Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the end of a road

so this is it. one final blog ( my seventy-second by the way) and i will be on my way home again to settle down and be in one place again, at least for a week or so until i get restless and must move on! i am feeling a bit rattled by the swiftly approaching finale of my adventures (well these migratory adventures at least, as i am sure there will be more adventures in the future) and have therefor been looking for ways to settle myself, no need to be too stressed on tomorrows very very long journey home, and have been doing some counting to calm myself down and put this whole thing into perspective. so here are some numbers that i have come up with:

postcards i have sent-107 (my mother alone recieved 28)

time zones i've been in (long term not just passing over)-6

airports i've been in-12

flights i've been on-11

hostels i've stayed in-19

currencies i've used-6

farms i've worked on-5

books i have read-55




countries i've been to (again only ones i've stayed in)-11

cities i've visited-36

plug adaptors i've used-4

i have met a countless number of people, some of whom i will never speak to or see again, despite being friends on facebook. however there are a good number that i know i will keep in contact with and several who i will not be suprised to have turn up to visit when they are in my neck of the woods and a few who i will be going to visit myself. i've planted trees, walked on a volcano and jumped out of a plane as well as doing a rather thorough survey of plane/train/bus/ferry services. i feel that were i to be suddenly set down in some strange place, mapless and without plan, i could find my way, meet some people and discover some fun things to do. things that used to scare me now don't bother me at all and i feel i've accomplished rather a lot over the course of six months, including the fact that i will be returning home not broke having managed to stay on budget which is sort of a miricle in this type of long term travel or so i have gathered from my fellows.

anyway, i really don't have much to say and all of that counting was in a way some form of procrastination as i have not packed one bit and am more than a little bit terrified by the pile of things which must be coerced back into the raggedy confines of my dreaded backpack (interestingly, only two items of cloathing have survived from the original pack-load. everything else has been worn out, discarded, bartered, or replaced), but over all i think that the the counting was a way to reconcile my memories with facts, draw it all together into something at least resembling a cohesive journey. to justify the money that i have spent, and the time that i have invested. and most of all to sooth my worry, not about what has already occured but what will. the unknown. a return to 'normal' (whatever that is) and how i will cope with permenence and one place and a job? alarming prospects all. but never mind that, one day at a time and all that. i will get there when i get there and in the meantime, i have so very much enjoyed this migration, here at the close of my one-hundred-and-eightyeth day of summer (with few exceptions) and looking forward to more and whatever else comes with that and after that. i am always amazed and pleased that anyone has been reading this, i hope that it has provided some amusement of some sort and not been too atrocious in the spelling department, and (until the next bout of travel seizes me) not goodbye, but see you later.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

calling from london

and the last stop has indeed arrived. though never expected to come to an end, it just seems that it must go on forever, i know that technically i have now two more days of 'travel' and one long day of travel (that is almost forty hours by the way and due to some time traveling madness all taking place in the space of one wednesday) and i will be finished with what has turned out to be quite the action packed adventure, though perhaps not the most thoroughly chronicled of adventures for which i again do apolagize. however i must say if i were writting all the time i would not have time to do anything worth writing about and therefor what would it be that i would be writing?
i digress however as this is definatly not my farewell blog, but just a few short words about the lovely frolics in charming london town which have so far taken place (and two more days so who knows what could happen still?!) with my friends, a selection of, though not all of, the epic british girls who have been previously mentioned here.
on friday morning i woke to an unfarmiliar setting, having taken the train from glasgow to london the previous evening, and arrived and been met at kings cross (where by the way there is neither a platform 9 or 10 for those who know why that is of any significance, apparently unintelligent children and or persons unknown of a number large enough to be worriesome, injured themselves running at the dividing wall). but i had fogotten all of this in the moment of waking and was temporarily alarmed until i remembered that i had once again, and for the last time at least on this trip, changed countries, cities, locations in general. i headed out to the subway or what they here call the tube/underground and will recognize by no other name, and journeyed to camden street where i met steph and sarah and we had some fun market-y times and some terribly upsetting chinese food (delicious at the time, rather close to rejected by stomachs later on) and then moved on to the protobello market and then to the main shopping area and the most enormous shops every, including the flagship topshop which has a tree downstairs (inside) and is so enormous we should have worked out meeting points in case anyone was unexpectedly seperated from the group. the markets were lovely if a bit commercial, but what i expected. some really wonderful things were being produced by hand by local artisans and i am always more than happy to support such persons (being at times one myself and believing in karma and all) and found many wonderful things amongst the silly eighties movie quote tshirts and the same reproduction hip garments in a variety of qualities and prices. there was also a rather glorious array of flea markety stuff and produce at portobella and a set of enormouse lion statues at camden which were dutifully posed with-really who could resist a big cat photo op?!
saturday i met helen at the waterloo train station (all the while humming the abba song) which was rather difficult due to the fact that one of the lines was down, a few stations closed, and the victoria or main line i was using, was determined to linger over-long and unessisarily in the tunnels while it's overcrowded occupants sweltered in the muggy heat below ground. but i got there in time and we found eachother just fine and we set out for the meeting point of the free tour of london, which she was eager to go on, due to the fact it is slightly comical to tour ones own country and that they are generally a rather good way to get a sort of general overview of a city in a whirlwind sort of way and are often suplimented by many interesting, though sort of useless facts which i always love learning. such as that the duke of wellington did in fact create the first wellington (or wellie) boot. we swung by the palace to catch a bit of the changing of the royal guard (to dancing queen of all things and aparently it was thriller the previous day in an obvious sort of tribute though interesting considering it's the queen that selects each peice) and wonder at the heavy heat of those black bearfur hats in the rather oppressive sunshine which beat down upon our group, thouroughly uncharicteristic of the country. aparently delivered by me?
we saw charles palace and passed several exclusive gentlemans clubs, and walked the length of pall mall street to trafalger square and over to big ben, parliment and the royal favorite church, where they conduct coronations, weddings and funerals. i felt an need to mutter 'remember remember the fifth of november' when walking past parliment, and was rather impressed with the sheer scale of the london eye, though daunted by the length of the line and convinced it was not worth it, by the price of a ride, and not even open air!
and todays central attraction was the wallace and gromit exhibit at the national science museum which involved lots of fun interactive games and activities and all sorts of awesome inventions and we saw a mans head get stuck in the tube doors and extricated (he should not have tried to board after the doors were closing but still) and all sorts of fun exciting dinosaur bones at the natural history museum and now i have another two days left of travel before i have to really travel and what do i fill them with?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

i'll take the high road and you take the low road

i apolagize for not writing of late, other than to fill in the end of the paris-adventures saga, but i have been focusing on keeping warm. it has been absolutly freezing here considering that it is 'summer' and most definatly the month of june. but seeing as i have today finally seen the sun agian (and it feels almost out of character here, uncomfortable and unexpected-everyone so pale they practically glow) i have sufficiantly thawed to be able to invest some energy in typing up an account of scotland so far.
and it has been very different from where i have been traveling previously. for instance they speak english as a first language here. sort of. some people are so hard to understand it's startling. but i am staying with family and that is a lovely change, and we've been on several long drives in the countryside to outlying towns with small pubs and miles of old stone walls with no cement inbetween. and everything is so green it hurts your eyes and there are skittering wolly white lamb which frolic up and down the landscape just asking to be a sweater. and every corner seems to be staked by one bagpiper or another. and we took the train up to edinborough, my cousin and i, and went to visit the castle and it was so castley it almost felt fake in it's thorough authenticity. all those parapets and stone and dungeons and winding stairs. and there was a drawbridge over a (sadly empty) moat) and a gate with menecing spikes one walked under at the entrance and it was only after we had been walking about for a bit examining canons and stone guardhouses that i realized 'dude i'm in a castle' and it was a sort of glorious realization.
however i must say that the most amazing thing that i have experienced while here in scotland was a dinner on the third night i was in the country. the whole family gathered together and met at a resteraunt called mr singhs which apparently is 'the best' according to one knowlegable source, which was an indian resteraunt. and upon arriving we were met by one of the owners sons (who are all named after heros of a scottish football league if i recall correctly) who knew everyone and showed them to a table and i saw that all of the servers were decked out in full scottish regalia, with the high socks and a kilt and the vest with the strange tie at the neck and everything, and turbans. of all things, an indian resturaunt where you are waited on by kilted, be-turbaned waiters named after footballers and served haggis pakora and brought special dishes when it is discovered you like things spicy. for the record it was all fabulously delicious. i stuffed myself silly and then added dessert to it as well (not the wisest move but they had an ice cream 'bomb' covered in chocolate and coconut) but the whole time i couldn't help being amused by the kilt/turban combo even though it might have been the best indian food ever. and in scotland of all places.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

the adventures of max and kaitlin in paris- part two

and we are back with another exciting installment of the shennanigans of two american girls wandering paris.....
episode nine
in which kaitlin and max tackle the most terrifying of all paris or even possibly european tourist stops:the louvre! waking to a torrencial downpour they layer up and head out through the metro to the museum, arriving ten minutes before it opens and manage to-running up over six flights of stairs and bypassing any sort of maps or guides and only stopping to flash our tickets- be the third and fourth people to view the mona lisa, behind her protective glass and guarded and roped off in her own enormous room, in the entire day. the room was empty except for a couple who weren't even looking at m.l. and, breathing a bit heavily, we took a victory picture in which one can see a out of focus painting in the background.
we then proceeded to view the rest of the museum or as much as we could handle, being particularly interested in the sulley wing full of egyptian antiquities and napleans 'small' apartments furnished all in red velvet and the most sumptuous chandeliers i have ever seen.
episode ten
in which kaitlin and max walk all the way from the louvre to the islands and arrive at the famouse berthillion ice cream parlor looking distinctly like drowned cats, only to discover that it is closed on mondys and tuesdays. very sad, but we find a cafe across the street which sells their icecream anyway, and have a banana split and the most glorious caramel ice cream i have ever encountered. visit notre dame which is so breathtaking but marred slightly at the sight of idaho-ean tourist posing their chocolate stained tshirt wearing children in front of all the prayer candles and saying 'make a silly face' or whatever. also distracted from my enjoyment by two southern california women complaining about the lack of the usefulness of their french driver and oh communication and how difficult it is to get anything across to their spanish speaking maid and how they really shouldn't get a sports car what with the recession but hey if they do they want the extra features which is just logical.
episode eleven
in which we climb the arc de triumph at night, oh glorious spiral stairs in all your dizzy inducing clausterphobic splendor how many of you i have stepped up and how little i will miss you post europe. i am forever going to choose the lift option after this. the view was stunning and so vast, you could really pick out the other landmarks well, the eiffle all lit up in the settling dusk, the rows of cars streaching out gracefully from all the streets emerging from the base of the arc like some sort of unfurling flower. and all of this magnificence for the tomb of some unknown and un named soldier who died forever ago. it is really impressive. we made it back to the apartment late and with very cold feet but a head full of such beautiful scenery.
episode twelve
dawns our last day and a rush to the de orsay where we are again ahead of the pack in entering and enjoy our stroll throughout this once-a-train-station-now-a-museum and sort of focus on impressionism with forays into poinilism and art deco furniture(the lines were so fluid considering they were made out of wood!) and just generally appreciating the beautiful building and a cup of very satisfactory hot chocolate in the cafe from which we could peer through the gigantic station clock that graces the river facing front of the structure. after this we booked it straight to the rodin sculpture garden where we were rewarded by some well deserved end-of-week sunshine as we meandered between rows of perfectly manicured shrubbery and peered up at the thinkier and the fates and finally the gates of hell and all of their splendidly expressive suffering. k and m conclude that he really did exceptional work on both feet and hands.
episode thirteen
wait in line for what seems like eternity at the entrance to the catacombs then decend the tightest and narrowest spiral stair ever just to walk for fifty minutes. signs adorn all the walls posing the question: do you suffer from anxiety or shortness of breath? we are freaked out enough by the gaping metal-gated holes in the passageway behind which lurks such thick darkness but after what seems like forever we emerge suddenly into passages lines in five foot deep shoulder high 'piles' of bones. really they are exceptionally organized, with the sculls and long legbones used to form decorative patterns in the sides of this endless winding wall of dead people relocated from so many spread out french gravesites. there is something distincly unsettling abou the missing sculls and the shapes they leave behind, as who would steal that. and after loosing track of the group in front of us and wandering forward a bit on our own (through a section where the previous days rain has soaked through the mile of ground above to dampen the floor to a treacherous level of slipperyness) we emerge at a cathedral high ceilinged opening and the stairs up which chuck us out at some unknown and far away destination.
episode fourteen
in which k and m buy wine on the way back at the petit casino grocery store and drink an entire bottle of rose with their dinner (both massive and masterpiece as it utilzed everything left in the refrigorator in a cocophany of vegitable/cheesy/pestoy goodness) in order to shake of some remnents of goosebumps sustained from their long sojourn underground. they then stumble slightly to the metro where they journey once agian deep into the montmarte/louve areas of paris for some heavy duty wandering followed by dinner at a resteraunt with red velvet seats and gold painted chairs where they have dinner and a pitcher of wine (hey it's france) and they staff try their hardest to keep max and kaitlin in their establishment plying them with chocolates at regular intervals until the only way they can escape (not wishing to miss the eiffle tower lit up at night on their last paris evening) is to go beg for the bill from the bartender-who has been watching then all evening and been thoughroughly entertained.
episode fifteen
eiffle tower at night. lit up and with an hourly light show which turns it into the biggest sparkler in the world. not much to describe this but it is so beautiful and perfect.
episode sixteen
kaitlin and max journey to the cdg airport and discover upon arrival that they depart from the same terminal and even the same section in that terminal so they are able to remain together past security and through the long amount of time between check in and boarding. goodbyes are not easy even when the blow is softened by an enormous bag of peanut m&m's purchased at the duty free shop. even when knowing there will be further reuniting soon.
max and kaitlin part ways and fade to black, el fin, roll credits.
i would like to thank kaitlin for meeting me in paris, pushing it up past it's average awesomeness to trip highlight status. how well did we do that? we should sell our plan to fund a return trip!
and now, some scotish 'summer' aka torrencial rain and wind so strong you can lean into it and remain standing. i will miss paris and i understand how everyone raves about it. i understand what the 'big deal' is with the most visited and most expensive city in europe. i know i must go back, there is so much to see just simply walking down a twisted cobblestone street that periodically ones brain must explode with excitement. and the food...well i will most likely drool on myself even thinking about it so not going there but let me just close with saying that hot chocolate has never been experienced in this way before, it is truly life changing!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

the adventures of max & kaitlin in paris-part one

before i begin allow me to first mention that todays entry is being co-written or shall we say assisted by the lovely kaitlin, who is incedentally my partner in crime for the whole week in paris and sitting right next me right now so it's not like i'd write anything bad about her at least this time. good news is she is looking over my shoulder so there is a higher likelyhood of correct spelling, and she will force me to spell the french words with the correct accents.
episode one
in which max and kaitlin meet at the cdg airport. of course because it is the one flight of max's where there is someone waiting at the other side, everything does go wrong. but the reunite at the arrivals gate, there is hugging and most likely some squeeling but i won't say from whom, and they set out into paris together.
episode two
in which kaitlin is uber jetlagged and max attempts to keep her awake by leading her in totally the wrong direction (accident) and feeding her tons of espresso on an empty stomach. actually in truth k ordered the espresso for herself. they then walk to the cimetèrie du père lachaise and visited several important resting places including chopin, oscar wilde(covered in lipstick kisses-noted that this is not particularly hygenic), and of course jim morrison.
episode three
in which k &m feel revitalized after a light nap and lovely french supper and take a very very long walk (about four miles) all the way from their hotel on the edge of the bastille to the louvre. they admire the enormousness of the museum and how lovely everything is lit up at night, finally feeling like they are for sure in paris cause there is no way this could be faked (it's too big) and then, exhausted, metro back to the hotel and crash.
episode four
in which k & m once again navigate the trecherous french subway to their lent apartment in the spanish quarter. while the metro is very extensive, for some reason the stations involve very long walks to get from one line to another, resulting in a lot of trudging around dragging heavy luggage. after successfully locating the apartment they visit the eiffle, it is huge and so is the line, so they plan to return (very early) the following day to beat the queue.
-note-in this episode a crazy lady comes up to the girls while they are sitting at a chocolatiere and grabs one of their truffles off the plate. the staff chase her away and then replace the two complimentary chocolates with four very large ones, all the while apolagizing profusely.
episode five
in which the girls cook their first mean in the one person kitchen (rice and vegetable curry with orangina and some experimental pink champagne) and then head out in search of creme brulée and have to walk halfway across the neighborhood checking each blackboard menu in vain until they finally locate an establishment smart enough to serve this traditionally french dessert, and excitedly order two only to discover that they are gigantic. max valiently eats her entire serving and promptly feels ill, kaitlin is smarter and stops when she feels she can no longer carry on.
episode six
in which they wake very very early and make it to the eiffle tower ( 1,665 steps people) almost an hour before it even opened to discover an alarming line already forming and are somewhat worried. however within an hour of waiting (and discovering they still count as 'youth' here) they make it to the very top of the tower and have their beautiful views.
have at this point concluded that it is not in fact parisians who are rude, but the tourists in paris, who jostle so violently in lines and lifts that they cause many a bump and bruise on our innocent travelers. this type of conduct is of course completely unnessisary as it saves no time and gets you perhaps an inch further in line and just makes other people angry. don't do this please. everyone is waiting just like you, so be pacient.
episode six
in which they walk through the mouffetard food market (purchasing some miniature potatoes for dinner) and to the famous shakespear and co bookstore right across from notre dame which was once the hangout for such writers as hemingway, whitman aned joyce, and is floor to ceiling books and gloriously insane, though i might add, the staff is a bit on the snooty side. kaitlin agrees with this sentiment says 'oh very much so'
discovered a tiny hole-in-th-wall cafe (very strange-serving american and brazillian cocktails and what they thought was american food but with a irish pub atmosphere and covers of american songs sung in french) which served a very good burger (note that medium in france means slightly cooked but still extreemly bloody) and had an awesome selection of mustards for their fries or frites. walked through the jardin du luxenbourg and watched small children prod sailboads in the water with sticks.
episode seven
in which kaitlin and max spend much more time walking in circles then actually doing anything, first throughout all of montmarte (the moulin rouge is unimpressive in the morning unlit by it's charicteristic red lights) and up a disturbing number of steps to the sacré coeur which was a beautiful monument decorated in so many different gargoyles, and the veiw from the dome is argued to be one of the best in paris. from there we spent a long time lost and overheated and trying to locate the marché aux puces de st-ouen, the reputed largest market in europe with 2,500 stalls, but were disapointed to find that it was just like any market in the bay area but more of a suffocating crush of people.
episode eight
in which they stop at a rather touristy cafe along the champs-élyées only to discover that it was overpriced and didn't bring water when requested or even offer condiments with foods such as french fries! outraged at this preposterous establishment max proceeds to steal their pepper mill before departing as she and kaitlin have been wishing for pepper in the apartment.
stay tuned for qnother exciting batch of episode in the amazing adventures of these to mischeivious travellers and their parisian revels.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

oh this amazing swedish effeciency

well sweden has proved an intersting place. so very swedish it is. everything is perfectly designed, and works correctly and exclusively for it's intended purpose. the people are cold (as is their country) and seem to be very unaware of other people around them. i have never been so alarmingly bumped and joseled while moving around public spaces, it's as if no one cares about anyone else, no one smiles at the grocery store at strangers, no one seems to say what they mean. elusive and indirect these stockholm-ers. but make some really good ice cream (saffron and blackberry, the most amazing flavor/color combination i've ever experienced). but that seems to be the thing i notice most here. everything is perfectly made, works so exactly for it's purpose, the clothes are perfectly tailored and well made, and the sinks all have a little rubber scoop designed for getting all the bits of food that collect there out easier, but the people are emotionally devoid.
the laundry in and of itself was an experience. my friend beth who i am visiting here, has free laundry here (free like everything else, health care, school etc) and it is perfectly done if i do say so myself. there is a board outside the laundry room with a full month calender and every apartment has a lock that they move with their door key to the day and time slot they wish to do laundry in, that way no one is there when you planned to go. the washing machines are huge and the dryer industrial. there is also a large and very effective iron and the most amazing drying rack ever. designed sort of like a heated towel rack with all of the bars spaced alternatly so that everything you hang will not be piled on top of itself and therefor dry better, the bars swing out of what looks like a fairly normal cabinet, then once loaded up with all delicate or hang-dry clothes, is rotated back in where they dry in a clean dust free environment, hung over round rods so that they do not wrinkle either. astounding.
every subway train has a route map by every door-four actually so that multiple people can be confused and search for there stop simaltaneously, though that couldn't happen as (unsuprisingly) the underground is very well organized and logical. it seems to be that my overall impression of sweden, or stockholm as it is really supposedly different from the remainder of the country and one should not judge an entine country on just one three day stop, is that all of ones basic needs are provided for; such as housing, health, education, lots of the culture/art, any humaness is distictly unnurtured here. i have heard that people will not befriend you unless formally introduced through school, family, or work situations, that if you go out to a bar you never speak to anyone but the people you arrived with and if you were to meet and hang out and talk with someone at a party, the next day passing them on the street they would act as if you didn't exist because to them, you are not a part of their world. it is like they give you everything you need to 'survive' but only in a technical sence. in an emotional way one is left abandoned here in the frozen country, where the children though charmingly adorable it is true, seem cold and distant as well. overall i would surely be able to stay that i would not choose this place to live if i were looking at all of europe. while it is impeccibly comfortable in one sence, i think, especially when winter and all-day-darkness settled on the city like a heavy blanket, that i would find myself slowly freezing as well. even after such a brief visit i feel i will need to thaw out on arriving in paris.

Monday, June 8, 2009

in the far cold north

well i did manage to make it from amsterdam to berlin, with just a few difficulties such as missing my train entirely...! unfortunatly the woman at the station did not warn me when directing me to the small local train i had to take to get to the outlying station from which i was to catch the german train to berlin, that on this particular day i would have to transfer to an unknow other train in order to make it to the correct station. and since i didn't know this, and when they told us over the loudspeakers (in dutch, and so crackly i was never sure if they were actually saying anything over the noise of the train) i didn't hear and so when i suddenly became worried when it was getting close to when i was to arrive at my station and not seeing it anywhere, the train reached the end of the line and i confronted the conductor who informed me, near laughing, that no i was in completely the wrong direction and should have transfered and he had said so. i tried to explain that he had said this in dutch and therefor could not expect me to know it, but that did no good. in the end i was forced to throw a tanya harding style fit, look desperate and near weeping to get any practical assistance. he told me i could just cross down and go to the other side and take a train back that would go directly to the station i needed, it was just that it came in thirty minutes and therefor i would completely miss my very expensive german train. some tapping on his fancy handheld device produced the news that there was another train going the exact same route just departing two hours later than the original one i was supposed to catch, though he didn't know how that would work, as i had a reserved seat on the first train, would i have to buy a new ticket? no useful answer to that. so distressed and cold i waited the local trian back in the right direction and made it to the station a mere forty minutes before i was to catch this proposed other train, only to stand in line for an extraordinarily long time, and finaly be informed that i could take this train without purchasing a new ticket as there were like 100 available seats... and so easy as that and the train arrived less than twenty minutes after i sorted my arrangments, i boarded and settled into the very cushy interior (a bank of four seats to myself no less) and doodled and snoozed and generally occupied myself for the intertveining six hours of travel to berlin.
now a word about the berlin public transportation system. or should i say systems. as there is the subway, over fourty lines called U2 or U34 etc, the S Bahn which is like a subway but above ground, the ring bahn which is part of the S Bahn but circling the city center in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction, a series of busses and also trams. this is extraordinary, and amazingly confusing, though thank goodness i had directions from the woman i was set to stay with on exactly which trains, s bahns etc to take and transfer to, if i wanted to make it to her apartment, and it worked out just fine. i think over all, on each inter-european-city-trip i can manage to keep my exceptionally annoying transportation blunders to a one-per-trip maximum. not too bad so once i mess up once i know i am not in danger of doing it again any time soon...hopefully.
so now i am in berlin, for two days and what am i going to do with this time, which is not very long to see a whole city. well my friends i met in amsterdam had just come from berlin and gave me a city map which had the starting point of the neweurope free walking tour and so i figured, why not do that, it is a good way to see a large part of the city with limited time and a knowledgable tour guide with lots of fun facts and answers to random questions, and even a chance of meeting some other people (especially since i was not staying in a hostel i felt the need to at least try to make some friends). which i did. some aussie girls and a big group of new york/new jersey guys. the tour ended up being very informative and interesting although most of the history it was covering was a not charming stuff, all nazi book burnings and and the no mans land at the wall where all attempting crossers were shot on sight. and after the tour ended i joined up with the east coast boys to wander about the city on foot, and we stopped into a communist souvenier shop to avoid the rain and the large grey fur hats looked like they would be so cozy. and i decided to go on a pub crawl cause it was friday night and why not, and it is absolutly mad in berlin, this huge group of gap-year british and aussie kids running around like fools. but entertaining. and not even getting to the club (matrix) until after one and we didn't leave until maybe fiveish. and odd to wander through the u system at such an early hour with the sky so light and the birds singing up a storm. amazing thing. and of coure freezing cold too. and after sleeping away about half the day i spent the later afternoon time wandering around the city some more, went to the berlin wall memorial museum and the church across from it which was demolished to make way for the wall and rebuilt after. and i met up with gesa and we tooled around the shopping district discussing how germans couldn't really get away with wearing cowboy boots without looking extreemly foolish, and ate 'mexican' at a resturaunt called the frida kahlo and packed and crashed early. still tired from such a late night on friday.
and then sunday was back to the traveling. sbahn and a shuttle bus to the airport and then some wandering around the airport to find the correct terminal and then waiting for such a long time for my flight but thank goodness i had a lovely picnic lunch of strawberries and chips (actual ketchup!) and really good grapefruit soda and the flight was so easy, just a quick one hour jump to sweden, looked like we were going to land in someones backyard as the airport was situated in with all the little foresty farmhoused. and after waiting almost half an hour for my luggage to arrive i caught a bus to the train station where my friend beth was there to meet me. and that was amazing, i think i shrieked involintarily on exiting the bus i was just so excited to see someone that i already knew. and so now it is sweden, home of svelt design and modern simplicity and ikea! even more difficult to wrap my head around being in a new country when the jump was so far and so much faster my air than by land, and then leaving so soon. so i will just layer all of my tshirts at once to keep warm and enjoy the fact that it never gets dark here and then sooner than i can wrap my head around, be taking off for another country and city and another new set of adventures!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


what a crazy crazy city it is too, though unfortunatly, as i learned yesterday, slowly becoming less to it's detrement i feel. amsterdam is like no other city in europe at least that i have encountered thus far, and yet the powers that be (ie the government) is attempting to homoginize it with the rest of the european metropolises in appearence, and experience. a shame. we started our day with a free walking tour of the city and mour tour guide kevin, was sort of grumpy having been called in on his one day off, and therefor was very no-nonsence and extremely funny. made for a thoroughly enjoyable tour, three hours around the city and i learned a great deal. i am starting to really admire the dutch for their no nonsence approach to co-existance and tollerence of anyone and everyones beliefs, values, ideas, fashion sense etc. their sence of humor is quite enjoy able as well, for instance when king louis (napoleans brother who was given holland as napolean himself couldn't be bothered with anything else that far away) made all the dutch give their last names instead of just being identified by their occupation and the street on which they resided (a confusing practice as if one ever moved or switched jobs their name would be altered to reflect the changes) many gave silly and or offensive names to the information gatherers who didn't speak any dutch and didn't know any better. unfortunatly their clever joke backfired as there are decendets of these very families not burdened with names like 'big bottom' and 'smelly pants' among others less silly and far more offensive.
we walked through the famous or imfamous red light district and saw the girls (technical title would be sex workers) in their windows though they generally looked bored, one was even texting on her mobile phone while in the window, and learned how the area is being systematically shut down despite the huge tourism draw it is. just this week (as it is te first week of june) they are shutting down over a hundred windows, and those they shut down are replaced by upscale resteraunts where the service is sub-par (so i've been told) they are rude if you aren't dutch, and if you want to pay them to do something they will sing for money. not quite the same thing, and it seems silly to change a place that is so unique only to turn it into a mirror of other places so close, and less pricy. why not allow it to keep its individual charms, why isn't it okay for the ultimate city of acceptance, to accept and embrace this. seems to me it's their buisness what they do and none of ours (or the governments) to put a stop to it just cause they think they could possibly draw the same amount of tourist interest from a less 'racy' set of city attractions.
i was also easily able to appreciate the physical beauty of amsterdam as well, with its uniform brick front buildings and whispering leafed treelined canals. the houses are all so narrow because they had a width tax (and still do) measuring only the front of the first story of the building, therefor, the wider your house is the more you have to pay. we saw one hose that is just seven feet wide! i also learned that the brick fronts are required and not only that, are owned by the city, and while you pay a tax for them each year, the city takes care of all maintinence and upkeep. we learned why there are hooks at the tops of the buildings (to get large furniture into the upper floors without navigating treaturously narrow staircases) and why the buildngs seem to be leaning/ skewed to the side (either build on ground which has since shifted and been eroaded by time, or they actually get wider on the upper floors for added interior space as only the first floor is measured for width tax, though this was of course only possible on corner lot buildings and therefor all of the streets seemed even more narrow and mysterious due to the looming skinny tilted buildings) and that there are over 1,284 bridges in the city crossing over the many canals.
we went to two markets (populated by stalls selling much of the same stuff i have seen throughout europe and even in thailand with only the price and color varying, and many many mobile fry cafes, or frites. delicious and served in a triangular pocket of red and white striped paper and you eat them with a miniature two pronged plastic fork and they are so good you burn your mouth not caring just unable to stop. we went to the sex museum (thorough and hilarious) and the anne frank house (serious, sad but very important) and remembering how she wrote of hearing bells from her hiding place, looked across the street to the church on the square, heard the bell music it produced. i saw rows of hundreds of bikes and tons of people riding them, men in buisness suits, talking on phones or smoking (what i will not suppose) women in heels and with babies and large shopping bags. i felt very pleased to be walking all over the city, like it was more respectful of the city which places so much emphasis on green living, to power myself around to all the sites instead of taking a bus or train, appropriate for this city, though after two days of it my feet are getting rather tough. feel tingly when i sit for a moment>

Sunday, May 31, 2009

train impressions

once again with the train, and despite the dampness of my jeans and the rainwater pooled on my backpack from the journey to the station, it was an amazingly beautiful train ride, and of course, the rain ceased once i made it to the train station. the french trains are well organized and supremely cushy. my provisions were delicious. and there wasn't a single baby (that felt the need to make itself heard throughout the duration of the ride anyway) and overall the montpellier to brussles portion of the journey was reletively flawless. five hours spent daydreaming and peering excitedly through the window (i miraculously scored a window seat) at the scenery, straight out of a painting, which sped past in a blaze of thick velvety fields and jewel-bright blue skys adorned with the most picture perfect fluffy clouds. if only i could have photographed it all, but all that would have shown would have been a blur of colors and my face reflected in the glass. too bad.
however, i must here make a comment about the belgian train i took from brussles supposedly direct to amsterdam. it was filthier than a bad track muni bus, damp and overcrowded with insufficiently sized luggage racks which deposited their contents periodically upon the occupents unsuspecting heads. after over an hour of jostled elbow-y travel in a hard plastic seat with a sticky fingered child sitting next to me on what was clearly never intended to seat more than one person, during which i befreinded the american sitting across from me (taking a weeks holiday to see his sister in amsterdam) the train came to a sudden stop at a rather out of the way, uninteresting station, and emptied rather alarmingly. we streached out, ggrateful to the newly aquired roominess of our carrige, only to have a man come down the aisle to inform us that this was as far as the train was going before returning to brussles and we must immediatly depart. well this was odd. the train was supposed to be non stop. i was somewhat baffled. and after consulting the ticket-collecter-woman (who had incidentally never been seen to collect a single ticket) i discovered that this was just a fluke today, it is normally a much nicer train, it normally runs direct to amsterdam however due to complications today specifically and for unknown reason of course, this was not the case and i would have to board another train to amsterdam and no she had no idea which one as she was not from the dutch train system and had no idea how their lines were oriented and therefor no help.
shortly however a train pulled up to the station, massive and shiny and double decker, with amsterdam central emblazened in lights upon it's side and i immediatly got on and made it sucsessfully to amsterdam (this was according to another passenger the type of train it should have been direct from amsterdam of course) and the tram was simple to locate (though the most difficult to maintain a standing position i have ever encountered) and easy to navigate to the hostel which is palacial and incredibly clean (and green, recycling and resposible water notices everywhere) with pool tables and a bar and free breakfast (at which they provide nutella!) and the city seems tidy and small enough to be easily traveled on foot and i am looking forward to seeing some of the paintings which i was so distinctly reminded of during my countryside-gazing on the train yesterday afternoon. crazy one eared man anyone?

an unhappy turtle

and once again it is time to shoulder the dreaded backpack (don't get me wrong i'd rather have it than not-but must it live on my back?) and head to the train station. fittingly it is raining, a perfect mirror to the day i arrived a little over two weeks ago. the air smells wonderful and i am now most completely justified in taking the tram to the station instead of walking (it's only ten minutes) due to the wet conditions.
my bags are packed....i'm ready to go....
and all that. breakfrast in the belly and provisions all stocked. my ipod has been inundated with new radio material for happy listening times and fully charged. my raincoat is in an easily accessable side pocket of my backpack. i am completely prepared for this, but i feel sort of as if i am starting out again for the first time. i got so settled it was near impossible to pack last night. like i didn't even know what i was doing. and i am sure once i get going it will all come rushing back to me and it is all like riding a bike it is true, but i haven't been anywhere for as long a streach as this (here in montpellier) since the blueberry farm in upper hutt. i pretty much settled. moved in in travel time terms that is.
so ready ahead of schedule, and with nothing much to do but wait and get to the station inordinatly early, i sit here musing about travel, and time and distance and plans. rather amazed that i have made it this far (just one month left, thirty simple days. which will fly past with alarming speed) and been doing this for five months or 150 days exactly as of today. it's like a routine i have become used to and therefore pulling out the backpack from the corner i shoved it into two weeks ago wishing not to have to look upon it's loathsome crumpled form, covered in floor dust and bits of leaf and corners of paper on which i have written things i wished to remember, is almost like greeting an old friend.
almost. if only that friend didn't have the indecency to hitch rides on my back.
and off i go to (hopefully) another adventure!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

oh la la

well according to a well placed source there is grumbling among the readership (such as there is) concerning the lack of new material since my sodden arrival in the south of france. i apolagize for the delay but in true french style i have been at leisure this entire time and far to occupied with snoozing to write, and far to calm and restful to have done much of anything worth writing about in fact. i have also been suffering for a long awaited and not entirely unexpected (due in some part i imagine to the length of my travel and the intensity of the growing sniffles around me and the undeniable exchange of germs in shared hostel spaces) cold which has given me just another excuse (to add to the list) to lie about doing not much and getting a good rest.
a general montpellier day involves a slow wake up somewhere in the relm of the ten o clock hour, shower and liesurely breakfast on the terrace under the impressive spread of the most enormous whisteria i have ever seen (much more tree than bush or shrub as there is most definatly trunk) and perhaps reading in the dappled sun until about noon. at which point i generaly gather my things for my walk into and around town. usually this is for some sort of 'errand' such as buying postcard stamps, scouting out train ticket prices or having run out of orangina (a suprisingly popular item in france-didn't foretell that one) but most often the aim of this meandering stroll is the meandering stroll itself. there is a very lovely tree lined avenue with park benches and fountains and an artfully contemporary art designed childrens play park that provides numerous lovely shaded or sunny spots (whichever i prefur on a given day) in which to sit to read, write or just people watch from behind my sunglasses. there is a very large square surrounded by impressive old buildings and playing home to a beautiful double decker carousal which is unfortunatly, always stationary and seemingly deserted but impressive nonetheless, and an uncountable number of winded cobblestone streets down which one could wander, poking in shops, examining windows, admiring the artful displays of fresh fruit outside a small market.
in the later parts of the afternoon and into the evening, there is generally some sort of lingering lunch followed by or preceeded by a long bout in the hammock, in which i alternatly read or sleep or sometimes admittedly begin by reading and doze off with a book on my face. and there is dinner and sometimes a perusal of the interwebs for any mail from far off distant lands, and a dinner sometime later in the evening, and more reading. sometimes i pull out my stinted art supplies (much depleted since i forgot most of them in the bangkok hostel which succeeded in theiving away many an accidentally forgotten possession of mine) at the kitchen table and make and write postcards for a few hours. sometimes i watch old movies with french dubbing on tv. sometimes i accompany my host suzanne to neighborhood art shows or movies. on thursday we had an 'americans for peace and justice' meeting at the house where i was able to meet a small number of americans living here in montpellier or surrounding areas, and it was nice to have people to talk to in english as opposed to an amalgamation of sign language and heavily accented english. today i plan to wander the book fair that has been set up in the center of town.
mostly however i intend to enjoy the remaining week of my stay here without plan or purpose, doing as the french do and working to live rather than living to work. it is lovely here, and i am going to rest up as much as i can before the crazy madness of six countries in five weeks that is the staggeringly full and plan and fun filled rundown to the end of these adventures which might possibly be termed a 'holiday'. i like that word. rather aptly describes this all, like a very long day off.
note: i would just like to add that if anyone not reading this would like to recieve a postcard while i am still traveling (and there remain less than six weeks of that so i advise swift action) the original agreement still stands. write to me and i will write to you. oh and i need your address. and if you think you ought to have already gotten something but haven't and are cursing the futility of the postcard program, a reminder is perfectly acceptable, the list is long, i might have greiviously miscalculated. i'm trying to get as many out as possible so please forgive a slip up if it has occured. and happy spring to everyone!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

nature show

my first real day in france was a study in the french person in there natural habitat. i walked the city of montpellier, in a mission for postcard stamps i followed suzannes directions down a street callet 'bernard the delicious one' if roughly translated, and found a post office next tp as store called marguerite selling i don't know what, and through hand gestures and pointing i was able to explain that i wanted stamps to send postcards to the us, and had to hold up fingers to denote the number of stamps i desired. then, since i was already out and the rain from the night before had stopped and i had really good music on my ipod i decided to continue my exploration of a city i had seen only in darkness and while lost. so i set off up the hill along a meandering cobblestone street lined with odd shops and cafes. people walked seemingly aimlessly and no one stood in the doorway of their resturaunt beckoning you in insistantly like they made a habit of doing in both greece and italy. i bought a few postcards and made my way all through the shopping center area of town, out to the train station where i inquired about the train to paris, the times it ran and such. the woman was polite and wrote me out a little timetable. i passed through a square where an elaborate two decker merry-go-round stood silent and imobile and people walked past without glancing at it. i read several signs advertising 'american food' which turns out to include a hamburger with french fries stuffed inside, and steak, served silent and lonely, on a plate by itself. again another european city which looks like a picture book/ movie set.
in the evening we drove nearly an hour into the country to a friends party to celebrate a complete project. three younger people had designed and created a form of modular home which they were unveiling on that occation. the drive was spectacular. endless vistas of furowed fields and rows of vines with small stone cottages perched in the distance. near black stormclouds hovered over the whole scene, adding their menace to the prospect of an outdoor gathering. to the right one could see it was raining about a mile away, looking like someone had dragged a brush down through a just painted cloud, leaving a thin flim on the sky below it. the pqrty was full of charming french people, more than half of whom wore scarves of some sort (and the same amount of the scarf wearers were men as women) and almost none spoke any english. i was introduced as an american traveling around the world who didn't know any english. a few of the younger people admitted to knowing 'a very little' bit of english which turned out to be quite a lot. an english man who also spoke french translated my answers to so many questions for a while, a group of men demonstrated how they had gained some english through music and serenaded us with frank zappa. the aformentioned rain came and drenched to earth, turning it swirtly to mud, and everyone ran for cover on the large porch of the module home, rescuing bottles of wine and plates of snacks. the piano player continued to play under a wide umbrella. the group continued to talk. i tired to get a good grip on the french greeting of cheek-kissing. it seemed to be generally three kisses but on a few occasions just two, i am assuming if the person was less well known though several people grabbed me and tri-kissed me even upon knowing my non-french-speaking american traveler status. there seemed to be an elaborate system of knowing which side to begin kissing on, or at as sometimes the cheeks just touched and one made dense kissing sounds next to the ear of the other without actually kissing them, and sometimes the cheek was actually kissed though whether on purpose or lack of kiss greeting coordination i will never know.
an earnest frenchman who spoke some english told me of how he had been to america only once to visit new york in '71 and while there he had purchased 'rollers' which i took to mean rollerscates. he loved that he could roller all around the city of manhatten. he seems to have had a very enjoyable two weeks there and still continues to roller here in france though he bemoned the fact that no one would go rollering with him and spoke long of the french automobile drivers inability to share the road with anybody. we left at eleven just as they were starting to ready food for supper. the stars streached infinatly in the sky, which seemed much more domelike than the last time i had viewed it properly. like some vast painted ceiling under which we located the car and drove home in dark and silence.

Friday, May 15, 2009

using my fav french word...

well yesterday saw another dawn to dusk travel day, beginning at half five when i was woken by my roomates who monopoliwed the bathroom until i left an hour later, thank goodness there was a backup downstairs, until arriving finally at a bit past nine that evening. after the bathroom debacle i walked leisurly like to the train station and remembered to validate my ticket, and got on my train and made it to genova just fine where i had almost two hours of inbetween time. i decided to use that to check and see if i could possible get the nice to montpellier tickets there, instead of upon arriving in nice like i had been told in florence. it turns out i could buy them but it would be a few euro more thn buying them in france, but since there was only half an hour inbetween trains i decided to buy the nice to marsailles ticket ahead of time and boy was i pleased about that. because i got the train to nice just fine, but it was ten minutes late and waited a good long while before taking off, and then even though it was so behind schedule, still paused at the italian boarder for what seemed like forever so two politzia officers could peer into each compartment, searching faces for suspision before moving on. at this point i knew that the train would be very late and so two stops ahead i hauled my backpack down from the overhead storage bin, nearly knocking myself unconsious in the process, and readied my things by the door, preparing for amad dash for some sort of departures board in the nice station.
and still the train lagged and when it finally pulled into the station the corridors were crammed with people desperatly jostling their enormous luggage and pushing to get out the door. i had at this point four minutes before my train was scheduled to depart and not much hope of reaching it in time but i ran out the door and scrambled down the stairs to find signs displaying arrival/departure times and destinations at every set of platforms, and there, right next to where i had just disembarked from my very very late train, was exactly the one i was looking for. so i dashed up the steps accompanied by several other harrwed looking travelers obviously bound for the same place, and mananged to make the trainwith over two minutes to spare, though i spent the first hour seated next to a rotund elderly chap who insisted on coughing, sneezing, breathing loudly through his mouth and producing projectiles of spit, at fairly regular intervals. thankfully when a forward facing seat became available he moved, as i am unsure i would have survived the entire journey next to such a pungent health hazard. unfortunatly this train appeared to be running a bit behing schedule as well as it was almost seven and it was still no where near my station, and to top it all it had grown dark and begun to rain and i was wearing flip flops and my rainjacket was foolishly located near the bottem of my bag.
and when the train finally meandered it's way into the station it was rather seriously pouring and i had four minutes before the only train of the evening was scheduled to depart for montpellier qnd i was in the furthest train car from the station and had to walk towards the covered safety of the station getting steadily soaked and terrified that i was missing my only connection, only to realize that there were just three ticket windows open and an impossibly long line ahead of me. well what could i do but try,or cry or both.but i decided an attemt was a good way to stave of stranded panic, and i was slightly heartened to discover the train was delayed by ten minutes, and thankfully reached an available ticket seller after much nervous toe tapping and knuckle popping to discover that the hour and a half journey cost as much as the entire florence to nice leg but again, as there was not really another option i bought my ticket and again dashed against time to the train minutes before it left the station. thankfully i had two seats and was able to lay my pack down and zip it open in order to have more room to dig in the bottem for my raincoat, sneakers, socks and another sweater which i was so very thankful for upon FINALLY reaching montpellier where the rain was still determined not to relent.
i bought a phone card to call suzanne (who i was set to stay with here) since the payphones don't accept change, and got directions but unfortunatly ended up on a bus instead of a tram (but it was blue with birds and said mosson as it's destination and remember i had been awake and going full out since six or earlier and it was now nine thirty) and ended up in completely the wrong place and began to wak back towards where i believed the train station to be, looking for a phone on which to call suzanne, and getting soaked and a bit distressed, and i felt so terrible for getting lost but really not to suprised. if it is possible to, i will, seems to be a rule with this journey. and i found a phone box and called but it was difficult to get directions without knowing where i was and there were no street signs and i asked a man passing by what street i was on but he only spoke french. so i gave him the phone and he spoke to suzanne with alarming rapidity and it was determined that he would point me in the direction of the station and she would meet me there. and he was so sweet, and walked with me instead of just showing me the way, holding his umbrella up over my head even though he was quite a bit shorter and had to fully extend his arm to do so. and he asked my name and i told him and he nodded his head gravely and replied that he was called armond, or at least i think that is what he said. and we spoke, mostly through hand gestures, about the rain; and he said i should call me if i got lost again and we parted ways when i could see the station up ahead. and i met suzanne and it was al fine. but really i couldn't help but marvel at how kind and helpful a stranger was, and after everyone griped in hostels about the rudeness of the french, i found the exact opposite. so thank you armond for rescuing me. i probubly looked like a drown cat on the verge of tears. i suppose i would have stopped and helped me to.
ps. the french word i found myself muttering all day, begins with an 'm' and is not merci nor is it at all polite.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

florence-land of a billion plasic davids

i have come to the conclusion that there are just to many churches, ruins, and museums in europe for me to a. afford to go to b.be able to be interested in and c.count. therefore my new strategy is to just go to the ones that i really feel i need to visit and just appreciate all the beautiful city, landscape and architecture i can from the outside, and all the great free stuff as well, instead of rushing around like a crazy headless chicken trying desperatly to cross everything off some sort of list of 'all the things one should do' in any given city/country. it is just to harrowing, i am here for too long and seeing too many cities and i cannot stand it at this point. they sort of pass by you and your eyes glaze and it isn't good to waste money on something you will not appreciate. not when it is a choice between that and a mean for sure.
so while in florence i narrowed it down and decided that i needed to see the inside of the duomo rather than the maria del fiore church to which it is attached, and that a visit to the galleria degli uffizi was also a nessicary trip, all full of sculpture and rubens and botteceli and durer and other glorious things. but when i arrived i found an alarmingly lengthy and disorginized line which i placed myself, and after about forty minutes of waiting i was finally in view of the sign instructing people that the wait would not exceed two hours. really?!!!! but i had some good music on the ipod and the line was in the shade and i really wanted to see those rubens so i waited my turn paciently and even relinquished my almost new water bottle at the door (what am i gonna do, throw water on the paintings?) and then the gallery twisted around and had tons of steps and no where to go and NO signs and i got in trouble going through a door i apparently wasn't supposed to but there was a sign next to it with an arrow and so what was i supposed to think. and when i finally go to the main floor where most of the galleries were i discovered that both the rubens and durer rooms were closed for renovations, and upon arriving in the botticelli galleries there were such large and constant crowds around the famous venus arriving via half a shell that it was almost impossible to get a good look at it. the pushing and shoving was rather extreem. like life depended on standing in front of some paint on some canvas and looking at it and saying, i saw that. weird. over all i think i am getting a bit jaded about marble statues of gods and amazons, and byzantine-and-beyone madonna and child tryptics full of worried eyes and profile halos. it is getting repedative. i do LOVE the gold leafing though. can't get enough of that.
most of the rest of the day i wandered the streets of florence, just admiring the buildings all in ochre and saffron (makes me hungry just thinking of it) smelling all that glorious italian 'p' food trifecta (pasta, pizza, panini) in which i cannot indulge, but sampling as many gelaterias as possible, and doing a survey of florance risotto. the four cheese with truffles was the clear winner. cheestastic for sure.
and today was all for the duomo. i spent much of the morning walking around the entire maria del fiore church observing and appreciating it from every possible angle, then paid at the side entrance ( no line ) to climb to the top of the duomo. three hundred steps and change of very tight spirals and marble smoothed by billions of feets struggle upwards in dimly lit graffiti splendor. years of people cataloguing their visit. i began to count max's but gave up when it went over fourty. and there were two places to step out into the balconies running around the painted domes interior, to see the cracks and flaking you were so close, then it was one last desperate sprint with the handrails being completely nessisary, and into the fresh air and sunshine and all of florence spread out below like some sort of map. or puzzle of red roofed buildings all fit together at impossible angles. you could see the tents of the street vendors, the scooters moving about in herds, the scruffy plants growing inbetween the tiles as the roof curved downwards. it was amazing. and i made a spot in the shade and settled myself and drew groups of buildings happily for almost an hour. just enjoying the feeling of the air and the above it all sort of location, and the school children on organized holiday filtered away and it was just me with this whole place like rug below me. and i thought. i could totally live here, more than any place i have seen in europe, get a flat, and a bike and go to language school and sell little florence paintings on the side of the road. had five people speak to me in italian today, just assuming. hung outside the piazza de' pitti for a while as well, after wandering around the bridges and ponte vecchio, watched the pidgens filling every crack in the stone wall, seeing what shade they could. felt the heat like a blanket settling over and got some gelato for medicinal purposes. not the worse life this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

one american girl in italy

felt like i was actually in that iconic photo this afternoon, when i walked across the piazza della republica in firenze (florence) painfully aware of being an american girl striding around in shorts eating gelato. the sun was out and it was beautiful and it would have been a lovely day if only it weren't monday and i was not accosted by the man at the ticket counter at the main train station. i was trying to buy a ticket from florence to montpellier in france, my next stop. i first went to the train information area and spoke to a lovely man who printed several itinerarys out for me (this undertaking would require a good many transfers) and told me to choose one and present it at the ticket counter and they would be able to find it for me and give me a price. but after waiting for over a quarter of an hour in the line (with people trying to sneak around me at every opportunity-corners are your best bet) i made it to a real person who looked at me with ill disgised disgust and told me after much head shaking and keyboard tapping that it was impossible for me to go to montpellier. and he said it with such authority as if it did not actually exist or something and i was trying to find if i could just get as far as nice and then buy the rest of the french tickets from there, or something. and he just yelled at me to move along and made dismissive hand gestures and said to ask someone else and something about him not wishing to speak to me due to the fact that i was american. may possibly have even said stupid american but i am not sure. and i just wanted to find out who i should go to talk to and he just yelled at me and i finally was forced to make a quick escape before i started to weep all over the counter.
walking down in the shopping center underneath the train station i came across a travel agent who advertised train tickets with no commission and i went and spoke to her and she told me calmly that she could book me as far as nice and then i would have an hour to get a ticket for the connection and it was just a local regional train and it would be available and very inexpensive and she was so sweet and i couldn't help but think that there was nothing good that man acheived my yelling at me through his little perforated screen. so why do it? totally unnessisary. and since everything is closed on monday as well as sunday here i will leave you with photo from the adventures of max as a brit in rome, my accent is still popping up at strange moments and i can't quite shake off all the britishisms just yet. oh how they linger.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

roaming holiday

Well this has been my first chance to post anything since thursday. Seems there is a pattern which I can see developing here. I don't have computer access and don't blog, I find a computer and apolagize and follow with an alarming amount of words to fill in everything which will have been missed over the course of four or five days. But as wireless is always free and computers are often not I can see this trend continuing throughout Europe and therefor I will say sorry for the spaces between posts from now on, but will cease to say it after this. Will use my time to write of more interesting things. Like Rome. Which was very interesting. Crowded with tourists making me massively relieved I was there in the spring as opposed to summer. It was also quite hot for spring and I was forced to break out my shorts from the bottem of my bag.
So all roads lead to Rome (and all roman roads seem to lead one around in circles, also are mostly rough stone making one worry about those on crutches or pushing prams) and it was most certaintly NOT built in a day. It's magnificent just strictly from an architectural veiwpoint. Seemed often to have stumbled onto a movie set with winding cobblestone streets strewn with happy couples strolling arm and arm and the occasional accordian player adding to the ambiance. I saw all of the major sights and they were remarkably easy to locate amid the busy hustle and bustle as you just followed the crowds, often in large groups identified by matching hat or wearing headsets which played commentary on all of the sights. The Vatican was beautiful and I went at about three in the afternoon allowing me to wait in line for only a few minutes which was glorious as it was 26c and I was fully dressed for modesty as is required with my legs and shoulders covered (in Thailand this was so as to avoid tempting the monks-wonder if it's the same thing in churches here?) and wearing closed toed shoes instead of my normal sandals (i've got tan lines from my flip flops so dark when I remove them it looks as if they are alarming filthy). And when I got to the ticket window the guy there asked how old I was-for a student discount- and I paused, said I was 19 and smiled real big. He winked at me and told me I was 28 that day and had lost my id and charged me the half price student entry fee.
While there were many amazing works of art in the complex of buildings accessable to the public and the buildings themselves were several shades of extraordinary it seemed as if a great number of people were simply following the signs towards the Sistine chapel like some single minded herd, intent of crossing another amazing sight off their list and taking a picture before hurrying off to the next one without even pausing to appreciate the place that they were. In one of the painting galleries there was a rather magnificent piece depicting saint margerita with her foot resting on the dragon she is know for vanquishung. This made me very pleased and I almost had a fit of joy over all of the glorious gold leaf and rich reds/blues/ochres on ancient mouldeding wooden panels. I especially relished the large freestanding triptycs with their flat patterned halos and the madonna appearing distinctly more cheerful than in later periods where she looks distracted and tired and quite a bit worried. Throughout the sculpture gardens and portrait halls I was continuously faced with prices which made me pause and smile and go 'I've seen a slide if this' and I was often suprised to discover a long ago memorized fact popping into my head when faced with something farmiliar. I was fascinated by the marble sculptures hands. Their reality was alarming and I kept expecting them to twitch suddenly out of their stillness. And then it was to the most amazing ceiling ever. And these were my thoughts upon seeing it:
1 I could hurt my neck if I looked at this for as long as I might wish to and I wish it were closer so I could inspect each detail
2 must we really play the worlds most extreem game of 'who can shush the loudest' when we could just respect the sign which says silence please
3 imagine the scafolding
4 I would not be suprised if they hauled people off to jail for trying to photograph this place. Even as I'd was at the first sign of a camera pointed upwards a laser alighted upon the person holding it up and guards rushed forward looking distinctly menacing. Not that you can even take a good photo even with a zoom. Not that I would know. Personally. Just seems it would be better to buy a print
5 this would be a good thing for the dentists office
6 I am SO painting my ceiling some day
I was saddened by the rush of people departing the chapel without though of looking anywhere else, and disturbed by the book/memoriabilia stores strewn througout every hallway, with creaking postcard carosals with pope portraits and snapshots for .50€ and people were buying them! One somber profile shot was nearly sold out, and it seemed shameless in a place full of such significant artistic acheivements.
The Spanish steps were not as exciting as I made them out to be in my head. I saw them with audrey Hepburn sitting on them sporting sandals and a new haircut and slurping her gelato energetically. Instead I found some sun warmed steps covered in people. Unimpressive and too hot to be appealing for long. Might be nice in the evening. Or with a picnic. The trevi fountain on the other hand was really awesome to see in person. I threw in a coin and made my wish and I sure hope it comes true.
And if anything was awe-inspiring it that would most definatly be the colloseum, even with the insult of my having to pay more than my friends simply for the fact I was american (seriously??). We did have to wait in line for a significant amount of time as we did not get there until midday on a Saturday and the crowds were spectacular and, as I have come to expect in Europe, completely unable to queue! But then you get inside and you understand that the wait is all worth it and this place is mad kinds of awesome. and huge and sooooo many bricks laid with so much presision. and we walked around for a whle with our jaws dropping and taking pictures being gladiators and it was so much fun. even though parts of it are closed off and all of it is crowded with tourists but you are a tourist to so you must just accept the mess and the part you are playing in it and appreciate the massive scale of this place and try to remember that there were dudes who fought agains lions here. i mean really?! how sweet is that...
and the thing is rome in general is filled with beautiful buildings, peeking around every corner or lining some side street. and piles of columns pop up in unexpected places and it's like the new and the ancient were josteling for space and in some instances piled on top of each other and you just had to accept and love it and go with the flow, which led right back in to the center, funnily enough. and now it is a new city-florence-and more adventures to have and nooks and crannies to explore. so tonight i say raise your glasses to adventure! (and never drink a drink called a 'chuck norris roundhouse kick to the face' just some friendly advice)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

the neverending journey

well that was a very very very long trip, and i will try to catalouge it's wonders and perils but first let me apolagize for any terrible typos or odd symbols which may crop up throughout this post, as i am typing on a very small computer, and the keyboard is italian and therefore things are in odd unexpected places and the @ symbol was near impossible to locate!
so, my journey of a thousand and one adventures began tuesday morning at the charming hour of quarter to seven when i rose and gathered my scattered belongings, checking under the bed for odd socks hiding in a desperate bid for freedom from the stifling confines of my backpack, then made my was to the desk and met up with my three companions, the 'epic' british trio of steff, sarah and rachel with whom i would be traveling for the duration of the arduous athens to rome undertaking, i must express my unbelievable joy at their adoption of me, as this trip would have become unbearable if faced without a shred of human company. i may have been reduced to conversations with inanimate objects just for the need to exersize my vocal cords. which would be a distinct sign of maddness i suppose.
anyway i digress. we made our way to the train station, and validated our tickets (though they were not checked once) then sat on the platform in our first instalment of waiting. the train was only about five minutes late, and uneventful once we elbowed our way to a set of four seats together and struggled our enormous rucksacks into the overhead bins, concious for the entire duration that they may fall on our heads at any moment. we setled in, ate strawberry jelly with a shared spork and generally goofed around, already in a smoldering daze of early morning and a knowledge of the number of hours still streaching out in front of us. an endless road. or fellow passengers eyed us with suspision and distain throughout the day, we were to go more and more travel-mad as the time progressed. but at least we entertained ourself. and after just four hour and one connection we made it to the greek port, checked in and got our boarding passes without incident, then made our way to the ferry terminal and shoved all of our luggage into the storage lockers, which we were disturbed to notice, could easily have fit a person.
we wandered the town, ate at a cafe called "fingers" which had all of the dishes names in english and the description in greek. i had nachos and aparently there is no greek translation for sour cream. they were tastey, but heavy on the tomatos, which were just pieces in stead of the normal salsa. we played on a swingset in a park we stumbled across, and i attempted to climb a tree covered in a tantalizing array of oranges but failed to aquire anything but a skinned shin.
finally at four we walk to the ferry and retrieved our luggage, to board the ship, even though it didn't depart until six we figured we might as well settle ourselves in as there was not really anything else to do in that town. we had got deck seats as they were the least expensive and we were all very tight in the budget, but were directed to the airplane seat lounge by a suited boy we all decided upon settling we loved desperately. this was distinctly better than sitting on the deck in the cold throughout the night, plus these seats cost twice as much and then some than our tickets. but the ferry was nearly empty and so i guess they figured we might as well benefit. and we did. we took a row in front of the lovely flat screen tv where we could streach out our legs and not touch the wall, our baggage strew haphazardly about our feet, and made ourselves immensly comfortable. we read, listened to music and discussed the troubles with book to movie translations, eating ricecakes and tszeki until the boat departed. we organized our possesions and each claimed a row of seats, which, when we raised the armrests, formed a bed on which one could comfortably recline, and laid out makeshift pillows and blankets.
on a bathroom excersion into the depths of ship beyond our cove of tranquilty and cushy seats i discovered a shower to the delight of all. and what a shower it was! this i would like to point out was the best shower i have had since leaving new zealand and definatly hands down the best in europe, most likely not to be beat. which says both sad things about the state of european showers and really good things about the superfast ferry services facilities. the shower was generously sized with a wall-mounted (as opposed to handheld) high-pressure and fully hot shower. it was also extrordinarily clean. then, after we had each showered ourselves into bliss, we clambered into our makeshift beds and promltly fell asleep. and i slept from about 10:30 until nearly eight the following morning, only waking once near midnight when the ship stopped, i believe it was at korfu to let on and off passengers who made rather a lot of noise, rustling and zipping to their hearts content until i was able to drift off again. and we woke all full of smiles, amazed that such a dreaded journey could posess such amazing comforts and a decent night sleep of all things, something never acheived on an airplane of that i am sure. and we disembarked to find that no one was interested in checking our passports (odd) and that we had to walk nearly a mile just to get to the bus station to get into town. and we made it to the train station discover that the four hour journey from bari to rome cost five times the four hour journey in greece for some incomprehensible reason. it was distressing in it expense but unfortunatly unavoidable, but made us feel that the train must at least be glorious to justify the cost. we called it the champagne train for the next few hours while we lingered in a cafe with all our luggage (storage at the train station was 5 euro per bag! which is just preposterous) taking turns walk i pairs around the park. it was lovely. 22c with just a hint of breeze. and the italian men were admiring of us in a gentle way in comparison to the aggressive greeks who you felt near to attacked by. the rode by on bicylcles murmering 'bella' and 'you are perfect' and we decided this could quite swell ones head if maintained for any amount of duration. and we drank strawberry milkshakes in the sun and decompressed from our ferry, organizing our plans for rome in anticipation of our arrival. seeing the end in sight.
unfortunatly the final four hours of train dragged inexorable onward, minutes streaching on like hours. until we arrived at the main roman terminal exhaused and hunch-backed and just wanting to crash. and we parted ways until our rendevous the following day, them to their flat downtown and me to my hostel. the yellow, which thankfully was near the terminal but uunfortunatly did not have laundry as they had advertised but mearly an agreement with a laundramaut down the street which charged an alarming fee to wash and dry my clothes, however i had no choice, having nothing to wear that wasn't unbelievable filthy. and so i sat at a cafe reading victorian liturature and trying to figure out my plans for italy but failing to be able to concentrate, mostly sitting and people watching until i was able to pick up my enormous bag of laundry, wondering at how it had possibly fit into my backpack.
overall i was a bit disturbed that the unbelievably long version of athens to rome ended up being barely less costly than the minimal and simple flying version, but it was a fun sort of adventure, and great to undertake such a massive chunk of travel with the comforts of a group rather than on my own. i really don't even like to contemplate the terrible loneliness of 37 hours of travel solo. but as it was, it was by far comunally decided to be the most enjoyable journey any of us had been on from one place to another. so the keys to a good country to country travel seem to be this; find someone else taking the same route and latch on to them, bring an unbelivable amount of snacks, make friends with the ferry staff, be freindly and they may sneakily upgrade your seats, and keep an eye peeled for unexpected showers. and take time off inbetween long journeys as they are draining. over all i think it could fairly be described as epic. yes i should say it was a historic way to make my approach to italy, all it needed was a little bit of fanfare and some carpets rolled out. and maybe a parade. yes i like a good parade.

Monday, May 4, 2009

a less-than-impressive market

well i must say, after so long doing this, i feel i have become a market/bazaar/craft sale expert or something like that. yesterday was the weekly athens sunday market (in addition to the normal everyday market) and if i do say so, in my humble opinion, it was a bit of a letdown. especially after bangkok in general and the martinburogh fair in nz. there were shops all lining the main streets, and the propriaters hocked their wares as everyone passed, practically attacking if one showed so much as a flutter of intererst, or even in some cases, slowed in front of their establishment. really this meant that one had to walk at a steady pace without stoping along the streets, and certainly not touch anything (that's practically saying i'll buy it) and therefor, i didn't even contemplate a single purchase. good for me as i'm trying to keep a firm hand on the funds, but not good for those who might benefit by aquiring some of those funds were i to wish to buy something. the side streets and alleyways were a bit more interesting, seeming like a really large unorganized yardsale with idems strewn haphazardly across the street. here i saw many things i would have loved to collect were i living in a house instead of out of a backpack. things like old ship wheels, glorious pottery and an splendid plale yellow birdcage shaped like some spectacular arabian nights palace. but sadly, my bag is not built like mary poppins and i cannot squeeze in impossibly large things, therefor, i must look, and be sad, and turn away and let them go. today i went out with a greek sandal mission and no acceptance of the word no. the perfect sandals have been eluding me for weeks now and i was determined to scour them out and locate their hiding place. i checked every nook and cranny and walked all over plaka for hours till i discovered a street that was all sandals and i could just take my pick. i ended up going a bit more roman holiday than gladiator, and found some lovely sandals that will proceed to adorn my feet for the duration of my journey. they are pleased and so am i.
and before i depart, a few more observations about greece and europe/europeans:
1. one can smoke everywhere and everyone does, and all the time. it's impressive and distressing simaltaneously. and smoking and non smoking tables will be located side by side. on the trains, the smokers jostle full of elbows, near the doors, cigarette and lighter in hand, ready to spring out and rush for the free air as soon as the train doors begin to open. often i will see people walking down the street, with a lit cigarette in their mouth and a fresh one ready in their hand for the moment when their current one expires.
2. no one is in a hurry but everyone is hurrying?
3. beggers are unbelievable. i saw a woman sitting on a cardboard box holding a cross begging people 'for the love of god' or something similar in greek, hunched and pathetic looking. across the street i witnessed another lady walk up to here and exchange a few swift words, then talk her place on the box, and as the original begger walked away, the replacement rocked back and forth rubbing her cross and looking pathetic. i also saw a man sitting on the ground with a cup a ragged dog and grubby hands, pause to pull a shimmering new cell phone out of his pocket when i began an obnoxious ring.
4. when going out to eat, one must never assume that something placed on the table you have not in fact ordered, is complimentary. resteraunts and cafes will bring bread, olivesand sometimes even water, and then when leaving, one will discover that they have sneakily made their way onto the bill. supposudly they must notify everyone of this on their menu but the must write the warning in greek.