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Archive for July, 2010

Vienna Day 1

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It felt great to be in Vienna. It was cool and cloudy when I arrived early on the morning of the 18th. The overnight train hadn’t been too restful but I wasn’t dead tired or anything. One bad thing was my phone never got recharged because I couldn’t find the outlet in our cabin. It had my city map and metro maps on it so I hoped it would last until I got to the hostel or else I’d be up a creek without a paddle. Up a road without a map.

I think it was like 9% remaining when I got off the train. Not too bad when you consider I used it all day yesterday and it was playing airplane travel sounds all night. Airplane sounds to mask out train sounds, I like the irony. Anyway, it has great battery life because I got an external battery that goes around the phone like a case and gives me about 50% more life. It’s been necessary when I’ve been taking so many pictures and using the metro map application every day.

So the fuse was burning as I got off the train and started looking for the tram station. I had to use the phone to check the email where they gave me directions. Ok, got it. Now looking for signs in the train station pointing the direction of the U-bahn station. Nothing and no maps to help either.

Well its got to be around here somewhere. Down the street a ways was one stop, but it had a different name and was for the S-bahn (streetcar). Up the street, just another S-bahn stop. A group of guys came up and asked for help cause they were in the same situation. Ok, time to whip out the phone again. It looked like I should be right around there and I didn’t see anything. 8%. Gotta use the GPS. “location could not be determined.” Try a couple more times, 7%, 6%. Stress rising.

Found the station finally and made it the first leg of my trip. Got off at the appropriate station and now I’m looking for the “footpath” to the s-bahn station. No signs here mentioning that or even a nearby s-bahn station. Perfect.

Gotta use the phone again. Ouch. I only had the metro map and no street map so it wasn’t too much help. But with my handy compass application, I knew the general direction and headed off there. 4% now.

Still nothing so I turned on my phone to check the email for hints again. 3%. Nothing. Just use the elusive footpath. Well there were a lot of paths for a lot of feet there and it was no help at all!

Ok, I decided I just needed to get to a spot to charge my phone. Looking around, walking. Check my phone one more time for something and it freezes up. Noooo! Maybe some juice will fix it.

Oh and this was Sunday about 11 so most things were closed still. By some miracle, I ran into the station i needed. I was relieved to find it but now my phone was the bigger issue. I found a restaurant nearby and hunted around for a table next to an outlet. Found one, hooray! Plugged it in and turned it on to see a low battery symbol filling the screen. Hmmm. Probably I just had to let it charge some. The poor guy was tuckered out.

I ordered some food and it turned out to be delicious! It was a long slice of rye bread with mushroom and bacon scrambled eggs on top. They had sprinkled some chopped chives on top and I wanted to take a picture but of course my phone was useless. I turned it on, expecting it to be happy by now. Instead, I saw the dreaded screen of death, “Connect to iTunes”. The phone had reset itself and it’d be a fancy paperweight until I could apply that hack again. Sonnuva….

At least I knew how to get to my hostel. I had even written down the stop names in case my phone ran out of batteries. I’m learning! So I made it there and checked in. I was actually lucky to get a room because the site I booked through had some problem with it and showed full availability for the hostel when there was none, resulting in overbooking of the place. The poor clerk said it was like playing Tetris to get everybody fit into rooms. I bet it’s not much fun to tell weary travellers arriving late at night that there’s no room for them!

Anyway, after that I went to an Internet cafe to try and fix my phone. For some reason, this time the computer didn’t recognize the phone was plugged in. Grrr. Tried another cafe a few blocks away and had the same problem. Back to the first place to buy a different cable that connects directly into the phone instead of through the battery. Didn’t have the cable alone so I had to buy some stupid combo pack like before for €15. Sigh.

Finally got it working again and decided I should take the time to back up all my photos. I only post about 10% of them on the blog and it’d be terrible to lose them all. The way my luck was going, I knew the risk was too high. It took a couple hours, but I did transfer all 1300 of them (plus videos) safely to my website server. I’ll probably make them public when I get home and can organize and label them better.

That was a sigh of relief and I even got some good planning work done while I was waiting for the files to transfer. Made reservations for every remaining night of my trip and also sent out a bunch more couchsurfing requests.

After about 3 hours there, I finally finished up and headed out the door. It was a terrible thing to spend that much time at an Internet cafe when I’d just gotten to a new city. But it had to be done.

I found an organ concert that was happening at 8 in St. Peter’s church. I forget now how the time went by so fast but I made it there without getting time to eat. Oh well, easier on the budget that way. I was proud of getting there early and took my seat. The church was smaller but still beautiful and majestic on the inside.

So I waited and looked around at the church from my seat. 7:55 came and it was getting full in there. 8:00 came and people were still coming in but I expected it to start at any time. 8:05 and I thought “ok now it’ll start, they’re just waiting for the stragglers”. 8:10 nothing. 8:15 nothing. At 8:20 an official looking guy came to the pulpit and said something in German. Good we’re finally starting. Nope, he repeated the same thing in English. “I’m sorry to inform you that the organist has not shown up so the concert tonight will have to be cancelled.” Great.

Disappointed, I left the church and began exploring the downtown area. Streets were nearly empty and I really enjoyed the lack of tourists and crowds. It actually felt like a normal town, not some sightseeing stampede. There were classy shops selling clothes, jewelry, toys, pipes, and watches, among other things. They were closed of course but had quant window displays lit up for the night. Poster boards were announcing summer concerts and upcoming seasons that made me envious at how many big names were coming into town.

I had a sausage with delicious mustard and then got really goos gelato. It had a better texture and flavor than anything I had in Italy. After that I decided to head back to the hostel to get rested up. I was excited for the next day. Vienna had struck a chord with me and I knew we’d be good friends.


Zahl means number in German so you see it in a lot of words. I like that- it makes me feel at home.

the scarf alone was €280.

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July 27th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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Venice

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Since I’m getting pretty far behind on the blog (3 cities behind now), I’m going to try a different format. Just the highlights instead of a blow-by-blow. We’ll see how that turns out. For reference, I was in Venice from the 15th through the 19th.

Venice was a cool city to be in. Totally different feel than any other city because there weren’t any roads and everything was so packed together. If it wasn’t completely crowded with tourists, it’d be a fun city to live in. The hotel manager said during our talk that you get to know most everybody in the city and you see them every couple of days.

The houses were a little beaten down but had a classic beauty to them nevertheless. Taxi the water taxi around was a great way to see the houses and museums and large buildings that line the big canals. I kept imagining the movie “The Italian Job” where they steal a safe from one of the houses and zoom away through the canals. I heard it was a lucky thing that they were even allowed to film and I can understand why. It mustve totally disrupted the transit system and lives of the venetians. Plus the wake from the chase scene must’ve flooded some of the houses. I’ll have to watch that scene again.

Anyway, it was lots of fun to walk through the narrow passages, winding your way towards a destination. It was basically impossible to know the exact route, so you just head off in the general direction and make adjustments as necessary. Basically a maze of dead ends, bridges, courtyards and canals. After a while you do start to recognize some spots and paths though.

As far as sightseeing, I went to the the piazza San Marco and the cathedral there. It was pretty crowded in the square but I liked the architectural style of the cathedral, which seemed to be influenced by middle eastern style. That makes sense though, because Venice was a hub of international trade.

I also went up into the bell tower in the piazza and got stunning views of the entire island and the ones surrounding it. One of them was Murano, home of famous glass artists, and Lido, the large resort and beach island which I visited via water taxi.

Unfortunately, I never found great food in Venice, despite my best efforts. I was disappointed because this was my last chance to get good Italian food. Next trip, I guess. I did find some good gelato though! A two scoop combo of mixed berry and white chocolate, coconut raspberry. Yum! I took a picture of that to remember it.

Oh and I realized that the rash I thought was from my bag’s strap was actually a huge patch of bedbug bites. They turned from red splotches to big bumps and then to wide welts over the course of the next week. I had them everywhere on my body: arms, back, feet, etc. It turned my stomach to imagine them feasting on me for those two nights in Rome. I felt like some leper with all those red splotches on my body. Thankfully I didn’t get anything on my face or neck though. They were a little itchy but mostly just gross to look at. I took a picture so you all can enjoy.

Hmm, I think that pretty much does it for Venice. I left from there after 3 nights to head to Vienna via night train. I was able to kind of see a fireworks show through the buildings before I left, too. It was actually for part of the largest festival of the year but I didn’t have time to go down there before my train left.

Until next time, goodbye!

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July 25th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

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Rome Day 4

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Day 4 in Rome began with a tour of the Vatican Museum, Cistine Chapel, and St. Peters basilica. I went back to the same company who gave the tour I hopped on in the Forum. I was hoping for a good tour guide again, because it was so much fun before.

The tour ended up being decent but not stellar like before. I overheard some other tours given to small groups by people who looked like clergy and they were excellent. The small group size they had was nice because it felt like our tour guide spent a lot of time just trying to wrangle our group. We saw some cool art and sculpture, which I got pictures of.

I kind of zoned out though and went into zombie mode through part of the tour. The lack of self direction makes it easy to slip into the follow-and-stand mode instead of being more engaged like you’d be with a good guide or by yourself. I decided to put more effort into finding a good tour guide next time. It’d be worth the extra money for a knowledgable guide and small group instead of these here style tours with automaton guides.

The Cistine chapel was different than I expected. They don’t allow pictures in there either so you’ll have to google image search some pictures. It was smaller than I imagined and fairly dark too. The paintings were beautiful and it felt like the whole room was a giant canvas. Woven tapestries hung from the walls and at one end was the giant Judgement Day by Michaelangelo and a realistic looking Christ figure and cross. The top of course was painted with about 10 different scenes, including the famous one of Adam outstretching his hand to God.

The atmosphere wasn’t that pleasant though. The room was crammed full of tourists and every few seconds the guards would yell “no photo. No video”. The cameras would disappear for a moment and then pop back out again before long. Seemed like a battle where everyone lost. I think they shoud’ve just allowed photography without flash, because that’s better than getting yelled at all the time or having to be the one yelling. Whatever.

After the chapel, we went to see the basilica. I went in and my jaw dropped. It was the most beautiful and majestic thing I had ever seen! The inside was unfathomably large and everything was decorated elaborately with priceless works of art. Sunlight streamed in from the dome, creating an awesome blade of light from floor to ceiling. Just being in the place filled me with a sense of reverence and humbleness. We were all dwarfed by the power and beauty of the space and swallowed up by its immense size. I walked around in an awed stupor, continuosly amazed by everything around me.

After spending some good time in the basilica, I headed outside to meet Zahid. We talked about our days, since we had split up in the morning. He’d also gone into the basilica and loved it but also climbed to the top of the dome. I had really wanted to do that because you get a great view of the city. Unfortunately, by the time I finished the tour, it was too late to go up.

I was going to catch the 5:45 train to Venice but decided to take the 6:45 so we’d have chance to eat dinner together. We ended up at another Chinese place because we liked it so much the night before. Our original place was closed though and this one wasn’t as good.

I had about 50 minutes to catch the train once we finished with dinner. I had to take local transit to the main train station but I thought that’d be enough time still. Turns out I made my classic mistake of assuming and not being diligent with details.

I lolligagged around too long with Zahid, thinking I could always take the 7:45 if necessary. There was a bus sitting outside the station that I could’ve taken but just let go by. Oh well, i thought. Turns out there wasnt a 7:45 and I started sweating. I had about 25 minutes to make it across town to the train as I hopped on the next bus. It is amazing how quickly you can go from relaxed and worry-free to stressed out. Unfortunately, I’d experienced it too many times already on this trip.

So here I was on a bus grinding through the middle of Rome at rush hour. My brain was in high gear, trying to figure out if I should just get off at some point and try the metro. I watched the clock tick onward and the stress level rose. 6:35. 6:42. Maybe the train would be late… 6:45. This could be very bad…

6:47 I arrived at the bus stop for the train station and ran off towards the train platforms. I was hopeful as I ran up to the departures board, looking up at the boarding trains. My heart dropped as I saw that it had already left.

I hated myself for being so clueless. 30 seconds of thinking and planning backwards from departure time wouldve been all I needed to get there on time. I was so mad I let that first bus just go by. That wouldve been the precious few minutes I needed to catch the train. These type of mistakes keep piling up on my conscience and drive me nuts. There’s a voice that tells me I’m not cut out for travelling. But on the otherhand, I’m great at creating unexpected adventures!

So the night was an adventure. There was no way I was gonna stay another night in Rome, especially not at any bedbug-ridden hostels. The ticket machine found a route for me through Bologna. I called my hostel to let them know Id be in late. I figured it was a 24-hour desk but thought it’d be good to just let them know and make sure it’s ok. The guy said that was fine.

Unfortunately, the train didn’t take me directly to Venice. It took me to the land area close to the island called Venice Mestre. I was going to have to take a bus at 1am to get to the island.

Luckily I made some friends on the train who were heading to Venice also. We got off at the station and I went looking for the bus stop. I didnt find what i was looking for though and was walking back to the train station to get more information when I saw them waving at me from a cab. I happily joined them in the cab, which was actually just an unmarked car and we sped off towards Venice.

The trip was short and I was at the water taxi station in Venice before long. It didn’t cost much to get there and I was very happy to have done it that way. Otherwise, I couldve been stranded in Mestre all night or wouldve tried to walk he 5 miles into Venice.

I split from my new friends and took a nice evening stroll to my hostel. The city was magical in the still of the night. Boats drove along the shimmering canals and amber streetlights illuminated elegant houses sitting quietly beside the water.

It was 2:00 by the time I made it to the hostel. To my suprise, I didn’t find a big reception desk with a night clerk taking the graveyard shift. Instead, there was a small computer desk with a friendly Italian man, obviously the owner, who had stayed up to wait for me. I felt embarrased to make him do that but he seemed not to mind. He said I was lucky though, because he was about to leave. I’m glad I didn’t have that adventure!

He offered me some ice water, which I desperately needed and we started talking. I figured we’d exchange some pleasantries and then head to bed but he was so talkative that we ended up staying there until 3:30. I can’t really remember what we discussed but it felt great because he was so kind and open. I felt like I’d been welcomed into his home and I was happy to be there.

He didn’t have a bunk for me, so he put me up on a hide-a-bed in the computer lounge. I was just happy to have a place to crash and I did, hard. It’d been quite the day!


aaaaahh, tourist stampede!


I always look sweaty and tired in these pictures!

the pieta

almighty departures board in Bologna. Choose your adventure!

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July 24th, 2010 at 5:35 am

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Rome Day 3

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As far as I could tell, I didn’t get visited by any bugs during the night. I was still glad to be checking out of that place though. I’d found a nice B&B for that night- it wasn’t as conveniently located as the hostel but that meant more for our money.

I met Zahid to head over to the new place. It was across town but I thought it’d be easy to get there once we arrived at the train station. Warning: never assume. We got off at the train station just fine and I saw a sign with the name of the street we wanted. Great, just follow that. So we followed the signs down a couple blocks, lugging our backpacks along. We wanted number thirteen and the numbers were getting smaller, perfect. Except they stopped at 20 something and the sign was pointing down a road with the wrong name. Hmmmm.

Ok, back to the train station we went. Dont assume the sign is pointing towards what you want. Especially when words on it were abbreviated. Lesson learned. Map out. It was supposedly on a piazza (open square) just south of the train station. Walking south, looking, nothing, getting to another intersection, hmm. Zahid decided to take off back towards the train sation.

Back at the station again, this time following Zahid. We walked along, looking for the name of our street, not really finding anything exact. We ended up where we were the first time, but noticed that the numbers seemed to continue on the street with the wrong name. Maybe that was close enough.

Walked down that for a bit. Saw a couple hotels, good. Addresses were in the teens now. 16, 14, good. But where was 13? Looking across the street. 13: gas station. What the heck? Something was seriously wrong. At that point I lost all hope for finding the place and went in to ask for directions.

Of course, she spoke little English and didn’t know of the place we were looking for. But I showed her the address and she said it was right next to the train station. Well that’s what I thought the whole time!! So how did we get on this wild goose chase?!

Back to the station for the third time. Despite the street being named differently, we looked at the numbers on the houses. First one we saw was number 13, whaddya know? Smack in front of the station. No sign, no hotel symbol, just a nondescript apartment building. I looked on the list of tenents next to the doorbells and saw nothing about a “Daniel’s Sweet B&B and Apts.” This was getting interesting.

The only clue we had were four pink sticky notes. Each had a name, “Call Daniels” and a phone number. I figured those were for the people who were staying there for the night, but wondered why I didn’t get a sticky note. I was getting ready to call the number when a lady came out and said asked something about if we were staying there.

She didnt really speak English and was even more confused that our name wasn’t on her list. I hadnt printed out my confirmation receipt or anything because I assumed they would have my name on record. Again, never assume. She led us inside and we explained to another worker our situation.

Eventually, the manager of the place was on the phone and thankfully she spoke English. She said yes, they had my reservation and everything was going to be ok. Relief! I asked why my name wasn’t on the list and she said that she didn’t have time to give the workers everyones name because there were so many people. Nice. Sounds like a great way to run a business.

But we got to our nice air conditioned room and soon forgot about all that hassle. It was so nice to be out of the heat and to have a clean, private bathroom and a tv and a soft bed! The luxury of kings!

I took a second shower for the day and as I was drying off, I noticed a huge patch of bumps going along my left shoulder and down my arm. Hmm, that’s weird. It was right where my bag strap went across and I thought that the combo of the heat, sweat, and foreign laundry detergent had caused an allergic reaction. I had a few bumps other places, but that was the most logical explanation for the clustering of the rash/bumps.

We relaxed and watched foreign tv for a while. I checked my bag for bedbugs. I thought I was in the clear until I found one of the little buggers hiding under a seam in my bag. Squash! Further searching yielded no more bugs but I’d have to toss everything in the washer and/or drier just to make sure. Zahid had blasted his stuff in the drier and said the lint catcher was full of bug bodies afterwards. Yuck.

After a while we had to leave the comfort of our room to explore the city. We went to the Vatican, since it was only a 10 minute walk from our place. It’s actually a separate nation from Italy and is the smallest sovereign country in the world. I was going to take a tour of it’s major sights the next day, so we just walked around outside it. Normally, the Pope wouldve given his weekly blessing that day but he had deemed it too hot. I didn’t need the man in charge of speaking for God to tell me that it was too hot to go out. When that happens, you know you’re in trouble.

But we were foolish enough to be on an adventure. We stopped frequently to fill up water bottles and even bought a half gallon of deliciously cold iced tea at one point. We visited the Trevi fountain, which was pretty awesome. It was cool just to be walking around downtown Rome. It seemed like every other block you’d run into a piazza with a big, fancy building standing at one end. Every building looked like it could be a bank in the US and who knows how old they were. I enjoyed their timeless beauty and elegance.

Once place I wanted to visit was the Cappuchin crypt. Before cremation was allowed, churches kept the bones of the deceased in crypts below the main level. In this church, the clergy had gotten creative with their horde of bones and built scupltures with them. Seems a bit disrespectful to me but it was interesting to see. They didn’t allow photographs so you’ll just have to do a google image search for it. The creepiest thing to see was the whole mummified bodies dressed in robes that stood along the walls. The dried skin stretched like shrink wrap over their bony grinning faces. It gave me the chills. At the far end of the corridor, there was a sign that read “What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you will become.” Creepy.

So after that lovely sight, we headed back to the hotel. It was time to get out of that heat and we were getting hungry too. We rested a while back there and then went out to look for some place to eat. Oddly enough, we ended up at a Chinese restaurant. It was pretty bizarre to hear Chinese people speaking Italian, but that’s ethnocentrism for you.

The food was so delicious though! Chinese had never tasted so good, for whatever reason. We got chow mein, crab something and Ginger lemon pork. It was a good bargain too.

Feeling satisfied and proud, we left the restaurant and walked around some more. By this time, it was nearly dark and it had finally cooled off. The city seemed much more inviting at night and after walking around for a while, we settled down on the riverbank to talk and enjoy a beer.

That’s a nice thing about Europe- being able to have an open drink without getting arrested. I’m sure if you were obviously intoxicated and causing problems, it’d be a different situation but they know just having a drink won’t cause any harm and is, in fact, a nice way to wrap up a long day.

So there’s my two cents on the issue. Thanks for reading this long post and I’ll have the next one up soon.


the pantheon

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July 21st, 2010 at 6:20 am

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Rome Day 2

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The day started out with an unpleasant discovery. Zahid had woken up in the middle of the night because he felt something on his neck. He thought it was sweat at first but then discovered it was bed bugs crawling all over him. Gross! He went down to the main desk and told them about it. They transferred him to a different room and said they’d take care of the bugs right away.

So he told me about that when we met in the morning. I remember feeling an itch during the night but thought it was just from the heat. I didn’t have any bugs in my bag like he did so I thought I may have gotten lucky. There was another guy in the lobby who had huge welts on his arm from the bites. I didn’t have any of those either so I felt relieved that I may have gotten lucky. Plus, I had to stay at that place another night, so I was stuck. Zahid had found a couchsurfer so he got lucky.

When I was reading about hostels I remember thinking it’d be so disgusting to have one with bedbugs. They’ve made a huge comeback since DDT was outlawed and are notoriously hard to detect and eliminate. They crawl inside travellers bags and sleeping gear so its really easy to spread them around. I always read the reviews of a hostel to make sure it doesnt have any problems. This time, Zahid had booked the place himself. It was the first time in 6 months of travel that he’d encountered them though.

So hopefully your skin isn’t crawling too much. Ha, no pun intended. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. They’re real and disgusting.

On with the action. Zahid was gone for the day with that couchsurfing host, so I had freedom again. I went back to the coliseum and ancient Rome area. Crowds were big and the weather was hot but it was still fun to be walking amidst ruins that are two thousand years old. It’s weird to look at a chunk of marble and think it’s probably been in that spot for 10 of your lifetimes and will be there for 10 more. The rocks always win.

I ran into a tour group with a fascinating guide so I followed them around. I felt a little guilty for just jumping onto a paid tour but hey, it wasn’t hurting anybody. Hearing his explanations made the ruins come to life and the information he shared was really interesting.

For example, all the buildings, which seem to be brick now, were actually covered in huge marble tiles. The Romans wanted an economical way to make buildings appear to be made entirely of marble, so they built the main structure with brick. Then, they attached hooks to the brick and hung the slabs of marble from this. Back in the day, the whole area would be gleaming with white marble from the palaces, basilicas and coliseum. But once Rome fell, people plundered the buildings and the marble was ground into concrete to build churches. From Pagan palaces to Catholic cathedrals.

Anyway, I spent most of the afternoon walking around the ruins, imagining what it mustve been like to be in the very same spot 2000 years ago. Rome was pretty cool back in the day. They had running water, a septic system, democracy, and the biggest sporting arena in the world. What more do you need?

As the afternoon grew late, I walked out of Ancient Rome and explored around some. I went to the oldest Jewish neighborhood in Europe and had some coffee. I also got a tasty morsel from the corner Jewish bakery. It was like a mini fruit cake, except warm and better. I was going to go for dinner after that, but it filled me up.

So I walked around some more, exploring the neighborhoods south of the coliseum. It was nice to get away from the crowds and see the more real side of Rome. Houses and parks and Roman people, you know. It feels weird to call them Roman, like you’d expect them to be wearing a toga and speak Latin. Maybe I’ll call them Neo-Romans.

After walking around the Neo-Roman neighborhoods, I made my way to a restaurant recommended in my guide book. I wanted to get a good Italian meal, the kind of one you think about days afterward. The kind of one that makes you glad you spent thousands of dollars to travel there. Something special an unlike anything you can get back home.

Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. I have no idea why they recommended it because it felt like a giant tourist trap. They had signs leading you to it a block away and I didn’t hear a word of Italian spoken by the patrons. No locals is a bad sign and it destroys the ambiance. Not to mention that the patio was lit up like a football stadium. I was still convinced enough by the almighty book to go ahead and eat there. The food turned out to be decent but I had hoped for more. Maybe I’m being too snobby, but I had some romantic vision in my mind and it hadn’t been met. Oh well.

After dinner, I grabbed some gelato and walked around more. Before long, I headed back to the BedBug Bungalow for the night. I was in a different room that night, so I was hopeful it’d be free of the nasty creatures.


excavation site near the coliseum

the spot where ceasers body lay after he was murdered.


tomb of the unknown soldier

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July 20th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

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Rome Day 1

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We left Florence and rode the train for about two hours to get to Rome. We arrived midday and went straight to the hostel to drop off our luggage. We couldn’t check in yet but they let us put our bags in a storage room.

We didn’t know what to do next, so we decided to head to the most popular thing in Rome, the Coloseum. It was really cool and impressive to see in person. It was fun to imagine what it mustve been like in the day. It was once covered in white Travertine marble and had a golden statue of Emporer Nero that stood 100 feet tall. It was the biggest, baddest thing in the western world and people came from all around to witness the spectacles held inside.

I got a few pictures inside but then my phone froze up and I had to reset it. Normally, that’d be no problem but my phone has a hack loaded on it so I can use it with an international sim card (normally it’s locked to AT&T). When it gets restarted, the phone resets to an unusable state. Then I’m I’m crisis mode because my maps, camera, email, blog, life, etc. depend on that working. Every time it’s happened (this was the third), I get stressed and start looking for an Internet cafe. From there, Ive usually got to spend 30 minutes downloading and installing software and the phone hack. Then I’m back to normal and the trip can go on. I swear that the thing, like all technology, can be as much of a problem and headache than a help. But we can’t live without it so too bad.

So I was mad that the dumb thing had to be reset and hen wouldn’t work, especially cause I was in the middle of an audiotour I’d downloaded for it. Life somehow continued for me and we continued walking around the coliseum. There was a little museum inside too and it was interesting to learn about the events that happened there. It was pretty gruesome to hear about all the killing of animals and men for sheer pleasure and demonstration of power. Can’t really complain about much in today’s society when you consider how terrible we were in the past.

After that, we walked to the edge of the ancient roman city remains (main area was closed). No pics then but I actually went back the next day and I’ll talk more about it then. From there, we walked around more, seeing more sights I’ll cover later.

I had a good dinner of steak, lightly breaded and fried vegetables and wine and then we retired back to the hostel. It’d been hot and sticky all day and we were ready to relax!

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July 20th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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Florence Day 2

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Day two in Florence and I was feeling about 85% normal. That sickness really had me wiped out and my appetite still hadn’t returned to normal. Now, I just had a headache and felt fatigued. Bummer.

Zahid and I went to the Accademia. It’s the most famous for David but there were some other cool things to see too. There was a neat collection of vintage instruments and also some cool sculptures by Michaelangelo where he purposefully left them unfinished. His intent was to make it look like the figures were trying to escape from the stone and it worked!

David was massive and cool to see. It’s amazing just to imagine somebody carving one solid piece of granite that big. What if they made a mistake 90% of the way through? I guess those guys never got famous.

After the Accademia and lunch, we split up because I wanted to go to the Uffizi. It’s one of the most famous musuems and I felt like it was my duty to check it out. There was a huge line waiting to enter the museum. I asked the people in front and they had been waiting over 2 hours to get in! There was no way I’d stand in a hot, loud line for that long. Luckily, I could pay €4 extra and get reservations for a couple hours later that day.

After doing a bit of store browsing, I went back to the Uffizi and walked right in with my reservation. Oh yeah! It felt good to play things smart for once.

Hmm, well now that I try to think of what I saw, I can’t remember much. It was about a week ago and without photos (not allowed) to assist my memory, I’m drawing a blank. I guess I had just been museum-ed out for the day. New rule is only one per day. There is just too much in one to even remember.

After the Uffizi, I shopped around some more and then met Zahid back at the hostel. It was super hot there, so I think we rested a bit. Then out to dinner at a random place that turned out to be good and not too expensive.

Later that night, we headed up to the roof top deck at our hostel to watch the World Cup Final. It was the Netherlands vs. Spain. I was rooting for the Netherlands because they have never won the Cup before. The crowd was rowdy and country pride was at a high. The game was really evenly matched and went into overtime with 0-0 score. Then Spain made a good header into the goal and it was game over for Holland.

A bunch of people went nuts and were screaming and jumping on their chairs. Coming from the US, I am not used to this kind of excitement over soccer but I think it’s pretty cool that people get so passionate about it. Despite the fierce competition, I also feel a sense of comraderie in the games. Maybe i’ll actually watch more games next year!

So we left the rooftop and headed out to a park with a new friend we’d just met on the roof. Oddly enough, he was a motivational speaker who was taking a short vacation after doing a stint of 40 lectures. I asked how he got into the business and he said that when he was 23, he took a trip to the South Pole with some other people. They made it there just fine but on the way back, they got trapped in a big storm and he got thrown overboard. Despite being rescued, the whole crew thought they weren’t going to make it back and said goodbye to each other. Thanks to some miracle they actually all made it back safely.

After that happened, he of course was telling the story around. Eventually, he was approached by somebody who said theyd pay him a thousand dollars to give the speech. Things snowballed from there and now he’s on the international lecture circuit talking about making high-performance teams. Pretty cool to meet a guy like that!

So we sat and talked in the park over a couple beers. Mostly just about the adventures of travel and different stories we’d heard. He talked about the true story called Into the Wild, which is a great novel and movie about a young guy who went on a nationwide adventure, eventually ending up in Alaska, his dreamland. He was a smart kid and wrote some insightful messages but went there completely unprepared and recklessly and this resulted in his eventual death.

Anyway, it’s also about the spirit of adventure and pushing your limits and it was fun to think of that. In a way, that’s what I’m doing, along with all the other people in the hostel. There’s a certain culture of adventure and interesting people that surround hostels and I really enjoy that. All the people have interesting stories of what they’ve done and are excited to continue exploring this beautiful earth we live on. When we meet somebody new, we always talk about where we are going, what we’ve seen so far, what we’ve liked, etc. It’s cool and I’m sure I’ll miss that when I’m back home.

earliest form of written musical notation. Used to remember sacred chant.

stradivarius viola, part of a quintet made for the Medici family. Probably worth millions.

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July 19th, 2010 at 5:20 am

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Florence Day 1

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Zahid and I met at the train station in the morning and made the trip to Florence. I was originally planning on going to Rome first, but this was about the same logistically and worked out better for him.

After about 3 hours we were in Florence. Weather was hot as usual as we trekked our gear to our new hostel. The place was super nice and had big air conditioned rooms, a rooftop bar, and a basement complete with dance floor, second bar, restaurant, pool, and sauna. We were totally wowed by all these amenities.

After getting settled and a break, we went out to walk around the city. Walked through a street market, where every third booth was selling the same stuff and then to the Duomo. The color totally suprised me, as I was used to churches being gray stone yet this one was white and green! I liked the change.

We also saw the Palazzo Vecchio and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. You probably recognize it from pictures of the city. After the sightseeing, we had dinner at a place called Momma Toscana. It was pretty good and not that expensive either. I ate a good amount but it made me feel sick again. I just wasn’t back to normal yet!

I think we went back to the hostel after that and relaxed for a bit cause it was so dang hot out. Later on, when it had cooled off a bit, we walked around the city more. I felt much more open to the city and it’s sights since I didn’t have to defend against the raging sun.

That pretty much wraps up the first day in Florence.


the duomo

Vecchio palace


inside the vecchio palace

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July 19th, 2010 at 5:00 am

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Cinque Terre Day 3

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I woke up with a bad stomach ache and a feeling of nausea. I thought it was because I didn’t eat any dinner last night so I tried eating breakfast. That didn’t help much and I actually felt worse. That’s when I made my first trip to the bathroom of many.

I’ll leave the details to your imagination but my symptoms were like a bad flu. I was confused as to what would cause that but suspected the heat and sweating from yesterday. My best guess was electrolyte imbalance causes by drinking so much water without replenishing the salts.

I had to go to Riomaggiore though to meet up with a guy from that group I met yesterday. Since we were both going to Rome and Florence, we decided to go together. I thought it’d be good to travel with a friend for something different. He was a pretty funny guy too and we meshed well. His name was Zahid and he grew up in Vancouver.

As soon as I got on the shuttle, I knew the ride was going to be a challenge. My stomach was churning as it was and adding curvy roads could put me over the edge. I just sat and closed my eyes as we barreled along to Riomaggiore, focusing on keeping it together.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. After a bit, I had to ask for an emergency stop and barely made it out the door. I motioned them to drive away, since I was still in the middle of it all. When I finally recouped myself, I just had to start walking. I had made it at least halfway and it was all downhill, so I told myself that to keep up the spirits.

After about fourty minutes of walking, I made it to the town. I was still feeling sick and had a bad headache too. I knew I needed to replenish salt but the best thing I could find was corn chips. I met the guy and we talked a bit about the plans. He let me go back to their hostel to use their bathroom, since I needed it again by then. Yuck.

Sorry if that is too much detail but I guess this blog is my report of events, for better or worse. Today was the latter, for sure. Anyway, I spent a couple hours at their place while he went to book a place for us to stay using the wifi at the train station. I felt so sick I could barely move and I certainly didn’t want to stray far from the porcelain throne.

I wouldve gone back to the hostel right away, but they were closed for cleaning between 10:30 and 2:30. I toughed it out at Zahid’s place until then and finally went back for a long nap.

I still felt sick when I woke up after a couple of hours so I just took things easy that night. Nibbling a little sandwich, doing some laundry and relaxing outisde was all I did for the remainder of the day.

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July 16th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

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Cinque Terre Day 2

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I had a full day in the Cinque Terre ahead of me. My plan was to hike from the first village to the last, stopping to eat as necessary. The trail was wide and easy from the first town to the second. Pictures describe much better than words the views from the trail.

On that trail, I passed through the “tunnel of love” where countless couples had inscribed or painted their initials on the walls. Some had locked locks to chains or loops embedded in the rock, too. I didn’t see anything older than 10 years.

After about 20 minutes of hiking, I reached the next town, whose name I have forgotten by now. It was smaller than the first but quite similar otherwise. I ate a lunch of fried anchovies and ordered a glass of limoncello- a sweet liqpur made with lemons and sugar. The waitress warned me it was sweet but I knew that and said it would be ok. It wouldn’t be much, just a shot, like I had seen before. But no, this one was a huge amount poured into a wine glass. I made myself finish it but was nearly gagging from the overload of sweet and lemon. She was right!

The trail to the next towns wasn’t nearly as easy. There was a big uphill climb and the trail got narrow and uneven. Yet this didn’t seem to affect the willingness of the local wine growers to plant their crops all along it and up the hillside. I couldn’t imagine the daily trekking they must do to tend it all.

By the time I reached the next town, an hour had passed and it was full midday sun. The sweating was profuse. I filled my water bottle as often as I could and made sure to keep guzzling it down. The hike wasn’t pleasant but the views were amazing. I hoped to make it through to the last town for dinner and relaxation. It would be my reward for the day.

Between the third and fourth towns, I struck up a conversation with a girl who was hiking in sandals along the trail. I wondered how she could do it without banging up her feet. Anyway, we talked and then I met the rest of her group, who all met because they’re in the same hostel room.

It was fun to make conversation and in the next town we got lunch together. I bought us a pitcher of sangria to get on their good side. Haha. A bunch of them were travelling to the spots I had been or wanted to go so I liked comparing notes there. They were all roughly the same age as me and spoke English as a native language so we got along well.

After lunch, we set off to the next town, talking along the way. It was hot as ever and we stopped frequently to rest. More up and down and around. Occasionally, we met cats sleeping on a table or under a tree or walking around. The things must’ve run wild around there.

And then, like a mirage in the desert, we saw a lemonade stand down the trail. Except this was real and there was a line of people waiting. It came at the perfect time because we couldve all killed for a glass of that stuff. I think we had subconciously wished it into existence.

It was so delcious and couldn’t have been fresher. The guy’s stand was literally carved into a spot in the lemon orchard and he was squeezing them in a press, adding iced bottled water and sugar, and handing them through the fence. On a side note, he was playing the radio also and I heard one of my favorite bands, Hot Chip, on it. It’s about the last place in the world I’d expect to hear that. The moment was magical indeed.

Anyway, we made it to the final destination, exhausted and dirty. The beaches were crowded but that didn’t stop us from taking a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean. The water was cooler than I expected but ended up being perfectly comfortable. There weren’t any waves either, which made it much nicer to swim in.

We hung out there for a couple hours and as the sun set, we showered off and decided to find a place for dinner. We looked at a couple places and then thought we should probably get back to our starting town first, before it got too late.

That was the perfect thought, but it came about 10 minutes too late. It was 8:50 and there was a train strike starting at 9. I knew about it but didn’t think it would affect the local trains. We waited to see if we could get lucky. Soon, other stranded and confused tourists began arriving.

Thankfully, one train did come by We didn’t have tickets because the office was closed and the conductor wanted to charge €8 each for a 15 minute ride. He seemed already mad as he pointed to each one of us demonstratively and said “ocho”. “ocho, ocho, ocho…” it was funny how demanding he was and we were cracking up over it for a while afterward. He was probably just going to pocket that money and saw it as a great chance to take advantage of helpless tourists. One girl had talked to the engineer on board and he promised there was a more direct train coming. So we let that one go by and thumbed our noses at Mr. Ocho. Not literally.

We waited but no train came. Things were gonna get more interesting. We found numbers for taxi services and called. They had no interest in our business though, and either hung up on us or said “no es posible.” Now we were starting to get frantic.

Every once in a while an empty taxi would pull up and the ever growing flock of stranded tourists would descend on it like a pack of hungry wolves. They were always booked or just sped away.

About an hour passed while we were trying to figure out what to do. Sleep on the beach: bad. Find a hotel room: expensive. Walk back on trail: no fricken way. Walk back on train tracks: ok as long as there were no trains. Wait for taxi: not so bad. I was sweating a little more because I needed to catch a shuttle back to my hostel and the last one came at 11:40. I really didn’t want to walk the 4km uphill back.

Finally, we talked one taxi guy into calling his friend to come. In 15 minutes, we were in some unmarked van, ready to either go home safely or get murdered in the forest. Either one was preferable to staying in that town.

Turns out those guys werent serial killers and after a 30 minute windy ride, we ended up at Riomaggiore. We each paid them €10 and gave them our sincere thanks. They’d really saved our bacon that night!

So they were starting to drive away and then they turned to drive the van towards us. They motioned for one of the girls to come over and then they handed her all the money back. She protested but they insisted and eventually won. What nice guys! We were dumbfounded by their generosity to complete strangers!

The timing was perfect for me too, because there was one last shuttle available for those who missed the earlier one. An extra €5 and I was back to the hostel before midnight. What a day!

view from the upstairs in my hostel

watering holes got crowded

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July 16th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

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