Greetings from Athens

· Every young person you meet in Athens is unemployed and looking for work.

· It turns out that I can actually read Greek phonetically, mostly, although I don’t understand what I’m saying. People are impressed and ask me how. I tell them I am a mathematician. They don’t understand the connection. Actually, sometimes I can also figure out the meaning if a word is similar enough to something in English/French/Farsi. It’s amazing what you can do with just a little bit of cleverness.

· I played Iranian music for the person I’m staying with to show her that it sounds just like Greek music, and she described it as something in between Greek and Indian music, which I thought was so insightful (even if it’s obvious after).

· Exploring ancient ruins isn’t fun when you can’t climb them.

Greetings from Palermo

Let’s talk about Italy in general.

· We’re only used to it in mocking form, but Italians’ body language when they talk is actually very beautiful — I could stare at them conversing all day.

· Gelati: It is of course very good here, but not significantly better than what I can find in Toronto if I look hard enough. But here it’s all over the place, always good, and dirt cheap.

· Large, elaborate, beautiful churches everywhere (and especially in Rome), some blocks with two or three. You actually get sorta sick of them and wonder how they manage to fill them up every Sunday. My Napoli host told me that most of them are actually closed now except for a few days in the year.

· Italians need to take an honest look at the level of pollution in their cities — this is not what advanced, modern cities look like.

· Everyone I’ve talked to likes the euro and blames their crisis on the government (and Germans). Obviously I think the opposite.

· If I could describe Italian food in just one sentence, it would be something like: Respect your ingredients and your ingredients will take care of you.

Greetings from Napoli

· Napoli is a very strange place, in a very good way, but unfortunately very polluted.

· There is no hype: Napolitan pizza is unreal.

· My hosts in Naples were unbelievable. They took me to their favourite pizzeria, we roamed the streets together, cooked pasta together, and would stay up late on their rooftop terrace exchanging stories. That is what travelling is all about.

· one plays the harp, and sometimes plays on the street

· I’ve always gotten compliments on my shirts, but I’ve never had a stranger ask to flat-out exchange shirts on the spot. Of course I obliged.

· Speaking of tshirts, all over Italy you see people wearing skull tshirts. Boys, girls, men, women. And many of them aren’t lame, which is refreshing. Last year, I started my own collection of skull tshirts to prove that they don’t have to be lame — I’m currently up to 5.

· Pompeii is one the most amazing places I have ever been to — I was like a giddy schoolchild.

· Pompeii is huge, and not many people go. You often have the place to yourself, like in a 2,400 year old Greek theatre. Or maybe you stand in the middle of an empty ancient colosseum and imagine what it was like to be a gladiator.


· and I was so impressed with myself becuase I figured out on my own how to tell the difference between the Greek and Roman buildings.

Greetings from Rome

So much to mention — this will be a long post. You’ve been warned.

My favourite thing about Rome is that there are ruins everywhere, just laying there, for no good reason. People use two thousand year old collapsed, intricately carved pillars as benches at bus stops — it’s nuts. Even in the suburbs, ancient aqueducts run everywhere, through streets and parks, ready to be climbed on and everything.

At the Vatican, I spent a solid hour staring at the School of Athens — I loved it. Now, on the opposite wall of the School of Athens (in fact the whole room and ceilings) are more paintings by Raphael, which are just as well painted, but nonetheless didn’t grab my attention. I wondered why this was and thought about it as I left the Raphael room and continued on to see the Sistine Chapel (for the second time, I had already seen it earlier in the morning).

I thought that one reason why was because of the subject matter: all the other painting were about Jesus etc., and by now I’ve seen enough Jesus paintings to last a lifetime, whereas all the historical figures in the School of Athens (including many mathematicians!) and how, for example, Plato looked like Leonardo, was all very interesting to me. So that explanation made sense and I was somewhat satisfied.

But continuing along the route to the Sistine Chapel, to the side, was a small empty room with some paintings. I went in and immediately noticed this one little painting of Mary and Jesus that I thought was rather lovely, so I went up closer to admire it. It was beautiful. And then I realized that this painting contradicted my Raphael theory, because I really liked this Jesus painting. I took a picture of it, and then I read the artist’s name: Vincent van Gogh. I wish there was a camera to capture my jaw literally drop, and stay dropped for almost a minute. I was blown away.

I’m always trying to understand how my (and others) thought process works, and I’m always trying to find ways to test it. Before this I had wondered: do I like Van Gogh because people who know art tell me he was so great, or do I actually like his stuff on my own? I have fun asking questions like this. Not that one way or the other is better, I just sorta wonder about the root of these things. So this was sort of a natural experiment to test that, and it turns out that, yes indeed, I really do like Van Gogh (at least now that I understand his style, which I don’t think I would’ve ever understood on my own).

And there was no one in the room! I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to go into the crowded hallway and yell to everyone that there was a Van Gogh in there! (There was also a Gauguin, fwiw.) To appreciate this, you have to understand how crowded the Vatican Museum is — think “crowded subway station”. And this room was empty.

So I spent two hours in there, staring at the painting. And then I had a sudden urge to draw it. Try not to laugh.

I need to work on drawing hands. I think my brother could’ve done a better job. When I was drawing it I noticed that Van Gogh made Jesus look like himself, which is pretty interesting.

Okay. I promise no more Van Gogh or graffiti posts. Promise. The Sistine Chapel was also beautiful, but you already knew that.

Also, the couple I stayed with were just lovely, and I got to enjoy some homemade Roman pasta.

The meaning of it all

I keep getting a question that goes something like this: Do you think you will find yourself on this trip?

Well, I don’t think so. Sure this is a big trip, most likely the biggest of my life, but I don’t really see a connection to the rest of my life, and I don’t think there needs to be one. I’m not even sure what the question means.

If you thought that by travelling around the world, visiting many places, seeing many people that you would somehow get a deep answer to the purpose of your life, or find yourself, or whatever else you may be looking for, you might be wrong. It might be that by travelling and seeing all these places that you can’t get an answer to that question — that after seeing it all and doing so much, you only return home to learn the world wasn’t big enough.

But that’s not why I’m taking this trip, or take any other trips. I enjoy travelling and happen to have the time right now, and so I’m travelling. If I had something better to do, like raise a family or something along those lines, well then I would certainly be doing that instead. But that’s not how it’s played out for me, and so here I am.

Greetings from Florence (and Pisa)

Florence is lovely, just too many mosquitoes. Pisa a nice small town, with great food.

Too tired to elaborate on any of that.

I found it completely adorable that pretty much every tourist in Pisa takes a picture holding up the tower.

UPDATED (June 10, 2013):

I hate to do more graffiti (I promise no more!), but Florence had the nicest street art I’ve ever seen, and so why should Genova get all the love? These are all from just one underground tunnel. (Click to enlarge)

Greetings from Genoa and Cinque Terre

Genoa is a powerful Italian port town. And I mean powerful — you could feel the power of the port.

It also had some lovely street art.

And one street artist loved Van Gogh like me.

I also hiked the Italian coastline between five towns in Cinque Terre.

All in all, a successful stop.