Lots of updates for you guys... I've done Zurich, Como, Milan, Venice, and Florence. We're in Rome at our hotel now. Newest stuff is at the bottom, the top you've probably already read but I wanted it to all be together...
Boarding plane to Washington Dulles Airport. Plane to Toronto was delayed, so they switched our flights. We’re flying straight from Dulles to Frankfurt and arriving an hour earlier than our previous flight from Toronto would have. Guy two rows up tried to stuff a duffle bag under someone else’s row… “Watch this!” Denied by the flight attendant and made to check it. Corey’s bookbag squeezed into the overhead compartment. Corey can’t type. My window is super greasy. Yum. Thomas can’t type either… Why aren’t there mouse buttons on the bottom of this mouse pad? Three hungry hungry hippos are holding us up.
We are about 45 mins into our flight to Frankfurt. Corey and I got on the plane and automatically bypassed first class only to find that the row numbers we were walking by were too high. We came back and discovered that our seats are on the first row of International Business Class. With this seating comes a TON of legroom, reclining seats with footrest, and a four course gourmet meal for dinner with a selection of wines, plus continental breakfast in the morning and free Starbucks throughout. I guess we lucked out that there was a security issue in Toronto, because we’re getting there sooner and we’re flying first class. Before writing this I helped the German lady next to me figure out how to work her personal entertainment system (built into the seat). She just pulled out a sandwich and handed me half of it, which I tore in half again and handed part of to Corey. Chicken, tomatoes and lettuce in a hoagie bun. It was good.
Just finished an excellent dinner (by any standards, much less that of a plane) of salad and bread, then shrimp and cold deli meats plate, then beef and purple lettuce main course plate, then key lime cheesecake and coffee dessert. We are currently, by the “map” option on the personal entertainment screen, traveling at 38,000 feet above Newfoundland (almost to the Atlantic on the eastern side), about a third of the way through the trip. We’re moving 638 miles an hour and the outside air temp is -55deg C/
About to land in Frankfurt. Captain says it’s a beautiful day.
On the train to Berlin via Hannover. Big ordeal just passed over, as Corey left his Eurail Pass in the scanner when he was making security copies. He had to buy a new pass, and will be able to return the old one for an almost-full refund later on when his parent s bring it over. I had my pass validated and made reservations for the Cisalpino train from Zurich to Como while I waited for his new pass to come out. It looks like there may not be a night train from Rome to Nice as we had planned on, so we will have to wait and see how that plays out. Corey says he is going to be SO glad to get rid of this crap in Berlin. He has two rolling bags, a pack, and a bookbag. I currently have my pack and my rolling bag only; all my other bags are packed away inside those two. Whew. Hope we’re on the right train… Oh, and as you can see, we’ve switched to 24 hour time to be consistent with the trains.
We are finally at Ben and Maria’s apartment in Berlin. More to come on the journey here later, but for now we are about to head out to a much needed and very late dinner…
Corey and I are finally finished repacking our things to exclude our large suitcases for next month. He and Ben and I went to a great dinner at a Thai place within reasonable walking distance of his apartment. On the way there Ben explained the “squats” to us… Basically buildings taken by the government when East and West Germany combined, then lost in such a legal mess that squatters have taken over and lived in them for years, most of them subsiding on welfare from the government. We came back to the apartment to find Ben’s wife Maria. The four of us talked for a little while, then Corey went to packing and I was delighted to see Jeanne on Google Talk, so she and I were able to video chat for a little while. The whole video chatting thing through Google worked surprisingly well, and it just seems to be much less of a headache than Skype. It being almost 1:30 in the morning HERE, I’m really wiped, and I’m ready to go to bed. We have a long train ride ahead of us tomorrow morning. We’ll be waking up at the same time as Ben and Maria at 6:30, then getting out of the house by 7:40 to get to the main train station in Berlin by 8:00. Ben and Maria will head out on a train for work at 8:03, then Corey and I will get on a train bound for Stuttgart at 8:32. The travel time listed is 5h36m, so we should be getting to Stuttgart around 2pm. As much as we’d like to see the old city, we will probably skip this one and head straight to the Porsche Museum. It’s on the outskirts of town, and our hotel is right next door to it.
We managed to get up in time to catch the train on time this morning, so we’re well on our way to Stuttgart at this point. Actually, speaking of the fact that we’re on our way to the Porsche Museum, we just moved on from a stop right outside the VW plant in Wolfsburg. We saw the two towers full of yet-to-be-delivered cars and a couple of pretty sweet VW administration buildings. Now we’re moving along through the countryside with a big rolling field of windmills on the right and a small village that we’re pretty much above and looking down on to the left. We’re probably moving about 60mph now, but we had to have hit 90 or 100mph before we slowed for the stop in Wolfsburg. It’s hard for us to believe that this is a relatively slow train when it’s compared to some others that go over twice that fast. I’m doing a good job cataloging pictures by date, so even though I haven’t put up any yet, they’re all separated by date and all so it’ll go quickly later. Right now we’re being kindof gay and listening to the same iPod with a headphone splitter and matching headphones. Jeanne, we’re listening to the Little Jackie I got from you. It’s 10:16am now. We switch trains in 3 hours and get to Stuttgart at 2:08pm.
Just got out of a much needed shower after a really full day. We got to Stuttgart around 2pm and immediately found our way to the Porsche Museum… It was MUCH easier to get to than either of us had imagined… We just switched from the ICE train to an S-Bahn train, rode down 4 stops and got off to find the museum smack dab in front of us. By the time we finished ogling the outside of the building, it was approaching 2:30, so we went inside with our packs on and asked about lockers. The lockers are actually pretty neat; you put in a 1 euro coin to operate them, and when you unlock the locker the coin comes back out the bottom. Anyway, we decided to leave our packs in lockers and see the museum right away instead of finding our hotel first, since the museum was due to close in a few hours and we didn’t know how long it would take us to find the hotel. The building was incredible both inside and out, and I went crazy over the cars. There was a 550, a 959, a 917, a GT1, the Paris-Dakar 959, and tons of others. I think my favorite part was a heritage sort of line, where all of the 5 generations of 911 Turbos were lined up, equally spaced apart and on perfectly synched rotating displays. It’s pretty cool to see the design evolution step by step as they’re all sitting there. After we left the museum, we set off to find our hotel, which actually ended up being extremely easy, as it is on the same street as- and no more than 100 yards down from- the museum itself. We checked in with no hiccups and came up to the room on the third floor where I am now. Once in the room we took our day packs out, changed shirts and set off to downtown Stuttgart with not much more than our cameras. The S-Bahn took us back to the main station, where we got off in search of a quick bite to eat before hitting the Staatsgalerie (museum of the State I believe). A block or two from the main train station is a huge tree-lined pedestrian-only street lined with shops and places to eat. We bypassed this and the street opened up on the end to a large, open grassy area pretty much surrounded by classical buildings. One of these buildings had a small window serving slices of good-smelling pizza, so we grabbed a slice each and some Pepsi and had a seat out on the lawn to eat. The pizza was great (I had sausage, Corey had Margherita). We sat and admired our surroundings and the masses of people out and enjoying the day, then collected our things and went in search of the museum. After exploring the large park in this area in search of the Staatsgalerie, we found it across a large street on the opposite side of the park from whence we had previously come. Anyway, we found it and were given free passes because we are students. The museum was quite large, or over 50 rooms at least, and we saw galleries full of the works of Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Matisse, and many others. At the end, we were in a special gallery with pop-art (the likes of Warhol) when a group of German tourists came in. There was an exhibit of a wax figure cleaning the floor with a small towel, and shortly after the German group sat down on the folding stools they were carrying, a younger woman came in dressed in costume and proceeded to scrub the floors in an act as well. We started to leave, but decided not to be rude, so we watched this woman go on and on about something or another (acting) for at least 15 minutes. It was weird, but interesting. We explored a little more after that and then the museum closed. A nice guy at the ticket desk told me that, no, there was no water fountain, but was kind enough to take me back to the employee break room and let me use their water cooler to fill up the cup I had saved from the Pepsi with my pizza earlier. We left the museum in search of the Carl Zeiss Planetarium, and though we found it a few blocks away a very short time later, it was long since closed. The planetarium was located on that big park again, so we sat back down and talked about what we wanted to do next… Both of us were really starving at this point, so we decided that, it being close to 8:15pm, it was time to find a place to eat dinner. We walked back up that big tree-lined pedestrian street again, but still didn’t find anything that fit the bill of being within budget and looking particularly appealing. We decided at that point to keep looking in other places. We looked through an open-air (with ceiling) mall type place, and didn’t see anything we liked (we did see posters for the new Brad Pitt movie “Inglorious Bastards” outside a movie theater, which is quite weird since literally the entire movie is about killing Germans… but anyway) so we moved on again. We looked a lot of places where we saw people sitting at tables to find that they were all only drinking, and no food was being served. Eventually, after looking at three or four more menus and turning them down, I heard some rasta-type music coming from down this carport running through an apartment building. I walked through and was asked if I wanted to buy a ticket. Turns out we were at a disco that was hosting a concert of a band from Somalia. The families of people in the band, we were told, had made some excellent African food that was for sale inside, so we paid the 4 euro ticket price and headed up this driveway into the disco. We could smell the food from outside, and it was delicious. Chicken in an orange sauce over rice, and washed down with a REALLY good Stuttgart Pilsner. We ate in the courtyard outside the disco, and as we were finishing up, the band started playing. We went inside and sat in a lounge-couch area listening to them. Contrary to what I might have expected, they were a great band, and it was a lot of fun relaxing and listening to them. We made friends with a member of the Stuttgart Ballet (in her 40s I would guess) and had her suggest a good place for gelato not far from the disco. We both got her suggestion of pistachio flavor, bringing it back to the disco to eat, and it was easily the best gelato that either of us had ever had. At that point it was nearing 11:30pm, and we decided that we had better head out since we had been told that the S-Bahn closes at “12:00 or 12:30” and we didn’t want to be left stranded. We got straight back to the train station and then directly to our stop with no problems whatsoever. At this point we were, again, smack dab in front of the Porsche Museum, so we took our cameras out and used Corey’s mini-tripod to get some great shots of the building (somewhat) illuminated at night. From there we walked the hundred-or-so yards back to the hotel, and here we sit on our computers, trying not to think about the fact that it’s 2:30 in the morning, and we’re waking up at 6:30am to hopefully be on the train to Zurich by 8:00am. I’d say we did pretty well today in terms of what we were able to squeeze out of a half day here. Whew. Off to bed.
Almost to Zurich on the train from Stuttgart. I have been rotating and deleting and organizing photos for the past two hours. This morning we woke up at 6:30am as planned, but just couldn’t handle it and “slept in” until 7:30. At that point I took a shower and packed up and was downstairs with my pack b 8:00. I found the breakfast room while Corey was finishing up packing. The hotel we stayed at, Achat, was great. For $57USD we got separate beds, a private bathroom, a large operable window, and an amazing breakfast. Everything was very clean throughout the hotel. We ate salmon, many different kinds of sausage, and some pastry for breakfast, with orange juice and coffee to drink. After eating we left the hotel and headed to the train station, stopping next door to the hotel to get some bottles of water for the day. These would come handy later. We got to the train station at 9:55am and went to the DB (Deutche-Bahn) desk to ask about getting reservations on the next train to Zurich. Turns out that the first train this morning left for Zurich at 9:55am, so we missed it by literally a minute or two. The next direct train is the one that we’re on, which left at 11:53am. Having two hours to kill and not wanting to sit in the train station for that time, Corey and I made a flash decision to hit the Mercedes Museum for a very quick excursion. We hopped on the S-Bahn 1 and were there in about 15 mins. We arrived at the museum after about a 5 minute walk. Okay, the train is coming into Zurich, I’ll finish this one later.
We arrived at the museum after about a 5 minute walk. It was a lot more impressive than either of us expected, and the inside layout was very reminiscent of the Guggenheim, where you take an elevator to the top and walk down through “galleries,” in this case of cars, to the bottom. The coolest things there to me car-wise were definitely the 300SL and the 300SLR. I had never seen either of those in person before, and they were amazing as one might expect. Time-wise, we expected it to take about 20 mins plus 5 mins walking to get back to the main station where we would catch the train to Zurich, and at the point that we bought our tickets for the museum, we had exactly half an hour to get through the entire thing. We started out blitzing through the VERY old cars, then slowed down, perhaps too much, going through the recognizable classics. Before we realized it we were left with 12 mins to finish and we were still on the second level. We hurried on through and were just arriving at the gift shop (the universal sign for the end of the museum) Corey’s timer went off signaling that we needed to head out. Trouble was, we couldn’t figure out how to get back to the entrance area where we checked our packs in lockers. After about 6 or 7 mins of looking, we found the lockers and grabbed our packs, running out the door with them. We were running LATE. We ran as fast as we possibly could with our large packs to get back to the Mercedes S-Bahn station, and waited pretty impatiently another 8 mins for the train to come. At this point Corey was sure we would miss the train to Zurich, which left at 11:53, but I was confident that we would make it if we ran for it as soon as the S-Bahn made it into the main station. After a grueling 10ish minute ride, the train came into the main station in Stuttgart, and I pulled the handle to open the side door just before the train came to a halt. We jumped out sprinting as the train stopped and ran like hell up the 2 levels of stairs to the real trains. We emerged onto the platform and were relieved to see that the train was still there. Pretty much all the other passengers were already on board, so we climbed on the first car we saw. This was first class, but we went to our reserved seats later. The train left about 2 mins after we got on it… We both agreed to not cut any of our remaining connections so close in the future.
Woke up a little bit ago, about to head to the farmers’ market here in Zurich. Zurich is BEAUTIFUL. Met some people from Colorado and one from San Francisco last night. More later, gotta run.
I remember when I came to Europe once before, that even though we were only in Switzerland for a short period of time, it was my favorite place. The same has been the case here. I have seen a LOT of beautiful places, but Zurich has got to be one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. If a picture can convey a thousand words then I must have way more to tell you than I can write here. Corey and I walked around Zurich for most of the day. We saw the largest clock face in Europe, saw a lame flower clock, and saw a lot of very expensive things in shops. As we were walking around looking in the windows of these shops, I saw a pretty elaborate wrought iron gate over the entrance to a building that was recessed from the sidewalk a little bit. I took a picture of the gate, and as I did a man dressed in business attire came out of the building. “Would you like to come inside?” he said. “No thanks, my friend is up there,” I replied, pointing to Corey half a block up. “It’s a great building, I think you would like it very much. Once I let this door close it will be locked and you would not be able to see it.” “OK, thank you” I said. I called to Corey, but he didn’t hear me, so I went ahead in to see what this guy was talking about. Through the first door was a lobby/foyer, with a Louis Vuitton on the right and some boutique store on the left, both closed. So far I wasn’t impressed. But then I walked through the NEXT door, and boy was I amazed. There was a 4 or 5-leveled octagonal atrium space with a gorgeous stained glass window at the top, and there was no one else there. Turns out the building was rented out as VERY expensive offices, mostly to investment firms and the like. The ceilings other than the atrium were all vaulted, and shone beautiful reflections of soft, yellow light cast by old elaborate wall sconces. The floor in the center space was also a beautiful yet subtle mosaic. I picked my jaw up off the floor after a minute and took some pictures, then ran to the door to see if I could call Corey. I pushed the locked door open and noticed that it closed very slowly on a hydraulic hinge, so I pushed it open again all the way and sprinted down to Corey, who was sitting on a bench. “Corey!” I said, and as he turned around I motioned for him to follow me. I got back to the door before it latched shut and held it for Corey to catch up to me. He was equally impressed with the building, and we both agreed that it was really nice of that guy, whoever he was, to let me in to such a wonderful, however private, building. We moved along and eventually ate dinner at a pretty cheap place. I had a Donor Kebab and Corey had a chicken one, whatever the word for that is. After we ate we walked up away from the water and into the area where the houses are. I found a locked gate that wasn’t latched, and through it I ended up in a beautiful shared garden area behind some houses that obviously were places that people actually called home. There were cats and children’s toys spread out amongst greenery and flowers. Through the garden path I actually ended up in a small playground, then I walked through some bushes and onto a main pedestrian path, which led over the playground on a wooden footbridge and to a wall with a dropoff on the other side, which overlooked the city from a fair height. I waited here for Corey for a while since I had split with him by going through that gate… I took pictures of the city, pictures of people and some of people with their cameras for them. Eventually I turned around and started heading back down the path just in time to see Corey coming in the other direction. From there we walked down towards the water. We got to the riverside and walked down it a ways until we heard singing. Under a building in an open air portico type thing, there were two girls in matching pink dresses, one playing a violin and the other singing opera. This girl’s voice was amazing. I’m sure that she was involved in theater during the day or something, because she certainly wasn’t just someone off the street. The crowd surrounding them grew from 5 or so people to at least 60 while we stood there, but after a second song we decided it was time to head back to the hostel. The walk back was only a few blocks (Zurich, being based on a river in the middle and a lake at one end, is very easy to navigate). Corey turned in and I decided to go back out and wander around for a little while. I walked most of the way up the river back to the train station, then decided to turn around and head back. I bought a beer “Efe Premium” – disgusting, and a pack of gum from a convenience store and headed out. About a block from the hostel, I heard some English, and American English at that. I walked up to the people speaking and asked them where they were from. There were three of them… Two were a couple, college-age, from Boulder, Colorado; the other guy was the girl’s cousin, and he had just moved to Amsterdam from San Francisco. He had started a party lights business in SF selling LEDs and glow-sticks, and it did really well apparently, so he decided to move to Amsterdam to start another branch of the business there. He was in Zurich both to show his cousin around and to sponsor the Street Parade 2009, which was set to start the next morning. I had heard that there was a street parade the next day, but I really had no idea what it was supposed to be like. He explained to me that it definitely wasn’t a parade in the sense that you might expect, but rather the biggest techno rave in all of Europe, which happens once a year in Zurich. It starts in the train station in the middle of town, and crowds are so huge that they stretch all the way from there to the lake at the end. I would learn more about this in the morning. We all went to a bar for a while, then they closed and we went to another for a few minutes before parting ways. They were headed to Berlin next, I think. Anyway, I headed back to the hostel and went straight to bed, since we were supposedly waking up early in the morning to go to the market. We got up the next morning a little late, but not too bad. Packing is what made us late leaving the hostel. Both of us had things strewn all over the place, and it took at least an hour for us to get everything together and ready to go. We put our packs on at around 10 and headed out the door in search of something to eat and a reservation on the next train to Como. We went straight to the train station, and found when we got there that there were already crowds raving in the street parade. The inside of the Zurich train station had been turned into a club for all practical purposes. We found that the first train to Zurich left in one minute, and there was no time to make it, so we decided to take the next one in about an hour and a half and go to the market for the time we had to wait. We tried to find lockers to leave our packs in, but the only ones in the train station were too small for the packs, so we would have to carry them. We walked out of the train station and about a block down the road before deciding that, given previous experiences, it probably wasn’t a good idea to try to make it to the market. We saw an open air sandwich shop and walked over to it, but then I convinced Corey to go in the grocery store next door instead since he hadn’t been to one in Europe before at that point. We walked around carrying our packs for a while, then I had the idea to get a push basket for the packs instead of holding them on our backs the whole time. I picked up the cart (you have to use a 1E coin to get the basket off of the basket train, and you get the coin back when you return it… keeps things neat and the baskets all in one place) and grabbed a hand basket for groceries. I got a loaf of sweet bread, a 2L bottle of grapefruit soda (for 70 cents!) some cheese, some apples, and some bananas. Oh, and a Victorinox steak knife for 3E… Not a bad deal. We left the grocery store and headed back to the train station, where the rave had nearly tripled in size. There was a Playstation booth towards the back, and we stood on their platform for a while before realizing that there were stairs leading to the roof of the trailer. We climbed the stairs and spent at least 10 minutes up there taking pictures of the crowds and listening to the music. The place was crazy, and more and more people were flocking in from the incoming trains. We saw an old man in a speedo and a pink wig, two old women in wheelchairs dressed as an angel and a devil, with similarly dressed younger girls pushing them, and countless young people in all sorts of crazy costume and dress. The DJ playing was really good, though I don’t know who it was. We soaked in the energy for a few more minutes then decided we were both really hungry and tired of standing up with our packs. We came down from the roof of the trailer and waded through the crowd to find our platform, at this point about half an hour before our train was to leave. We asked a platform worker to look at our tickets and tell us where to go, as these were different looking from the German tickets, and she told us platform 53 was where we needed to be. We walked what seemed like a mile to the second to last platform down, and sat there for about 15 mins before realizing that 53 was a seat reservation and not a platform. We looked at the reservation tickets carefully before deciding that 19 was the platform we needed. We went back down to the connecting tunnels under the tracks, and though we DID see a fight break out, there, strangely, was no platform 19. After much more investigative work than it seems like it should have taken, we found out that the platform number wasn’t listed on the reservation, and there really was no platform 19. What we needed was platform 4. So we walked to that platform, ate some food and talked to an old woman about how the train was late, and eventually boarded the train for what I will probably always consider the ride of my life… The Cisalpino train from Zurich to Como.
Written on the train from Milan to Venice, 08/11/09 13:01 finishing time.
At this point I feel like I’m recapping from a while back, but it’s been hard to do things as we go with less down time on the train. The ride from Zurich to Como was incredible, and it deserves every bit of that word. The car that we were on was only about half full, and it’s a good thing that that was the case, because otherwise I feel like I might have been crawling all over people’s laps to get a view out the windows. The ENTIRE ride was beautiful. Rolling hills, then steep mountains with villages clinging to them like goats on a hillside. Only pictures can convey. It was that great. Eager to arrive, though, we got off a few stops too early in a town called Lugano. We thought at first that this was Como because we could see the town coming down the mountain and into the lake, but it turns out that it was a different town and lake. If anything though, I would argue that Lugano was even more beautiful than Como. There were less tourists, and to me because both the lake and the town were smaller, it was a lot more quaint. We had about an hour there before the next train to Como would be coming, so we took advantage of that time by walking down the path that went down the hill from the train station to the village just above the level of the lake. We stopped at the small cobblestoned parking lot next to the church and looked out over the lake. The view there may be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I stopped taking pictures after a while and was content to just stand there, staring out over some red terra cotta tile roofs to the lake, some small sailboats out on the water and the mountains on the other side. What a place. After heading back to the station and boarding the train, we arrived in Como about 20 mins later. Como too, was beautiful. We walked from the train station to our hostel and dropped off our bags in our room. It wasn’t really a hostel, but a bed and breakfast, and it was newly renovated with new furniture and air conditioning. By the time we left the place it was starting to get dark… We wandered around the town and found the Casa del Fascio, which was quite a treat to see. We both got some great pictures of the building and the cathedral across the street from it, and then we headed off to find a place to eat. Most places had started to close by this time, but we managed to find a place about a block away from the central square that was still serving. We talked to the girls at the table next to us and they suggested Spaghetti Carbonara (with eggs and bacon) and the four-cheese pizza, which are the two things they had just finished eating. I ordered the spaghetti and Corey ordered a four-meat pizza, but I had to reorder because the kitchen was no longer running and they could only do pizza. Wanting to try something different, I decided to order a Tonno or something like that, with Tuna and Tomato. It was really good. The pizzas were shaped like Arnold’s head from “Hey! Arnold” on Nickelodeon. We drank beer there that was brewed in Como. It may have been the best I’ve had since I’ve been over here. After dinner we got some Gelato and headed back to the hotel. In the morning we got up and packed up just in time to check out at 10. We went out and explored some more after checking out, leaving our bags in the office of the hotel. We went back to the Casa del Fascio and tried to see the inside, but even though there was a guard there, he would not let us in. We had to fill out a form for admittance, but the next day was the earliest that we could visit. I ran back to the hotel from there to get my laptop to translate to the guard that that would be too late and all we wanted was a minute or two inside. When I got back to the office, there was a sign on the door saying back in a minute, so waited and went into the breakfast room next to the office to grab a croissant since I hadn’t gotten one at breakfast in the morning. Next thing I know the woman who runs the hotel is yelling at me. She spoke absolutely zero English, but from what I could make out she was angry at me for eating a croissant because it was after breakfast was over and the food was off-limits at this point. I didn’t think that it would be a problem because usually things like that aren’t left out overnight and it tasted fresh to me anyway, but whatever. I felt bad about it for a minute and then I realized that it was a small piece of bread with some powdered sugar on it, and by that time I was back with my laptop at the Casa del Fascio, laughing about it telling Corey. I wrote a message to the guard and translated it with a program on my computer, but it was to no avail. He was really nice and sympathetic, but he said it just wasn’t up to him, he wasn’t allowed to let anyone in on Sunday. From there, we went to lunch at a small restaurant on the main square. They had wifi, and I used the remainder of my battery life to upload the first set of pictures that you saw go up a couple of days ago at this point. We were there for at least an hour, then we decided to use our last couple of hours in Como (it was about 3pm at this point) to walk along the lake to Villa Olma and Villa d’Este. We walked a ways and came to a monument that had Volta in the name. I have a photo with the name but I can’t remember it off the top of my head. From there we kept going and saw some more of the famous villas. At Villa Olma we decided to head back, but to take a different path. Along this path, about one block back from the lake, we actually ran into Terragni’s Novacommum apartment building, which we had been trying to find the day before. We took some pictures of that and then I decided I was thirsty enough to get another big bottle of water from the grocery store conveniently located across the street. We went in and I grabbed a bottle of water and an ice cream sandwich. Corey got a Coke and something else, I don’t remember what. We paid and headed out, back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then to the train station. On the way to the station with our bags, we actually got on a bus that took us the rest of the way. We didn’t know if we needed passes; we did, but the bus driver told us not to worry about it. At the train station we almost immediately got on a train to Milan. About an hour into the ride to Milan, I reached into my pocket to get a mint and realized that there was no wallet there. I freaked out, and sure enough it was gone. We decided to get off at the next stop and head back to Como to see if we could find it. Turns out that the next stop was Milan, and the same train went back the other way at that point, so we got off to stretch our legs for a minute then got back on. On the way back we looked all over the train and in my daypack for the wallet, but it was nowhere to be found. I decided that I had either left it in the café where we ate lunch or in the grocery store where I bought the bottle of water. Corey went through pictures on his camera, and we could see the outline of the wallet in my pocket in photos taken after eating in the café, so we were pretty sure it was in the grocery store (I had paid in the grocery store with coins, so it could be in either place). I figured I had taken it out of my pocket to get to the coins beneath it and left it there on the counter, but Corey did the same thing behind me and he most likely would have seen it, you would think. Anyway, I got off the train and Corey waited with the bags while I sprinted around Como looking for my long lost wallet. I went to the grocery store and then to the café, but neither had seen it. Then I retraced part of my steps from earlier that day, all the way to the Volta monument, but it was all to no avail. I went back to the train station in a huff, and Corey told me it was an hour until the next train to Milan. In that hour we tore my packs apart, but there was no wallet. I ate some chocolate leftover from the grocery store in Zurich, packed up, and got on the train. This time we were on Cisalpino instead of the crappy train before, but we got in a little bit of trouble because apparently on the nice trains in Italy you have to make reservations, even if it’s going to be a late train that’s practically empty. After saying something to us the first time though, they left us alone. Arriving in Milan we were both tired of walking and tired in general, so we got a cab to take us to our hotel, which turned out to be a good idea because it would have been quite a walk.
Corey and I are on the train from Venice to Florence right now, so I guess it’s as good a time as ever to recap Milan. We got to Milan fairly late at night after the wallet fiasco in Como, so we decided to take a cab to the Hotel. We were both really worn out, and it would have been a long walk had we decided to do that. Our hotel, Hotel Ritter, was really nice. I think that it was cheapest we could find in Milan, but it was a three-star place with wifi in the lobby and bathrooms in each room, which was nice after the walk to the bathroom in the last place. Our first day in Milan started with Corey getting up and waking me up. I was extremely tired, so I told him I was going to sleep for about another hour and I’d meet him at the Duomo at 11:00. We both had walkie talkies, so we figured we could work things out past that point. I went back to sleep and woke up at about 10:30am, at which point I hopped in and out of the shower and then headed out to find the Duomo. The guy at the front desk told me to go outside and head left, and eventually it would be on the left. Easy enough. I did as I was told and eventually came to a small church, but surely this wasn’t the Duomo? I knew I had seen pictures of what I was looking for in the past, but I couldn’t remember what it looked like with all the cathedrals we had been going in through the past few days. I went inside and there were a couple of people there. I took a photo or two and headed on. In maybe a quarter of a mile, on the same road, there was another, larger cathedral. I didn’t think that this was it either, but I went inside and took pictures all the same. There were maybe eight people in this one. Down the road a little more than another quarter mile and there was yet another cathedral, this one much larger than either of the two previous ones. For some strange reason, I convinced myself that this was the Duomo, and went looking all over it for Corey. I figured maybe I couldn’t get him on the walkie talkie because he had turned it off inside the church or something. No dice. After about 10 minutes, at this point it being pretty much 11am, I realized that I still wasn’t at the Duomo, and I headed out on down the street at a quick pace worried that Corey was there on the steps just waiting for me to get there. In another quarter-mile or so I came to a big intersection, and I asked a police officer where the Duomo was. He smiled and pointed down the road a little bit forward from me and to the left. As I got to the point where I could see down the road onto which I was turning, I saw the gigantic white cathedral emerge around the corner. Wow. I walked towards it at a fair clip, hoping I would be able to find Corey amongst the huge crowds in front of the building. As I got to the open plaza, I also noticed the Gallerie on the left. Now I recognized exactly where I was, and I can’t believe that I didn’t before that. I looked all over for Corey and tried to call him on the radio, but I never got a response. After being given a bracelet by an African guy who wanted to take my picture with my camera (I declined) I decided to go ahead and go into the Duomo. There was a line to get in, but it went very quickly, as you just had to show what you had in your pockets before going through the entrance. I got through the door and was amazed. It’s not hard to believe that this is the 4th largest cathedral in the world. The vaulted ceilings seemed of infinite height, and the stained glass windows at the back were so massive it’s a wonder that they didn’t cave in on themselves. I went into super-photographer mode and took tons of long-exposure shots, most at a high aperture with the shutter being open for at least 8 seconds. A few of them came out VERY well, if I do say so m of myself. I even had one 30-second exposure of the crypt underground in the back. All this picture-taking made me wish I had brought a small tripod with me, but I managed okay using the lens cap and my hands as props. I could talk about this cathedral for a while, but pictures are a better method of communication on that, so you can just look at them. After an hour or so I left the Duomo and decided to try Corey on the walkie talkie again. As I turned the radio on and tried to call him, I walked to the entrance of the Galerie. I called once or twice then got a reply, and he said he was at a pizza place right next to the Duomo. I peeked around an ice cream booth and saw him sitting there eating pizza and sketching the Duomo. I had some pizza that he said he wouldn’t be able to finish, then walked away for a few minutes to find something to drink. I came back with a Fanta and waited a few minutes for him to finish sketching. When he finished up he ate the last piece of pizza and then we hopped up and headed into the Gallerie. We looked in the stores there for a little while and then decided to try to look around for things for some girls back home… just not there. We walked out and checked out the Ferrari shop down the street for kicks (there was a real F1 car there, which was neat to see). From there we walked down the street and found some lower-end, though still nice, stores to shop in. One store, called Zara (which is really popular over here) was having a big sale, so we went in to check it out. Neither of us found anything that we thought the girls would particularly like, but I did see a bathing suit that I just couldn’t pass up. At this point we decided that we would rent bikes from right outside the Galerie and ride to the Leonardo da Vinci museum about a mile away. We went up to the “BikeMi” station (this is run by Milan’s public transportation system) and saw that we had to go to an “ATM Point” do organize a rental. ATM Point here doesn’t refer to an ATM, but the acronym for Milan’s public transportation system. That was the first point of confusion. We found signs leading down into the subway that said ATM Point ->, so we followed these into what seemed like catacombs beneath the plaza at the Duomo. After what felt like half a mile of walking, we came to the ATM Point, where we pressed a button and got a number and sat down to wait. Notably at this point, there were some well-built Italkian guys in front of us in line. One of their phones started ringing after a couple of minutes, and I couldn’t help but to bust out laughing, because his ringtone was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic. Eventually our number was called, but after filling out forms and working out that we didn’t have GSM cell phones, their system magically went down and we couldn’t get our info to go through anyway. They told us that we could do the same thing online at the internet point upstairs, so we went there and paid the 1E fee to use the computer for 15 mins. When we got to the BikeMi website, we clicked on “temporary subscription” and got a 404-page cannot be displayed message, so it was obvious that the problem was there the whole time. Corey stood up and walked out at this point, and after logging out I walked out of the internet point to see him on the phone with the BikeMi 800 number, trying to work something out that way. After about 10 mins on the phone, he frowned, sighed, and hung up the phone. Turns out they wouldn’t take the card he was trying to use to pay for it, after all that. Discouraged at what a waste of time that was, we walked out of the subway area and back into the bright sunlight of the plaza outside the Duomo. We looked at the sign for the da Vinci Museum again and discovered that it was actually closed on Monday, so we could forget that anyway. We also saw, though, that there was a da Vinci exhibit in another museum close by, so we walked there and checked it out for a while. There were some of his original sketches on display, as well as touchscreens set up for viewing and flipping through scans of his sketchbooks. Above those screens were others with 3D animations of his designs, showing how they worked. We spent about half an hour there and then moved on to the main activity we had planned… Climbing the steps to the top of the Duomo. We paid the 5E fee for the “stairs” option (as opposed to twice that for the elevator) and got to climbing. I counted 166 stairs to the first level. After walking to the first, we walked across where the flying buttresses are and then up another level to the very top, at least in terms of where we were allowed to go. The view, and being able to see the intricacies of all the cathedral’s stone work up close, were both well worth the price and the climb. After this we took the long way back to the hotel, and on the way found a non-touristy place to eat. I had crab spaghetti and Corey had a HUGE calzone. Both dishes were very good. We could see the Pirelli tower from outside the restaurant, but the hotel was in the other direction, so we decided to call it a night and see the tower on the way to the train station in the morning. The next morning we got up at a reasonable hour and walked outside looking to catch a cab to the train station, but we didn’t see any, so we ended up walking about halfway and eventually hailing a cab to take us the remaining mile or so.
We just got to our “hotel” in Venice. It’s awesome actually. We called a guy from a payphone in the train station and he told us where to go and that there was a key under a flower pot in the back. There is a new key to get into a foyer where two doors split off, and an old key to get into one of those doors, which is our apartment. You walk in to the kitchen, there it a bathroom on the right, and then there is a living room with a couch that becomes a bed and a drawer in the bottom of the couch that pulls out to another bed. I’m in the pullout right now writing this. There is also a table and 2 chairs and a very small flat screen TV. There’s no AC, but we have a fan running and now that we’ve been here for a few minutes it actually feels quite comfortable. We are looking at things to do now and we’ll probably go eat, then at that point it will be a little cooler and we’ll walk to Saint Mark’s Square and climb the spire roundabout the time the sun will be setting. It’s EXTREMELY quiet here, it’s like we’re the only ones on the block, which is nice but it also means we’re a ways away from most things. We’re on Rio Tera’ De Pensieri. There is a courtyard behind us and we are closest to the water on the inside.
We decided to sleep in some this morning. I just got out of the shower and Corey just got in. Yesterday we left pretty much everything but our cameras here and walked around Venice. We went to Saint Mark’s Square, took lots of pictures, and stopped in a lot of shops; especially the mask-selling variety. There was one sidewalk vendor who was selling handmade masks made of leather, and those really caught my eye. They are about the same prices as the other masks, but they seem like they’d be less fragile and they are something I’ve never seen before. Today we are planning on going to the street market here. There should be a lot of interesting things, as it is supposed to be one of the longest and largest in the area. On the way we’re stopping at some churches and afterwards we’ll go to St. Mark’s and climb the spire. Yesterday we had kebabs again for dinner. They are cheap and good but I would rather spend a little more and get some real Italian food. We decided on another place that smelled delicious that we will probably eat at tonight. Last night before we went to bed I showed Corey how to Autostitch a panorama out of a number of photos in Photoshop. I hadn’t done this since getting CS4; I am usually on CS2. It works PERFECTLY, and I’m really jealous that he has taken so many collages because all the ones he did turned out REALLY well.
I just got out of the shower after a good, long day in Venice. We started the day by finding the market that’s a few canals over from Saint Mark’s square. It wasn’t quite as impressive as I thought it would be, but it’s also worth mentioning that the last market I went to in Europe (at least that I remember) was the humongous one in Brugge, Belgium, famous for it’s size and the fact that it has pretty much everything. Anyway, most of this market was touristy stuff… masks, t-shirts, etc. We walked around for a little while and tried on a few more masks, but didn’t end up buying anything. We decided to shop around for a little while in the stores lining the streets, and eventually we ended up buying some little somethings for some special ladies. Actually, though it kind of sucked carrying those bags around for the rest of the day, we had fun scaring annoying pigeons by shaking the bags at them. We kept walking towards Saint Mark’s and ended up in San Polo’s Square, where we saw an African restaurant that Corey said was supposed to be good. We checked out the menu and decided that maybe we’d stop there for dinner, but it was a bit too much for an early lunch. Next door, however, we found what we were looking for. This was a hip, modernist looking shop selling sandwiches, wraps and paninis. We both ordered basically what looked like those Smuckers uncrustables they used to sell. The uncrustables were PB&J stamped into circles that were crimped around the edges. What we had were much the same in terms of the bread (except they were cut in half), but they were bigger and the filling was certainly different. I had stonefish and tomato, and Corey had eggs and shrimp. I decided to wait and get a slice of pizza at another place to complete my meal, but Corey ordered another one, this time eggs and ham, or something like that. I had water to drink and he had some lemon tea. We left the sandwich shop and walked along the canals towards Saint Mark’s. Eventually we got to the famous Ponte de Rialto bridge, which was teeming with tourists edging at eachother to get a picture in the middle with their backs to the beautiful view down the canal. We stayed at the top of the bridge for a couple of minutes and then moved on. I found a place that looked good and got a slice of pizza with spinach and feta. We walked a bit farther, then a few blocks from Saint Mark’s Square we smelled probably the best scent ever. It was a delicious patisserie, and everything in it’s windows looked like it had been created with the care of one made for a Food Magazine photoshoot. We bought three things to split. One cannoli, one rizwan, and one nougaty thing that came wrapped in plastic. We split the first two and decided to save the nougat for later. After eating those we went into Doge’s Palace in Saint Mark’s. The palace apartments were some of the most elaborate living quarters I’ve ever seen. The ceilings were all painted with frescoes, each surrounded with elaborate gold-painted framing. Many of the walls had paintings on them too, either that or they were covered with stamped and painted leather. We went through a few of these apartments, then came to a number of rooms filled with glass cases enclosing all sort of medieval weapons and armor. We saw swords ranging from ones looking like they were made for fencing to some so big it would certainly be hard to lift them, even with two hands. The armor was really elaborate too, with some helmets completely covered in engravings. Looking out the window from here we could see a sweet sailboat making its way past the museum. I think it was a Perini Navi, and it had to be in excess of 150 feet. It was motoring though, not sailing. From the weapons and armor exhibit we moved downstairs to a prison area. The walls changed from being covered with paintings, tapestries and leather to bare stone, and the ceilings changed from 20+ feet down to barely above head height. There were some markings on the inside of the cells left over from when prisoners were there however many years ago, leaving their names on the stone with the smoke coming off the candles they had. There were LOTS of cells. After going through the prison we ended up in the gift shop, which is the universal sign for the end of the road in any museum. We left and took some more pictures of the building from the outside, then noticed another, different sailboat passing in the water outside, so we went to see it. This one was red and had to be over 100 feet. It was a treat to see both of those sailboats. From the water here, we walked over to an exhibit we had been seeing signs for since the previous day, supposedly about art and architecture or something like that. It was much smaller than we thought, and we figure we must have missed some larger thing a day or two earlier. After this exhibit we stumbled upon another one in a church with a violin making exhibit. There were some pretty crazy violins, and something or another mentioned Vivaldi in the name. After looking at these we went out and sat on a bench for a while, both deciding that our legs couldn’t take much more before retiring for an early night. We decided that we would go up the tower in Saint Mark’s Square and then go to dinner, then go back and pack up and hit the sack. We headed to the square and though it kind of sucked paying 8E to go to the top, it was nice that we ascended in an elevator instead of by stairs. The view of Venice from the top of the tower was amazing, and we spent probably half an hour just taking pictures from each side. We saw a guy with a 2 DSLR camera setup who was taking 3D pictures from up there with his wife. We were getting ready to leave, but stayed to have the 3D guy’s wife take a picture of us overlooking the city. I’m glad we waited the extra couple of minutes for that, because as we were standing in line for the elevator, the bells in the tower, which we had thought to be nonworking, started ringing. These bells are HUGE, like the size of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The first thing we heard was squeaking as the belts that drove them began to turn, but as soon as the ringing started we could hear nothing else. Kids were covering their ears… the sound was brain-rattling, but the noise coming from these three bells ringing in concert was quite a treat to hear. After the bells stopped ringing we hopped in the elevator and headed back down to the bottom. We got out a map and headed to a restaurant recommended to us by a girl working in one of the shops that we had stopped in earlier. It was supposedly a tapas place that would not be a touristy place and would be reasonable price-wise. It was a bit of a walk, but eventually we found it, and it indeed was very good. There was a counter with glass and we basically just picked what we wanted and paid based on what we got. The guy behind the counter explained what everything was in English, so that was nice to go by. Most of what we had was a biscotti type thing, that being whatever topping on top of a slice of French bread. I had one with catfish and something dark that looked a little like fish but tasted like capers. I also had an artichoke that was in one piece (or slice) but had been cooked down so much that it was about the consistency of mashed potatoes. There was one other biscotti thing, then I had some octopus salad (which was more like baby-octopus-in-tomato-pesto. It was delicious. I don’t remember what Corey had. After that we made our way back to the apartment, took showers and sorted through pictures before heading to bed. We also blared some 90s music through our headphones like a small radio. We were to sleep by 11pm, and woke up this morning at a little before 9am to head to the train station in Venice.
I wrote half of this last night, and this half I have written half waiting for the train and half on the train on the way to Florence. Update: We’re still on the train to Florence, I’m in the process of writing about Milan now, and Corey would like me to note that the woman in the seat next to him has her paper spread out over half of his personal seat-space. We feel that this is rather inconsiderate. It would be okay except the corners of the paper keep tickling my arm. – C
20:21 (2:21pm NC)
We’re on our way to Rome now from Florence. We covered a lot of ground in a short time there, though we still wish we had a little more time. We got to Florence from Venice at about 1:30pm and went straight out to find somewhere else to eat, as we were pretty starving since an early dinner the previous day in Venice and some cookies last night were the last things we had to eat. We actually ended up going to a great place on our way walking to the Duomo from the train station. It was the first restaurant we came to, and the prices seemed reasonable, so we went in. I ordered a pizza with wurst, ham, and sausage (and tomato and cheese) and Corey got a calzone. When the plates came out, both things were HUGE. We were both hungry though, so we started pigging out. The pizza was seriously like a medium size that we are used to ordering in the US. Both of our dishes were only 6.50E, so compared to most of the restaurants that we have menu-viewed and declined, it was very reasonable. I can’t believe it, but I ate the whole pizza and the leftovers from Corey’s calzone. When we finished eating we scurried out and walked at a fast clip to the Duomo, which we arrived at less than 5 mins of walking later. We went in and immediately started taking pictures. We agreed that, though certainly impressive, it certainly wasn’t as cool as the Duomo in Milan in terms of sheer size and wow factor. While we were taking pictures, a girl walked over and asked Corey about his NC State shirt. Turns out she was there with two friends that had recently graduated with her from ECU. They had just come from Cinco Terre, had been in Europe for a month, and had one more month to go. They recommended that we skip Madrid and do Grenada instead, so we decided that we will certainly take one of the Madrid days and do a full-day trip to Grenada. She also recommended a place to stay near Monaco, and that’s good since we don’t have reservations there yet. She also recommended going to Cinco Terre… She said it’s a lot easier to get to than we told her we had thought, and apparently it’s a beautiful place with a lot of great hikes and small town atmosphere. I told this girl that I was from Fayetteville, and she guessed that I went to Terry Sanford HS. Apparently she is cousins with John Bradley, or something like that. She knew a lot of people that were a couple of years older than me that I was at least acquainted with in HS. Small world. At this point Corey and I split off to find the ticket counter to climb to the top of the dome. We got in a fairly long line and then decided that we weren’t sure we’d have time to do both that and see the statue of David in Accademia, so we left the line to do that first. After asking a few people for directions, we found ourselves in the line for Accademia. We went in and saw a great photography exhibit, then moved on to sculpture, and at the end of the first hallway was the statue of David. It was much bigger than I expected even though I had heard that it is and seen pictures illustrating its size. There were no pictures allowed, but we managed to get some anyway. Corey got in trouble for this twice. Haha. We stayed and admired the sculpture for a few minutes before moving on to more sculpture. We went through all that and then moved on to the next floor, which was all old religious paintings. To be honest, neither of us were very excited by these, so we decided that especially since we had seen everything, even if only briefly, that we would go ahead and leave to go up to the top of the Duomo. I wasn’t sure that it would be worth the 8E to go up, but we went ahead and did it. I was SO glad that we did. We went straight up to the top, deciding that we would catch Michelangelo’s paintings on the dome on the way down. The view from the top was AMAZING. The railing was much lower than those of the towers and cathedrals in Venice and Milan, so it was much easier to get an unobstructed view clear across the city. Here on the train where I’m writing now Corey just showed me a wicked panorama he just put together of shots taken from the top. I did the same thing taking pictures, but I haven’t done mine yet and his seem to turn out better when it comes to the panos anyway. We decided that there really wasn’t time to do much more than we had done since at that point up there overlooking the city we had less than an hour to get on our train to Rome, so we just sat there for a few minutes and looked out over Florence before deciding that we had better head down. On the way down we stopped at the top balcony level inside the dome to look at the paintings. I was interested in this, but until I got right there I had no idea how impressed I would be with the feat of painting that dome. Everything is so well done, every detail, even though the things painted are actually so much larger than life. And that those are Michelangelo’s actual brush strokes, unobstructed a foot in front of my face, was just amazing to me. My favorite part was the top of the dome just before the cupola. The painting there resembles a view of a (it’s killing me that I can’t think of the word) six-sided column-ed gazebo from the bottom. From a slightly blurry picture it REALLY looks like there are guys up there hanging their feet down into the dome. The perfect details and perspective just blow my mind. At this point we had been looking at these painting with draping jaws for about 10 mins. We had to go. We hurried down the stairs and speed-walked back to the train station, were we saw a new Ferrari F430 in the carport. We picked up our bags and got straight on the train, where I am sitting writing this now. As I write it’s dark outside my train window and we are due in Rome in about 15 mins. We are probably moving about 140mph and we’re riding on a EuroStar Italia train. It’s just about to turn 21:00/9:00pm here/3:00pm in NC. I’m FINALLY caught up on writing these entries, excited about seeing Rome and probably Ben Phillip and Zach, and ready to get some food. Miss and love you all. Thomas.