May 8, 2006

Europe Trip Pt. 3

Okay, I need to speed this up, sorry those other two were so long, I'm just trying to remember everything I can!

Hm. Venice. Venice was beautiful, and our hostel was awesome (an amazingly nice lady who gave us a map and glass figurines, and super nice rooms), but I have two complaints about it. One is that I don't know if it entirely lives up to expectations - I saw a row of about eight gondolas that looked like they were part of some boat ride at Disney World or something, and the gondoliers all look severely bored. (No we didn't go on a gondola ride, they're insanely expensive). The other is that Venice is great, and the canals are pretty...until you actually need to GET somewhere. I got lost in Venice for about two hours. I ended up in random residential areas, random store areas, none of the streets go straight, and even got to one point where I could SEE EXACTLY where I needed to go, with the exception of the eight foot gap of water in between me and the path and no bridges in sight. (I momentarily debated long jumping it - TECHNICALLY I should be able to jump it, eight feet really isnt that far for a long jump, but decided that would probably end in badness). After two hours of wandering and fighting back tears as I had no map and no phrasebook and couldn't find anyone who could tell me where to go that I could understand, I finally made it back. Highly stressed and trying to swallow a lump in my throat, I didn't say anything but instead just sat next to Andrew without a word, unfortunately started crying about two minutes later. Poor Andrew. Ah well.

But yes, despite that two hours of intense frusturation, I did enjoy my time in Venice, mostly our time visiting this island called Ludo that had a beach we picnicked on and just spent time walking around. On to Nice, we took our first night train, which was pretty cool, as the fourth person in our car didn't show up for about an hour so for the first hour or so it was just Mary, Andrew, and me, so had some fun talking/reading/dodging pillows aimed my way by Andrew.

Nice is beautiful. I've come to the conclusion that the Mediterranean is absolutely gorgeous no matter where you see it. (We saw it again in Barcelona and it was just as pretty). Spent some time chilling on the beach and exploring; it really is just amazinlgly beautiful. Best part of Nice was climbing on these huge rocks that went down from a path to the water itself. Spent about two hours randomly clambering over rocks. Unfortunately I chose that day of all days to wear the skirt I had brought in case we ended up going to church on Easter, so scuffed up my shoes a bit and was a bit unladylike at times, but who cares, it was fun. Spent most of that day just chilling out. That night we took a walk down the beach again which was mildly disconcerting - it got to the point where the ocean was black and the sky was black, so when you looked across the beach it looked like the world just...ended, right there. Mary and I spent some time walking towards it and creeping ourselves out. It really was sort of humbling.

The next morning was mildly stressful, to put it lightly. Said goodby to Andrew, went to the train station, then the fun began. We had Eurorail passes and so thought that we could just hop on the train to Paris at the time it said and all would be well. Not so. I went to check with the information guy just to verify the platform we were on, but as soon as I said "we need to go to Paris" (in French!! Hehe that was fun), he said "You need a reservation." (In English, unfortunately, kinda disappointing). "Do I NEED a reservation?" "Yes." Okay. Off to find Mary, wait in line for the ticket window, get up there, tell the guy what we need...

"It's full." "It's what?" "Full." "Can we take a connection somewhere?" "What?" "A connection." "I dont understand. Do you speak any french." "Un peu." "Can you ask it in french." This being the first time I've really had to speak french in about a year without rehearsing what I was going to say in my head first, I fumble a little bit, and in horrible, horrible grammar and accent, come out with, "Oui, j'essaiyais...est-ce qu'ils sont les autres desinations qui nous pouvons" trail off weakly, "...that will eventually get us to Paris?" Smooth. Real smooth. Guy looks at us blankly. We walk off, me kicking myself.

Anyway, we did eventually get to Paris... More later. :)

May 3, 2006

Europe Trip Pt. 2

Okay, day, woke up reasonably early, hopped on a train to Florence. We took a different train than Andrew because we had rail passes and he didnt, so decided to meet up at a specific time at our hostel. Our hostel in Florence was in a much, much better location than Rome, but I didnt' like how it was run as much. For one, we didnt get much of an introduction to the place, as the other people who arrived at the same time didnt have a reservation, and they guy spent most of his time yelling at them for it. (?) Also, the proprietors of the hostel appear to have decided to fill the largest amount of space possible with beds, and therefore there was about a foot of space between each bed and it was extremely difficult to walk anywhere in the room. (Not to mention that Mary and my bed (they gave us a double, for some reason) was right next to the bathroom so EVERY time someone went to the bathroom it bumped our bed. Oy). But it wasn't a horrible place all in all, so no big deal. We settled in and had an amazing lunch at the restaurant next door, then went in front of our steps to meet Andrew.

Or would have, had Andrew been there. He wasn't. We waited on some steps nearby, wandered a bit, came back...still no Andrew. Once it reached about an hour or so after we were supposed to meet, we begin to worry a bit, so decide to find a computer lab and email him in hopes that he might do the same if he had problems finding us. We sit down, email him, and then I just happen to look out the door at the exact moment that Andrew walks past. Weird. Turns out his train had some problems on the way there, and then he had difficulty finding our hostel. But now all is well.

Time to explore Florence. Florence we don't know as much about as Rome, and we're a bit museumed and monumented out for the time being, so we decide to just explore. My absolutely brilliant idea is "Let's walk towards the mountains." Now, if you understand the geography of Florence (which I didn't at first), you will realize that it is a ludicrous idea since you could walk in pretty much any direction and you will STILL be walking "towards the mountains."

Somehow, despite the idiocy of the comment, it still managed to work out really well...we walked towards the mountains we could see, walked along a really pretty river, and then discovered that there were steps leading up the sides of one mountain-like area. Climb the steps to a piazza on the top with an absolutely amazing view. We admire it for awhile, then decide to follow the road upwards and see where it leads. We discover an extremely pretty (but NOT insanely ornate) church, and an even better view, and sit there and watch the sun set over the mountains and over florence. It was absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Next morning we discover why not everyone likes to stay in hostels. The first alarm goes off at 2:30 in the morning. That person gets up to take a shower (in the bahtroom right next to our bed). I check my clock, blanche, roll over and go back to sleep. The next alarm comes seemingly immediately after I obtain sleep again. This continues, in a nice little pattern, until absolutely about 8:30. For some reason every single other person in our hostel room was leaving that day and decided to get up and shower obscenely early. Ah well.

Our own alarms go off the second everyone has vacated the room and stopped waking us up; we shower and then go downstairs to a cafe right next door to grab breakfast on our way to Andrew's hostel, where we agreed to meet. We ask for a pastry and the guy asks if we have tickets. "Tickets?" Is this some strange form of Italian currency? No. Turns out that we're supposed to get free breakfast because we're staying in the next door hostel, and they were supposed to have given us tickets for it but in their hurry at yelling at the random people they forgot. At least I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they forgot. So we go back up to the hostel and obtain these "tickets," go back down. (This is after the hostel owners tell us not to tell any of the other hostel residents about these tickets...interesting...)

The guy asks what we want. I point at a nice looking pastry with a sign in it that says "Dolci" so I assume thats the name of the pastry. "Dolci?" "Which one?" "Dolci." "Point at it." Confused as to why he's not understanding that I want the one that says "dolci," I point, and obtain it and a pretty decent cup of coffee in exchange for my ticket. Later I realize that "dolci" merely means "sweet thing" or something along those lines, and I was basically repeating, over and over again, the equivalent of, "'Cake?' 'Which one?' 'Cake.'" Score one for the oh so intelligent tourist.

We arrive at Andrew's hostel, a bit late, and go to explore Florence some more. We find a pretty cool market that we pass an hour or so in wandering, then Mary and I go off to a food market to get food for another picnic while Andrew goes to move his stuff into our hostel (he's staying in our hostel that night but could only get it that night and not both). The market is really cool. Its a covered market area and has an insane amount of food stalls. We purchase some bread, meat, cheese, another bottle of wine (this time local to Florence) (in case you're wondering, in most places we went wine actually ended up being cheaper than water or at least about the equivalent of the price, strangely enough), and some awesome looking desert pastry things, all for about 3 euros per person.

The other interesting part of the market was that one of the stalls was giving out samples, and I picked up a small piece of bread that had things on it that looked like some form of Bruschetta. As I pick it up, some Italians turn towards us and say something and gesture to the bread. We determine that they're saying "It's hot, be careful" by way of a nice woman who translates when we look extremely confused. Me, thinking they meant hot temperature-wise, bite into it carefully, but I'm just in the midst of saying, "Wow, thats' really good, and its not hot at all," and offering it to Mary (she takes a bite), when my mouth starts burning. Oh. THAT kind of hot. We race around for about five minutes looking desperately for a place that sells something to drink to soothe the crazy burning sensations in our mouths, when I remember I have a bottle of water in my purse. We down it in about three seconds and have to go through quite a bit of bread before feeling okay again. Whoops.

Return, take our picnic to the Boboli Gardens but we're told that we can't take food inside so we eat on this really nice, slanted area on which many people are sunbathing and just generally enjoying the warmth. We enjoy awesome sandwiches and deserts; at some point in time Andrew's orange (which is on a slanted platform) begins to roll. I make a grab for it and fail, realize there's no way I can get it before it runs into something, I decide to wait until it stops to get it as to not run like an idiot after a rolling object down a hill. As I decide this, I glance down and realize that the "thing" that's going to stop the orange, if it continues in the path it is, is a woman's head. I leap to my feet, cue running like an idiot after an object rolling down a hill, but don't manage to catch up to it until it collides with aforesaid head. I say "Sorry! Sorry!" momentarily forgetting the often used "Mi scusi" that I've learned since being in Italy, woman gives me a dirty look, I return with orange, all is well. We turn our attentions to the wine bottle; an hour or so later of key-drilling, we have wine in plastic bottles. Classy.

Go into the Boboli Gardens. They're really pretty, although I'm not sure if they were worth the seven euros to get in, but still, pretty. While we're there Mary runs into her friend Joe who goes to U of I and is studying in Verona (random coincidence #2). They catch up, we stay until we're kicked out of the gardens. After we part ways with Joe we find an internet cafe where I can take time out of our exploring to sit at a foreign keyboard for an hour and do an email interview for ASB board, then we go for an AMAZING dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Next morning we get up early to go see the David, by Michelangelo. Wait in a long line, I go to check exactly how long the line is, and I come back and there's Dan and Meredith (two MORE people from U of I that we met over London weekend). Random coincidence number three. After awhile in line, we get in and see David. I wasn't sure what to expect of it, or if it would be worth it to wake up early and wait in line to see it, but it definitely was; it's a really cool statue. It's insanely lifelike, you can see the veins in his HAND, I can't imagine having the skill to carve something like that, one slip up and it's all over. *shakes head*

More later...I'll cut down on the details at some point, its just nice to have a record.