Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rome, Day 15

I’m in Rome! The last leg of my trip has officially begun – albeit a bit early because Andrea cancelled my Bologna plans. Last night at the hostel, I was fortunate enough to run into a girl from Iowa! Her name is Allison and she goes to Kirkwood but is studying in Italy for two months this summer. She and I decided to take the train to Rome together; it was nice to have company for the five hour ride. When I got to Rome, I called Andrea’s friend Frederico and he told me he would be waiting for me at the metro in his little blue Mini Cooper. I didn’t have any idea what to expect, as I knew nothing about Frederico other than he was Andrea’s friend.

Things could not have turned out better! I had a wonderful night tonight. Frederico has a huge flat on the outskirts of Rome and he has treated me like a queen – even though I basically got dumped on his doorstep practically homeless today. We went to the supermarket so I could pick up things to make sandwiches with while I see the city and we also picked out some pasta to make dinner with tonight. Frederico’s friend, Gennaro, an excellent cook, came over and made pasta a la dente with roasted eggplant and ricotta cheese.

The "perfect housewife"

It was phenomenal! I learned what a la dente pasta really is – it means the pasta is “undercooked” (turns out we just overcook our pasta) so it is a bit more firm than I’m used to. I loved the new texture of the noodles and the ricotta cheese was devastating. Frederico also had a block of parmesan cheese that I shaved so we could dip it into balsamic vinegar - simple but delicious!

I immediately hit it off with both guys and we never had a dull moment all night. We finished a nice, leisurely dinner with gelato served with a splash of rum – something I’ve never heard of but will definitely bring back to the US.

Frederico relaxing after a wonderful meal:

I also got to use the internet to finally call home – I’ve been out of touch for a few days. It was nice to hear from everyone.

Tomorrow all three of us are going out for a big breakfast of cappuccino and Italian-style pastries. On the menu for dinner is pasta carbonara and when they found out I can make sushi they want to give that a try one night as well. I am so lucky to end up with these guys who have welcomed a complete stranger with open arms. The only problem is I have a feeling I’m going to gain 10 pounds in the next five days before I head home!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Change of Plans

My plan for the next part of the trip was to stop in Bologna to see my friend, Andrea, who lives there. Unfortunately, I got an email yesterday for him saying he was called out of town for work and couldn’t host me after all. I immediately went into panic mode and tried to reroute myself to Florence and find accommodations there. I wasn’t able to find anything on short notice, so I was very stressed out (can you imagine that?) Fortunately, he called this morning saying a friend of his could keep me for a few days and show me the city. I thought everything was fine, but then I got an email from him tonight saying his friend couldn’t keep me after all! He then gave me a number of another friend in Rome who would let me stay at his place on Thursday and Friday until my hostel reservations start Sat-Tues. Now, I’m headed on the train to Rome three days early, to stay with a guy I’ve never met, in a city I’ve never been to. So much for a relaxing weekend on the beach! Hopefully everything works out, it’ll be nice to have an insider perspective on Rome.

Venice, Days 12-14

I’ve really had a nice time in Venice. The city is incredibly charming and beautiful, despite the reluctance of the locals to accept the fact that their livelihood depends on the fat, obnoxious American tourists that flood the city. I purchased a three day Vaporetto pass (their metro system is actual boats that go up and down the canals) so I’ve had the flexibility to hop on and off the boats at will to see everything. I’m staying in a hostel/camping village Ca d’Oro, which is about a 30 minute shuttle from the city and boasts a large number of living options. You can park your own motor home, rent a tent, rent a three bed cabin (that’s what I’m doing), pitch your own tent, or rent a luxury cabin with a kitchen that sleeps four people. I only had one roommate the first two nights, Ashley, an Aussie. We immediately hit it off and set out to see the sights together yesterday.

We took the Vaporetto all the way down to San Marco square and toured the Museum Correr, St. Mark’s Basillica, and the Doge’s Palace. The Basillica was probably my favorite – it was lavishly decorated with gold everywhere. The Doge(Duke)’s palace was also very ornate – at least the part the duke himself inhabited. The palace also contained prisons which were not quite as fabulous. It’s strange to think that an important person would have the local riff-raff living under the same roof as him – that would never happen in the White House!

Rialto Bridge:
Everything has to get shipped in!

For lunch, we caught a bit of the fruit market before it closed shop and a little bite-sized Italian ham sandwich from a little shop. We made it our mission the rest of the afternoon to get lost on the side streets of Venice. I read about a local wine shop off of Rialto bridge where you can bring in your own plastic bottle and they’ll fill you up with a liter of wine for only 2.4 Euros! Being the wino I am, I had to check it out. The place was called Osteria Alla Botte, right off of Campo San Bartolomeo. I’d highly recommend it, the wine was fantastic. I enjoyed it so much I ended up buying two bottles – even though the 8 euro price tag (still cheap in the states) was pricey for wine in Italy.

Enjoying our bottled wine:

The owner of the wine shop then recommended we check out Tratorria Pizzeria Nono Risorto to sample some of the best pizza in Venice. It is a fairly non-touristy place, although it was mentioned in the Rick Steve’s book so the word may be getting out. It’s located just near the fish market. Ashley and I each ordered a pizza and then split them, along with a half-liter of Prosecco. We managed to clean our plates.

A little too much prosecco!

Like I said....too much prosecco! Balloon courtesy of McDonalds:

Then, giddy on our wine and prosecco, we decided our next mission would be to find the best gelato in Venice. We asked a waiter and he pointed us on our way. We got almost there, but then got distracted by two girls promoting the local casino. They gave us free drink and entry coupons to the casino and ushered us in. Inside, we had to show our ID’s and have official security photos taken so they could keep an eye on us as we gambled the night away.

We immediately cashed in the drink tickets and then strolled around watching the fat-cat high rollers better $5,000 a go in roulette.

We decided the slot machines were more our speed, so Ashley put 10 euros in one to test her luck. Alas, we walked out 10 euros in the red – I don’t enjoy the uncertainty of gambling, so I didn’t even want to try. To top the night off, we got a free shuttle boat home from the casino – would you expect anything less? As the only two girls in the casino (except a questionable woman with lumberjack boots and a plaid fleece jacket) he security guys also loved us and begged us not to leave, but we kissed them on the cheeks and promised we’d return soon. All-in-all one of those experiences that you just can’t get unless you stray from the normal tourist path.

Ashley left for Rome this morning, so I headed out to Moreno Island to see the glass blowing. The water taxi ride there is free, as is the tour, but they couple it with a high-pressure sales pitch to get you to buy glass. What they don’t tell you is that you don’t get to take the taxi back to the mainland and you are left to your own devices to take public transport home. Watching the glass being made was fascinating – it’s quite an art – but I didn’t buy anything because I figured I’d manage to break it before I got home.

Making a vase:

I spent the afternoon lounging by the pool at the camping village. 1 ½ days is enough to see Venice, so I decided to relax and enjoy the sun. Tomorrow I’m headed to Rome instead of Bologna, but that’s another post for another day.

"Camping" in Venice!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Milan Hostel - Not a happy camper

Here's a list of complaints I have about my hostel here, just so I can organize my thoughts when I fill out the comment card they gave me at check-in:

1. Check-in took forever! I've never seen anything less efficient in my life! Snails move faster.
2. No toilet seats!!! What's the point of upgrading from the hole in the ground if you still can't sit down fully when you pee!
3. No kitchen! I've never stayed in a hostel without a full kitchen! How much can you really accomplish with a microwave - but no sink or fridge?
4. No electrical outlets in the room. Should I really charge my camera and Ipod in the hallway?
5. The door to my room (which I share with 5 others) creaks and squeaks really loudly. I have a bottle of olive oil, I'm debating dumping some on the hinges. What is really nice is when people come into the room when you're just asleep.
6. Far from the city.
7. The lockers outside the rooms bang when you shut them so no one gets anly sleep until everyone is in bed.
8. The shower drain is clogged.
9. The shower is cold.

Thank goodness it's only two nights (although I haven't survived the second one yet).

Milan, Day 11

I'm really glad I only had one full day in Milan, I saw everything there was to see and I'd probably be bored if I was here too much longer. You can only really enjoy Milan if you're rich. The streets are lined with stores that I can only pretend to afford!

I could already sense the difference coming into Milan on the flight. All of a sudden instead of fatenglish tourists I was surrounded by perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed Italins. That is basicallywhat Milan is all about. What they lack in historical sights and fabulous architecture they more than make up with in style. Everyone is dripping in designer labels. Thanks to the guys around all the tourist attractions selling the fake stuff, even the people who can't afford it wear the stuff. To an untrained eye, it's pretty hard to tell the difference.

I found out too late you have to book tickets to see The Last Supper a month in advance, so I cheated and signed up for a tour because they book all the tickets way in advance. I chose Autostradale and the deal was for 50 euro I got a guided tour to the five "must-sees" of Milan. I saw the Cattedrale Duomo, Castle Sforza, La Scala Opera house and museum, and....The Last Supper! I figured it was worth the money to take the tour because there are so many other places I need to see in Italy I'd rather not waste time going to Milan again just to see the painting.

Cattedrale Duomo, the largest cathedral in Italy:

Poor San Bartolomeo, wearing his own skin as a cloke:

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Leonardo DaVinci:

The rest of the afternoon I spent people watching and doing (mostly) window shopping. The highlight of the day was a tip I got from Rick Steve's Italy book. Located right by the Brera Art Galleries, the Bar Brera offers a sweet happy hour treat. For buying a drink, you get access to their buffet of Tuscany antipasto appetizers. An entire extended table of deliciousness - proscuitto, pasta, pickled veggies, focaccia - it was heaven to a poor, hungry traveler! For the price of a prosecco (a champagne-like drink created in Milan) I got dinner! 6 euros! The mozarella-tomato sandwich I bought while people watching cost me more than that!

Tomorrow morning I'm headed on the train to Venice! Ciao!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ibiza, A recap. Days 6-10

Wireless hasn't been as readily available here like it was in London, but I am going to do a quick post before I head to Milan this afternoon!

Ibiza has been spectacular! It's gorgeous here, about 80 degrees and no humidity every day! I arrived on Tuesday late at night but I had no problems because my friend Rich who worked in Ibiza gave me the number of a guy he knew who had a hired car to do airport runs. His friend Owen, another guy from the UK, was waiting for me at the airport with his Land Rover to take me to my hostel. When we got to my hostel, on the west of the island, there was a note on the door saying due to low occupancy they'd moved everyone with reservations to a nearby hotel. I booked a private room in the 1 star hostel for $25 a night and I was upgraded to my own hotel room in a 3 star place for the same price! I now had my own bathroom, free breakfast, and a pool! Perfect! The only downside was I no longer had a kitchen, but I've been living on salads and sandwiches for pretty much my whole trip anyway so the mini fridge in the room has my savior.
So excited to have my own bathroom!

Nice and clean, before I moved in:

And I've taken over:

The staff at the hotel was very nice, a guy working at the front desk felt bad for me I think because I was all alone, so he invited me out for a drink on Wednesday night with some of his friends. In true European-man style, there were actually no friends and he spent a majority of the night trying to convince me to hook up with him, but it's something I've gotten used to traveling and I managed to escape unscathed. Even telling him I have a boyfriend didn't deter him, so I eventually excused myself saying I was tired and went to bed.

Supposedly Chrisopther Columbus is from Ibiza. Here, his ship is commemorated egg!

The rest of the week, I've spent most of my time with Owen and his friends who are also working on the island. He's taking me to all the good places on the island - a delicious place with a four course meal (the last course is a shot!) for only 10 euro, the best beach that the tourists don't know about, a boat ride on his friends speedboat, and out for drinks at places where his friends work. Because he works on the island, he doesn't get the markup on everything that the tourists do, so I've been living very cheaply! I've been spending all my afternoons on the beach and life is great! I'm getting compliments on my tan, you just can't beat that Mediterranean sun!

A collection of pictures to make you jealous:

My private island:

Last night, to celebrate the end of the second part of my trip, Owen and I went out on the speedboat, caught the sunset at the best place on the island, and then had a fabulous dinner - when he heard I'd never had lamb with mint sauce (a Welsh specialty) he insisted I try it at the only place on the island that has it. It was fantastic and then we went out on the town before calling it a night in the wee hours of the morning.

"Catching" the sunset:

Owen and I:

I caught Ibiza at a very in-between time. Peak season doesn't start for another week or two, so there are still a lot of families and older people around and a lot of the biggest clubs aren't open yet. It was nice I think to miss all the partying and excess that will arrive in the next two weeks. Everything gets more expensive and the island is packed with young people looking for a good time. This week, I was able to catch the beginning of the partying but still have space to hang out and do my own thing. Maybe someday I'll come back and do the real Ibiza, but even at 22 I feel like I'm old and don't have the stamina to keep up with the shenannigans of the people who will be arriving in the next few weeks!

Owen and the trusty Range Rover:

That's all for now, I'll add all my gorgeous pictures I've taken as soon as I can find a cord to hook up to my laptop. The next time I write I'll be in Italy!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

London, Days 4&5

Yesterday I went to the fabulous Tate Modern, the modern art museum of London. It had works from many of my favorite artists....Picasso, Warhol, Matisse, and more. I really enjoyed wondering around the museum enjoying the art. I also did a bit of grocery shopping and updated the blog....did you notice I added three posts!?

Today I toured the Tower of London in the morning. It's a bit chilly here, which is unfortunate because I didn't pack for bad weather. Who thinks about sensible clothing when they're going to an island tomorrow! The Tower of London is located right on the Thames and is famous for being a fortress, a palace, and a prison. It is the place where many famous people were executed from 1000-1600.

A replica of the torture rack:

A little more torture:
Legend has it if the ravens leave the Tower (there are six, and they are named) the Crown and England will fall. We were warned - they bite!

If I only had a twist of lime and some tonic with my Beefeater!

The Tower of London is also the home of the Crown Jewels. I can't even believe how beautiful they are. They took my breath away!

On the way back to Dan's I caught the bridge going up!

I met Dan for sushi! After eating it two or three times a week at home, I was craving it, so it definitely hit the spot. After lunch I went to the British Museum - a lot like the Smithsonian as far as scope and quality of works. The difference is, many of the pieces are not behind glass and you are allowed to photograph everything! There aren't even metal detectors to get in the museum...and it's free!

The Rosetta Stone! Holy crap!

A stoneware figure from the Ming Dynasty. The figure of a judge's assistant is holding records of evil deeds under his left arm.

Think I've become a history buff? Just kidding! I also took a picture of the caption so I could share the story!

Probably the best part of the day, and one of the highlights of the trip was catching a play at the replica of the Globe Theatre. The show, En Extremis, was a play written just for the theatre. It's the story of two lovers who struggle with the religious views of the time and try to make religion more accessible for the masses. I bought a very cheap ticket (10 pounds) but got the best seat in the house! I was in the front row center of the first level. The play was great...very modern with a lot of activity. One memorable line was said by the Mother Abbess: "There will be no more f*ing in the trees!" Like I said, this was a modern version of Shakespeare. The show was amazing.

On the way back to Dan's I once again caught Tower Bridge rising:

Quickly though, everything returned to normal:
Tomorrow afternoon I catch a flight to Ibiza! I can't wait to do nothing but sleep, lay in the sun, and sleep while laying in the sun! It's going to be spectacular!