That Unplanned Trip You Have to Take

i was writing about a 2006 trip to italy for #indie2012 and was reminded about how i had to do something i hope i will never have to again:

i don’t really have any tips on finding bereavement fares (if you’re reading this because you were looking for help, i’m so sorry for your loss *big hug*) other than to be persistent and check all avenues if you have the time. hopefully something cheap will come up.

[picking up from where i cut and pasted from the other entry — i decided this deserved its own post:]

…the only bad part about this experience is that i received a phone call on my last night in milan that my grandfather had passed away and i had to return to los angeles if at all possible that weekend for the funeral.

i remember frantically trying to find local airline phone numbers, calling them to see what my options were in terms of bereavement fares (pretty much niente) and schedules (equally cruddy), and discovering that nothing was cheap and convenient.

to give you an idea of how whirlwind this was, this all happened on a wednesday night, and i still had most of the day thursday to sightsee. it would have been too expensive to move my flight, so i figured i might as well make the most of it before going home to germany where i was in grad school. i had to be in LA by friday. (i could not fly directly to LA from milan, since i was woefully underpacked for a funeral and prices were crazy expensive as well.)

i still have the information on my flight from milan back to stuttgart, which corroborates the timing as i remember it in my mind’s eye:

By the way, I lived for these one-cent fares as a wanderlusty student!

i got back in to stuttgart thursday evening and i remember asking about ticket prices at the various ticket counters at the airport. i got sympathetic looks, but nothing really feasible for a student trying to leave the next day.

back at my dorm room that night, i looked online and stumbled upon a great fare from orbitz (which, by the way, according to my history, was my first purchase from them). $640 all in (much less than what i was getting over the phone and about half what they were telling me at the airport, as i recall), leaving in about 12 hours. long story short, thanks to the time difference i made it in time for the viewing on friday and funeral saturday before flying back to school on sunday.


Amongst the Dead in Milan

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

What’s the best indie travel experience you’ve had in Italy? Or, if you’ve never been, what’s the place you’d like to go in Italy more than any other (and why)? More generally, what do you do when you visit popular places in order to have an indie travel experience?

quick side note to answer the last question: how to have an indie travel experience in a popular place? a) put down the guidebook and research the place, completely separately, history and all. something has to catch your eye. if not, b) get lost. literally.

back to the story at hand. i’ve been fortunate enough to visit italy several times:

as they say, though, nothing compares to your first solo experience.

the best part of the 2006 trip to milan and turin for the winter olympics was well, ok, my first olympics, but a very close second was visiting the Cimitero Monumentale de Milano. i don’t remember where i got the idea to visit a cemetery, since until that point it had never crossed my mind, but i have since discovered they are amazing places to visit (been to them in italy, switzerland, argentina, and japan, all wonderfully moving experiences, unique in their own way that reflect the local culture and traditions). i don’t remember if i saw a picture of it online or if i read about european cemeteries somewhere, but in any case, it was one of those places where i walked around slowly, wide-eyed, trying to take it all in because i’d never seen anything like.

another side note: it’s only six years later that i recognize the irony in visiting a cemetery the day after finding out my grandfather passed away. i’m not sure i realized this twist of fate at the time; i’m hoping i did.

the artistry of the tombs combined with the sadness, stillness, solitude, and tranquility (i was the only one there for most of my visit) were incredibly moving. looking back, i can even describe it as spiritual even though at that time i did not have the depth of experience to consider it as such. i just knew i was simultaneously awestruck and spellbound and, maybe because it was a cold day in february (though i doubt i’m that heartless), the entire experience resonated with my soul.

the following were taken with my holga:

Crab + Mallet = Yum

i couldn’t leave baltimore (there for the first time in over a decade) without getting some seafood. and get some seafood i did!

thanks to the TripAdvisor app, i found the #5 highest-rated restaurant (which happens to be very close to Fort McHenry), L.P. Steamers, and popped on in around 3:10 PM* after not eating or drinking anything all day except for a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at 9 in the morning. suffice it to say, i was hongray. however, i had no idea what i was going to be in for.

* by this time they were warning people that they were starting to run out of crab, so if you go, the safest bet would be around lunchtime to ensure they have crab available.

what i walked into was this (apologies for the blurry pictures):

i’ve never been to such a uhh, crabby place before! people had tables piled high with crabs and crab pieces, banging away at them with mallets. clearly, they were experts. if i eat crab, it’s usually at Chinese banquets, and admittedly, i’m not the best at getting the meat out of even those pre-cut pieces. intimidated, it was too late to turn back now. i was curious and famished — always a recipe for culinary adventures!

luckily i was seated upstairs (the only one for most of my stay), so even if i made a fool of myself, no one would be there to see. as i waited, a friend tweeted me this video:

definitely some help, but i wasn’t sure i wanted to try playing the video while attempting to follow along, potentially splattering crab juice all over me and my phone (they don’t give you bibs or a nutcracker!).

in the meantime, my soup (Maryland-style crab soup) and entree (the fried sampler) arrived and i went to town. the soup was delicious, even though i’m not normally a fan of tomato-based soups (had i known beforehand, i would have gotten the cream of crab, but i’m glad i tried this, not only because it has my top two favorite vegetables, onion and corn). the platter was daunting, but the best part was the crab cake. i’m a pretty big fan of crab cakes, so while i’m no foodie, i’d like to think i know when i’ve had a good one. and this was hella good.

Maryland Crab Soup

Fried Sampler: crab cake, fried clams, fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried scallops, slaw, fries

Crab cake

and then the crab came. unceremoniously slid off a tray onto my table, it just sat there, staring at me, me staring at it. (smaller than i expected, which was good given how much of that fried sampler i just ate.)

luckily the waiter came and asked if i needed a lesson. i said i watched a video, but a lesson would be great. much to my delight, he actually did most of the work for me!

"First you split off the legs, then you..." (I lost him after that, especially after he said, "These are the lungs; you just scrape them aside.")

when all was said and done, maybe it’s because i just watched Alien a couple weeks ago, but all i could think about was the facehugger.

And this is how he left it for me. Not cute.

but, knowing how delicious crab meat is, i dug right in. a little hammering with the mallet, a little cracking of shell with my fingers, and before you know it, i was all done! (the best tip from that video really helped: use a claw as a hook to pull meat out of tight spaces.)

All done!

sure, my hands still smell crabby five hours later, but it was well worth it. i was stuffed when i left, but hearing the people who just arrived at the next table order six large crabs and two jumbo crabs (along with an order of oysters and some beer — if i heard right, they just cleaned them out of all their crab for the day) made me want to sit down and order another. it’s a two hour drive; maybe next weekend i’ll make another trip down and this time try cracking the shell myself.

p.s. do you think it’s rude if i bring a container of Old Bay Seasoning with me next time i go to a Chinese banquet? i forgot how good that stuff is!

Instawalk: Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry is probably best known as the site of a battle during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that would eventually become “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States (in 1931).

for good measure, one of the best renditions, ever:

Instawalk: Fell’s Point

more about Fell’s Point

I Spy (Broadway Pier)

"Homicide: Life on the Streets" was filmed here

Two Doors