Home, Sweet Home

This update is coming almost two weeks late, but as loyal readers will have already guessed (or seen), I made it back home to the states after a long, eventful journey around the world.  During my first full day back, I was still in the mode of documenting everything, so I’ve got a few photos below from my return.

It’s been pretty difficult to get back into my routine, but it’s great to be home.  By the last week of the trip, I felt like my return was not coming quickly enough, as was made evident by my sporadic posts.  It was great to finally see my wife again (in person, as opposed to over Skype) after two long months, and after all that time on the move, it was nice to get a couple of days of rest.

Over the next several months, I’ll be trying to put together a book, and I’ll try to post details as they become more clear.  A friend of mine is also starting a magazine, called Works Sited, for which I’ll be putting together a brief series of essays about my travels (something more coherent and less off-the-cuff than what I’ve written here), and I’ll also post details as I learn more.

I was able to get a little time to relax when I got back to New England, so here are the photos (as always, click to enlarge):

I was greeted with beautiful weather on my first full day back, which demanded a bike ride to the beach, and procrastination on unpacking.

The water was significantly colder than the Bosphorous, and I only lasted about 30 seconds.

Since I was in the habit of only dining on local specialties, a stop at Bob Lobster was a requirement during my ride back to town. Bob is a local Plum Island lobsterman, and he sells his own fresh-caught lobsters, and my favorite lobster rolls in the area, out of a shack on the way to the island.

My humble abode.

Not quite as impressive as the Istanbul skyline.

This is what is referred to as a "small ice cream" in this part of the world. A few more of these, and I'll be back to my pre-trip weight.

This was my attempt to reproduce some flavors from the trip, or what I call a Turpan Penne alla Tad - a little bit of Central Asia, a little bit of Italy, and a lot of fresh local vegetables.

A Last Hurrah in Milan

I know that this post is coming almost two weeks late, but, for those of you who are still checking in from time to time, here it is.  The final destination of my journey was Milan, where I just spent an afternoon and night before flying out in the morning.  I only had half of an afternoon for site-seeing, and not much time to do anything else.  I was, however, able to meet up with an old Milanese friend for a beer in the evening.

I plan on having a couple more posts before I can really say that I’m finished, so keep checking back over the next couple of days.

The train station in Milan, the Stazione Centrale, has one of Europe's great huge sheds.

When I walked through the station's beaux-arts entry portico later in the evening, a boxing ring had been set up in the center. The matches hadn't started yet, though, and I promised myself that I would come back to see the spectacle. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to return until it was too late.

Seeing the Duomo reminded me how far I had come since first arriving in Xi'an. Over to the left, you can see the entrance to the Galleria Victorio Emanuele II.

The scale of gothic churches is always a little ambiguous to me until I see someone standing in the foreground. The Duomo, which was built over 500 years in a somewhat strange melange of styles, is no exception. Compare the people in this image to the size of the doors.

Maybe this trip has given me a new-found appreciation of light, but the interior of the Duomo seemed incredibly dark.

There was a mass taking place, so I was restricted from exploring much of the interior.

Here, gothic arches show their real potential.

This display, featuring the preserved, if somewhat decayed, dead body of a former pope, was pretty grotesque, and will give me nightmares for years.

Rather than gargoyles, the buttresses are capped with statues of notable saints, priests, and a few lay-people.

Napoleon was crowned King of Italy inside the Duomo, and he promised to pay for its completion. However, a little problem in Russia prevented him from ever making good on the promise.

I purchased a ticket to take the stairs to the roof from quite possibly the rudest person that I encountered on my whole trip. The iconic 1954 Torre Velasca can be seen in the background.

John Ruskin famously said of the Duomo that it stole "from every style in the world: and every style spoiled."

The view over MIlan, towards the distant mountains, was worth the interaction with the grumpy ticket salesman.

My ticket also gave me the privelege of climbing around the flying buttresses.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was a precursor to modern shopping malls.

Designed in a cruciform pattern, the two axes come together at this enormous dome. What do you know? There's a real Italian McDonalds there.

I suppose this is the last of the many photos that I've shown of domes during this trip.

The Galleria stretches from the Duomo to la Scala, where it is severed at an angle.

Unfortunately, I arrived at the Teatro alla Scala after closing time, but here it is from the exterior.

Leonardo Da Vinci pokes up in a lot of places in this town.

I lost count of how many statues adorn the Duomo, but this must be one of three million.

Troubled Kashgar

It was with pain that I heard the news today of violence in Kashgar, and I’m deeply saddened for all of the people affected by it.  I met some truly great, friendly, and caring people there, and getting a chance to see the old town was a dream come true.  I only hope that the current events do not result in even more restrictions on the already limited freedoms of the Uighur people living there.  Fear and impending cultural doom were the great unspoken presences while I was there.

One of the things that I’ve recently learned is that, after taking this trip, the remote corners of the world where terrible events take place no longer seem quite so remote.

Also, when reading or hearing reports of the violence, keep in mind that almost all accounts come filtered through Chinese officialdom, and usually serve government motives.






More Verona Catchup

Here’s another round of post catch-up, and more of my visit to Verona.  This chunk included one of the better meals of my life, which most likely edged into my all-time top five (So long, fresh-made tacos in Tijuana.  I hope you enjoy being relegated to the top ten.), so check out the pictures below (click to enlarge):

A late lunch crammed in between site-seeing sessions, this pizza held me over until a late dinner.

Verona's quiet backstreets are great for refreshing crowdless exploring.

Cangrande I brought Dante here, after the poet was exiled from Florence, and his statue occupies a central position in this square.

Although these squares seem quaint now, the old fortresses and towers that surround them were built for nefarious purposes.

Yet another sample from my ongoing series of photos of people taking photos of people posing for photos.

Verona's squares are enclosed by arches like this one, remnants of a time when large areas could be closed off.

Cangrande I's equestrian statue, which I showed in my post about the Castelvecchio, one stood over an arch around here. Scarpa tried to provide a similar view from below, but also gave visitors the treat of seeing the statue's wide smile up close.

There was a big wedding taking place in this church when I went by.

I wonder where Scarpa got his obsession with detail.

Sant'Anastasia makes an OK place for a wedding. I waited a while for the ceremony to finish, hoping to get a photo of the couple as they emerged from the church, but I gave up after about twenty minutes, seeing that the mass was far from over.

I figured that with a line of locals like this, the gelateria inside had to be good.

After vacilating for a while, I settled on a cup of hazelnut (nocciolo). It was pretty good, and obviously I'm writing home about it.

Hills surround Verona's northern extents, making pretty decent spots to build villas.

I decided to hike up to the castle on the top of this hill to get a panoramic view. It wasn't much of a hike compared to anything I encountered in Central Asia.

This hike was paved, and had steps.

A look east, towards the area from which the conquering Venetians came.

I'm not sure it would have been possible to pick a hill with a more picturesque view to climb.

Seems like a pretty good place for a vendetta.

Sant'Anastasia's tower is one of the more recongnizable elements in Verona's skyline. These trees do their best job to emulate it.

Competing towers.

They're barely visible in this photo, but there's a couple having wedding photos taken on this bridge.

The Duomo is recognizable by its square white tower.

Verona is another one of those cities where layers of architectural interventions coexist side by side. Here is a baroque addition to a medieval church.

Although I know I shouldn't, when I hear the word, "duomo," I automatically expect cathedral with a huge public square in front, but Verona's is much more compact and understated than those in Milan or Florence.

The door to the duomo is guarded by these strange beaked beasts.

Another view across the Piazza delle Erbe.

On my last night in Verona, I splurged, and went to dinner at a restaurant that I had found earlier in the day. It was on a narrow side street off the beaten path, where no tourists could find it, and seemed to be only patronized by people in the know. Before my first course, they brought out this crab salad, which was garnished with a little bit of basil and olive oil. I also started out with a half bottle of local soave.

I asked the waiter what he recommended, and he got very excited. He told me that they had just this morning gotten in some Sardinian tuna that was only available for one month during the year. The chef was walking by as he said this, and exclaimed with glee that it was a "very particular" dish, and was exactly what he would order. With this glowing recommendation, I had not choice but to get the tuna. It was spectacular.

After looking at the prices on the menu, and with a still shrunken stomach from a long journey, I decided to only order two courses. This was the second course, which the chef hurried over to tell me was even "more particular" than the previous dish. This was cuttlefish pasta done right, with little tiny cuttlefish that are only available for twenty days per year. Just mentioning them brought a beaming smile to the waiter's face. Unlike the similar dish that I had in Venice, the cuttlefish just melted in my mouth, and the ink sauce was the perfect consistency. It was topped with shaved dried anchovies, which added a salty kick much in the way that Parmagiano Reggiano does for non-fish dishes, but was not overpowering.

At the waiter's further recommendation, I decided to have desert in-house, and ended up ordering this, which the waiter described as flaky pastry filled with cheese and berries, but was not too sweet. It was also sprinkled with an "Indian meat spice," that imparts a "very particular" flavor not often found in deserts. As this was the "most particular" desert on the menu, I couldn't resist. It was not the sort of thing that I would have typically ordered (no chocolate), but I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle flavors, and it really wasn't too sweet. Before bringing it out, they also brought out a small cup of gelato as a palate cleanser, and the waiter asked me to identify the flavor. After slowly enjoying it, and doing my best to localize every single flavor, I came up empty, and meekly guessed cucumber. It turned out to be parsley, and I was surprised at how good it was.

Last up, with my espresso, they brought me a full plate of biscotti. After having only ordered the two courses, I was glad that I had decided not to go for three, because I was completely stuffed. I was so stuffed that I was only able to cram three of these in my mouth before calling it quits.