August 1, 2011 As soon as
we got to Segovia, we clambered up the hill to see the aqueduct. Its ancient and massive and appears to be held together by nothing more than gravity and Dear Mom and Dad, geometry. It just stretches out into the distance, and I can almost College is ove rrated, so we imagine them running across ’re running away to be gy psies. You sh the continent. There were about ould have sold us to th 10,000 steps up a steep inline e circus whe n you had the chance! and my legs felt like Jell-O. Stacey and I were gasping Love, your gy while Tom was plotting his next psy children Stairmaster. From there, the rest of the city is built on a definite slope, with the Cathedral on top and the Alcázar on the other side, on a bluff. The cathedral is pretty impressive inside, but The Alcázar sits high on the cliff where the best part is the exterior. It’s this edifice of rising the hillside drops steeply to the valley below. It appears spires and arches and decoration. It took like 230 unconquerable. I can’t imagine anyone spending time years! It’s considered the last Gothic cathedral in there, though. As far as it being a living space goes, Spain, and it looks like it. it seems more like a castle that was built to be a
museum. The only functional feature is the location, the multi-story moat that runs across the front of the Alcázar.
the coolest things I have seen so far. It was a mosque that had been re-appropriated by the Christian Spaniards, but you could hardly tell that anything had changed. There were tons of rooms, connecting one to the next by cool stone passages or beautiful outdoor plazas. The tile work on the floors and walls was absolutely amazing. The Moors were really into geometric shapes and patterns, so everything seemed very symmetrical and orderly. The colors in the tiles were bright, and remained saturated even after hundreds of years of occupants, governments, and tourists.
August 4, 2011 We went to
the Catedral de Sevilla, the third largest cathedral in Europe. Since its been a few days, I’m not sure that I can adequately describe the experience. There were soaring ceilings, massive columns, and stained glass windows, like every other cathedral, but the real centerpiece of the cathedral is the altarpiece. It was carved by someone whose name I don’t recall, but it was his life’s work. If I remember correctly, it features something like 37 or 42 different scenes from the Bible of the life of Christ. It’s all hand-carved out of woods and metals. The Cathedral is the burial site of Columbus, too. Sevilla was the hub of Spain’s maritime enterprises after Isabel and Ferdinand retook the country from the Moors. After the Cathedral, we wandered around for a while, going into gift shops and tourist traps, looking for souvenirs. We had some ice cream and people watched for a while, before returning to the old part of town to see the Alcázar. This Alcázar was one of
August 8, 2011 Upon arriving at our hotel
and learning the room wouldn’t be ready until that afternoon, we geared up and set out to see some sights. We were hungry, so we stopped at a café next door to the hotel and ordered sandwiches from a surly waiter who was offended that we did not fall for his recommendation to order water in a bottle. After eating we hopped on the metro and rode to the Louvre, where I thought we could avoid the longest lines and get in through the underground entrance. We were able to get in alright, but we
ht in Paris ig N t s ir F r u O
had to stand in line for nearly two hours. One line was for the actual tickets, the other was for getting in once you had your tickets. It was a nightmarish experience, fraught with line jumpers, dread warnings about pickpockets, and general confusion, since everything was in French. Even after getting into the museum, it was so crowded we could barely see anything. People were pushing and shoving and stinking and breathing. We were tired and hungry, my back was killing me from carrying my purse and the food bag. After a few hours of those crowds, we were done. We had seen the Mona Lisa, the Wings of Victory, Venus de Milo, and other masterpieces. The problem with museums like the Louvre is that everything in there is a masterpiece!
August 15, 2011 Our first order of business
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for the day was to find the beach. We walked down the hill a little farther until we reached the sea, which was already crowded at 9:30am! There were old people, young people, half naked people, ugly people wherever we looked, lounging and swimming on this rough, rocky (like huge pebbles) beach. I don’t
understand why this beach is famous. The coastline is pretty, a beautiful shade of blue, but not nearly as pretty as the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the beach was crowded and smelled like fish and piss, like the rest of the city, which is covered in piss, dog shit, and discarded gum. So, we moved on to the Cours Selaya, the main drag of Vieux Nice, the oldest part of town. On Mondays, there is a huge, open-air market held there, which we browsed for an hour, looking at all the wares on display. There were all sorts of different goods, from silverware to art to doorknobs to books and even furniture. My favorite part was the costume jewelry. There were tables with really interesting, gaudy pieces that made me think of the ritzy glamour days of the French Riviera. I loved one stall that had old posters and prints from magazines, journals, and advertisements, some of which were upwards of a hundred years old. We saw many things we liked, even loved, we didn’t buy anything.
August 18, 2011 Overcome with the
combination of plus-90° weather and recurring failure, we began to search for a place to picnic. We soon realized that Venice, being an artificial, floating city, has very little in the way of greenspace. There
Nice, France 4
tourists float by. Some of the tourists were snapping photos of everything they saw, including us.
August 21, 2011 At seven, or
Dear Mom and Dad,
for college! We found a way to pay “The Italian Have y’all seen the movie Job”? you a big, P.S. We’re going to send r UPS. heavy souvenir. Watch fo Love, your kids are no shady parks, no secluded benches. We found, instead, a kind of staircase leading up out of the canal, from which one might debark from a boat or gondola. We spent an hour watching gondolas full of
maybe a little earlier, we headed out again to walk to the Duomo Cathedral in Centro Storico, the oldest/most historic part of Florence. Most of the day’s crowds had dispersed, so when we turned the corner and saw the massive cathedral and tower rearing up in front of us, I was surprised and delighted. It felt like a movie set, surreal almost, to see this confectionary, striped cathedral just chilling in the middle of a busy plaza. Every time I see it, I’m surprised all over again. We pass it four times a day, so the feeling carries over most of my day.
August 24, 2011 We walked, via many
souvenir shops, to el Duomo, the Cathedral of Siena. It’s a pretty fabulous place, one of my top favorites
of all the cathedrals we have seen. It’s kind of set up in a weird way. When you arrive, you start at the back door, which is a full level below the main part of the cathedral. The back door is tall and beautiful, but the eye catcher is the staircase to the left, which climbs up the hill, beneath high stone arches made of beautiful striped marble. When you scale the hill, you are alongside the cathedral, and it is not until you walk all the way around to the front of the plaza that you see the face of the cathedral. Its amazing. It has some of the same qualities of the Florence Duomo in that it reminds me of some kind of candy, but Siena’s cathedral is striped with a light marble and then with a black stone. The whole effect is intensified and repeated in the cathedral, where arches and columns in this striped pattern run all the way down the middle and sides of the nave. It’s very Beetlejuice. The ceiling is navy blue and covered with stars in gold, but you barely notice it, despite the magnificence of the striped columns and arches, because you are too busy looking at the floors, the true focus of the monument. Forty Sienese artisans were commissioned to create the masterpiece of carved stone. It’s simply amazing. I tried to take picture, but I know that
Duomo di Siena, Siena, Italy they will never convey the true beauty of the floors, which depict various saints and figures of the Bible. I loved this cathedral. If felt more like a gypsy church than a Catholic church, more for dreams and prophecies and fantasy than for the corrupt history of Catholicism. I am in awe of that place.
August 25, 2011 After we navigated through
the dank, grungy, under-construction station that is Termini metro, we got on a packed train and emerged into a marginally more modern station at the Coliseum. We emerged into the bright sunlight once more, finding ourselves just across the street from the Coliseum. It’s such a familiar image that it was almost unsurprising to find it rising above us, but at the same time, its like Holy Shit that’s Italy! We gawked briefly and then crossed the street to take a closer look, weaving through more street hawkers selling portable tripods, umbrellas, and tickets for pub crawls.
August 26, 2011 My original plan had been to
follow the tour as it is laid out in the Rick Steve’s Pocket Guide to Rome, but the crazies who run all European museums had closed off the staircase we were supposed to take to start our tour. We had to improvise.
Rome Palatine Hill, Acient
We barely survived the Vatican, which is quite large, very long, and poorly marked. By the way, whatever happened to the maps and pamphlets that were available at every Spanish and French site? Italy seems to have given up on their tourists, preferring to abandon them to the darkness of their own ignorance. I had to go on a hunt just to find any information, like a map, and still came up emptyhanded. I miss the good old days of free maps and well marked tours. When we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel, we were launched into the room amid a sea of Asian tourists. There were a couple guards in there, aggressively shushing people and shouting “No pictures!” It was awful. As if the seven hundred people in here are if you want silence! We came to see the damned ceiling, not whisper a prayer. Anyway, we spent forty-five minutes standing in the center of the room, reading the Pocket Guide and matching up all the info to the actual art. I cant explain the awe that the Sistine Chapel inspires. The ceiling is absolutely a treasure of the world. I can’t imagine or conceive of how it came to be, but I am so grateful.
that was vastly different from everything we had seen before. Rome at night is so lively! People come out and wander the streets, drinking at cafes, eating gelato, shopping, listening to music, and trolling for babes. We merged into a tide of people who all seemed to be doing exactly what we were doing. We walked from the Spanish Steps to Campo di Fiori, by way of the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. The Trevi Fountain is one of my favorite sites from this trip. At night, the fountain is magical. It is a brightly lit pool of water, from which rises this two-story fountain, a combination of sculpted and rough hewn stone that, somehow, seems natural for this inner-city urban square. The fountain is set below street level, and the area around it is just packed with people. There is a tradition with this fountain that involves throwing coins into the water. If you throw in two, you’ll get engaged. If you throw in three, you’ll get married. If you throw in none, you’ll get divorced. Or maybe never married at all. Anyway, you have to throw the coins with your right hand over your left shoulder. Naturally, Stacey screwed it up the first time, ruining our picture, but we didn’t have any more coins, so we faked it. After admiring the fountain for a bit, we walked on, shopping in lots of tacky souvenir shops and
August 27, 2011 At the Spanish Steps, we
climbed out of the metro and stepped into a Rome
in Rome The Coliseum
buying postcards. I hate to say generalities but Italian postcards are inferior to Spanish or French postcards. So many of the pictures are overexposed, grainy, or downright stupid and amateurish. I am having a hard time finding good postcards for these places, but I will keep looking. We walked to Piazza Navona, where the square was packed with people, street vendors, and sidewalk performers. The centerpiece of the plaza is the Four Rivers Fountain, another of my favorite pieces of statuary. It depicts the four major rivers of the world at the time: the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and a minor South American one that should never have been included in such exalted company. We looked at a lot of mass-produced street art, watched a spray paint artist for a while, and then watched a man do hand puppets using a projector with a screen. When we saw a man doing finger-puppet impersonations of Michael Jackson, I had to pull the plug. All in all, I’m so glad we did the night walk. It really made me fall in love with Rome. It’s a really cool city, with so much to see and do, and so much personality! I could have spent ten days there and probably never have seen everything. I will definitely go back!
Trevi Fountain in Rome August 29, 2011 We managed to get window
seats for all three of us for the ninety-minute ride to Amalfi. It was stunning. You are hundreds of hundreds of feet in the air, on this way too narrow cliff road, with only low barriers, hurtling at speeds that leave you dizzy and nauseous. The driver of the bus is fearless, negotiating the twists and turns like a go-kart champion. On the turns, he would honk (or squawk or bleep, depending on the mood of the bus), indicating to other drivers that he sought death and they had better get out of his way post haste. We walked a short ways uphill to Villa Cimbrone, one of my favorite stops of this whole trip. It’s a hotel and restaurant, very luxury, with a kind of garden or park that is open to visitors for a nominal fee. Inside, the landscape is beautiful and well tended, with shady benches and lattice grown vines and tall, mature trees. There is the Terrazo Infinito, which is a high, high perch on top of a cliff, from which you can look out and see all the way to the horizon in every direction. In my opinion, that villa is one of the best kept secrets of the Amalfi Coast because it is easy to get to, cheap, and—best of all—uncrowded.
Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Italy
August 30, 2011 We left the
hotel at around 8:30am and walked down to Piazza Tasso, where we picked up some fruit and really delicious pastries for breakfast. When I say delicious, I mean really good, melt in your mouth sweetness. If there is any Dear Mom and Dad, cultural eccentricity or trait that I could iness pp ha and e lif g lon to bring home to the US and add to our et cr se The up g rin tte bu daily lives, aside from fast, efficient, is in the pastries. We are eir th us cheap busses, it would be bakeries. l tel ll wi the bakers, but no one Small, warm bakeries that smell recipes. Will keep you updated. like carbohydrates and have glass counters filled with yummy treats. After children Love, your sweet, chocolatey filling up we took the small shuttle bus down the hill to Marina Piccola, where we bought tickets for the hydrafoil jetboat to Capri. We missed the 9:45am ferry by two minutes, and instead sat on a smelly bench near the water where we studied a pack of wild cats. They were nearly a dozen in all different colors, and mangy like you wouldnâ€™t believe. Very impressive. Once we got on the ferry at 10:45, we steamed across to the island of Capri. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the loud and persistent attempts of some men who wree trying to sell us tours of the island, rent
us boats, serve us coffee, or otherwise steal our money and souls. In a panic to avoid them, I pointed out a sign to “Capri Centro,” my only instincts telling me that would be where to find the cool shops, restaurants, tourist info points, and transportation to Anacapri, the home of the Blue Grotto. Sadly, my instincts were partially correct, but they failed to estimate the length, altitude, and general agony of the climb by foot. For half an hour, we struggled to surmount this five-foot-wide alley that zigged and zagged up the hill to the city proper. We huffed and puffed, sweated buckets, and refused to give up because, as miserable as we were, we had no idea how far we needed to go. Maybe the end was ten steps further, and if we quit we would never know. That didn’t happen, we are too stubborn. Our last stop in Anacapri was what should have been our first stop. We took a rickety chairlift up the island to Monte Solarno, the highest point of the island. Although the ride took us over some really sketchy stuff, like a weird ceramic knick-knack shrine to something that starred an old, dirty female mannequin. But, when we got to the top, we were rewarded with a billion dollar view. They have this platform built
Capri, Italy up there that gives you a 360° view of the Bay, and we took tons of pictures, so I won’t spend too much time attempting to describe it, but it’s one of those situations that inspires you to paint it or write it or sing it, but you can’t because any attempt would be futile and fail to do it justice. We spent a while up there before returning to Anacapri and then Capri.
September 1, 2011 At about eleven, we checked
out of the hotel, leaving a slew of trash and detritus behind us. Anything that could be sacrificed was left behind to make our suitcases lighter. Space was not an issue, but weight and ease of transport was. I had no intentions of overpacking my carry-on, so I check a duffel. I would come to regret that decision. We walked to the train station, where we caught a bus to the airport. On the way back to the states, we were able to see the frozen expanse of Greenland, which was crazy. Ice and snow as far as the eye could see. Then, I saw the sunset from 35,000 feet. It lasted for hours, because we were flying in the right direction to make it last far longer than normal. The colors and clouds were stunning. The United States had never looked so beautiful.
View from ld the top of the wor
Excerpts from my travel journal written during a month abroad.