Monday, March 29, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Overall, another good day.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
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...
Sunday, March 14, 2010
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:
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):
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Bright and early in the station:
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:
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.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
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.