Monday, July 14, 2014

Vacated

The recent paucity of posts on this blog in past weeks is actually not an indication that I (the blogger) have lost interest in the niche topics discussed here.  I'd actually been traveling until yesterday with a troupe of friends (who have kindly subsidized my participation) to visit some places I've never previously been.


Italy

Milan:  the Duomo and the Sforza castle, and a generous helping of food.

The Alps:  Tre Cime.  Breathtakingly gorgeous (and cold).  Beware of government bridge trolls extorting tourists far more than the official rates to enter and leave.  Our normally very civilized group was temped to ram the barrier on the way out. 

Venice:  lunch on the way to Tuscany.  Extremely charming, and the tourist-infested area we went to doesn't actually smell bad.  Best of luck to the Venetians on their quest to secede from Italy:

Florence:  the tourist mecca that is the city center appears to have retained all its beautiful architecture from past centuries.  Of course we had to visit the venerable Uffizi museum and wander through the town's ancient cobblestone streets.  Highly recommended for food is "ZaZa" which despite its sprawling size and frighteningly large menu consistently delivers some of tastiest Italian food on the planet. 

Tuscany (outside Florence):  Siena and some smaller ancient-walled-cities-also-built-on-hills, and a winery or two.  The Duomo and the old town square in Siena are stunning.

Rome:  magnificent, regal, and at least a little bit horrifying.  This is the true "City of Thieves", the seat of the Roman Empire which sacked its corner of the globe in its day, to be followed by the Vatican (parasitically constructed with material from the once-grand edifices of the Roman Empire) which was also a military empire itself, to be followed by the regime which defined "Fascism".  This is a place which in recorded history has defined itself by taking the property and lives of others through force and fraud.  The tradition continues in less-deadly form through Rome's hordes of con-artists and pickpockets.  Visit, but in numbers and with the knowledge that you will be a target.

Fascinating to see history essentially frozen in place, and a land that once was the center of Western civilization transformed from political and cultural superpower to (at least partially) a living museum of past glories.  A warning, perhaps, to the declining empire that is America.


Iceland
A Nordic nation in the extreme North latitudes, Iceland may have more natural beauty per square mile than any other place I've been.  We made a rough circuit of the island over a week, around fjords and mountains, crystalline lakes, otherworldly volcanic plains, natural geysers, waterfalls, and the edge of the permanent iceberg that occupies the Southeast of the country.  The main road, aside from offering hours of gorgeous views, also seems to run through endless acres of grazing land for sheep, cattle, and horses.  Unsurprisingly, the culinary expertise of Islanders seems to focus on fish and lamb. 

Quite to the contrary of Italy, in the city and towns of Iceland I saw zero poverty.   Even the hitchhikers (mostly 20-something kids) seem to be middle class and educated.  This seems to be common among smaller countries that enjoy geographic isolation, cold weather (winter is not survivable out-of-doors for long, no doubt discouraging voluntary joblessness), and a culturally homogenous population (does this stave off the influence of the State?).  Other examples:  Switzerland, Bhutan, and to a lesser degree some the other Nordic states.  There's certainly (and justifiably) a lot of tourism here, but unlike the places in Italy I've seen, Iceland probably doesn't rely on it to survive. 

On the road from the Kefavlik airport, a large and conspicuous sign displays the EU flag, a "plus" sign, and the Icelandic flag.  The caption in bold letters underneath reads "NEI TAKK": "No Thanks".  Iceland is reportedly also an epicenter of Bitcoin mining, thanks to plentiful and cheap geothermal power.  Were it not for the weather, I suspect Iceland would be a magnet for American expatriates, libertarian and otherwise. 


During my absence, I've been keeping an eye on my usual sources of news (Drudge, Infowars, etc.) and have been pleasantly surprised that other than a couple of weekends of higher-than-usual violence, the major US news seems to have been entirely about the ongoing immigration saga.

I expect to be back to the usual posting frequency once I've re-acclimated to America. 

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