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 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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

volcanic let downs

friday was day trip day. a full afternoon of greek island excursions. we started by getting picked up in a nearly empty charter coach which inched it's way down the trecherously steep winding road to the port of athinios. then we got on a sailing ship and braved the high wind and choppy water to the volcano (nea kameni) which apparently is classified as 'active' and blew last in the 1950's sometime but we were vastly dissapointed as a group, it was the most inactive active thing i've ever seen. just a pile of rock, sort of felt like we were scrambling up the side of mount doom. but not as exciting as we made a volcano climb out to be in our heads. a bit of a let down. then we sailed (aka motored, they didn't break out the sails once) to the hot springs at the side of palea kameni, where half the boat jumped and in and swam in the freezing water to get to the hot springs that turned out to be meerly warm. after we moved to the miniscule island of thirassia, with a population of about 250, the captain must have been purposly steering us into each wave to approach us as the boat rocked and pitched dramatically, and sprayed us with water at regular intervals. almost like some sort of water park ride without the safety gear. after a picnic lunch on the stoop of an authentic whitewashed island house, we ate ice cream bars and snoozed on the deck of the ship in the sun before heading to the town of ia or oia on the main island, where we had to climb 270 steps, or be very lazy and ride a donkey. we opted for the steps and felt significantly more proud (and less like lazy americans) upon reaching the top. buffeted by blistering winds from the water we sought refuge in a terraced cafe where we had meatballs and fried potatos and me and phil tried to teach the english girls the proper pronunciation of baklava. they charged us for the bread they brought to the table. these seems to be fairly usual but sad a sneaky. and after dinner, bundled in every layer we could find, we trecked across the town to the old ruins and turned to face the setting sun and the famous windmill, the view looking exactly like so many postcards we had been seeing in shops for the past few days. it was a nice sunset, but mired by a low fog on the horizon, not as spectaular as ia sunsets are reputed to be. still some people aplauded which seemed a bit too much. like clapping in a movie theater. and then it was just a matter of following the masses to the bus park where we found our coach and settled in for the ride back to perissa on the far side of the island, comparing pictures and eating sesame bars.