Friday, December 30, 2005

Ciao de Venezia!

Hello everyone, from a very cold Venice.

Our trip started with an excitement that was both unexpected and extremely unwelcome. What should be a 40 minute metro-train ride from Barcelona to the airport turned into a 3 hour nightmare, due to some broken train somewhere. Us, and the large group of airport-go-ers we were with all arrived at the airport faarrrr later than we had anticipated, and unfortunately Talia and I missed our plane. Also, since the company we purchased it from is only an internet company and does not work in collaboration with any other airline, we were SOL. After lots of running (with a 50 pound pack on our backs, no less), and constant moving from terminal A to terminal B (a healthy jog), we ended up having to just shell out money for another ticket in order to get to Venice. Ugh. But, in the end it all worked out. We flew to Milan and then from Milan to Venice.

From the Venice airport we took a bus and it dropped us off right next to the Grand Canal, the central channel that runs through venice.

When Talia and I went to Madrid we thought "This is cool, but it could be New York." Even parts of Barcelona, Paris, Rome, etc...all the big cities have pieces that are similar in some way.

There is no way that Venice could ever look like anything but Venice.

This place is just as beautiful as you have been told. The entire city is full of rivers and canals, and the parcels of land on the islands have no cars at all. All transportation is by boat in the canals.

We were not sure how we were going to stay in Venice, and thought we may have to take a train to Bologna and stay there. However, we lucked out and actually found a very cheap hostel that had rooms for Talia, myself, and Margrit, with whom we are spending the next few days.

We woke up this morning and took the water bus #1 from a place near our hostel to Piazzale San Marco, the main and most gigantic square in Venice. From there, after seeing the incredible church that is in the square (i have never seen so much gold gilt on the ceilings of anything before) we walked through the city, getting rather pleasently lost, and eventually found the port from where we grabbed a ferry to Burrano, Torcello, and Murrano. Murrano is the glass island, and unfortunately we were not impressed - it was nothing but glass shops, all selling very similar things. we didnt spend much time there, so maybe thats a bit unfair, but there you go. The highlight was Burano, a very sleepy villiage of brightly painted houses, gorgeous lace (what its famous for) and adorable winding streets, even smaller than in Venice.

It took most of the day, and by the time we got back it was late, dark, and INCREDIBLY COLD. This city is absolutely freezing right now, and having underestimated the weather I went out today with not nearly enough layers. A mistake you can bet I will not repeat tomorrow!

We are here until the 1st of January, and from there we go to Athens.

Got to run, internet timer is running out on the hostel computer.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005


In about 3 minutes I will shut down this laptop, bring it and our other bags over to our friends apartment, and not see it again for about 28 days.

Talia and I are done planning, not quite done packing, and leaving in about 15 hours. Here's the final itinerary:
Northern Italy
Greece - Athens, Kalambaka/Kastraki, Meteora, Nafpoli, Diros Caves, Mycenae, various other sights around the Peloponese that I am too fried to remember,
Czech Republic - Prague
Switzerland - Geneva, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Gimmelwald, Murren, Silthorn, Lucerne, Zurich
Germany - Munich, Dachou, the cinderella-y castles 2 hours from Munich...can't remember the names
Spain - Sevilla, Granada, Barcelona
USA - New Hampshire, Oberlin.


I will update the blog as I encounter internet cafes and find the time throughout the trip, so keep checking for updates!! Pictures may be hard to do, but we'll see.

Be safe everyone, and we'll see/talk/write you all when we get back!

Jaimie and Talia.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

More Planning and Holidays

Its odd to approach the holidays here in Barcelona. Today is Christmas Eve and it doesn't feel anything like it usually does. Barcelona is certainly filled with a Christmas spirit, but its completely different. I'm used to snow, first of all, in a rural setting with big Christmas trees and fireplaces. And my family. This, unfortunately is the first year in my life I'll be spending the holidays apart from them, as they all gather in my sister's house in Atlanta. It's certainly a large concession, but will allow me to travel around Europe, so I guess for one year its worth it. Have fun in Atlanta, guys!

And as for travelling, Talia and I have bought our next round of tickets. We know we'll be in Greece through the 10th of January, visiting Athens, Delphi, Kalambaka, Meteora, Sanotrini (Thira, volcanos, etc) and maybe more. On the 10th we hop a plane from Athens to Prague, where we spend 4 nights. Then we fly from Prague to Geneva, Switzerland. We'll spend one night in Geneva, looking around a bit, then head into the Alps, going through Interlaken, Schilithorn, Gimelwald, and eventually leaving Swizterland through Zurich. We expect to spend about 5 nights in Swizterland in total, and then we'll have another 6 days or so until we need to be back in Barcelona to catch our flight back. Any suggestions?


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Talia's Mom and Brother! And being done! and housing! and travelling! and hostels! And bears and Witches and Bucharest OH MY!

So, first things first. The Italy post has been fully updated, so go and check that out. Sorry that took so long - the reason for it and the other lack of updating is that Talia and I just finished our finals, which took a great deal of studying. Additionally, the internet in our apartment decided to go on vacation for the past few days. It came back yesterday, the second that our finals ended, so you can read what you wish from that.

So, yesterday was a whirlwind. We took our finals, Talia's mother and brother came for a 6 day visit (yay!), Talia and I received word that we got the exact apartment we wanted at Oberlin next semester (super yay) (the apartment also happens to belong to Mike and Katelyn [friends of ours from Oberlin, for those who dont know] since they're moving to another place). at least 10 other things happened yesterday as well, I'm sure.

So now what? We are done with classes. Phew. We will be here relaxing and planning our trip and hanging out with Talia's family for the next week+. Then, on the 26th T's family leaves and on the 29th Talia and I leave. As to where we will be going...things are still a bit gray, which is why we need this time to plan.

It is actually a wonderful entertaining puzzle. navigating the websites that allow you to pick a starting destination and then list all the places you can go from that first location, is a blast. I'm drawing up various itineraries, some circulating around Turkey and Grece, one went to Iceland, another into Siberia..... we'll see how things turn out.

Barcelona continues to shelter us, though its a bit colder than we expected. Don't let "The sun also rises" fool you - Spain is not all flamenco and bullfights and sun and beaches. Its also cold. brrrrrr.

So if anyone has some MUST SEE sights in Europe, please comment with them, as we would love to know any gems we may not otherwise learn about (like Paestum in Italy, for example). Norbert, I certainly expect you to have a few, considering your extensive traveling experience!

And now to make dinner,

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Italy Pictures!!

FINAL UPDATE!!!!!!!! 12/21/05 - Naples and "Final Thoughts". Read it!

**UPDATE #3**12/15/05 - 3rd day in Rome - VATICAN and SPQR

**UPDATE #2**12/14/05 - 2nd day in Rome - Forum/Pantheon/etc.

**Update**12/13/05 - 1st day in Rome - Church Hopping

Ok - now that these pictures have been up here for a few days, its about time I fill them in with some context and description.
First an overview. Our trip began on Thursday December 1st. We got up at something like 3:30 in the morning so as to get a bus from Barcelona to Girona, a small city about an hour and a half away. This is where the cheap budget airlines fly out of, a tiny provincial airport that saves them money (and us as well). From there we flew from Girona to Pisa, which is about an hour outside of Florence. Since we were in Pisa anyway we decided to just stop by the leaning tower. We were actually much more impressed with it than we ever expected to be - it is quite spectacular, actually leaning a good 10-15 degrees off axis. Apparently a bit ago some architect devised a way to save the building, keeping it at its famous tilt, but ending the danger of it falling over (which it was very close to doing).
In the giant plaza with the tower is also a big church and baptistry which are nice, but nothing terribly special.

Here's the plaza with the Baptistry, Church, and Tower respectively from front to back. The lawns are very well manicured and you walk on them at your own risk (i.e. guards yell at you). What you don't see in this picture are the throngs of souvenir hawkers and stands of everything from small statues to baby clothes. Its a very touristy area.

And here she is - the leaning tower. It has hundreds of columns on it, and many of them are replacements of the originals. Unfortunately the leaning of the tower is drastically accelerating its deterioration, and so there is always work being done to preserve it. Funny how this architect's greatest acomplishment is also a spectacular failure of a building.

From Pisa we went to Florence, where we stayed two days, one night. A short stay, but unless you plan on going to every museum and have a fetish for rennaisance art, I think it's OK. Don't get me wrong - I liked Florence alot, it is very small and peaceful, quite beautiful with lots of plazas and statues all over the place. It also may as well be a collective province of America, England, and Austrailia. I heard more english than Italian here, which is convenient, but detracts from the overall experience.

In Florence we first found our hostel (a very nice if slightly sketchy kind of place), then went to the Uffizzi, probably the most famous of the Florentine museums. This is a treasure trove of Rennaisance art, with gems like "The birth of Venus" by Botticelli, lots of DaVincis, Carravaggios, Raphaels, etc. etc. It's also huge, and after going through half the museum diligently our very-tired group (remember this day was the same day we had left from Barcelona) found ourselves skirting through the second half, stopping at the interesting ones, and woefully dismissing others. Sorry all you museum fiends out there, I'm sure you felt a physical pain at our brevity, but im sure they would not have taken kindly to having three americans fall asleep next to the Carravaggio room.

From there we wandered around and saw some wonderful piazzas (plazas), like Piazza Signori (I think) that has the replica of the David in its original place.

The next day we met Margrit (yay!) who studies in Sienna and was just a short train ride away. With her we wandered over to the Duomo of Florence, which as an absolutely stunning facade, and an inversely proportionately dissapointing interior.

The facade, with incredibly intricate marble work done in green, red, and white. Its also slightly mammoth.

Another shot. This one with the cows of Florence, which you might be thinking to yourself look an awful lot like the cows of New York. Well they're the same ones, some replicas, some new ones done by Florentine artists, and they're everywhere. Kind of cute.

We saw some other churches in Florence proper, and stumbled into a very fun christmas market in front of one (which will turn out to be the first of hundreds of christmas markets we see). You can see a sampling of one of my favorite booths...

And from there we crossed the river that runs through florence and climbed a huge hill up to a church that gave us a wonderful view of Florence. The church was beautiful, very dark and more personal than something like the Duomo. Free of tourists as well. I can't think of the name now - I'll get that info later. There was also a very happy set of cats adorning a grave:

And the four of us with a strangely dreary Florence in the background. Someone else took this picture obviously, so I blame them. It was actually quite sunny and pretty.

At night Florence turns into a living christmas tree, with tons of lights everywhere hanging down into the streets:

And being that it was Friday night, Talia had brought with her some Shabbat stuff. We lit our candles, had some bread and juice for wine, all in the shadow of the replica of the David.

After our Shabbis we caught a 9pm train from Florence to Rome. Something about travelling in Italy - the train system (trenitalia) is AMAZING. Super cheap, super easy, and very fast (more or less depending on what you're willing to pay). From Florence to Rome we got the cheapest tickets possible (read: slowest train, meaning it makes alot of stops along the way), which cost us 15 euros ($18) and took around 3 hours. That may seem like an annoyingly long train ride, since the faster Eurostar trains only take about an hour, but we found that during that train ride you can start reading all your guidebooks for the next city you're going to, and start familiarizing yourself with the map of the city. The time was perfect, and it got us into Roma Termini just past midnight, from where we went straight to our Hostel, which was right nextdoor. The hostel was fun, dorm-style rooms and a locked closet to keep our stuff in during the day. The staff gave us directions and all the information we could have asked for.

And so ends the Florence/Pisa sectino of the trip and begins the Rome section. I'll write about Rome later, I've got to do homework now.

Ok, I'm back.

So where was I? Pisa, check. Florence, check. Now onto Rome.

Our first day we woke up, breated in the clear Roman air, filtering the dust of 2000 years of history in our noses, looked out the window....and saw rain. harumph. Turns out it would rain all day, in a continual "oh, I'm not really raining that hard but somehow you still are going to get sopping wet" kind of way. Taking the rain into consideration, we decided to do as much of the indoor stuff as we could. This primarily consisted of church hopping.

We started with the churches near Roma Termini train station and worked outwards. We first went to Santa Maria della Vittoria. This church houses the famous statue of "St. Theresa's Extacy"'t remember. This statue portrays a woman, Theresa, having a vision of God thrusting a spear into her "body". They had the text of her written testimony in front of the statue and it was quite explicit. The statue was excellent, and the church even more so. A small building in the middle of nowhere-northern-Rome, it was entirely clad in different colors of marble, patterned and elegant, yet it was also small, so it had a more personal feeling.

From there we went to Santa Maria della Constazione which we were tipped off to from our guide book (thanks Kierstn). This place was crazy. The church is not of much mention - its the crypt you want to go see. The crypt is a small stone hallway about 30 feet long with small alcoves off the side that contain...bones. Specifically the bones of 4000 dead monks. That would be of import already, but there's more. The monks arranged the bones of their fallen brethren into magnificent alters and wall decorations, creating spiral shapes, crosses, and even chandeliers. All made completely out of bones. All kinds of bones. It is grisly and immensely cool. The floor of most of these rooms has dirt, apparently from Jerusalem, where many of the monks are buried. but they ran out of room, and so the rest became art. Elegant ribs create cocentric circles, fingers are fused together to house a sputtering electric bulb above your head, and everywhere you look are skulls, staring vacantly at you as they perepetually hold up their end of an alter.

After that spectacle we headed towards Santa Maria Maggiore (noticing a theme here? Around 25% of the hundreds of churches in Rome are Santa Marias). This place is huge (although huge becomes a very relative term after one visits St. Peters. More on that later). Its very pretty, with lofty ceilings. I can't seem to remember what of specific import is here though. maybe nothing. I dont remember. Damn the dealy in writing this stuff down. ah well.

Two more churches for this day (proud of me, mom? :) ) - San Pietro in Vincoli. This place is important for two reasons. The first is Michelangelo's statue of Moses. The statue was amazing, and is considered by many art historians (or so I remember from my class) to be a greater work than the David in terms of ability and complexity. It shows Moses as he descends Mnt. Sinai after having collected the 10 commandments from God. His expression is complicated, a mix of fierce joy and anger as he looks onto his people worshippingthe golden calf. There are two protrusions extending from just behind the forehead which look conspicuously like horns. In reality they are supposed to be rays of light from Moses' glowing face. Misinterpretations of this statue have added to the "jews have horns" rediculousness that people talk about.

Also in this church are the fabled chains of St. Peter. Supposedly he was chained both in Jerusalem, then brought to Rome to be killed and was re-chained here. At some point, for some reason, the two sets of chains came into contact with each other and magically fused together when they met. They sit in a glass alter in this church.

One more church today. This is the last one, I swear. San Clement. This place was cool. It has a beautiful gold leafed depiction of the Transfiguratio nof Christ above the main alter. But that's not its main draw. San Clement sits on two other churches. In the 2nd century it was a Mithraic temple (for the then-popular god Mithra, a non-Roman god that was eventually stamped out by around the 3rd-4th century). Then in the 5th century it became a Christian church, which lasted until the year 1000, and was then destroyed. Then the current church was built in the 1200s I think. If you pay to see the churches (like 1.50 I think) you can go down some steps and see the middle church, then down more and see the mithraic temple. It's really quite a transformation, and there are some very well preserved sections. The temple has a number of statues and identifiable rooms, and the middle church has a few frescos and what-not. Nothing is a prime example of what it represents, but the three-tiered nature of it is really quite interesting. Really makes you feel like you're walking "down" into history.

After that we went to the Colloseum to see it by night. It's gorgeous. It just is. I mean - this is the stuff I have studied my whole life. The things I have been infatuated with ever since I could lift a sword and demand that my mother build me a castle in our back yard. And from a childhood infatuation it turned into a deep-seated historical passion of mine. Now I'm actually here, in the middle of history, walking the steps that literally gladiators trod thousands of years ago. It is inconceivable at times.

Ok, another break. This time for sleep. I hope you're all enjoying the lengthy descriptions!


Ok - back again. This time for the rest of our Rome visit.

So after our long rainy day of church visits we were a little worried that it would rain the rest of the trip (weather reports did not look good). But amazingly our weather was amazing for almost the entire trip until our very last day in naples.

We walked back to the center of the city (our hostel was about a 20 minute walk away) and marvelled at the Colloseum again, then decided to go into the Forum. Most of the forum is accessible for free, you only have to pay if you want to go visit the Palatine Hill, which is supposedly cool, but since we were/are doing this trip as much on-the-cheap as possible, we forewent that excursion. The forum is (i know you're getting sick of this word) amazing. For those who may not know, the forum existed in every single Roman city of any significance. It was the governmental center of the city, with court houses, the senate building, many temples, public speaking platforms, etc. Much of the forum is in total ruins, but some gems inside are the Temple of Saturn, which as a section of 8 columns still standing:

Near this is the senate building, which is apparently much-restored, but gives you an idea of its size and layout. The basilica and other temples are there. Unfortunately, you can tell which of the temples are no longer temples/ruins - if they're in good shape. What do I mean by this? There are a number of temples in the forum that look extremely well preserved. Those are temples that have, at one point or another, been turned into churches. Thus they get preserved, but often at the cost of restoration and cover up that masks some of the original historical interest. More on that later though. It's definitely a double-eged sword.

Talia takin' a seat on two thousand years of history:

The forum leads you out into Piazza del Campidoglio. Here you can see the current Senate building of Rome, a great museum Palazzo Nuovo which contains the original of the Marcus Aurealius (philosopher-emperor) equestrian statue. A copy stands in its original place in the plaza, and its quite beautiful. Many art historians argue that much of what we currently know of what Jesus looks like came from this statue, as the bible never gave a portrait artists had to make up their own image. Pieces were pulled from all over the history of Art, and I remember my teacher speculating that the beard might have been attributed to this emperor. Interesting, if nothing else.

So after that we decided to go see the Pantheon. This is one of the best preserved Roman buildings anywhere. What is particularly amazing about this structure is how unchanged it is. It, like most roman buildings of any significance, was turned into a church as some point. So the inside decorations on the walls are not real, they're marble facades. However, the floor is supposedly original, and the ceiling, including a 30 foot oculus at the top, are all from when it was built. Amazing. Interestingly, no one really knows what the Pantheon was for. Its name, many say, suggest that it was to worship "all the gods," but no one is sure.

What is infuriating about this building is what is NOT there. Primarily the sheathing on the roof. It used to have a (supposedly) marvelous bronze cover over its entire HUGE dome. That lasted until St. Peter's was built and then the roof was STRIPPED , MELTED, and GIVEN to Bernini so that he could make his central alter in St Peter's. Grr.

The oculus is spectacular, and apparently if you go when its raining water just pours in.

From there we hit a few Piazzas - Piazza Navonna, which has this spectacular fountain of the four rivers :
And a Piazza alled Campo de Fiori. Both were interesting, and had interesting markets in them, but there wasn't much to see.

From there we hiked across the Tiber into Tratesveri to wander around an old neighborhood, find more markets, see a pretty church, and have some food.

Talia on the Tiber.

Then we headed over to something our guide book tipped us off to - near a church that's pretty out of the way called Santa Sabina, is a door that belongs the Priory of the Knights of Malta. IF you look through the keyhole in this door you get an amazing view of something...which I will not divulge. But its cool.

It was late at this point so we headed back to the city center, getting marvelously lost on the way. But it afforded me to get this picture, which I like:

And lastly on this long day we went to the Trevi Fountain which was gorgeous and immense. The amount of water it uses per day is staggering.

Its a tradition to throw coins over your shoulder into the fountain, and let me tell you, there was a veritable fortune in small-change. I dont reccomend trying to recover it though. People also dropped other goodies, like rose petals.

That was it for today. And thats it for me right now. I have class. More later. Ciao!

OK, now to *hopefully* wrap things up. Last time we left our heroes they were going to bed after a long day traipsing all over Rome from Forum to Pantheon to Secret Keyhole, etc.

Today? The Vatican.

There are a few things that should be known about the vatican up front. One - it DOES take all day, no matter what your friend says. Two - the museums STOP ADMITTING PEOPLE at 12:30. This is important, and we were nothing but lucky that we got in.

We got out of the hostel later than expected, and, after a short stint on the metro arrived at the entrance to the Museums. Or should I say - about 4 blocks from the entrance. The reason for this delay? LINES! In the beginning of december on a day of questionable weather the line was 4 blocks long. We were worried we wouldn't make it in time, but luckily the line moves very quickly, and we ended up only waiting about 45 minutes. Once inside you follow a pretty defined path on the way to the Sistine chapel. Good news is that following this path (at least when we were there) leads you through all of the most desireable rooms in the museums (map room, Raphael Rooms, etc). On the way we, a bit tired of all the rennaisance style stuff, took a detour through the modern art section of the museum, which was actually fantastic. There are alot of very cool paintings and sculptures down there - and as it is not one of the more popular wings, it was almost deserted.

This is Talia next to a very cool piece of stained glass depicting the Pieta.

The Vatican museums also house one of the largest collections of greco-roman sculpture and artifacts anywhere. There are too many gems to mention, but here is one of my all-time favorite statues. I didn't even know it was anywhere NEAR the Vatican until, walking through the museum into an open courtyard I worked my way through a crowd and stumbled upon this:

This beautiful piece depicts Laocoon and his soons as they fight sea serpents sent by Neptune. It's a myth, and the statue is a perfect representation of Greek hellenistic style - which is primarily recognized by a vastly over-emphasized musculature, as you can see on Laocoon, who is supposed to be about 70 years old. Also look at Laocoon's face!! It's amazing! The torment, th anguish, ugh, its incredible. It's also funny to compare these bodies with actual humans. The artists took quite a few liberties and apparently created a few muscles here and there that dont actually exist :)

After Laocoon we made our way through the Raphael Rooms, which were all exquisite - but I have to admit I am not wild about rennaisance painting. This may be due to a lack of education about it - I'm sure if I learned more about its specificities I would appreciate it more. There are, of course, exceptions to my apathy however. Raphael's masterpiece in the Stanza della Segnatura, which I believe is colloquaially known as the "School of Athens" was absolutely brilliant. The composition was fantastic, with history's greatest intellectuals all collected into one utopian classroom.

And then we got to the Sistine Chapel, where we were not aloud to take pictures. But they enforce this rule about as much as your typical "don't walk on the grass" sign (excluding Pisa, heheh). Behold:

Yes, it really all is as magnificent as everyone has told you. It's incredible. All of it Michelangelo. The ceiling took just 4 years and contains over 300 individual figures, and covers more than 10,000 square feet!!! The picture just above is the "Last Judgment" done in 1536, 22 years after the ceiling was completed. This piece was almost more impressive than the ceiling, but this probably just stems from the distance of the ceiling, so its hard to make out the details. So many books are written on these masterpiece's, I'll skip the lengthy diatribe.

After the museum we circled back and went to see St. Peter's.

This. Church. Is. Huge. It is 2 football fields long, and 400 feet tall at its dome. Massive. Due to delays and changes, this church took almost 300 years to be completed, with much of the final designs being done by Michelangelo (surprise surprise). This is a place of a great deal of history, as well. For example, there is a red porphyry disk that outlines the exact spot where Charlemagne was crowned the 1st Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day in the year 800!! I stood in this spot and let me tell you - I felt pretty freaking holy and Roman.

Here is Bernini's great high alter. Unfortunately I have some beef with this piece, as I would rather have loved to see it as a ROOF on the PANTHEON! Oh! That reminds me. The actual church of St. Peter's is made of stolen ancient treasure as well. over 2,500 wagonloads of stone were taken FROM THE COLLOSEUM!!!!! Have they no respect for their elders?! Breathe Jaimie.... I know I know, another time, another culture, a whole different view on history the importance of the past...but come on...the Colloseum!

St. Peter's and the Piazza in front of it - a giant place surrounded by over 200 giant collumns that make a circular gathering place. The obelisk in the center is over 350 tons, brought from Egypt by Caligula in 37 AD. At the top is a small sphere that supposedly contains a fragment of the holy cross. I didn't go up to check the authenticity of this, however. Next time.

So there's Rome. Ruins, Churches, stone, bones, gold, stolen roofs, and amazing sights. It was, of course, a wonderful place, and much more sprawling than I had imagined it. The winter was definitely a nice time to be here, despite a day of bad weather - as the crowds were significantly less than what I expected, and I dread what the forum might have looked like in the middle of summer.

In the end I found the funniest and maybe even most surprising thing to be under my feet. Etched in every sewer/water grate are the letters SPQR. This rang bells for me from my days in Latin class back at Souhegan with Mrs. Baker. SPQR was the logo, if you will, of the Roman republic. Emblazoned on all the legionaire standards, appearing on civic buildings, etc, it stood for Senatus Populusque Romani or "The Senate and the People of Rome". It's good to know that in a city where the Colloseum is 20 feet from a 5 lane road packed with traffic, some things just never change.



Back again! Phew, this has turned into quite the multi day writing activity. So where were we? Oh yes, SPQR. Well now we move South.

From Rome we left in the morning and hopped a three hour train to Naples. Arriving at Stazioni Garribaldi we masterfully wound our way to a bus, the R2 in case you were interested, that brought us to Piazza Municipio, a cute place overshadowed by...well, a castle. There is a giant Norman castle right on the water. Oh yes, Naples is a port city.

We checked into our Hostel, Hostel of the Sun, which was a GREAT place. The staff was super nice, the rooms were clean, lots of bathrooms, a kitchen, free breakfast, everything you could have asked for in a $25 a night hostel.

With the 2nd half of the day left in Naples we decided to take some advice Margrit had given us (who has family in Naples and has thus spent a bunch of time there) and take a furnicular up a hill toward a castle and monostary. The castle looked impressive but charged to get in, so we continued up the street and found the monostary. We then understood why Margrit had suggested this trip. The view. But of what? Naples is a city in a shadow:

Looming over the city is Vesuvias, a still active volcano, though apparenlty it hasn't so much as hiccupped in a number of years. From the base of the mountain the city sprawls outward, repelled only by the Mediterranean.

A bit of editorial: Naples is crazy. The drivers are absolutely certifiable, and the city is filled with this pervasive energy that seems to infuse the population with a vibrancy. It's not touristy, as the city itself has very few well-known attractions to speak of, but rather serves as a base for toursists to visit sights along the Amalfi Coast. But in this hectic nature there is a charm - large swarming crowds of people that dont even look before they cross a 5-lane road teeming with traffic, and similarly, cars that speed through crosswalks regardless of pedestrians.
It seems to me that the entire city has taken upon itself a certain immanence, something apocolyptic (obviously this is a bit overdramatic), that creates a municipal psyche with more energy and abandon than we found in a more settled city like Rome or certainly Florence.

So, like, I mentioned, Naples served mostly as a base for us to travel outwards. We visited two main sights; one well known, the other slightly less so but equally amazing. First was Pompeii.

I'm sure many of you know the histoy of Pompeii, so I wont reiterate except to say that a very long time ago there was a Roman town and Vesuvias exploded, covering the town and its 2000 inhabitants in layers of molten lava. This was obviously very bad news for the residents of Pompeii, but has become one of the best archaeological excavations in history. Molten lava, in addition to being, well, hot, is also an amazing preservative. And thus things have survived at Pompeii that have been lost in other sights. Things like frescos, inscriptions, graffiti, medical instruments, and people.

The sight is just as amazng as you have heard. more so. We were particularly lucky, I think, as the day we went was supposed to be miserably wet and gross. But at the last moment the petrified Roman gods took pity on us and gave us sunshine. So there was almost no one at the ruins, which is very unusual, even in winter. I cannot begin to imagine what this place is like in the summer, with throngs of tourists.

The sight itself is huge, and is actually the city itself, with houses, baths, the forum, etc. You wander the streets and come upon amazing amphitheaters, fields, kitchens, shops, etc.

Additionally, there seem to be three tiers of gates in Pompeii. The first is the "You can't go here" gate, which is something metal, attached to the rock itself. These are impenetrable unless you wish to scale some walls.
The next gate is the "You shouldn't go here" gate, which is something wooden, but sturdy looking. However its only about waste high, so is easily overcome if you wish.
The last gate is something flimsy, generally off its hinges, or broken, which seems to say "'re going to go in here, aren't you?" Using the last two gates we were able to wander through the ruins themselves, into a bunch of places that i'm romantically sure we were not supposed to go. We only got yelled at once.

This is the forum, which was the government center of every Roman city. In the foreground you see the result of the background, looming Vesuvias. One interesting thing - volcanic lava is actually an amazingly fertile substance, and thus everything that was not rock or gravel in the ruins was a lush green. In the spring and summer I imagine there are all kinds of wild flowers.

This is a small amphitheater we found, with everything amazingly preserved. The stage obviously is gone, but all the seating you see is original. If you look closely you can see Talia crouching down in a space that was, at one point, under the stage. Carla is in the seats and Talia is putting on a sock puppet show (using her own socks of course). It was a heart felt commemoration of the great theater that must have come before...her socks. It was also very funny.

A typical street in Pompeii. As you can see, when it rains the water collects, as it did thousands of years ago. Trash and other wastes also colleted in the streets and so there were always stepping stones from sidewalk to sidewalk across the street so that at no point did anyone have to walk in the street itself.

Pompeii is full of AMAZING mosaic work, some with tiny grains of stone, others with larger tile pieces. This one was particularly cool, an optical illusion from two thousand years ago!

There are hundreds of columns left in Pompeii, continuing to stand despite the loss of their charge. Often nature tries to reclaim what was chisled from her.

There is a brief photo guide of Pompeii, there is just so much to see there I would have to fill all the allotted space this website allows me for pictures to actually do it justice.

Other things we saw in Pompeii: the Villa of Mysteries, which has some of the best preserved frescos from Antiquity, a giant colloseum-like structure, and more and more...

We went back to Naples for the night and the next day embarked on another adventure, this time to Paestum.

Fewer people know of Paestum than know of Pompeii. We heard about it from a friend of our families, Mrs Bennison, who had spent some time in Italy before. The sight consists of three ancient Greek temples sitting in a field, with not much else around. The draw? These are three of the best preserved Greek temples anywhere in the world, rivaling even those in Athens (which Talia and I will get to judge for ourselves in two weeks or so).

The story of the sight is really fascinating. So somewhere around 2500 years ago the Greeks inhabited southern Italy. There was a town, which later was transformed into a Roman town (and the temples were kept, since the Romans had imported much of the Greek religion). There were three temples, each to seperate gods. One to Neptune (sea), one to Hera (wife of zeus), and one to either Zeus or Apollo, they're not sure. The strctures are huge doric structures, surrounding with columns, housing shrines and inner sanctums that have mostly deteriorated. Its the structures that remain, with their dozens of HUGE columns and triangular friezes. Well this is silly, let me let the pictures describe themselves:

This is the central and largest temple, to either Zeus o Apollo. What can you say about it, excpet wow? It is just massive. That small fence running around the outside goes up to my waste, if that gives you a better idea.

In the summer these fields are filled with poppies. Now some strong-willed survivors still made their appearance. The sight has bits of other ruins from the Roman town, but all pale in comparison to the temples.

As sun set we were again graced with some of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. The whole week it was supposed to rain and then didnt, which gave us some truly spectacular cloud formations. Here is the field of temples at sunset:

And eventually we had to go, as the sight closes an hour before sunset, though we stayed to watch through the fence as darkness swept the ruins. Our walk back uncovered one more treasure though, something we had missed walking from the train station the first time:

A giant stretch of wall, left from the original time of the temples, some 2500 years ago. It is the thicketst most sturdy wall from antiquity, and contains numerous arches still stable after so many years.

And then we were back in Naples. The next day brough a visit to the National Archaeological museum, as well as a stop at an amazing church where there is a statue of a "Veiled Christ". It is probably the most amazing statue I've ever seen ,but I was unable to take any pictures, as the staff (of which there were probably 30 members) were violently enforcing the no picture policy, to the point of screaming and poking. I feared for my life and thus refrained.

That night we left Naples around 8pm, took a train to Rome, and camped out inside the Roma Termini train statino for about 4 hours as we waited for the bus that left down the street to take us to Ciampino airport for our 7:45am flight. We met another student studying spanish in Spain, and also an Italian student who spoke spanish, so we were all able to converse in Spanish to a greater or lesser extent. Unfortunately it was freezing, and we were constantly fending off the sketchy guys who try to get lost-looking backpackers to come to their hostels. At some point during the night one of our friends we met found the door to a nearby ATM was open, so we all crowded inside and let our combined body heat fend off the cold. It was certainly an experience, as the station closed, but when I asked a cop where he might reccomend we stay that was safe, since we werent going to get a hostel room for 4 hours, he said we could just crash in the station and he wouldn't mind. I also realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore when, in need of a bathroom and unable to find one, the same cop told me to go pee in the streets outside. Well what's a small-bladdered boy to do? I joined the ranks of so many drunken Romans. I can check that off my to-do-before-i-die list.

And then, miracurously, we were on a bus, in the air, in Girona, on a bus, in Barcelona, and suddenly at our apartment. The experience was more surreal than can relate, as these long wierd-hour travel days so often are.

And, in a very large and long nutshell, that was Italy. It was amazing, for sure, and exhausting. I have decided there is a definite difference between vacationing and travelling. Travelling is NOT a vacation. You need a vacation after you travel. And of all the education I've experienced here in Spain, travelling, I think, is at the top of my list. As I said before, Europe, and Italy in particular, is just a playground for me. I've spent the past ten years studying this history, loving the stories, the myths, the history and the literature. Now I get to walk in their steps (in the most literal sense), and touch what they touched. Its magical, and I cannot wait for Talia and I to get back out there and do more.

There you are. All done with Italy. Hope you enjoyed. :)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

In Rome

Just a quick hello from Rome, Italy. The trip has been great so far. We flew into Pisa on thursday, which was surprisingly great. The leaning tower is just as amazing as you have heard. Then we went to Florence and spent Thursday and Friday in Florence, meeting up with Margrit for the day. Saw the Ufizzi, lots of statues, y mas...
Then yesterday we took a train to Rome and spent all day in Rome seeing TONS of stuff. Unfortunately its raining, so we did mostly indoor stuff. Saw a crazy crypt of bones, amazing churches, Exctasy of St. Teresa, Michelangelos Moses, Colloseum, Arch of Constantine, blah blah.

Tomorrow brings more Rome, then Monday is the Vatican.

Got to run, at an internet cafe associated with our hostel.

Cheers to all,