Monday, April 27, 2009

London Marathon: 26.2 Miles of excitement.

So the London marathon was yesterday and Dani and I went to go watch it. It was pretty cool. We started at mile marker 25 and watched for a while and slowly made our way tp the finish line. These people are amazing and definitely inspirational. The crowd was great too. Anytime a person would slow down, stop for a break, or just look like they were struggling the crowd would get louder and provide more support. It was so cool to witness. Even better, this marathon is based on charities, so every runner had a cause they were running for. Really great. Also, currently there is a camp of protesters that are tenting out in front of parliament and they have been for some time. So yesterday, they were in full swing. It was quite the scene, let me tell you. Then we walked to the finish line and it was nuts. Just a ton of energy. I've never seen a marathon before so this was quite the experience.

Quotes from Mike: Madrid (Spring Break part IV)

We arrived in Madrid without a hitch. Katie was quite thoughtful and wrote out thorough directions for us in how to get to our hostel. We stayed in Hostel One located in Puerta del Sol, which is the city center. We took the metro which included switching lines a few times but no problem. That is until Mike went rogue and decided to walk off in the opposite direction of needed. I had to go catch him and lead him the right way. Both of us decided that we weren't sure what his train of thought was. Isn't it nice to have a male leader? After having some very minor confusion of which street we wanted, we found the hostel. We made plans to meet Katie at 6:30p which only gave us a few minutes to rest before we had to go meet her. After waiting for a few minutes, Katie found us and showed us some of the iconic parts of Madrid. This included the eact center of Madrid, the famous Tio Pepe sign, and the Bear and tree statue. These were all in Puerta del Sol. She then took us on a mimi tour and showed us the royal palace and Plaza Mayor. Afterwards, she took us to where she lives. Katie has a host family where she lives with Concha (her host mom), Pablo (Concha's son), Jill (another study abroad student like Katie), and Trufa (the dog, means truffle in Spanish). Concha was the most welcoming, cutest lady. She doesn't know English that well, so I had to use Katie to help me translate when I couldn't think of how to say something. Truffa is a yellow lab and was adorable, made me miss my dog tons. We sat aroundand talked for a while, like we hadn't just spent the last 8 days together, or something. Mika and I didn't want to impose on dinner (they eat around 11pm there) so we headed back to the hostel. When we got back, I hopped on the computer and hung out in the tv room. This has been my favorite hostel I have stayed in so far. The bathroom was amazing, beds comfortable, and in the common room they had a flat screen tv with a playstation and a DVD collection. Awesome! So I sat and read Wicked for a little bit and then went to bed. We awoke next morning with plans to meet Katie and Mike's friend, Alyssa at 12:30. We decided to walk around and do some souvenir shopping before we met them, and I was able to get myself an authentic Spanish fan along with some other items for the family. We met up with Katie and alyssa and headed to lunch at a place I forgot the name of but they have these great little sandwiches called bocadillos. Spain is known for there ham so naturally I had a ham sandwich. I think my favorite was the chorizo ham if I am remembering the name correctly. We then walked arounf for a little and Alyssa took us back to show us her apartment. Katie had to head off and go to a class btu we were going to meet up with her later. Alyssa's apartment was small, but cute. They had a balcony they had a cool view considering it was on the top floor and all. After a while, mike and I headed off and went to this park that had an Egyptian tomb-that was a gift from Egypt as a thank you for Spain restoring it or something of that nature. The park was pretty and it had been cloudy and rainy most of the day and it was finally getting sunny out. From there we walked to Plaza Espana which is where the famous Don Quixote fountain. The is pretty cool and the flowers around it were gorgeous. From there we walk Gran Via, one of the main streets, back to the hostel and bummed around there for a little while. We then went to meet Katie and since Mike and I were hungry we stopped at a cafe that was close by and had dinner. We were having some fun chatting with each other and it even led to another quote from Mike. We were talking about friends and he thought it was cool that Katie and I have been friends since we were 7. He then said how he felt he had known Katie for longer than the realistic week by saying, "I feel that I've known you for so long. Who knows, maybe we were lizards together in a past life." Taken out of context that statement may not be funny but believe me if you were sitting at that table you wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face. We were at the cafe for about 3 hours or so when Katie had to head home so Mike and I said goodbye and went back to the hostel. We woke up the next day and while Mike slept in again, I bummed around and watched tv and went on the computer. After we checked out, we headed to the airport using the metro. We arrived at the airport too early apparently. This is what I was told after I had been waiting for about 30 min. We had to wait another 40 min. or so and then finally were able to check in. This went pretty smoothly and we made our way to the gate. We were caught off guard when we saw that we had to go through a police check point and have our passports check again. But I got excited because this meant that I finally got my Spain stamp in my passport. I still can't figure out why they give you one when you leave but, I'm not going to complain. At the gate, we ran into Mike's friend Alyssa. She was coming to London the same day and staying for the weekend with Mike. But we thought she was on the plane after ours so it was a surprise to see her. Well, we boarded the flight and off we went. I just started readin Wicked and eventually fell asleep. Apparently at one point Mike tried to talk to me before he saw that I was completely konked out. We arrived at London Stansted Airport around 6pm or so and caught a bus to take us into the city. I was so relieved to arrive to Baker Street and know exactly where I was. Love it. Well that ends my crazy 10 day extravaganza. It was a ton of fun and I was so glad that everyone got along so well. And while, Mike may not have been able to make his own bed, read a map, plug in a heater he sure made the trip a lot funnier. Plus Katie and Alyssa are two of my best friends from home, so I can easily say this was the best spring break ever.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Quotes from Mike: Barcelona (Spring Break part III)

We awoke early Sunday morning to head off to Barcelona. The campsite had an airport shuttle service so the three of us took advantage of it. Alyssa did not come with us to Spain so that morning she headed back to Glasgow instead. This was a pretty smooth ride to the airport and we arrived a little early for check-in so we had to grab some seats for a while. We spotted some and as we were walking to them I noticed that there was a stray cat sitting on one. These are all over Italy so it didn't surprise me really. Well Mike sat down and went to move the cat on the seat next to him so I could sit down. The problem was that he thought it was a fur hat so when it moved when he touched he freaked out a jumped a bit. It was rather funny and the people around us got a good laugh out of it to. When it came time for check in Mike and I had no problems but Katie had some issues with her bag, again, which led to eventually having to check it. Super annoying. There is a funny story though. Katie knew that she was over weight in her carry-on she to prevent that she wore 7 shirts that day to the airport just to find out she was still over the limit and had to check the bag anyway. So she then took out her folder she had her flight information and checked everything else. So imagine this tiny girl with a million shirts on carrying a folder with a print of a puppy on it. Call me insensitive but I got a good chuckle out of it. But we got to the gate and bummed around waiting for boarding. On the flight, I once again semi-succeeded in taking a nap. When we landed in Barcelona, I was super excited, especially because it meant another stamp in my passport. Well to my sadness, no one was at customs to check our passports. No fun. So we then had to catch a bus to the city center and did so, more napping. I didn't have directions to the hostel, only the address so when we got off the bus we jumped on the metro adn estimated where it was. we were wrong. So we stopped at a cafe that was nearby and asked for some help. By we I mean Katie. She is studying in Madrid and was much better off than myself-even with my 7 years of Spanish. But the people in Spain were so nice and Katie had 4 people helping her. During this I came to realize that I did have directions to the hostel-they were on my confirmation page, and I had forgotten about them. So then it made it much easier and we realized we weren't too far away so we headed off. We made it a couple of blocks and decided to check our map to make sure we were fine and as we bagan o take out the map an elderly man stopped and offered his help. Seriously, they are so nice there. So he gave us some more directions and back to walking we went. It was too difficult to find the hostel. We finally arrived and I was so relieved. It was called Sea Point and was right on the boardwalk. I stepped outside, walked 20 feet, and I was standing in sand. AMAZING! We showered and then decied to do some walking around and went dinner. We found one close by and decied to try there "menu del dia". (menu of the day). This included bread, salad, traditional paella, chocolate mousse, and a drink. It was delicious. I had never had paella but it was awesome. I recommend it to all. After wards we checked out some more of the city. This led us to the acquarium that we decided to go to-Mike said he ahd heard it was supposed to be a really good one. And it was great. We got to see all types of sea creatures-penguins, octopi, stingrays, sharks, sea horses, the entire cast of Finding Nemo and a tons more. They even had a room where you were surrounded on all sides by the tank, as in you walk underneath it in this tunnel. It was so cool. I have always been a fan of water and its inhabitants so this was a real treat. Afterwards we decided to try and find the "Magical Fountain" which is an iconic landmark in Barcelona. Along the way we walked past a theatre that was playing Spamelot (the monty python and the holy grail musical). The box office was open and it looked fun so we decided to ask how much tickets would be. With a student discount they were 21 euros so we impulsively purchased them. We went off to find the fountain but failed and had to give up so we could make it back to the theatre in time for the show. The show was spectacular, if you like Monty Python, you would like this. It's great and has all of the classic jokes of the movie and then some. After the play we opted for heading back to the hostel and calling it a night. The next morning, Katie and I woke up and had breakfast while Mike slept in a bit. Afterwards, we went and sat on the bech for a little bit and then I walked Katie to the metro stop. She headed to Madrid on Monday because she had a class the next day. Once I got back to the hostel, Mike and I made a mini itinerary for the day. We decided to start by going to the top of Mount. Montjuic which is the high point in Barcelona. To get there you have the option to ride these cable car/ ski lift things to the top. It looked pretty cool so we thought we'd give it a shot and walked to the starting point tower. This looked like a mini Eiffel and was very cool. We waited in line for a while and then rode an elevator to the top of the tower, where we got on the car. This had an amazing view of the city and was really neat. But my fear of heights reared its ugly head and I started geaking out a little. Good thing I had a strong man like Mike for support, right? Well no, he chose to laugh at me instead. But this ride dropped is off about half way up the mountain so we looked around for a little bit and took in the amazing view. There was mini lift to take you to the top so we then walked up a little ways to get to that. On our way, we happened to walk past the swimming pool arena that was built for the '92 summer olympics and that was pretty neat to see. A bit rustic-definitely not worried about the up-keep. Well, we hopped on the lift and and rode it to the top. What a view, I cannot even describe. Also on top was a castle that still had some tanks and warheads from a war, we thought one of the world wars maybe. And you could walk around and see it all. So we spent some time at the top and finally decided to head back to the hostel and then hit the beach. The beach was amazing but, hey I love a good beach and probably wouldn't have been disappointed if there was a hurricane. While I worked on getting a little tan, Mike worked on adding to his sunburn and succeeded. His neck got so red it looked like someone tried to dye him with beet juice. I have a friend that I use to work with over the summer, Ashley. She is studying in Barcelona so we arranged to meet her that night, she was taking us to her favorite sangria bar. But that wasnt until 10 so we had a few hours to get some food and wander around the dock somemore. Finally we headed off to meet Ashley. The bar was just off a street called Las Ramblas, which is the main tourist drag in the city. We arrived and it was a little creepy at first because from the outside it looked like a dungeon but the interior was really neat, with little caverns and such. So we met up with Ashley, some of her friends, and some of her friend's friends. We talked for quite a while until we realized the time and decided to head back to the hostel. I was exhausted. In the morning we did the same drill of me getting up for breakfast and Mike sleeping in. We bummed around for a little bit but then headed off to the metro to go to the bus terminal to go to the airport. Along the way I bought a postcard and 2 bracelets. Wanted to have something to prove I had been to the city. We arrived at the airport and used the kiosks to get our tickets and then headed of to the gate with no problems. Since we were there so early we were the first ones at the gate. Perfect. The flight company we flow through doesnt assign the passengers seats. You have to hop in line and it becomes a free for all to find a seat and space for your luggage, so we knew we wouldn't be having problems this time. After boarding got delayed for 30 min. we hopped on and jetted off to Madrid. It was a very short flight that went pretty smoothly.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Quotes from Mike: Rome (Spring Break part II)

We awoke at 4 am Thursday morning to head off to Rome. We had all packed before we went to sleep so basically just had to grab our stuff and go. We went to reception and had the midnight watchmen call us a taxi. It seemed he had some trouble which made the four of us nervous, especially with our past history. But the man assured us the taxi was coming so we popped a squat and waited for it. I don't know what came over Alyssa and I but we got into one of the biggest giggle fits I have ever been involved in. I don't remember what was so funny, but some scenario we made up in our heads was hilarious. I assure you we were not on drugs of any kind or under the influence of alcohol-this was some pure PG fun. A few minutes after we were able to control ourselves the taxi comes flying around the corner. I seriously thought he was going to kill us and he zoomed and whipped his car in a 180. We loaded up our bags and he drove us into the bus terminal which was about a 10 minute ride that cost us 40 euro (55 dollars). Insane, but we were too tired to care. We arrived at the bus terminal a little early so had to sit around for a little while. Which would have been fine if I hadn't been hit on by some weird Italian man and had another short sweaty creeper stare at us while we waited. Again, Mike, the man, didn't stand up for us--good thing women need a man to travel with, especially for security reasons. So the bus pulled up, we loaded the gear and headed to the airport. Check-in went much smoother this time, sort of. The flight company we chose has a crazy rule about only 1 cabin baggage is allowed and it has to weigh under 10kg. So if you area girl you cant have a back pack and a purse-only 1. So i was fine but Katie had some problems with her bag. They wanted her to check even though it fit the dimensions specified by them. Annoying but we got it figure out and headed to the gate. When we sat down I had a little bit of a panic because I couldn't find my passport. It then hit me that I had set it down in security and left it there. Four letter curse word. So I jaunted back to find that a security officer was coming to find me at my gate, phew. So I calmed down and went back and sat at the gate. It wasn't long after that we heard an announcement over the PA system. Our flight was cancelled. I will write it again, CANCELLED. Seriously, WTF. Our flight was terminated due to the foggy conditions outside. Yes it was foggy but not that bad and they cancelled the flight a whole hour before boarding-didn't try to wait it out or anything. Super annoyed. So we had to go back and wait in this long line so that we could get our flight refunded and to be told that all of their flights were booked until tomorrow night. So we had to go back to the bus terminal and to try and catch a train to Rome. We got there to find our the we couldn't catch a train until 1:00pm. We had to wait at a stupid train station with crappy, overpriced food until then. We popped out a deck of cards to try and pass the time but a worker came up to us and told us that cards were not allowed. I have yet to understand that logic. But we got on the train and made it to Rome in time to check in to our hostel. But we arrived in Rome at 5:10pm versus 9am, which is when our flight would have landed. We then had to catch a couple of metros and overground trains to reach our hostel where we were able to check-in right away. We went to our rooms to see that they were very similar to our Venice ones. This hostel, Tiber Village, was a sister campsite to ours in Rome. We had another cabin with 2 conjoined rooms but this time we had 2 bathrooms, which was great. In Venice we had community bathrooms shared by a bunch of people. We pretty much bummed around the campsite for the rest of the day, took advantage of the free internet, and went to bed. In our rooms blankets and such were provided and we were given 1 plug in heater and their was another on the wall that looked like an air conditioner. We had the heater plugged in for a while but unplugged it before we went to bed because of safety reasons. I woke up in the middle of the night and it was freezing, I can't describe how cold it was in the cabin. I desperately wanted to plug in the heater but didn't dare leave the somewhat warmth of my blankets. The cold kept my from falling completely asleep so when my alarm went off in the morning I was pretty much awake. As soon as me alarm went off, Mike and I woke up (we shared a room and Katie and Alyssa were in the other), we all started verbalizing our thoughts of the cold. Mike, a passive-aggressive baby, said off the cuff, "Do you think the heater will turn on if it gets plugged in?" Which was his way of saying he wanted me to get up and plug it in. What a man right? He also made note of how cold his nose was and that he needed another pair of socks. I couldn't even get mad, he was so pathetic, and funny to hear. So I jumped out of bed and ran over to plug the heater in and jumped back under my covers. A few minutes later he got up and jumped in the shower which helped heat the room with the steam. After we got over the shock of the temperature we got up and headed into the city. It was Good Friday. This led us to the decision to start the day off with a tour of Vatican City, we had to earn some brownie points for Heaven somehow. We began by touring St. Peter's Basilica. It is gorgeous with amazing mosaic, tile floors and painted ceilings. Sculptures of Martyrs and former Popes decorated the walls. Amazing stuff. From here we headed over to the Vatican Museum-this place was/is filled with many paintings, sculptures and artifacts. Most of which was stolen, probably during the Crusades. The self guided tour ended in the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo's masterpiece. While it wasn't permitted I did happen to sneak a picture of it. Yes, I have already been scolded for my actions and have had some brownie points taken away. But the chapel was amazing but I would it is a lot smaller than you would guess it it. Well we stood and gawked for awhile but then decided to move on to see some of the other hot spots that were close by. From here we walked all around and saw things like the Castel de Angelo, Pantheon (Raphael's tomb is there!), Piazza de Venezia, Piazza Nuova Four Rivers Fountain, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and a park that I have forgotten the name of. In a nut shell if you have read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, the same author as the Da Vinci Code, you may recognise some of the places. I think my favorite was trevi Fountain, but each place had different architecture and atmosphere so it was hard to compare them. Seeing all of these sights took up the entire afternoon/ day. We ended the day in the park and then headed back to our hostel. The hostel had a restaurant, bar and market like the Venice one so we decided we were going to eat dinner there. They had delicious food. After dinner we hopped on the internet and just hung around the area and eventually made our way to the cabin to bum around there. It led to another night of fun conversation and again Mike making an ass out of himself. at one point he mentioned that great Spanish song, "Habla Nagila Habla." You may have never heard of it, and that would be because it doesn't exist. What Mike meant was the Jewish song, Hava Nagila. We still cannot figure out the train of thought he was using but, I mean we shouldn't question him because males are the superior species, right? ;) Well that capped off the evening and we headed for bed. This time we decided to keep the heater on all night, if the place caught fire at least it would have been warm. After some inspection we also found out that what we thought was a air conditioner was actually a second heater in our so we cranked that up as well. This combined with the extra blankets we got from reception led to a very cozy, comfortable night of sleep.
We awoke the next morning around 9:30ish. Today on the agenda was to tour and see all of the ancient Rome places that we didn't get to Friday. We shuttle over to the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. We knew that if we went to the Roman Forum first because we knew we could buy us tickets there that would get us into all the attractions. So we started the day off by walking up/ on Palatine Hill. This is where the birth of Rome is said to take place. If you've heard the Romulus and Remus myth, it is said to take place on this hill. We were standing on history-so unbelievably cool, I cannot even tell you. This hill is a part of and kind of attached to the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum is in essence old ruins of ancient Rome. Your allowed to walk around and climb on these things, so amazing. There are tons of old buildings where the only thing that really remains are some columns and walls. It's in here that you can also go in and tour Augustus' house. We spent a few hours in here-with amazing weather and I took advantage of the sun completely. From here we headed over to the Coliseum. We and another funny situation here. The girls and I paused on the side of the street to take some pictures and the next thing I know Mike is gone. I couldn't seem him anywhere until I looked about 150 feet up the sidewalk to see him making a bee line for the Coliseum. We were confused and thought maybe he thought we had left him and he was trying to catch up to us? Well we practically had to run up to catch him and when we did we asked where the fire was and said, "I don't know, I was just really excited." Well we hoped in the line and were able to jump part of it because we had already bought our ticket at the Roman Forum. We toured around here for a while. We had a system over break though. Once we got in we would let ourselves get split up so everyone could go at there own pace and not feel rushed. We just meet the group at the exit when we were ready to leave. Katie and I went at our pace which seemed to be the fastest. So we exited out of the Coliseum and waited, a few minutes later came Alyssa. We were waiting outside for close to an hour when we came to the decision that there was no way Mike was still looking around. So we finally spotted him. He was waiting for us inside the Coliseum and the rest of us were outside. It took some effort to get his attention but we finally did. No big deal, it was only 45 min worth of miscommunication. After the tours, we were extremely hungry and Rome is very expensive so, apologetically we chose to eat at McDonald's. We had passed one the previous day somewhere near the Pantheon so off in search of it we went. As we were looking for it we ran back into the Trevi Fountain. This is actually a bit funny. Well, you know how you're supposed to throw a coin in the fountain-well you do this so that one day you will come back to it. For us it was a mere 24 hours for most it years. We laughed, I guess throwing a coin in works eh? So we had dinner and bought some souvenirs and then headed back to the hostel. We arrived back and celebrated our last night in Rome with a happy hour and chatting it up, sitting in the outdoor patio. we had to go to bed a bit early since we had an early flight to Barcelona the next day. Espana here we come!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quotes from Mike: Venice (Spring Break part I)

Well what a whirlwind of the last 2 weeks. As you know, I have been out of the country becoming a worldy traveler-adding stamps to my passport. 10 days involves a boat load of stories so I am going to break this up city by city-like chapters in a book. Wow, this blog is becoming pretty legit.
Here we go.
Monday April 6th, marked the beginnings of my ten day journey. Along with my companions, Mike, Alyssa and Katie, I was heading off to Italy, Venice to be exact. We had an early morning flight and rolled out of NIDO (mike katie and I)at roughly 3:30 am. We had the front desk call us a taxi which we took to Baker Street (Yes, the very same street as Sherlock Holmes) and from their we were catching a coach bus to the airport. Alyssa was staying at a hostel not to far from there so we met her there. We didn't know exactly where the bus was picking us up but we ran into this random girl that was getting on the same bus and she had a map. Once we looked at it Mike said he remembered where the stop was because a buddy of his had to go there a week before. So off the the bus stop we went, we thought. About 8 blocks later we decided we were heading in the wrong direction and after a girl assesed the map we decided that Mike had taken us in the opposite direction. So we jaunted back to where the stop officially was. It normally wouldn't be an important fact to point out that a girl found the correct way but it was just the night before when Mike tried to convince Katie and I that, "girls need a man to travel with." Mike is from the south so we excuse his idiotic, traditional ways of thinking and taken pleasure often when he eats his words; times like these for example. Anyway, we got to the bus stop and our bus pulled up about 3 min. later. We hopped on the bus and arrived at the airport about an hour later. Walking into the airport it was a little chaotic because it was the morning rush. Alyssa and I checked in at the kiosks provide and had no problem. With Katie's ticket she had to go to the ticket counter and get a stamp (same rule that I had to deal with in Ireland). Mike on the other hand had a rough time. When he bought his ticket online he didnt chose his ticket option. Like between aiport check-in (Alyssa and I) or online check-in (Katie). So he had to run around getting sent from line to line-he was like a deer caught in headlights. He probably wouldn't have made the plane if I didn't jump in and do some talking to the airline workers. During this drama Katie and Alyss went ahead to make sure at least they caught the plane. We finally got mike his ticket and we went to go through security which had a terribly long line but we were getting thourgh it. We had another hiccup when Mike's bag got stopped to be searched at security. So I went ahead-figuring 1. that I could try and hold the plane for him and 2. I didn't wan to miss my flight just because Mike was being dumb. So I made it to the gate as they were finishing up boarding, here I caught up with Alyssa and Katie. Who were freaking out because they were afraid that we weren't going to make the plane and because I had all of our hostel and transport information. About a minute later Mike came up from behind and we all made it on the plane with about 1 minute and a hlaf to spare. Seriously what it with my luck and transportation?
The flight to Venice was pretty smooth. I tried to nap the whole way and was pretty successful. Katie did wake me up at one point as we were flying over a set of mountains I had no reference to where I was at the time to know which ones but it was probably one of the prettiest sights I had ever seen. Imagine snow capped mountains, that seemed so close that I could reach out and touch them, shining in morning light as the sun is rising. Ah-Mazing.
We landed in Venice, got stamps in our passports (yay), and caught a bus to take us to Fusina. Fusina is where our campsite was which is right on the border of Venice. Venice is an island in north Italy and Fusina is the closest you can get without staying in the actual city-which is a bit expensive for a student budget. The bus from the airport dropped us off at a bus/train stop where we had to catch a bus to our campsite. We arrived and about 5 min later the bus that we needed pulled up-awesome timing. A few people got on we gathered our things and as Katie went to step onto the bus the driver shut the door on her face. It was the weirdest thing-he just shut the door and drove away. We couldn't even get mad-it was so funny. Just picture a jolly child running towards a sucker just to find out it was actually a a piece off poo on a stick. Because that was Katie's reaction. It was hilarious. The situation kept us laughing for quite a while until we realized that we would have to wait 2 more hours in direct sun for the next bus. That was a bit annoying but I was too excited to be in Venice to let it get to me. So the bus shows up for the second time, and it was the same driver-we laughed. We made it onto the bus this time and headed to the campsite. It was a smooth ride until our driver pulled over in the middle of no where and just left the bus, without warning. We waited a couple of minutes and then came along a new driver. I had heard about crazy Italian driving but to experience it first hand was quite the...experience. We got to the campsite, Camping Fusina, and checked in. Our cabin was rather cute 2 joined rooms, 2 beds in each. The campsite had its own market, bar and restaurant which was a plus. We arrived early enough that we caught the ferry service the camp offered. In essence a ferry boat to take us to the island. It was about a 15min ride that was amazing. Hot sunny weather on the sea. Heaven. Once we arrived to the city we chose to walk around and explore the city. It isnt that big but has a million tunnels and alleyways which make it very easy to get lost. We stumbled upon this great gelato place there-it was delicious! I had never had gelato before and it was pretty exciting to be trying it for the first time in Italy. After a couple of hours we headed back to the dock to catch the last boat back to the campsite. I/ we were pretty exhausted from traveling so we pretty much hung out in the cabin for a little while and went to bed. We woke up tuesday morning ready to go. We had some time to kil before the next ferry boat so we wandered around the campsite. Since it is literally on the edge of Italy there was a rock beach on the grounds so we went to the market and bought some fruit for breakfast and sat on the shore. We went and jumped on the boat and headed to the island. We decided to head to San Marco Square which is the tourist attraction of the city. So we went and toured the palace there adn it was gorgeous inside and afterwards we walked around the shore. We had great weather each day and I tried to take advantage and get some sun--but this led to me looking like the idiot because I would always bring my sunglasses but never wore them, they always sat atop my head. Then we jaunted off to this little market that we knew of and it was amazing a ton of hand crafted items that were great. Venice is famous for its Carnival they hay every year-a huge masquerade party. So I bought a hand made Venetian mask, signed by the artist. It is important to check for the signature because a lot of the stuff is just made from China otherwise. I was and still am very excited about it but it is a actually really creeper to wear, the paerson looks like serail killer. Oh well, I plan on hanging it on my wall in my aprtment next year anyway. I also bought some other classic Italian items but I shall not disclose what they are on here because my mom is reading this and I want her to be surprised when i bring them back. But other than that I bought this cool postcard that I plan on framing and hanging up as well. You'll find that this whole trip was one where I constantly searched for room decorations for next year. After we did our souvenir shopping we went and decided to go to dinner and eat at an actual restaurant. the menu from the outside had the most expensive plate of pasta at 9 euros so we decided to try there. Well when we went to go pay we were charged 16 euros (20-25 dollars). I still am baffled by how it was so expensive. But I guess we had to get scammed at least once on this trip right? We walked around for a bit stopping at random canals and sitting by the water and watching the gondola drivers overprice the customers here and there. Venice is a gorgeous city but doesnt have many actual attractions to go see which we loved because we just wanted to relax and finally get some color. Finally we headed back to the boat right around sunset which was gorgeous. The sky was just like a William Turner painting, look him up-he's a genius, and I loved it. I think I could have sat on the dock for hours. Once we got back to the campsite we bummed in the cabin and hung out. We had some interesting conversations and some infamous quotes from Mike. At one point, we got on topic of how Mike isn't into Asian hookers and that beastiality is really gross. I don't know how it happened but we were laughing so hard my side hurt. Plus, Mike when he's tired says some crazy stuff which probably would only be funny if you were there. We finally headed to bed. We awoke wednesday but let ourselves sleep in that day. The night was interupted with a call from Katie's mom. She was freaking out about the earthquake that had happened outside of Rome and thought we were all dead. Since we hadn't seen a paper, watched TV, or had internet access yet, we were completely oblivious. But, yes there was an earthquake 70km outside of Rome 150 people died and 200 injured. We were no where near or even felt and were completely safe. When we got up Wednesday morning we went and finally got on the internet, checked our emails and such. Then headed into the city. We basically saw everything in the first 2 days so we just revisited some of our favortie spots and sat by canals all day. Yes this vacation was very stressful ;) My friend Sam, previously mentioned in the blog, was getting into Venice that day so we met up with her and pointed out some of our favorites spots of the city. This included our favorite gelato place, which I made have visited everyday. This rounded up our stay in Venice and was our last chance to see the city. For years I have dreamed to visit Venice, just ask my mom how muchI have talked about it. The city was amazing and beautiful and breath taking. Every corner seemed like it belonged on a postcard. I fell like I spent half of the time picking my jaw up from off the floor. I know I will go back one day, hopefully sooner than later. We got back to the campsite, paid for our stay and headed back to hte cabin for another round of laughter. I just cant get over how ridiculous the conversations were that we had. I've tried to tell the contexts to people here but it seems like the jokes have lost there punch if you weren't involved in there origin. From here out I shall give the one liners we came up with and hope that suffices. Next we headed off to Rome and if you stay tuned that will be described in the next installment.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Katie and Alyssa with friends

So Katie and Alyssa are going on spring break with me. Alyssa arrived in London wednesday afternoon and Katie, thursday morning. Since their arrival I have been playing tour guide and showing them many attractions in the city. Which has worn me down quite a bit. Very tired today. We leave for Venice early this morning-have to head to the bus station at 3am. From their we're going to catch a bus that is taking us to the airport which will take an hour and 15 min. We arrive in Venice at 9:25 which is 3:25 for you guys at home. We expect to be at our hostel by noon and hopefully seeing a little bit of the city by 3. Probably going to need a mini nap before we can explore a bit. And since the Ireland trip, I am really nervous to fly. At least this time I chose airport check-in instead of online so that will save me the hassle of that stupid stamp. I am pretty excited and it doesn't seem real.

Here's the rough itinerary for those curious:
Monday Apr 6th-Fly to Venice
Thursday Apr 9th-Fly to Rome
Sunday Apr 12th- Fly to Barcelona
Tuesday Apr 14th-Fly to Madrid
Thursday Apr 16th-Fly to London

Alrighty here's my last post before I leave. Italy here I come!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ireland: Dublin, Limerick, Cork

So this past weekend I traveled to Ireland. We had many ups and downs along the way so here we go.
Our flight to Dublin was scheduled to leave at 8:55. So we took a bus to the airport, which it was one of London's smaller ones so getting through security and checking in wasn't a problem. We even had enough time to sit down and eat dinner. The plane was a little late to board, I have yet to understand completely why but it sounded as if they were doing a security check or something along those lines. The flight was rather short too, about an hour or so. Once we landed we went to try and figure out how to get to the hostel. The only option that late at night was a taxi. We stayed at the "Shining hostel" which was pretty much in the city center so that was nice. We arrived and had some issues paying because the ATM gave all of us 50 pound notes and the hostel had almost no change. After some finagling, we got situated they gave us our linens and we headed up to our room. We were staying in a 18 bed room--which is officially too many people in the space provided. Here we had a little problem because there were only 3 beds open and there were 4 of us. So G and Sam went back down to figure it out and they ended uo staying in a different room while Mike and I slept in the original one. Minor drama but no big deal. I was calm until I went into the bathroom. Now I am a very relaxed person who doesn't get grossed out easily but this bathroom takes the cake. It was terrible. Extremely dirty, I barely wanted to go to the bathroom. And a shower was out of the question-wearing flip flops was too much exposure for your feet--definitely some virus floating around the floor. But we went to bed anyway.
We woke up the next morning and walked about two blocks to the city center and looked for a tourist office for some information. The people here were very helpful and we decided to buy tickets for the Guinness Storehouse tour (of course) and a hop-on hop-off bus tour which took us to all the major sites of the city. We hopped on the bus and it was a bit cold so we had to sit on the lower level of the double decker bus which I wanted to sit upstairs--better view, picture opportunities and open air. We rode it till the Guinness Factory and got off to take the tour. The tour was really cool--just like brewery tours back home only a bit bigger the place had about 5ish levels. After the tour we went to the top level which is where the Gravity Bar is located. With the ticket we got a complimentary pint of Guinness so we checked that out. The bar had an amazing view of the city-simply gorgeous. After here we hoped on our bus tour to see the rest of stops. We saw cool places like Trinity College and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Trinity college is where some of the scenes for the Harry Potter films were shot and we actually saw a rainbow there! How amazing is that? After touring most of the afternoon, we headed back to the hostel took a break and went and ate dinner at the Asian Buffet that was next door--delicious! We then went out to a pub and called Madigan's had one pint and went back to the hostel. We had to get up early to head to Limerick. We had some issues with the beds..again. Sam and G were supposed to be in our original room but there was another mix up-long story short G ended up staying in a different room.
We woke up early to catch a train to Limerick. I mostly napped on the train but was woken up by the man that checks your tickets. We arrived in Limerick smoothly and after having some difficulty with the bus system we ended up taking a taxi to our hotel. The hotel was really nice-just your standard room but it was heaven compared to our Dublin hostel. It was called the Two-mile Inn-named for how far it was outside the city. The first thing we all did was take a shower--the hostel in Dublin was too scary so I opted to be smelly instead. And it was an amazing feeling to be clean again. Ah showers. After that we all got ready-our taxi driver told us that if we only had one day in the city the best thing to see is Bunratty Castle which was in the next town over, Co. Clare. So we took his advice and I am glad we did. We took a bus to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. So cool. The castle was really fun because they recreated all of the rooms to how they looked in the time of the castle. Attached there was a recreated village as well and you got to go in the houses to see what they looked like. In one of houses they had freshly made scones too! They were delicious, we each had at least two. So we pretty much just walked around the sites and such. Afterward, we walked across the street to the Creamery Bar for dinner. I had beef lasagna, potatoes, and vegetables. I think it was my favorite meal since i have been over here. We then took the bus back to the hotel and had a little break-watched some tv/ news. I haven't watched tv since I have been over here so even the cheesy Irish soap opera was fun. Then we decided to head into the city for a pint. G wasn't feeling well-migraine-so the three of us went. Mike and I got a pint of Guinness and Sam all of sudden felt sick so she didn't get anything. Eventually she went and threw up in the bathroom-she thinks the food didn't sit well with her. Mike and I were worried about getting sick from the two of them-just because spring break was in a week. This was actually a Rugby bar called Foley's and we watched the Ireland v. Bulgaria football match.--they tied. And then headed home.
We woke up early and took a bus to Cork. Cork is a gorgeous city built on a hill so from the bus terminal all you can see are these rows of houses with fields off in the distance. We then hopped on a bus to Blarney where we were of course heading to Blarney Castle. Blarney Castle was really cool and had a completely different feeling to it from the last one. you actually walk through a little bit of a garden to get to the castle and they haven't really restored it at all. Just added some railings here and there. So it was like walking around on these cool ruins. Yes i kissed the Blarney Stone. It was actually kinda neat--you have to sit on the ground and lean backwards/ up side down while a man holds on to you. Very cool--I can check that one off my bucket list. The funny thing about the castle was that it had the smallest corridors and stairways-and since we didn't have a hostel in Cork we had to bring our luggage with so my backpack made me feel like a watermelon getting squeezed through a keyhole. We left the castle and had some time to kill before the bus so we went and did some mini souvenir shopping and ate dinner. The bus took us back to Cork where we had about an hour and a half to kill before we need to catch our bus to Dublin--where our hostel for the night was and where our flight was leaving from in the morning. During the lay over I went a couple streets over and walked around there shopping district. I went to Penney's there which is basically the equivalent of Forever 21 from back home--there I bought a pair of capris and a pair of shorts for spring break, since I only brought one pair of shorts with me over here. The travel back to Dublin was fine everything went normal. We found our hostel after some minor directional errors. this one was way better than the one we stayed at before-smaller rooms (6 beds), clean bathroom, free internet! Amazing. We stayed up for a little while and chatted then realized that we had to be up at 4 to catch our flight back to London. When we went to sleep it was just the four of us in the room (2 free beds then) but to our surprise at about 1-2 am two Spanish girls came into our room-must've checked in real late. And after them being really loud and turning on all of the lights-I almost punched them. I wanted to asked them to be quite but I could only of the rude way to say it in Spanish. They also must have figured that none of us spoke Spanish but I've had about 6-7 years of so I understood most of what they were saying which made it hard to fall asleep because it didn't just sound like gibberish to me.
We awoke at 4 am to catch a taxi to the airport. We arrived without a hitch and I wish the day stayed that way. We chose to do online check-in and had our tickets already printed off. So we headed to security. I t was the morning rush so it was a little hectic. I got through perfectly fine but the other had had problems because they had umbrellas in there bags and they were supposed to take them out before the x-ray machine. So after security we headed to our gate; we were here a bit early so we had enough time to grab some crappy airport breakfast ( a croissant and juice). Normally, planes board about a half hour before their departure time but our flight didn't start until about ten minutes before, which was rather annoying. So we began to board and hand the respective people our tickets and passports. Mike was let through fine but Me and Sam weren't allowed-I was told I couldn't board the plane. When i asked why I couldn't I was told that I needed a stamp on my ticket-a visa verification, like an ink stamp on my ticket. Apparently if you are not an EU ( European Union) student you need said stamp to get on their planes. Whatever. So G was able to go on because she is Norwegian. Sam and I jaunted back to check-in . Which was a bit difficult because it meant that we had to go through security backwards...which you're not supposed to do. We had to talk to the head officer on duty and explain the situation before we could go through--luckily they sympathized with us and were actually quite upset with the airline. After they let us through we hurried to check in, explained what happened, and had our tickets validated. By the time this happened it was about 6:21 and our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:25. We thought we could run back but the guy said it would be a waste of time since by the we would get back to the gate the plane would be gone. Annoying. So as this was happening Mike called me to inform me that they realized that they let him on the plane no problem but figured out they shouldn't have. So they went and kicked him off the plane! Seriously, what is wrong with these people. So the airline told us that to get on the next flight would cost 248 Euros ($400)! Sheesh. So we went to a different airline which had a flight for 182 Euros ($250) which still sucked but it was the best deal we were going to get. The whole time I was about to cry because I had a paper due Monday that is worth 50% of my grade and they don't accept late papers. So we bought the ticket, made it through security (again) and to our gate. This time we were able to board the plane no problem. We got back to London made it through the airport and jumped on a tube which takes about an hour to get to King's Cross, next to where I live. I was back in time to hand in my paper, but the events at the airpoty really put a damper on the trip and I was in a bad mood for 2 days. Oh well, at least I kissed the Blarney Stone right? :)