places i have been

updated 8/5/01

the Bahamas

Europe 2001

Feet's European Odyssey 2001 (Part I)

Only a fool, a madwoman or a sand sculptor on a tight schedule would attempt a 10-day whirlwind tour of Europe with less than 5 days of prep time. I reckon I am all three.

The mission that I chose to accept was to a. find a qualified sand sculptor teammate willing and able to get to Italy on way short notice; b. get myself to Europe quick and cheap; c. make the sand stand long enough to finish the contest -- preferably in first place, and d. have as much fun as possible before, during and after the event itself.

Finding a Team Mate
My first choice for a partner was already booked and unavailable, but finding his replacement proved to be easier than I had expected. Summer is usually prime season for those of us who make a living playing in the sand, but I had several qualified takers willing to drop everything to hop on a plane to Italy. Had I the luxury of more time, it might have been fun to put the position up for bid ("Okay, sculptor #1 says he can bring his own forms AND he'll carry my luggage for me. Care to counter, sculptor #2???") but I didn't, so the first one to get back to me - Carl Jara of Cleveland - got the thumbs up. It was an added bonus that he was indeed willing to bring his own forms...
carl rolls

Carl in the room rolling his own - visit his web site at

Getting to Italy
This task was not so simple. A last minute ticket to Europe during the peak season can cost more than two mortgage payments (my new unit of monetary measurement) and may only come close to getting you where you want to go. After fruitless minutes (I didn't have hours) on the net and the phone, I ended up cashing in my frequent flyer miles for a ticket to London - which is close to Italy only in the same way that Canada is close to Mexico. Got my Eurailpass ordered for pre-departure delivery with seconds to spare. And just five days after I had confidently assured my web clients that I would be home and available the whole month of July, I was sipping bloody marys over the Atlantic.

Tues. morning, on the London Subway
Flight was easy enough but disaster was waiting around the corner. I changed some money in Gatwick, waited in line to find out how to get to the Eurostar connection in Waterloo. Flew down the stairs but missed the train by seconds. As it turned out, that was the best thing that could have happened ; while waiting for the next train to come along, I discovered that the folder containing my Eurail and Eurostar (chunnell) passes was AWOL. Did a mad dash (as mad as possible lugging a big suitcase and a heavy backpack up a flight of stairs) back to the exchange counter to find my folder laying right where I had left it.
I am one lucky SoB.

This was not my first time traveling by rail so I already knew that packing light was the way to go -- if you can't sling your suitcase up over your head with one hand tied behind your back, you've packed too much stuff. But choosing clothes for all of Europe is tough. I expected Italy to be warm but the northern countries don't experience summer the same as we do -- forcing some difficult decisions: blue jeans or portable coffee pot? Aluminum sand tamper or shoes? Heavy sweatshirt or laptop? Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that it was the clothes that got 86ed.

view from train

This was shot from the train window.... somewhere.



It is a three-hour train ride from London to Paris, only 20 minutes or so of which is actually spent under the channel -- and it is a comfortable ride, even in 2nd class. With the help of a big black guy in well-tended dreads, I was able to find the right station for my night train to Milan...

Wed. morning - near Torino, Italy. Boarded the train at 22:00 and discovered that my first class cucchette was in fact a tiny room fully equipped with 4 beds and 3 men who appeared to be in their 20's. One of them grinned a wolfish grin at me and said, "American? Ahhhh, bee-you-tee-ful American!!!" which seemed to be about the extent of his English. This of course made me a wee bit nervous -- but they have proven to be gentlemen all and were quite helpful showing me to my sheet, blanket and pillow, how to open the WC door and other useful info. Got a good night's sleep and woke up to a breathtaking view of sunset over the snow-covered peaks -- somewhere in Italy. Little villages, castles, vineyards tucked in picturesque valleys. It is wonderful to be back here!

Guiseppe I met these nice people on the train from Milan to Cervia.

Left is Guiseppe. He is a sci-fi and fantasy illustrator and he just happened to have a sample of his work with him. 'Twas the copy of Asimov's I was reading that caught his eye...

At right is Sara. She is a student on her way south for vacation and she was very helpful as a translator and helping me figure out where my train stop was.

feet on top

The Contest
I arrived in Cervia at 2 PM on Wed. It had been approximately 48 hours since I'd had a shower so I was very eager to check into my room and regroup before being sociable. The hotel was... er, marginal - no balcony, no view (up on the top floor, our one window was horizontally located on the roof), no breeze and no AC, no net access, pinche breakfast offerings but three beds so at least Carl and I each got our own -- with one to spare. And it was clean. After a quick shower, I lunched by myself in the big dining room and was contemplating a walk on the beach when Carl and one of the Dutch teams - Lars and Martin - showed up. I was so happy to see them! One of the best things about these contests is reuniting with friends.

Carl with forms

Friday Afternoon - 2nd day of the competition. Yesterday's pound up in the heat (we are in an outdoor stadium with 10' walls that ensure we will not be bothered by any hint of a breeze) was fairly brutal --though the 3-hour breaks in the heat of the day are most appreciated. After dinner and plenty of red wine, we sat on the patio smoking and sipping espresso and rehashing that old sand sculptor topic of whether what we do is "art" or not....
I think our piece is going well -- but the competition is stiff indeed. Eight international teams, and we are the only competitors from the US. Carl came up with the concept for our piece...

"Mother Nature, Inc. "(Mama Terra, Inc.) - by Carl Jara and sandy feet (USA)
A statement on how corporate and political interests have enchained and taken over control of our planet and its natural resources. Mother Nature extends her hands upward in a swirling DNA double spiral of butterflies - a beautiful image contrasted by the machinery and computer stuff that is controlling her.

(rught) Caught two pretty little girls peeking through the walls of the contest arena...

Next installment -- Collapse!! Can a victory still be pulled from the rubble? Will sandy feet get to see something of Europe besides train stations and sand piles?

click here to find out...

feet ponders

Above: feets ponders the next cut...


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