Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When In Rome

I am currently laying in a little single bed with a sheet and a thin, blue, itchy fleece blanket and I'm just happy.  Plain, old awesome happy.  I finally got to sleep in!  For those of you who know me well know that my sleeping in is probably my favourite thing in the world so this is huge for me!  I am on a ferry going from Corfu Island, Greece and heading over to the much anticipated Venice, Italy.   But let's head back a bit, back to a little place I like to call Barcelona!

After the crazy long drive to Barcelona, our tour manager, Greg, decided to take us for a quick rip around the city to show us a few sights. This city was so awesome. Paris was great because it's just Paris and there are so many things to check out and everything is white and gold and beautiful but Barcelona was opposite of Paris, but it was so unique.  There is no Eiffel tower or Louvre, just old city that feels so dark. Not like the co our, but the feeling you get when you walk into a haunted house.  Everything was so gothic and the architecture was unparalleled   Our first stop was the Goudi designed church. Now this would be my perfect example of the dark, gothic feeling of Barcelona. Although he has passed on, Goudi had designed this massive church with intricate carvings with a gothic view and in and amongst these crazy carvings are hundreds of smaller carvings and pictures relaying back to the bible and not to mention, the windows. It was just amazing.  After hundreds of years of construction, they are still not finished and you can see where all the new work is being done because of tof the carved stone. Definite highlight.

We also checked out the Prince's palace, the new and old bull rings, the Christopher Columbus statue in the middle of town before heading back to the hotel for dinner.  We settled in quick and was loving our nice hotel with the HUGE patio until Sharan found a g'damn cockroach in the bathroom!   There went all my faith in the place!  After I cleaned the cockroach off the bottom of my shoe, we headed down for dinner.  A couple of us girls wanted to check out the nightlife in Barcelona (since that is what it is widely known for) so Greg took us out to a couple cool places. 

The first place was a shooter bar.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but hey, I'm a fun chick so I was all over it!  They had hundreds of shots, I was actually quite amazed and pretty much all of them required being lit on fire!  The first one we tried had vodka in the shot glass and then a hollowed out 1/2 orange set on top of the glass and then that was filled with an orange liqueur and then, of course, ignited in flames!   Second was a chocolate liqueur that was once again lit on fire, then he passed you a little marshmallow on a stick to roast in the fire, then shoot the drink and eat the marshmallow.  Very cool but 2 was plenty!   After that we headed to a 'Fairy Bar' ( no, not a gay bar.  That was my first question) had a drink and then headed home for the night. 

The next morning we headed out on the town and checked out the Picasso museum in the downtown area. Very interesting to see his expressions.  We also headed down to the market, which was complete chaos, and quickly left to a tapas restaurant where four of us girls had lovely conversations over sangria and tapas!  I enjoyed a bean salad, potatoes and Greek salad.  For those who dont know, tapas are very small portions of food, like a smaller version of an appetizer and you would normally order 2-3 different types. I love food, wine and friends so this was awesome for moi!  We finished up our afternoon hanging out in the centre square area and with a little shopping of course. 

That night we headed out for a flamenco dinner and show which was very cultural and interesting. These dancers were so fierce and passionate and you could just feel the emotion when you looked at their face. Dinner was questionable but a minor detail after watching the show. The Spanish girls wore slim fitting, colorful, floor length dresses with frills on the bottom that had a different color underneath so when they danced you could see it. It was almost like an aggressive tap dance.  The man was wearing a relatively standard dressy outfit but his hair was the main attraction. Made me think of Michael Jackson with those long curls!

After the show we went down to the port which was lined with clubs. I have never seen such aggressive people!  They would literally grab your arm and pull you in to their bar.  Not cool!  Once we escaped them and thought we were in a better spot, this guy dressed as a doctor came and picked Sharan up right off the ground and put her on a strecher, wheeled her into the bar and put her on the bar (she's freaking out obviously) And all of the sudden this hot guy dressed as a nurse comes out and pretends to take her temperature and starts rubbing ice on her!  Oh my we were laughing so hard by this point but seriously? SO WEIRD.  Anyways, her 'medicine' was a shooter and then we finally got out of there.  Needless to say, we got out of there ASAP, left our tour and cabbed back to the hotel. Wild wild spaniards! 

The next morning we were off to the French Riviera!
En route to the Riv was so cool!  Seeing southern France and the rows and rows and rows of grapes And the hundreds of vineyards was just unbelievable.   For lunch we stopped at this huge castle that has since been turned into shops and restaurants and enjoyed a baguette.  It was the largest enclosed 'city' in Europe and now they have made it quite the tourist destination. 

We arrived in Nice, and settled into our ghetto hotel room. Not the nicest of places but I'm not going to complain!  We ventured out for dinner at a French restaurant and then headed out with Greg to his favorite little pub.  A band was there that night so we watched them play and then my friend Jenna and I ventured off for a pizza and wine stop at a fancy little patio. We met a really nice old Irish man and had good conversations about North America. It was nice to talk about home amongst a whole new world of different language and culture. 

The next day was probably the nastiest day of my life as far as extreme heat is concerned!   After searching for a nice spot on the beach, we set up our towels and umbrellas and I slathered on my SPF 100 and we enjoyed a scorching hot and humid day on the beach.  I was with Sharan and 2 other Canadian sisters Robin and Laura. Later on we headed back to the hotel, got spiffed up and headed on over to the 2nd smallest country in the world, Monaco. 

Driving through this area Was UNREAL. Ballin ass houses everywhere. All these cliffs with mansions hanging on the sides with pools and the whole 9 yards.  Not to mention the huge yachts on the medditeranean sea down in front.  Can't even explain it. 
We went to the cutest little restaurant down a quaint little back street. We had wine, a goat cheese puff pastry, pasta and dessert.  After dinner we headed out to the one and only Monte Carlo casino. Walking up, the streets were lined with Bentleys, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce, Lambourghini, Ferarri, etc vehicles.  I turned around and said to a girl " how did they get my cars here all the way from Canada?" and I laughed, by myself lol. 

I went in to the Carlo and even though the minimum was 20€ per spin on the roulette table, I had to cash in at least 200€ just to play.  So I did, played for a half hour and left even. Note to self: gambling sober is way more affordable! 

Leaving Monaco was so sad!  The lifestyles of the rich and the famous, that is for sure.

Bonjourno Italia!
Coming into Italy was innntteerressting. First of all, the pizza we had for lunch at the shithole gas station was the best pizza I've had in my life, so we were off to a good start. However, the slums and the poverty in the countryside was terrible and I couldnt believe the high numbers of the poor. So sad. 

Our first stop in Italy was Pisa!  The home of nothing, except the leaning tower.  It was probably +200 degrees that day and i was ready to fall over and die!  We headed up the hill towards the tower when he was spotted, a creep playing with his doodle in a car as we were walking by!  What a weirdo!!   He burnt rubber and took off like a bat out of hell when the girls screamed.  I was laughing my ass off when i heard. Nothing surprises me anymore!  We got up to the tower and took 1000 typical funny pictures and then dodged another 1000 gypsies selling fake Prada purses to get back to the coach. 

Off to Florence!   We checked in to the Franchi hotel and headed out on the town to find some dinner. We went to a nice Italian place and committed some serious gluttony crimes. Bread, salad, pasta, fruit, wine, more bread, etc. SO GOOD.  After dinner we went to a place called the Red Garter for some karaoke and we had an awesome time.  The next morning, we woke up early and did a tour through an Italian leather factory and then onto a walking tour of Florence. 

Florence is an amazing city of history. It is the home of David, Michaelangelo, Galileo, Donatello, etc. The statues in the centre of town are unbelievable and one of the only cities I'm the world to have an outdoor museum.  There is a replica of the statue of David and then the actual statue of Persius defeating Medusa by Chileanas (sp?) made of bronze and took over 9 years to complete.  There is a lot more of this stuff but I don't have the time to write about them all. 

After the tour we hit a restaurant for lunch  more bruschetta, pizza and pasta!  Then we hit the market for scarves so we could cover our shoulders and knees so we could enter the biggest church in the world. So glad we did this because there is an acre of painting on the ceiling that was just unbelievable. The churches in Europe are just incomparable. We then ventured out for MORE pizza ( not hungry at all, it just looked so good!) and then we went to the tomb of Galileo and Michaelangelo at the Basilica Di Santa Croce. 

That night following our group photo over Florence, we headed out for a Tuscan dinner at an amazing countryside restaurant. Upon our arrival, we snacked on olives and drank champagne while violinists and an accordion player wooed us. Unbelievable.  We had an amazing dinner outdoors and an opera singer even came around and sang to us. After dinner, we joined an older tour group in some dancing to some cheesy classics such as the YMCA and the Macarena.  They loved it. That night we headed the the Space Disco and my roommate Sharan won the big boob competition of the night and had her pics all over the screens all night so that led to plenty of laughs!! I pretended I was Whitney Houston all night and would not get off the karaoke mic. Had a blast and loved Florence!

Roma ro ma ma! 
This was the part of the trip I was looking forward to most!  The first day was action packed. We jumped out at the Colosseum and then walked up past to ruins of the Roman forums to the national statue of Vittorio Emanuele. Also known as the 'wedding cake' because it's big and white and layered. After that we went to the Trevi fountain where I threw a coin over my shoulder into the fountain for the wish of a safe return to Rome. After the Trevi we took a break and enjoyed some gelato. I had lemon and it was deeeelish!  We then headed up the the Spanish Steps and then walked past all the fancy stores on the Via Del Corso street.  We walked over to the Pantheon, a church known for being the first to break away from the typical structure of the church and was built as a square with columns and a dome on top.  Don the top of the dome there is an open hole.  If it rains, the rain will come right into the church and then run down the slanted floor into the gutters. Interesting concept.  We then headed into the Piazza Navona where we had bruschetta, salad and pasta for dinner.  After dinner, Sharan and i got our caricatures drawn and then enjoyed a Peroni (Italian beer) and a tiramisu!  We were dead tired at this point to back to the hotel we went. 

We stayed just on the outskirts of Rome in a huge, amazing resort. It was by far the nicest place we stayed so we were excited!  We settled in and I went to bed instantly after a shower. I woke up in the night a few times and for some reason I felt really scared and had goosebumps and thought I was probably just cold.  I got up to shut off the a/c but then ran back to my bed terrified and pulled the blankets over my head like a 5 year old. I eventually fell back asleep but I was not cool with how I was feeling.  In the morning, Sharan woke up and told me she had an issue in the night as well.  She woke up at the sound of somebody trying to open our patio door so she pushed a dresser up in front of the door and went back to bed, half scared, but half thinking she was just hearing things. A few minutes later she said she felt like somebody was behind her, and then felt a big hand touch her chest.  So obviously when i heard this, there was not a chance in hell I was staying there again.  
Before we left into the city, Sharan talked to the guy at reception and told him the story and he said it was the first time and would try to get us a different room. 

We got into the city and our first stop was Vatican City, the smallest country in the world.  We met with our tour guide and she took us through the Vatican museum. We seen tons of sculptures, tapestries and paintings and everything was immaculate. Our first major stop was the Sistine Chapel. Wow. I'm not sure what was crazier, finally seeing this for myself after all these years of wanting to, or the actual artwork and immense atmosphere i was standing in. It was unbelievable to be there, to see Michaelangelos art so closely and to be in such a holy place. 

Off to St Peters Basilica. This was just beautiful and pristine and not a detail is missed. The tombs of Popes past were along the walls and 2 of the Popes have been 'mummified' and are on display.  I found that a little strange but that's just me.  The artwork in the Basilica is amazing. The ceiling, walls, floor, doors, columns.... Nothing is left imperfect.   After all, it is the the home of the Catholic religion.   Catholic or not, there is much to appreciate in Vatican City, and my grandma may be surprised to know that Lutherans don't light on fire in the Vatican! Lol

After the Vatican, more pizza!  then off we went to the Roman forums and ruins and then to the amazing colosseum.  This just blew my mind.  To all of those who have seen the movie 'Gladiator' this is where the plot came from. It was so interesting to see how it all worked out and how (thankfully) entertainment has changed. To be standing in a place with so much history and a graveyard to so many thousands, it is really grounding.    After the colosseum we took the metro to our meeting spot and back to the haunted house we went.  

Upon our arrival, we headed to the reception to ask for a new room.  After a half hour of arguing with us, we finally got a new room. Holy Moses these guys need to come to Longshots with Gord and I and learn how to treat their customers! Italians are definitely not known for being nice. So we moved out and resettled in our new room and went for dinner. After MORE pasta and wine, a bunch of us sat outside and talked about life into the wee hours of the night. Of course I was too chicken shit to go to my room alone ( Sharan had gone to bed early) I got my friends Claire and Sammy to walk me back. In was friggin terrified all night and probably slept 2 whole minutes. The beginning of the end of my so far good health. That morning, Mr. Sore Throat arrived with his asshole friends Mr. Headache and Mr. Jammed up Nostrils lol. On the coach we went and off to Pompeii!

Pompeii was CRAZY. It is a super ghetto, mafia ran town. Other than the ruins of the discovered city, there is nothing else there. It was probably +35-40 degrees with no shade or breeze. We met up with our VERY Italian tour guide and he showed us what he could in about 2 hours. We seen the theatre, the brothels, the bank, the rich areas, and finally, the plaster molds of the people that were left behind. How it worked was that during discovery, the archaeologists would find where there was an empty space in the dirt underneath where they were digging. If there was an empty space, it would be because whatever had been there would have been deteriorated over the years. So what they would do is pipe down plaster into the empty space, wait for it to form and then dig it out. Many of the plasters formed to human shapes. One man, one pregnant lady, a dog and another one I forget already. It was cool to see Pompeii but it was so strange. You can see as you go around that they carved penis's into the stone walls and streets that would point to where the brothels were so that the men would know where to go. In the gift shop there are tons of little penis keychains etc. Yes Julie, I bought you one. Thank God we got out of there. I was penis'd out and overheated.

We got to the port that evening and jumped on a ferry to the Greek island of Corfu. We arrived at 5am and after a boring and unnecessary chat from the on site guides about how we can't drink the water or flush toilet paper, we stumbled back to our rooms and I was out like a light. Did I mention yet that it was uphill, about a 30 degree angle for about 1/2 kilometer to our room? It was like hell on earth. Well , besides the beaches and our amazing room and the view. The first day there we just relaxed by the pool, slept, slept at the pool, ate, slept on the beach, ate, etc. The second day we went on 'Georges Boat'. George is this old pervert Greek guy who has a boat that our tour rents all the time. We first went across the sea and did some water sports which including the AMAZING parasailing! That shit is the bomb! Sharan and I did it together and I was so scared at first but once in was up way in the sky I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I even said hi to my mom because I felt like I was up in the heavens! Lol

I also went wake boarding and then we had lunch and went swimming at a couple islands. George liked to call them Skinny Dipping Islands and I may have seen some things that I have never seen before! Amnesia please? That night we had a toga party with another tour at our resort and then our group went for a swim and then off to bed. The third day in Corfu was another easy day so we just relaxed by the pool again, I went for a massage and then we went to a traditional Greek dinner with Greek dancers and the whole plate smashing thing. It was super cool to see the traditional side of the Greeks and to experience their culture. Back to bed we went and were up bright and early this morning for the bus ride to the ferry terminal. We got on the ferry at 630 am and it's about a 24 hour ride. I got to my cabin and fell asleep til 6pm! Finally catching up on sleep. We had more pasta and Greek salad for supper and now I have spent the last few hours on this crazy long update!! Hopefully I'll get ore chances from here on out which I'm sure I will because now we are heading into Venice then Austria, Germany, Switzerland and then into Amsterdam. Not quite as poor as Corfu!

On a personal level, the trip has been amazing so far. It's really inspired me to learn more about different cultures, do follow up on more history and to even brush up on my french speaking. I'm feeling a bit better today after some sleep, tons of water and some Tylenol and am not missing home too much, besides a couple things of course. Really missing Longshots and my staff though, they have been the core of my life the last few years and it's tough to be away. Only one day I felt sad when I read an email from my cousin Lindsay. I read her email and then cried like a 5 year old for a solid ten minutes. I think it just hit me because we have traveled and had such amazing trips together the last few years and I just really wish I could be experiencing these things with her as well. Everyone needs to make a trip like this a priority because it is so life changing to have to communicate and learn to adapt to different languages and ways of life. I'm really looking forward to my time after the tour as well because I will be able to settle a little more in one place than have to run place to place over a months time.

Miss you all and wish you were all here!
I'll try to write again soon!
Lace xoxo

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