Monday, March 29, 2010


I have a story to tell, mainly about me being not all that smart. It involves getting a new pair of headphones. One headphone in my pair broke, so I figured that I should go buy a new pair. I went to PC World and got a pair yesterday. When I opened it I found that they were designed a little differently than ones in the US. Instead of splitting evenly, one headphone having the same length of wire as the other, this was different. It had one headphone that had a short piece of wire, and another where it was longer, so that the thick wire is to one side of you when you listen. I didn't like that, so today I went and bought another pair, hoping that they would be different. I even asked a lady at the store, and she seemed to think they'd be fine. Not so. Same problem. I tried to return them, but of course for sanitary reasons you can't do that. I came back and am now using that pair now. But, of course, I just looked and was reminded that my phone came with a pair of headphones that have a microphone attached to it, so really I could've just used those. You can tell I though this through very well.

I made some drawings to describe them. Yes, I made drawings. The main reason is that this is better than doing school work (I'm sure my parents will love to hear that).

Regular earphones:
The headphones I got, aka the lopsided ones:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 4-Sunday, March 7th

This was the first full day in Florence. It’s a good city, very old but definitely not decrepit. I started the day by going to church at the Duomo, the Basilica here; technically it is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fior. It’s absolutely massive, although much more interesting on the outside than on the inside. The Mass was in Italian, and it was a Gregorian Mass, so I had no idea what they were saying, although they did have translations of the readings in English, and in French, and in German, and I believe in Spanish. After that I met up with a friend I know from church at Clemson, Christine Davidson. We got lunch, and then she showed me around the area. We walked around for a while, and then we ended up walking up to the Piazza Michelangelo, or something like that. It was a bit of a hike, but what a view! Seriously, this was one of the best views I’ve ever had in my life. Maybe not quite equal to the Cinque Terre, but it was another amazing spot. You can see the mountains around the city, and get a feel for the more agricultural land right next to it. It’s really a breathtaking way to view Florence, and I would say the best view of a city I’ve ever had. If you go to Florence and it's a sunny day, go up here, it's worth the walk. I will pay you (in dollars, pounds, euros, whatever) if that view is not worth the time. I think it helps that the city looks different, compared to a place like New York City or Washington, DC. So I owe Christine a big thank you for that. I should also mention that there’s another church up there that is interesting inside. More beautiful art of course, like all the churches around here. After that we walked over/through the Ponte Vecchio, which is a bridge with a bunch of fancy stores on it. They’re all jewelry stores, and expensive ones at that.

The Basilica, not a great picture, but you get the idea of the size of the thing. This close building is actually the Baptistery, which I never got myself into (sorry mom):

The view:

I had to get in a picture with the view, although not my best picture:

And then I told Christine I'd tag her on Facebook, so she got in on the picture taking:

It turned out that my new roommates were a 15 year old kid and his grandmother; he was from North Carolina and now lived in Denmark with his family and the grandmother. There were also some older ladies from Canada and two girls from USC (the real USC, not South Carolina like some people in Clemson mean when they say USC). I guess I never looked to see if it was a coed hostel or not. It wasn’t a youth hostel, which I was actually kinda glad about, I feel like a youth hostel might be a little less safe, and a little harder to sleep in at night. The two of them were nice, and went to bed relatively early, which was what I was hoping for.

The room:

Oh and I should mention that I owe Christine another thank you. She and her roommates were making dinner around 7 or so, and so she invited me to come over and have some. I enjoyed her cooking, and it was great to talk to people from Clemson. I guarantee you my time in Florence would not have been as good if she hadn’t been so nice and helpful. Check out her blog (there are only one or two posts up):

Overall, another good day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stonehenge and Bath

Hey everyone,

Sorry I haven't continued the spring break story. I'll get one up today, I promise.
But, I will quickly fill you in on my trip to Stonehenge and Bath yesterday. Stonehenge was, well, not all all that exciting. It was interesting to think about how they got all those massive rocks there from miles and miles away, but that's about as far as the interest took me. It really is a bunch of huge, organized rocks that you walk around.

Bath, on the other hand, was actually a neat little town. Well, reasonably sized town, but not a city. The outside of all the buildings were made out of material (can't remember what it was) that was quarried right around there. Even today all the houses have to be covered in this stone. We toured the Roman baths, which are cool because it's a geothermal spot, the only one in the UK, covered by a very old Roman building. But again, even here I wasn't terribly interested. It was cool that the water was naturally warm, and that 250,000 gallons comes up every day from the ground. So, I walked through that, and then a bunch of us ended up going to lunch. We found a cafe after some walking, got two tables, and got our food. I learned yet again, from all the chatting, that I know nothing about movies. I might just get Netflix next school year and catch up on all these movies that I haven't seen. I'd rather not download them off some random website. Anyways, I got a hamburger, and then eventually (after tasting someone else's) decided to get a milkshake. The milkshake was alright, and the hamburger was disappointing. I've had a few good hamburgers while over here, well really two, and when I get home I think I'll be having an American hamburger.

By the time we finished our lunch, we had a few minutes left till we had to get the bus. We walked around a little, took a few pictures, I became worried that I had lost my camera and then I found it, and chatted with a few people. The bus took us to a spot where there were some huge townhouses, and we saw a wedding (it wasn't a good day for a wedding in terms of the weather, rain). We then saw this place called The Circus, it's basically a big circle of townhouses, expensive ones, including one where Nicolas Cage might still own. Might still because he's bankrupt. That was really the end of our trip, and so we headed out on the two and a half hour drive back to campus, stopping off at our other campus (which has a beautiful building and is in another wealthy area) on the way back. I was relatively tired from the day, but really we didn't do a ton of walking. For the price I paid it was worth it, but really Stonehenge, for how much people talk about it, wasn't anywhere near life-changing, but Bath was a great place.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 3-Saturday, March 6th

This started out with a breakfast in the hotel. Of course, breakfast was on the top floor with a beautiful view of some of the surrounding area. It was fantastic to have that in the morning, a nice start to the day and so much better than the drab view from the basement cafeteria in London.

The view:

The Cinque Terre area has the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. I think it beats any city skyline I’ve ever seen, or any purely man-made object in my life. The Cinque Terre is 5 small Italian towns perched (I think I’m borrowing the word from some website I read it on, but it’s really the only word that works) on these steep hills along the water. The whole area is a National Park, although people still live there, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a number of walking paths, biking paths, and horse trails. I took the paths along the water. In some spots you are walking on a path that is built into the side of basically a sheer cliff, with a straight fall down (I was thankful for the railing on the side here). But you have an unbelievable view. It was sunny with very few clouds, and the water was an amazing turquoise color, turning deeper blue as you looked farther out. It’s amazing to see these houses, I can only imagine what waking up in the morning would be like there (I’ll stay in a hotel there someday). It wasn’t too cold out, and I think this was a good time to be there. It isn’t as busy this time of year and so there’s a little more room to stop, or walk fast as I tend to do. I saw Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia, starting on the most southern one (Riomaggiore) and working my way north. The first walk was very easy, and the second one slightly harder. But it was completely worth it for the views. To get up to Corniglia requires, at the end of the walk, climbing a very very big set of stairs, which did provide some good views.

One of the towns:

The path:

I had a small world moment while getting lunch. In the third town (Corniglia) I stopped and got lunch, after seeing a little church up there and saying a quick prayer. I walked into a small place that looked like it had basic food, and there was a group of Americans. After ordering my food I asked where they were from. One girl said she was from South Carolina, so of course I told her I went to Clemson. She got all excited and told me how she knew all these people who went there.So she ran a few names by me, and I knew three of them: Gray Segars (a ridiculously tall guy), Jenna Guthrie, and Melissa Hulbert (two good friends of mine).

I went back to La Spezia after this, and figured out what time the next train was to Florence.After finding out it was something around 1:30 or so, I had some time left to kill, and decided to walk around. La Spezia, while not all that exciting, seemed like an interesting place. I saw a Saturday market around the middle of town. I tried to get to the water, but one place was a military port (somewhere I figured I probably didn’t belong) and it seemed like every other spot was blocked by some shipping place. So that didn’t work out, but I had fun just walking around. I finally got on the train, saw some more water, but then left the coast behind. I saw some snow-capped mountains, which I think might just be the first time I’ve ever seen snow-capped mountains in my life (maybe I’ve seen some in New York at some point, but I can’t remember).This train ride wasn’t all that exciting otherwise, but I arrived in Florence alive and with all my belongings, which is always a good thing.

This was my first night in a hostel. I was staying with a guy and his wife, both young Australians currently living in England. The husband is teaching in England, and they are traveling around Europe when they can. I settled in, got on the internet (we all had to share a computer unless we had an Ethernet cord for our laptop) and then decided to take a walk around. My walk ended up at the Duomo, or Basilica, basically church with the ridiculously huge dome (which I could see from a window in the hostel). Right next to that is a famous Baptistery that my mom wanted me to check out. Unfortunately I never got around to going in on my trip...

The Basilica:

A pretty good day overall.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Day 2—Friday, March 5th

I think my trip gets slowly more interesting, for you the reader, from this point onward.

This day was three trains over a total of 10 hours, the majority of the time spent in one train or another, not much time in between. It started at 6:20 AM when my alarm went off. Good thing I had gone to bed early the previous night. Showering wasn’t enjoyable, the showerhead had nothing to be hung on like a normal shower does, so you had to pick it up and set it down a lot. Eventually I checked out of the hotel, grabbed a little food, and headed to the train station, which was just up the road. I made my 7:30 train on time, and got a window seat on the side that I figured would be the one with the best views, theoretically with the water on that side. Of course, at first there was very little water to be seen, and actually for the first half of that trip I rarely saw water. All the people in my coach also got moved forward and so I ended up with a cruddy view. But, it was cool seeing the land pass by, and the big mountains that shot up around us. Eventually we began to see more water. The train passed through Cannes, which I thought was interesting, I can now say I’ve been where they have the huge film festival, even if it was only for maybe ten minutes and spent sitting in a train. From what I could see I don’t blame all those movie stars for going to the film festival there, although really I could mainly see the less well off areas. On trains this tends to happen, you see the places that aren’t as wealthy as maybe some parts of each city are.

The second train was running behind, but I eventually made it on. It was much more crowded, and for a while I had a terrible view of the water. But, I eventually moved, and anyway that was a short trip, about 50 minutes. I got into the Ventimille station around 11:30, and I was moving again 20 minutes later (I had been on the ground for probably 50 minutes at the last station. By this time I believe I was in Italy. I hopped on a Trenitalia (Italian train company) train and was on my way. For about two stops I sat across from a British couple who were some town for the day with their family. They were staying in Monte Carlo for someone’s 21st birthday (what a way to spend that birthday), and told me that they took a helicopter from the Nice airport to Monte Carlo. That sounded fantastic, so I’ll add it to my list of things to do (mental list, and this one is probably not happening while I’m studying abroad). Their whole group seemed very lively and excited. I was just happy to hear English. The husband worked for Toyota in some capacity around Birmingham, so I joked that they were having some troubles recently. Glad he found it funny and wasn’t frustrated that I mentioned it. Maybe he secretly dislikes me…

This third train was very much on the water, although it also goes through a lot of tunnels. All three of them were like this at some point: you come out of a tunnel and there behind you is a small city/town on a hillside by the water. Many of the roads had these huge bridges to get between the mountains. I was watching Top Gear recently and they showed them driving in the same area I was, which is pretty cool. This was all helped by having a relatively sunny day, a few clouds here and there but nothing too bad. So I had knocked out one of my big reasons for taking these trains: see the Italian coast. It was fantastic. Although by the end of it I was a little tired of the direct sunlight, and regretting not bringing my sunglasses.

A random town along the way:

More from the train:

Italy already seemed very different. The buildings looked different, and I started to see more buildings that I really stuck out as churches. While I saw churches in France, they didn’t always seem as visible, minus the ones in the small towns with a big church in the middle.

I eventually arrived in La Spezia, near the Cinque Terre, and got to my hotel down the road from the train station. It was a nice little place, and I enjoy having a hotel room to myself. I got settled and then took a walk to find some food. There was a main strip that had a number of clothing shops in what I assumed was the center of town. After a little bit of walking I found a place to eat, and had a beer and some pasta, both of which I enjoyed. I called it a night relatively early, partly because I wanted to get myself up and going in the morning, and partly because I had woken up early that morning.

By the hotel in La Spezia (I feel like it's pronounced like La Spetzia, but not really sure):

I had a rather big key:

What I slept on, not too bad:

Where I had dinner (this was taken the next morning):

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Break Day 1-Thursday March 4

My trip began with the 9:30 AM Eurostar. I got up about 7:30, went down to breakfast at 8 or so, and then headed out to hop on the Underground at 8:15. I got to St. Pancras/Kings Cross at around 8:45, got through the ticket/security line, and waited till my train was called. I then decided that I would go buy my Paris Metro ticket beforehand, and of course it took forever and it also turned out that I could only buy groups of tickets, I just didn’t listen well enough. That aside, boarding (which had started while I was in line) went smoothly and I was able to hop online with my iPod and send two quick emails while sitting in the train. I enjoyed the trip, and actually noticed this time when I was in the Chunnel (I hadn’t realized we were in the Chunnel on my first trip). I sat next to a French girl engrossed in her book and not willing to move very much to let me out (I don’t mind climbing over people when they’re asleep, but if you’re awake the courteous thing to do is to move your legs out of the way at least a little bit). The Eurostar was a truly fast machine, it was almost dizzying to look out the window, though I was also going backwards which probably changes things. The Eurostar can be a little bit of an assault on your ears; for some reason there is a good amount of sudden elevation change during certain parts of the trip. But I still like it.

Bright and early in the station:

The train pulled into Paris right on time, 12:45, and I made my way over from the Paris Nord Station to Gare de Lyon. I got a little confused, Nord is a huge station, but eventually figured it all out. Now, I knew Gare de Lyon, I had stayed right next door in Paris. Even then I got a little lost, because I hadn’t been in the part of the station that the metro put me out by. Luckily my train didn’t leave until 2:15. I got lunch, in the form of a baguette from this little shop down the road from the station that I remembered from my previous visit. I will admit that saying I had breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dinner in Marseilles just sounds really cool.

My TGV experience was very different from my Eurostar one. The Eurostar was packed full of people. In the TGV train I had a second floor window seat, looking forward, and much less crowded train. On that trip we seemed to pass a lot more trains, which was always a surprise, you can feel the force of them going past for that two seconds. Both trains go 100+ MPH I believe. The seats were more comfortable on the TGV, but really the Eurostar ones weren’t bad. Also, the sights outside of the train were different. On the Eurostar, there were a few hills on the English side, and in France it was mostly flat fields with the occasional wind farm. On the TGV to Marseilles, it was much hillier, the train weaving in and out of hills and valleys. A few tiny towns pass by (as they did on the way to Paris) and if the windows weren’t as dirty as they are I would have better pictures. It’s been odd hearing the announcements in just French, and then realizing that they won’t be translated into English because I’m in France. I started to miss English very quickly…

My seat in the TGV:

Most of the trip I just listened to my iPod when I wanted something to keep me occupied. I thought about bringing a book, but I already had so much in my big backpack that I didn’t want to add one more thing to it. By the end of the trip I realized that I probably should’ve brought one.

For dinner, I walked around a little, eventually finding a shop that had baguettes. I ended up getting a sandwich with tuna, and some lettuce and tomato (those two came off when I had it). It was AMAZING. So good, that I went and got another. It was 3 Euro for one sandwich, but it was fantastic. I’m sure I’ve had better PB&Js, but this is up there in my top sandwiches ever list.

While I was trying to find some dinner, I saw a protest. Not sure what they were protesting, but it wasn’t a big group, and they didn’t look that intimidating, mostly because they had younger people, adults, and I even saw a little girl with her dad there. They were carrying some like torch-stick type things, and occasionally shooting off tiny fireworks. I wasn’t all that surprised, considering I was in France.

Protesters, not a good picture but it gives you the flavor:

I also found out that this city has electrical trams, which were pretty neat to see go up and down the street. I saw the same thing in Florence, although I never rode one. It’s something that I haven’t seen in America, other than a vague memory of them in Baltimore by the baseball stadium, and it’s been years since I’ve been there.

Overall this first day was good. Marseilles wasn’t all that interesting to me, but I enjoyed the two train rides. I had a lot of time to think and just look at some interesting landscapes. But if I somehow make it back to Italy (other than the Rome trip I'm signed up for) I'll fly.

Pictures from the first few days

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break Trip

Hopefully I will be getting posts up, at most one a day, about how I spent my spring break. But let me first say this:

My trip has been unforgettable. I've seen natural beauty and man made beauty. I've seen old history and ridden on some of the most modern trains. I've had sunny days and I've seen it snow. I met some great people and wondered what some people were thinking. I've felt confident and I've questioned what in the world I want to do with my life. I had smooth transportation and I had a flight cancelled. I had highs and lows, ups and downs, but it was all worth it. I can't say that I'm the same person after this trip.

I also realize that I owe so many people for this trip, especially those who helped to fund it. So to those people, thanks.

Now that all probably sounds melodramatic, and if I don't cover everything I mentioned I'm sorry. But it was a fantastic adventure, on the whole. I feel like I could write a book on it, but I'll do my best to not overwhelm you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Quick Update

Here’s a quick update on what’s been going on here. Over the weekend I went to the British Museum (the Rosetta Stone, mummies from Egypt), which was really interesting. Of course my camera died after maybe 5 pictures.

This week is midterms, so I've been studying for those. But, last night I got to tour Parliament, as part of my British Politics class. We saw a vote in the House of Commons on a Defence Bill (yes they spell Defense differently over here), in which I believe the Conservatives defeated the Labour Party. We then got to see the House of Lords, which was an interesting room but had a dull discussion going on (the word uhhh was used prolifically by the Lord who was talking). It was cool to go in the little passages between the buildings. We started out at 1 Parliament Street, the least fancy of their buildings. From there we went over to the newest building, which I don't know the name of. However, they spent something like 250 million GBP on this building, so 1 million a room. We just saw the center part of it, and it looked really nice. Then we moved over into THE building. Apparently we weren't supposed to take pictures, but I will admit I snapped one or two, I just won't be putting them online anytime soon.

Today is mainly studying for exams, and getting myself ready for my trip. The plan is Marseilles for a night, then on to a hotel near the Cinque Terre (5 little towns in Italy) hopefully seeing one or two of those towns while there. Then on to Florence, then to Venice. And flying back a week from Friday. And hopefully I'll get to go to church in the Duomo, the big cathedral in Florence. Should be an adventure.