I’m on a European adventure! Since my last post, I’ve flown through Italy, Switzerland and now I’m in France. And man have I been busy!
Where to start, where to start. Let’s see. So on my last post, I had just arrived to Rome and summed up what I had seen and the like. Rome was awesome. It has to be my favorite city in the world now. Lots of people I meet say that they didn’t like Rome because it was “too big”, but I think maybe they missed a big part of the fun of Rome. Yeah, the city itself is huge and it has tons to see and do, but it also has thousands of random, peaceful, and winding cobbled alleyways that you can spend hours just wandering down, past incredibly old churches. You explore and after a while, get dropped off into a central piazza where all the random alleyways meet and with a bunch of trees, a nice fountain and a café or two for you to sit at and ponder. Locals walk briskly by taking their dogs for walks and then stop to talk to each other in the incredibly passionate and intense way that Italians do. Italian really is a beautiful language. It’s just so passionate and it flows with such rhythm. French is nice too, but far too pretentious. Italian is much more down to earth. So that was my favorite part of Rome. You could get away from the tourist scene and just relax in a nice and quiet piazza, then pick up your stuff and keep going. What’s interesting is that in Italy, price of coffee are much more expensive if you sit down. Maybe 80 cents for a coffee standing up at the bar inside the shop, and $2.50 if you sit down for the same cup. I did a lot of standing, but sometimes it was worth it just for the atmosphere to sit.
I was staying in Rome with my friends Daniel and Renalto (from Costa Rica) and we usually ended up splitting up and meeting back up later in the day just because I liked seeing the stuff by myself. We would usually randomly run into each other anyways. We would see the sites during the day and then get some dinner at the supermarket and go out at night. Rome has two piazzas which are really famous for nightlife where foreigners and locals alike congregate around the fountain and at the various pubs and cafes chatting and having a good time. We ended up meeting some Australian girls going to the same place as us one night and had a great time with them. To make our group more interesting, I would randomly talk to strangers and get them to add on to our party and so we met a lot of people that way. I’ll never forget the three girls that thought I was trying to hit on them though (they weren’t even pretty!) and when I asked where they were from to try to start a conversation so I could introduce them to everyone else (they were blatantly from the US), they said “Rome” in this condescending voice like I was some sort of idiot and walked away. You go girls. You are totally Roman. Sometimes you meet such asses while traveling. So Danny and Renalto left the next day but I ended up staying another two days or so and hung out with Claire, Sarah and Georgina for the next few days. It was a lot of fun and they were really funny girls. So then it was time to head north. I have this thing called the Eurail pass which entitles me to 15 days of travel in two months and so the catch is that you don’t want to waste a whole day’s travel on a short trip. So I hopped on the train and headed for Pisa (you know, with that leaning tower?). On the train, I met two Korean guys and we walked to the tower together. We were able to snap pictures just before it got cloudy and started raining and then pretty much just headed back to the train station the long way so as to see more of the city. The funny thing was when the Korean guys took a picture of the tower. They asked me if I would “picture?” and I said yeah and went to take their camera. But they didn’t want a picture with each other, they each wanted a picture of me with each of them separately in front of the tower. Hah!
Once, in this pub in Australia, this girl behind the bar was telling me about how different nationalities always act differently when looking for something. I don’t remember all of what she said, but she said Americans always ask where the thing is before looking and Asians never ask, they just all group together and try to figure out the problem amongst themselves. I say this just to point out that we all really behave differently and one of the funniest things to see while traveling is a bunch of Korean or Chinese girls traveling together. They all dance together and flit around trying to be as girly as possible, giggling to themselves and stuff. It really is a site to see. The guys act pretty normal (by Western standards, that is) and are just more reserved. But I still can’t wrap my mind around the picture taking thing with foreigners.
The tower was interesting – it really is leaning quite dramatically – but there isn’t too much else to see unless you pay to go into the tourist packed church. So I left. I got back to the station and hopped on the train to Florence. Pretty uneventful and we arrived and when our separate ways. I didn’t have anything booked and the first hostel I tried was full and I met some Canadians (Canadian flag patch and all on their backpacks – as always) and we decided to go try to find a place together. A tout approached us and offered us a deal at $20 euros each a night and so we took it. It was at a bed and breakfast and the place was nice so I stayed both nights I was in Florence. The city itself is really nice. It’s smaller but a bit more open than Rome but doesn’t feel nearly as old. In the two days I was there, I just kind of wandered around, ate ice cream (Italian ice cream, called gelato, is to die for) and visited the sites. The first night I didn’t do anything but take pictures at sunset and take in the night life. Day two was spent visiting some incredibly intricate churches and seeing the statue of David (a must see), and also climbing the tower at the French Duomo church for a view of the whole city which was pretty impressive. I’m sure you have heard of David. I managed to snap a picture off before I got yelled at the I couldn’t take pictures (I really didn’t see the sign). It’s quite a bit bigger than you think and is incredibly detailed. Surrounding the statue are aspiring artists trying to capture the essence of the statue on their sketch pads. Some are trying to draw the whole thing and some are just sticking to the hand or face. It’s a cool thing to watch. That night I went back early because I was tired and met three Spanish girls, a Columbian guy and an Argentinean girl in my dorm. We spent the whole night chatting and making jokes before I crashed out. In the morning, I got up super early so I could beat the line to get into the famous Florence museum with all the DaVinci paintings and stuff. The line is regularly 4 hours long during the day and I figured that if I got there 30 minutes early, I could avoid the wait. I was wrong. I still had to wait an hour and a half to get in, but it could have been a lot worse. The paintings were worth it. I was blown away by one of Da Vinci’s paintings, although I can’t remember the name. The detail and shadowing was breathtaking. It just blows me away that someone can imagine something (this was an angel scene and so was imagined) and put it onto canvas like that. It just looked so real!
So after the museum, it was off to the train station to meet up with Ana, the Argentinean girl I had met on the boat to Italy. She was passing through and we decided to go up to Venice together. We met up, played some chess and then arrived at Venice and looked for a room, which we finally managed to track down on the other side of town. There was going to be some festival with fireworks and all and so all accommodation was booked up solid. The place we did end up managing to stay was a real hole, but we didn’t have any other options and didn’t want to spend the rest of the day wandering around looking for a room and so we took it. We got some food and just sort of wandered around Venice for the rest of the night.
Venice is a cool place. In Venice proper (there is an outer Venice that is more commercial) there are no cars, only boats going down the thousands of little canals dispersed throughout the city. I thought Rome was cool for its alleyways, but Venice has even smaller and more random alleyways to explore. I loved it and all the canals made for some excellent shots. The town, although peaceful, is violently alive with colors. Every building is painted a different vibrant color and all the streets are cobbled, making it even more picturesque. When we returned, we had forgotten where our hotel was and spent 2 hours wandering through a thousand little alley ways trying to find it at midnight. We eventually arrived though – and thankfully didn’t have to spend the night sleeping on a street corner. The next day, after booking into a dorm room at a hostel, we walked down to the square the long way (randomly through the alleyways in the general direction we wanted to go) and then spent a while listening to men play waltz music at a restaurant and admiring the square, which happens to be absurdly filled with pigeons everywhere. I’ve never seen so many pigeons in my life! People were feeding them and what not, and they were landing on everyone’s heads and nearly flying into people walking by. There were soooo many! I took lots of pictures and then we ended up heading back to the hostel for a nap. There, I checked my email ($2.50 for 15 minutes!) and met some American guys, Nick and Ben, passing through for the night. They didn’t have a hotel room and so I offered to help them find one. All hotels were booked, so they checked their stuff into the luggage storage at the train station and proposed that they just didn’t sleep. After all, there was a festival that night and their train left early in the morning. Fair enough. We went and bought a bunch of beer and a huge bottle of wine and marched to the square. We met lots of people on the way and once there, we hung out and chatted. They turned out to be really cool and interesting guys and I really enjoyed myself. We watched the fireworks, then hung out in the square offering random people wine, then seeing as we had lots of extra cups, divided them evenly and tried to see who could build the highest tower. About that time, we met some Argentinean girls and we all spent the rest of the night together telling jokes and walking back to our section of town. What a fun night. Nick and Ben ended up being able to sneak into our hostel and sleep in our dorm room (which was actually just an attic with a bunch of sheets hung by rope dividing the beds.
In the morning, we all went our separate ways and I said goodbye to Ana. I was off to Switzerland and so I stocked up on meat, cheese and bread for the train journey and had some coffee before catching my train. I discovered a new love in Venice: Italian Prosciutto Crudo. A sandwich with this meat, fresh Italian cheese and freshly baked bread is nothing short of orgas…incredible. I just kept going back to the same supermarket and having them make me more and more sandwiches. I love them. We love each other. You can’t stop us! While in Venice, I would just sit under some bridge in front of a canal in bliss while eating one of these sandwiches. Then I would go get some 80 cent coffee at one of the cafes and read The Economist and listen to everyone speak Italian. Then I would go get another sandwich. You get the idea. Venice was awesome.
I hopped on my train to Zurich, Switzerland to meet up with my friend Valerie. I met her in Galapagos two years ago and we have kept in touch and I was really excited to go see her again. Her boyfriend offered to let me stay at his place and she was on vacation from school so it was going to work out perfectly. And it did. When I arrived, they had also just arrived at the train station from France and we went to his place close by, I put down my stuff and then we went and got some beer and chatted. In the morning, Valerie and I walked all around Zurich, went up in a tower at the church and took a boat ride across the lake (about which time it started raining and we had to run to a café and wait out the storm). We had lunch and chatted about all sorts of stuff. This is the girl that speaks 5 languages, mind you. English, Spanish, French, German and Chinese. Yes, Chinese! But she speaks Spanish better than English so we always just spoke Spanish. But she spoke French with her boyfriend and German with everyone in Zurich. Crazy, huh? It was funny to hear her speak English though. It’s always strange to talk to someone in a language you’ve never heard them speak before. When I was traveling with Ana, she said I spoke differently in English than I did Spanish and I couldn’t get her to expound on as to why. I am just as confident in Spanish as English seeing as I speak both with a fair degree of proficiency, but perhaps my voice changes (I know the rhythm does since I speak Spanish faster than I speak English) or something like that.
But Zurich is nice. It’s much smaller than I expected and is really quite a quaint place. Everything is incredibly expensive though. I paid nearly 4 dollars for a medium coke at McDonalds (strangely, they say the don’t have larges, only mini, small, and medium) and then 2 dollars to use the bathroom at the train station. I couldn’t believe it. That night, Yann, Valerie’s boyfriend cooked us dinner and we spent the evening looking at pictures from Valerie’s album and then my own. The annoying thing about traveling with myself is that I have to listen to all my stories over and over again. They are exciting, but they get boring if you have to hear about them so much and everyone wants to hear them so I have to tell them. I’ve got quite a few, but still. You know?
So anyways, the next morning, I got up early and headed to the train station. I was to take the train to Paris, then to Toulouse to meet up with my friend and ex girlfriend, Brieanna. She is studying here for a month (a summer course for law school), and so offered me a place on the floor with her roommate. Cool! I caught the train to Paris, but the train to Toulouse left from a different station and so I spent quite a while trying to figure out the metro system. I finally arrived that the other station and sprinted to the ticket counter to get my reservation and then to the train 2 minutes before it left, sweating like a pig (say…do you think pigs actually sweat?). Once on the train, I sat down and noticed that there were quite a few beautiful girls sitting around me. Paris seems to have quite a few of them and so I’m looking forward to going back. The whole train ride was spent staring outside the train and the beauty passing by. The Swiss and French countrysides are nothing short of breathtaking. Switzerland was filled with picturesque little towns and lakes and mountains. Rolling green hills and castles. France is filled with thousands of vineyards and villas, rivers and bright green hills everywhere. It’s better than TV!
I kept stealing glances at one of the beautiful French girls across the aisle (our seats faced each other) and she kept stealing glances at me. Every time our eyes would meet we would pretend we weren’t looking at each other. I saw her looking from the reflection of her window (tricky!). But it’s one of those things where I could get up and go talk to her, but she would get off on her stop and I would just be haunted for the next day or two with memories of another beautiful girl. Sometimes it’s just easier on me if I don’t say anything. Or maybe she just thought I looked funny (“Does he know that he has a piece of ham on his cheek? Oh my god, he doesn’t! He has a piece of ham on his cheek!”). My friend would say, “why didn’t you go talk to her?? Who knows!” But that’s the mentality of someone stuck at home. Back home, beauty like this is rare and if you see a beautiful girl checking you out, you’d better go talk to her because you may not get the chance again. But when you travel, you see beauty everywhere and you learn to recognize the situations in which you can actually get to know the other person. Hesitation on my behalf isn’t for lack of confidence (lord knows I’ve got plenty of that). It’s just that lots of times you can’t. Sometimes you can. That’s just how it is. But in my time here in France, I really have seen some stunning girls. And it’s different here than a lot of places, I’ve noticed. French girls seem to have this silent pride about them that is incredibly attractive. It’s just the way they carry themselves. Of course, I’ve spent a two days in France now, so I’m not sure that I’m quite a proper authority on this, but I am surely impressed.
So I arrived at the train station and met up with Brieanna and her roommate, they showed me their place and then we went out for beers at a pub and chatted the whole night before coming back, making pasta and going to sleep. It is really nice to see her again, although it doesn’t feel strange. I’ve met up with so many people in so many random places that to meet my ex-girlfriend in France just feels normal. What can surprise me anymore??
Yesterday, we went to the air and space museum, which was cool, but would have been MUCH cooler had any of it been IN ENGLISH. Man, the French really do hate using English. If you ask if they speak it, they will always say, “just a little” and nothing is in English here. It’s just so funny that this one country out of all the others still sticks to this one thing so hardcore. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t paid 17 euros for the entrance…
So then we headed back home, hung out, had dinner with Casey (Brieanna’s roommate), Brie and their friend Kelly and I recounted some funny stories and told a few stupid jokes before we headed out and hit the pubs. Last night we stayed up talking until about 6:00 and then got up an hour later for school (and I got up to use the free internet at their school), which is where I am now. I got some coffee and fell in love with a French girl sweeping the floor and singing at full volume in the cafe. The girls here just seem so alive!
Jesus Christ, Casey. Get a grip.