Travelogue: S. Wait, I Mean Oui.'

Mike demands to see your ticket. Send it to him at [email protected].

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After 17 hours, I landed in Charles de Gaulle. The Airport, not the dead statesman.

I had never been to France, but I studied the language in seventh grade, so I was fully prepared for that friendly country.

In fact, I was conversing like a local in no time.

"Taxi?" I was asked.

"S. Wait, I mean oui."

This is when I learned that, in France, taxi drivers sometimes solicit fares at the baggage check.

Sometimes they also don't know where they're going and ask you to read the map. These taxi drivers are called "le ripoff artists."

One hundred dollars later, I was in the middle of historic Paris. And let me tell you, they sure did a good job getting that museum to look like a city.

I walked the Left Bank. I saw the bookstores. I got drunk.

Then I got lost.

Paris' subway is a wonderful thing. You can get anywhere you want to go, and everywhere you don't. Be careful which hallway you walk down.

"Monsieur, Monsieur, o est votre billet?"

"I don't speak French."

"You have not ticket? You pay penalty. Thirty euro. Oui?"

I had made a wrong turn, and was apparently fare hopping. The metro tax squad ran me down.

I spent the next five minutes acting as though I, as an American, had absolutely no idea what these French people were trying to say to me, in their imperfect English. In other words, I acted like a Parisian.

I paid up after they threatened to get the police. Being rude to French people was fun, but not that much fun.

Burnt out, no place to sleep and it already dark, I broke down and did something I swore I'd never do.

Across from the Louvre, that symbol of French culture, I entered McDonald's, that symbol of American culture.

And no, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is not called a "Royal with Cheese." It's a "Royal Cheese." So don't believe everything you see on "Pulp Fiction."

With France done, I was on to Italy. I caught the Paris to Florence overnight. What the Parisians lack in friendliness, they make up for in trains. Damn fine trains.

Florence, which Italians for some reason call Firenze, was my home for the next three weeks.

I enrolled in La Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, a "school for foreigners." I learned Italian in the morning and had the afternoons, nights and weekends free.

The first weekend two Colombians, a Swiss and I made our way to the Italian Riviera, to a section of coast called the Cinque Terre, or five lands.

It was the finest place I have ever been. Sharp rocky cliffs plunged steeply into the deep blue Mediterranean. White wine vineyards, cultivated since the Roman Empire, lined the hillsides. A five-mile hike connects the five towns.

The area's forbidding geology and intransigent locals prevented the development of first-class hotels, and thereby kept out most of the annoying, luxury-demanding tourists.

Back in Firenze, the school had arranged apartments for students.

I had a large apartment to myself. My roommate only lasted a day.

On the first night, I arrived home to find John lying face down in the dark.

"Ahhh. My side is throbbing. I can't move," he said.

I called an ambulance and got him to the hospital. Because he didn't speak Italian, he didn't realize he was going into surgery until the nurse began shaving his stomach.

It turned out his appendix had begun to burst, and he almost died.

He had to lie around for a week, but his insurance company bought him a business class ticket home. They also paid a guy to carry his luggage and push him around the airport in a wheelchair.

Moral: Buy travel insurance.


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