Europe Trip 2010 – Side Trip to Innsbruck, Austria (Day 28)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Venetian Highlights:

  • Sunrise near San Marcos Square

Transport Highlights:

  • Snow in Brenner Stazione, Italy

Innsbruck Highlights:

  • Finding Nepomuk’s Hostel/Hotel Bed & Breakfast

I had set an alarm this morning for if I wanted to wake up at some unruly hour and take vaporetto #1 down and back through the Grand Canal to watch the sun rise near San Marcos Square. Though I didn’t wake up at 6:30am, I managed to get myself up at 7:30am and walk out of the hostel towards the train stazione where the vaporetto ports were. Getting on one of these today would make my 18 euro 24-hour ticket worth the price since I only went on two yesterday and it’s 6,50 euro per ride if purchased individually.

I looked quickly at the guide and hopped on one that looked good. Unfortunately for me, I still haven’t figured out how the vaporetto system works quite yet, and though I got on one that goes to San Marcos Square…it was a vaporetto that went all the way out of the Grand Canal (opposite the direction I wanted to go), around the main island of Venice, and around to San Marcos Square…and it was vaporetto #2 which should’ve tipped me off in the first place. However, I accepted my silly mistake and enjoyed the ride and caught the Venetian sunrise from the southwest side of Venice on the vaporetto out on open waters. And it was beautiful.

2010.04.01 Venice, Italy

From San Marcos I walked to Rialto Bridge and hopped on another vaporetto (this time #1) back towards the train stazione, but got off a few stops early at Ca d’Ora to see if I could catch some free-wifi outside of Mc Donalds lol. I was able to just fine and checked some email, looked up some addresses, and downloaded a free “Notes” app since I realized that I couldn’t take notes on my little Droid.

Then it was a race against time to get back to the hostel, pack my backpacking pack, race over to the train stazione, figure out what train I was on, pay for my EuroStar ticket, and get on it before 8:58am. I had about 25 minutes to do all that. I was mildly sad to find that when I got back to the hostel Colin was already packed and gone. I figured he’d woken up early to get a cafe, and since he stuff was all gone, that he was catching an early train too. So I decided to wander my train and voila he was on the same early train as me a few cars down, except headed for Zurich (our train was going to Milano but I was getting off at Verona). So I got to say my goodbye after all, then headed back to sit and space out in my own train car for the next hour or two.

After getting off at Verona, it was time to catch a train to Brenner in north Italia. I noticed that the train started speaking in Italian AND German at this point. And I also noticed that as we traveled further north, the climate changed to more snowy and rainy weather and the houses started to have a different architecture. By the time we got off in Brenner, it was snowing fairly hard. The wind and snow hurt my eyes and I had to squint when walking around the platform looking for my connecting train. I didn’t find it until after it had already left. Turns out the connecting train was at platform N, which wasn’t near the regular train track, but at the faaar end of the train stazione…ie it took off from just one end of the train stazione, hidden behind all the buildings and trains. I found it only 1 minute after it left, so I had to wait for an hour for the next one to come, which I guess wasn’t too bad.

2010.04.01 Venice, Italy to Innsbruck, Austria (Transit)

When I did board the train, there were quite a few people my age with their skis and snowboards boarding as well. We chugged through a blizzard and snow covered everything and I started to panic inside. If it was snowing like this in Innsbruck, and I had no idea where I was going to be staying yet…I would not be prepared for this. I just sat frozen in my seat going through every scenario in my head to work out a plan and a back-up plan for when I arrived. What luck to find that 10 miles out of Innsbruck, it wasn’t snowing and was just damp with previous rain instead. Innsbruck itself was snuggled between all these blizzard mountains and was itself safe from the storms. I got off and spent an hour in the train stazione trying to get internet to figure out where to go (this failed), tried to get something to eat (successful but could hardly breath in the cafe because of all the cigarette smoke), and went to the info booth where the guy gave me directions to the two or three hostels I was looking to walk over to. And off I went. First stop…Old Town where I had heard about Nepomuk’s from Colin’s Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring guide back in Venice. The area looked nice. And I got one of the two last beds. I was exhausted and didn’t do much more that night than walk around old town, look for internet (unsuccessfully once again…nobody seems to know or understand the concept of free wi-fi here), and get a nutella/banana crepe which tasted amazing but was impossible to eat with just your hands (ie you needed a fork and knife which I didn’t have), so walking around trying to eat it looked like a disaster to all by-passers lol.

2010.04.01 Innsbruck, Austria

I also met my new roommate, Farmer Jon from Australia. Are all Australians as adventurous as every one I’ve come across so far? Because they are all amazingly cool.

Europe Trip 2010 – Lost in Venetian Allure (Day 27)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Venetian Highlights:

  • Murano Island – Known for their glass-work (look to go into a glass factory area for free)
  • St. Michele’s Cemetery Island – No more room on the island for the dead unless it was reserved looong ago
  • Rialto Bridge
  • Mercato – Fresh fruit and veggie market
  • San Marcos – Beautiful square that you’re not allowed to both sit and eat in. Signs forbid it.
  • Pub Crawl in search of Tapas (start near Rialto Bridge)
  • BNL – If you have Bank of America, BNP Paribas is supposedly a sister bank (no withdrawal fees) located near San Marcos Square. Don’t know if it works outside France though, so we’ll see.
  • Vaporetto #1 – Ride at 2am for some quiet haunting views. Or 12am works too but people are still out.

My alarm went off today at 8am and I quickly shut it off and refused to get up. I slept horribly last night, and I’m not sure if it was all the stress of traveling once again coming down on me, or the horrendously loud and inconsistent snoring/snorting, or the stiff bed. Probably all three lol. I slept well enough, but woke up about 20 times it feels like.

At some point Colin’s alarm went off and I got up and got dressed and ready. Colin was probably ready in about 3 minutes. Me?…yea right lol. Perhaps 15 minutes later we were out the door and walking down the alleys of Venice. I really is like a movie. Almost a dream. It helped that I already knew some things before coming to Venice: it’s going to have haunting damp alleys, it’s going to be expensive, anyone and everyone is guaranteed to get lost at least once, there are going to be a lot of tourists (about 20 million a year!), and said it was overrated to go visit. Armed with that knowledge, Venice was a fairy tail. One of my favorite places in Italy…definitely a novelty to me. I loved the dreary look and the tiny alleys. I laughed at the dead ends that just led to water. And though I didn’t see it, I hear that in high tide the puddles just grow out of nowhere (such as in San Marcos square) and have seen the maps that allow you to get around the city as long as the water is <= 120cm. How fascinating! Venice is all shops and marketplaces. And the difference I find is that unlike Rome and Florence, there is a lot of variety in both the stores and the vendor stands. Also, there are no cars or scooters around. All pedestrians and boats and the sound of water. It seems so peaceful here.

2010.03.30 Venice, Italy

So the way that Venice is laid out, they mark the main routes in yellow signs posted on the walls with arrows. For instance, you just follow the signs and arrows through alley after alley marked with “Rialto” to get to the Rialto Bridge. Same with San Marcos Square. And the train/autobus station. The main ones are San Marcos and Rialto. If you find yourself off the signed path (which happens all the time), just keep walking until you (1) find another signed path or (2) reach water.

2010.03.31 Murano, Italy (Venice)

Colin and I were supposed to walk to the north/east side of Venice to where the vaporetto took off to Murano island, however we got lost somewhere and ended up in San Marcos square. That’s okay, we walked through the square over to the boats, bought at 24 hour ticket for 18 euro, and hopped on the boat to Murano. Murano is famous for their glass. Almost everything you can imagine. From useless glass candies, to intricate bugs with fragile glass legs, to chandeliers, jewelry, ornaments, figurines, vases, bowls, flowers, pens, bottles, etc. Colin and I were really fascinated by the chandeliers…some of them were so creative. There was one store that had some really fancy ones hanging on display, and the backdrop advertised that they were the maker of the chandeliers that hang in Tao Nightclub in Las Vegas. I love Tao! I’ll have to take another look around (and up) next time I go. Colin says the story goes that Venice made all the glass makers move to the island because of fear of Venice burning down (ironic I know), and then because the glass industry became so profitable, they forbade the glass makers to leave Murano. So for someone to leave, they would have to be smuggled out…crazy! Of course it’s not like that now. I could not resist buying some glass jewelry there, even if it was mildly overpriced. I was really digging the glass figurines too, but the ones I liked were either (1) too expensive, or (2) too intricate for me to be able to mail home…ie a small piece would break off for sure whether I mailed it home or carried it with me in my bag on the trip (so no way).

2010.03.31 Murano, Italy (Venice)

Could not leave Murano without stopping for some gelato on the island. The guy wouldn’t let me do a half/half of two different scoops unless I paid more geeze lol. Even the small was overpriced already as usual in Venice. I decided on the way back (after not being able to find the Mercato near the Rialto and bought a crepe to eat instead) to get a Venetian mask. There had been so many times when I could have used a mask back in the day, but never had one…or only had cheesy paper ones. My hunt for a good mask lead us from one vendor to the next, looking at the designs and weighing the price. Finally after much walking around (we were walking around anyway, not just for the mask lol), I found a simple but elegant one in a store…the hard part was picking between black and white. A true Venetian mask. It even had some feathers on it. With my luck it’ll be at this point when I actually have a mask when I’ll never need one again in the future lol.

2010.03.31 Venice, Italy

Upon getting back to the hostel, we met our new roommates Felix, from Quebec, and Nina from Jerusalem. We all hit things off right away telling story after story and giving travel advice/experiences. Then it was time to leave our new friends to rest and go in search of tapas and bars near the Rialto. Note that Venice does not have a very happenin’ nightlife. We actually passed a few happening bars along the way while getting lost. Traveler’s tip…in Venice, if you see a bar you are interested in…go in it. You will likely not be able to find you way back to it again!

Based on that advice, I’m sure you can tell that we did not find an amazing bar to go into. We did pass a few however…and just kept walking lol. That’s okay, it was an awesome night of hot Sangria, hot chocolate, pastries, and a lot of walking to work all those calories off. I wanted to catch vaporetto #1 at midnight which would crawl up and down the Grand Canal in the dead of night to get some really great views without many tourists, but after all the walking, it was too late to go on the vaporetto without missing 1am curfew back at the hostel and it wasn’t worth getting locked out.

Europe Trip 2010 – The Grand Canal in Venizia (Day 26)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now it seems like I don’t do anything but blog! But that’s not all true. I have arrived in Venice, Italy. Because I had read some about the city before arriving, I knew what not to expect (as well as to do what I normally do…which is to expect nothing) and I was absolutely captivated by this city as soon as I walked out of the train station. I made a quick stop at a kiosk to see if there were any faster trains from Venice to Innsbruck, but it was the same itinerary the guy had printed out for me in Florence. That will be a long 6-7 hour trip that I’m not all too excited about.

2010.03.30 Venice, Italy

Back to Venice…I stepped out of the train station and right in front of me was the Grand Canal. It was so beautiful. More beautiful than the movies. At this point, I was in the movies. It even had the mood set with the overcast skies and fading sun. Everything looked very dreary. I loved it. I had read online ( that Venice is one of those overrated cities to visit. But then again the same article had said that Las Vegas was overrated and I love Vegas lol. I was aware before coming here that everything was going to be expensive, that I was going to get lost no matter how good my navigation skills are, and that internet would also be limited because it’s so darn expensive. So I copy/pasted a bunch of articles and experiences to try out on my day here to a notepad and off I went (I copy/pasted a few days before of course).

I walked down the alley towards where my reserved hostel was supposed to be. It wasn’t too hard to find and I’ve been pleased with it so far. It is called Alloggi Gerotto Calderan and it’s about a 5 minute walk from the train station on top of a lingerie shop called Tenzia. Everyone working here is super nice. I’m staying in a 6-bedroom dorm for about 18 euro a night. Each dorm room has its own private bathroom which I found is very convenient as well. When I got into the room, I sat down on what I assumed was an empty bed and looked around. I saw a Lonely Planet book of Europe on the night stand next to me so I picked it up and started flipping through Venice information. Then flipped over to Innsbruck, Austria. It was about that time that I heard loud sirens go off, and I stared out the window facing the marketplace with confusion. I’d have to ask about that later.

A few minutes later, the door opened and I quickly put down the book, embarrassed that I had picked it up to read in the first place. I wouldn’t want strangers I never met touching my stuff. I said hello, and became quick friends with Colin, from Oregon studying abroad in England, and Andrew and Amy from Maryland studying abroad in Spain. They’re all on holiday from school, and decided to make a trip out of it. And here we all are in one room in Venice. So funny how easy it is to meet people and bond in such short periods of time. Then leave and let time tell if you have made a friend for life (by keeping in touch) or if it just trails off to a name you can’t place where you met. We all talked and I went for a walk to look around myself and ended up buying fruits from a stand literally minutes before it started to pour rain. Myself and a few other bystanders waited under an awning until the heavy rains turn light enough to at least run through and then I ran back to the hostel (Mythbusters says that if you run, in the end you actually get less wet lol). I had wanted to kind of go out tonight, but laziness kicked in once again and it had been a long day. Plus it’s raining and cold! Colin called me a true Californian haha…I seem to get that a lot on this trip. So here we all are at this moment…midnight, lights out. One girl sleeping, one guy sleeping, one guy snoring/snorting loudly in his sleep, two people watching a movie, and me typing away because (1) I like to remember how I feel at these moments of freshness and change, and (2) typing this out makes me tired and I’ll sleep easier lol.

2010.03.30 Venice, Italy

I think I plan to tag along with Colin tomorrow to one of the Venice surrounding islands, so wake up alarm at 8am! After a week of being in the house with the kids, 8am is gloriously sleeping in! I might also try to wake up earlier the next day to catch a sun rise near Piazza San Marco, but I also want to see Venice at night the night before (maybe take a vaporetto ride at 2am down the Grand Canal), so we’ll see what the body can handle lol. Anyway, I’m tired enough for sleep now. Ciao good night!

Europe Trip 2010 – Daytrip in Florence (Day 26)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Okay, back again, this time on a different train. I spent the last 5 hours in Florence wandering the streets and bought more souvenirs now than I did when I was here on the tour haha. I got off the train, confused as to where to go as usual, and found the “lockers” which weren’t lockers, but an area where you actually check your bags in for people to watch. It was 4 euros for 5 hours…not too bad…but it could be cheaper. Then off I went to wander the streets. Only to realize that I probably should’ve figured out when and what train I wanted to take to Venice so that I could plan a time, so I walked back to the Florence SMN train stazione. After waiting in line, the guy told me 10 euros to my surprise since I thought it would be included in the EuroRail pass since it was in the EuroRail pass schedule book. Apparently it was a fast train (not a puff puff) so I’d have to pay more for the 2 hour ride vs 5 hour ride. This time it was worth paying extra, but I only had 5 euros left on me. So I told him no and he printed me an itinerary for a puff puff train.

After wandering the streets, finding bookstores that sold English book (that was absolutely delightful…but dreadfully expensive lol), going to the post office (4 more postcards out today…at this rate I send my mum 1 a week haha), I found a BNL bank which is supposed to be part of BNP Paribas which is supposed to be a sister bank of Bank of America. However, I’ll have to find out later if BNL doesn’t count and they charge me a service fee on my withdrawal. Only a few minutes later, I found a Deseutch Bank which I know there wouldn’t have been any fees to withdraw from. Crap, but oh well it happens. Then I headed to the Mercato Centrale. It’s not until now that I realize that I never actually went into the market, which supposedly sells fresh food and everything. I was too distracted by the outskirt streets, which had vendors selling all the same stuff. Leather everything, scarves, souvenirs…and I ended up getting a scarf I liked (finally!) and a wallet. I also found a place that had a happy hour special of buy one get two pieces of pizza. Two gigantic cheese/artichoke pizzas for 3.30 euros…not too bad. It was funny though because at some point I almost felt like I was walking around in circles seeing all the same things over and over again. Mom, I wanted to get you a pair of Firenze slippers…they were pretty cute, but the price was too high for the quality and the vendor wouldn’t bargain with me lol. AJ would tear them a part in about a month or so lol. Of course, I bargained down most of my prices…12 to 10 euros, 5 to 4.50 euros…not much, but it wasn’t very hard lol. Maybe if I try harder next time I’ll get a better deal. I think a good strategy is to be very nice but steadfast because if they like you they’re less likely to turn you down. When tourist are blunt, which I see over and over again, the vendors are just as blunt back and don’t lower their prices.

I heard a woman asking a guy how much an shirt cost. He said 7 euro. She asked him how much another shirt cost. He said 7 euro for those as he waved his hand over the t-shirt section. She asked how much a different t-shirt cost and he said louder “7 euro, do you speak English or what lady?!” She put the shirts down and walked away as he said “Fuck you” and I was appalled. That’s not good for business lol. They had some nice stuff there, but I walked away from that stand too.

2010.03.30 Florence, Italy

A man at the stall I bought the wallet from was very nice. He guessed I was American by my North Face jacket, which confirmed my own suspicions that mostly only Americans and Canadians wore North Face clothing (and very few Europeans). And that clothing brand is everywhere on people in Europe…and they’re normally American or Canadian lol. Hey, it’s a good brand. I did however end up finding a store that actually sold The North Face in Sansepolcro, but realized why Europeans probably don’t wear them…it’s sooo expensive here. I dunno, I guess everything is more expensive in Europe lol…and The North Face clothing expensive even in the States.

Another man was riding through an intersection of the marketplace on his bicycle and I heard him say “Ciao” to me as I stopped to take out my map and find out where I was. I nodded back and looked down at my map. When I looked up again, I saw him backtracking on his bike into my view to ask if I needed directions or help finding something. I found it hilarious lol…I mean…the guy was a lot older. I think his name was Puca? He’s from South America (Brazil) and moved to Florence 13 years ago to learn about wine. However, now he owns a stand like all the other vendors in the marketplace. I said it was nice talking to you and that I had to go and went on my way to go back to the train station. It was probably in that distraction that I forgot to actually go into Mercato Centrale lol. It’s okay I had my pizza anyway. I’ll look for fresh fruits in Venice.

Getting back to the train station, I decided to see if I could take a look at the self-service machines instead of waiting in that long ass line again. And I wanted one that would take cash. I was waiting in line, being American and putting a space between me and the guy in front of me to give him room to buy his ticket, and this little Asian guy just walked and stood right in front of me. I was like…”scuzi” and he looked at me and smiled and turned back around. He obviously didn’t understand the fact that he’d just cut in front of me. Turns out he’s heading to Perugia (I looked over his shoulder). I just let him go in front of me because he seemed really jittery as if he was about to miss a train.

2010.03.30 Florence, Italy

When I got up to the kiosk to see if I reserve and pay for a train holding a EuroRail Global pass, I was pleased to find that I could. AND that 1st class and 2nd class were both 10 euro…so of course I booked 1st class. (The guy at the window when I waited in line had initially booked me for 2nd class until I said that I’d do it later since I couldn’t pay at the time). I watched my train pull in…train 9418 from Firenze SMN to Venizia Santa Lucia. Leave 17:30 and arrive 19:33 on Tuesday, March 30th. And I’m so glad I didn’t take the puff puff…this train is a lot faster, a lot-a-bit smoother, and has nice seats with power outlets so I can charge my little net-book, Nyx, whilst I write about my travels. Wonderful. Heading now to Venizia (Venice), Italia. Ciao.

Europe Trip 2010 – Leaving Italy (Day 26)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It’s a strange feeling, leaving a place. Even though I can rely on the fact that many times change can come to me easily and I just go along with it without being too emotional or distressed, it always makes me contemplate more…reflect more. Learn more I guess. And in some way, I am sad every time for quite a while. It’s like the sadness is very small spread out over a long time instead of short unbearable outbursts, which perhaps is the better way to go.

I sit on a train once again, this time from Arezzo stazione to Firenze (Florence) where I’ll explore some more, then hop back on the train to Venice. I’m going back to Florence! I’m not really all that sure why, but I figured why not? At least it will be familiar to me. Maybe do a little shopping. Not too much shopping though I hope haha. I put my iPod on shuffle and the first song that came on was “Simplicity” by Telecast. How appropriate. It’s interesting because I’ve been very quiet the past week and a half while in Fonaco. For reasons I have no idea. Maybe it’s restlessness? There are million things going through my head that I would normally converse about, but it didn’t come out…almost like nobody would really care what I said, so I had no reason to say it. Of course I knew this wasn’t true, but it was a weird feeling for me. Maybe I was finding some inner peace and quiet.

Earlier on the trip, some other friends had talked about astrological signs and many of us in the group had been Gemini. I had never really given it much thought before except that it sounded cool. But it occurred to me that they were saying how most Gemini have somewhat of a double-side personality…and they’d talk about their different sides. I feel like everyone, Gemini or not, would have this to some extent. However, I guess when I really think about it, I do have a much quieter contemplative side, and there are other times when people say they want to hang out with me because I’m fun, which flatters and embarrasses me at the same time…mostly because I’m not used to compliments like that. I don’t think I was too exciting growing up or in high school.

Then my train of thought goes to how I am some times, ready to have a drink and meet new people and get attention, while other times I’m like I am now…perfectly happy disappearing into the background and just observing. It actually comforts me to know that I am both, and don’t have to try to be both…it IS me. So when I get into lethargic times like now, I know that I’ll be back out in the next few days or so meeting new people without having to try. And when I’m too far in, I know that I’ll have times like now when I can be happy alone. Same goes for being happy and sad. I’m in a lull right now, but I know that there will be times on this trip when I’m convinced that it is the best time I’ve ever had. And unfortunately I also know that there will probably be at least one time when I break down and cry…makes me nervous to think about that, but it happens to everyone. If only life could be perfect eh?

I realized after getting on the train that one of my Victorianox padlocks is missing from my backpack. I must’ve dropped it while walking/running through the train station to catch my train. Unfortunate because they are very nice locks and now I can only lock on of my backpack compartments. :( Oh well, it’s just a deterrent anyway. Anyone could take scissors to the tug pulls on the zippers (I lock the fabric tug pulls together…it’s too hard to lock the metal pieces). That lock is the first thing that I’ve lost so far on this trip, which I feel is pretty impressive. I’m still nervous about getting robbed since almost everyone I’ve run into has lost something substantial due to theft…500 euros, passports, phones, purses, everything out of a purse (they left the purse on the girl’s arm). Poor Tara lost her entire backpacking pack at one of the stops while taking a bus from one city to the next in Spain. They must’ve taken it out on one of the smaller city stops.

[some time goes by]

I have figured out how to plan for taking a train, but I still have yet to figure out how to just know what trains are the fast trains and which ones are the puff puff trains. I am apparently on a puff puff train at the moment…it stops every small city along the way. It’s going to take forever it feels like to get to Florence. I’ll have to ask someone and make sure that I’m on a fast train to Venice, even if I have to pay just a little more.

Anyway, I guess I’ll have more to report about Venice when I get there. Until then, Arrivderchi!

Europe Trip 2010 – Monterchi & Italian Bowling (Day 24/25)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yesterday (Monday, March 28th) was such a fun filled day. We all woke up early (we wake up early every morning whether we like it or not because the kids are up and chattering by 6 or 7am every morning) and all went out to Monterchi for the morning. It’s not very far, maybe between 2-3 km away. I have no idea what that is in miles lol. Virginia took her son on Pepper, the pony, trotting all the way from the house to Monterchi. Josh took Laura and Tara there by car (since they’d be walking back with pony from Monterchi. And I got to Monterchi by bicycle. Josh told me of a different route to get to Monterchi that was just slightly longer but he wasn’t kidding when he said it was beautiful. I wanted to cycle down that road forever (it helped that it was relatively downhill most the way down haha). The views were amazing since their home is almost at the top of a hill, so going down this new route had me going through the hilltop towns before getting to Monterchi. There we wandered the little Sunday market and walked over to SMA (the grocery store) to get coffee and biscuits. There was an area to play for the kids and Virginia met up with another horse owner to take the new horse, Paulina, out for a ride with Pepper (compatibility test lol). They got along great, so hopefully the owner will sell Paulina (the owner’s wife all the sudden at the last minute decided to gain interest in Paulina after 5 years of no interest…one of those not appreciating things until they’re gone…or about to be gone).

2010.03.28 Monterchi, Italy

We spent all morning just relaxing and then I rode back the regular route under the beautiful Tuscan sun. Bicycling in Tuscany…I’ve decided that everyone has to do it at least once. Perhaps riding a horse or something like that works too lol.

2010.03.28 Fonaco, Italy

After the day of house chores and watching the kids while the other girls were outside working the land (I do wish I was doing more outdoor work, but I guess I didn’t speak up enough), Josh took us girls out with Giuseppe to get dinner in Sansepolcro and meet up with Giuseppe’s friends at San Gimano (just outside Sansepolcro) for some bowling.

We walked around Sansepolcro a little bit and grabbed beers. Dinner was yummy. I had duck, but the zuchinni side dish was the best part of the meal I thought lol. After dinner it was time to go bowling. The place was pretty crowded, and to my surprise only had four lanes. But I guess that it entertains the younger generation (high schoolers) with a bar, arcades, bowling, and pool. Lucky for us one of Giuseppe’s friends had reserved a lane before it got crowded so it was up and ready to go by the time we arrived.

Italian bowling. What can I say about how Italians bowl? I don’t want to say too much as I’m sure it’s just because it’s a bunch of kids bowling recreational every once in a while, but it might’ve been the hardest I’d laughed all week. Instead of letting the ball flow and just giving it direction with a clean smooth follow-through, they were pretty much (and in some cases literally) trying to throw it down the lane. Many bowling balls learned to fly on their own before hitting the floor stretch to the pins. There were times I watched the ball fly 1/3 down the runway stretch before even hitting the wood runway. Other people tried to bowl it and it would just drop out of their hands straight down like lead. And another would bowl the ball hard but so close to the ground I feared he’d break his hand by slamming his hand with the ball into the ground. It was almost like more of the momentum was directed downward instead of forward. It was all just the funniest thing I’d seen in a while.

Giuseppe got first place and I surprised everyone (and myself) by getting second place with a score of 116 (or something close to that)…which is pretty low compared to my friends in the States I think lol. And because I don’t normally get that kind of ranking in bowling (like ever haha), I basked in my achievement secretly inside lol. We played darts afterward. It was my first time playing darts…and you would’ve laughed. What a let down after such a good game of bowling LOL. That is, until at some point, when I got some weird throw working for me (you might laugh to see me throw the dart), and it was 3 vs 3 (3 girls vs 3 guys), one dart each. We were playing the game where you aim for certain points counting down and the first to 0 wins. The boys were likely to win on their next round with 16 or so points left…we had 63…and my turn was up. I’d been pretty consistent with hitting the outer ring (0 points), the 1 point mark, and throwing it where it didn’t even stick to the board…all those pretty well. Guess the pressure was up, and on this turn I hit 18, then the 20 (double points since it hit the ring), and then without even knowing that I had to make it equal 0 (I just thought anything 5 and up would win)…I hit the 5. Boo yah! In yo face boys! We played a few games, and won the first two out of three. Tara finished off the third game the same way that I did (with a different amount of points of course). We played a few more for fun and the guys won those games, trying to tell us that those final games were actually double or nothing so they could claim fame LOL.

Didn’t get home until 2:30am. Gah.

As for today? Not too much today. We played with the kids, cleaned the house, did the dishes, vacuumed the floors, picked up toys, started up the fire, hung the wet laundry, folded the dry laundry, made dinner…and oh yea…made a goat pen. Ebrah, I wish you had been there because your creative mind would’ve come up with the coolest engineered goat pen. I was at a loss at how to make a pen fence and gate with wire fencing and twine and a few pieces of wood. It was like an interview question lol. Well, I did alright and came up with some clever ideas, but other people would’ve had more “aha” moments most likely. We won’t get to see the goat though. It comes coincidentally the day after we leave.

2010.03.28 Fonaco, Italy

We had asparagus risotto tonight and it was yummy and as I found out…very easy to make.

1 bundle of asparagus
3 1/2 handfuls of rice
vegetable or chicken stock
Parmesan cheese (probably about 2-3 cups)

1. Chop and cook the asparagus in a pan with a lot of butter and a little water.
2. Mix together stock and water to create a broth and boil.
3. Add rice to broth and let simmer for a while to allow rice to soak up liquids.
4. Before rice is completely done, add rice and broth to pan with cooked asparagus. Pan fry for a little while to perhaps brown rice and cook further until everything is fully cooked.
5. Fold in 3/4 of your parmeasan cheese.
6. Serve.
7. Sprinkle a lot more parmaesan cheese on top at the table. Pepper on top tastes good too.
8. EAT!

It served all of us (5 adults) with pretty hefty portions and some leftover in the pan to feed almost two more plates.

I almost wonder if you want to fry the rice uncooked in a pan first to help brown it and then let it soak up the broth? I dunno. There were no actual set instructions, we just kinda did it. I’ll just have to try it both ways next time lol.

Update on the Europe Update

I’m sorry it’s been a while! The best times to write things down always tended to be on the road and not when I actually had internet at my disposal lol (those times were used to upload photos and then get some much needed sleep!).

As it is, for those receiving this in their email or some other program that won’t put all my posts in order, I apologize because I’m going to be flooding the inbox (as I have been with pictures LOL) with relatively out of order blog posts.

If you’re reading this on my website, there shouldn’t be too much issue with order lol. Except for the fact that somewhere between leaving Orange County and arriving in Europe a few weeks ago, my blog template decided to go all funny looking, but that will have to be fixed another time when I’m not using my poor little netbook’s RAM to run other programs at the moment lol.

Thanks for keeping up with me! Ciao.

Europe Trip 2010 – HelpX in Fonaco, Italy (Day 19)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Saturday marked my first HelpX experience. I got on a train from Perusia to Arezzo and hoped for good things while expecting nothing. You can’t be disappointed if you expect nothing (for the most part at least). I had my Chacos on and wanted to change to tennis shoes, but some fashionista asked if the seat in front of me was taken (where my backpacking pack was sitting) despite all the other empty seats on the train, and of course I motioned to go ahead and sit. With that I couldn’t really move around much or unpack my pack to grab a pair of socks. There was an old Asian man sitting to my left next to the window so I didn’t want to be rude and take pictures of the big pretty lake we were passing by. The views were stunning. They always are. Even through the faded scratches and marks on the train windows. Across the isle was another older white man who had all four seat clusters to himself, with his pack taking up a seat and a tent in another. He looked rugged and as if he had been traveling for a long time. When it set in that I wasn’t going to be able to change my shoes, I started to get anxious…for many reasons. The main reason was how easy it is to miss a stop on the train. Also, not being able to change to my sneakers meant that if I had to run from a stranger, I wasn’t going to be able to run as fast. Obviously I was getting nervous and debating the validity of a HelpX posting in my head. Were there easy ways to cheat the system and lure people to random places? Most of the time the locations listed are very very remote.

At Arezzo, I got off the train and changed to my sneakers on the platform. Then I walked. When I got into the main station, a middle-aged rugged smiling man waved to me. I had sent a description of what I’d be wearing and carrying a few days before. He said hello and instantly I felt welcomed. We walked to the car and off we went to the family’s remote home somewhere near Fonaco, Italy. The drive was beautiful. I absolutely love Italia countryside. We chatted a bit, and as it is, he is originally from Australia and his wife is originally from London and they met in Italy. It’s like a good book really…she decided she’d had enough of London pace and on a whim up and left to Italy and bought a home. He had been traveling for about a year (intending to only travel for a year), coming to Italy back and forth pretty often and somehow they met and lived in her lavish vacation home. He never did go back to Australia. When the kids came along, they decided that moving every 6 months (since the home was rented out every summer for income) was tough on the kids, so they sold it to people who had rented the home previously and bought this smaller place that I find myself sitting in now. Funny thing is that there is plenty of space here for seven people (two parents, two kids, and three HelpXers)…but compared to the places around it, this place IS small. The homes in Italian country-side are quite huge. And when a few of them are clustered together (for instance at the top of a hill), it is called a “hamlet.” It’s part of Italian culture since a few generations can live in one home…and explains why many Italian men don’t move out until possibly even 35 years old! Italian men are definitely mama’s boys.

I am now in a home with an Australian man, British woman, two Italian born kids, a Canadian HelpXer, and Australian HelpXer. It is cold here, but not too cold with the central fire holding area going on all hours of the day and the down comforter they provided me with at night. When I got here, as usual I was very confused. I knew I would be, and I almost didn’t want the car ride to get here to end. What do I do? Where can I make my space? Am I breaking any rules? Am I bothering anyone but they won’t tell me? Do they even like me?

2010.03.22 Fonaco, Italy

On my first day they didn’t actually tell me anything to do. Just that there were no rules (except for the standard moral ones of a good human being…they didn’t have to say that though lol), and gave me a quick tour of the house and how some things worked around the house, like the central furnace, and how the kids like ‘this’ and ‘that’ a certain way. This house revolves around the kids…this I could tell from the start. But in a good healthy way. The parents were calm and yet busy and frazzled at the same time attending to this and that. It was the Canadian & Australian girl who showed me more of the ropes of the expectations of being a HelpXer here, which in this particular case entailed just being part of the family. If there are dishes in the sink, clean them. If more wood needs to be brought in, go get some from the outside pile. If you’re hungry, just get anything from the fridge no asking needed. Play with the kids. If the clothes hanging outside are dry, fold them. Just be part of the family.

We were asked to do gardening tasks every now and then (a few hours each day), which I would consider more of landscaping with all the clearing out of brush and thorned vines from a fence-line and then doing a controlled burning of it all. As much fun as a bonfire is, I realize now that I definitely took my yard waste bin at home for granted! It takes a long time to burn it all and tend to the fire. I was requested by one of the girls to go muck out Pepper’s (the pony horse’s) pen, in which I picked up horse poop mounds and plopped them in a wheel-barrel to be carted off to a bigger pile of horse poo lol. The kids wear me out the most with their endless energy and always wanting interaction and attention to their games. They delight me though at the same time because of how intelligent they are for a four and two year old. Both also understand and speak Italian very well even though their parents only speak to them in English (purposefully of course…they hear English at home, and Italian at school and everywhere else they go). The older boy is especially clever and energetic, telling me one time that “I need a crisp because my nose is runny.” I was like, how is a Pringle going to cure a runny nose?! Clever kid. I didn’t eat my Pringles or any other snacks in front of him after that lol.

2010.03.22 Fonaco, Italy

My favorite part of the days so far has been after all the outdoor work is done and we’ve taken showers and relax, maybe play with the kids, and then cook dinner. Us three girls have cooked dinner most nights so far (two out of three nights for me by now). We had take out pizza the first night, omlettes the second, and quiche tonight. Everything was delicious and overly filling. Even if I go running every day I’m not sure if I can work it all off. I will have to attempt to try to eat less lol. Maybe I’ll try that in a few more days from now haha.

The chatter at the dinner table is always fun as we have such a diverse group saying things differently, not understanding certain soundings (like “Zed” instead of “Zee” for Z in the alphabet…they all pronounce it “Zed”). The food here is different too. For instance, Weetabix for breakfast (tastes good but with a soggy cereal texture). And the pizza here is also different, but I expected that. I will have to make my chocolate chip banana bread for everyone one of these nights.

The girls I share a room with are also very nice and fun to be around. They’ve been traveling for a while now, one since last November, and the other since December. They’ve done most of their traveling together so far. The only unfortunate thing is that because they are so close by now, I feel like a tag-along most of the time and I find myself quite quiet most of the day. However, I can’t say that I am unhappy because I love listening to them sing and tell their stories. It’s so great to hear so many perspectives on traveling, family, and life. I think it just makes me sometimes wish I was traveling with a friend as well.

I’ll finish this long post with my brief travel to Anghiari today. Three of you should get post cards from here lol. I walked around the medieval town and stone walls while my host ran some errands around town. We went to a caffe and ran into one of her friends and talked about the kid’s potential schooling options for next year for about a half hour. The town was pretty empty, but still had a lot of older people just hanging out and getting on with their day. It is beautiful to watch. I don’t think I could ever live in Italy’s beautiful mess, but I still love Italia.

2010.03.23 Anghiari, Italy

Above is a view from the castle walls. I wish I got a picture of a view looking into the city though. The best view is probably a few miles outside of town as you’re driving up.

Europe Trip 2010 – Perugia, Italy (Day 17/18)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Let’s start off with, “Perugia was amazing.” Not in a sense where I’d never want to leave, but it’s so unique (haha like every place I seem to have visited so far). I arrived mid-afternoon on the train near an old man who kept trying to talk to me in Italian. He seemed like that nice old man who just talks to pretty much everyone (considering that’s exactly what he was doing until everyone else got off and I was the only one left to talk to lol). He didn’t speak English, but he knew enough to be able to tell me not to get off on a wrong stop (I almost got off one stop too early) and he recommended that I visit Assisi sometime in the future since it’s on top of a hill…I think that’s what he said at least. When we did finally get to Perugia, I got off and wandered around the stazione totally lost lol. I had a rough idea in my head from looking at a Google Map online a few hours before, but really needed a paper map to find my way around. I had written down the address of a potential hostel, but I try to avoid taking cabs if I can afford it (since they will rip you off every chance they get…on top of just being expensive to begin with). I ran into the old man again and after a few minutes I was able to communicate that I was looking for a “map” and he was able to tell a seller what I was looking for. The map was huge. When I unfolded it it was pretty much my arms’ length stretched out both ways lol. I was considering walking from the stazione to the main centre (it was on this day that I realized that “main centre” is the same as “downtown” in the USA), but voila I found a MiniMetro sign on the map and decided to take a chance on that instead.

2010.03.19 Perusia, Italy

I walked over to where the maps said it would be and was very glad I did. 1 euro to ride on the cutest metro I’ve ever seen. It’s mostly above ground on a railway above the street, and it’s tiny…like a ski lift tiny lol. Got me right around where I wanted to be…almost. I was looking at my map as I got off and just followed two girls exiting the station. Apparently you have to use your ticket to get in AND use your ticket to get out. Good thing I was following someone…not sure if I would’ve figured that one out for a while lol. One of the girls looked at me as I was looking at a map and asked if I needed help with directions. She spoke perfect English and turned out to be from the US studying Italian in Perusia. Cool.

I pointed to where I wanted to go on the map and she told me to follow her for a while and she’d point me in the right direction. We went up like three huge escalators and ended up on some busy super narrow ally. She pointed me in the right direction and I just walked for what seemed like forever up a steep narrow alley. Then I walked into the main centre. Huge open area. Tons of shops. Lots of people. And stone buildings everywhere. Very medieval. I finally found the hostel I was looking for (Hotel Umbria) but they were all booked. Actually, I think that to get the hostel prices, I had to book WITH three other people. They don’t sell beds individually. Not exactly sure though since the guy didn’t speak English. All I knew was that his discounted price to me of 50 euro was a lot more than I wanted to spend. I asked him for another place that might be cheaper. He pointed me directions in Italian so I “think” I know where to go lol. As it is, the next place was where he said it would be and cost 45 euro. Still a bit steep. I asked this lady if she knew of another place or a hostel. She said there was a youth hostel down the road and gave me a map, drew a big circle (which meant general area but nothing specific). When I asked her exactly where, she just shrugged. So off I went to that general circled area.

Turns out that down some empty ally, there was indeed a youth hostel called Ostello Youth Hostel. It turned out to be 15 euro per night + 2 euro to rent bed sheets. There was a curfew of 3:30am and nobody was allowed in the hostel between 11am and 4pm. However for 15 euro, I jumped on that and paid up. The room was plain, but the view from the window was amazing. There was another girl in my room but she was out for the day. The hostel was relatively empty since it was still off season.

2010.03.19 Perusia, Italy

I went out and walked around and observed the views, buildings, and shops. There was no internet in the hostel so I had my laptop on me hoping to find a free wifi cafe. After walking down the main streets and some side streets and getting some bad gelato, I saw a sign for happy hour and free wifi. I walked past it and eventually ran into a post office…perfecto. Some post cards when out from there. I decided to go back to Caffe Serao for some free wifi. The man was very nice and gave me a password and had a waitress lead me to an upstairs lounge area. It was so weird…pulling out a laptop in a bar/lounge. I ordered a Texas Long Island (it had tequila in it as opposed to the regular Long Island Iced tea served here…and we all know by now how much I like tequila lol).

It was here that I looked up the highlight and things to see/do in Perusia. I finished my drink, paid my 5 euro, and headed out back to the hostel, where I planned on showering and perhaps going out that night. When I got back, I found my new roommate already in bed. We ended up talking for a long time and had a great conversation getting to know each other. Her name is Carolina and she is from Brazil looking to study in either Italy or Switzerland. She also made a trip out of it like me, but was traveling the opposite direction (headed south). Since she was all tucked into bed, the laziness for me set in and I decided to go to sleep as well. She also invited me to come out with her the next day, so I figured that would be just as good and I DO love my sleep.

2010.03.19 Perusia, Italy

Saturday, March 22, 2010

As it is, we ended up spending most of Saturday together. Her Italian friend took us to the Central Commercial Center (which I realized when we got there was “the mall”). It was fun, but despite all the shops, the only things Carolina and I bought was food from the big grocery store and gelato. And I guess I bought a USA/Europe adapter as well (Karanza, I finally found the one I was looking for!!!) from a computer store. Carolina’s friend was convinced that we were not girls lol.

After the long bus ride back, we split ways with her friend and went back to the hostel where we talked more and took a nice long nap. When I woke up, I went out to take a walk around the main centre (mainly to look for a BNP atm) and ended up running my errand AND ended up shopping LOL. Dangit. I finally gave in. This boutique store had pretty good prices and I got a faux leather jacket for 24,90 euro. It was cute and I wore it out that night. The man at the reception desk looked at Carolina, then at me, and said I must be sportif (sporty) since she was in a nice elegant wool coat and I had my black leather jacket with my cute hoodie sticking out the top lol. We met up with her friend at 11pm after doing a lot more snacking in the hostel room and walked down to Velvet Club. I’ve walked this place a lot by now and the boys took us in a big circle to get there. However, I guess it’s because here they start late and 11pm was still early. We got to the club at almost midnight it seemed and it was still empty. After a glass of wine, we decided to leave back to the happenin’ bars near our hostel.

Turns out that a guy who had talked to me earlier on my walk when I was buying more postcards and stamps from a tabacchi shop worked as a bouncer at the bar that I was getting tequila shots at. He gave us free entrance to another club down the street for some dancing, so off we went (after talking to more random people for another half hour). I even ran into a guy from California…and of all things he grew up in Santa Barbara and went to Cal Poly!!! I was disappointed though that he didn’t seem to care that we went to the same school. That’s okay, I guess if I was abroad for a long time, the novelty of running into people from your town would wear off for me too.

Our little group had a lot of fun. I got two more drinks (don’t worry I hardly felt it lol) and we all danced the rest of the night until our 3:30am curfew. The beer was 5 euro and a Long Island was 6 euro lol. I skipped the beer this time around haha. I wish I had pictures, but it’s also very different here in the way people spend their Saturday “nights out”. In Perusia, they all just gather in the main centre and sit on the cathedral steps and hold cups of beer and talk in groups. Just hundred of young people standing around relatively civil and drinking. People also just throw their trash on the ground when they’re done. Sad when a trash can sits empty only a few feet away. Another thing I learned is that Perusia University is mostly a commuter college. Most young people here go home on the weekends and don’t stay in Perusia. They can go home and mom will cook meals and do laundry and they hang out with the friends they grew up with instead. Very different from my college experience.

So I don’t know if it’s just Italy or Perusia, but people here also dance very differently. Everyone dances individually. Sure we saw a few girls dancing on a few guys, but it looked “out of place” here. I think that Carolina and I stood out because we dance more Brazil and California style (one example of many…girls dancing with girls). It was fun and I guess the guys we hung out with said they don’t ever see that here. It wasn’t anything outrageous to me lol. Carolina and I just laughed the night away when we got back to the hostel. It had been a fun (more funny) night. It’s just so different here in Italy. And we talked about everything different in general, not just the dancing.

I also forgot to mention that she speaks like four different languages. And her friend(s) here in Perugia only spoke Italian and a very little french and even less english. So poor Carolina (her primary language is Portugese) was translating all night between Italian and English. She did very well. I absolutely loved hanging out with her. Her friend’s friend Pietro tried to teach me some Italian. I think I did fairly well haha. I can now count to ten and say “My name is Michelle” in Italian.

Europe Trip 2010 – EuroRail to Perugia (Day 15)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Today marks my first day on the EuroRail train network. I had ordered my 2 month continuous EuroRail pass before leaving for Europe upon a friend’s recommendation, and I’m glad that I did. It cost $1167 total for the Youth pass and I can now take any train in the network at anytime to anywhere for 2 months. For those curious about what kind of passes there are, you can visit their website. I had purchased my EuroRail pass through STA Travel through a travel agent, but it was the same price to purchase it directly from the EuroRail website as well…so how you’d like to book is up to you.

Today also marks my first morning waking up in a hostel. It wasn’t too bad. They just put people in rooms, and Selina and I got a room with some older Polish man. I won’t lie that I was surprised the hostels were co-ed…but I guess it’s just a place to sleep at night. He was nice and courteous and just went to bed anyway (after stripping down to his briefs before getting in bed…gah). I woke up with three bed-bug-bites…one on my left thumb and one on each forearm. Not the most pleasant way to start my solo trip but I’ll survive. The bathrooms here are actually very nice and clean which very much surprised me based on my overall experience of Italia so far lol. I didn’t feel the need to shower in sandals or anything (good thing because I don’t have shower sandals atm).

So I woke up today and decided that I wanted to go to Perugia. It seemed like a nice small town on the map. I am done and over with the big cities like Roma (Rome) and Firenze (Florence). However, I might appreciate them more since all in all, they are probably the more “tourist friendly” towns in terms of translation and language barrier. I learned the important signs like “Uschita” (exit) and used “No! Gracie.” (to all the pushy vendors and scaffolding), “Buon Giorno, Parla Inglisais?” (Hello, do you speak English?), and “Costo contra?” (How much?) as most of my conversation of the day.

It was a debate between Sienna and Perugia. Seems odd to me that I can just wake up and say…I’m going to Perugia today, and hop on a train and just go. I walked from Hotel des Artistes (recommended by a fellow traveler friend…thanks Emma) to Termini (Ter-mee-nee) and waited in a line that I hoped was one that could help me. It was in that line that my Austrailan friend Selina, who I now will call Mozzie, left me to take a cab to FCO Airport and head home to Perth, Australia. It was at that point at 12pm Italia time, that I was quite literally on my own in Europe.

Lucky for me, it was the correct line that I was standing in. I walked up to the man at the desk. “Buon Giorno, parla Inglisais?” “Inglisais? I speak Italian, French, English, Spanish, whatever you like my dear…but English it is.” I laughed because he said all this in that Italian way, where they emphasize the first syllable of each word and speak the rest with an accent. Very loud and fast talkers here.

He booked my reservation for Roma Termini (12:58) to Foligno (15:03) to Perugia (15:37). He also booked my train from Perugia to Arezzo this Sunday in the morning. Finally, I know what time I will get to Arezzo lol. Lucky for me that this is not the hot tourist and traveling season. Everything can pretty much be booked last minute and doesn’t need a lot of planning ahead. Great news for me because I have almost nothing booked for the rest of my trip as of now except for my flight home in two months. They also have many types of trains here. In this case I could chose the fast & direct train, or the slow train with many stops (the Italian family I will be staying with calls it the “puff puff train”). Of course, the fast one requires an extra fee on top of my EuroRail pass, so I opted for the slow train. I am in no rush on my trip and the time difference is negligible for the distance (I’d save about 35 minutes on the fast train I think?).

I looked up a hostel online in Perugia and will start with Hotel Umbria near the main centre. If they are full, I’ll go to Hotel Iris, and if they are full, then Farmhouse Backpackers Hostel (this one I would prefer over the others but it is about 17 minutes out of the city by car and I’m only staying for a day and two nights…plus they don’t have any openings for tonight atm).

I am much enjoying my train ride right now. The landscape in Italia is beautiful. This train is relatively clean compared to others I’ve been on, though it’s not anything really nice. The important part perhaps is that it doesn’t smell, but there are stains on the seats that I would prefer to not look at. I am eating my banana, peach, and cliff bar for lunch, which people seem to look at funny because I guess they don’t have cliff bars here and the brownie flavor one looks like poo I’m sure lol. But so far everything is good. I look forward to reporting more from and about Perugia. Until then…Ciao!