Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Bastille Day

We woke up and prepared to go on the bike tour we had been looking forward to for a few days. Some of us showered ad we put on shorts and shoes for the four-hour ride. We were ready by 9:30 and then headed out for our hour hike to the Eiffel Tower. After picking up Danishes for breakfast we quickly realized something was odd, there were armed guards, police and military personnel everywhere and roads were blocked off all the way to the Eiffel tower. It was Bastille Day, like the United States 4th of July. So we kept walking to see the parade, knowing that the bike tour was not going to happen. After another 15 minutes of walking we ran into the throngs of people with the same idea as us.

There were hundreds of thousands of people packed onto the Chance Eelyses for the parade. We walked past Prada Valentino, Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna to the main street where military decked the roads up to the Arche de Triumphe. At a little after 10 the planes started to fly and out on their show while the band played the French national anthem. It was a fantastic show and massive planes sped overhead, dispelling red, white, and blue smoke behind them. We decided a river tour would be cool on Bastille day and had to take a massive detour to cross the river because everything was closed off for the parade. When we walked across the bridge to the Eiffel tower the sky was dotted with helicopters all over the place. Occasionally they would fly over the bridge and it seemed like a scene from Independence Day, being on a bridge overlooking the Eiffel tower with massive low flying army helicopters coming at us.

We took the tour at 12 where we got on a boat for an hour and saw almost the entire city by water. An earpiece told us the history and background of Paris and we learned about the massive history and cultural perspective of Parisian life. We saw the Lourve, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and many other buildings we will hopefully pass again on the bike tour and get closer too.

After the bike tour we hiked back to the hotel where we took a nap, hiking about 3 miles each way to get to the center of tow can be exhausting. At around 6 we got back up again and headed out for dinner at an outdoor café. The café’s are arranged differently than in the United States. Instead of sitting across from the person you are eating with all the chairs are angled toward the street, as though it’s a runway and all the passersby are there to people watch. It’s unnerving to pass by a crowded café and have 40 sets of eyes direct themselves at you. But we had a fabulous dinner, we were all starving, and not a speck of food was on anyone’s plate when we finished.

We walked, yet again, to the Eiffel Tower, and fought our way to a good spot to watch the fireworks show. We sat there for over an hour taking with people and having a good time, Tarah had wine and other people brought other things and we waited for it to get dark. At 10:45 the most amazing fireworks show began. Yes, many people can say they have seen great fireworks shows, but who can say they have seen fireworks shows off the Eiffel Tower on the French Independence day. The show lasted for half an hour till the grand finale with massive red, white, and blue fireworks and a twinkling Eiffel Tower.

The amount of people was amazing. The streets were overrun once the show stopped and cars and Vespas had no way of moving without running over pedestrians everywhere. I guess it would be like 4th of July in D.C. We walked back to the main street and found a McDonalds where people could use the bathroom, we thought about getting food but the line was not even a line, it was a massive throng of people as though they had announced the re-release of beanie babies in McDonalds Happy Meals and all of Paris wanted one.

We made it back to the hotel at around 1, tired and hungry and excited for the bike tour tomorrow as well as the release of the new Harry Potter movie.

Monday, July 13, 2009

McDonald's campout

We woke up in Paris. Laura had to wake me up I was so asleep I didn't feel the train stop or hear the announcements. We took the metro to our stop where I realized that along the way I dropped my map with the directions on them, so we started to walk. We probably searched for 45 minutes, asking random coffee shops and passerby where our hotel was before we actually found it and realized that we were not allowed to check in until 2, even though it was still 10 in the morning.

So we ditched our luggage and explored Paris. We are in the heart of the city and there are more shopping places, food options, and theaters than I could ever count. We walked and walked and looked inside little shops where they were making and designing their own clothing in the back rooms. We ate lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant with fantastic food and browsed though little book stores. On one of the main streets I saw my first prostitute, which was followed by many others.

Paris is not disappointing at all. The streets and the buildings are beautiful and stereotypically what I would consider "French" which is exactly what I wanted. You can find crepes just about anywhere on the street. Our hotel is beautiful, its a three star with an actual bathtub, which is something we have not yet encountered on our travel. However it is still small and cramped for 5 people.

After taking a nap when we got there we headed off to the Eiffel tower, about a 3 mile hike from out Hotel. The scenery was beautiful and the Eiffel tower was fantastic even with an unattractive sky. They are preparing it for a massive firework show tomorrow which we want to see, so they wouldn't let people go up to the top.

We walked back, which was much worse than walking there. It took us a few hours for the entire trip. After collapsing we traipsed up to the McDonald's which is the only place we can get internet. I think were going to end up living here.

Past 2 days

We had two travel days where nothing special happened in particular besides us making it from Venice to Milan by train, taking a taxi to our hotel in Milan, which was very nice, and then back to the train station the next day and taking our night train to Paris.

Our hotel in Milan was not near the city, but we did not arrive until dinner time, so we hunted down a McDonald's and ate and collapsed back in our room. We realized too late that the hotel windows were open and that there was our own little mosquito colony breeding right outside. So Abby and Diana ran around the room squashing the millions of mosquitoes with their shoes. It was ridiculously nice being in a place with air conditioning and a nice bathroom. After camping Jolly anything would have been a reprieve.

Breakfast the next morning was included and I had fantastic coffee before we packed back up and had the taxi pick us up at 11:30.

There was no place to store our luggage in the train station, so we camped out in the train station ALL day. We took turns watching luggage and walking around and getting food. After a few hours sitting in a train station gets boring. Our train didn't depart until 11:30, there were 6 of us stuck in a tiny compartment with beds. I felt like I was sleeping on uneven 2x4's but I was exhausted and passed out as soon as the lights went out, waiting to wake up in Paris.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ode to Venecian Windowsills

Delapidation of Electronics

Although things of mine seem to be continually falling apart the rest of our trip is going smoothly. We went to Venice this morning on the shuttle bus where we met our first legitimately crazy person since being on this trip. I had assumed since we were booking hostels and other sketchy places for teens to sleep for cheap there would be some odd balls about, but today took the cake. The woman, she looked about 40, was standing in front of us in line and came over to us with a very old and faded bear backpack and talked to us as though the puppet backpack was alive. We didn’t really speak directly to the woman, just to her backpack, which she was pretending was alive and animated. On the bus she sat it next to her by the window and laughed and talked to it for the reminder of the ride including making lewd and inappropriate jokes about bears as she went.

Other than that my Ipod has reached its final hurrah in its 4 year life. The top of it came off in my purse while I was walking around, so while it still works crumbs are getting inside it and I’m mildly afraid of something metal, like a safety pin, getting lodged inside or somehow shocking/electrocuting myself with it. My phone, which I have had a little over 2 years now has been my alarm clock on this trip and now it will no longer hold a charge, I can’t go for more than a few hours without it beeping at me that the battery is dead. Additionally when I was rummaging through my suitcase a few days ago I’d forgotten I’d misplaced my razor blade and shoved my hand into the pocket where it was and am consequently missing half a fingernail. It was painful as you can imagine. I still need to go to the grocery and invest in a box of band-aids. The shower stopped draining and began to overflow into the tiny bathroom the 5 of us share and though it is fixed now the water left the most wretched smell that makes everyone hold their nose going in there and makes us hesitant to shut the windows or door ever because that would cut off our supply of fresh air.

It may sound crazy to have all that happen within a week but it hasn’t put a damper on the trip at all. We spent a few hours in Venice today and enjoyed our last day here. It was been absolutely fantastic and beautiful beyond our imagining. We took a gondola ride around the city and the man sang to us the entire ride. It was peaceful and very relaxing sitting in the boat as we drifted very slowly along and the water in the lagoon is a lovely cloudy light blue.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Venice is Like Gold

It was the kind of day that makes you feel like you can just maybe be young and beautiful forever. We relaxed and took a walk and swam all day, the weather was perfect and the Mediterranean sun was hot. I think it inspires a little hopeless romantic in everyone. Everyone’s tanned bodies under the Venetian sun, feeling beautiful and like you can live this way forever. Laying by the water in Europe without major concerns or problems, just living a little bit and letting go.

We traveled to Venice at night to see the city lights. I don’t think I have ever seen a place so beautiful that everyone is touched by it. We ate dinner at an old family owned restaurant and shared a bottle of Chardonnay with dinner as the sunset. By the time we finished our dinner and wine it was dark. The square was still crowded at 11 pm and there were orchestras set up every few feet playing Beethoven and Mozart and contemporary songs. The buildings were lit up dramatically and the lagoon looked black. Standing out by the gondolas Laura commented how she felt like she should be on the Titanic, everything was so picturesque and almost as soon as she finished her statement the violin behind us began to play My Heart Will Go On.

We had to catch the late bus back to Maghera and walk the quarter mile to camp but every second was worth it. In the room Diana spit her water out all over the floor like a fountain, not quite sure if she was laughing or coughing, but it was funny anyway.

We are spending our last day in Venice tomorrow. I want to study abroad here.


We went to the beach today under a sky and in a lagoon whose shades of blue must have encompassed every color in the world. We sat under the sun while the water sparkled, we didn’t have white sand or palm trees, but it was relaxing and spectacular. I always forget how water can calm a person and everyone seems to be taken aback by its beauty. I want to live by water, today affirmed it. As we took the water bus to the island we passed through most of Venice and I stood there looking out on the waves hitting the side of the boat, and the deep, deep lagoon water and I wondered why everyone does not need this aspect in their lives.

We forgot we were on a European beach until we noticed topless women walking around. It was an odd jolt into cultural lifestyles. After living in the United States for so long its like seeing a dragon walking down the street, you almost have to do a double take before your brain can catch up.

We sunbathed and swam for a few hours. Everyone, except me, is as red as a lobster and will probably be peeling within a few days. As much as I hated this place to begin with I am growing used to it. I know I could not live with the broken shower or bomb explosion of clothing that has occurred in our room for very long, but when I take my computer outside and listen to my music everything is perfect, it is peaceful and warm and I sit and realize that I am in Europe and I enjoy it.

Oooohs and Ahhhs

We took the shuttle into Venice today at 11. We wound up at the bus station about 20 minutes later and proceeded to explore the city with our destination being San Marco square. We walked for hours, never quite sure where we were but still completely amazed with how beautiful Venice was and wondering in and out of the glass shops that are on every single street. Even before we made it anywhere special everyone had said that Venice was their favorite European city so far. We got coffee as a nice restaurant when it started raining and were rudely informed that we were in a restaurant and not a bar. After the rain we didn’t have any other problems with the weather.

We found signs directing us to San Marco and followed the maize of streets and canals for another 45 minutes before we had to squint from the glare of the sunlight in the square. Being there before I’d forgotten how amazing the first glimpse of it is, especially when we were in a dark tunnel leading up to it and then all of a sudden there it is under the gorgeous blue sky with swirling clouds. We saw the gates with Saint Mark and his lion, which guard the city. We past the church and the palace of the Empress and walked to the waters edge where all the gondoliers camp.

Its crazy to sit in that environment and think that in a few years the spot you are standing in may not even exist, it may be this fantastically romantic Atlantis under the waters of the blue lagoon, all the marble and architecture and history submerged and its grandeur preserved only for the fish.

We wondered back through the streets and got spinach ricotta pizza from a stand. I have become so tired of pizza its ridiculous but it’s the only cheap option we have. Diana bought some apricots from a local stand, and I think they are my new favorite fruit. We went back to a few shops we had been to earlier that day and picked up some souvenirs and glass.

After taking the bus back and making the hike back to camp we jumped in the pool to cool off for the few minutes it was still open.

We are looking back to making a few more trips to Venice before our time here is done.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


We traveled today, a group of mixed up trekkers. There was mass confusion when we thought we were supposed to leave Florence this morning, when we actually had it booked for another day, but we already had our train tickets booked. So stuff was a mess, but there was nothing we could do about it. So we got the buffet breakfast and headed to the train station to wait for our 11:30 train to Venice.

The train took only a few hours, and I could tell as soon as we started seeing water how close we were. We crossed the lagoon and there was Venice, so incredibly pretty. We had to carry our suitcases up a massive amount of stairs on the “glass bridge” to the bus station. We bought a ticket and asked the driver to point out the stop to us, which go figure he didn’t. So we rode the bus until a nice lady told us how to get to our destination. So we found our stop and had to walk to find our campsite. It was way back in the middle of nowhere and ridiculously hard to find. The campsite is in the middle of nowhere about 30 minutes from Venice. There are no grocery shops nearby or local food places, the campsite wants us to have to pay their ridiculous prices for everything. I will have to find food when we get into town tomorrow.

The place we are staying is like a dorm room, its very small with no amenities and no air conditioning. They are charging us for internet on our own computers which I hate. The room is so small and cramped people keep snapping at each other. I think being able to talk and communicate with people outside our little group is very helpful in keeping people happy and from getting bored and tired of each other.

First Workout

We walked around Florence today, experiencing the gorgeous architecture and extreme heat. Its not oppressive or stifling, but its an omnipresent heat that keeps you sweating and always constant of its presence. We saw the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, one of my favorite bridges in Florence. Along the way we stopped at an illegal sunglass stand and I looked at a pair of sunglasses. The man there really wanted me to buy them, but I told him I was just looking. So he started heckling me at the exact moment the police came around the street. He pulled us into an alley and said he wanted 20 Euro for them. I told him I was interested and the most I would pay was 5 Euro, by that time the cops were nearby and he took my offer. He came back a few minutes after the cops left and Diana got a pair too. That’s our first run in with illegal dealing… haha

After walking for so long in the heat we went back to the hostel to take a nap and then head over to see the David. But that never ended up happening. People slept too long and we missed our chance. We walked over later to see if we could see it from the window but it was no use. I’m glad I got to see it the last time I was in Florence.

We had a massive, but good and inexpensive dinner at the hostel restaurant and later on I got to go on a run with my new running shoes. (I bought the first pair of women’s running shoes I found this morning, I swear women in Europe don’t work out) and then jumped in the pool to cool off.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What's the Catch?

Just some things I've noticed I like on this trip...

1- I like how rubbing your feet with lotion after a long day of walking makes you feel like your skin can breathe again
2- I like how a sunset or cityscape can leave people completely speechless
3- I like being taken for a local and then the face they make when they realize you have no idea what they are saying
4- I like how 5 girls can completely overtake a hostel/apartment room in a day and make it seem like you’ve always lived there
5- I like walking and seeing something completely new around every single corner.
6- I like feeling like I’m doing something with my life
7- I love the complete exhaustion after a long day of sight seeing and exploring
8- I love always having 50 dollar Euros from the bank and locals getting mad you don't have exact change.
9- I love that something will always be unexpected or go wrong, no matter what.

Italian Chinese and American Chinese are not the same

We packed up our bags, shoved trash into bags, and lefts the keys on the table. We drug our luggage past the Colosseum for the last time. I am sure no one could ever get tired of having that massive building outside their front door step. The train to Florence came at 11:05 and we boarded what we thought was going to be a nice three hour train ride.

The seats were nice at first, a little cramped because of so many people, but not bad. After a few stops the majority of the bus had cleared out, we had been threatened by a ticket checker that we all needed to pay 50 Euro a piece because we did not correctly stamp our tickets, and the A.C. was turned off. No A.C. in a cramped train car that is baking in the sun as it travels along and no windows. We all spread out to seats around the compartment as though we could feel the body heat radiating off the person closest to us. We sat completely drenched in sweat for 4 long hours. Everyone sprawled out as much as possible on the two seats we held, drifting in and out of sleep from the heat.

Stepping off the train in Florence was like having outdoor air conditioning. We launched through the street of Florence and found our Hostel without too many problems. The place we are staying for the next few days is fantastic. They have a pool, sauna, and workout room. There is a bar on the room and the most gorgeous view of the city I have ever seen. The price is a lot cheaper than the Rome apartment. The only difference is that we are in a room with 5 other girls as well as ourselves.

The first thing we did is hop in the pool once settled. The water was freezing, but at least I wasn't as gross. We showered and hit up a Chinese place for dinner which turned out to be a bad idea when Laura and I's dinner came out looking and tasting like cat food. So we got gelato after dinner to make up for it.

Happy 4th of July to everyone.

Friday During the Day

Full day of activities since it was our last day in Rome. We took the subway to the Vatican after people woke up (after 12) from their hard partying. We found a street vendor selling gorgeous dresses for cheap and while we were looking Diana went and found a toilet and threw up the remains of Thursday night's alcohol. We walked around St. Peters square and even though I have already been there I was again knocked out by how pretty it all was. Diana left us after a few minutes to go back to the apartment and sleep everything off .

The sun was beating down, it was ridiculously hot and humid, my fears from Germany and Poland about not having nice weather for the trip were put to rest and I can now wear the summer clothing I packed with me. It started to rain while we were standing there even though there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was brilliant, it was a fantastic rain and cooled us all down. We got in line to see St. Peter's Basilica. Once in line I realized they had a dress code and worried about all of us in our skirts and tank tops. We made it through the first line of security without problems. Abby changed into the dress she bought in the middle of the line and threw hew shirt over her shoulders. I put Laura's new dress that she bought over my shoulders for the second round of security and made it threw. It wasn't until I was walking in that one of the guards came over and told me I was not permitted in because my skirt did not reach my knees.

Everyone else went inside the church (which is beautiful and I'm mad I wasn't allowed it) and I stood outside like a prostitute not permitted in the rich church. After about half an hour they came back out and we got a slice of pizza. We hit up a castle that I have a picture of as well as the Piazza Navona on the way back. The heat was incredible but we walked the entire city to get back to our apartment.

I feel like no matter how many times I shower or use wipes to give myself a mini shower I am never clean. The heat and humidity immediately makes you greasy and sweaty and forever feeling grungy.

We bought groceries and made dinner at the apartment and had movie night watching Vicky Christina Barcelona, which was fantastic, we had a lot of fun and I love it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sleep...and the loss of

We had the cutest dinner in our apartment last night. Instead of shelling our a ton of Euro for a nice diner we went to the grocery store and bought pasta, sauce, and a bottle of wine for cheap. It wasn't until we got home that we realized we had a gas stove, which none of us have ever used. So we messed around with it and looked up gas stoves online and finally gace up. So we stuck the noodles and water in a pot and stuck it in the microwave in hopes on a decently cooked noodle. It wasn't until Laura came over did we realized Diana put it in a metal pot in the microwave and we could have caught the entire kitchen on fire. We did get everything done, and dinner was fantastic and so cute.

I guess it was silly to hope for an extremely light sleeper to get enough sleep on a trip like this. The probability for a full night sleep was low, and the outcome has been even less. I guess that's one of the trade offs for traveling around Europe, though I'm jealous of the girls who can sleep through the jackhammer off the back patio right now.

Last night we went out partying, it is the last time I am partying in Europe until the last night, which is Laura's birthday. I never ever want to drink and go out again. We went on a crawl around Rome with an unusually large number of people from O.U. who we bumped into unexpectedly while we were there. For a ridiculous price we got drinks, pizza, a t-shirt, and free admission into 3 bars. I have never met so many ass holes in my life, and hope to never again experience that. Laura walked home with me around 1 am because I quit the party early. I went back and was online for a while and then went straight to sleep.

I'm not sure how much later the other girls came in because I was sleeping, but it took Diana literally over an hour to get ready for bed. I am sharing a room with her, the two other girls were sleeping in the next room. Then I realize that Diana is sick from all the alcohol, so I can hear her dry heaving over the bed for a good portion of the night, and occasionally running to the bathroom to vomit. Once, I got up to use the bathroom and Diana came straight in and started spitting in the sink before I could leave or even get up, in one of these occurences she knocked a cabinet over and left my tooth brush laying on the bathroom floor.

Construction early this morning, with a literal jack hammer just a few feet from our door.
Fun times of sleep deprivation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lead in the water

A little bit of anything is ok. Usually a moderate amount is alright, but there's always a point where there's too much.

We did the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Capitoline today. We woke up at 8:00 am to get up and get ready and hopefully beat the lines for the Colosseum. We had to pay for the Bed and Breakfast today which I was in charge of. With the Euro exchange rates I'm about 500 dollars down from where I thought I was going to be. That in mind I went to the grocery store and am living off cereal and milk.

It was a fantastic day going and seeing everything. I think we lost a bit of its meaning because we couldn't afford a tour guide, so even though we saw everything we didn't learn anything about it. We walked almost the entire city and are and saw a bunch of different cites including the Trevi fountain and the Piazza di Venezia. It was so hot, I continually applied sunscreen and still have tan lines from my shirt.

I am hoping it takes a lot of lead to get lead poisoning because the water is super expensive and I will not pay for it. So I have been drinking tap water, ever though I hear the pipes it comes from may be very old...I'm only here a few days, so I hope it will not build up.

I wish I could call home and talk just for a little while. I also wish I had some alone time. It's impossible here when we all live in the same room.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bye Bye Sunscreen

We spent 14 hours in an airport. Let me repeat that...14 hours. I don't know if anyone knows what that's like, but I would not wish for them to know what its like. We left Krakow at 12 when we were officially kicked out of the hostel and we headed, fully pack animal-ed to the T with our luggage, to the train station where a man offered to drive us to the Katovice airport, over an hour away.

The luggage hardly fit in the back of the car and the poor man was not able to see out the back. So we drove through Krakow's villages and down the back roads since highways are nonexistent in Poland.

Upon arriving at the airport we realized that it was not a big terminal where we would be able to get lunch and relax and walk around. It was a tiny few airplane airport where food options were very limited, and space was hard to find. We ate lunch in their "restaurant" and I was served what Abby called "baby alien pods" because they were squishy, yellow, unidentifiable circular object smothered in gravy.

I don't know how else to describe the entire experience of Diana's dance party at 2 am. The bench notches permanently imprinted in my back, and yet another experience of being awake and traveling for almost 48 hours. When 4 am eventually rolled around we had to fight the hundreds of other travelers to be checked through the entire 2 open lanes of security. The man checking bags went through my purse and took out my sunscreen, it was 112 g when the limit was 110 g. He made me throw it away and sat there and watched as I did it.

Needless to say we did eventually arrive in Rome. We looked like zombies and probably smelled worse, but our part of the trip has finally arrived.

Bumming as we go

Last day in Krakow with the whole group before we finally get to go off on our own and start our part of the trip. By this time I can't wait to get away from Greg and the immature gnomes I'm traveling with. Diana, Laura, and I meandered around Krakow for a while and went up to a big old castle in town. I got an amber ring from one of the little shops, Amber is really popular in Poland because it gets washed in from the Baltic sea. Every jewelry shop and tourist stand glistens with green, gold, and brown amber.

We decided to be rebels while shopping at the drug store and we bought purple hair dye and promptly went to the hostel and stunk up all the hallways with brain cell killing dyes.

We decided to get dinner at a bar that turned out to be closed which was a blessing because we discovered a vegetarian restaurant with the most amazing food I've ever had. I'd never heard or had any food in the states like I had there. There was something like a spinach burger and different potato salads and fruit.