Fillyjonk, Friday Fluff

Friday Fluff: Traveling the world in a panda suit

Questo animale e cinese, ma non parlo cinese:

I’m going to Italy on Sunday! (And going up to New York tonight for Passover, so don’t expect to hear from me before I leave.) I’ve been lucky enough to get to go out of the country a number of times, but not in a very long time, and certainly this is the longest vacation I’ve taken in years. I’m excited! Have a good time without me, kids; I’ll be back on the 30th, there’s an Aunt Fattie in the freezer, Kate has my number, don’t give her any trouble while I’m gone!

I will not be traveling in a panda suit, though I do love the e-card that SM sent me this morning. I will instead be traveling with one small suitcase full of balled-up t-shirts and an overabundance of underwear just in case. I’ve packed Keens and Danskos an iPod loaded with Lost episodes. It’s really important to me to at least make an effort to speak the language; I didn’t get as far as I would like in my Italian studying, as concentrating too hard makes me pass out asleep, but I can say “we need clean towels” (as well as useful phrases like “this animal is Chinese but doesn’t speak Chinese,” above, which truly was part of my language software and did indeed refer to a panda — n.b. you can tell how well I did from the fact that I conjugated “parlare” wrong!), and I have some learn-Italian podcasts for the flight over. We’ll be doing some stuff that requires advance tickets (like going to the Uffizi), which is not usually my style — not that I’ve done a lot of traveling alone, but theoretically I like to get the pace of life in an unknown city and just try to blend in. But we are establishing Florence as a home base and taking day trips to other towns, which is very much my thing. (Past family vacations have involved house-swaps, and past personal vacations usually involve visiting SM, so my memories of travel often involve a home and a neighborhood.)

How do you like to travel — whether abroad or just to visit friends and relatives? Do you take tours, or muddle through by yourself? Is there something you always have to bring to feel prepared and confident? (I felt immensely relieved when I saw that Florence weather would allow me to wear my military jacket.) Do you dread the airport and the bus station, or do you thrive in liminal places? If you’ve gotten to travel places where you don’t speak the language, do you try to learn it, or just do elaborate mime? Is the guidebook your god, or do you play it by ear? When you’re visiting someone, do you try to get out and see the landmarks, or just hang out in the house watching Rock of Love? And where would you travel if money, time, and commitments were no object?

77 thoughts on “Friday Fluff: Traveling the world in a panda suit”

  1. Have a great time in Italy and New York! Watch out for the pope in NY though; he’s clogging up both our streets and our news programs.

    I’ve never been out of the country, but I prefer to get through my vacations with just someone awesome and my own street smarts to guide me. I’ve lived in New York City all my life, so other cities don’t really intimidate me. I like to see the cool landmarks, but I do try and make sure that if the city I’m in has an aquarium, that I get there, because I love them.

    If I could go anywhere, it would be Greece. And I will someday when I have more time and money (I’m thinking post grad school). Perhaps I should start working on my Greek…

  2. Oh man, I hope I have enough room in my suitcase for all the shoes I’m gonna buy! It’s full but far from stuffed so I think I’ll be okay.

  3. Have a wonderful time in Italy! My co-worker and his wife just got from a 3 week vacation travelling through Italy and while he’s been back for over a week now he’s still all tanned and will start randomly day-dreaming about his trip!

    I love travel! Italy and Spain are definitely on my list of needed travel spots. Even if I don’t speak Italian I do have French and Spanish so could muddle through. Basically aside from sporting a Panda suit I DO want to travel the entire world…. been to Senegal and France and Poland, Germany, England, Scotland, Canada, Argentina….so much more to see though like Egypt and Australia and Japan and just everywhere….so much good food and great customs to find out about!

    Anyways have a BLAST and bring a suitcase packed INTO your suitcase….for the shoes on the way back of course! :D

  4. Not that you need recommendations, but I can’t resist the urge to plug at least one Florence restaurant: l Cantinone del Gallo Nero (Song of the Black Rooster) Via S. Spirito 6/r (Santo Spirito). I traveled to Florence on my own a few years ago, took myself there for my birthday, and had the most enjoyable solo meal ever. The place is in an old wine storage cave slightly underground, and everyone there was so nice. The chef ended up sitting down and having a limoncello with me, and we talked in pidgin Italian.


    Have fun!

  5. I tend to frontload my vacations with site seeing. Usually I’m with my husband, the first half is running around seeing stuff, the later half is spent relaxing and recovering from running around so much.

    I got on both people visiting vacations and location based vacations, though this summer we’re aiming for something in the middle. While the temptation is to stay with friends/family to maximize the time spent with them, we’ve learned to stay in hotels. With a hotel you’re not completely tied to the schedule/quirks of others and you know the “guest room” isn’t a futon mattress on a finished basement floor.

    I try to get a basic grasp of local language but I’ve been lucky in that most people understand a smattering of English + hand gestures.

    Museums I prefer muddle through but more elaborate locations (Mayan ruins) we get a tour to better appreciate everything.

    When in other countries we’ve played it safe and done off site adventures through the hotel.

    I used to love flying as long as it was under 6 hrs. but now with all the security hoops I loathe it. I want to try a train sometime!

    We really want to go the UK but we’re waiting until the conversion rate improves. Also I’m torn because we’re 5 days travelers. After about 5 days we want to go home. London is a little far for that.

  6. One thing I’ve found about myself and vacations is that I cannot stand to be on a vacation with more than one person. I don’t really like traveling alone, so I want at least one other person with me, but that’s all I can handle.
    The last thing I want to do on a vacation is spend lots of time making group decisions. Ugh.

    My husband and I travel pretty well together. We usually agree on what to do, so stress levels are low.

    We like to forge our own path on vacations and avoid tours. And we do not go shopping as a form of entertainment.

    We’re vacationing in Maine for 10 days in May. We’ll be kayaking, white-water rafting, hiking, biking, and other stuff we’ll figure out when we get there. It will be my first time seeing the Atlantic ocean.

  7. Have fun Fillyjonk! I just went to Venice and Florence last March – it was 70 degrees in Florence! Next January – Rome!

    I must admit my foreign language skills are very poor. I learn basic conversational pleases and thank yous, but I usually travel alone. And the best thing about being a woman travelling alone- people will always speak English to you. People always guess my nationality as British though, for some reason.

    I flove my Eyewitness Travel guides – best guidebook ever. When I arrive, I hit the ground running. I don’t sleep on planes, and I can’t sleep during the day, and I have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms, so I sightsee til I’m ready to collapse and get a good night’s sleep.

  8. Have a blast FJ! I love to travel and I tend to prefer wandering to any kind of structured travel. In the past few years, however, I’ve been travelling out of the US with my mother at least once a year and she prefers all-inclusive tours or cruises. Since she usually kicks down some cash so I can be her roomie, I tend to do whatever she wants to do and on free days we each pick something we want to do and we do both things together. It works pretty well, but coach tours were definitely not designed for photographers!

    As far as the language barrier goes…I’ve travelled numerous places were I don’t speak the language. I tend to learn two very important native words/phrases before I land in another country–please and thank you. And a big smile goes a long way. I also always carry a map with me because you can get directions from someone who doesn’t speak your language if you have a map. You can also use it to tell a taxi driver where you want to go. Pointing and smiling can work wonders. That’s how we managed to make it to the Botanic Gardens in Copenhagen a few years ago.

  9. I love traveling alone. And I usually try to see as many museums and churches as I can, interspersed with long rambling walks with no particular destination and many stops at cafes and restaurants.

    (Also, the Italian at the top of this page says, “This animal is Chinese, but I don’t speak Chinese.” Which for some reason I think is funnier.)

  10. I’m a bit of the anti-tourist, ie. I prefer exploring the city by foot and public transit than going to the same places everyone else is going to.

    For instance, when I prepared for my trip to the west coast, 3 years ago, I bought a book about walking tours in San Francisco. Doesn’t mean I’d shun all the usual touristy things, but what really interests me is the regular city.

    Unfortunately, I don’t travel nearly as much as I should…

  11. occhiblu, you’re right, it should be parla! I got conjugation confused with masculine and feminine endings.

    But you’re right, it’s way funnier this way.

    (I guess it would be even more correct to say “questo animale e cinese, ma non parlo italiano.” )

  12. Best little travelling trick I ever learned: ask the locals where they enjoy going in the area. We did that in Switzerland. The locals said to go to Jungfrau Jock (sp). We were with a big group and the tour guides said “it’s expensive – don’t bother.” Of course, they said that because they wouldn’t make any money. We had the best day EVER.

  13. Yay! Have fun in Italy! If I had the money, I’d go EVERYWHERE! I haven’t gotten the chance to leave the country other than to go to Juarez, Mexico. Woo.

    I would want to try to speak the language wherever I go, though. For one, I think it’s respectful. For another, I <3 learning languages.

    My b/f and I are hopefully going to go to Paris to spend some time with a friend of his family’s sometime in the next couple years. I need to pick up some French before then.

  14. Have fun.

    The one place I’ve always wanted to visit but probably never will is St. Petersburg, Russia.

    In general, though, I’m not real big on museums and historic sites; my ideal vacation is more along the lines of a cabin by a lake or river, a comfortable lawn chair or hammock, and several good books.

  15. Oh incidentally, the thing I have by far the most trouble with in Italian so far is “lui” and “lei” — “he” and “she.” Why? Because “lei” is also the formal form of “you,” and that inspires such cognitive dissonance that I assume it must mean “he.” Seriously, that’s how sexist my hindbrain is (or I don’t know, probably my Wernicke’s area or something).

  16. Have a great time, FJ! My roommate always tell stories about studying abroad in Italy that turn me green with envy.

    I’m probably more of a wanderer traveler, although I do depend heavily on Lonely Planet guidebooks (despite the highly variable quality), and I’ll do the occasional day or one night tour for an otherwise hard to get to place. I’m okay in Spanish and can speak enough Arabic to at least order food or take a cab, but otherwise I’m at the mercy of either my traveling companions or locals who speak English. Which I feel kind of bad about, but not bad enough not to go places because of it. :-)

    It’s funny this is coming today, because I’m hunkered down trying to write my third year paper (I’m a law student) on environmentally sustainable tourism in Panama. I was there about a year and a half ago, and writing this paper is killing me. “Oh, that island sounds so much nicer than sitting at home writing this paper!” I think everytime I read anything. Terrible.

  17. Fillyjonk, I KNEW you’d linked to that Imbruglia video on “elaborate mime”! Hee!

    There is a nifty book called “Point It” that has pictures of everything in the world (yet is very tiny) that is useful when you don’t speak the language. Here’s the URL for it on

  18. Have a wonderful time! And advance tickets for the Uffizi feels overly planny, I know, but you will be so happy about waltzing past the line. You may also want to go back — it’s a whole lot of museum — but once you’re there, you can suss out when the lines are short. You’ll walk past it plenty; Florence is teeeeeeeeeeny.

    The second-best gelato in the world is at Perche No? (“Why Not?” — great name) in Florence. Anyone will be able to direct you to it.

    So jealous! Have fun!

  19. I generally travel to see friends. I was in New Zealand last month and spent a week with friends and then had a week to wander around on my own. And that’s pretty much what I did. I had “set” destinations, but once I actually got to them, I did a lot of walking around and taking pictures of random things. I had eggs benedict a lot…they’re big into eggs benedict down there, it’s odd. I’m not terribly planny except for transportation things.

    I don’t mind (and generally prefer) to travel alone because I’d rather just have to worry about myself and the kind of time I’m having instead of fretting if my theoretical companion’s having fun. One of the best trips I’ve taken was spending five days alone in Vegas last May. It was as close to bliss as I’ve been in a long time.

    As for the language–I was in France when I was 15 and my sister and I did our best to give French a whirl. We were trying to get to the Arc de Triomphe (sp?) and our cab driver didn’t speak a lick of English, but just by paying attention to her gestures and general intonations, I was able to figure out exactly what she was telling us (how to use an underground pedway to reach the Arc). I felt terribly International that day. If I were going back there or to any other non-English-speaking country, I’d want to have at least a wee bit of language under my belt.

  20. Have a great time, FJ! I’m madly jealous.

    I like to travel with Mr. Twistie. The great thing is, he’s incredible at picking up bits of helpful verbage if we don’t actually speak the language (and I have to agree with the previous posted who noted that it helps a lot if you can say at least a couple of polite phrases in the local language, since then people know you’re at least trying and are more willing to help you out if they can by speaking your language, too) and has a way of discovering oddities that really make my day. He’s also brilliant at working out transportational logistics. I have no sense of direction and tend to get easily confused by trains, buses, and light rail systems. On the other hand, we’re not always into seeing the same thing. The cool thing is that he’s fine with that.

    We went to London a few years ago (I WANT TO GO BACK!!!) and I wanted to see all the historical/museumy stuff while he mostly wanted to go shopping. We took the Tower of London tour together (skipping the crown jewels which wasn’t of particular interest to either of us) and he helped me hunt down Oscar Wilde’s house, but most of the time he’d get me to whatever museum/historical site I felt like going to that day, wander off in search of record stores and flea markets, and then come meet me when the museum closed. Then we’d grab the Underground back to the station nearest our hotel, grab some snacks at the tiny shop across from the station, and settle in for a night of BBC and sharing the days’ adventures.

    On our honeymoon, we drove (well, he drove; I don’t drive since I have no sense of direction and a kickass case of transportational narcolepsy) up to Vancouver and back. We arranged in advance for our hotel in Vancouver, and left everything else up to whim. It worked out remarkably well. We checked out anything that looked interesting, stopped wherever we were tired, and had a blast. On the drive back, we found ourselves in Ashland Oregon around dinner time, so we found a hotel quickly, then checked to see what shows the Shakespeare Festival had going that night. We saw White Devils in the reproduction Elizabethan theater. Later, when we saw Shakespeare in Love, Mr. Twistie and I were the only two people in the theater to laugh when John Webster identified himself. Good times.

    Okay, now I want to put on my travelling shoes and see something interesting. Where can I go on two shiny nickles and a dream?

  21. a kickass case of transportational narcolepsy

    Haha, me too! Where the hell does this come from? I’ve managed to make some pretty long drives solo, but I am always in danger of falling asleep when I drive, and always asleep when being driven (or on a train, plane, bus…). It’s a lot like the way I tend to pass out while studying, so I wonder if it has to do with concentration.

  22. I think in my case it may come from the fact that when I was a baby, if I got really wound up and crying, my parents would take me for a drive until I calmed down and went to sleep. My guess is that my brain is hardwired to think moving vehicle = great place to sleep.

    This has failed to be an accurate assessment on several occasions.

  23. Oh, advice for you!!! We spent two weeks in Florence taking a cooking, wine and Italian language course and it rocked. I don’t know where you’re staying in Florence, but the absolute best way to get around there (IMO) is by bicycle. We rented simple three-speed bikes for the duration of our stay and had such a lovely time wheeling around. It’s actually far less terrifying than being a pedestrian in Italy because bikes are accepted as part of the road, while pedestrians are expendable. :)

    I’m on deadline, so I will confine myself to that. Have an awesome time!

  24. Yay, Travel! My favorite subject! We’re going to be in Italy in 2 weeks (well, it’s a Mediterranean cruise, so Turkey/Greece/Croatia/Italy/Spain) and I’m totally thrilled. Have a wonderful time!!!

    Weightless One hit the nail on the head with “smile”. When we were in Japan, smiling and at least trying to say something in Japanese got us really far. I find as long as you know “yes”, “no”, “please,” and “thank you” you’ll be okay.

    We have done both organized tours and our own exploration. In a place like London or Tokyo, doing it yourself is easy because there’s public transport and a lot to see. In Egypt, we did an organized tour which was fantastic – we got to see most of the things we wanted to see in a convenient way, with some great in-depth explanation. Without the tour, I think we would have either missed a lot of details or just wandered around going, “ooh, that’s kinda cool” without realizing we were seeing the only engraving of Hatchepsut.

    We’re doing the Mediterranean Cruise with some friends, the first time we’ve traveled with other people. We’re hoping that the easy cruise atmosphere will make it a breeze – especially since one of the other two hasn’t been out of North America before. Since *hopefully* we’ll be having a baby soon, this is our last hurrah, so we’re trying to do it in style. :)

    Again – have a fantastic trip!

  25. Bring a change of clothes your carry on. My good friend went to Italy and lost all of her luggage. And guess what they DON”T have in Italy? Plus sized clothing. Otherwise, Bon Voyage!

  26. Go to the Mercato Centrale. The stalls around it are weird and variable in quality but the mercato itself is fabulous. We had breakfast and lunch there every day while we were there last year, at the little canteen in the corner. Delish. And the variety of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, coffee, wine… It’s food heaven.

  27. Yikes, good call, Shinobi… I’ll stick a t-shirt, socks, and a pair of undies in my purse, but I’m still shit outta luck if they lose my luggage. One change of clothes won’t get me very far. I’d have to undertake a pilgrimage to England and hit up a Monsoon. :)

  28. Oh I hope you have fun. I’ve never done much travelling, most of my vacations I go somewhere I love like Sunriver/Central Oregon or the Oregon Coast, I grew up on the coast and have been going to Sunriver for 20 years, so I know my way around and know what I want to do.

    However I like to imagine i’d be a really brave world traveler. I’m never scared to try new things and I have a compass like sense of direction (even after hiking through the woods for hours I can tell which way is North and more importantly which way is the nearest river or road).

    I’m terribly afraid of flying, it’s mostly take-off/landing so it doesn’t really matter how long the flight is, but I do need an aisle seat so I’m not looking out the window thinking exceptionally morbid thoughts about the plane crashing. Unlike many people I’m always happy when there is a baby or small child on the plane because God wouldn’t crash a plane with a sweet innocent little bebe on board.

    Hey… they don’t call them *irrartional fears* for nothing.

  29. Buon viaggio, cara Filigionc! Divertiti! :D Don’t forget to take, and post, a picture of some carabinieri. Yes, they’re preening paramilitary dudes, but oh, they wear thigh-high boots and capes as their uniform. grroowwrr…. (or at least they still did last time I was in Italy.) Don’t miss the Bargello. I’m sure it’s on our list. I like smaller, less glamorous museums like that.

  30. Hey! I live in Italy, and it’s as beautiful as ever, but really really really cold right now. Make sure you bring rain gear (you can buy umbrellas for a euro on the streets though, so no worries there!). I hope for you that the weather improves soon, we’ve had pretty much constant rain for the last week or longer …

    And don’t eat in the obvious places, the food is best in the small places packed with locals, but you probably already knew that … Have fun!

    Divertiti tanto, buon viaggio,


  31. Oh have fun FJ! Italy is one of the places I really want to go someday. I’ve never been overseas, and it’s a huge dream of mine to wander all over Europe.
    But the one place I desprately want to go in my lifetime is Israel. A trip to the Holy Land is one of the things on my “Things to Do Before I Die” list. Fortunately, my school is setting up a program where a trip to Israel is offered (for credit!) every summer. I’m seriously considering going on next year’s trip. It would make a great graduating from seminary present to myself!

  32. The bigger amongst us (myself included) find travel difficult.

    I was once asked to PROVE I could fit into one seat on a Southwest flight or they would ask me to buy two seats.

    Remember: Friends don’t let friends fly Southwest.

    Strangers have rolled their eyes and puffed out heavy sighs when I sit down next to them.

    Tray tables come down and hit us in the tummy and become unusable. So no place to put a drink or a meal or a book.

    But I still do it. I won’t give up my right to travel. I ask for a seat belt extender and I go.

  33. Jen, at least they let you prove it… from what I was hearing when Southwest started this absurd policy (note to all: YOU DO NOT BUY REAL ESTATE ON A PLANE), they could have just made you pay the extra fare based on eyeballing.

    There’s an up side for non-plane travel, though. My boyfriend’s coming up with me to New York this weekend, then going home on the train while I go to Italy. He hasn’t taken the New York-DC train when there’s a chance of someone he doesn’t know sitting with him, and he isn’t wild about it. I said, “but you’re a fat guy, so they’re going to avoid sitting next to you if they can! If you can do the invisible-penis thing you’re almost guaranteed your own seat.”

  34. I love travelling. I usually go by myself because my friends can never save the money or commit to going, so I just hop on the plane and head off alone. I like to do tours because of this, so I’ve done two Contiki tours (one around Great Britain and one around Western Europe) and also a field school with my university where we lived in Prague for 7 weeks.

    My next trip I’m planning is to Ireland – I was going to explore the Maritimes as I’m Canadian and have never been to the east coast of my country, but I’m boycotting them until the seal hunt is banned. So Ireland it is! I’m thinking I may not do a tour this time and really just travel – plan it all out, maybe rent a car, and do whatever I want to do. We’ll see.

  35. I have never traveled somewhere just for the sake of traveling. At the very least, there are family members or friends there to visit, which means a good chunk of time and focus is spent socializing. I don’t know that I miss out on touristy stuff, though. Mostly what traveling has meant for me in the last 6-7 years is time AWAY from Big Moves (as much as I love it, it is all-absorbing). So when I’ve been elsewhere, I just live life slower, perhaps in a more mundane way, allowing things to just unfold and happen however they would happen for people in that place.

    In December I’m returning to Bangladesh to visit family. We are hoping to stay a month, and THIS time (as opposed to last time, which was essentially the wedding trip) Mr. bigmovesbabe and I fully intend to get out and about, onto a steamboat, into the jungles, visiting his home region, etc. It’s different, because he’s native and can get us around just fine, but I am doing my best to keep improving my Bengali skills before then.

    I don’t like to travel places without knowing the language. I find interacting with people to be one of my favorite parts of traveling, and being such a chatty sort, not being able to talk with them is torture.

  36. This was so weird seeing the title, and thinking to myself ‘What a coincidence! I just bought a panda suit, for my upcoming trip to california. How odd that two people would come up with…’

    And then I read the rest.


    P.S. I honestly wish I was kidding.

  37. *LAUGH* I have a costume-obsessed friend. who does all sorts of wild and crazy characters and presentations. I always joked that one day, -WHEN I WAS SMALLER-, I would play along.

    So, for the first time in two years, I’m seeing her face-to-face again, and I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for small. I was going to commit to the same kind of costume craziness she does, no matter what. So, with my tax return, and some assistance, I put together a panda costume for the upcoming trip, with the intent of surprising her after I’ve arrived.

    So yes, thanks to the fatosphere, I am -actually- travelling the world in a panda suit.

  38. Fillyjonk…

    Monetarily it was better.

    But I was pulled out of line and brought onto the plane before boarding began while the ticket agent and a flight attendant watched as I put my ample ass into a seat and showed that I could keep the armrests lowered.

    They were also not to pleasant about how they approached me. It was the last time I’ve flown Southwest.

    Believe me, it was not pleasant.

  39. Have fun on your trip.

    Most of my not-family-vacation traveling is by myself, within the state, to go see various friends who, since graduation, have moved around a bit. While it’s nothing exotic, I definitely have to say that prefer vacations and traveling with friends to traveling with family.

    Never been outside the continental U.S. (not even Canada, even though I’m so close to it!), but I’ve been to New York, Florida, Arizona, Utah, California, Oregon, and a bunch of other states on vacation, and have lived in Missouri, Illinois, and Idaho before moving to Washington.

    I’ve never done plane travel in a pre-9/11 world (having been 13 when that happened, and all our family vacations prior to that were in cars), I’ve never seen flying as being all that much a hassle. And I enjoy it when I can get a window seat and look out at the clouds and how high up we are.

    As for where I want to go? EVERYWHERE. I want to go to the U.K., Japan, Germany, Holland, France, Italy, Spain…you name it. and I’ve only ever been to New York once, and I loved it, so I’d love to go again.

    My family’s going on vacation next month to California, and I get to hang out in Disneyland and do some L.A. touristing, so that will be fun, I think.

    I wish I could do more traveling than I do. *sigh*

  40. Jen, oh, no doubt! But I think they also could have pulled you out of line, told you flat-out in front of other customers that you were too fat and would have to pay for an extra seat, and then charged you a couple hundred bucks. Part of the reason it’s such a fucked-up, wrongheaded policy is that there is basically no way of implementing it that isn’t profoundly humiliating… even if the policy itself were anything approaching fair and reasonable, which is emphatically isn’t. No question that Southwest is a pile of crap that doesn’t deserve anyone’s money… but at least they didn’t get doubles on yours.

  41. Have fun, fillyjonk! I’m twitching to get back to NYC, even though I was just there in February, and Italy is sooo freaking awesome…*sigh*. It’s the only European country to which I’ve been, and yet going back is first on my international travel priority list! I went with my Latin class in high school, and I found out very quickly that knowing a lot of Latin makes it really easy to understand, but not speak, Italian.

    I also found out that I’m fairly good with subway systems, due an incident that takes far too long to tell and is only really funny if you were there.

    Ok, you’ve inspired me to start an international travel savings account. :)

  42. About this Southwest thing . . .

    I seem to recall a court case on the matter at some point, but I’m unsure of how it was resolved. Has anyone with a medical condition, such as hypothyroidism, that causes them to gain weight ever tried to sue for discrimination on the basis of disability? Because you are in no way required to “prove” that you are blind in order to not be discriminated against, nor can you be required to provide proof of the cause of your peanut allergy when you send your food back at a restaurant because it it making you puff up, even though it isn’t supposed to have peanuts. They can’t charge you for it without profiting off your disability, and I wouldn’t think that Southwest can charge you extra for that seat if it is the fault of medication or medical condition unless they can legally charge someone using a wheelchair for taking up that extra space.

    I ask because it seems to me that, once it got established that weight is something that can be out of your control and a result of medical issue, it becomes impossible to defend the practice for anyone. We don’t ask if people were born blind or have a condition or if they were blinded by an accident at which they were at fault before we say “no discrimination against blind people.” It wouldn’t be the perfect solution, but if you can force people to recognize that SOMEtimes it isn’t a choice that can become MOST of the time it isn’t a choice, to we just can’t assume, and it would be wrong anyway.

  43. I’ve been through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was fucking awesome. I desperately want to go back. India and China are also on my to-do list, and interrailing round Europe.

    Revisiting America was on there, but since I get to spend four months there this summer I’m all right on that front. And SO HAPPY.

  44. Happy Passover, and have a GREAT time in Italy! I hear good things about travel there.

    I’ve spent time living in Japan both for study and work, totaling about 3 years, and I LOVE travel. Most of my travel has been in Asia, though I’ve been to four continents. I speak Japanese proficiently, but of course this really only helps when I’m traveling in Japan (although it did help a bit in Korea, where much of the older segment of the population speaks Japanese as a relic of the pre-WWII occupation). I generally try and learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the native language and keep a phrasebook with me at all times.

    I enjoy traveling alone or in a small group independently…not so much the group thing. I love to absorb as much as possible, and as such, I tend to wake up early and walk everywhere (you see SO much more, and it’s cheaper than taking public transport). I’m a huge fan of museums, and I make an effort to try something new to eat whenever I can (I’m a bit of a foodie).

    @Charlotte: Is the program that your school does Birthright Israel? I went on Birthright several years ago, and it was an amazing experience. Plus, free travel!

  45. Yeah, I’m amused at how hearing that I’m going to Italy brings out everyone’s food love. My belly dance teacher told me to eat lots of pasta (I said I was going to come back with shimmies that’d put your eye out), and I’m pretty sure I remember my friend Alex rather charmingly telling me to “say hi to gelato for me.”

  46. himawari, Birthright was wicked awesome! I suspect Charlotte’s program is something different, because it sounds like it’s longer than 10 days.
    My mom and aunt just got back from their own Israel trip, inspired by the amazing time I had there a year ago. :)

  47. @himawari: No, this new program that they’re developing is going to become a part of the curicculum; it’s going to be our own thing. I’m glad you got to go!

  48. Wow! I’ve always wanted to go to Florence! I had a trip all planned out a few years ago, but then my dad had a heart attack in Munich and I ended up having an impromptu 4-week holiday there instead. (It was lovely. Go to the Hofbrauhaus and have beer and pretzels).

    FJ – hope you have an amazing time and eat LOTS of gelato.

  49. Actually, it’s rather pathetic that I’ve always wanted to go to Florence yet I currently live two hours and £150 away. Fuckit. Chalk that up to European privilege.

  50. I’ve been all over Europe as an exchange student in high school but would love to get back as an unsupervised adult (not that it stopped us from teenage shenanigans at the time, including some memorable drunken nose-piercings in Venice at 2am). I’ve also visited the Jalisco area of Mexico when my parents retired down there for a few years. My favorite way to travel is either alone or with 1 other kindred spirit, avoiding tourist traps (except for kitchy roadside attractions) and without having to be somewhere specific at any specific time. By experience I’d say the WORST way to travel is as a single person with one or more couples (especially PDA couples) unless the single people equal or outnumber the couples (also a good reason to always travel in odd numbers). There’s nothing more obnoxious than spending a week trapped in a car alone with two grown adults trying to suck each others’ lips off in the back seat.

    I definitely think it’s being a polite traveller to learn as much of the language and customs of a place as possible before going. I’ve seen the “Ugly American” tourist, and it really does make me cringe.

    My “when I win the lottery” list includes a single two-week trip each year to a different country, specifically to as many archaeological and religious sites as they’d let me set foot near. Of course if I win the lottery I’d also go back for that anthropology degree to give me an excuse :-)

    Have an absolute blast and bring back lots of pictures!!! And shouldn’t somebody let Aunt Fatty out of the freezer before she turns into Gelato? I don’t think she’d be as good in donuts; far too old and tough :-)

  51. “Mi scusi, no parlo italiano” with your usual charming smile should do it.

    I hear the Sophia Loren-shaped shopping is in Rome. I’ve also heard the Gucci shop in Venice is just as expensive as the one on 5th Ave, so don’t go crazy.

    If you have fish or tagliarini gratinati at Cipriani, I want to know about it.

    I’ve also heard that you can get the wicked bellini at Harry’s Bar.

  52. I’m a planning traveler – it’s my nature to plan things. I’m more relaxed and comfortable when I know what is coming and how we’re going to get there – if I’m winging it, there’s always a certain level of anxiety from all the what if’ing that kind of ruins a vacation for me. This doesn’t mean I don’t leave room in the schedule for serendipity, but I do make reservations and do research and plan.

    The other reason is that I’ve discovered that if we don’t plan anything, we tend to sit in the hotel room and play on the computer. (We meaning mostly my husband.) We can do that at home for a whole lot less.

    Even with my preference for planned travel I’m not big on the group tour thing because they never leave enough time for the things I want to see and leave too much time in the things they want me to see.

    Trips to see family do not count as vacations – way too much stress. Trips to see friends are generally a lot more fun. I’ve never traveled anywhere where I don’t speak the language and I freely admit that it scares the bejeezus out of me even though I have a smattering to varying degrees of four other languages including the important phrases “I don’t speak *language*” and “Where is the bathroom?” (and the ability to understand simple answers). Someday I will, though, because there are things I would like to see.

  53. My one (relatively mild, I know) experience of being somewhere that I didn’t speak the language has been a short vacation in Italy. Between me and the friend I went with, we had French, Spanish, and Latin, so when anything in Italian was written down we had a good chance of being able to get the idea of what it was trying to tell us–but when Italians started talking to us, let me tell you, we had NO clue what they were on about.

    What worked well for me was carrying a small Italian traveler’s phrasebook and then writing notes for planned interactions with people. This seemed to actually work better than trying to interact by mispronouncing everything at conversation speed. For instance, if you were a train station clerk, and someone passed you a note that said “Please to make tickets two. We is will go Thursday Atlanta. On post noon, class one. Thankfulness!” You might laugh, but you’d probably sell them the correct tickets.

    Beyond that, it’s just a lotta waving and pointing. When I came up to the train we were leaving Italy on and heard the conductor speaking French, I wanted to fall to the ground and kiss his shoes, it was such a relief. But we had a great time, and I hope you will!

  54. I would probably try to speak Spanish if I were to visit any Spanish speaking country. (Or any Portugese speaking country for that matter, for however much good would it do me.) I used to be fairly fluent and could pass for someone from anywhere but Spain, but now adays I’m only good for “where is the bathroom?” and “how much is this?” I sell myself a little short, but I’ve forgotten almost everything about conjugating verbs. I like neighborhoods where people speak Spanglish, nobody looks at you funny when you can’t get the word and revert to one or the other.

  55. You know, reading this thread has made me realize that I have never had a vacation that wasn’t family, friend, or school-oriented. I’ve literally never gone anywhere longer than a day just because hey, I wanted to go there.

    I’m going to work on that.

  56. Oooh, timely. I’m going to Germany next month to visit a friend I met through work about five years ago. He comes over here every year, this year it’s my turn. I’ve been taking a German class for about six months, but sadly I’m reading and writing better than I’m hearing and speaking. I hope I get points for trying.

    Anyway, it’s only after I bought the plane ticket and started looking for clothes that I started to freak out about being a fat American in Europe. It’s my first trip outside of the U.S. and Canada, and I pretty much wear jeans and silly T-shirts/sweatshirts every day here. My friend says I’ll be fine in my normal clothes over there, but everything else I’ve read disagrees (we’re both engineers, so it doesn’t really matter what we wear).

    I suppose if I can’t find anything comfortable that I like at the mall before I go, it’s all moot. :)

  57. You know, reading this thread has made me realize that I have never had a vacation that wasn’t family, friend, or school-oriented. I’ve literally never gone anywhere longer than a day just because hey, I wanted to go there.

    I’m going to work on that.

    I know how hard it is to do this in grad school because of time and money, but if you get the chance, it’s one of the most freeing things in the world to just say “I want to go to X place” and then just GO. I know that if I go somewhere because I WANT to go somewhere, and my only obligation is to make myself happy, I generally end up having an awesome trip. Of course, it’s great if it’s somewhere far away that you’ve never heard of, but even a few days at a location a few hours down the road can be great.

  58. Heather, I’ve been in Germany a few times, and I’m going again in September – Jeans and t-shirts/sweatshirts are fine. (And I’m Irish if that makes any difference.) It has been my experience that Germans wear very dorky clothes, so I’m sure anything you have will be an improvement on that!

    Sweetmachine, honey, the best vacation is yourself, 1 other person you really like, a stack of books, and a few bottles of wine. Everything else will take care of itself.

    Erin, give me a shout if you decide on the trip to Ireland – I’ll take you for a beer.

  59. I just wanted to share my love for the use of the word “liminal”, though it did give me flashbacks to some Turner readings from my failed attempt at grad school.

  60. FJ, enjoy the trip!

    Mostly due to monetary concerns, much of my travel during my lifetime has been within the UK. Not that we don’t have some very nice spots to visit, but I’d like to go further afield if and when time and money permit. I’ve done Dublin for a couple of weeks, which was cool – interesting literary history, because I’m very into Irish writers – my one lament now over going back there being that Bewley’s tearooms have closed down (sob!) I had weekends in both Paris and Amsterdam when I was at school, and I’d like to see both of them again, for longer, and without the illicitly-drunken shenanigans that invariably accompanied school trips. I’d also like to do the Edinburgh Fringe again, sans the bitch queen director who made it a misery for me and a bunch of actors in ’94.

    The past few years, we’ve been headed for Seattle simply because we’ve been checking it out as a possible place to live – eventually – and I keep getting nagged to look at other parts of the US. I’d like to check out NY myself, but my husband is a little bit wary of it – just too many tall buildings for his taste. I’d quite like to take a gap year that would involve Mardi Gras in New Orleans, fall in New England generally, Halloween in Salem MA, Christmas in New York and whatever places look interesting (including Portland and Taos NM somewhere along the line) in between. But that’s for when we win the lottery.

    And there’s also Tuscany, Barcelona, Iceland, Cappadocia in Turkey, various now way too dangerous other parts of the Middle East, Tibet, India, Bali and probably tons of other places I’ve forgotten.

  61. For what it’s worth, Emerald, most of the Middle East is far less dangerous than people think (I just point that out to ease your mind when fantasizing about it)!

    My personal current fantasy travel destination is Mongolia. I want to take the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow, spend a week reading the classic Russian authors on the train, spend some time at Lake Baikal and then travel onto the steppes. Umm, yeah, still waiting for that lottery ticket to come through. :-)

  62. If you’re in Florence, then I absolutely must give you what I’m sure if the 50th restaurant reccommendation you’ve gotten–Sedano Allegro (lit. Happy Celery). It’s an awesome little inexpensive vegetarian restaurant. I went there all the time because I used to live near there. It’s at Borgo del Croce, 20 r, just off the piazza Beccaria.

    But have fun! FLorence is awesome.

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