Nigel Thornberry, here!

My sister (and family) can probably attest to the fact that I was speaking in this accent the other night as I plodded home from a night out in Florence (drunk dials are quite an expensive international vice). But I think my drunken, accent/language loving, alter-ego may have actually been quite poignant when picking out this character because we have truly been explorers of Italy for these past days. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can’t talk to animals and our experiences haven’t been anything that hasn’t already been written about in Tour Italy guides across the globe, BUT it has still been nothing short of fantastic.

My rule about gelato has been kept to and, I won’t lie, I’ve been quite strict about this. But yesterday there were thanks all around because I’m pretty sure we found the best ice cream in Florence, and the best ice cream we’ve ever had. 3 experts surveyed, all in agreement.

One of the experts. Her face really says it all.

There are 1,000 stories I could tell about these past four days and nights here in Florence – the Academia, the David, the David’s p…arts, the Uffizi Gallery, every single piazza, every single cobblestone, every single bottle of wine, scoop of gelato, step of the 463 that it took to get us up to the most breathtaking view of Florence I’ve ever seen courtesy of the Duomo, every bite of pasta – whether it was tagliatelle or gnocchi, it’s all just been that good!

The climb to the top, around 150 steps in we stopped for a breather.

436 steps later…I’d say it was definitely worth the 360 degree Panoramic view. Malou, we’re going back and I’m taking you. Start training now, my friend!

And as for the people here, they’ve have been fantastic – and extremely, extremely patient – with this American girl’s attempts at speaking Italian. They’ve also been insanely nice, although coming from France, this apparant change in attitude is probably amplified for us because it’s really not that hard to be nicer than the French. Stereotyping. Sorry (I’m not sorry). If the Italians we encountered at Oktoberfest were any indication of how friendly (and quelquefois a bit persistant) Italians can be, we certainly encountered more of their kind here! I think I’ve come away from these past 6 days with over 15 new requests on Facebook? Man, Europeans love this social networking thing. BTW, all requests are pending.

But today we leave for Rome, continuing our vacation in the Eternal City – and just in time for my favorite holiday…Halloween! Reports are in: this is celebrated in Italy, so I won’t look as crazy as I expected when I put on a costume and celebrate. But we have many things to do, many plans to be made and many friends to meet up with before then! The brave (and wig hunting) Hannah Berkman has managed to outwit the strikers of France (seriously guys, still?) and get to Rome, along with some other recurring cast members such as Christina Houser (the Oktoberfest episodes), Jamie Shapiro (AUCP cast) and I’m sure we’ll have some surprise guests from people that we don’t know are even in Rome but – OMG, you’re here too?! It’s gonna happen…

In fact, this did happen to me over dinner last night – which could have been the most amazing food, wine, dining, everything experience of this trip. Quick story: I turn around to hear English being spoken with a slight Westchesta twang (you know the accent) and thus, in a very out of character move, strike up conversation. Less than 5 minutes later I am listing names of any girl from Briarcliff who ever played Lady Knicks basketball circa 8th grade. Strange, huh? Even stranger, this girl knew who I was talking about. The world is tiny, the word ‘small’ doesn’t even do it justice.

Okay, on to Oil Shoppe (we’ve become regulars at the best panini place in Florence in only 4 days), the Duomo, a last gelato in Florence and then train to Rome! See you in la Citta Eterna!

The Florence Crew on top of the Uffizi.

Voyage to the Homeland: “c’est mon patrimoine!”

Yes readers, this marks the blog beginning of my 10 days in Italy – and the homeland has been good to me right from the start. Unlike our most recent foray into Paris, which began with a cancelled train, a 3-hour flight delay and some stereotypically (realistically) rude Parisian cab drivers, our Italy travels got off quite easily. Though it was a bit surprising getting on a less than 20 person, propeller plane for our flight from Marseilles to Milan. Okay, more than surprising – I had a slight breakdown. Great suggestions on flights PANGE.

But we did get to Milan in time to enjoy a gorgeous meal at the lovely Hotel Cavour and then hit the pillow hard before we did some serious Milan touring. And by touring, we really hit all of the essentials: Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, to name a few. We’re such avid and dedicated tourists! And after sampling the local shopping scene, we made sure to get Gelato #1 (chocolata e amereno per me) all before heading back and showering before Fantastic Dinner #2. I’m going to go all “that couple” on you right now and give you a run down of what I ate for dinner – this will most likely go on all week, so for those of you dieting, this may be the time to step away from the computer or train your eyes to pass over key words such as tagliatelle and mozzarella. That being said, one of my two Milanese traveling partners (Laura) and I shared an artichoke and cheese fondu crèpe which, though seemingly French inspired, paired perfectly with Italian bread. Go figure! (Sidenote: yes parents, I tried artichoke and liked it. Believe it.) For the main course, tagliatelle with salmon – MMMMMMMM – and then espresso followed by On the House Limoncella. This stuff’s always good but there’s something about being in Italy – or maybe just the fact that its authentic here – but it always tastes better in Italy! Milan was no exception to this rule.

After dinner we moved on to the nightlife. I’ve read that in Milan you go out to be seen, so dressing the part was definitely a necessity. Clad in Euro-chic, AKA black from head to toe with some red lipstick for flare, we took on the cobblestone streets which are the new Archnemesis of my favorite black heels. Bar hopping, meeting locals and sampling the Milanese Vodka Diet Coke combo definitely made for a great night. Hearing a medley of Sandy and Danny croon hits from “Grease” and watching drunk Italians do the “YMCA” was a high point. We then spent Sunday on the streets, walking and wandering through the streets of Milan before catching our midday train to Firenze, where we’ll be spending the next four days and will be joined by Dana Hauck who just returned from her week long stay in Morocco!

So far my favorite part is that, for me, this trip has been one big refresher in language. It’s like that Celine Dion song says: it’s all coming back to me…now. And it really is! After one semester of Italian 101 and a lifetime of Italian slang (moppine, anyone?) I’m finding that maybe I can kind of, sort of, maybe speak un poco d’italiano. Oh Professor Arduini if you could see me lavorare-ing now!

Pictures to come soon. I was far too lazy and tired to find my camera cord in my mess of a bag to insert pictures into this blog entry. But fear not loyal followers, the pictures will come! And by loyal followers I mean, Mom and Dad thanks for reading and I’ll post pictures soon. Bueno Notte!

PROST! (la la la la la)

Yes, readers, Oktoberfest. So you know this entry’s going to be….amusing. And not just any Oktoberfest. No, no, this fête de la biere was the 200th anniversary – and as far as I can tell, the Germans know how to throw a birthday party. I departed Aix with no real ideas of what to expect. Apart from Mardi Gras which utilized much more neon and spandex, I had never attended a European festival of binge drinking and lederhosen. And so other than the knowledge that pretzels come from Germany and the big beers are called steins (and 1 = about 5 regular beers), I set off on my Lufthansa flight to Munich with Audrey to my left and two free glasses of sparkling wine in each hand. Disclaimer: I did not ask for two glasses, our American excitement of the idea that drinks – let alone alcohol – was gratuit on a plane must’ve been obvious enough to warrant the, “you wanted another, right?” And who am I to say no to some good ol’ German hospitality?

We arrived in Munich to find our French cell phones worked only in France – go figure. But somehow managed to locate Sarah and, of course, have our first Oktoberfest beer in the Munich airport while we waited for Dana’s flight to arrive. Once all united, we set off for the Hostival. Yes, the name alone should’ve been a tip off. A youth hostel, at Oktoberfest, themed as a hospital and lovingly termed the Hangover Hospital.

If we didn’t realize we were in trouble then, we realized soon after entering the Munich night club district and walking “past the strip club, to the left, past the train (train!?), through the parking lot and under the over pass.” May as well wait in a dark alley with our wallets out. Let’s go! And so we did, the wheels of our bags crunching over the crumbling pavement and picking up god knows what as we plodded along the sketchy Munich streets to the soundtrack of Euro techno mixed with “Country Roads.” I was as surprised as you are. When we finally reached our hostel, I could not have been more rendered more speechless. The only words that came to mind were: “but of course this is our hostel.” The hostel was, in fact, a large white tent in the middle of a graffiti-ridden parking lot. We entered to find that this tent was unheated and the rooms were in fact sections of tent separated by bed sheets and themed as a hospital. Our unit, Family Planning, was located across from the ICU and next to the Abortion Clinic. Quelle chance! Pictures really don’t even do this place justice…

“Guys, we are all showering together” was my first reaction. One that, I thought, was completely warranted and logical – strength in numbers and all that. But considering those were the first words I spoke since basically departing the airport, my friends collectively decided that all these years of boys (and boy problems) were simply my way of saying, “Guys, I’m gay.” Go figure. And so us 5 weary travelers put the bed covers on our mattresses and hid our valises under our thin, scraggily excuses for blankets and did what any college students would do in this situation: went out for a drink.

The HB tent: my personal favorite and also the last place that we all saw our sobriety and dignity. If found, feel free to return.

But it was not until Saturday at a whopping 7:30am that the real festivities began. Clad in our jackets and high hopes, the 5 Tulanians set out for the Fest that we, being students of New Orleans, felt we had been made and trained for. We would soon learn that we were sadly mistaken. If this is starting to sound like an R.L. Stine “Goosebumps,” it’s right about now that I’m wishing I could choose another ending. But to continue, tents open at 9 and beer starts flowing at 10 – it was nice to see that there was some maintenance of classy drinking habits. Along with the beers, cheesy bread and pretzels were plentiful in the tents, as were men and women clad in Lederhosen and Drindles, both classic and modern. The ceilings were adorned with colors and tent name emblems lined the walls.

But above all: there were people, there were songs and there was beer. 

After meeting up with this crew and getting kicked out at 11am (that’s when the VIP reserved people got to go in) we managed to find, guess what, MORE TULANIANS along with lots of Germans, Italians and some very chatty Parisians!

Yes, it was a Tulane filled weekend in Munich. Most of you can probably recognize this sentiment, of walking into a bar – whether it be the Boot, Bruno’s, Rocco’s, F&M’s, you name it – and realizing with one look-around that you know 9.5 out of every 10 people in that bar. My statistics were so great at Oktoberfest, but there was one moment, while standing with my new German friend Linus on a table at Hofbrau tent, that I looked around and had that feeling that I was surrounded by people who I knew. And it was true! To my right was Linus (sans blanket but nonetheless awesome), to my left Dana and Christina, across the table: Audrey and (if memory serves) Sam Glidden and Scotty Jospin made an appearance, all while Trent and I prost-ed across the table and swayed to the sounds of the music that threatened to get so loud that the entire tent could burst with joy and musical notes at any moment!

It’s a strange feeling, the sentiment of feeling home simply by being around people who have a love for the same place as you do. But this had to be my favorite moment of Oktoberfest. Sure, there were other memories – stories of what you did the night before count as memories right? – And plenty of one-liners that defined the weekend, but as I sat on the plane coming home I couldn’t help but think of how that feeling of home manages to sneak up on you at the strangest of times in the strangest of places. That, and how bad I felt for the man sitting next to me who could clearly tell that just the sight of his free-on-Lufthansa beer made me want to throw up. All in all, this weekend was one of the most amazing, trying, intense, fun, beer-filled weekends of my life – and for anyone who’s been to Mardi Gras, you know that’s saying something. Also for anyone who has seen me during one of my “This-is-by-far-my-worst-hangover-ever” mornings, of which there have been a few (ah-hem Halloween, November Rain), I am serious when I say that this one was by far the worst. Enough so that it is officially Sober Oktober for me. Mom and Dad, I can hear your cheers from across the pond.

When I returned to Aix late Monday night after, probably the longest day of my life, my only answer to the question of “how was it!?” was: “I am so glad I went and it was amazing, but I never want to do that again.” This was followed by many stories, including the death of my Blackberry (I’m still in mourning) and Dana’s decision to become a Woman’s Rights major in Germany while living only off of chicken and pretzels. Stories of crazy Italians, random twin brothers, something about a mayonnaise fight and how I, apparently, am casting the fifth Twilight. (Men on the street in Munich, I’m sorry but the growling just didn’t cut it. Maybe next time.) Needless to say, the final scoreboard read: Ali – 0, Oktoberfest – 100,000 and I’m still here marveling over the fact that I can make it through 2 Mardi Gras with no phone issues but one night of rain in Munich can drive my Blackberry to suicide. Correction: Oktoberfest – 100,001. Well, until next time, Prost!

“And I’m…Link”

Sorry, Hairspray’s on. Sing-a-long version…it’s really infectious.

Anyway, SF’s still cold and (no offense) but continually giving me reasons to believe that NYC is the only city that actually knows how to conduct mass transit. And in writing that sentence I realize I’ve become that typical NY snob. Aw well, there are worse things. Like dysfunctional mass transit and ignorant cab drivers.

Otherwise, Fisherman’s Wharf provided ample entertainment for the afternoon. Ghiradelli Square presented great people watching (obviously a favorite pasttime – don’t pretend you don’t love it, too), a satisfiable (though not quite Le Madeleine level) cup of coffee, and a great square of chocolate. Great afternoon but I am just about ready to get back to NY. I have accepted that I’ll be living on the couch for the next few days with puffy cheeks and froyo courtesy of Oral Surgery. Yay wisdom teeth? Visitors welcome!

Aloha, Hawaii

I sit here writing this post cup of coffee in hand, cushioned lounge chair under me, sea-scented breeze running through my hair and into my nose, and one of the most perfect scenes sprawling in front of me.

This brings me to the aloha/aloha dilemma brought up so eloquently by Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality.” If you haven’t seen it – do, but don’t bother with the second one. Anyway, when I say “aloha” this time I mean it in the goodbye sense. I’m using the post as just one more reason to put off packing in hopes that maybe I’ll put it off long enough that I’ll happen to miss my flight and, damn, we’ll have to stay for another day. I’ve never been so lucky so I don’t expect to start now but hey, I’m open to it.

This past week has been, in one word, relaxing. Just what I needed before going home to an anxiously awaited removal of wisdom teeth, packing and pre-France mayhem. The soundtrack of waves remixed with the BroBible Summer Playlist (yes, I said it) was all my ears were privvy to and the most movement I did, save for my Day 1 run to scope out the resort, was flip myself over to avoid an uneven tan – which was a successful operation.

Aloha, readers. Next post from San Francisco.

“You were at a luau?”

Yes. Mai tai in hand, lei around neck and clad in a too-trendy-for-a-luau onesie I found my seat at one of the 50+ round tables spread across the “Royal Luau Grounds.” There was pig, steak, fish and some translucent noodles that tasted like chicken but I still can’t quite figure out why. Everything was, as they say here, “ono” – good. Then the show started. Hula dancing from miles away and ages ago. And then the interactive portion…*sigh*

Most people who know me, know this is my luck. So when the Samoan hula dancer approached me with his leafy skirt and glistening pecs and asked me if I would “like to dance,” I accepted, but didn’t realize this would culminate with an actual on stage, in the spotlight experience. I instantly regretted not making more use of the open bar. All in all, definitely a great experience – impromptu dance party included. Secret tip: it’s not actually all in the hips – it’s in the ankles. I know, I felt I had been lied to all my life too – partly by my dance teachers and partly by Shakira. Next time I’ll be ready.

And as a sidenote! Molly Kaplan left for Costa Rica today! Ah! Have an amazing time, Mol-pop. Hope you brushed up on your parseltongue so you can make friends with all the snakes 🙂