"When you get those rare moments of clarity, those flashes when the universe makes sense, you try desperately to hold on to them. They are the life boats for the darker times, when the vastness of it all, the incomprehensible nature of life is completely illusive. So the question becomes, or should have been all a long... What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfill? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From Cloud Nine to Breakdown

So, today was our day in Venice, Italy. It was…….well, Venice itself was surreal, amazing, magnificent, tremendous(ah, new adjective, yes!)…But, my day was not as good. It started out by me getting on the bus and realizing I left my backup camera battery sitting in its charger back in the hotel room, and my first battery was on its last leg, after having surviving two full days and a bus ride with lots of pictures, AND taking pictures at night AND taking pictures with special effects. I just KNEW that it was gonna die within the first ten pictures in Venice. So, I hate to be a Debbie downer but breaking it down by reasons I came to Europe, it goes like this: Photography 60%, Experience 20%, London 18%, Meeting new people1%, and trying new food 0.5%. So , you can see that photography was a major portion of this trip stimulus and reason for going, and is really important to me. So, upon arrival to Venice I was in a sour mood knowing my camera would not be working with me. These types of things have happened before, for whatever reason (forgot it, battery, memory card full, etc.) and each time, I would rather NOT go to Venice than go without a camera, because it is so painful. It tears my heart when I see magnificent pictures with my eyes, and each time I reach for my camera. Tears. My. Heart. People just don’t get that. You don’t get that unless you’re a photographer. Luckily, I had my handy dandy iphone and it was at 100% battery charge. So, it was me and the iphone that day. I LOVE my iphone camera, it has the best camera out of all previous phones, and has exquisite editing techniques. However the zoom does not impress me and you just don’t get that photographer-feely thing of taking a shot with your actual high-tech camera. But- the iphone pulled through even still, and I still took about 250 pictures and looking through after, they are still just as magnificent as they would have been on the camera. So it all worked out.

So on the way to Venice on the 30 minute ferry I realized that despite sleeping well the night before, I was exceedingly tired and even fell asleep on the ferry. For those of you that know a lot about me on a  really personal level, you know that this is not good. I shrugged it off and we arrived to Venice, as happy clams. We started walking around for a sightseeing tour. As the tour was ending I realized that my throat was really starting to hurt. Rather than opt for personal free time in venice as originally planned with my camera, I changed my mind to stick with the tour director and group in case anything were to happen. This worked out beautifully as by doing this we went to a beautiful glass-blowing demonstration (saw how beautiful exquisite glass is made), a lace demonstration, and went to an authentic Carnivale mask shoppe, famous in Italy. However through all this my throat was getting progressively worse to the point of it being largely uncomfortable to swallow. It was also getting  uncomfortable to breathe, and it was then I was afraid I was coming down with the flu or something, despite my best efforts to maintain perfect health on the trip thus far.

At this point I realized I needed four things desperately: Food I could eat (I hadn’t eaten yet that day because of my newfound realization I could NOT eat Italian food), Any kind of multivitamin to boost my immune system, internet access (It had been like 5 days at this point and I was starting to feel really disconnected from loved ones), and I needed somewhere to just sit and recoup. So, I started at the beginning. My tour guide let us loose for free time for the rest of the day (5 hours), and we were “stuck” in Venice as we could not cross the ferry ride alone back to hotel. I flagged down my tour guide and asked her to help me find something I could eat, being that she could translate to the food services to get me something without cheese or tomatoes. She luckily found me a type of sandwich I had never heard of, with white bread, egg, ham and mayonnaise. Easy and simple enough. This is good because I got my protein in from the egg. She then also found me a big bowl of fruit, God bless her.

After that she needed to meet up with some others, but directed to two other things I needed most: A pharmacy and ANY source of Internet.

It just so happened that I found the internet café first, and came down the desperate-American level to pay for internet access, at 2.50 Euro for 15 minutes. I immediately ran to my assigned computer and went straight to facebook to update everybody, and try and talk to my dad, but he wasn’t there. I also couldn’t remember my blogger login in all my boggled mind, nor either of my email logins. I just couldn’t think clearly and really just wanted any contact with someone back home. So, in order to remain under 15 minutes, I got off when  I could do no more on the internet, and was on my way, defeated.

I found a pharmacy next, or a “farmacie”. I remember reading in my guidebook beforehand that pharmacists are looked upon very highly throughout Europe. People often go to their local pharmacist first for their problems, and he gives them whatever they need. He then is often the one to decide if the person should seek further medical attention or more medicine. I think this is GREAT, because it cuts out all the stupid visits in America where people go to the doctor for the smallest things and waste valuable money. So knowing this, I knew the pharmacy was the best place for me. However, being that I was in a back corner of Venice and out of the general tourist locations, everything was in complete Italian, and I didn’t even recognize any common brands. This is where the cool part comes in….I went directly to the pharmacist and told him IN SPANISH! That I was feeling ill, and needed some immune support (i.e. Vitamin C) and that I had a sore throat. He gave me a mega dose of Vitamin C that I could put in my water, and sore throat with some sort of “disinfectant” (that’s how he put it) to “get rid” of whatever bacteria may be in my throat. So I thankfully took them and went to go sit outside in a more touristy area. So at this point I got everything I needed, I just needed time to recover.

Being wary of taking drugs I don’t know, and in a country I am not familiar with, I tried to read the labels…in Italian, for drug information for how much in a 24 hour pd and what the maximum was, because I wanted to take the maximum. However Italian was a lot more different than Spanish than I’d prepared for, and couldn’t make out much.  I took one VC, and had a throat lozenge, with a full glass of water. Call me crazy but I started to psychologically feel better knowing the Vitamin C was in me starting to do its fighting work. I sat on a major famous fountain thing, with millions of others and just waited. An elderly gentleman came to sit next to me (another special moment!) and I said confidently, “Ciao!” With a smile. He said it back, with a great smile, and told me in Italian that it was so hot out and that the stoop we were sitting on was also very hot. I agreed, with a smile laugh and smile, without letting on that I couldn’t exactly speak Italian back. He then said a much longer phrase that I had no clue what it was, and again I just nodded in agreement. We were both then silent for a good while, and I realized I was feeling well enough to get up and walk around and take some more pictures. I turned back to the gentleman and wished him a good day in Italian and he returned it! It was just very sweet.

We then got back together as a major group, and all went on a gondola ride. If that doesn’t scream Venice, Italy, I don’t know what does. It was like what I always pictured Venice to be: Gondola. Our gondolier even sang for us! It was about a 45 minute ride, I was able to sit down, got some great pictures with my friends, and he took us to the sea as well. Perfect. It was a perfect opportunity to rest a little and not miss Venice’s perfection due to feeling ill.

I got myself a Gelato (SO GOOD! ITS ITALY!) which felt really nice on my now mentholated throat. After walking around for about an hour, I started to develop a strong headache and nausea, which I attributed to the heavy dose of vitamin C on an empty stomach. I re-read the ingredients of the Vitamin C and realized it had aspartame AND sodium bicarbonate in it, both of which cause me migraines from drinking soda. So, good. I basically just drank a large amount of soda, had a large migraine, nausea, a sore throat, was exhausted, and couldn’t breathe….all in the middle of beautiful Venice. I couldn’t believe any of this was actually happening to me, everything I tried so hard to prevent. I attributed it all to not getting enough sleep on the trip thus far, staying out late, getting up early, not sleeping on bus, etc. I realized at this point that although I would love a life of adventure, I don’t think my immune system can handle it if it means not getting a consistent and lengthy amount of sleep every night. Bummer.

So again I sat down on my trusty fountain, while guarding my belongings from quick theft, but also sitting in a way I wasn’t too nauseous. I prayed and prayed and prayed again to God to feel better, that if I could just feel better for today and not be developing some huge illness, that I would do something really good in return, some awesome good deed at some moment, which I still have yet to complete…

Both of my roommates just happened to find me, and I explained what was going on, even though I really, really, really don’t letting people know when I’m ill. I find it extremely embarrassing and did not want the pity call. Also it hurt to talk and I was afraid that if I started venting out everything that was wrong, then that would give me permission to cry, which I obviously did not want to do in the middle of VENICE.  They suggested I get out of the hot sun, and go to see Doge’s palace, which we already had free tickets too anyway, and that it had some nice calm, quiet, dark places to just sit and watch the beautiful palace in. I took this suggestion very appreciateively and decided to do just that. After getting up and walking around the palace, I realized my medications were all starting to kick in some and I was starting to feel better.

Doge’s Palace was amazing, and huge. I found it funny because outside the palace, I just kept thinking, “Disney, Disney, Disney, DISNEY.” Because in Italy’s section in Epcot, Doge’s palace was remodeled and put in as well as the huge tower right next to the palace. Disney even got it right down to the very sculptures on the building to the light towers next to the palace, to the floor even. It was fascinating. I never thought that upon arrival in Venice, I would feel an extreme sense of “I’ve been here before!”. It was too funny.

So thanks to all my medications (at that point I had about four in me- VC, lozenges, antiemetic, and Excedrin) and being able to relax in the palace- It was finally time to head back to the hotel for the evening, and I was feeling much better. I said goodbye to Venice and felt sad that I couldn’t have been happier while in Venice, and that I let illness rain on my parade. I hate that when one health problem goes awry, I let it all spiral out of control because of my psychological anxiety.

We went back to hotel, and I went to the beach again to get some day pictures, and went to the supermarket to pick up some dinner with another third (and new) roommate. She needed lotion, and needed the Cashier who spoke minimal English to help her find some. When the cashier came back to check me out, She spoke to me in Italian about the girl who was with me, and I thought it was funny that she choose to talk to me in Italian, simply because I had greeted her in Italian. Greeting people in their native language when you are in their native language does a long way and does a lot for you!

Upon arriving back to the hotel, I arranged to skip out on that evenings nightly drinking activities, and I relaxed on my Italian hotel balcony overlooking the street, eating my grapes, baby food and new Italian chips with olive oil. It was then 9 pm and I decided sleep was the best thing for me, and I went to bed, and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 8 am the next morning. YES.

This morning I felt a lot better. I had taken another dose of Vitamin C before bed, this time WITH an Excedrin to prevent the imminent headache. My throat felt dry but didn’t hurt as much. Throughout the day so far It has hurt still but the menthol is working a lot. I think a large part of it is allergies, luckily, which I am able to take care of. I think for the second half of the trip (starting now) I will start trying to make more of a stronger effort to go to bed at a decent time, rather than living the night away, ignoring my health. I honestly don’t know how other people do it, every night. They are lucky. Gosh, I feel so old. Bleh.

Anyway, hopefully I can put that whole Immune system breakdown behind me. I am disappointed that it had to happen in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it put a huge dent in my day, but even so I tried to make the best of it and still got a lot of great pictures (268!) and experienced a lot of venice, AND spoke Spanish in times of dire need!

I feel like I still have so many “miscellaneous” things to tell you, but that every time I am done with my blog explaining my day, it is so long I can’t include miscellaneous things! I will have to dedicate a post at the end to throw in all my miscellaneous moments…


~A Writer in a Nurse’s Body

Finally, I can speak!

Wow…still no wifi!! Not sure yet If I’m going to post all of these at the same time or give you time to read each one a day apart…hmm. I *paid* for internet yesterday in an Italian computer café (weird) just so I could log onto Facebook and let people know I was alive, but other than that….nada.

So, INNSBRUCK WAS AMAZING!!!! First of all, DRIVING through on the way to Innsbruck was phenomenal, we were all on the one side of the bus taking pictures through the windows because just the view was fascinating. We have (or at least most of us) have seen snow before, lots of times. But there is just something jaw-dropping as seeing snow covered Mountain Alps. In May.  These mountains are just so..powerful, so alive. They speak to us as we drive through, tell us stories about nature. But it gets better.

Innsbruck, the town we stopped in for a couple hours to have lunch, was right next to this gorgeous mountain range. We ate lunch outside (it was PERFECT weather) and from my lunch table, I could see the whole town of Innsbruck and the magnificent mountain range encasing the whole town in the back. I can’t even really describe it. As soon as I am able to show pictures, I will input pictures into these blogs. But honestly I don’t even think a picture would describe it enough. Just the air to breathe was fresh, invigorating. Enlightening.

Our exact restaurant for lunch....I sat under one of those umbrellas. Perfection!

View from sitting down...

Sitting there, It felt like I was in a scene of the movie “Inception”. Particuarly thinking of the lunch scene where Leo takes Ellen to the dreamworld, and they are in some (probably European) city having lunch. Everyone in the background is just so happy, cheerful, there is a serene atmostphere that you can tell is just not real. That’s how lunch in Innsbruck felt. I felt like if I could create my own dreamworld, this would be it. I was waiting for someone to wake me up and I’d still be in Munich.

But unfortunately we had to get (practically dragged) back onto the bus and we were all still taking pictures like crazy through the windows- we couldn’t get enough.

Then, we set on our way to Italy. Just the thought of it made me so excited- I was jumping around inside my heart because I couldn’t wait to SEE Italy. I mean all the countries so far have been AMAZING, but Italy was second on my list on “Must see” right after London. So, it was exciting. Crossing the border alone was fascinating, we saw people parachuting off the Alps, as high as the clouds. My tour guide announces, “To the right you can see people bungee jumping off the bridge we will be travelling over”.  It was just all too surreal.

Lol. Nothing but italian vineyards!

Just one of 82,239,293,222 castles we passed. It began to become a "Normal" thing.


At last we pulled into our Italian hotel. What an experience!

We didn’t actually stay in Venice, but a hotel about a 20 minute ferry ride away from Venice, and a 2 hour drive. Our tour guide “prepped” us for the hotel experience we were about to have and this is what we got:

“These hotels were all mostly built in the 80s. Everything is much smaller, much less space than what you are all used to. The shower is in a wet room- meaning you leave your clothes outside and the shower is not in its own stall- No, In fact its right above the toilet. You sit on the toilet and, well, you know. Just shower. And the whole bathroom gets wet and drains through a hole in the floor. No elevators, no internet, no air conditioning. And oh- Italy has a known “Spiderman” who mostly spends time in Venice, but has been known to make his (or their) presence known in our island. What this guy (or group) does is literally climb walls (with tools?) and can climb into hotel balconies and enter your room and loot whatever they can. Meaning, don’t leave your balcony door open for extra air at night.” She also warned us that Venice, our destrination for the whole next day, was the place we had to be careful of pickpockets the most, in all our cities so far and to be yet. Pickpockets are getting more and more skilled and creative and even somebody that just bumps into you may be able to snatch something. And obviously, they head right for the tourists who are so awestruck and taking pictures, that they aren’t religiously watching their belongings.

So with all that exciting news, the bus was generally pretty upset, lots of moans and groans. However, all I could think was, We can live for two nights with these new changes. We are acting so…American. So although the amenities weren’t top notch, I was excited for the experience of being in a hotel…in Italy. And it certainly was an experience! I don’t have much else to say about the hotel, beause all of what she warned us about was true. It was very small, but still pretty cool. Regardless of everything, we were in ITALY!!

After check in, we went to dinner, the beach and shopping on our island.

Dinner was….amazing. I kept changing my mind over whether or not to get Italian food, that I missed so much. Everyone else was getting pizza, and I wanted it so badly. I saw a chicken meal on the menu that I would have been alright eating with no risks, but I wanted the pizza so much I was willing to take a risk. I thought, maybe since its real Italian food it won’t cause me to be as nauseous? Real Italian pizza. I thought, even if it causes me hell, I can now say I ate pizza in Italy. I took 5 lactaids (probably overkill but better safe than sorry).  After dinner I felt alright! Woo, I made it through! I took a couple bites of the real pizza but then also ate most of it without the cheese by scraping it off.

Then I locked myself in the bathroom. Which, had nothing whatsoever to do with being sick, but it was JUST as embarrassing. Other girls that visited the bathroom told us that they locked themselves in, but I figured it couldn’t be THAT hard. Well, it was. I officially hate all Italian doors. The lock was the type where you literally lock the door after you, with an actual key. And then spin it back to unlock it. Well, I have trouble with keys. I don’t even really like using keys in America, but at least I can. But this key/lock and I were not exactly getting along. I tried everything, but to no avail. I started panicking, thoughts starting getting less logical and it was going on ten minutes. I couldn’t believe that I actually managed to lock myself in an Italian bathroom and I HAD THE KEY. Eventually, I heard someone on the outside, speaking in Italian. I told him in Spanish that I spoke English, and I didn’t have to tell him I was locked in because I’m pretty sure he got that much just by the fact that I was constantly trying to open the lock. He kept giving simple (Italian) directions and due to the fact that I couldn’t think clearly, I wasn’t getting any of it. I kept trying different combinations of letting go, pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, spinning, jumping, praying, but nothing worked. Finally I heard a woman voice say, “I get key!” So she left and I kept playing with it. AND I GOT IT. WTF. She finally gets her key and then I finally get it on my own. Figures. They seriously need directions on that door. Then she came back with my key, and I’m all there like a silly American with a stupid sheepish sorry look on my face, washing her hands and all I could say was ‘Lo siento” in Spanish. And Thank you. From then on I decided not to take on ANY more Italian doors (despite the fact that I ALSO locked myself in my hotel bathroom door but it turned out to just be  a button you had to press in).

After dinner, we went to the BEACH! WE WERE ON A BEACH IN ITALY! A BEACH! The sand was PERFECT, it was the softest sand I had ever EVER walked on, and the water was so much warmer than it is this time in New York. I personally didn’t go swimming due to my fear of the ocean, but it was an experience all the same. I got some GREAT pictures of the beach during sunset time.

Shopping after that was interesting. The shopping streets after 9 turn into pedestrian only streets and even around 11, the streets were packed with families, babies, kids, elderly, tourists, all sorts of people shopping. All kinds of lively shops, too. Marts, expensive clothing, shoes, not expensive clothing, souveniers, etc. I have absolutely no fashion sense at all, but it was fun looking at all the Italian clothes that were all high fashion, and dreaming about one day having enough money to be able to walk down an Italian street and just buy shoes I thought were nice, or a gorgeous shirt, “just because” rather than sticking automatically to the clearance rack. All of the girls on this trip are all very….stylin’. Even just down to their flip flops, they have the most intricate and pretty flip flops, and I have Adidas. But, Adidas are comfy and I don’t have any blisters, so woo!

Back at the hotel, I started to immediately regret trying the pizza. All of the sudden I was standing there and it just all set in at once. But it wasn’t the dairy, that was covered I was pretty sure, with 5 lactaid. It was the tomatoes, which I can’t do anything about. Except regret. I took all my anti-nausea medicines and prayed to at least get some sleep through the impending serious doom. Despite having a lot more to do before lights out- all I could do was lay still on my bed without moving a muscle. If I did move a muscle, I probably would have not have had any friends any more due to showing them the pizza I ate earlier on a floor I’m sure.

Aside from all that negative news, I do have something positive to end with:

I AM SO HAPPY TO FINALLY BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE IN A COUNTRY. IN A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. I never thought that four years of Spanish ever paid off. I mean, I speak it *sometimes* at work, but only minimally. But I couldn’t believe how much was all flooding back when I needed it most, in Italy. Granted, they don’t speak Spanish, they speak Italian, but I figured they were all more likely to understand Spanish than English. And I was right. Through all my funny attempts to communicate in Spanish, they all understood very well. It was amazing. Even just knowing the basic grammar and how Spanish is supposed to work, and some basic vocabulary is enough to get by. And words I thought I forgot, suddenly came back. I was literally pulling them from the back of my mind, as it took a couple seconds to remember. So cool! I feel like I could get by in Spain or Italy, or Mexico. My only weakness is not being able to understand what everyone else is speaking. It just is too fast for me and too much slang and no clear articulation, and its hard to remember the whole sentence someone just said and then piece together what you know in your mind. I can read Spanish well, speak enough to get by, and write enough, but not listen. So I need to work on that.

Well, tomorrow is a jam packed full day in Venice, Italy!! So exciting :D  Goodnight!

~A Writer in a Nurse’s Body