01 August 2009

Future of this Blog

Well now that I'm back home and not traveling for the time being this blog will be inactive. I'll start it up again for the next trip I take.

Thanks for reading!

<3 Thom

Photo Parade!

Well, it took me long enough but I've finally posted some of my photos from my trip. I say some of, but really that's all I'm going to post. Feel free to check them out if you're interested:

Rome
Florence
Venice
Ljubljana
Budapest
Bratislava
Vienna: (all my photos were deleted :( )
Edinburgh
Prague
Berlin
Krakow
Warsaw
Vilnius
Riga
Tallinn
Helsinki
Stockholm
Amsterdam

21 July 2009

Amsterdam, Paris, Home

Well, at the moment I'm back home! Which explains the lack of updates recently, I didn't want people to figure out the date I was coming back. It's both weird and amazing to be back. I'm sad to have left Europe and everyone I met there, but at the same time it's so great to see everyone. Caitlyn and Casey picked me up at the airport, which was a nice surprise because I was only expecting Caitlyn, with a neon welcome back sign and a SPACE article. Then I got to see everyone at Kyle's, it was so great!

But as far as the end of my trip goes... Amsterdam was amazing. I didn't do much during the day because i went to two nights of an electro festival going on there. But nights were completely mental. First night was Diplo, Boy 8-Bit, and Fake Blood. The second night was Simian Mobile Disco, Does it Offend You, Yeah?, and Zombie Nation. I also tried to find the Tattoo Museum, but the guy at reception in the hostel said that it never really opened, which is a shame.

Then Paris was great. I had one very chill night in Poitiers between Amsterdam in Paris, then took the train up to Paris and stayed with Caroline and Asia. It was mostly just hanging out, but we did wander around the city a bit, hanging out in parks and along the Seine. It was great to see them again before I headed home.


And that's the jist of what i have to say for now. Stay tuned for photos once I upload them all and my reflections on the trip once I know how to articulate them.

14 July 2009

Some Photos From My Last Couple of Stops

Vilnius: Fountain in the Town Square

Vilnius: The world's only Frank Zappa monument

Riga: Europe in Flowers
Riga: Directions
Tallinn: View of the Old TownTallinn: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Helsinki: Inside Suomenlinna
Helsinki: Cathedral and Senate Square

Stockholm: Cannon
Stockholm: Arches and Tourists

Stockholm

Well I’m in Stockholm now, and after a hectic morning trying to find a place to stay I got settled into a hostel about 15 minutes away from the old town, Gamla Stan, by foot. The hostel is clean, but it’s terribly quiet and you’re not allowed to drink inside, which takes away from the social atmosphere of hostels that I enjoy. Still, it’s clean, there’s a kitchen, and they have free coffee.
Anyways, after I got settled in I wandered around the old town. The architecture is so nice! I seriously think that just about every single building in the old town is impressive. I spent a few hours admiring the buildings and went into one free museum that ended up being a museum about currency. They had currency from all throughout history and from all over the world, including a $100US that was printed in Fishkill! After the museum I wandered around the Royal courtyards, but they weren’t that impressive. The guards all had giant machine guns with bayonets though, that was a sight. After that I wandered around the more modern city center, which was just a lot of shopping and a lot of people. OH, yeah. Everywhere is so crowded. I mean, I expect there to be a lot of people in capital cities during peak tourism season, but there were so many it was tough to move at points. That wasn’t very enjoyable. Also, Stockholm is all about 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven in Stockholm is like Starbucks in NYC. Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was surprised to see one, let alone a billion.

After wandering around for a few hours I came back to the hostel and took care of some stuff online (woo, free wifi!), then I got to talking with this Candian girl, Mira, and we ended up going to a bar with a German girl named Julia. That was in what Lonely Planet calls the “alternative culture” part of town. It wasn’t very alternative…American Apparel, H&M, and other big name shops were all over the place. The bar was decent though, but we left pretty early. There were so many cops out – 3 vans just outside the one bar. There are also tons throughout the city. It doesn’t make any sense. I know cops are “supposed to make us safe,” but seeing a high police presence just makes me more anxious and nervous (though, I’ve never been big on The Man).

Today I got up and wandered around again. I saw some of the places I didn’t see yesterday, and went into a free museum on Theatre and Dance. I tried to find a statue of a boy staring at the moon because Caroline told me to look for it, but then it started to downpour and I gave up. I grabbed some lunch, then walked to the Kulturhuset (Culture House), and checked out some of the things they had there. There are a couple of galleries, some models of the city, a medieval museum, and plenty of other stuff. After wandering around for a few more hours and being fed up with the weather I came back to the hostel. I don’t know what my plans are for this evening, but I may just take it easy.

At any rate, I’m off to Amsterdam tomorrow afternoon. Updates from there!
Also! Be prepared for a special photo update coming shortly!

13 July 2009

Tallinn and Helsinki

My last day in Tallinn was pretty excellent as well. I think it’s one of my favorite cities I’ve been to so far. In the afternoon after I last updated I walked into town with a Finnish girl named Katya (I’m not actually sure if that’s how it’s spelled) before she met up with her parents. Then I met up with Vega, who I met in Warsaw. She’s now in Tallinn for a few weeks teaching Spanish at a camp. We wandered around the old town and chatted while I took some photos since I had forgotten my camera the day before, then we made our way to the Kumu art museum. With the exception of the contemporary art exhibit on the top floor, Estonian artists did all of the pieces in the museum. (Actually, I’m not 100% sure if that’s true, but I’m fairly positive it is.) Gintare (from Vilnius) had suggested that I check it out, as did Sven, so I figured I should check it out. It was really cool and I spent a few hours there. Two of the floors were just a chronological display of important works from Estonian artists, so it walking through the museum was like walking through an art history course. The museum is next to a really nice park, so when I left I wandered through it and enjoyed the pleasant weather.
That night I met up with a whole bunch of people at a kebab place/bar before we went to a park to hang out. A couple of the people I had met the night before, but mostly I met new people and I even got to speak in French for a while because there were some French people in the group! It was more French than I had really spoken during my last semester in France since we had the strikes and all. I ended up trying to go to bed early (well, early for me) since I had to catch my Ferry to Helsinki at 7:30 in the morning. Yeah, that’s right, leave at 7:30. It was brutally early, and I couldn’t believe how many people were drinking on the ship when I got on.

At any rate, it only took me two hours to get to Helsinki. Right away I was amused because I saw some kid (I couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl) dressed as an anime character. I’m talking cloak, a fake weapon of some fantastical sort, and spiky anime hair. I thought I might’ve been so tired I was hallucinating, but as I wandered around I saw more people dressed up like anime characters, or in animal costumes, or in other crazy get-ups. Helsinki quickly became my favorite city to people watch. In addition to the outrageous costumes, there were plenty of guys with hearty beards (and oh how was I jealous), tons of metal-looking people, and a bunch of punks with gigantic died Mohawks. I didn’t find out until later that there was an anime/sci-fi convention going on, which explained the costumes.
I was pretty exhausted, but every day is a new adventure, especially when you only have one night in a city. So I had some coffee and went out exploring with Antti, a Finnish guy. He told me I needed to see Suomenlinna, the old sea fortress, so we hopped on a boat and went out to the island. (Well, actually, when we got to the harbor we had a half an hour wait, so we wandered around the Central Market while we waited for the boat.) I was so glad we did, because it’s a cool place to explore and a cool place to hang out. Antti told me that he and his friends would sometimes just go there to hang out, and that a lot of people in Helsinki do that. There are also a bunch of museums (which we didn’t go in), and plenty of tunnels in the fortifications to explore (which we did), and people actually live on the island as well. The views on the coasts were pretty excellent, and I had a great time there. We hung out for a few hours and then hopped on a ship back to the mainland.
We split up there because he was also exhausted and I walked around for about an hour or so before I met Elina, a Finnish girl now living in Helsinki. I was invited to hang out with her and her friends for some cake and hanging out and potential partying, and despite being tired there was no way I could pass that up. It was my only night in Finland, so I had to make the most of it! So it ended up being a couple of us hanging out, and then Antti, Elina, Marjaana, Katri, and I went out to a club. Well, it’s not actually a club, but a movie theatre that opens the terrace for dancing at night, but only until 2am. It was free entry (WOO, something free in Helsinki…I’ll be talking about money in a moment), but my hopes of a free evening were dashed when I walked in and they told me that my super tiny day pack was too big to bring in and I had to pay 3€ to check it. Oh well, I was in and the club was a lot of fun. The dance floor was kind of weird – it was cluttered with tables and chairs in such a way that you would think they didn’t want you to actually dance. That just meant that in addition to dancing on the floor and the speakers, people were up on chairs as well. It was so much fun, but ended too soon (we had to wait on a line for a while before we got in), so then we went to a different bar. After being in central Europe and the Baltics, bar prices in Helsinki had me floored. Oh well, I knew the cities in Scandinavia were going to be the most expensive ones I visited on this trip. But I had a great time hanging out, chatting with everyone, and staying up way later than I thought I would when I got in.

The next day I slept in a bit for some much needed sleep, then Antti and I went to a park for a free outdoor festival that was going on. We went a little while after it started, and the two bands we heard weren’t that great so we left to get some lunch before parting ways. I went to the city center and explored parts that I hadn’t seen the day before. There’s not a lot to see in Helsinki (it’s not really a touristy city, well not to the extent of other European capitals at any rate) and everything is pretty close together. After walking around with my backpack on for a few hours, and hopping into two free museums for a brief time, I sat in the Esplanade Park and enjoyed the nice weather before having to catch my ferry.

And now about money: I cannot believe how expensive Helsinki is! I feel like I’m in an airport! Even groceries are outrageously expensive. If you want a cold beer from a convenience store it’s over 3€ a can. Yeah, 3€. Forget that. And if you want a drink in a bar, forget about it. My Lonely Planet says the best place to go out to bars is in a working-class neighborhood which is where I was staying, but since we were in the center and that’s where all the clubs and everything are we had to pay a bit more. Talk about a shock for my wallet.

And that’s about it for now! At the time of writing this I’m on my way to Stockholm. I’ll hopefully update you from there!

I'm on a boat!

At the time of writing this I’m on my way to Stockholm, but there’s no wireless (and I’m not going to pay 8€ an hour for internet) so I can’t give you the up to the minute update. But if I could, I would want to share two songs that I feel fit the moment perfectly.
(I’m On A Boat – The Lonely Island [hilarious, but some strong language, so yeah, consider yourself warned if you don’t want to hear that kind of thing])
(I Am A Viking – Yngwie J. Malmsteen)
See, these songs work because I’m on a ship to Sweden that operates on the Viking Line (Yngwie J. Malmsteen is a Swedish musician.
When I booked this ship it was the only website that would let me book anything. I had no idea I was booking a CRUISE SHIP, so you could imagine my shock when I got on bored. I have a pretty sweet room all to myself, and food and drink on the ship can be less expensive than in Helsinki, so that’s a plus. I’m exhausted so I’m probably going to bed early (and by probably I mean definitely), but I did watch some people do karaoke. There’s so much one could potentially do! (It’s my first time on a cruise ship, there’s a lot of novelty value in it for me even though I’m not going to shell out my money.) I’m amused. (But at the same time not down with all the high prices for things.)

Okay, now for real, I’ll update you from Stockholm!

10 July 2009

Riga and Tallinn

My explorations around Riga didn’t take very long. It’s a nice old town, but not a lot to see. Still, I wandered through the streets all over the place, and not just in the old town but around the more modern parts of the city as well. I spent a lot of time in the (free) Museum of Occupation, which, as the name implies, is about the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the Baltic countries. There was a lot of information to take in, and some cool displays, such as original items that prisoners had made in the gulags/work camps, weapons found, official orders, and phone taps to name a few. When I got out of the museum, it started to rain. So I wandered around a bit and found another free museum, the Latvian Military History museum that I went in mostly to get out of the rain. It was all in Latvian, and while there were some binders of information you could take around with you that were written in English I just had no desire to read that much after spending so much time in the Occupation museum. I looked in some churches that were free, but really I don’t have much to report on Riga (which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, just not a lot there). I didn’t bother going out that night either because the weather had gotten so terrible. But I think an evening of doing nothing was good for me since I’ve been going hard for over 6 weeks now! And I had to get up somewhat early to catch my bus to Tallinn.

The weather was terrible while I was on the bus, but I’d rather it be that way than terrible when I got into Tallinn. The bus ride was uneventful, except for one passport check where I don’t think the custom’s guy believed the photo was me (he didn’t say anything, but compared every detail on my passport to those on my titre de sejour) but it was fairly uncomfortable. I had to sit next to this fat guy who took up more than one seat, so he was partially on mine and I just had no room. At any rate, I got into Tallinn in the early afternoon and then I was off exploring. I was excited to get out and move around after being on the bus and I had heard that Tallinn’s old town is really nice. Well, that’s no joke; I think Tallinn has one of the nicest old towns I’ve seen! Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but when I go out today I’ll get some photos. I wandered through all the streets in the old town, checking out some of the sights and some of the panoramic views. I think my favorite bits, though, were the little streets with nothing on them. They’re small and colorful and just really pretty. I went into some cathedrals and churches, most of which were a lot more impressive from the outside. In the town center there was a market set up selling different handicrafts so I wandered through that for a bit. You could tell it was set up for tourists because all the vendors were in traditional costumes. There were a couple of cool courtyard-type streets, one of which had really old tombstones on the wall. All in all my wanderings were very pleasant and I can’t really put it into words. Y’all will just have to wait for the photos! When I was done wandering I went to a café in the town center that my Lonely Planet suggested and says it can make people never want to go to Starbucks again. That’s not too hard for me, I think Starbucks coffee is kind of crap to be honest, but I do love a good cup of coffee. The verdict: not the best I’ve ever had but still really tasty, tastier and cheaper than some of the cafés I’ve been to in France.

In the evening I met up with Sven and his friends – all Estonian’s living in Tallinn. We had an excellent night hanging out listening to music, I tried some dark Estonian beers, and we watched some videos on YouTube. That, and they showed me a hilariously crude TV show that I had never seen or heard of called Testees about two guys who are human guinea pigs for a company trying out different chemicals. Check it out!

That’s all for now. Not sure what my plans are today – probably an art museum and then snapping some photos in old town. Tomorrow morning I head to Helsinki! Next update soon? Hopefully.

08 July 2009

Rīga is Punk Rock

I got into Riga yesterday evening. I had a late night the night before and I was pretty tired, so I didn’t go exploring. But I met up with Zane, a Latvian woman living in Riga, who took me to an awesome punk rock club. I got to see some bands play and it was only 1Lat to get in (about $2)! It was so cool, and itsnights like that which make me remember why I love going to punk shows. So many Mohawks and hair dye and piercings and metal and chains. There were two floors, each with live music and a bar. One of Zane’s friends was playing that night, and he was a really funny, cool guy. He was telling me afterwards how he doesn’t really know how to play the guitar; he would just look at his CD, pick a song, and start strumming and singing the lyrics. “All improvisation” he said. Afterwards we went to a Russian style bar called Ленинград (Leningrad) with some people. It was really cool. And as for now, I’m heading off to explore! It’s my only full day in Riga, then tomorrow I’m off to Tallinn, Estonia.

As always, I’ll update again when I can! Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying these updates.

Vilnius

When “planning” out this trip, I knew I wanted to check out the Baltic countries. My friend Timbo had been traveling around and told me that Vilnius is a nice city, so I thought “Cool, I’ll start there, and then work my way up to Riga, then Tallinn.” The old town in Vilnius is apparently one of the largest ones in Europe and it is really nice. When I got into the city after that long bus ride (during which I hadn’t slept much because the girl sitting next to me kept kicking me. Instead of putting her stuff overhead, she had everything under her legs and then kept putting her feet on my footrest and leaning over towards my seat. It was not very comfortable, but whatever.) the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm out. I thought to myself “Wow! There are a lot of people out for 7:45 in the morning, and my bus was an hour and fifteen minutes early! Cool!” Turns out I’m an idiot and didn’t realize I changed time zones. Oops. So I went for a walk into the Old Town and just wandered about for a bit before I got settled in.

I met Gintare, who studies in Vilnius, and after some coffee and chat we went out into the city. We went to the contemporary art museum to see an exhibit called “Big in Japan.” Part of it was cool, but part of it was crap to be honest. In the main hall and entrance of the museum there was a display set up on urban landscapes that used toy cars and trucks, tracks as roads, Styrofoam mountains, and toy cranes building up new infrastructure. That was really cool. There were also some cool portraits that made the people look albino and all kind of look similar, but if you looked closely you could see the differences between the people. While there, we met up with one of Gintare’s friends (and I’m terrible with spelling names, so I’m just not going to even try) and we walked up to the top of the castle hill and hung out there for a bit. The view was excellent. While we were there, Gintare’s flat mate met up with us and then we wandered around a bit more. We went into two churches, one of which hasn’t really been restored at all so the interior looks really old. After that we went to the artists’ district called The Independent Republic of Uzupis where they have their constitution posted on a wall in several different languages. It’s pretty funny, with rules like “Everyone has the right to be happy, everyone has the right to be unhappy” and “Everyone has the right to take care of the cat.” We then wandered our way up another hill where we were joined by Eva, who absolutely loves Uno. So we hung out there for a while, playing Uno and chatting and having a relaxing day, which is what I wanted because I was pretty tired. We went to a vegetarian restaurant where I had an awesome vegan calzone and then I called it an early night.

The next day was the national holiday for Lithuania in commemoration of Grand Duke Mindaugas’ coronation. I wandered through the town a bit, mostly to find the world’s only Frank Zappa statue, then I watched some of the festivities taking place. There were so many people around it was hard to move. There were some speeches that took place and a parade with people dressed in traditional clothing and some bands playing national songs and whatnot. That evening there was a concert to celebrate the holiday that was free and outside. There were so many people on stage! There was a chorus, then orchestra, and then the chorus came back on. And everyone in the crowd new the words to the national songs and you could just feel the positive energy everywhere. I was hanging out with a large group of people and they would translate the lyrics for me from time to time, which was nice. There were people dancing everywhere, parents tossing their children up in the air and catching them (I saw one baby that was the happiest baby in the world during that festival) and just all around merriment. It was a great time. We followed that up by continuing the celebrations at Gintare’s flat. It was an all around great day.

(Sorry for the lack of photos as of late! I want to put some in, but I’ve been updating from other people’s computers or public computers so I don’t have my photos available when I’m updating. Probably when this trip is over I’ll upload all my photos worth uploading and post the links.)

04 July 2009

Warszawa

I had no idea what to expect coming to Warsaw. Everyone who heard I was going to Warsaw usually gave me a response along the lines of “Why? Krakow is a lot better, don’t go to Warsaw.” Forget that. I’ve had an excellent time!

Anatole and I got in, and hung out for a little while before getting to where we were staying. After we got settled in we went out with Michal, a Polish guy, and Marija, a German girl, and Vega, a Spanish girl, all of who live in Warsaw, to this really cheap bar. Being in Poland I had to have some wodka. Normally I’m not a huge fan, but it wasn’t too bad. On the way to the bar we walked through the university campus which was pretty nice, and walked along the royal way. One thing we noticed was how there are so many different styles of buildings in one area. You have some soviet style block buildings, some classic looking buildings (a lot of which were rebuilt after the war), and now huge skyscrapers. It’s a weird mix. After the bar we wandered around the city and saw the sights at night. We walked through the Old Town then hung out on one of the old city walls for a little while. The night was pretty low-key – we went to a couple of places then hung out with Michal and Marija until we went to sleep.

The next day Anatole and I grabbed some Polish lunch, and wandered through the city during the day. There aren’t too many sights, so we wandered around and saw all we wanted in just a few hours. This was our last day traveling together since Anatole was headed back to Berlin in the afternoon. After he left I wandered through the New Town and saw some churches, of which there is no shortage. Speaking of religious things, I have to say that I have never seen so many nuns or things dedicated to the Pope. I know he’s Polish, and I know this is a really Catholic country, but I think it’s going a little overboard. That’s just me, and I just won’t get into my issues with it. At any rate, I enjoyed my walk, and saw plenty of things including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a cool little monument, but I feel bad for the two guards that have to stand completely still next to it all day. What a boring job. The weather was nice, so I spent a little bit of time in a park. In the evening I met up with Michal and we went to a concert of traditional Indian music at the Ethnographic museum. Parts of it were not really enjoyable, but other parts were amazing. The performers had their roots in the Rajasthan region of India and they played their traditional gypsy music and did some dances. One of my favorite bits was when one of the guys had a heavy pot of water on top of a cup on top of his head. He eventually stacked it up to 4 cups and danced around, it was unbelievable. There was a woman dancer as well, and her coolest trick was bending over backwards and picking up a folded 20€ note with her eye. After the concert we went to another cool bar, then to a park with Christiana (I think that’s how it’s spelled) from the Ukraine and Dinah from Germany, both of whom have been living in Warsaw as well. After the park, Dinah left, so Michal, Christiana, and I went exploring in an abandoned Jewish ghetto building. It was so cool; I absolutely love exploring abandoned buildings. We eventually went to the Praga district of Warsaw, which wasn’t destroyed during the war and has a lot of places for alternative culture. We went to a club that had an awesome electro DJ spinning, but it was kind of dead. It was crazy going in when it was really dark out, and coming out when the sun was up. It was a great night full of good conversation and good times. We met up with Marija and Vega at the bar, and another Polish guy from Warsaw named Adam. The people I’ve met in Warsaw have really made my time. After the club we decided to stop at a shop and pick up some food to have a breakfast picnic. I didn’t go to bed until about 6:30am, which is normal for me when I’m not traveling, but it’s the first time I’ve done that in a while.

Today Michal showed me an awesome park. We went and just chilled out there for a few hours by a lake. It was a nice lazy day, and we had some good chat. I love that – going to new cities and meeting people that you know you could have a friendship with and just chatting about n’importe quoi for a while. After the park, Michal showed me a beach called “La Playa” which was also in the Praga district. It was a cool little place, but the music changed to something terrible soon after we got there so we left.

And that brings me up to the present. I had some things to check and do online before I get on my overnight bus to Vilnius, Lithuania. I’ll update again when I can!

02 July 2009

Krakow

When we got into Krakow, alive, I was so happy to be greeted by the sun and warm weather. Much better than my streak of going to a new city and being rained on, meanwhile the city I was leaving had beautiful weather. At any rate, we got in later than planned and then wandered around trying to find the tram we needed without using a map. That sent us in circles a bit, but we made it to our destination eventually and relaxed with some coffee. We met Pawel, a Polish guy who lives in Krakow, and he showed us around the whole city. I felt a little bit bad because we were so exhausted and I wasn’t as talkative as I could’ve been, but he was so nice and took our exhaustion in stride.
First he showed us the Jewish quarter of the city. We checked out the synagogue, then made our way to Wawel Castle. We didn’t pay to go inside the castle and see the exhibits (we were way too exhausted and probably wouldn’t have retained anything) but we did walk around the grounds, which were really nice. After the castle we walked to the main square in the middle of town. In the center of the square there is a big market set up, so we walked through that. We took a look at some of the churches in the city, saw the 14th century city gate that was still standing, and then checked out the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was huge, and it was crazy to see headstones that are now like little walls because the Nazis tore them down and used them for other things during the war.
Oh! We also ate at an awesome vegetarian restaurant. You could get 4 portions for less than $5! Eventually Pawel left us in the center, and Anatole and I just kind of hung out and people watched for a little while since we were so exhausted. Later we met up with Pawel and Kasia, who also lives in Krakow, but it ended up being an early night, which was exactly what I needed. It was so nice to finally get some sleep.

The next day, our last full day in Krakow, Anatole and I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. I was excited to go, but not in a “HOORAY” sort of way. It was an intense day – there was a lot of information to take in and it was weird being at a site known for being one of the worst places that ever existed. Each country that had people deported to Auschwitz had their own display block, some of which were set up better than others. Of course I have always learned about World War II and the Holocaust and Nazi-ism in history classes, but being there makes it so much heavier. The most intense exhibits were the found objects and the human hair. There was a display case taking up an entire wall that had so much human hair that was found there afterwards. My jaw just dropped; it was unbelievably intense. There were also displays with piles of eyeglass frames all jumbled up, and shoes, children’s shoes, brushes, pots and bowls…it was definitely moving. It was also weird to see Auschwitz now, as a museum and tourist destination, with really nice landscaping and people taking group photos and “toursity” shots.

Birkenau is still set up like how I imagined Auschwitz to look. Cabins everywhere, fences, the railway lines going through the center. It’s huge. The extermination chambers were destroyed, but the piles of rubble are still there. The whole day was intense and moving.

After we got back to Krakow, we had another low-key evening, cooked some food, then went up a mound overlooking the city near where Pawel and Kasia live and had a bottle of wine. It was nice, and the view was great.

Now (at the time of writing this) Anatole and I are sitting on the train on our way to Warsaw, which will be our last stop together before we head our separate ways. It was excellent traveling with someone from home for a few days. It made me realize how long I’ve actually been gone and how long it’s been since I’ve seen anyone in real life. It was similar when Nicole came to visit in December and when Caitlyn came in January; I thought it was a long time then but now this is 6 months later. I’m having a great time, but it will be great to see everyone again.

Okay, that’s all for now! I’ll update again when I can.

Berlin and the Worst Train Ever

After I updated the blog last in Berlin, Anatoe and I did end up going to check out Kunsthaus Tacheles. It was a pretty cool space with tons of graffiti all over, several bars and stands serving drinks and food, cafés, galleries, a cinema, a DJ spinning out back on one of the little stages…in short everything one could want at a gathering place for alternative culture. We hung out there for a bit and watched a guy juggle fire for a little while but there weren’t many people so we decided to go to a hookah bar and just chill out for a little while there. It was a low-key evening, but that’s exactly what we needed as you’ll soon see.

The next day we left Mary’s flat (by the way, did I mention that her flat is incredible and has an amazing view of the city?) with all our stuff and walked down to Checkpoint Charlie. The museum was a bit expensive but definitely worth it. There was so much to see and take in, although it did repeat itself from time to time. I was really excited to see the models of the wall built by the woman who married the Eiffel Tower (Erika Eiffel – if you haven’t watched that documentary you should because it is really interesting. It’s about women who only fall in love with inanimate objects like walls, buildings, archery bows, and carnival rides, among other things). After the museum we went to check out parts of the Berlin Wall that were still in tact, which was definitely an interesting thing to see. On the streets in Berlin there are bricks in the ground to mark out where the wall used to stand, so after we saw the part still standing near the Checkpoint Charlie museum we decided to follow the bricks for a little while to see other pieces. We had the intention of walking down to the river, but with our stuff it was a little much.

On our way to the museum we ran into Étienne, a guy I know from Canada who was studying in Poitiers this past semester, on the street. That was cool and unexpected, so we met up with him after walking around for a little while and hung out by the Gendarmenmarkt until we had to part ways. We then made our way to the worst train I’ve ever been on in my life.

When we got to the train station we saw a massive group of Irish students hanging around near our platform. We were hoping that not all of them were going on our train, but luck was not on our side. There were actually 100 of them and most of them did not have a reservation (I found this out from one of the girls who was in our compartment on the train) and the train was already completely booked. It was so uncomfortably hot on that train and the number of people just made it worse. Most of them were loud and obnoxious and would walk back and forth in front of our compartment all the time. Then they started drinking, which didn’t make things any better. It was going to be a long twelve hours. After a while I realized that with the noise and the heat there was no possible way for me to get to sleep. (And I thought Americans had the reputation of being the obnoxious travelers.) I did eventually start to doze off, but whenever I did something woke me up. It wouldn’t have been so bad, not being able to sleep, if I was able to move around the cars a bit and stretch my legs. Well, since there were so many Irish students without reservations they resorted to sleeping two-by-two down the corridors making it impossible to move. Now, you might think that’s the worst of it, but no. At around 3:00am, when a lot of the people had fallen asleep or packed into other cars with their friends to try and sleep on the floor, the train shook so violently that I instinctively yelled “JESUS CHRIST” (probably prompting a glance from the nun in my compartment) and I thought we derailed. No joke, I thought we derailed, and so did most of the other people, because what else would you think happened when your train shakes super violently and then stops moving. At that point everyone piled into the corridor and started trying to guess what happened. I started talking to an Irish girl who was not only woken up by the shaking, but by a suitcase falling and hitting her on the nose. It was not a fun situation, and after that no one was really sleeping, so the noise started back up again. We were stationary for about a half an hour or so before we finally started moving, which I guess proves we didn’t derail. I have no idea what happened. But we made into Krakow alive and were greeted by beautiful weather!

Check out the next update to find out about our adventures in Krakow.

28 June 2009

Praha and Berlin

Man it’s been a lot longer since I updated than I intended it to be, so sorry if this is a little bit long. I’ve been having a great time, which is why I haven’t really written much. So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to as of late:

While Prague was rainy the whole time I was there, I ended up having a good time. It’s a really nice city with a lot to see. My second day there I walked around for probably 10 hours just checking everything out. I went to the Communism Museum, which is in the same building as a casino and a McDonalds (go capitalism?). It was small, but interesting and had some cool stuff on display. Their advertisements were the best though. There were vicious looking matroyska dolls on one of them and the other, my personal favorite, had a picture of a man who looked like Stalin next to two women that looked like porn stars and it said “Get intimate with Communism.” I think I have a photo of it, if I do I’ll post it. But besides the museum, I saw the Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj) in the Old Town Square. Every hour, the doors at the top of the clock open up and there’s a procession of figures. It was impressive. I also walked down to Charles Bridge (Karlův most), which is lined with statues. The bridge was partially under reconstruction, but it was nice nonetheless. I walked around the Jewish area for a bit, through the New Town area, and all over the place. I walked along the river and eventually came to the Frank Gehry building there called The Dancing House (Tančící dům). It was wavy and kind of cool in that Gehry fashion, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. I also found this excellent little vegetarian restaurant and had some delicious and cheap food there. When I was done I went into the Old Town Square to write in my journal while waiting for Gloria from Austria to get in. While I was writing, this guy came up and sat down on the bench next time and kind of stared for a little while before asking me “Are you student?” Turns out he was a drunk Slovakian guy who just wanted to practice his English, but he hadn’t really spoken it since leaving high school. I felt bad because I couldn’t understand everything he was trying to say, but in the end it was an amusing experience and it’s always nice to meet random people while traveling on your own.

The next day Gloria and went to the Kafka museum. I’ve never read any Kafka, but Hannah said the museum was good and I should check it out. She was right – the museum was really cool. I definitely want to read some Kafka at some point. Also, random, but outside the museum there’s a hilarious fountain that is two male statues peeing. I chuckled when I saw it.
After the museum, Gloria and I went to the castle area. We walked around it, but didn’t pay to go in or anything. We wandered around for a while by the castle, then through the rest of the city. A little bit later we went to that vegetarian restaurant that I had gone to the night before. It’s so good! After that we had some fun by going to two bars.

The last day in Prague I slept in a bit, and it was storming or just raining all day so I spent it inside getting things sorted out for my upcoming adventures. I almost missed my train to Berlin because I was at the wrong station, but I made it on time and it ended up being about 40 minutes late. It arrived eventually, which brings me to where I am now – Berlin!

I left the train station and walked past the Reichstag. Then I walked along the river towards the Museuminsel, an “island” with several museums. That was near where I was meeting Mary, a friend of mine from Middlebury who is letting me stay at her place here in Berlin! After we met up, we dropped off my stuff and went to a vegan restaurant with one of her German friends named Jerome. I had a delicious tofu burger and some really tasty fries, and being in Germany I had to try a dark hefeweizen. All of it was good. After dinner we met up with one of Mary’s other friends named Amanda who was at a bar with a guy named Russell. Turned out to be a gay bar having a Michael Jackson night, but it was good fun. Mary didn’t realize it was a gay bar at first, which is pretty amusing, and it was my first time going to one.

The next day we met up with Anatole and walked around for a little while. She showed us the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), and tons of other cool buildings. But the main attraction of the day was the Gay Pride parade. It was huge! I had never been to a pride parade before, and I’m glad I went to this one. There were so many people there and the whole thing was supported by the city, political parties (even their “conservative” party), and plenty of other organizations. There were lots of costumes, drag, music, and just people in general. My camera batteries had died so I didn’t get any pictures of anything that day, but it was a good day.
That evening we went to Wabe for a concert. Three bands played – The Folks, The Wake Woods, and The Blue Van. The first two were pretty good, the last one I wasn’t really feeling. We met up with a guy that Mary knows and some of his friends there. It was a good night.

Today Mary showed Anatole and I the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge). There was an exhibition on the history of the synagogue and Judaism. There was pretty intense security going in – a couple of cops outside, and then airport-type security measures going in. We then walked around for a little bit and got some falafel, but came back early so Mary could do some work. I’m just hanging out right now waiting for Anatole to get here so we can go out somewhere. Hannah mentioned this place that looks cool called Kunsthaus Tacheles, so I think we’re going to go there. But who knows! Tomorrow we’re going to go to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall, and then Anatole and I will be off on an overnight train to Krakow. I’ll update again when I can!

22 June 2009

Catching up: Wien, Scotland, and Praha

Wow, it has been way too long since I last updated this. I had every intention to, and the steady internet access to be able to update while I was in Scotland, but I was busy with other things (which should be an indicator to you, dear reader, that I must’ve been having a pretty awesome time). So I’m going to try and update thoroughly but quickly so you don’t have to read too much. But trust me, I could go on for a while.

At any rate, Vienna was cool. Unfortunately all my photos from Vienna were accidentally deleted. I don’t know how it happened, and there weren’t many, but it sucks. Anyways, there wasn’t an overabundance of things to see and do, but I made do with my short time. I was exhausted when I got in, but I met Gloria, Bianca, and Sarah, three Austrian girls, right away. We all hung out, and a guitar was being passed around while we had some coffee. Gloria ended up being like my guide for the city for my time there (thank you!). She showed me around to all the major sites and was an excellent host. We checked out the MuseumQuartier where they have some pretty awesome yellow chairs and several museums and wandered around the city. We saw the Naschmarkt, which is a huge outdoor market that has everything in it. I saw plenty of churches and cool buildings as well, and wandered my way past university buildings and through the Heldenplatz and botanical gardens and pedestrian areas. One of the days I was there was a holiday, apparently (I don’t know which one), so a lot of things were closed. But I saw quite a bit. And I went to the KunstHaus Museum, which had a pretty cool Picasso exhibit going on. The building itself was pretty cool – lots of colors and the floors were all wavy. We followed that up with a walk by the Danube to see the graffiti on the walls (where it’s legal to do it!). There were some pretty cool things there. Overall I had a good time in Wien, but because of the people I met there. Oh! And Gloria gave me two dread ties, so now I have some color in my hair too. Woo!

Also, it’s tough to be super excited about Vienna when I was looking forward to my extended stay in Scotland. I had another late night for my last night in Wien, but luckily my flight wasn’t until the afternoon. My second flight, from London to Edinburgh, was delayed by 40 minutes, but no big deal; it still beats the 14 hour bus ride I was originally going to take. Hannah met me at the airport all decked out in neon which was amazing. I was super happy to have finally arrived! We dropped my stuff off at hers and then went up the hill by her house to get a view of the city at night before going off to meet some of her friends. The next day we headed off for Midge Fest, which was a lot of fun. Think camping and lots of music in the idyllic Scottish countryside. And Caroline came up for it as well, so it was like a little reunion for the Three ‘Kateers. ☺ . I met some more people, but it downpoured for a good amount of the weekend. I was sleeping in the car and the rain was strong enough to wake me up.
Apart from that Hannah showed me around Edinburgh, showing me the sites and taking me around to her friends’ places and introducing me to people and all that good jazz. I can see now why she talks so fondly of Scotland (and in particular Edinburgh) – it’s so nice! Even when it was rainy it was still nice, but maybe that’s because I think it’s always raining in Scotland. We went to the Dean Gallery and on a ghost tour of Greyfrair’s Kirkyard and the Covenanter’s prison. We walked up several hills, went to a quarry, and one night made our way up Arthur’s Seat. Such an awesome view from up there! Speaking of awesome views, we also went up The Scott Monument and had a view of the city during the day, which was also pretty cool. Oh yeah, and I did a lot of catching up on sleep!
We also went to Glasgow for a night and stayed with Hannah’s friend Nikki, who I met in Amsterdam in October. We hung out at hers the night we got there and then the next day I was introduced to a British TV series about a crime solving magician’s helper called Jonathan Creek before we headed out for lunch at an awesome vegan restaurant called “The 78.” We all got chickpea burgers. They were amazing! After that we kicked around the Kelvingrove Museum before heading back to Edinburgh.
Basically I had an AMAZING time and I’m so happy that I could go. I can’t believe that my 10 days there have already flown by…

… which brings me to where I currently am now – Praha! (Prague!) I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep last night and after having to say goodbye to Hannah knowing that I won’t see her for a year I wasn’t much in the mood to do anything when I arrived. I checked into my hostel, which is pretty dismal. I wasn’t sure if it was actually open or not until I walked right up into it. But hey, for less than $9 and free wifi, I can’t complain. Besides, it seems pretty secure and not dirty, just a bit run down and overgrown from the outside. I dropped off my stuff then went out exploring for a few hours before the rain started. I haven’t even looked at my map that I picked up today, but I wandered around by some museums near the train station and in the city center. I don’t know if I’m going to actually do anything tonight or if I’m just going to wait until tomorrow. But so far Prague looks great. It’s a pretty city with quite a few supermarkets (crazy what you notice right way, eh?) and I did manage to stumble upon an outdoor market that had plenty of puppets. Tomorrow will be a better day though! I’m going to go exploring and maybe the Kafka museum. (Well, I’m going to the Kafka museum one of the days that I’m here at any rate).

So, that’s all for now. I hope that was a good overview of what I’ve been up to. I’m going to go make some dinner and have an easy/early night. Until next time…

10 June 2009

Budapest and Bratislava


On my second full day in Budapest I did a lot more wandering around again. I like doing that – just getting to a city and wandering around the streets for a few days. I walked up to the Citadel on the Buda side of the river, which had some pretty epic views of the city. You could see everything! It was a long walk, but totally worth it. I had a late start to my day, so that was in early afternoon. After the citadel I wandered through the Central Market in Pest, which has plenty of vegetables, fruits, meats, alcohol (hey, it’s Hungary, where can’t you buy alcohol?), and souvenirs and such. I didn’t get any that day, but the cherries are so delicious and cheap! After that I made my way to the other side of Pest and checked out the Parliament building. It was hot, and I was a bit tired, so I hung out for a bit before making my way to the baths. I had 2 hours to relax in the different temperature pools and saunas before they closed. It was a bit lonely being there on my own, but it was relaxing. And I had my first experience in a sauna. Let me tell you, it’s a weird feeling when the metal on your piercings actually heat up and are hot to the touch.
I didn’t do anything that night, kept it low key because I had to get up early the next day to go to Bratislava!

I got into Bratislava around noon yesterday, and after dropping my stuff off I met and hung out with Vojtech and Ian. Ian is an American traveler and Vojtech is Slovakian. He had to work, so Ian and I wandered around the city a bit and saw everything in just a couple of hours. The castle was unfortunately undergoing a lot of construction, so that was closed, but the views from up there were awesome. After seeing the sites we wandered to the park and hung out there for a bit, then walked through a nearby cemetery that had some awesome headstones. Vojtech got off work at 1am, so we met up with him and went to an after party for a Marilyn Manson concert in a club in a nuclear fallout shelter. When we got there, R.E.M. was playing, which I found hilarious for a Marilyn Manson after party. After that we hung out until well after sunrise. (The sun was already rising at 4:30am.) OH, I almost forgot! I was super excited yesterday when I was able to find peanut butter for a reasonable price. I almost finished the whole jar yesterday. Woo! That is definitely one thing I miss from the states, and as soon as I get back I’m going to go to Hannahford and buy a giant, family sized jar of chunky peanut butter.

Now I have about an hour and a half until my train to Wien (Vienna). Luckily the train is only an hour long. I’ll update again when I can!

07 June 2009

Budapest!

At the time of writing this (6:00pm-ish on 7 June), I’ve been in Budapest for about a full day now. My train was half an hour later getting in, and I had to go through at least 9 passport controls. I had a little snag leaving Slovenia, or what seemed like it was going to be a snag, but that blew over pretty easily. The customs guy asked me why I didn’t have an entrance stamp, and I told him that I took a train from Italy and slept the whole way and no one woke me for a passport check. He looked at me slightly skeptically and then radioed his post (I’m assuming) to get a further check on me. While that was going on the police, who were also checking passports, crowded around my compartment while he waited for my information to come back to him. Luckily that blew over, but it was a little intense for before 7am. After that the train ride seemed endless, and every time I was getting to sleep it seemed like someone else was coming to check my passport and/or my tickets. A bit stressful, but I made it to Budapest in one piece without any real problems!

When I got in the weather was a lot nicer than when I left Ljubljana. It was sunny and a comfortable temperature and I didn’t have much trouble finding my way to where I’m staying. I’m fairly close to central Pest, on the left side of the Danube. After I got myself situated I decided to head on out and explore. I wasn’t gone more than 30 seconds before I heard an American girl who lives on the street I’m staying on trying to get my attention. I was wearing my Middlebury Quidditch t-shirt, so she wanted to know if I went there and if I knew someone. Turns out she knows someone who I have hung out with on several occasions. What a small world! So she asked me if I had any plans which I didn’t, aside from going to check out a supposedly vegan friendly restaurant that my Lonely Planet: Europe on a Shoestring suggested and I can do another time, and she invited me to come to an Indian restaurant with her and her friends. Another small world instance – one of her friends goes to Bard and knows the bridge on Buckwheat Road that we jump off of in summer! When we got to the restaurant there was an Italian girl who just graduated from Bard. So I ended up hanging out with the girl I met on the street, her flat mate- a guy from California- and the girl from Bard after dinner at this bar/café/performance place that was pretty chill. It’s weird going into places and seeing smoking still allowed inside! There was a concert going on downstairs that I caught a bit of. It was okay, the bassist and the drummer were really good, but the guitarist was nothing special. He did make some pretty epic guitar faces though. After that we attempted to go to a club, but it was mobbed and we weren’t sure if you had to pay that night, and I was tired after getting up for a 6:15am train. So since it was so crazy I just went back to get some sleep.

This morning I got up and left around 10:30 to start exploring. I walked past St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szt. Istaván Bazilika) through the main pedestrian area of Pest to the Danube (Duna) and then up along the Danube to the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd). My camera batteries had died, so I didn’t get any photos on this part of my day. The inside of the Basilica was pretty impressive. It was huge. I crossed the bridge and made my way up to Fisherman’s Bastian (Halászbástya), which had some pretty epic views and was just all around cool to be at. I decided I needed to take some photos so I bought some batteries at the souvenir shop there. Unfortunately almost right after that it started to downpour. It was nice when I left so I had no jacket and no sweatshirt with me. I made my way to Buda Castle (Budai Vár). There were some museums there, but nothing that I particularly wanted to go in, so I just chilled out under the archways until the rain cleared, or at least let up. Once it did let up a bit I made my way back towards Pest so I could grab my sweatshirt and figure out the rest of my day. I was originally going to go to the Baths with Kaye and Brandon, two of the people I met last night, but because of the weather we scratched that idea. I decided to go to the House of Terror (Terror Háza) instead, which is a museum about the dual occupation of Hungary by the Nazis and the Soviet Union. The rain had let up, so I ventured back out, but that wasn’t to last. Luckily the House of Terror wasn’t too far, and it was pretty cool. Best of all, it was free! I was expecting to pay 750 Ft (about $3.75/2,60€) for a student ticket, but hey, I’m not complaining! When I got out it was still raining, which brings me up to the present. I’m just chilling out now, but I’m probably going to meet up with some people this evening.

I know this is getting long and I’ve probably lost some of you in all of it, but one last thing. It’s so weird hearing prices in the 100s and 1000s, but it does make me feel like a baller to be carrying some currency in the thousands, with a 10,000 Ft bill. The exchange rate right now is about $1 / 1€ = 200 / 286 Ft, so it’s not that much, but yeah. I’m straight gangsta’!

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll update again when I can!

05 June 2009

Venice and Ljubljana

My last night and day in Venice turned out to be better than I expected! At first I wasn’t too keen on the hostel/campground I was staying at because I didn’t meet anyone. Well that changed almost right after I finished updating my blog last time. I met a bunch of Americans, an Australian guy, two Norwegians, and a couple of other random people. We all hung out at the hostel bar and talked about everything from politics to stereotypes to n’importe quoi. The Norwegian guys were hilarious and all over the place and ended up throwing each other in the pool. Overall it was an excellent night.

The next day in the city it was pretty hot and I had to carry my backpack around all day, from about noon until 9:30ish. That wasn’t pleasant, but I met up with Derek, an Australian I met in Rome. I saw more of the city that I hadn’t seen during the previous day, as well as the stuff I had already seen. I want into Basilica di San Marco because it was free. It was so massive! But unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside. The floor was all wavy from centuries of tidal movements underneath it. It was definitely impressive.
Also, check out this beauty right here: That’s right, a diamond-encrusted skull. How ostentatiously badass is that?


Anyways, I got in Ljubljana in the middle of the night. When I woke up a little bit later I wandered all over the city. The castle is so cool, but unfortunately the tower was closed. It’s such a pretty city; small, but pretty. And there’s a Tivoli Park! (I lov it!) I mostly just wandered around and took pictures during the day, going from one side to the other. There are several different types of buildings, from Soviet-influenced bloc style housing, to art nouveau style, to just massive structures. And there are a lot of green spaces in the city, which is nice. The temperature here was a little bit colder than in Venice, but that was a relief.

I went into one museum, the Narodni Galeriji (National Gallery), because there was a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition going on! His work is so great, and I was happy to see that for the most part these photos were different from the ones in Florence. His photos are just incredible! And, speaking of photos, I met a Slovenian girl who took me to another photography exhibition that her friend had some photos in. It was free, which is always great, and there was free wine and snacks, which is even better! After that we made our way to Metelkova for a concert. Metelkova is an autonomous area in the city that was taken over by squatters in 1993. It used to be used by the Yugoslav National Army. Now it’s a really cool place for alternative culture and concerts, and there is even a hostel there. The concert was decent, nothing to special, but it was cool to go to a concert since I haven’t been to one in a little while. The bands played some heavy post-rock type music. And I was able to meet a bunch of Slovenians.

Today the weather hasn’t been too great, which is why I’m updating this blog in the middle of the day. I’m not sure what I’m going to end up doing, if anything. It seems like whenever I step out the rain just starts to come down more. I did manage to go back to Metelkova to take some photos of the graffiti and buildings and things. I like it there.

That’s all for now. I head to Budapest, Hungary early tomorrow morning. I have a stop over in Zagreb, Croatia as well, but it’s only an hour so I don’t think I’ll be able to see much if anything there. I’ll update again when I can!

02 June 2009

Venezia


So Venice. What can I say? It’s true that walking down the pedestrian streets and along the canals is like stepping into a photograph. Every other street (if not every street), you want to stop and take a photo (Mom would be going nuts, she’d come home with thousands!). It is a beautiful city, but it is an expensive one. Well, eating and shopping and that kind of stuff are expensive. Apparently, the museums aren’t too bad, but they add up because there are a lot of them. And the lines are long. So today I didn’t go in any of them. I spent a good 4.5 – 5 hours wandering around the streets. The shuttle from the campground brought me to the main bus terminal, and from there I just picked a direction and started walking. This was just after 9am. It was a bit chilly, but if today is an indicator then I can say mornings in Venice are pleasant. So I set out by myself, some music playing on my headset, without looking at the map first. I came across a bunch of churches that I don’t know the names of, but unfortunately I didn’t go into a majority of them because you have to pay. Forget that, I’m not paying to go into churches. But the architecture was beautiful, and the few churches I did go in had some excellent paintings. The streets are narrow and some are serpentine, or you take random alleys between streets that you may not take in other cities. Since there are no cars, it’s safe to assume that even the tiniest of alleys is okay to walk down. I walked from one end to the other. And snaked about in between. I saw gondolas, parks, canals, bridges, churches, and other cool buildings. The Piazza San Marco is incredible (the photo above is of the Basilica there). I may try to go into the gallery there tomorrow. I also some the hilarious site of a young, well dressed Italian guy who couldn’t be much older than myself walking around smoking a pipe. What class. I did go into a free exhibition on Vivaldi and violins. That was pretty interesting.
It was also pretty hot today, so after almost 5 hours of walking I decided to come back to the hostel and sit by the pool. I didn’t go in at all, but I chilled out and read my book (currently reading Punk Fiction, a collection of punk-inspired short stories that Hannah lent me. I finished The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera the other day, that was an excellent read) and had a low key afternoon. I was going to go back into town in the evening, but the shuttle is infrequent, and while the buses aren’t expensive I don’t know if you can actually get the bus tickets on the bus or if you have to buy them ahead of time, and I didn’t have any on me. At any rate, I’m going to be in the city in the evening tomorrow before my night train to Ljubljana in Slovenia.

Otherwise, Venice is okay. My overall impression is that it’s very pretty, but I don’t think I could spend more time here than I already am. My campground/hostel is nice, but it’s tough to meet people. I met a nice Australian guy tonight and we talked for a bit, but otherwise I haven’t met anyone. But yeah, that’s all I have to say for right now. I’ll update again in Ljubljana!

01 June 2009

Firenze



I arrived in Firenze (Florence) in the afternoon on the 30th of May. Keith, a friend of mine from Middlebury, met me at the station and walking between the station and his apartment near the center of the city I already knew it would be a city I would like. To start, it was way less crowded than Roma. The weather was nice on my arrival, which is always a plus. Keith’s apartment was great, and he played my tour guide for the brief time I was there, so thank you Keith for everything!

That first afternoon we wondered around a bit. Keith took me up to a spot with an astounding view of the city. All I could think was “WOW! This place is so pretty!” Afterwards checking out the view, we walked back down the hill and after some bagels at an excellent little place we crossed the Arno on Ponte Vecchio and started going meandering the city. Sculptures, or replicas of famous structures, dotted the cityscape. The architecture was beautiful. The Duomo was one of the first massive structures that I saw. I never ended up going into it or up it because of lines, but the outside was impressive, as was the outside, and in particular the doors, of the battistero. But this afternoon had something special in store. It’s impossible to go to Florence and not have Michelangelo’s David be on your list of things to see. We made our way to the Galleria dell’Accademia. After standing in line (for the shortest amount of time of any of the lines I waited on in Florence) we made our way in, but we didn’t head straight for David. I’m glad we didn’t. There was an incredible exhibition that only opened a couple days before my arrival showcasing the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. His work was so unbelievably incredible, I recommend checking it out. There’s no way I could put into words how awesome it was. Then the David. I’ve seen pictures, and heard about it from people who have seen it, but nothing compares to seeing it up close and personal. All the detail, the way the marble looks like it’s skin covering bones, muscle, veins…I’m still reeling from it as I think about it now. The rest of the museum was also great, but it’s hard to get excited about religious art and other sculptures when the Accademia has work by Michelangelo. Just incredible. We also saw a street performing mime that was pretty hilarious. He would just mess with or intimidate people as they went by. He sent an Asian tour group running, played Patty-Cake with some random girl, and was just hilarious overall. I’ll see if I can upload one of the short videos I took of him.

The following day we were ambitious and went to two museums. It was raining for most of the day, so that seemed like the best idea. (Yes, two. But I was in Florence and where’s better place to see amazing art?) We first tried to get into the Uffizi, but the line was so long that we made reservations for later that afternoon and made our way next door to the Signoria. Both were incredible, but by the end of a long day of museum visiting it’s tough to keep your interest peeked. At the Signoria there was another incredible map room (woo!) and plenty of gold all around. Keith was telling me that because the paintings on the ceiling of the main entrance room were so heavy they had to have a special mechanism to keep it from falling. It was tough to take in everything, but both museums were totally worth the visits. I saw all the famous works in both, with the Uffizi boasting Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as well as works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael (woo, ninja turtles!), among others. Unfortunately a lot of work was not on display because they were being restored, but it was still a memorable and amazing visit. It also means that I don’t have many photos of Florence because I spent a lot of time in the museums.

Today I got into Venezia (Venice) to much nicer weather (it was raining when I left Florence this afternoon), and I briefly saw a miniscule amount of the city while looking for my bus. I ended up on the wrong one, but managed to navigate my way to the campsite/hostel without any real problems (and without a map, go me!). AND, despite having reserved a 3 bed room without a bathroom, I was given a 3 bed with one and I think I have it to myself. Cool.
It was well after 6 pm by the time I got here, so I think I’m just going to chill out for this evening, take care of some stuff I need to get done, and then get up early and explore the city tomorrow during the day and night. Being in this campground makes me feel like I’m on one of the family trips with the camper (aww, look at that, I think of my family sometimes ;-) ). So that’s all for now. I’ll updated again when I can! (Maybe tomorrow, depending on how much of this pay wifi I use up tonight.)

29 May 2009

Roma At Night And Another Full Day

I’m having a great time in Roma. Last night at dinner I ended up meeting and hanging out with 5 other people and we decided to take a stroll around the city at night. We went to the Trevi Fountain to see it lit up, and not only were the fountains actually on but I was able to make my way up to it to throw in a coin. Woo! We wondered around to the Colosseo as well, and just kind of strolled along as we tried to make our way into a park to get a view of the entire city at night. Unfortunately the gates were all locked and there was no way to get in, but the stars and the city were beautiful.

Today I got up early again (whoa! Two days in a row!? Save the shock, but that’s probably going to be the trend) and first thing I did was go down to the Colosseo with one of the guys I met and hung out with last night, Dan. We wondered through the Colosseo then went to the Palatino and the Foro Romano. They were both huge, but after looking at ruins all day it got to be a bit repetitive. Still excellent though. Oh, and I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to fight a lion while I was in the Colosseo. Too bad there weren’t any. (Also, you know what's lame? They wouldn't give me a student discount! I showed my student ID and my France residency permit, but apparently you have to be an EU citizen. Boooooo!)

After that we wondered around some more and ended up at the Pantheon. That was pretty cool. I especially liked Raphael’s tomb. After that it was a quick jaunt up to Piazza Navona where there were tons of artists sitting about selling their work. The central fountain is incredible, and is representative of the four major rivers in the ancient world. From there we went to the Campo de Fiori where there is a big open-air market. I tried some dried limes that were a bit tough to eat but still tasty. And, because Mom told me I needed to try it, I bought a tiny bottle of Lemoncello (also known as Lemoncino) for only 1€. I haven’t given it a try yet, but I’ll let you know how it is! After that we walked to San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains), which is another basilica. This one has Michelangelo’s Moses in it. After spending a little bit of time there, we walked up to Santa Maria Maggiore. So much art and so much gold inside. My jaw literally dropped when I saw one of the side chapels inside it.

That was about all the walking I could do for today. And I feel like I’ve seen everything I wanted to see in Rome, so I came back to the hostel and chilled out, which brings me up to the present time. I don’t know what my plans are for tonight, but I leave at 10:30am tomorrow for Firenze (Florence)!

Ciao, Roma!

28 May 2009

Buongiorno Roma!

Hooray for safely arriving in Rome! I didn’t sleep (well, maybe an hour) the night before leaving; I was like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I was just way too excited. I left Poitiers at 6:30am, got to the airport in Paris for my 11:40am flight, and I was in the center of Rome by 2:30. I was exhausted but I knew I must see some things, so I decided to start to wander in a direction and see what I came upon. I walked a little bit past the train station (my hostel is close to it) and it wasn’t long before I came upon a basilica – Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli. The outside wasn’t much too look at, but I decided to go in and boy was I glad to have done that. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside, but trust me when I say it was ornate. And wide open. AND there weren’t a lot of people inside (which is an exception to the rule in this city). And to top it all off (I just found this out), Michelangelo was one of the architechts. After that I walked down Via Nazionale until I got to the Colonna Traiana, Foro Tralano [and other foros close by (foro is Italian for forum) (man that was a lot of for sounds in a row)], and eventually Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II. I went into the museum there because it was free and while it had a lot of interesting stuff there weren’t many signs I could read. There’s another church pretty much attached to it, which was also very ornate and had lots of gilded items and gold on the ceiling. I can’t remember what it was called. After that I was right next to Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill). There were also tons of archaeological dig areas near by as well. (I say “tons,” but what I mean is there was one pretty large dig and a couple of smaller ones) that I saw a bit of as I made my way down to the Colosseo. I didn’t go into the Colosseo that day, but I plan on going tomorrow. I was impressed. I’ve seen plenty of pictures and learned about it in history classes for as long as I can remember, but there’s something about actually being there that makes it seem more impressive, or I guess real in a sense. After that I made my way back up to the hostel and had some (free!) dinner! I bet you can’t guess what it was! I met some cool people in the hostel and chatted with them for a little while, but I had an early night because I was exhausted.

Oh, and apparently there was a huge soccer final going on. I had no idea, but that would explain why the one night of my hostel was so much more expensive than the others. There was a multitude of people in the streets! Everywhere was jammed pack. And, in a measure to keep people under some control I guess, supermarkets weren’t allowed to sell anything with alcohol in it on the day of the final. I was hoping to celebrate the start of my trip with some Italian wine, but I guess I’ll just have to push that off until tonight or some other time.

Today I got myself up early (7:30am! I know, don’t everyone have a heart attack now) and decided that today would be the day I go to the Vatican and to Basilica S. Pietro. All I can say is WOW! The Basilica was incredible, and it was the first stop for my day. Luckily I got there early enough and I only had to wait online for maybe 2 minutes while going through security. I took some photos, but I’m not positive how they came out. (Oh yeah, speaking of photos, I’ve been here since 2:30 yesterday, it is 5:15 as I’m writing this, and I’ve taken 245ish photos. Yeah, I guess I got a little shutter happy). I don’t like the flash on the marble and I couldn’t be bothered to try and manually focus. I’ll take a look in a moment when I add some photos to this post. But yeah, I was impressed. I did get a talking to by one of the “guard” people inside though...I forgot to take off my bandana. Oops. Oh well, actual security didn’t care at all.
After that I walked to the Vatican Museums. I was surprised – I didn’t have to wait on line for more than 5 minutes, and that was when I was at the student line to pay for my ticket (8⁄€ for students, yay!). There was so much inside! I took some photos inside when I could, but a lot of the time I was herded through quickly, or pushed through quickly, because there were SO MANY PEOPLE inside; lots of tour groups and lots of individuals. But I went into every room that was open (some were closed, and some exhibits in rooms were closed for restoration.) I was surprised to see some pieces by Dalí in the Modern Religious Art section, but I liked them a lot. The Sistine Chapel was of course great, but at the same time I didn’t like my experience there. You get so packed in with all the people there it’s tough to move around, let alone sit and appreciate the work. The official rules are no photos and be silent, but everyone was ignoring both those rules (so it got really loud as well). I managed to take a couple of photos; we’ll see how those turned out, but they’re probably dark. There were too many people bumping into everyone to even attempt to manually focus and set up a shot.

After the Vatican area I walked to the Spanish Steps (Trinità dei Monti), then to the Fontana di Trevi. Both were incredible, but packed. There were so many people at the Trevi Fountain that I didn’t bother to go down and throw a coin in. I guess my return to Rome isn’t ensured. OH NOES! I’m sure it’ll be fine. :P After that I walked back past the Spanish Steps and up to the Villa Borghese with the intention of sitting on the grass and lounging about for a little while (since at this point I had been walking around virtually nonstop for about 6.5 hours), but the grass was dead and there was some sort of equestrian event going on, so I took a quick jaunt through and made my way back to the hostel to sign up for free dinner and rest a bit.

And that’s the end of this (longer than I intended) entry. Who knows what tonight has in store. I’ll update again when I can (woo free wifi in the hostel!), be it in Rome tomorrow or in Florence the day after. And don’t worry, it’ll most likely be a shorter update.

Con amore, da Roma (With love, from Rome. I hope that’s how you say it, I used Google Translator)

*photos to come later* Voila, some photos. I'll post a link to an album when I have time to make one.

23 May 2009

Introduction and Cerbère

Hello Friends, Family, and anyone who got here by accident!

Welcome to my travel blog. As many of you know, I will be traveling around Europe this summer. So I figured I'd do away with the e-mail updating system I had going on and just do a blog. It's the easiest way to keep everyone up to date on what I'm doing.

So here's how it's going to work: I'm going to try and update as often as I can, at least once per city. If I miss an update, I'll make it up as soon as possible. This way you all can stay up with what I'm doing, thinking, where I am...etc. and you can leave me comments!
And that's basically it. Most of my images will be hosted on Facebook, but I'll leave a public link for the photos here.

Without further ado, I'll catch you up with my latest trip:

Cerbère

Hannah and I recently went to Cerbère, which is located on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border. We've went just the two of us, and it was like a honey moon but without all the crap of being married! The bay was beautiful, and the water was freezing (although Hannah disagrees), and the town was tiny but really nice. We took a four kilometer walk to the Spanish border, then walked along some trails in the mountains there to overlook the bay. The lighthouse was nice, but weird. It was like old stone structure meets new metal. The views were incredible, and really that was what the town had to offer. We had a nice hotel on a small road in the Centre Ville area of Cerbère (which was also really tiny).
We hung out on the rock beaches a lot, and did a lot of exploring. It was nice, and the photos are really what you need to get a feel for the place.
OH, there was an abandoned building. It was incredible, and there were some great views from up there.