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J Mac’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 05 Feb 2006

MapOh dear god, I am sorry for my laziness and procrastination when it comes to these updates. I just have so much many wonderful things to write about and I have let them pile up I donít know where to start. Today is the day... I will focus on my time in Italy on a whole. It was amazing! The people I was with made it even more special! It is nice to find people with the same traveling style, adventurous, some what easy going, outgoing. There were five of us, all Canadian exchange students at Swansea.

We started in Rome. Our hostel in Rome was a bit sketchy. It was in a bad area but we had fun and made some friends from Australia and Mexico. We did all the regular things people do in Rome. First, sat by the Trevi fountain both in the evening at and in the morning. It is beautiful both times of day, but of course, knowing me, I liked it best in the peace of the early morning. Legend goes, throw a coin over your shoulder to ensure return back to Rome. The Collisium was just as I pictured and studied in sport history. I was a bit disappointed with the organization of it but never mind my criticisms. Laurel and I were followed around by a strange Australian bloke who called himself Gladiator Maximus, he was too much. We lost him, but only to run into him again later in our journey. Spent the better part of a whole day in Vatican City. First the museum with the Sistine Chapel, ah how I value Mr. Alexander's art history classes. After the museum, we went to St. Peter's Basilica and square. Not being particularly religious, I felt like a stupid tourist, but I guess that is what I am. Michelangelo was quite the guy. I just doní t know where he found the time and the energy for his works. We climbed to the top of the dome to be rewarded with an ace view of Rome. There was a lot of walking done in Rome, through ruins and piazza's, I felt a special connection to the Piazza del Popolo, since that is where Ghandi used to hang out, we all know how much I refer to his philosophies on a daily basis, I sat there and watched all the artists gather to do their work. One of my favourite spots in Rome was the Pantheon. Painterís Raphael was buried there and he architecture is extraordinary. Apparently, it is the best preserve building in ancient Rome, built to honour the planetary gods.

We left Rome for Naples by train at 6:30am. It took two hours. I was surprised by Naples, I donít know what I was expecting, but it wasn't that. It is a big city, Italy's biggest. We all split up since we were only there for the day and people wanted to do different things. I wanted to see the sea. So did Laurel. We bought a six pack of Peroni at 10 am and went to drink them on the beach. Except, we never found the beach and never got to drink our beer. However, we did have a good walking tour and many laughs. We did find the sea, Bay of Naples, walked along it for about 5 km before inkling in that the tide was probably in. The city had a disarming energy but the drivers are not the best (believe me)... I almost go hit several times just walking on the side walk. It also has a pervasive force of its own home grown mafia. I am glad we didn't stay there the night apart for the delicious and cheap pizza we ate, we thought it was necessary to find the arguably best place for pizza in the home of the pizza pie.

We got on the train to Sorrento. First, these jerks directed us on the wrong train to Salerno, but I am no fool... only took me one stop to get off and change trains. Sorrento was like heaven. Although, it is clearly a resort town, our hostel was clean and cozy. We were lucky enough to get a room for five with an ensuite bathroom. We drank so much wine in that room, a good liter each. From Sorrento, we explored Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Pompeii was one of the most inspiring, breathtaking places I have ever been. I guess it helped I was there with a Classics major (Raquel), she enthusiasm was so inspiring and I learned so much from her. The next day we went hiked down te Amalfi Coast. The bus ride to Positano was my horrible time in Italy. I have never been so nauseated. On the way there I thought it was just the wine, but I almost tossed my cookies on the way back. The others said I was white as a ghost when I got off. It is always wonderful when the road is one way in sections and the bus drivers tells you it is because a mud slide vanished half of the cliff hugging highway the week before. I would do it all again to spend time in Positano. It was by far my favourtie day in Italy. Maybe it was being there in January, we were the only tourists to be found. Positano is the most photographed town in all of Italy. Itís has a Moorish flair and colourful houses which make it very attractive. It is built on the cliff overlooking the sea. We met the local police man , Luca, who gave us espresso and maps. We spent a good forty minutes chatting to him in broken Italian/English... he introduced us to tons of people, even his Uncle Roberto. We hiked along the cliff, had a picnic on the beach, finally got to drink our six pack. Our visit was topped with having another local, Rachel come introduce herself to us while we were waiting at the bus stop. She was an older lady who is a recording artist, she sang us her beautiful lyrics about Positano, if we didnít have to get back to Sorrento I am sure she would have invited us back to her house for pasta and to meet her songs. Our time on the sunny, but not so warm coast went by too quickly and we were off to Florence.

Everyone who had told me about Italy, raved about Florence. I must admit my expectations were a bit too high and I was slightly disappointed. I am blaming it on the weather and darkness. I picture it being much more bustling in the spring and summer months. I will return someday. We really lucked out with our apartment we rented for a couple days, only 25 euros for two nights. We even had a loft, I was impressed. The duomo was incredible, made entirely of marble, looks like white chocolate, I tried to bite it. Raquel and I took a day trip to the Tuscan town of San Gimignano. It is a tiny hill top town, with incredible vistas available from the remaining medieval towers. There were originally 72 towers built, 13 remain. We climbed Torre Grossa, went into the Duomo and hike along a mud trail. I would love to return there in the summer months. I had to use my imagination to see on the green fields and sun flowers, next time I want to see Tuscany on cycle!

From Florence we went to magical Venice. However, the Florence train station is cursed. One, there was a strike. The day before when Raquel and I were in Tuscany the others tried to go to Pisa, bought their tickets stood at the tracks for like an hour, ask again was told a different track, asked again and found out there was an organized strike that day. Second, on our tickets final destination said Venice, no connections. So, we are waiting for it to come up on the board... nothing happens... Laurel goes to ask... comes back running... "Track 3.. Now... Run". Oh geez... we ran through that station so quickly to get to track 3 in time to see the back of our train. Apparently it was to another town where we had to get a connecting train; we had to pay 15 euros more to up grade to a Eurostar train, which was the only other train to Venice that day. Looking back, it was actually one of the funniest moments of my life, the look on Laurel's face was priceless and watching her running and then have to stop to wait for the automatic doors to open is something I wish I had on film. Thatís when it happenÖ "Jen, wanna know the worse moment of the trip?"... "Gladitor Maximus"!!!

Venice was Thrilling. Again, we were fortunate enough to get a nice hostel room just for the five of us. We spent most of our time walking around and getting lost. Rhain and Raquel became obsessed with masks and glass jewelry; I have never looked at so many masks in my life. Just being there were an experience. Although I loved it, I donít think I would want to be there in the summer or at peak tourist season. It was eerie that the city sinks about 2 inches every year. We fed the pigeons in San Marco, the girls made me go first and I freaked out. Like 25 pigeons flew directly for me and were all over me.

So, did you know that there are two airports in Venice?? Yeah, we didnít and went to the wrong one. Good thing we left a bit early. Ryan Air flies out of this really tiny airport, some 20 km away from Marco Polo airport. It was a bit of a bummer because we had to pay 60 euros to take a taxi, but everything worked out well in the end.

I have been back in Swansea for a few days but have been busy doing nothing. I have been really active, even bought a new squash racquet. School started last Monday but its been a bit of a joke, a lot of my classes were cancelled... I am sure things will pick up soon. I am leaving for Amsterdam on Wednesday until Sunday. Then, I will get serious about my academics.

I must be off for now. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.