Friday, June 22, 2007


My last three days in Florence were pretty good. Day 3 in Florence saw my going to Pisa and Lucca. So, there's this tower in Pisa and it, like, leans and stuff. Seriously, that's about what I can say about Pisa. There's also a pretty cathedral that looks pretty much like every other cathedral I've been in. There was a really interesting graveyard that has soil from Jerusalem. And there were hordes of people, all taking photographs pretending to push the tower back up. Everywhere I looked, people taking the same picture.

So I took a picture of the people taking pictures. Metaphotography!

Let's see, Lucca was good. It's a medieval walled city, so I took a wall walk as well as had a glass of wine, and saw their cathedral too. Guess what? It looked like all of the other cathedrals I've seen. But in all seriousness, Lucca was a very pretty little town.

Florence Day 4 was busy - I started with a walk through Boboli Gardens in Palazzo Pitti. They are huge. Enormous. I got so lost, and never did find half of what I was looking for. I went nice and early, so there weren't many people there which was nice. The coffeehaus in the park was not open, and that was not nice. I also went to the Academia and saw David in all of his marble glory. I know this is going to sound bad, but I still like all of the Bernini sculptures from the Galleria Borghese better. I know Michaelangelo is a genius, blah blah blah, and his scultpures are beautiful, but they don't make me want to go back and look at them over and over like the Bernini sculptures did. Aside from David, there is a bunch of the typical medeival church art that I hate ... and that's about it. The Academia was a huge waste of money for me. They also had a nice little exhibition on muscial instruments, but I'd seen a lot of the same sort of stuff at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels ... and all done better. So yeah, very dissapointing. My last stop that day was to climb the 427 steps to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. Having read the book, I did really enjoy that - and not just for the spectacular view. The stairs you walk up are the original stairs that the masons used while building the dome. Also, some of the plaster is worn away so it's possible to see some of the building techniques King discusses in his book. All around, way cool. And I went nice and late in the day to both avoid lines/crowds and to get the best light. And if I ever finish editing my photos, you might get to see them.

My last day in Florence started at the Bargello museum, which was nicer than the Academia. Not nearly so crowded and had a very diverse and interesting collection. More statues by Michaelangelo which also failed to really blow me away, as well as a huge collection of small carved irony miniatures by various artists which were really cool. After that, I had lunch and then did a wine tour.

Now, I hate tours. HATE them. I have taken so many bad tours in my life - somewhere I have an account of the winner of my worst tour ever, which was my tour around the Greek islands where E was stolen by some Greek dancers and whirled around on top of their heads. Second runner up was the interminable Swamp Tour in New Orleans, and third runner up was the voodoo tour of St. Louis Cemetary No. 1 also in New Orleans wherein the tour guide told us we would die if we left the group. Now that I think about it, Cari was with me for all of those. So maybe she's particularly bad luck.

Regardless, this tour wasn't BAD, it just wasn't GOOD. It was huge, for one - at least 50 people on it. I had to sit up front in the bus with the tour guide because the only seat left was on the second level of the bus and the lurching around made me nauseous. We only got to taste three wines and none of them were very good, and there was a pointless stop for 30 minutes iin this little village where we all sort of milled around. Then the tour guide expounded on her anti-immigration, anti-Euro political views over the microphone on the bus for the entire hour back. So that was also a waste of money. Then I saw a small performance of La Traviata at one of the many churches, and that was quite nice. I had a perfect seat for it, and the two male singers were amazing, especially the one playing Alfredo's father. The woman playing Violetta was a little sharp in the first act in places, but picked it up in the second act. I nice end to the trip.

Today was my first day in Venice, and it's fabulous. My favorite city in Italy, but I'll discuss that after I get some sleep.

Monday, June 11, 2007

When in Rome ...

Oh, where to begin. I've been a bit remiss in my blogging and thus I have a lot to relate. Perhaps it will have to be done in bullet points. Or, even better ... roman numerals.

I. Our last day in Naples was a lot of fun. We saw a huge flavian amphitheater in Puzzoli, as well as a mostly dormant volcano called Solfatara. There were some other ruins in Puzzuoli that we also couldn't find. All in all, what we did see = very cool. What we didn't see = sad.

II. The next day we went to Rome! The place we stayed in Rome was really nice, especially for a hostel. The first night in Rome, we just visited the Colusseum where I took the requisite tourist photographs (forthcoming, as I am really behind on my photo sorting). The next day, we took the worst of the guided city bus tours - yes, worse than the bus tour where the commentary broke. This tour had almost no commentary at all, which is really frustrating when you're obviously passing tons of beautiful, historic places. After that, it was on to the Galleria Borghese in Villa Borghese park. It's a small art collection, and it houses a lot of very nice renaissance art, but the BEST part of it was the large collection of large Bernini sculptures. They were AMAZING. Photographs do not do them justice. Nor do the ones in fountains that have been exposed to the weather. The definition and the movement and the expression that he captures in stone is stunning. IMHO, more stunning that even Michaelangelo. We finished up the day with a walking tour of the oldest part of the city that hit the major highlights - Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. Gorgeous all.

III. THe next morning, my mom left and I continued the journey through Italy solo-style. Don't weep for me; I've begun to get used to this travelling alone thing. I stayed one more day in Rome, which was probably a mistake. You see, George W. Bush was in town and there were loads of street closings and subway closings to protest him, his policies, his wars, and America in general. I actually think that GWB might be the worst president we've ever had. No other president in recent history (save maybe Nixon) has inspired so much hate for Americans - and all of this after the outpouring of well wishes after 9-11. GWB has squandered all of those good wishes and destroyed our relationship with the global community in such a short time.

THe protests really disrupted my day (and apparently the day of many others. I talked to two girls that had been stuck on a train for hours because of protests on the train tracks). I did see the Church of St. clemente, interesting because there are remains of two different churches below the present day church - on a 2nd century mithric temple, and one the 898 basilica. I then took a tour of the Palatine Hill and had the best of the tour guides. I wrapped up my day with a trip to the shrine of the Capuchin Monk where all of the burials are decorated with the bones of other disciples. One girl who was there with a group told the woman collecting donations that the display made her, 'sick to her stomach'. So much for respecting the beliefs of other. Wait, maybe that's why everyone hates Americans.

It took my ages to get home because of street closings. I had to go far out of my way. Then I had to switch hostel rooms, and my new room was in a different building. So out came all of my bags, but because of street closings I couldn't take the short way around. No, I had to take the long way. It took forever and I was hot and sweaty by the time I reached my new rooms.

IV. I left Rome the following day, after having a delicious breakfast of ricotta pancakes with fresh peaches, and having given Ingmar, the fat grey hostel cat, a fond belly stratch goodbye. I took the slow train to Florence, a trip that took 3.5 hours instead of 1.5. But, the train was comfortable and empty and cheap, so I can't really complain. Florence is beautiful, but smaller than I thought it would be, especially directly after the hustle of Rome and the gritty, spread out Naples. I can walk to the farthest thing on my map in about 30 minutes. There are lots of tourists here too, which is a blessing and a curse. It makes it easier to get around certainly, but it also makes it feel more like a very different part of America. Thus far, I have taken the tour of Palazzo Vecchio, which was not as cool as I expected it to be. It was the 'secrets' tour, supposed to show me all of the de' Medici hidden passages and such. And true, we saw one hidden passage and got to go up into the ceiling to see some of the original woodwork, but it wasn't all I hoped for. I also went to Santa Croce and saw the graves of Michealangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and others. I've also eaten a lot of good food - no Pizza since I've been in Florence. And a lot of the restaurants have menus of the day - a sort of prix fixe of house dishes. They're pretty cheap on the whole, especially for lunch, and I've been taking advantage of them.

So there you have it! All caught up.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Holy crap do I have a lot of photos. There is tons and tons of flickerage right now - I have everything posted through my second day in Naples. Stuff after that has not been sorted through yet.

So, here are my activities (in a semi-abbreviated format):

Day 2 in Naples
Day 2 dawned ... rainy. The rain seemed to be following me everywhere. My mom was quite depressed by all of the rain, but I convinced her to leave the hotel and brave some nice, inside activities. I was captivated by a photograph of the grand entryway in at the Palazzo Reale museum, the old royal palace. Thus, I broke my "no palace tour" rule and walked around the museum. It was BEAUTIFUL - not so much for the art (which was gorgeous, of course) but for the architecture.

Palazzo Reale 2

After that, my mom convinced me to do another one of those city sightseeing buses. It was okay - problem is that during the rain, you can't sit on top if you are poncho-less (as we were). So, it was really difficult to see much of anything. We got off at the Archaeological Museum to see lots of the cool stuff from Pompei and Herculaneum, amongst other things. By then, the rain had let up, so we were able to walk back to the bus station to pick up the citysighteeing tour for a different tour. Sadly, the commentary broke halfway through the trip, so it got a bit boring. Beautiful views though.

Statue Line up

Day 3: Isle of Capri
We took a houseboat across the bay of Naples to the Isle of Capri. En route, we met a very nice family of Canadians who were a little lost on the island, so they decided to tag along with us. We skipped the Blue Grotto, but took a bus up to Anacapri, the city at the top of the mountain. From there, we took a chairlift to the highest point on the mountain, Monte Solare. We decided to walk down - a 40 minutes easy walk in my guidebook - but a 60 minute excruciating downward slope filled with slippery shale in reality. The kids with the Canadians were tired after that, and they headed out, but my mom and I got some lunch and headed to Villa San Michele, a beautiful old church that Axel Muenthe converted into his private villa. The resulting museum is gorgeous, quiet, and all around fantastic. After that, we took an open taxi cab down to the lighthouse at Faro to "make some pretty pictures" and then back to Capri. From there, we headed down to the marina and came back to Napoli... just in time, as the skies opened up and it started to pour on us.

Day 4: Herculaneum and Sorrento
Herculaneum is amazing. Really, really amazing. Frescos still preserved, burned wood from when the firey ash from vesuvius poured down on the town. It's an archaeologists dream. We took the audioguide, which was interesting if loooooong. However, without the audioguide I would never know that it costs 11 asses to dig a well, and that bakers would put phalluses in their ovens for good luck. And I think my life has been enriched by that knowledge. (This reminded me of the "erotic room" at the archaeological musuem that has all of the sex statues from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I kept wanting to take pictures of everything but it seemed to immature. But there were men having sex with men, men having sex with women, and men having sex with goats. They really got around, those romans.)

After Herculaneum, we had pizza (again - no more pizza, please) and took the train to Sorrento. Sorrento is a tourist haven. In fact, I'm not sure I saw a single local save the shop keepers. We took a leisurely stroll around the city, the high point being a stroll through the lemon orchards and some limoncello tasting. It was delicious! (Unlike the rancid stuff we tried in Capri. I'm glad we gave limoncello a second chance.) We decided that the train ride was really uncomfortable, so we took the hydrofoil back across the Bay of Naples. We sat and chatted with a nice british couple from a cruise ship while sipping caffe and eating gelato and waiting for our ship. It was a nice end to a nice day. And no rain!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Trip Continues ...

London day 2 was full of touristy goodness. We started with a trip to the Tower of London (my mom wasn’t sure she wanted to spend the money, but I convinced her she’d regret it if she didn’t) and then we walked along the South Bank. It started out grey and rainy, but by the time we finished with the Tower and lunch, it cleared right up. We ended the evening with a trip to the Globe Theater where we saw a performance of Othello. This is actually the second performance of Othello that I’ve seen, and I think I liked the one in San Francisco better. For one thing, it was shorter. With the run time of four hours (including intermission), my butt had fallen asleep by the time the last line of the last act was heard. Also, this version was quite high on the melodrama, with characters uttering full soliloquies punctuated by death moans. Perhaps that’s how Shakespeare intended it, but I liked the subtle playing a bit better, I think.

London day 3 went fairly well. We grabbed savory tarts for breakfast at Victoria Station, then headed for a walk past Buckingham Palace to peer through the bars at the queen’s house. As it happened, there was a big parade, so we ended up just skirting the crowds and carrying on to our next destination: The Hard Rock Café.

My mom collects HRC shot glasses and other paraphernalia and was excited to hear that there was not one, not two, but three Hard Rocks in cities on our vacation itinerary. London being the original Hard Rock was a must see. We don’t have to EAT at Hard Rocks – only go to the gift shops. That was at Hyde Park Corner, so after getting turned around a couple of times, we managed to fulfill that goal. After that, it was back into the center of town to go to Sir John Soane’s Museum (why, oh WHY can’t I take photos in there) topped off by a visit to the Orangery in Kensington Park for high tea. Mmmmm, champagne, lapsang tea, clotted cream, little sandwiches and chocolate cake make for a fabulous meal. We walked around in the gardens a bit, then hurried back to the South Bank for some wine and absinthe tasting at Vinopolis. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for our big train trip to Naples.

This is where the story gets a bit more interesting. We got a cab to Waterloo Station in London without any problems and got on the 6:30am Eurostar from London to Paris. The plan was in Paris that we would stow our bags in lockers and take the half-day to do a quick tour of the city (perhaps having time to stop at the Paris Hard Rock Café) and pick up our bags before taking our overnight train to Rome. However, it turned out that our train station had no locker; we had to go “5 minutes walk” to Gare to Lyon to stow our luggage. So, off we went pulling our heavy bags behind us. The directions from the woman behind the counter were extremely vague (“Out the door and turn left.”) and, as it turned out, not entirely accurate. After two wrong turns, we realized that by “turn left”, she really meant “turn right,” and by “five minutes”, she really meant, “thirty minutes.” So, four sore arms later, we rolled into Gare de Lyon to store our baggage. After a quick lunch of baguettes, we hopped on the metro out to the Louvre. I had recollections of picking up Les Cars Rouges the last time I was in Paris (7 years ago), but had high hopes that it or another touring company like it would still be in existence. And I was right! We hopped on a “Tour Paris” bus and had a lovely two hour spin around more of the important monuments in Paris. We saw the Arc de Triumphe, the Eiffel Tower, various museums and other historical buildings. We ended at the Louvre and took a stroll through the Tuillieries before catching the metro back to Gare de Lyon.

Remembering our previous journey, we decided to take a cab back to the other train station. The cabbie told us it was only a five minute walk, but I politely called him a big fat liar (in French) and said we’d like that taxi anyway, thank you very much. Thus we made it onto our train to Rome with few more difficulties (aside from hefting our suitcases on the racks at the top of our sleeper car.)

The overnight train was an interesting experience. We were in a car with four other people, all French speakers with no English whatsoever. Thus I got to practice a little of my disused, rusty French. But, despite my lack of vocabulary (I’ve forgotten so, so much!), I was able to make myself understood to the other passengers in the car. One of them even complimented me on my accent, which was nice to hear. Being able to speak a foreign language is like having a superpower. The overnight train was sort of comfortable, though quite hot and quite cramped. Despite that, I slept fairly solidly, considering our exertion from earlier and woke up in Italy! Sadly, I realized that Italy is to my superpower as Kryptonite is to Superman. I know absolutely no Italian. I don’t even know how to say, “I don’t speak Italian.”

After a few hours, we arrived in Rome. I got tickets to Naples without any further incident, and a nice American helped my mom and I get our bags in and out of the train. I had heard the Naples was dilapidated, but I was a little unprepared for how run down it really is. Naples reminds me a big of some of the poorer parts of Mexico I’ve been in. Lucky for us (she says sarcastically), Italy must have just won a big football match as there were children in the street kicking around balls and lots of light blue and white balloons, flags and football jerseys around. My mom and I had a nice lunch at a café across from the hotel, and then we went in search of the Cathedral of St. Gennaro. After taking multiple wrong turns and walking about 75% more than necessary (have I mentioned that grid systems are highly underrated?), we found that Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church with gorgeous stone work and painted ceilings. Of course, no photos allowed (cry). Also, yet again the Catholic church proves to be a just a little creepy. They keep the bones of St. Gennaro in a gold bust of him on the alter in his chapel, dressed with an expensive looking brocade cape and hat. In addition to this, they keep the blood of St. Gennaro in a little casket on the side alter. Twice per year (I assume on his Saints day), they pull out of the little amulet of blood and wait for it to liquefy. While the wait for the liquefication process to occur, people lay the amulet on their faces and pray for miracles. I’m sorry, but if it is actually the blood of St. Gennaro, that’s just not sanitary. And if the priests are sneaking wine into that amulet, well then it’s just dishonest.

After that, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.