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Friday, May 14, 2010

L’Italia è molto bella!

Dear Blog,

Before this, I’d planned thought about going to Paris with some friends, since today is a holiday and tomorrow we have no class (they call it “faire le pont” or “bridging” which means they declare it a holiday so they can have a longer weekend – cuti peristiwa la katakan). But then the train tickets to Paris are really expensive, and I’ve already deposited all my travelers cheques into my French bank account which hasn’t (and probably cannot) be validated yet because my foster parent doesn’t have a proper Identity card. Hence, being wise and judicious as usual, I decided against spending the little money I have left on a 4 day trip to Paris and then go hungry for the rest of the time it takes to properly open my bank account, so instead, I decided to go to Italy! It’s just nearby anyway, and a lot cheaper to go to.

I first got the idea of going to Italy when one day I came home and Martine (that’s my foster parent) casually said “I went to Italy just now, bought some cigarettes,” like it was just next door. 

That is a much longer introduction that I’d intended. 

So today, I went to Italy.

I wanted to leave early so I could see as much of Italy as possible, so I left for Italy at 9:00 am 10:00 am 11:00 am. So much for leaving early. There is a very good explanation why this happened. You see, Asyraf planned to go to Monaco today with some friends, so being the bestest best friend that I am, I accompanied him to the bus station where we were supposed to split up so he could take the bus to Monaco with his friends, while I was to take the bus to Italy. The bus to Italy which I subsequently found out doesn’t exist at all. Apparently, the only way to get to Italy from Nice other than by driving is to take a train. Or walk, but that would be somewhat crazy, unless you’re rolling on a fistful of painkillers. There might be a plane, but that would cost so much it would completely defeat the purpose of not going to Paris so I can save money. 

We left the house around 10, got to the bus station soon after, and when I discovered that I’d have to take a train, I decided to take the bus to Monaco with Asyraf and the gang and take the train from there to Italy instead of walk all the way to the Nice train station (I didn’t have a fistful of painkillers, you see). When we got to the train station, it was around 10:30, and the bus number 100 bound for Monaco was already there, just waiting for us to get on board. But of course, we couldn’t because we had to spend the next 45 minutes waiting for our punctual Malaysian ladies.

When they finally arrived, we got on the bus and we were on our way to Monaco! 

Really, this introduction is starting to get very long.

>> Fast forward to 12.20 when I said goodbye to my Malaysian friends and got down in front of Monaco train station. 

I got to the Monaco train station, and bought a train ticket to Ventimiglia, or Vintimille as it’s called in French. Being less than 25 years old and bursting with youth, I got a reduction and paid only 2 euros or so for the ticket.
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This is me waiting for the 12:47 train to Vintimille. I’m not in the picture, because I’m the one who took it.
But maybe if you look closely, I’m in the reflection in the screen. 

The train tracks are along the coast, so the view out the window along the way is quite pretty.

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Train rides just got a whole lot less boring 

In fact, the train travels so close to the sea that I imagine if a tsunami were to hit, I wouldn’t be able to blog about it. (But if I did, it would be way funny, promise)

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Seeing this through the window, I had a sudden and strong urge to look up “drown” in a French dictionary 

At precisely 1:08 pm something in my left pocket started vibrating, and I thought “Oh shit, who put a vibrating dildo in my pants?” Turns out it was my phone (I haven’t been carrying it around for the longest time that I completely forgot about it). I received the following SMS from Digi:

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You won’t believe how difficult it was to take this photo

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I told you it wasn’t easy 

At 1:20pm, the train pulled into La stazione di Ventimiglia (that’s the Ventimiglia train station, for those of you who don’t parli italiano).

The first thing I did was buy an ice cream, and I learned how to do it in Italian! 

Buongiorno signora. Uno gelato cioccolato, coppa media, per favore. Grazie. 

Then I headed out of the train station and I was on the streets of Ventimiglia. I hadn’t done any research about it online, nor had I asked anyone about it before going there, much like the adventurous (or rather lazy and can’t be arsed) me, so I had absolutely no clue where to go.

Fortunately, just as I crossed the road, a portly man said “ciao” to me. I said ciao back, and thought to myself, wow, these Italians are really friendly people. Then he asked me, “italiano?” to which I replied, “no, francese,” without even realizing that in fact, I’m not French at all. Just as well, because I didn’t know how to say ‘Malaysian’ in Italian.

I was really eager to put my limited knowledge of Italian to use, so I asked him “parli francese?” Much to my delight, he replied, “sì, un po'.” I then went on to ask him, in French, if he could suggest a few of interesting or touristic places to visit in this city. That’s when he told me that there’s a ufficio turistico, and gave me directions. I didn’t really catch what he said, but from his excessive stereotypically Italian hand gestures, I knew roughly where to go, so I said “grazie,” and headed in the general direction in which he pointed (truth be told, in the two minutes we spoke, his hands had actually flown in every direction I could possibly think of).

I’d barely taken seven steps when he ran up to me from behind and told me that he’d take me there. I thought that he was being really nice, and I was quite thankful. That is, until he suddenly asked me “marié?” Instantly my mind flashed back to the encounter I had with that ancient Italian man in Nice.

No.
Fiancé?
No. Solo.
Solo?” As he said this, I could have sworn his face lit up with excitement, and perhaps anticipation. I thought “Why is it that all the post-prime unattractive Italian men are attracted to me?” – at this point the phrase “Italian babe magnet” comes to mind, but this is completely different… 

Perhaps it was just my overly imaginative mind, or perhaps I was slightly paranoid, but in the end he just led me to the tourism office and left me in peace. No offer for paid “adventures” or anything.

The tourism office was closed for lunch though, and it would only reopen at 3 pm. Boy that’s some lunch break huh. These Europeans take their lunch and siestas pretty seriously. Since there was no way to get any touristic info/brochures/maps, I just continued to wander around aimlessly.

I don’t really recall what happened next, but I do remember that I finished my delicious chocolate ice cream at the precise moment I walked away from the tourism office, and then I threw the empty cup into one of the many dustbins conveniently placed along the road so as not to litter the pristine environment.

Ah yes, I remember now! I just walked around the town, and discovered…well, nothing really. It was absolutely void of anything interesting. I did however, entertain myself by saying “buongiorno” and “ciao” to everyone I passed by, and every now and then throwing in a “scusi, parli francese?”and “parli inglesi?” not really caring about what I got in response. If it was negative, I’d just say “Non importa, grazie.” But twice I stumbled upon some Italians who spoke French and from whom I learned that there is a weekly market in Ventimiglia, but that it’s only open on Fridays. Another person told me that “there’s absolutely nothing interesting in Ventimiglia” and that I should go to Sanremo.

At that point, I’d been walking for a while, and I started to feel a little rumbly in my tumbly, so I continued walking looking out for Halal restaurants. Soon enough, I came across the familiar golden arches of Mcdonald’s (Macdo en français and simply MacDonald in italiano), so I headed there to get a fillet-o-fish.

In the parking lot, I saw a family coming out of the car, so deciding to amuse myself one more time before eating, I approached them, greeted them and asked “parli francese?(I’d repeated it enough times that I actually got really good at saying it with a nice Italian accent – the only thing missing was the excessive hand gestures). The lady replied “Oui, pour quoi?” and she didn’t have a strange accent, so I was quite excited that finally I’d found someone who could actually speak French. She then told me that the only interesting thing worth seeing in Vintimille was the beach, and then she explained that to get Sanremo, it would be “complicated” on foot, and that I should take a bus.

Apparently the beach was just nearby. In fact, it was no more than 100 metres from where we were standing. I could see it from the McD. But of course, that could wait. I had to get my fillet-o-fish (not to mention try out my Italian at McD).

I went straight to the counter, and with confidence only a shameless creature like me could muster, I spoke Italian as best as I knew (of course I studied the menu carefully and formulated sentences in what I could only assume was grammatically correct Italian, using my expert mastery of English and French as a basis). 

Uno filet-o-fish, solo panino, non il menu. 

Success! I’d probably butchered the beautiful language in the process, but I managed to get my delicious filet-o-fish.

After wolfing down the delicious sandwich, I headed out of McDonald’s, asked some French speaking people the directions to the bus station, and then headed off in the exact opposite direction (to the beach), just to confuse them.

The beach was beautiful, and the weather was lovely! There was sun, blue skies and blue sea! And there were people on the beach, making the most of it by tanning in the sun.

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I like the different shades of blue and brown 

I would have stayed longer at the beach, but then I also couldn’t wait to go to Sanremo, so I left before I had the chance to strip down and make a spectacle of myself.

The bus to Sanremo cost € 3.30, and I didn’t have exact change, so I had to pay with a 10 euro note. Normally I would have felt quite bad for making the bus driver have to fish around for change, but instead I was quite happy to finally be able to say “Scusate” which is Italian for “I just ruined your day, didn’t I? Trust me, if I had a bigger note, I’d have used that instead.

It was a really long ride, but nothing remarkable happened on the bus. Before getting on the bus however, on the way to the bus station, I do remember seeing this, which I thought was quite cute:
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Oh, I remember now, on the bus I got a quick lesson on basic Italian from one of the passengers. I learned how to count to a hundred! Naturally, it made me feel like a hero.

At the end of the unremarkable bus ride, I got to Sanremo. I was quite sure of this because after getting down from the bus and walking a little bit, I saw this:

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Sanremo was actually not very much different than what I’ve seen of France so far. Maybe the only difference was that it was a little cleaner. Other than all the signs being in Italian and all the people talking while flailing their arms, I didn’t really notice much of a difference.
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It even has its fair share of circus freaks, much like at Nice 

I found out from some of the local people that there are lots of cultural and touristic places in Sanremo, like museums and old stuff and other artsy-shmartsy things that people can visit to feel fancy.

It was quite difficult to find because it doesn’t stand out, but eventually I found the Museo Civico. 

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With my expansive linguistic skills, I can tell you that Museo Civico means Civic Musuem and Acheologico means Archaeology. I’m not sure what Pinacoteca means, but it sounds like an alcoholic beverage.


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Now you see why I nearly missed it. Plus, it looked like it was closed. 

The gate was locked, and it looked like it wasn’t open to visitors, so I wouldn’t have gone in if it wasn’t for my mischief and love for adventure and trouble a French couple who quite cleverly rang the bell which then opened the gate. 

Inside, there were various pieces of art, scattered between tons of old dusty things and bones from ancient dead animals. I didn’t take photos of the preserved dead animal remains, because I don’t think that’s very interesting, but I do have photos of some of the modern art which makes you feel fancy and full of culture when you look at it.

imageThe fanciness factor is due precisely to the fact that you don’t really know what it's supposed to be

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I’m uploading only two of these photos because they all look the same anyway.

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Full of culture. Like yoghurt.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so this brings the word count for this post to 3 billion words. 

After the trip to the museum and getting my dose of art and culture, I set about looking for a mosque. I asked around, but I didn’t know the Italian word for mosque, so I improvised: 

Dov’è la cattedrale per i musulmani ? 

No one I asked had any clue, but in the process, I learned that the Italian word for mosque is moschea, which, when I think about it now, is not very difficult to guess.

After all that travelling and walking around, naturally I was quite hungry, so I grabbed a quick bite at a Kebab shop. There, I learned from the Pakistani waiter how to tell directions in Italian.

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Yes, it’s halal even though it has the word babi in it. 

I didn’t get close to finding a mosque until I happened upon some Middle Eastern looking people who were speaking Arabic. So I asked them in Arabic,هل تعرف أين المسجد؟ 

They then proceed to give me lengthy directions in Arabic, which I didn’t understand one bit, so I said لا أتكلم ولا أفهم اللغة العربيةwhich means “I don’t speak or understand Arabic”, which is actually quite an Ironic thing to say. إهديني الصراط مع يديك– show me the way with your hands.

And that’s how I managed to find the mosque!

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Inconspicuous and not very easy to find 

After that I took a casual stroll back to the city centre and just walked around, watching all the animated people around me.  The streets were full of people just hanging out, having drinks and chatting away. 

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Pigeons! 

I walked along the streets, not really heading anywhere in particular, when suddenly I could see the beach in the horizon. I think it’s so wonderful that you can be walking in the streets of a busy town one moment, and then the next thing you know, you’re at the beach! I wonder if everyone wears speedos and bikinis under their clothes so that they’re always prepared to hit the beach and go sun bathing. I mean, if they really wanted to, they could just walk over to the beach during lunch hour and get a nice tan.

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The message on the T-shirt is just a precaution against horny old Italian men

After getting a nice old Italian man to take my photo at the beach (who, luckily, didn’t make any advances at me) I made my way to the train station. To find it, I asked for directions. In case you ever go to Italy, here’s how you ask where the train station is in the local language: 

Dov’è la stazione ?

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Sanremo train station 

I got to the station, and I bought the ticket to get to Nice. I said “Nizza, per favore” and he gave me two bigiletti (that’s Italian for ticket): one for Sanremo to Ventimiglia, and another for Ventimiglia to Nice.

When the train stopped at Ventimiglia, a lady approached me and asked if we were at Ventimiglia. I said “si,” then she continued talking to me in Italian. After telling her that I didn’t understand Italian, she then explained to me in French that she was heading to Nice too, and that she was told at the train station in Menton, Italy, that she could buy the ticket for the Vetimiglia-Nice train onboard the Sanremo-Ventimiglia train. The problem was that no tickets were sold on board, so she was quite at a loss.

I helped her with her luggage, carrying it down the stairs and then up the stairs again to board the next train (which she conveniently boarded without a ticket) and then we continued talking and had a conversation about everything from the weather, to the people of Italy and France, about Cannes, and everything in between. Her name was Valentina, and she had a really cute Italian accent when she spoke French.
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Valentina 

With the company and interesting conversation, time went by quite fast, and soon enough we’d arrived at the Nice train station. She gave me a kiss, we exchanged au revoirs and arrivedercis, and then I headed home.

4 comments:

Nizam said...

that... is a long post. i can't read long posta.

Hakim Luqman said...

yes, quite long really. 3,130 words. Thanks for visiting anyway =)

Suhana Suid said...

14-17 june..im goin to nice.. :)

Quiescence said...

i enjoyed this one thoroughly. I'm amazed you could speak all these languages. (maybe not so much, somehow it seems to be expected of you [shrug])

awesome, as always :D

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