Wednesday, June 3, 2009

And now the conclusion to our story...

The Beginning      
  The end

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

On April 8th I began a 50 day journey through Europe. I had no idea the types of challenges I'd encounter, if I really could handle traveling on my own, or if some random event would prevent my return. In the end it was a much needed trip; I met people from all over the world, saw places I could only dream of in the past, gained life experience impossible to gain in any other way, and grew a full beard many thought would always be patchy for me. 

I would like to thank all who actually did read this through, those who joined midway, and those who read just to see if I wrote about them.  It really does mean a lot to me that people found interest in what I had to say and my travels (or maybe you kept hoping for more and I left you disappointed, but what can ya do). I also thank leading blog commenter Josh of the Terebelo variety for his insight on many of the destinations. 

And now we get to some of the favorites, the oddities, and not so serious thoughts. First I'd like to congratulate Tyler, for the best comment and revealing my secret that I never went to Europe. I knew people were on to me when my family started saying some of the pictures looked "photo-shopped" I reveal a picture that didn't make my cut, just couldn't get it right...

In reality, of course I went, I have witnesses (or a lot of confused people around the world as to why Benjie Klein is now friends with them on facebook), but I say go for the fake trip yourself, will save some money. 

I've been asked numerous times my favorite places to have been and it's nearly impossible to say.  As a country Italy was my favorite, there is so much history and each city/region I visited has it's own uniqueness.  Also the people in Italy that I met were great too, which always made a city better when I genuinely enjoyed the people.  From the group I met in Venice, to getting to see my cousins in Rome, and the people in Florence it definitely added to Italy.  My favorite individual city I think was Vienna, maybe I felt it was a turning point in my trip, but from the Schoenberg Palace (and it's maze) to the beautiful parks and gardens I just felt it to be a real nice place. I thought the views in Athens and around the parts of Greece I made it to were some of the most picturesque I've ever seen in my life. The St. Stephens Green park in Dublin may have been my favorite of the parks and gardens, I thought Dublin itself was just alright, but I had a weird connection with that park.  The Counting Crows concert was fantastic, the songs were perfect for my mood and helped take me on a retrospective journey with songs I hadn't actually listened to or thought of in certain ways in a long while.  As for favorite days, nights, and people, it's so hard to really figure out. Possibly the most impact-filled and interesting day was my visit to Dachau.  It's hard to explain what happens there and the feeling you get, but you learn and feel so much that it's a very rare and real experience. That accompanied with later finding out how my grandfather was one of the liberators of the camp make it an even more meaningful and intense experience. The Vatican was perhaps the most interesting of all museums, while the Louvre is filled with some incredible art. As for people, I've only talked to one person I met since I've been back, which if I had to choose one, it would be the person I talk to, but there were a few others out there I wouldn't mind having a random conversation with at some point. 

The next topic, a favorite of many... the food.  Each culture had their own culinary creations that are nearly impossible to compare.  I will rehash some of my favorites though.  In Lisbon the whole Octopus  was a great meal, very simply prepared.  In Madrid I had some good tapas and a solid morcilla (spanish blood sausage) bocadillo. Barcelona the first paella had great fresh seafood mixed in. I also had that mini wheel of garroxta starting a solid train ride cheese trend of mine.  Paris had solid food, nothing that stood out above and beyond, but the foie gras did just melt in my mouth.  Amsterdam doesn't really have anything special to them, the Indian restaurant and random chip shops were good, however, in addition to the daily cheeses I got.  Berlin started off with some very good Currywurst, Prague starred with it's pork knuckle and ostrich steak, Vienna went back to German food with their schnitzel.  Vienna also achieved the most disgusting food incident with the still haunting lard oozing hot dog.  Munich's giant pretzel was a nice treat  and Italy makes it impossible to put many meals ahead of the other.  Florence stood out with Perini's special sandwich, true parmigiana reggiano, the four course Tuscan meal and the bistecca I had one night made for great meals daily.  The homemade lasagna, gnocchi, and pizzas all throughout Italy in general are also special.  And of course, nobody can forget Giolitti, the best gelato in the world from Rome.  As for Greece it also falls in a similar boat as Italy, so many great options.  I think the chicken souvlaki I had one night does stand out as do the grape leaves.  

There were not many dislikes.  Generally everyone I met was nice and in the same boat.  One guy described it correctly that you skip all the bullshit when meeting people, you don't go through the full evaluation process, you're all in the same boat, and it's easy to get along.  Were there people in real life I wouldn't be friends with?  I'm sure, but there were probably people I would be friends with as well.  There were no cities I disliked, maybe some that didn't live up to whatever expectations I had, but each experience was unique with weather, mentality, and timing all playing roles in each place.   

I'd love to go back to Europe, some new places and some old.  I'd like to see Barcelona again because I was sick for a couple days and didn't get to explore in full like I'd have liked.  Paris I thoroughly enjoyed, but feel I missed a lot as well that could only be made up with another trip. Amsterdam I missed out on hookers and pot, but I probably wouldn't go back, I can get those at home, I did enjoy it though.  Germany I wouldn't mind exploring some more as a country, Vienna I'd definitely go back to.  Florence and Rome I'd go back to in a heartbeat as well as exploring a lot more of Italy in general.  Greece I'd love to go to some islands and even go back to Athens for a couple days to hit up the closed museums that I missed.

As for traveling alone, I would totally do it again, however, the truth is I would hope my next trip to Europe is with at the least friends, some kind of school or business trip, and the most desirable with someone I love.  Traveling alone is something I would never talk someone against.  You meet people you wouldn't necessarily meet if you were with someone else or a group, you can make your own schedule, go where you want to go without having to come to a compromise, and you learn a lot about yourself, good or bad.

And now for those interested the rest of this is a semi-serious reflection of my mental thoughts and challenges throughout the trip, if you don't feel like viewing these, I won't be offended, but I do thank you for stopping by for the conclusion of Benjie off the Leash: The European Edition.  I hope you enjoyed my writing (cause you know, I'm kind of about to start school for it) and the stories I told.

Mentally the trip started off where I had last left my mind in December. I had essentially avoided all thoughts for four months, I was resigned to the fact that mentally I had hit rock bottom and with this trip I would work my way back up. Was it a quarter-life crisis that many thought, I don't really think so, but more a culmination of thoughts and fears over the past couple years. All the framework was in place; I finally determined a future path by committing to Wisconsin, I felt (and still do) that I have more friends at this point in my life than ever before, and that it was time for a massive challenge. Before getting on the plane to Lisbon I no longer felt ready, the anxieties crept in, and screaming thoughts of both miniscule and enormous changes swirled around. It was my official way of starting at the very bottom. As the plane ride progressed calming effects of movies and the realization of controlling my own trip soothed my concerns. Not controlling in the sense of making everything happen, but taking the chance to meet people, go to certain places, and create opportunities for the good surprises out of one's hands was most important.  I stepped into Lisbon with a new mind frame from where I had been 12 hours earlier.

As I visited cities early on I still had many days where I was hesitant in meeting people. The anxieties weren't as bad, but every 4th day or so I'd have a chemically unbalanced day. They were good to have though, because wandering around I realized those days will happen no matter where I am and what I do, even if the thoughts don't disappear still has a large impact on what lies ahead. If I fight through those days controlling what I can, even if I'm on my own and can't meet anyone or have anybody to talk to for the day, there are ways around it. I also heavily pondered the concept of people passing in and out of life. In the traveling world this scenario is magnified, you have dinner with a person you met one day and the next you may not even remember their name and will never see them again. Now compared to most "real life" relationships where a person disappears after a year or longer the impact is nowhere near the same, but the way in which people may impact you without your realization throughout life is exemplified through the travel experience. I can remember cities, I can remember the faces, and some of the conversations, but if something pops in my head at a random point I may wonder who it was that made the impact. I do hope for me at least some people I met I was able have some sort of impact on, maybe I'll never know, but it's always a good feeling to make a person think in a different way or even bring an unexpected smile when there was none in sight.

When I reached Prague, 20 days into my trip, I actually hit the bottom of my trip. I really enjoyed Berlin, the people, and had avoided many anxieties for almost a week, but then it all nailed me. The first night I arrived late and went to bed early. The next morning the weather was rainy, I still had a heavy lack of sleep, and I could not shake the feeling that came over me. I walked around all day seeing the sites and still enjoying what I was taking in, but something never seemed right that first day. I did a lot of walking and listening to music heavily sprinkled with Elliott Smith fighting with myself throughout the day. I don't think I looked like a homeless man screaming in the streets because most would not have ipods, but I'm sure I got some looks (just kidding, I never spoke to myself out loud). I also read some more from Infinity Blues, Ryan Adams' poetry book, which surprisingly helped. After that day the clouds opened up, I rubbed the good luck statue on the Charles Bridge and began to work my way out. By the end of that day I was social again, neither the rain at night nor the terrifying club could bring me down. I headed to my next stop of Vienna with a new sense of self and a new attitude. I still had lingering anxieties early that first night, but they dissipated the second day and it was relatively smooth sailing from there until the last week when thoughts of going home began creeping in.  The Monday before I headed home I woke up with a semi-panic attack not ready to leave or not ready to be back home, I couldn't truly decipher which.  It had probably been a year since I woke up like that. Part of the reason I'd love to go back to Athens is since it was the last stop, too many thoughts of going home and figuring out everything kept creeping in even though I tried to keep out thoughts of the trip coming to an end.  On the plane ride back I almost had a similar incident, but fortunately the on-demand began to work on the plane and I was able to think in different ways.  I panicked when I officially got home, probably the lack of sleep did it accompanied with disorientation as to where I was and reexamining every aspect of my life.  

Dreams also played a large role on my whole trip. There were definitely moments I dreamt of on my trip. I'm entirely convinced that certain random scenes that seemed familiar had come from previous dreams. It happened 4 or 5 times where I'd catch something in the corner of my eye and take in the whole atmosphere knowing I had been there before in someway, it's really mind-blowing when that crazy deja-vu happens, so just thought I'd mention it. Also, for the first time in a while I had some of my most vivid dreams in years throughout the 50 days. When my mind is extremely active I dream about those thoughts that bother me most. It used to be one of the reasons I was a hardcore insomniac because why go to sleep if you're still facing the same thoughts that haunt you through out the day. This time around though I took a different approach of accepting the dreams and thinking through them the next day. Some would bring anger, like a morning in Rome where I hadn't felt that anger in years all from a dream, some sorrow, and different perspectives on bothersome thoughts, but it all helped give me an understanding as to where I was mentally and how to get through it. 

I did a lot of writing on my own, outside of this place.  Not as much as I would have truly liked, but definitely got things out.  I tried a variety of different writing styles as well; straight journal, poetry, story telling, lists, some use of my favorite lyrics, and I even drew a face, best face I've ever drawn. I can't read my handwriting or I'd maybe put some here, but probably not. As for continuing writing, obviously I hope it works out for me and I can create insight, entertainment, and a unique perspective for the masses one day.  I may continue a blog at school about my life, I'm sure in classes I'll have to have actual topical writings outside of my life, but keep reading if you want.

Signing off, for now,

Benjamin Adam Klein

"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” - Samuel Johnson

Saturday, May 30, 2009


For those who don't have facebook or haven't noticed I've begun throwing photos up there the process has started.  They can still be accessed even if you're not a member at the following links, enjoy...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tuscany, another day in Rome and some Greek Tales

As I struggle to adjust back to normal suburban life, the eastern time zone, and not being in the fantasy travel world I grew accustomed to I still must finish my contractual duties to describe the rest of my time in Europe (and cause I clearly want to relive them).  The Greek tales are a bit briefer (I think) than some of the others considering the amount of time I was there, but ask me more questions about Greece if you want.

I left off at around 7:30 a.m on May 21st, my sister's birthday (something I struggled to remember on and off throughout the day, but don't worry I called) where I had slept about 30 minutes the night before.  I walked with the girls I met to train station and then we dispersed going our respective ways.  I found my bus for the Tuscany tour and eventually got on.  I was probably the youngest person on the whole tour and only one of three doing it alone so I was a bit weary at the beginning.  The ride to Siena was about an hour, I struggled to keep myself awake while the tour guide started explaining everything.  We got to Siena where we met an old woman tour guide to take us through the city.  Her tour was about an hour long taking us through the side streets, telling stories of the Siena banking system and how they were the originators of a lot of important elements and ending at the Duomo in Siena.  It was real nice church with awesome marble floors filled with tons of art on the floor and solid paintings throughout the church in general.  After finishing at the church the tour group dispersed and we were given an hour on our own. For the hour I walked around the city for about 30 minutes and then headed to Piazza del Campo to explore and meet up with the group.  Supposedly it's the world's 3rd most beautiful "square", I don't know what that means, but it is quite a sight.  They also hold the famous horse race, the Palio, in the square area, which would seemingly be incredible to watch there.  

The group went back to the bus after meeting up and we were heading on to our next stop, about 40 minutes away we were going to a farm house and winery for a very nice 4 course meal and 4 glasses of wine.  They showed a video on the bus, which I was planning on staying awake for, but apparently the lack of sleep caught up to me and I woke up when it ended and we were 10 minutes away from the meal.  We took a quick tour of the farm area, saw the wine processing area as well as the grapes and then got down to business.  The meal started with bruschetta doused in extra-virgin olive oil made at the farm and garlic.  The olive oil was extremely fresh.  We were given our first glass of wine, a very nice white wine (Vernaccia Docg, I cheated I had looked it up).  The good thing about the wines was besides getting 4 different wines you could refill any of them at anytime.  The next course was handmade spaghetti and fresh meat sauce from there as well (with fresh parm of course).  This time they gave us a Chianti to accompany the course, which was pretty good.  Next up came some wild boar salami, Pecorino sheep cheese, prosciutto, another salami, fresh bread and more olive oil and another red wine (a Convivio or something from 2005). It finished with a dessert wine that tasted like brandy and Cantuccini biscuits which were dipped in it.  During the meal I talked with a younger couple from San Fran, an Indonesian couple, and a few older folks one who was a Wisconsin alum and had overheard me talking about going there.  

After the meal completed we headed off to San Gimignano, which was nearby.  It's this awesome city on top of a hill, with real tall and awesome buildings.  The place also holds the 2009 Gelato champion, though it still wasn't as good as Giolliti in my mind, so they are not my champion.  I ate the gelato, and just walked around the place.  I didn't have time to really go in anywhere because I climbed to the top of the hill to get awesome views of the whole Tuscan region.  It was about 85 degrees out with no clouds, so I struggled with the heat, but was well worth the trek.  The city has a real neat skyline too with the sky scraper type of buildings.  After the hour there we got back on the bus and with a 1:30 ride to Pisa the tour guide told us to relax a bit.  I passed out rather quickly and picked up about 45 more minutes of sleep.  I wanted to enjoy the bus ride by looking out the window a bit more than I did, but what can you do.  We got to Pisa around 5, stayed an hour, took the traditional pictures and got out of there.  It was nice, but I'm glad I was part of a bus and tour and didn't take the train ride, spend a long time there and head back.  I talked to a few of the people from the lunch for a while and we all took pictures of each other, however, the one above I took by myself and I think that's impressive.  It was about an hour back to Florence and that concluded my Tuscan tour.  I did laundry the rest of the night, hung out with a few people on the couches and tried to avoid my new found celebrity status in the hostel of being found alive, finally passing out around 1 a.m as everyone else went out.   

The next day I woke up around 9, got myself a Perini special sandwich again, breaking my rule of eating at the same place twice, but because it was a meal for a train ride I didn't count it against myself.  I waited for my delayed train to Rome and got there around 2:30. I stayed in the same hostel as before and I immediately passed out when I got there for about an hour until I had roommates enter the room and wake me.  I walked around Rome for a little until meeting up with Randy and Cari for round 2 in Rome.  We had a solid dinner, I got a gnocchi with some porcini mushrooms and I think oysters as we drank some wine.  We then went around hitting up the tourist spots one last time, including a stop at Giolitti.  The trevi fountain was packed more so than any night previous, so we quickly found a corner to throw in our coins to insure our trips back to Rome (I threw in two again, can never wish for too much love in the world) and finished at the Spanish Steps per usual.  We went through the same Paraguay incident again with fake speaking to the street hustlers and went to sleep with plans of meeting up in the morning.  

We met at the train station around 7:15 a.m since our flights were similar times.  I was headed to Athens, they were headed home.  I thought I didn't need a train ticket and in the end I didn't as nobody checked, but the guy told me my rail pass would be no good since it's considered a "first class" train, so I was a bit pissed about that, more so after when nobody checked.  We got to the airport and checked for our flights.  Mine was listed, but with the destination of Rhodes instead of Athens.  I was quite terrified and became even more hesitant as the closer I got nobody mentioned that we are actually stopping in Athens before people continue on to Rhodes until the actual plane.  It worked out well, though going to a Greek Island may have been fun.  I got to Athens mid afternoon, but knowing I had so many days there I decided to take it easy for the day.  I checked into the hostel where I met a few people as I waited for the reception guy to be ready.  The reception dude was a bit out there, only answering a certain amount of questions from customers and blatantly making fun of them and he seemed to be stoned, but I appreciated the sarcasm. 

While I waited and talked to some of the people checking in, one of the strangest occurrences of my whole trip took place.  An older Greek woman walked into the hostel and began to stare at me and then she began to talk.  "Animal, you're an animal," she shouted in my direction and quickly walked out the door.  I was pretty shocked as the kid I was talking to cracked up at what had just occurred.  I didn't really care and was still confused.  About 5 minutes later she returned and actually approached me this time.  She stared at me and once again spoke, "Baby, you look like a baby.  Baby, baby cat. You're a baby cat, if you don't mind me saying disparaging remarks."  Now first off, that's fine, I know the beard is a bit out of control, but the part that bothered me more is why the fuck this crazy Greek woman knew the word disparaging to say to me? Maybe I do look like a baby cat (hey, baby cats are cute, so I'll take it as a compliment), but come on, really?

After that I officially checked in and was actually moved to another hostel, about a minute away by the same owners with real nice rooms, however, the building was still under construction a bit so all the amenities were still in the process of being completed.  I stayed there for a bit and met a few of my roommates before heading to eat.  If there is one thing I know about Greeks, it's their food.  Since I am doing a briefer synopsis of my time there I will now list all the Greek foods I indulged myself in from the beginning with a few comments, enjoy:

Spanakopita (a solid spinach pie, but a little too much of the crust for my liking), Saganaki (no "OPA" like we're all used to, but some solid kaseri cheese), gyros (both chicken and pork varieties), chicken souvlaki (was fantastic), lamb souvlaki (solid lamb), grape leaves (both vegetarian and regular with lemon sauce. One came warm, the other room temperature.  One lemon sauce had no taste, the other was nice and mild, but both were quite enjoyable), mousaka (very nice as well), spicy feta spread (was a nice addition to bread), bird's nest baklava (awesome, got it at some small pastry shop).  I believe that is the food list for my Greece travels, overall I was definitely satisfied.  

After dinner that first night I went back to the hostel and headed over to the rooftop bar at the hostel.  I hung out with a few people I met, including this one girl from New Zealand who had a passionate dislike for anything American.  I found it entertaining because everything she hated about America didn't really make sense to me, but she baited me into arguments for about an hour and I found myself sticking up for America and Detroit. She figured I was Eminem's biggest fan cause I'm from the area he is from, I found that really funny.  She was shocked to hear that not everyone listens to him or has boob jobs or any other stupid thing people want to associate with America.  After I finished talking to her I took a few pictures of the acropolis from atop the roof and went to sleep.

The next day I took a walking tour offered by the hostel.  I don't really know if it was good or not, the tour guide was this girl who really didn't seem to care about her job, not a good sign for tour guides.  She told some good and random stories and was personable, but there were plenty of times of just silence and walking to unknown destinations until we get there.  We saw all the main attractions around the Acropolis area and she showed us the flea markets etc.  We didn't actually go in any places, we were told to come back and do it after, but at least it gave me an idea of where everything was.  After the tour ended I headed back to the hostel, grabbed some food, and headed back up the Acropolis to check it all out.  The Acropolis is real cool, but heavily under restoration, so it takes away a little bit from the overall site from certain angles. The Parthenon itself is an amazing building to think of and the way it looks, especially when you do get the clean angles of not looking at metal poles built around the area holding it up.  The other old temples and structures like the Athena Nike also give great looks into the buildings way back in the Greek polytheistic days and how amazing it is some of the creations they could put together.  I ventured around there for a while longer, the most disappointing part of the whole thing was the Acropolis museum was closed.  It was supposed to reopen early 2009, but apparently May isn't early enough.  The brand new building looks awesome structurally from the outside and I can only imagine the stuff in it.  

After the Acropolis it was getting later, I ate and hung out with people the rest of the night, but nothing too exciting.  The next morning I woke up semi early to make the trek to Cape Sounio, about a 2 hour bus ride that was definitely worth it.  The temple of poseidon lies atop a cliff, which was in better shape than the Parthenon and quite a sweet site with the old marble.  I don't think I had ever seen water that clean from below the cliff and the views out to the mini islands in the distance and other mountains were just stunning.  The weirdest sighting atop there was the Green Bay women's basketball team from the Horizon league on a weird team trip to Greece, makes me think I should've been an athlete.  I went with someone else to Sounion so we hung out there for a couple hours and then headed back on the bus back to town.  He wanted to stop at some fresh water hot springs where you swim with fish he heard about, so we got off the bus in a random part of Greece.  I walked over with him, but I didn't really feel like paying $8 to swim and the water area looked small so I decided not to do it.  We split up and I walked around the beach area for a little bit, but just didn't want to swim so I headed back to find my bus.  

Unfortunately the bus I took doesn't stop back in the area we were dropped off in so I had to find another bus back.  I asked a local what bus to get on and he pointed at the one he was getting on and for me to join him.  The only problem with this is I did not have a ticket.  I got on the bus thinking maybe I could get a ticket and for the first time my whole trip I didn't have a legit ticket for the public transportation.  I knew it was about an hour bus ride back into Athens, leaving me quite terrified someone would catch me and yell at me and fine me.  For those who know me I already struggle with anxiety in many situations and add to that the chance of being caught doing something that I didn't even mean to left me uneasy.  I contemplated getting off the bus numerous times, but the closer I got to Athens I knew I'd still end up on another bus without a ticket, so why tempt it.  Luckily, I made it back with no controversy and someone told me the correct exit and directions as to where to walk.  I took it easy the rest of the day, it was already around 5 so I did my normal get some food, hang out with random people, and got some early sleep since it would be my last night sleeping until I got home.  I didn't sleep well that night, I woke up about an hour after I fell asleep in a complete panic mode that my trip was coming to an end and I had to face the realities of life coming soon.  I considered ways I could keep myself in Europe, but I knew I had to head back.

The final day I woke up semi-early, but hung around until I had to check out of the hostel knowing I had all day to do whatever I wanted and no room to take advantage of.  I hit up the rest of the ancient ruins, including the ancient Agora, which may have been my favorite area.  It had it's own museum with stuff dating back 5,000 years and some pretty incredible ruins still standing.  I then headed around to the Roman Agora, the Zeus temple area, and the old ancient theatre that were all included for my viewing pleasure with my acropolis ticket from a couple days before. They were all very interesting sites, I enjoyed the theatre as well a lot.  I then decided I'd hang around Greece, walk to some outer areas and explore some more.  I wanted to go to a museum, but the one I had in mind had the classic closed on Tuesday museum thing going for it.  I walked around some random streets and then headed off to Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens.  I was going to climb it, and climbed up until I saw the funicular and since at that point I was already drenched in sweat, I spent the 6 euros for it instead and figured I'd climb down after.  The views per usual were stunning atop the hill of Athens and I was there close to sundown so I got that nice addition as well.  I then walked down, which was very easy and headed back to the hostel after dinner.  

My plan was originally to go to the airport around midnight and hang out there, but luckily I became friends with the staff and hung out with them for like 5 hours, they were pretty entertaining.  Around 2 a.m I went with one of the guys to grab a pizza as he took me down the street of transvestite hookers to pick it up telling me not to make eye contact, but then trying to say things to get me to look.  I then got back, ate some pizza, and a couple others were getting ready to head to the airport so I joined them for the hour bus ride and we split up since I was able to check in for my flight and they weren't.  I then got on the plane to Paris, slept for two hours, waited 4 more hours, got on the plane back to Detroit, watched Milk and slept for about 30 minutes as I panicked about actually being back home and then arrived.

So, that concludes Greece and my trip. In the next couple days I will officially end it all with my final entry filled with thoughts, favorites, mental notes from the trip, and of course the 50 naked pictures, one for each day that I took.  Just kidding, I just feel nobody will have read to this part so I threw it in there to be cute, or awkward... you make the choice.  

Thanks for reading, see ya soon,


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rome'n around and the adventures of Florence

Well, for those who don't know I have arrived back home, however, I still have updates to get to and apparently a bit of jet lag as it's 4:45 a.m and I'm wide awake.  I did wake up at an earlier point in the night petrified with no idea where I was, forgetting it was actually my room at home. Anyway, on to Rome...

I started my 3rd day in Rome getting ready to check out the history that makes the city what it is.  I wanted to be at the Colosseum early in the day, so I woke up around 7:30 a.m and walked about 25 minutes until I arrived there around 8:45.  I heard the tours started at 9 and wanted to join along so I knew what I was doing.  I finally found a tour, was pretty cheap and joined in there.  As I was starting my tour I ran into the kids I met in Venice from Tennessee, so we decided we'd meet back up after we finished all our tours and I continued on my way.  I'm really glad I did the tour or I would've had very little idea of what I was actually looking at.  The Colosseum is definitely an awesome site, the way it was built and both inside and outside show how world class it must have been.  The guide used one of those layover books to show what it used to look like before the semi destruction in the dark ages of stealing much of the materials and the earthquake that helped try to take it down.  It was a scorching hot day out so I tried to stay out of the sun the best I could, unfortunately it was not easy.  After the tour ended explaining many of the misconceptions of gladiators and how the building really wasn't used as much as you would think we were given free time to roam until the tour continued on to the forum and old archaeological grounds.  I weaved in and out of the different sections, went to the top level, took a bunch of pictures and tried to find shading in the building for a while.  As I was watching the street I noticed a giant race going on, not until later did I discover it was the Rome Race for the Cure, definitely a cooler location than most I would have to imagine.  I headed out of the Colosseum and still had tons of time to kill, so I walked around checking out the race, finding some shade, extra water, and just walking around.  I did see one person pass out from heat stroke to continue an unfortunate streak I had semi-developed of seeing at least one person having to be helped by an ambulance per city, I may be the devil.  

While I was exploring the outer areas of the Colosseum and watching the race I also started watching my street sellers.  I got really angry as I watched them try to sell overpriced water and sun umbrellas to the racers.  Luckily, for once, I was not the only one in this situation as the police set up sting operations to shut these people down for at least the race.  I watched the umbrella guy get taken out from behind and it gave me some solid satisfaction.  Of course after they took his stuff they let him go, but it helped clear up the area for the rest of the event.  It was finally time to continue my tour so I headed over and met up with the group.  We had a different tour guide for the forum, which was nice, since he ended up being a lot more entertaining than the woman for the colosseum who just stuck to the informative approach.  At least with the Colosseum a slight idea exists of what you are looking at, but with the forum and other archaeological ruins without a tour you are essentially just standing on open land with random old churches, some marble, and flowers.  I saw the private chariot race course, some of the basing for the palaces that used to grace the hills above and just a general understanding of Roman history.  That part of the tour lasted a little more than an hour until we were able to explore more of the land on our own.  It's hard to describe what everything is, being everything is at the most of shell of the building it used to be, but I found it all very interesting.  I walked another hour around the area, filled up my water bottle with the fresh free Rome street water and got some food.  I went with the expected lunch of pizza, nothing fancy this time, and had about an hour to kill before having to meet up with the other people.  After pizza I went and tried a gelato recommended in my book featuring a honey gelato, which was very good and interesting (if you're into honey).

I finally headed back to the Colosseum to meet up with the kids from Tennessee.  It was good seeing them again and having some extra people to hang out with.  We only hung out for a few hours.  We went to the Vittorio Emmanuel II building, climbed up those steps and then checked out the old prison where St. Peter was held for a while.  They were at a different hostel so I walked them to their hostel.  Everyone was going out for one of the group member's birthdays that night, but at that point I was extremely sunburnt and knowing my own history I get pretty sick from the sun, so I decided not to meet up with them that night.  After I left them at their hostel I walked back, but ended up getting myself lost for another hour in the city, which I enjoyed.  When I was back to my hostel, however, my regular sun sickness started to seep in and I immediately down 2 bottles of water, got a solid lasagna meal, and headed back to the hostel.  I was considering seeing a movie, but when I made it back, the sun caused me to pass out pretty easily, so I just hung around the room sleeping off and on for the rest of the night. 

The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed, which made me happy and it was time to head to the Vatican.  The tour I had gone on the day before pushed their group for the Vatican tour, so I decided to stick with them, plus it was at 10:30, so I didn't have to rush to be there around 9 a.m.  I didn't do much beforehand besides grabbing a quick bite, then I started walking to the Vatican.  Unfortunately the meeting spot still wasn't right next to the Vatican and it took me nearly an hour to walk from hostel to the meeting point.  The tour started around 11:15 and lasted until 4:15, it was extremely informative and per one of my usual habits I spent a lot of time talking to the tour guide.  We started in the museum seeing all the important paintings as he pointed out things that would not be noticed if I were just wandering by myself.  He was very good and he had a nice touch of humor added in to the tour to not make it bland.  One of his games he liked to do was a spot the celebrity look a like in the paintings or sculptures.  Pretty amazingly some of them, including a great Sylvester Stallone of the 1500s look dead on.  
We finally finished in the museum, mostly skipping the modern art.  He gave us some time to ourselves if we wanted to look through the area or we could venture early to the Sistine chapel.  Being that there isn't any truly significant modern art at the Vatican and I had seen plenty, I went straight to the Sistine chapel to check it out.  Early in the tour he showed us what to look out for when looking around the room, so I was prepared as I walked into the mass of camera flashing, yelling by security not to take pictures, and announcements demanding silence over the PA.  I took a few pictures, but it doesn't even matter, it's impossible to do justice to the amazement of that place.  To think someone created all that makes the Sistine chapel what it is, is still a hard concept to fathom.  I knew what to expect, but even that doesn't describe what your eyes see.  After that we headed on to St. Peters Cathedral for the tour, which in itself is pretty amazing.  I walked around for a bit after our group broke up, but didn't stick around too long because as much as I enjoyed the tour, 4+ hours of information is a lot to take in.  

From Vatican City I grabbed some street pizza and headed back to the Colosseum where I was slated to meet up with the Tennessee kids one more time.  Unfortunately, they had emailed me earlier in the day to change locations, but I was unable to check being that I was at the Vatican all day.  I waited for about 30 minutes until I realized they really weren't coming and headed back to the hostel.  I finally had a roommate for the night, my final one in Rome, but it was only one, so not too bad.  I left the room shortly after meeting him, checked my mail to see if the Tennessee kids either didn't really like me and didn't want to meet up or if I had an email from them.  I did have an email and tried to email them back to meet me later that night somewhere if they wanted, but unfortunately it didn't work out.

I grabbed a fresh ravioli dinner that night at a restaurant by my hostel and did my walk to the Spanish steps, this time knowing where I was actually going.  I hung out there for an hour just taking in the atmosphere knowing I'd be leaving Rome the next.  It was a Sunday night, so not nearly as busy as previous nights and the fountain in front was even drained.  I then walked back to the hostel knowing I had to be up to go to Florence the next morning. I talked with my new roommate for a while, who had an 8 a.m flight to get to, so he warned me of an early wake up and apologized ahead of time.  He wasn't that loud, but for about 3 hours in the night more glass breaking and screaming from the streets kept me up.  I probably slept about 4 hours that night.  

The next morning I got antsy and headed to the train station a bit early.  I decided to grab some Mcdonald's hashbrowns because they're fucking good and they don't have them in every country I had noticed.  I grabbed a couple, and started eating when I ran into 2 of the kids from Tennessee.  They were doing laundry in the area and cutting through the train station, so we sat down, ate and talked for a while.  It was cool running into them before heading off to Florence and confirmed that it was just a mixup and I'm not that annoying.  I then headed on the train to make my way to Florence.  I took the fast train, which was nice, but it also meant I wasn't going to sleep since it's only 1:30 hours. 

I got to Florence around 1:15 as my train had been delayed about 30 minutes, my first real train delayed experience of my whole trip.  I walked to the hostel from the train station, about a 10 minute walk, unfortunately I did get a bit lost on my way turning down the wrong street and it was more of a 20 minute walk for me.  I got to the hostel and was unable to check in for the first 15 minutes.  I met a guy from Manchester in his 30s, he worked for the BBC, but used to be essentially a professional traveler, as he talked about a 5 year period where he went around a lot of the world living in different places.  He was a really nice guy and it worked out getting to talk with him for a while.  We ended up being in the same room, which worked out well, except for the fact that he broke all snoring records and sent out a search team for me, which I will get to in a bit.  

Once checked in I went to the Accademie to check out Michaelangelo's David.  There are some pretty important art works in general in that place, including unfinished sculptures created by M himself, but once you walk in the David just steals the spotlight from everything.  The wait was about an hour, I met a dude from Texas who I hung out in line with and talked to for a while.  He was a nice guy, helped pass the line quickly, though not too huge into art so some of the things he was saying and my being able to respond made me feel like an art genius, which I am not.  Either that or I was making shit up and fed him all sorts of wrong information, but either way I felt good about myself.  I stayed there for about an hour exploring the rooms and always going back to catch another look at David to figure out how it's so amazing.  I then left and headed straight to the Duomo area to grab some food and check out the lines there.  I did some quick pizza, some gelato, and saw an empty line to climb to the top.  I checked out the inside of the cathedral first, it was cool, but then climbing to the top, seeing the ceiling painting up close and then climbing all the way to the outside was well worth it.  The views from the top of Florence were great, although it was quite the terrifying climb up all the winding, narrow stairways and the 400+ steps that went along with it.

Afterwards I headed back to the hostel and started to take it easy.  I joined my Manchester friend on the balcony where we sat talking with a bunch of people from the hostel, drinking wine, and eating fresh tomatoes, cheese, and even a few olives.  There were people from all over the world and of all ages at the table so it made for some interesting talk.  After everyone finished a couple bottles of wine Manchester dude and I decided to get some dinner.  I was a little tipsy at that point, as a bottle of wine would do that to me.  We decided we would get some steaks so the receptionist booked us a reservation at a place I couldn't tell you anything about at this point in time.  I could tell you though, it was a hell of a steak.  It was essentially a Tbone, but unlike any other Tbone I have had before.  It was about a kilogram in size, so over 2 pounds.  We were advised to split it, which I'm usually not a fan of, but it worked out well.  We also got some sort of radish with melted cheese appetizer that was very good and one more bottle of wine.  It ended up being like a 120 euro meal for the two of us, but it was worth it.  It was pretty late at that point, he wanted to go out more, but I decided it was time to pass out.  We walked back getting semi-lost in the city, then he went out to some jazz club and I went to sleep.  

I woke up around 9 the next morning to start my day and immediately headed to the Piazza di Michelangelo.  It was quite the walk and mini hike all the way to the top, but you get incredible views of Florence from a different angle than the Duomo and another one of the infamous David statues lie atop.  I hung up there for a while and then headed back down, I walked to a bunch of the different Palazzo's out there and walked along the Ponte Vecchio until ending up at the Palazzo Vecchio.  I decided to go in and look around, it was very nice instead and there were some decent descriptions so I knew what I was looking at.  

After that I was starving, so upon the advice of my cousin I headed to the central markets in search of the Perini special sandwich.  I struggled to find the stand at first, weaving in and out admiring all the meats and cheeses.  Finally the stand stood in front of me and I went right to it.  I took advantage of their samples on the counter indulging myself in some fresh parm, prosciutto, and anything else I could get my hands on.  My turn then came and I boldly asked for the special sandwich, terrified that I would be at the wrong place.  The man's face lit up as he got ready to prepare this masterpiece.  The woman next to me in line asked what it was I was actually ordering, of course I had no idea, but he went step by step explaining what was on the sandwich for all to see.  When he finished I grabbed it, took a bite and it truly was a special sandwich.  I don't remember what he put in it exactly, but was quite incredible.  I went on eating my sandwich and walked around the rest of the markets.  I then came back to Perini and bought some parm for later in the day.  From there I walked around a bit of the other church areas, checked those out and had plans to go to the Uffizi, instead I went to the synagouge.  I went to the museum area first where I was given a private tour by this older woman who worked there.  We had a big discussion about the American Jews who face a huge culture shock with the orthodox synaguoge in Florence and around Europe in general.  She was saying how they have a tendency to be a bit annoying and ignorant, unable to grasp some of the old rules. Then the conversation shifted to Jews marrying other Jews in the states as if she was sent by my mother or something.  We talked for about 10 minutes on the subject, it was more her how it seems in America it isn't nearly as important anymore and with so many different branches of Judaism it's gotten lost along the way.  She then had to go and I went down to the actual sanctuary and explored it for a while with another mini-tour.  This time there were a couple more people as part of the tour and of course the middle aged Jewish woman who kept complaining gave a clear argument for the other side as to why not to marry a Jew (just kidding, all women complain). After that was done I decided I would just relax at the hostel. 

I got back in mid afternoon and my boy from Manchester returned around the same time as well.  We hung out on the balcony thing again, this time eating more cheeses, I stayed away from the wine at that point in time and many people started to join us with the eating and relaxing thing. Slowly people trickled in and it was decided at some point we'd go to a bar.  I wasn't actually in the bar mood, but I can't deny I solely based my decision on two girls that were semi-quiet when they joined us as to if they'd go or not.  They decided to go and so I acted like I was gonna go the whole time.  We all went to a bar right by the hostel, I broke my rule of getting a beer in Italy, I tried to stick to wine, but for some reason I ended up going beer there. We all hung out for a while, I talked to those girls a lot, one more so than the other.  Part of it was the other guys were like the crazy drinking to get drunk at that point it seemed and looking to party, I was looking for the more relaxed atmosphere, which was found in conversation with them.  They were the first Jewish people I had met since back in Madrid, and they were actually my age.  As the drinking came to a halt at that bar the girls and myself decided to get some dinner and split away from the group to meet up with them later on.  

Dinner was good, us three split gnocchi, some crazy soup, and a pizza as well as a jug of wine.  We had a nice dinner and then one of the two wanted to head back, which was fine with me cause I didn't want to meet up with the others at the bar much.  I escorted the girls back to the hostel and ended up hanging out with one of them for the night.  For the first time a girl I met didn't have a boyfriend (at least I don't think so), which was refreshing because as much as I like hearing about current relationships, it gets tired after a while.  We walked around Florence, hung outside the Duomo and talked quite a bit.  It's one of those bittersweet things, it was great to hang out with her for the night, but totally the type of girl I would've liked to actually date.  So now comes the story of how I supposedly went missing...

Since we didn't meet up with the other people at the bar and I ended up hanging out with this girl all night, at around 4 a.m the Manchester guy arrived back at the hostel.  He didn't realize I was actually around and he starts waking people up, asking them about random stuff and then asking if anyone had seen me.  I wasn't really in the position to tell him where I was at the moment, so he went to sleep not knowing.  Well the next day, I left with the girls at 7:30 a.m, they had to get to the train station as did I for a tour of the Tuscan region I was going on.  Thus, nobody saw me at all the entire day (in the next blog entry since this is long as hell I'll start there).  I got back around 8:30 to the hostel where the receptionist came up to me immediately excited to see I was still alive.  She told me she emailed me as to where I was (cause you know, if I was dead or lost somewhere that email would've helped quite a bit) and that the guy was really worried about me.  Throughout the rest of that night random people came up to me staying at the hostel and even the 70 year old Italian owner was happy to see I was okay coming up to me.  

And now I must end this, it's 11:50 a.m, I haven't slept since I began at 4:45 (though I took plenty of breaks from writing in between).  I will reconvene with the Tuscan tour, an extra day in Rome, and then finish with Athens before my final entry where I'll give you a peek into my thoughts, various favorites throughout, and whatever else I can unleash on the world, including tons of pictures.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The continuation of Venice and a sampling of Rome

When I last left you with the tales of Venice I had just joined a group of Tennessee Volunteers graduates and was about to head off with them around the city. We went back to St. Marks as I had done the previous day, but what I did not do the day before was climb up the bell tower, which we all proceeded to do. It led to awesome views of the city and the potential for future ear problems as the bell went off as we were all up there taking pictures and checking out the labyrinth below. It rang for seemingly 10 minutes, probably more around the 2 range, but as soon as it ended it was time to head off down to the rest of the world. From there we headed down to watch the people feed the rats of the sky. I never got into the feeding pigeons thing, but a few of them wanted to do it so I observed wondering the disease potential for pigeons climbing all over you and eating from you. There was one missing a toe that fell in love with one of the group, standing on his shoulder, pecking at his ear, it seemed kind of romantic, but eventually the pigeon got creepy and had to be broken up with. We then headed to the Rialto and the other major sites of the city just to take some pictures and enjoy the ambiance of Venice. I grabbed some pizza on the streets for a quick bite, everyone else got some gelato for lunch, but I felt I needed some substance to my meal. We eventually headed back to the hostel to relax for a couple hours, some to take naps and others to do whatever they would like.

I went to the train station to get my ticket to Rome for the next day and do my favorite getting lost in the city act. I semi knew how to get back to my hostel at that point, but still took a while to actually get on back. I picked up some gelato to hold me over until dinner time and headed back. We all met up again and attempted to find a grocery store and meet up with the others who were already walking around. We finally found the correct store and got some stuff. I got water and of course some cheese for the train ride. Supermarket cheese isnt nearly as good as it is from the random street markets (though still often better than the States), but the parm was still nice to have for the next day. We walked back to the hostel where they were serving dinner for the night. Apparently I'm an animal because by the time people were finishing their first bowl of the shells and sauce we were divied up I already had engulfed my second. It was a good dinner, a lot of people from the hostel joined in adding to the crew created for the evening. There was also a bit of an item that wanted to claim the title of pizza, but unfortunately it didnt earn the title, especially in Italy. There was also some box wine at the dinner, better than box wine in the states, but box wine in Italy just does not seem right! One thing that did catch my attention at dinner, however, was when I mentioned basketball asking some Tennessee fans what happened this year to their team. I completely meant mens basketball, but instead the womens team was brought up in discussion. I was semi shocked, I mean I know that is the epitomy of womens basketball at that place, but come on, always assume mens sports when someone asks!

When dinner was complete we headed out to St. Marks again where the area lights up at night and numerous bands play classical music for people sitting at the restaurants nearby. It kind of seemed like a giant competition amongst all of them. We just sat and watched everyone striking up conversation. I talked to someone from Chicago who had joined up with us for a while about that city, since one of the people was moving there and a bunch of other random midwest things. We then pretty much all headed in around midnight. Was a fun, but pretty uneventful night. The next morning I woke up to head to the train station. The others joined me on my trek there as they were headed to Verona for the day. For those continuing on to Rome in a couple days we decided we would figure out a way to meet up while there. I then got on my train and headed on my way.

It was about a 4 hour train ride to Rome full of pringles and cheese for myself. I was surrounded by three Italians. One who looked like Howie Mandel, and a mother and son combo that were kind of annoying. The kid was probably a few years younger than me, but when you are sitting on a train in those table type seats there isnt a ton of leg room, meaning dont stretch out your fucking legs and take up my personal space. I would move my legs sharply every once in a while to kick them away, but was probably the most uncomfortable of my train adventures thus far. I then headed to my hostel, was easy to find right by the train station, which was a nice change. I got in there and it seemed like a possible shady place. I checked in, got to my room, which was a lot nicer than expected and had to go to the internet cafe because the one time I actually needed wireless not for my own obsession compulsions, but to meet up with people, both my cousins Randy and Cari who were to meet me the next day and the Rocky Top kids I didn't have it. I sent emails out to a bunch of people, hoping all the meeting up stuff would work and inadvertently stressed myself out about it.

From there I grabbed my ipod and walked straight to the Trevi Fountain with as many coins as I could find to wish upon the Roman Gods what I sought in life. It was a bit dreary out and drizzling, but that didn't stop me and my Lizzie Mcguire Movie flash back moments of throwing in the coins, opening my eyes, and maybe finding an Italian star to fall for (just kidding). It didn't happen, but I got some fun pictures, and did as they asked, threw in the 2 coins for the whole you'll find love scenario, as well as the one extra to make sure I safely return back to Rome one day. From there I proceeded to spoil myself with my first real meal of the day, I went to a nice little Italian restaurant and took down some pasta and a napoletean pizza, topped with some very solid anchovies. I then decided to walk around Rome and see where it took me. Apparently my heart was set on the Spanish steps as I ended up there initally. I went to the top, took some pictures and then headed off. Little did I know I would end up back at the steps 6 more times that night completed lost in my own circle. It was daylight the first time I was at the steps, but 2 through 6 it was dark. I sat on the steps about the 4th time for a while, right by two dudes who looked like they either play basketball in Europe or used to in the NBA, both around 6'5 or so. I listened into their conversation of going back to school one day, the NBA draft process, and life. There is no doubt in my mind at least one of them played for a basketball team. I actually saw them about 4 other times, 3 that night and once the next day walking. They probably thought I was stalking them. So by the 6th time I was at the Spanish steps I realized it wasn't worth the effort of trying to walk back, so I took the metro and called it a night. I got back to my room around 11 and to my surprise, no roommates! For the first time in 30 some days I was alone, a nice change, especially since I already had people to meet with in Rome, thus the meeting people thing not nearly as important as other cities. I went to sleep that night anticipating the days ahead, no longer stressed, and slept pretty well for once.

I woke up the next morning to a knock on my door, they deliver breakfast to your room, which was semi-exciting to me, but a lot more disappointing than I thought it would be. Just some really weird jelly filled croissant wanna be, coffee, and orange juice. I then headed off to the internet cafe to make sure nothing changed in meeting up with the cousins and waste some time for an hour or so. Plus I wanted to make sure I had the right address to actually find their hotel, was only about 10 minutes away. I hadn't heard from anybody so it looked good for the day and I headed off. I walked around a bit by their hotel just checking everything out. It was a beautiful day weatherwise, much better than the day before with a lot of sun. Around 11:15 I officially headed over to their hotel and for the first time in a long time familiar faces graced my presence. It was something I was really excited for, was not home sick, but always good to see people you know.

Their flight had just arrived a couple hours previously, so naturally they were quite starving and a bit tired. We immediately started our first mission of looking for a place that had been touted as having the best pizza ever. Randy took over the controls and weaved us in and out of streets seeking out Da Baffeto, a place that many dubbed as a top location. We struggled to find it at first, clearly the fatigue must have hindered his abilities to read a map, but finally after we all reached the point of starvation, we arrived. The problem was Da Baffeto was closed, luckily it's sequel, Da Baffeto 2 was open about 5 minutes away. We arrived there to a sea of empty tables, adding doubt to the claim of best pizza ever. At that point we were all quite famished and took the chance anyway. I went with the garbage pizza, well it was their specialty pizza, but it pretty much had every item known to man on there including, but not limited to, an egg, sausage, onions, olives (which although Im not a fan, they are truly better and a lot more tolerable in Italy) and a whole load of other crap I can't remember. I took out with ease to continue my animalistic eating tendencies. In the end it wasn't the best pizza ever, but did have plenty of upside including the extremely large size. It was more of the thinner crust variety, quite crunchy, but not as full of a pizza as some of the others because of that. From there we were headed to "the best gelato place," this was more believable as both Cari and Randy had previously taste tested Giolitti numerous times. We scoured the streets for a bit working off some of the pizza just eaten and finally arrived. This time the case was made that this was perhaps the best gelato out there. I went with After Eight (mint chocolate chip) and strawberry as well as topped with some of their crazy fresh cream they douse it with. The whole combination, including the chocolate dipped cone exceeded expectations with the freshness and flavors that burst out of the gelato.

Once the food portion of our tour was complete we headed over to the Pantheon (this actually may have happened before the gelato, but I dont have any sense of time or the order of events anymore) and we took some pictures there, I checked out for the first and it was definitely an incredible sight. The way that building was created, the fact that the Vatican even kept it, albeit turn it into a church (since they usually liked to destroy old Roman stuff back in the day) and just the general structure make it quite an incredible sight. After a few pictures headed over to the trevi fountain so they could make their wishes of returning to Rome, as did I, cause you can never give away too much money to a fountain that creates so much harmony in the world. Then we decided to take a stroll to the Vatican. We walked there with no problem and I got to see it for the first time, it is definitely an impressive sight. Finally it was getting later in the afternoon and being that neither of them slept, so after we would walk back we were going to split up for a few hours. We took a different route than we had walked there so we could pass the synaguouge and check out another part of Rome. The only unfortunate part is this was apparently the allergic route as well. We all started sneezing, getting the watery eyes, and struggled with the wind blow those tiny little annoying tree things in our eyes. It was quite the fight to make it back and it wasn't just us as many others we passed by found themselves in the same predicament. We finally escaped the treachery and they made it back to their hotel. I walked around and finally went back to my hostel for an hour after they went back. Still had no roommates, which was exciting and laid around for a bit. Finally around 6 I got back up, walked around some more and finally met up again with them for dinner. Their hotel had recommended some place to eat, so we went there. It was pretty good. I went with the veal shank (I forget what its called here, crazy languages) and we drank wine and relaxed. It was good, I definitely enjoyed the bit of bone marrow that graced my plate inside the bone as well. Afterwards we went to the Spanish steps, my favorite nightly hang out, and looked at the city for a bit. It was highlighted with being approached by the classic flower guy. One of my favorite ways to rid them is speak gibrish. Randy joined along with me and the guy started asking where we came from, he answered Paraguay and I still have no idea why. After the man finally went away we called it a night so they could wake up early and continue on their trip to another part of Italy. I still had no roommates for the night, which was fantastic, and slept decently until I woke up to the sounds of glass breaking and yelling by the insane people outside my hostel. These being the same people who sell the purses, alcohol to minors on the Spanish steps, and fake merchandise all over the place, I hate them with a passion.

With that I must end my Rome update to be continued at a later time, I am actually back in Rome for the evening for a little deja vu and remeeting up with the cousins. I fly to Athens tomorrow for my last stop on the trip, for all I know they still believe in the Greek Gods and there was no God of internet so I'm not sure if I will be able to update from there with the rest of Rome and the stories of Florence, including how my hostel thought I went missing, I even have the email from them asking where the hell I am, but fear not Benjie Klein is still here and never was missing. If I am unable to update, the rest will come when I arrive home, plus this gives people a bit of time to catch up. For all those slacking and thinking when I get home I will tell them everything about my trip, the joke is on them, I don't remember anything and will have to read this myself to catch up on what the fuck has happened in the past 2 months.

Peace out peeps


Monday, May 18, 2009

Venezzzzia part 1

Welcome back, it has been a while since Ive stopped by. I must apologize first for the lack of apostrophes that will surely irritate some grammar critics, I dont have time to worry about these annoying European keyboards, thus it wont look as nice, but Ill feel damn good not learning this keyboard. This update will also only include Venice as Im about to be done with Rome as well, but that would be way too long. Anyway, last I left you I was heading back on plane to Munich. I spent a quiet night when I returned to Germany one last time, though I did jump into one last Schnitzel and beer just for old times sake. I wandered around for a bit at night, but called it quits early and luckily had a relatively quiet room at the hostel.

The next morning I woke up and headed right to the train station to go to Venice. As soon as I got on I was pretty skeptical of the train as I entered a seating cubicle for the first time since Ive been in Europe. I was just hoping not to get stuck with some random non-English speaking smelly Euros, but it worked out as 2 college girls jumped in and just us three had the whole 7 hours together. Never once did any of us ask names, thats a weird concept to me, we talked a while, they slept for a while, I stared into the awesome views of Germany, Austria, and Italy, and we eventually made it 7 hours later. I considered asking for their name, but then I realized there was no point, I wasnt going to meet up with them in Venice so wasnt worth it. When I got off the train it was around 7 p.m, I was going to be crazy and try finding my hostel, but about 10 steps in there was no chance of that happening with my 30 pounds of luggage. I got on the Vaporetto (waterbus) and headed to San Toma. Luckily from there it was real easy to find the hostel and I checked right in. It was in a 400 year old building, and you could tell. Old school pull the chain toilet, semi-cramped room, and wireless internet access from the neighbor if you stand out on the balcony, but it turned out to be pretty good.

After checking in I headed out for an Italian meal, wasnt sure where I would end up, but I wanted pizza or pasta. I had no map since the hostel unfortunately didnt offer any so I wandered through the labryinth until I ended up at some place that looked pretty good and decently busy. It was close to the train station, but not close enough to be considered a crazy tourist place. I sat down and immediately ordered my pizza with spicy salami (essentially pepperoni) and a glass of red wine just cause I was in the mood and sick of beer. As I sat there one of the women next to me coughed and made a swine flu joke so I gave a sarcastic laugh, which prompted us to all talk throughout the whole meal. It was a mother and daughter from Vancouver, probably in their 60s and 40s, respectively. It was nice to have some company and talk through the meal. The pizza was fantastic and the wine wasnt bad for a random house wine. It was also my first real meal of the day, so that couldve made everything taste a little sweeter. I ate my meal pretty fast, per usual, but stuck around until the Canadians were done eating, semi in the hope theyd pay for my meal, but really just enjoying the conversation and being semi tipsy. Finally about an hour or so later we got up and headed our separate ways. One good thing was the placemat for the restaurant was a map, so I took my tomato stained placemat and went on my way. I again attempted to navigate the streets of Venice, this time at night, but after realizing I had no chance even with my tomatoed map without ever really looking at it I got on the night waterbus. It turned out to be a great decision as it took the long way to my stop and I got a full tour of the canals to take in the sinking beauty that is Venice.

I got back to my hostel around 10, pretty exhausted from a restless train ride. A lot of people were hanging out in the kitchen, but I wasnt in the mood. There was an Asian dude from UM who came up to the room at some point though and so I said Id come down for a bit. He was obsessed with grappo, so he wanted me to try some and that it was a good kind so you couldnt really taste the vodka. Either he has no taste buds or I shouldve gone with the dont trust anyone from UM mindset as that shit was pure vodka with a shitty grape aftertaste about 5 minutes later. Everyone luckily called it an early night there as they were emptying out in the morning, so we headed up to the room for sleep. I was excited for a possible decent night of rest even though it was slightly stuffy in the room. That lasted about 10 seconds until a massive pig emerged in my room, or some dude snoring and the fight to sleep was on. I blasted my ipod and eventually fell asleep, luckily the people left at like 5 a.m so I was able to get another couple hours in that morning.

I then went down for some breakfast and started my day. I went to St. Marks and checked out the area, I went in the church, even decided to check out the church art out of boredom and hung around that area for a while until deciding to move on to my next stop. I went through the streets of Venice until I ended up at the Guggenheim where I stayed for about an hour, it was nice, but not very big, which worked out well cause it was about the time I became starving. I grabbed some quick sandwiches from a bar, one with tuna and mozzarella and the other had mozzarella and eggplant (it was good, but I didnt actually realize I had gotten eggplant until I actually had it in my hand). It was a nice cheap meal. I was still hungry and knew I had been waiting way too long, but I finally got some gelato. I found a place away from everywhere and without the clear brandname gelato ads, so figured it was homemade. It was very good as I went with cherry and some sort of chocolate cookie gelato in a cone. I was satisfied I then figured Id find the old Jewish ghetto and realized Id have to let it find me because that is the real way to find things in Venice. I wandered up and down the streets and bam, the old gates of a Jewish ghetto and street signs indicating where I was entered my sight. I walked around checking out the small monuments and the kosher restaurants than went on the synaguoge tour. There was a guy with a Tigers hat so I thought Id strike up a conversation with him on the tour. He hadnt lived in Detroit since 1961 and was pretty conservadox so any conversation we had going did not last long. He did talk to me a few random times about other Jewish things to see in Italy, but sports were not in the picture. Him and his wife were also the question people, clearly agitating the tour guide with the same questions over and over, though it did make it more informative for everyone else. About 20 people were on the tour and the 3 synaguoges we were able to see all had some interesting looks and history, so it was worth going on. I then walked around some more doing what I do, ending up at the rialto and doing a walk through there admiring the overpriced gandolas, merchandise sellers, and crazy amounts of tourists. I then decided to get a dinner somewhere. I chose a random restaurant in an alley and made the semi mistake of going with the tourist menu. The food wasnt terrible, though the wine seemed slightly watered down and the piece of salmon I ordered, while tasty was quite tiny for my manly needs. I then did more of the walking thing finally finding out how to get back to my hostel and picking up some extra gelato on the way. I got it from the same place I did earlier in the day, not purposely, I didnt even realize it at first, but hey, was still good. Went lemon this time and some banana.

From there I finally headed back to the hostel. People were hangin out in the kitchen again, but it was semi late and I headed up to the room. Up there I met a few people that had just checked in since my whole room had emptied out from the night before. I talked with them for a little while, they were a bunch of Tennessee graduates and we all went to sleep. It was cool because I thought the snoring problem had disappeared, until it doubled on that night. As one kid snored, the other waited until silence to add in his loud snore. There was one point where I flicked the lights real quick, prompting silence, probably waking them and giving me just enough time to be lulled to sleep by the ipod, jackpot! I slept a little better in the end that night though than the previous night and that was good enough for me.

The next morning I headed down to grab some breakfast and joined all the Tennessee people as well as some extras who were eating. I talked with the whole crew of them and joined along with them and another straggler like myself lookin to hang out with everyone for the day...

With that I will cut this short and reconvene at another time as the internet claims I have 7 minutes left, but I hope this short, but sweet entry has you wanting more. For those who havent seen there are actually a couple random pictures up of me on facebook, not posted by myself, if you want to see how I look bearded. Recently I did add a sunburn to my repetoire so dont be surprised when I come back black with a beard after Rome, Florence, and Athens continue to burn me to shreds.

I shall hopefully return in Florence with the rest of Venice, hopefully a seperate entry for Rome, and probably Florence and Athens when I arrive home, as well as pictures, a final entry of my thoughts for the trip, and of course love for you all.

Now I go get some food because its fantastic out here...


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Irishing in Dublin

On Thursday night I took my flight from Munich to Dublin and luckily made it. I waited for a while at the airport, which was fine, I really didn't have anything left to do in Munich and figured the airport would be fine. I sat around, ate some snacks and relaxed before boarding the flight. The flight itself was good until the end. We were told there were windy conditions in Dublin, never a good sign when it comes to turbulence possibilities. With about 10 minutes to go we began our rocky descent. It was one of the worst landings I've experienced, I'm pretty sure the pilot made some mistakes, which I figured would happen when I saw there was a woman pilot (kidding ladies!). In honesty though it was pretty bad, it felt like we landed on the side of the wheel when we hit the ground and took that big bounce before gaining stability. All the people surrounding me gave the sigh of relief and things were calm from there, at least for them. As for me I stood up and stretched my legs only to be met with intense stomach pains. I knew I didn't have much time to find a bathroom, but knew it may be a while. I rushed off the plane rushing past other passengers and darting ahead. I got to customs and had to enter the non-EU citizen passport line. The first window the customs agent had nobody, but was playing around with a passport seemingly left behind. The 2nd window had a man from an African country begging the customs dude to let him in Ireland, and the third was generous enough to be taking people in line. The first lady took longer than I would've liked, but from a distance it seemed like she was joking around with the customs woman, so I figured it would be an easy sail through get my stamp and go. I got to the lady and the questions began, apparently Ireland is the strictest country in the world. She badgered me for information about my visit, asked me when I planned on leaving, and required I show her my itinerary for my return flight to Munich. This led to an extra 5 minutes of me having to turn on my phone, her looking at it, and finally approving me to enter the country, only until May 11th. Really Ireland? I then ignored seeking my luggage and unloaded a barrage of body waste bombs on the Irish toilet. By the time I got out only my luggage remained on the carousel, luckily I grabbed it before they moved it to another area, grabbed a bottle of water and began to go on my way. That was until my body decided it wasn't time to go, I went back to trusty stall number one and finished the job. Hey, everyone loves a good shit story, get over it...

I had no choice but to take a taxi to the hostel, it was expensive, but the guy was a nice cab driver and who doesn't like the terrifying feeling of driving on the opposite side of the road. He didn't really know the exact hostel location, but he called up a friend who helped out and luckily I got there. We talked a little, but unfortunately I could barely understand his thick Irish accent, however, it was a nice change being some place that at least English is the chosen form of talk. I checked in and headed upstairs pretty quick, I was pretty out of it still fully clothed and passed out for the evening. The next morning I woke up feeling better, even though I slept awful, but I no longer had pains of death engulfing my body. I grabbed some free toast downstairs and began my day. I went on the free Dublin walking tour, it rained off and on for the whole tour, apparently one of the things Dublin is known for, but didn't make it less enjoyable. I talked with the tour guide (when he wasn't guiding) for most of it, he has some book about to be published and is moving to the US when he graduates college in a few weeks. I never realized the American dream still looms large for a lot of people, but I guess so. We got to see the whole U2 beginnings (the tour guide hates them though so it made it more entertaining), all the churches, the trinity college, and Dublin Castle amongst other things.

When the tour finished around 2 I figured I'd walk around Dublin more and slowly make my way to the concert site. It was about a 2 mile walk and with taking my time I arrived around 3, but nobody was waiting, which I was happy about so I could take time and get myself some food. I figured there would be a few people, but as long as the line wasn't crazy that early I'd be alright. I went to the College of Ireland campus nearby and grabbed a quick pasta meal since that was the only place that seemed decent. I then went to a grocery store for some snacks and went back. I got to the arena around 4 where people were beginning to wait, so I figured I'd stick around. Everyone in line was real nice and of course only one was actually from Dublin, while the rest were crazy people who travel to concerts (freaks eek). Though there were a few people that made me seem not quite as crazy as many people want to make me seem. There were people who had seen over one-hundred shows, travel to many more than I have, and just in general probably a bit crazier than me (hard to believe, I know). We waited in the off and on pouring rain and wind, one of the security guards gave us a semi-workable umbrella to fight off the downpours. Did get to see a rainbow though, in Ireland, I almost left the line to search for the gold pot, I mean it has to be here right, but decided not to. Finally around 6 the guards let us inch ahead closer to the gates. Got in around 6:30 and stood with a couple girls from the line as we waited. There were 2 opening acts, which I find irritating, at first I thought the 2nd band added was to sell more tickets since 02 is a big arena and they weren't going to sell it out (and didn't), but it was a band from America that nobody had heard of overseas. They were a decent band, a slower rock type group, even bluegrass/folk rockish in a way. The next band were a bit more known, the Hold Steady. The keyboardist was by far the most entertaining with his handlebar mustache and theatrics. The lead singer is decent, but his act of comedic gestures and awkward yelling gets old after 20 minutes. I don't mind their music, but a lot of it in concert seemed like yelling to go with their harder rock sense, seems they could have been better, but then again always tougher to sit through 2 opening acts when you anticipate the final one. Finally around 9:29 Counting Crows got on stage, I figured this meant I'd get about 1:30 of them (still more than I've seen in the states in a few years with all their co-headlining). The setlist for me was great, a lot of older songs, a couple I had been waiting to hear in concert like Another Horsedreamer's Blues and High Life and not many of the popular hits I had heard numerous times over. The concert ended around 11:10, I thought it was great, though I could hear the disappointment in much of the crowd with Mr. Jones, Round Here, and basically all of their heavily popular songs outside of Long December excluded from the setlist. As a bonus one of the employees at my hostel clearly went to the concert because Counting Crows on pandora has been playing throughout the building all weekend.

I took the 2 mile walk back with the girls I had met, I'd like to think I was escorting them for saftey on the streets of Dublin, but clearly I had no idea where I was going. They finally left me to get a taxi when I knew where I was (aka the same street my hostel was located on). I went back to the hostel, relaxed for about 5 minutes and scoured the area for late night food. I ended up at the "American burger joint" Eddie Rockets (apparently Johnny's cousin). It was a bit expensive, but I've come to realize everything in Dublin is expensive, quite possibly more so than any city I've been in thus far especially when it comes to food of any sort. Eddie definitely delivered, he was much better than Johnny's back home (either that or I was so starved and longing for a real hamburger anything would've tasted great) and having actual heinz ketchup to use with my meal added to the satisfaction. It was about 1 at that point so I headed back and read until I passed out around 2.

I woke up pretty early the next day with a new mission in mind, I'd head over to the Old Jameson Distillery for their whiskey tour after getting a bite to eat. I grabbed a bagel with lox and then headed towards the place. It was pretty hard for me to find since I didn't really read the street signs to point me in the direction, but finally arrived around 12:30, bought my ticket and waited for the tour to begin. At the beginning they had 8 people volunteer to do a whiskey taste testing in the end to compare Jameson to a scotch whiskey and American whiskey, my hand couldn't have been in the air quicker. She immediately handed me the tube to anoint me one of the participants and the tour began. We went through the different stages of the whiskey, how they put it altogether, the history of Jameson, etc. It was decent, though I don't think the tour guide really loved her job and was just going through a script she had memorized. Finally though we got to the best part. I sat with the other 7 around the table where they had the whiskeys labeled and wanted you to describe the differences and see how smooth Jameson is. First we went with the Jameson to feel the smoothness and get a sense for the flavors, then cleansed with water. Next came the Johnnie Walker black label, seeking the smokey taste it's known for and then comparing to Jameson again. Finally we came to the American whiskey and as anticipated it was my good friend Jack Daniels. I smelled the sweetness and took my sip, once again asked to compare to Jameson. Now although Jameson may have a bit smoother feel than regular Jack (I was hoping they'd be ballsy enough to put it against single barrel) I don't think it exerts as much flavor. We were then asked to try them each again and put your favorite forward. I was now left with a choice, do I stick with my roots, both familial and patriotic or do I give them what they want. I tasted them all again and looked around at my fellow participants. A few quickly put Jameson in front, I finally decided I had no choice. I proudly grabbed the Jack Daniels and placed it ahead of the other two to gasps and moans of the crowd. The others then placed Jameson ahead and I was the only one who went against the grain. The tour guide played it off to American pride and wanting to stand out, but I really do like Jack Daniels better it's what I've been bred on. We then received Irish whiskey tasting diplomas for our deeds and an extra glass of Jameson for participating. I proudly stood up after, listening to whispers of others, some who admitted the Jack was better to them as well and walked out with my chest held high. I can't deny and this may sound sad in the end I really did feel an extra sense of American pride. I walked out on to the streets and as I headed back and even past a few fellow participants I got the smile and nod, reaffirming the only choice I really had.

I then decided to celebrate with some food, I was feeling good, though not drunk and grabbed some fish and chips around the corner from my hostel. It's one of the more famous fish/chips places in Dublin, Leo Burrdocks, I looked at the wall of fame before entering and realized one day my name will be added to that list (okay, maybe I was a little drunk) and then got my fish and chips. It was very good, though I couldn't finish the whole thing, just way too much food. I had dreams of heading to guiness after, but it was getting later in the afternoon and I wanted not to have to rush through there. I ended up walking around the city, finding the Guinness storehouse for reference for the next day and exploring much of Dublin. I then walked to St. Stephens Green where I enjoyed the awesome park. I laid down on the grass for a while, but apparently it was the wrong grass since police quickly asked me (and others) to move to other sections of the park. I decided to walk instead of sit and gazed at the kids chasing peacocks, the beautiful swans being fed in the ponds, the flowers and the numerous statues spread throughout. I really enjoyed it and made the mental note to come back there the next day.

I then headed back to my hostel and figured it about time to find some dinner. I went to the Temple Bar area right by my hostel and searched for some Irish food. Every restaurant I entered I was refused. Some had legit waits and were nice about it, others blatantly lied so they wouldn't "waste" a table on a busy Saturday night to one person. I was pissed, hungry and didn't like the solo discrimination I had encountered. I stalked around the places that clearly could have sat me watching to see if the magical customers were to appear, they didn't and that was satisfying enough. I then walked around a little bit longer until I was so famished that no choice existed, but to find any sort of restaurant to eat at. Luckily the place next to my hostel was open, a decent enough Irish place where I enjoyed some Irish lamb stew. I even got to hear a fight with some drunk on the street and the restaurant manager as the guy tried to stumble in. I then headed back to the hostel around 11 and decided I'd see if I could meet anyone since it was a Saturday night in Dublin and I should take advantage of the city. This, however, turned in to passing out immediately when I went to my room to lay down for a minute and not waking up until 9 the next morning, apparently I had finally hit a wall.

On Sunday I decided it be about time to go to Guinness. I woke up at 9 as I said, but didn't really realize it until I found a place to eat breakfast. I rushed to go some place since a lot stop serving at 11 and I really wanted an Irish breakfast. I got there, ordered my food and looked at my watch realizing it wasn't even 10 a.m yet. I got my poached egg, breakfast sausage, canadian style bacon (I know, 2 more pig products, however, different varieties than Germany so it actually excited my taste buds), some potato thing, some toast, and some other random crap as well as free tea and orange juice. I ate it all and even drank both the tea and orange juice (I despise orange juice, but I need a cooler drink, didn't want to ask for water and it wasn't awful until the pulp irritated me). I then began walking around taking my time since it was so early and finally headed to Guinness.

I had pre-ordered my ticket since there was no service charge and I could still get the "student" discount online without a problem. It saved me about a 15 minute line wait and I got right in there. It's a huge building with seven stories. It takes you through the beer making process with some cool rooms and examples including a tasting room. I think the tour itself, which is self guided, is slightly overrated as to what they take you through. I understand why being the volume of people the places sees on a daily basis, but outside of the first 2 floors not much interaction exists and it's a lot of reading. Of course they make up for it all at the very end of the tour where you have a variety of options of where to enjoy your pint. I wanted to do the pour your own pint, but there was nobody at the stand and there was a line, so I decided not to wait and just went straight to the gravity bar where they do it for you. It's on the 7th level and it's an awesome place with a 360 degree view of all of Dublin, which makes the price of admission worth it right there. I took some pictures and then got my "free" pint where they poured it to perfection with the clover on the head of the beer. I enjoyed the visual for a few minutes and went to work on the pint. I drank it relatively slowly, but the final result ended up in me definitely feeling tipsy by the end.

I left the Guinness storehouse and enjoyed the first day with no rain at all around Dublin by just walking around. I got hungry around three and knew it was time to satisfy my Mexican urge. Many Mexican restaurants are in the area and I had read about one, so I headed over there for a reuniting with myself and the world of burritos. It was pretty good, the tortilla sucked, but overall the chicken, salsa, sour cream, beans, jalapenos, all hit the spot pretty well. I was glad I finally made the plunge for it. I then headed back to the park from the previous day to sit on a bench, people watch, and relax. I did get to see one of my favorite things as well there. I like to watch people take pictures, but not to see what they are taking of or who, but to watch the people who try avoiding "ruining" the picture as if there is no turning back. I'm at fault for doing this too, but when you see someone taking a picture and it's too late you have a few options. Lot of people stop and let them take the picture with the awkward you can go through, no just take the picture exchange. Then there are people who run through quickly hoping that didn't ruin the shot, respectable. And then my favorite, the people who feel that the camera will kill them so they either block their face in horror or duck real quick so the "bullet" doesn't hit them. I then headed off as the sun went down and it was cold.

I got back to the hostel, did a bunch of a laundry, grabbed some cheap pizza since I had been spending tons of money here and with Italy coming up only more will be spent. I pretty much laid low the rest of Sunday night, as did most people in the hostel it seems. I never really met anyone in this hostel, I talked to a couple people, but I think with me not being around much the first couple days I was behind on the curve so they probably thought I was anti-social, ah well. I went to my room around 12, surprisingly everyone was already a sleep in the room when I went in there, fell asleep around 2 and here I am before my flight back to Munich in a few hours. I'll spend one night in Munich, leave on a train early the next morning for Venice and start my Italian tour. It'll be weird going back to languages I don't know, just as I was getting used to some sembelance of English again. Only 16 days left, well 15 really since I leave at 7 a.m May 27th, good luck to me making it to the airport that day.

Flyin away