Milan, Italy

This post is backdated because I have taken FOREVER to update this poor blog. The actual date of writing is March 4th, 2006 – over a month late. As I told my Mom, I have been too busy living to write about living. Such is the trade off. The more I indulge myself in the present, and the more I experience, the less time I have to convey it to everybody, as well as record it for myself. As such, expect the remaining city descriptions to be somewhat bland and brief. The real interesting part now is Barcelona, and hopefully once I get caught up I can start making frequent entries again. That said:

I have a love-hate relationship with Milan. In some respect, I really liked the city. The Cathedral was probably my favorite that I've seen in Europe so far. There is also a large castle in Milan with a beautiful park. The streets of the city feel modern, yet like a 1920's American city because there are overhead wires for all of the streetcars and electric buses. Oh yes, and there are electric buses. I'm not quite sure how exactly they get that to work, even though I saw it with my own eyes. There are two overhead lines used instead of the usual one which a streetcar, subway, or train would use. This is because a bus has rubber tires and cannot use the track as a common ground. What I couldn't figure out was how the contacts could follow the lines without falling off. Good engineering.

Milan Streetcar

The downside of Milan is that it looks like a 1920's American city, and is polluted like a 1920's American city. There was constant smog and it was noticeably more difficult to breath. Another downside is how ridiculously concerned people are with fashion and appearance. As an American, it is easy to feel ugly in Milan, or, at least, not well dressed.

Wednesday, on my arrival to Milan, I found a hotel and napped until I was supposed to meet William's friend/roommate from CMU, Stefano around 6pm. We had plans to go to a café or something, but he had to go back to work to make a conference call to the States at 8pm, so we had little time. I ran late anyways, and took a while finding him. We took the subway essentially back to the area my hotel was in so that he could show me what a good shopping area was, and then he had to leave. He quickly gave me some recommendations on clubs if I wanted to go out that night, and I said that one of the ones he mentioned was supposed to be hard to get in.

He responded with "Oh, its fine, you just put on a nice shirt and some good shoes and they'll let you in".

I told him that what I had on was the nicest clothes I had.

"Oh, yeah, they probably won't let you in then." So much for clubbing in Milan with my fashionable American backpacking attire. Something makes me think I didn't miss out on much.
We said goodbye. Seeing him was brief, but I appreciate the gesture of going way out of his way to see me.

That night I had decided to use up the remains of my Italian calling card to talk to people back home, since my clothing was obviously unsuitable for any type of night life. The calling card was cheap, I believe 1 cent/minute. However, what the hotel failed to tell me was that they would charge me for any calls made, even if they were local numbers. I ended up paying €12 for those calls. Evil hotel.

Thursday, I went around Milan to see what the city was all about before my train left for Lyon, France. One of the things that I really wanted to see was The Last Supper, but apparently you have to make advanced reservations to see it because it is so popular. Of course. The one religious renaissance art piece that actually interested me, I couldn't see it. I hardly cared, though, since I had just found out about 1 hour before that it was even in Milan.

McCafe

Shortly before going back to my hotel, I decided to stop in a McDonald's Café located in a very nice glass domed building. I had some tea and some Pastry, and both were absolutely delicious. Why can't our McDonald's serve things that actually taste good? The bad thing is that sitting down and having that tea caused me to miss my train to Lyon and waste my €10 reservation, which was REALLY frustrating. I blame McDonald's, but really I know it was my own fault.

Exhausted and frustrated, I was trying to re-plan my trip since no more trains would go directly to Lyon that day. There was a night train to Paris, but I had no desire to go to Paris since I'd be spending a week there for spring break. Finally, I planned on going to Dijon (same train as to Paris, but earlier stop), and from there going to Lyon. My train would arrive in Dijon around 6am, and the train to Lyon would depart around 8am, giving me a few hours to kill in Dijon. Happy that I finally made a decision, I went to the ticket window to make my €20 night train reservation, but their systems went down so instead of giving me a reservation, they gave me this nifty piece of paper with a stamp on it stating that I had tried to get a reservation, but that the systems were down. This would, theoretically, prevent them from charging me an extra fee or higher price when boarding the train without a reservation.

Around 11:30pm the train comes, and the fun begins. I, as well as about 15 other backpackers are angrily waving these stamped pieces of paper at the car attendants asking what to do with them, and where we should go. They say to go to the front of the train, so we walk the 1/4 mile length of the train. At the front of the train, we are told to go towards the middle of the train and talk to the guy with glasses. At this point, the train is about to leave within 5 minutes. We talk to the guy with glasses, and he says it would cost €180/person, even with the rail pass. Oh no, that is certainly incorrect. We were all told €20 by the receptionist. How is it that nobody who works for this same company knows how their own service works? He then explains that it is €180 for his car, but that other cars are cheaper, and tells us to follow him, so we do. The next car, we are told it would be €120 with the rail pass. I say no, that is not right either. The whistles are now blowing, and he says to board now and we'll figure it out once inside. Sounds sketchy, but I wanted to get out of Italy, so fine with me.

Now is the fun part. I have my large backpack on, following two Korean girls who are following the man with glasses to a cheaper car. They can go fast, because they don't have the backpack. Every time we would go through a door, though, I would get stuck because they were so narrow and the doors would shut on my bag. Eventually, we came to a car where there were probably 5 or 6 people in the very narrow aisle, trying to figure out their rooming situation. It was impossible for me to pass through them, so I just gave up the chasing bit and took my bag off and waited, flustered.

Shortly after giving up, a guy my age came out of the room I was standing near and asked me in an American English accent.

"Hey, how's it going? Where are you from?"

Ohio

"Oh cool, we're neighbors, I'm from Indiana. So, are you a model?"

What? What? Do I model? What kind of question is that? If it is smalltalk, he obviously has some skills to be developed. If he is hitting on me, he still has some skills to be developed. Flattered that he thought I could be a model (though questioning his sanity), I responded that I was not, and asked if he was, hoping that he had some other motive of asking me such a rare question.

"Oh, yeah. In fact, this train is pretty much full of models."

I look to my left, and sure enough, the people who were preventing me from finding a cheap car were all rather good-looking guys wearing clothing that would probably be considered suitable to go clubbing in Milan. Obviously, I felt instantly out of place. If Milan didn't make me feel self-conscious about my appearance, this train ride certainly would.

"Yeah, there was a fashion show in Milan this last week, and this week there is going to be one in Paris so we are all going up there."

Dumb luck. I ended up chilling in a room with them while bartering with the car-agent as to how much I should pay to stay on the train. He said €80, I said no. Luckily, this Brazilian guy spoke Italian and could translate for me. Eventually, we settled on €40, which was more than what the lady had told me, but at that point I just didn't care anymore and wanted a place to sleep. The good thing was that the agent was so clueless as to how the whole Eurail pass thing worked that he didn't even check my pass. This meant that I didn't have to mark a date on it, which means I got an extra day of travel for free, and that I essentially traveled from Milan to Paris for only €40.

I ended up sleeping in the same room with some of the model guys. You would think it could be a potentially awful experience, but they honestly weren't all that bad. Certainly better than the smelly bowling team on my ride from Zagreb to Milan. They're just pretty ordinary guys who happen to look really good and use it to their advantage. Honestly, though, I was somewhat jealous. I was asked a couple more times if I modeled, so it is at least somewhat conceivable.

After thinking it over decided to go to Paris instead of Dijon. This gained me 2 extra hours of sleep on the train, and looking at my book I realized that it was the same amount of time to go from Dijon to Lyon as from Paris to Lyon, so there really was no point in sitting in a freezing station in Dijon for 2 hours before anybody is even awake in the city. I also decided that if I went to Paris, it superseded Lyon and I could just skip Lyon entirely.

That is how I ended up in Paris for a day.

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Zagreb, Croatia

What a mistake, I think.

I was told if I would like Ljubljana, then I should go to Zagreb, Croatia. Well, my railpass covers Croatia for free when you order Slovenia as well, so I figured why not?

Comming off the train, things looked good. Instead of dropping you off in the commercial district, the train station is actually right in front of some beautiful park and town square building. Nice.

Zagreb Hostel
Then I walk to my hostel (the only hostel within walking range), and it is a dive. Granted, nothing can compare to the art gallery I was sleeping in in Ljubljana, this place is REALLY awful. Whatever, I'm so tired it doesn't matter. I get my room, go upstairs, and there are two smelly older German guys talking away drinking large beers and eating some odd bagged food. Great. I'm tired. I don't want to have a conversation and I certainly don't want to hear a conversation in German. This isn't going to work, and I would feel bad asking them to stop their little party, so I go downstairs to ask for a different room. That worked. Good. I got a 6-bed room all to myself. That would be nice except the bed may as well have been a pile of copper wire, and the room was consistently heated at 90 degrees F.

After waking, I got out of there as soon as I could, hoping the city would be better. According to a Zagreb magazine, "Zagreb is a clean and very well maintained city…" If this city is clean and well-maintained, I'd hate to see a city that isn't. Walking forever yields little advancement to better things. The most interesting this is the street cars which fly all over the place, but that's hardly a reason to visit, unless maybe you are a street-car fanatic.

There is a pretty cool art museum, Museum of Naive Art. The Naive art movement is that people can educate themselves on how to paint, so the only thing that the artists have in common is that they have no formal training, but it still looks good. I actually liked a lot of the pieces quite a bit, and found the information quite interesting.

It looks like the best thing in this city that I'll enjoy are this Internet Cafe and hopefully a laundromat, because I'm in dire need of clean clothes. My train out of here to Milan is at 11pm. I have 7 hours to kill. At least when you're traveling with somebody, you can go to a cafe and talk about nothing for some hours to pass time away in a bad place. Now, I'm just kind of out of ideas. There's nothing left to do but spend my remaining Kuna, because it'll be useless to me anywhere else.

Milan should be interesting. I have nowhere to stay yet, and really no ideas because it looks like everywhere is expensive. William's old roommate, Stefano, lives in/near Milan, but we hardly know each other. Maybe I'll meet another backpacker heading to Milan and we can split a double room. Something should work out. If not, I'll get a sleeper train to somewhere crazy… like Bordeaux. This sleeper train sounds exciting, but then I remember I'll be interrupted every 2 hours for my ticket and passport. Anya and I were theorizing methods of passport/ticket checking/stamping/punching without having to wake people. There's got to be a way, really.

Ljubljana, Bled [2]

Come Saturday, Anya and I were rather tired and spent most of our time in restaurants and napping. It became a joke between us that we were being like kindergardeners napping all of the time. Really, it is her fault, because she started the trend by napping from the moment I met her! Oh well, it was good to sleep, and Hostel Celica's beds are really comfy. I never had such a fluffy pillow in my life.

We planned on going out and partying it big on Saturday night, but our "short nap" ended up lasting until 11:30pm. So, instead, we just went and got some food, decided we were still tired and went back to sleep until the morning. Its ok, there didn't seem to be that many dance clubs anyways. Apparently Wednesday is the night to go out and party. Of course!

Lake Bled

Having slept for something like 12 hours, we were rather rested on Sunday and decided to take a day trip to Bled by bus. Not too far of a ride, and it was well worth it. Pictures are worth zillions of Tolars in this case, so I won't bother to try to explain it in much detail. Basically, it is the most beautiful lake in Europe with a small island in the middle which is the home of a church. We were hoping to be able to ice-skate to the island, but the lake wasn't frozen yet. No boats were going to the church, either, so that was out.

Bled Winery Castle

The obligatory Slovenian castle overlooking the city was wonderful, though. They had a vinoteka inside, as well, where some fake monk would sell you wine which you actually bottle, cork, label, and seal with wax yourself. It was fun. We enjoyed the wine later that evening before we attempted to go out again, and failed miserably at the attempt to return to our comfy lofts.

When it is cold out and it gets dark at 4pm, it really does make you tired early in the day. I just hope I'm not getting sick.

Monday, Anya had class, so I figured I'd finally do my 11am walking tour and go to the Modern Art museum. Well, the tours don't run Mondays, as I so inconveniently found out aftert booking it to the town hall where they depart from. And, the museum is closed only on Mondays. I decided to waste time by shopping and people watching. It was good. It was very tempting to nap somewhere… again, but I was bedless since I had checked out Monday morning.

Three Bridges

When Anya was done with her first day of class, we met up at the 3 bridges landmark and went to a cafe, then to the hostel for some delicious gourmet dessert, then out to the Movia Wine Bar again. Then, it was time for me to leave Slovenia for Zagrev, Croatia at 9:00pm.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

2:30am, I get off at the Ljubljana train station in the bitter cold and fog. Nobody is on the streets, and only a few people got off at the station. I try to navigate my way to the hostel, and finally find it. Walking into the door, I notice a mysterious odor.

There is the Romainian from behind me on the train. Ick. Backpacking is full of interesting smells.

I check in to Celica Hostel, and the guy is nice enough to give me a double room for the price of a single, and I get it to myself for the time being. Nice place, very modern. Actually, this place is immaculate and outstanding. It is a former prison, renovated into a youth hostel. Honestly, it looks like Ikea decided to design a hostel.

Each cell was converted and handed over to a local artist to renovate. Honestly, this place is more of a modern art museum than a hostel or jail. The first floor is a cafe/restaurant/bar/hooka lounge that is surprisingly hopping and busy with locals all day, and packed at night. The upstairs has the converted rooms with a jail door and refrigerator looking door for privacy. I am in room 112. You can look up a 360 degree view on their website of each cell.

On top of that, they have free breakfast and free Internet. Oh, and their computers run Linux! Seriously, this place couldn’t get more perfect if I asked.

I walked around Ljubljana a while, shopped, ate, went to the castle yesterday, etc. It turns out that practically everybody here speaks fluent English, which makes touristing very very easy and relieving. If I had to learn Slovene I’d be lost, because I still can’t remember how to say “hello” and “do you speak English”, though I’ve read and repeated the phrases many, many times in my head. It seems like every time I walk into a place, I am first greeted in Slovene, then after a short delay they realize I have no idea what they said and they just say “Hi” and we go from there. I don’t even bother to ask “do you speak English” because the typical response to that is “Of COURSE!” followed by a jesting laugh. Oh, of course you speak English! What was I thinking? Perhaps I was thinking this is Eastern Europe. I’m realizing pretty quickly how wrong I may be about that.

I ended up going to this wine bar called Movia on accident. My Uncle Dik had recommended me the place, but I wasn’t actually looking for it when I saw it. I just saw the word “Vinoteka” and stopped in. It turned out that the place was very cool, though the pricing was kind of high. By high, I mean pricing was similar to the States. I tried a very acidic red wine which I liked, then a Pinot Noir which was equally good.

I have been looking pretty hard in Italy and Slovenia for a good corkscrew and hadn’t had any luck. All of the corkscrews were either way too expensive ($25), or German. I inquired the guy at Movia about where to get one, and the guy just goes behind the counter and grabs one and says “here, its a souvenir”. This opener is fantastic. It is 2-stage levered, which is nice, and says Movia right on it. I couldn’t have asked for something nicer.

I think that so far this is my favorite city, even though it is pretty cold. The people are awesome, it is completely navigable, and from any point in the city you are being overlooked by this huge castle on a hill. What a little treasure.

I came back to my room after some dinner at a Falafel restaurant (yes, falafel in Slovenia… but very good!). By the way, they seem very multi-cultured here, with quite the variety in restaurants and stores. I am very impressed. Anyways, I came back and there was somebody in my room. I woke her up, and probably scared her because I was fiddeling with the door so much to get in. Her name is Anya, and she’s from Vancouver, Canada. I seem to be meeting quite a few people from there, as well as Australia. We end up talking for like an hour or something just up on the bunk beds (see 360 view) and decide it is time to go out, since it’s Friday night. She had just arrived in Ljublijana, and will be studying here for 8 months. At this point, she hasn’t even left the hostel to go see the city, so it was an exciting trip.

We went to this club called Global after first grabbing some drinks at our hostel. I mean, why not, this place is trendy and popular. Who goes to a hostel to party, seriously? I mean, its a cool place, but its so surreal. Sidetracked. So at Global we are told “I am going to have to ask you your age because here we have an age minimum of 25 for men and 23 for women” Great, I am 22 and she is 21, so this isn’t going to work. So we are about to say “oh, we are both under that so…” and a guy comes up to the cashier ticket girl and says “let them in” so we’re in. It pays to be foreign, sometimes.

We ride the elevator to the penthouse floor where the club resides, and it is semi-full. The dance floor is covered by a large retractable golden curtain, and lighting in the place is superb. We get drinks, decide that if dancing doesn’t happen then we’re going elsewhere. After a while, the curtain goes up and people jump immediately to the dance floor. None of that intermediate insecure nobody wants to dance stuff like in the States or Canada.

Eventually, we go dancing out there and have a ball. I’m sure our dancing style looked pretty weird, but as far as we’re concerned, we were dancing pretty well last night.

After dancing forever, we left at around 4am and went to a little food shop that was packed with people leaving bars/clubs. It was cool, and we ended up talking to some guys. I love having to defend my country against Bush. The whole world hates him, and I end up being an ambassador to the residents, explaining that yes, a large amount of the population thinks that he should not have been elected, it was a close election. Most people don’t support the war. No, we don’t all like Bush. No, there’s nothing we can do about it. And then I get to defend vegetarianism. Eh, it makes me stroger, eh?

It was good to get back to the hostel. This morning, though, it was rather noisy with lots of music playing around the hostel at 8am. Neither of us could sleep very well, and I’m pretty tired myself. I’m finally caught up on blogging, so that is a relief. I plan on staying here for a few more days. Anya is going to have a great time here. We picked good cities to study in, and to that we toasted… or high-fived, I don’t remember.

Cheers

Venice, Italy

Part of me feels pretty bad for going to my brother’s dream town. At the same time (Kevin, if you’re reading this), there really isn’t anything stopping him from going, so that’s up to him 🙂

Arriving at Venice gave me a completely different feeling. Touristy, indeed, however the lack of mopeds and three-wheeled cars made it so much nicer. Plus, you could actually see something that represented a horizon. Oh, and I think there were a few green things. By the way, if I ever die, I decided I want my obituary to lie and say that I was killed by a scooter in Florence.

The hostel that we went to was pretty decent. We unloaded our stuff and headed out to get lost in the city and see some sites. Emily was in kind of a rush to see things because she was only staying for one day, where I had decided I would stay for two and was a bit more relaxed. I think this may have caused a bit of tension because we were fighting to work at different paces. I was reminded of Unkle Dik always saying how “She’s always in such a hurry… jeesh”.

Northern Italy is interesting in that it is both a relaxed yet tense culture. Sure, there are cafe’s around, but people don’t sit in them and relax. They don’t have time to sit, so they stand, grab a drink, say 30 words, and run out to go to somewhere else equally unproductive. Part of me thinks maybe it is just bad social management. A Brittish woman I ended up talking to who is living in Venice told me that on her way from the airport, the family who picked them up stopped at 5 houses on the way home just to say hello to them for a few minutes. Naturally, she prefers having friends over for an evening and enjoying a cuppa tea. I’m with the English on this one.

When we returned to our rooms after a nice day wandering all over Venice and seeing some sites – Churches…. oh, and of course THE David. David is big, I mean really tall. Photos don’t show that because you never see an actual person next to the statue. His hands looks malproportioned to me, but then reading the text about it, it said something like “never before has such perfection in the ratios of appendages been so perfect”. Shows what I know about art and form.

When we got back to the room, there were several other people there including 2 Aussies and a guy from Alaska. We ended up chatting for some time, then headed out to go to some bars. Things in Venice close early, but a few bars remained open.

The drink of choice: 1€ glasses of wine on draft. Yes, wine on draft, right next to all of the beer. Not that bad, considering the price and that I’ve had much worse wines in the States which pour from a bottle. I had 4 glasses, and I was good. 4€ is not a bad price to pay for that.

On that note, everything in Italy seems pretty expensive… that is, except for alcohol. I’m not quite sure how they pull that off.

The next day, I ended up hanging out a bit with one of the guys from the dorm room until he had to head out by train. I just wandered around, grabbed some food and tried to get unlost in Venice. Because there really are only walkways and not roads, things tend to be not labeled and navigating is rather difficult. The canals make things interesting, but certainly not easier. At this point, the canals are mostly just for touristy gondolas. Walking with Emily, we were approached several times by eager gondoliers. Not for 80 Euro we’re not.

I left Venice at 9pm for Slovenia, with scheduled arrival at 2:30am. Train ride includes noisy snoring snacking old man and smelly talkative Romanian at no extra charge. So much for shut-eye on the night train.

Florence, Italy

So I’m a bit behind in updating. I wonder how many blog entries start out that way. I’d imagine quite a few. I’m going to post several things, but break them up for your reading organizational pleasure.

Lets see, last time I left you with me arriving in Florence. To be honest, my initial impression wasn’t too good upon leaving the train station. The city is very cramped feeling, much like what I feel in NYC. There are no trees, nothing green anywhere. The walk to my hostel included a passing by of probably 50 hotels which all look the same. In a way, it was kind of depressing.

I ended up talking with the girl from Albany for some time. Her name is Emily, and I could certainly write a whole page about her, but that is for her to blog about, not me. Anyways, we eventually said goodnight and turned in and I got to enjoy some rather smelly roommates in my dorm. Ugh. I think one snored, as well. It also seems that several of the hostels I had stayed at to that point must have had a 24-hour diesel engine repair shop across the road, because diesel trucks were comming at all hours of the night, revving up, down, starting, etc. It was really infuriating. It may have been garbage collection, but why 3am?

Emily and I spent the day wandering around Florence. It was rife with tourists and churches. If you like churches, then I guess it could be cool. They are pretty impressive, but when you’ve seen 5 enormous Italian churches, each painted by one of the ninja turtles, then you’ve seen them all. Oh, and nobody likes tourists… not even tourists.

On that note, I’ve realized that there is really a Schrodinger’s Cat issue with travel. The more you want to observe a place, the less you can know about how it actually is. The more tourists a place attracts, the more touristy it becomes with little shops and international cuisine and multi-lingual workers, etc. This place is no longer what it once was, and the only reason is because people go to see how it once was. It is an interesting dillema.

After a day of walking around Florence, the highlights can be summed up into a couple quick notes:

We had a great lunch at a nice restaurant and ended up sharing a bottle of wine.

Walking down some street, we saw a guy loading up a huge espresso machine onto the back of his moped. I thought to myself… that is Italy in a nutshell: Espresso machines on mopeds. I Wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, and for that I will forever be regretful.

On another street, I was approached by an asian woman who asked in very good English for €0.50 . I asked her why, since she seemed pretty well to do and for being a Chinese woman in Florence speaking what sounded like fluent English, I couldn’t justify in my mind that she could be a beggar. Well, for whatever reason, I decided to donate to her cause, but accidentally gave her a €0.05 coin. At this point, she looks up at me and says “I said 50 cents! You gave me ONLY 5!” We thought that was somewhat rude of a beggar.

There is one bridge, Ponte Vecchio, which is apparently the only bridge in Florence to survive WW2. Now, it is cramped with small jewlery stores all over the bridge. We were speculating what it would be like if the bridge were bombed now. Imagine all of the gold floating down the Arno. If there’s a WW3, we’re bringing our scuba-gear.

Really, Florence was pretty boring, so we took a random train to Pisa to see the tower. Yeah, it was leaning. Was it worth the trip? Sure, just for variety’s sake. Everything in Pisa was closed, and the tower was a good half-hour walk from the train station. At least now if I’m asked if I saw it, the answer will be yes. Part of us secretly hopes it falls down. I guess they have actually un-leaned it a bit by drilling out from beneath one side. That is totally cheating. If they can do that, they could make it stand upright again. Leave it to Italy to turn an engineering blunder into a tourist attraction.

We had heard reports that Venice smelled like sewage because the canals had dried up. We heard other reports that it was flooded. I looked at a map, and Venice is on the sea, so I can’t see how it could possibly flood or dry up.

We decided:

  • If Venice smells like sewage, we only stay a day.
  • If Venice is flooded, we only stay a day.
  • If Venice is flooded with sewage, we would hop right back on the train.

The next day, we packed up and headed to a train for Venice together.

Nice, Cinque Terre, and Florence

Today was another busy day, spent mostly on trains, yet again. I left Nice this morning to try to get to Cinque Terre, Italy before the sun set. I knew the train left some time around 10am. I wanted to check the time before I left, but Madamme Martine, the hostel owner, was too busy playing solitaire on the computer to let me on. She is quite the interesting woman. Last night, she was telling me about how she has some kind of psychologic disorder that causes her to suddenly become very agressive in large crowds and push people through glass doors? Maybe something was lost in translation, but she clearly said “I am very dangerous” multiple times. Things like that make it difficult to fall asleep at night. I am grateful that she was so friendly, though, because she told me a lot about the area and gave advice on where to eat. Sometimes not the best advice, but between my terrible ability to understand spoken French and figure out directions, I can hardly blame her.

Anyways, I grabbed breakfast, got to the train station at about 10:10, and found that the train left at 10:05. Figures. I kicked myself quite a bit for that, and considered going straight to Florence since I wouldn’t have much time in Cinque Terre. After talking with Information, though, it still seemed possible. I had to make 2 stops to get there, but the timing could be right.

At one of the stops in a city in Italy I can’t remember at the moment, the woman at the Information counter did not speak English. French and Italian. Great. So, I start speaking in Spanish slowly. “Si hablo en Espanol, me entiendera un poquito?” and she nodded yes. That worked out pretty well. If we both spoke slowly enough, the message seemed to get across. At some point as she was walking to check something for me, she said something like “it’s easy to understand Spanish if the person speaking wasn’t born into it”. So, at least my terrible Spanish accent allows for Italians to understand me pretty well. I find that amusing.

 My last train ride to Cinque Terre, the sun began to set, bringing quite a downer on my hopes for seeing Monteroso, the first of the 5 cities. As I got off the train, I talked a bit with some Americans who had been staying there for a week, and followed them to the old side of town at twilight. It is absolutely breathtaking. I walked up a pathway which goes up a cliff overlooking the city and took some great photos, which I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people have already taken. At least now I have a copy. It was so beautiful that I began to cry. I could have sat there for a day… but I didn’t.

I was considering spending more time there, at least dinner, maybe getting a hotel room. But, trying to find dinner was near impossible, as everything was closed. Hmm… maybe this place isn’t for me after all. I can’t even find a place to eat at 7:30pm. So, I hop on the next train to get myself to Florence. And, here I am. I met a girl who goes to school in Albany, and we may go to Venice together if things work out right. I may want to spend more time in Florence than she would like to, though, so we’ll see. This hostel is full of people, and the walls are filled with much-welcomed grafitti. I hear Espanol all around me, which is comforting. Part of me can’t wait to get back to Spain… then I remember I’ll have Catalan to listen to, not Castillano. I’ll live.

Now that I’m in Italy, I can eat all of the pasta and pizza I want and not feel bad for doing so.

If there is one thing common around the globe, it is pigeons.

Ciao.