Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hanging with the locals

Trieste was a nice little town on the coast where we mainly walked around the streets and sat for some gelato (I have had so much gelato!). The next day, Tuesday 10-27, Peter drove us to Venice to pick up Chris's girlfriend, Yoana, from the airport. Yoana is from Bulgaria and I'm glad that she has been traveling with us, it's been great! After picking her up we headed to Padova, "The city of the saints," where Peter's friends live. Padova of course had beautiful streets and architecture. We walked around, saw their City Hall and the different city squares. You could definitely tell this was a college town... in one of the main squares, recent graduates were celebrating with friends. In the northeast of Italy, friends of the graduate plan the party, where they dress up the graduate and take them into the square. Also, they write about the life of the graduate on a huge poster, which they need to recite in the square. It was hilarious walking through the town and seeing numerous people dressed up, walking with their entourage. Later that night we visited Prato Della Valle, the largest square in Europe. In the square were statues of various Philosophers, fountains and lots of open space.

We spent the night in Padova, then took the train to Venice the next morning. Venezia was beautiful, made up of canals, homes, shops and boats. Yoana had a list of things to see, which included San Marco Square, the Basilica of San Marco, prisoners bridge, and different churches. The Basilica of San Marco was incredible. All the ceiling was gold mosaic and even the floor had different mosaic-like patterns. We hung out in the square, found our way around the narrow streets and did a bit of shopping. We even got to take a gondola ride! ... even if it was 50 cents for 30 seconds across the canal. After an eventful day of trying to get in as much Venezia as possible, we took a ferry ride back to the train station and headed back to Padova.

Peter had to get home for a couple days, so his friends generously offered up their home to us. After Venice, we went to a city square where all the college students (hundreds) just hang out at night. We met tons of people and had a great time.

The next day we had planned to visit Austria, however, since Peter was at home we decided to visit Verona. Verona is known for being the setting of the play, Romeo and Juliet (well, the setting in the movie). Needless to say, we visited the houses of Romeo and Juliet. Verona was a lot easier to get around in than Venice, especially since we had a map. We also saw a Roman amphitheater, palazzo's, the Castle of S. Pietro, the Church of S. Anastasia and a Roman theater. We hurried a bit through Verona since we got there at 3:30 pm, but relaxed and took it all in once we got to the top of a hill overlooking the city.

After visiting Verona, and not having plans for the next day, we decided to visit our wonderful Venezia again. This time we took our time wandering the streets and ended up again in San Marco Square. We went through the Basilica again then hung with pigeons. We had some crackers in our hands and let the pigeons sit on us and eat the crumbs. And in that square, pigeons are very well-fed. Took some good pictures!

We have been so lucky with our experiences, both touristy and non-touristy. We have hung with the locals, having a better idea what life is like in Italy (northeastern). So far we have learned a few words in Italian and gotten many kisses on the cheeks. Tomorrow we head to Florence for two days, then to Rome. Chris's cousin is currently in Florence and she is showing us around the city. Also in Rome, my friend Amber is studying, and we will meet up with her
too! This has been perfect timing to visit Europe, having some of our friends to visit.

Today is Halloween! Although, Europeans don't really celebrate Halloween like we do in the states. Sad to miss it! However, I will be dressed as a vagabond.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Czech it out

The Czech Republic weather was definitely refreshing! It was around 45 degrees... 50 degree difference from Cairo. We flew into Prague, and then took buses to Litvinov to meet up with Chris's friend Petra and her family. Surprisingly it seemed that less people in Prague spoke English than in Cairo. Later we found this was because English was a newer subject to learn in school, from Czech becoming part of the European Union. Petra's parents both knew Russian and a bit of German. However, after taking the underground back and forth, and walking around streets a couple times, we found our way to the bus stop. Chris and Petra worked together in Ocean City, MD last summer and she offered for him (us) to stay with her for a few days. Her town is in the countryside of Czech and it was nice to spend time outside of the major cities. This gave us a better idea of what life is like for a Czech family. Her parents didn't speak any English, however, were very accommodating. The next day Petra planned for us to see some of the beauty around her town. She just got her drivers license, however, wasn't so comfortable driving yet. We walked into town and visited the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (wow, this is long) in Most. The church had both Gothic style and Renaissance features, but was better known for having been moved 841 meters in 1975 because of coal mining. It is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest building ever moved on wheels. Later we walked up a mountain to a castle which we couldn't go in... had lunch and walked around Most.

It was quite exhausting walking all day and we went back to her home to rest. Petra wasn't feeling well and stayed in bed. Her mom told us to come down for food (I'm guessing because I don't know how to speak Czech) and served us goulash. Chris and I had never tried it before, and her parents laughed at us for eating it wrong.. then motioned how we were supposed to cut up the dumplings first. Afterwards we came to sit with her parents in the living room. Her parents were talking to us in Czech and we were talking to them in English.. thinking that eventually one of us would know what the other is talking about. Eventually we pointed to Indiana Jones and watched it in English with Czech subtitles and had some drinks. You don't get this kind of experience in a hostel!

The next day we visited the Cistercian Monastery at Osek and Jezeri Castle. The Cistercian Monastery, with its Romanesque and Gothic styles had amazing sculptures and painted ceilings. The medieval castle, lived in first by the Lobkovic's, was incredible with 244 rooms including a theatre. They had famous people such as Beethoven and J.W. Goethe visit the castle. The tour guide took us to the basement, where they interestingly enough had a haunted house for kids. After a few pictures outside we went back for another home-cooked meal! Her dad also made a concoction of rum, red wine, and spices that you heat up in the microwave. Definitely a Christmas treat. That night we thanked Petra and her parents for their incredible hospitality. It's not very often you get a feel for how other people around the world live, and they were so generous in opening their home to us. I've gotten a small feel for what life in Czech is like, that dumplings and poppy are common foods, beer costs less than water, and learned some simple phrases. The next morning we set off by bus, tram, bus, then our 13 hour bus ride to Venice. Luckily it was an overnight bus ride, however, who can sleep well on a bus?! Eventually Chris and I dozed off around 1 am, and I was woken up when we were already unloading at a bus stop. Luckily I had woken up because Chris was still snoring next to me and I asked where we were... Udine... OUR STOP! We hopped off the bus at 4:10 in the morning and had Pietro/Peter pick us up. His mom woke up, made Chris coffee, then we all fell back asleep.

Italy! Pietro is another one of Chris's friends whom he worked with in Ocean City, MD. Pietro lives with his sister and mom in Udine, a town about an hour from Venice. We took it easy the next morning and relaxed. His mom made us a pasta lunch then we set off to walk around town, which is a bit larger than West Chester. There are cobblestone streets, tons of shops and gelato! I'm glad we have had the opportunity to stay with families and really experience what life is like for them. There is a tons of energy and lots of food! I am definitely not going hungry! His mom and sister are hilarious, and have learned a few English words to communicate with us, and well as us learning some Italian words.

Yesterday we visited Pietro's brother, who lives in the mountains about half an hour away. The view was beautiful, even more so when we drove to the top. From there we could see the Alps in the distance as well as Pietro's town below. I ate so much that day. For breakfast there was jam pie, huge croissants with jam, and fruit. Lunch was lasagna, salad and bread, and for dinner we each had our own home-made medium-sized pizzas. I thought we would all share the pizza, but knew I had to prepare my stomach when my own pizza was set down in front of me. It had home-made tomato sauce, cheese, olives and artichokes. I could get used to this! Very different than when I was in Ireland and ate mostly potatoes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Today we are planning to visit Trieste, a town on the coast. I can't wait to see more of Italy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Experiencing Cairo

The rooftop party was full of other artists and felt very different than the touristy part of Cairo I had experienced just a few hours before. The party was actually held on a floor of artist studios, who were displaying their work for all to see and discuss. From the top we could see an energetic rooftop engagement party and the Citadel (Mosque of Mohamed Ali). Later a girl named Fatima belly danced to arabic music in her own belly dance apparel. It was fascinating to watch.

The past couple of days I have visited the Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque, building began around 800 AD as well as the only paper-making place in Middle East to make paper out of rice straw. I'd like to help further their business because in Cairo, all the extra rice straw that isn't used gets burned and causes much pollution. Also, if they had other buyers, it would create more jobs. We went shopping again in the markets of Khan Khalili and ate street food (which was delicious and worth the 1 US dollar!). Today we visited Saqqara, where sits the Step Pyramid built by Imhotep, and is the oldest stone monument. We were even able to go inside the tombs of Niankhkhnum & Khnumhotep, and the mastaba of Irukaptah. The mastaba had painted depictions and the others had statues still intact as well as pictures of daily life. Earlier we had gone inside a pyramid in Dahshur. Can you believe I went inside a pyramid?! The entrance/exit was very low and narrow, but quite exciting.

Life here is very different than home. Cairo is very polluted and depends a lot on tourist attractions. But I have had quite some entertaining taxi drivers! The majority have been very nice and try to speak English with us. Two nights ago we had a taxi driver who, after seeing Chris's tatoo of a cross, blessed us all with oils. Another taxi driver was helping us to better the few words we learned in arabic.

Ginger has taken Chris and I around Cairo and spoiled us with food, attractions and sleep. We are so lucky to have her here! It has been around 98 degrees the past couple of days, and it will be refreshing to go back to the cool weather. Tomorrow we are making last minute plans to go to Prague instead of back to London. We are staying with friends in Prague, which will hopefully take it easier on my bank account instead of paying for hostels in London!

Miss you all! Jump in some of those colorful fall leaves for me!

Friday, October 16, 2009

From Galway to Egypt

Galway felt much more like we were in Ireland, with the brilliant green landscapes filled with sheep and cows. Galway is much smaller than Dublin, but just as lively. There I had my first hostel experience which consisted of 14-bed rooms, no privacy, quick showers and meeting new people. We have met people from Ontario, Vancouver, France, Brazil and Ireland. One night we went out with some of our friends to a REAL traditional Irish pub. I grabbed a "smiddicks" and sat down to listen to 8-10 people play Irish music with violins, woodwind instruments, and guitars. At one point the entire pub became quiet to hear a ballad sung by an old man, beautiful. Later that night I experienced more music as the Irish pub crawlers serenated me to sleep by belting "Oh What a Night." Chris and I took a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher, which also consisted of lunch, stop to see a castle, a cave and grave stones. The cliffs were a wonderful end to our Galway trip.

The next couple of days were spent on buses and planes. However, once back in Dublin we had time to visit Kilmainham Prison and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, then caught our flight to London and onto Cairo.

We met our former Art History teacher, Ginger, at the Cairo Airport. It was crazy that just a few hours before we were in cold weather, then to the heat of Cairo, which had reached about 96 degrees today. We were eased into Cairo by visiting the Egyptian Museum. The entire time I couldn't believe I was there and within touching distances of some of the world's greatest treasures. After all the excitement, we visited the Islamic Cairo markets of Khan Khalili. We stopped at a restaurant that turned out to be a charming oasis, away from the sellers who would let us "look for free" at their products.

Today was very successful. After bargaining prices, we arranged a deal to take a camel ride to the Pyramids of Giza! Breath-taking. I was a bit skeptical about the safety of the camels after hearing Ginger's story about falling off. She ended up upside down because of the saddle being too loose. However, she reluctantly decided to rides camels with us. And it was a great trip! Nice photo opportunities and noone fell off! My camel's name was California, Ginger's was Ali Baba and Chris's was Mr Lover. I also snagged a piece of the limestone that once sat upon one of the queen's pyramids. We didn't have much time at the Sphinx, just rode by it on our camels, where tourists snapped pictures of me on the camel... how strange. Also, an Egyptian woman asked me to take a picture with her, noticing my good looks. I'll just tell myself that. Tonight we are joining Ginger and her friends for a rooftop get-together. Hopefully we will have some more great stories to tell about Cairo!

Friday, October 9, 2009

London, Dublin

Hello all!
I am currently in Dublin! So I have had quite the strange sleep schedule. I took an overnight flight to London, didn't sleep, went around London that day, then slept 13 hours! Then went to the airport and "rested" was up all day then slept 12 hours... hopefully this will go back to normal soon. My first day in London was nice, however I didn't get to see much. I met up with Philippa who was wonderful in having me stay. We went out to dinner that night with her friends then I passed out. The next day I found my way around (with much info from Philippa) to Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, inside Westminster Abbey, Tate Modern, and the Tower of London. That night she made me dinner, but I have yet to try fish and chips! But I'll be back in London in about a week anyway. Also, I didn't realize that I would have trouble understanding the Londoners English accent... one girl was saying the word "gawky(sp?)" and I thought she said gorky!.. that was an interesting conversation.

I took the train to the airport and stayed overnight, met a woman who is working for the author of Grosse Point Blank. I met up with Chris in the Dublin airport and found our way to the home of people we were staying with. We met them through Couch Surfing, and they are wonderful! It was a married couple and their friend. They gave us lots of brochures and maps to help us around. Again the first day there, we didn't see much, just wandered around the city. Today we went to Trinity College, the National Museum, Dublin Castle and met up with my friend from home, Ryan, and a girl Cassidy. I met Cassidy on the plane to Dublin, and she's from Vancouver. She is actually doing a Eurotrip by herself.. we will be in Italy around the same time and hope to meet up with her again! Also, I learned that Arthur Guinness's birthday is a National Holiday in Ireland.. figures! On a whim Chris and I decided to grab a bus to Galway for tomorrow! I can't wait to get to the countryside.. Dublin is surprisingly very city-like and new, sometimes I don't even feel like I'm in Ireland. Hopefully we'll be there for a couple days before coming back to Dublin to catch the plane to London, then onto Cairo!

Will upload pictures as soon as I can! I've been so busy!