My grandparents left the home they lived in for 60 years today. I don't know how much of my life was spent in that house, probably well over a year if you added up all the holidays and family gatherings. And now I'm thousands of miles away and someone is clearing out the house.
Cheap food, made fresh, in front of you. Served hot, wrapped in newspaper. Street food is the people's food, it removes the mystery of the kitchen, lays the process bare. It's also the staple diet of people around the world.
They aren't really the worst place on Earth (everyone knows that's Yuma, AZ), but the Gili Islands would top my list of places you should never go to. In the end they're not even a real place, just a collection of paradise fantasies culled from decades of hippie travelers, scuba divers, honeymooners, and the rich, lost children of the West.
Drift snorkeling is like watching fish float by the window of an underwater train. And Indonesia has more marine life than anywhere I've ever been. Fish I have previously seen perhaps two or three at a time are swimming in massive schools. The blue depths are filled with dozens of Moorish Idols, schools of deep purple tangs, so dark they look black until you get up close, parrotfish in clusters, munching on the coral, bright, powder blue tangs, yellow-masked angelfish, countless butterfly fish, wrasses, triggerfish, pufferfish and even bright blue starfish that crawl slowly over the reef.
While Balinese temples look partly like Hindu temples in India, there are other elements that come from older religions. Bali is what happens when Hindu beliefs collide with animism. The Balinese seem to embrace the basic tenants of traditional Hinduism, but then add plenty of their own animist flourishes to the mix -- like frequent and elaborate temple ceremonies. We were lucky enough to be invited to a temple ceremony in Tegallantang, Bali.
Awesome as it was to be back on the Asian version of a motorbike, it wasn't quite the relaxing riding I did in Laos and elsewhere. You can never recapture the magic, and I wasn't trying.... Okay, maybe I was, but it didn't work. regrettably Honda seems to have phased out the Dream in the last five years, replacing it with something called the Nitro, which just doesn't have the same ring to it. But the bike is irrelevant, was always irrelevant. I missed my friends. It just wasn't the same by myself. Debi, Matt, where are you? There are roads to be ridden, locals with ten people on a bike to be humbled by. Six fingered men to be seen, by some.
In the end Italy and I didn't really get along, but the food redeemed it for me. The restaurants are good, but if you really want to experience the glory of Italian food you need to head to the market, grab some utterly amazing raw ingredients and whip up something yourself. This is what food is supposed to be, simple, fresh and great.
There's no way around it; Florence is crowded. It may well be that Naples is the only Italian city that isn't overrun with tourists in the summer, but after three days of hardly seeing another traveler, I wasn't prepared for the crowds. Luckily it isn't hard to avoid the tourist hordes, just get up early and then when everyone else is starting to stir, head for obscure museums like La Specola, part of the Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze.
Pompeii feels both very old and not that different from the modern cities that surround it now. The gap between then and now feels small because when you wander around places like Pompeii you realize that human beings have changed very little over vast expanses of time. Pompeii had the same elements of cities today, a central square, markets, temples, government offices, even fast food. Not much has changed over the years, though togas aren’t much in vogue these days.
Naples Italy is a big, crowded, graffiti-filled city. It's an intimidating place that is by turns a bit like Philadelphia, a bit Mumbai, a bit some post-apocalyptic video game and, in the end, something else entirely. Still, given the tourist epidemic that sweeps Italy every summer, Naples is a place worth appreciating for what it is not, even if what is isn't, perhaps, enough to ever bring you back.