Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Journey, Cape Town -> Rimini

We interrupted our regularly scheduled programming for a trip to Europe! A Spring Break, if you will. Plans were to go play at Paganello, and travel around Italy with Mark, Rebecca, Dad, and Andrea. Good times were had. Too much to write about all at once so I will break it down bit by bit.

I had a long and complex journey to get from Cape Town to Rimini over the course of a few days. Started off flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg on SAA. Had their beef stirfry on the plane, which tasted decent but turned out to be a disaster: on the longest leg of my journey, a redeye from Johannesburg to Madrid, I had food poisoning. Pretty miserable time, alternating between trying to sleep and spending lots of time in the airplane bathroom. Thankfully I had a row of two seats all to my own, so I managed to be semi-comfortable when I was getting some sleep. The flight actually felt like it went pretty quickly despite all of this.

Felt much better by the time I got to Madrid, though I wasn't able to eat anything until later that day. During my Madrid layover I was treated to a nice sunrise over the runway:

Finally landed in Marseille, where Mark met me at the airport and we took the bus to Aix-en-provence, where he and Rebecca are living while she goes to school there. He managed to convince his company to let him work from his apartment there for the couple years. Despite complications due to the time difference and his grumblings about hating work, that is a pretty sweet deal.

They live in a cute little apartment right in the oldest(-seeming) area of Aix, which has tiny streets, lots of shops, and lots of pedestrians. It being France, of course, those pedestrians all have a cigarette in one hand and a dog leash in the other. At one point I saw this kid who looked no more than 14 with a cigarette in each hand. I grabbed a nap that afternoon, and went out to dinner to a nearby crepe place with Mark and Rebecca that evening. My appetite still hadn't fully recovered from my sickness, so I wasn't able to fully enjoy my crepe with some kind of ground meat and cream sauce, but it was good nonetheless. Here's a picture from a square in Aix. I liked the trees.

I slept in the next morning, then had lunch with Mark and Rebecca at this little burrito shop a few blocks away. The owner of the shop had been inspired by Anna's in Boston/Cambridge, and modeled the store after that. It was pretty tasty stuff and I just about regained my full appetite. Was glad about that, considering I had more long travels ahead followed by a 4 day ultimate tournament.

After lunch, Mark went to do some work and Rebecca and I took the bus over to Marseille so I could see the city. Rebecca played tour guide admirably well. With only a few hours there, we decided to walk from the train station through the new port up the big hill to Notre-Dame de la Garde to score a sweet view of the city and the sea. I am not a huge fan of visiting churches in Europe -- in my view there are too many to keep track of and they are all roughly the same -- but the 360 degree view from up there was excellent. Plus lots of the art in the church was maritime-themed, which gave me a kick. We headed back to Aix, grabbed some Indian food for dinner, and turned in early. Here's a couple shots of the view from Notre-Dame de la Garde:

Woke up well before dawn the next morning for a long day of trains to Rimini. Rebecca had worked out the route, which took us along the coast all days and gave us a good long layover in Nice around lunchtime. We walked from the train station in Nice down to the beach, which was beautiful to look at through sleepy eyes. Large rocks are where the sand should be, which made me glad that the tournament was not being played in Nice. We grabbed a long lunch from a cafe by the beach, then walked back to the train station. Nice feels very chic and upper class, at least in the areas that we saw. Mark on the beach in Nice:

Up until Milan the train rides went nice and were pretty smooth. We switched trains a couple of times, watched the countryside and the Mediterranean coastal towns go by, read (I finally finished Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom), and did crossword puzzles from a book of Sunday puzzles.

Because one of our trains was delayed, we had a tight connection in Milan. Still, when we got to our train we were relieved to see that it was still there. We were not relieved, however, when we realized that none of the nearby doors were unlocked. We tried a few to no avail. Soon we were running down the train trying every door, realizing that it would leave any second. Then it started to leave. Damn. We looked up at the big board and noticed that one train listed Rimini as its destination. We decided to hop on that train without going and trying to switch our tickets, and hope for the best. No one had even looked at a single one of our tickets all day, so we figured the odds would be good that we would make it through. Of course, a ticket guy came by within 30 minutes. We babbled to him in English (and occasionally a bit of my terribly rusty and broken Italian) for a while, before he finally just smiled, said "thank you," and backed away out of the car. Phew. I had three seats and a pillow, so I went to sleep and woke up as we were pulling into Rimini.

I hopped in a cab that took me to my hotel there, where I met and said buona sera to a sleepy father, who showed me to our dingy little room. Went to sleep excited for the tournament to start the next day (but glad that our first game wasn't scheduled until noon).

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