Trip part 1:

  • Leiden University's Ph.D defense ceremony is AWESOME. And Vince passed.

  • All beer in Holland is good, but I (and you, no doubt) already knew that.

  • But it is still possible to drink waaaaay too much beer in Holland and feel like hammered dogshit for approximately three days afterward.

  • Vince's family rules. And they collectively kick his ass on a daily basis, but they all love each other very much and it's nice to be around that.

  • Zoeterwoude is beautiful even in winter. There is a neighbor who walks a pair of goats daily.

  • Nearly all of the people in Holland are absurdly nice, and appreciate even the lamest attempts to use their language.

  • Italy is beautiful and steeped in history, but in terms of transportation efficiency, it is still the third world.

  • Florence has so goddamned much art and sculpture and architecture that it's rather overwhelming and unreal.

  • We accidentally climbed up a tall cathedral, not all the way to the top, but about 300 steps maybe. Got in the wrong line and had no choice. We were sore for days. It was cool though. Ceiling mural depicting, among other things, the devil impaling the damned with a flaming spike up their asses.

  • Florence's shops are all Gucci and similar, except for the street vendors who all sell identical, badly-made reproductions of the statue of David, along with incredibly tasteless postcards and boxer shorts featuring closeups of David's naughty parts.

  • However I did buy a really nice leather pouch/purse thing from a street vendor, for only 18 euros, which I had originally planned to give to my boyfriend, except that a) it's pretty feminine and b) I really liked it too much to give away and c) I found him a better souvenir later anyway.

  • We rubbed the boar's snout. Twice.

  • We almost met Phi's uncle. More on that later, it's a good one.

  • We stole things from Florence because my father feels entitled. More on that later as well.

  • Venice was amazing. We froze our asses off but it was worth it because it wasn't absolutely teeming with other tourists. We did the thing with the organized-by-the-hotel tour of one factory in Murano where 1 percent of the time was spent watching a guy fuck around with molten glass and the other 99 percent of the time was spent being subtly pressured by a salesman in a breathtaking showroom where the paperweights were barely affordable.

  • BUT then once we bought one copy of the cheapest thing in that showroom, we escaped, and wandered around and found some very nice low-priced things in local shops, including glass beads for Clair, and in that shop (the bead shop!) we sort of made friends with the merchant. We asked her where we could see dudes making stuff. She told us the name and rough location of some other factory, so we went there (or another one next to it, who knows) and wandered in and eventually ended up in some alley and were guided into a giant workshop where about six guys were running around doing NEAT shit. It was, like, dangerous to stand in there. One other young couple was in with us and we were all told via sign language to stand in one, roughly 4' square spot next to the cooling ovens, and I think that had we stepped out of that square for one second, we'd have been instantly maimed by blobs of white-hot glass. It was totally terrific. We watched them for a long time (Kate took pics), then we finally dashed between them to get back outside. In the alley were their dumpsters of shards and whatnot, some to be recycled, others trash, and we picked through the latter and found a couple of nice blobs to take home. Then we found some pallets of finished but somehow-fucked-up pieces, where Kate extracted a dusty, heavy square vase whose defect we could not find. We took it into the gift shop and asked if we could buy it, and at first the man said no way and took it back outside and put it back on the shitpile. Kate reiterated that she was willing to pay for it, and he said no again. Then he picked it up and disappeared into some back room for awhile...then came back out and said "20 euro?" She agreed. I found finished ones in the gift shop for 72 euros and up. We got home and polished it up a bit, and it's really neat.

  • The airport in Switzerland was so wonderful, we were almost moved to tears.

    Comments thread

    (metallian) So that's where you've been! I was thinking of calling you the other night to see how you were but I keep coming home too late. So it turns out you were doing incredibly neat shit all over Europe. Cool! How long were you there? What was so great about the airport in Switzerland?

    (my reply) Heh yeah! We were there ten days, five in Holland and four in Florence and the last full day in Venice. Which probably sounds like a frantic schedule, but it was really just about the right amount of time -- we had a terrific time for 9.5 days, then were all out of socks and patience by the last night and ready to go home. I am going to post more specifics soon.

    The airport in Switzerland had:

  • soap in the bathrooms
  • toilet paper in the bathrooms
  • paper towels in the bathrooms
  • WARM water in the bathrooms
  • toilet seats in the bathrooms

    Italy's train stations and airports typically had at most two of these things, and sometimes none.

    The Swiss airport also had (and I know this won't exactly turn you on, but anyway):

  • really really nice smoking lounges
  • bars and cafes with smoking areas, right in our gate area
  • a general lack of hostility and disdain for smokers

    In Italy, smoking has been banned in all public places. And it was fooking COLD while we were there.

    Furthermore, the Swiss airport was:

  • clean
  • efficient - passport control was well-marked, fast, polite, and comprehensible
  • full of nice stores with cute Swiss things for sale in any currency you might be carrying

    Italian train stations and airports were:

  • not any of those things

    I probably make it sound like all we did was bitch and gripe about toilet paper, but it's really not the case. We had a wonderful time and laughed at most of these small problems. It was just a huge fucking relief to get to Zurich Airport after five days of it. ;)

  • part 2 (A long story about my dad and his uncle and general family stuff. Not really so much about the trip.)