Sunday, July 29, 2007

An artificially long day

We take off at 4pm GST, arrive sometime between 6 and 7 PST, and will be back in san diego by 11pm. I imagine we'll be spending about 30 hours on the earth during July 29. Just in case you were wondering, In and Out is the first stop after the airport.

Thanks everyone for your comments and warm wishes and I hope that you were able to get some level of the enjoyment I had during this trip. I'll talk to all of you soon!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Pope's Hat is Really Big

We saw the Vatican today and, sadly, no Pope, at least no living Pope. We toured the Vatican compound earlier and now we're killing some time before we take the shuttle to the airport. I then read that Bonds hit no. 754 and now it's setting in that I might miss him breaking this record.


It was bad enough missing the All-Star Game in san francisco and now this? I hope someone tapes it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

48 hours

We're back in Rome planning the last few hours of our trip. Travis took off for London earlier today so now I am just with the two girls; because you know that's how I roll anyway.

We spent the last couple of days in Florence and Naples, two in the former and one in the latter. Florence retains a lot of its medieval/Renaissance flavor, as far as I can tell at least, that makes it seem rather small and intimate. We explored the Uffizi, the Duomo, and saw the statue of David. The statue is supposed to depict David after killing Goliath and I would say that the whole statue is probably as big as Goliath was reputed to be. It was much more impressive than I could have imagined.

Our Florence hostel was yet another place we stayed that must have been a mental institution, a la "The Shining", before someone decided that they could turn the building into a profitable hostel. I'm going to start avoiding places with tall ceilings and symmetrical layouts on every floor after this trip.

We breezed into Naples yesterday just to go to the ruins of Pompeii. Nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in CE 79, causing the village to be destroyed, abandoned, and subsequently preserved in layers of volcanic ash for us happy tourists to peruse. One building, you'll be happy to discover, has been renovated into a Ye Olde Pompeii Taberna. Getting covered in lava, though, would be a terrible way to go. Several bodies are preserved in plaster casts to the extent that you can see teeth on one ancient Roman.

We made it back to Rome this morning on probably the most punctual train we've ridden on in Italy. Everyone at home jokes about Filipino time, Indian time, or whatever-ancestry-you-may-be time to mock someone for being late. In Italy, there is a tangible idea of Italian Time. It is an absolute joke that they even have train schedules as every train runs at least 5 to 10 minutes late and arrives at some hour that the conductor determines after he finishes his panini.

This leads into our rising bitterness with Italy: we've had the most frustration and irritation with Italy and Italians than any other country we've visited. When you get off a metro train here, people waiting to get on the train surge forward and basically prevent you from getting off of the train. People consistently walk in front of you on the street, not noticing or caring that you're also walking there. As of now, I have resisted yelling, "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" in a thick Italian-American accent but with Vatican City on the horizon tomorrow, I may not hold out.

The rudest thing these damn people do is cut in front of you in line. Americans and Italians just have to have different value systems when it comes to this. For instance, you know when there is a busy exit in traffic off a freeway and cars begin to line up (Garnet exit off of 5 for instance), there is always at least one car that will swerve in front of the line and cut everyone who has been waiting. Italians do this in every line possible. If you see or hear a story about an American tourist arrested for strangling an old Italian lady, it was probably me.

Tomorrow, we hit the Vatican and go back to London and then back to the US on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm not built to withstand this heat

After nearly drowning in the course of stamping through the gigantic puddle that has been Europe for the better part of our trip, the heat of the last week is finally getting to me. I did laundry today and let me tell you, it's nice to look at your clothes and not see salt deposits all over them.

Sunday morning, we strolled down to the Rome metro to take the train to the Colosseum. We got out of the stop there and the 2000 year old structure loomed over us. I am very impressed by things that have stood for hundreds of years; a good thing too as we've seen a lot of things in that category.

One problem I had with the Colosseum is that there are regular Italian guys dressed up in cheesy Roman centurion costumes. They run up to you and ask if you want a picture and then charge you 5 euros for the privilege of standing next to them and their broomed heads. Do you really think of Roman legionnaires or centurions when you think Colosseum? No! Lions, gladiators, and things like that, obviously. I propose that some enterprising person should dress up in a lion costume and charge the same price for pictures. Nothing says "Authentic Trip to Rome" than pictures with a person in a lion costume outside the Colosseum.

We saw the Trevi Fountain in the evening and followed that up with a dinner that may have been the best of our trip. Unfortunately, we missed the Basilica and all that Vatican City has to offer so we'll be exploring that section of the city on the 28th before our flight to London.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm glad my stuff didn't get stolen

We finally made it to Rome after a day in Interlaken and another entire day spent on trains from Switzerland to the Eternal City. I probably can't devote as much time and impart enough detail in this entry as I would like, but here goes anyway.

Interlaken, nestled in the mountains of Switzerland, has some very striking scenic views, when there isn't a tumultuous thunderstorm almost causing flash flooding. We stayed indoors for most of the day. Our hostel was called the Funny Farm. The name is curious only until you realize that your room is in a converted barn that lacks modern comforts, like locks on the doors. The front desk repeatedly warned people upon checking in not to leave anything valuable in the barn and to instead leave it in an open room by the hotel lobby. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have a latch on which you could padlock the door shut. Our neighbors were not quite so lucky and had their stuff rummaged through and their valuables taken. Prescription eyeglasses, for example. ("Sweet guys, I scored some glasses! Let's go read!")

Interlaken bills itself as the extreme sport capital of Europe. This reputation is well earned as each hostel has an Adventure Desk where you can book all sorts of crazy things to do including skydiving, ice climbing, hang gliding, etc. It's too bad that we didn't get a nice weather day there as I really wanted to go zorbing. Ever wanted to roll down a big, grassy hill while in a bubble that looks like it was designed for people with terrible, infectious diseases? You should try zorbing.

The extreme(!) sports offering attracts a lot of young Americans. We couldn't go anywhere without bumping into a few of our countrymen. Will have to come back here for both the zorbing and the atmosphere.

We made an early departure from Interlaken onto our first of four trains for the day on the 21st. The ride through the Alps offered some gorgeous sites. Unfortunately, I can't imagine going to any of these places without wads of hundreds bulging from my pockets. It's also funny to note that absolutely none of our trains up to this point were late until we got into Italy. We had a minor delay on one train in Germany and the voice across the loudspeaker profusely apologized for running 5 minutes late. We barely made our connecting train to Rome in Milan (yes, we had to run through a large train station in abou 5 minutes) and eventually arrived 1 hour late in Rome with no mention of any tardiness from the Italian train meisters. Life is beautiful, yes?

We had a long dinner outside our Rome hostel which made all the bad train memories disappear. For what they lack in punctuality, the Italians certainly made up for it in cooking a good meal. A little bruscheta, some cannolli, some wine, some after dinner drinks. The restaurant also provided caca gratis, or free shit, in the form of a bottle of champagne. Please note to all you cookers of food out there that I will always call your meal good if you provide free bottles of alcohol for my consumption.

We explored the Colosseum and Palatine Hill this morning and aim to have a seven course meal this evening.

I'm too lazy to tag all these photos right now so I'll just point to Travis' flickr page for your viewing enjoyment:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beer should always be cheaper than water

Prague has great, cheap beer. To put it in perspective, I bought a t-shirt for 149 crowns (about 5 euros or so). Our lunch yesterday, including 1 liter of beer, was cheaper. The food is also excellent in case you were wondering. The heavy amounts of beer, meat, and cabbage, however, contribute mightily to the Eurofunk.

I had a lost in translation moment at lunch today. The others finished their meals and already had their plates bussed. The waitress came by and said something that I thought meant, "Are you done?" I said yes, but she walked away only to return moments later with another stein of beer. This is probably the best misunderstanding I've ever had in my life.

We met some girls from Texas and some guys from England in the "American" bar last night. It was touted as the ex-pat place for Americans, but was only populated by a handful of Czech regulars and our group. A quick summary of what I learned over the course of the evening:

- Texans speak a stranger version of English than Californians or the British

- Watching Europeans watch their country's soccer team play is nonstop fun (one czech guy slammed his hand into the stone wall and didn't even flinch while celebrating a goal scored in the Czech vs Austria game

- A "nightclub" in Prague actually means a brothel, not a place to dance (the non-horizontal type)

- British people should shut the hell up when they criticize baseball, especially when they are unaware that pitchers could throw other pitches than a fastball

- The phrase "the dog's bollocks" was used in a sentence without any prompting from me

- Buying two .5L beers should always cost ~$2

We'll be in Interlaken in less than 24 hours.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Travel Update

We've made a few alterations to our itinerary. Tomorrow, we train to Prague and will spend 1700 czech crowns (50 euros or so) on our hostel room. Then, its on to Switzerland and Interlaken on the 20th. We end up in Rome on the 21st. We are still coming home on the 29th despite my wishes and bank account.

I wish we had more time to spend in Berlin...even if it meant taking pictures for 1 euro with the ladies of the night dressed in skimpy Soviet Union military uniforms around Checkpoint Charlie. I've never seem a historical landmark utilized in such a fashion for profit.

We checked out most of the landmarks (what's left of the Berlin Wall, Museumisland, etc.) of East Berlin this afternoon. Unfortunately, most of that was in a walking tour that didn't include going into these buildings. Berlin is on the must see list once again.

Will hopefully check in amidst the massive amounts of travel in the next few days...