So last night my good pal Miguel departed on a 2 week European vacation. He’s going on a Contiki tour which is a tour for people 35 and under. I did an almost identical tour 3 (or was it 4) years ago. I talked about it a little bit in some earlier posts but haven’t brought it up for a while. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’m totally jealous of Miguel getting to go over there and enjoy it this summer. I would love to do it again but it is a rather pricey venture and as you may have surmised from this blog featuring my ever-growing toy collection, I don’t have a ton of unused disposable income. On our trip me and then girlfriend (still friends) Nicole visited London England, then Amsterdam, then a few stops in Germany and Austria, followed by a brief stay in Switzerland, and then Paris France. It was an amazing time. I got to see things that I’ve been seeing on TV and in movies my entire life like Buckingham Palace, the Red Light District, the Swiss Alps and the Eifel Tower. There was so much to see and take in that having only a day in most places was a tease more than anything. Luckily the country that we spent the most time in was one of the most spectacular; Italy. We spent a day in Venice, a day in Florence and 2 days in Rome. Each city was unique and full of amazing experiences that it’s hard to say which one I enjoyed the most. In Venice we took a Gondola ride around the city and watched a glass blowing artisan. In was so strange and peaceful to be in a city so large with absolutely no cars. We enjoyed fine Italian cuisine and marvelled at the efficiency of the street hustlers who were able to lay out a blanket full of knock-off purses and then scoop in back up again in a matter of milliseconds to avoid being spotted by authorities. The canals were totally gross but the city was beautiful. We got lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets and just narrowly made it back to our boat before it departed. In Florence we ate dinner in a monastery where we were served as much wine as we could drink by Monks. Then we went to some crazy all-ages discothèque where jailbait in tubes tops wandered amongst the drunken older guys all of whom were rocking brightly colored pants in every hue you can imagine. And then there was Rome. Rome looked exactly as I imagined it would and yet seeing is truly believing because until you see these things with your own eyes you just don’t “get it”. It was hot as hell, the buildings were old stone, the whole place just felt ancient and it was spectacular. We visited the Coliseum and the Vatican where I saw the Sistine chapel. Nice little painting. Nicole and I snapped very few pictures on our trip as we only had one memory card that could store 100 pics or so. I look forward to revisiting these places through the thousands of pictures I’m sure Miguel will take.
So despite having limited time to take in all this history and beauty I did not simply run from one tourist attraction to the next. I am a collector after all and how often will I get to go shopping for action figures in Rome? I had to find time no matter where I was to track down some collectables. I didn’t buy a ton of stuff over there but the few things that I did find will forever take me back there when I see them on my toy shelves. In England I grabbed some Daleks from the British series Dr. Who as they seemed appropriate. Elsewhere I scored T-shirts and souvenirs but the only other place that I found action figures was in Rome. On some cobblestone side street I found a little toy store that from the outside appeared as though it could’ve been a church. Even the most rinky dinky businesses there seemed grandiose since all of the exteriors looked like refurbished ruins. This toy store was like the type of store I usually ignore when I pass them in the mall because they sell mostly educational toys like puzzles and building blocks. Since this was all I could find though I figured I’d go in and hope to find something cool and Rome-esque for me to purchase as a memento. Amongst the educational toys I found a basket of little solid plastic figurines. Most were of farm animals and dinosaurs but there were a few that immediately caught my attention: Gladiators. How cool would it be to buy gladiator figurines a block away from the Coliseum where real Gladiators once fought to the death. Luckily they didn’t have many to choose from otherwise I’d have been tempted to buy them all. I ended up buying a human gladiator, a pair of armored animal gladiators for him to fight, a crocodile and a rhinoceros, and a caveman. While the caveman might seem an odd choice I bought him for Andrew as a gift. At the time there was a Dorito commercial airing on TV regularly that featured the exact figure sporting a Dorito on his head and uttering a catchphrase that we couldn’t get enough of, “Chip Hat!” I simply couldn’t pass on the Chip-Hat Caveman. So even though I shudder when I think about what these figurines cost me (about 15 Euros, so almost 30 bucks a piece) I was pretty stoked to find them in the shadow of the Coliseum. I’m partial to the animal ones but this human gladiator is still pretty rad. There’s no articulation so he’s forever stuck in this pose. He appears to be somewhat on the defensive but who can blame him when his opponents are a Croc and a Rhino. The figure is nicely sculpted with some nice little details and good muscle tone. The helmet covers his face completely which gives him an air of mystery. Is that Maximus under there? Who knows. I always wanted a Russell Crowe figure based on his character from the film Gladiator and since that never materialized this will have to suffice. It’s a bit of a stretch perhaps but this figure is hella cool regardless. The sheer sight of him flashes me back to the glory of Rome and the horrific sunburn I got while visiting there. My Mexican friend will probably fare better than I did. Bon voyage Miguel. 7 out of 10.