So this morning it was time to say goodbye to Matt and Dan, these two days with them just flew by. I meet them in front of their hotel at around 9:15 and we set out to get some breakfast for them at the grocery store, which we had a picnic in the middle of some random piazza. We then headed over to the train station to get them a ticket to Florence so Matt could visit his lady friend, Leyna. After our goodbyes Matt tried to give me his duct tape covered bible to carry around with me on my trip (for those of you who know him and this bible, this is sorta a big deal to him), but I told him I already had one bible that mom gave me that’s in my bag so I let him keep his bible. I told him I love him and I’d see him in a little more than a year. His train left around 11:15am.
I headed back to my hostel to do my laundry, burn a DVD of my pictures I’ve taken so far, write out yesterday’s blog entry, write in my journal, photoshop and organize some pictures, read up on Greece (where I’m flying to tomorrow), and read a little more Huck Finn. I headed over to the internet café, got everything posted on my site and sent a few emails. Most of the day was spent just doing chores that come along with long term travel, photography, and my blog. Lets just call this an office day. Good news though! I did some math and it looks like I am about $100 ahead of budget. I know it doesn’t seem like much but I’ve told myself that if at the end of the first year if I’m about $1000 ahead of budget I’d like to go to Japan for a week before continuing to Hawaii and home.
Walking by, I realized the restaurant we had an amazing dinner at last night runs a happy hour special from 5pm-6:30pm on dinner. Last night the three of us spent about 115 euros for dinner, so when I saw that they would serve me bread, wine, salad, and chicken cacciatore for 12 euro I knew right where I was going to eat tonight. After another amazing meal (and the most exciting part of this day), I headed to the grocery store to grab a bottle of wine to drink while I hung out at the hostel and talked with a bunch of new friends. I called it an early night and went to bed when my wine was through.
I had agreed to meet Matt and Dan this morning at 8:30am out front of their hotel to spend the day doing some hard core sightseeing. Now, everyone needs to understand, I love to travel and do my fair share of sights, but usually at a rather leisurely pace, possibly with a nap around the early afternoon. Matt and Dan only have a 9 day trip, so they were both bent on seeing everything in Rome in more or less one day. Believe me it is quite the endeavor, my dogs are still barking from all the walking.
We started the morning by making the 45 minute trek across town to get to the Vatican, where mass was being held by the pope (I didn’t even remember it was Sunday). After passing through the huge line, metal detectors and a series of guards we were admitted into St. Peter’s Basilica where we did actually see the pope (the small purple dot, bottom center of the picture), and listened for a while well he ranted on in Latin. The crowds were huge, we could barely squeeze through to look at the church itself and all its renaissance glory. We decided to make a bolt for the door a little while before the mass was over to try to beat the crowds to the Sistine Chapel around the corner and look at its ceiling. A few blocks later we came to a sign that said the Sistine Chapel was closed on Sundays! Who ever heard about a Chapel closed on Sundays? It’s kind of like a dump being closed on Thanksgiving.
Matt busted out his trusty Lonely Planet Italy guide (he seemed to be reading from this book all day, every time I looked at him he was telling us new and interesting fact about whatever part of Rome we were in.) and they decided to try and make a loop that included the Pantheon, Monumente Vittorio Emanuele II, the Roman Forum, Circo Massimo (a 2500 year old stadium that held 200,000 people, although now it kind of just looks like a big field with slopes on both sides), the Teatro di Marcello, a shitload of fountains, and we went inside of every single church we passed. I have been many places in the world, but I can’t recall a day when I have ever jammed in as much tourism into a single day as these guys did. I just felt like I was along for the ride. The tourism was a great day with my brother complete with an old Italian woman who served us our lunchtime pasta and cappuccino’s.
After about 10 hours of walking we stumbled around a corner into an Irish pub, so decided to go in for a few pre-dinner pints. When I went to order our second round, Matt decided he couldn’t hang and ordered a half-pint (it was kinda cute) and Dan just took off to the bathroom for 20 minutes. It may have been the second round talking, but we all decided that we wanted the best Italian dinner we could find (and in the process destroy any semblance of a budget) so I suggested this little Bistro I had been told was excellent, plus it was literally next door to my hostel.
We had wine, a plate of Italian meats for appetizer, a pasta course (I had fettuccini with shrimp, Matt had ravioli, and Dan had gnocchi with clams), then for dinner Matt had swordfish and Dan and I had veal topped with procettio ham and a white wine sauce. We even chased all that up with dessert of tiramisu and and a custard with strawberry sauce. Now I only get into these specific because this had to be for me, as well as Matt and Dan, one of the top 5 meals of our lives. I think Matt put it best when he said:
“Even if I got to Florence and Leyna (the girl he came to Italy to see) came out, kicked me in the balls, and said she hated me, the entire trip to Italy would be worth it for this piece of swordfish”
After our two hour dinner (which I am going to get sappy here and say, was the absolute best time I have had with my brother Matt in 3 or 4 years, we’ve had and have our differences) we decided to head to the market to pick up some wine and see if we could find a pair of Dr.Scholls gel inserts for Dans shoes, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one with sore feet. We couldn’t find any Dr Scholls so Dan wasn’t “Gellin”, but we did find the next best thing, red wine in juice boxes! This country is amazing!
We finished up the night at the hostel drinking our wine out of little boxes and watching the South Park movie, until Matt and Dan couldn’t handle it and had to head of to their hotel to go to bed around 11:30pm. I stayed up for another couple of hours talking to a pair of Americans and drinking cheap Italian beer that the hostel sold. This was a great day and I am extremely pleased that Matt and I got along so well. There was always that possibility that if the wrong subject (Jesus) was broached we may have had words, as we often seem do. The only bummer of the whole day was that the sky was grey and hazy and I didn’t get any pictures that I loved.
Well this morning I continued my trend of waking up early at around 7 am. I ate breakfast and set out to find my way to the airport to pickup my brother Matt and his friend Dan. I found my way to the arrival terminal around 10am, looked at the arrival board, and guess what? That’s right, his plane is two hours late! Bummer, but its not like it mattered, I really don’t have anywhere I have to be, so I went to the bookstore and found a copy of Huck Finn, bought a cappuccino, and settled in for my three hour wait.
When they finally arrived it was around 12:45 and I was growing impatient, so we grabbed the train and headed back to my hostel to see if we could find them a couple of beds. We couldn’t, the next place we tried was also full. Finally, we went to a little hotel about 2 blocks from where I am staying and found them a double room for 38 euro for both of them. That’s less than the 23 euro I’m paying at the hostel so they weren’t to disappointed, but they where hungry. We went over to a pizza place at the end of the street and ordered two slices each, little did we know that a slice was about the size of a small American pizza. We got so stuff we could barely make the 20 minute walk to see the inside of the coliseum.
About 2/3 of the way into central Rome we hear “Satisfaction” booming from the back of a van filled with speakers and find ourselves in the middle of a Italian Communist Party march. It was fun and Matt kept trying to get pictures with a communist flag around him. We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening looking at all kinds of tourist sites like the coliseum, the Fontana di Trevi(also pictured above), and a grip of churches that Matt kept leading us into during the middle of their mass. I dropped them off at their hotel, told them I would meet them tomorrow at 8:30 and I headed back to my hostel to do some picture/blog work.
Nothing has actually happened yet that I’ve been able to say that wonderful phrase for, but I am waiting for the right moment. I did manage a four hour train ride today so I could make it here by early afternoon grab a bed in the hostel and head out to take a look around.
I made my way to the ruins of the Roman forums and the coliseum and it was a wonderful afternoon for pictures. I think I may have got quite a few I am proud of today.
Tomorrow I have to head out to the airport to get my brother, Matt, and his roommate. Unfortunately the place I am staying said they wouldn’t know if they would have room tomorrow night for Matt and his roommate. It may require us to find another place for them. I hope it all works out.
I find it funny that my sleep cycle seems to be shifting from my old bartending cycle (about 1am to 9am) to something that I completely did not expect, like 10:30 or 11pm to 7am. Today was the 6th day in a row that I was up at 7am. No alarms or noisy people in my hostel room, just naturally waking up at 7am. Weird, huh? Perhaps some late night drinking is in order.
Anyhow, I finally made it to Galleria degil Uffizi after 3 days of trying and for all I built it up it was kind of a letdown, all paintings of Jesus being born or Jesus being crucified with the occasional Caesar statue thrown in. They also didn’t allow photos so I can’t bring you any photographic pleasures. Although it did rain most of the day so I can’t complain about the weather because I was indoors most of the morning.
I was wandering through a grocery store with some new Brazilian friends looking for alcohol sometime in the evening and guess what I found? A bottle of Stoli, relabeled for Italy in green packaging but it still made a wonderful vodka tonic, with that same sweet taste. So I spent the better part of the night drinking with a whole bunch of people (Brazilians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians even one other American), and when my vodka ran out around 11pm I was rather inebriated so I headed to bed at 11:30.
Great, even late night drinking only drags my bedtime out half an hour. Maybe I should start drinking a little later than 6:30.
Well even with my slight hangover I was up at around 7:30am, although to be fair when I looked at my watch I thought it said 8:30am, I didn’t realize I had cheated myself out of an hour of sleep until I was well into breakfast. The hostel provides a nice hot breakfast (some eggs, cheese, maybe a slice of bacon and some fried rice) here with the price of your room, one of the better hostel meals I have seen. Sometimes you’ll be told breakfast is free only to be given a 3 day old roll and some watered down orange juice.
I meandered over to the train station looking for a train to Pisa after breakfast and found one that left in ten minutes. After the hour long train trip I arrived in Pisa and had about a 20 minute walk through town to find the elusive Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the church on the grounds where tower sits on. Well I really couldn’t have been a better morning, it was clear and warm, the only sad part is I didn’t get anyone to take my picture in the obligatory “I’m holding up the tower” pose. I found a mean sandwich shop on the way back to the train station and had a calzone and a tuna panini for quite cheap, 4 euro for both.
The rest of the day was spent just wandering (for those of you who can’t tell yet this is one of my favorite activities), checking out the late night marketplace and enjoying a glass of vino with a “Fruit of the Sea” pizza that came complete with clams and mussels in their shells on my pizza. It was spectacular. I grabbed some beer on my way back to the hostel and played chess with my new Brazilian friend Gabriel, I lost.
I think tomorrow I may try again to head to the Galleria degil Uffizi, but it will actually require me to be up quite early to head to the giant line.
I swear sometimes I feel like my blog is just a form for me to vent my weather frustrations. The skies are clear and beautiful, and I can see the sun beating down, so why am I freezing while wearing a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, and a toboggan (that’s Alabaman for beanie). It make no sense to my Californian sensibilities, I mean, if the sun is there, shouldn’t it be warm?
I wanted to go to the Galleria degil Uffizi (a museum where the Italians store much of the art from the renaissance) today so I headed out around 8am for a walk to a view overlooking Florence that I heard about from another then I planned to get in line for the museum roughly at 10am. The walk was great, but when I arrived at the Galleria the line was huge! There was a sign that said it would be roughly an hour long wait, so no big deal, I put on some “The Kid Stays in the Picture” a audio book on my Ipod that Vito gave me and constantly quotes in my blog comments, and started waiting. Around noon, after two hours of Bob Evans giving me great advice from his life story, I was starving and only about halfway up the line so I decided to give up this mission for today and perhaps try tomorrow. I settled for a couple of panino’s and a glass of vino.
The afternoon was spent talking to my sister online, blogging, napping and just having another all around day of vacation. On my way back to the hostel I picked up a bunch of beer because I had meant a couple of new friends who said there would probably be some drinking going on tonight, and I figured “what the hell, I haven’t drank in a couple of days”. The night gets blurry around this time, I went to sleep somewhere around 11:30pm with the hopes of getting up and making it out to see the leaning tower tomorrow.
Oh, by the way today is the two week mark already. Its flying by so fast, and I haven’t even done anything extremely stupid yet. I need to get on that.
So today started early and I jumped a train south to Florence, where I heard there was some cool stuff to see. Seeing how I don’t have an Italy guidebook, just a few hostel flyers I picked up in Gryon, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. The only pre-trip reading I did about Italy was for Milan and since plans have change now I find myself wondering Italy without much guidance. Sure is fun and tasty though!
I got to Florence about four in the afternoon, walked to the hostel (or Ostello in Italian) about 200 yards from the train station and dropped my bag. I headed out for some lunch and to find a computer to upload all my blog for yesterday. The first was easy, (I had a ham and mushroom pizza) the second required me to spend most of the afternoon finding a computer that would play nice with my blogging program (I think it was the 3rd one).
Anyhow this felt like an uneventful day, it was even quite cold and windy. For those of you following I think after Rome (this weekend) with Matt I am going to fly to Athens, Greece (the flight is $100, much cheaper than the train/ferry combo) then work my way north through Bulgaria and Romania. That is if I don’t stumble across some hot lady that slows me down.
So I woke up and ran right out the door to do a little daytime exploring of this confusing city. I started doing some blogging at a little, yet overpriced, internet café. On my way out of the internet café I realized that yesterday, with all its sun, had been luck, today was dreary, overcast, wet, and cold. I had to back track to my hotel and add my long sleeve shirt and raincoat to my sweater and t-shirt. I felt like I was back in the Alps.
I decided to head right to Piazza San Marco, because it seemed to be the big tourist draw of this small town (Venice only has 272,000 people who live here and it gets more that 15 million tourists each year), and because it was the only sight where numerous signs lead the way. After about 30 minutes of following the little yellow signs I made it to the Piazza where dirty birds attack friendly bird-feeding tourists. After spending a while taking some pictures of bird attacks, kids attacking birds, and other random bird/people battles, I wanted to go check out the rest of Venice.
I tried the route I took the night before to make it in the direction of the train station but after about 45 minutes of walking (when I thought I was in the right area!) I turned a corner and guess what? Piazza San Marco! Damn…. The second attempted escape of the Piazza I thought I’d try to outsmart the city and make a few new turns and I’d be back in the right area in no time. After about another 30 minutes of walking I start to look around and think, this looks familiar, so with hope in my heart I make another left, right into the west side of the Piazza! Double damn….
I won’t bore you with the third, fourth, and fifth tries to get away from the Piazza, but I will let you in on the good news! Somewhere in my Venetian wanderings I found 10 euro lying on the ground in an alley. Two points Rob! After about 4 hours of walking and learning the area quite well (just not well enough to escape) I gave up and found a water taxi/bus to take me to where I belong. I decided I needed a nap, one of these (I’m not sure what it was called but it was chocolaty, nutty, flaky and sugary, mmm…), and a nice night out.
For dinner I found a restaurant that served, guess what? Italian! I had a four course meal that consisted of tortellini with meat sauce, a salad, pork chop, fries, and tiramisu. Of course I chased this all down with a liter of vino della casa, which toward the end of the liter I managed to slop a little all over my placemat. Party-foul. I ended my meal by buying a rose from the roving vendor, to console myself for losing myself to San Marco and spilling wine. So far I think Italy may be getting the best of me, but it sure tastes great!
I was up and out the door of the hostel in Gryon by 8:47am this morning to grab a train to Venice, Italy. I am not sure how I motivated myself to actually leave, seeing how I was up till 4:30 am last night drinking and hanging out with all the new people that had showed up for the weekend. (Proof is in my last post, which I wrote sometime in the middle of my drunkenness). Anyways after spending most of the day on a train I arrived in Venice around 4 pm and set out to look for a hostel. Unfortunately Venice does not have a plethora of budget choices and of my two choices I had one Hostel that was full or a Nunnery (where nuns live) so I moved to option #3 a cheap budget hotel room (35 Euro/night). It is kind of a bummer not only being expensive but also after constantly having people around for the last 11 days I am suddenly alone. I am not sure how I motivated myself to actually leave, seeing how I was up till 4:30 am last night drinking and hanging out with all the new people that had showed up for the weekend. (Proof is in my last post, which I wrote sometime in the middle of my drunkenness). Anyways after spending most of the day on a train I arrived in Venice around 4 pm and set out to look for a hostel. Unfortunately Venice does not have a plethora of budget choices and of my two choices I had one Hostel that was full or a Nunnery (where nuns live) so I moved to option #3 a cheap budget (35 Euro/night). It is kind of a bummer not only being expensive but also after constantly having people around for the last 11 days I am suddenly alone.
Once I got settled in my room I ran out to get some pictures right before the sun went down. Spent about an hour wandering the train station area then after sunset I went back for a shower and a change of cloths. I spent the next three hours getting lost in Venice and eating mushroom calzones. Now people, when I say lost, I mean it, half the streets are 3 feet wide and dead ends. If you want to cross town you have to constantly backtrack and every single tourist has a map and looks completely lost, so I didn’t feel too bad, but at times it did play on my nerves when I was walking a narrow, deserted, dimly lit alley for a hundred yards at a time.