Posted on 03-12-2008
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by admin

Check out a new site we’ve been working on Nice Translator - The fast, easy to use online translator

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Posted on 09-08-2007
Filed Under (Vienna, Great Food) by admin

It was just about 9:00 pm, and the ride to Vienna would be 11 hours… That meant we were about to ride in a legit. sleeper train. Our room had four beds, Two on the bottom and 2 above. We got settled into our cabin, and I hopped onto a top bunk. As sweat began pouring from our bodies, we became more and more aware of the temperature. Our cabin clearly had air conditioning, but with the train off it wasn’t running. I’m normally pretty good with heat and cold, but the thermometer on my watch was reading just around 100 degrees and our train was already 20 minutes late leaving the station. I put my iPod on closed my eyes and tried to enjoy the sauna we were in.

Something about the heat knocked me out. I planned to try and do work late into the night, but I just fell into a coma for the entire ride. I do remember stopping at the next stop, another station in Venice, and a fourth guy came in our cabin to fill it up. I woke up at some point late in the night, heard a few minutes of conversation between the other guy, Mike and Hayley, but then fell asleep again until the morning. I woke up to a cup of bitter tea and a roll being delivered. I met the other guy in the room, who’d Mike and Hayley were up until about midnight talking to. He was older than us, in his late 20s, and apparently some kind of teacher. We arrived in Vienna about an hour later, and said our goodbyes.

I’ve gone most of my life without ever really knowing Vienna even existed, but then saw Before Sunrise. It’s a movie about an American guy and a French girl who meet on a train through Europe, and spend a night exploring Vienna together. Needless to say, I was interested in seeing how the actual city matched up with the movie, and was hoping I would recognize some of it. Looking at a map at the train station, though, I noticed that there were 4 train stations; we were in Westbahnof (West Station) and there was one for each of the other directions. In the movie, they exit a large train station, and cross a bridge. We were at a fairly small station, away from any water, and were pretty far from the North Station, which is right by a river. It seemed we were, at the moment, relatively far from where it all took place, so I put the idea of recognizing things on the backburner as we started out to find our hostel.

We were a subway ride away from our area, so we took an elevator down to the “U”, as it’s called in Vienna. We got to the tracks and thought, “…Do we need tickets, or something?” We went back to the main subway area, found an information booth and learned that Vienna works on a similar system as Italy. Tickets are bought and validated in a machine before getting on. The validation prints the time and station you got on, and each ticket has some amount of time its valid for (75 minutes, 24 hrs, etc). Tickets are rarely collected or checked, but occasionally they are, and then, I assume, you pay hefty fines for not having a ticket. It’s an interesting honor-system twist to managing transportation fares, and it seems like few people try to cheat it.

Our subway ride lasted a little under 10 minutes, and we started following the directions to our hostel. We were walking down a street reading the page we had, when we heard an old woman asking if she could help us. She read the directions, and told us our street was 2 blocks away on the left. A few minutes later, after going 2 blocks and taking a left, we were at our hostel, which was more of a cheap hotel. The kind of accomodations possible for 20 Euro a night in Vienna, and much of Europe, are pretty amazing.

It was still morning, so we relaxed from travelling, tested our beds out and then headed back into the heart of Vienna. Reading the guidebook, we often saw it referring to the “Outer Ring” and the “Inner Ring” of the city. Apparently, Vienna used to be comprised of a busy inner city, and big homes with farmland encircling it. Now though, the farmland has become more like the inner city, and in many cases is clearly separated by major large roads that make a ring shape. So, we were heading towards the inner ring, inside those large roads towards an area that would probably be somewhat comparable to Piazza Navona.

Vienna is known for its kaffe, coffee, so we started by heading to Klein’s Cafe. We sat outside, infront of colorful buildings and a statue. Hayley and Mike had Melange, a strong cappucino-like coffee, and I had Eiskaffee, black coffee with whip cream on top (though, its usually served with ice cream). I am normally not a coffee fan at all, and it might have just been that I happened to be sitting in Vienna, but this coffee was really good. We also ordered some light food for lunch. ‘Vienna’ is actually the English name for the place, most of Europe calles it Wien (Pronounced Veen), as in Wiener, the sausage. So, Mike ordered the staple dish, Wienersnitzel, I ordered “Sandwich Royale”, a tomato, cucumber, ham and camambert sandwich, Hayley ordered Apple Strudel, and we all shared. We had read that it was expected and proper to “linger” in Vienesse cafes, so we stayed for quite awhile, enjoying our kaffe, food and started planning our time in Vienna.

After we left, we spent the rest of the day wandering around the Inner Ring. There was a lot of action; street performers, people selling tickets for operas, an art sale of these cute little cartoons… all the sorts of things we’ve come to expect from European cities. At one point we saw a large crowd of people, so we headed in that direction to see what the fuss was. There was a group of, what looked like, Russian breakdancers. They were lively and some of them were really good, so they attracted a lot of people and it was hard to stop watching once we started.

But, just as they were starting to do their spiel to get people to put money in their golden trophy, we heard a roar of people from behind us. We looked over and it looked like two crowds of people rushing together, holding Iraqi flags. They were cheering and jumping and holding each other in the air… It all seemed pretty jovial but we had no clue what was going on, and it seemed most Austrians didn’t either. Oddly enough, soon after it started all the church bells started going off and didn’t stop! We couldn’t tell if they were celebrating too, or trying to over-power the other celebrators. We watched for awhile, I took a bunch of pictures, and finally noticed a guy holding a sign that said Asia Cup Champions. It was a pretty awesome sight, but quickly broke up the breakdancing, and most other street performances in the area.

We then started heading out of the Inner Ring and towards a restaurant called Centimeter, where they sell Viennese sandwiches by the Centemeter. I guess I didn’t explain earlier, but my sandwich at Klein’s Cafe, and those at Centimeter are prepared differently than the way we normally have sandwiches. They have a long, thick slice of bread on the bottom, that can be basically any length, and then put toppings on it and cut it into, roughly, inch-wide pieces. So, at Centimeter, we ordered 20 centimeters of ham & tomato au gratin. There was more on the menu at Centimeter though, and a few options looked hard to resist. They had a few different dishes that included “chops”, so we tried one that came with 2 chops and chips… And then the main event… TWO METERS OF WURST.. for just 6 Euro. How could we possibly pass that up? It came with shredded raw horseradish, which seemed common in Vienna, and 2 mustards. Everything was delicious, as usual, and we had cheap Viennese beer to go along with it.

We walked back to the hostel, and saw quite a bit of Vienna… The walk was not a short one. We got back to the room and all sorda just crashed. We’d been up since pretty early in the morning and were walking most of the day. There was this one techno song they played at the Pink Palace both nights that seemed very Spanish/Greek, and bunches of Spanish girls would dance this particular dance whenever it played. The three of us liked the song, so we’ve been trying to keep the tune in our heads long enough to figure out what the actual song is. We finally had some consistent internet in Vienna, so I stayed up trying to figure out what song it was, but went to sleep to no avail. We still don’t know, and I have a feeling it will be nagging me for a long time…

Anyway, we woke up the next morning and this time we bought a day pass for the subway in Vienna. We took the subway into the Inner Ring and went to eat, this time at Stein’s Cafe. This time, my Eiskaffe really did have ice cream in it and it was pretty amazing. I also ordered ‘Putenfilet’, basically at random. Unlike the stracciatella in Rome, though, this turned out to be a great blind-pick. It was sesame roasted chicken on rice and vegetables with cream sauce, and very, very good.

After lingering, we saw some of the sites, including Stephansplatz, a church in the center of Vienna with a large steeple. After checking out the inside of the church, we took an elevator up to the top of the steeple. The top was pretty high up, and we got a great view of all of Vienna. I walked around the steeple and then, finally, saw a familiar sight! Far in the distance was a large ferris wheel that had a cameo in Before Sunrise. From the movie, I remembered an amusement park/carnival around the same area as the ferris wheel, so we figured we’d take the subway over and see what it was like. The great thing about having the metro day pass in Vienna is that we could take any form of transportation anywhere all day, so shooting over to the other side of Vienna was no problem.

When we got there, it was clear that it was definitely the ferris wheel from the movie, and we learned that it is actually a very old part of Viennese history. The Riesenrad, as it’s called, now holds 15 large gondola-type cars but used to hold 30 (You can see the extra old supports and that the cars are numbered with only even numbers). We entered the old amusement park that the Riesenrad sits in, and agreed that we would ride it as the sunsets, but for now just check out the park.

I thought it was awesome… It was clearly very old, but considering that it seemed to be in pretty good condition. There weren’t many people there, but it seemed more like a boardwalk, where people start flooding in as the sun goes down and all the carnival games turn on their blinking lights. There were a ton of rides and games, and it actually was bigger than I had imagined. We walked around and played some games, then saw the tallest set of amusement park swings we’d ever seen and had to ride them. The ride was fun and spun us so high around Vienna; we got more great views of the city. We found the kiddy-area of the park, where they had some intense kiddy rides… They actually had real go karts for them to drive, not just a flat track with a wobbly steering wheel.

We had left overs from lunch, so we sat down at a table and ate them after checking out a pretty standard arcade. The sun was looking quite nice as it approached the horizon, so we got donuts from a woman who made them right in front of us with this little contraption, and then headed to the Riesenrad. Unfortunately, it looked like there was a long line, and it turned out to be much more expensive to ride than we’d anticipated. As much as I wanted to experience the Riesenrad, we decided it didn’t really make sense.

Instead, we checked out the gift shop. Inside, we saw a variety of standard gifts, and I began looking through the postcards of Vienna… Flipping through, and realizing we were leaving the next morning, I felt like we’d missed so much! There were so many other interesting buildings, gardens and sites to see. One in particular, which we’d read about in the book but never got around to going to, was Schloss Belvedere, a large estate type home with what were supposed to be beautiful gardens. The sun was still shining light over Vienna, so we decided instead of wishing we’d seen more, we’d use our last bits of the day to go checkout Belvedere. We hopped on the subway and walked the rest of the way, passing by Sudbanhof, the South Station.

We walked along rows of trees lining a pathway to the gates of Schloss Belvedere as the sunset just behind it. It was a pretty amazing site, and I think this was the perfect time to see it. I got a few pictures of the front of the main building at Belvedere just before both my camera’s batteries died after working hard all day. I missed a few great pictures, but had a chance to really take in the gardens as we walked through. The front had flowers and garden’s as I’d expect the, while the back was mostly groomed bushes and fountains… Actually, we noticed in one area that they were actually growing bushes inside of bushes… Ballin’.

Outside of Belvedere, we took a tram to where we were hoping to find a U stop that would take us back to our hostel. On the way to the tram, though, we ran into a bunch of the other buildings we were afraid we wouldn’t get a chance to see. It was nice to see a bunch of places in Vienna we hadn’t seen the day before, and hadn’t been planning on seeing. I got on the train satisfied with the day, and we made it back to the hostel to get ready for the night.

Vienna supposedly has an incredibly happenin’ night-life, so we were excited to check it out. There was an area called the “Bermuda Triangle” which is a triangular street known for its club-scene. We’d read about “experimental-techno” in Vienna, and our curiosity was perked. Unfortunately though, it was the middle of the week and this crazy bar scene appeared to be completely dead. We asked some girls on the street where a good place was, and they pointed us to “Chill Out Bar”… It was a nice bar, but a bit too chill… The laid back music and comfy chairs were putting us to sleep, so we headed out. We wandered around the area more, but it seemed hopeless, and we had a train to catch the next morning anyway, so we called it a night.

All in all, I really loved Vienna… It’s one of the tops on my list of places to come back to. We got a great feel for the city, but it seems like there’s still so much more to experience, namely the Riesenrad and experimental techno.

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Posted on 05-08-2007
Filed Under (Site Message) by admin

Helloooo there!

It’s been awhile, I know. But, I’m ready to get my updated posts online whenever Europe’s internet is ready for me.

Let’s see… I’ve got Vienna ready to go, Prague just about done… We didn’t go to Salzberg, as planned, but instead to the mountain village of Halstatt, which was amazing. I’ve still got to write about our time there, but that will be a pleasure.

I’ve got a ton of pictures to get online, too… Our hostel here in Munich has WiFi, it just doesn’t work and they can’t fix it. Pretty sure Mike & I could, but I’m not sure how they’d feel about that.

 Anyway, things are going great, and hopefully I’ll be able to catch everyone up in the next day or two.

It’s nightime here, so Guten Nacht!

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Posted on 01-08-2007
Filed Under (Italy) by admin

We woke up at about 6:00 am, but weren’t really functional until 6:10. Our train to Venice left at 6:52, and we had about 15 minutes of walking, so we really had to be leaving E & S by 6:30…

As we got to the bottom floor, I watched my watch tick past 6:38; we were moving quickly towards the train station, luckily a walk we’d done several times before, so there would be no getting lost. A few minutes more of walking, and it seemed like my watch had jumped ahead, suddenly it was 6:45 and we were still pretty far from the station. Hayley was behind me, and I guess she decided things were getting too close, so she started running. Mike and I followed suit, and we hopped on the train just as it started pulling away.

We made it to Venice at around 11:30 and had all day to check it out. Staying in Venice a night would have cost a huge amount of money. Hayley had also been to Venice before, and said there wasn’t that much to see Venice, so we decided to go for the day, see what we could and experience its uniqueness. We arrived in a station that looked like most of the train stations we’d been to in Italy. We waited on a long line to check our luggage, and were finally ready to see what Venice was all about.

I stepped out of the train station and immediately saw a large sidewalk and a road with boats driving down it… No, wait… that’s a river. I mean, of course I knew Venice basically had streets of water, but seeing it with my own eyes was such a strange experience. It was great though; there were nice big stone walking paths enclosed by stores and restaurants on both sides. Every once in awhile we would get to a bridge, cross over as a motor boat speeds under and remember, “Oh yeah… this is Venice!”

We spent the first half an hour or so looking for one restaurant in particular that the book suggested, and when we finally arrived we saw that it was closed until August 2nd. A lot of Italians take this time of the year off for vacation because its so hot in Italy during late July… And, while we thought Venice would be cooler than Rome since it was North a bit, it was actually incredibly hot… Much hotter than Rome. It may have just been the day, but it was really just sweltering, searing heat.

Since our restaurant was closed, we headed to the #2 restaurant on the list, Bepi’s. We ordered a few different things and shared… Lemon Shrimp, which turned out to be tons of tiny tiny shrimp, Brouchettes of Chicken, so basically shishkabob, Garlic Spaghetti which was “Chili-Spicy” and a salad. Although, Venice doesn’t seem to be known for their food, Bepi’s was excellent. The chicken was incredibly flavorful and the spaghetti truly was chili-spicy.

After eating, we made our way to the sites of Venice, mainly Piazza San Marco, where the Church of San Marco and Doji Palace are. They were two more incredible buildings in Italy to add to our list, but there was something about this Piazza that made it even more memorable and unique… PIGEONS. Tons of them, everywhere! For one Euro, Hayley bought me a bag of dry corn and we placed it on my arms… Suddenly, I was attacked from all angles. Pigeons were landing on my arms and grabbing onto my fingers to eat from my hands. They crowded around my feet stepping on my toes as they nibbled at the corn dropping to the ground. I put some corn on my hat’s brim, and a few pigeons were brave enough to land on my head and try to get them. It was a great time… Actually, I think on the scale of fun things we’ve done in Europe, I would put playing with Pigeons right below Skydiving and just above ATVing… Or somewhere around there.

We hung around the area and looked at some shops in the area for a bit, and then headed towards the Grand Canal and saw the Bridge of Sighs on the way. The story, as Hayley told me, is that the bridge connected the Doji Palace to the prisons, and it was named from the criminals sighing as the were brought into the prisons. The Grand Canal was on our right as we walked down a bridge towards a bunch of smaller stands selling small souvenirs, including the staple gift of the refiion, Ventian Glass. We’d been popping in and out of stores selling Venetian Glass all day, admiring their work. The heat outside in the sun wstanding by all the stands was just about unbearable though, so we made our way to the Water Taxis.

We rode the water taxi along the Grand Canal for quite awhile, until we were just about back to the train station. We’d walked to just about the other end of Venice. The water taxi was great, though; we got to really look at Venice from the perspective of the water. We were trying to fiure out exactly how Venice was built… If it was completely man made, or built on bits of land; It really looked as if it was entirely built on the water. Branching off of the grand canal, in between buildings would either be a narrow alley/walkway, or just simply a small stretch of water in between buidlings. I’d actually seen this once before, in China, I believe in Suzhou. We took a boat ride in between buildings and there would just be steps going from the doorway down into the water. It’s a strange site that makes me wonder what life as a whole like is like when actually living in water cities.

I’d been taking a ton of pictures on the water taxi, and about halfway through a girl came on with the same camera as mine. We each sort of glanced at each other, recognizing cameras and had a photograph-othan until she got off. She was the first person I’ve ever seen take more pictures than myself… Impressive.

We got off, found the station and then walked arond for a bit more, since our train didn’t leave for awhile. We passed by several Tabacco stores, or Tabbachis, as they are in Italy, and in the window of one saw a small hookah, or nargileh. Just in case, a hookah is a middle-eastern/eastern-european smoking pipe that has a water bowl-base that sits on the ground or table. A pipe rises from the base, and a bowl holds a flavored tobacco/syrup mix, Shisha, that is heated by a coal on top. A hose connected to the pipe pullls the smoke through the water, filtering it, and then out.

Now, I am certainly no smoker, but hookahs are really very different then just whipping out a cigarrette throughout the day. Mike & I had a hookah when we were roommates, and its amazing how it brings people together to relax and converse for hours, though not actually smoking all that much. There have been many times along the way, especially in Corfu, where we thought about how great it would be to just have a hookah we could take out. So, we decided to purchase the small hookah. It came with a case that kept all its parts under control and it didn’t seem like it would be too difficult to manage… We’re pros at moving around with our bags now anyway.

We went to a grocery store and got the usual ingredients… Some bread, cheese and italian deli meats. There was a nice little square along the water with a statue in the middle that we’d passed earlier in the day that we thought we be a nie place to eat. When we arrived there was an accordian player there; accordians have really been growing on me lately, its an incredible instrument. We peacefully ate our sandwiches and smoked hookah by the water, watching people go by awhile accordian music played in the background.

Our train was at 20:44, 8:44, so at around 7:30 we headed back to the station and got ready for our ride to Vienna. We made to our train with plenty of time to spare, for the first time ever, and said Arrivederci to Italy until our next backpacking trip through Europe.

Next stop, Austria!

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Posted on 29-07-2007
Filed Under (Great Food, Italy, Elation, People) by admin

We left Corfu by ferry at about 7:30 pm. The ferry from Corfu goes to Iguomanitsa, another Greek island, and we had a several hour wait there. The ferries in Greece are not only used to move people and cars, but more importantly to move large trucks with their cargo. We went to the dock/shipping yard about an hour early, but our ferry was late so we spent the time watching trucks go by and playing cards. When the ferry finally arrived, we quickly hopped on, got a quick bite ( I had tomato mozzarella ), and then got to sleep. It was about midnight, and we arrived in Bari, Italy at around 9:00 am.

In Bari, we had another long wait, our train didn’t leave for about 5 hours! I worked on my laptop until my battery died ( Been working a bit on your site, mom), and then we just sat around waiting. I got a delicious mozzarella & proscieutto sandwich from a deli by the train station and had to get used to being back in countries that don’t speak a ton of English; there wasn’t much of a language barrier in Corfu.

The train was on time, so we got on and had a 4 hour ride to Rome. The train had electrical sockets, so I worked most of the ride on getting the image link code working. We arrived in Rome without a hostel, but Mike’s book recommended “Alessandro’s Palace”, so we walked there from the train station. When we arrived, we booked a room for three and saw that this hostel was actually another one of the 12 Best hostels in Europe.

We saw the bar, but we were exhausted from another day and a half of travelling, so we just headed up 3 stories of stairs to our room… Which wasn’t particularly impressive. It was a small room with three beds squeezed in, and a small fluorescent light didn’t do much to brighten the room. Although they were considered Europe’s ‘best hostels’, the common theme seems to be that they aren’t really nice places to stay, but instead cheap resorts for teens to party at. This was great for Corfu, and we’ve heard “The Flying Pig”, in Amsterdam (Another on of the 12), is an amazing place to stay, but for places like Rome where we’re just looking for a nice place to sleep, we decided to stay away from Europe’s best 12.

After resting a bit, Mike and I went out in search for internet, to let the world know we’re alive. We wandered Rome in search for an internet cafe or open wireless network, and after a long search finally stumbled across an open network… Unable to find a bench within range of the signal, we sat down on the sidewalk against a building and did what we had to do… We looked like some weird breed of homeless with expensive laptops. After working for about 15 minutes an Italian guy came running towards us, “You guys found WiFi here?!” Apparently, he lived in a nearby building and had been searching for weeks but couldn’t find anything… I guess we just have a sixth sense for wireless internet.

We didn’t waste too much time checking our email on the sidewalk though, the sun was starting to go down, but there was plenty of Rome to see. Hayley had been to Rome with her school before this, so she knew a ton of good places and a lot of information about the sights. She suggested we head towards Piazza Navona and get dinner there. The all knowing guide book suggested Antica Taverna, a small restaurant with excellent cheap food. Hayley wasn’t particularly hungry though, so we saw the Pantheon and then Mike & I got dinner, agreeing to meet her back at Piazza Navona.

Finding the restaurant was not easy! The streets in Rome are mostly tiny and turn all over the place… Finding a path to get somewhere on a map is usually pretty straight forward, but looking at a map of Rome is like looking at a maze. Turn after turn, vespa after vespa, we finally made it to Antica Taverna and got a seat outside. The food was amazing, I had spaghetti with shellfish and Mike got a lamb dish. The price of eating at restaurants like this is a bit more expensive than going to a supermarket, but the quality of food for the price in comparison to the United States is amazing.

After dinner, we met up with Hayley at the Piazza and, although it was quite late by now, we got a good feel for it. There are many Piazzas in Italy, basically large open spaces in the middle of buildings and roads, but Piazza Navona is especially unique. It is much larger than other Piazzas, and is long and oval shaped. In the middle is a large fountain, that was unfortunately under renovation. The Piazza is sprinkled with amazing painters, drawers, caricature artists, street performers and guys selling knock-off bags.

We hung around until around 2 am, when the artists and performers started heading back home themselves. We started our walk back to Alessandro’s Palace, which was pretty much on the other side of Rome. We considered taking a taxi, but for 10 euro, it didn’t seem worth it. I’ve been pretty much in favor of just walking everywhere; it’s free and we get to really take in the different parts of the cities we’re in. We probably walked entirely across Rome 10 times, and took a slightly different route each one. Besides, not taking a taxi allows us to invest our money into better things, like getting some Gelatti, as we did on our way back from Piazza Navona that particular night (and most nights in Italy).

We woke up the next morning in our dark and dreary room, checked out, and went to search for a new hostel. Mike’s book recommended “E & S Hostel”, South of Alessandro’s in Rome, so we trekked over there with our stuff to check it out. We found it, and buzzed upstairs. A click, and we went through a huge door, into a courtyard. A gate blocked our entry into their building though, so we buzzed again… Another click, and through the gate. Now up a tiny “lift”, through another pretty large door and a woman greeted us. It was a more standard hostel, a large apartment with several rooms that the owners rent out for nights. E & S was, in particular, really nice. It reminded her of a spa; the walls were off-white and it was lit brightly. There were pictures of random peaceful things on the wall, like seashells in the sand or juicy fruit. All we got were nice beds and a nescafe machine, and that was perfect. We hit the jackpot this time.

It was early in the morning, and our room wasn’t even all ready, so we made a strategy for the day. The book recommended a small & cheap pasta restaurant across the river in Testaverde, a smaller neighborhood. The area was great; mostly old buildings with ivy draped down the sides and narrow cobblestone walkways… We twisted and turned through streets until arriving at the little restaurant we’d been aiming for. The small restaurant was bustling when got there at around noon; the one waitress working went by us a few times smiling while helping other people, and eventually got us a seat inside by a big open doorway. We looked at the handwritten and photocopied menu, figuring out what we wanted.

We looked under the ‘Pasta’ heading and saw things we recognized, Ravioli, Rigatoni, Gnocchi… and things we didn’t recognize… One in particular struck my eye, Stracciatella. There was a chocolate and cream flavor of Gelato that had the same name, so I wondered how that would translate in pasta. After we ordered, I realized I could check a language book I had that had a food dictionary. “Stracciatella - Meatbroth with egg”…

What?!

What is that doing under pasta?! I wanted to be adventurous, but also wanted to enjoy this supposedly great restaurant, so I ordered some Rigotoni, in addition to the soup, since it wasn’t expensive. The soup came out, and looked pretty intense. It was a beef broth with big orange blobs of meat oil and it was filled with foamy, scrambled-like eggs. It was better than I thought it would be, but not incredible, though Mike really seemed to enjoy it. My rigatoni was pretty amazing though, and the restaurant definitely lived up to its name in the book.

We then curved crossed the bridge again, and headed to what I would consider to be the most famous area of Rome, where the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Arch of Constantine and other Roman ruins are. I’m not exactly sure how to write about them. They were amazing, and everything I would expect them to be. We walked slowly through things, took pictures, sat down on rocks and watched tour groups go by. Hayley knows tons about Italy, and specifically Rome, so she passed on her knowledge. Nothing was too intense, but we saw everything we needed to see.

It was around 5:30, so we walked back to our hostel to recharge. A gust of cool air blew threw as we opened the door, and felt fantastic. After naps, we went to a supermarket and got ingredients for sandwiches and some cheap bottles of Fragolina, cheap fruitty wine. We sat outside on a fountain at a more modern looking building with a big front courtyard, that was designed to have the look of the ancient Roman buildings. The sandwiches were delicious as usual, and we watched the other Italians on the fountain and in the area.

We walked around Rome a bit more that night, and stopped at the Trevi Fountain which was beautiful and a really lively place with lots of people sitting around watching the fountain and playing music. Hayley had Mike and I throw coins in over our shoulder, to ensure a speedy return back to Rome… It worked for her! As we were leaving, Hayley mentioned that the second coin you throw finds someone love in Rome… I snuck back to throw in another coin, but I think I have to wait for my speedy return-trip before I find love there.

For our second day in Rome we headed to the Vatican. We first booked a train to Venice for 6:52 am the next day and a sleeper train from Venice to Vienna. We decided we would take a bus to the Vatican and then walk back, because it was getting late and we wanted to be sure we’d make it to the Vatican Museum to see everything. We paid for three bus tickets in the ticket machine, but only two came out. We stood around for awhile, thinking about what to do, and two other Americans behind us tried buying a ticket, but now no tickets came out. An official looking guy came over and said vandals break the machine to steal money, or something, so we have to call a number to get our one Euro back.

The way the bus system in Italy works is, you have to buy your ticket and validate it on a machine on board the bus, but they are only checked sporadically. If you’re caught without a ticket, you get a large fine, but it’s somewhat rare to get caught. We figured we’d just chance it with two tickets and hope it turned out alright. Of course, though, a few stops after we got on, Italian ticket collectors hopped on, and we started wondering if we’d made the best decision.

They were just glancing at tickets, though, so after he glanced at Mike’s ticket, he stealthily passed it to me between the seats and the ticket collector was none-the-wiser. We got really lucky, as we saw the collector’s giving plenty of tickets up ahead in the bus… So, if you’re ever in Italy, pay the 1 Euro for your bus ride!

We made it to St. Peter’s Square, outside the Vatican. There is a curving wall of columns that go a few rows deep, and it was designed so that if you stand at one point in particular, all the columns line up, so it looks like a single row of columns. It’s amazing how much time architects of the time must have invested to design little tricks like that… It makes me wonder if there was ever a (Da Vinci Code-Style?) purpose to it, or if it was really just a challenge they wanted to accomplish.

The Vatican itself was pretty amazing too. The shear quantity of artwork is incredible; the amount of artists and time it must have taken to create is unfathomable. How the museum works, basically, is you follow signs for the Sistine Chapel as you go through room after room of murals, paintings and statues. I thought of the Vatican as basically the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica, but the bulk of the amazing stuff came before. Room after room of arched ceilings all covered in individual framed murals of different sizes. The walls were completely covered, and even the floors were artfully crafted.

When we finally got to the Sistine Chapel, it was a bit of a let down. As we entered, guards had us put our cameras away and I had to take off my hat… Not too big of a deal. People were supposed to be quiet/silent in the Chapel, but there were about 100 people in there, so the was a murmur of whispers over the dimly lit room. It was pretty peaceful, actually, but then the guards started loudly commading “SHHHH”. A minute later, we heard, from large speakers drilled into the ancient walls, a blaring “DING.. DONG”, like the sound an airplane makes when the seatbelt sign goes on, but loud enough to make you cringe. Then, at the same volume, “PLEASE DO NOT MAKE NOISE IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL. PLEASE PLACE ALL CAMERA AND VIDEOCAMERA EQUIPMENT IN YOUR BAG AND REMOVE ANY HEAD COVERINGS.” This message then continued in at least 10 different languages, and lasted several minutes. The message itself didn’t ruin it for me, but this act that they were playing, that they really respect this one place in the Vatican, seemed so absurd as they drilled through its walls to blare announcements.

The art, even, in the Chapel left me a bit unsatisfied in comparison to the art that came before it. It seemed particularly famous only because the artist was so famous, when much of the art before it was at least on par or better. We were then directed into St. Peter’s Basilica, though, and that was incredible… By far the most incredible part of the Vatican, as far as I’m concerned.

The ceilings rose so high, but were covered in decoration and paintings. The light shone in through the windows in the ceiling, serving as the only lighting source. Tall sculptures and fountains lined the walls, and pillars holding the ceiling up created small crevices and alcoves to walk through. The whole inside was just so extravagant, it left Mike and I wondering why the Church would need such extravagance as we exited…

We then started on our walk back towards Rome. We wanted to go see the inside of the Pantheon, and Hayley had a church nearby that she wanted to show us the inside of for secret reasons… The walk back was long and hot, and we decided that after seeing the last of the sites, we would search for a genuine pizza dinner, which we hadn’t had since Florence. My mouth started watering.

We made it to Sant’Ignazio Church and Hayley asked us if we noticed anything strange about it. It was a beautifully built and decorated church, but something seemed off. Mike figured it out quickly, “The dome isn’t real?” Hayley was surprised how quickly he noticed, but it did look a bit distorted from our perspective. Hayley said that after starting construction they ran out of money for the dome, and I read elsewhere that the people in the Piazza during its construction didn’t want a dome blocking the sunlight. The artist painted a dome that looks perfect from a specific gold spot on the floor, and as you walk towards the alter you realize it is completely flat… Truly an amazing and less-known site to see in Rome!

Next up was the Pantheon, which was the only thing that could have rivaled anything we’d already seen today. The columns in front are massive, and inside is a perfect, beautiful dome with no supports. Apparently, its construction is still a mystery, because it is a poured concrete perfect dome. It isn’t absurdly extravagant on the inside, but doesn’t need to be, because the architecture alone is so amazing.

After the Pantheon, we began the search for pizza. We wanted to get away from the touristy areas, so we started heading away from the Piazza Navona area. We walked and walked, passing by places that were just too touristy, too expensive, or just didn’t look good. We twisted and turned all through Rome, until we found a place that looked pretty decent. We went to get a seat, but they weren’t open for another 30 minutes, so the search continued.

Finally, we found the perfect place, Pizzeria Baffeto. We asked for a table for three, and they sat us at the same table, outside, with a man and his daughter. “Awkward.”, I thought at first. But the man was really friendly and we all started chatting. They were from Shefield, North of London in the UK and in Rome for a 10 day vacation. He had been here many times, and spoke some Italian. They were, of course, interested in our trip and we went through the whole itinerary, and they commented on each leg. “Ah, Prague… Your drink and your food, very cheap there!”

The pizza was excellent. We got Il Pizza de Baffeto, basically everything on it… Mushrooms, artichokes, sausage, prosciutto, peppers and in the middle, a fried egg… Weird, yes, but delicious. We also got a 4 cheese pizza, which had some mystery cheeses on it, but was at least as good as the Baffeto. We had a pitcher of the house white wine, cheap and also delicious. We always get house wines because they tend to be the cheapest, fairly good, and of a mystery proof that always seems stronger than bottled wine.

After a great meal, we said our goodbyes to John Booth, we found out his name when he gave us his business card, and began another walk through Rome. We came across a large crowd of people near Piazza Navona and got into it… We realized it was mostly older people, and saw an older Italian singer on stage, singing in Italian. The music wasn’t our usual preference, but in the particular setting, Rome, it was a great thing to have stumbled upon.

While I was entranced by the music, Hayley and Mike decided they wanted to visit a Wine Bar, something we often saw around Rome. They looked up a good one in his book, and soon after we were sitting at Cul de Sac, a small Wine Bar near the Piazza. We were sat outside and a man soon came to take our order. He was fairly young, in his late twenties, had a shaved bald head and a pointy goatee… He definitely looked the part. We asked him if he had suggestions:

“What color wine?”

“Rossa.”

“How much do you want to spend?”

“About 15-20 Euro.”

Seeing the menu open to the Sicily Page, “From Sicily?”

“Any Italian wine, really.”

He began flipping through the pages, filtering through the details we’d given him. He pointed to one, we nodded and he brought out a dark bottle with an orange label. He opened it, smelled the cork and, satisfied himself, gave a pour for Hayley to test. Her year or so experience of drinking Franzia boxed wine obviously paid off, because she nodded it ok, and after all tasting it, we agreed it was delicious.

The night so far had been amazing, and as we watched a waiter at Cul de Sac pass us by, we realized we were missing just one thing: Caprese, tomato, mozzarella & basil. We couldn’t resist ordering, and had the best we’ve had yet. Instead of slices of tomatoes, their recipe used small cherry tomatoes that were incredibly juicy. A guitar player came over and played some Gipsy Kings-esque music, and we soon after left, heading towards Piazza Navona.

It was a Friday, so the Piazza’s performers were out in full-force, as we had never seen them before. There were puppeteers, rock bands, an amazing guy stuck in a still walking pose, with his clothes stuck blowing in the wind, for hours, and an amazing string quintent (?) of what seemed to be music students. We stayed around Piazza Navona for a long time, and a guy making bracelets semi-conned me into buying one by throwing the string on my finger and starting to braid it.

We had a long walk back to the hostel, but stopped at Giolitti’s, a famous Gellotti restaurant (yes, restaurant), that Hayley knew of. It was still bustling at midnight! We ate our last Roman Gellotti, and got some rest before our ride to Venice early the next morning.

The whole night was fantastic, by far our best in Rome, and the perfect note to end on… We’ve already seen Venice now, and are in Vienna, so I’ll update on all that next.

One last, Ciao!

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Posted on 26-07-2007
Filed Under (Site Message) by admin

Just letting everyone know… I finally got caught up posting all my pictures, and I’ll do Rome when we leave…

Also, in my Corfu post I have started using the new software I made that allows me to link words to images… I was really just testing it out, but in the future I’ll use it more frequently and update old posts too.

By the way, thanks for all the Birthday Messages!

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Posted on 26-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Elation) by admin

Wow! Sorry, for taking so long to write my next post. I’m actually working on this now in Rome at our second hostel here, but once again, no internet… So, who knows when I’ll be able to actually get this online.

I’ve been mulling over in my mind how it makes sense to catch my posts up since I have practically a week to make up on. I was thinking about making a bunch of little posts, but I’ve decided to just do it all in one long post; hopefully I’ll be able to remember the details as I go.

Anyway, Corfu was great! There is a famous hostel in Corfu called The Pink Palace, that we’d been hearing about from other backpackers, so we wanted to stay there. Unfortunately, when booking hostels for Corfu in Interlaken, there was no availability for the our first 2 nights in Corfu. So, instead, we booked 2 nights at Sunrock Hostel and 2 nights at the Pink Palace.

Sunrock turned out to be a little diamond in the ruff. We had a room with a balcony that overlooks the beach, and the hostel itself was a really friendly little place. It is run mainly by a woman and her husband, and they hire younger kids (our age) to work the place. Included with our room, which was just 26 Euro a night (already a pretty decent rate), was breakfast and dinner, which were both incredibly delicious.

The hostel is mostly outside, with an eating patio (on a cliff, looking over the beach), the closest thing to a reception desk outside, and a bar in a room with big open windows connected to the eating patio. The rooms are down an outside set of stairs, and feel like they’re sort of built into this mountain. Our days at Sunrock consisted of going from our room to the patio for breakfast, to the beach, to the eating patio for lunch, to the beach, to the patio for dinner, to the beach.

The beach, by the way, was fantastic. The sand was soft and white, and the water was bright blue, cool and the bottom of the sea was always visible. For some reason, the water stayed shallow for incredibly far, probably about 200 feet out. It was amazing to be so far from the beach, but still standing. On our second day, Mike and I revisited the childhood love, playing with sand and I started making a sweet sand-airplane, but when the tide started coming in and destroying its nose I called a quits. Later in the day though, we worked together on making a huge pool, and it slowly turned into a castle when a little Greek boy started helping us.

We had planned Corfu to be our vacation in the middle of a busy trip, and it had definitely been serving its purpose. The whole atmosphere at Sunrock was very relaxing and laid back. The owners had a cute son, who we found out was 7 although we pegged him to be around 4. We would always see him wandering around the patio with chocolate all over his face, either wearing a completely different outfit than the last time we saw him, or completely naked; he was living the life.

When we got to Sunrock originally, the woman who runs it gave us a better room because there was a group of Australians that had been in our room and they didn’t want to leave Corfu. Like most Australians, they were a crazy bunch, and we spent our last night at Sunrock playing drinking games with them. We’d been hoping to find some beer pong supplies and teach them what its all about, but never got around to leaving the beach, so that unfortunately didn’t happen.

Sunrock provides rides to and from the ferry port for their customers, so the next morning we checked out and one of their staff from Virginia drove us down. He told us that he came to study in Greece a few years ago and found the culture to be similar to the culture in the South. He came back in the Summer and got a job at Sunrock, and he’s been coming back since to work in the Summers. There’d been an amazing Graffiti festival going on down one particular road in Corfu, so he drove by it and showed it to us.

At one point, he asked if we already had tickets for the ferry, and we hesitantly told him we were actually staying in Corfu, but going to the Pink Palace. The Pink Palace is basically famous for its parties, and not necessarily its Greek authenticity, so I think it’s looked down upon by other hostels in the area (and I’m sure other hostel owners are jealous of its famous reputation/success the past 25 years). The guy from Virginia laughed, and told us that, “Sunrock has been known to run rescue missions in the past.”

We made it to Pink Palace by about 11:00 and started the check-in process… Which was certainly something different than Sunrock, where they just gave us a key. We sat around a table with a guy about our age who blazed through all the information about the place, A rooms, B rooms, pink passports, breakfast times, dinner times, club times, happy hours, laundry, checking-out, safaris, cruises… We ended up getting an “A room” which was a bit nicer, but further from the beach. We had to carry “pink passports” with us at all times, and also had to wear pink bracelets. Pink really isn’t my color, so I wasn’t real thrilled about all this…

Nevertheless, it did seem like the Pink Palace was a lively place that would be a lot of fun. We headed down to the beach soon after and ate lunch, which was pretty decent Greek food (I had Souvlaki), but nowhere near as good as Sunrock. The beach, too, was nice, but not quite as nice as Sunrock. We rented little floating rafts for a Euro and floated far out into the sea, which was great. There were no lifeguards to tell people how far to go out, but the water was always so calm that it didn’t seem to ever be necessary.

As we were floating around out there, the booze cruise came in. It was playing loud music and people seemed to be having a good time. I’d thought it would be the perfect thing to do on my birthday, the 23rd, but it only went out every other day, so it wouldn’t be possible. Instead, we planned to go on the ATV Safari through Corfu, which sounded equally awesome.

Anyway, after the beach, we sat in the Pink Palaces small pool for a bit and then headed to dinner at 8:30, which was included with our stay. The dining hall was amazing, and the only really nice building at the Pink Palace. It’s the second story, above the Pink Palace Club, Palladium, and has no walls, so there is a great view as the sunsets. Bright white columns with pink trim hold up the roof, and bamboo shades block the sun if it gets too bright.

We were seated together, but the tables held eight so other people were sat with us. That night, in particular, only 2 others did, though, a guy from Montreal and girl from California. We talked, shared travel stories, and ate the dinner, which was actually very good. The Greek salad was especially good, with amazing tomatoes, other fresh vegetables and tzatziki sauce.

After dinner, we went straight to Palladium. We drank cheap beer until midnight, when we toasted my birthday with a shot of tequila… In fact, the tequila kept flowing for much of the night, which, naturally, means the night involved some intense action on the dance floor. Mike and Hayley, wisely, headed back up to go to sleep, but I decided to hang around for awhile myself, and had a great time. Unlike Balmer’s in Interlaken, the other huge party hostel we stayed at, the Pink Palace was full of Italians and Spaniards, not Americans. I spent the rest of the night at the bar and on the dance floor meeting interesting people from all over Europe.

Though I missed breakfast, I surprisingly woke up in time to do the ATV Safari. We got tickets for 18 Euro and headed to the back of Pink Palace where they have about 30 ATVs and a small shack. At about 11:30, everyone was there and we began going through all the necessities… We got helmets and they suggested getting bandanas from them for 1 Euro because on the off-road tracks the dust from the other ATVs gets intense.

There were 26 of us, which, the guys running the operation said was a huge group, the most they’ll do at once. Because of this, getting setup took forever. One of the guys, “Brandini” (Who was Brandon before coming to Greece from California), went over the ground rules and bike operation. He also mentioned, that of all the people to have ever driven off a cliff, it has always been a girl, everytime… surprising.

All 26 people had to do a quick test lap in the parking lot to make sure we were good to ride, and by about 1:00 we were finally all ready, on our ATVs and ready to go. In Greece, ATVs are considered acceptable street traffic, so we just drove through the streets of Corfu. The beginning of the trip was pretty slow and through less-crowded streets to get us used to the the bikes. We headed up a mountain and did our first off-road portion on the hill.

The off-road trails were crazy; they were these long dusty trails of sand and rocks ranging from small to huge. The first off-road trail in particular was on the face of a mountain, so on one side was a rock wall and on the other a cliff… At first its nerve-wracking because the dust makes it so hard to see and it seems the terrain totally controls the ATV, but after getting used to it, this isn’t the case at all. It’s really incredible they are able to maneuver over such huge obstacles with such control and speed.

I’d done ATVing in Cancun before, with my parents & sister, so I was expecting an hour or so trip through an off-road course like that was. But, this was completely different; it lasted the entire day! The way it basically worked was, we would drive through the city streets up a mountain for about 30 minutes. During this time, we were going up winding switchback roads enjoying the scenary because the ATVs weren’t that great on uphills. Then we would make a stop at the top, before heading down. On the way down, the ATVs could go really fast, so we would basically ride with traffic on the edge of the road, until we got to an off-road trail, which would usually last about 10 minutes.

It was an incredible trip that took us almost entirely over Corfu… We ended up making it all the way to the Graffiti festival near Sunrock, which was really far from the Pink Palace. We also drove through a lot of small roads through Greek towns in Corfu, and being on ATVs, we could really take it all in. It wasn’t just an exciting thing to do, it was an excellent way to see Corfu, and the guides took us to a lot of the best lookout points, including the “WOW Spot”, where you can see all of Corfu. Wow!

We got back dirty and tired, so we rushed to the pool. We met a guy named Arthur, who was from Brazil but studying in the UK. He was a bit older than us but really talkative, funny and interesting. We found out that Balmer’s in Interlaken and the Pink Palace are actually part of an alliance of Europe’s best hostels (judged basically by their parties), which includes 12 hostels from different countries. He’d actually just graduated, so he’s been thinking taking a year off to travel to each of the 12 hostels and work in each one for a month. I suggested he write a book while he’s at it, and he liked the idea. After meeting Arthur, we started seeing him everywhere, talking to different people all the time, but he would always say hi and remembered all of our names; he was just one of those guys.

After dinner, there was a magic show at Palladium. It felt like I was 7 again; magic shows for my birthday! It wasn’t particularly good, and Mike, being into magic as a kid, debunked pretty much every trick the guy threw out. Aside from the magic, to be honest, the next night in Corfu was pretty similar to the one before it. We partied at the club for my birthday, and Hayley and I ended up staying out until the club shut off its lights at around 4. All in all, between the ATVing and partying, I had an awesome birthday.

We left the Pink Palace the next day… We actually missed the bus into town, so we got a ride from a woman we soon found out to be “Magna”, the owner of the Pink Palace. She didn’t have her car, so we drive in the van the Pink Palace uses to get groceries… Hayley sat up front, while Mike & I sat in the back of the van on a piece of plywood. At some point, Magna started talking to someone on her phone in Greek. Slowly, the conversation escalated from a mere discussion to a verbal war. She was screaming in Greek, and it was clear the person on the other end was too.

This went on for about 10 minutes, and, to be honest, sounded pretty amazing. When she got off the phone, she apologized and told us that her brother, who she recently signed over as co-owner as per family tradition, gave control of online bookings through hostelworld.com to his girlfriend. Apparently, his girlfriend would get overwhelmed/lazy, and list the Pink Palace as booked, when it was no where near. We asked if the Pink Palace had been booked Friday and Saturday, and she said it hadn’t been, so that exact thing happened to us! When she heard that, she asked Hayley too talk to her brother and tell her what happened. We were suddenly in the middle of this family feud between the owners of the famous Pink Palace Hostel… This is the awesome stuff that happens when you miss public buses!! She asked for our email address on the way out so she could get in contact with us if her brother gave her more problems, so we’ll see what happens.

We then began the long journey back to Italy, via ferry, and made it to Rome… I’m going to leave Rome for another post though, and see if I can’t go scour out some Internet now.

Ciao :)

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Posted on 25-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Elation) by admin

No worries! I am alive.

Our luck with the internet has really been terrible lately, though. Greece in particular was bad, but, now in Rome, I am sitting literally on the sidewalk to post this.

Anyway, Corfu was fantastic. My birthday was awesome, and things are pretty much going great. I, unfortunately, haven’t finished my post for Corfu, so I’m going to wait to post all the details… What I have been working on, though, is a neat little (actually kinda big) piece of code that let’s me easily associate words from my posts to images. It’s just about done, so hopefully it will be already to go by the time I post about Corfu.

Whenever I get good internet I’ll post up the millions of pictures I have too :)

Back in Italy, so.. Ciao!

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Posted on 20-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Languages, People) by admin

As I drifted awake the morning after we visted Capri, I became more and more aware of a conversation going on around me about Hayley suffering from a lot of back pain. Apparently, she was in the bathroom, her back started hurting her a great deal, and she could hardly move… Mike was doing what he could, and I woke up and gave her a bunch of Advil. She stayed in bed for awhile, and started feeling better about an hour later, but that pretty much exed out the possibilty of going to Pompei.

Instead, we got ready to leave the hostel and head to Greece. Getting to Corfu would require 3 trains and 2 ferries, and take about 22 hours (We left at 11am on the 19th, and arrived at about 9am on the 20th). The three of us headed towards the Via Liberta train station to get our day started, but I was carrying Hayleys backpack in addition to my own, to make sure she didn’t hurt it any more. Mike and I carried her stuff for most of the traveling until we arrived in Corfu.

From the Napoli train station, we took a train to Castreta. The ride was only about an hour, and, despite the heat of the train, was relatively uneventful. The bulk of the train ride would be on our Castreta to Bari leg. It was marked in our Eurail booklet as a train that needed reservation, but when Mike went to book our seats, the woman said we should just get on the train. We met two backpackers from Alabama in Castreta, and they were told the same thing.

Waiting on the platform, a train came in and a girl got off, asking us if she should get off here to go to Bari. We told her we too were going to Bari, so hopefully, yes. She turned out to be from an engineering town in Sweden, and we spoke to her for awhile while we waited for the train. She, too, was told that she didn’t need to make a reservation for the train to Bari. But, when the train finally arrived, there were absolutely no seats. We finally resigned to standing the entire ride in the front of a car, which wasn’t the greatest thing ever.

A ticket collector came soon after the train headed off, and he did not seem pleased that we didn’t have reservations. He violently said something in Italian to us, said something about paying the difference and then moved on. Two other backpackers, who we soon fond out were from Spain, also had no seats and were standing with us. They spoke a good amount of English, and Hayley and Mike spoke some Spanish, so the six of us, Hayley, Mike and I, the Swedish girl and the two Spanish backpackers, spent the 3 hour train ride standing with all our bags by the train doors talking about our different countries, our trips, and a variety of other things. We were all ultimately headed to Greece, but, while Hayley, Mike and I were going to Corfu, the rest were headed to Athens.

Eventually, a woman ticket collector came by, and told us she didn’t want to charge us or get us in trouble, but her boss was coming… So, she told us to move to the last car of the train, where he wouldn’t get to by the end of the ride. We did, and the conversation moved with us. We finally got off in Bari, where the six of us took a bus together to the port. We were taking a ferry from Bari to the island of Igomanista in Greece, and then another ferry to Corfu.

With our Eurail passes, we are given “free” ferry rides, but still have to pay all kinds of surcharges for gas and peak-season fees and so on… Also, the free ticket doesn’t include seats, just permission to get onto the ferry. We weren’t exactly sure what this meant, we pictured ourselves standing in the cargo area for 9 hours… So, we opted to put down a few more Euro and get real seats on the ferry. After getting to the port, we weren’t sure if we would be seeing our Spanish & Swedish friends any longer, since we were going to different places and had different types of tickets, so we exchanged some contact information and said our goodbyes just incase.

We got onto the ferry at 8:00 pm… It was so much more than we expected. The boat was really like a small cruise ship; it was nicely decorated, had  a swimming pool, a big room with our seats, decks outside and several eating choices. We ate at the “self-serve” restaurant, that had fairly good food, and we got a bottle of Greek white wine for 5 Euro. We sat and slowly ate, then just sat and talked for awhile… Actually, we only left because one of the staff told us we had to go get more food if we were going to keep sitting in the restaurant!

But, coincedentally, as we left, we saw our Swedish friend again, and followed her to the outside deck. Speaking to other backpackers here, we learned that the typical backpacker ferry-riding strategy was to either sleep outside on the deck, or go into the seating areas late at night and take seats that weren’t bought, or sleep on the ground inside. We didn’t really end up needing seats, but it worked out ok, and we know what to do next time.

We found our Spanish buddies soon after that, too, so the six of us were back together again. We had some rum that we’d been carrying around for awhile, so we got a some coke and started teaching them some American drinking games. We started with Kings, a card game where you pick cards that relate to different actions. Some of them require word games, which was interesting because there were so many different languages in play. We asked us if they had any drinking games to teach us, and they told us about a drinking game called “Duorito”, which is similar to “Quarters” that we play, where you try to bounce a quarter off the table into a cup. t was a lot of fun, we all just hung out, had a good time, misunderstood each others languages and so on.

It’s actually been really interesting that meeting other backpackers from the states isn’t particularly interesting, but as soon as we start conversations with backpacker’s from other European countries, we can keep interesting conversations going for hours. I think just figuring the languages out is exciting enough to keep conversations going and start new ones.

The ferry would be getting into port at 6am, so we all got to bed at around midnight. We woke up, moved around sleeping bodies on the ground to get our bags, and before we knew it we were in Greece. We still had one more ferry to take to get to Corfu, which we basically just slept through. We arrived at the port, and there was a van from our hostel right as we got off the boat… I don’t think anything yet has been that easy.

20 minutes later, we were eating Greek pancakes overlooking a bright blue, translucent beach. We’ve been chilling on the beach today, swimming, drinking cheap wine and eating gyros. I have a feeling not much will happen the next few days in Corfu, but my birthday is on the 23rd, so that should be interesting!

Back to the beach, Andio!

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Posted on 18-07-2007
Filed Under (Italy) by admin

Our next stay would be in Portici, just outside Naples, which we were planning to use as a hub to get to Capri & Pompei. Naples (Napoli) itself is known to be a pretty bad city, rich in mob crime. So, arriving there at just after 11:00, when the last train left, was awesome. We hadn’t planned on this at all, but the train we were going to take was an hour late, so we took a direct train instead, which was then late itself.

There was supposedly a late bus to Portici, so after leaving the train station we began searching for a bus station. But, only seconds later we were ambushed by taxi drivers looking for their next fare. One, in particular, took a liking to us. He was pressuring us more and more towards his car as we kept reiterating that we were looking only for a bus. Eventually he pointed, “Yes, yes, there, bus.”

We looked and saw a trashy bus stop, having no clue what bus to take or where to get tickets. We scoured the map posted but got nothing from it, and retreated to the sidewalk to rethink things. Out of no where came a guy who saw we were a bit confused and offered to help. He was wearing a teal button down shirt, that was unbuttoned. He spoke great English, but things seemed a bit sketchy. He saw we had a paper with the number of our hostel, so he took out his phone and tried calling them.

At about this time a small cart drove by with a bunch of guys in the same teal button down shirts, and I realized it was the uniform of staff at the train station. Just as I started feeling a bit better about things, since our guy seemed somewhat legit, the taxi driver (who, to be honest, didn’t even seem to be a legit taxi driver) came back around. He offered to take us to Portici (a 30 km drive) for 60 euro, which seemed crazy.

But, our guy, who I found out was from Missouri, said that was a pretty decent deal for a cab ride at this time of night… And even if there was a bus that would take us, it wouldn’t be very safe. But, I didn’t feel safe with this crazy taxi driver either so it was a bit of a toss up. We really just wanted to get the hell to Portici, though, so we got the driver down to 50 euro, and headed to his unmarked, black Fiat.

We threw our bags in the trunk and all packed in the back seat. He insisted that someone sit upfront with him, though, so I got out and nervously got in with him. He was tough to read… Was he offended we were afraid to sit next to him? Did he want us to be as comfortable as possible? Or did he want to chop us into bits? Time would tell.

Everytime we would tell him about Portici, he would ramble on about Via Liberta and some Piazza Maria. 20 minutes later, it made sense when he dropped us off at Piazza maria and poined towards Via Liberta, which met up with the road to our hostel. The ride itself was pretty intense, I assumed he was trying to break some sort of speed record or something, so when we hopped out of the car, I felt lucky to be alive on several accounts.

We made our way up to the hostel, checked-in, and quickly passed out; it felt great.

I woke up the next morning and took my fourth shower of the trip, which felt great… Actually, it was the only shower in my life that I felt I really needed. After going a few days without a shower, and then taking an all day bike tour, I’d really never felt so dirty in my life.

We only had a day and a half in the Napoli area, so during our previous lunch we asked Nicole, from the bike tour, which she thought needed a full day, and which would be ok for just half a day. She said Capri definitely needed a full day, so we decided that’s what we would do today.

We headed out at about 10, and found a supermarket where we picked up some bread, mozarella, and some sort of meat… The butcher didn’t speak English, so a woman helped us and the conversation went something like this:

“Uhhmm.. Turkey?”

“Uh.. Nooo… no turkey… ham?”

“Hmm..”

“Chicken? Pouls? You want pouls?”

“Sure, that would be great!”

“Nooo, we don’t have pouls.”

“Hmm..”

Eventually we went with something that was, “Like pouls.”, wondering what type of meat they would be selling that is not Turkey, but like chicken. Either way, it looked pretty decent, so I was excited to give it a try.

We then headed towards the train station, and hopped on a train to Sorrento, where we would take a ferry to Capri. As we got on the train, we asked a man hopping on, “Sorrento?”. He said, “Yes, yes.”, and stood somewhat close to us, looking towards the train cabin… The train was pretty full. After a few minutes of standing, he looked over to us and pointed to 3 seats left in the train cabin. “I not going far…Sorrento, long ride, please sit.” I don’t think I will ever get used to the random acts of generosity that seems so normal here.

We finally made it to the ferry, which was actually quite huge, and 30 minutes later stepped onto Capri. We made sandwiches on the ferry, and the meat turned out to be an interesting sausage-tasting meat. The mozzarella was incredible, and the sandwich overall was very good.

When we finally arrived it was around 2:00 pm… The last ferry left at 7:50, so we didn’t have a huge amount of time. We checked out the beach, which didn’t have sand, but instead had pretty large pebbles. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing ever, but we went for a swim which was felt great.

We then walked around and took the Funicolare, an angled train/elevated thing that is pulled by a cable, up Capri, towards the heart. Up top, things where much more high-end and pricy. We tried Limon Cello, the staple liquor of Capri, and the waiter conned us into an amazing fruit and gelatto dessert that ended up being well worth the 6 euro.

Exploring Capri a bit more, we passed by a very high-end party, and found some gardens and points overlooking Capri. It was, as most things have been so far, an amazing site.

We had to head out soon, to catch our ferry, but the truth is, I think we saw a lot of Capri and enjoyed it a lot. It’s been amazing to me how easy it is to get a good feel for a place in just a short amount of time.

A ferry took us back to Naples, not Sorrento, so getting to Portici was, again, a bit complex… But it was before 11 this time, so we found our way to the Circumvesuviana, the train service in Napoli, and made our way back to our hostel.

We checked out the club at our hostel, taught the bartender how to make some American drinks, but called it a night because the scene was a bit dull… And here I am, tapping away early in the morning. I think the hostel is shutting down for the night, so I should probably go, but tomorrow we see Pompei, and then head immediately to Greece.

Catch ya in a day or two!

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