Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Hey Hey it's Pompeii!

Day 6

Woke up and met up with Geoff. Sadly there was no free breakfast – no cornflakes for me... don’t know if I’ve mentioned but the corn flakes in Europe are literally that – flakes of corn. They don’t taste like the cereal but rather as if someone has whittled a corn cob into flakes and served it... strange.
We walked to the train station – not the one we knew but one that the guy at the hostel suggested. Glad he did because the stop he sent us to was the one before the stop where all the people get on meaning we each got a seat. Thank goodness because the train was packed... it was a weekend which meant that the people of Naples all haul ass to the beach. The train was like a disco! All the people had brought boom boxes and were playing techno music and clapping... it had everything a disco does – especially body odour. Miranda and I like to find signs that are warnings with people doing various things and making them into dance moves. This train had a sign with a person getting stuck in the door which meant the dance move would consist of gyrating with the door. Most entertaining. Geoff thought we were quite mad but laughed along as thought the train was making Transformer noises and soon we would transform and run to Pompeii.

We made it! Our newly formed trio... Audio guides were a rip off so instead some other tourists gave us the extra little guidebook they had and we audio-guided one another. Miranda was mistress of the map and Geoff would read the descriptions of what we were seeing. Navigator and narrator were very helpful as the place was HUGE! I didn’t realise how big this place was until we had spent several hours in there and not seen everything. Oh in case you don’t know – Pompeii is this town that was hit with an awful earthquake in 75AD. The Pompeii-ens being the optimistic people they are figured that this was the worst thing to happen and they could only look up from here. No. In 79AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and the entire city was covered in volcanic ash in minutes. Sad for them – but for the history junkies this meant that a really old city was perfectly preserved. And it is SO preserved... all these beautiful tiled houses and frescos – painted and still perfect on the walls! The whole place is mind boggling and completely worth risking your life in Naples for... One of the tiled houses has a tiled picture of a dog and then the words in Latin “Beware of the dog”. Sound familiar? Well this is where it was invented! Pretty cool...
The only downside of Pompeii is that there is little shade and it was a very hot day... so hot we kept making jokes like “it’s so hot I feel like I’m being smothered in volcanic ash” and so on. On the main street there were loads of different little areas with tables that had big holes in them and the guide/Geoff said that these were like snack bars and this was the high street! How cool is that? I played the role of the gelato vendor “What flavour do you want? I’ve got pebbles and dirt”. Made us laugh. Also was this shop which had this symbol outside. Either it was a restaurant or a shop that sold tridents. I’m going with the latter.

We saw the vineyard which had some very unripe grapes that Miranda and Geoff tasted. We saw the coliseum... the theatre... the temples... the houses of important people – they wrote their names out the front of the houses so people walking by would know who lived there! We also stumbled upon the brothel... it had all these paintings on the wall which served as a ... menu of sorts... and the beds were still there too – mattresses would be put on top of them obviously... I’m trying to look like Kate Winslett in Titanic by the way...When I got up I had all this dirt on me which I thought was “volcanic ass” given the building. We went into the massage house which is NOT the brothel again – seriously people get your minds out of the gutter... Every place we went was covered in random dogs! They were everywhere just lying in the shade – seemed like a good idea to me... Also whilst we saw these various buildings we kept wondering what it was like on that day that the volcano erupted... on one side of town some guy was like “what flavour would you like with tha-AHHHH!” on the other side was someone being like “has anyone seen my dog-AHHHH!” and so on. It was a fun day. The sad part came when we found the preserved people. Eurgh. The guy who uncovered the place realised that the ash had formed pockets around the bodies so he filled them with plaster and so you can see the people’s expressions and fear filled positions... You can see their bones and teeth. That was sad but the sadder part was seeing this poor dog that was preserved... I didn’t take a photo because it made me too sad... There were also children – it was haunting.

After many, many hours we went out to have some lunch and I had the best orange juice and sandwich of my life. It was SO GOOD. It was funny too because the guy that ran the little cafe thing had a hose and was just hosing everything... the road... the tourists and so on. It was weird. We went into the ‘town’ area and looked at the souvenirs which mostly consisted of – drum roll – doodles! What is with this country and doodles? I mean really. Does anyone really want to bring home a plaster doodle for their grandparents as a souvenir? No. At least I hope not. There was also a shop there giving out samples of limoncello which is this lemon liqueur that is delicious... glad that I got to taste some real stuff in the country... Back on the train. We decided to go to the Castle Nuovo which is the main palace of the city. It’s mostly a military castle which was really weird. Each floor had random art – abstract, 18th century and so on – it was the most eclectic mix of stuff. It did have a good view though... and a random staircase that seemed to go nowhere. It was SO HOT... we managed to find the best thing about this castle - the air-conditioning! In that same room was a freaky glass floor with skeletons that had been excavated in the foundations... Again - very random place.

Afterwards we went and had delicious gelato – okay this was really good... it rivalled Madrid because I had this flavour – Ricotta and Pear and it was AMAZING. Delicious. Back to the hostel where we said our goodbyes to Geoff – thank goodness he was there... we didn’t get hardly any cat calls with him there... no more comments on Miranda’s “beautiful eyes”. We had a rest and then went to get some dinner. We went just down the end of the street and I got a slice of pizza which I thought was ham and pineapple. On my first bite I then deduced that it was not pineapple... but chips. Chips on pizza? What the HECK? It was gross... We had a different girl in our room that night. She seemed to unpack and repack her bag a million times and her belongings seemed to consist only of plastic bags... she was nice enough though. Off to sleep because tomorrow holds Greece! Yippee!

The Armpit of Italy

Day 5
Florence - Naples

This morning we woke up, packed our things, said goodbye to the convent and moved off to the train station. We had bought tickets the previous day (rather pricey might I add – 67 Euros) so we just waited for a train. And waited. And waited. It took a while but we got on and to paint a picture for you of the public displays of affection here in Europe – the couple sitting on the other side of the carriage from us were fully making out across their table! Bleh! Lip smacking gets tiring because they then fell asleep. They do this all throughout Europe it’s acceptable to do this in public... wouldn’t surprise me if other Europeans went up to the couple and patted them on the back. Weird. This was only a three hour train ride but it felt like forever given the annoying people sitting all around us. Every two second someone’s annoying ringtone would go off and everyone had their own specialised one didn’t they. OH MY GOODNESS. The woman sitting right next to me was friends with people on the other side and a nice person would kindly ask is they could switch seats so they could talk to one another. No. She just talked really loudly OVER me... and then they started swapping items out of their bags as they passed them right over my lap – jees people! By the end of train ride I wanted to slam that woman’s face into the table... But mostly I got sick of having people walking down the aisle putting their butts in my face.

All that aside we made it to Naples! Luckily, the Australian girl in our room in Florence had just come from there and stayed in the same hostel so she warned us that it was a dirty little hole. Thank god she did. On further research Naples is known as the armpit of Italy which is about right. The only reason we came here was so we could go to Pompeii – which we did the following day. On arrival in Naples we were bombarded by all these guys wanting to give us taxi rides – whilst dodging them we wanted to find out about how to get to the airport and all these people kept transferring us somewhere – no one knew anything. Very frustrating. We left the train station and in the four minute walk to the hostel I learnt a lot about Naples... To cross the road you just wait for other people to do it and then follow them – they can’t hit us all! No one obeys any road rules so just shut your eyes and run. Also the residents of Naples like to pick their noses in public. Nice. Various men made leering comments at us and eventually we waded through the mess to get inside our hostel. This is the mess. They have a market outside our hostel everyday and at the end of the day they just leave everything behind and let someone else clean it up – charming. This means that the only time the street is clean is at night – with no one about. We were warned not to go out at night because it was pretty dangerous and thievery is high. The man running the hostel gave us a whole run down of what not to do - you couldn’t take a handbag because they target people like that so we had to stash money down our socks, shorts, bras etc. He was a really lovely man and told us where there was a good cheap pizza place – hell yeah.

All afternoon though we hid in our hostel for fear of going out! The bathroom in our room is something worthy of mentioning. Look at it... there’s all these random pipes sticking out held together with duct tape... and the shower was just a cubicle of mould. The nice guy running the place made up for it thought... so did the free internet. We met this nice guy Geoff from Florida who was going to Pompeii the following day so he would come along with us – yay protection.
Eventually, we plucked up the courage to go out and get something to eat – linking the arms the entire time. We found the pizza place – Da Michele – and had amazing pizzas and Coke from glass bottles – what a novelty.

We then decided to have a look about the shops (getting bold now that we were out) and learnt that a) everything is cheap here and b) you can’t try anything on in the stores except for pants. We went into one store where Miranda found this top she really liked and she asked the woman politely may I try this on? “No”. Firm. In the end Miranda bought it anyway after resisting the urge to punch the girl hovering around us – seriously they just wait for you to touch something so their eyes can widen and they can shout at you. Goodness me. After we walked out of the shop – so did the crazy girl! Did she even work there? What the? Walking about we were also offered an iphone to buy – clearly this guy had just taken it out the back of someone’s pants and was selling it.

Back to the hostel where I managed to make the crazy shower leak all over the floor. Sigh. We had a tv and decided to entertain ourselves with crazy Italian shows. We watched an American movie with Jennifer Aniston – it was all in Italian – but Miranda still knew what was going on and how it would end... amazing talent. In the ad break was an ad for sun tanning lotion – fair enough – the camera panned up a bronze looking woman only to reveal she wasn’t wearing a top! Yay boobies! That shocked us a bit... made me laugh a lot though... After a while another girl in our room showed up telling us that she had to get up at 4am the next morning to catch a plane – fine – we said only to have her – the next morning – at 4am leaving the alarm ringing! It went off and she just sat on the bed with it still ringing whilst Miranda tried not to throw herself at the girl and go for the jugular. What joys will tomorrow bring? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Man Bits = Culture

Day 4

I don’t know where to begin... very long day - saw many, many things. We set out early because we had a lot to see today. We arrived at St Croche church and I remembered that they didn’t like people going in – well, didn’t like they denied you firmly – if you’re shoulders weren’t covered. What I didn’t realise was that they didn’t like shorts either. Damn. We had to speed walk all the way back to the hostel and change then walk all the way back to the sights we wanted to see – off to a bad start. Grumble, grumble. It was funny though because Miranda was saying that it’s not a holy place given that God is everywhere – I mean if there is a tortilla with Jesus’ face on it you don’t say it’s a holy tortilla you remember the holiness of Jesus. Apparently, bare shoulders and shorts offend Italian Jesus – whatever.

We decided to pop inside the Duomo (it was closed the previous day) to have a look. You remember how impressive the outside was? Let me refresh your memory...
Okay... now here’s the inside. Pretty dull really. Lucky it was free! We spent a grand total of a few minutes in there because it really wasn’t that exciting... it was like an inside out English or French church – pretty on the outside not the inside.

Next stop was the Bargello which is a little sculpture museum which holds the statue of David – with a hat. Ha! Got ya. David with the hat (we never learnt the real name because this was far more entertaining) is the inspiration sculpture for THE David statue that we all know and love. So this is Donatello’s David (not the ninja turtle) and it’s meant to be super androgynous which you can tell... he/she also has sweet lanky hair... The museum cost seven Euro to get in and there much else in there of interest... To get inside they had x-ray machines and said you couldn’t take in any liquids – I drank my water bottle inside – they don’t really care. I mean the worst thing someone with liquids could do is make the statues look briefly shiny given that they are doused in water – I had no urge to do this. I do now though... Oh there was one statue that made me laugh (more than David with a hat) and that is this one.
Yeah – there are loads of paintings and statues with women squirting various liquids from their breast... One painting in Spain had this statue of Mary squirting it, a good couple of metres, into this guy’s mouth. I assume it’s meant to look holy and amazing but we thought it was just a touch silly.

We were running a bit behind schedule so we shuffled hurriedly back to Santa Croche and were allowed in – success! We decided that Santa Croche was named after the holy Saint – Saint Crotch who would sleep with people to heal their sickness but eventually died of an STD as thus sainthood was acquired. Heh.
It was a pretty impressive church but there wasn’t much oomph in the architecture. I prefer the outrageous gold churches of France rather than the Italian style which is more relaxed and less in your face. Sadly there was all this construction going on so one wall was covered. But we did see Michelangelo and Dante’s tomb – pretty neat. Then – randomly – there was this really awesome leather workshop out the back of the church which we bought leather purses from and they put our initials on them for free! Brilliant! Before we left the church we decided to show them how was boss and flash our shoulders real quick – ha ha!

Off to our next destination and on the way – oh man – there was this guy selling various junk and we walked on by not wanting anything when he goes “wait, you dropped something” we turned “my heart”. Seriously. Miranda gave the best response. She just turned away with a huge laugh and we walked off. Brilliant. Is that how they get girls here? Anyway our next stop was the Uffizi which holds some amazing works – Botticelli baby! Luckily we bought our tickets online so we didn’t have to wait very long because if we didn’t we would have had to wait about two hours to get in! Bleh! When we were in the queue this stupid bald guy just wangled his way in front of us and then acted as if it were his right to be there. Even more annoying was that we kept seeing him throughout the gallery – pushing in front of other people obviously. It was really awesome seeing Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” – it’s huge! I never realised that it was really big... Many other paintings I thought were lovely but overall the whole place didn’t take us very long. I didn’t feel like we were rushing either... That whole place was kind of weird because when you think of art galleries you think of high ceilings and white walls everywhere... this place, however, had this strange foyers that had portraits all along the top of the wall so that you couldn’t really see them... maybe they were covering the pipes – who knows.

Lunch time! Delicious calzone... keeping with the androgyny theme of this blog in the cafe there was this couple getting friendly – or rather the guy was trying to get friendly and the girl just wanted to leave and looked embarrassed. The “boy” I mentioned actually looked like a girl... I was confused. After lunch we took a stroll to see the markets – lovely things to buy – gorgeous leather handbags! Had to stop myself given that my mum had bought me a leather handbag from Florence a while ago and it was waiting for me at home... Sigh. Also everything in Florence is rather pricey... I hardly bought anything.

Next stop (I told you this was a big day) was the Galleria Academia. We actually got there early but they just let us in anyway (again thank goodness we bought tickets online because the queue was way long and in the sun – too hot). We burst inside to soak in the excellent air-conditioning and just sat near David for ages chatting. We had had a big day and needed to sit down. Forced ourselves onto our feet and – WOW. THE David is every bit as impressive as people say. It was incredible. Perfection. From all angles – you never get to see the back when they show it on tv so I made it my business to see... David’s...business... cough. You weren’t meant to take photos but – again – Miranda’s finger slipped!
I really loved it – easily my favourite piece of sculpture. Michelangelo was a very clever man and when you look at the statue from afar you can tell that his hands look too big and he is out of proportion but – being such a clever sculptor – he knew that people would be looking upwards so they seem bigger so that standing right near him he looks proportioned. Hope that made sense. It just amazes me – how can they get dumped with this huge piece of stone and make something so amazing? What if they made a mistake? As for the rest of the museum it was kind of boring. Obviously, the Galleria Academia was losing support so they threw David in there to get more tourists.

End of the day... sun setting... 10pm – love that. Last night in Florence so we had pizza and ice-cream! Delicious gelato. My gelato defeated me though because I foolishly chose the “tiramisu mousse” flavour thinking it would be ice-cream flavoured like tiramisu mousse. No. It was mousse. Not ice-cream. I was basically eating a large scoop of creamy butter with tiramisu flavour. Oh my goodness... it defeated me... never thought I would have to write that but it did... it was either eat it all and barf or not eat it all and be saddened. Back to the hostel where the American girl from the previous night had been replaced by this American boy. It was really awesome because the four of us just chatted for ages. The guy said he’d been travelling around without an itinerary and was just going from place to place and he had slept on the streets many times because he hadn’t found any accommodation! Yikes! Ha – he also said in primary school he didn’t like doing sports so when the teacher was around he would fake a limp to get out of it. It wasn’t until the teacher saw him playing later that he got in trouble. Made me laugh. A very busy and rewarding day. All that was left was to take a shower in the exhibition shower (the shower curtains were see-through we blue bubbles placed randomly so if someone came in you had to manoeuvre yourself so that the bubbles were covering your important bits) and onto what I learned today!

What I learnt about Italy

Italy loves the wang. There’s no other way of putting it. There are male genetalia on EVRYTHING here – especially the souvenirs. I could have bought a calendar of statue doodles but I didn’t deem it a necessity. In fact, the Italians love the wang so much that they pinch them off all the statues. Many sculptures were missing their doodles and some might say it was a religious thing and a conservative priest didn’t like it but I think it was the general population...


Day 3
Madrid – Florence

Urgh. Interrupted night sleep. Interrupted at 4am when this guy that was staying in our room (the first boy in our room – eep!) would twitch his foot in his sleep and that would knock and clank the bunk beds. Very annoying. We ate some complimentary muffins that the hostel provided. They were mini muffins and they tasted like Kristen Stewart’s acting – bland and monotonous. We arrived early to the airport (no rushing and dashing this time). It’s a really groovy airport. When we were checking in our bags we asked the guy if we could take them on as carry-on to which he replied “Aren’t they too big?” “We’ve done it before”
Yeah he really didn’t care about his job – which suited us! Though being able to take our wheelie bags on the plane really annoyed the guy in line behind us. He had this hate of Miranda’s bag and she was trying to get on the plane whilst the flight attendant was arguing with him (in Spanish) we assume about Miranda’s bag being too big and he was having a cry about it. Jealous. The flight was delayed by an hour which was lame but it was very smooth and I didn’t get too freaked out as we watched Star Trek on Miranda’s ipod touch. The movie and the guy farting next to us took my mind off the scary flight. Fare well Spain!

We wangled our bags out of the overhead locker with the help of some strapping Spanish/Italian man. Off the plane and through customs – or so we thought. Miranda accidently left her passport on the plane! Eep! No one was panicking but us though as this must happen a lot and the flight attendants getting off the plane found it and gave it back. The man giving it to Miranda leant it wanting a thank you kiss but Miranda feigned innocence laughed – then we ran. Jolly good! By the way we went through all that to get the passport back and they didn’t even look at them when we went through the ‘customs’. I love Europe.

After asking tourist information we found a cheap bus that took us right to the city centre. Very handy. As we were walking to our hostel I got my first taste of Italian men. We were walking along... he was on his vespa (yes vespa) when I noticed that his doodle was just hanging out of his shorts! Nice. Must say I was a little taken aback. But the show must go on... hopefully with less male anatomy though...The hostel was a convent that had been converted. I use the term converted very loosely as it still looked like a convent giving the scarcity of the furnishings throughout the building. Our room is four beds and there were two other girls in there – one America and one Australian! How about that! Miranda and I are getting pretty sick of doing the whole “I’m from America she’s from Australia. No we didn’t meet travelling but on exchange in London”. We should have just worn signs around our necks.

Anyway – hello Italy! I’m back again to see what you’ve got this time. Last time I was in Italy I went to Venice – it was pretty cool but I want MORE! We started with seeing Il Duomo which is like the church of all churches and is decorated all along the outside! Coloured green marble and stone decorate the church so it’s really quite amazing from all angles. We climbed the bell tower and 419 extremely steep and never ending steps later we made it to the top. I love how you can tell the difference in places by the landscapes and the foliage. Different types of trees. It sounds weird but it really interests me. That and I like trees, okay? Excellent view – excellent breeze.

Bit peckish by this time so we surveyed the Duomo one last time only to see Miranda’s bag hater! That same guy... freaky! Off to find some delicious Italian pizza! One the way a very cute waiter boy said “Ciao” to us – FINALLY – a cute one! Amazing pizza – every bit as good as everyone makes it out to be. Followed by waffles and you’ve got yourself a winning meal.

We decided to do what we do best and shop. We went to the Piazza Signoria which has the fake David. It’s just a replica and we will see the real one eventually. Next stop was the Piazza Pitti which is on the top ten things to do in Florence – no idea why. It’s just a big plain square with a building in the background. Maybe inside is the good part but outside were just these giant lips.

Last stop for the day was the Ponti Vecchio which is a lovely bridge that just has jewellery shops all over it. It was once the butcher bridge but one of the royal people decided to kick them out and get in jewellers as they pay higher rent. This photo on the bridge took eons to get as this one woman just took her sweet time getting her boyfriend to take her picture. She knew we were waiting and took longer. Her boyfriend realised and was trying to hurry her along but she wasn’t budging. Which leads to me to my learning segment.

What I Learned About the Italians

You’re always wrong. And in their way. If they are taking up the whole sidewalk and you want to get by - you have to go around them. Unbelievable. Really started to annoy me after a while and I just wanted to shove their stubborn asses.

I also learned that to cross the road in Italy. You make a mad sudden dash preferably with your arms flailing about the place – most effective.

If you ask someone something in English they will respond in Italian. When you make it clear you don’t speak Italian – they speak Italian louder at you thinking that this will somehow translate the words.

Overall, a good day. Tiring but rewarding. Tomorrow holds more – everything!