Monday, June 30, 2008

Italy Part 2

Well, well....where were we?
Yeah, Lerici.

Well...Lerici is where we ended last year. A campsite right on the water; a small free beach 5 minutes from there. Plus it was (again) uphill.

We got to LaSpezia later in the afternoon on Friday and as we were trekking up to the campsite I was worried that we'd have no place to camp. It was, after all, the weekend and we could have been screwed. Especially since it was later in the day.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.

As we entered the site I asked if there was a place for us and the answer was a definite "yes". 

It turned out that we were one of the only tents there for about 4 days! It was really great to have a campsite "just for us".

But I quickly found out why: it was very rainy for a couple days. We had some of the worst rain on our vacation those first two nights. It was quite romantic in the way that buckets of water being dumped on you for hours at a time and what is separating you is a millimeter of fabric...nice. For 3 days we woke up, shook the water and debris off of us, dried our stuff off and went on with our day.

After 3 days, we were thinking of moving on to somewhere more south. We asked the locals what the weather would be like—and even tried to read the weather in the local paper—and found out that they knew about as much as we did!

Side note: seriously...what is it with weathermen? They never really get the weather correct. If I don 't do my job correctly, I get fired. What happens to them??? Nothing.

Anyway...we stuck it out for another day and we are glad we did. The weather finally got better. She could do her beach thing and I could do my photo thing.

I went to the Cinque Terra by myself on Wednesday. Ivana didn't want to go because she was there twice already in her life. I wanted to go to re-take some photos I'd wanted to re-take for whatever reason. It wasn't the best day for photos but I did alright.

I got to Corniglia and there are 2 ways to get to the center: bus or walking up 382 motherfucking steps to get there (told you everything was uphill).

How do I know it was 382 steps?

Yep, they let you know. Little did they know it's 425 steps to our Lerici campsite and 450 in Verona...I was trained. Heh heh....

So, after having an ice cream, shooting some pictures and checking out the store that has "Hitler wine" and "Stalin beer" I went back to LaSpezia and to the campsite.

We had our favorite cheese almost every night: gorgonzola marscapone. Seriously, it is a taste of heaven.

7 nights in Lerici is too much. We saw everything the city could offer and we realized that 3 or 4 days would have been enough. But waking up everyday to the sea crashing against the rocks, eating dinner by the sea was worth the extra days and I love this place.

We did some posing for the camera:

After having our fill of Lerici, we went a bit north to Rapallo, a, as we later found out, shit hole of a campground and not much better of a city. It was dirty, chaotic and no lie: 7 gas stations in a row. Yuck.

And, again, the bus schedule was really not at all understandable. We got off, luckily, one stop further than we needed to and walked to the site.

We did a bit of sightseeing but it didn't really impress me too much. We decided to try Portofino the next day.

Portofino is where rich people come to fill up their yachts and buy extremely overpriced yacht clothing. Seriously, I felt sooooo poor there. And everywhere I looked, there were these "Biff and Muffy" types walking around speaking in rather pretentious accents. Yuck.

After visitng "my" castle, we headed back to Rapallo and gave Ivana a birthday dinner: anything she wanted in a restaurant. She chose crab. It was her first time eating it and the look on her face when when she got a bowl of pasta with 1/2 a cooked crab on top was funny. Her first question was "what do I do?". So, I have to show her how to eat a crab. (I have no idea how but managed to fudge my way through it)

After that, we had to get up early the next day to head to Milan. This was the longest day of my life. Up at 5, travel to Milan and to the airport, to Prague and then a train to Dresden. I was home at 9:30. Ugh.

All in all, it was a great trip!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Italy Part 1

I guess it's too much to write about a 2 week trip in one entry, so I'll do this: I'll write about the first week and then I'll write about the second week.

2 Blog entries. Nice.

So here we go!

The beginning of the trip went well. We had to fly from Prague to Milan. Because I am a stickler for getting to the airport before check-in opens so we can get checked in right away, I made Ivana come with me earlier than normal (check-in opened at 1:25 and I told her 1) because she can sometimes have a time management problem*.

So, to her shock, we got to the airport about 30 minutes earlier than we should have. But that gave me time to have a coffee from my favorite coffee company!

So then it was off to Milan! The flight was fine. 1 hour and 15 minutes. There was a little girl in front of us who was trying her flirting out with all the males around her. It was quite cute to see a 2 year old manipulate men as well as seeing Ivana get just a little jealous. :-)

As a side note though: Europeans are much better travelers than American when it comes to public transport. A full Airbus plane boarded in 15 minutes. I mean boarded, sat, and ready for take-off. I have never seen an American flight like that. Must be all the busses, etc they use here.

So, we landed in Milan. I have no fond memory of Milan from last year and it was not fair to think of it as a dirty disgusting city because all we saw last year was the train station and the airport.

Well, Milan is not so bad. The touristy part is quite small and you only really need a day to see it all but I have a better opinion of the city.

We saw the big cathedral and was assaulted by the pigeon people. As we were reading about them in our guidebook it happened. It's actually quite clever: someone will walk up to you and say "welcome to Italy!" and hold out your hand and place corn in it and some pigeons will land on your arm and eat the food out of your hand. For an unsuspecting  tourist, it's a nice experience and harmless up to this point. Then, they ask for money. Even if you refuse to let them place the seeds in your hand they ask for money. Well, they got Ivana and asked me for the money (another trick) and we managed to get away without giving them money. Must have been the travel guide. But I managed to get a picture:

The rain, on the other hand, was terrible. Actually, it's not fair to curse the rain. It was a combination of rain and closing the direct subway to our hotel at 9 (unbeknownst to us) forcing us to fend for ourselves to get back to our place with a small Lonely Planet map and the bus schedules in Italy. So, it took us an hour and a half to walk about a half hour's walk simple because we had no clue where we were going.

That is one small criticism to Italy: ORGANIZE YOUR PUBLIC TRANSPORT SCHEDULES! I know I am living in the land of order (I had a Freudian slip and wrote odor) and have become quite used to how everything is clearly spelled out and logically presented but come on...the bus stops were not labeled and there was no map to show us where it was coming from or where it was going. So we had to guess. Not good on our first night.

The next day, we went back to the same area to see what it looked like during the day without buckets of water falling on us. It was kinda the same but we were able to go into the cathedral and see a mass being held. It was kinda freaky because we walked just as they were doing a saints prayer or something. The priest kept listing off names of saints and the congregation kept chanting the same thing over and over. 

So after that, it was off to Lake Garda for sun and swimming! didn't happen....

We got to this area, Peschiera, and it was pouring. We waited at the train station (over a cappuccino, thankyouverymuch) only to find out an hour later that we could have walked to the campground in 15 minutes. Nice. So we walked to one of the many different campgrounds that were there.

I saw a kid wipe out on a Vespa and was able to practice my Italian with him by saying: "ok?" and he replied: "si,si". And Ivana bought a book to learn Italian...hmmph.

We got to a campsite and it was fully booked. taking pity on us, the reception person offered to give us a small place near a bungalow. It wasn't a real place, but it was a place to put a tent in and sleep for the night. After hmmming and hawing about it, we took it and we learned what a 4 star camp ground is all about.

There is a rating system, like for hotels, for campgrounds. As best as I can tell, 4 stars means there are washing machines for clothing, a real supermarket, real toilets (I'll get into that later) and a restaurant.

Ivana's thrifty side came out a bit for the price of this place especially since we weren't really getting a place, but it worked out in the end.

We wandered around the town and managed to duck out of the rain for a drink here, and ice cream there. I'd never go back to this place, but it was nice.

The next morning I took my *ahem* instant coffee and left the campground and sat out by the water and took some photos and sat and tried to get into vacation-mode. Seriously, the first couple days I am so focused on getting to where we have to be that I cannot relax until a day or two later.

It's a curse, I know.

Anyway, we had planned to spend some time around this lake area—camping here and there to get some sun and for Ivana to go swimming—but the weather was so bad we decided to chuck it out and head for Verona. So, later that day, that is exactly what we did.

Off to Verona.

Aside from the guidebook, I had n o idea about Verona. I know one of my favorite coffees from Starbucks is named after it, so it has to be ok.

Well, it was more than that. It was so nice we actually lost a day there!

We arrived in the station and had to orientate ourselves a bit. The bus directions from the internet were for monday through saturday. We arrived on Sunday and the busses we needed to take were not running (thanks, again, Italy). With some help, we managed to get into a bus we prayed was going to where we had to be. We spoke with a very helpful man on the bus who assured us it was the correct bus and showed us where to go.

Uphill. It seemed everything in Italy was uphill. And not "just up that hill" but 500-steps-uphill fucking uphill. And that was where our campsite was waiting for us.

This campground was much nicer. It was a "2-star" place (no restaurant or washing machines) but it was run by two hippie guys and it was cheap. Plus the view from the terrace was amazing.

This particular campsite was owned by a botanist and these hippie guys converted it into a campground. they run it and the botanist owns the property. How I know this is interesting...the one brother was quite chatty and generous. He gave us a really nice bottle of wine when we checked-out.

Verona is so cool! We had in our minds that it was a gigantic city but after walking around, we realized it wasn't so big. Everything was centered around 2 main squares: the market square and the colosseum. Once we walked to those two places, we were set.

The first day in a city is always strange. You arrive from a different place and have to get used to the sites and sounds of a new city. Plus, you have to find out where the important things are such as the ice cream shops. (you have not had ice cream until you've been to Italy)

So, we got our bearings the first day. The next day was to be the official tourist day.

The next day started out well. We went down to the colosseum area because I wanted to go in. I'd never been in one before and thought it would be cool.

It was cool! Ok, they have converted it into an outdoor concert arena, but the marble is still there and you can get a feeling of ho many people sat in this 3rd largest colosseum in the world.

Verona is also famous for Romeo and Juliet. Juliet's house was here so we had to, naturally, go and see what it was like. There is a bronze bust of Juliet and apparently, rubbing her right breast brings luck. I couldn't get close enough to touch it but I suppose I don't need luck.

We wandered around Verona, from church to church and square to square, and had a nice time. It wasn't too warm, which was nice, and we could see clouds forming in the distance and decided to head back to the campsite because we didn't take umbrellas with us.

Boy was it good we did that. The heavens opened up and gave us peanut sized hail and it was absolutely crazy for an hour.

The next day, after shaking ourselves out of the tent and drying everything off, we went to Padova.

Padova is a nice little town famous for the 1st University in Italy (or the world, I can't remember) and a basilica-type-church thing. Plus, it has the oldest botanical garden in Europe.

I have to say that I wasn't that impressed with most of Padova. I had a nice pizza there but the sites and the feel of the city were not "my thing". Ivana seemed to like it much better but she has a green thumb and really enjoyed the botanical garden. I enjoyed the basilica-type-church thing because I was allowed to go in. Ivana had a string top on that showed her shoulders and apparently god does not like women's shoulders.

The next day we wanted to go to Venice but because we had a late start and missed the train (the come every 2 hours) we decided to tour Verona again and go to Venice the next day.

We went to the castle, where a museum was inside, and spent a good couple hours there. It wasn't the fanciest castle—it was made from red brick and wasn't that impressive—but it killed a couple hours and it was nice to not rush around all day long. By this time, I started noticing that my feet were quite sensitive to the cobbled streets and sidewalks. My feet absolutely killed me for most of the trip.

Anyway, we went along the other side of the river to a really cool looking building that I took many pictures of from the terrace. It turned out to be a museum, but it was closed. But at least I know what it was.

The next day was Venice.

Venice was spectacular. Really. Everywhere you look is a beautiful picture and the channels through the city give it a nice romantic feeling.

The only thing I wasn't happy about was the prices of food and drinks. A cappuccino at St. Mark's square was 9 euros. Uh, that's 14 dollars. No way. They can keep their coffee, thankyouverymuch, and I found a little place about 5 minutes from that area that served a very mediocre but more affordable coffee.

Ivana got the museum bug and decided to get some culture. I decided against culture (fuck that!) and I spent a couple hours taking photos and just sitting (did I mention my feet were killing me?)

We were both happy after a couple hours and decided to wander back to the station to get "home". We took a completely different way back. So different, in fact, that we almost got lost. Of course, knowing our train left a a certain time and trying to make it before that time put a bit of stress on me. Not Ivana. She was looking for a necklace. See, she has this time management thing.* If a bus is scheduled to come, say at 12:30, she's quite happy to sit down and make a coffee at 12:20 and relax before racing like a motherfucker to make the 12:30 bus. 

I am not built that way. I want to get there in stress...


We had to rush a bit. But she got the necklace.

The next day, we decided to head towards Lerici (our favorite spot in Italy so far).

And that is the 1st entry. I'll write more when I have time.

Back From Italy


I made it back in one piece and I am happy to be home. I'll write much more about Italy, Vespas, Ice Cream, Coffee, "ciao", Verona, Venice, and all the ups and downs of Italy later...after I sort and process the 1300 photos waiting for me.

Until then, say hi to my first-sunday-morning-in-italy-coffee company:

And now I have to go shopping.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Off To Italy!

Hey everyone. It's time again for a trip to the beautiful country.

We have managed to fit everything we need into 2 backpacks for a 2 week camping trip. Unbelieveable! But we're off!

I'll write more once I return...with photos hopefully. The weather says it may be rainy. Damn.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

He's Back!

Yep, the nice friendly looking and very loud blackbird is back.

And I got him.