Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tap on wood!

Today I learned a new fun British phrase (add that to "pear-shaped" and "ring me on my mobile"). "Tap on wood" is the British equivalent to the American "knock on wood", because everything they do here is a lot quieter and more polite. When I answer the phone at my internship, my boss cringes because I apparently yell. Then again, this is compared to her calm, demure British whisper. Sigh.

I've been trying to think of a theme for this entry, but it's basically just a generic update. I leave in a little over a month and I am very very sad, especially because I've suddenly fallen completely in love with my internship and it's hit me that I just can't jetset off for a weekend in the states.

I did do a day trip to Canterbury last weekend, but it didn't merit its own entry because I was cold and wet the whole time. Oh, and because Canterbury is basically a big mall with a cathedral (which was, admittedly, gorgeous). We did stop at a pub before heading home and got pints to warm up and then the most amazing beef stew I have ever had (sorry Mom and Grandma).

My mom comes to visit tomorrow and we're headed off to Edinburgh for the weekend! We're going to see castles and green places and people in kilts. Oh, and our first mother-daughter pub experience. That should be memorable!

That's it for now... more after a few rounds of golf and Guiness this weekend!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Finding places close to home

I know that I've seemed like quite the jet-setter recently, what with my 3 countries in a week spring break (Vatican City counts. Ask any geography teacher) and my upcoming visits to Barcelona and Malta. However, recently I've been taking it sort of easy and checking out new places in London and the ever-so-quaint villages around southern England. I mean, I live in such an amazing area - it's time to take advantage of it!

Stop 1 was Winchester, which is an overly cute hamlet about an hour's train ride southwest of London. Many of you at this point will be singing a song entitled "Winchester Cathedral", but, if you're in a public place, take my advice and stop. We've heard it sung before, and it's not a pretty song. Plus I'd never heard it until AFTER I saw the cathedral, so I can't annoy locals with my singing.


Winchester did indeed have a cathedral, making it the 24th I've seen on the trip so far (that's an estimation and Il Duomo still has them all beat). Here's a view from inside because my camera is only capable of taking epic pictures:

The hamlet also had adorable shopping areas, featuring an open-air market and a mall with a penguin statue (we have lots of penguins here in the UK). For lunch and severall snacks we feasted upon pasties, which are pastries with fun things inside like cheese and onions, as well as caramel shortcake and, of course, tea. We tried to stay there until dinner, but everything closes at 5 and there are about 2 pubs on the outskirts of town that stayed open. So, after wandering from one end of the town to another (which took a total of 20 minutes), we headed home to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in central London.

However, some nights must be spent away from the safety of central London, so last night, in a nostalgic quest for American food, we went to north London. Travel Planner told me that it would take us about 51 minutes to get there, taking 2 different tube lines, a bus, and a 10 minute walk. Off we went to the unexplored wilds of Finsbury Park. Amazingly, we found where we were going without any major problems, aside from some incredibly annoying British teenagers who cursed like... people from New Jersey. We had a great dinner at a place called "...Pick More Daisies" (burgers with avocado!) and, adventurous kids that we are, took a bus to another part of north London to take the tube home.

North London actually looks a lot like Collegetown (in that it's hilly and has houses). It's a lot quieter than central London, a LOT less expensive, and just has a very different atmosphere. Aside from the time required to get to and from there, it's a very cool part of the city.

Tomorrow I'll be going to Stop 3: Canterbury! Details on my hanging out with the Archbishop and Chaucer (I see dead people) coming soon!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Roaming around Rome

I figured I should probably finish my epic 3 part series about spring break (distractions arose, but it's worth the wait!)

We arrived in Rome around 7 pm after paying more money so we could take the train that we had tickets for. We found our hostel which was aptly named the "Hotel Alessandro Palace". It was amazing - really nice rooms, actual fast internet, a bar with free sangria for girls after midnight. The only downside was that we were in an 8-person room, which we had booked to save money, but, as we found on the trip, is really not worth it.

Travel note: book 4 person room hostels if that's the size of your group. Part with the extra bucks because the added four people will go to sleep at 10, wake up at 6, snore while they're asleep, and stage whisper while they're awake.

Anyway, we were starving, so, relying on my handy Rome Lonely Planet Guidebook, we set off in the general direction of a bunch of allegedly amazing pizza places. We stopped in the first one they had and I immediately said a thank you to the Lonely Planet Gods (or writers). It was a pizza place stuffed with locals and, from what I saw near me, thin crust pizza. New Jerseyans will understand when I say it was just a more Italian version of Pete and Eldas. Mmmmm. Meg, Tim and I shared 2 pizzas and decided to trust in the book to find us a gelato place. We got gelato (it was good, but better was to come later) and went and looked at the Trevi Fountain. Rumor has it that, if you throw money in the fountain, you will definitely come back to Rome. Here's hoping!

After that, we were pretty tired, so we saw Meg off on a bus back to her home near Vatican City (hmmm) and went back to the hostel and went to sleep.

The next day was the only day I had to see Rome, so Tim thought that it would be a good idea to take a bus that was headed toward the Vatican but get off before it got there and walk. We ended up a half hour away circling a Roman hospital, so I found our way back and he had to carry the water bottle around all day.

With my leadership skills, we found the Vatican (add another country to my list!), which, after Greece and Florence seemed sort of anticlimactic:

We went in the Basilica, but not before being instructed by some very helpful signs:

We touristed around there for awhile - the building is much cooler and some of the statues inside are breathtaking (more photos if you click the link at the end of this post).

We moved on to try to find a gelato place recommended by Meg. Unfortunately, Vatican City is a pretty big place, so we couldn't find it. We were standing on a street corner and I said, "I really want to find gelato!" Suddenly we hear a voice from behind us, saying the blessed words, "are you looking for Old Bridge gelato?"

We were!

American accents in foreign countries are like beacons of hope to other American tourists. This man had heard our call for help and, through either insightfulness or psychic powers, figured out where we wanted to go. We found our way there, and began the battle to be known as Alyssa vs. the Gelato.

At Old Bridge, you can get 3 major scoops of ice cream in a cone with whipped cream for 2 Euros (about $3.50). By major, I mean this:

And I think that photo was taken while it was halfway done (Tim has the good pictures, I'll hunt him down).

The gelato was big, but my craving for Ice Cream 2.0 was much bigger, and I walked away victorious:

With the score Alyssa 1, Gelato 0, we went and looked at a few piazzas (Rome has about 10,000). Then we decided to check out the Colosseum which was wayyyy on the other side of town from where we were, so we decided to hop on the Rome Metro.

Travel note: Rome Metro bad. Walking an extra 2 miles good.

The Rome Metro only has 2 lines and construction on a 3rd has been delayed because they have uncovered another "major archaeological find" (ho hum). Apparently they have had this same problem in Athens but they're working harder over there. Anyway, so the Rome Metro system is sort of useless except for getting from one tourist destination to another. And it smells. And it is crowded. Did I mention that it smells?

We eventually escaped from the Metro and walked out and were confronted by the sight of the Colosseum. We headed to the Palatine, which is another "major archaeological find" of ruins nearby. Tim bought his ticket for both places and I went to pay and the woman handed me my ticket and all of my money back. March 9 in Rome is apparently "Women's Day", which is their version of Mother's Day but for all women (I like it better that way), so we girls got in everywhere for free. We wandered around the Palatine and Colosseum for awhile:

We headed back to the hostel for a siesta and then wandered Rome searching for a salad place (this is harder than it sounds). We finally found a restaurant specializing in salads (I had a craving!) and had a late dinner. We found the Pantheon, as well as a street named in honor of my Grandpa (that's my theory):

That was pretty much the end of spring break. The next morning I caught a flight home to Luton Airport, which is London's itty-bitty baby airport and got a bus home which only took me a half hour out of my way because they packed my luggage wrong. But I made it home safe and sound and entirely exhausted. Trips to come: Edinburgh, Brighton, Barcelona, and Malta!

For Rome pictures, go here

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fixing the Baroque things in Firenze

In our continuing spring break saga... we arrived in Italy in the authentic (read: scary) town of Ancona, where the train station is located a convenient 2 kilometers (8,342.6 miles) from the docks. And we walked. And it was hot. BUT we made it to the train station where I was told that the $200 Italy rail pass I had purchased online before the trip was not valid for travel across Italy. Silly me.

Serious side note: don't ever buy the Eurorail Pass online. It's such a scam. Just buy your tickets individually before or even when you get there

Anyway, we did get on a train that we figured would get us somewhere near where we wanted to go. Trains in Italy go from major city to major city, as most trains do, but there is no indication of intermediate stops, so you have to guess based on your knowledge of Italian geography. Our first train to Bologna was headed to Turin and our train to Firenze terminated at Rome. Sure. Also, there are no signs at the Firenze station telling you that you are in fact in Firenze (oh, and for all you American types out there... Firenze = Florence), so Tim had to run around trying to figure out where we were.

But we did somehow make it there (we assume) and went to our hostel, which was in a great location and had a great atmosphere.

More fun travel tips: buy a Lonely Planet guidebook. They rock.

We got gelato (dessert before dinner is a great policy) and found an Italian restaurant where I got awesome red wine and got called "Jersey" all night by the waiter once he found out where I was from. This included yelling from across the restaurant "Jersey, want some more bread?" and inviting us out to a club. Which we didn't go to. We walked around instead and I decided that, as cool as Florence was, Siena would be cooler (call me random). It also seemed like a cool Tuscan city located close to Florence.


We took the train to Siena the next morning, which turns out takes longer than trains to Rome. This is partly because Siena is farther from Florence than I thought, but mostly because the train we were on was built by the same people who built the Circle Line here in London (refer to my previous rants).

But we did make it, and it was filled with wonderful things like pizza and gelato and piazzas:

As well as a pretty awesome cathedral:

We left Siena with plenty of time to get back to Florence to have an awkward amount of time to kill before actual Italian dinner (which is around 9). We decided to play checkers, but we tied (who ties in checkers?) so we played dominoes. We went up to a hill overlooking the city and checked out a real osteria - an Italian restaurant so real my guidebook couldn't even help translate the menu. Unfortunately, because of translation issues, we ended up with some pasta with egg sauce which wasn't good, and this was devestating.

The next day we met up with Meg and company and first attempted to find breakfast foods. Breakfast foods are hard to come by when all you want is an egg and cheese sandwich, so we settled for panini. We also saw a statue of David, which was cool, until I found out that it was a clever fake. Way to go, people of Florence. The gang then waited on line for 2 hours for the Uffizi Gallery, which is the oldest gallery in the universe (read: filled with more medieval art than you have ever seen. Ever.)

After our fill of the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception (not to mention a bunch of saints being killed), we went to church. Seemed like the right thing to do. The Duomo in Florence is probably my favorite building in the world. It's just so gorgeous:

It's got a Baroque dome (quick! somebody fix it!), which you can climb to the top of - it's only 463 stairs - nothing for us Ithaca College students. Unfortunately, we were not prepared for barred passages:

And steep stairways of doom:

But, in the end, we got to the top and we were very happy (although breathless):

And there was feasting, and celebrating, and hanging out with Japanese tourists.

We sledded back to the bottom (no lie) and went off on a quest for wine. After that we paid the small fortune required to catch a train to Rome (which is an hour long so therefore must cost the same as a plane ride) and lived another day in another blog entry that will be coming eventually.

Firenze Pictures

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Athens has gone to the dogs

To begin part 1 of 3 of my epic spring break series of posts, I'll start with stop one: Athens, Greece: Where the Dogs Rule and the Alphabet's Insane.

To begin, I will quote my guidebook: "The Greek attitude to animals depends on whether the animal is a cat or not. It's definitley cool to be a cat."

I beg to differ, guidebook. I believe that Athens has truly gone to the dogs. During our 2 day stay in Athens we befriended four stray dogs, my favorite being Romeo, because he was very cuddly and floppy:

On our first day we checked into our hostel (at 10 euros a night, it couldn't be beat) and checked out the balcony off our room. Then we headed to Syntagma Square, which is in the center of Athens and has many examples of wonderful stray dogs who guard fountains and historical places as well as signs that are translated into English for your convenience. No one warned me before we left that not only do Greeks not speak English, but their R's look like P's. After finding some fanastic ruins and some orange trees, we took a siesta and went out to dinner.

A note here about Greek food: do not expect to walk or even move for a few hours after eating. Even chicken and pitas are mysteriously heavy and make you very very sleepy. However, there were stray dogs to be seen and cappucinos and sangria to be had:

But early to bed and early to rise for vacationers. We got breakfast at the hostel (well, everyone else did. Mine was conveniently stolen by some other tourists and had to be remade. Jeez. Americans.) It was off to find the Acropolis, which would have been difficult, if not for these helpful signs:

We got to see the Theatre of Dionysus and the Parthenon (aka the Colosseum if you ask Andrew), which had an incredible view out over Athens, and many touristy pictures were taken:

That's the gang, courtesy of Andrew's long arm. From left to right: Tim, me, Greg, and Andrew. The jet-setters, if you will.

Many more pictures can be found if you click the link at the end of this entry. If I posted all of them, the Internets would crash.

Anyway! After playing with the stray dog protectors of the Acropolis, we went to the Temple of Zeus, which was interesting in that it looked like a giant bowling alley:

All touristing and no breaks makes we jet-setters a hungry bunch, and the boys let me lead them to the Gardenia Restaurant, which was both recommended by my guidebook and clearly named after me. It turned out to be in a very... Greek... area of Athens, far far away from the touristy areas we had been visiting. But, it was totally worth it - it was owned by a Greek woman who spoke English and mothered over us and her husband, who did not speak English, seemed very bitter, and spent the whole time we were there yelling at the news. We got more food than we could handle for about as much as a Happy Meal costs in the states.

The boys were being such good sports that they followed me to a sandal store that existed in my 2001 travel book but somehow did not exist in real life. But, en route, we found a street market and I got a pretty bracelet and some other souvenirs. The sandal store, however, was invisible. Tim and I decided that all this shopping required gelato, but we forgot that we were still in Greece (not Italy yet!) and could only find soft ice cream after an hour of searching. But, during that hour I also met Romeo, who is, in fact, the love of my life.

We got a quick dinner that night at "Quick Pita" (yay Greek fast food) and got to bed early, because we had some travelin' to do the next day.

Before leaving Athens we checked out the National Archaeological Museum, which, for a country that's got a lot of... archaeological stuff... was actually sort of anticlimactic. However, we did meet Scruffy, a stray dog who took a liking to us and followed us all the way back to the hostel, crossing intersections only when he had the walk signal.

Alas, it was time to leave Athens and take a train to Patras, where we would catch a ferry to take us to Italy. We got on a train and, after a half hour of traveling, everyone got off. We were under the impression that this train was taking us to Patras, as that was what we had been told, but this turned out to be a Greek practical joke on the Americans, so we switched trains and somehow made it to the port city of Patras. We found our "ferry", mainly because it looked like a cruise ship, complete with pool (not filled), hot tub (also not filled), and bar (okay, that was open). We boarded, and, with our "deck" tickets, had expected to sit on the deck, but were surprised by our own seats that proved to not only be too small, but amazingly uncomfortable. We killed time on the ship by playing cards and watching Miss Congeniality with Greek truck drivers, who thought it was hilarious.

I'll end this entry here (if any of you are still with me) with a to be continued and a link to the rest of my Greece pictures... click here!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Just a quick note...

Just letting everyone know that I'm fine... language barriers and all. Big posts to come when I get back about our adventures with Greek stray dogs, our cruise ship ferry ride, and my newfound love of gelato (which I eat before and after meals). So far I've been to Athens, Ancona (Italy), Florence/Firenze, and Siena. I'll be back on Friday!