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Would You Choose the 2 Euro or 100 Euro Gondola Ride?

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Aloha all, it’s Bruddah Hank, back and refreshed after hoboing across Europe. As I get older, I get more notices from friends and family that another friend or family member has passed away. I worked and volunteered with several hospices in Massachusetts, and the two greatest regrets patients had were: 1) they wished they had spent more time with family and 2) wished they had traveled while they still could. After attending another memorial service, I told my wife that, indeed, we should see some of Europe while I’m still relatively healthy and able to walk. I was thinking of visiting one, maybe two, cities, spending a few days and returning with “Europe trip” scratched off my bucket list.
Daisy, my wife, just laughed at me a little bit and put together an eight-city, 15-day, all-expense paid (by me) adventure that wore out my nice pair of walking shoes, drained my checking account, tested my sixth-grade French and Navy days Italian, made me an expert in long-distance train travel and I gave a little payback for an injustice committed 2,000 years ago.
Here’s what it was like for Daisy and I:

Europe GENERAL – Crowded in general, with super-dense cities, everybody walks everywhere, with efficient mass transit and crazy expensive gas. It’s also the continent of somewhat expensive hotels where four stars equals Motel 6 quality (but with more interesting breakfast offerings). Every bathroom shower was too small for me to lather up in without opening the shower door and the double beds really were two single beds pushed together. After a week of starring in an evening comedy where the beds slowly spread apart under my weight, my wife and I agreed to keep to “our side” for the night for the rest of the trip. GRRR!!!! I know why the birth rate in Europe is plummeting!

Barcelona – The place where families live out their lives outdoors. I’ve never seen a city with more couples and more families slowly walking down wide sidewalks together. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere, but I’m not sure they’d decided where. Barcelona is an incredible city, but since it’s on a grid, it becomes kind of cookie-cutter-ish and one neighborhood starts to look like another (The buildings are beautiful, though). I eventually got bored with the wide avenues, so I started looking for alleyways and that’s where the young people hang out. You can find them huddled together in tiny cafes or sitting around engaged in deep conversation. I speak fluent Spanish and I eavesdropped on many conversations. Not once did I hear anyone use foul language, nor did I see drunks or even homeless in Barcelona. Great city, but there aren’t really any tourist attractions besides the Picasso museum, which wasn’t for me.

eiffel tower on the white

Paris – There’s a thing called “Paris Syndrome,” where people who visit there are deeply disappointed. My “condition” was the complete opposite. The instant we stepped out of the train station, we were overwhelmed by the sight of people EVERYWHERE, with most sitting in crowded cafes. People seemed so carefree. I saw people eating foods I didn’t recognize (and would never even try). I was just engrossed in the moment. Paris is a city of neighborhoods, and every neighborhood is different. We’d take the train and get off at a random stop just to explore. Yes, we went to the Louvre and other museums, toured the Eiffel Tower, took a river cruise, and did other touristy things in Paris, but my highlight was the hotel farm-fresh breakfast. The breads, the eggs, the cheeses, the orange juice you squeezed yourself—everything had a flavor I don’t think I’ll ever taste again. On the flip side, I wish Parisians understood that air conditioning is a good thing. Our hotel was air-conditioned, but NOTHING ELSE in Paris was. No train, bus, restaurant or building seems to have AC, and Paris is HOT in September. I’ll be back in early spring or late fall. We were told about the pickpockets and crooks, but I’m from Brooklyn, and they kept away from me. Professional courtesy, I guess.

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Venice – It felt like a dream. I’m a sailor, and a city that’s a collection of islands connected by bridges and boats was a dream come true. I learned a few things about Venice: You can take a gondola ride for as little as 2 euros. Granted, it’s a short hop with about 15 other people, but still cool. For me, it was as much fun as the 100 bucks I shelled out for a 30-minute ride, but we did get some cool “couple on a gondola trip” pictures. I also learned that the only sewer system in Venice is the canals, so don’t fall into the water. We had a fancy lunch in Venice, and it was worth every penny. We tried to leave an extra tip, but the bill had already been settled (with a service charge), and we had no cash. We promised to return the next day but were not able to find the restaurant, so I tipped the hotel staff double what I usually give as my way of balancing things.

Florence – There is the Statue of David by Michelangelo, the covered bridge and more photogenic spots than I knew could exist in one city. I could spend months in Florence. It was the friendliest place. Italians just love to talk and listen. Every square, every corner, every café had knots of people talking. We got sucked into a few conversations with great people.

Pisa – Yep, leaning tower of Pisa, but not a whole lot else for tourists. They have a famous medical school there. Very tidy city.

Livorno – Daisy has family there, so we stopped to visit. If I ever achieve my dream of sailing to Europe from Florida, Livorno will be the place I’ll probably moor and stay at. A beautiful gem of a city.

Rome – Where else in the world can you go where every 20 feet, there’s an archaeological treasure in front of you? I’m not joking. Vatican City, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum are must-visits, but our hotel was 100 feet away from the temple to Minerva (the Roman Goddess of Wisdom) and three blocks from where eight of the 11 aqueducts to Rome merged. Rome has 2,500 public fountains called “nasoni,” where pure, cold water from the mountains is available for free. I took a picture of me “flipping the bird” toward the Titus Arch in Rome. Some of you know exactly why I made the obscene gesture—something I’ve never done before and probably never will do again unless I visit the Titus Arch again.

Frankfurt – Reminded me of Baltimore. Some nice areas, but too many people drinking beer in public, too many broken bottles and someone stole my phone. I didn’t see a lot of happy people, but maybe someone stealing my phone colored my perception.

OVERALL – Glad I went; I will probably go back, money and time permitting, but I’m so happy to live in air-conditioned Weeki Wachee, sleep on a big bed, and be back around my friends, whom I appreciate even more than before. I intend to enjoy my time with those whom I love—European style—to the fullest.

“Bruddah Hank” was born in Brooklyn but has lived all over the US and abroad. A deeply spiritual man yet circumspect person, he learned the most valuable lesson at the feet of a Hawaiian Kapuna: time is the only gift that can never be taken away. Spend it wisely.

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