If Rome was home…

July 14, 2010

This is a bit delayed, I suppose. But when your dissertation’s first chapter has a due date impending, you struggle to find every excuse to delay the prospect of reading and (slitting your wrists) writing. Well, it’s never really a struggle.

Back in April, I received an invite from the beautiful Sarah to join her in the beautiful Rome for a week-long stay. Meeting less than a month before, we became fast friends through a production in which we were jointly involved in York. To briefly summarize the “Croxton 1190” experience: persecuted Jews, curious Christians, a non-bloody bagel, one cigar, intense glares, and several bottles of champagne. Overall, an entirely rewarding production, providing a concise and pleasant end to spring term.

In any case, off to Rome I went for an excellent (necessary) holiday.

Barring the nasty volcanic blast and malevolent ash cloud that followed to dampen my contented holiday spirits, my temporary Roman holiday was a gorgeous time. Staying in the apartment of a friend, whom sometimes resides on the Italian peninsula, is a thing of beauty. And, wow, was Eliza’s flat spectacular indeed. Set in the ever-trendy Trastevere, Sarah and I were perfectly placed to access every site in (the sprawling) Eternal City. To somewhat drunkenly stumble onto the cobbled streets for an evening passeggiata and, as if by magic, come upon St. Peter’s Basilica or the Trevi Fountain…there are no words. The city empties, and we were left alone to explore on foot the age-old wonders. The city was ours.

Did I forget to mention the food and wine? Fantastic as ever, as you can imagine, and well consumed by yours truly.

Highlights of this trip:

  • Exploring all day produces a rather large appetite. As such, we would stop at a nearby Pizza place, order ridiculous amounts of food, and eat back at the flat while watching old movies and (hilarious) episodes of Flight of the Concords and Spooks. Seeing Roman Holiday was a particular treat.
  • The Trevi at night. And just us two in attendance to regard its beauty.
  • Food in cafes housed with porticoes and sunshine.

Travels in San Francisco…

December 26, 2009

Months ago, I promised myself that I would dedicate myself once again to this blog. And to reignite my interest, I would begin with a lovely little photo post of my trip to San Francisco from May 2009. Sadly, I am desperately unattached to all things, and the blog fell victim. But something about “better late than never” comes to mind, and now I present this trip to you.

The back story:

Katie and I had discussed a possible trip for a few months by the time May rolled around. Originally, we were all about Paris. But, as things often do, the plans became shit. We both had to arrange to miss work and ensure that our final examinations would be complete. I had to know exactly when my parents were coming for what was then my forthcoming graduation ceremony. I also had a bout with shingles in the weeks before we were planning to travel (yes, the old man version of chicken pox. yes, they gave me herpes medication because that’s how you treat it.). That forced me to nix the idea of a 6 hour flight to Paris. Too painful. So, yes, the plan went to hell quite quickly.

About 3 days before we inevitably left, we booked our San Francisco flight and hotel. And, god, was it ever cheap. $400 bought Katie and I 4 days and 3 nights in the lovely and clean Holiday Inn (Civic Center), as well as the entire cost of our round-trip direct flight from JFK (though it was through the woeful Delta brand). It was such a fantastic journey. While the flight itself was comparable in air time as going to Paris, I had never flown the Rockies, which was definitely rewarding. And with the MTA in New York and the BART system in San Francisco, travel to and from the airport was a cake walk. While in town we walked the entire city, which is quite an accomplishment with each and every hill we mounted.

Sticking out in my mind especially are: amazingly pleasant weather, a boat trip to Alcatraz, lawn bowling in Golden Gate Park, lounging by the hotel pool, shopping in Union Square, & general merriment associated with wine and Katie’s company.

Enjoy the photographs (a la Katie).

Today, I remembered an entry I wrote many months ago (back when I was updating more regularly). While in a somewhat depressed mood, feeling blue because my friends were studying abroad for the semester, I vowed to travel more. The thought was, “Hmm. I’ve got this money. I don’t really need to save it. Why not spend it on something frivilous that I will actually not regret a few days after?”.  That seems a reasonable explanation, if not entirely true. More accurately, “Damn. My closest friends are moving away in my last semester, I am moving to another country soon after they return, and I am already feeling out of the loop. Emotions. Double Damn.” So, I made this semi-public assurance to myself that I would see them in one of my travels this semester, while attempting to acclimate to a life of travel and friend destabilization.

As I mentioned soon after making that promise, I had bought a ticket to London on Student Universe, which was incredibly cheap at the time (something like $450+/- round trip). Thank god, I am a student: real life is too expensive! Anyway, I put off life (Italian lectures, 4 jobs, and free meals at the dining halls) for 10 days and traveled across the pond to see Jess and Meredith, who seemed to be in their touristic element while in London, seeing every site possible and making 3+ facebook albums for each. As such, I was excited to see them (who will deny the appeal of being tagged in a bundle of facebook photos? Not Narcissist, not me!).

Nido Student Residence

Nido Student Residence

It was certainly a welcome change to see them again and live an entirely ridiculous life in London together. When, but in these years of your life, can you pick up and leave your home one day, and live together with your friends in the (slightly off) center of London the very next? It is a fantastic feeling of power. To be honest, the reality of a temporary life abroad wasn’t as glamorous. Both Jess and Meredith lived together in NYU’s London housing unit, called Nido, in which each suite is roughly the size of a large walk-in closet with a bathroom (the size of a very small closet) and two beds. Situated in Islington, very nearby St. Pancras and King’s Cross Stations, Nido looks like an improved version of the monstrosity on 3rd & 13th in Manhattan: colorful, but what the hell were they thinking? After rearranging the room a bit, we had a large king size bed to share among the three of us and little standing room to move about in. Not a penthouse at the Ritz, but snazzy enough for the likes of me (Did I mention that it was a free place to stay?).

It was one of those very perfect vacations, where relaxation can somehow coexist with business and checking things off the to-do list. We never planned in advance. We went with the flow and did things that interested us all. And I loved it so very much. Here is an account of the trip (of what I remember of it, that is):

  • Two West End shows: Sunset Boulevard & La Cage aux Folles.

J & M outside "Sunset Boulevard"

J & M outside "Sunset Boulevard"

Sunset Boulevard: A well-reviewed revival Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical interpretation of the classic 1950’s film. With minimal sets, a small cast (playing their own instruments, as is currently favored), and an intimate theatre, this production makes an overwhelming score and story seem more gritty. Rather than a tableau of replicated scenes from the film, the small size of this incarnation gives the feeling of a psychological study, which works well in a show with two main leads. I am sure the size also accounts for the length of this show’s run, which (without a star) would not be very long if they maintained the high costs associated with the original Patti LuPone and Glenn Close productions. Overall, enjoyable (though still over-the-top). I am told it is closing soon.

Graham Norton as Zaza

Graham Norton as Zaza

La Cage aux Folles: After struggling to convince Jess and Meredith to see this production, which features Graham Norton, we saw this outstanding show on the last night of my trip. I am so thrilled we did (and even more so that it is now being transplanted to New York). Though Mr. Norton seemed to be quite ill at our showing- or else just a bad singer-, he was still absolutely hilarious in a show that is absolute heaven! Jerry Herman’s fantastic score is so moving and powerful (in spite of the melodrama of it all) that you can hardly resist singing with them by the end. Much better than the movie, I say! And I have since discovered the Royal Variety performance with the would-be Albin/Zaza in New York, Douglas Hodge. Favorite song at 4:50 min.

  • Running in London. Apparently, the weather was warm enough in February to run about the town. Or maybe I had consumed a few too many fish & chips meals with Guinness and could pretend it was warmer than it actually was out of necessity. Regents Park with Meredith was probably the best place to run, where there was little to disturb us but thousands of ducks and geese. And it was very nearby Nido, which helped. Other random runs were an excellent way to explore, as well.

    Regents Park

    Regents Park

  • Breakfast at the Tate Modern’s Ground Level Cafe. The girls had class one morning, and I had to throw together the final script for Julius Caesar. So, I walked myself down to the Thames, crossed, and went into the Tate Modern for a little breakfast. No art, just tasty treats. Far too many cups of tea later, I had finished editing and had successfully people watched for over two hours. Success.

    Tate Modern Cafe

    Tate Modern Cafe

  • Shopping on Oxford Street. One of the many benefits of a worldwide recession is a decreased Pound-to-Dollar exchange rate. While there, it was 1 Pound to 1.46 Dollars…much better than the 1 to 2 of my trip six months earlier. Jeans from Zara were roughly $10. Trench coat from Uniqlo was about $45. Spending excessive amounts in a faltering economy…priceless.

    Oxford Street

    Oxford Street

  • Random & exceptionally long walks! I love walking cities, and I truly believe that walking is the only way you can really get to know a city. Therefore, I forced Jess and Meredith to walk everywhere (except on Jess’ birthday when everyone was in heels and we took the tube). We discovered the lovely canal bank leading to Camden town. Small boutique shops with gorgeous clothes at cheap prices lined streets we discovered. By the end of my trip, Jess and Meredith always asked me where we were and if we were near something. Even if I had no idea, at least I could give the appearance of knowing the city from all my walking.

    The canal to Camden

    The canal to Camden

  • Fish & Chips. So very many take out boxes of fish & chips. I nearly positive that my blood has been replaced by cooking oil entirely.

    My meal of choice, Fish & Chips

    My meal of choice, Fish & Chips

Enjoy some of the other (odd & random) photos from the trip, taken from Jess.

Air France-KLM nows owns 25% of Alitalia

Air France-KLM nows owns 25% of Alitalia

Air France-KLM now owns 25% of the plagued Alitalia, Italy’s formerly state-controlled airline. The remaining 75% of the newly privatized company will be controlled by 25 investors who comprise the Italian Air Company. Previously Air France-KLM, a French and Dutch corporation, had attempted to buy out all of Alitalia and seize control of the company. There was also interest from Germany’s Lufthansa airline.

Alitalia went brankrupt this past August 2008 and has been purchased for a reported $1.4 million. Air France-KLM will pay approximately €322 million in both cash and equity for their stake in the new Alitalia.

My question is why?

My experience on Alitalia was far from stellar, and now I purposefully look for alternative airlines to utilize when getting to and around Europe.

I first took Alitalia in August 2007 for a semester I spent abroad in Florence. Butchered by peer review sites, I was immeditaely fearing that my luggage would be lost, as so many MANY more before me. While my luggage was luckily intact when I had arrived in Florence (after a lengthy connection in Rome), I was not. The meal service was absolutely repulsive: I still cannot tell whether I had chicken or fish on that flight. The seating was stiff and undersized, as well as cheaply decorated in spotted evergreen material that felt like denim against the back of my neck. Attendants were not rude, but they were also not very friendly. Televisions were scattered about the cabin and often broken. Moreover, the entire airplane felt out of date and rickety.

No mi piace Alitalia

No mi piace Alitalia

Unfortunately, I had purchased a return flight with Alitalia for coming back state side that December after the conclusion of my semester abroad. Along with 400+ other students from NYU’s Florence program alone, I feared an impending strike that was being threatened by Alitalia for the day we were all to return to America. Apparently, this unreliability of flight staff (caused by strikes and the threat of them) was a major reason for the airline’s filing of bankruptcy. Luckily, once again, they were pacified by the Italian government, and we all made it home safe. Not all with our luggage, though: I had my own, but many of my friends did not.

So why does Air France-KLM want to become involved with this plague known as Alitalia? I have absolutely no idea. Here is hoping that they bring it up to Air France’s much-preferred standards.