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,

17 February 2010

The Louvre 2

Todays instalment is also kinda wierd. I saw these stained or painted (Im not sure which) glass panes, they made me think of a comic book. The sepia tone/ almost black and white effect seemed way to contemporary for the time it was made. (post Reformation I think, but I didnt right it down so I cant remember the exact year) However the windows are old, but the artistic style seems very new. Also the way the pictures are in panels like a commic book, I just found the whole thing very cool.

There were hundreds of them, and I spent a long time looking at them all, however my camera battery was dying so I only have 3 pictures which is a crime. You can see in the second picture a more traditional religious layout and colouring to it. Although most of the pictures are family Crests and Hearlds. It is almost like a decorated page out of a bible. The last picture is a close up of one square in a larger window pane, to show you the detail and clour.

More on the Louvre to come through out. Lots of Love to every one!

The Train to Praha/Prat/Prag/Praga/Prague

Im jumping forward a week to my journey to Prague, I will post Barcelona and Germany intermitenly when I can.

Its very difficult to find, and book train tickets any where in Europe because the names of places change depending on where you are. For example the Spanish call New York "Nuevo York" because they translate the word new. I object to this, a name is a name and just because a country doesn't have that word in their language it doesn't give them the right to change the word. You would never meet someone named Tom and call him Terry all day, even if the word Tom sounded odd, you would attempt to sound out the letters because that is what his name is. I booked the tickets for Prague in english, my reservation printed in German, but the train signs were in Chezk.

However I am having a delightful train journey none the less. I spent several hours at Inga's trying to decide how I was going to get down to Italy. As today is the last day before Lent I am trying to avoid the Carnival for one more day because I cant afford the hostel prices, and every thing is booked solid. So I had a day or two to kill. The best options I was considering were, Berlin, Prague, Dresden, Munich, or Vienna. I only have 4 days and 3 nights so clearly I wasn't going to do them all. After pain staking efforts on the internet I worked out possible sleeping arrangements, and rail trips, and was trying to decide what suited me best when Inga came home.

I put away the research and we had a lovely tea. Then the horrible debate inside my head reared up; Do I go back online and finalise my plans, or do I go to bed and worry about it in the morning? Believe it or not I actually went to bed. I would like to call this moment an "Aric Moment" because I willingly woke up this morning not knowing where I would sleep tonight. Perhaps I am growing accustomed to traveling and beginning to trust my resourcefulness, or maybe I just feel like crap with this head cold, and gave up caring. Wouldn't it be nice if I could give up stress for Lent? I bet Andrew would love that

Neither her nor there the result is the same. I woke up this morning and booked my Hostel for Prague, packed my bag, tidied Inga's room, left my gifts for the house on the table, and headed for my train. I am currently on a train through some of the most dramatic and beautiful country side I have ever seen.

The train is traveling past a river in a deep ravine, twisting and turning under cliffs covered in snow. There are lovely log cabin type homes scattered on the banks of the river, and ice chunks floating past with the current. I have taken several pictures as the views are like something out of a movie. I have the entire 6 seated cabin to myself so I have my shoes off, relaxing, reading, and hanging out with Henry. Its just brilliant.

I have one night it Prague, then I head to Vienna for 10 hours to wonder around, and then finally to Venice as the peace and quiet of Lent settles in.

I hope you all are well. Lots of Love, xx

13 February 2010

I made it to Barcelona

I had slept like the dead, and Henry was grateful for the double bed because we could spread out and not crush each other so much. I trotted across to the train station feeling bright and ready to chase some Spanish sun. Loe and Behold in the front of the station were the two American lads waving at me. They seemed really happy to see me, and explained their concern that the ticket window only opened 10 min before our train left and they still needed tickets to Barcelona. Then as an after thought they mentioned the great nights sleep and how thankful they were that I could help. I showed them how to make a reservation for a ticket on the automated machines so that when they approached the counter they simply needed them to print a reserved ticket and it speeds things up. They looked at me like I could do magic and were grinning like small children at Disney land.

Of course I had my reservation already buy I also needed a ticket, so I offered to go with them in case they needed translations. When the doors opened a nice young Mexican man (with no French speaking ability) was also waiting for a ticket to Barcelona and he had also been staying overnight in the hotel courtesy of the rail way company. The two Americans recognised him and said he could come up to the counter with us as I spoke French really well. I was mortified that they could even think that, but I guess I wasn't surprised at their idiocy by this point. So I walked up to the nice woman with 3 strays behind me thinking I'm the pride piper of stranded backpackers. Huh, weired, and very cool. I felt good, and kinda a bit it shock. The two bearded ones got their tickets printed no worries, then she printed a ticket for the Mexican and myself. A being the operative word, A as in one, singular ticket with two names on it. We sort of looked at each other and shrugged. She said "you all travel together, no?" Uh yea I guess it was ok for us all to sit together so we took the ticket. She also said that two of us deserved a refund for our reservations because they had to be delayed for a day, so she handed us 12.00. I took it and said thank you and set off for the platform.

I tried to give my nice Mexican seat buddy his 6.00 from the refunded money but he told me to keep it for my translating help. Cool, not only was I the leader of the pack but I made 6 quid from it. I was feeling good. Once on the train the two brothers sat opposite each other so I was forced into sitting next to one of them with the nice Mexican in front of me. I thought to myself, on know I'm going to have to converse with this guy who was so quick to drop me when I was uncool, and then take my help when he discovered I had skills.

Turns out though it wasn't bad. He turned out to be really fascinating and perhaps one of the most philosophical people I will meet on this trip. You can read more about him in my future post on the people of my travels.

As for the train journey it was pleasant. The Pyrenees were not so tall by the cost, however the view of the ocean stretching from the bottom of the cliffs were were gliding along was spectacular. Its a shame I couldn't quiet get a picture. I arrived in Barcelona around noon, and was very glad to be their but also glad that I had that educational detour. And at last I arrived in Barcelona!

The 3:20 train to Barcelona

After the 4th hour on my high speed train that was moving slower than the speed I could walk I started to wish for a train robbery. Anything to break the dull boring vibe that was hanging in the air.... Starting from the beginning I got off to a fine start. Nora (see more about her in the soon comming post on the people of my travels) walked me to the metro station and gave me a charming hug goodbye, and then I headed for my 8 hour day on a cross country train! It started alright. The train had a bar, plenty of luggage space and was very respectable. I happen to be sitting next to a business man who was the most boring non-english speaking man I have ever not talked too on a cross country train journey. Our high speed train was bound for Montpellier in about 4 hours time, where I was connecting to a train bound for Barcelona at 3:20. I had started to wonder about these so called high speed trains because after an hour we were still crawling down the tracks slow enough that local children were following us and waving. I simply thought that we were still in Paris suburbs and werent cleared for the high speed part yet. Then an announcement came over the air. "Les Medams e Messiours... wah..wah wah,wa ha Security clearence, wahh wahhh wah.. Merci" I listened for the English announcment and the spanish announcement that usually follows but one never came. Instead there were several gafufes, and hmphms coming from many of the passangers on the train. I only started to worry when we were at hour 3 and the high speed train was still creeping by suburban areas. Where was the French country side, the vineyards, and the high speed part of this expensive train? So I went to the bar to investigate, they didnt speak english. arg!!! I noticed after 3:20 when it had become obvious that I had in fact already missed my connection for the last train leaving for Barcelona that day that a more clear announcement rang out."Les Medams e Missiours attention' si'l vous plait, wha wah whha ah uh wah waa wah wa wa, CINQ hours." Wait just one minuet I though "CINQ" as in 5? 5 hours what? 5 Hours late? 5 Hours more? 5 hours of free drink at the bar? I could hardly think from the profanities that shot out from every mouth on the train but mine. I just sat there with my mouth open thinking, 5 hours of what ever it is obviously isnt good. Maybe it was 5 hours till the world was going to end. The thing is I would never know...So I tried to be 'Zen' as my boyfriend would say and relax. I cant help the powers that be... thats when the train stopped, and all the lights went out. "Les Medams e Missours wah wah hwaa whaa energie' arret wah wahh wah wah apologies, merci" So there wasnt any power to be as it were and the dark train began to get very warm and kinda muggy. Somewhat like the inside of your mouth in the morning. It wasnt pleasent. However we did eventually arrive in Montpellier and only a mere 4.5 hours late.

I calmly an rationally went to the assistance counter with my ticket for barcelona hoping the person would speak enough English to help me find a hotel for the night. Of course a small town in the South of France and she had about 3 words of English. She was very happy, friendly, and had a huge "customers first" smile on her face when she greeted me. I simply handed her my ticket to Barcelona and shrugged. She smiled and said "ah wee, vous.... eh... I mean, you... Missed." Arg!!!! Yes yes I know that my train left with out me 5 hours ago, I am wanting you to help me, I thought. While trying to think of the French to say, I'm stranded, alone, scared, cold, and have no place to sleep tonight, my eyes started to well up with tears. I didnt mean to cry to get my way, but I was very concerned and couldnt help it. She patted me on the top of my hand and said "one moment si'l vous plait" And I felt a little better. She left the counter into a room behind her, only a few moments later she came back with several tickets. My old ones that were no good, a new print out showing what time my train actually arrived in Montpelleir and a new ticket to Pepignan that same evening. She said several sentances in French and I could gleem out a few words that made sense. "Departure' ou Pepignan, (I have to leave for Pepignan) Assistance (get Assistance), hotel Gratuite (a free hotel), billiett pour Barcelona (ticket for Barcelona), ok?" Yea sure it sounded great to me, assuming that the free hotel was free for me because you pay for it, not that pepignan has a free hotel cause that could be dodgy. Just then these two loud American boys standing with another Assistance Representitive were saying in that sort of loud American way "Bar-ce-lo-na" There was an exchange between my helping woman and the man who was talking to these boys then she waved me over to them saying "come come, parlez Anglais"

I arrived just in time to hear the man replying "Yes I know about the city Barcelona, and my english is very good, can I help you?" I waited while they got their tickets arranged and then he explained in perfect english that we were all to take a train to the border town of Pepignan, at the station the Assistance desk will have a paper ticket for one free night at the hotel near by, a free meal, and then our tickets to barcelona for the morning. He spoke in french to the woman helping me, and then turned to the two american boys and said, "as it is very late at night, and this young also American woman is traveling alone, perhaps you three can travel together and get your tickets together so you all arrive safely, eh?" I smiled and said "merci" The boys took there tickets and said "ok, yea sure, thanks." As we were walking away one said to the other "that mans grammer was dreadful I could barely understand what he meant, but I guess we will just get on this train and find out what happens later." I thought about explaining it to them but didnt want to make them feel slow, so instead I went with the typical travelers open, "so where are you from?" As if I couldnt guess. There were in plaid fur lined jackets,brown quarteroy trousers over big yellow boots, tussled mouse brown hair, an Abe lincoln beard on both of them. So I was not supprised when they said "Minnesota." Then one turned to me and said " well look we are gonna go outside for a smoke, and maybe have a drink at the bar before the train, I hope you have luck with your travels and all and enjoy Barcelona ok!" I just smiled, nodded, and said "you too." But I was more surprised than any thing, I think they were blowing me off, maybe they needed some privet time and didnt want to hurt my feelings. But they didnt say "maybe we will catch you later on the train, or bump into you in Barcelona." They just said a goodbye of sorts and that was that.

I spent the next hour pacing the train station crying and fuming at the same time. I have just left Paris, the place where noses are suppose to be so high they can touch the clouds, but the most rude and horrible people I have met so far were Americans. I wanted to hit them, for giving my country a bad name. Any problems I have while traveling, any time someone rolls their eyes at my passport or my accent is cause of Jerks like them. I could totally understand not wanting to be social, or have a girl tag along, especially one as untravelled like me. I could slow them down, or be too clingy, but to just walk away like that after a Rail way Representivtive asked for our safety to travel together was just selfish. Then I started to work myself into a frenzy, was traveling to the border alone on the train un-safe? Or were the nice French people just being helpful cause I had pulled out the water works on accident?

I had been using all my inner strength to stay calm on a 8.5 hour train trip, not to freek out, and it was now all pouring out of me in the form of tears, panic, and anger at those two (dare I say it) Hill BIllies!!!!

The train to Pepignan was fine, I was calmer and now just looking forward to my hotel. Upon arriving at the station though one quick glance around showed that all three counters were closed, lights out and locked up. The information counter, the Assistance counter, and the Ticket counters all had strong depressing metal shudders pulled down over them. After a few seconds the passangers had cleared and there were only 3 people left standing in this building, myself and the two lumberjacks. I could have screamed I was so close to loosing it, but I smiled and nodded at the boys in a greeting then walked back out around on to the platform and towards the end of the train were the machanics were turning off its engines or something. I managed to explain my problem to him in some pigion French and he was happy to take me to the station manager. I was a little sceptical when we started walking along the tracks into a dark seedy part of the station, but trusting his friendly-ness, and my instincts I continued. Then he pointed out this cute little house at the end of the station, just where the track switching lever thing is located. Ahhhh of course he would live in the station house, that makes sense. I was relived that I was actually getting help and not murdered or tied to the rail way lines. Funnily enough there was a que of about 6 people at the Station Masters house, so we were not the only ones stranded. He was very helpful, gave me a note for my ticket in the morning, a voucher for the 3 star hotel across the street, a box with a dinner meal inside, and a toilietrie bag with tiny tooth brushes and all.

I walked back along the scary rail tracks alone to the station to find those two rude morons standing at a closed window of the Information desk looking very tiered and annoyed. It was cold in the Mountains between France and Spain so I couldnt just leave them there all night, with no French. I told them I found someone to help and I would show them. My favorite moment of the day was the look on their two bearded faces when I confidently stepped down on to the tracks and started to walk off into the dark. It was a delightful mix of, "what the @£%*", " Is she dangerous?" "Oh man we really need her help" "She looks harmless", and simply "uhhhhh" I was in heaven. After they decided to trust me and follow me off towards no where I explained that the station master lives in the old rail house still. I could hear the breath of relief come out of them both. Once there they were having troubles explaining the problem and understanding the French comming back at them. I stepped in to help again with pigion French to explain that there situation was like mine, stranded. However it turned out that they had not had a reservation for the Barcelona train. They were hoping to catch it but had not pre-booked a seat. So this takes the liability off the rail company a bit. The boys looked worried but with their big silly beards, when they wrinkled their brow they just looked angry so the Station Master was loosing his patience. I explained that even though they did not have a seat reserved , they were stranded none the less and would have caught another train to Barcelona had their been one. So in the end they got a hotel, and free meal too, Thanks to ME!

They did walk me to the hotel across the way, commenting on how crazy I must be to follow a stranger into the dark like that, I simply replyed that they did the same. Once at the hotel they started right in with the loud English and the poor hotel keeper looked terribly lost. I stepped in with a simple sentence in French "Ecusez moi, reservations danse le Hotel au'jourd hui, pour une personne et pour duex personnes." Then I handed him my voucher, yanked the one out of the boys hands and handed that one over too. "Ahhh! Dacar!" he replied and immediatly grabbed room keys and two little baskets of soap and bathroom gifts. He asked me if the two boys wanted one bed or two, and I answered "duex" for them. After several instructions I took both room keys from him and wished him a good night, before starting toward the stairs. I had to give the boys a head nod and gingle their key at them to get them to follow me though. Once up the stairs in the main hallway I explained that the basket was free for their use, they had two sepperate beds, breakfast was between 7-9, and we had to be back across the street at the station for 8:45. I handed them their room key, as they stood their looking dumbfounded, and smiled a very satisfying grin!

They did say thank you and wondered off to their room. I watched 10 min of Star Wars in French, had a hot shower, and slept well in my private room with a double bed.

Tomorrow the 9:20 train to Barcelona... I hope!

11 February 2010

A small walk through Paris

I had a short (only 3 hours) walk through Paris today. Most of the day I was traveling by train back from the Loire Vally so I only felt like a wee evening stroll. I ended up having a bit of a Jackle and Hyde type of stroll.

First I went up to the famous Sacre Coure on the top of the bohimian area of france. A district famous for its acceptence, love, joy, and Art. This massive white church on the hill has spectacular views, and is also lovely inside. Sadly they did not allow you to take any photos inside, and like all famous churches in Paris it was more of a tourist place than a holy place. However The walk up was worth it for the views of Paris and seeing all the artist on the steps painting in oils.

My second stop was to the Moulin Rouge. I did not go in, tickets to the girls show are 125.00. Yeah! Way out of my leage. But I did get a rather good tour of the red light district on the way. Ironicaly these two places are about 15 min apart by foot. I found that charming. I waw strolling with a charming girl from Germany who was pointing out all the cool attractions in a young bright bouncy kinda way. I felt old, and a little behind the times when she had to explain the appeal of so many of them too me.

For exapmle the Musee' de Sexual Historie, I wasnt to sure how any one would know the historical origins of sex. "Once apon a time a cave man hit a cave woman on the head with a stick, then he drug limp body her into the bushes. Then there were more little cave men and cave women...." I mean honestly? Apparently the museum is all about the development of sexual artifacts, toys, and the transitions of sexual trends through out the ages. huh?!?! Of course there was also the live sex show attractions. I thought this would be strippers or the like, but oh contrare! It is a show where you can pay to watch two people have sex on the stage live in front of you, for a mere 40.00 quid!!! Not sure why any one would want to watch this but it seems to be popular as there was a que to get tickets. I had to ask in my nieve way how long the show would last because I would be upset it I paid 40.00 and the guy only made it 8 min. Apparently its a full 2 hour show. Man alive that must be one fit couple. I do hope they move around and try different possisions. How dull watching someone in misionary posistion for 2 hours going at it. I dont know maybe Im not enlightened enough. he he he

Untill next time Lots of love to every one.

The Louvre 1 of many

The Lourve is far far too big for one post, and I took too many pictures to possibly load up. So I am going to split it into lots of tiny posts through out my trip. As an overal, The Louve is massive, and my feet were very soar after 7 hours of active walking around. I found that the gallerys dispalying the art were often art themselfs in their design and layout. The map is confusing, but the crowds were not bad at all, so go in Feb.

Because it was Mom's birthday this week the picture for the day is an odd one. Not one you would expect to see starting the Louve series! These Chairs are masterfuly upulstered. They are from the appartments of Napeloen B the 1st . The yellow fabric on the back of the chair is all one peice. The swag at the top is made by lots and lots of tiny tucks holding it in place but it is not an additional peice of fabric over the top, its all the same. And it lays so softly. The bottoms of the Chairs have a delecate little skirting adding a bit of grace and grandure to the chair. More than that there was a whole row of Chairs. Squeeee!
And to go with the whole row of lovley Chairs today I think I will throw in a gold, and cut glass Vanity table. Also found in Napolians apartments, it was stunning and lovely but I would be concerned sitting in a Chair with glass legs. However these items caught my eye and made me think of my mom. The one who taught me to sit like a lady, wear makeup like a lady, and appriciate when your being well kept.

Lots of Love to every one.