that were in my situation throughout your youth know precisely what it means. One year, one Air Force base, another year, another Air Force base, in another part of the country, or perhaps out of the country. Out of the country wasn’t bad because those assignments were usually for three years. Our only out of country assignment was to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska from 1956 to 1959. Alaska was a territory, not a state in ‘56, became one in ’59, thus “out of country.” It was great because we were there for the statehood celebration. There was also sledding, ice-skating, snow-ball fights – piccolo Gianni had a good time in Alaska!

He also HAD time. Three years growing up with mostly the same kids was a luxury. Elmendorf was a large base, and it had its own schools. On an air force base servicemen and their families would rotate out so that I didn’t have three full years with all the same pals, as I would have a if I had lived in the same town throughout my growing up, but many of them were in school with me all that time. Amazing! I actually got to know them! But in first grade I was in one school, in second grade another (both in the state of Virginia but in different parts of that state), in third grade yet another (Rantoul, Illinois – oi!) – fourth, fifth and sixth grades relative bliss as those were the Alaska years – seventh grade another school (Lubbock, Texas), eighth grade still another (back to Rantoul again – oi! squared) – these were all city schools, the rest of the kids had grown up together.

What does this history of my schooling have to do with why it was surprising that I accepted the Bush-Behars’ invite? More than you know. Piccolo Gianni had to fit in, to make new friends (or not) just about every year, in very different parts of the country, in very different school systems. By the way, the first three grades were spent in Roman Catholic schools, in an era during which nuns (think Sister Mary Ignatius, only worse – seriously!) thought it was fun to embarrass you if you had not completely memorized a question from the Baltimore Catechism. In my case after I had pathetically paraphrased the answer rather regurgitating it word for word (the Question was “What is the Redemption?” – why do I still remember the question??? I sure don’t remember the answer). Sister Mary in Agony or whatever her name was drew a circle on a chalk board and made me stand with my nose in the center of that circle for the rest of the class. Lovely! But I digress!

Every year Jackie and many others like him had to either move bravely into new territory, make friends, succeed (to an extent) and then move on; some were NOT able to make friends, succeed – though they still had to move on. That kind of living created extroverts (moi and others) or introverts (many others) and it set a pattern for me that I followed through many years. I got to be very good at making friends, getting elected to student office, getting into school plays (which was my primary form of acceptance), and grew confident in my ability to do so. But as I look back, while it was genuine to a point, a lot of it was acting, a performance. I HAD to be good at it, or I’d be miserable.

I had found a way in to communities, social groups, schools, whatever, and I continued to exploit it. As a young adult I was the life of the party, and threw parties all the time; had all sorts of friends, lived life as a social whirl, and kept doing so into mid-life – actors move around a lot, just as Air Force brats do – when one day I realized that my hail-fellow-well-met manner was not only somewhat inauthentic, it was also exhausting me.

After several years living (finally) in the same place, Ithaca, and living it up here as well, I executed a near perfect 180 degree maneuvre and turned myself into what I termed “The Hermit of Cayuga Heights,” where I rented for a ridiculously low price the top floor of a large house. More recently, after I was thrown down from the heights, as I like to put it, moved to the depths, a basement apartment in complex where I now reside – for ten more days, but who except for me is counting – and morphed more extremely into “The Hermit of Northwood.”

Certainly I am still social. I have not lost that need to adapt and fit in with colleagues, students, everyone. And I enjoy it, on occasion. But I have changed, probably too radically for my own good, and certainly more than others would have liked me to change. Interestingly, my main means of being social is via social networking. I have bunches of Facebook friends, I wish every one of them a happy birthday, I have started groups and fan pages – but I am in control of how much I do there – it’s a safe form of being social for an increasingly anti-social curmudgeon! To me at least, that's pretty funny!

Which is why it was a strange thing that I accepted Jesse and Cecelia’s invitation. Venturing into the intimate community of theatre aficionados in Ithaca NY was anything but safe for me. I spoke to people I’ve not seen in over a decade, I vaguely recognized many people whose names I did not remember, I never strayed from Cecelia’s side, and made a fairly quick exit. I’m still not at all sure how I felt about the evening, but I’m very happy that Cecelia and Jesse invited me! Will I do it again? Not in the near future, certainly, as I’m off in ten days (but who's counting?) to being a relative stranger on a relatively strange isle across the great pond. I look it over, this post IS about travel after all, in a way…

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bloggo Ottavo: Further complicating fall break. After all, why should it be easy?

By this point some of you are probably wondering, “Just how savvy a traveller IS Dottore Gianni?” So am I. I think I’ve pretty well covered the plan to head to Croatia over fall break, and you’ve just seen in Bloggo Settimo that I am also thinking Scandinavia. At the end of that post I asked the question, “Should I return to bella Italia?” Yesterday I investigated.

My plan was and may still be to visit Portovenere. See the introductory page of my website, Travels with Dottore Gianni and you’ll understand the reason. But I thought, why not couple that with a trip to Sicily, a place I’ve never been, filled with ancient Greek and Roman ruins, warm in October…perfetto! But much as I struggled I could not make both work unless I made fall break a race to the finish rather than a leisurely tour.

Sicily has a lot going for it. I have already booked two of my hotels, one in Siracusa, the other in Taormina, through, well-rated places that will cost approximately $70 a night – both bookings may be cancelled up until a week before the trip, so there’s no great pressure there. Train fares between the four cities I want to visit (in addition to the above-mentioned, Catania and Palermo, e.g. $14 from Siracusa to Taormina) are ridiculously inexpensive, and I found a flight into Catania from London Gatwick for $77 on British Air, a return flight from Palermo for £20 (!) on Ryanair. That is a great deal!

Even with these great prices, four cities in 12 days? It’s not exactly “If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” but it’s a bit of a rush, especially as I want to take day trips from at least two of those cities. And even though it is a bargain vacation, it adds up moneywise. I am not at all sure what my budget is going to be like while I’m in London.

So I slept on it, and I think I will continue to sleep on it. I can’t even book the train tickets yet, as they’re only booking into very early October. Even though the amount of research I’ve been doing for this trip may seem ridiculous (and I would not rule out MORE research before I make a decision) I am a born researcher. I revel in it.

A couple of options: A less extensive trip. Possibly I satisfy my hunger for my homeland by flying into Split and doing three or four days there, then a bit later into the break satisfy my hunger for Italia by flying into Pisa and spend a few relaxing days in Portovenere, with excursions to Cinque Terre. Or a longer trip to Croatia, or to Sicily, or to Scandinavia that proceeds a bit more leisurely than I’ve been planning so far. It goes against my grain, as I have a hunger to see it ALL (also discussed in an earlier blog) – but do I HAFTA?

And a couple of suggestions: Keep a record of and don’t throw away your travel research. It can come in handy for other trips. Also a few good sites. I noted I really enjoy using this site. They make things simple – notice I was writing of currencies using dollars AND pounds – and some (not all) other such sites will let you decide which currency you want to get the price in. And I use them so often that I just have to type the first letter of my name, the first number of my address and the rest pops up automatically, through some sort of internet voodoo. Another one to visit when you’re looking for inexpensive flights (other than the obvious Ryanair, Easyjet etc) is, which will find cheap flights on several sites so that you can compare. There are some terrific deals for flying around Europe. Take advantage!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bloggo Settimo: Because you asked, a blog especially for thee, dear Beth P!

In a time during which I should be focused on my seminar for the fall, I am instead getting myself mired even deeper on the best way to spend fall break. If you have read my last post you’ll see that I am wrestling between a trip to Slovakia/Croatia and one to Italy. I have just added a third possibility. Scandinavia.

It all began a few weeks ago, when to my delight Grethe Boe, an excellent alum (excuse me, Beth, ANOTHER excellent alum) who lives in Oslo got in touch with me after many years. We are trying to decide upon when to see each other, and where. Should Grethe come to London, should Jack journey to Norway? Jack of course has been longing to go to Norway for decades, so he has been researching inexpensive ways of doing it. It’s a bit tricky as Grethe is a busy woman. She has some time in early September, and I have been trying to squeeze a trip into what is for me a busy time and probably an important time to be in London (it’s the beginning of a semester, after all), rather than galavanting through gorgeous (gorges?) fjords while pondering the plays of Ibsen and glorying in the music of Grieg.

If I head to Norway I’d like to visit Bergen as well as Oslo, and I would like a good look at the countryside. There is a one-day trip called Norway in a Nutshell that Rick Steves and other travel guides recommend, but it’s a 22 hour trip from Oslo, exhausting even for me, and I suspect that while I could see Bergen I would JUST see it, and be pushed forward quickly towards the next destination. So, hard as I try to work out a four or five day trip I’m wondering if I shouldn’t take more time, and add Stockholm (another excellent alum, Maria Sylwan, lives there) and/or Copenhagen – no alums there, but it’s, well, “wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town…”

I had actually planned a trip through Scandinavia for spring of 2006, during my last sabbatical, but my mother was in the late stages of pancreatic cancer, and it was fairly clear to me that I should be at her side. After all, Scandinavia could wait. And it was going to wait until the end of my current sabbatic leave, in the form of a glorious month-long journey north, culminating at the solstice in some beautiful place or other in the far north, for a glimpse of the midnight sun. Then I began adding up the costs of such a trip. Even for a frugal traveller like myself, the most budget friendly version of the trip was beyond the budget of Dottore Gianni. I also discovered that in order to get retirement checks coming in on time, to get medicare started etc, I really needed to be back in the U.S. by mid-May. So much for my grand northern tour.

But I might be able to make a version of it work over fall break. The flights are so ridiculously inexpensive that I could fly to one of the three focal points (Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen) and then fly between them. I can fly from Gatwick to Oslo in mid-October for £12.99 on Ryanair! But would attempting that in 10-12 days also be pushing it?

What shall the good doctor do? Shall he search for his roots? Return to bella Italia? Or head towards Scandinavia? Or will he muck it up even further by coming up with yet another plan for fall break? Stay tuned, and you may just find out!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bloggo Sesto: Pondering Fall Break

Perhaps you can help me. I am wrestling with where I should go over fall break. For those of you that don’t know, fall break at Ithaca College London Center (ICLC) is at the same time (mid-October) as the fall break at the home campus (ICNY). But whereas at ICNY the break is a Thursday and Friday, the break at ICLC is a full week, the amount of time ICNY-ers get on their Thanksgiving break.

It’s a great time to travel in Europe, even more so for me than for ICLC students, because I teach on Tuesday mornings only, which means I could leave Wednesday 12 October and not have to return until Monday 24 October, providing of course that I can afford that many days of vacation, with daily hotel bills and meals eaten out. I didn’t take quite that much time away when I taught at ICLC in fall 2005, but had a wonderful time in Italy, flying into Pisa and using that as a base travelling to one of my favorite places in Italy (or anywhere on earth!) Cinque Terre.

I was thinking more exotic for fall break 2011, as I have been to Italy several times, once spending a full month there. So I have been looking at my roots, primarily Slovakian and Croatian, with a dab of German thrown in. I have been to many parts of Germany, was stationed there in 1967-69 while in the U.S. Air Force, and to Prague, one of my favorite cities in Europe (located in the Czech Republic), at least three times. Slovakia is the southeastern portion of the area inhabited by Czechs and Slovaks that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which has roots in the Holy Roman Empire. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed as World War I ended in 1918, that part of the Slavic lands was united with the northern Czechs and named a republic, called Czechoslovakia. In 1993, shortly after the Soviet Union crumbled, Slovakia broke away from Czechoslovakia, which then changed its name to the Czech Republic. Sound complicated? Ha! The history of this area is much more convoluted than I am making it here.

My mother’s family comes from some village in Slovakia, called, one of my uncles thinks, something like Sirokaya Dlouha (or did he say Nizhni Dlouha? Oi!). My grandfather is the only one of the family that really knew the village. He married a Slovak girl after he happily escaped the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1906 and landed in Bethlehem PA where he spent his life working in the famous steel plant there. But whenever I asked him where exactly he was from, he always replied, “You don’t want to KNOW!”

So I’m curious, but also know that I will probably have no luck on my roots in Slovakia. What I’d do is fly to Bratislava, the capital, an apparently nice city, but not nearly so nice as Prague, maybe take a day trip or two from there, and THEN head to the area my father’s ancestors called home, Croatia. If you think the history of Slovakia is confusing, Croatia has it beat. It too was once part of that gigantic Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in 1918 was made part of Yugoslavia (south Slavia), one of the maddest mixes imaginable, including Serbs and Croats, Slovenians, the republic of Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo. After World War I a king ruled this odd collection, but in World War II it became a soviet satellite, albeit freer than most, thanks to its powerful and popular leader, Marshall Tito. He said of the area he ruled: "I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbors, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities.” When he died in 1980 ethnic tensions grew among the constituents, and in the 1990s all hell broke loose. The terms “Balkanization” and “ethnic cleansing” will remind you of the nightmares of those years. And the enmity continues.

But I am, as I noted above, curious. I have even less to go on in terms of roots in Croatia than I did in Slovakia. My grandfather on my father’s side, when I asked by me where he came from, replied…can you guess? “You don’t want to KNOW!” (Was this part of a vicious conspiracy on the part of my grandfathers?) And on my father’s side no aunts or uncles could give me any name at all for the village their father came from. But with a name like Hrkach it might be comforting to stroll the streets seeing signs on stores and businesses like Hrvatska (which is Croatia), or Drzic (a famed 16th century Croatian playwright). I could go to the island of Krk! Speaking of islands, much of Croatia lies along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, which makes it tempting whatever my nationality. By the way, the pic above the post is of Dubrovnik, one of the finest coastal Croatian cities. Some of it was occupied by Italy at one point, so there is an Italianesque feel to it, there are ancient Roman ruins all over it. Might be interesting.

But do I really want to discover my roots? Probably. How much do I want to? Probably not enough, I will confess. Slovakia is not all that interesting to me in itself, Croatia has grown quite expensive for tourists, and looking for hotels has discouraged me somewhat from going. Now, any travel guide worth a damn will tell you that you don’t want to spend the night in a hotel in Croatia, you want to rent a room from a local, much less expensive, and you get to know them. Another confession. I have always thought of myself as a loner, a solo act, a bit of an outsider. When I travel abroad I really enjoy being a “stranger in a strange land.” Hell, I often feel like a stranger in a strange land in Ithaca! And I don’t mind. Call it odd, call me irresponsible, call a Dottore, there you have it!

And anyway, yesterday I got a sudden urge to return to Italy over fall break! I’ll figure it out, but if anyone has suggestions, Dr. Jack will be appreciative, whether he follows them or not.