Friday, June 18, 2010

Bonjourno from Firenze!

We arrived this morning in Florence at around 12 and checked our stuff into the hostel. From there we headed on over to the Ponte Vechio bridge and walked down it looking at everything and seeing a really great view down the river from the center. (Dave and I realized when we were standing in the center of the bridge that it is where Assassins Creed 2 begins, and it looks exactly the same so coool) We then headed down towards the Duomo.

The Duomo... wow. The Duomo was just an amazing building. The details are so unbelievably intricate and the building is just so massive. We had some gelato (of course, again) as we walked around the building looking at it from all sides. Unfortunately some of the building was under refurbishment (like all of Europe this summer apparently) but it was in the back so it was alright. After we circled around we went inside to the Duomo, and Sharon had to put on a little paper cover thing over her shoulders to enter. The inside was alright. It was big with a cool clock and a really cool fresco in the dome, but aside from that it was pretty bland and open inside. But the outside was amazing.

After that we made our way up to the Medici Tombs and the Lorenzo Medici Basilica. It was short and sweet, very cool but very small. But we could not take pictures. Boo. We first went inside the tomb and there were a variety of things. There was the burial site of Donatello, which I did not know was in there and was awesome. Then there was a room that was just full of relics. And by relics, I mean real holy relics that the Medicis had accumulated over time. There were things like scrolls that were written by saints or things, but there were also bones encased in ornate cases of saints and apostles. It was hard to read what was what because there were no English translations, just Italian. There was a big femur of someone, some small bones of a number of people, some sort of relic related to Saint Peter that was to hard to see through the glass, case, and dim lighting, and the finger of Saint Mathew. Literally, it was a gold case thing with an ancient finger in it. Nail and all. It was so cool.

After we left that we went into the Basilica itself. It was alright, there were a lot of paintings and some sculpture in it (again no pictures) including some Donatello works, but the real cool part was in the back. They had the sarcophagus of Lorenzo Medici himself, and you could see into it and see his skeleton lying in it with feet in sandals, body wrapped in a cloak, and crown on his skull. It was totally awesome.

We left there and headed up to the Academia to get on line to see the David (among other works in the museum) We waited a little over an hour and then got in. it was 10€ (instead of 6, stupid summer price hike) but it was totally worth it. The museum is small and you go through seeing some cool things, and then you enter a hallway that just has like 8 - 10 Michelangelo statues lining the walkway. And at first I was like this is insane, there are so many Michelangelo's here but nobody cares about them. But you really always have to end up doing the same thing, because at the end of the path is the David. The gigantic towering masterpiece of Michelangelo, in person. It is impossible to really convey, but after seeing countless pictures of it and the 'exact' (so they say) replica in Florence itself you still just find yourself in total awe in its presence. It was insanely amazing, and I managed to snap 2 pictures without getting caught.

We left there and headed to a market nearby to buy food to cook ourselves a fine Italian meal with real Italian ingredients in the hostel kitchen. We made a dish of pasta (the pasta in the stores just looked hand made, it was s different and delicious), breaded chicken, mushrooms, carrots, a cheesy sauce, bread... it was delicious (but still not quite at the level of our prawn and pasta dish in Liverpool... so hard to top). We cooked it up and ate in the common room with all the people watching the football game between Algeria and England (USA game wasn't on, but both games ended in ties) We met some cool people and had some good conversations, and it was all good fun. Now it is off to sleep for Venice in the morn!

Oh, and we saw Hulk Hogan in Florence. Jen is asleep though so I will be adding that picture later some time, she took the picture not me. I guess I'll leave that as a cliff hanger then!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Naples and the Island of Capri

Ok well short post tonight, because frankly it won't take long to sum up today. We slept in a bit because we did not have anything too crazy to do, had breakfast, and got ourselves ready. We then headed just across the way to the marina where we got ourselves a ferry ticket to the nearby island of Capri. We got on the ferry, and one hour later we arrived in Capri.

Capri is totally beautiful. It is an island with amazing cliffs and is basically a big mountain, and the scenery is gorgeous. We went onto a beach and the water is crystal clear and warm. The beach, however, is weird. The beaches are all stones and no sand, something I had heard about but it is still weird to see. I liked it better personally since I hate the beach because of the sand, and the water was so much clearer without sand floating in it. The picture makes the rocks look really big too, but I took that picture with the camera resting on them. They are like those small round stones, ranging in sizes from pebbles to a bit smaller then an average apricot.

After a little time at the beach we hopped on the funicular and went up the mountain side. We arrived in a little town area on the mountain and spent some time just exploring. The sights we beautiful. The flowers were so healthy and vibrant, the fruit trees full of round colorful fruits, and the views of the water and cliffs breath taking.

I had some fruit I had brought as we walked around, we visited a little park that was on the edge of a cliff, and we took the funicular back down. When we got back down, it was getting into the evening, so we got our tickets back to Naples. We had about half an hour to kill, so I got some gelato and we sat on the beach right by the water until it was time to go.

Back at the hostel, we met a girl named Sophie from Holland who was really cool. We made plans to watch Memento after we ate, (she was eating at the time) and she recommended a place around the corner she had eaten at the night before. So we headed out and got to the place, funny enough named Sophi, and we had yet another delicious Italian meal. Dave in particular had a really awesome seafood dish. We got back into the hostel to find the DVD player was actually broken, so a no go on the movie. So instead we hung out in the common room talking with some really awesome people from our hostel. We hooked up on facebook, naturally, and then finally after a while it is now off to bed. Tomorrow it is north-bound for Florence!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Naples and Pompeii!

Okay so now I am all caught up again, today we arrived in Naples, immediately left, and got back again.

We got into Napoli on the train from Rome at 11:30 (after just narrowly making our train by mere minutes, stupid cab driver) and went strait to the ticket area to get tickets to the Pompeii Ruins. We then checked our bags into the station lockers and headed out to the ruins.

Pompeii is so cool. We got in and explored around, they just have this ruined city that you walk around and explore in. Parts are roped off, and there are ongoing excavations in certain places, but the map (which we didn't get but we saw) is just a city map with street names and that is how you navigate. There are just floating columns, archways that lead to nothing, collapsed buildings, stairwells that just stop, altars, water collecting pools, it was really cool. And then there is a section where they have stacks and shelves upon shelves of artifacts (mostly vases) coated in volcanic ash. And mixed in, are the bodies. Almost each section of artifacts has a human body in the middle, frozen in their last moment of life in volcanic material. There were around 5 people, and one dog in a twisted and painful looking pose. After that we explored more of the city until it was time to find our way back out.

On our way out we got more gelati, yay!

So after leaving Pompeii we got on the train back to Naples again and met a really nice Aussie couple and we talked the whole ride back about traveling, McDonalds prices around the world, etc. We found out that we were both planning on going to the same pizzaria at some point tonight, so we worked together using our maps and phone internet to find the exact location of the restaurant. We thought we might have run into them, but we ended up not going until late so we missed them I suppose. But they were really awesome.

So we got back into Napoli Centrale, got our bags, and hiked the long trek to the hostel. We got there, had to take a really shady looking rickety elevator to the 6th floor of a big building complex and low and behold our hostel, which was up to at least the 7th floor as well, since our room is there. The hostel is Bella Capri and it is a really awesome hostel. Our room mates are from New Orleans and are doing a very similar trip to ours, but not completely in the same order and not quite as extensive, and in 5 weeks instead of almost 6.

We hung out for a while in the hostel (free wifi, woo! Hence my 2 earlier blog posts about Rome finally) and then went out around 8 to find that supposed "World's Best Pizza", at Antiqua Pizzeria de Michelle.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of Naples... this is the dirtiest city I have ever seen. It makes Manhattan look like you can eat off the pavement. There is just trash everywhere. On the streets, sidewalks, huge amounts of garbage. It literally looks like a crop duster dropped loads of garbage across the whole city. I did not get a good picture because I was so surprised as I walked around I didn't think of it until we were almost at the hostel. Maybe tomorrow I can get a better picture, it's insane! Anyway...

We finally found it, a very small place off the main road area, and it had a big crowd out front. We actually had to take a number and wait a while, but luckily they have a fast turn over. We got our seats and ordered our pizza. Now at Pizzeria de Michelle you only have 2 options - Margarrita or Marinara. We all ordered the first, Jen medium and the rest of us Maxi. It was only 5€ for the largest pie, which was about the equivalent to a US medium, but for one person. Pizzas in Italy are cheap and usually personal sized, but man Naples has cheap and good pizza. But it was not the best I ever had, and it was actually a little unpleasant after all was said and done because it was super greasy and thing crust so it kind of fell apart into a soup in the middle and we all felt kinda bad after, but it was very delicious during.

After we ate we made our way back to the hostel, and now it is off to bed (it just hit midnight so, today I guess) the plan is to visit the beautiful near by island of Capri.


Episode II - Revenge of the Romans

Day 2 in Rome... go!

We woke up, went down and had breakfast, went back upstairs and... everyone fell asleep. Heavily. Like they did not move at all for 2 hours. So we sat and rested and I watched some Lost on my iPod (I have been watching it through again from the beginning in my spare time on the trip, like trains and stuff. I'm almost done with season 1.. just finished the episode where Boone falls in the drug plane if anyone is wondering!) After a while people started to stir and awake a bit, so we started to get everyone awake and plan our course of action. Now the sleeping again was kind of everyone's response to the fact that it was raining when we ate breakfast, but at this point it wasn't anymore. So we got up and went finally at 'round 2:30 ish

We went first to the Palantino and the Roman Forum which were totally awesome. We spent a while just meandering through the ruins.It was totally awesome. There are just columns, parts of buildings, and flowers and trees growing all throughout.

Oh and while we were there we saw Sean, hi Sean! (See picture, he is on the right of the picture.)

We next crossed the road and entered the Roman Colosseum. Is it bad then my first impression when walking through the outer hall (and entering the sunlit center through the entrance way) was how much it reminded me of Yankee Stadium? Aside from that, the Colosseum was still amazing don't worry. It was really really cool to actually be in the Roman Colosseum! We walked around for a while, took the lift to the other floor, explored there, and looked around the gladiator artifacts. We got out about 15 minutes before it closed and headed over to the Pantheon. Unfortunately half the outside is covered up with scaffolding and stuff for renovation, but considering it was closed previously I'm glad it was open! We went in and wow... amazing. Everything old in Rome is just so freakin' amazing.

We sat in the Pantheon just looking around for a while. When we finally got up, we walked over to Trevi Fountain, and that was also beautiful. It looks so great in real life, seriously. After spending some time there, and throwing a coin in to ensure our return to Rome, we headed towards the Spanish Steps. On the way we stopped at a place just around the corner from it called Leonardo's Caffe (Yeah, 2 f's... I dunno) And it was real good. I had Spaghetti and it was delicious. I love real itallian food. After we wen't and Jen and I ran up to the top of the Spanish Steps and waved down at Sharon and Dave. We headed back down and then we all started getting bombarded by the flower people (they try to give you flowers as a "gift", wish you good luck, then chase you later and demand money) and we ran away to get Gelato. We went into the first place we saw, an American with his family told us it was super expensive and if you just order without specifying small they give you a crazy one and it cost them 37€ for 4 gelatos, insane! We thanked him and high-tailed it out of there. We found a different Gelato place and got normal priced delicious one. I had strawberry (always), black berry, and peach. So far I think blackberry and strawberry are the best flavors. We took the metro back and that was it, time for one last great nights sleep and one last amazing buffett breakfast and then it is off to Naples in the morning!

Rome-ing Through Italy - Day 1

Here is the post from the first night in Rome, 6/14

We arrived the night before in Rome, got to our hostel, and I have to admit it was a really dingey place. Very sketch. So Sharon and Jen didn't feel at all comfortable, and Dave and I weren't exactly in love with the place either, (it had no room keys, what is with that??) So about 10 minutes later... we were on our way to some new lodgings in a better part of the city.

With that squared away we were off to sleep for a day of exploration in Rome.

The next morning we awoke and headed down to breakfast, which was included. Now this was a breakfast! Buffet of eggs, bacon, ham, potatoes, deli meats, fruit, more fruit, croissants, sugared croissants, chocolate filled crossoints, corn bread, toast, nutella, jams, juices, coffee, etc, etc. So much delicious food! At this point I feel I should admit what our new lodgings were for Rome, but I'm not going to. You can find that answer some other way.

After breakfast we headed out and headed for the Vatican. We got there and had to wait on a pretty lengthy line that wrapped around to the back of the Vatican walls but it moved pretty fast luckily so we were in a little over an hour later. While on the line it was verrry hot and sunny, and about half way through we got some Gelato from a place near by... SO GOOD. I'm officially in love with a food from Europe finally. It is amazing here. (The strawberry is the best, but the others I had were good too. Always go with a fruit flavor.) I'm going to have to control myself to not get some every time I see a place.

Anyway, we got into the Vatican and headed strait to the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum was totally awesome. When we first walked in, the halls just absolutely filled with statues were so cool. Then the paintings, the ceilings, the tapestries, all so amazing. There was even galleries of modern religious art, and my favorite piece was this really big deformed statue of the pope (see picture) he was so crazy looking and had a really funny face. And finally, after going through the whole musuem we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. Wow. Just incredible. You just stand there looking up with your mouth agape. You are not allowed to take pictures and the guards just keep alternating between yelling NO PHOTO and going SHHH real loud the whole time, so that is all you hear as you look... but I managed to sneak a few photos for you, my dedicated readers! (Thumbs up!)

After the Sistine Chapel we exited the museum area and went around back to St. Peter's Basilica. Wow. The place was gigantic. Just so overwhelming. We payed to go up into the dome, first we chickened out and took the elevator to the mid point (it is over 550 stairs total, just 320 if you elevator half way) and we came out in this walk way that circled the base of the dome, high over the alter. It was a sort of dizzying view. After looking around in the dome, we continued up the 320 steps to the top, and stood outside the dome on the top and it was an excellent view of Rome, and a particularly good view of the Vatican. After we left and walked back down, back into the basilica to look around it more. (I just kept thinking of Assassin's Creed, because you can climb around inside the basilica in it... at the top I looked around and imagined a camera swirling around me like I was at a view point. Haha...) On the way back I got some more Gelato. I'm obsessed.

So we left the Basilica, and by this point it was 5pm and everything was closing now or in an hour, so we had no time to go to any other sites today but tomorrow we plan to hit as much as we can. We headed back to the hotel and decided that it was about that time again that we were out of clean clothes so we spent some time washing our clothes. After we finished we looked up where to find this restaurant, Osteria Qui Se Magna, that in the Chicago air port I read about in a magazine article that was listing the 5 best places to eat in Rome, and this place was high up and super cheap, so we want to find it. We looked up the address and directions to it on Sharon's Blackberry and started tracing the directions on our map. It was difficult. So difficult in fact that we decided to go to a different place. We will try this place again tomorrow night, but for now we were going to go to a place Jen used to go to a lot when she was here, she said it's good, so off we went!

We ate at a place called Evo de Tresevere, right off of the Tresevere Square. The food was surprisingly cheap and really good. We got a margarita Pizza, a mushroom pizza, a 4 cheese pasta, Dave's pasta was somethng involving peppers, and we each got some suppli. The food was sooo good. (but your suppli was better Jamie! For seriousness!) After we ate we headed down to the square (I don't have the spelling in front of me but it was like santa maria de tresevere or something like that) And got gelato from Blue Ice. Yay for more gelato! I hope I didn't gelato myself out already... We walked down to the river and kind of meandered through this big fair thing set up along it as we ate our gelato, and then got a taxi back home. Tomorrow, we explore some more!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Little Update

Hello there, just blackberry-ing a little update. We don't have any Internet here in rome, so I didn't want to leave everyone in the dark.

When we last left our heroes, they were about to depart Interlaken for a sort of half day in Zurich before moving on to Rome. Instead, we dexided to nix Zurich and head back to Bern because it was easier and faster to get to Rome that way. So Switzerland realllly got shaved down to basically just Interlaken it seems :(

So we spent basically the whole day after Interlaken travellingm Whatever it was fine.

Yesterday (it is 9am here, soo it should be 3am there. Ok yeah so it is yesterday for you too) We spent the day exploring Rome' which we are doing today again. I'll put Rome posts up when we get to Naples (I hope...)

Bye all!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Interlaken, The Land of Awesomeness

OK, now that I have the last day in Paris and the day in Bern posted below, I'm allll caught up. Today we spent the day in Interlaken, which is a city situated right at the foot of the Swiss Alps and home to all kinds of awesome extreme sports type excursions and adventures for people to do. There is skydiving over the alps, paragliding, zorbing (look it up
if your curious, basically rolling down a mountain in a big hamster ball), river rafting, canyoning, etc etc. Also, there is a Swiss Army knife store every 3 stores. And they have some really, really crazy knives.

We rolled into town early, dropped our stuff off at the hostel, and then went to the nearby tourist information building down the street to find out what we could do today or tomorrow morning and what the prices for everything were. We found that because the weather was a bit iffy (it was drizzling and tomorrows forecast was rain) there were some difficulties. Plus it was obviously too late to book anything that needs booking for today since most of them were already started, so she circled some things we could do today and gave us prices of everything to book tomorrow. Going into this trip I had 2 goals for Interlaken - Zorbing and Sky Diving. Well, Sky Diving was around $350 for the lowest package. No thanks. Zorbing was the price we had looked up previously so we were good to go, but we signed up and they said the weather had kept many people away and nobody else had signed up yet, and it needed a minimum of 4 people for the trip to go through so they took our booking info and said to call back around 8pm to see if it was a go or not.

So we went out and decided that we were going to take the funicular up to this sort of landing that has a scenic view and a restaurant partially up one of the alps and then we would hike some of the trails that departed from that area. We got our ticket and hopped on the funicular, which was totally awesome. If you don't know a funicular is a little tram kind of thing that runs up and down the side of mountains on very steep inclines. It is kind of like the very beginning of a roller coaster, only it goes down the same speed instead of the drop. We didn't get it on the way up, but on the way down we got the front seat and it was really cool because the front is just one giant window and you are going strait down that way.

We got to the landing and it really was a beautiful view. We looked around a bit, found some trails, and some other views. You could see almost a dozen mountains behind Interlaken. Also, there is this big music festival going on today (and yesterday, and tomorrow) in Interlaken fronted by Ramstein and with a bunch of other metal bands, and you could hear it from the mountain which we thought was hilarious. We found the stage, it was even on the other side of the city but it was so loud and the area is so open we could hear it all the way up there (and even to almost the top before it finally faded away)

We then decided to make our way up the trail. We were hiking for a while, it was fun and an easy hike, and after some time we found ourselves hiking strait into a cloud. Clouds like to sit themselves about half way to 2/3rds up the alps and ours had one at the moment apparently. It was really cool. We kept hiking, and after some time Dave decided he wanted to go back and hang out in the restaurant landing, so we said we would meet him soon. We pressed on and got higher as the trail got thinner and steeper. Eventually we got to a point where we were considering turning back to get Dave and go do something else, but we moved forward a little bit more and could see the top of the mountain. So we continued to hike, but after a while realized that the trail was sort of spiraling and zig zaging around the peak, probably because the slope of the rest of the mountain was to steep to go directly up. So we stopped for a minute to decide what to do.

Jen and I decided that things were taking to long, and we would scale the rest of the mountain. (Similar to the last mountain I climbed - about the same slope as the difficult part but this mountain was much more alive with a thick tall grass that we could pull ourselves up on, so it was much easier and more fun) We climbed our way up, and along the way we encountered some small snakes which was cool. We finally pulled ourselves up onto the rocky top of the mountain and stood up to see a really spectacular view from above the mountain. We hadn't realized how much higher up the mountain we were from the restaurant until this moment, and it was very, very high. We looked over one of the other sides and saw that it was a sheer rocky drop off, and decided we better stay away from that side of the peak. We also saw a metal sign facing the opposite side from where we came up, so we walked over to it and saw that it was a really hilarious sign... more so because we came from the side that it was warning about behind it (see picture.) We spent some time up there and then decided to take the trail back down because it would be too dangerous to try and shimmy back down the way we came (and dirty, we don't have enough clothes for that!)

So we took the trail down, which did zig zag and such a lot and got pretty steep. It also had a sort of cliff-like drop off along the side of it for a while which was cool. We met back up with Sharon and then headed back down the mountain. We grabbed Dave and got back on the funicular and had another awesome ride down in it. The funicular ride, by the way, was about 8 minutes. Apparently there is one in Capri which is 15 minutes according to Jen, and I want to take that if we can it would be awesome.

We got back down, checked into the hostel, had yet another room to ourselves, and called the zorbing place as it was 8pm. Nobody else signed up. So no zorbing for us in the morning :(

We spent the rest of the night hanging out and talking to this one girl who worked in the hostel named Karen who was really cool and said it's too bad we were only in Interlaken for one night because she does couch surfing and would have had us over and made us a big meal and she lives right next to a big skiing slope, which we could have gone on. Next time were in Switzerland I guess (I'm sure that won't be too long, right?)

So tomorrow it is off to Zurich, which we will only get to spend a few hours in similar to Madrid, and then off on the long train ride to Rome!! I probably won't get to blog about tomorrow until Rome or so, but that's okay because there probably won't be much to blog about haha.