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[Brian] Today was spent on the ferry. There have been pretty shorelines to see but in general it has been day of relaxation and reflection.

A few thoughts on Italy as we are leaving it:

  • Italians are a passionate people. You feel the difference from the moment you meet them - they don't give the obligatory "nice to meet you" or even shake your hand, they grab you hard and kiss you on both cheeks. They smile and laugh and argue and shout, waving their hands to drive their points home. They love their food, both cooking it and eating it. Driving is a personal, visceral, experience, not to be fettered by distractions like speed limits, traffic signs, lane delimiters or even conventional wisdom about passing on blind curves. Talking is such a way of life that it seems everyone carries cellular phones and uses them - I stood next to a group of teenagers while watching fireworks in Sorrento, and it seems every few minutes there'd be a ring and everyone would dive for their phones. In towns, people seem to spend much of their time greeting and talking with friends they haven't seen for a while (hours?). Kissing and other public displays of affection are ubiquitous.
  • I haven't quite figured it out, but the concepts of family, love, and food are inextricably linked in the Italian culture. Italians seem hard-wired to love their family members, and to want to demonstrate that love by smothering family members with food.
  • There is a tremendous amount of history here. There were so many old buildings, churches, pieces of art, etc, that it was clear from the start it was impossible to see any appreciable subset of them. Even the Italians themselves seem to have given up - we passed innumerable old abandoned castles, and saw rooms full of forgotten Renaissance art. In Pompeii, there is so much old stuff lying around they don't even bother trying to protect most of it - you can't help but bump into 2000 year-old frescos or statues.
  • To me it is a very beautiful country. I saw little pollution or over-Americanization; it seems there are building codes which require cute little old-style stucco houses everywhere. I loved the rolling hills of central Italy, the vast groves of Olive trees on the Adriatic, and the spectacular Amalfi coast.

We arrived at Patras, on the west side of Greece, a little after 7:00, and in Athens after 10:00. Our first impression is of that it is a pretty city at night, with the Acropolis all lit up in the center of the city. Our second impression is that there is a fair amount of hustling going on, as we are bombarded by people offering us their services in areas like taxis, hotels, tour packages. We are suspicious of all offers after being warned by our guide book. Unfortunately the hotel we made reservations at claims they never heard of us, and in any case, they are booked. Fortunately we find another which turns out to be neat and clean and well-located, if cursed with a prehistoric phone system which once again precludes net access.