27 February 2010

Rome, the things I saw and loved.

This man chose a rather unique character for his living statue. Normally homeless drunks are not so much fun to look at. Rome started off as one long leisurely stroll through an ancient city, marveling at its wonders, and socialising. It soon turned into sore feet, and a race to squeeze ever thing in on time. Sadly I left with out seeing everything I wanted, but Manuela owes me a lunch so I will have to go back. Besides my guide book says if you through a coin in the Fountana de Trevi the 1st one is so you will come back to Rome, and the second coin grants you a wish. I threw only one so that it will bring me good luck to come back because when you are standing in front of something so beautiful its hard to think of something more to wish for. To get this picture on the left we had to ask some lovely strangers to take it for Manuela and I, as Andrew had not arrived yet. They were obviously social because they took one with us as well, (on the right) and they made such entertaining faces. Although Andrew took the best picture of the fountain when we re-visited it on Monday.

During the leisurely strolling part of our day Manuela and I crossed the Roma
Botanical gardens (we think). We were ever so slightly lost. However we did accidentally discover the zoo! During this calm casual stroll I learned about Italian sea horses. Not sea horses like the little fish, but actually horses from the sea, a cool type of mythical ccreature.

I saw the outside of the Colosseum by day and night. Chose not to go in because of its gruesome history, but I did think it was an amazing thing to behold and I can see why it gave the Romans so much clout around town as they say. I also took many photos of the old Roman Form the centre of the Roman empire. I kept thinking
how incredible it was to
be standing near what once was the power seat of the entire Roman empire. Also that is was soooo incredibly old.

Of course we toured churches and I took a million photos of angels and other religious art. This church I thought was interesting because the dark black line is a contemporary art design used to highlight the classical architecture. I will post my time with Andrew and the Vatican city in a separate post because I'm sleepy, however I wanted to mention one other amazingly old thing I saw. The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, two of Christ's original 12 apostles.

Rome, an overview!

Rome is a stunning place. Part of that could have been the sunny 16 degree weather, part of that could have been my loving and sparkling guide Manuela, and maybe part of that is that Rome is just cool. There are Piazzas every where, with large fountains, some times musicians or artists, and almost always stunning colosal sized churches. The archetecture is varied, fairly religious as expected, and always lovely. There is a delightful mix of mythology, theology, and contemporary culture. All in a moments breath you could be eating the most sensual Gelato walking passed a super model with a Louis Vuitton bag, and Armani sunglasses, in the shade of a looming Basilica. As we all learned Rome is a large city and cercumventing it by foot will take its toll in blisters and leg cramps. Manuella skilfully guided me to all the major tourist attractions such as the Fountana Trevi, and the Colloseum. She led me to places with incredible food, tried to answer my constant berrage of questions as best she could, and did her best to help me learn survival Italian.

Like a perfect host I felt like royalty in her home. I was given her bed, home cooked dinners, and free access to hot showers. We spent her entire weekend off work, walking and talking about important life lessons to learn. From love to religion, we debated, challenged eachother, and shared past experiences. There was a fair share of crying, and also of laughing. There are some people in this world that you fit with instantly, best friends, lovers, family, and Manuela is definatley one of them. We danced our way across parlament square to the music of hippees. We lounged in the sun by the lulling sound of the fountain Trevi, and we walked in silent awh through many chruches in Rome. We got delighfully lost in a large and massive botanical gardens, and accidently found the zoo. I saw the Roman colluseem and learned about the demise of the Roman empire. I herd fabels of the Wolf of Rome, and the children who drank its milk. It was everything you would want from a holiday in Rome with a local Italian guide, EXCEPT it was not long enough. Two days to see Rome is a cruel joke and I felt like I was the butt of that Joke.

So when Andrew arrived (Squeee) we took another day and a half to spend more time in the eternal city. However adding our tour of the Musei di Vaticani, and retracing some of my steps to share with Andrew the major attractions, we two felt rushed, and robbed of our time too quickly. Although I was very happy to have Andrew with me, my emotions let out like a burst ballon. I hadnt realised how much I had been missing him untill he had arrived, and that was taking its toll on my energy. I kinda felt like Roma invloved a lot of crying, although perhaps thats why I felt so attached to it as well. The temptation to stay was there, but largly in part to the sunshine, and Manuela's natural glow of effection.

Over all I enjoyed myself but felt throughly exausted.

18 February 2010

Venice!!!!!! I fell in love!

Im not sure how I can even begin to describe my experiences today, but I shall try. Venice has always been 1st on my list for cities to visit. I cant even tell you why. I can remember loving the idea of Venice from childhood. I think I got an impression of it some where, maybe the movies such as Queen Margot, the Merchant of Venice, or Casenova. Maybe the Casino in Las Vegas sold me on its enchantment. I just know that some day I was going to come here with my Prince Charming and we were going to take romantic Gondola rides, and long strolls hand in hand.

I was so sure of its romance that I had promised myself I would not come untill I had met my prince and we came together. During one of my counseling sessions last year we discussed why I was waiting to see a city I longed for with all my imaginative power for someone to make that dream come true. I replied that I wouldnt enjoy such a romantic place with out someone to share it with. Then she challenged me to come here by myself and try not to enjoy it, with or with out a Prince. This conversation was one of the many factors that led me to think of taking this trip in the first place. No longer would my life wait for someone to complete it. I was going to live my dreams and if someone came along to compliment me in them then fine, and if not at least I was living not waiting.

So here I am, in Venice the city where I thought I would be half of a pair, and Im alone! I decided for my sake, that I would accept this alteration to my dream and try to enjoy myself, not prove my counselor wrong. I succeeded. I am having a delightful time and have fallen in love with this city, and I think this city with me. It does not erase the homesickness, or the deep and challenging feelings of missing Andrew, but it did provide a nice distraction.

Venice as a place is brilliant, I can see its faults but like NY they only make the city seem more human, and by that mis-understood. Currently there is no smell, although I can imagine in the hot summer there would be. The water is Mermaid green, and looks so clean and fresh the craving to go swimming is almost unbearable. Several times I had to talk myself out of taking my shoes off and padeling on the steps. Unfortunately in the winter a lot of the city is under an inch or two of water. I found Venice to be very dangerous for two reasons, lots of water, and many blind corners. Frequently I would be walking through a Square or Plaza looking up to admire the architecture and suddenly found myself ankle deep in water. Twice I was framing a picture when the ground would drop out from beneath me, and I found myself stumbling down a flight of stairs thinking "oh no, Im so gonna end up in that Canal" Once I caught myself, the second time I threw myself onto a boat tied at the wall to save both myself and Henry a swim.

Mis happs and clumsiness aside, I had a brilliant time. The streets are narrow, more than Barcelona, more than Paris, more narrow than your average door way. Passing people is cosy, and the light is minimal (for this reason I do not think I could live in Venice, but to visit its enticing). However the narrow streets also twist, turn, and rise up and down over the canals. So your visibility is very short at any given point. You do get glimpses of tall Churches, or large structures through gaps, along the canals, or over the roof tops. Its almost like the city is teasing you with a carrot. So you wind your way along the streets, glancing this way and that never sure which way to go, and inevitably choosing at random. At first you try to remember that you chose left so when you come back next time you can choose right, 28 turns later and you aren't sure you can get back let alone remember which way you were hoping to go. Soon you realise its like the Louvre, it doesnt matter which way you go, your going to find something beautiful. Then it becomes a surprise, when you approach a corner you stop thinking "what street is this?, or which way to the ___?" and you start thinking "oh what am I going to find". This game of curiosity and joyful surprise draws you in and pulls at your soul. Soon I found myself running because I was so anxious to see where the next corner would take me. Thats were the hazardous blind corners come in. The streets are busy with people, shoppers, post man, police man (all of which I have run to) and then even worse, some times the streets are no more and a canal is practically underfoot. So I had to stop running.

As you walk along the streets letting the city pull at your fascination, you feel almost guided, and safe. I can remember thinking how much I would love to be lost, only moments before I realised I was. Something that surprised me was that there is not very much to do in Venice other than walk around and admire the architecture. There are 2 or 3 museums, all of them had an entry charge and none of them really appealed to me. They do have a Museum of Natural History, but I'm sure it is small compared to the one in NY. They also had an art Gallery, but I knew that would seem small compared to the Louvre, so I decided to save my money. There are hundreds of churches, and most of the guide books list them under "Sights to See". I did go into many of them, and enjoyed them for their artwork, and masonry. However they were dark somber places in Italy, and a bit depressing. One of them had a que out the door so I went in to investigate what was so exciting. I was gutted to see that it was a que for Confessions. Not just normal confessions, those people were walking strait in, but tragically a que for people who broke their lent according to the sign. 20-25 people all waiting to say "I'm sorry Father, its only Thursday and I caved in to temptation" The worst thing is that they do their penance and then continue with lent as is. I'm not so sure this is the best practice, I think it might make giving into the temptation more tempting cause you can just que for confessions and then all will be well again. Perhaps they should make them give up lent for the rest of this year, or withhold their ashes next year, that might be more persuasive. I also think its sad that people are feeling guilty over cracking under pressure, when we are only human, I bet God knows that and would forgive them for a moment or two of weakness. However religion in Italy seems to be a big deal so I tried to embrace that and visit many of the churches when I passed them. There is also the Doges' Palace of course, but as it was the big main attraction in Venice the entry fee was outrageous and the que of tourist to get in was too long, so I skipped that as well. After consulting my guide book and finding that the only thing left to see were Hotels oddly listed under "Attractions" because of their historical ties to a former wealthy family (I assumed they meant Mafia, although the guide book didn't specifically say so), or because of architectural interest, I decided Venice was a city built for the avid wanderer.

I did adore just strolling around, and admiring the unique layout of the city. Aside from the hazards mentioned earlier, a simple saunter seems to be exactly what the city calls for. You will notice your legs getting sore before your eyes do, because despite the fact that Venice is beyond flat, and almost lower than the sea level at times, there are a ton of stairs to climb. Every bridge that crosses every canal goes up a few steps and then back down a few at the other side. You don't even realize how many you have been climbing until your bum starts to cramp in the middle of one of the bridges, and people laugh because you are hopping about in agony grabbing at your cheeks.

One other slightly disheartening thing about Venice is that it seems to be one tourist shop after another. Don't go for the window shopping or you will get board unless you like key chains! Do NOT try to mark your position in the city or your orientation by that cute little boutique with all the Carnival Masks in the window. There are thousands of them and you will get lost!!! I was beginning to wonder what all the rich Tourist 'do' in Venice, then I met one on the water bus. Sadly they pay 95.00 Euros for a 20 min Gondola ride, then they go shopping for tacky souvenirs, they may stop at a restaurant and pay double the price for a meal because they ordered off the "Tourist Menu" and didn't know to ask for the normal one, or were to shy to demand it if their waiter was being stubborn. Finally to finish off the day they que for over an hour, to pay a huge entry fee to see the 18th century furnishings in the Doges' palace and they think they have seen Venice! "Look I even bought one of those party masks they have for Marti Gras", the woman said to me as I cringed! I'll bet she wasn't here for Carnival, will never plan to go, and maybe didn't even know why they celebrate it, but she had a mask to prove that see had experienced Venice. She had taken a private gondola, water taxis, and the water bus several times, but hadn't been lost once. I was so sad to see that Venice was ok catering to these people, and had lost that old 15th century merchant city to a gigantic tourist trap. All the boutiques had been replaced by souvenir shops, all the commerce had been replaced by price tags in Dollars, and people were falling for it.

On a happier note I took the water bus once and loved the trip. It did cost me 6.50 one way and I couldn't believe that other people were taking them every where! Every other city I have been to was between 1 and 1.6 euros for a single ticket on the metro/tram/bus or whatever. Venice had a 600% mark up on their public transport, and their exchange rates were much worse than main land Italy as well. I spent 2 hours convincing myself to fork up the cash for my water bus trip, but I did enjoy it in the end. I thought of it as a boat cruise down the grand canal and circling the entire city, I tried to ignore all the lengthy stops to let other people on and off my fancy cruise. I took the entire journey, that lasted almost an hour and got some amazing pictures. Apparently your not meant to use it like a cruise because they kept asking me where I wanted off, I just replied "not yet, a little further along."

I think Venice and I got along so well because I let myself be led through the city, I stoped when something was interesting, and wondered for hours not really sure where I was going or what I was seeing. I didn't buy any of those beautiful masks because I haven't experienced a Venetian carnival yet, I didn't eat at any restaurant advertising "Authentic Italian food cooked here", and I didn't spend my life on a boat claiming to have seen the city with out offering sweat, blisters, and cramping bum cheeks in return. I felt that Venice liked me as much as I was enamoured with it because although I was almost always lost when I was tiered I would find a canal near my home that seemed familiar and it would lead me back to my hostel, when I was hungry I would round the corner and a market would appear, and when my water was gone I would stumble across a flowing fountain that had a sign "ok for drinking". Venice seemed to be helping me, and I could not shake the feeling that she was pulling at me as well.

Although nothing like the experience I dreamed Venice would be when I was a child, I found a partnership their just the same. I do feel that it is still a romantic city, and would some day like to be lost in those streets holding someones hand, strolling side by side. If you go and can save up for a Gondola ride they do look like the epitome of luxury, and the canal side restaurants are very romantic. However romance aside, I had an amazing visit, and will absolutely return someday, as I was crying when I left!

I'm now on the train to Rome, the 'eternal city' as Manuela calls it. Lots of love

The Louvre 3 (3 famous peices)

Today I am focusing on the famous articals with in the Louvre. To be honest I felt that most of them were a bit of a let down. Maybe their reputation has gotten to big and so the real artical was a bit anticlimatic, or maybe I just dont see the attraction. However this one to the left was my favorite of all the famous atractions.

The Winged Victory is what she is called and Like Venus here (to the right), she has no arms. The Winged Victory is standing in a very suductive way, and also appears rather strong. However she was smaller that I thought she should be. I wanted her to loom and be intimidating, but she just wasnt. I felt that the Venus de Milo was less attractive than I had expected. Her tummy is almost square like a mans, and her face is kinda homely.

And that brings me to the not so beautiful woman who is known for her beauty. On the left we Mona Lisa, a terribly plain girl who's hype is so much bigger than the painting herself. For a comparison look at the lovely golden frames in the gallery pictured on the right (none of them famous or important), then look at the big ugly slab of concrete that the Mona Lisa hangs on.
Hmmm? I just felt that she was anticlimatic. So these 3 although the most famous are my least favorite of the Louvre.


Vienna Arg!!!!

I did not have a good experience with the rail system in and around Vienna or Wien as they seem to call it. My train was from Prague to Vienna and that is where it terminated, (more or less). However in Austria the region is called Wien, its not as big as a state, more like a county, or valley (I think). So the last two hours of my train journey had stops like Wien Nebanflatz, and Wien Houfbanfd. As we were still in the country I gathered these were names like Vienna Village, or Vienna riverside. The difficulty came when we got close to Vienna, the actual Vienna, as in the big city I was going to, the train went underground and started stoping for every subway station. These are all named Wien-something (for example New York-5th Ave, or New York-Broadway). That wasn't a problem but we were still 1 hour from our arrival time, so the question was "were we early or are we going to be stopping and starting at every metro stop from here to the main station for the next hour?"

Again no announcements in English, and I had not seen a conductor or any staff the entire trip. I could have taken the trip for free except that I already had a pass. I consulted my guide book and found out that Vienna has 8 different railway stations, and all incoming trains use the metro lines for easy stops through out the city. So I just held tight, the ticket says Praha to Wien with no further detail as to which rail station, and I know the train terminates in Wien so I decided to wait for the train to stop. We were 20 min late for our arrival when we came out of a tunnel. Once above ground I could see nothing but fields. "Its ok to panic now", I told myself.

I walked along the empty train through 5 carriages, the concern and desperation was getting worse with each one, until finally I found a passenger. I asked if we were still heading toward Vienna, or if we will be heading back at some point. She politely said "oh no that train terminated in Wien, this train is now bound for the south." I was confused by the term "That Train" I am still on "That Train" I haven't moved (I don't think). So what she meant was, that the train I was on stoped, changed its name/number/direction, then started again. I wouldn't say that the train even stopped longer at any one station than any other, I know because I was confused I had been paying attention for almost an hour just to be sure I didn't miss it. They probably told every one to get off at some point, but as I said there were no English announcements. In fact there were no French announcements, or German for that matter. In Prague I was reading plaques in French when there were no English versions, and I had been in Germany long enough to know the words "next stop ______, exit here for _____, and this tram is head in the direction of ______) so even a German announcement would have been something. Its not like I was being complacent, or had fallen asleep. I was trying really hard to listen and to observe. However I was also ignoring all of my screaming instincts that told me to get off the train because I thought that was just me stressing again.

I was obviously having a small internal mental breakdown, because the nice woman had to say "excuse me" to get my attention. Then she delivered the final blow, "I hope your not lost because the next stop is an hour away." I smiled and said thank you, then quietly walked back to my seat to wait. I was ok, a bit numb and in shock but not freaking out. In my wisdom I had planned About 5 hours in Vienna for sight seeing, so 1.5 of that was already gone, I still had time to catch my night train.

I got off at the next station, and saw to my delight a member of the platform staff, who kindly directed me to a train leaving for Vienna in 2 min. The conductor bought my story and did not kick me off the train, but helped me to find the right station for my Night Train to Venice. The sad part was that the train that I took out of Wien for an hour was an express, but the one I was taking back to Wien was not. 3 hours, one train, and two trams later I was in the right place. Having lost 4 hours and 20 min to the Wien rail system, I had 30 min to wait. I did not see any of Vienna, I got a small bite to eat, reserved my seat on the train, and then washed my hands and face in the toilet. It was less than exciting!

The good things about this night train are that I only paid 7.00 Euros this time, instead of the 73.00 I had to pay in Spain, and I have an entire 4 bed cabin to myself! The annoying thing is that the free water is sparkling water, the tap water is not drinkable and the bar only sells big fancy bottles of water for 10.00 Euros. So in my Scottish way I'm choking down the complimentary bottled water cause its free!

I'm off to bed, and I shall awake in Venice. Squeeeee!!! Lots of love, xxx

Eeeeek, Czeck trains

Whew! I though I would get kicked off a train today. My global pass gives me free travel on any train in Europe, however some trains require reservations and can often have a seat surcharge that I have to pay for. The night trains are the most expensive but mostly the day trains are between 4-7 euros. However if you want to save money as I do you should take the local or regional trains because you don't have to reserve a specific seat.

The IC (inter city) and R (regional) trains are the cheep ones, EC (euro city) and ICN (international city network) are the ones that make you book a seat. So I have been taking IC trains in France, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland. I climbed on to the train in Prague with out checking at the ticket counter if it was the right train, with out calling the reservation line, and with out asking the platform assistant to check my pass, which I have been doing for every other train in every other city so far. Maybe its the cold thats making me cranky, maybe after 15 trains in 17 days I'm getting lazy, or just maybe I'm actually learning what I came here to learn. To chill out!

I will never be as laid back and relaxed as my older brother, I am still me. Evidence of that is that as soon as the train departed the station I took out my Eurail map to see what country side we would be passing and check the large chart for the country, destination, and train type. Thats when my heart hit the floor, in Czeck the IC trains are the fancy expensive ones cause they don't have high speed any thing, and the reservation free trains are what they call "Distance Locale". So here I am on a train with no reservation to be there, and we are heading into the Czeck mountains, where the stations are often small outdoor platforms with automatic ticket machines and no indoor facilities at all.

I heard the conductor open the door and ask for tickets at the end of my cariage and I started to sweat. However when she approached I simply smiled and she stamped my pass with out even a question. Whew! I made it, Yipeeeee!

Lots of Love,


Wow, wow, wow. What can I say about Prague but wow. Every one I knew who has been has said "you HAVE to go", but so do all the young guide books under the heading "Looking for a wild Party". I am not a party person, don't like drinking tons, and had no interest in hooking up with other young singles, so for these reasons I had decided to ignore every ones advice and skip Prague. Here is my logic in my priority of places it was low on my list, I knew nothing about it, and it had a reputation as being a great place for a cheep drinking weekend, or quick thrills. Amsterdam also has a party reputation with the younger travelers largely due to the legalized pot, however I also happen to know that Amsterdam has a hugh Dutch art collection, some incredible Delft china, and a lovely canal system. I do not think I will have time to squeeze Amsterdam in so Prague was out of the question.

Best laid plans of Mice and Men eh? I did not have time to fit Greece in between Germany, and Italy so I had 3 days to kill. The trains from Germany to Italy are long, expensive, and I wasn't feeling well so it would benefit me to take smaller journeys, and stop and rest along the way. Thats how Prague and Vienna got into the itinerary.

Prague as a city was nothing like I expected. It was small, compact, easy to walk, filled with historical places, beautiful, and quiet. Check this out.. Its a picture at night. Yes thats right I went out for a night time stroll, the first one of my trip. As my time in Prague was short, and I needed dinner, I actually went out into the dark cold street for a wonder. The street lamps in Prague are much more dim than you would see any where else. At first it can look really seedy, however the main streets are full of people, the shops are open, and the area is buzzing with life so you don't feel unsafe. Within a few moments the dim seedy lights start to look romantic, or old fashioned. Some of them even flicker, but I'm not sure if this is a electricity problem or if its intentional to add atmosphere to the old city.

There was not a lot of english translations around, so using the metro, reading signs, maps, or plaques on buildings was very challenging. They do not use the Euro so I had to exchange some money, and was feeling kind of hassled by that until I discovered how cheep everything was. My hotel room was private, and it was a proper hotel room like you would see if you stayed at a Sheraton, or Hilton. It was the same price as my 4 bed dorm in the dodgy hostel in Paris. Yes I could have stayed in a hostel here for about 4 bucks, but I had budgeted for 14 and thought my own room would be a nice treat. There was a pool, jacuzzi, and gym but you had to pay extra for those and I chose not too. Breakfast was included and it was a full service hot breakfast buffet, all you can eat. I felt a little bad but I did make full advantage of this and stocked up on all the vitamins I have been missing for 2 weeks. I would not normally eat ALL that I could eat in a complimentary buffet however I think it might have helped make the turning point with my cold.

The next morning I took the circle route tram around the city to take pictures then got off on the far side and walked right through the centre to the train station on the opposite side of town. I saw many beautiful places that I would have loved to visit, took tons of pictures of buildings that I have no idea what they were and no time to find out, and I felt a small twinge of regret that I didn't have more time. I never intended to see Prague and never knew that there was so much more to the city than its reputation speaks of. I would like to say for the record its a crime that Praha is known for its night life and not much else. I'm sure the students who poor in for the weekend don't bring a fortune with them to help the struggling economy. However if word got out that this was a place of enchantment, beauty, quality service, unique culture, and historical value then more families or couples would come and that would make a difference to the local economy. Then maybe you were hear me ranting that the streets were full of loud annoying tourists and that none of the churches were peaceful, and as it was the city was certainly quiet this morning. Perhaps all the party students were sleeping off their hangovers.

There is a lovely square in the centre of old town, simply surrounded by churches (5 or 6 different denominations), and full of stalls or carts. It looked a little like the German Christmas market in Edinburgh but this one is year around. They have outdoor food vendors, crafts, and artists painting through out the square. I did see the Castle way up on top of the hill, and took photos from the Charles Bridge but could not get up there in time, and knew it would only be upsetting to get closer and not go in. There are about a 101 different types of religions in this city and the churches are all beautiful, this Jewish synagogue looked like candy and it made me smile.

Now I'm snuggled up on the train to Vienna with more whorl win touring.

Lots of love,