Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Random Monuments of London

Sorry for this not so artistic photo of Big Ben. I thought it would be much cooler than this, but it's not. I think I need a better camera. Don't get me wrong, I love my camera, but I think I need a bigger one.

Because it was so pretty when I was in London, I didn't spend much time in monuments therefore I don't have a lot to write about. I do know that Big Ben is attached to some government buildings and is quite impressive in person. It is situated on the Thames River and can be seen from the London Eye. Next time I go (and I promise there will be a next time very soon), I will be much more studious.

This is Victoria Tower and it is attached to the same governmental buildings as Big Ben. Again, I don't know much about it because I didn't take a tour. I could pull stuff off the internet to fill space, but that would just feel like cheating.

This is Westminster Abbey and of all the things I didn't do, I regret not going in here the most. One of the major reasons I didn't get more into any of these buildings was because we (Seb, Seb and I) spent most of the day in the Tate Museum looking at the Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination exhibit. For those of you who don't know (and probably don't care), this is right up my academic alley, so to speak. I took my graduate comprehensive exams in 19th Century British Literature(Romanticism and Victorian). The fact that I was really familiar with all of the stuff referenced in the exhibit and my unnatural love of museums had a weird effect on me. I turned into a bit of an overly excited nerd upon entering this exhibit and really spent too much time reading EVERYTHING.

As I said, next time......

Monday, May 29, 2006

London, Baby

There wasn't much about London I didn't like. Unfortunately, I think I pretty much acted like a typical tourist. I took pictures of everything that looked "Londonish" including this phone booth. How cute is it? And I couldn't help trying to speak with a British accent or refrain from doing an Austin Powers or James Bond bit. I'd like to take this time to apologize to all those who might have overheard me.

I like experiencing "firsts" and watching a partial part of this cricket game was definitely a first for me. I have never seen one in person or on television. It looked like very clean baseball to me, though, so I wasn't very impressed for too long.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the different types of cuisine in London. I acknowledge, I was under the impression that English food was inedible, but I am happy to admit, I was wrong. There is every type of food imaginable in London. The picture to the left is of Seb, me, Seb and Rachael in a very lovely, very expensive French restaurant. For some odd reason both Rachael and I have our eyes closed.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The London Eye

I think my second favorite thing was the London Eye. The tickets weren't cheap and the little, costly book that describes the history, construction and sites is definitely a "must buy." Altogether, I think I spent about 15 pounds, which is about 30 dollars for this little attraction, but it was well worth it.

From the "pods" you can see all of London and it goes slow enough for everyone. There is no way you could get sick from this; it is no carnival ride. However, if you are afraid of heights, perhaps you should think of another form of entertainment. At one point, I had a serious attack of vertigo.

British Airways commissioned the construction of this magnificent project and I must say, in true English dialect, "Cheers!" It is beautifully constructed and adds so much character to the Thames River. However, now I know why B.A. flights are so expensive!

Isn't this a fantastic view of Big Ben!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Magical London

Rachael and Sebastien
I went to London on the 28th of April and stayed until the 11th of May. I spent the majority of the time at my friend Rachael's house (thanks!) and wondering around London. I had a great time with her and it was really nice to "live" in a normal apartment for a week. I got to cook and grocery shop and do normal things I don't get to do in Paris.

Rachael and I went to see The Producers, then when my friends Heather and Amanda arrived from Arkansas, we went to The Producers again (yes, it is that good!) and to Les Miserables (I've seen that one a lot too). London really is the place to see plays and musicals; both the theaters and performances were amazing. Everything is performed everyday of the week and most have matinees.

I love the theater! If I had any talent at all, I would definitely be an actress in a musical. If I only had the voice, I would be on stage everyday. And if I had the money, I would go to the theater everyday.

Italian Recap

I am glad I went to Italy. I am even glad I went by myself. I think I got to see a lot more than if I had gone with a group, but it would have been nice to have some friends there with me. For future travelers, Milan is great for shopping and has a few nice churches and a nice castle; Florence is beautiful, breathtaking and fun, but stay away from the main museum (Uffizi Gallery), because it is a waste of time and money; Rome is great and has an unbelievable amount of historic treasures. Stay away from Bologna and Naples, but don't avoid the areas around Naples such as Capri or Pompeii.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius remains one of the most active and deadliest volcanoes in Europe. Another major eruption is predicted, but the people living in the area don’t seem to care. It is a beautiful area and very close to the sea, which is part of the attraction I am sure, but if I lived there, I would probably think of relocating.

But the danger didn’t keep me from visiting it. The whole time I was walking up, I kept thinking, “Right, if the volcano is going to erupt anytime soon, it will do it with me on it because that is how my luck runs.” Obviously, it didn’t erupt; however, it wasn’t a very enjoyable trip. I had to ride a bus half way up the volcano and then walk the other half. Usually I don’t mind walking, but the walk up was hard. My feet kept slipping on the volcanic rock and I almost fell a few times.

When I got to the top, there was nothing there. The view was kind of bad because of all the smog and I had to immediately turn around and start the descent because the bus was supposed to return at a certain time. The bus was late, really late, so I ended up just sitting on the side of the road for about an hour. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep from taking a few volcanic rocks with me, so more things to collect dust. I am glad I went up, but only for bragging rights. I wouldn’t go again.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Other major attractions near Naples are the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which were destroyed when the dangerous Vesuvius volcano erupted in 79 A.D. Pompeii was an Italian city and Herculaneum was a Greek city. I was enamored by these city’s stories after I saw a special about the eruption on the History channel a few years ago. I only visited Pompeii, because after seeing one ancient city buried by volcano ash, it’s enough, trust me.
Here are a few fun facts, Pompeii was almost completely preserved by the volcanic ash from the eruption in 79 A.D. Lava didn’t play a factor its demise; the rocks which rained down on the city and the volcanic ash suffocated and preserved all the objects, both animate and inanimate, in the town.

When the excavations began, one of the anthropologists discovered odd shaped air pockets containing human bones. They had a stroke of genius and decided to fill the air cavities with plaster of Paris. When they extracted the plaster, human forms appeared. The images were of people in the throws of agony. Some of the statues are truly horrific! Some of them show the folds of the dress; some of the statues even have their dogs with them, but they all reveal the people of Pompeii were caught completely by surprise.

That being said, Pompeii is a truly amazing place. If walking through a museumized city is something appealing to you, then this is the place! It really is an entirely preserved city. The mosaics and paintings on some of the walls are completely intact and even some of the floor mosaics still exist in places. The city’s coliseum and the theater are completely preserved as well as the military training area.

One word of advice, if you decided to go to Pompeii, make sure you plan for an all day trip. Take loads of water and bring food because once you are inside the city walls, there is none to be found. I spent about 5 hours in the city and didn’t see all of it. I only left because I got hungry and tired.

I am so glad I got to visit Pompeii. It has always been on my “top ten places to visit before I die” list.

Ahh Capri

One of the more positive aspects of Naples is its proximity to the Island of Capri. I know this island is probably a huge tourist trap (I gathered this from all the D & G, Channel, Vuitton, etc stores), but it is beautiful. Everything is pristine, the people are friendly, and the scenery is gorgeous!
Capri is about a 40 minute cruise from one of Naples' ports. I think I paid about 25 euros for a round trip ticket. It really is a little piece of paradise (and trust me, after 2 days in Naples, I needed a break from all the gloom and filth). Once on the island, you can either walk up millions of stairs to the center, take a tram, or rent a taxi. Personally, although it is a lot of work, I would suggest walking up the stairs. The views and the houses are beautiful!

All of the house numbers are made out of these cool tiles. This one was my favorite. "I have a dog and if that doesn't stop you, I have a gun as well." Or maybe the dog has a gun...

Probably the second best thing about Capri (the best thing being the fantastic views) is that it seems to be an international destination. I heard several different languages and, while I am sure the island caters mostly to the rich, everyone I came into contact was pretty down to earth.

I liked Capri and really hope to return someday. It is a little piece of heaven!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Nasty Naples

I wish I could have found something charming about Naples, but the best thing about Naples was that I got to leave it. It was horrible, nasty, disgusting, foul, scary, hot, stinky...am I leaving anything out? I now know why Italians are so religious, they have a little bit of hell in their country. I walked out of the train station and was attacked by gypsies. We have gypsies in France, but they don't usually touch people. The gypsies in Naples held my hand and kept touching my things. Annoying!

Everything about Naples was horrifying except the food and the people. The food was overwhelming good and cheap. The pizzas were incredible and I had some of the most fantastic pasta dishes there.

Maybe I am not giving Naples a fair chance. Perhaps there are charming places in the city I didn't see, but all of my experiences were terrifying. First of all, I stayed in a hostel that was on the top floor of a 6 floor building. Needless to say, there was no elevator. Fine, I didn't expect any, but they had the most narrow, tiny stairs I have ever seen.

Second, I almost got fined 50 euros in the metro for not validating my ticket. The validating machine wasn't working and I was told by a metro official to just go ahead. When I got off at my stop, another metro official was waiting and tried to fine me 50 euros! I started crying, not just because of the fine but because of all the stress. They were real tears; I couldn't stop them, but it got me out of the ticket. Jerks!

The third thing and possibly the worst thing, happened the day I left. I had to be at the train station by 6. I was told repeatedly that the metro started at 5. This was a big, fat lie. I had to walk to the station, in the dark, in Naples. In case you didn't know, the Mafia started in Naples. It is not exactly the safest place in the world. On my way to the train station, two men stopped and tried to entice me into getting in their car. When I said no thanks, they pulled over and both got out. I was really nervous, but a bus came by and the guys got back into the car. Then, when I got closer to the station, I heard a lot of loud moaning. I just assumed it was one of the several thousand homeless people dying, but no, it was a working lady making her money. I must say, I never really wanted to see something like that, but the couple caught in the act didn't seem to mind my presence. There was no way around them, so I just ducked my head and carried on.

By the time I got to the train station, I was so happy I could hardly contain myself. That feeling lasted about an hour when the train was filled with people and I had to stand in the middle compartment for 8 hours. Obviously, my advice for future travelers would be to skip this area. Fortunately, there are many lovely areas around Naples were people don't engage in prostitution in the streets.

Other Cool Things in Rome

This is the monument for the unknown soldier. It has an amazing free museum inside. Do not sit on the steps; the police will freak out. Honestly, I understand the disrespect issue, but the police are really aggressive about it. I saw them yell unrelentlessly at a 5 year old. However, it is a beautiful monument and gives a great view to most of the city.
Rome also has the pantheon. I didn't actually go into the pantheon because I got there too late both days I went to visit it, but the outside of it is amazing. It is just hard to imagine something that big has been around for 2000 years. However, there is a McDonald's right across of the entrance. It kind of kills the mood of this huge 2000 year old piece o' history.

My favorite fountain in Rome, well in all of Italy, was the Trevi Fountain. This thing is huge. The statues were about 5 times my size. The best views are at night, but none of my pictures at night turned out. It was always packed, day or night. People throw coins into it and once, when I was there, I watched a homeless man use a long magnetic stick to pick the coins out. Word of advice, throw your coins far unless you want the homeless to get your wishes. Or you could just make it easier and give the money to the homeless. And if you want to be really nice, you could just buy them booze.

I know this picture just looks like a bunch of ruins and at first, I didn't really know what it was. I found out later that it was the place where Julius Caesar was killed. JULIUS CAESAR! How cool is that? Julius Caesar died here. I never thought I would see this spot and I almost walked right by it. Rome is AMAZING!

The Forum, Rome

The Forum was another cool thing about Rome and the best part, it was FREE. However, it was incredibly crowded (like everything else in Rome). I wish I would have gotten a guide to explain everything because there was just so much stuff. I think the most amazing thing about it is that so much stuff has survived after all this time.

There are a lot of temples and building that are completely intact. The whole area covers about 5 acres. I didn't walk around all of because it was too crowded. However, the parts I did inspect were great.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Vatican, Rome

For those who don't know (I didn't at first), the Vatican is actually a museum. The Sistine Chapels and Vatican city are located inside the Vaticano Museum. It took me a few days in Rome to figure this out. However, the area is big enough to be a small city!

The Vatican was amazing. Unfortunately, I took some random person's advice and went in the afternoon in order to avoid the crowds. This was a brilliant idea except for the fact that the Vatican closes at 4. Yes, color me stupid, although, I do not think I could have taken another minute inside. Talk about a crowd. I was literally pushed from one room to another and there was so much to see in every room. The Raphael rooms and Michelangelo rooms were great, but there were so many other fantastic rooms that I could have spent hours in if there had been about a 1000 people less.

However, I did get a decent picture of God touching Adam in Michelangelo ceiling. I got a lot of trouble but it was worth it.

St. Peter's, Rome

St. Peters Church in Rome is the big church attached to the Vatican. The pope gives addresses to thousands of admiring and/or religious people everyday in the courtyard. I never saw the pope but many people I talked to did.
The church is huge and very impressive but I only got to see the crypt where all the former pope's are buried. While I was being pushed through the crypt a little boy thought it would be wise to stick his finger in a hole in the wall. Well, he couldn't get it out and it caused all sorts of commotion.

The area around John Paul's tomb was crazy; there were tons of people weeping, praying and kneeling.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rome's Coliseum

The Coliseum
with a background shot of the Forum.

I really liked Rome although it wasn't as clean at Florence. My cousin told me southern Italy is ghetto. Well, he was right. In Rome there is a lot of graffiti and dirty areas, but I loved in nonetheless. My favorite part was the Coliseum. I visited it the first day I arrived and I wish I had went back. It is really breathtaking! I am not really emotional, but I felt like crying when I saw it. How amazing that something like that has lasted all these years!

There are tons of "gladiators" around the Coliseum. You can have your picture taken with one for an obscene fee.

Fortunately, it only gets better. It costs a pretty penny to get in the Coliseum, but it is definitely worth it. Mind boggling, it is! Not only did they use to have gladiator games and public executions, but they also flooded the interior for mock navel battles. I will be the first to admit, I had no knowledge of this information until I read it on a plaque inside.

Interior of the Coliseum.

Easter in Florence

Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna
Along with all of the beautiful houses and bridges, there is also an open air gallery for statues. It is best at night. I think this was my favorite area of Florence. One word of warning though, do not buy a gelato anywhere near this place. They charge 10 euros a cone!
I was lucky enough to be in Florence for Easter. It celebrates Easter in a very unique fashion. A huge wooden box is walked through town by traditionally dressed people (pictured above). There are a lot of parade like activities that proceed and follow it to the town square.
Once the box makes it to the center, a dove is flown into the box (I am pretty sure it isn't a live dove) and fireworks explode from the box for 15 minutes. I got to see it all and it was really impressive. The square around the church was packed and I am pretty sure the noise caused a few heart attacks in the crowd, but it was definitely worth it.