30 July 2008

Lyon, Nimes, and Montpellier

The second full day in Lyon I spend wandering the sites of Fouviere Hill, the tallest point in the city. I began wandering through the Roman ruins of two large ampitheatres set side by side. Its actually hard to call them ruins because they are so well intact they are still used for concerts today. In fact there was a concert being set up as I was visiting the site. From there I followed a forested trail along the top of the hillside. I visited the ancient cemetery of Lyon and continued along the trail, across the footbridge to the Fouviere Basilica. It has the most exceptional view of the city below, not to mention a beautiful two story cathedral and rose gardens which led me along my way back down to the city below.

The next four days where spent in the smaller but equally charming Nimes in Southern France. The city was an important Roman colony and is more than 2000 years old. The city was once occupied by Celtic tribes, but when the Romans gained control they surrounded it with a stone wall. A tower sits at the city's highest point and boasts a beautiful view of course! The biggest attraction within the city is the Arena. It is like a smaller verson of the Colosseum in Rome but is the best intact from the empire. Like the ampitheatres in Lyon, it is still used for concerts today.

We met a friend at the hostel, Gabrielle from Montreal, and together the three of us went to visit the Pont du Gard. It was about a 45 minute bus ride, but is absolutely stunning. Three tiers of Roman arches support the aqueduct/bridge that spans a deep green river below.

Yesterday we arrived in Montpellier and already we both feel it is one of our favorite towns. It is a university town full of life and something unexpected on every corner. We first visited the new aquarium called the Mare Norstrum. It is so huge that it takes 2 hours to go through the entire thing. There were of course huge tanks of a variety of corals, fish, lobsters, sharks, nautilus, pirrahnas and even penguins. They had simulations of a submarine and even a moving exhibit of a ship in a storm out at sea on the roaring 40s. It portrayed in detail different ecological marine habitats around the world from the tropics to the glaciated poles. Worth every Euro.

Coming back to the main square in the city at dusk we watched numerous street performers and break dancers. There was a street art show and even a giant timed game of chess, with pieces the size of construction cones, being played in the park which oddly enough resembled Laurelhurst park in Portland.

Today we have wandered about and visited the city's meandering streets lined with cafes, the numerous parks, fountains and olympic swimming pool. We even had time to visit the brand new giant library for a couple hours.

23 July 2008

Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Switzerland and Lyon

Cinque Terre is a national park with a system of trails that connect 5 colorful and tiny seaside Italian villages. The first full day, we hiked from our town Manarola through Corneglia and Vernazza and ended in Monterosso where unfortunately the beach was crowded but were able to do some snorkling. It was five hours of hiking over steep mountains along the Medeterranean cliffs, so we took the train back home to Manarola.

The next day we hiked the opposite direction to the first town, Riomaggiore. From there we followed the 01 trail three hours straight up the mountains! It was quite obviously rarely traveled and over grown; we were the only ones crazy enough to attempt it. On the other side of the mountains we found a tiny town of about 10 homes, a church, and a few unsuspecting Italians!

We visited Pisa on our way to Florence at James request. What can I say about Pisa except that there is a tower that leans accompanied by far too many tourist snapping photos...

In Florence we camped on a hillside overlooking the city. The city itself is of course beautiful and the people are quite friendly! We spent one full day wandering the streets and took off early for our next unscheduled stop, Switzerland!

On the train to Interlaken, as we passed by Lake Como, it began to rain. Steadily raining harder through the Swiss mountains, when we arrived at dusk it had turned into a downpour complete with thunder and lightning. In Switzerland, we found the people to be extremely friendly! A sweet old man who could only speak German insisted on helping us make it safely to our hostel. Switzerland is just what one would expect: towering mountains, lush green countryside, and cute little swiss chalets dotted along the valleys.

We are now in Lyon, France. So far I have met many lovely French folks and spoke francais to them with great success. Alas my studies have paid off! I love the city so far and cannot wait to continue my exploration tomorrow. Au revoir!

15 July 2008

Naples and Rome

Our last full day in Napoli we visited the underground. It was incredible. The first part of our tour was the Roman ampitheatre which had houses built over it. The only way to access the ruins was from a hole in the floor under the bed of an apartment. Only a very small section was visible but it was really cool to walk around underground beneath apartments. The second section was the buried ruins of an aqueduct and cistern. They abandoned the use of it when disease broke out from the contaminated water supply. From then on, trash was thrown down the wells to the cistern for many years. During World War 2 the 5 meters of trash that had built up was cemented over and the whole place was used as a bomb shelter. It was amazing to see the artifacts left behind from that time.

I am now here in Rome and of course have seen all of the important sites; Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, and Vatican City. Nothing here has been what I expected. Rome is such a beautiful city, and for some strange reason I imagined it a stark grey city full of Roman ruins. It is actually colorful and vibrant and of course filled with ruins, but also beautiful parks and fountains as well. Not to mention an overabundance of gelato shops... I eat gelato everyday, sometimes twice a day.

Yesterday I climed 551 steps to the top of the cupola in the dome of St. Peters Basillica in the Vatican. The view of Rome was simply breathtaking and worth the hike. Today we are off to Cinque Terre! Ciao!

10 July 2008

Italy - Naples and Capri

Two days ago we arrived to our hostel, Giovannis Home. It is actually run out of the massive apartment that belongs to a wonderful Italian man, Giovanni. Upon our arrival, he cooked lunch for myself, James, and two other American girls, Julia and Taylor. Later we took a self-guided tour which Giovanni advised after giving us a rundown on all the great places in Napoli. I think its his mission in life to help travelers discover and love Napoli.

Later that same night we went out for some pizza. Pizza was actually invented in Napoli. This means the best pizza in America is not nearly as good as the very worst pizza in Napoli. We found "Sorbillos" down the street and brought it home to our rooftop terrace to enjoy. We joked that we had finally found the "holy grail" but in all honesty it was the best pizza Ive ever had!

Yesterday we ventured out to the lost cities of Heracleum and Pompeii. These two cities were leveled by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Heracleum aka Ercolano has well preserved mosaic floors and frescoed walls. Pompeii is an amazingly huge city with ampitheatres and gardens, even a brothel, but is less-well preserved. Both were stunning and an absolute blast to experience. We even met and spent the day with a Canadian from Ontario called Amber.

By the end of the day my feet were dead! We arrived back home and faced another 65 steps up to the apartment and Giovanni was cooking up a three course meal to celebrate the upcoming birthdays of Julia and Taylor. It was delicious.

This morning we rose at 6:30am to travel by ferry to the island of Capri. It is a beautiful little island with huge cliffs and tropical flora, but unfortunately a bit over-run by tourists. We took the funicular up the side of one small cliff to reach the town of Anacapri. From there we wandered down a tiny path lined with gated garden homes covered in flowery vines. We reached a little beach with plenty of sunbathing tourists. We snorkeled about an hour and returned up and over the hill for lunch and our departure back to Napoli. We continued from there to a huge castle right on the port and again back to the hostel. My feet felt most certainly destroyed so I spent 20 minutes trying to revive them. Poor things! Tomorrow we leave for Roma, but first we visit Underground Napoli.

08 July 2008

Greek Islands - Ios and Santorini

I have spent the last week or so in the Greek Islands. I was on Ios, a supposed famous party island for four nights and decided the island is relatively tame. People enjoy drinking and dancing innocently until the sun comes up. I never witnessed drug use or and sort of radical skanky behavior even once. Just a lot of fun dancing and eating too many gyros!

Camping for five days on the beach sounds like fun but it was more like a continuous dance party. The resort started the music first thing in morning when the college kids get up and begin drinking. I found myself sunbathing, reading, and wandering the tiny white streets of the village, where surprisingly I found myself one of the few tourists doing so.

Arriving on Santorini, I knew immediately the lifestyle here would suit me better. I was so pleased to run into the Australian couple (Lauren and Josh who we met in Athens) staying at our same hostel by random chance. The next few days we spent with them were such a blast. That night was the 4th of July and the town was having a "western party" which was basically a puny fire on the beach. It made me a bit homesick but I realized that might be a factor in even going. I met a wonderful Australian girl called Katrina and together we ate greasy bakery goods and chocolate milk into the late hours of the night.

The next day the four of us took a tour of Santorini. We boarded a "pirate" charter boat called Afroditi and set sail for the new volcanic island in the center of caldera of Santorini Island. We hiked to the active site of the volcano and witnessed the rising steam and sulfur covered rocks. Next we sailed to a hot spring on the beach of the nearby volcanic island. We jumped from the side of the boat into the cold water and swam into the hot springs. The water is a muddy brown color due to the sulfur and iron in the mud below. The mud supposedly has benefits for the skin, so all of the tourists rubbed it all over their faces and bodies. Including me! It was actually really silly and had everyone laughing.

We continued to the island of Thirassia and had lunch and the four of us swam again in the crystal clear turquoise waters. Off to the town of Oia on the mainland for a view of the famous sunset. We arrived and hired donkeys to carry us up the side of the caldera and into town. The city was amazing, but, after finding the perfect spot atop the roof of an unsuspecting Oian, the sunset proved disappointing.

The next morning the four of us rented ATVs and drove to the capital of Thira. The weather was unbearably hot so we were off to the red sands of famous Red Beach. The hike in was sketchy, the beach overcrowed, and the water turbid, so we returned to our home beach called Perissa. There we snorkled until we froze so we packed our things and headed for the port to reach our overnight ferry.

At the port, as we waited, Josh played his guitar. He was joined briefly by another guitar-carrying traveler called Ryan, from Vancouver, BC. They played and sang together "Under the Bridge"by Red Hot Chili Peppers and the whole port aplauded when they finished, they really played aweseome together.

After the ferry we said goodbye to our Australian friends and headed to the airport. We arrived in Napoli, Italia late last night and were plesantly surprised by our cheap and amazingly beautiful hostel. Tonight we set south for the Amalfi coast and to visit the ruins of Pompeii near Mt. Vesuvius. Ciao!