Europe. Romania. Brasov: Searching for Dracula

Fri, October, 20th, 2006 - Sat, October, 21st, 2006

We had such high hopes for Romania, especially since we expected a lot of Dracula folklore. Unfortunately our visit to Romania was disappointing but there was still some excitement. We arrived around 6am which was too early to check in to a hostel because they don't let anyone in until 10am. We were desperate for a shower and sleepy so that is our excuse for what happened next. A man named Nick approached us and used his "practical/utilitarian" grasp of English to inform us that he had a private room in his house that we could stay in. He was a sketchy character with missing teeth but his happy attitude and use of English convinced us in our vulnerable state to go with him (plus he was going to drive us there, how convenient is that!). The room was very nice and actually in the home of this nice Romanian couple who spoke no English but did speak French so that helped a little.

Nick also offered to drive us to the castles at Bran and Rasnov for 15 euros(both look like castles that Dracula could have lived in but didn't). So we trusted him and agreed. Nick told us that he just had to make a quick stop at the train station and then he disappeared for 20 minutes. When he came back he had a stranger with him and told us that he had stuff to do today so this new man (who was sketchy as well and spoke no English) would drive us for the agreed price. The new guy is smiley so we go along with it.

The castles turn out to be big tourist traps (who would have guessed???) but they are pretty cool. Bran was the nicer castle (Rasnov was under construction) and it had spooky pictures of gypsy queens which Tyler enjoyed. It had a spooky feeling when you were inside the castle and just felt more like Dracula could have lived there. Very pretty view of the city as well. There were lots of stalls around the castles that sold daggers, an item I wasn't expecting to see so abundantly available but cool to look at.

The end of the trip signalled the beginning of the cabby haggling. We were unprepared for this since we agreed on a flat price and he understood that. Tyler ending up giving 2 extra euros but it was very awkward and unpleasant to haggle with someone who is already ripping you off and is unable to (or at least pretending not to) understand you. I would not recommend the experience to anyone.

We also encountered the greatest language barrier in Romania. We got spoiled in the other countries that we visited by most of the people having a little knowledge of English and most restaurants had English translations for their dishes or at least someone that could explain what it was to you. Romania was different. We were starving at 3pm and found a fast food place while walking around but discovered that we couldn't read anything that was listed so we ended up just picking random combos. I totally mispronounced everything while ordering (and Tyler saved us a table), the girl smiled at me and my brutal attempt at Romanian so at least she was nice about me butchering her language. Tyler's meal was perfectly acceptable, he got chicken drumsticks.... I on the other hand ended up with fried cheese on a bun. It was so gross! And amazingly enough it was a very popular item in the restaurant, I saw many other people around who intentionally ordered it. Craziness! The other excitement of the day was when Tyler ever so slightly electrocuted himself while trying to figure out why the washing machine was covering the floor in water.

The next day we went to Sighisora in the hopes of attending a Dracula theme park which Tyler had read about in our outdated travel guidebook. We learned that the theme park was never actually made because Prince Charles believed it would taint the beauty of Romania... so sad! After mapless wandering that revealed most of the places were closed at noon we had lunch at Vlad Tepes (Dracula)'s birthplace. Very tasty food although it is kinda sad that Dracula's old house is now a restaurant for tourists... but I bet they make good money.

-Jenny and Tyler, Dracula groupies

Europe. Hungary. Budapest: Fun with an exciteable Romanian

Thurs, October, 19th, 2006

We got lost trying to find the Statue Park in Budapest since it was in an area not covered by our map. While lost we discovered a cheap internet place and decided to spend some time there to make ourselves feel better. Tyler goes crazy without internet for a few days so it is better to appease him than have a grumpy, computer-depraved geek on my hands. :) When you haven't been on the internet for a while and are stressed and lost in an unfamiliar city you have no idea how fast time flies by. We spent 3 hours at the internet cafe and it felt like 10 minutes... crazy! But it was a nice way to kill time before our overnight train.

We shared our compartment on the overnight train to Brasov, Romania with an exciteable Romanian named Michael. He reminded me of Robin Williams, same peppiness and jumping around enthusiasm and he also looked like him (and I'm not the only one to notice the similarity, he mentioned that people tell him that all the time). He started a conversation with us by asking us what our zodiac signs were, he and Tyler are both Sagittarius's and he said that meant that they were both "soft" whereas since I'm a Cancer I'm "hard & tough". I bet a lot of you are laughing when you read that, but he was convinced that I was very tough. Perhaps I am around strangers. I was amused with his interpretation of me. He provided us with travel advice since he's been all over the place and also gave us diet advice. He was a nutritionist at some point and knows a lot about botany and was convinced that you should eat fruit 20 minutes before a meal because once you eat your carbs and heavy food after the fruit your body is tricked into thinking that the heavy food is a fruit and you'll digest it in 20 minutes instead of 20 hours. It was an interesting theory and he was very enthusiastic about it. He shared his food with us and even if we said no he would say "Come on!" until we agreed. Good thing we're push-overs or there could have been a brawl! :)

-Jenny the Hard and Tyler the Soft

Europe. Hungary. Budapest: Terror and depressing ballet

Wednesday, October, 18th, 2006

We went to visit the "Museum of Terror" today in Pest. The focus of this museum was Hungary's history with communism and the terrible things that happened to its citizens during the "reign of terror". The museum had a very spooky feel to it, as soon as you entered there was this very loud, catchy music playing that went with these video images of war, torture and despair. The museum was very well laid-out and easy to follow and in every room there were photocopied readings to accompany what you saw. The museum was definitely a shock, it's weird how we can live in oblivion of terrible things that happen overseas. History classes in Canada are a lot different from those in Hungary, I don't remember anyone having a sympathetic view towards Hungary. I guess that's what happens when you don't get the FULL story, only a distorted view. The museum was very educational and eye-opening. In the basement you were able to go into the prison cells used to keep those who were opposed to communism and you could even see where the people were killed. That area had an eery feeling about it as well, it gave me goosebumps.

In the evening we went to see the ballet at the Operahaus. We discovered that we were underdressed and got a few stares but we saw a few others who were in the same boat as us so it made us feelt better. And if anyone had been making snooty comments about us we couldn't have understood them anyway. The ballet itself was more confusing than we had anticipated. We thought that we were being smart in picking something without words so that we could easily understand what was going on... unfortunately it was a rather complicated ballet and we needed the help of a program to explain the basic plot. The plot was pretty depressing (and based on a real story): an unhappy royal marriage, prince with many mistresses & prostitutes, prince is feeling melancholy & gets new young mistress, they threaten each other with a gun but make love afterwards, prince almost kills the king accidentally, prince kills gun-wielding mistress and then himself. Odd story. The dancing was beautiful though. There was an amusing character in the ballet who was the prince's ex-lover and kept trying to win him back after he was married, she was so persistent and when he kept refusing she found him a new young girl to be his mistress. How nice of her.

Oh and to go with our "inappropriate" attire for the ballet, Tyler also filled up our water bottle in the bathroom at the operahouse. Aren't we classy? :)

-Jenny and Tyler, the picture of classiness

Europe. Hungary. Budapest: Aloofness gets the girl

Tuesday, October, 17th, 2006

We decided to spend today walking about Pest (the area across the Danube) and eventually go try to get ballet tickets for the next night since we weren't able to get through on the phone or the internet. It was quite hectic getting over to Pest since I (Jenny) was leading the way and dind't realize that I led us right onto a HIGHWAY!!!! It was crazy, the cars were SO close to us. We tried crossing to the other side but with 4 lanes it was tricky (and I'm naturally nervous about crossing non-busy roads). Tyler and I ended up on opposite sides of the highway because of my cowardice. It was a very stressful situation but everything worked out all right. I learned my lesson about following the "pretty path" (we had been following the river)... there is always a catch!

We walked to St. Istvan's Square and saw St. Stephen's Cathedral at the centre of the square. It was very fancy. There was a young girl in front of the church selling tickets to a Folk Festival that night and she convinced us to go see it. We wanted to take in some more Hungarian culture. Tyler was thrown for a loop though because the tickets in the front rows were the cheapest and the ones in the back were the most expensive, it just defied all logic. We're pretty sure that we were scammed in some way but the tickets weren't super expensive so it's okay, just odd.

We ate dinner at a restaurant near the church where the Folk Festival was being held. The waiter actually understood us when we ordered tap water (that was a first). Tyler's pasta was very good & filling whereas my "turkey stew" was really turkey with gravy... falsely labelled on the menu. If you go to Hungary remember that "stew = gravy".

The folk Festival was really cool, it mainly revolved about 2 groups of Hungarian dancers. The guys did the more complicated foot banging/tap dancing and the girls got hurled around and made "yip"s on occasion. There was one dancer who kind of looked like the actor Adrien Brody and he was so serious he wouldn't make eye contact with any of the girls who were his dancing partner and all the girls were just trying to catch his eye. I think his aloofness made them all want him. :)

-Jenny and Tyler, cultured by the Hungarian folks

Europe. Hungary. Budapest: The kindness of Hungarians

Monday, October, 16th, 2006

We ate breakfast on the train this morning with the two older ladies in our train compartment. Both were quite chatty and though not perfectly fluent in English, they were able to converse with us smoothly (much better than if we had tried to speak Hungarian, which we don't know a word of). One of the ladies (whose name we later learned was Marie) had several experiences with "Canadiana" as her daughter had been courted by one of us. She described how it had been a long 4 year relationship (filled with dancing) but it did not last. She also talked about her job which was as a felt artist, her entire family all work with it. It looks a lot like wool in its natural form and they make hats, carpets, stuffed animals, etc.

We had a lot of fun chatting with the ladies and when the train arrived in Budapest we left the train and were struck by what will likely be the biggest surprise of the trip... Marie, who had been met at the train station by her daughter Anna, offered to let us stay at her place for free. our book had mentioned scams so we were skeptical, plus we had actually made reservations for a hostel (for only the second time on our trip). Despite both of these facts, Marie and Anna seemed genuinely kind so we agreed to accept their kind offer. They even bought metro tickets for us since it's more expensive to get money at the train station. They were just insanely nice, especially for only knowing them for a couple of hours. They made us lunch and tea and we chatted with them in their very nice appartment, it was the Buda part of Budapest, which is much nicer and had a huge castle nearby. It was amazing! They also announced that they were going to their house in the country so we got to have their appartment to ourselves. How crazy is that? They were so trusting. I think that Tyler won them over with his personality, he's quite the charmer. :)

Their kindness really made Budapest one of the highlights of our trip, we had so much fun there. They had such a cool history as well. Marie and her husband work exclusively with felt and have written 30 books with both historical and technical content. We couldn't read any of them but we got to look at the pictures. There are international conferences held on the topic as well and they always go to them. They were one of the fairytale-like families... nice, generous, smart, industrious and we were lucky enough to meet them. :)

We spent the day walking about Buda and went to visit the castle. You get a great view of the city from up there. We wandered through the city and observed Hungarian culture. Meeting Marie and Anna made us feel very welcome in the city. We've also found that felafels and kebabs are the cheapest food in every country in Europe and Hungary was no exception (plus they were delicious). The only bad part of the free appartment we were staying in was that they had no hot water so we had to heat pots of water in order to take a bath but it wasn't so bad. You can't complain when you don't have to pay for anything. They also had this fun board game called "Catan" which we passed the night playing, it was so much fun. I had beginner's luck on my side. :)

-Jenny and Tyler, overwhelmed by kind Hungarians

Europe. Germany. Aachen: On our way to Budapest

Sunday, October, 15th, 2006

Today was not very exciting, we spent the day walking around Aachen killing time before we had to catch our overnight train to Budapest. We discovered that calling home from private call centre places is a much better deal than buying calling cards. We called our parents and I finally got a hold of my mom, we've had the worst timing for when we call home. Lots of answering machine messages. :P But it was great to hear her voice and chat.

We eventually got on our overnight train to Budapest which we shared with 2 older ladies. We were originally assigned the two bottom bunks in the train compartment but since we're younger and sprier we offered to climb onto the top bunks and trade with them. They were very grateful and in awe of how easily we could climb up the ladder, it felt really good to be young. We have it so easy we don't even notice it. We chit-chatted with the ladies and had a pleasant evening.

-Jenny and Tyler, not-so-exciting

Europe. Germany. Aachen: On our way to Budapest

Sunday, October, 15th, 2006

Today was not very exciting, we spent the day walking around Aachen killing time before we had to catch our overnight train to Budapest. We discovered that calling home from private call centre places is a much better deal than buying calling cards. We called our parents and I finally got a hold of my mom, we've had the worst timing for when we call home. Lots of answering machine messages. :P But it was great to hear her voice and chat.

We eventually got on our overnight train to Budapest which we shared with 2 older ladies. We were originally assigned the two bottom bunks in the train compartment but since we're younger and sprier we offered to climb onto the top bunks and trade with them. They were very grateful and in awe of how easily we could climb up the ladder, it felt really good to be young. We have it so easy we don't even notice it. We chit-chatted with the ladies and had a pleasant evening.

-Jenny and Tyler, not-so-exciting

Europe . Germany . Aachen: Watch out for the sour cream!!!!!

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Our first full day in Aachen, Germany. So before leaving we made an executive decision not to get a HI card (Hostelling International), which gives a discount at some hostels. JugendgÀstehaus , the hostel in Aachen is the first hostel which required the card... not having it cost an extra 5 euros each, per night -- so far no regrets on our decision. Also the free breakfast turned out to be a very sweet deal so the extra 5 euros was nothing. We did manage to make a huge mistake at breakfast when we thought that this white, yogurt-looking mixture was yogurt and loaded our plates with it (I had even put fruit jam in it to make a fruit yogurt) and then discovered that it was in fact sour cream. So we had this huge portion of sour cream and nothing to eat it with (cereal? - no, toast? - no), when we handed out plates in we had to look down at the floor and walk away in a hurry to show our shameful wastefulness.

On our walk into town we discovered that our hostel was right beside a farmer's field that was full of cows. They were not impressed to see us but that didn't prevent us from trying to communicate with them only to be snubbed for grain. While we were walking a woman in a car stopped across the road from us and was gesturing like crazy and speaking fast German and pointing at us. We had no idea what was going on but after going in for a closer look at the hand gestures we discovered that we had dropped our jackets about 100 metres behind us near the streetlight. That was very kind of her to tell us, Germans are friendly.

We soon discovered that Aachen was pretty dead on Saturday mornings, there were very few people around. However we did stumble upon a nice and affordable chocolate store and picked up some interesting treats like spicy, chili flavoured chocolate. We also went and visited the Cathedral which was massive and had beautifully painted ceilings. We then wandered through the ritzy streets in the central part of the city and discovered some fun statues and fountains along the way. One fountain consisted of a bunch of toys/dolls and had live musicians beside it playing the accordion, another one was of a man with a rooster in his pants.

We ate dinner at a pub called "Labyrinth" and had our most memorable meal of the entire trip. It was called the "grosse grille platten" and it was huge and delicious, lots of grilled meat. The server laughed at us when we ordered it for only two people and we thought he was crazy, how big could it possibly be? And then when he brought it to the table we were amazed! We ate for two days afterwards, so yummy. We also tried beer at the pub and mine was the girliest beer you can ever imagine, it was called "bannannen vien" which had pureed banana mixed with beer and I got to drink it with a straw. It's very good for a non-beer drinker, I loved it. Tyler's beer was called "Drexler" and he enjoyed it but I bet he would have liked it more with a little banana in it.

-Jenny and Tyler, beer connosieurs

Europe . Switzerland . Geneva: Peeing at the Post

Friday, October, 13th, 2006

By this point in the journey we've acquired several trinkets and concluded that our initial provisions were in excess. Also, this is check-out day for Geneva. So, we figure we'll pack our bags, drope by the post office to send some stuff home, then catch a train out of town. Easy, eh? ...No. This is the setup for the mostly painful mail experience we've ever faced (and hopefully will ever face).

Step one, which was simply packing our bags and checking out of the hostel went smooth. We had a hardy Swiss breakfast. Bread, cereal, coffee, juice, milk... yum. Step next, was going to the post office. Our bags were heavy, but this made us more excited about shipping stuff home. Just before we arrive, my bladder lets me know that it's done with all the fluids I had for breakfast and is willing to get rid of them. No problemo -- the post office'll have some public washrooms. We enter the post office and find there's a ticket system: select an option on a machine, a ticket with a number pops out and then you watch a screen patiently until your number and a corresponding cashier number appear. There's a couple options on the ticket machine and we can't translate them... so we end up choosing randomly and take the ticket. Waiting. My bladder gives a couple more mild announcements. Our number appears, and the teller points out the boxes used for parcels. Cool. We get a box and package the stuff -- lots of duct tape. We get a new numbered ticket. Waiting. My bladder is somewhat unuse to coffee and it's telling me that it wants it gone. Piss-off bladder -- you'll wait your turn. Our number appears, and the teller gives us some paper to fill out and tells us the price: ~60 Swiss Francs (~40 Euros)... ouch. Oh, and cash only? Darn. We had expected the credit card to take the hit and didn't have enough cash available. My bladder tries to squeeze some coffee out... luckily it fails, but it certainly gets my attention. A quick search of the post office reveals that there are no toilets. Ok, here's the game plan: Tyler quests for "facilities" and Jenny gets money (via robbery, bank-o-mat, peddling, etc.), then meet back at the post office. Go team go. Tyler quickly finds a McDonalds, runs in (making sure not to make eye-contact with any employees), "facilitates", and runs out (I worked there for 3 years, so I don't feel guilty for not buying anything). Jenny's lost -- temporarily. Stupid Geneva has places and things that look like other place and things! But she's a smartie and recovers. Spotting an old person, she drop-kicks them and takes their purse. Sadly the purse lacked sufficient funds so ditches it and accesses a bank-o-mat, then and dashes back to the post office. Parcel sent. Backpacks lighter. Success.

(NOTE: all of the above actions were executed with the equivalent of 4 babies strapped to our backs -- so we were sweaty and gross by the end of this... so sweaty... so gross).

Other things that happened:
  • we got train tickets to Aachen, Germany
  • we met an anglo-germano archivist on our first train
  • we (and about 20 other people) couldn't find a seat for 2 hours on the second train
  • usher #1 told us and our posse to find some seats up in 1st class where there was room
  • usher #2 told us leave the first set of 1st class seats we foraged (we had 2nd class tickets) despite the fact that the options were either: 1st class seat OR sit in the aisle...
  • usher #2 told us leave the second set of 1st class seats we had foraged...
  • we muttered angrily about the stupid usher #2 and praised the coolness of the cool usher #1
  • we found some 2nd class seats
  • we mutterered some more and then relaxed


-The Facilitator-

Europe . Switzerland . Geneva: Reformation, expensive food and soaking wet

Thursday, October, 12th, 2006

We were happy to find that our hostel, SYHA Hostel, was the most sterile place we have stayed in during our trip. It was soooo clean! And we got complimentary lockers to store our backpacks in and a free breakfast, so it was a pretty good deal.

We spent today walking around and enjoying the climate and each other´s company. We invented an advanced game of "catch" that took place on a teeter-totter and involved barehandedly cathing chestnuts thrown by the other person. My years of playing baseball gave me the slight advantage in catching but Tyler was the master of teeter and tottering.

We went to visit the Museum of the Reformation and I got to put my history degree to use. It felt really good to actually be a sort of tour guide and to feel like I actually know something. I could never be a teacher though because I went off on too many tangents, but of course Tyler didn´t complain. The museum was very cool and had a great way of explaining everything, very comprehensive. There were also some amusing dramatizations of conversations involving Luther, Calvin and company. Or maybe they were just amusing because I´m a history geek.... there´s no shame in that.

We got to climb up a lot of stairs to visit the church towers and have a nice view of the city. It was awkward going up and down the stairs though because there was only room for one person so you had to make sure that you didn´t hear anyone coming in the opposite direction before you started. Otherwise you got up close and personal with some strangers.

We also got to visit an Archaeological site underneath the church. It was made up of a bunch of platforms and walkways placed throughout the excavations. We also got free audioguides to accompany us because we´re students, a very good deal.

As lunch time rolled around we discovered that we were starving and in one of Europe´s most expensive cities. We had a very sparse, expensive lunch of tiny salads (potato and mixed veggie). They were about 10cm by 10cm square containers, not very filling but we refused to pay their ridiculous prices! Take that Geneva!

We went and took a closer look at the Jet D'Eau, in fact we went as close as possible and were rewarded with a drenching spray. We couldn´t get within touching distance of it though because it had a spiky gate guarding it. The spray was very powerful even from 10 feet away though, and the winds were very strong. We were wet and shivvery afterwards but it was worth it. :)

-Jenny and Tyler, loving the Jet-

Europe . Switzerland . Geneva: Land of fountains, chocolate and gold speckled roads

Wednesday, October, 11th, 2006

As per usual we decided not to call ahead and book a hostel in Geneva, and when we showed up at "City Hostel" we were informed that they were full. Luckily there was another hostel around the corner so we didn´t feel like complete fools. The hostel resembled a small apartment building and had laundry facilities and breakfast included, which pretty much means that it was a palace in our eyes. :)

There was a brief awkward moment in our assigned dorm room when we were putting sheets on our assigned beds. A very polite french man came in and looked at us and our beds with confusion. He asked what we had done with the stuff that had been on the beds. There hadn´t been anything on the beds when we entered... so we were confused and didn´t want him to think that we were thieves. Eventually we learned that the cleaning lady had brought their belongings to the front desk so they wouldn´t get stolen, so our names were cleared!

We went out and wandered around the town, mainly trying to see the "Jet D'Eau" (otherwise known as "Tyler's beloved" as he was promised a million points if he went in it) which sprouts straight up in the air 140metres, it´s very impressive to see. It shoots up that high due to pressure and it is cold and painful to stand close to it but we did that on a different day. Anyway we found a catwalk that went over the lake and ended at a lighthouse, the area was swarming with birds and majestic swans who refused to put their bums up in the air for Tyler to take a picture (they sure have a lot of attitude).

We discovered a love for cheap, spicy gyros from "Al-Amirs" which was basically the only affordable place to eat in Geneva. They should call it "expensive city", but then they might not get as many tourists. You always hear that it´s really expensive but deep down you´re thinking "It can´t be THAT bad, they´re just exaggerating"... but you´d be wrong! It is a beautiful city though, the streets have a glitter to them, like you´re walking on streets speckled with swiss gold. Perhaps they have so much gold that they decided to put some of it in the streets, I wouldn´t be surprised if it was true.

We unintentionally entered the Red Light District, that was interesting.... Luckily no one propositioned us (the girls must have been too intimidated by my immense physique). The most we got was a helpful prostitute informed Tyler when he dropped his sweater, and I´m pretty sure that wasn´t a pick-up line, but you never know with those Swiss...

We also felt pretty smart when we were doing laundry even though we couldn´t read the instructions and just guessed, we did better than another couple in the hostel who flooded their machine with soap which drooled all over the floor. Also of note, the vending machines in Geneva are tricky and try their best to steal your money without giving you the precious Swiss chocolate. Luckily I was able to outsmart it and enjoyed my Swiss chocolate with a smug look on my face.

-Jenny the conqueror-

Europe . Italy . Florence: Failure to Flee

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

The plan today was to see the Uffizi museum and the Jardins de Boboli, then take a night train to Geneva Switzerland. We had walked by both places earlier in the week and written them off as too expensive (€9.50 for the Uffizi and €8.00 for Jardins do Boboli [including several minor museums]), but we decided to suck-it-up for the sake of getting cultured.

The line-up for the Uffizi was pretty daunting. As soon as you get in line there is a little electronic sign giving you the approximate waiting time: 1 hour minimum, 2 hour maximum. Luckily we met a fellow Canuck in line, so we were able to pass the time a little easier. A linguistics major from Saskatchewan (whose name we can´t remember). Despite our guide book saying most places are safe for lone female travellers, she was only the second one we had encountered. Inside the Uffizi we found ourselves in what was probably the second best museum of the trip (the Louvre is the obvious first). It had a bunch of sculpture and painting (some restored, some not). A pretty nice temporary exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci that went into some explanations of why his work was interesting (everyone knows he´s talented, but it was cool to find out why he was memorable). Somewhere along the way we lost our Saskatchewan sister.

The Jardins de Boboli are best described as "big and beautiful". Lots of fountains, steps and sculpture. At the highest point you get a 360Âș panoramic view of Florence. We skipped the Porcelain Museum portion of our ticket, but checked out the Costume Museum and Art Museum. The costumes were pretty traditionally, but nice to look at. The art portion was mostly inlays (finely carved stones pieced together like a puzzle to form pictures -- a much more delicate and time consuming form of mosaic).

At the end of the day we discovered there was no space on the train to Geneva so we had to stay another day in Florence (NOTE: this was super annoying because we had paid €10 to store our bags at the train station for the day).

-The Manchild-

P.S. We also bought souvenirs for ourselves in Florence: an over the shoulder bag for Tyler that is named "Victoria" and a brown, floppy hat for Jenny (she´s reliving her "Blossom" days)

Europe . Italy . Florence / Pisa: Leaning, Lasagna and Laffles (err, "waffles")

Monday, October 9th, 2006

We spent today in Pisa looking at things that lean. Well, really only the one thing leans... the rest just sort of stands at regular right angles. We had been led to believe this was not the case. According to our guide the Piazza dei Miracoli is supposed to be filled with things that are leaning. Lies (at least from what we observed). Nonetheless, the leaning tower of Pisa did have quite the lean and we were suitably impressed (though not impressed enough to pay more than €10 each to go inside -- damned expensive just to go inside some shoddy construct).

The rest of Piazza dei Miracoli was museums and cathedrals, which while interesting did not ignite a need to be visited. We almost wanted to visit the Museo delle Sinopie (Sinopias?) which houses preparatory drawing for frescoes, but it was closed for construction. So we looked for food and trinkets. We found food at this cafeteria style place. They served the cheesiest lasagna ever. It was delicious and even now the memory of it makes me salivate like someone who has been slurping novocaine. They also served some ok ravioli (I only mention it for completeness -- it could not compete with the lasagna. Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, so it is unlikely you will ever enjoy the lasagna. Pity.

At the end of the Pisa excursion we returned to Florence, where we had waffles with gelato. Yummish.

We also visited the Ponte Vecchio, which is well know for it´s silver and goldsmiths. Lots of shiny things. Also, lot of men repeating the phrase "Si, bella," while their corresponding women cooed over the shinies (i.e., "yes, that´s nice... yes that´s nice..").



Europe . Italy . Florence: Museums galore... although we didn´t go in most of them

Sunday, October, 8th, 2006

Our first full day in Florence and we decided to explore the city. We walked by the Piazza Michaelangelo (which had an enormous statue of David in the centre of it and also had an amazing view of the city) and then we headed into the city centre. All the streets were nice and the traffic was much less crazy than in Rome. I took the role as navigator and managed not to get us TOO lost, only a little disoriented. WE went to visit the Museo Borghello which was basically a museum full of sculptures. Tyler was in heaven! The only bad part was that you weren´t allowed to take photos in most of the rooms. We don´t know why but Tyler managed to sneak in some. My favourite area was the courtyard, it was full of statues and included a bunch that were originally part of a giant fountain that was disassembled for some reason. We were actually permitted to take photos in the courtyard area so that may be part of the reason why it was my favourite.

We also went to visit the Duomo which we only saw from the outside but that was good enough for us. It had a neat green and white checkered appearance and was in the middle of being restored. Unlike a lot of the artworks in Italy, this one looked like the restoration would help it. All of the shops in the Duomo area were nice to look at and browse. It´s a great way to spend the day, just wandering around the city.

We tried to go to the Museo Uffizi, the most popular art gallery in Florence and also supposed to be one of the best. However, there was a huge line-up and the museum was only open for 2 or more hours and the price was around 12.50euros each so we decided to skip t that day. We though that we´d end our day by going to visit the Jardins de Boboli but our guide book mislead us because we thought that we could go visit JUST the gardens but that wasn´t the case. We had to buy a ticket for the gardens and the some museums which cost 8euros so we decided it wasn´t worth it wince we only had an hour and a half left until it was closed. The lesson we learned on this day was that you should always have the newest, updated version of your travel guide. Ours was from 2003 and has caused quite a few problems for us. :P

Our disappointment was washed away when we saw the piazza near the Uffizi museum. It had some of the most impressive statues of our entire trip,¨"The Rape of the Sabine" and "Perseus with the Gorgon´s Head" were among the coolest and most awesome statues that we have seen. We also added to our enjoyment by getting some delicious hot chocolate on our way to Ponte Vecchio (the bridge of silver and goldsmiths), it was like someone had steamed some milk and then added chunks of hot chocolate and stirred it all together. Liquid hot chocolate, tim hortons just can´t compare.

All in all it was a pretty tiring day just walking around the city. I can see how everyone falls in love with Florence. Tyler and I bought some groceries and ate dinner at a picnic table at our campsite. We had bought playing cards at a dollar store earlier that day so we invented some new rules to accommodate for these "different" cards (only had numbers 1-7, and the queens may have been men, we couldn´t tell).

-Jenny and Tyler, crazy card game masters

Europe . Italy . Florence: niceness and niceties, but not Nice

Friday, October 6th, 2006

We awoke on the train from Syracuse to Florence (via a change-over in Rome). Some during our sleep the train had fallen an hour behind schedule. This lateness provided and excellent conversation starter for use on our cabin-mates, a nice Austrian couple from Berne. It is fitting that I describe them as "nice" because it was my favourite (and only) adjective throughout our conversation. For some reason my descriptive vocabulary had shrunk to this one, vague, four-letter word. In retrospect I would blame my lack of verbal variety on the many painful conversations I attempted with those who only spoke utilitarian-english ("utilitarian-english" = enlish without the flowery bits). Luckily the conversation ended abrupty with a rather awkward silence -- sweet sweet silence.

Our change-over in Rome brought an entirely new set of travel companions. Given my still fresh failures I spent most of the trip reading and admiring scenery. It wasn't until we were almost at Florence that a conversation was brought to me by a couple from Kitchener, Ontario. We didn't have time to exchange more than initial pleasantries: name, origin, astrological sign, etc., but that was enough to redeem me -- I didn't use "nice" once! (though I could feel it lurking just beneath my tongue ready to spring forth..)

Exiting the train station we discovered Florence was not immune to rain. On the upside, we didn't have to worry about getting wet because we had already planned to take a bus to where we were staying: Plus Camping Michaelangelo. On the downside, the overly heated and overly damp bus was causing moisture to form on the windows of the bus, thus obstructing our view of the outside world (NOTE: for those unacquainted with any sort of travel that involves a destination: it is very important for someone to know where they are, so that they know when they are where they want to be... :P ). About 20 minutes into the bus ride, we found ourselves at the correct bus stop (due entirely to luck and not the 3 frustrating conversation with the bus driver). Exiting the bus, we were met by a very pleasant french girl who had overheard our talk with the bus driver. She was staying at the campground as well and she happily escorted to the reception desk. Then we showered, then we ate, then we slept. Day done!

-Team DONE-

Europe . Italy . Siracuse: Train to Florence

Friday, October, 6th, 2006

Today was not very exciting as it was our last day in Sicily and we spent the night on an overnight train to Florence. We woke up early in order to try to get in the fountains before they were heavily populated... but we underestimated how early Sicilians wake up on Friday mornings. Tyler did manage to get in the fountain near the Piazza Archimedes (the cool one with the moss covering it) and there was a police car right across from the fountain. Very dangerous. Sicilians seem to much more relaxed than other Italians about their statues and fountains, they don´t have any area heavily armed with guards, they´re more carefree. So I got the photo of Tyler in the fountain, my little rebel. :)

We spent the afternoon at the archaeological museum in Siracuse but found that we were disappointed with it. We´ve found that "archaeological museum" is a very popular name in Europe for a museum but most of them are really cool. This one however was most true to its name but was not as cool to walk around because it was basically just a description of the various types of pottery and little artifacts that they had found at all the sights in Siracuse. It was a lot of the same stuff and it was not very exciting. They did have a few nice statues though so that made Tyler´s day. :)

And we spent the night on the train, it was a pretty comfy sleep and we shared our cabin with a couple from Bern, Switzerland who were leaving Sicily because they did not enjoy the rainy weather of that one day. It must have been sad for them to find that the rain followed us up to northern Italy....

-Jenny and Tyler, weary of archaeological museums

Europe . Italy . Siracuse: Moss-covered statues are the coolest

Thursday, October, 5th, 2006

Today we decided to explore the island attached to Siracuse called Ortygia, it was beautiful. The weather in Siracuse was very nice, really sunny and warm. We wandered around Ortygia and found that we enjoyed looking at the ocean more than looking at the "historical sites" in the area since they were all pretty much disappointing. There was the acclaimed "temple of Apollo" that was pretty much just a bunch of crumbled stones and not much to see at all. I guess that Siracuse did not have as much love to preserving their monuments as the rest of Italy did. But the ocean was beautiful.

We went to visit a fountain on Ortygia that was called "Fonte Aretusa" and it was really cool. It was gigantic and lower in the ground so we could only see it from above. There were giant papyrus plants growing in the middle area and it was a haven for ducks and geese and giant, mutant fish. It was very cool to see up close and we got an even better view of it by going down into the aquarium and then walking through to be at the same level as the fountain. We didn´t plan on going to the aquarium but the woman running it (who we´re pretty sure was a transvestite and had a very intimidating deep male voice) unwittingly intimidated us into going. It was worth going to visit though, lots of cool ocean creatures.

There was also a very cool fountain in the Piazza Archimedes, in the middle of the island, that Tyler really wanted to go into but was too populated for that to be possible. The fountain was huge and was really cool because unlike all of the other ones we had seen in Italy, it hadn´t been cleaned. There was moss growing all over it and it looked like the men in the water in the fountain were being swallowed by the sea because they were covered in this seaweed. The ocean was reaching up to get them, it really amused us. We both agree that statues should be kept dirty, it´s more their "natural state".

We tried some good ol´ fashioned Italian fast food at a place called Cocco Drillo and it was much better than McDonalds. And it was very good to have some red meat for a change, even if it was a very flat piece of red meat. It was nice and cheap so that suited us just fine. :)

-Jenny and Tyler, wish we were covered in moss

Europe . Italy . Siracuse: Don´t drink the water!

Wednesday, October, 4th, 2006

We arrived in Siracuse, Sicily today and managed to get a spot in the cheap hotel that we wanted without booking ahead. We haven´t learned our lesson yet so we haven´t planned ahead.

We walked over to the Neapolis (ancient ruins) and walked around the area after paying admittance. It had a bunch of caves that you could look inside and walk around in, one even had a waterfall inside it and that one was my favourite. We walked through the ancient teatro (theatre) and saw an awesome man-made cave shaped like an ear which was called "Orecchio di Dionisio" and was ahaped like an ear for better acoustics. Everyone who walked in there was testing out how their voice carried in the cave. The area around the caves were surrounded by lime and clementine trees and Tyler could not resist stealing some (despite their not being ripe). He´s quite the good thief, so watch your belongings around him.

We were disappointed by the lack of Archimedes-related places in Siracuse since that was where he was from and he was a pretty fascinating historical figure. We searched for the tomb of Archimedes but were unable to find it, we think it was probably one of the closed off caves in the Neapolis area. Sad.

We visited yet another catacomb, this time the Catacombe di San Giovanni which had an English tour included in the price. Our guide had a very strong accent so some parts of the tour were totally incomprehensible but his giant hand gestures were interesting to watch. Every catacomb seem to try to pass theirs off as original or the first in some capacity, San Giovanni´s claim to fame was that it had the first tomb with 2 heads engraved on it (a Christian and a non-Christian, which was a big thing because Christians and non-Christian are often "grr" towards each other). And our guide kept insisting that everything in the catacomb was the "original" and that made this one lady in the group argue with him.... he won the argument by saying "No, it´s the original" over and over again until he wore her down. Good job.

We decided to try some cheap wine from the grocery store (yes, every grocery store in Europe has a HUGE alcohol section, it´s crazy!). We got a big juice box container of wine for 1euro and invented drinking games with our Italian-English translation book (we were both terrible at guessing what Italian words meant). I haven´t had much wine before and I´m not a huge fan but when in Rome... err... Siracuse, you have to at least try it.

Oh! And the tap water in Siracuse is disgusting. We had to do handwashing in yellowish water. Pretty gross. I would not suggest drinking it.

-Jenny and Tyler, possibly caught a bacteria virus in Sicily

Europe . Italy . Naples: On our way to Siracuse

Tuesday, October, 3rd, 2006

We got our overnight tickets to Siracuse, Sicily today. I brutally mispronounced "Siracusa" or I just have a terrible, incomprehensible Canadian accent because the guy selling the train tickets couldn't understand the destination I was saying. I kept apologizing for saying it wrong and kept trying to say it in different ways and eventually he understood. He was smiley after he figured it out (most likely laughing at how bad my pronunciation was), I bet Italians hate hearing foreigners distort their language since it's such a beautiful language to listen to.

It was a fairly unexciting day since we just had to kill time at the train station waiting for our late train. We continued our hunt for playing cards but found that they were too expensive (6 euros or more for a single pack). We ended up passing the day by reading and chatting to each other, surprisingly we haven't run out of things to say to each other despite being around one another 24/7.... it's crazy! We also spent the day trying to politely say "no" to the many beggars that approached us. I think that I may have been mistaken for a beggar by a lady who was offering me food when Tyler was at the grocery store and I was waiting with our bags. I didn't take her up on the offer though, tempting as it was.....

We shared our train compartment with a father and son Christian-pastor team. They were very nice and the most apologetic people we've ever met in our life (which is saying a lot for someone who apologizes to food when she drops it). We also learned that Italian trains NEVER arrive on time, they're always delayed.

-Jenny and Tyler, beggars-in-training

Europe . Italy . Naples: Scammed in Versuvius but made friends in Pompei

Monday, October, 2nd , 2006

We got up early today to visit Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum and Pompei. A very busy day. We decided to go see Vesuvius first and although our guide book said that we could catch a city bus near the train station that went to the top and was very cheap, we were told by locals that the next city bus did not come for 3 hours so we should take their private shuttle bus (which was super expensive, 5 times the amount of the city bus). There was a large group (around 10) of all English people, ourselves included, who were skeptical of this claim and held true to our guidebooks since they had been so reliable up to that point. So we were instructed to go to the "information centre" down the street to verify this information. A few of us went to this centre and there was a sketchy Italian fellow working there who had a hand-printed bus schedule (talk about sketchy!) that verifed that the next bus did not come for 3 hours and he also instructed us back to the train station where the expensive privately owned shuttle buses were. Basically we just kept getting sent back and forth and always ended up being told to take the shuttle bus by whichever local we asked in the area. I'm pretty sure that they're all in on the scam together. However after we waited to see if a city bus would show up, we had no luck and were forced to take this expensive shuttle bus (all 10 of us). We were grumbly and unhappy but it made everyone friendly since we were commiserating. :)

The shuttle bus drove up the mountain super-fast and it was pretty scary but we arrived alive. We had to hike up a good chunk of the mountain in order to get to the top and look inside the volcano but it was well worth the hike. Of course it would have been cooler if there had been lava but we probably wouldn't be alive now so it's most likely not worth it. :P We got to walk all along the crater and made friends with an English couple named Gail and Darren who gave us tips on visiting London (Gail informed us that all the museums in London are free... that definitely makes it seem more inviting). We saw some beautiful sights while walking around Vesuvius, we had a nice view of the city and there was a mist covering the city, it was very cool. :)

After Vesuvius we walked down to Herculaneum which proved to be incredibly small (especially compared to Pompei) and we were able to see all of it in about an hour. It had a lot of their frescoes still intact and I enjoyed wandering around the ruins trying to figure out what structures used to be there. We then took the metro to Pompei where I got mixed up and made us get off at the wrong stop (the stop we needed was "Pompei scavi" and we got off at "Pompei"). On our long walk from the wrong station we met fellow travellers, Athena and Aaron, who joined us for our entire visit to Pompei. They were really cool, Aaron was Australian and Athena was from New Zealand, and we walked around the ruins of Pompei with them and we shared 2 audioguides between the 4 of us. We got to hear stories about how Aaron and his friends mourned the death of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, by getting drunk and screaming out "We love you Steve!". They were very entertaining and they loved our story of the "Princess of Germany" and even suggested an alternate ending where she leads us through the sewers of Paris to her castle in Germany (which is really the mental hospital).... They also had a scary encounter with trying to take a taxi in Rome, there was some kind of cabby battle with weapons and hurt people and one person in the mob stood up for them and told them not to hurt Aaron and Athena. Their original cab driver came to after being knocked unconscious and rushed them out of there and to safety. Now that sounded scary!!!! (and yes we agreed that they could use our princess story and we were allowed to share their cab story). So the lesson is, don't take cabs in Rome!

I also forgot to mention the funny, vaguely smelly homeless man on the train to Pompei. He was pretty funny. He was just enjoying himself, not bothering anyone, just being clearly drunk, singing to himself and laughing hysterically occasionally. Some teenagers came on board the train and decided to spray some strong smelling hair spray in order to scare homeless man into the next cart, they also had an empty baby carriage which they were waving in his direction to speed up the process. Homey had a plan though, he went into the next train compartment and the teens followed him, then he made a quick pirouette, brushed past them and slammed the door to the area the teens were in and returned to the original cart to continue his drunken singing and laughing. There are lots of crazy but amusing people in Europe! :)

-Jenny and Tyler, big fans of homey

Europe . Italy . Naples: Not as pretty as you might think

Sunday, October, 1st, 2006

Since the train ride to Sicily was super long (around 10 hours) we decided to go to Napoli/Naples along the way. Upon arriving in Naples we met a nice french lady on her way to Rome with her boyfriend and was looking for an affordable place to stay so since we had just come from there we traded travel information and shared some trail mix. We ended up staying at the place she recommended, Albergo Candy, and it was a pretty good deal. The elderly woman who owned the place was entirely incomprehensible because she only spoke Italian so when she showed us around we just smiled and nodded and hoped that we didn't run into any problems. The place was beautiful, it had very high ceilings and murals/paintings all over the walls. It was pretty much a palace compared to the hostels and camping grounds we had stayed in previously.

We spent the late afternoon/night at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale which was very close to where we were staying. The museum had lots of cool statues so Tyler went crazy taking pictures, and there were even some mummified body parts to look at (feet and a head). They were really gross! But it was cool to see that they have lasted this long, very well preserved. Maybe I'll be mummified when I die..... anyone else tempted?

We decided to get some take away pizza for dinner on our walk home (it's much cheaper to take food away rather than staying in the restaurant). We stopped at a place called La Tana dell'Arte and got an amazing deal on pizza that we still don't understand because we went back the next night but ended up paying double.... maybe the manager just liked us or it was a Sunday special. But we got 2 whole pizzas for 5 euros and this is an unbelievable deal in Italy, you would be jealous of this deal if you were here.

Overall, we were not very impressed with Naples. For some reason I thought that it was a nice, beautiful place to visit from what I've heard from people, but they were totally wrong! It was pretty dirty and garbage was everywhere. All the houses were very well protected with outside metal doors that you had to ring someone to get inside, and the door inside was tiny. Then once inside this tiny door you would be in the middle of a courtyard and then all the houses/appartments were separated around in a square. We got the distinct impression that everyone there had their own space and you weren't welcome unless invited. Felt kinda like being at home in a big city. Whenever we ran into anyone and told them that we were staying in downtown Naples they all thought that we lived for danger and were hard-core.... little did they know that we were just ignorant about the nature of Naples. Luckily nothing bad happened. :)

-Jenny and Tyler, hard-core rebels

Europe . Italy . Rome: Ciao, yo

Thursday, September 30th, 2006

So this was our last day in Rome. Very sad. Also very busy.

We were hoping to go to two museums and take a tour. Luckily the first museum wanted to go to, Museo Borghese, required reservations and we had none -- AWESOME! The second museum, Capitolini Museo, caught my eye the previous day as were going into the Fori Romano ruins. In one of its windows was the backside of a very attractive statue (if I had the ability, I would have made some sort of "cat call" to let the statue know I enjoyed its appearance... but I don't, so I didn't). So yea, we went to this museum to satisfy my need to see this statue (also for general educational purposes). After attempting to read some italian scribbles describing historic stuff, we gave up on the educational portion of the visit and moved on to the gawking at statues. Quite impressive what these sculptors could create (though I'm fairly certain if I disappeared into the tibetan mountains for a decade or three I could produce something of equivalent quality..). After an hour or so, it occurred to me that we would soon have to move on to the meeting point for the tour... but I still hadn't found my statue! Breaking into a light jog, that drew more than a few stares we quickly started to make our way through the remainder of the museum. Then BAM! Jenny spots it. Or something she thinks is it. You see, what she saw was the male counterpart to my beautiful female statue. She argued for a little while that the male sculpture was in fact the one I had been cooing for the past several hours, but in the end she was forced to cede to my juggernaut will. I will admit that the statue she pointed out had some vaguely attractive hermaphroditic qualities, but it was certainly not mine. In the end we left the museum unable to find my elusive aphrodite. Truly a tragedy.

Moving on to the tour, we were greeted by our tour guide Zoe. An immigrant from the UK, Zoe spoke brilliantly comprehensible english (a real treat after weeks of dealing with the painful Anglo-italo language barrier). We first visited a cathedral that contained the chains that had held St.Peter. The had spikes, which I thought were a bit kinky for a holy man, but I decided not to judge, lest I be judged. Next, we went to the catacombs of Rome. There are supposedly three major catacombs near Rome, all claiming to be the biggest. After the tour of them I was satisfied that we had in fact sifted through the lies to find the biggest. Inside I found they weren't as impressive as the ones in Paris. Though slightly larger, they lacked the piles of bones that made the Parisien ones so cool (NOTE: I am not a necrophiliac). Next, we went to the Circo Maximo (Maximus? Maximi? Maximici?.. Can't quite recall, but they were definitely, "Circo to the MAX"...). Mostly just a dirty circle, Zoe provided some artists' renditions of what the track would have like in it's heyday. Neato. Finally we went to the Jewish Ghetto. Our tour guide lived in this part of Rome and I suspect she ended the tour here so that she was in walking distance of her residence. But nevermind that. The ghetto was chalked full of stuff. Like fountains, restaurants, cars... Jewish people... There was also a rather impressive set of ruins that was occupied by cats (NOTE: the Italian government actually gives tax rebates to citizens who feed the homeless cat population; our tour guide said this was done in gratitude to the felines for saving Rome from diseased rats in the middle ages -- THANKS!). Zoe also mentioned at one point that we were near where Caesar had been assassinated, which was morbidly intriguing.

That is all.

- Either Tyler or Jenny... you decide -

P.S. Just as a sidenote, I need to mention the over abundance of "preggo-ing" found in Rome (and Italy in general). Traditionally this word is means "your welcome" or "no problemo" or some such... But it has evolved in such a way that it can be used as a catch-all response:

Example A
Person #1: "Gosh, thanks for helping pointing out the poo I almost stepped in!"
Person #2: "Preggo!"

Example B
Person #1: "Mmm, that meal was delicious!"
Person #2: "Hrmm, preggo."

Example C
Person #1: "Excuse, where can find a bathroom?"
Person #2: "PregGOOOO"

Example D
Person #1: "Ouch. I seem to be bleeding from my head. Please get me some medical assistance."
Person #2: "Ci ci. Preggo." ("ci" = "yes")

Europe . Italy . Rome: Watch out for sidlers in lines!

Friday, September, 29th, 2006

We woke up early today (around 6:30am) in order to get to the Vatican early and avoid the huge line-up. The line-up wasn`t as long as it was on Wednesday but it wasn`t short by any means. We were nice and walked all the way to the end of the line instead of budding in like the many ˝sidlers˝ we noticed along the way. The key method for budding into line is to avoid eye contact and just continue making your way forward. It worked for a bunch of people. Others tried to pretend like they knew someone far ahead in the line and waved at them but no one ever returned the wave. Sneaky people!

We ended up waiting in line for about 40 minutes so it wasn`t that bad. We got a special discount going into the Vatican even though we only had 1 student card and they didn`t advertize a student discount, but we`re not going to complain (maybe the guz selling tickets liked me or Tyler, you never know). The Vatican museum was enormous, we did soooo much walking. We went to see the Sistine Chapel, of course, and were in awe of Michealangelo`s work. It was amazing to see it right in front of zou. It was really crowded and warm in the chapel and there were guards at the entrances and exits that shushed people for talking and stopped people from taking photos. Tyler and I both really enjoyed the paintings that were does in Caravaggio`s style where you can see the candlelight glowing on everything in the picture, the paintings always have great contrast and look just like real-life.

One disappointment about the Vatican was that you weren`t allowed to go into the city, it`t restricted only to residents. We ended our time at the Vatican in St. Peter`s Square and our feet were so sore after our time-consuming visit to the museum and all our walking from the previous days.

We had the most delicious lunch imaginable at a restaurant called Hosteria Pizzeria. We got the Vegetale pizza which had roasted zucchini, peppers, eggplant and mushrooms and it was so tasty. It was our favourite pizza of our entire time in Italy.

-Jenny and Tyler, pizza masters

Europe . Italy . Rome: Exploration of the ancient ruins

Thursday, September, 28th, 2006

We decided to go visit the classic ancient sites in Rome today. Most of the sites were located in the Foro Romani (ancient Rome before it was expanded). This was my favourite spot in all of Rome as it was a working archaeological site. You could see all of the original buildings, temples and arches. You could also see students working away on the ruins, taking measurements and digging. It was difficult to tell what some structures were originally but our guide book was pretty helpful. The pathway was full of huge rocks instead of gravel or pavement so it was tricky to walk on (especially for someone as clumsy as myself) but it made it more of an adventure.

We also visited the Colisseum and took a guided tour (our first one of the trip). The girl who sold us the tour randomly asked me what my background was because she thought that I looked Norweigan. Due to this event for the next couple of days Tyler referred to me as ˝his little Scandinavian˝. :P Our tour guide`s name was Aldo and he was a middle-aged man wearing bright orange pants who loved to close his eyes and look up at the ceiling while telling stories about the history of the Colisseum. We learned that there were female gladiators as well but the Romans imported Celtic women instead of using their own. The size of the Colisseum was overwhelming but it was sad that we weren`t allowed to go to the top levels.

We ate some Italian pasta for dinner. We had difficulty in ordering, or at least Tyler kept getting his order messed up by the waiter. I had lasagna and although Tyler order Carbonara, he ended up with spaghetti. The food was tasty though and we don`t really complain about anything so maybe the waiter could tell and took advantage of that. We`re also convinced that the waiters in Rome all pretended that they didn`t know what tap water was. They would all nod like they understand and then they would bring out mineral water. They`re sneaky but pleasant so what can you do?

-Jenny and Tyler, Scammed by the friendly Romans

Europe . Italy . Rome: There is such a thing as too much walking

Wednesday, September, 27th, 2006

We attempted to go to the Vatican today but discovered an overwhelming line-up that wound around the streets for blocks, it was crazy! Later on we found out that on Wednesdays the pope comes out into St. Peter`s Square around noon and gives a public blessing so that`s why it was super busy (although it`s never not busy, everyone loves the pope). While near the Vatican we saw a cart on the street corner selling purses and Tyler ended up unintentionally haggling with one of the vendors who dropped the price from 75euros to 55euros and then to 40euros just because Tyler said that we were going to look around first before deciding. We discovered that every purse that they had started at the same price no matter how big or small.

We visited the Pantheon and were disappointed that it wasn`t raining. It`s supposed to be really cool when it`s raining because the rain comes right through the hole in the ceiling. We walked up the Spanish steps, which weren`t as impressive as we were led to believe but there was a fantastic view from the top. I think the highlight of our walk around the Piazza Navona was our visit to the Fontana di Trevi, it was huge and beautiful. Of course we took turns throwing two coins over our shoulders to ensure that we`ll return to Rome and the second coin is for your real wish. I always make the same wish in every fountain I throw a coin in, but I`m not going to tell you what it is. :) The fountain was heavily guarded because of the movie ˝La Dolce Vita˝ which apparently inspires a lot of people to try to get in the fountain. Most of the sites and museums in Rome were heavily guarded, they`re very protective of their historic treasures.

After a long day of walking around Rome I had the bright idea of walking back to our campsite instead of taking the metro/subway. It was difficult finding the way back, we got lost along the way many times and our feet were aching by the time we got back to our campsite but we made it home, that`s what really matters. I learned my lesson though, our campsite was just too far away to walk to.

-Jenny the foot torturer, Tyler the martyr

Europe . Italy . Rome: Some good old fashioned confusion

Tuesday, September, 26th, 2006

We left Venice todaz and took a train to Rome (Roma). It was a 5 hour train ride but luckily we didn`t arrive too late to find a cheap place to stay. We stayed at a camping ground called Campeggio Flaminio and the metro ride to the stop we needed was confusing. Apparently we got on an express train and it was super packed and we kept hitting people with our giant backpacks... and then when the train stopped at the station that we needed, the doors didn`t open. It was very frustrating! Everyone on the train was watching us struggle to magically get the doors to open and just shaking their heads at us saying ˝No˝ and we didn`t know why. Luckily there was a very nice lady nearby who needed the same stop as us and told us to follow her and get off at the next stop in order to take the train in the opposite direction back to the previous stop. Weird! We also met these 2 German girls who were going to the same campground that we needed and were equally confused about about the train not stopping so we joined up with them and they led us to the campground (we would have been so lost without them since our travel book did not have directions written and it was outside the boundaries of our map).

Round 2 of confusion was when we booked a tent at the camping ground. We assumed that this camping ground was similar to the one we stayed at in Venice which provides a tent for you. When we went to find our tent we discovered that they expected us to have our own tent. We felt pretty foolish when we had to go back to the reception desk and explain that we didn`t have a tent and would like to stay in a cabin instead. The lady was very understanding but I`m pretty sure that she thought that we were crazy. But finally our accomodations were sorted out.

-Jenny and Tyler ˝the confused Canadians˝

Europe . Italy . Venice: Rainy but delicious

Monday, September, 25th, 2006

We discovered that on day 2 of getting lost in the streets of Venice that it really does add to charm of the city. You just can´t not fall in love with the city, no matter how many obstacles it throws in your path. The morning today was rainy (the first rainy day of our trip) so Tyler and I stopped in a cafe and had cafe lattes (true Italian style). It was delicious and warmed our tummies. We read outside at a patio table and sipped our coffees until the rain cleared up. If not for our giant travel book that we were looking at, I think we would have fit in perfectly. :)

We went to visit the Piazza di San Marco in the afternoon, which was gigantic! The large line-ups prevented us from going inside the basilica and the clock tower (Torre dell orologio). We went to the Palazza Ducale (official residence of the doges and the seat of the republic`s government) and had lunch outside in the square. We fell in love with these delicious rosemary crackers and I crumbled some up to share with the pigeons. They ate right our of my hand while Tyler took a picture (it was like being a low class cinderella since pigeons aren`t exactly cute or cleanly birds).

We spent the rest of the afternoon in museums (3 that were connected to each other) and got in trouble by one of the guards because he was too busy chatting up a female guard to notice that we still had our backpacks on (since we didn`t know that we had to check them). He was funny, very indignant about his mistake and made it seem like we were big trouble-makers. We also discovered that pictures aren`t permitted in a lot of the museums in Italy... we don`t know why but we snuck in some whenever we could. That`s right, we`re big time rebels. They`re going to send the mafia after us. :P

Desserts in Italy are delicious. Mmmm pastries, they are everywhere and once you smell them you HAVE to buy one. Plus maybe eating the pastries will help Tyler gain some weight.... and I don`t want him to have to eat alone so I`ll just have to deal with the consequences. :)

-Jenny and Tyler ˝If we`ve put on weight when we come back, you`ll know why˝

Europe . Italy . Venice: Ahhhh... getting lost in the streets of Venice

Sunday, September, 24th, 2006

We found out the first bus to our campground that we booked for our stay in Venice, Camping Alba D Oro, leaves the bus depot at 9:30am so we checked in and dropped off our bags. We then wandered around the city checking out the piazzas (squares that have cool statues, stores, etc). We found Campo San Margherita, a well known square that has a place called "Il Doge" which our travel guide told us is known for selling the best gelato in Venice so of course we had to try some. I had the classic lemon flavour and Tyler had strawberry, both were delicious. I´ve never had gelato before so I couldn´t compare how it tasted but it was so good, it made me hooked on gelato. In fact, we went back for seconds later that night (although we shared a Nutella flavoured one that time).

We strolled around the streets of Venice and had fun getting lost, I think even the compass was confused as it was no help at all. We took a special delight in seeing fellow travellers who had proper maps (ours was the free one from our campsite) and were still looking as lost as we were. The scenery in Venice was beautiful, we fell in love with it. And the water was a very nice green colour, it didn´t look dirty at all, although we were told it was because we weren´t there in the humid, summer weather. It didn´t smell at all either and it wasn´t crowded so we picked the perfect time to go there. All the places had tiny doors to get into (well, the houses anyway, not the stores) so they made me feel super tall. We spent most of the afternoon looking in various shops that we walked by. Tyler was drawn to the papier mache\wooden masks that were handcrafted and used for Carnivale or decoration. They were beautiful and came in any shape or creature that you can imagine. It would be awesome to come back during Carnivale.

I was smitten with all the jewellery stores. Venice is famous for its glass (Venetian glass) and excelled in making beautiful jewellerz out of its glass. If I was rich I would have gone crazy with buying everything, but I´m not rich so that ended the fantasy. I do love to look though.

We met some nice ladies from Alberta while waiting for our shuttle bus back to the campsite. They showed us the secret way of getting to the front of the line and getting a seat on the bus. Very helpful information.

-Disoriented Jenny-

FACTOID: Venice is known as "the most serene republic" (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia). Sharing the title is the band: "The Most Serene Republic".

Europe . Austria . Salzburg: World´s Largest Ice Caves!!!!!

Saturday, September, 23rd, 2006

Today we ventured to the world´s largest ice caves which were located in the nearby town of Werfen. It turned out to be a great way to spend our last day in Austria. We got to take the shuttle bus up the mountain, the driver drove super fast up the hill which was kind of scary but we arrived alive so that´s all that matters. These Europeans just love speed. After the shuttle bus ride we got to take a cable car to the mountain top. The cable car was shaky but really cool and pretty scary when you look up and see that only a tiny wire is holding you up and then look down at the miles of space that exist between you and the ground. We then had to walk up the mountain to the mouth of the cave, luckily we were among the youngest people there so we were zooming by the old people and feeling like we were in good shape because we weren´t huffing and puffing. It was a good self-esteem booster. :)

The guides of the ice cave gave a few select people a kerosene lamp to hold during our journey into the caves (which lasts about 75 minutes), and Tyler was lucky enough to be one of the few people selected. He just looks like an expert fire-holder. They could probably just look at me and tell that I´m too clumsy to handle the responsibility. The caves really were gigantic and it was pretty exhausting walking to the top but they were amazing to see. They were our favourite site out of everything we´ve seen so far. The ice formations covered at least half of the cave´s surface area and everything was cold, smooth and drippy. Our tour guide kept disappearing behind ice formations and then reappearing way up high (I think there were secret passages in there that they use) but it was amazing seeing him just appear out of nowhere and lighting some magnesium so all the ice glowed a brilliant blue.

So yeah, the ice caves in Werfen are the coolest. You should all go. :)

We took the train to Venice after the ice caves and arrived late at night. We missed our last shuttle bus to our campsite so again we had to find "alternate sleeping arrangements" but we had a good night´s sleep.

-Jenny the master typer, even on messed up European keyboards-

Europe . Austria . Salzburg: Welcome to the Salt Mines

Friday, September, 22nd, 2006

We visited the Salt Mines in the nearby town of Hallein and it proved to be a very time-consuming activity. We decided to walk up to the mine since it was only 3 km and we didn´t have our giant backpacks with us. The way up to the top of the mountain was very scenic, we took a lot of photos, but it was also very tuckering and a tad scary since there wasn´t a designated sidewalk anywhere along the path. Cars are allowed to drive up the winding roads on the mountain at about 80km\hr and there were a lot of shrines\memorials along the pathway which we assumed were put there for people who had died at that spot by being hit by a car. We also found a nice waterfall and stream along the way which Tyler was enamoured with (and I´m pretty sure that walking to that waterfall through the bushes is where I got the tick that I found attached to my hip the next day). The walk up the mountain took about 40 minutes and we were pretty sweaty by the time we got to the top, but that made the cold temperature of the salt mines more inviting.

The salt mine was very fun to see, our tour was all in German so it was totally incomprehensible. There was also some parts of the tour where everyone would chant the same few German words, and it´s pretty scary when you have no idea what these 20 or so strangers are all chanting.... but luckily nobody tried to roast us over a fire or anything. The salt mine tour consisted of looking at lots of crystallized salt on the walls (and Tyler did his best not to lick the walls although it was very tempting) and walking through tight spaces (which luckily I didn´t freak out during even though I´m pretty claustrophobic). The highlight of the trip was going down these slides in the middle of the mine, you got to go down it in pairs or groups so Tyler and I went down together and you get your picture taken on it like a roller coaster ride (you can see the photo when we´re back home).

Our tour guide referred to us by the name of "English" whenever we were doing something that we weren´t supposed to. I thought that was pretty funny, Tyler and I start walking in one direction and then you hear "No, English!" and we knew what she meant.

My most embarrassing moment so far from the trip was when I got locked in a bathroom at the train station. I didn´t realize that it was a pay toilet and went in and closed the door and then couldn´t open it back up, I was peaking through this tiny crack in the door saying "Help!" and cursing myself for not knowing how to say help in German. Luckily the lady in charge of the toilet let me out with her key and then I paid her and got to use the toilet finally. It was quite the ordeal.

-Jenny the panicker-

Europe . Austria . Salzburg: Nicest, most incomprehensible people

Thursday, September, 21st, 2006

We arrived in Salzburg, Austria this morning and tried calling places to stay but discovered that most of them were full. This was because there was an annual cycling competition going on in the town and Austrians are very big fans of cycling. They were the most fit people that I have ever seen. And most of them just bike to get around town which is full of steep, steep hills that are a pain to walk up let alone bike up. They are a very impressive and intimidating group of people (and also the nicest).

We called one bed and breakfast in our book and although they were fully booked, they told us to go to their neighbour´s place (and yes the neighbour did have a bed and breakfast, we weren´t harmed in any way). They also said that they would come pick us up from the train station, even though we never even asked, very kind people. Unfortunately we ended up missing them at the train station, we waited a while and then tried to find our way and learned our lesson that when waiting for someone you should just stay put. However, since Austrians in general are so nice this random lady at the train station ended up giving us a ride to the place when we asked her for directions. It was pretty funny since she didn´t speak any English but she got us where we needed to go. We eventually made it to our bed and breakfast which was run by a nice German lady named Rose Marie. The room was beautiful and had an amazing view (those hills come in handy) from our balcony.

They were very big on the Sound of Music in Austria, since that was where the movie was filmed. Unfortunately I have never seen the movie so I was not tempted to go on any of the tours. Some of the hostels in the area play the movie non-stop all day for the people staying there.... could anyone really want to see that movie THAT MUCH? Let me know if I´m missing out. Now if they were showing all 3 Mighty Ducks movies that often, that would be another story...

Salzburg also had the fanciest laundromat that we´ve ever seen. Everything was all computerized and tricky to figure out because we don´t speak any German, but we managed alright. The place also had a huge flat-screen tv in one corner (but all the programs were in German so we opted to read instead) and it connected into a mall. It was like seeing the future of Canada, just wait and see.

Austrian food was very tasty. Apparently one of the most popular names for a restaurant here is "Quo Vadis" which translates into "Where are you going?", I thought it was an amusing name for a restaurant. We ate some Wiener Schnitzel (very tasty) and some grilled meat that was the house specialty (Quo Vadis) and we had some cheese dumplings for dessert. They were delicious and covered in this plum sauce, I am going to look into a recipe when we´re home.

-All Jenny, Tyler´s getting photos ready-

Europe . Paris: Louvre at Last

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Today we actually got to see the Louvre. There were lots of people, but little lining up. We got to see the Mona Lisa up close, which was cool, but a little anti-climactic. It was encased in glass and a pair of personal guards. A little over the top for such a homely chick :P . Plus you could totally tell the other paintings were jealous of the obvious favouritism. Now Caravaggio, he made some cool paintings.

Oh, and we met the most quick witted beggar-lady ever created. We were just prancing down the street, mind our business when this lady comes up to us and starts reciting some frenchy gibberish. It sounded like: "Give me money. Money me. Money." So I immediately was like: "No sprechen zi deutch," but she was ready. She started pointing at her mouth, as if to eat her finger -- I was like: "NOO!" cause eating yourself is gross, right? So I reach in to my bag of recently acquired food stuffs and pull out this banana. Crazy french lady #1 perks up (NOTE: the #1 is necessary..), grabs my banana and runs! She was fast for an old broad. I was left feeling mostly helpful, but slightly used -- like she was after my banana all along..

Ok, so on to crazy french lady #2. We met her on the train to Salzburg (Austria). When we open the door to our semi-private sitting area, she's there, sitting in one of the 6 semi-private seats. "Je suis en dangereux" she says(or something like that). Asking her why, we she answers, "I don't have a ticket". So I immediately think she's either scamming us or is going to kill us. She actually turned out to be nice. She was the Princess of Germany. Her evil husband had stolen her children. She was returning to Germany to see her father (presumably the King of Germany). Oh, and she didn't like the pills "they" gave her? To make a long story short... Jenny says it's time to log off the computer, so use your imagination...


-Typy Tyler and Jealous Jenny-

P.S. J'aime les crazy french dames!

Europe . Paris: Louvre is closed Tuesdays

Tuesday, September, 19th, 2006

Without checking the guidebook today we decided to visit the Louvre. We took the subway to help preserve our feet from the hours of museum walking. When we arrived we saw a huge crowd of people and we were immediately worried of some huge line-up that we´d have to wait in. We learned that it wasn´t a line-up actually, but a bunch of people who were slowly going up to the sign to read that the museum was closed. So sad. We chose the one week day that the Louvre is closed.

So, plan B: Musee Rodin. This was a garden and a building dedicated to Rodin´s sculptures. The highlight for Tyler was a sculpture of a man sensually embracing a woman that was called "L´Homme Pense" (a man thinking, for those non-Frenchies). Rodin had most of the subjects in his sculptures in very awkward poses, they were neat to see.

The strap on my day pack broke today (good thing they come with a lifetime guarantee, but that won´t save Tyler from carrying everything for the remainder of this trip.... mwah-ha-ha).

We completed our day with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. We walked up 99.9999999% and took the elevator for the last little bit (really it was about 2/3 walking, 1/3 elevating). We wanted to walk all the way to the top but they had the stairs to the last level blocked off so you had to take the elevator (I think it was so that they could make more money since we had to pay extra). The tower was very impressive and provided an amazing view of the city. I think the elevation made couples more amorous as there was a lot of affection shared up on the top level, which made moving around more difficult since it was super crowded. The lights came on afterward we were out of the tower but they were great to see up close and personal, they must have one heck of an electric bill.

Mmm..... more crepes for dinner. Tyler had a pillow-less sleep in the hostel as we got in late and some guy was using it as a foot rest while asleep so we couldn´t do anything about it.

-Jenny the expert typer, Tyler the expert helper-

Europe. Paris: Napoleon is an Invalides

Mon, September, 18th, 2006

Today started with a bun, croissant, orange juice and hot chocolate at the Happy and Young hostel here in Paris. It was deliciousness.

Entre Phil. Phil´s an American we met in our dorm room. He is very amusing because he likes to read books with depressing endings (pretty much the most depressing ones you can think of) and he likes to watch movies that confuse him. These are his favourite movies. And he constantly talked about trying to find the sewers in Paris (and succeeded in enticing Tyler with them as well). "Phil and Tyler have a shared love of feces and feces-related paraphenalia." (quotation marks mean Tyler made me write it)

The touring of the day starting with the Jardin des Luxembourg, an absolutely huge garden and the highlight was this fountain with the mouth and nose of a woman peeking out of the water. It looked like it was floating on the water´s surface.... very cool. It was very relaxing at the garden.

We then headed to Invalides, which is a combination of a veteran´s hospital, army museum and Napoleon´s tomb. The Musee de l´armee had a cannon ball that was the size of 3 Tylers strapped together (sexy). We saw some cool relief maps which are 3 dimensional maps, for all of the major cities in France during Louis XIV´s reign. They were used for planning how to conquer certain territories. Napoleon´s tomb had a huge dome covered in gold and Tyler wanted to steal Napoleon´s jacket. That was impossible due to high security.

We ate some "scrumptious" cookies (quotations are from Tyler). Be jealous.

-Jenny again, with more help from Tyler-