Saturday, June 19, 2010

Czech Me Out - Part 1 Prague (Post #15)

March 17 myself and six of my friends; George, Brandon, Seth, Kelly, Isa, and Juri went to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. From Milan to Prague was maybe an hour flight which flew by. A little background info for you guys is that my friend Kelly knew a girl from UCal back home who is studying in Prague. The three girls stayed at her place just across the river while the four of us guys stayed in a hostel in the center of town. Our hostel was in a great location because we were a five minute walk from all of the historic sites and center of Prague. In addition, the girls had to wake up an hour earlier than we did because they had to shower, get ready, and then walk 25 minutes to get to our hostel so it worked out perfect!

We got off the plane and immediately went to an ATM in the airport to withdraw Korunas which is the Czech currency. It asks us whether we want to withdraw 1000, 2000, or 4000 Korunas whereas in the US I think the options are like $40, $60, $80, and $100. Haha we hesitantly went up 1 by 1 to withdraw; I strategically placed myself last so I could figure out the conversion rate in my head. 1 USD is 18.something Korunas so 1000 Koruna is the equivalent of about 55 USD. The Korunas come out in very colorful bills with values of 500, 1000, 2000, and 5000. Hahaha we thought Euros looked like paper money; Korunas put that to shame. (We later find out there are also Bills of 20, 50, 100, and 200 Korunas while they have so many coins I will not even get into it).

Both groups have directions how to get to their destination. The guys grab the first bus and are on our way as the girls wait for the second bus. We get a little confused because everything is written in Czech and Seth's directions apparently were a little shaky. As a result, we hop off the bus so we can check a map out at the stop. We realize we need a different numbered Bus and it comes within three minutes. We all get on and there we find the three girls on this bus. Immediately they start making fun of us because we got lost for a minute. We all get off the bus and take the metro to our destinations and say we will meet at a certain place and time. We got out of the metro station and we ascend to street level. Wow, it was beautiful. We saw one big gothic church right off the bat as we looked straight ahead and we turn left while standing in place and see another beautiful gothic building. The guys went to the hostel to check in as the girls were doing their thing. The receptionist at the hostel was super cool, extremely helpful, and spoke English very well. To the right of the desk were 3 computers which we constantly found ourself at whenever we were at the hostel. We got in our rooms and it was very colorful (no joke!) and very neat as you can see below. As you can see it was indeed colorful as hell with the bright orange comforters and crimson red rug. Seth is on the left, George is in the middle, and Brandon is on the right. I slept in the middle bed if it matters to anyone and I slept like a baby every night. The bathroom was very nice as well even though in the shower you push a knob to get the water going. It slowly comes back out as your shower runs out so you have to constantly push the damn knob in. The bathroom and shower are depicted below.
Oh, and our "included towels" was the size of a wash cloth so I literally dried myself off with a wash cloth every day.

We left to meet the girls in the center of town. A couple of us including myself got Pizza for 80 Korunas while the rest ate at KFC. YEAH! Some American food! Never have that option in Italy besides McDonalds. After eating we all walked down towards the main attractions just to scope some stuff out. We took a minute to decide where we wanted to go. I snapped a picture that we all enjoyed very much. You can see everyone talking while George is taking a picture of god knows what. Can you find George twice in the picture to the left? Yea, pretty cool huh? Ha well if you don't like it thats alright because I do. We continued our way through Prague, a very Americanized, midieval city. I mean come on! If anyone appreciates Subway half the amount my brother and I do then you will enjoy this picture. It was the coolest car I saw all week there! We walk another twenty feet and there is another KFC. We walk another block and there is Starbucks whichhhhh we had to stop because Kelly has been dieing to have one since she has gotten to Europe.

We found the Communist Museum and were about to go in it until we saw the price of entry. We were directed to an Information Desk where we ended up purchasing the Prague Card. The Prague Card was like 500 Korunas (about 25 USD) and it includes a brochure packet. It possesses 54 vouchers or free entry tickets to 54 attractions with detailed descriptions of each one. It was a great deal and was valid for four days; the length we would be staying in Prague. As we walked around the city center we were constantly confronted by guys trying to sell us the idea to go to their Irish Bar for celebration of St. Pattys. They were offering flyers and discounts so we told all of them we would be back. The group wanted to get Czech food which consists of mainly meat dishes such as pork, beef, and chicken along with dumplings. Most of them had Goulash or a Beef Entree with dumplings on the side. I simply got a plate of spaghetti. It wasn't a very big portion but it was a solid meal. We were still hungry so we got dessert. To get dessert you had to walk up to the main register where there is a display of the desserts and a number on it. I chose the Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake or whatever the hell it was. It was easily the best part of the meal. We got our check and I freaked out for a second when I saw the total. The total was 1699 Korunas which is about 82 USD. This restaurant was on the corner right in front of the Vltava River. From it you could see the Architecturally-stunning Dancing House which you can see below. It was the only building with this style of architecture that I saw as the rest of the buildings are mostly gothic and some are Baroque.

We all went back to the city center we scanned earlier in which I will go into greater detail in the second part of Prague Blog. It was St. Pattys of course so we went back to one of the Irish bars we passed. It was pretty neat inside as there was a balcony with a bar upstairs looking over the floor and the people enjoying the moment. Live music consisted of this guitarist singing old school songs. It was a great atmosphere between the live music, the drunk locals, and enthusiastic tourists. The best part was that you could request songs. Kelly went up to request a song and the guy didn't know it so he tried to get Kelly to sing it. Lets just say she had no part of that. In the picture below I am wearing a friends hat which you got for free by buying 2 glasses of Guinness.

Prague Part 2 will be Posted soon. I have been greatly struggling trying to keep this going so here is some reading material while I do the next part.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Florence and DAVID (Post #14)

Alright, so time to catch up on this blog as it is May 20th and I am writing about March 13th!!!

So the eight of us, as I mentioned in the Bologna post, took a train to Florence on March 13th where we would stay until Sunday, the 14th. The train we took was the coolest thing ever. There were "cabins" of 6 seats with a door and blinds for complete privacy. It was awesome because we just sat down, closed the blinds, and slept until we reached our destination.

We got there later than we arranged our hostel. To sum up a long, unnecessary story we basically were led to a different building since they gave away our reservation. We followed this really sketchy woman who spoke a lick of english. I have never been so ready to get mugged than I was at this time as she led us through alleyways and around dark corners. Keep in mind there were 8 of us and we booked it for 5 to try to save some money. We finally get to the hostel and she brings us to the front desk. She keeps telling us to pay 40 Rubies which in her own little world apparently implies 40 Euros. We were asking to see the room since we were relocated. She did not understand and kept yelling at us for no reason. "40 Woobies, 40 Woobies"
she would say with her slight lisp counteracting with her italian accent. Eventually she called her boss and Luke spoke to him on the phone. During all of this, the 4 with me were rather calm and patient while I was going ballistic. I have no patience for stuff like this as most of you know and I had to sit down so I didn't strangle this woman. Meanwhile, Isa, Juri, and Sarita waited
outside. Finally we paid and went to the room. The room had two twin-size beds individually and then three twin size beds pushed together to make 1.5 King-sized beds. Instantly Nick claimed one because he booked the hostel and I claimed the other because I paid and am the biggest. As a side note, we are all obsessed with these stupid gummy peach rings. Nick threw one in the air and I dove onto my bed to catch it in my mouth. Instantly the aluminum (literally) bed frame collapsed, awesome huh? So I put that to the side and put my mattress on the floor. We set out stuff down in the hostel and went to explore. Eventually we snuck everyone in to the room and left the hostel by twos. The woman clearly couldn't count as 4 groups of 2 walked past her when the room was booked for 5! ha --> So much for summing the story up.

The only real thing worthy of mentioning for that night was the dinner and post-dinner. We walked around forever trying to find a good menu for good prices. We finally found one and sat down. I wish I remembered the name because at the time of the trip, not the time I am writing this, it was the best meal I have had. I was feeling very greedy and ordered garlic bread with oil to split with Nick and ordered a plate of Lasagna and a plate of Tortellini with Ham and Cream. It was AMAZING! A couple people ordered famous Florentine Steaks and they were massive. We were all laughing because Lenny was joking about how they just ate an entire cow. Everyone really enjoyed their meals although the portions still werent completely satisfying but for once I will take quality of quantity. Some of my friends' meals came with dessert. They could choose cheesecake or a bowl of fruit. I ate my friend Simone's apple who we met a little earlier before dinner. I hate to say it but that apple might have been the best part of the meal. It was soooo good I couldn't believe it. The waiters could see how much I loved it so they gave me another apple free of charge (we literally had three waiters because of the massive amounts of food the nine of us ate)!! I was raving about this stupid little apple while everyone else was raving about their entree. We left there after many thanks to the waiters and went to a bar for a little bit. There was nobody in there so we had the entire thing to ourself. After a little while we went back to the hostel because it was now like 1130pm. We saw a Merry-Go-Round (carousel) so we all went on it. We all bought a ticket except Lenny and after a couple minutes the guy tried to catch up to Lenny to get him off but he jumped off and ran away haha. The guy operating the carousel stopped the ride a minute later and we went back to the hostel. We ate some pizza, joked around, and somehow ended up making a hog pile on one of the tiny beds. Of course I was stuck on the bottom but as you can see we enjoyed it.

The next day we walked around and did all the touristy stuff in Florence. The picture below shows the Bronze Doors of the Battistero (Baptistry) of San Giovanni. It is directly across from the Duomo. The bronze doors took six years and 20 of the 28 panels describe events in the life of St. John the Baptist. More popularly they are known as the "Gates of Paradise". If you literally turn around, this is the image you see. The famous florence Duomo. I will further explain the Duomo later on in the blog.

Down below you will see my favorite part of Florence. As a kid I read the entire Children's Beginner Bible (600+ pages with pictures) in less than a day. My favorite story was David vs. Goliath. We went to the Galleria dell'Accademia where the Statue of David resides. You walk through the security, buy your ticket, and enter the museum in a big room of art portraits. I briefly looked at them but quite honestly could care less about them. I booked it straight out of the room and turned the corner to the next room. As I turn the corner and I look up and see a direct path between my current position and the 17 foot statue. I was in awe because I have been waiting to see this ever since I learned I was coming to Italy. You hear about Michelangelo's statue in classes and on the internet, you learn about David in church and religion classes, and I finally found myself face to face with him/it. I instantly noticed the head and hands were much larger in proportion to the rest of the body. This was because it used to sit on top of the Duomo and looks proportional from a distance. In addition, it was surrounded by an approximately eight foot high plexiglass wall because some asshole a while back took a chisel to the statues toes. My friend snapped a picture and got yelled at instantly by security. I HAD to have a picture so I hid behind a pillar and had my Australian friend Luke look out for the security guard while I kept my eye on the other 2. I turned my flash off, saw my two guards were not looking, and my mate Luke gave me the OK to snap one. VOILA! Be sure to click on it for a larger view.

We left and decided to get a view of Florence so we decided to climb Giotto's Campanile which is literally 20 feet from the Duomo. It is 277 feet tall as you can picture below. We were blessed with BEAUTIFUL weather so it was probably 70 degrees. I was wearing Jeans so I honestly almost died climbing this tower.

You can see that we were above the rest of the Duomo and this was not even the highest point yet.

This is a view from the top. Here you can see another church in Florence; not sure what the name of it is though.

In this picture above you can see Piazza della Repubblica. The arch is known as Arcone and you can also see the Carousel we were on the night before!!

Here you see the Palazza Vecchio which is the town hall of Florence. It sits above Palazza della Signoria where the replication of the David sits in addition to a couple of badass statues and very cool fountain you will see very soon. I really do not have much to say about this besides it was an extremely impressive structure. It reminded me of the famous bell towers you see in a place like Siena.

Below you see the coolest fountain I have seen (until I saw the Trevi in Rome). This is called the Fountain of Neptune. It originally was just the statue resembling Cosimo de'Medici in an octagonal foundation but the Florentines hated it. Added were the bronze river gods, laughing satyrs, and marble sea-horses. We continued to walk around the plaza looking at the statues. I would post the replica of David but you already saw the real one so there is no need! If you do want to see the replica feel free to email me and I will send the picture (or you can good Palazza della Signoria).

Pictured below is the badass statue I mentioned above. You may not like it but this lion looks ferocious and anytime I look at it quickly for some reason I think the ball in his paw is a head of a human.
It really is amazing how symbolic the lion is over here in Europe. They clearly have a strong, noble symbolic meaning because I have seen these similar statues in Florence, Rome, Vienna, and etc. Europeans clearly like the Lion icon as it not only represents strength and nobility but courage, bravery, power, and royalty at the same time.

We walked from there to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge that some of you I know have been waiting for. On the way I saw many statues by Michelangelo, Donatello, DaVinci, Bernini, and many other famous sculptors of the time. You see the Ponte Vecchio bridge crossing the beautiful and clean Arno River hahaha. You can see the individual shops built into the bridge similar to the houses of Cinque Terre are built into the cliffs. This bridge was covered with jewelry stores, vendors, butcher shops, and much more. I have never seen anything like it as it is approximately 175 feet long. So we crossed this bridge slowly as we gazed at the shops and products they have to offer. We all stopped to take a few pictures. Here is a picture with my good friends Isa and Sara.

Food is a little pricy over in Firenze so we went to a market and bought bread sandwich meat, cheese, and condiments for some cheap sandwiches. We utilized the great weather and ate our sandwiches on the steps leading up to the Pitti Palace. We ended up just laying there for an hour or so; a couple of passed out including myself. We then headed back to the Duomo and went inside. Right outside though the girl I met from Cinque Terre saw me. Mary Hester saw me and introduced me to her family. It was unbelievable how small this world is when I met a girl in Cinque Terre and she happens to spot me out of the thousands of people in all of Florence. The inside was very beautiful and I got some descent shots once I turned the flash off.
Here you can see the mosaic ceiling in the Duomo. I like this Duomo a lot but it is very similar inside to all of the others. The Duomo in Milan is still my favorite which I definitely will put up pictures of soon!!

On the train home Lenny, Nick, and I sat in a cabin by ourselves because we all ended up getting split up. The girls wanted to shop and we knew they would be late. We ended up at different train stations and got there 5 minutes before the train departed. So the three of us met an Italian named Angelo. He is from Sicily and works in Milan. He was probably the coolest italian I have met. He was very down to earth and very personable. We had some great conversations and the highlight was Scopa. Scopa is an italian card game; basically THE national card game here. It was very difficult to learn but he taught well and picked up rather fast. He was my partner and the two of us beat Nick and Lenny 2 games to 1. Each game is to 11 points so it took most of the 3 hour trip back home. Since this train ride we have actually invited him to Arco and have gone out to a few bars with him. That about sums this trip up. Florence was nice for a day or two but did not live to my expectations. It was VERY touristy and too similar to other places I have been. It didn't live up to the hype in my mind, but I did have a great weekend. Sorry it was not too entertaining with humor but not a ton of funny content was worth writing about.

I will try to write my Prague blog next but that will be a long one since I was there for 5 days. Please email me with any questions or comments, I love to read them and reply when I get a chance!!! Also shoot me an email if anyone wants to see the entire album of pictures.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Miss... (Post #13)

As we all know, it has been quite a while since my last blog post. So this post will simply ask all of you to hang with me and be patient! I have been super busy as projects, travels, and playing basketball/soccer have hit me at the same time. Since I last wrote, I have been to Florence, Prague, Rome, Barcelona, Canary Islands, and Madrid so we all can see I have a ton to catch up on. If I am lucky I will be able to write Florence today because it has been far too long. In the meantime, hope everything is going well back home and at school. Hope the better weather is there although I heard it snowed in Vermont on APRIL 28 which is ridiculous! Thank god I wasn't there or I would have gone crazy.

Just to give you a little reading material, my friend and classmate from Rutland High, Greg Josselyn, has been studying abroad in Florence. He is done this week, but his class had a field trip up here to Milano to see "The Last Supper" painting. He gave me his number and we ended up meeting up by the Duomo you have all seen in a previous post. I showed him around a little bit and had about two hours before he had to meet up with his group and head home via train. Greg brought up two bottles of Tuscan Wine since southern Italy has MUCH better wine than up North. He and I sat there in Milan, Italy during a studying abroad program in front of Milan Central Station drinking Tuscan Wine. Haha I think that is amazing. We were discussing how lucky we are and what a fantastic experience we have both been blessed with. Here my friend from Rutland High School and I just happen to meet up and enjoy the beautiful Milano weather. We discussed our abroad experiences and then reminisced about good old Vermont. Family, friends, school, internships, jobs, and our first meal were all brought up while drinking our Tuscan Wine. I do not recall that Greg had an actual first meal in mind, but mine is definitely Taco Bell and he strongly agreed.

I am realizing I am starting to get ready to go home even though I have two months and one week left here in Milan. Six months is a LONG time to be away from friends and family; away from your everyday life that you have developed a routine in. Luckily I get to skype family and friends and also have a great group of friends I hope to see and stay in touch with when our adventure is over.

As time goes by, it has been almost four months, I start to think about what I look forward to and what I miss:
--> Seeing and being with my lovely, caring, and competitive mother (what a good son I am). I miss going to Applebees or Bagel Cafe with her or having a good laugh at something truly stupid yet we both find completely hysterical. I actually miss being in the new house because of my big room and more importantly because I know how happy my mom is in it. In addition, I have to say I miss the "HIIIII" that she yells when she walks in the door. I miss her asking me to go for a hike even though she knows I will never say yes. I miss being home so I can drive my car rather than my mom driving my car! Miss our three cats and Husky, Tippy (did not name her). Last but not least, I miss my mom's cooking...which happens twice a month ha. Keep in mind that two cooked meals a month counts if I ask her to make me a sandwich or bowl of cereal!!!
--> Seeing my pharmaceutical brother who can remind me everyday I will get diabetes if I drink too much soda (which I have only drank 2 liters in the last 20 days) or that I will get an ulcer if I eat too much in one meal. I miss talking fantasy baseball whenever I want and trying to get him to trade me a player every day. I actually miss the daily Lance Armstrong update as he follows him on Twitter haha. Running to Ramuntos or the Psalms is definitely on my must-do list when I get back. Also miss seeing how you two are doing on the new house and swinging by to say hey. I actually cannot wait to throw the baseball around so get your glove ready!!
--> Seeing my sister (in-law, which isn't necessary) who is always JUST one text away. Whenever we are bored we text each other and see whats up, cannot do that over here. I miss being asked to let my nephew Bauer out (he's a dog for those wondering how I could possibly let a kid out) when my bro and Em have to go somewhere for the day. I miss arguing about sports with her because I always have something opinionated or stupid to say and she will enter a debate with me. Also I miss meeting up at Bagel if she has a minute for lunch.
--> Seeing the Grants. Sometimes I am invited over for dinner or see them doing something related to my bro and Em whether it is dropping something off at the house or errands or whatever. I miss the farm. I miss doing "manly things" as we call them ha. Even though some off those jobs can be a bitch, I love it because it is a good work out, I get to help the Grants out, and makes me feel more important and OF COURSE, manly. I miss mowing the massive field or hitting golf balls from the tee either towards the pin or into the pond, cutting trees down, splitting wood and stacking it, driving the tractor and hummer, and enjoying some fresh off the grill hot dogs, hamburgers, or tasty veal as we take a quick break for lunch. One thing I do not miss and Mr. Grant can probably guess it; carrying shingles to the roof. That was by far probably the most miserable thing I have done in my life (physically) giving me a new-found respect for roofers, but also the ability to say I did it! What I miss the most is obviously shooting the guns. I miss the good conversations with Mr and Mrs Grant, Casey, and Michele...and of course Benny!!
--> Calling my Grandma occasionally to see how shes doing. Hope everything is well with her and the rest of my relatives all over the country!
--> Going to Clem's or Sugar and Spice with the family after church on Sunday Mornings before I go play basketball (which I do miss my group of bball buddies).
--> Seeing my closest friends, teachers and coaches, and parents I am closest with and seeing how they are all doing. Luckily I keep in touch with them on facebook and keep in touch with the adults via email.
--> I never thought I would say I miss going to church (no offense God). At home I try to go every week and when I go, I feel better about myself in general. I just feel accomplished and less-stressed when I go. BUTTT I went to the Vatican for Easter Mass with the Pope so that should count for six months of church. MOM I know what you are thinking and I swear church is offered here only in Italian! I am not going through that!
--> Driving my car and not relying on public transportation and being super efficient in getting where I want to go since I "challenge" the speed limit :-)
--> Huge portions for cheap prices, here you sometimes pay 15 USD and are not full. If I oay 10 USD in the States I am more than full practically laying on the floor of the kitchen or the restaurant.
--> Ordering whatever I want in English and getting exactly what I ordered because I actually know what to order!
--> Bagel Cafe, Taco Bell, Psalms, Ramuntos, Applebees, Cheesecake Factory, and Olive Garden (as I am drooling)
--> Not being stared at EVERY single minute because Italian Americans do not stare like Italians here
--> And last but not least, playing Call of Duty on my Playstation 3 with my friends online and killing as many people as possible (I repeat playing online)

I could go on and say more and write more about each person or category but I am too lazy and too busy; if that combination makes any sense.

That's enough blabbing for now as I will hopefully finish my Florence blog today or tomorrow. Sorry if there are any errors, no revisions today. Happy Cinco de Mayo and happy birthday Casey!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bologna and Its Amazing Food (Post #12)

This entry will be rather short and somewhat boring because quite frankly I want to get this one over with and try to catch up in addition to the fact that Bologna was my least favorite place yet. I went with Nick from Long Island, Juri and Lenny the Australians, and Kelly from UCal that you have been technically introduced to in previous posts. Three of my other friends came on the first trip with me. One of them is Sarita from Purdue, one is Luke from Australia but has an English accent (absolutely hilarious), and the other is Isadora a girl from France who attends school in Canada. We took the train to Bologna Friday, March 12 (Oh my god I really am THAT far behind in this blog). The guys booked a hostel and the girls stayed with a friend of Isadora. We split up when we got to Bologna and decided we would meet at like 11pm to go out. The four of us guys settled in the Hostel which was very nice as you can see in a picture shortly below.

Each "Room" was a small apartment-like building where you literally have your own one-story building with 4 beds, 4 dressers, a TV, and a very nice bathroom. You can see my bed right under the TV and Lenny's bed perpendicular to mine.

Hahahaha, in the next picture you can see the beds of Nick and Luke. Lenny and I walked in the door and called dibs on the two beds above instantly. Luke and Nick got the two beds that entertained us for hours. In the picture below you can see the two beds literally SIDE-BY-SIDE where they slept. In addition, if you click on the picture and enlarge it you can see there is a sliding door that closes their room off. What do you expect Lenny and I to do in this situation? Well it is obvious. Nick and Luke practically have to sleep together in their own private room so you can guess the entertainment and quality of jokes provided by this situation. You can see Nick giving me the middle-finger (what a jerk huh?) because we are making fun of them in their own little, private room. When we turned the lights off, Lenny and I would continue to close the sliding door to give them privacy in which Nick continuously opened it. By the time we went to bed, he put a couple chairs in the way so the door couldn't be closed. This was probably the highlight of the trip.

Anyways, after we were settled we went to find a place to eat so we asked the man working at the front desk what his recommendations were. He recommended two places and pointed them out on the map. One place was very close to where the girls were staying so we decided to go there. It was called Trattoria Fantoni I believe. Why do I remember this? Only because it was the BEST meal I have had yet and I am writing this on April 6th!!! This place was the DEFINITION of an Italian Restaurant. Trattoria Fantoni is a small yet comfortable home-styled and home-cooked Italian restaurant. They had a very small bar, two containers of White House Wine and Red House Wine. The best part yet was that it was packed and the tables were covered with red and white checkered table clothes. I swear it was the stereotype of an Italian Restaurant or at least what I had imagined before I got here abroad. We ordered Bolognese al Ragu which is basically fettucini noodles with this spectacular meat sauce covered in Parmesan Cheese. WOW!

We ended up hanging out at Isa's friend's place and went to and sat at a bar. It was pretty boring; I literally sat there doing nothing until 2am. I then had the best kebab of my life with potato, onion, cheese, and peppers in it. The guys called it a night and went back to the hostel where Lenny and I would make fun of the sleeping arrangements of Luke and Nick for an hour or so.

The next day we went all around Bologna. We saw some Basilicas that were the most unimpressive that I have seen. We went to the Two Iconic Towers in Bologna as you see the view from the tower in the picture below. This view happens to be from the Asinelli Tower that stands 97.2 meters tall. The Garisenda is the leaning tower in Bologna that is a descent amount shorter just a few meters from the base of the Asinelli.

The group and myself made the most of the beautiful day. We ended up walking around the rest of Bologna because it is quite small. The entire city seemed to be made out of the same exact stone as every building was the same exact color.

We sat in this square waiting for the time to come to catch our train to Florence. Most people liked Bologna for various reasons, but unfortunately I did not. I found it quite plain and boring. Everything looked the exact same and the buildings and significant towers and cathedrals were rather plain compared to the other marvelous places I had been. I know this blog entry was extremely boring, but it is nice to write a short one about a place I did not enjoy very much. The food was spectacular but that is all (whereas others loved Bologna) so its all based on opinion. There were a couple good stories but not good enough nor interesting enough to write about.

Florence is next, hopefully I can write that within a few hours and post it by Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cinque Terre and Rental Car Experience (Post #11)

Hope you are ready to read a long entry and don't mind the swearing!!

Lenny, my Australian friend (a finnochio, please do not look that up if you are under 18 years old and it is nothing big, just part of a joke we have) had the idea of renting a car and driving to Cinque Terre (the 5 towns on the western coast of Italy). He, his friend Thomas from Australia, and Nick from Long Island were up for the idea and asked me if I wanted to join. I had to think about it for a bit for a couple reasons. First of all, do I want to go to Cinque Terre in mid-March when the weather may not be that great? My response: I can go back again, and I can tell you I will be going back. My second problem was that none of them could drive standard transmission cars, (stick-shift or manual for those unsure) and Thomas can drive standard but Australians drive on the wrong side of the road. Do I really want to take a chance on driving in Italy after seeing some of these people drive? Did I know what all of the signs mean? How the hell do we get there? I don't want to be arrested because they never let Americans out of jail! Is my driver's license even valid? I thought about it for a couple days and talked to a couple people to come to this conclusion. Italians are stubborn drivers, but so am I and it cannot be that much worse than driving in New York City. Also, I am good at the fast-paced decision making in vehicles as well as going fast yet controlled. I did not know what all of the signs meant, but I knew most of them because they have similar signs that I saw in Aruba and common sense lets you figure out the rest. How the hell do we get there? Well that was a huge problem but one of the receptionists gratuitously offered his Garmin GPS to us when we were printing out our MapQuest directions. That solved that question! As long as I am smart I will not get arrested, and apparently my driver's license is valid. Plus, we put the financial contract under my friend's name so I wasn't completely accounted for!! Kelly from Cali was in the room when I made my decision and we asked if she wanted to go. She was hesitant but had heard good things about Cinque Terre and I told her to be spontaneous!! She decided to come along.

Lenny, Thomas, and I woke up at 7am to go find this stupid EuropCar place that for some reason we said we would pick the car up at 8am. We finally got there and online we were told we would get a Fiat Panda. I don't know if they ran out or what but the car given to us was the Fiat Punto. We were kind of disappointed because we really were excited about driving a PANDA; it just sounds awesome doesn't it? It was alright though because our silver punto pictured below was a good car.
It smelled brand new and looked it too. The inside was pretty awesome and a bit luxurious looking as well. Needless to say, I was ready to drive this Punto down to Cinque Terre in a foreign country!! We hop in and are on our way back to our residence! Within five minutes of driving, a tram pops up in my mirror and is bearing down on me. That was pretty nerve racking for some reason but no big deal. I find out that this standard is easier to drive than my Subaru Legacy (with a spoiler) back home because the clutch is not as sensitive in the Punto. We miss our turn and continue driving god knows where. There are barely any lines for the lanes so cars are all over the place. I get cut off, cut people off, pull a legal (I think) U-Turn, and finally make it onto the main street necessary to reach my destination. I get excited seeing speed limits of 70 and 60 but I remind myself that everyone but the USA uses the Metric System so these numbers are kilometers per hour...ugh! We arrive at Arcobaleno and take a few pictures. We walk inside with the keys feeling like hot shots as if we are on top of the world.

We have this car a day before our trip to Cinque Terre. We decide to be cool and go DRIVE to a gelato place. We don't have to walk, we don't have to take the tram; WE DRIVE! We reach Navigli where all of the gelaterias are located and try to park. Not one parking spot was found after driving for 15 minutes looking for a spot. Cars are parked bumper to bumper, on the streets, on sidewalks, all over the place. Consequently; we go for a forty-five minute drive and return to Arcobaleno gelato-less but that is ok because we have a CAR!

A couple of my friends were going to Budapest the morning we were leaving; only thing is they had to be at the airport by 5am. They offered to pay me to drive them, but I needed to get some sleep if I was the only driver for this entire trip. The five of us met in the lobby at 7am and hit the road. It was a relatively smooth ride the whole way. We played a new game Kelly introduced to us where you start with A and in a clockwise manner each person names an animal starting with the letter A, then to B, and so on through the alphabet. When you cannot think of one you are eliminated and last person in wins. The two Australians kept naming animals that they swear are in Australia that I have never heard of and when Kelly, Nick, and I would question them the other Australian assured us it was real. I still don't believe them! We ate peach rings and my Navigator Lenny did a great job directing me with the GPS while continuously finding Radio Stations in english that we could actually understand. The speed limit was usually 100 (kilometers which is about 60mph) and I stayed around 110 kilometers most of the time. Every car on the road passed me which KILLED me because I am usually the one passing all of the cars so I had to bite that bullet.

The only blip on the trip down was some guy was RIGHT behind me. No joke he was probably 6 feet behind me while we are going about 60mph. I would slow down to annoy him and he would somehow get closer than 6 feet without hitting me. He probably tailgated me like that for ten minutes. He finally decided to pass me, but all of you who know me well enough could predict what happens next. Of course I flip this huge asshole off and the driver and the girl with him flip me off. Just to my luck, he slams on the brakes and gets behind me again. We finally get out of the tunnel (by the way there was a tunnel every 100 yards as we got closer to Cinque Terre because you go through at least a couple dozen mountains tunneled through) and he pulls over to the side of the road while simultaneously flashing his lights. He wanted me to pull over!! hahaha, I kind of wanted to pull over but everyone in the car told me to keep driving. If I would have pulled over he was either going to shoot me, try to fight me in which I would have gladly dropped him, or sworn at me because he would have realized I would drop him. He realized I wasn't pulling over and sped up and caught me. I passed a couple cars and cut back over to the right lane and tried to box him in, but somehow he was always able to get behind me. In the US I totally could have lost him, but he had the "home-country (opposed to home-field) advantage" and I wasn't confident enough to try to lose him in this rental car with my friends in it. Finally he turned right 20 minutes later when I turned left. The rest of the ride was smooth and views were BEAUTIFUL as we got closer and closer. The only time I stalled the entire trip was at the toll-booth which instantly Kelly and Nick made sure to call me out on it.

We got to Levanto where our Hostel was (minutes from the closest town of Cinque Terre). The hostel was great. We could park right in front, the lady at the desk was SUPER nice and helpful, and the rooms were pretty cool. It was a private room with 6 beds (3 sets of Bunks). This was Kelly's first hostel experience and within five minutes she had a memorable experience. She went to use the bathroom and locked the door. She couldn't unlock it haha. You could see the end of her key on the opposite side of the door through the keyhole. At first, you can see her slowly and calmly trying to figure out how to unlock the door. Shortly after, you can see her lose every bit of rational thinking and her calmness turns to a worried, frantic mood. Haha, you could see the key moving as fast as possible in any way possible. We sent someone to go get the woman at the front desk but by the time she returned Kelly somehow unlocked the door. THe result of the story: a good five minutes of entertainment and the woman at the front desk confiscating the key to prevent "Kelly Being Locked in the Bathroom, Round 2".

We have this unreal view from the window and this hostel is a 5 minute walk from the gorgeous coast and first beach I have seen in Europe. Anyways, we settled in the hostel, asked for recommendations for dinner, and walked ten minutes to the train station where we went to the farthest of the five towns to the South known as Riomaggiore. We walked up the first flight of stairs to get to the path that weaves through the cliff sides from town to town. As soon as I got up to the top of the stairs and took a left to head to the first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea hundreds of feet below I was speechless. I finally understood and could see for myself why Mr. Olsen, my "sister" Em, Mr. Lopes, and everyone else I spoke to RAVED about Cinque Terre. Mr. Olsen told me a handful of times that it was his favorite place in Italy, and I couldn't imagine why. I wondered how it could possibly beat Rome or Venice among other magnificent Italian cities. Just the natural beauty, isolated villages, preservation, and low population (very few tourists at the time as well) made it sky rocket to number one on my list of places I have visited (until I recently went to Prague).
In this picture above you see the beautiful blue water of the Mediterranean and the steep, detailed rocks making up the cliffs. Also shown is the path 3/4 of the way up the picture with the fence in front of it. In the picture below you see the backside of the second town of Cinque Terre. This second town is Manarola and you can see how eye-popping the view is. I found it amazing how these towns are built into cliff sides.

The picture above was taken after walking through Manarola on our way to Corniglia. The next two pictures are also taken on the way to Corniglia. Again you can see the path edged into the cliffs with the water crashing into them at the bottom. These towns are gorgeous by the way. I can't go into depth too much because they were relatively similar. All of them specialize in wine with the plentiful vineyards all over the coast. As you can see, it was great weather for the time of year we went. Kelly said it was supposed to rain the whole time we were there so I was quite depressed. It rained that night for maybe twenty minutes at best. Just like Verona when she said it would snow, we ended up having great weather. I am starting to like when she lowers my expectations and I plan on having a miserable time because it is an excellent surprise when the weather is fantastic!!
We met a very nice couple from Long Island who was visiting their daughter in Rome the following day. They were generous enough to take our picture on this very sketchy bridge because of the wobbliness. It reminded me of the swinging bridge from back home that I used to be petrified to cross (when I was little). They were very personable and were cute just slowly walking together enjoying their beautiful hike. We actually ran into them more than once from village to village and the guy recommended a good bar to go to.

This photo above may be my favorite picture of the trip. Not only does it capture the town of Manarola tucked into the valley behind us but it captures the beautiful mountains with the vineyards, the path we walked to get to this point, and the Mediterranean Sea below.

Ha, I don't even know how to attack this picture. I used to make fun of people (usually oldER people but obviously not my young, lovely mother (emphasized the ER opposed to OLD)) who enjoyed sunsets. I never was intrigued by sunsets nor did I ever appreciate them. Well, I am officially a hypocrite because this picture is BEAUTIFUL if I do say so myself.

Here you see the view from the fourth town, Vernazza. Vernazza was probably my favorite of the towns we visited (we didn't see the fifth town, Monterosso because the trail was washed out). I liked it because it had a little bay surrounded by a small peninsula with the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia RIGHT above this bay. You could walk out onto the peninsula type land (I guess you would say) and simulatenously standing on the rocks seeing exactly what you see above. The bay looks like this with a small beach and the Church overlooking these immediately to the right.

All-in-all, I loved this hike a lot and would recommend anyone who goes to Italy to ABSOLUTELY come here. The views will stick in your mind forever; I can already tell! The hike is relatively easy while getting a solid workout at the same time. It was even better because we took our time and told jokes and entertained each other throughout the trip.

We got back to the hostel, relaxed for a bit and hit the town. We went to a sit-down pizzeria and got our own pizzas for like 5 euro and they were good sized. A gelato for dessert was on all of our minds. After a half hour walk we finally found one thank god. On the way we checked out more of the town, appreciated some of the art, and the beach at night. There was really no place in Levanto to go out so we went to the hostel. Kelly said there were like ten girls downstairs somewhere so of course Nick and I go check it out. We ended up talking to two girls we met from Auburn for a couple hours. They were abroad in Rome and were very nice. They were from the South which was obvious because they used "yall" and told us WE had accents! haha Also another characteristic that distinguished their Southern heritage they had two names such as Mary Hester and Sara Beth. Anyways, we finally went to bed. Nick, Lenny, and Thomas woke up at like 7am the next morning to go fishing in the ocean in the FREEZING cold while Kelly and I gained as much sleep as possible. They came back later on and said it was a good experience but were miserable with the temperature.

We got back to the car and we found our car was sandwiched between two cars. Luckily an experienced driver such as myself with help from my friends telling me how much room I had we could get out quite quickly.

To finally wrap this blog entry up, we got in the car and drove through Genoa on the way home. I have heard great things about it, but we all hated it for the most part. The architecture like the rest of the country was phenomenal but it really was just a giant ship yard. Saw hundreds of smaller sail boats and what not in addition to a half dozen Cruise ships. Grabbed a bite to eat after my exceptional parallel parking and headed back to Milano.

I ate a sandwich Nick had made that was a day or two old. It was delicious but something about it...I can't even explain. It was like my throat instantly swelled up. Lenny asked me a question and I guess I kind of let out a gasp. Right then he knew something was wrong and was like "Big Sam (myyou alright? Hurry get this man some water!" haha. Everyone started stuggling looking for water as I kept driving and my navigator Lenny was calm and collective as could be. I finally got some water and could breathe. It was really weird, but my terrific Australian navigator saved the day. As a side note, everyone was impressed with my one-handed driving of our standard transmission Punto.

We go to return the car at the EuropCar near Central Station. Lucky for us there are four of them near it so we have NO idea which one to go to. We try the first one and the main one; it's closed. We remember we have to return the car with a full tank of gas so we pull into the nearest gas station. Our three options for FUEL are so ridiculous none of us even have a clue which one to use. Kelly calls the company and speaks to a huge asshole who apparently was like yelling at her and treated her with no respect. He finally tells her what option to choose. We then try to pay and nobody can read the machine because it's in italian and has buttons and pictures and random stuff all over the place. Some guy comes over and decides to help us. What a nice guy huh? I sure thought so. He helps us put "LITERS" (not gallons) of fuel into the gas tank (damn metric system). Right after he puts out his hand and asks for something in return for offering his help. OH MY GOD!! Instantly I look at this guy, and all I see is a huge target on his face between his eyes just screaming for my fist. WHAT AN ASSHOLE! I miss America where people do kind things without expecting something in return. I am sorry to be degrading in this section but I could care less. It is absolutely ridiculous how not one person in this entire city can do a favor for free. Every other place I have been people are nice. ITALIANS are nice. MILANESE people are like their own race from their own planet, they are ASSHOLES. HUGEEEEEEEEE ONES! I gave him a euro and told him to get lost. Me not punching this waste of space in the face was a huge victory for me. **Most of you know how I am and that if you treat me like a human being and with respect I will go MILES out of my way to be nice to you and do favors for you. These small things just send me over the edge. It is experiences like this that make me THANK GOD I am American where people can do a favor for someone without expecting something in return. Not that other countries aren't like that, but the US is the only experience I have of this.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience. I do not think I would ever rent a car here again, but I am really pleased that I had the experience and could share it with some of my good friends. Cinque Terre was beautiful and I cannot wait to go back. Everyone, thanks for the recommendation to come here. Please email me if you have any comments or questions or if you would like to see the complete album from Cinque Terre as there are some beautiful pictures., next blog will be Bologna/Florence followed by my visit to Prague. I leave on Friday to head to Rome where I have a ticket to Easter Mass at the VATICAN!!! Happy Easter everybody!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vienna, Austria and a little Bratislava (Post #10)

From February 25-27 eight of my friends and I went to Vienna, Austria.

Just to brief you on the eight of them: Ewa and Jimmy are from UIllinois, Sam is from Purdue, Zain from Dubai, Pete from UMaryland, Liz and Anna from Babson, and Gail from Cornell.

I pretty much booked the whole trip (the flights and the hostel anyways) so I wanted to make sure I didn't let anyone down. It was also Jimmy's 21st birthday so we had to do something fun. I found a cheap flight to Bratislava, Slovakia which is about 40 miles away from Vienna. This was the first trip we would be traveling together. We were all pretty excited and got to the airport and made it relatively hassle-free through the whole way. We landed in Bratislava on Thursday night and took a Ryanair Bus to the center of Vienna. I had written down directions how to get to our hostel so I was prepared!! We bought our metro and transportation passes in Vienna and were on our way. Right when we got out of the metro station there was a "hotdog" stand called Wursteland or something! We all ordered Kasekrainers (described as being similar to kielbasa or Polish sausage). They were AMAZING!!! They are at least a foot long, thrown in a bun filled with mustard and ketchup. To our astonishment, the sausage was filled with cheese. Wow, little can I say besides the fact that I had four of them between then and Saturday afternoon when we left. They are almost good enough to be thrown in the same category as gelato!!!

The nine of us hopped on the bus and headed up the hill to where our hostel was located. The website called it the "Palace Hostel" so we got off where the address I had written down told us. We look up and see this GORGEOUS five star HOTEL called the "Palace HOTEL". We looked on the sign and it said the SAME exact address given to me by the hostel. You should've seen us jumping up and down and celebrating actually thinking it was our hostel. We couldn't believe it could possibly be our hostel. You can easily tell we are all new at this hostel thing if we expected this. We walk in this gorgeous hotel where everyone is wearing suits and walk through a red curtain entering the lobby made of pure marble. I asked where the Palace Youth Hostel was and he unfortunately sent us down the road 100 yards. We were a little disappointed, but kind of saw it coming even though we didn't want to admit it.

The hostel was pretty nice. It was a little out of the way when it came to location from the center but it had a spectacular view of city of Vienna as you can see below. It really was quite a view and this picture was taken literally 10 yards from our door.

We had originally booked two rooms for the eight of us and then one other decided to join us on the trip and booked his own room. The place was a little creepy at night so he slept in our room for the two nights. One room was the girls' room, and the other was the guys. Each room had 4 beds as you can see in the picture below, so there was 1 extra girl. I decided to sleep on the floor because it was way too hot up on the top bunk and of course because I am a gentleman, ha, so I gave up my bed to the fifth girl. I am sure all five of them in the other room were trying to convince the others to let them sleep in our room. In the end, Ewa was the lucky girl to come sleep in the room with the guys.

**Please don't judge the picture too much. You can see Jimmy spraying some cologne on Pete so he can smell it. I know it makes me question their sexuality so I understand if you do the same.

The first night we were there, since we arrived in Vienna around 10pm, we decided just to go for a walk down the hill to see if we were close to any restaurants or bars or anything displaying any type of civilization. Let me tell you that this night was very dark and it was kind of hazy. In addition, there were street lights out every now and then to make it a little bit darker! Saying that this place was creepy would be a huge understatement. It was a perfect plot for the scenario in a horror movie where everything goes terribly wrong in a split second and suddenly half or all of us are dead. As a result, we quickly walked back up the hill and went in to the hostel. After a little bit, we decided to call it a night and went to bed.

We woke up, enjoyed our free continental breakfast where cereal, bread and nutella or jam, cafe, hot chocolate, and yogurt was all offered. After a couple bowls of cereal and six glasses of hot chocolate I was ready to go. While we waited for the girls to slowly eat, the guys went into the recreational room where we watched a TV show in German, played foosball in which Jimmy and I tied 5-5, and played some Ping-Pong. Everyone showered, got ready, and we took a tram to the City Center.

The first building we visited was the Austrian Parliament Building. Before I go on, we did not go into any buildings and am not really sure why. Some of them were closed, some weren't interesting enough to go into, and some I guess we just didn't really think about going in to be honest haha. The coolest sculpture I have seen to date (I am behind schedule on my blogs so I have seen the Statue of David which is now #1 since I visited Vienna) is pictured below with the Parliament Building in the background,
This statue known as the Pallas-Athene-Brunnen also known as the Athena Fountain. I ended up researching the history and meaning of this fountain a bit, and it is as interesting as the statue itself is. You can see the two bodies laying down in front of it. There are two more laying in the back which as a whole represent the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Danube and Inn Rivers are the front two in the picture and the back two are the Elbe and Vltava Rivers. The two women at the feet of Athena represent legislative and executive powers of the state. Interestingly enough, Athena is the goddess of Wisdom which makes perfect sense that all of these statues and allegories relate to the Parliament Building. We hung around and looked at the statues and architecture of the incredible Parliament Building and got a great group photo (Nice picture Ewa!)

We crossed the street as we headed to the Hofburg Square; home of the Hofburg Palace. I saw the most outrageous worded sign and had to take a picture. Can anyone try to guess one word on there? I certainly couldn't!! Haha this reminds me as I prepare you for my mini-tangent. These words on the sign were probably the shortest words I saw that weekend. Listening to us pronounce the words on the metro and all over the city was quite entertaining to everyone around us. We would obviously over-emphasize every little accent mark or sound imaginable to make it sound even more ridiculous. My friend took a picture of ONE WORD near the escalator that had so many characters it would probably count for a paragraph. I was very tempted to open a book written in German just to see the pages of long, illegible words. I bet books in Austria are twice as long as the same book written in English would be.

Anyways, back to the important stuff. A picture below shows Rathaus. Looks kind of like a cathedral some sort huh? Well it isn't!! In this deceivingly-cathedral looking building the mayor and city council sits. In normal terms, it is the city hall. We didn't walk to it, but as you can see it is a very pretty building and would like to check it out sometime in my lifetime.

Next we saw the Hofburg Imperial Palace. The President of Austria resides here. We went inside but it was closed so we could not explore. It is a very cool building with numerous individual statues and a couple of awesome looking lion statues which was the ideal component of many individual pictures. The Hofburg Square is a neat place because of the open area with a couple big statues, a passageway of trees leading up to it, and the City of Vienna surrounding it. In the picture below you can see the entrance to the Palace from a distance. In case some of you do not believe me for some reason that this is Hofburg, but really because I like the picture, here is my evidence!! Something about the architectural style catches my interest. It is also partly because the color of the structure combined with the color of the door and the trees nearby make it a beautiful picture.

The picture below shows a few of the neat and very impressive statues as well as the awesome Lion with the shield of the man he probably just ate.

Right across the street is the Museums Quarter. In this square rests a handful of museums including the two most popular imperial museums: the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum. These two museums have EXACTLY the same exteriors which was quite ironic yet neat at the same time. We had to pay to go in and most of us were being too stingy with our money (including me) so we did not go in any. The K.......Museum is the Museum of Fine Arts and the N......Museum is the Museum of Natural History of Vienna. To be honest, I wasn't interested in either of those aspects to enter either museum.

It started to rain so we decided to cut the exploring short and headed to a shopping section of the city. We just walked around for the most part, went to another square which consisted of outlets and restaurants. We all agreed on a place to eat, and I had some Schnitzel. I had always heard about schnitzel and never knew what it was. The schnitzel was excellent as it tasted sort of like a slightly sweeter chicken cutlet. We went to H&M and I bought a nice dress-shirt for a very good price; the first thing I think I have purchased that I haven't eaten, drank, or used for some type of transportation.

After the girls were done shopping, we went back to the hostel. It was raining so we just hung around the hostel until finally we went out to celebrate Jimmy's 21st. We went out and everyone had a good night. The next morning we woke up to check out and head back to good old Milano. It was a great trip where we all got closer, had a good time, and enjoyed the nice, english-speaking people of Austria compared to the asses of Milano.

No trip for me this weekend so hopefully I will catch up on the blog some more. Up next is Cinque Terre and our rental car experience! Hope JJ had a good birthday and hope everyone back home is doing well and enjoying the nicer weather! Keep up the emails!!

Email me at if you are interested in seeing any pictures. I have been posting them online but a couple people with less powerful cameras and lower photography skills than myself ended up copying my entire album which is a little ridiculous in my opinion so all of my pictures are now private. I am happy to share them with you if you shoot me an email.