Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Tomorrow it is back to the States and reality, so we had to make today count. How did the day begin? With gelato. How did it end? ...with gelato. Hah... don't judge!
This morning we slept in a little, then went off to go find breakfast. We first went to the grocery store to pick up some fruit to make us feel a little bit healthy, but we really just had our minds set on a nice big dose of ice cream. When in Rome, right? Yeah, it was delicious.
After "breakfast" we spent the day touring ancient Rome, starting at the Colosseum, then going to the Roman Forum, Paletine Hill, and then ending our tour with the Panthenon. Can I just say that it was all incredible? The Colosseum was great- even though it was about a million degrees outside. With Rick Steves' as our guide, I learned a ton about the stadium, like did you know that during the 100 day grand opening celebration the Romans killed over 2,000 people and 9,000 animals? That it took 4 years just to get all the material to the site just to begin building? Or that the crowd determined if gladiators lived or died by simply showing the emperor a thumbs up or a thumbs down? Yeah, me neither. After the Colosseum, we took some pics outside, got a couple with a "gladiator" who's 5 euro charge was totally worth all the laughs, and then headed over to the Roman Forum. Basically this place is the old Rome city, complete with the ruins of basillicas, temples, the place where Julius Caesar's body was burned, and a lot more my tired little brain just can't remember right now. Next we went to Palatine Hill, which is this great big hill where the Roman royalty lived. There were ruins from the royal family's ginormous palace, lots of fountains, and race tracks. It was so cool! I can't even imagine what it all looked like in it's prime... no wonder Rome was the capital of the world.
After all this Roman city-ness, we went over to the Panthenon, which is a huge temple that started the Renaissance. It's got this huge hole in the ceiling, and it's never been covered... so don't be there when it rains! Sadly the temple ended up being closed, but I kind of got to peek through the door, so I kind of got the jist... and all I really wanted to see was the hole in the ceiling, so we've got that going for us! Anyways, it was kind of a let down we couldn't go in, but we had a good time just sitting outside and people watching for the next 2 hours or so while Cade and Dan fell asleep on the steps outside. I swear, they can sleep anywhere!
After the Panthenon the guys got a taxi back to the hostel, but Britt and I were feeling adventurous, so we walked all the way back without a map, and we felt pretty legit once we found the hostel! We spent some time talking to our new found Mexican friends from our hostel in Spanish (I miss doing that a lot...) and then set out to find our last good Italian meal. We just ended up going to the same restaurant we went to the night before, ordered pizza, and watched Spain vs. Portugal. Spain won, so poor Portugal is done, and I don't get to see beautiful Ronaldo play anymore :( Boo. Oh well, maybe when Spain takes the cup I won't feel so bad anymore! Dinner wasn't really that great. The best pizza I've ever had was still the one I ate in Nice hands down. Good try, Italy. The best entertainment during dinner came when a street vendor showed up and tried to sell us a bunch of worthless crap... and the guys all bought stuff. No wonder they target Americans! They know in the end they'll give in and buy their flashlights, plastic watches, and head massagers!
After dinner we were all wanting something more.... so we went and got gelato one last time. Again, when in Rome, right? Yeah... my diet starts tomorrow. I've eaten waaaaaay too much ice cream in Europe, but whatever it's been completely worth it because American ice cream doesn't hold a candle to the Italian variety. We all left feeling a little sick, but a lot of satisfied. Thank you, Italy.
Well, now everyone is just chilling on my bed, playing Hearts, and living up the last few hours we've got until it's time to head to the airport, board a plane US bound, and kiss Europe goodbye... at least for now. I'll be back, Europe, so you'd better be ready, Oh, and in the mean time, you can get some new toilets, learn about peanut butter, and refrigerate your milk. Oh, and you can teach the US a thing or two about soccer, chocolate for breakfast, and public transportation.
Well, I guess that is all for now. Europe has been good to me, and I've had some times I will never forget. With that, I guess it's time to sleep in my creepy hostel bed one more time. Til then!
Monday, June 28, 2010
It's hard to grasp the fact that I've really been in Europe this long. It doesn't feel like it at all, but at the same time I feel like it's been my whole life since I've heard people speaking Egnlish as their first language. Home is only two days away!
Rome is really great- this is definitely a city to see because there is just so much stuff to visit! Today was Catholic Day, so with Rick Steve's Rome book as our guide, we rolled out of bed at 7, were on the metro by 8, and were walking into the Oculus at the Vatican City by 9. At first everybody was ticked that Dan and I had reserved us tickets for 9 AM, but oh, how glad I am that we got there so early! Our lines to get into St. Peter's Basilica weren't pretty long, but as we left around 12:30 the lines were snaking all over the square... and everyone was thankful we'd been there good and early. :)
The Vatican was awesome. Sadly, we didn't see the Pope.... Rick Steve's says he only comes out to bless the crowds on Sundays and Wednesdays. Darn! We saw his little papal apartment though, so I guess that is about as good? When we got there the first thing we did was go into the HUGE Cathedral. Man, that place is really big, And really beautiful. Next, we went to the Vatican Museum, and once again I was thankful we bought tickets in advance, because the line to get in was seriously like a mile long! And it was 9:30 AM! We finally found the reservation line, and while it was about a 20 minute wait, that was nothing compared to the standby line. Boy, I am glad we planned ahead!
The Vatican Museum is huge, too. You probably don't really know anything inside of it besides this little thing called the Sistine Chapel. Yeah... we were just really excited to see this room, so we kind of glanced quickly at everything else, then headed for Michelangelo's masterpiece. Thanks to Rick Steve's, I learned a lot about the huge ceiling before seeing it... like the fact that Michelangelo didn't even want to paint it because he told the Pope he was a sculptor, not a painter, that it took 4 years of tediously painting on the wet plaster, and that he basically did it all himself. We stood in that room for probably a good 45 minutes, stealthily snapping pictures despite the roars of "NO PHOTO!" coming from the guards at the front of the room playing hall monitor, deciphering the different drawings, and being taught all sorts of interesting little tidbits thanks to Rick Steve's. These books are really great- one of Britt's professors let her borrow the one we have, and I swear by it. Pick one up the next time you head over to the Eastern Hemisphere.
After the Vatican Museum we went back over to the Cathedral to go to Mass because you just can't be Catholic for a day without hitting up Mass! ... plus I think it's pretty cool to say, "oh yeah, I went to Mass once... it was at the Vatican. No big deal."
After Mass we left the small country of Vatican City (oh yeah- I've been to 5 countries now) we got back on the metro and surfaced again at the Spanish steps, which is some monument near the Spanish Embassy. How good it was to see a Spanish flag!! I miss that country :( Anyways, after filling up our waterbottles at a sketchy looking fountain Rick Steve's swore is clean and aqueduct powered, we headed over to the world's biggest and "most lavish" (Rick Steve's) McDonald's. We initially went just to look.... but when Brittany and I found the world's most beautiful looking piece of strawberry cake/cheesecake among a slew of other to die for desserts, we just couldn't pass it up! The guys got the wrong memo about eating and decided to order McDonalds, but Britt and I were not about to eat that in Rome! We went on a search for real Italian, ended up at some outdoor restaurant, ordered paninis, and our waiter asked us if we were Spanish. Yep, that's right, he thought we were from Spain. I have never been so flattered in my life!! Either he was just extremely naive, or a little bit of Espana has rubbed off on us!
After eating we met back up with the guys and went to the Trevi Fountains. Ever seen the Lizzie McGuire movie? Well... don't judge me, but this is the fountain where Lizzie throws in a coin, and then Paolo drives by on his scooter and whisks her away for a little Roman private tour for the first time. Sadly, no Italians came to scoop me up and take me away... there were just a lot of tourists with gelato and cameras. However, the fountains were really big and pretty, and as custom tells you to do, we all made sure to throw two coins into the fountain. The first, being for a return trip to Rome, and the 2nd, being for love to find you or something of the sort. It was great, really, throwing the coins into the fountain, and then having the fountain guard blow his whistle on us when Dan threw his coin with a little too much force. (Somebody was taking his job just a little bit too seriously...) It was HOT by the fountain, so we cooled off with some gelato, then headed off to the Cappuchin Crypts.
Ever wondered what they do with dead monks? ...Nope, I haven't either. Seems here in Rome they decorate churches with them, though. Yep, we all paid a euro to see a church decorated with the skulls and bones of 4000 monks. Don't ask me why... I don't really even know. But it was cool. And the creepy saying at the end of the church? "As you are, we once were. As we are now, you will be." MUAHAHA.
After seeing 4000 dead monks, we were all a little tired, so we went back to the hostel and napped for about 2 hours. Yeah, I was basically dead to the world for those two hours of sweet dreaming, even though I'm pretty sure the mosquitoes and spiders feasted upon me the whole time. Every time I wake up in these sketchy hostels I find a new and interesting bug bite. Hopefully none of them are life threatening?
When we'd all woken up and were feeling a little less groggy we went out, the guys to watch Brazil dominate Uruguay, and me and Brittany to go on yet another date out to eat. This time we had our hearts set on real Italian pasta, so that is just the thing we found... after taking a couple wrong turns and ending up in Little India. (Another story for another day)
The food at our restaurant was great- Italian pasta is pretty dang good... but I think Olive Garden lies to you when they give you their menus. Pretty sure 3/4 of that stuff is American creations. (But I will forever love the 5 dollar soup, salad, and breadsticks... that there is a good American invention!) Dinner was really good, but the best part of the meal didn't come until we were about to leave. We were in the middle of paying the check when our waiter brought us each a shot glass sized cup filled with a yellowish liquid. We each looked at it, looked at each other, and weren't sure what exactly to do with it. Brittany tasted a little and said it was lemony and strong. I looked at the little glass from all angles, dipped my pinky in, and did a little taste test. Right as the taste hit my tongue, the waiter, who I think had realized we had no idea what was going on, came over and said matter of factly, "it's lemon liquor". Oh, thanks waiter! So yeah, guess he was just trying to give us a little shot for the road... needless to say, we didn't take any more drinks, just took a nice picture with our glasses, laughed, wished we'd just have downed the glasses so we could have plead ignorance, and went back to the hostel. When in Rome! :)
Sunday, June 27, 2010
(I've always wanted to say that in real Rome)
Today was a travel day/find the hostel day/be lazy day. We were out of Florence by 11:15, I rode my last European train (not too sad about that one...), and we were in Rome by 3:30! I still can't believe I really am in this city. It's surreal to really be surrounded by so much culture, history, and beauty! I haven't even seen much yet, but the few things I have seen have made me question whether I still like Spain the best... (but not really. Spain is still the best)Anyways, let's pound out this day so I can get out of this uncomfortable plastic chair, give Cade his computer back, and let Casey get on facebook before he dies of lack of contact with the outside world!
When we got to Rome today it was "well.... let's pretend we know whats going on and find our hostel" time. After following this ritual 4 times, I thought we'd had it down pat! And we did... at first. I mean, the Fiesta Terrace Hostel was on Via Cairoli, and how many Via Cairolis can there be in Rome? We found the street on the map, found some food, and then it was off to play scavenger hunt, because Cairoli turned out to be a little bit further away than we'd imagined. It was hot, we were carrying all our bags, and after walking about an hour and stumbling upon about 5 or 6 amazing monuments we'd never seen before, we found 101 Via Cairoli... which would have been great if the number could have corresponded with a hostel, and not with an upscale women's clothing store.
We'd failed. We were really confused- I had the correct address, but the owners of the store knew nothing at all about any hostel there. Hmmm... we looked at the map again, and it turns out there was not one, but two Cairolis. We had the wrong one, and it turns out the right one was just a couple blocks away from where we'd started. Great! I just kind of laughed, but everyone else was pretty mad they'd walked all that way for nothing. Because we didn't exactly feel like trekking back, we found a bus stop and waited for a couple minutes until a very overcrowded bus came to take us back to the station. That was probably the most hilarious and disgusting ride of my life. We were packed like sardines into the little bus, it smelled like a high school boys locker room, and and it went waaaaaay too slowly. Initially we'd been complaining about the heat outside, but as we exited the bus, we accepted the hot wind with open arms. Sickest ride ever!
After our smallish problem, we found our hostel with little problem. This place is a dive, but it's fun nonetheless... and the owner likes me. While taking us on a little tour when we got here he insisted that he escort me around by the arm and it was hilarious. I love Italians!
The rest of tonight we spent just bumming around our side of the city, seeing as we were pretty pooped from our trek across all of Rome! We stumbled upon Italy's oldest gelateria, caught the slaughtering of Argentina vs. Mexico, and learned than special orders don't really work when you don't speak Italian. Our version of "half ham, all mushrooms, artichoke, and bell peppers" landed us with a pizza with a huge slab of ham on one side, a huge pepperoni on the other, a clump of artichoke smack dab in the middle, and half of it covered with mushrooms. At least we know it wasn't a tourist trap!
Well, better head to bed... we're going to the Vatican early tomorrow, so it's time to get my Catholic face on! Buona sera
When we decided that we wanted to take a stop in Florence, Italy on our way around Italy, we didn't really know what we were going to do there, and a common question was always, "uh, guys? What's in Florence?" and a common response to that question was always, "ummm.... David, I think?" Basically we had no idea what to expect from this very artsy place, besides the fact that we had bought in advance 12:15 tickets to go see David. I'm learning that sometimes the days you have no expectations for turn out to be the most memorable ones.
We woke up slowly and steadily, which I think was much deserved after our adventure on the trains the previous night. We were out and about by 11, found breakfast at a bar, and an egg and cheese pannini and an orange later, we were standing in line for David. Florence is a funny place, because for the most part, the streets are just really narrow and lined with buildings on both sides, and the open spaces are few and far between. I'd always imagined David in some palace, or with a big flashy neon arrow sign pointing people his way, but that is not how it is at all! In fact, if you did't know what you're looking for, you probably could never find the Galleria dell' Accademia just walking down the street because it's so normal looking. Anyways, we found the place, got in line, and in a matter of minutes, we were inside! Walking up to David was one of the most exhilarating experiences ever. We walked in, turned a corner, and BAM. There he was, down the long corridor lined with more Michelangelo statues. Walking up to the 17 ft. marble statue was neat- he's just so big! I couldn't even get over it! Dan and I took some stealthy pics, so don't worry- you can see him, too. From our eavesdropping onto random guided tours, we learned that Michelangelo was only 26 when he sculpted this big guy, and when there was no barrier around the statue, somebody broke off his big toe, and another time someone broke his arm off or something. Pretty hard to tell, beause he looks in tip top condition to me! Seeing David was great- I'm not artsy, but I liked it a lot, probably because it's just one of those things that is better in person than in a textbook.
After David, we just walked around Florence for the rest of the day, we went to Duomo, this huge cathedral in the middle of the city, walked down to the river to get some cool bridge pictures, and just did a lot of shopping. There is sooooooooooooooo much leather here. I've been on the quest for the perfect leather bag our whole time in Italy, and well, given the prices, the quest still continues :/ No matter, seeing that I withdrew a little too much money from the ATM and converting back to USD is a headache, I'm sure I can find something... it's either that or a years worth of chocolate :)Decisions, decisions.
Most of the cheap shopping in Florence is on the streets, and I think that Utah needs to get the memo and get some street vendors,too. They make life so much more interesting. In Florence, we had some great experiences with street vendors, my personal favorite being when a poster guy came up with his goods, showed them to Casey, and then Casey began the haggling process, getting the 15 euro poster down to 3 euros in like 2 seconds. The guy wanted 4, but Casey held strong, and finally the guy folded. However, when Casey gave him the money and wanted change back, the guy just took the extra 4th euro. Maybe you just had to be there, hear the guy talk, and watch Casey walk around the rest of the day with a poster of the Italian countryside he didn't even want, but it was hilarious.
Shopping all day can really make you work up an appetite, so when we were done weaving through the market we began the search for gelato. Some cities you can find the stuff for pretty cheap, but Florence is not one of those places. After looking in many shops and finding high prices all over, we finally settled on one where the display was pretty. We all chose what we wanted started eating, and the lady rung us up at the register. I paid separately, but Brittany owed Casey some money, so they paid together. The lady pointed to me, "4 euros" she said, and then pointing at Brittany, "20 euros". Brittany looked around, at her ice cream, at the lady, at Casey.
20 euros? Each ice cream cone had cost 10 euros? Were they laced with gold?! Were they made with water from the fountain of youth?! "I think I'll pay for my own gelato..." Casey said to Britt, saving her from a whole hostel stay's amount of money. It still makes me laugh to think how ironic it was that we searched and searched for cheap gelato all day, and then Casey and Britt end up buying the most expensive waffle cones in Florence... and then the fact that Brittany's cone basically exploded all over her and she turned into some kind of gelato monster made things even greater. Good thing it was probably the best gelato we ever tasted, or it might have been a bad experience :) You live, you learn, you laugh at your friends when they accidentally buy 10 euro gelato in Florence, Italy.
The rest of the night was spent running around Florence a little more, and then finding a bar to watch USA vs. Ghana play at. Our search for a bar was a great adventure, too. It seems that no one felt like playing the game, and the fact that Dan was wearing an American flag as a cape and we were getting heckled by street vendors straight out of Africa made for some entertainment as well. In the end we found a pretty good bar, though, and the night would have been great if we could have won. Way to go, US.
Well, with that it's time to hop on a train for Rome. Goodbye, Florence.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Starting at the beginning: Thursday morning.
After my little bout with heat exaustion, I woke up feeling pretty crappy. I had no energy at all, and just walking up and down our hostel stairs left me beat and having to sit down. Great way to feel in one of the most beautiful places on earth, right? It was pretty pathetic, but I did my best to just get through because heck- we are in Italy!! The name of the game for Thurs was basically kill time. We'd basically done everything we'd wanted to do in Cinque Terre, but we had to stick around until 1 AM, when our train would depart for Venice that night. After some nutella crepes we checked out and headed down to the ferry dock. Britt had her heart set on riding around on a boat, so we got a pass and spent the day riding around from town to town. Given my condition, I don't really remember the first part of the day up until Vernazza, where everyone put their bags around me on the beach and I slept in the sun for a little while. That combination of sun and sand must have had healing powers, because when Cade came to check on me and woke me up with a scolding, "will you EVER learn?!" I felt better! We spent the rest of our time in Vernazza watching the Italy vs Slovakia soccer game. Have I mentioned that I love World Cup? It was so great to be able to watch a real Italy game in a real Italian bar with real Italians! I really hope I'm in Europe again in 4 years, because life here is electric around this time, and the games are not at unholy times like they are in the US. 4 PM games here are at like 2 AM there- no wonder people don't eat, drink, and live soccer! Anyways, like I said, Italy in Italy was such an experience, even though they lost. Just imagine how much energy you think was at that bar, and you will be right!
After Vernazza we hopped back on the ferry to Monterosso one last time, where we just sat on the beach for hours with our baggage, then went for pizza at some restaurant in the city. Oh pizza- there really is as much of it here as I imagined there would be, and it's just about as delicious! I will probably have pizza withdrawls when I come home, because for the last week I have eaten it every day... sometimes twice. 5 euro margherita pizzas have my heart.
At 11 we finally decided we'd killed enough time and could go to the station to begin our long night hopping trains to Venice. As we took one last glance at the Mediterranean, we saw there was a big ol' festival going down by the water, complete with processions, candles on the water, and fireworks as we left on the train. Yep, we left Cinque Terre with a bang.
Now this is where the days get fuzzy, because I didn't sleep enough Thursday night to have a defined break between them. When planning our trip, Casey and I thought it would be a great idea if we could save money by riding night trains a lot of the time... but all I know is that after our night train experience, I feel like any hostel is worth every euro! We went to La Spezia first to wait for the departure of our 1 AM train, among the shady riff raff of the town, complete with the sleeping bums littered around the station. I wasn't that tired at this point, but right when we found our car on the train, I was out. When I woke about half an hour later, we were in Pisa.
There really is nothing like trying to find the Leaning Tower of Pisa at 2 AM. For some reason, we all had the idea that the landmark would be close to the station, so when we finally found it on the map outside and saw that it was not really that central, our dreams of taking cliche pics were almost crushed! That was, however, until Casey had the bright idea of just getting a cab over, so we did. Well, let's just say that was the easiest 8 euros the driver ever made buecause the trip over was definitely not as long as we'd imagined! He pocketed our cash and sped off, leaving us in a creepy dark city with a lit up slanting tower. Haha one of my favorite memories of Europe will forever be going to see Pisa at 2 AM and trying to take pictures with it. The fact that is was pitch black outside really hindered our abilities to hold the tower up, and the flash crushed them completely. Basically we ended up with great pictures of us holding up blackness, but I will always know what was behind that veil of dark, even if no one else does!
Our next train was departing at 4 AM, so after snapping some pics, we tried to find our way back to the station. This was about the time everyone started getting crabby, probably because of lack of sleep. Again, it was a relief to be on a train to get a little sleep in, even if it was only for about an hour to Florence. In Florence we checked our bags so we wouldn't have to carry them to Venice, got some food, and waited for yet another train. This time we went to Bologna, then transfered to another train to Venice. I was really intrigued as to how we were going to get to Venice by train, seeing as it's an island, so when we started riding the rails right over the water, I was pretty much giddy. How do you build train tracks right on the water?! I do not understand Venice, but in a matter of minutes we were there.
Venice, Italy is probably one of the coolest places I have ever been. As we got out of the station I had a very large WHOA moment. There were tons of people all over, a huge river with beautiful boats and gondolas cruising around, and lots of neat buildings littered all around the other side of the river. None of us really knew what you do in Venice, so we did just what people tell you to do: Get lost. It's really easy to do, seeing as the city is basically a maze of windy streets, canals, and bridges. After a stop for some food at a bar and a little bit of freshening up in the bathrooom, we spent the next couple hours wandering around, walking in and out of mask shops, taking pictures with gondoliers, and going over a lot of bridges. The water here is really neat- obviously there are no cars, so the boats reign supreme. Garbage boats, mail man boats, taxi boats, and gondolas all cruised around on the canals all day, and we were all impressed with their boat navigating talents!
When 4 PM hit, it was time to watch some soccer. Cade, Dan, and I found a bar to watch Portugal and Brazil in, while Casey and Brittany went to ride in a gondola. While I would have loved to be serenaded by an Italian, I just couldn't afford the 70 euro for an hour charge, plus I was beat. Sickness had yet again caught up with me, and that teaming up with hardly any sleep had me feeling pretty crappy. The bar was a much needed break, and the game was great, even though I fell asleep a good portion of the first half.
After the game we all met back up and headed out of Venice and back to Florence to find our hostel and get some much needed sleep. After arrival and finding our home for the next two days, we ventured out to find food, and settled on kebaps. I had never heard of a kebap until going to Spain, so don't feel too bad if you have no idea what that is. A kebap is a type of Turkish wrap with lettuce, tomato, onion, special sauces, and some kind of undistinguishable meat they shave off the spit right in front of you. (I always opt for falafel, a fried garbanzo bean patty, instead) Basically I've come to realize that these little shady shops selling the worlds best price to calorie ratio are on every corner of every big city in Europe, so we get them a lot. It's a good break from pizza every now and again :)
After dinner it was back to the hostel to sleep. This place isn't half bad, and my favorite part has been listening to the owner sing along to the Beatles as I've been typing this in the lobby. We've got a private room this time, the beds are decent, and there are even towels! The only bad part is the shower- it's just a showerhead in the wall by the toilet, so the bathroom floods ever single time it's used, but life goes on I guess!
Well, people keep coming over, sending the "you've been on here long enough!" vibes, so I guess I will wrap up now. Today we are getting artsy in Florence, seeing David and Duomo, and prepping for our journey to Rome tomorrow! 4 days and I will be home! Crazy how fast time goes, but I think I am ready to be back on American soil after 2 months- it's been great, but I miss toilets that aren't holes in the ground and free water. Ciao for now!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I hope I can make it through this post without falling asleep- I feel like I could sleep for two years minimum right now. You see, I didn't drink any water today, didn't eat hardly anything, and spent all day at the beach, soaking up the rays. Sounds good, right? Well, let's just say I usually am able to power through any kind of tiredness that comes my way, but this little spot of headache/bodyache/ tireness had me sleeping laying on the ground at the train stop tonight... which is kind of out of character for me? Oh well, it's been a fun day!
This morning I got up earlier than everyone else, so I headed out for some breakfast. Apple, banana, croissant has become my regimen over the last couple of days, and all under 2 euros. Yes, I can handle that! After eating, Britt, Dan, and I did a little shopping in Riomaggoire, and then we headed out for Monterosso to catch some rays.
The beach was hoppin' today- probably due to the fact that it was boiling hot and the clouds left us alone for the most part. We spent a good portion of the day swimming in the bay, sleeping on the sand, and Britt and I even rented a kayak for a little to do some exploring on the water. That was definitely the best part of the day! I've never been on open sea in such a little boat, and it was amazing. Once we figured out how to paddle, (left, right, left... yep, we're going in circles) we spent a good portion of the hour just laying in the boat, swaying with the waves, We saw a jellyfish, too! I've never seen one up close before, and let me just say we kind of went crazy and followed it for a good 2 or 3 minutes, trying to pick it up with our oars. Let me just say that I know why Spongebob is such an avid jellyfisher. It's addicting!
After boats the boys left us to go watch World Cup, but we just stayed out on the beach awhile longer, taking in all the Italians... and the surplus of Americans, I kind of feel like it's national Spring Break up in here because every other person is white and speaking very loud English. Oh, America! Every once in awhile you find a very good looking Italian, though... Brittany and I have an eye candy count that spans from France to Italy- we're at 21. Yep, only 21 good looking guys so far in all the country. Oh well, those 21 have all been extremely... bello.
Once we figured we were sunburned enough, we went to try to go find the guys at a bar, but there were just too many bars in Monterosso to search through. It is about this time that I started feeling really sick. We did our best to find the train station, and even though we had to wait almost an hour for a train to Riomaggiore, we finally made it back, had a crappy plate of cheap pasta, and then it was shower, and now bed. Public thank you to Brittany for not leaving me at the train station/ getting me home safe. She is a keeper! Arrivederci
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
These words have stuck with me since they were uttered by a fellow Brazilian traveler a couple days ago on a bus to Monaco. I was a little skeptical at first, I mean sure I was excited to see the Mediterranean, eat some pasta, and get out of France, but I had no idea of the sheer majesty of Italy's best kept secret. I swear, this city is like some sort of narcotic, really- addictive, powerful, and always leaves you wanting more. You may want to come here before you die.
This morning Dan and I got up early to go to La Spezia to book tickets to Venice for Friday. Looks like we'll be headed out of Riomaggiore Friday at 1 AM, have a smallish layover in Pisa (that means cliche picture time) between the hours of 2 to 4, and then it's to Venice, estimated arrival- the buttcrack of dawn. Nope, no sleeping that night, but whatever, we're poor now thanks to Italian train police, and we can't afford, nor want to book, another hostel. Should be an adventure :)
When we'd sorted out all the logistics of our trip, we met Cade, Casey, and Brittany and headed out to go on the hike to see all of Cinque Terre. Oh, the hike. Basically to get between the 5 cities, you've got a couple options. You can take the train, take a ferry, bike, or walk the breathtaking trails for 7 miles along the Mediterannean for an estimated 6 hours. We chose the last option. WOW this hike was fantastic, and I must publicly thank my Chacos, the only form of footwear I kept in Europe for our little adventure, for all they have done for me me thus far. Anyways, back to the hike. It's better expressed in pictures, but as of now, I've got none. So, again, google Cinque Terre, and come back July 1 for a better description of the breathtaking seascapes that are the crazy hard hike in the Italian Riviera.
The hike only ended up taking us about 5ish hours, and that was after my memory card ended up being full between the 1st and 2nd city, and I had to turn back for my new one. Yeah... I was not about to miss out on all the pictures this time! Oh, and did I mention that the trek to Monterossa was hard? Well, it was. Really hard. When they say that the hike is along the coast, well, they kind of lied. The first part was smooth sailing. The path was wide, the grade was almost flat, and life was good. Everything was easy until about the 3rd city when it began to climb higher and higher into the mountains, and steep stairs became the only form of path we could see. For 2ish hours it seemed all we did was zigzag up and down stairs, always losing any altitude we had previously gained. It was a little disheartening, but, like I've said time and time again, the scenery made every stair worth it, and I've gained some new calf muscles. They are named Cinque and Terre.
When we finally reached Monterossa, the last city, I wanted to fall onto the ground and kiss it. We were starving, so our first order of business was food. We found a nice cafe, and all ordered Focaccia bread with various things on top. I had potato and rosemary, and it was good. Maybe I was just the fact that I was starving, but the rumors are true: the food in Italy is ambrosia.
After eating we went down to the beach. I didn't even get in the water at first... I was too pooped from our hike! I think everyone basically had the same idea, because we all just laid out our towels and crashed for a little. Even though little Italian kids kept running by me and flipping sand onto my face and I was awoken by loud Italian mothers playing with their kids and the incessant ringing of the city bell, sleeping on the Mediterranean beach definitely was one of my favorite parts of the day. It was a little breezy, but the water was nice, and Casey, Brittany, and I jumped in and swam around anyways. Oh, and Brittany got stung by a sea anemone- she is so hardcore!
When the sun cast huge shadows on the mountains above and our little beach was surrounded by shadow, we packed up and headed back to Riomaggiore for dinner and World Cup. We went to our favorite outdoor bar, I got 5 euro pesto, and we ate and cheered for Argentina all night. Oh, and I made sure to get gelato, too.... you can't forget gelato.
Well, that is the day's events. Nothing too exciting, but that is the way we like it. Tomorrow will probably be a mirror image of today, only with NO hiking and more beach. (And maybe lots of sunscreen too, seeing as I got very very burned today)
Monday, June 21, 2010
Yep, it is the only place I can find good Internet connection! But it doesn't even bother me because Italy rocks... Like France doesn't hold a candle to this place. It's pretty, the beaches are better, and there are no trash lined sidewalks. Next time I am just skipping France and coming straight here!
So this morning we said au devoir to the Pink Lady bright and early (still wearing her see through shirt, I might add) so we could get out of France as quick as possible. We picked up some fruit and croissants at the little shops along the street before boarding the worst train ever. You would think France would get it together and get some better trains with air conditioning or something, because the sweaty, cramped, and stuffy ride to Vermille was the worst! It was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) to get off at the Italian border and transfer to something a little less cramped! On our train from Monaco to Vermille we met some guys who were also headed to Cinque Terre, so we bummed around with them all the way to Italy.
Italy is all I'd ever imagined it would be. And more. The atmosphere of this country is completely different from France- tenfold better! During a layover between trains we went to get a little food, and then down to the beach for a little feet soak. Wow the water was amazing. We couldn't stay very long because we were short on time, but it was a great precursor to what I know the rest of Italian beaches will be. We cannot wait!
At noon we boarded our train bound for Riomaggiore. Okay, France, I must say your trains are a little less rickety and a little less ghetto, but at least the Italian ones have windows! We tried to get as comfortable as we could on it, and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the 5 hour journey. Yay. We love trains.
Things on the train actually didn't go that bad... that is until the train police showed up. Actually, this guy was just a ticket taker and doesn't even deserve any title with the word police in it, but he sure acted like he had the authority of a law officer. As we saw him approach, everyone got out their tickets to have them checked. We followed suit, handed them over, and expected him to give them all back after a quick glance... only he didn't give them back. He started going through them, checking every one, and then in broken English, told us that we all owed him 50 euros. What? We had paid almost 300 USD for these bad boys, and now Mr. Police wanted more? We demanded a reason why, and he told us we had broken the rules and hadn't written down our travel date on the pass. You see, we've got 5 days of travel, and I guess you're supposed to write the date of every day you travel "before arriving on the train" as Mr. High and Mighty put it. We tried everything to get out of the tickets. Our new friend Jaquamo speaks Italian, so he tried to talk some sense in him, trying out anger, kindness, bartering, and more. Nothing. This man thought he was a hard A, that's for sure. I tried next. I calmly explained we were just students who had never used Eurail before, we were trying to learn about Italy and their language, had no idea of the rules, and pleaded with him to show a little Christian charity on us- we needed this money to eat! We couldn't afford to drop 50 bones on nothing! Yep, the man without a soul didn't care. He just kept writing out tickets and telling us that either we paid up or we got our Eurails taken. We had to pay up :( As he wrote my ticket, I made it a point to tell him that I hoped he felt good about doing this, and that this money better go towards getting some better trains because this one sucked. Either he didn't understand English very well, or he just didn't really pay attention to me. Either way I was still mad, and the rest of our train ride was not as happy and exciting as the first 2 hours had been. How light my wallet felt without that extra 50 :(
Life got a little better when we arrived in Riomaggiore.... actually a lot better. This place rocks. Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in Italian, which basically means that there are 5 small cities along the Mediterranean that are connected with little paths, beautiful views, and lots and lots of water. Riomaggiore is the first city, and thanks to our planning ahead skills, we found a good hostel here for a couple nights for pretty cheap. It's not the Pink Lady, but it'll do :)
Basically this place is unbelievable. You MUST get to Cinque Terre sometime in your life. Google it becuase I can't upload pics right now. It's amazing, fun, and has a great atmosphere about it. All the cities are known for different things, have towering buildings built all along the coastline which are painted lively colors and attract the young and old alike to spend some time in the Italian countryside. .... And when I say spend some time, I mean prolong our vacations. Right when we got here we fell in love, and we may or may not have canceled our hotel in Bern so that we can stay here a little longer... nope, no more Switzerland. We'd love to go there, but after our train experience today, we're not feeling too excited to ride more trains, especially those lasting around 8 hours minimum up to Switzerland. So, here we will stay until Thursday night. I can't wait! The beach is calling :)
After rearranging our plans tonight we got some dinner. Seeing as there was a huge gaping hole in everyone's wallets, we just settled on some cheap pizza to fill us up. Yeah, it wasn't that great, but it was cheap and all we needed. We've got plenty of nights to go splurging on our Italian! And when we'd finished off our pizza we got more gelado, too. Oh, the ice cream... I am an addict.
After ice cream we went to the bar to watch Spain play Honduras. Brittany and I love soccer, but we couldn't really stomach spending at least 2 hours at the bar when we could be exploring beautiful Italy, so we ditched the boys and went on a hike in the hills. Oh.... I don't even know what to write because words do not do the view justice. The combination of the trees, the sea, and the little city below just made for a perfect ending to an almost perfect day. Pictures will be coming soon! After our hike we got back to the bar just in time to see the end of the game- Spain won, if you didn't know. Viva La Roja! The nightlife in Riomaggiore is really funny. This is quite the "get drunk and have a good time!" spot, and it attracts a lot of young travelers, so it was pretty fun to be around so many people, accents, and unique ways of life :) My favorite part was talking to our completely wasted roommates, a couple from Ohio, who managed break a wine glass and beer bottle in the 20 minutes we spent talking, and learning all about their lives. The hostel experience is one everyone must have once in their life.
When Spain had won and we were done with the bar, it was time for a little fun. Dan had his heart set on seeing some beach, so Britt and I took the clan down to the waterfront to show them the crashing waves and loads of boats. Well, all I have to say is boys will be boys, and once Dan and Cade saw waves crashing on some rocks which jetted out into the bay, well, they got it in their mind that it was important to go climb them. In the middle of the night. On the slippery rocks. Amid the 12 ft waves crashing on the craggy cliffs. When we told them they were crazy and might die, Cade only uttered 7 words. "You've just got to time it right!"
And "time it right" they did. Well, kind of. They managed to get out on the rocks, but returned soaked... but with a good story, nonetheless. It was hilarious to see them out on the cliffs, trying to dodge loose rocks, huge waves, and a little dance with death... or injury. It was funny, that's for sure, and they were pretty much giddy with excitement to have completed their little task.
After wards we did some more chatting with random fellow backpackers sitting on the cliffs about their experiences and our own, then came back to the hostel for a little sleeping in preparation for our endeavors tomorrow: the 6 hour hike to all the 5 cities and a lot of swimming at the end of our journey. Oh, and lots of Italian food. Buona sera!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
all the keys are in the wrong spots and so I hope this post doesn't take five years! Bad idea, me ditching my laptop!
So the France saga continues on. This morning we started the day by going to the train station to try to figure out how to get to Italy tomorrow. Again, we had a beezy for help, and my idea of French people hasn't changed much. (and this keyboard isn't helping much either!)
After hardly any help at the train station, we went to find some food at the market down in Old Town. Can I even tell you how amazing that was? There was tons of fresh fruit, cheap flowers, crafts... it was great. Brittany and I had recently watched a clip on Nice, so we made sure to do all the things the clip had told us to... even complete with the Socca from the market. Socca is a type of chickpea crepe that is made every morning, brought to market on the back of a scooter, then cut up and served by a gypsy lady in the market. Oh, it was so good! Rick Steves tells no lies!
After the socca we were still hungry, so we searched out the best French breakfast known to man... crepes! We found some in a cafe for pretty cheap, and they were served by a nice French lady, so that made things all the better. It was maybe the best breakfast I've ever eaten!
After breakfast... which we didn't actually eat until 12, we decided we'd seen everything we wanted, and that it was time for another country. Good thing Monaco is only about 6 stops away!
We've met a lot of people so far on our little adventure, and one of our new friends the other day told us that Monaco was a must see. None of us really knew what was there, so we just went. The train ride there was lovely... well the scenery was, the crowdedness, not so much! As soon as we got off though, I knew why Monaco is such a big deal. As we walked outside, I could feel the wealth, see it, smell it, hear it, and almost taste it. As we walked down the street there were nice cars parked in front of beautiful houses for blocks and blocks. Ferraris, Bentleys, Porches, Rolls Royces, and Lamborghinis lined the streets like the scooters in Barcelona, all being attended by men in suits costing about 12 times of what my life is worth. The guys were going crazy, I was just trying not to scratch anything! haha but really, the place was out of this world. While in Monaco we went to Monte Carlo, the casino where I am pretty sure you must be wearing a Rolex to step foot inside, and then we went to the beach for a little dip. It was kind of cold, so we didn't stay long, but it was really fun to be out and listening to the waves crash. I need more ocean in my life!
When we got back from Monaco we had two things on our mind- food and soccer. We splurged on an Italian restaurant in Old Town, and I ate the best pizza of my life while watching Brazil dominate Ivory Coast. Europe makes you love soccer, even when it's not even your own country. After that we got more glacier, and then came back to the Pink Lady... who is still wearing her pink see through shirt. Gotta love it!
And I have much more but write, but sadly I can't handle this keyboard any longer. Italia is calling our names tomorrow. Au revoir France!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
This morning we woke up to our weirdie roommate who we think slept naked and snored a lot getting all his stuff together (empty wine bottle included) and telling us checkout was in 20 minutes. We all got out of bed, said farewell to Vertigo, grabbed some French pastries, and headed to the train station. Oh pastries.... they're delicious, cheaper here than in Spain, and the perfect breakfast. After stuffing ourselves, we made our way to St. Charles station where we thought we would be able to just jump on a train to Nice pretty quick. Yep, we were wrong.
French people fit the stereotype well. Our conversation at the train station today while we were attempting to validate our Eurail passes went like this: The French lady says "bonjour" and smiles, we say "bonjour.... do you speak English?" and then all of a sudden the French lady turns into a beezy and hates us all. Yep, the rumors are true. French people hate Americans. Like I said yesterday, its a really weird feeling not being able to understand anything in another country! When we finally got our tickets and found WiFi we hit up wordreference.com for a little help, decifering what the strange words on the tickets meant, and then after a little wandering we finally even got to the right train! It was supposed to leave at 12:09, but they said a lot of stuff in French over the loudspeaker, and the train didn't leave until after 1. Thanks a lot, France!
The trip to Nice wasn't too bad, despite the fact that it took forever because France has been flooding lately, so the trains have to go extra slow in some parts. The views were breathtaking though, as much of it was along the Mediterranean, and Dan and I had some good conversation, so the three hour ride that should only have taken about an hour and a half was just fine.
After we pulled into the station, found a good map, and oriented ourselves, it was off to find our hostel. None of us could really remember the name, just the street number, so we wandered around until we found it... and let me just say that what a memorable moment that was. "Pink Lady's Hostel" is what it is called, and well, we will forever hold fond memories of this little "abode". As we walked by, unsure as to whether we were in the right place or not, we were beckoned inside by an old decrepit woman into her living room/sewing room/restaurant under the glow of pink neon lights. In mostly French she asked my name and found our reservation, and made me and Britt sit and told all the guys they had to stand. Another lady came into the room, and suddenly we knew why this place had the name it did... and like a bolt of lightning I remembered reading about this hostel online. Everyone had something to say about the eccentric and very very old owner. "The Pink Lady" is not just her name, but her lifestyle too, as we came to find. Her entire outfit was pink, right down to her sequinned and see throughsheer top... and when I say see through I mean we could see everything. As we tried to come up with our deposit, we all just stared at her and ateach other... and I just laughed hysterically. Now THIS was a story. Half scared, half confused, nobody even knew what to say. "...Alyssa, WHAT did you book us?!" Casey asked. I told them about the reviews, how it was all coming back to me not, and how they should just be happy I'd found them a place for just 15 euros a night! Next, Pink Lady took us up to our room. Not going to lie, it's pretty cute and quaint. She showed us around, French flying the whole time, and the best part was when she made Cade go out into the hall with her so she could show him where to find the "hidden key" in case we get locked out. Well, it's right on top of the lightswitch, so unless you're over 5 feet tall it's not really that hidden.
Sorry, Pink Lady.
After our good laugh we realized how hungry we were. We went out into the city for food, and decided on more street food: kebaps, pizza, and fruit stand food. Ah how good it was to eat! Next we wandered down to the beach, which isn't sandy at all. The beaches are all small rocks which definitely don't look that comfy to lay on, but evidentally people do, maybe because the water and scenery is just so breathtaking! Too bad it was kind of late and cloudy.... no swimming today!
After the beach we wandered around the Old City, where there were tons of good smelling restaurants, artisan fairs, and French language we didn't really understand. We did a lot of wandering, a lot of "hey, let's go look at that cool thing!" sight seeing, and then ended our night with an ice cream cone "glace" from Old Town, and then a stroll around the fountains in the square. It was great- Nice is MUCH better than Marseille.
Tonight when we got back to our hostel, our roommates had just gotten there. They are 5 Chilean, Brazillian, and Peruvian girls who just got done studying abroad in Paris, and they speak Spanish... oh how I thought I would never be so happy to hear some words I understand! These girls are hardcore- they've been in Paris since January, and are traveling through Europe now until mid September. ... maybe I should see if they want an extra friend to tag along? We've had a good time talking to them tonight- the hostel experience is one that everyone should take advantage of a couple of times in life... especially an experience like that of the Pink Lady. We are just wondering what she'll wear tomorrow!!
Speaking of tomorrow, it's looking like Old Town, Monaco beaches, and real food, since we haven't really eaten much lately. Bonsoir! (that means good night... I'm a fast learner, right?)
Friday, June 18, 2010
The hostal has computers and internet, so I might as well continue my little account of Eurotrip. Bear with me in this post... this computer is workable, besides the fact that the left click button doesn`t even work and well, the "at" key doesn`t work, and sometimes when I press different keys, weird symbols show up. Oh, french keyboards.
This morning I woke up feeling strange. Maybe it was the 2 hours of sleep, but I think more it was the fact that I was leaving my new favorite place for an undeterminable amount of time, plus I had not done any packing, due to myself being in complete denial last night about it all happening. I did manage to find all my clothes and shove them in my suitcase, print boarding passes and various schedules, and even shower before leaving Roberto and Pili at 9. I really am not that good at goodbyes. The whole long voyage to the airport is kind of just a jumbled blur, really... I was semi freaking out the whole time because none of my travel buddies had shown up at 9 like we`d planned, and while I knew they`d get there at some point, the Madrid airport is kind of a very big place. Between the train and the metro Brittany showed up, so that made everything better, and 90 dollars later, after I`d sent my very overweight 32 kg suitcase back to Utah with my Provo friends (I was just too tired to think about sorting through it and getting rid of things in the middle of the airport... it just wasn`t reallyworth 40 extra bucks) Brittany and I were off looking for our terminal, hoping Casey, Cade, and Dan would show up at some point. They did! We spent a couple of hours in the airport, and then before I knew it we were on a plane to France, and I was only carrying one bag weighing 6 kg with me, containing everything I will need (or maybe the lack thereof) for the next 11 days.
The flight was only about an hour, and I was pretty busy staring out at the Mediterranean coastline the whole time, so things were pretty great. Upon descent into Marseille our plane didn`t land at a gate, but inside we got to do the whole "get out of the plane and walk down the stairs like a movie star" landing. What a rush! haha
After getting our bags and finding the "sortie" we had no idea what to do next. What a weird feeling it is to not understand a single thing people are saying to you, any of the signs, or know the least bit about anything, really. We were definitely fish out of water as we tried to find someone who didn`t hate Americans to help us out. Finally we found a map and a bus to take us to our hostel... and 8.50 euros and a very hot sticky 15 minutes later we were again playing "where the heck are we" until we found Vertigo. Oh, Vertigo. That`s the name of our hostel, and what a place it is. Upon walking into our room we found an already occupied bed, where some random hostel dweller will sleep, Dan got dibs on the loft bed, and me and Brittany tried to be as close as possible for some moral support, and we all had a good laugh at the community shower and lack of towels. What an experience this shall be.
Marseille is a funny place. Basically France is living up to my expectations. It`s dirty, there is pee on the streets, it smells like pee, but all that is overshadowed by the fact that hey- WE`RE IN FRANCE. As far as I`ve seen, this place is nothing like Spain... which I miss a lot, by the way. Anyways, since I hadn`t eaten anything all day, and we were all pretty hungry, we made our way downtown to try to find some kind of food to eat... which was hard since we couldn`t make heads or tails of most of the menus. Finally we found a cute little cafe to eat in, and the "All French people hate Americans" stereotype was broken when we found a guy who could talk to us kindly in English! We ate paninnis and pizza in the sun while watching the traffic (which is even crazier here than Spain... you WILL get run over) and all the people.
After eating we just wandered aimlessly around Marseille, and the theme of our night was basically "hey, let`s go look at that cool thing!" over and over again. Who knows what we saw, but we found some cool views of the city, the Mediterranean, and took in the beauty of the Marseille port... which is supposed to be the big deal here. Pretty neat, I must say, but mostly we just enjoyed playing "American". Our best American moment? The bar.
So while walking around the streets earlier today, we noticed there were tons of men outside, just sitting in the streets, some with flags, some with booze, and all of them wearing the same look on their faces. Come to find out they`re all Algerians, and our hostel is basically in Little Algeria. They were all hyped up because they were playing England tonight in the World Cup, so becuase tonight after all our wanderings, we wandered onto a patio, took a seat, and watched some of the game. Our most American moment was definitely at this bar when the waitress came over, and there were very clear gaps in communication. Plainly put, she would ramble things off in French, and we would all stare at her, look at eachother, and then look at Dan. Yeah, we figured maybe he would have a solution. He didn`t.
We finally found some guy at another table to do some translation for us, and it turns out the waitress just wanted us to pay. Imagine that! Yes, she definitely looked at us like we were very very dumb, and walked away. Oh boy- and the Coke here sucks. I want Spain back!
Like I said before, World Cup here is a big deal, so we couldn`t have chosen a better time to be bumming around Spain. The best part of the night was that despite the fact that Algeria tied with England, there were still tons of riots and carrying ons in the streets complete with lots of scooter chases, flares, police on every corner, and a lot of honking. (In fact, the honking still continues...) Oh soccer, oh France, oh Europe.
And with that, it is off to bed where I plan on getting more than 2 hours of sleep tonight. Maybe even more than 4? ... we won't push it.
Tomorrow our plans are pastries and Nice. Hello beach!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I woke up ready to take on the beach, sun, and Mediterranean. The weather was looking a little ominous, but I didn’t care- I was going to be on that dang sand even if it was raining sideways! The day before Professor Williams had told us we were going to have a surprise, and it turns out the surprise was a theme park trip in the morning before going to the beach. Port Aventura is the park’s name. Ever heard of it? Me neither. The mascots of the park? Woody the Woodpecker, Ernie, Bert, Elmo, and Betty Boop. I love Spain. After breakfast we drove an hour or so out of Barcelona to another costal town near Salou to ride rollercoasters for 4 hours, hoping the clouds would leave, and we could get rid of some of our hilarious tan lines.
Port Aventura was really fun! Since we only had a limited amount of time and I have a feeling it was “take your favorite middle school to the theme park” day, the park was pretty packed, and the lines pretty long. We only rode 3 rides, but it was not in vain! Those three roller coasters were like none I’d ever been on. The first one went faster than… well it was fast. Like crying out the sides of your eyes and drooling fast. Like losing your headband fast. Like your hair looking like you’d just been electrocuted fast. … and kind of like “wow did I really wait 1 ½ hours for that?” fast. Ha it was fun. And people watching in line helped put the “amusement” in amusement park pretty well.
After the fisrt coaster we only had about 2 hours left, so we got some food quickly, and then went to wait in another line. This one was really fun, but I think I might be getting old, seeing as my head felt all out of sorts when we got off. So much flipping and twisting… my brain was joggled. It was about this time that the clouds which had graced us with their presence all day strted giving gifts from the heavens above. Yeah, it was starting to rain and I was not happy. Beach time was so close! With our remaining time in the park we went to one last coaster- Europe’s version of the “white roller coaster” When we got off the rain began to pick up. It rained all the way to Salou. There was not a blue patch of sky in sight, but still seeing the beach was exhillerating, and right when we got to our nearly beachfront hotel, Brittany, Hannah, and I were suited up and headed to the water in about 10 minutes time. The little beach was dark and a literal ghost town. The grey sky, chained and covered beach chairs, and closed ice cream stands all made for a pretty depressing scene, but that did NOT stop us! We threw our stuff down in the sand, whipped off our cover ups, and ran right into the ocean… and don’t worry that I fell right into a pot hole and faceplanted into the ocean not as gracefully as I’d imagined myself running into the Mediterranean, but no matter- it was so great to be in the sea! There was not one soul on the beach, so we took full advantage of our time, doing a little bit of European swimming (heh heh) and watching the rest of our group members slowly file onto the shore. It was warmer in the water than out of it, so we tried to stay hunkered down in the waves as long as possible, not shivering too much. I guess Mother Nature took pity on us, because as fast as the rain and wind had come, it was gone, the sun started shining, and within about 15 minutes time the beach was bumpin’! Suddenly there were all kind laying down towels, taking off tops (it was… great) and diving right into the water. The weather all of a sudden became all kind of beautiful, and life was great! We spent 4 hours out there tanning (or burining) exploring the coast line, and people watching, of course. We could not get enough of the old men in Speedos, confident ladies wearing, well, nothing, and just a good ol’ day on the Mediterranean. I never wanted to leave! It’s a good thing I’m going to the French Riviera next week, because I think I’d cry a little if I knew I didn’t have more time out there getting sand in my scalp!
Dinner was a “buffet” in the restaurant and it was NASTY. The only edible things there were ministrone soup and bread, so I ate as much of that as I could, then washed it all down with at least 6 desserts. Not even lying. It was 9, I hadn’t eaten since peeling an orange at 3, and the arroz con leche was calling my name (along with a host of other little treats) Call me the ravenous caterpillar!
After “dinner” we went back to the beach to walk around and sit in the sand one more time. We’d wanted to get there in time for the sunset, but sadly we encountered a couple of problems: one being the fact that we were in the East, so the sun didn’t set over the water, and we were too late anyways. However, even at night the water was pretty, and we enjoyed laughing and walking (and running) through the tide. Ah I have not had enough time at the ocean in my lifetime.
Back at the hotel I did the best to rid myself of all the sand covering my body, but I am sure I’ve still got it in my hair and left a lot in my bed. (Note to self: never work at as a maid at a beachfront resort) I slept wonderfully thanks to a full day of fun and relaxation. Thanks for cooperating, weather! I’m grateful.
It’s just kind of something everyone needs to do in this life, so make it a high priority. This city is NOTHING like the rest of Spain. It’s so… funky, colorful, and flamboyant. All this excitement is demonstrated in the cities’ architecture and art, mostly, but I could just tell it was different by the way locals carried themselves and the feelings in the air. It was electric! Well, when the rain stopped.
Before the rain stopped I was hating life. Professor Williams had told us that the forecast called for rain, so plan accordingly. Well, it’s hard to plan for a rain trip when initially I’d underpacked for two months…. So I brought 2 pairs of sandals, dresses, and crossed my fingers with a lot of force. Yeah, let’s just say that when I walked downstairs to eat breakfast in a little black sundress and saw people walking outside dressed in jeans, coats, and scarves all taking cover under umbrellas, well, I ran right back upstairs to try to find SOMETHING that would cover a little more. Good thing I’d bought a cardigan this week… that thing has saved me, hence the reason I wore it two days in a row.
On the other hand, breakfast ROCKED. Maybe it was the fact that they had Coco Rice Crispies, maybe it was the fact that I could choose something other than a dinosaur egg, or perhaps it was the abundance of fruit. Who knows- all I know is that I was finally satisfied!
After breakfast we met our tour guide and drove up to the top of Barcelona to go see a park called El Parque Guell, designed by Antonio Gaudi .Oh, I’d better talk about Gaudi first. Oh Gaudi. This man is a genius architect who Barcelona basically owes their life to. He designed EVERYTHING in this modernista style city. His style is, like I said before, funky, and it gives Barcelona the break from the mold mentality. Gaudi designed with no straight lines, there are no straight lines in nature he thought, and he used an abundance of color, texture, and detail in everything. Wow it was great! Our first dose of Gaudi was in this park, where he designed five houses. I’m not sure of the who, when, or why behind it all, but it was beautiful, besides the fact that I had to take it all in underneath my pretty sweet bulldog handled umbrella, dodging lake-like puddles, and trying to keep my frizzed out hair under control! Anyways, lesson learned at this park? Gaudi is a god.
After we walked through the park, we boarded the bus and went to La Sagrada Familia. Wow. You will not appreciate this cathedral until you go there and partake. Don’t worry though- there is time. It’s been under construction since 1882, and it’s not going to be done until 2026. Yep, that is right this place is a modern day cathedral, again, co-designed by Gaudi and has generations and generations of workers who will not live to see completion. It’s amazing. I am going back to see it 2026, so if you’re with me, mark your calendars. When we went there with the group we only saw the outside, got some history on it, and took lots of pictures, but it made me want to go inside so bad! Again, funky detail is the only word I can think of the describe what was on the fascade, right down to the turtles at the bases of the pillars, symbolizing how religion is a non-changing base for people, and the pelican at the very top, demonstrating Christ’s sacrifice for us. AH go to Barcelona.
Next up, we went to El Barrio Viejo to check out the cathedral of Barcelona, some 1st century pillars (yes, first century!) and walked down Las Ramblas, which is a huge tourist trap road with all the good souvenier shops I just love to despise. Sorry friends and family, you won’t be getting any I heart Spain bottle opener/fingernail clipper key chains! It was while walking down Las Ramblas that I saw my first little patch of blue sky. As we walked, the blanket of clouds started moving slowly, but surely, and soon enough the SUN WAS OUT AND MY LIFE WAS WORTH LIVING AGAIN! It felt so good to ditch the umbrella and let me shoes dry out! Oh, and Barcelona was suddenly tenfold better and more beautiful.
For lunch we went to a Basque Tapas Bar. Again, I took many a picture, so you can just feast your eyes (ha). I got my own little vegetarian tapas sans the salchicha and tuna, and they were pretty much the best tapas I’ve eaten in Spain. The best one was toast with cheese and asparagus all sandwiched in. I also had some little potatoes, a skewer of mixed vegetables, a tortilla tomato number, a pesto/mozzarella/tomato dish, with some kind of ritzy chocolate thing for dessert and pina juice Yes, it was delicious, and yes, I all of a sudden love asparagus and mushrooms. Thanks, Spain.
After lunch it was “go play in the city!” time. Barcelona FC Stadium, Gaudi house, Sagrada Familia, and food is what our time entailed. The Stadium, Camp Nou, was our first stop after a very confusing time trying to decipher the very foreign metro. It was pretty neat, though! We didn’t go in the stadium, only outside, because like in Madrid, we were afraid they were planning on charging their 16 euro fee to see a patch of grass. We instead found the players inside the “megastore” and snapped a couple pics there.
We next went to La Casa Milá designed by Gaudi, and finished in 1912. The best part was the terrace on the roof- the view was breathtaking, and the sculptures all over were really neat! Again, that man was a genius.
All the museums close at 8 and we had time for one more, so we booked it over to La Sagrada Familia for the second round where we actually went inside and it was amazing. I already talked about Sagrada Familia, but I just can’t get over it! The fact that construction has yet to be completed and the fact that they were sandblasting while we were actually inside was mindblowing! The cathedral is ridiculous! There is so much detail and form… it just reminded me a lot of Dr. Seuss. Go there one day- 2 times, actually, once to say you saw it under construction and your ticket helped paid for it’s completion, and once when it gets finished. That’s my plan! Can’t wait to tell my children all about it. J
We spent the rest of the night wandering around Las Ramblas, seeing the Plaza Real, and searching out food. I was so hungry the whole day- my tapas had not stuck to my ribs very well. We didn’t eat until about 10 PM again, when I finally had to just take the initiative and go into Wok and Walk and get myself the hands down best meal of Spain- wheat noodles with loads of vegetables and pineapple and sweet and sour sauce. I don’t think I looked up from that little cardboard box of delicious once. It was ambrosia!
After eating that and a little ice cream, we set out to find the beach. I just wanted to see the water! However, we were walking around a sketchy part of town, it was getting late, and my group was “tired” so we got on the metro and went back to the hotel. They told me I could see the water “tomorrow”. Tomorow was so worth it.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Because it’s so hot in our room at home, we generally sleep with our balcony doors open. Last night was no different, but this morning I was awoken to the downpour of rain in the streets below… just in time for traveling. Yay.
The rain and clouds have followed us all day long. Our first stop this morning was in Zaragoza, (pronounced Tharagotha) which I really don’t know hardly anything about because we just stopped for about an hour, ate our bocadillos, and went to the cathedral there. It was a really gorgeous town though- my next time in Spain it will certainly be on the “must see” list. The really pretty picture below is the Basillica,. We didn’t go inside because Mabel said it’s only cool from the outside. Fine with me! The cathedral was really cool, though… maybe I liked it so much because there was no guided tour, and we just wandered ourselves. Oh, and we found this Narnia wardrobe, too. Mabel said it’s another set of doors into the cathedral. We think it’s a place to store a plethora of fur coats.
We got back on the bus after our time in Zaragoza and drove a couple more hours in the most beautiful landscapes ever- seriously I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were so many trees and hills and cute little towns which looked like they’d been frozen in time from the 18th century. We started climbing higher and higher into the Pyranees mountains, and stopped at Monserrat, a smallish town and basilica. I’m sure the views were all breathtaking… however, we couldn’t really see much as we got higher and higher because there was a thick blanket of fog which followed us, accompanied by a lot of rain and cold. It was kind of funny, the fact that we were at what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Spain, and we couldn’t see 5 feet in front of us! We made the best of it, though… so just imagine that through this white canvas there is actually something breathtaking! We saw the Basillica, I smuggled out a worshipping candle for a souvenir, got hot chocolate and a little snack at the cafeteria, and then took a hike up El Camino de Cruz… which, again, would have been a beautiful view if we could have seen past all the whipped cream in the sky! Haha but really it was fun… I will definitely be going back to Monserrat in better weather.
We stopped again in the middle of nowhere for dinner at a random hotel/restaurant joint. I got a salad (bleh) and fried vegetables, accompanied by lots and lots of bread. Dessert was some kind of ice cream chocolate cake thing. I've had better... but hey at least I've got some vegetables in me to accompany the plethora of tortilla sandwich from lunch!
So, now we're in Barcelona! Sidenote, Spanish is not the official first language in Cataluña... Catalan AND Spanish are. Catalan is sort of like Spanish, but then again sometimes it's really different. I guess lots of people speak both languages here, though so I think we'll all get along just fine. I've been getting really thrown off when trying to read signs, though! Anyways, exploring Barcelona tomorrow! Now it is time for some Bachelorette, relaxation, and a lot of sleeping. Pray for sun!