Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cinque Terre!

On the road again. A train along the western coast of Italy. Following the water north past Siena, Florence, and even Pisa, until the beautiful five cities or Cinque Terre.

This was a sudden trip, planned about 5 hours before the train...I had no hostel and no plans, just an idea. But thats the wonderful part of Italy, things like this can work for a weekend or more. I packed a bag and popped the ipod in, put on some andrea bocelli and looked out the window onto the countryside of Italy as it sped by. I always feel more comfortable on the move, going somewhere, doing something. I feel more accomplished, and more relaxed. Anyhow, after 5 hours traveling north we pulled into the city of La Spezia where we found a bus to take us to a little city out of La Spezia called Biassa. Biassa was nestled on top of a beautiful hill overlooking the ocean. It was incredibly high and my ears popped everytime going up or down. We arrived at the hostel and I asked if there was room for me...he said no. Although it was not the answer I wanted, I didnt panic, but tried to look around for another hostel...nope, not in this town of 300 people. The guy then stopped me and said he could fit me into the hostel. I was very grateful and...hungry. I wasnt the only one hungry, the others in my group were as well! So, stanging outside in the little town in the sun on top of a hill we pondered at where to eat...everything seemed closed. Suddenly we see a kid biking down the street right in front of us and seeing this as the only opportunity for help I shouted, "Ciao ragazzo, scusa!!" He screeched to a stop and I asked where we could get some grub. He then spoke in the coolest accent I have heard in Italy. I was so fascinated I didnt even know what he said, but evidently he was goign to come back after getting us a reservation somewhere...I took this as, "ya, im not coming back because you guys are odd...". I was wrong though, because 10 minutes later he runs up the hill with a skateboard now and shouts to us to follow him. We do and he asks the usual questions...where are we from, what are we doing etc. I tell him and he tells me I have a southern italian accent, haha, I tell him I live in Rome and he then understands why. Anyway so Davide brings us to this awesome restaurant and then says goodbye after we thank him.

After lunch, we start walking to Cinque Terre...this took us way longer than anticipated and by the time we arrived at the first city it was already 5 o'clock. On the bright side though, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. The first city held breathtaking views of the water and coastline of the Italian Riviera. The cool blue water lapped upon the jutting rocks. The sound was so calming and rythmic. Looking back on the towns as we passed from one to the other we beheld the magnificent colors of the buildings in the bright sun, and the vibrant fishing boats in the water bobbing up and down following the orders of the sea. The temperature was perfection and everything was working out.

Arriving at our last city for the day we watched the sun set between two cliffs filled with tiny squat italian houses. Then, we ate seafood with the local wine overlooking the coast. Now after dinner we left for the hostel in Biassa which was about an hour away. By the time we got there it was 10 at night. On the way to the door I hear my name, "Hey Biaggio!", I turned around and it was Davide! Him and a bunch of friends were just roaming around and they asked us if we wanted to join. The girls of the group said absolutely because they saw the guys all had motocicleta helmets with them. So after some wandering of this town about 5 feet wide by 10 feet the girls asked me to ask them if they could ride a moped. The italians eagerly obliged and one said in italian, "wait here while I go get the bigger one". 10 minutes later we hear a growl of an engine as this crotchrocket bike races down the hill. He asks the girls which one wants to go first and he gives them a helmet and dashes away. After them he turns to me and asks if I've ever ridden and I said no. He then gives me the helmet and says hop on and hold tight. I get on the bike only to be brought speeding away down the hill at breakneck speed! We arrive at a tunnel about a mile and a half long, he shouts back for me to duck and hold on, then he races through the tunnel at about 150-160 km/hr!!! It was AWESOME! I couldnt believe how fun it was! We got back to the group and hung out for a little more until we had to get back to the hostel. What an experience! At times like these, I appreciate so much that I can speka the language, because so many more things can happen! I love being able to participate in a culture so entirely!

We woke up the next morning bright and early so we could get a head start on the hiking. It was a good idea because the weather was suppose to fall through in the afternoon. We took the train to the last city and began our hike backwards to the rest. Yet, the hike from the 5th to the 4th was a major one. It reminded me of boy scouts. I loved it. The rest of the group did not however and there was a lot of "come on, only a little more, you can do it". Then, one of the girls said, "god, how could this get any worse..." I laughed...because it started raining. We continued on however, and made it to the fourth city for a lunch break. It was my favorite city because it looked like Venice. The food was great and the view as well. The italian riviera is phenomenal.

It was at this point that we decided to head back to home...Rome. BUT, since there was a layover in Pisa I told everyone we HAD to go see the tower. So, in 40 minutes we got a taxi sped over to the tower, looked at it, took pictures, held it up, got a cafe, sat ont he lawn in the sun, and went back to the station...basically you can do Pisa in 40 minutes. No but really, Pisa was a very beatiful city and had great architecture along the river. I was super stoked we stopped there though and can now check it off my list!!! The train the brought us home and we sat down after visiting 10 cities in 48 hours. Rome, Civitavecchia(layover), La Spezia, Biassa, Cinque Terre(5), and Pisa. Wow.

I have to say that the first chance I get, I will go back to the italian riviera and stay for a bit more in better weather. But for now, there are other parts of Europe that need exploring! Ciao!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Barcelona Espana

Arriving in Barcelona from Paris was a bit of a shock. More of a culture shock than Italy to France I would say. The air was more arid, and the language completely different. I felt a disconnect though with this country because I knew so little about its history, language, and people. My spanish language skills were mediocre to say the least, but I could understand and be understood, although it was by no means as proficient as my italian and french. Also, this was Catalan, not spanish, so I felt even more out of place.

Anyway, so I was suppose to couchsurf in Barcelona, but the host was not at his house and so I decided to just get a hostel in the city. Traveling alone is a very interesting experience. It is a reflective time, but also an opportunity to meet tons of people.

The main city hit me by surprise because the architecture was so much like Romes but with a spanish flare. There were fountains and noise and lights everywhere. A city that seemed not to sleep! I was overwhelmed and just walked everywhere for a couple hours. Then I met some Basque girls in the Hostel and we started talking(stuttering) spanish. I was overjoyed though because I could understand them quite well! They also were impressed with the accent I had acquired. We then went out to some bars and tapas for the night and had a great time. However, they stayed out until 7 in the morning and me till 2...Haha, well thats some culture for ya!

The Spanish food was quite good! I went to a cooking class and met two australian couples on their about third wheel...and we cooked together and then went to some bars after! One of the australians name was Mitch and he fought in Afghanistan for 9 months and told me all about it! He was not shy at all about his expereinces and I got a very good idea of whats happening. I asked though who was the friendliest nation among the troops, and without hesitation he replied "the Americans". This made me happy and I asked why. He said it was because they were so generous, humorous and well trained.

The next day we all took a bike tour of the city and beach of Barcelona. We stopped for wine at noon and sat in the sun before continuing the journey back to the center. That night I took it easy and explored the city. I was VERY careful though because Barcelona is NOT safe. It is a city of thieves. I can't believe I stayed for 5 days and nothing happened! I was always very attentive and aware throughout just because of this.

Finally, my favorite part of Barcelona was the artist Antonio Gaudi. He built and designed basically everything in Barcelona. He adored mimicking nature and never using straight lines. This was probably because he drank absinth everyday and couldn't see straight lines! Thats besides the point though because I loved all of his stuff. He made parks, fountains, buildings, lamp posts, benches, plazas...everything. I took tours of his stuff and they were well worth it! I made some more friends too! Some guys on a tour in Paris turned up in barcelona too and so we did some tours there as well! I felt like such a nomad!

I left Barcelona content that I went, but I knew I wouldn't go back if it was a choice. It was small and dangerous. The beach was filled with crazy people too, and so hanging there was awkward. Haha, random naked people ride by on bikes and its...normal I guess...

I can't express how happy i was to land in Italy again. It really was like coming home. I know the Rome airport like the back of my hand by now and all the transportation to and from and within Rome. I do it automatically and am home in my neighborhood without a thought.

Spain, I will return again, but this time somewhere in the way north or the south. I also have to be more comfortable with the language...


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Paris, "Qu'ils mangent du gateau"


Breath-slowly. Smell the luxurious rich scent floating upon the breeze, filling the streets and cafes with a culture so unique and full of life. I have arrived. Bonjour Paris, je suis arrive'.

Stepping off the plane onto French soil was so surreal I knew it was a dream...I ventured off on my own for the shuttle to Paris. The morning was still fresh with the smell of dew in the countryside airport of Beauvais 1.5 hours north of Paris. My excitement could barely be contained as the bus whirred along the French highway. Already differences were apparent from my home in Italy. Farms were organized, clean, and proud. My mind was full of french words and grammar still trying to reconnect what has been lost while in Rome. Looking at objects and retrieving their meaning and word, I was preparing for the French, harsh about who speaks their native tougue, and full of pride with every breath. I was ready to be thrown into Paris to survive with the tools I possess.

Later, poking out of the distant horizon, the eiffel tower bore its face, ever solid and gracefully ruling the skyline above the city. What a welcome! I made my way to the hostel once the bus dropped me off at the station. It took awhile because the shear beauty astounded me! I felt the differences in this city from that of Rome. Yet no comparison can be made, for they are made of different materials. I enjoy each for their own specialties.

The first day I just walked. Walked until I couldn't anymore. Like I have said before, I like to get a feel for a city. I observe. Listen. Watch. I can feel the vibrations in the air and the energy of the city. Paris is delicate and amorous. Facades shown with integrity in the Parisian fashion, and the people, heads held high yet going about their daily duties. I felt oddly out of place in my Roman fashion clothes and walk. I tried to blend and mimic and learn. My french was coming back wonderfully, using it with a soft touch just like the French would want. I acquired the most knowledge just by hearing others speak and learning the mode of Parisian French. The rhythm of the city was difficult for me to adjust to coming from chaotic Rome. It was like a personality disorder for me having both these languages and cultures inside and trying to display them both up to par with the locals. I achieved a balance though, and in the end really developed a feel for the Parisians.

The next day I ate breakfast consisting of a croissant, orange juice and a small baguette. Full and ready to move, I left for a free tour of the city! I worked the metro like a dream and arrived at the tour just in time. I really loved walking around learning about the history of the city and taking pictures of all the main sights. I went to Notre Dame, Louvre, Champs-Elysees, l'Arc de Triomph, Les Jardins Tuilleries, and much more. Paris was full of hidden gems of history and architechture!

I ate crepes during the day and always espresso. There was a calmness to the city that I could not place my finger on. I was astounded at the French way of life, so absolutely different than the italian mindset.

The next morning, I stopped at a caffe facing the rising sun. I drank my espresso and made plans for the day. I would explore the northern city and then make my way down to the center. The sun was gently grazing the city of love with its light and I saw Paris in its full splendor. The Seine flowed strong and steady like the vein of the city. Notre Dame ruled over the island in the middle watchful with its soaring buttresses and gothic architechture. Its Rose Window as ever an eye of color and art swirling with light for all to behold. Its enormity gives way to grace as the stained glass windows cover its sides and its architecture draws every eye.

Paris at night is just as beautiful as during the day. The moon over the eiffel tower is drawn from a story book and I am reminded of its fame. I meet my friends the next day who live in Paris. After catching up for a bit we then toured their part of town in the Garden of Luxembourg and the Pantheon. I ate a excquisite french dinner yet I made a faux pas...when I went to cut the Brie cheese for my baguette I cut the tip of the triangle. All of the sudden I heard laughter and shock. I looked up to see all faces towards me. I was then told that the tip of the cheese is NEVER cut like that and I should shave the side instead of taking the whole tip. I now know for future reference to absolutely never make this mistake again. I am very happy I learned it though in a fun environment as apposed to an official French dinner in the future!

My time in the fair city was coming to an end when I traveled to Versailles for the day. A quiet yet still large city that was the country getaway for the french court. I toured the Palace of Versailles and roamed its exquisitly cut gardens for the day. Swans swam gracefully upon the lake at the center. The winding paths curved and encircled beautiful fountains and flower beds. I could have spent days in the garden and not seen enough. I plan on returning in the future.

Honeslty there was so much I saw and did in Paris it is hard to fit it into a blog! I spent 5 days there and achieved so much, yet I know I could do so much more! The whole environment was amazing and it drew me in for good. The language helped me fit in so much better. I love not feeling like a tourist. Yet the Parisians were colder to me than I would have liked. I guess it was because I was a stranger and they do not act the same as Romans...obviously. I anticipate my return to Paris to uncover the rest of its mystery and regality. But for now, its splendor and majesty will always hold it as one of my favorite cities. Au Revoir.