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Entries in Eurotrip (56)

Thursday
Feb142008

Lessons Learned


Location: Austin, TX, USA

Wow, adjustments are crazy, to say the least. I said I would take some time to do a wrap up of the Eurotrip... a series of lessons learned plus some sharing from my personal journal I carried with me while I was there. This post is officially dedicated to Jonathan Locklin (the king of lessons learned). So... here you go :)

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compaire to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (the quote Jen wrote on the inside cover of my beautiful leather carpe diem journal that never left my side while I was traveling).

Things I have realized:

  • 2.5 months is a REALLY long time (12/17)
  • Even though I feel like I have planned this trip perfectly, I am going to get lost, I am going to miss a plane/train/bus at some point.
  • I am all alone.... literally.... alone
  • Pictures will never by able to capture what my eyes are seeing; goes back to the whole idea of taking pictures with your eyes. "Today I finally overcame, trying to fit the world inside a picture frame, maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm in the mood to lose my way with words." - John Mayer
  • It gets really dark REALLY freaking early up here!! (duh abbey... it's called latitude)
  • The upper deck on busses and trains (and I bet planes too!! note to self - ride on a double decker plane on the top deck) are WAY better
  • Free bathrooms were a really nice thing to have...
  • One good thing about looking like a homeless person is that real homeless people don't bother you for change (12/18)
  • Keeping busy wards off loneliness (12/19)
  • I am moving to Ireland
  • I am an artist
  • Traveling in large groups on trains during the holidays is a BAD idea (12/23)
  • Do NOT ask a foreign taxi driver if 15Euro is enough to get your to your hotel, because that's exactly how much it will cost you when you get there... even if it is only 3 blocks away (12/27)
  • Always know how to get to your hostel from the train station before you get there
  • Prayers of thanks are my favorite. They make me realize how much I really do have to be thankful for (12/29)
  • Everything looks more beautiful when the sun is below 30degrees on the horizon; especially in the morning (and especially in Ireland) (1/2)
  • Before coming back to a country, I should try to learn the language
  • I know WAY more Spanish than I thought I did!! (1/3)
  • Africa is scary... WAY scary (1/14)
  • The stamp in my passport to Tangier was totally worth the scariness and the 50euro
  • I am so lucky to be American
  • Hot chocolate is amazing
  • Beginners luck does run out eventually (1/15)
  • I should always be nice to people who don't speak English and at least try and smile
  • I love Ireland... (1/16)
  • No matter how much I want it to, no person will ever be able to make me feel the way that music does (1/19)
  • I thought that after being in Europe for a month I would learn to be more independent, but I still haven't managed to figure out how (1/24)
  • Everything is more fun w/ masks on (1/26)
  • The sun shines differently in Italy
  • I love Italy
  • Just because Swiss guards with machine guns board your train car and demand your passport, does not necessarily mean you are in trouble (1/28)
  • Not everyone wants something from you (2/1)
  • I am never really alone
  • Nature is amazing
  • Passing judgement is usually pointless, sometimes harmless but always thoughtless
My final "Thing's I've realized" is that "I believe I am addicted to travel." Well, great. One more thing to add to the list of things I like :)

Life Lessons Learned from "Eat Pray Love"
So... Right before I left, Natalie gave me the book "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm telling you, this book was 90% of the reason I got through the first week. She is an incredible writer and I am forever grateful for her solid advice and incredible personal insight.

  • "I was speaking to the creator of the universe as though we'd just been introduced at a cocktail party. But we work with what we know in this life and these are the words I always use at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, 'I've always been a big fan of your work'"
  • "I am the planet's most affectionate life form (something like a cross between a golden retreiver and a barnacle"
  • It's ok to ask for things when you pray... Petition the universe
  • "I'm bad (or rather, lazy) at researching a place before I travel, tending just to show up and see what happens. When you travel this way, what typically happens is that you spend a lot of time standing in the middle of the train station feeling confused." Oh man... so true.
  • "Dio i l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle"
  • "That's the thing about human life - there's no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if nay variables had been changed."
  • I wrote in my journal, "I need to start talking to myself on paper" - to which I wrote in reply to myself... "who are you telling that?" Haha...
  • "We have hands; we can stand on them if we want to. That's our privilege."
  • "When he's really tired, he'll sigh and say, "Maybe 85 today," but when he's feeling more upbeat he'll say, "I think I'm 60 today!" Perhaps this is as good a way of estimating age as any - how old do you feel? What else matters, really?" - I'm 22... no really... I am
  • "Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it."
Things that made me happy today
This was my favorite part of my journal to fill out every day.

Hitting my internal snooze button at 7 AM -- The ocean -- That zebra rock on the beach -- Not carrying my backpack -- Gaelic -- Hanoverians -- Ok fine, all horses -- Freedom -- Silence -- the beauty of what I do not know -- Something as old as golf was born somewhere; it began -- Nerdy boys -- Large scale French paintings -- Music -- Children who speak French -- having an entire train compartment to myself -- Cute English couples -- Sun rises -- Cold sheets -- Crepes -- Ok... desert in general -- naps -- English -- Water -- Africa -- Ponies -- Soraya -- kisses -- Warm showers -- Orange trees -- The windmill on the hill -- galloping, like REALLY galloping -- the beach -- Spanish techno -- wobbly chocolates -- Tuna sandwiches -- my boots -- safety -- Toilet paper -- Religious freedom -- the medeterranean Sea -- Looking at Europe from Africa -- Hibiscus Mint Tea -- Sunrises -- Cafe con leche in a MUG -- Irish accents -- Chinese food -- My cell phone -- bars that stay open until 6 AM -- Old friends -- Being 22 -- Being ALIVE! -- Soccer in the street -- Olives -- Tuscany -- A 4Euro bottle of AMAZING wine -- Gelato -- Being on top of the world -- Dates (and the free meals that accompany them :) -- Parlo inglese? Haha yes, actually I that's all I parlo :) -- Bologna -- the alps -- good friends -- being liked -- the sun -- being on a runway (outside the plane) -- Snow -- The grand canyon -- Free drinks on a plane (a luxury around these parts) -- individual beer taps -- kafers and mackers (FULLER!) -- Safety -- Nutella -- Making smart decisions when inebriated -- my faith (it pretty much rocks - "I'm so jealous, I wish I had that!" -Barry) -- Saying "See you later!" -- Carpe diem -- History -- the trevi fountain at 4 AM -- Moving on -- Mt. Freaking Vesuvius!! -- People who form their own opinions -- the pope -- Sunny days -- Red gatorade -- My friends back home -- John Paul II -- Egyptians -- Preservation of History -- Dates -- Great Italian Food -- Moving to Rome -- Italian kisses -- Staying up all night

I think that's enough for now... I'll possibly post more thoughts as they come to me. For now though, I would like to announce that due to popular demand, I will NOT be stopping my travel, or my blog! I'm not sure it's going to be quite as exotic as Europe, but I will post everytime I take a new trip around these parts. So, get ready!!

XOXO

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Now playing: Nick Drake - One Of These Things First
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Monday
Feb112008

At least people speak my language here...

Location: Austin, TX, USA

Well, as you may or may not know... the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind.

It all started with a nice dinner at a cute little restaurant near our hostel. I wanted to make sure it was an amazing meal as it was my last in Europe and thus dubbed the "Last Supper." We went through 3 courses: bruschetta with mozzarella/prosciutto, cheese & mushroom ravioli with mushroom cream sauce, and finally fried shrimp and calamari. The bruschetta was amazing; the pasta not quite as good as what I had in Florence. The fried seafood, however, was absolutely amazing. I kept shoving pieces in my mouth even though I was completely stuffed. The shrimp was so strange in that they had fried the whole shrimp including head, tail, shell, everything. So when you cut off the head/tail and peeled off the legs and shell, there was only a tiny piece of unbreaded meat. It was the most amazing shrimp I have ever had. We also shared a bottle of nice wine and enjoyed the company of a Welsh couple sitting next to us as well as the AS Roma game on the television behind the bar.

The couple we were talking to said they had overheard us talking about riding scooters all day and asked us if it was like the movie "Roman Holiday." Neither of us had even heard of the movie, so we shook it off and didn't think much else of it. After we finished our dinner, we walked back to the hostel and what else was on the TV in the kitchen but "Roman Holiday." We watched enough of it to get what the Welsh couple was talking about, laughed at the irony of the situation and then prepared ourselves for the long night ahead. We drank a bottle of wine each as well as a Peroni for the road.

We walked down to our now usual Irish pub hang out (which we actually got in today) and made some friends. We met quite a few Brits who were all there for the rugby match as well as some other Americans. In line for the bathroom I meet this nice Italian man who then walks upstairs with me and introduces me to his friend (who had the same name as him) and we all stand and talk for a while. When Scholars starts to close, our two new Italian friends suggest that we come with them and go to this discotech north of town. At this point, it's about 3 AM, we both know we have a LONG night ahead of us and being together, we know we can't get ourselves into too much trouble, so we agree and we all trek out together.

These guys were great. We all piled into this tiny little car and drove around Rome. They would pull up to other cars and ask for directions in broken English, pretending to be tourists just to make fun of the other cars' bad English. They drive us up to this discotech which, surprise, we're not allowed to go into for some reason or another. I convince the bouncer to let me and one of the guys in and we go in for a short time, but the other two weren't so lucky so we decided to just head out.

From here, we picked up 2 girls who were friends of these guys (we were in two cars at this point) and we drove back to one of their apartments. I'm not really sure if it's an Italian thing or if we were just really lucky, but this girls' place was fully loaded with Italian late night. She had tons of drinks and plates of little finger sandwiches and pastries. It was amazing.

After chatting there for a while (and quite a few conversations in Spanish for some reason) we had the boys drive us back to our hostel where we sat and had another beer before they left and we were forced to find something to do from about 6-8 AM. Nate comes up with some silly game that had to do with coins and hockey but I'm not really sure what it was or why we started playing it, but it kept us entertained for a good hour while we chugged free cappuccinos and hot chocolate. Soon enough, it was time for me to go grab my pack and head to the train station. Complete success, I actually managed to stay up all night!! I was absolutely exhausted, still a little drunk, but ready for all of my sleeping ahead of me.

I slept on the first train, went through security at the airport, slept at the gate, boarded the plane and then slept the whole way from Rome to NYC. After a 3 hour layover in NYC (and a 2 hour weather delay on the runway) I took off for LA and spent the entire 5 hours... you guessed it! Sleeping! Unfortunately, the nice snow delay in NYC made it impossible for me to catch my connection in LA so I had to leave security, go to the ticket counter in a different terminal, book a new flight, then return to my original terminal and go to the gate. I had about a 4 hour wait until my flight to Dallas so naturally, I went to the bar and met some nice people (a girl from Brisbane, a guy from Ft. Worth and a guy from San Fransisco) and threw a couple back before preparing for my next nap. I slept on the flight to Dallas and then got some reading done during my 4 hour layover in DFW before FINALLY getting on a flight to Austin. 31 hours after I left, I arrived at the airport in Austin and caught a cab back to the Theta house.

Since I got home, I have officially clocked my first hours as a full time employed college graduate. I have also managed to dump my entire pack on the floor of my bedroom (which I'm sure Emily LOOOVES) and had my first meal back at theta (meatloaf and egg noodles... I'm not sure it could have been MORE American - just what I wanted!! YAY!!).

And this concludes my story!!

I will have one more follow up post in a couple weeks to wrap up the trip, but until then, I hope you have enjoyed following my trip. I can't believe I actually managed to update daily!! Anyways, thanks so much for keeping up with me and I can't wait to start my next journey!!

XOXO

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Now playing: John Mayer - Belief
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Saturday
Feb092008

A visitor? For Me?

Location: Rome, Italy

In continuation of a prior entry, I will now explain the connection between two previously documented events. The first was the Sylvester Stalone sighting, and the second the movie press conference at the Colosseum. So when me and Mayank are driving around last night before Nate got in town, we drive through the Piazza Republica (which is this really cool round-about with a HUGE fountain in the center and a bunch of really pretty buildings surrounding it) and as we are rounding the south western corner, we are stopped by a huge outpouring of people, flashing lights, limos and guys in black suits with big black sunglasses. What is it, you may ask? The Roman premier of the new Rambo movie. Of course, it all makes sense now. Sylvester was in town for the premier and the press conference was in preparation for it. Mayank snapped a few photos and we laughed at the whole idea and then went back to the hostel and got there right as Nate was walking inside.

It was so good to see him, he's basically the oldest friend I had on this trip and so it was basically like I had seen someone from home. We exchanged stories about our travels since we last saw each other and then decided to go out (starting a little late, I know). Mayank joined us and we headed out for our favorite over-crowded Irish pub. Of course, we took a Peroni for the road, but upon arriving (and ditching said Peroni) we were informed that we would not be allowed in. BOOO!! So we admit defeat and head back towards the main street to go find a cafe to sit in. We find a good looking place, only to find out (after the fact) that the pint and a half of beer that we were drinking cost 7 euro (YIKES!!). We moved to a new bar - obvi. This one was much more packed and quite a bit more fun. There was a group of about 10 old Englishmen who were already pretty wasted and were in town for the Rugby match today. They were great fun and served as pretty good company.

I kept waiting for the place to close, for them to ask for last call and it just never happened. Mayank started to fall asleep on a chair about the same time someone walked in in a suit and asked for an espresso. That's when I knew we were in trouble. As I walked to the front entrance, I realized it was light outside. We had officially stayed there all night. I didn't realize it at the time, but at a lot of these cafes, they don't close until the last customer leaves, so, if you don't leave... you get to stay all night!! The morning shifters arrived and we caught a cab back to the hostel just in time to eat some breakfast and then take a 2 hour power nap before waking up at 10:30 to do some more touring.

Today was my day to show Nathan everything. The four of us hopped back on our scooters and rode to the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain (my first time to see either in the daylight) and grabbed some Gelato while we stood around and snapped some photos. From here, we decided to go up to the Villa Borghese which is a big garden up on one of the hills to the North of town. I'm not sure why, but again, I was appointed as the know-it-all in the navigation department, so I directed us around (including through a parking garage with a sign that specifically said "No Scooters") and up right in the middle of the gardens. We drove around the garden, up by the top of the Spanish Steps and then back down to city center to return our scooters... Or rather, rent for another day. Me and Nate decided that it would be in our best interest to rent for the afternoon rather than walk everywhere. Mayank and Rangan turned theirs back in (they're off to Naples tonight) and then we all headed to a buffet style cafe in the train station for lunch. We sat and talked for a good hour and a half before saying arrivederci to our Aussie friends and then we headed out for some more sights on Barbarina.

At this point, I had no one to lean on for driving, so I was in charge. Nate rode on back and I spent the rest of the day taking him to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus and the Vatican. We also stopped for chocolatto at one point and somehow managed to make it back to the hostel just after dark. Now, being that this is my last night in Rome, we have decided to do it up right. Me and Nate are going to a nice Italian restaurant near here for a full meal before going out for the night. And when I say going out for the night, I mean... the entire night. I figure that the best way for me to avoid jet lag would be to adjust to normal time now. It actually works out nicely because my first train leaves at 8AM which would be 1AM Austin time, AKA a perfect time to go to bed. So, I am going to stay up all night and just catch my train and then sleep on train/plane all the way home. We'll see how it works, but I think it's fool proof.

I know it's really sad to think, but this will officially be my last post from Europe. I'm going to have a couple more when I get home about this last night/traveling day and then some closing comments, but as far as actual activities... this is it :(

It has been amazing.

"By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live."

XOXO

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Now playing: Yeasayer - Sunrise
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Saturday
Feb092008

Who thought it was a good idea to let me loose on a scooter?

Location: Ostia, Italy

My new Aussie friends from last night were great fun. Shortly after dinner we headed to a very cool Irish pub that is infamously over-crowded with American exchange students. It was great fun and the two boys I was with decided this was a good time to practice my Australian on unsuspecting Americans (the boys said I was doing well, but who knows...). Anyways, I know I had fun because waking up this morning was a little rough. The two guys from Melbourne who moved into my room the night before last were up and ready to rent scooters.

They dragged me out of bed and we began out trek to find scooters. Fatal flaw number one was telling the guy in the first shop that we had never been on bikes before. We learned our lesson quickly. We had decided that we wanted to get 4 50cc bikes so that we could each drive our own. The second store we came to only had 100cc's and they were twice as much as we had originally bargained for (we had seen an advertisement for 19euro for 24 hours on a 50cc - good deal). We went to two other places who had absolutely no bikes at all (including 100cc's) so we went back to the first place and gave in. We got two matching 100cc bright blue scooters. After picking out our helmets (a process that took much longer than it should have) we signed on the dotted line (well, me and Rangan did because we were the only ones with drivers' licenses) and hopped on our bikes.

Now, since I had been the one who rented, I had to drive the thing off the lot. Mayank was behind me and tried his best to give me words of encouragement but I was petrified. The last time I was on a bike was a dirt bike when I was 13 and I wrecked the thing into a retention pond in my neighborhood. I was driving the thing for less that 25 seconds when I crashed it. I think it was an understatement to say that I genuinely thought I was going to kill us both. I drove out of the lot and up a hill, promptly turned right down the first alley and practically knocked the thing over as I was jumping off it. My turn was up... Mayank's a boy and, being a boy, his ego won't let him harm me or the bike too much. This is a much safer option. At this point, we also name our bike Barbarina. There was some sort of reference made to Welcome Back Kotter... but our bike needed to be named a girls name so we just switched the gender.

So at this point we head out. The boys are driving our two scooters and we all really have no idea where we are going. For some reason, I am dubbed as all knowing when it came to where we were so I did my best to be a good back seat navigator. I'm not going to lie, we got lost quite a lot, but I always managed to get us back to where we wanted to go without too much trouble - well... most of the time. We decided we wanted to go to the beach and we knew the closest one would be straight West so we started driving that direction and when we finally realized we had no idea where we were, we pulled over to check the map only to realize that we were off it. We found a nice guy who helped us find our way back to the main road and then from there we just kept asking people at stoplights which way to go. Everyone was so nice and a couple of people even had us just follow them for a couple km. We realized that we were going to a town called Ostia. It took us about 30 minutes to drive there. We couldn't find the beach immediately and we were all a little sore and wind-blown so we pulled over at a cafe and had some chocolatto (probably the best I've had yet) and sat and chatted for a good hour.

After our little break, Mayank decided it was my time to drive again. I felt a little more confident having ridden on the thing for a little while. After taking a series of nice right turns in a nearly deserted commercial area of town, we headed for the main road that would take us to the beach. We turned onto the Italian equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway and cruised along the water for a little while. Me and Mayank spotted a great pier where we could watch the sunset but the other flew ahead before we could tell them. We started to chase after them and then... it happened. When I saw it, I initially thought about slamming on the brakes (or grabbing them... I guess would be the terminology) but there was no time, I had already hit it before I could stop... It was my first round-about. One criticism that I have for American driving school is that they should teach us what to do when we encounter these chaotic circular road hazards. I may have screamed when we got there and Mayank was doing his best to coach me through it. I know I cut at least 4 people off and even got honked at once (I honked back at him for being mean). I actually missed my turn off the first time around so I literally went around the circle a full time before I exited. Oh man, it was stressful. After I continued on, we got the other scooter's attention and turned around to go back to the pier. Oh no... Round-about again. But at this point, not only was I a scooter pro, but I was a round-about pro so, it was a piece of cake. We went back to the pier and watched the sun set which was so peaceful. There was a beautiful love letter written on the wall graffiti style in Italian and, although it took me about 5 minutes to translate it, I really enjoyed staring at the beautiful script.

After the sun set, it was starting to get chilly so we decided to refuel our stomachs and our gas tanks before we started the cold journey back to the city. We walked around the city for about 30 minutes before we found a place that was open for dinner (even though it was about 7 PM). We finally found a pizza place and had a couple of slices and then headed to the gas station. After fueling up (these things have the TINIEST gas tanks) we headed home. Fatal flaw number 2: we had no idea how to get back home. I think it was Mayank who said at this point, "All roads lead to Rome, right?" So we tested the theory. We literally just started heading away from the sea. We eventually hit a highway that had signs pointing to Rome and we just followed them. When we finally got to Rome though, we had absolutely no idea where to go. We somehow made it to the Colosseum, but then missed our turn for the hostel and ended up driving way east about 5 km too far. We literally drove in about 3 circles before figuring out where we were and it took us about an hour and a half to make our way back home.

Of course, you can imagine how elated we were when we finally got here. Our whole bodies were frozen solid, especially my knees (for some reason). Unfortunately we didn't make it home in time for dinner, so we went to the grocery store in the train station and I got some pumpkin soup and bread sticks as well as a bottle of wine to prep myself for Nathan (my friend from Pittsburgh that I met in Amsterdam) to arrive. I'm still waiting and it's almost midnight, so I'm starting to get a little worried, but I think he'll pull through... He said he wanted to go out, so he better be ready!!

XOXO

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Now playing: David Gray - This Years Love
via FoxyTunes

Friday
Feb082008

Ashes to ashes

map naplesLocation: Pompeii, Italy

I finally made it to Pompeii.

I had this big plan to get up early and leave early, which didn't exactly happen, because of course I slept in until about 9:30 and then got up and ate breakfast and mingled before finally leaving. Me and Hannah got to Pompeii at about 2:30 and grabbed a chocolate croissant on the way to the ruins once inside the town.

We somehow managed to enter through the wrong entrance so we had to walk through the entire city ruins before we finally got to the booth that sold the audio guides (which were absolutely necessary since everything just looks like a ghost town). After getting out little guides, we set back and started our 2.5 hour journey through the most amazing ancient roman town.

So the deal with Pompeii is that it is was an ancient Roman resort town. It's about 15 minutes from the beach and nestled nicely up on the side of the base of Mt. Vesuvius. In 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii in ash. The entire city was preserved completely and 2,000 people died from being covered in ash. This makes it the most well preserved Roman city in the world. It's still not finished being excavated yet. There is still about 1/3 of the city that has been undiscovered.

So we started by walking to the forum (which, much like the Roman forum, in Rome) was basically a huge grassy square with a bunch of buildings surrounding it. There were a couple of banks and then the main temple in the middle. Most of the buildings are still in tact with the marble still showing through on most and there are a ton of statues and frescoes on the insides of the walls. The temple is very pretty and has a really interesting basement where they keep a lot of excavating tools now, but which originally would have kept sacrificial animals and things like that.

After this, we walked up to the north and around a commercial area with a fish market and a meat market and an old flower shop and some other stuff. In the fish market there was a body which was really creepy. This guy was lying down with his hands up kind of covering his face and he was screaming. It was so scary looking and I really can't believe that you could see the frozen facial expressions. It's amazing. In the fish market, there was also a really cool little terrace in the center where there probably was a gazebo, but just the foundation remains. There were also a couple statues which were neat to see. VERY old stuff here.

After this, we walked up to a residential area even farther north and looked in a couple of the houses. The thing to remember is that this was a resort town, so most of the buildings are extremely extravagant. There are tons of paintings, sculptures, gardens, huge rooms, indoor plumbing, headed walls and floors, it's crazy. So one of the houses we walked inside was called the House of the Fawn and is named after a statue of a fawn that sits in the center of the main corridor you walk in. This house had like 5 bedrooms and a huge bathroom that had heated floors. They would run heated water underneath the foundation which warmed up the tile floor (the floor was a mosaic of 3D cubes). There was also a huge garden and reception area that had a mosaic in one of the nooks of Alexander the Great. The garden is gorgeous and they've recreated what it would have looked like based on a fresco of the garden in one of the bedrooms. There were huge palm trees and shrubs and flowers hanging out of these little holes in the walls.

After this, we walked to the bathhouse which was nearby and is basically like a spa. This was one of the only buildings that we went into that actually still had it's entire roof on top of it. We were also really lucky because they had just opened up this exhibit (it's recently excavated and opened around the 1st of the year for the first time ever). This building was incredible. There was a main reception area that then split into three rooms, one was an atrium reception area with a dome on top of it. Then there was the women's baths and the men's baths. We went inside the men's bath. First, there is a big room that would have just been a social bath room. One big pool in the middle. Then there was a second room that had two baths, both made entirely of marble and completely preserved. One of them was for cold water, the other for hot water. The walls in this room are heated by pumping boiling water through these pipes in them. There were also pores in the walls so that the steam could come out and turn the room into like a sauna. It was crazy. There was also these really neat little statues in the room adjoining this one that lines the walls.

Next we went to the brothel. This was such a cool building. There were tiny little rooms (probably about 15 of them) that had a built in bed with a pillow and a door and that's it. Each girl got her own room and was literally owned by the owner. They were literal slaves and had absolutely no freedom. Men would leave graffiti on the walls basically to mark their territory or to warn newcomers of certain "special diseases" that the women may carry. They're mostly in greek and I tried to take some pictures of them. There were also portraits in each of the bedrooms of the girls and their favorite boys in their favorite positions. Ancient pornography. They were actually pretty vulgar.

After this, we walked down to another temple on the south side of the city by where we had entered originally, then went to see the stadium and theatre before returning our audio guides and starting the trek back to the train station. We stopped on the way in a bakery to get some choccolato caldo and a cannoli. This hot chocolate was very good, small glass which was good because it was extra thick (spoon only) and the cannoli was TO DIE FOR. I am not sure if I have ever had something so delicious. The cream in the middle was chocolate and very cold. The cone was perfectly crunchy mushy and then the whole thing was dipped in chocolate and then there were pistachios covering it. YUMMM!!

From here, we walked back to the train station, caught the train back to Rome and then made our way to the hostel for free pasta. Tonight was a pomodoro with artichokes. It was very yummy. I met some new Aussies, one from Perth and one from Melbourne and I think we're going to attempt to go out on the town so hopefully that will go well.

I had a nice long conversation tonight at dinner with one of the guys who runs this hostel who is from Canada but has lived in Italy for a long time. He was explaining to me all the mess that's been going on with the Italian government right now. I had said something about the communist parade that I saw in Milan and he was explaining to me how the current Prime Minister has basically been overthrown. The fascists have staged a coup (although, they aren't calling it a coup) and he told me that there is basically no government in Italy right now. Any day, the PM will be officially kicked out as leader of the country and then the fascists will appoint someone to take over. It's craziness. He said the communists have no chance, but that they think they are going to come in and rule the place so that's probably why the parade was going on in Milan.

No biggie.

XOXO

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Now playing: Flogging Molly - Drunken Lullabies
via FoxyTunes

Thursday
Feb072008

You must visit the mothership

Location: Rome, Italy

Wow, today was amazing.

I knew I was going to have a lot to do, so I left relatively early and set out towards Ancient Rome. The hike wasn't too bad. I walked down Via Cavour down the hill from the train station towards the Colosseum. This thing is like the Eiffel Tower of Rome and as I am walking up to it from the top of the hill, I just cannot even believe I am looking at it. I walked up to it, all around it taking pictures and then went inside to look at what was going on. Now, maybe I'm not the smartest cookie in the box, but I had always thought the Colosseum was like, a bull fighting ring. A sandy arena in the middle of a huge set of circular stands. Well, that is not the case. See, the Colosseum was used for gladiator fights against animals and other humans. You'll see in the pictures, but the ground is a series of mazes made from tall stone walls. There are trap doors in the floor (which would have been what you think of the sandy floor, some of it is still left) and in various places on the walls where they would let more gladiators or lions into the maze/arena cross thing, to kill each other. The stands go up from there, but there are no seats, just tiers of people standing. I think at some point there may have been benches, at least in the lowest tier for the nobility, but not sure exactly. The place only held 50,000 people which is strange considering how large it feels. They killed thousands of people and animals in each match, one of the larger ones killing 50,000 gladiators and 9,000 animals in a 170 day battle to commemorate the winning of some war.

While I was inside there, there was also some sort of movie press conference going on in one of the end zone areas. It was really strange and I took some pictures so I could figure out who these people were when I got home. I'll explain who they were later.

After finishing up inside the Colosseum, I walked down to the entrance to the Roman Forum closest to the ancient fountain and the Arch of Titus. Basically, the forum was a huge mall with shops, statues, churches, temples and podiums. It takes a lot of creativity to imagine what this place used to look like. There's not much here. I'm talking like a couple pillars, one temple, a bunch of old cobblestone roads and a ton of marble just laying around on the ground. There were a couple cool places to see, one was the Temple of Romulus. It is a really large, pretty in tact temple with huge bronze doors. Just past this is the Arch of Septimius Severus which is a really cool arch that leads up to Capitoline Hill. Also, there was the Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins. Basically, there are these girls, who are chosen at random between age 6 and 10 to be these sort of, living gods. They are taught by older virgins for 10 years, then serve 10 years basically like being a beauty pageant queen. They would just go to parades, operas, gladiator fights and plays and just be the guests of honor. Then after 20 years, they would spend 10 years teaching the new generation of virgins and then they were finally allowed to marry. If a virgin was caught... well... you know... she was buried alive because since they are given almost god like status, you cannot spill their blood. Then the man who participated in her "crime" would be tortured to death. YIKES!! Anyways, the temple and the house where they lived is pretty big and was one of the most in tact areas of the forum. After spending a decent amount of time here, I headed up through the Arch of Septimius Severus and walked up to the top of Capitoline Hill. At the top of this hill (which is the tallest one in Rome) there is a series of government type buildings and museums surrounding the Piazza Del Campidoglio that lead to Michelangelo's stairs heading down to piazza Venezia. There is a great fountain my Michelangelo in the Piazza del Campidoglio and there's a nice equestrian statue in the middle that is one of the only ancient bronze statues that wasn't melted down to make money or destroyed when the Christian's took over Rome.

From here I walked down the steps and down to the Piazza Venezia to see the huge Vittorio Emanuele II monument. It houses the tomb of the unknown soldier and is so big. It is composed of the marble that was stripped from the outside of the Colosseum. It's kind of ugly, but you have to stare at it because it's so huge. The locals call is the typewriter, which... actually makes some sense once you see it.

After this I started the long hike to the Vatican. I walked down across the bridge and up the main road to the Museum. I walked along the outside of the city to the museum entrance. Although I went to the museum for the sole purpose of going inside the Sistine Chapel, I actually was distracted by quite a few exhibits that I found extremely interesting. The first one I stumbled upon was a special Egyptian exhibit called the Museo Gregoriano Egiziano. There were so many amazing things inside this gallery. There were at least a half a dozen actual tombs and mummies. One of the mummies was shown laying down with the cloth peeled off of her. You could actually see her skin, fingernails, hair, etc. It was AMAZING. She was from around the 10th century BC. An actual human. It was crazy. Then next to her was a guy who was still wrapped up, so you could see the process. It was so crazy. Then in another room, there were these Egyptian letters that had envelopes and everything. But... they were rocks. There were little hieroglyphics carved on rocks and then put into little envelopes. It was so cute!!

From here I walked for about a half an hour through a couple of other galleries and then stumbled into one of Rafael's rooms. There are 4 rooms that are part of the papal apartments (sort of reception areas) and are open to the public when he's not using them. There were a ton of beautiful frescoes. At least a dozen HUGE ceiling paintings and quite a few wall murals. The last of my distractions was the Gallery of Maps. This is a huge hall with probably 50 wall sized topographical maps of Italy painted on the walls and on huge clothes. The ceiling is even more amazing and I got some good pictures of it.

After this, I was museumed out and needed to just get to the Sistine Chapel and peace out. I put it into high gear and started trekking through galleries like they were Philbrook. I realized I was getting close when the security guards got more frequent and then knew i was there when a guy wouldn't let me pass until I not only turned my camera off, but put it in my camera bag and zipped it up all the way. The chapel is just a chapel. It's mostly important because it is the site of the conclave (when a new pope needs to be selected). The reason people go see it though, is because of the amazing artwork inside. Michelangelo's Last Judgment serves as the main wall behind the alter and he also did the panels of the ceiling. I uploaded a picture, but I didn't take it. But I wanted you to be able to see what i'm talking about. I'll explain everything about it in the caption of the picture.

After the Sistine chapel, I walked back down the stairs outside and towards the front of St. Peter's. Here I started the climb up to the top of the basilica. I still say that Florence was harder of a hike, but this one was pretty bad. It was not as scary because the stairs were always leaning to one side. Instead of the stairs kind of zigzagging back and forth across the dome, these literally just walked up around the outside so you were always kind of leaning 45 degrees to the right against the wall. Anyways, so I get to the top and the views are absolutely amazing. It was a perfect beautiful 18 degree day and the sun was out and it was so warm, I didn't have my jacket on even. It was so beautiful. I got some great pics of St. Peter's square.

After I finished snapping, I walked down the stairs, grabbed a sandwich at a little food kiosk and then sat on a pillar and ate my sandwich, updated one of my journals and then took about a 45 minute nap. The angle of the trim on the base of the column made for a perfect little recline and i put my aviators on so people would think I was just sitting contemplatively. It was amazing. I woke up because I thought I needed to go ahead and go inside for mass. I had asked one of the little colorful Swiss guard men what time I should show up if I wanted a seat and he kinda looked at me weird and just said, "maybe an hour?" so I get up to start walking and I realize there is absolutely no line to get through security. Rather than go inside and sit and wait for mass to start, I decided to just sit tight and watch and wait until the line gets a little longer. Except, it never did. As I was sitting there, minding my own business, who walks in front of me? Sylvester Stalone!! I kind of look at him funny, he looks over at me, gives me a kind of stud nod/wink/point thing and then walks off. My jaw may have dropped... It was so weird. Anyways, when it was about 15 til, I decided to just go inside, walked in and sat right down on the 4th row. I couldn't believe how few people there were. When mass finally started there were probably only about 300 people and then probably another 100 standing in the back just taking pictures (they weren't allowed in because they weren't Catholic... suckers).

So switching gears slightly to discuss mass. This hour and a half was one of the most amazing times of my entire life. The procession that came in at the beginning of the ceremony included probably about 75 cardinals in full garb. There were about 2 dozen servers (all men and boys) and about 15 choir boys. All the while, they are singing in monotone Latin harmony (i know that sounds like a contradiction, but they somehow managed to pull it off). There were two like, head cardinals, that walked right in front of the pope and then... the pope. He walked slowly down the aisle and blessed the crowd every few steps. I possibly cried the entire time he was walking down the aisle (I'm tearing up now just thinking of it). I felt like all of my insides were just churning from the blessing. It was such an amazing feeling. After this, mass was relatively normal. They did the readings and the gospel in Italian. Benny did his homily in Italian as well. And he was SOOO cute!! I wasn't really sure how much I liked the guy before. I think maybe I was just so upset about JP dying that I wasn't willing to accept his successor. He spoke great Italian though (well, at least, I was convinced) and he was so passionate and animated. I really liked him. After the homily, he ashed the cardinals who then ashed all of us (I got one of the head cardinals) and then we did communion as well. I was hesitant at first to take communion because on the program it specifically said that if you hadn't done confession recently, you were not allowed to take communion, and I haven't done confession in quite some time. But I figured God would forgive me and when was I going to have the chance to eat something blessed by the freaking Pope! I did actually take communion from him. It was the strangest thing to walk up there and have him actually look me in the eyes. I mean, he was looking at me, only me and saying "Il cuerpo di Cristo." Most of the people in line were taking the body directly from his hand, like he put it in their mouth. But that made me really nervous because I didn't want to like, accidentally lick him or anything and I have never taken it like that before. So I just put my hands out like normal, and Benny totally gets it (I mean he is the pope, so he probably is used to seeing things from all cultures) and he is about to put it in my hand when the little server boy standing next to him starts freaking out that I'm actually touching it with my hands and proceeds to follow my hands with a tray. He held this little platter right under my hands as I put it in my mouth and then kind of lingered as I closed my mouth. He was trying to make sure I didn't drop the stuff on the ground!! I couldn't believe how freaked out he was, and honestly, I had never really thought about how big of a deal it is to drop Jesus on the floor. Anyways, I didn't drop, and I passed the test, went back to sit down (behind these two women in front of me who literally video taped the entire mass... so annoying) and finished it out. The other really cool part of mass was when we did "peace be with you" and everyone was saying it in different languages. Everywhere else I have gone, it's been solely in Italian. Here, there were at least a couple other English speakers, some Italian, German and I think I caught a French. It was really cool. The inside of the basilica was also lit up so much more vibrantly than it was during normal times. Everything was so bright and so beautiful.

Anyways, so after my extremely amazing religious experience, I caught the subway back to my hostel to make it back in time for free pasta dinner (tonight it was a pesto chicken thing) and then met up with two of my Aussie room-mates to get a bottle of wine and watch the Godfather. We didn't get too far into it because we were interrupted by some Spanish people who wanted to eat dinner at like 11:30, but we ended up just staying up chatting and getting ready for my big day trip to Pompeii tomorrow.

Hopefully I'll actually make it.

XOXO

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Now playing: Pat Green - Rain In LaFayette
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday
Feb062008

Naples = Evil Children

map naplesLocation: Naples, Italy

I'll get to the evil children part... let's just start out positively :)

Yesterday started rather late, and after waking up, chatting with the boys and having some toast, I headed to Pompeii at about 2. My guidebook told me that the park closed at 6:30, so I knew I had a little time to spare. I grabbed some gelato and casually walked to the museum, getting there about 5 minutes after 5. I walked up to the ticket booth and the woman tells me that last admittance is a 5. She says I can't go in, sorry, you'll have to come back... No freaking way. So I get back on the train (it was about 2 hours ride back to Rome) and decided to stop in Naples on the way back (I couldn't completely ruin the day). The train rode along the coast and I got to watch the sun set across the Med. My first impression of Naples was great. There were lots of hills, the water, beautiful sunset, it was great. So I decide to get off at the central station and walk down this famous street past the duomo to this restaurant that has famous pizza (Naples is where pizza was invented after all).

I get off the train, walk about a km and then all of the sudden, out of no where, a pack of about 15 ten year old kids jump out at me and completely soak me with shaving cream, eggs and silly string. Then they throw confetti and flour all over me, screaming the entire time and then run away. I am literally covered, head to tow in nasty gross mess and I am just standing there in complete shock. THEN... they come back again!! I have absolutely no defense, I have no idea what to do and so I start running away and get away from them. At this point , I have had enough Naples. I almost get hit by about 10 cars on the way back to the train station, I smell like nasty eggs and my hair is soaked with shaving cream. I keep picking confetti out from behind my ears and hair and I am thoroughly grossed out. In the confusion, I get kind of lost and end up walking down some dodgy street that was so nasty and covered in trash. It was very gross. I find a pizza stand, pick up a piece (ham, corn, cheese and tomatoes) and then walk back to the train station, only to find out that I am late for the train and the next one doesn't leave for an hour.

Finally I get back to Rome at about 9:30. I get to the hostel and everyone has already left to go out. I get in the shower, and as I'm drying off, I see a brochure lying on the counter that says "Marti Gras pub crawl". I'm thinking, no way... That's where they are!! And it said that the crawl was leaving from the bottom of the Spanish steps at 10. It was like 5 til and so I start running. I ran all the way to the steps, and when I get there, there is no one there. There's a guy who tells me that the pub crawl has just left and that if I walk about a km down this street, I'll probably be able to see them. He says if not, just ask anyone where the pub crawl is going and they should be able to point me to the bar. Of course, when I get there, I ask around and no one has any idea what I am talking about. I keep asking people, bar owners, police officers, no one has any idea. So I walk around for about an hour, surrender to my lonely fate and decide to come back and get some sleep. Of course, when I walk back to the metro station, it's closed, so I find these two British girls who were also trying to get home and we catch a bus to the train station.

When I walk inside... guess who I find!! The Estonian girls. Apparently, they had not gone on the pub crawl, they had just walked to the Trevi fountain again at night and then the boys had continued on to the Parthenon and Spanish steps and the girls came back home. The boys got back about 30 minutes later and so I guess it was good that I didn't find the crawl because I would have been disappointed when none of them were on it. So, we all laugh about how messed up my day was, stay up in the dark talking from our bunks for an hour or so (just like Dwight) and then go to bed.

Everyone else left this morning. The boys all caught the train to Florence together and the girls flew back to Estonia. Adam went to Paris yesterday afternoon, so now its just me :) That's ok though because I have a big day planned. I'm not sure how long I'm going to have to wait for mass either, but they don't give out tickets on holidays, its just a first come first serve free-for-all. We'll see how that goes!!

XOXO

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Now playing: Led Zeppelin - Going To California
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday
Feb052008

La Via a Roma


Location: Rome, Italy

This one is quite a doozey, apologize for the lag... Since I got to Rome, things have been a little hectic.

Me and my new friend Adam went to the Vatican and to St. Peter's Basilica first thing Monday afternoon. The Vatican is unreal. I just saw St. Peter's square and it was already huge. Walking inside the church was completely unreal. The thing is absolutely gigantic and completely over the top. I mean, I guess I expected nothing less from the Catholic mothership, but it was a very amazing place to see. There were these Swiss guards who wore these ridiculous striped jester looking outfits that are the army of the Vatican. They stand everywhere to guard entrances and doorways. Apparently, they are actual soldiers that have gone through an extensive training program. There are all kinds of requirements. The boys have to be between 18 and 30, actual Swiss born Catholics and must go through a series of physical tests and training before being allowed to serve. There are only about 100.

Inside St. Peter's there is so much to see. There are quite a few tombs or memorials to various Popes and cardinals in the main area. The ceilings are all gold and there are tons of paintings by various famous artists including Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo. We looked at Michelangelo's Pieta which is a really famous sculpture of Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. It's a great statue.

In the middle of the cross is the tomb to St. Peter. It is a huge throne made of wood, bronze and ivory that sits a couple feet above the ground and then a staircase leads down to the crypt from here. Down in the crypt, there are so many tombs (probably 100). Most of them are of past popes. Some of them are elaborate, some not so much. We walked past John Paul II's tomb which was very simple but still covered in flowers and rosaries and other little tokens people toss in when walking by. I mean, his body is literally an arms length from the main walk way. It's incredible. Then at the end of the hall is the actual tomb of St. Peter. It is completely locked down, bullet proof glass (not sure why it needs to be bullet proof, I mean... he is already dead), and apparently, his actual remains are in a box designed by NASA that is un-breakable. For those not in the know, St. Peter was Peter Jesus' apostle and was the first Pope of the Catholic church starting (I believe) around 30 AD. He was crucified upside down (he did not want to die the same way Christ did) by the Romans after bringing about quite a bit of controversy (considering the Romans still believed in their set of Gods). I think this happened around 60 something (so he would have been quite old...). Anyways, it's a huge deal that this is literally his tomb. I mean, this guy was one of Jesus' BFF's and there he is, just you know... Lying there... Right there... So close. Craziness.

After this we walked down the Borgo to the Tiber River to look at the Castel Sant' Angelo (an old castel by the river that used to be kind of an apartment for the swiss guards) and the Ponte Sant' Angelo (which is the bridge that goes across the Tiber near the Castel. There wasn't much to see so from here I headed up to try and get up to these gardens by the Vatican. I couldn't find an entrance, so I walked in this parking garage and thought maybe it would come out higher, which it did, but just inside a Vatican office building... not in a garden. I knew I probably wasn't supposed to be where I was, so I walked outside and down past the Basilica from the backside before heading back down the Borgo, across the River and back towards home.

On the way home, I decided to head to the Trevi fountain (because I was told to go see it after dark for the best view). I sort of got lost part of the way there and ended up at the Pantheon (oh, darn). The building is amazing. And there is yet another obelisk in the front. There are obelisks EVERYWHERE. Practically ever church or piazza, I feel like, has one in the yard. (Check out http://www.romeartlover.it/Obelisks.html - it's a good site about all of the obelisks). Anyways, so the Pantheon is very cool. It is also, supposedly, some sort of anomaly because the dome is not supposed to be standing. It is the largest unenforced concrete dome ever built. It is a perfect hemisphere and almost 45 meters high. There is a hole in the top that allows the building to contract a little and it lets rainwater in that then drains in little holes in the center of the floor. They say that if the dome were reconstructed today with modern concrete, the whole thing would collapse under it's own weight. They think that the materials they used to create it were changed at different heights to make the concrete lighter as it got to the top. It's crazy. Here is also where Raphael is buried as well as some other notable priests, cardinals and important Roman figures.

After this, I actually found the Trevi fountain which is beautiful. It's this huge fountain on the side of a building depicting Neptune and some horses. You can hear the thing roaring from quite a distance and it was a site to see. There were SOOO many people there. At one point, this guy starts speaking to me in Italian and, (drum roll please) I actually had a conversation with him... in Italian!! I was very proud. It was mostly him talking, but I did reply and actually understood what he was saying. He basically just asked me if it was my first time to Rome and if I was studying or vacationing and how long I was staying and if I liked the fountain and then he started making suggestions of places I should go (he was so cute... probably around 70 and sooo nice - he even said that I did a good job trying to speak Italian :). I talked to him for probably 5 minutes before going down, throwing my coins in (you're supposed to throw 3 coins over your shoulder, 1st says you will return to Rome soon, 2nd says you will meet a nice Italian boy, 3rd says you will fall in love with and marry said Italian boy... Ehh... Why not?) and heading on back towards the hostel.

Once back at the hostel, I had some dinner (free pasta pomodoro), made some new friends and we decided to go out. We got the name of a bar from the woman at the front desk and she said there were sure to be quite a few people there. We got on a bus to head that way and a couple minutes on the bus it started torrential down pouring. We all jump off at our stop and run to a alcove shop thing with a canopy and stand there thinking maybe it will stop. After it doesn't for a couple of minutes, we buy some cheap umbrellas from a street seller and run down the street to the canopy of a closed tobacco shop. We stood there for a while, the rain is literally slamming down on the canopy. Then it starts thundering, lighting like crazy and then hail. So we see a Guinness sign on the side of a building about 100 yards away and we decide to just book it (our umbrellas had already broken from the wind). We got inside soaked and then just didn't leave this place. The bartenders were nice, there was no one else there, but we had a pretty substantial group (2 Estonian girls, 4 Aussie boys, 2 Argentinian boys and Adam my LA friend) so we made our own party.

After a decent night out (and I'm not sure how we all got separated) but me and one of the Aussies decided to walk back to the Trevi at about 4 AM. It was so gorgeous, and now, there was no one else there. It was so peaceful, just the sound of the water and nothing else. We made the long walk back home and met back up with everyone else who trickled in at various times in small groups and sat up for a little while talking before heading to bed.

XOXO