Monday, July 17, 2006

Final European Dispatch

It looks like the mission to Europe was a failure. What was the mission again? Uh . . .? Ummmm . . . ? Oh, yeah, to find a purpose in life. Mission failed. What do I want to be when I grow up? What kind of career I should pursue? I still have no idea.

I was hoping that four workless monthes of leisure would give me time to contemplate my future direction, instead I spent my time answering challenging questions like, 'should I have chocolate gelato or limone?', or 'should I go swimming now, or go back to bed?', or 'maybe I should get some health insurance.' However, I do know this: I have a promising headstart in the lucrative field of unemployed international psuedo-artistic vagabond. Actually, I make a terrific house guest, and I was so successful in my first assignment that I was offered an extension.

Angelo Brambilla, who has been hosting Joanna and I for the summer, asked us if we would like to stay a month or so longer and go sailing with him. I was hoping he would ask us this very question all summer, but the question came just a little too late. It is unquestionably time to go, the money is all gone, and it is too damn hot in Milan to spend another night here.

If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have burned my ass twice now. It has gone from white, to red, to pink, to peeling, to red, to white with pink splotches, to . . . Well I managed to burn it again yesterday. This time there was no nudity involved, it happened when I sat on a rock! I was even wearing a cold wet bathing suit, still that rock, which had been baking in the sun all day, actually burnt my skin like a frying pan through my shorts. That's how fucking hot it is here.


I can't stand stale hot air with no circulation, and since ancient Medolanum was built on top of a swamp, the place is also plagued with an endless army of hungry mosqitoes! Joanna and I are covered with mosqito bites. Trying to sleep in Milan is so hot and unpleasant that we have retreated to Angelo's basement where we sleep in a sealed tent to avoid those blood sucking bastards. I am tired of being itchy and sweaty.

Leaving Europe is never desirable, but in July it's much, much easier. I can not wait to see Seattle. The tempature will be perfect, my friends will be there, I already have a few parties to attend, and I missed a bunch of great new movies. There is Bandidas, and The Devil Wears Prada, and that charming new Jennifer Aniston film I just HAVE to see.

Since the scooter accident a week ago, (I'm fine by the way) our final week of vacation has been great. We went to the island of Korcula, where Marco Polo was born. Then we headed to Dubrovnik, which, despite the recent war, has been beautifully rebuilt with marble streets and red clay roofs. From Dubrovnik we watched Italy win the World Cup and then we rented a car and headed for the interior. We saw the waterfalls of Krka National Park and went to an abandoned castle in the tourist free city of Knin. We then spent two days at the magnificent Plitvich National Park, which has the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. Then we drove into Bosnia for dinner. The nearest town to the national park was called Bihac (hilariously pronounced Bee-ach or Biatch) and we couldn't resist.

When crossing the border into Bosnia-Herzegovinia expect to spent more than a few minutes with the autorities, there are four seperate check points on the way through, and everyone is deadly serious. Once inside Bosnia, you immediately notice the drastic drop in the quality of life. Abandoned buildings, stray dogs, aimless people walking in the middle of the street, and beggars in the parking lot. The countryside however was quite pleasant, and we encounted our first Mosque of the trip, complete with a large dome and missle shaped tower. I had read that Bosnia was primarily an Eastern Orthodox Christian country, but while we were in Bihac, I saw four mosques and no churches. The population of this Biatch didn't look like my stereotypes of muslims, only one woman wore a head scarf, and the rest were wearing booberific tank tops as they headed for the bars. This was the first time I had ever heard the call to prayer, and I found it quite beautiful and haunting as it was broadcast from the loudspeakers attached to the mosque. I thought people were supposed to stop and pray, but no one even paused, and I also got the impression that if I were to spend four monthes listening to the call to prayer everyday, I might need to get some earplugs. The school yard across the street from the mosque was the most dramatic evidence we saw of the war. The backboard of the basketball hoop was cracked and crumbling and the walls were riddled with bulletholes. I was so spooked that I was afraid to even take a picture. We had a rather lame meal of grilled meat, fried bread, and beer which only cost about 3 dollars and we headed swiftly back to Croatia, where we spent another twenty minutes at the border, as they searched our rental car. Thanks Bihac, we'll be sure to recommend you to no one.

After that we headed back to the coast and caught a bus back to Italy and a train back to Milan. I fell asleep that night at the bar as we attempted to have drinks with Chiara and friends. We also went to the Ligurian coast with Franco and enjoyed a spectacular apperitivo with Mojitos on the cliffs of Rocco, where we had the 'real original' foccacia, which is delicious but just a little too cheesy to properly digest. Since then it's been shopping and more shopping, I got an Italian suit and some Italian shoes and Joanna is searching for more stuff now as I blog away.

Tomorrow we fly to London and then Wednesday we will be back in Seattle. Thanks a lot to all of you who read this, sent me emails, and extra kudos to those who left comments. It was really nice to have your feedback way out here, half a world away. It was like you were keeping Joanna and I company and it made the terrible moments, like burning my ass, and crashing into a wall, a lot more tolerable, because we knew that at least they would be good for a laugh on the old blog. I had a lot of fun writing, and the internet cafes of Europe thank you for encouraging me to write more. I am sorry about the grammar and weak-ass sentence structure, I'm simply to poor to do any proper editing.

Peace be with you, and stay tuned for more ridiculously beautiful photos.

Congrats Italia 2006 Campioni Del Mundo, I am sorry I ever doubted you.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Day of Destruction- Croatian Edition ČĆŽĐŠŽ

This is Joanna writing. I have agreed to write this entry since Mark was whining that his arm hurt when he held it in a typing position. The truth is, it does look pretty painful, but it's my opinion that he's being lazy as well. If you're interested in learning what happened to Mark's arm, well, read on.

It all began on the Island of Hvar, in a little port town called Jelsa (pr. Yell-sa). The weather was beautiful and, having heard tell of famous nude beaches, Mark convinced me we should rent a scooter and search one out.

"Maybe we could rent bikes." I tried to compromise.

"But a scooter would be faster." Mark countered, "What if the road is steep?"

"Well, how about renting a little boat - then we could find a cove completely unreachable by land!"

"Scooter, scooter!" After that he would only beat-box a techno-scooter rave mix. You see what I was up against.

So I consented and we found the cheapest scooter rental in town. Mark was shaky at the beginning, but quickly got the hang of the little scooter (max speed, 40 kph) and my nerves began to calm as well. The road to Kamp Nudist was gently winding, with beautiful Adriatic views. There was only one problem. With me on the back of the bike, Mark was too far forward on the seat to see the rearview mirror. Our short term remedy for this was that I would continually look back and tell him if there were cars behind us, because they would undoubtably want to pass our slow, wobbly ass. We reached the campground where the beach was quite crowded, so we decided to head back along the road to find a more secluded spot. Before we revved up, though, Mark decided to "fix" the mirror.

"I'll just quickly adjust this before we go..." He said, grabbing the mirror and wrenching it back, "Why won't this move..." SNAP!

The whole mirror, stem and all, fell to the ground. Oh, and don't think this was some kind of breakaway safety mirror. It wasn't.

We took it in stride. I mean, the mirrors must break all the time if someone can break it just by pulling on it with all their might, you know?

We continued on. We found the perfect sunbathing spot, with just a little bit of shade and no one else around. Being very pale (understatement), I always slather myself with sunblock, and in the nude I was even more diligent. Mark, however, has that knee-to-waist white girdle, bordered by tan, and by gum he was going to change that!

He had already worked on that white area some in Germany. On a walk around the spectacular Eibsee Lake, we encountered a secluded stretch where sunbathing nude seemed to be required. Of course, we had to comply. My usual sunblock ritual ensued, but Mark saw this as an opportunity to prepare for Croatia. Later that evening, we both laughed heartily at Mark's pink bottom. That is, until he had to sit on the bus to Croatia the next day for 15 hours with a sunburnt ass. Then I was the only one laughing.

You would think he would have learned something from this. We spent at least four hours roasting beside the Adriatic, and now his ass is no longer mozzarella, it's marinara!

Soon, however, the destruction was to continue. Back in Garmisch, when we discovered the Eibsee and the beautiful swimming pool, the Kaisenbad, we bought two inflatable floaty-things to take to the water with us. Oh, those floaty things had become much more than just flotation devices to us. They protected us from hard beach surfaces, they provided shade when it got too extreme, they even supported our exhausted, beer-bloated bodies at night in our tent. But now, as Mark was floating serenely on the buoyant salt water, the unthinkable happened: Floaty thing met Karstic rock.

Any tourist brochure on Croatia will tell you it's essential to have rubber shoes on hand to combat this razor sharp Karst so it's easy to imagine who won the battle of floaty vs. karst. The image of Mark weeping softly into the still inflated pillow while the matress bubbled under like the Lusitania is forever seared into my brain.

Still, the death of Floaty didn't dampen our spirits much. As we packed up we gushed, "What a perfect day," and, "This day will stand out as one of the pinnacles of the trip," and on and on. Well, we were right.

Back on the scooter, we decided to take the road to Zavala - a harrowing mountain pass, according to Lonely Planet. Could we have a little more information PLEASE?

We approached a sign: Tunnel 1.4 km. As we rounded a bend, the mouth of the tunnel came into sight, flanked by a traffic light, currently red. A more rustic tunnel entrance could not be imagined. The tunnel was hewn out of the rock and the craggy walls were left au naturale. After about five feet, there was nothing but blackness. We pulled off a little to the side and waited for the light to turn green, our aprehension growing with every minute that ticked by, and every car that pulled up behind us. When the light turned green, we waved on all the cars ahead of us. This proved to be wise, as they raced away into the tunnel much faster than we wanted to go. We entered the tunnel, the dripping walls and unfinished dirt road illuminated by the headlights of the cars ahead of us.

Wait. Ahead of us!?!

"The lights!" We gasped together. The pitch blackness was closing in around us and the end of the tunnel was nowhere in sight. I reached around Mark with my right hand and started pushing all the buttons I could find. After what seemed like a minute or more, but was really only a few terrifying seconds, the lights popped on. We exhaled in unison, our hearts pounding to the jolts on the road.

Once out of the tunnel, we pulled over to recover and take in the view. We felt shaky, but fortified by our ordeal. If we could pull that off, we really were getting the hang of the Scooter.

We started off once more. I was gazing around at the amazing view, turquoise water and azure sky, with an occasional prudent look over my shoulder in my role as rearview mirror replacement.

"I can really see the draw of these things now," Mark yelled back to me, "I should get one!"

Then we encountered our first sharp turn.

I'll never know what was going through Mark's mind at the time. Perhaps he was entranced by the surroundings, as I was. Perchance he felt a newfound confidence and a need for speed after enduring the tunnel adventure. Whatever the cause, we entered the turn with the wind whipping through our hair and by the time Mark realized we couldn't turn that sharply at that speed, we skidded side long into the gravelly shoulder, and coming up fast on our right was a traditional Croatian guardrail - namely a stone wall. Mark squeezed the brakes, but it was just a little too late. We tore into that wall, and the wall took a piece of Mark as a keepsake.

I did a quick body inventory and realized everything was intact, if a little crunched. Then I turned my attention to Mark. Now, I will tell you now that Mark is OK. Nothing broken, in other words, but there next to that wall he had to do a bodily inventory to make sure. His right arm and leg were scraped and bleeding, yes, but it could have been a lot worse, is all I'm saying. He could have lost a limb. So all this, "I can't type," and "It hurts to sleep on my side," and "Ow, salt water stings!" is just ungrateful drivelling. (photos of the gore will follow soon!)

As soon as we had Mark cleaned up a bit, we turned our attention to the bike. We took no pictures because we're a little ashamed, but the whole right side was covered with scrapes. On the side, by where my leg would have been, there was a discernible dent and a 6" scratch. The front panel had many scratches and a hairline crack, and the paint bordering the headlight was scraped off in a patch about the size of a quarter, though thankfully it was still working. And these were just the worst dings. We knew we'd have some explaining to do.

When our nerves were sufficiently calm, we got back on the bike and by creeping around every turn and pulling over to let every car pass us, we made it to the other coast of the island. It was still hot, so we headed out to find a secluded cove. We found a nice pebbly beach (to Croations, pebbles are about the size of potatoes) and Mark gritted his teeth and waded into the water to bathe the wounds.

"It burns, IT BURNS!"

"That means it's disinfecting! Thats good!" I chimed in.

"I'm melting," he whined.

Eventually, we had to get back on the scooter and make our way back along the winding road and back through that tunnel, back to Jelsa to turn in the scooter. Honestly, we tried to stick the mirror back on and pretend like nothing happened. Mark even put on a long sleeved shirt and jeans to hide his carnage, but the mirror wouldn't stay and we knew we had to fess up.

When we pulled in to the lot, which was really just the loading area of a small produce market, the scooter man immediately saw a scratch on the side of the bike. It was pretty dark by then (as we had planned) so I made a bold move, if I may say so.

"Yes, as you can see, the mirror broke off." I produced the mirror from the hatch and waved it around hypnotically, willing him not to look at the front of the bike where the scrapes were much worse.

"How did that happen?"

"It got caught on some...branches and snapped off," I continued lamely. It seemed to work, however, because instead of continuing to inspect the bike, he went for the boss. This was a stroke of luck for us because the boss didn't look at the bike at all.

"This is OK," he said, indicating the scratch, "But the mirror...I'll have to call my supplier and you must pay for it."

"OK!" We agreed, maybe a little too eagerly. I was standing very close to the scratched side of the bike, hoping to discourage him from coming over for a closer look.

He got off the phone with his supplier and told us the damage. "One hundred and thirty-five kuna," which is about $30. We made a show of finding enough cash on us, gave it to him, and by the end he was apologizing to us for having to make us pay. We assured him it was OK, then we turned and calmly walked out the door. As soon as we were out of view, we ran for the nearest alley.

Just after our escape, on our way to buy some much needed wine, as if the destruction were following us, we saw a van crush a kids' bike.

Needless to say, the next morning we were on the first bus out of town.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

GOODBYE GERMANY (photo time!)

Goodbye Germany, we will really miss you. Stay cool and have a rad summer.

Our stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was by far the most relaxing part of the long vacation, and the scenery was spectacular. Above are photos from Partnaklamm and Höllentaklamm, two amazing gorges where you walk through the canyon, weaving in and out of wet tunnels and suspended catwalks, along glaciers and under waterfalls. It was amazing but it is now time to go.

We are headed to the Croatian islands, where I will unfurl my hard won 215 pound naked, brautwurst and beer filled body on the nudist beaches of the Dalmatian Islands. There will be no photos. Sorry.

This will be our final adventure before heading home, so Croatia better be "Fucking Amazing" as Joanna said, because leaving Germany is not going to be easy. See you soon Seattle.

Check out the photos below.

"Huge" head scar courtesy the Countess

You asked for it, and now you got it. It will surely make a nasty scar, and this picture doesn´t even show the other scar farther back on my head. Are you happy now? It only cost me 15€ to download that photo.

USA After the game and before, the life of a sign

American fans and Seattle friends Jaime, Chase, Shane, Jason, Joanna, and I, show our enthusiasm before the game, with our super popular sign. Then the dejection of the loss and a sign transformed.

Croatia better look like this!

This is the Puglian Italian side of the Adriatic sea, Croatia is supposed to be even better. We head to Croatia Monday.

Germany defeats Argentina

AND THE CROWD GOES WILD. We travelled to Munich to watch the Germans win in Penalty Kicks over the Argenitians. It was a riot watching the game with hundreds of crazy Germans at the huge Munich fan fest. In fact, there was almost a riot. On the train ride home, the whole train was singing and jumping and dancing, we were rocking that train good. I thought the whole thing was going to derail in the tunnel. Italy v Gemany next, GO AZZURI!

Hotel Schell

Perhaps the Magic Schell himself would like to elaborate on the amenities available at the HOTEL SCHELL?