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Diary Of A Wimpy Adult: Nico's You're-A-Peein' Trip

So as most of you know, I just returned from a 2-week trip with my mom through Amsterdam, Geneva, and Italy, in celebration of my mom's 80th birthday. This being a baseball site, there will be few references to baseball in this post. If this perturbs you, don't read on. There will also be few photos as I didn't take any -- however, various friends and family took some so that there will be periodic imagery to accompany the stories.

I'd be lion if I said I wasn't crazy about the Oakland A's.
I'd be lion if I said I wasn't crazy about the Oakland A's.

The Route

If you want to follow my path and destinations, look up the route from Amsterdam to Geneva, Geneva to Quarona, Italy, Quarona to Verona, Verona to Venice, Venice to Cazzago San Martino, and Cazzago San Martino to Geneva. The A's were undefeated in Amsterdam and Italy, losing only in Geneva, and as a result I no longer feel so neutral towards Geneva. Or at least I think Luke Gregerson should not be allowed to pitch when I'm there.

Did I crash the rental car?

I did not! Each of the last two rental cars I have gotten there has been a mishap, once with a gas station island that didn't get out of the way and once with a parked car that didn't get out of the way. I never crash my own car, just rentals apparently. There were a couple close calls but only one that was my fault.

You know how when you realize you're about to miss a highway exit, you have that moment of saying to yourself, "Better to miss the exit, and be safe, than to whiz across a couple lanes at the last instant"?  This choice is especially unsafe in Italy where tailgating at 130 kilometers/hour is the norm.

However, just as one invariably has that life-saving thought one also invariably chooses the unsafe option. Every freaking time, right? Oh, you do it too, come on. I've been a few cars behind you rolling my eyes and complaining to no one in particular, "What an idiot."

So I slowed down suddenly with a car tailgating me, cut off a fast approaching car in the next lane, and exited triumphantly to the serenades of honking indignant Italians. "How dare you make an unsafe maneuver while I'm tailgating you above the speed limit?" Of course I made this choice while driving a rental car I was desperately trying not to crash, all the while muttering, "Why are you doing this? WHY???" But I did. And we lived. Yay!

The Nicest Man On The Planet

Our first day driving was a long trek from Geneva to Quarona, Italy, made much longer by the fact that we took the scenic mountain road, drove through countless small villages, stopped often to get a sense of a village or take a walk, have a cup of that our 10:30am departure got us near Quarona around 6:00pm.

The signs in Italy make no sense, as they generally point one way and wish you to go another, have roundabouts every 3 kilometers that offer 3-4 choices where you can screw up, and seem somewhat arbitrary as to which city they direct you towards -- it might be one city for 5-6 signs and then suddenly a different one that happens to be in the same direction.

Nonetheless, for nearly 400 kilometers we found our way until we knew we were about 2-3 kilometers from Quarona. And then we couldn't, for the life of us, get to Quarona. A roundabout would have signs for 5 cities in each of 3 possible directions, but no sign for Quarona. Twice we stopped and asked someone for directions and they said, "left, then right" and we followed the instructions, then got to another roundabout or fork with no sign for Quarona and no clue which way to go and wound up lost.

We were tired, hungry, and had been on the road for about 11 hours, the sun was going down making it harder to navigate, and we knew we were just a couple kilometers from Quarona with no hope of ever getting there. The way I operate is that I am "Joe Cool" under pressure and as things get worse I get more calm and am a pillar of strength...until the moment I finally lose it and then it's like a volcano erupting.

At 9:30pm, after yet another unsuccessful attempt to follow directions, I pulled over, parked, and had an epic meltdown. "I hate Italy! I hate this trip! I hate this car! I hate this street! I hate roundabouts! I hate that building!..." Meanwhile, my mom walked across the street to a small pizza parlor and asked the owner inside, a man maybe in his 50s, if he could possibly direct us to Quarona because the directions that we were getting, and the signs that we were trying to follow, just weren't helping.

He started to explain and then said, "You know what? It's only 3 kilometers -- let me pull my car around, I'll drive to Quarona, you follow me." I think I literally hugged him. "I love Italy! I love this trip! I love this street..." We could see him telling his wife what he was doing and her reaction of first a disapproving "Really?" followed by an "OK, if that's what you want to do". You had the feeling it wasn't the first time he had dropped everything to help out a weary traveler and that it both irritated his wife and was also the reason she fell in love with him. When she saw us she smiled warmly as if to say -- and I'm making a lot of inferences here -- "Read a map, you dimwits; we're trying to sell pizzas here."

It turned out that our lodging, on a beautiful ranch in a quiet, woodsy area, was not only breathtakingly spectacular, but also would have been hard enough to find during the day let alone at night. But following the pizza guy, it was a piece of pizza cake. The photo below is of me with the nicest man on the planet.


How To Feel Stupid In One Easy Step!

If you want the experience of feeling exceedingly dumb, just go to a country where you don't speak the language and don't know how anything works. You can find yourself unable to say something simple like "When is breakfast?" and when you receive a two-word answer to your pantomimed questions you can smile and decide whether to nod aimlessly or give a "no understand you" expression. Or both.

At the laundromat it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to open the door. My mom bought a bag of rice cakes and between the two of us -- that's 2 B.A.s, an M.A., and 128 years of experience on the planet -- we couldn't figure out how to open the clasp on the bag until finally we just ripped open the plastic and destroyed the entire bag to get one rice cake.

At the supermarket I came to the check stand with 4 apples and a banana, and had the foresight to weigh them and memorize the weights, only to learn that we were also supposed to punch in the correct codes, and print out stickers, at a machine everyone else seemed to realize existed. So back to the produce section I went, staring at a punch code of numbers 1-60 and no indication of what might be the code for apples or for bananas.

So I guessed maybe you just put "1" for the first one and then "2" for the next one. See? Going to another country lowers your IQ 25 points. Because no one could possibly think that was the way it would actually work. After punching "1" for apples, I saw an older woman waiting behind me so I showed her the banana (you can make your own penis joke here) and gave the international sign for "Please help me, for I am but an especially unintelligent foreigner who can barely tie his own shoes."

She said "cinque" and I guessed that probably meant "5" but just to be sure I stood there like an idiot for another moment until she stepped forward and pressed the "5" for me. "Grazzi!" I exclaimed, showing off part of my 7-word Italian vocabulary.

Back to the check stand I went and the checker, who had patiently waited and held up the line while I went searching for stickers, rang me up for the banana and then clapped her head when she saw the sticker for the apples. It was the sticker for goodness knows what -- zucchini, rutabaga, condoms -- and so she just shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and decided to just ring up the apples for the per-kilogram price of bananas.

Yup, the ol' "dumb tourist trick"! That's how you cleverly get apples for the price of bananas. Buuuuuaaaaaahaha. Yes, that's what it was. Not that I'm a complete and utter moron.

Beauty And More Beauty

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, let me add 3,000 words to describe Italy:Nicoonveronabridge_zps7d6fe2ad_medium



Venetians, Blind

I loved Venice. No cars! Just beauty, tranquility, food, and mostly authenticity. Except for the souvenir vendors at San Marco square and the gondoliers who were seen chatting on their cell phones or texting.

{takes out traveling soap box and stands on it} As much as I treasured my time in Venice, watching the tourists made me weep for society. I saw people following tours robotically while ignoring everything interesting and beautiful in between the tour "destinations". I saw people staring through tour guides who were giving information they would forget the next day, instead of just looking around, taking it all in, and maybe asking questions to locals who might have answers. I saw people busily taking photos on their phone so they could see later, in picture form, what they were missing now. I saw people walking down beautiful and historic streets with their head down and their nose buried deep into their phones.

I saw people standing in lines 1/4 mile long waiting to pay for an audio tour of an arena or a balcony. That's right, we passed near Juliet's balcony (from Romeo & Juliet), where a seemingly endless line of tourists were waiting for the privilege to pay money. To see a balcony. I wanted to yell, "It's a balcony, people!" But I didn't, because it didn't sound sufficiently Shakespearean. ("Is that a balcony I see before me...?" ... "All the world's a stage you can stand on for some fresh air and a cigarette...")

I really feel like my mom and I did it right. Rather than documenting our trip we experienced it, from the quaint buildings and unique architecture in between "important" buildings to the quirky personalities and village scenes all around us. My mom and I actually talked to each other as we walked around the outside of the spectacular Arena Verona, electing not to line up where rock music was blaring and tourists were waiting for an hour for the privilege of paying to go inside. I'm sure it's magnificent, but so is Sonny Gray's curve ball.

Watching all the weary, disengaged, tour-trapped and phone-addicted tourists missing all the marvelous devils in all the details of the charming city of Venice, I thought, "Our society is ill." Do you know what a trip like the one I just took really is all about? It's about getting lost on the way to Quarona until the pizza guy hops in his car and drives you there, and it's about paying less for apples only because you're an idiot. The best memories cannot be documented because they can only be experienced. Vivere provare a vivere! {limps off of soap box -- with a strained neck because that seems to be all the rage these days}

Happy 80th!

I told my mom that my brother and I had gotten her a birthday present and that it was supposed to be delivered at 9:00am on her birthday (May 24th). The present was, of course, my brother himself having secretly flown from Philadelphia to Geneva to surprise her.

A few days before, out of the blue my mom had said, "Your brother should be here. Estupido!", irritated that he couldn't find a way to make it for this momentous occasion. I just had to shrug my shoulders and give a "Whaddya gunna do?" expression. Later that evening I was emailing him the address, and code to the building, of the apartment where we were staying, so he could come up and knock on the door at 9:00am on the 24th.

On the 24th, while having breakfast with my unsuspecting mom I casually checked my email at 8:55am to find a message from my brother: "I'm standing outside the door now and can knock anytime you're ready." I gave him the "all clear" and a couple minutes later there was a knock on the door. My mom and I went to the door and I opened it as she stood in the doorway.

When she saw my brother my mom's face ran, in the span of 2 seconds, the full range of stunned, disbelieving, and euphoric, and she let out an incredulous shriek of "Oh my God!!!" that I will never, ever forget. She was giddy all day.

The itinerary itself for her birthday? A walk all around the U.N....


...lunch high up in the alps, with a stroll around the scenic peak that offers panoramic views of Switzerland and France...


...dinner in town with Geneva's signature 140 meter high fountain in the background...


...with my mom marveling, every now and again, that she was really having this birthday with both her sons after all, as well as with her life-long Dutch friend (who is the one standing in this photo; my mom is seated on the right)...


It was indeed a magical day to cap off a legitimate "trip of a lifetime". And yet it's good to be home, where the A's games are once again on T.V., played at hours when I'm awake, and where I can get back into my beloved routines for work and play. Thanks for allowing me to share this rather unbaseball-y story, AN, and thanks, Mama-Nico, for...well, for everything.