In fact, Im writing this article from an Internet Cafe in the Earls Court section of London, near my hotel, the Ibis Earls Court.
The bottom line is this, Europeans may be concerned about George W. Bush and his war in Iraq, some more so than others, but as a continent, they have their own ways of living and thinking. I experienced no hostility of any kind and got the impression that most Europeans consider Iraq a tragedy, but its Americas tragedy. The Italians are lively and amazingly friendly. The French are justifiably proud of the beauty of Paris, and it is astonishingly beautiful. The British arent overwhelmingly happy with their Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who the left-wing press calls Bushs poodle.
We spent a lot of time amongst real Europeans, although we did see the important sights in each city, but wanted to make sure we traveled away from the tourist traps. We mastered the metro systems in each city that had one.
Rome was surprisingly dirty. There is litter and graffiti, a 1960s and 1970s American experience, everywhere. There are discussions about it on television talk shows. Pedestrians have to watch out for zippy, noisy motor scooters, of which there must be hundreds of thousands. Traffic is chaotic and drivers park their Mo-peds and cars everywhere and anywhere they can. I loved the madness of it all.
Michael Moores Fahrenheit 9/11 was playing at a movie theater around the corner from our hotel, the family-run Hotel Alimandi on Via Tunisi in the Prati district. The view from our window was of the Vatican Wall. Sitting on the sixth floor roof-top breakfast area (and what a great breakfast), you could see the the dome of St. Peters. The Pope was in town, but we missed his Wednesday show for the tourists. We went to the Colosseum and the Forum that day. Id recommend the Alimandi to everyone. Not expensive, very clean, and with a great three-brother staff (Paolo, Enrico, and Luigi) that was always on hand to tend to duties.
Eating in Rome was something wonderful. The people love their cafes and pizzerias. Dinner starts at 8 or 9 in the evening and no waiter bugs you with the check. You can sit outdoors all night eating then thin-crusted, fresh as anything pizza and drink your esperesso and never be bothered. 10 oclock, 11, nobody cares. For all the pasta and pizza they eat, the Italians are thin and healthy. Dessert was usually half of a fresh pineapple or a quarter of a watermelon. And dont get me started on the gelato and sorbetto. Heaven!!
Venice is total magic. No other way to describe it. Once youre there, you walk and walk and walk and enjoy every minute of it. No cars for three days. Although we did see St. Marks and the pigeons and all that, we also strolled the Rialto Market, tucked away near a canal, where the fish is so fresh, some of the catch is still jumping in their baskets. We stayed at the Hotel Bernardi on Calle De LOca, another family-run place, and highly recommended. The owner has bought a couple of other floors in nearby buildings so some guests get to stay in their own private suites away from the main hotel. We had one of those and it was terrific.
Florence meant the Uffizi (with its very important national collection) and the Accademia (with Michelangelos statue of David). Actually seeing the David statue is stunning. It is more powerful than any picture can capture. Our hotel was the La Fortezza, on Via Giovanni Milton, in a restored 1850s villa with retro furnishings and another superb breakfast. A great place away from the tourists. Our traditional Tuscan meal took place at Il Latina, where I had, among other delights, ribbolita - a tasty bowl of beans, spinach, broth, and day-old crushed bread. The communal dining experience at this hugely popular spot meant we shared our table with an elderly couple from Venice and two American couples, a homebuilder and his wife from Springfield, Missouri, and a 2nd-generation Asian-American newly-wed duo. It was a sublime eating experience. The food and wine kept coming.
In Paris, everyone who smokes will smoke everywhere they can, and that means anywhere. And most Parisians smoke. And eat in outdoor cafes. Buying a piping hot fresh baguette (a 3-foot loaf of bread) for 80 euros (90 cents) at 7 in the evening is grand fun. Saw the Mona Lisa at the Lourve, and she is also impressive, but the Lourve allows photographs and the tourists are like crazed barbarians, snapping their pix in an endless stream. The collection of Impressionist art at the Musee DOrsay is astonishing.
We saw Woody Allens Manhattan in English with French subtitles in a tiny theater near the Sorbonne. The seats were the most comfortable in which Ive ever sat. The audience was silent beyond belief. Cinema was their religion and the theater was their church. Our hotel was the very affordable Libertel Austerlitz in a great location near the Seine, but if you book, make sure you get a room away from the noisy street. Our room was in the back and quiet, but folks in the front couldnt open their windows because of the traffic, and the place has no air conditioning. Our traditional bistro meal took place at Cafe Hugo in the Marais neighborhood under the apartment building where Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables.
Once in London, our first evening in London meant traditional pub grub: roast lamb, biscuits and gravy, potatoes, peas, and warm brown beer.
The truth of the matter may be patently obvious to smarter Americans, which is most of you. Europeans like the U.S.A. and Americans, but they have their own views and lifestyles. Too much concentration on politics will only hurt people, not help them. The American government needs to open its eyes and ears to the views and cultural wants and needs of Europe.
And, come on, once youve seen Paris and its gardens, fountains, broad boulevards, and traffic circles, you know that no American city has every been designed as well or better By Michael Calleri
Ive never smoked more in my life than I did in Paris, and I dont even smoke.
No movies this week, as Ive been toddling around Europe since September 21. These are just some of my impressions, but the fact of the matter is that there are just too many impressions for one column. My esteemed publisher, Joe Schmidbauer, would have to give me the entire paper. So, here are the highlights, hopefully with some helpful hints for you.