Venice Day Four

I began my fourth day in Venice with breakfast at the hotel. I had yogurt, cheese and a small croissant, coffee with milk. I took a vaporetto to the Accademia stop and quickly found the entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum because I used Google Street View the previous evening to figure out where it is located. I made sure to take several photos of the entrance because it bugs me when I have to hunt for something despite my efforts to be well prepared. But then I had to wait on a park bench at Campo San Vio until 10:00 a.m. for the museum to open.

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Although I would have visited the Peggy Guggenheim Museum anyways since I like modern art, I had an additional reason to be interested in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Luisa Casati, an eccentric Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th century, used to live there. I read a book about her life, Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati. I took a few photos of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum garden before wandering through the galleries. I also went out on the terrace for the view of the Grand Canal. I didn’t find any books in the gift shop that I had to buy.

After that I proceeded to yet another museum, Ca’ Rezzonico. I was able to use my Venice City Pass again so I really got some value out of it. At Ca’ Rezzonico I saw many rooms in the palace and there was an extensive art gallery of old paintings. I only found Emma Ciardi’s work striking enough to memorize her name.

From Ca’ Rezzonico I was able to find Campo San Barnana. This is the square where Katharine Hepburn falls into the canal in the movie,  Summertime. I liked that movie because it was about a lonely American on vacation in Venice. You could see the shop on the square where she buys a Venetian glass but it is a magic shop now. I also found the bridge nearby, the Ponte dei Pugni, and after crossing the bridge I found Campo Santa Margherita. There are many restaurants on Campo Santa Margherita so I had lunch at Pier Dickens. I ordered sardines and spaghetti with cuttlefish ink. It was a messy meal but probably the most authentic Venetian cuisine I ate in Venice.

Campo San Barnana

After lunch I went further up the Grand Canal, pass the Rialto Bridge to Ca d’Oro. This museum was a little disappointing but you do get a good view of the Grand Canal from the palazzo’s Byzantine loggia. When I left Ca d’Oro I wandered around until I found Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a large church, which I entered. This church has a vast interior which is filled with funerary monuments and paintings. From there I eventually found my way back to Piazza San Marco.

Ca d'Oro

I bought some gelato in a cone on my way to the hotel but walked pass it to find the Goldini bookstore where I bought a Touring Editore travel guide on Amsterdam. Amsterdam will be my next destination in Europe but it may be several years before I can afford another extravagant trip. I must have returned to the hotel to put the book in my room and then I went out again to have dinner at a restaurant on the Riva degli Schiavoni. I just choose a tourist restaurant at random and had a pizza and a lemon soda. The final landmark I searched for that day was the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, famous for its spiral staircase. It was not far from my hotel and there were signs pointing the way.

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Venice Day Three

For my third day in Venice the plan was to visit some art museums. I had breakfast at the hotel again; yogurt, scrambled eggs, cheese and slices of meat. Coffee with milk. I took a vaporetto to the Accademia stop but it went to Lido first because it was going in the wrong direction. At the Gallerie dell’Accademia I had to buy a ticket since this museum is not included on the VeneziaUnica City Pass. I saw Titian’s very last painting which was memorable to me since I had read the book, Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson, which describes this painting in detail. I also found Giorgione’s painting The Tempest although I almost missed it because it was located in a large side gallery that I only found after going through the entire museum.

Gallerie dell'Accademia

I then went to the Ca’ Pesaro where I was able to gain admittance with the VeneziaUnica City Pass. I took the vaporetto to San Stae and then walked to the museum since you can’t enter it directly from the Grand Canal. The Ca’ Pesaro has a decent collection of modern art. I saw artwork by Andy Warhol including his brillo boxes and a few paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. I also saw artwork by artists I’ve never heard of, like Miroslav Kraljevic, a Croatian modernist. I liked his expressionist paintings which seemed very dark and sophisticated. Unfortunately the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Art’s most famous painting, Gustav Klimt’s Judith II (Salome), was on loan so I did not get to see it.

Ca' Pesaro

The Oriental Art Museum is on the upper floor of Ca’ Pesaro. I wasn’t expecting much from this museum but it turned out to be genuinely impressive. The collection of Japanese decorative arts was substantial and of high quality. I don’t think I’ve ever seen oriental art on this scale. The samurai swords alone must have numbered in the hundreds and there was every other kind of Asian craftsmanship on display. Most people probably don’t go to Venice to see Asian art, but if you are into that kind of thing then you would not want to miss this museum.

I liked the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Art so much that I bought a museum guide to help me to remember what I saw since you were not allowed to take photos. I had lunch in the cafeteria, a ham and cheese sandwich and a Pepsi. But the neat thing is that they have tables with a view of the Grand Canal so I could watch gondolas and vaporetti go by as I ate lunch.

Santa Maria della Salute

I took the vaporetto back to Piazza San Marco and tried to go see the church San Zaccaria but it was closed. I went back to my hotel room to drop off my book, take some aspirin, and change my socks. The blisters were still bothering me. I then went out again and took the vaporetto to Santa Maria della Salute. There is a vaporetto stop right in front of the church. Fortunately the church was open and I took photos in the interior. I also paid to see the sacristy where there is a painting by Tintoretto, Marriage at Cana. After leaving the Salute I tried to find the way to The Peggy Guggenheim Museum even though it was not open on Tuesdays. Unfortunately I could not find the entrance although later on I realized that I had walked right pass it. I have several travel guides on Venice and none of them tell you how to find the entrance to this museum, not even the Rick Steve’s book. They all seem to imply that you can enter from the terrace on the Grand Canal but that is not the case.

Pensione Wildner

After giving up on finding The Peggy Guggenheim Museum I took the vaporetto from Accademia to St. Mark’s Square. I had supper at Hotel Wildner’s restaurant on the Riva degli Schiavoni. I was pleased to eat there because the writer Henry James stayed at the Pensione Wildner. I was going to read his novel The Wings of the Dove before my trip to Venice but I did not have time after adding Rome to my trip. I had a glass of prosecco, sparkling water, and an excellent pasta dish at Ristorate Wildner. Before I returned to my hotel room, I found an ATM on Merceria and withdrew another 150 Euros.

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Venice Day Two

I began my second day in Venice with breakfast at the hotel. I had yogurt, scrambled eggs and bacon. Coffee was something they served and I had a cappuccino. I planned to visit several museums on Piazza San Marco since it would be easy to find everything in the vicinity.

First I tried to visit the Correr Museum at 9:00 a.m. but it was not opened promptly. So I went up the Campanile instead but I was wearing the wrong pair of glasses. I have prescription glasses and reading glasses that I use when working on the computer. I accidentally left the hotel wearing my reading glasses. There is a small building located at the base of the bell tower known as the Loggetta. I was unable to find any decent photos of the Loggetta online so I made sure to take lots of photos of it. It bugs me when I have to spend a lot of time searching for a photo of something while researching my trip. The Campanile gives you an excellent aerial view of Venice so I took lots of photos. There was a vending machine up there so I bought a bottle of water.

Campanile View

I then tried to find a laundromat based on directions I found online. I only packed three shirts for my trip and they were getting kind of grungy by the second week. Unfortunately the laundromat was hard to find so eventually I gave up. But I did find a farmacia and bought some more stuff for the blisters on my feet. I went back to my hotel to get my prescription glasses.

I returned to the Correr Museum which was finally open. I also saw visited the National Archaeological Museum and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana which are connected to the Correr Museum. I used my VeneziaUnica City Pass which I bought online. I just had a print out of the PDF but that got me into many museums so I got my money’s worth. At the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana there was a special exhibit, Il Mondo Fantastico di Fosca. The “Fantastical World of Fosca” was a set of anthropomorphic animal drawings illustrating the history of the library. Fosca must be a contemporary Venetian artist. http://www.foscaworld.com/biography.html I only took one photo in the National Archaeological Museum where there was an Egyptian mummy in a small room which looked secluded enough for sneaking a photo.

After than I went to the Doge’s Palace which is also a museum. My VeneziaUnica City Pass got me into the Doge’s Palace as well. I saw the courtyard which you can only see with admission and the Giants’ Staircase, although that was roped off. I’m not quite sure if I saw everything in the Doge’s Palace but I did find the Doge’s Apartments and the Senate Chamber. I followed a large tour group, French I think, and crossed the Bridge of Sighs, where I got a view out the window, and saw the prisons.

Giants' Staircase

Next I visited St. Mark’s Basilica which is free to enter since it is a church. But I did pay to see the Treasury, the Pala d’oro, and the St. Mark’s Museum with access to the roof. You were not allowed to take photos but I saw many tourists disregarding the signs so I took a few photos as well. Of course, you can take as many photos as you like from the roof. I saw the original Triumphal Quadriga or Horses of St Mark’s in the museum. I bought a Venice travel guide in English at the St. Mark’s Museum store, mostly for the map which was not very detailed.

I had lunch at Caffè Florian. Caffè Florian is super expensive but very classy. They even charge for the musicians playing if you sit outside, supplemento musica 6 Euros. I ordered club sandwiches and peach ice tea. The whole thing cost me 32 Euros. But I think it is worth it to get an essential Venetian experience. Just don’t take all your meals on the Piazza San Marco.

Effe Erre

After lunch I made another attempt to locate the laundromat Effe Erre and finally found my way to it. I rushed back to my hotel and packed my carry on bag with dirty clothes. Then I retraced my steps to the laundromat. Some locals or maybe young backpackers helped me with the washing machine. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a laundromat in my life so I had no idea how the procedure may work. The washing machines and dryers in Europe are very modern. You have to buy soap from a dispenser and then put it into the top of the washing machine. There were instructions in English so I might have eventually figured it out on my own. It took about an hour to wash and dry my clothes. They didn’t even wind up totally clean or dry. But I was immensely proud of myself for getting this taken care of. This was a huge advance in my travel smarts. Of course, I had to return to my hotel to drop off my carry on bag before going out again.

Venetian Laundromat

I went to Harry’s Bar and ordered a Bellini and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. The Bellini alone cost 16.50 Euros which is outrageous for a small drink. My total bill was 32.40 Euros. I only went to Harry’s Bar because it is a famous establishment and I wanted to be able to say I’ve been there and done that.

Harry’s Bar

For the rest of the afternoon I walked far to the west until I found the Ponte dell’Accademia. I came across the Museo della Musica which has free admission. I saw lots of musical instruments in the museum, mostly string instruments like violins and cellos. I bought an opera DVD, La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, but I have not watched it yet. This opera was first performed on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice.

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Venice Day One

Sunday was my last day in Rome and my first day in Venice. So the initial goal for the day was to get from Rome to Venice. I checked out of my hotel in Rome around 8:00 p.m. without taking advantage of the continental breakfast. I had to pay a hotel tax in cash when I checked out but it was only two Euros per night I think so it only came to 14 Euros. I then went to the Roma Termini train station to wait for my train to Venice. I didn’t have to drag my luggage very far because my hotel was very close to the train station. It was very convenient. While waiting for my train a female beggar with no nose pestered me so I gave her a coin. She was probably one of those Romani gypsies I’ve seen on every trip to Europe.

I had to wait until 9:50 a.m. for my train to Venice. I was way early but I did not want to miss my train. I waited until the departure board showed which platform it was arriving at. Boarding the train was much easier than I expected. First I had to find the right carriage which turned out to be the very last one. Then I just had to find my seat. There was plenty of storage racks for my luggage which I kept near me. Nobody said a word to me until long after we left the station. The train announcements were made in English and Italian. I got a free drink and a bag of cookies as a first class passenger. Eventually the conductor came through the train and only had to see my print out with its booking number. It was a high speed train and cost me $121.00 which I paid to ItaliaRail before my trip to Italy. It took most of the morning to reach Venice. The train went through many tunnels and I saw a bit of the Tuscan countryside on the way. Unfortunately I did not meet Angelina Jolie on the train to Venice like in the movie The Tourist.

When the train arrived in the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia my immediate concern was getting to my hotel. I didn’t stop to take any photos or to look around until I got that done. I bought a €50/7-day pass for the Actv and then found a vaporetto heading towards Piazza San Marco. I had intended to go down the Grand Canal but unfortunately that vaporetto went down the Canale della Giudecca. It even made a stop at the Lido before I finally arrived at Piazza San Marco an hour later. This wasn’t too much of a problem since I could not check into my hotel until 3:00 p.m. I dragged my luggage across Piazza San Marco and found Calle dei Fabbri, an alley just to the left of Gran Caffè Quadri. There were several twists and turns to Calle dei Fabbri before I found my hotel, Antica Locanda al Gambero, which translates to “Ancient Inn at Gambero”. I was uncertain as to where the hotel entrance was because there is also a restaurant there but I found it around the back between the restaurant tables. I was able to check in right away and a porter carried one of my bags up to the fourth floor. I gave him a coin for that.

My room was much nicer than my room in Rome. It was a bit small and cramped but it had its own balcony. Unfortunately there was nothing to see out there except some roof tops. The room lighting was still a bit dim but not too bad. There was a room safe in the armoire but I didn’t use it. I thought the room was rather stylish and a bit fancy. However, the climb to the fourth floor was very tiring for me. There was no elevator. During my stay I tried the television to see what Italian TV was like but I could only get a few stations. There was a SKY cable box which may have gotten more channels but I could not figure out how to use it. I wasn’t there to watch TV anyway.

Piazza San Marco

After unpacking a bit and freshening up, which certainly meant changing my padded socks to give my feet a fresh start, I went out to take some photos. I should mention that I had to turn my key in at the desk every time I went out. I first encountered this procedure at the bed and breakfast I stayed at in Montreal. I easily found my way back to Piazza San Marco where I took photos of the Campanile (the bell tower), the Loggetta (the elegant small building used as the entrance to the Campanile), the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), St. Mark’s Basilica which was unfortunately half covered in scaffolding, and the Doge’s Palace. I then walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni and crossed the  Ponte della Paglia where I saw the Bridge of Sighs. I also saw some famous hotels; Hotel Danieli, Londra Palace Hotel, and the Pensione Wildner. There are lots of tourist stalls along Riva degli Schiavoni and I bought a map at one of them. The map was in Dutch and not quite as detailed as I would like. My next trip to Europe will be to Amsterdam so I didn’t mind having a map in Dutch. I walked all the way to the Arsenal before turning back. Going far in the other direction I found the Giardinetti Reali (Royal Gardens) a small park near Piazza San Marco and Harry’s Bar.

The Rialto Bridge

After that I must have tried to find my way closer to Santa Maria della Salute because my next photos show Chiesa di San Moisè followed by Teatro La Fenice. Then I must have gone to Campo Manin and even found my way to the Rialto Bridge which I crossed to find the San Giacomo di Rialto and the Hunchback of the Rialto, a granite statue of a hunchback. After that I went back over the Rialto Bridge and found Campo San Bartolomeo with its statue of Carlo Goldoni. From there I found my way back to Piazza San Marco.

I think I had dinner someplace on the Riva degli Schiavoni where I ate an entire pizza pie since I had not eaten much all day. Then I returned to my hotel. So I managed to see practically all the major sights in one afternoon in Venice. If you just want to photograph a few landmarks then you probably can do Venice in one day.

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Last Day In Rome

For my last day in Rome I didn’t want to stray far from my hotel because the blisters on my feet were very painful. I had to take an aspirin every few hours. The first thing I did was get cash from an ATM in the Roma Termini station because I would need to pay a hotel tax in cash the next morning.

I then walked to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which isn’t far from the Roma Termini station. I had some trouble getting through the metal detector but eventually they let me in. This museum has four floors and I think I went to each floor. The bottom floor had a Roman coin collection with some Papal coins too. In this museum I saw the famous Boxer at Rest, the Discus Thrower, a gruesome mummy, and the frescoes from the villa of Livia. There was a special exhibit on Monsters. Fantastic Creatures of Fear and Myth.

The Boxer at Rest

After that I intended to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore but a wedding was taking place so I did not go inside. I think I got a photo of the bride and groom entering the church. Instead of that I went to  San Pietro in Vincoli where I saw the chains of St. Peter, the tombs with skeletons, and Michelangelo’s Moses. I used a Euro coin to light up Michelangelo’s Moses since nobody else wanted to spend anything. When I backtracked my way to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore I stopped into a Casa del Rosario store where I bought a rosary and a cheap crucifix as gifts. Next I headed for Palazzo del Freddo for gelato. I passed through Rome’s Chinatown and saw many shops along the way there. Somewhere along Via Napoleone III, near the train station, I stopped in at a restaurant and had a pizza for lunch. I think the pizza was covered in prosciutto crudo, a common pizza topping. I then returned to the hotel to rest my feet.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

I didn’t want to waste my last day in Rome so I walked north to Piazza della Repubblica just to wander around but I eventually visited the Baths of Diocletian. I used the same ticket I got at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme but could not get into the Rodin special exhibit. The best part of this museum was the inner courtyard which was lined with hundreds of ancient statues.

Michelangelo's Moses

That evening I had my last meal at Ristorante Donati, mixed cheese and an espresso.

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Rome Day Six

The sixth day of my week in Rome got off to a bad start when the cashier at the Farmacrimi Stazione Termini only gave me a few Euro coins in change for a 50 Euro bill I gave her to pay for $17.02 in purchases. That pissed me off for several hours. Never give somebody a larger bill than is necessary. I took Metro Line A in the direction of Battistini to Barberini Station. My goal for this day was just to locate a few more landmarks in the center of Rome. First I went back to the Trevi Fountain because there were other things in the area on my list. I found the Teatro Quirino which is now named after Vittorio Gassman, one of Italy’s best stage and film actors. I liked him in “The Scent Of A Woman” so much that I looked for more of his films. He appeared with Sophia Loren in the film Questi fantasmi which is based on a play by the playwright Eduardo De Filippo. I read a few of Eduardo De Filippo’s plays in translation in preparation for my trip. He is not well-known in the United States or the theater here but I saw theater posters in Rome and Venice advertising performances of his plays. You need to see things like that to establish the significance of a writer. This is the sort of detailed cultural exploration I like to do for my major trips.

Teatro Quirino

I then found Giolitti and ordered a gelato; a cone with coffee, apple, and raspberry scoops. You have to try some gelato while you are in Rome! The procedure for getting a gelato was another minor trial. First you place an order at the cashier and pay to get a ticket which you take to the ice cream counter. I should mention that you get a receipt for everything in Italy. I mean every little thing. Buy a can of soda at a food cart, you get a small receipt. Pay a fee at a church to see something, you get a little receipt like a ticket. It is the law that you must receive a receipt for every financial transaction. You used to be fined if you did not take a receipt but now only the vendor gets fined. I’ve even received a receipt for things I’ve ordered over the Internet from Italy!

Giolitti

I also visited the Pantheon again because it is worth seeing twice. I went inside and took more photos and marveled at its grandeur. Just think, I’ve been inside the Pantheon which has stood for thousands of years and has been seen by illustrious men for centuries. I saw many of the great artworks pictured in my World Art textbooks which I never expected to see in real life.

There were several Catholic churches I wanted to visit but the first church I came across was not on my list, Sant Ignazio di Loyalo. Built in Baroque style between 1626 and 1650. I definitely saw the “Gloria di San Luigi Gonzaga” by P. Legros and the Monument to Pope Gregory XV. Part of the purpose of these blog entries is to record what I saw, but could not immediately identify. There was also a curious model of a round church which may not exist. I’ve never seen anything like it.

It was on this day that I entered the Santa Maria sopra Minerva where I saw the tomb of Fra Angelico. After that I entered yet another church, San Luigi dei Francesi. This is a French church and there was a large tour group outside. Inside there was a choral group singing and being filmed by someone with a video camera. However, the big attraction in this church was the three paintings by Caravaggio. I’m pleased that I managed to see so many Caravaggios on my trip. I remember there was a sign warning about pickpockets near the chapel with the Caravaggios.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza

Another church I sought out was Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza but I could only photograph the exterior because the church was closed that day. Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza is famous for its architecture. After that I must have returned to the Piazza Navona to get my bearings and found my way to Campo de Fiori, another famous square I wanted to see. Campo de Fiori was filled with market stalls so I found it difficult to get a good look at the Giordano Bruno monument. I didn’t buy anything at the market although I did notice a Libreria Fahrenheit 451 bookstore which tempted me.

I had lunch at Caffè Bianco, which is near the Campo de Fiori but not actually on the square. I ordered a large ball of Buffalo mozzarella with ham. I did not particularly care for this but I saw other tourists ordering large pizzas which seemed too much for me. After lunch I went to the Galleria Alberto Sordi and entered La Feltrinelli where I bought a DVD of “La Grande Bellezza“. There was a 2×1 special which they encouraged me to take advantage of but I declined. I kind of regretted that but buying anything was awkward. La Grande Bellezza is a great movie. I have watched it now that I am home. It has many scenes featuring the landmarks of Rome and I liked the main character because he was a literary writer and a sardonic observer of life.

The last landmark on my list was the Adriano Temple, the ruins of the Temple of Hadrian. All that remains of the temple is some columns embedded into the Rome stock exchange building but I wanted to see it anyways.  I headed off in the wrong direction at first, but eventually I managed to find the Adriano Temple. Finally I took Metro line A in the direction of Anagnina from Barberini Station to Termini Station. That evening I ate at Ristorante Donati yet again and ordered the cold seafood salad and artichoke.

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Rome Day Five

My fifth day in Rome was a Thursday and my goal was to visit the Capitoline Museums since it was closed on the day I first tried to visit it. I took subway line B in the direction of Laurentina to Colosseo. I walked along the Imperial Forums and saw Trajan’s Column. I definitely saw the Temple of Mars Ultor because I have a photo of it. I walked pass the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II and climbed the Capitoline Hill cordonata to the Piazza del Campidoglio. I saw the equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius of course and the two massive ancient statues of Castor and Pollux. I had to buy a ticket but the ticket line was very short.

One of the first things I saw within the Capitoline Museums was the fragments of Constantine’s colossal statue. This is one of the iconic images of Rome used for the cover of my book on the history of Italy. I also saw the original bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius,  the bronze she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the bust of Commodus as Hercules, the famous statue of the boy with a thorn (Spinario) which was part of a special exhibit so no photos, and the statue of Pope Innocent X.

Constantine's Colossal Statue

I almost didn’t make it into the Palazzo Nuovo because I could not find the underground passageway. I had to ask someone on the museum staff where it was. In this wing of the museum I saw the Dying Gaul sculpture, the colossal statue of Oceanus, and the Egyptian room just off the main courtyard with two monkeys, a granite crocodile and two sphinxes. I also found the mosaic with theatrical masks. So I’m pretty sure I saw all the major artwork in this museum but I should have been more prepared. According to my photos, I must have walked behind the Palazzo Senatorio and found the terrace, where you get an excellent view of the Roman Forums, before I went to the Palazzo Nuovo.

Roman Forums

After leaving the museum I returned to the nearby Theatre of Marcellus. I saw the ancient Roman columns embedded in the side of the church San Nicola in Carcere and eventually I found the Porticus Octaviae but it was covered in scaffolding. From there I walked to the ancient Forum Boarium by the Tiber River where I saw the Temple of Portunus and the Temple of Hercules Victor. The church Santa Maria in Cosmedin which has the “Mouth of Truth” is across the street so I stood in line to take a photo of that. Everyone else was with someone to take their photo with their hand in the “Mouth of Truth” but I was alone so I just took a photo of “Mouth of Truth”. There was an attendant to make sure everyone only took one photo to keep the line moving. I also entered the church and I remember there were signs expressly prohibiting dogs. I bought a coke from a food stand near the church because it was much hotter in Rome than it was back home.

Mouth of Truth

I then walked across Ponte Palatino and saw Tiber Island and Pons Aemilius again. I also revisited Taverna Priscinula Pizzeria and ordered that same pizza, four cheese pizza with truffle sauce which I liked so much. I drank too much wine and became a little tipsy. I walked pass the Open Door Bookshop again but this time I went inside and bought a French novel at random, L’amande by Nedjma, which turns out to be an erotic novel “The Almond” written by an observant Muslim woman in contemporary North Africa. I then found the church Santa Maria in Trastevere which I entered to see its famous 13th-century mosaics. This church can be seen in the Italian film Scent of A Woman starring Vittorio Gassman, one of the better films I saw in preparation for my trip.

The Open Door Bookshop

I didn’t spend any more time in Trastevere. I walked back across the Ponte Palatino and along the Circus Maximus until I reached the metro station. I returned to the Termini station where I used an ATM and bought a can of Bavaria Holland Lemon Malt, a non-alcoholic drink, from a vending machine. At first I was surprised that beer was sold from vending machines but then I noticed that it was non-alcoholic. I had supper at Ristorante Donati. That evening I had spaghetti with bacon (Carbonara) and eggplant with cheese.

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Rome Day Four

My goal on the fourth day of my week in Rome was to see the Spanish Steps and to visit the Galleria Borghese. I had a reservation for the Galleria Borghese at 1:00 p.m. so the day’s planning had to work around that.

But first I went to the Despar grocery store and the Farmacrimi farmacia in the Roma Termini to buy some over-the-counter medicines and health supplies. I bought aspirin, cough drops (tosse sedativo), antacid, and stuff for my blisters (Compeed brand). I don’t remember what I bought at Despar but it was a single item that I could put in my pocket which is why I was able to visit Farmacrimi afterwards. It was hard to find these items and I had to look up the Italian words the evening before. On my next trip I will do more research on pharmacies.

I took the metro Line A to the Spagna Station. Spagna is Italian for Spanish so it is actually the subway station near the Spanish Steps. It was hard to figure out where the metro entrance is located using the few photos I could find online so I made sure to take a few photos to show its location relative to the Spanish Steps. I was too early for the Keats-Shelley Memorial House or Babington’s Tea Rooms so I walked down the Via dei Condotti. I walked pass Antico Caffè Greco but I didn’t go inside. I just took a few photos of this famous café. On my way to Piazza del Popolo I found the museum Casa di Goethe but I didn’t go there because it is of more interest to Germans. After taking many photos of the Piazza del Popolo it was time to return to the Spanish Steps where the Keats-Shelley Memorial House would be open by then. I encountered a large group of teenagers entering the museum so I decided to wait until later and went over to Babington’s Tea Rooms instead.

Babington's Tea Rooms

At Babington’s Tea Rooms I ordered a traditional English Breakfast. This tea room was practically an institution on the Grand Tour but now it is popular with tourists. This was the largest meal I had in Italy and I could not finish everything. I remember I had American coffee instead of tea which I regret. Nobody came around with the check so I went up to the cashier to pay. I was kind of in a hurry to make it to the Galleria Borghese in time. After breakfast I went back to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House.

It only cost 5 Euros to visit the Keats-Shelley Memorial House but then there are only three rooms to see. I liked this museum because it was devoted to poets and the rooms were lined with books except for the bedroom of John Keats where he died. I didn’t spend much time in this museum because there wasn’t much to see and a tour group was expected.

The Keats-Shelley Memorial House

After that I decided to find the Galleria Borghese because it is located deep within a large park, the Villa Borghese. I was worried about not being on time for my reservation. I climbed the Spanish Steps and wasted some time taking photos of Rome from the road leading to the Villa Borghese since there is an excellent view from there. Although there are some signs in the Villa Borghese park it is difficult to find the Galleria Borghese. It was a long walk along many roads without always being sure I was going in the right direction. Fortunately I made it with over an hour to spare so I sat outside the Galleria Borghese until a half hour before my reservation time, 1:00 p.m. It was not obvious where the museum entrance was located. I saw several people turned away from the museum exit up a flight of stairs so I knew it was not up there. The museum entrance is actually below the staircase. I got a ticket after showing my email confirmation. I saw that they were sold out of tickets for that day and were only taking reservations for next week! So you would definitely be out of luck if you just showed up without a reservation. I had to go back outside and wait another half hour until it was time to enter the museum. I remember seeing some Germans having themselves a little picnic and I overheard a tour guide talking to some tourists in English while I waited.

I was uncertain as to where you actually enter the museum since I only saw the ticket booth when I first went in but the actual entrance is further inside there. No cameras or backpacks were allowed in the museum but I did have a camera in my pocket the whole time. Fortunately they do not search you or make you go through security. You are only allowed two hours in the museum. I spent the entire first hour on the top floor looking at old paintings and wondering where the famous sculptures were. It was not clear how to reach the bottom floor but eventually I found my way down there. This was probably the most frustrating museum to visit in Rome. I was just lucky that my visit went well. On the ground floor I saw the famous works of art which make the Galleria Borghese an essential part of any trip to Rome. I saw the Bernini sculpture Apollo and Daphne, his The Rape of Proserpina, Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte, and the four Caravaggio paintings. Caravaggio is one of the most famous painters in art history and seeing his masterpieces in Rome is considered a must.

Galleria Borghese

After leaving the Galleria Borghese I spent some time exploring the park. I saw the small Temple of Asclepius in the middle of a lake. Eventually I found the Museo Carlo Bilotti, a museum I wanted to visit because they have many paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. Visiting this museum was also slightly frustrating because there was virtually nobody there and the admission procedure was ridiculous. A man on the museum staff helped me to get a ticket. First I had to feed a 10 Euro bill into a machine to get 50 Euro coins in change. Then I had to feed 8 Euros worth of 50 Euro coins into another machine to print out a ticket. That was sixteen coins I had to feed into a machine! The museum was actually quite small and contains little of interest except for one Andy Warhol print and the Giorgio de Chirico paintings. But Giorgio de Chirico is one of my favorite painters because his work is so mysterious and metaphysical.

When I finally left the Villa Borghese park and back tracked my way to the Spanish Steps. I think I took the metro to the next stop, Piazza della Repubblica. Or did I walk to Piazza della Repubblica? No, I’m pretty sure I walked from there to the Roma Termini. I found the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice and the church Santa Maria della Vittoria which I entered to see the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini. After returning to the Piazza della Repubblica I entered the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri which is a vast Catholic church built within the remains of a vast Roman Bath.

When I walked to Roma Termini I saw two museums which were not far from my hotel; the Baths of Diocletian (National Roman Museum) and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which I would visit later on in the week.

I had supper at Ristorante Donati again. That evening I had pork and something fried with cheese that was really good, probably the only exceptional thing I ate there. Ristorante Donati was convenient but not someplace any foodie would want to visit.

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Rome Day Three

For my third day in Rome I had a long list of landmarks to see. I began by taking the Metro Line A from Termini Station to the Barberini Station. I easily found my way to the Trevi Fountain which was not crowded. I had precise instructions on how to find the Trevi Fountain in my notes. I then found the Galleria Alberto Sordi but it was not open yet. So I located the Column of Marcus Aurelius next. From there I found the Palazzo Montecitorio, a government building often shown in the Italian news. There was some evidence of that because I saw a RAI van parked there. After that I found the church Santa Maria Maddalena (I told you this would be a long list).

And then I came across the Pantheon. I went inside the Pantheon which is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome. There is free admission because the Pantheon is essentially a church now. Behind the Pantheon is the Piazza della Minerva where the Bernini obelisk on the back of an elephant is located. The church Santa Maria sopra Minerva is also located on this square but I did not enter it on this day.

Pantheon

From there I went west to find the Piazza Navona with its three fountains. I did enter the church Sant’Agnese in Agone and saw the shrine for Saint Agnes with her skull. I think that was the first Catholic church I ventured into except for the Pantheon.

North of the Piazza Navona I encountered the museum Palazzo Altemps which I visited. This was one of my more awkward museum visits. I went into the wrong area and went through a scanner which was not meant for museum visitors. The Palazzo Altemps contains mostly sculptures. I saw the Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus and the Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife. I got yelled at for taking a photo of the Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife but that may have been because it was part of a special exhibit.

After leaving the museum I found the Largo di Torre Argentina, a sunken square with the ruins of four Republican Roman temples. I took lots of photos of those ruins because they are particularly picturesque. The Teatro Argentina is also located on this square so I took a few photos of that since I’m interested in theater. There are many stray cats in the Largo di Torre Argentina and I saw a sign asking you not to feed the cats because they will follow you into traffic. I was very thirsty so I found a small cafè where I ordered ice cream and bottled water. I took their card so I know it was the Trattoria della Torre Argentina.

Largo di Torre Argentina

After eating I came across the Il Gesù church which I entered, even though it wasn’t on my list of places to visit. Eventually I found my way to the museum Galleria Doria Pamphilj which was on my list of things to do. This was one of my favorite museums in Rome. I was given an audio guide with my ticket so I used an audio guide for the first time. The audio guide does enhance your visit but it takes more time to get through the museum if you listen to the narration. The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is a palace which now serves as an art gallery since the aristocrats collected so much fine art. It has many furnished period rooms which are extremely elegant. The walls are covered with old paintings making it seem like an eccentric grandparent’s house. The Hall of Mirrors was impressive and the paintings by Caravaggio were special. I really liked the Rest on the Flight to Egypt.

After leaving the Galleria Doria Pamphilj I walked to the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II and saw the Insula Romana, the ruins of an ancient Roman apartment building. Unfortunately the Capitoline Museums were closed. It looked like they were putting out the red carpet for someone but the newspaper reported there was a huge protest which I must have missed. That was not the impression I got. There were official looking cars parked around the Piazza del Campidoglio, lots of police standing around, and some gentlemen in period costume so it looked like there was something going on.

I had to skip the Capitoline Museums so I walked to the Theatre of Marcellus which isn’t far away. The Theatre of Marcellus looks like a smaller version of the Coliseum but you can’t enter it. However there is a pathway through the ruins in the area. I then walked across a bridge to Tiber Island and then into Trastevere. The bridge must have been the Ponte Cestio. This was probably my busiest day in Rome. I can’t believe how much I saw on this day and how far I walked. I saw the Ponte Rotto, the ruins of an ancient bridge in the middle of the Tiber River and I walked across the Tiber Island.

Once in Trastevere I found a restaurant, Taverna Priscinula Pizzeria, where I had the best meal during my trip to Italy. I had the four cheese pizza with truffle sauce. This pizza was unlike any pizza I’ve ever eaten. It was insanely good! The crust was very thin and crispy. I was able to eat a whole pie without feeling full because the crust was that thin. I think it was the truffle sauce that made this pizza so tasty. After eating I walked along Viale di Trastevere and eventually stumbled across Porta Portese. I then walked all the way to the Pyramid of Cestius and Porta San Paolo which was much further than I intended to go. All this walking was killing my feet which had big blisters.

I knew the Protestant Cemetery was in the area so I decided to visit the cemetery even though it was on my itinerary for another day. It was very hard to find the entrance. I should have indicated that in my notes. I walked all the way around the walls of the cemetery until I found the entrance in the back. The main reason for visiting the Protestant Cemetery is to see the graves of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. I found John Keats’ grave easily enough but I had to buy a guide book at the gift shop to find the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Protestant Cemetery is a lovely and quiet place even if it is filled with tombstones. I’m not very familiar with the poetry of Keats and Shelley but I’ve read a few of their poems in old Harvard Classics books that the family has owned forever. I was pleased to make this literary pilgrimage. I plan to read biographies of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. In fact, the biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley has a photo of his grave on the cover just like photo I took of his grave. Keat’s epitaph is very moving, “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water” which I interpret as a comment on how impermanent life and fame can be, in contrast to having one’s name writ in stone as the Roman emperors were.

Protestant Cemetery

That was finally enough for one day so I took the Metro Line A from Pyramid Station to Termini Station. Ristorante Donati must be closed on Tuesdays so I went to the Ristorante Mino instead. After being seated I saw several groups of tourists being led upstairs. I was wondering if there was something significant upstairs but I guess this restaurant just caters to tour groups. I ordered scampi which didn’t have  much meat and crème brulee with white house wine.

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Rome Day Two – Vatican Museums

On my second day in Rome my goal was to the see the other top attraction, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. If you only have a few days in Rome you should try to see the Roman Forums and the Vatican Museums with St. Peter’s Basilica. The line for the Vatican Museums seems to stretch all the way around the walls of Vatican City. Fortunately I made a reservation online so I could skip the long line. I did arrive too early. My reservation was for 12:00 noon and I tried to get in at 10:00 a.m. so I had to wait until at least 11:30 a.m. I bought something to drink from a food cart and stood around watching tour groups of kids gather in front of the Vatican Museums entrance.

When I was finally allowed in I had to go through security. I just had to take my camera and my smartphone out of my pockets because the metal detector wasn’t that sensitive to metal. Then I had to get an actual ticket to replace the email confirmation print out I was carrying. You need an actual ticket to scan at the turnstile.

Although I had heard that the Vatican Museums herds you through the galleries without giving you a chance to linger or go back, I did not find this to be the case. At first it was difficult to find a path through the museum. I wound up in the Ethnological Museum first and then the Philatelic and Numismatic Museum (postage stamps). Then I must have wandered outside into the Square Garden. Yes, that would not have been far from the entrance. I found my way to the underground Popemobile Pavilion where I saw papal carriages and papal cars.

From there I backtracked and found the Gregorian Egyptian Museum. My photos next show the Cortile della Pigna. I shot a nice photo of the Fontana della Pigna. I really should have done more research on the Vatican Museums because I didn’t know what I was looking at! I can see that I found the Gallery of the Busts, the Sala Rotonda, the Sala delle Muse with the Belvedere Torso, the Sala degli Animali, the Gallery of Maps, the Raphael Rooms, and the Collection of Modern Religious Art.

Fontana della Pigna

Fontana della Pigna

Some tourists would skip the Collection of Modern Religious Art but I saw some interesting artwork there including paintings by Salvadore Dali, Georgio de Chirico, a Francis Bacon pope painting (not screaming), and even a painting by Charles E. Burchfield which surprised me. I’m only familiar with his work from a special exhibit I saw at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

I finally made it to the Sistine Chapel which was very strict about not allowing photos or videos. They also demanded silence. There was a service taking place but I only caught the end of it.

I had lunch at the Vatican Museums cafeteria. I had the Italian meal with two chicken legs. It looked like you could order anything you liked but there were actually food stations where you got a set selection of items for a meal.

After leaving the Vatican Museums I made my way to Saint Peter’s Basilica. I’ve never seen a photo of the entrance to Saint Peter’s Basilica so I made sure to take a photo. I also took lots of photos of St. Peter’s Square. You have to go through security to enter Saint Peter’s Basilica. This is just some metal detectors located under the massive Tuscan colonnades.

St. Peter’s Basilica was vast and grand. The interior is filled with architectural sculpture, reliefs, and huge statues so you wander from chapel to chapel marveling at the baroque artwork. I appreciated St. Peter’s Basilica as a monument to spirituality. I associate grandeur with the soul so I think it is appropriate to build a lavish church. A more humble church would only reflect a poverty of spirit and imagination. I don’t know much about the Catholic Church but it seems more prone to mysticism than the Protestant Church. Sometimes I get a negative impression from Catholic decrepitude.

I visited the St. Peters Bascilica Treasury which people seemed to be reluctant to enter because there was a fee. I saw the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus and the Monument to Pope Sixtus IV by Pollaiolo.

Eventually I found the steps to the Vatican Grottos, underground chapels filled with the tombs of kings, queens and popes. After leaving the crypts I found the way to the line for the Cupola, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. You had to have exact change for the ticket but fortunately I always carried plenty of Euro coins to make sure I didn’t accumulate too many. I bought a ticket for the elevator but it does not take you all the way to the top. I still had to climb many stairs which was really exhausting. Near the top the stairs become extremely narrow and steep. At the top you get a great view of St. Peter’s Square so I got some classic photos from that perspective.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square

Climbing back down was a lot easier. I spent some time on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica taking photos. I saw a seagull on the roof which allowed me to take some close photos. There is also a gift shop on the roof where I bought a fancy crucifix, La Croce-Medaglia di San Benedetto (Saint Benedict). I took the elevator back down to the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica where I lingered for awhile longer. As I was leaving a troop of Swiss Guards marched by in formation.

I found my way back to the Ottaviano metro station and had dinner at Ristorante Donati. I had a plate of mixed cheeses for a light meal.

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Rome Day One

This year I made a trip to another major European country, Italy. I have been planning this trip for over two years. I learned enough Italian to be able to read it a little and I did a lot of research on the two cities I would be visiting; Rome and Venice.

I drove down to Philadelphia to depart from the Philadelphia International Airport. I was able to book a direct flight to Rome from Philadelphia on US Airways. When I arrived at Philadelphia International Airport I had considerable trouble finding the Economy Parking Lot. I drove around in circles before finally driving along the more familiar terminals. Then I went through security without checking in my bag. I had to go through the scanner twice. This was not a great start to my trip.

The flight was about 8 hours but I was able to watch a few movies from a digital library of over 200 films. I saw Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor because it is partially set in Rome. That film is four hours long so it kept me entertained for half of the flight. Then I watched part of the film Wolverine which is set in Tokyo. There was a slot under the seat back video screen which looked like it was for swiping a credit card but fortunately the in-flight entertainment was free.

When I arrived at the Fiumicino Airport I just followed everyone else through passport control. Then I picked up my checked bag at the baggage claim area. I used a Trenitalia ticket machine to buy a ticket for the Leonardo Express. I remember going down a set of steps and through an underpass to climb another flight of steps to reach the train station. I had some slight difficulties validating my ticket which apparently must be slid sideways in the machine. The train was very roomy and had storage racks for luggage. It even had a toilet which was labeled WC for watercloset. The train ride to Roma Termini took about a half hour and along the way I saw some examples of Italian apartment buildings with balconies.

I had booked a room at Hotel Rimini which is very close to the Roma Termini station. Fortunately they allowed me to check in early and the desk clerk spoke excellent English. My room was on the 6th floor, one floor above where breakfast was served. The room lighting was ridiculously dim. I think they must have been using 30 watt bulbs. There was also no room safe or alarm clock. The bed was very narrow, like a cot. After unpacking a bit and freshening up I went back to Roma Termini and bought a Roma Pass at the tourist information point. Then I went to Borri Books and bought a travel guide to Rome, Rome and Vatican on foot published by Taita Press ISBN: 978-88-05746-82-1 and the book Easy Italian for English Speakers published by www.vallardi.it ISBN: 978-88-7887-189-2. I didn’t really need the travel guide but I recognized the format from an Italian travel guide on Venice which I had special ordered. I returned to my room with my purchases and filled out the Roma Pass which is supposed to be signed before use.

I then returned to the Roma Termini station and found the metro entrance. I bought a CIS 7 day ticket and took the B Line to the Colloseo Station.

The Coliseum

The Coliseum

Of course I immediately saw the Coliseum which was half covered in scaffolding. It didn’t look so big up close and the entire area was slightly different from how it looked in photos. I found the entrance to the Roman Forums and used my Roma Pass to skip the long line. The first thing you see from the entrance is the Arch of Titus. I took several photos of the Arch of Titus and then began to wander around the ancient Roman ruins photographing everything that looked interesting. Unfortunately I did not have time to read the Oxford Archaeological Guide I bought, but I knew what some of the temples were even if only a few columns remained. It is difficult to form an impression of what these ruins looked like during the Roman Empire. I saw more crumbling brick than marble.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Eventually I went up the Palatine Hill, an area I might have overlooked if I had not added it to my notes just before I left. On the Palatine Hill you can see the remains of the palaces of the Roman emperors, the House of Livia, the Hippodrome of Domitian, the Palatine Hill Museum, the Farnese Gardens, and the site of the bronze age huts where Rome was founded. I saw all of that but the House of Livia was closed to visitors. There was also an underground passage that I walked through. I think wandering around the Roman Forums and the Palatine Hill was how I got the blisters on my feet which plagued me for the rest of the trip. The walking is very rough in those areas of Rome.

After making sure I had seen everything there was to see on the Palatine Hill and in the Roman Forums, I finally made my way to the Coliseum where I used my Roma Pass to avoid another long line. The Coliseum has a small museum on the upper level where I saw an exhibit of Roman antiquities. There is even a bookshop where I could not resist buying the book The Roman Forum by David Watkin ISBN: 978-1-86197-805-9. I walked all around the Coliseum and took a lot of photos. The stage looked much smaller than it is pictured in Hollywood movie recreations. You could not stage epic battles in the Coliseum. I think it was smaller than the length of a football field.

I was hot and tired after being outside in the bright sun all day so I took the metro back to Roma Termini and my hotel. I had supper at Ristorante Donati, a restaurant very close to my hotel so it was convenient. The first evening I ate there I ordered gnocchi with tomato sauce which wasn’t particularly tasty. I only ordered gnocchi because it is something you can’t find in Italian restaurants in the United States.

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Encrypting Email

I have been reading the book I bought at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, The Snowden Files by Luke Harding, and I have actually learned something from it.

The book mentions that Snowden used PGP to encrypt his emails. I am somewhat familiar with encryption since we encrypt the social security numbers stored in our databases at work. But I never did figure out how to encrypt my email. Recently I have found something that works, Gpg4win (GNU Privacy Guard for Windows). This software has an Outlook plugin which makes it easy to decrypt email in Outlook. The documentation is great and tells you exactly how to get started using this software. There is even a German robot that you can exchange encrypted email with to ensure that everything is working.

Unfortunately I doubt that I will find anyone to exchange encrypted email with. Setting it up is still technically challenging and most people won’t want to go to the extra bother. I think my clients should send me login information using encrypted email at the very least. But that probably isn’t going to happen. However, it isn’t a complete waste of time to learn how PGP works. Some web sites will communicate with you using encrypted email. I found this to be the case with a financial web site which offered the option of using PGP for its emails. For some reason, the Outlook plugin would not decrypt its email but I figured out how to save it as a text file which the Gpg4win program Kleopatra can still decrypt. I plan to use PGP to encrypt some text files on my laptop which contain the financial data I need while travelling.

PGP encryption might not be good enough to protect your data from the NSA. I still think you should use something peculiar that you have developed myself. That may not be 100% secure but somebody would have to devote resources to break the encryption. I have found some code that does encryption using a source text like a book which must be known to decrypt the message. In other words, you have to know what book was used by the program. This would be unconventional enough to frustrate any casual snooping.

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Washington Spy Mission

Yesterday I made my annual bus trip to Washington DC. I keep going to Washington DC in April because the local bus company offers a trip for the Cherry Blossom Festival. I may go on an overnight trip to the Washington DC area in the summer. My goal is to spend less time in the museums and more time exploring the city itself. But on this trip I did go to the International Spy Museum because I found it on a previous trip. The International Spy Museum is close to the Smithsonian American Art Museum which I visited on that previous trip.

I made more extensive use of the Metro on this trip. The bus left us off in front of the National Air and Space Museum and I walked to the Smithsonian Station. I happened to notice that there is an entrance to this station on the National Mall itself so I did not have to walk a block to the entrance on the corner of Independence Avenue and 12th Street. I bought a One Day Pass for $14.00 and got $1 coins in change for a 20 dollar bill. You rarely see $1 coins in circulation so this was a bonus. It took me several attempts to use the paper fare card. Eventually I figured out that the magnetic strip needs to be facing up. I will scan the fare card and update my notes. I made three different trips on the Metro. To get to the International Spy Museum I took the Blue Line going in the direction of Largo Town Center to the L’Enfant Plaza Station. There I transferred to the Green Line going in the direction of Greenbelt to the Gallery Place Station. I tried to look at the Metro map in my notes using my smartphone but it was a PDF and my smartphone does not display PDFs. So I have to convert that into an image.

International Spy Museum

I noticed a Shake Shack next to the International Spy Museum. Shake Shack is a famous burger joint in NYC which is expanding into other East Coast cities. There is always a long line for Shake Shack in NYC so I only ate there once at their Madison Square Park location. Although many Smithsonian museums in Washington DC are free, it costs $20.95 to enter the International Spy Museum. But I figured I better learn more about counter-espionage now that we are living in a mass surveillance police state. The museum’s exhibits cover spying throughout history with an emphasis on Cold War spies and spying during wartime. The ground floor was devoted to James Bond. I have most of the Bond films on DVD but I saw some unfamiliar clips and memorabilia from a Pierce Brosnan film. It may have been the Die Another Day film which I have so I’ll watch that movie soon.

At the spy museum bookstore I bought two books; The Snowden Files by Luke Harding, because I have been following this story in the technology forums of Reddit. And I bought an autographed copy of Among Enemies: Counter-Espionage For The Business Traveler by Luke Bencie. This was a book I saw on their web site but it took me awhile to find it in the museum store. I don’t suppose I need to worry on my trip to Italy since I am a tourist and not a business traveler. Programmers can potentially be the victims of targeted espionage if they are math geniuses working in cryptography, but I don’t do anything terribly advanced. 

After leaving the International Spy Museum I used the Metro to go to Dupont Circle, my first venture into a Washington DC neighborhood. I took the Red Line in the direction of Shady Grove to the Dupont Circle Station. I forgot to mention that it can be difficult to tell if you are on the right platform for the direction you want. I think the top part of the signs tell you in which direction your platform will take you while the bottom part of the sign indicates the direction of the opposite platform. But I find this a little confusing. In the NYC subway the signs only pertain to your platform.

When I emerged at Dupont Circle I was quite close to where I wanted to be so I only had to get my bearings. First I had lunch at Raku, an upscale Asian Diner. I had considered a French restaurant called Bistrot du Coin but Raku was right there and I was parched. I tried to order Saki but had to settle for a glass of beer. I also ordered their Bento Box special of the day; an interesting candy box of exotic Japanese food. There was some raw fish which I did not care for, but also some fried chicken and one fried scallop. The pickled cucumber shavings were tasty. And of course there was some sticky rice. I had to eat everything with chopsticks but fortunately they were the kind of chopsticks that are stuck together making them easy to use as a clamp. That meal came to around $27.00 with tip.

Kramerbooks

Then I went just around the corner to Kramerbooks where I bought Living Language Italian: Essential Edition for $29.95. They were having trouble with their cash register and could not accept credit cards, but fortunately I was planning to pay with cash. It is a bit late to be learning basic Italian for my trip but I did make a custom CD on Italian numbers. This CD combines audio ripped from videos, spliced audio snippets, and children’s songs on the numbers. Making the CD presented several technical challenges so I added a few tips and tricks to my media notes. So far this CD does appear to be effective in training my ears to hear the numbers. I listen to this CD on the drive to work.

Before leaving Dupont Circle I walked around the park and took photos of a few mansions and the fountain. There was a Books-A-Million store on Dupont Circle which tempted me but I had just been in a bookstore. Books-A-Million replaced the Borders at our local mall so I know what sort of selection they have. I could have walked along Embassy Row taking photos of the embassies but the interesting embassies like France, Italy, and England were all far away. I decided to head back to the National Mall because I wanted to see some Titian paintings at the National Gallery of Art. Just the day before I finished reading the book Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson. I bought that book on my trip to London. Titian was one of the most famous painters in Venice so I was reading that book to prepare for my trip.

I spent around two hours at the National Gallery of Art. I rushed through several galleries without looking at anything until I found a gallery filled with paintings by Titian. A few of these paintings were described extensively in the book so it was thrilling to see them in real life. You appreciate things more when you know their history. I also found a few other Italian paintings mentioned in the book like The Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Titian. The National Gallery of Art has a recently acquired Van Gogh which had a crowd around it. I unexpectedly came across The Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso. I recognized this painting immediately because I have a framed print of this Picasso. However, I framed it myself and not very well. I did not know that the National Gallery of Art had this painting in their collection.

Capitol Hill

I also saw the Garry Winogrand special exhibit. I’m not very familiar with professional photographers so I’ve never heard of Garry Winogrand or seen his work. But he took lots of interesting photos, mostly character studies of average people in America’s major cities during the 1960s and 1970s, so that was entertaining. My favorite photo was the monkey in the convertible on Park Avenue. A monkey in your photo will always make it a more interesting shot.

Before leaving the National Gallery of Art I bought a book on Titian at their store. Titian by Ian G. Kennedy, published by TASCHEN. I wish I had this book when I was reading Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson because it has many full color photos of the paintings which I had to look up on the Internet. I buy lots of books on my trips but I don’t always get around to reading them. There are several books I bought on previous trips to Washington DC which I have not read yet.

In conclusion, I should mention some observations that may be of interest to anyone planning a trip to Washington DC. The scaffolding has been removed from the Washington Monument but you still can’t go up the Washington Monument. They are building a new museum near the Washington Monument. It will be a Smithsonian museum on African Americans.

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First Trip to New York City in 2014

Yesterday, March 15, 2014, I made my first trip to New York City in 2014. I have not gone anywhere since my New Orleans vacation in October. I have been very bored. I have been busy preparing for my major trip to Italy in two months so I didn’t do much preparation for this trip to NYC.

I did visit another borough of New York City this time. I went to Queens to visit the Museum of the Moving Image. I took the R train from 7th Avenue and 49th Street to Steinway Street in Queens. The museum doesn’t open until 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and I arrived over an hour early. I wandered around a few blocks trying to find the museum. I did find the Kaufman Astoria Studios and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School while looking for the Museum of the Moving Image. I had a cheese danish and a coffee at a nearby Starbucks while waiting for the museum to open. I also made another unnecessary walk around the block. I don’t think there is much to see in Queens except an endless number of shabby storefronts, but the Queens Plaza might be interesting.

Kaufman Astoria Studios

The Museum of the Moving Image wasn’t terribly interesting. I would rank it as one of the minor museums in New York City which you should only visit after seeing all the major museums in Manhattan. Only one floor of exhibits was open so I probably only spent a half hour there. They did have lots of old movie industry photos which were interesting. They had a collection of video arcade machines which doesn’t seem to have a relationship to the movie industry. Well I guess that qualifies as “moving images”. The neatest thing I saw was a model of a movie theater in the design of the old movie palaces. It would be cool to own such an elaborate theater model for puppet shows. I wasn’t going to buy anything at the museum bookstore but I did see a small book on Samurai Films. I have a collection of samurai films on DVD so I bought this book for under $20.00.

After leaving the museum I walked to the elevated train tracks for the subway and took the N train back to Manhattan. My next destination was the Rizzoli Bookstore where I wanted to buy more Italian language materials. I bought a copy of Chi and Gente magazines, Italian gossip magazines. Chi is the Italian question word for Who? and Gente is Italian for People as in People magazine. I am mildly fascinated by foreign gossip magazines since they reveal who the contemporary celebrities are in that culture. I also bought a Michelin Guide to New York City published in Italian. This book cost me $40.00 which is ridiculously expensive. I should have checked the price before buying it. I can obtain any Italian book or DVD at a reasonable price from Amazon or Deastore. A few Italian companies sell things on Amazon without charging extra for shipping and Deastore offers free international shipping. Anyway, I bought this Italian guidebook to New York City because it will give me the Italian vocabulary for many things that I am very familiar with.

I continued my book shopping spree at Kinokuniya Bookstore near Bryant Park. I bought a thin Eyewitness Travel guide for Tokyo. I don’t have any plans to make a trip to Japan. I wouldn’t be able to read anything in Japan. You can’t even guess what something means. But I do like various aspects of Japanese culture and you can experience Japan in New York City by going to various Japanese establishments. I know you can really expand your knowledge of the world by reading travel guides and discover lots of obscure things.

The final bookstore I visited was the good old Drama Book Shop which I now visit on every trip to New York City. This time I bought a thick paperback book from the bargain bin, Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam by David Kaufman. I’ve seen this book in the bargain bin on every previous visit to the book store. The sales clerk said something I couldn’t make out but he was probably glad they finally got rid of this book. I’m somewhat familiar with the Ridiculous Theater Company because I read a book of their plays. That book was one of the first theater books I ever bought and it made New York theater seem like a wild and wacky world of strange, creative people.

Since I did not prepare for this trip, I had nothing else on my itinerary after the book shopping spree. I did locate the Gotham West Market and took some photos since this building is too new to appear on Google Street View. I was tempted to have lunch at the Ivan Ramen’s Slurp Shop but it looked too crowded with no place to sit. I did discover that they have public restrooms downstairs, always good to know. Another building I located was the Strand apartment building where there was a fire that killed a gay playwright. You can still see two boarded up windows in this high rise where the fire started. I took some photos of that because it is tragic if you go to New York City to pursue your playwriting dreams only to die in an apartment building fire.

The Strand

I have been doing a little research on Little Italy since I plan to visit Italy this year. So I walked to the Times Square subway station. I intended to take the Q train down to Canal Street but I accidentally got on the N train and got off at 8th Street – New York University when I realized my mistake. I should have stayed on that train to Canal Street. But I managed to walk down Broadway to Broome Street anyways. Broome Street is definitely in the Little Italy neighborhood so instead of walking to Canal Street I followed Broome Street to Mulberry Street and found the entrance to the Little Italy neighborhood where there is a large sign strung across the street. I took photos of Italian restaurants until I reached Canal Street and then I decided to see a little bit of Chinatown. From there I reached the Bowery so I decided to walk up that street to find the site of CBGB. I had recently watched the Alan Rickman film on Hilly Kristal and CBGB. This film made me a little sad because in the mid 1980s I was a big fan of Blondie and eventually New York City punk rock. Contemporary New York City is a completely different experience from anything the punk rock era suggests. I did walk pass a heavily graffitied building which is also seen in the movie so that was cool.

Bowery

After photographing 315 Bowery, the site of what was once CBGB, I found my way to the East Village to see more vestiges of the New York City punk rock era. Of course, this was just a repeat of my other trips. I did get some great photos of the futuristic skyscrapers and buildings which have gone up in this neighborhood. I stopped in at Pinkberry again for some frozen yogurt and ate it outside while staring at Search and Destroy across the street. I saw an old punk rocker with a professional camera. He looked like a rock photographer but he wasn’t taking any photos. I didn’t spend too much time in the East Village. But I didn’t take the 6 train to get back uptown since I now know how crowded that train can be on a Saturday. Instead I walked all the way to Prince Street until I found another subway station entrance.

Tout Va Bien

I needed to be uptown by 6:00 p.m. for my reservation at a French restaurant, Tout Va Bien, on West 51st Street. The bus which takes me to New York City always passes this place so I was curious about it. I took the subway all the way up to 49th Street but I was still early so I decided to locate the Osteria al Doge restaurant first. I don’t have a good photo of this restaurant so I wanted one for my notes. They serve Venetian cuisine so I thought of eating here but ultimately decided on the French restaurant. By the time I walked up to the West 51st Street I was almost late for my reservation. I realized I was far east of Broadway when I reached the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Tout Va Bien is west of Broadway.

Tout Va Bien is an authentic French restaurant where French is spoken. I read that this place is popular with the French expatriates in New York City and this seems to be the case because many of the customers were speaking French. The waitress spoke English with a heavy French accent, especially the word reservation. It is a very small restaurant with only a few tables so you better make a reservation. I ordered the Scampi Mediterranean, a sauté of shrimp and tomatoes. For some reason I was expecting scallops. I guess I don’t know what scampi is. I also had a glass of Coke instead of wine which was probably a mistake. For desert I had crème brûlée. At the end of the meal they placed a huge punch bowl filled with wine and fruit in front of me as if to tell me something. That meal cost $40.00. I have to admit, that after New Orleans, I’m not impressed with New York City fine dining. I’ve never eaten anything in New York City that was really special and worth $40.00. But I liked Tout Va Bien for its ambiance. French is still the language which I am the most committed to learning. I did understand the waitress when she used the verb commander, which means to order, so she was asking me if I had ordered yet.

After that meal I had to wander around the Theater District for an hour and a half until it was time for the bus to leave. This is getting kind of old but I don’t want to be left behind so I always need to be in the area after 7:00 p.m. I am now extremely familiar with everything in the vicinity of 7th Avenue and 51st Street.

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Halloween In New Orleans

For my final day in New Orleans I decided to visit Magazine Street. I began my day with breakfast in the hotel courtyard since they left me a card to order it again. I then walked to Canal Street and took the streetcar to Audubon Park. Actually, I had to transfer to a bus before I got there. I walked around the park for about an hour and saw many of the old live oak trees. I saw the Audubon golf course and the entrance to the Audubon Zoo. Maybe I should have visited the zoo but it wasn’t going to look like the zoo in the movie Cat People. Instead I wanted to go to the Maple Street Book Shop. The book store didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so I found a nearby PJ’s Coffee shop again and had an iced coffee to give the book store time to open. I bought an "Eyewitness Travel Rome" guide book at the  Maple Street Book Shop. Rome is the city I am actively researching at the moment and I plan to concentrate on expanding my travel notes starting this week. I would love to see the ruins of Ancient Rome and the Baroque architecture.

Audubon Park

After leaving the bookstore I found my way to Magazine Street. I had to walk several blocks around Audubon Park just to reach this street and then I began an arduous trek along its entire length. Eventually I came across Casamento’s Restaurant where I had a half dozen charbroiled clams and Abita Gold beer. I should have ordered more of the clams because they were really good. I then walked countless blocks along Magazine Street until I reached Washington Avenue in the Garden District. I had plenty of time so I revisited many of the places I saw on Sunday. I found the Ann Rice house again and then stopped in at the Garden District Book Store. There I bought a book that caught my eye on Sunday, "Roma Osservata" by Errol Barron. This is a book of drawings of Rome published by the Tulane School of Architecture. It appears to be a companion volume to New Orleans Observed: Drawings and Observations of America’s Most Foreign City also by Errol Barron. I think my copy might be autographed by the author but I can’t tell if the signature is printed or written. I then revisited the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and took more photos just to be sure I had some good photos.

Lafayette Cemetery

I returned to Magazine Street and continued to look at the small shops along its entire length. I had an iced coffee at a Community Coffee House on Jefferson Avenue but that would have been before I reached the Garden District. I finally left Magazine Street at Felicity Street and walked north to St. Charles Avenue where I found the Eiffel Society building and the Pontchartrain Hotel. I took a very crowded streetcar back to Canal Street. I had to stand for most of the ride which didn’t do my feet any good after walking the entire length of Magazine Street. Once on Canal Street I went to Royal Street and stopped at Café Beignet. I was infuriated when they gave me a small cappuccino instead of the iced cappuccino I ordered because I needed a cold drink, not a hot drink. Eventually I made it back to my hotel room where I rested my sore feet. I must say that my padded socks, Dr. Scholls shoes, and gel insoles did a great job of keeping my feet from getting blisters even though I did way too much walking.

I had dinner early at Pere Antoine Restaurant were I ordered a Royal Berger and a rum drink. By this time I was tired of spending so much money on fancy meals so I tried to cut back on the extravagant spending. I then walked to Frenchmen Street to see what was going on for Halloween and then back to my hotel. At around 6:00 p.m. I went to Jackson Square to see the Jim Monaghan’s Halloween Parade. A few film crews were there to catch the action. I followed the parade down Decatur Street until I saw Peaches Records which tempted me for a final bit of shopping. I bought a Die Antwoord CD. Die Antwoord is a South African rap-rave band formed in Cape Town. I only bought the CD because the cover looked kind of gothic.

I still wanted to catch some more of the Halloween party so I walked down Bourbon Street and saw lots of people in costumes. Eventually I came to Voodoo Authentica near my hotel and watched a live voodoo performance which had attracted a small crowd. Then it started to rain so I reluctantly returned to my hotel room and started packing to leave the next day.

In conclusion, New Orleans is a great place to spend Halloween. I saw people in wacky costumes all week and the French Quarter was full of spooky old buildings. I got to met the horror writer Anne Rice and saw the Garden District landmarks described in her novels. The New Orleans cemeteries were fantastic and reminded me of the old goth rock photo spreads which made New Orleans seem so enchanting. I have to admit that I sort of forgot the French origins of New Orleans and didn’t experience much Cajun culture. But I’m sure this experience will enable me to appreciate any novels I read which are set in New Orleans. The next American city I would like to visit is San Francisco. As long as I’m going to take a plane I might as well go all the way to the West Coast and see one of  the most important cities in American culture. 

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Wednesday In New Orleans

On Wednesday I visited another art museum. I walked to Canal Street and took the St.Charles Avenue streetcar to Julia Street. From there I walked to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Once again I arrived an hour too early so I had to walk around the block. The Lee Circle was nearby so I took some photos of the Robert E. Lee Monument. The World War 2 Museum was also in the area but I wasn’t interested in that. I’m not sure if that museum has a future since the World War 2 generation is dying off and that era holds little nostalgia for many elderly people now. Eventually I found a PJ’s Coffee shop and slowly drank an iced coffee before the museum opened at 10:00 a.m.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art I saw unfamiliar artwork including folk art, photos of The Underwater Mermaid Theater, photos of the Mythology of Florida, and amusing redneck art. Although the museum has five floors, taking the stairs seemed to cause me to skip floors. It probably only took me an hour to see all the artwork. I took the streetcar back to Canal Street after figuring out that you need to catch it at Carondelet Street if you are going in that direction. I walked to the Shops At Canal Street and bought an expensive dress shirt at Banana Republic for over $80.00. That is way more than I usually pay for clothing. I checked out the prices at Saks Fifth Avenue and their dress shirts were even more expensive at over $200. I would have gone to Wal-Mart’s but I didn’t have clear directions on how to get there in my travel notes. In the future, I will need to pack more shirts. I only brought two shirts and they got a little soiled from all my sweating.

I walked back to my hotel on Royal Street to drop off my purchase but my room had not been serviced so I went back out. I walked to Beckham’s Bookshop on Decatur Street and searched through two floors of books before finally settling on a paperback copy of the Henry James novel "The Europeans". Then I found the Louisiana Music Factory store on the same street and bought a Zachery Richard CD "Le Fou", a Cajun CD in French. While walking back towards Jackson Square I came across Napoleon House where I ordered a Strawberry Irish Cream Soda and a quarter of a Muffuletta sandwich. That was the cheapest meal I had in New Orleans since it was less than $10.00. But Napoleon House is a very atmospheric bar. It was built in 1814, almost 200 years ago, and looks its age with centuries of tarnish on everything. After that light meal I walked back to the Andrew Jackson Hotel and found my room ready.

I then went to the Madame John’s Legacy which was just around the corner. It is a free museum run by the state but there was only some Newcomb Pottery to see. For some reason I was expecting this house to be furnished in period pieces but I can see in my notes that there is nothing about the interior. After resting in my hotel room I walked to the French Market and the levee, more accurately Woldenberg Park, the riverfront "Moon Walk" across from Jackson Square. I returned to my hotel room and read my Kindle ebook until 5:30 p.m. when I had a reservation at Cafe Amelie, a place right across from my hotel. I ordered an Orange Blossom cocktail and the jerk spiced pork tenderloin with mango pepper jelly, mashed potato, and green beans. I had my meal in their courtyard which was full of lush vegetation. I love the palm fronds and tropical plants you see everywhere in New Orleans. However, the potted plants you see hanging off balconies can drip water on you in the mornings when the residents water their balcony plants.

Walgreens At Night

I was running out of things to do so I walked to Canal Street and took photos of the skyscrapers and neon lights.I was wondering how they could build skyscrapers in New Orleans since it was built on a swamp. The ground shouldn’t be able to support the massive weight of tall buildings. I found the Ignatius Reilly Statue and took  a few photos of it.

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Tuesday In New Orleans

On Tuesday I walked to Walgreen’s and bought a bar of soap and some sunscreen lotion. On future trips, I may pack more supplies instead of relying on local pharmacies. I bought three more Jazzy Passes from the convenience store across the street. Then I walked to the Community Coffee House at 941 Royal Street and bought a croissant with ham and Swiss cheese and a coffee because my hotel stopped giving me breakfast. Unfortunately the table wobbled and I spilled my coffee twice and made quite a mess. After breakfast I walked to Canal Street and took the City Park streetcar to the New Orleans Museum of Art. I arrived at City Park early so I spent an hour waiting for the museum to open. I was uncertain about where the entrance was located because I did not see anyone waiting to go in, but eventually I discovered that you enter through the front entrance as you would expect. I saw all three floors of artwork at NOMA. I especially liked the French Art, the small number of modern art masterpieces including one Picasso, and the Japanese Art on the third floor. But the museum wasn’t very big so I think it only took me an hour to see it all. I then took the streetcar all the way back down Canal Street.

New Orleans Museum of Art

I went to the Librairie Book Shop and bought "The Eternal City: Roman Images in the Modern World". After my New Orleans trip, I plan to focus on the preparation for my trip to Italy. I may go on the Reflections of Italy tour offered by Susquehanna Trailways and Collette Vacations. That packaged tour would not require much preparation. But I plan to learn more Italian and research several major cities in Italy anyway.

I walked to the Beauregard-Keyes House just in time for the 1:00 p.m. tour. The Beauregard-Keyes House is one of the many old creole residences you can tour in the French Quarter. This house used to be the residence of the writer Frances Parkinson Keyes. She wrote many best sellers in the 1940s but I had never heard of her novels. I did read most of Dinner at Antoine’s before my trip, a surprisingly well written murder mystery. I was given a free copy of her book "The Royal Box" just for visiting the place. Apparently they get plenty of copies of her old book club editions so they invite all visitors to take one. The tour of the house was interesting because it is furnished with antiques. It is an old house with creaking floors. The personal belongings of Frances Parkinson Keyes made it seem like a visit to your grandmother. It just so happened that I had a reservation at Antoine’s Restaurant that evening so it was appropriate to see the Beauregard-Keyes House first.

Later I went to the 1850 House and went on a self-guided tour of even more old Creole rooms. That was only $3.00. There was a book store downstairs so I bought yet another book, New Orleans Goes To The Movies, but I sort of regretted this purchase since I don’t need to do more research on the city. At this point, I had bought too many books for my suitcase. But then I did something really smart. I gathered up my books and walked across the street from my hotel to Royal Mail Service where I shipped them to my home address. I shipped six books using USPS Media Mail. This is definitely an option when you are traveling in your own country and have access to familiar shipping services. I don’t think I would try it in foreign countries where the language barrier would create difficulties. It would also cost a lot more to mail something to another country. But this was not a problem for me in the United States. This allowed me to continue to go shopping for the rest of my trip without exceeding the capacity of my luggage. My package has not arrived yet but I have a tracking number so I know it is on its way.

1850 House

After sending off those books I resumed my sight seeing. I tried to find the Boutique du Vampyre, but apparently they moved after I added their store to my notes so I was puzzled when I did not find them where they were supposed to be. So instead I located the Avart-Peretti House where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire and the Gardette – Le Prete House which is a famous haunted house in the French Quarter. I returned to Community Coffee House and got a free refill of my iced coffee even though I hadn’t kept my cup. I visited the small Voodoo Museum  next. After leaving the museum I noticed that I had somehow cut my hand on something even though I didn’t touch anything in the museum. Maybe I scraped my hand on the door as I was leaving. Anyway, I had a small drop of blood on my hand and a bloodstain which seemed like voodoo to me! I went to the French Market for some idle browsing and stopped in at Funrock’n to buy a windup Dalek toy. That was the most pointless thing I bought. Then I walked almost all the way to Canal Street and bought an expensive DVD at the only video store to be found in the French Quarter. I could watch a DVD on my laptop.

I finally stumbled across the Boutique du Vampyre store where I bought the novel Bride of the Fat White Vampire by Andrew Fox. I was reading the Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox on my Kindle while waiting for my planes. Eventually I finished the book before getting home. That novel hasn’t always gotten good reviews but I thought it was hilarious. Fat White Vampire Blues is the perfect blend of A Confederacy of Dunces with Interview With The Vampire. Seeing New Orleans really helped me to appreciate the many references to local geography.

My next goal was dinner at the old Creole restaurant, Antoine’s Restaurant. My reservation was for 8:00 p.m. so I decided to sit in front of the St. Louis Cathedral before then but I was pestered by a hustler. She gave me a sob story about Hurricane Katrina and tried to sell me a CD or a cheap Voodoo doll. I eventually bought a Vince Gill CD just to get rid of her but the encounter put me in a foul mood. I went to Antoine’s Restaurant early just to get off the street.

At Antoine’s Restaurant I ordered soft-shelled crab, cafe au lait, and desert. The service was very attentive but a bit confused so I got coffee instead of cafe au lait although they immediately corrected that mistake. The soft-shelled crab was kind of mediocre but I think I just ordered the wrong thing. I looked up soft-shelled crab on the Internet and found that it is considered to be an over rated delicacy. I only looked it up because I was wondering if I should have been eating the legs. Yes, you can eat even the legs of a soft-shelled crab! I kept my receipt and the entire meal cost me $43.63.

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Monday In New Orleans

My second day in New Orleans began with a phone call informing me that my complimentary breakfast was ready in the courtyard. After breakfast I explored the French Quarter and located 722 Toulouse Street where Tennessee Williams once lived. Then I found the LaLaurie Mansion which is famous in local folklore. I also walked further downriver on Royal Street and found the Old Ursuline Convent and the Beauregard-Keyes House.

At 10:00 a.m. it was time for the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour which I signed up for the previous day. I might have been able to visit this cemetery on my own but it is north of North Rampart Street which is supposed to be a bad neighborhood. The tour was conducted by Haunted History Tours and left from Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, at 723 St. Peter Street. The sun was very fierce this day and I got sunburnt. On the other days when it was a little cloudy the weather was not that bad. It would be very warm but not really hot. Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the closest cemetery to the French Quarter and probably the most famous of the cemeteries.

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour

The tour ended around Noon and I walked to Crescent City Books where I bought a copy of Tennessee Williams play "Fugitive Kind". It was just a New Directions paperback and not a collectible book. I continued my book shopping at Arcadian Books & Prints which was a very cramped book store. However I managed to find the Japanese novels and took a chance on "And Then (Sorekara)" by Natsume Soseki. I took my purchases back to my hotel room. It was very convenient to have my hotel near to where I did most of my shopping because it meant I did not have to carry things around all day. I had an iced coffee at the nearby Community Coffee House. This became my favorite way to slake my thirst without spending a lot of money or ruining my dinner plans.

At around 2:30 p.m. it was time for a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. I bought a ticket earlier in the day. The Steamboat Natchez departed from the Toulouse Street Wharf. I sat at the back of the ship overlooking the paddlewheel. I was sitting next to some French tourists. I could tell they were French because they had French travel guides for Louisiana. I’ve bought a few of the Routard travel guides myself to familiarize myself with French travel guide vocabulary. One of the French tourists had a huge video camera, the kind you lift to your shoulder with a large microphone wind screen. I thought he was a TV cameraman since his gear was too professional for a tourist. The steamboat cruise lasted two hours and I took lots of photos. We passed a Navy ship, cargo ships, ferries, tugboats and an oil refinery which looked very surreal, like an industrial forest of steel smoke stacks. When the Steamboat Natchez returned to its dock a Carnival cruise ship pulled out so I got many photos of that ship.

Oil Refinery

I did not have dinner on the steamboat because I was warned that the food would be mediocre. Instead I walked to Canal Street and then took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to Julia Street. From there I walked several blocks towards the river to find Mulate’s Restaurant, a Cajun restaurant. I ordered two Louisiana Lemonades and the Cajun Grilled Seafood Platter. The two cocktails were enough to make me a little drunk. The seafood platter was a lot of food but I was hungry enough to eat most of it including a delicious baked potato. Unfortunately there wasn’t any live music or dancing. Mulate’s Restaurant is famous as a Cajun dance hall in New Orleans but it was quite dead while I was there with only a few customers.

Instead of taking the streetcar, I walked back to Canal Street and crossed Lafayette Square where I took a few photos. On my way back to my hotel I stopped at Walgreen’s again and bought Pepto-Bismo, shoe insoles, and a small notebook. Later that evening I walked downriver to Frenchmen Street and found Yuki Izakaya, a Japanese bar that really celebrates Japanese culture. I ordered the crab dumplings but I didn’t like them. I don’t think I care for Asian dumplings. They taste like something wrapped in wet cardboard. I was given chopsticks but I found them easy to use as long as I didn’t separate the sticks.

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New Orleans Sunday–Anne Rice Book Signing

My first full day in New Orleans began with a walk to Walgreens on Royal Street. I had to buy some shaving cream, anti-acid pills, pain reliever, and a few Jazzy Passes. Walgreens was sold out of Jazzy Passes so I had to go to a convenience store across the street. I had breakfast in the courtyard of my hotel but this only consisted of a large croissant and some coffee, the sort of token breakfast served to meet the “bed and breakfast” description.

After breakfast I walked to Canal Street and took the streetcar to the Garden District. This was my first trip on a streetcar. The driver took my Jazzy Pass and inserted it into the fare box slot which printed the time on it. So there wasn’t that awkward moment of figuring out how the fare card works. I got off at First Street in the Garden District and walked to the Brevard House which used to be owned by Anne Rice. This is the house that inspired the Mayfair Manor in Anne Rice’s series Lives of the Mayfair Witches. It has been years since I’ve read the novels; The Witching Hour, Lasher, and Taltos so I’ve forgotten many of the details but it was still thrilling to see this fictional haunted house. Many of the mansions in the Garden District are impressive but I didn’t need to go so far away to see something like that. Williamsport has many mansions on Millionaire’s Row which are fine examples of Victorian architecture. In fact, if you like stately old homes you can find them in many cities. I know Lancaster has some grand houses in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Maybe I should write a ghost story set in one of Williamsport’s old mansions to put the city on the map.

Anne Rice House

After finding the Brevard-Rice House, I quickly found Commander’s Palace. I was undecided about trying to get a table at such a fancy restaurant but I had time so I decided to try it. Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans’s oldest and most famous restaurants. I was just in time for Sunday Brunch with a live jazz trio. I ordered a Mimosa, their famous turtle soup, Cochon de Lait Benedict, and Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. It was exactly the kind of meal I’ve read about in a Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite novel. However it was very expensive, over $50.00 just for one person. When I left the restaurant I was able to visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is right across from the restaurant. I think the cemetery should have been closed on a Sunday but it was open so I was able to get the full Garden District experience. I have seen many photos of New Orleans cemeteries in the old Goth fanzines that were published in the 1990s so it was thrilling to wander around the tombs. I didn’t see too many Goths around New Orleans but there were many Crusties and people dressed for Halloween.

Commander's Palace

The Garden District Book Shop is just around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and I was able to buy a copy of the new Anne Rice novel "The Wolves of Midwinter" with a ticket for the book signing. It was a real stroke of good fortune that Anne Rice was in New Orleans for a book signing during my visit. I have been planning this vacation for over a year and did not expect to see Anne Rice. But I suppose I improved my odds by choosing to visit New Orleans on Halloween and for an entire week. What really inspired my trip was New Orleans’ French heritage which intrigued me after my trip to Montreal.

I had an hour to kill before the book signing so I located the “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel” just down the street. Anne Rice once owned this property too and I think Nicolas Cage then bought it. The most interesting house I saw was on 1331 First Street, the Morris-Israel House. This double-galleried town house struck me as being the finest example of what a Southern Gothic mansion should look like. It really looked haunted. Eventually I found a Starbucks where I waited in a long line for an iced coffee. Then I returned for another stroll through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 before it was finally time for the Anne Rice book signing.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

The line for the book signing was not too bad. I got in line just outside the front door. Once in the Rink shopping center, I saw a table piled with Anne Rice books so last minute fans could get something for her to sign. I should mention that her son, Christopher Rice, was also there to sign his books. The line snaked all the way to the back of the Rink shopping center and then circled around to the front of the book store where there was a table set up for the writers. So I was able to see Anne Rice for a long time while in line before I reached the table. I snuck a few photos since everyone else was doing that. I saw a cameraman with a large video camera who must have been filming the scene for the evening news but he was gone by the time I got to the table. I think I saw the president of the Anne Rice Fan Club. She was talking to someone in front of me in the line for quite awhile. The Anne Rice Fan Club held a Lestat Ball earlier in the week with Anne Rice but that was before I arrived.

While I stood in line I thought about my writing. I will probably never have a book signing since I’m mainly interested in writing plays. I am tempted to write a few horror stories though because I like how horror writers attract fans. I could write a serious horror story about the things that really haunt the soul. One story idea I’m keen on is what would happen to ghost hunters who disturbed a hermit witch haunted by the sacred mysteries. There should be clash between the sacred and the mundane as the ghost hunters are only trying to exploit the hermit for entertainment.

While standing in line I saw a specialty shop for a photography selling fine prints. Unfortunately I did not catch the name. When I finally reached the table, Anne Rice asked me how I was and signed my book. That really made my trip to New Orleans worthwhile since the Vampire Chronicles provided much of the inspiration for my Halloween vacation.

Anne Rice Book Signing

After the book signing I wandered around the Garden District for awhile trying to find the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. It started to sprinkle just before the streetcar arrived so I was afraid I would get my autographed book wet. Fortunately it did not rain. When the streetcar did arrive it was very crowded. I had to remain standing but at least the streetcar did not drive right by me. It drove right past other people waiting for it when it could not longer contain any more passengers. A football game must have ended at the Superdome because crowds of people were streaming across the streets downtown and further delayed the streetcar. I got off at Canal Street and then walked along Royal Street to my hotel.

I then continued my literary tour of New Orleans. I went to Faulkner’s House Books on Pirate’s Alley and bought a copy of "The Awakening and Selected Stories" by Kate Chopin. I was familiar with the name Kate Chopin from my research for my trip but I still haven’t read anything by her. Then I went shopping at the flea market in the French Market. It was not much of a flea market since the vendors were entirely devoted to selling tourist crap. But I bought an alligator’s head and a Kermit Ruffins CD, 1533 St. Philip Street. I also made a reservation for a Saint Louis Cemetery tour.

That evening I had diner at the Green Goddess, a restaurant associated with the horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite. I ordered a Louisiana Lemonade, a delicious brown sugar lemonade cocktail, some sort of fish which I can’t remember or find online, and an insanely delicious Bacon Sundae. The bacon bits made the ice cream slightly salty and more flavorful, like adding sea salt to ice cream. Afterword’s I had an expensive Kübler Absinthe at the Old Absinthe House for $16.00. This drink left me feeling a bit drunk. It was prepared by lighting the alcohol on fire which was interesting to watch. According to Wikipedia, that was the Bohemian Method; a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass containing one shot of absinthe. The sugar is pre-soaked in alcohol (usually more absinthe), then set ablaze. The flaming sugar cube is then dropped into the glass, thus igniting the absinthe. Finally, a shot glass of water is added to douse the flames. I later bought a book at  book at Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo, The Voodoo Queen by Robert Tallant.

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Trip Down To New Orleans

I began my week long vacation in New Orleans by driving down to Philadelphia International Airport. I think I left at 5:00 a.m. and stopped at the Hickory Run Travel Plaza at 6:48 a.m. to buy gas and breakfast at Burger King. My ticket for the economy parking lot at the airport shows I entered at 8:46 a.m. So it took me about four hours to drive down to Philadelphia. My flight to Miami Florida departed at 12:15 p.m. I don’t think I bought anything to eat or drink at the airport. I read a novel, Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox, on my Kindle Paperwhite while waiting for my flight. I didn’t see much of Miami but I did have a window seat and the plane flew over the city. I saw a downtown core filled with skyscrapers and rows of condominiums along the shore. There was also a huge expanse of suburbs with miles of track housing. I didn’t spend much time at the Miami International Airport because my connecting flight to New Orleans left soon after I arrived. I had to use their Skytrain to reach my gate in time. I flew American Airlines for this trip and all of my flights were short and on time. But it still took most of a day at airports to travel across the United States so I don’t know how foreign tourists can stand their ambitious trips across country.

When I arrived at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport I had to go down to the lower level to collect my luggage and then walk outside to find a long taxi line. I don’t fly often so it is worthwhile to note that baggage claim is usually on the lower level and there are hotel shuttles, taxi stands, and buses to the parking garage or lots just outside of the baggage claim area. This was my first visit to a major American city which required air travel. In the future, I may visit San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston as major trips. It cost $33.00 for a taxi to the Andrew Jackson Hotel in the French Quarter. I gave the driver $40.00 to include a nice tip.

Checking into the hotel was quick and painless. I thought my room was a little shabby for the price but the hotel is conveniently located in the French Quarter. The Andrew Jackson Hotel is even included on some ghost and history walking tours so I would often see a group of people across the street. The Cornstalk Hotel was right next door so I saw that place often. According to my hotel bill I checked in at 6:18 p.m.

I didn’t have much time to do anything for my first evening. First I walked to Jackson Square and took lots of photos of the St. Louis Cathedral, the most iconic landmark of New Orleans. Then I went to Café du Monde and had their famous café au lait and beignets. I just happened to catch a Halloween parade which started as I was eating. I think this was the Boo Krew parade, with Mardi Gras style floats for Halloween. After that I wandered down Bourbon Street to Canal Street. I had trouble finding a restaurant which didn’t look too busy but eventually I went to Sbisa’s Café, an old historic restaurant that recently reopened under new management. The staff seemed eager to please their customers and the place was half empty so I was able to get a table. I got the impression that they were trying to establish their reputation. I think I ordered the Seafood Decadence which was fish smothered in cream sauce and grilled asparagus.

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