Rome, Italy (9Jan01)
In an attempt to prevent widespread boredom by trying to write a bunch
of jibberish about hopping on and off trains and visiting places like
The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Acropolis, I have decided to condense
my two months in Europe into a series of short snapshots, profiling ten
of the many cities I passed through as I may my way from France to
Greece. Jibberish it may still be, but at least there is less of it.
The train from Spain|
Spain/French border, France (18Dec00)
Montpellier, my first stop in France, was conseqentially, where my language
problems began. After a nearly contiuous string of Spanish speaking
countries, I had grown used to being able to communicate, but in France,
I was rendered speechless. It didn't help that my first interaction
involved attempting to buy a very complicated open ended train ticket. I
was hoping that a simple "bonjour" delivered with a sincere smile and
some select gesturing would smooth over any language issues, but instead
all I managed to do was tie up the whole queue while my frantic pointing
and babbling left the entire ticketing staff staring in amusement.
Fortunately, just as I was about to admit defeat, a woman in the queue came
over, and speaking perfect English, patiently listened to what I wanted and
carefully translated everything until I got the exact ticket I wanted.
Place del la Comèdie|
Montpellier, France (18Dec00)
Her name was Clara, and her kindness didn't stop there. Seeing as I was
only in Montpellier for the evening, she insisted on serving as my tour
guide. "You should see the Antigone, the Arc d' Triumph, the aqueduct, and
maybe the cathedral. That's all you really need to see." She was right;
Montpellier was the perfect place for a five hour evening stroll, but I
wasn't committing a horrible crime of neglect with my whirlwind tour.
The view from Brevant|
Chamonix, France (20Dec00)
Chamonix would not be the first choice for a budget traveler who was trying
to avoid the expense of traveling in Europe. Located high in the Alps, in
the shadow of Mont Blanc, it was full of overpriced gift shops, ski gear
shops, bakeries, and bars; a ski resort town in every sense of the word.
I didn't even want to think how much accomodation would have cost, but
luckily, I didn't have to.
My friend Vincent, the man I met climbing Mt. Toubkal in Morocco, was a
mountain guide and lived just outside Chamonix. When he
offered to let me stay with him, he probably thought he'd never see me
again, but I wasn't about to turn down such a generous offer. I was put up
in Vincent's daughter Julie's, room and she was relegated to share a room
with her older brother Eli. I was even treated to a home cooked meal by
his wife, Claudette each night.
A day of vacation|
Chamonix, France (20Dec00)
Being in Chamonix during the winter meant one thing - snowboarding. It
wasn't exactly a budget activity, but after a couple of months of
continuous travel, I was due for a "vacation." While the snow conditions
weren't great, the views were. From the top of Brevant, the first ski
resort I went to, it looked like the Alps went on forever. It was my first
time boarding in the Alps, and my first taste of snow in over a year.
St. Columb, England
Singin' with my cousins|
Newquay, England (26Dec00)
Having been treated like family in Chamonix, it was only natural for my
next stop to be my real family in the Cornish contryside of England. It
was Christmas time, and I really wasn't looking forward to spending
Christmas alone inside some dark, expensive hostel in the middle of Europe.
I much preferred the option of being pampered and stuffed to suffocation,
and my fammily did not disappoint.
Serving up Christmas dinner|
Newquay, England (25Dec00)
Two minutes after arriving at my aunt and uncle's farm, I was eating. My
aunt had made an impressive spread, and in no time, I was nearly comatose
from an overdose of sausage, salmon, mince pies, and champagne. I don't
think there was a single moment of my stay when I wasn't either eating,
drinking, or both. I also got to meet my cousin's husband Gary for the
first time, and it was apparently his duty to make sure that I always had at
least several pints of beer in my system during my stay. An outing to go
surfing turned into a trip to the pub, another trip to the beach ended in
the pub as well, and in fine St. Columb tradition, Christmas Eve was spent
throwing back pints at the Red Lion. St. Columb may not come to mind when
you think of the great party cities of Europe, but never underestimate the
drinking capacity of a Cornish pub goer. Gary and I spent until 3am
ringing in Christmas, along with seemingly everyone else in St. Columb.
Everyone was out, from the 60 year old grandparents to the teenagers.
Parents and children, side by side, drinking and dancing the night away at
the local pub on Christmas eve. Apparently that Cornish tradition didn't
make it across the Atlantic to the US side of the family.
Christmas dinner, another paralyzing feeding frenzy, came complete with
"tabletop" fireworks set off on one of the dinner plates on the dining room
table. Every Christmas dinner should be as fun. I wonder if a package of
fireworks would make it through the post for next year...
Yes, snow in London|
London, England (28Dec00)
Granted, snow may not be a very common site in London. Given how quickly
the city's fragile infrastructure came to a grinding halt when a thin
white blanket fell, however, you would be led to believe that it was a 100
All I had to do was get to the airport, and based on my calculations,
perhaps biased by my newly aquired pub habit, I still had plenty of time
for a couple of pints before hopping on the airport express train to
Stansted airport. I obviously underestimated the impact that snow could
have on London's already crippled rail system. Ever since it was
privatized, Britain's rain service seems to have completely fallen apart.
Just two stops from the terminal, the train finally gave it up, unable to
manage the icy tracks. I was forced to dash out of the terminal and catch
the only transportation going - a local bus, which leisurely meandered its
way from town to town on its way to the airport.
Guarding the city|
Prague, Czech Republic (29Dec00)
I got to the airport 15 minutes after my departure time, but fortuantely,
the airport was even more snarled with snow than the trains - my flight had
been delayed three hours. I could hardly believe my luck. I had already
resigned myself to missing my flight, and the time delay seemed too good
to be true. Even though I had two hours until hte new departure time, I
decided to go straight to the gate. Bad idea. Stansted airport, London's
latest and supposedly greatest expansion airport, was a nightmare. In
order to get to the gate, I had to take a train, which whisked me from the
well stocked and bustling main building out to the distant and barren
reaches of the airport, where my plane was supposedly departing from. Upon
arrriving, I found my gate deserted, with no evidence whatsoever of my
flight. I decided it was best to go back to the main building, but thanks
to someone's brilliant planning, the train only carried passengers one way.
Once at a gate, there was no way back.
It was another three hours before a representative of the airline deigned
to make an appearance. After a second delay of another three hours, I was
beginning to wonder if I had been so lucky after all. I eventually got on
my flight to Prague, about six hours late.
Pest by the water|
Budapest, Hungary (1Jan01)
Deciding what to do for New Years is a dilemma even when I'm at home, but
having the chance of traveling to any city in Europe made the decision even
harder. London, Prague, Berlin, Rome? I eventually decided on Budapest,
partially because it was an inexpensive option, but mostly because Budapest
has always intrigued me. Once two separate cities separated by the Danube,
the hilly Buda eventually merged with the flatter, industrial Pest, to
form what was originally called Pestbuda.
Kevin, Marion, and I|
Budapest, Hungary (31Dec00)
I decided to show up a few days early to settle in, and so I moved into a
tiny but vibrant hostel called Yellow Sumarine/Lotus. Apparently the Lotus
name was a holdover from a previous owner, but it could also describe the
position you would have to get into to use the toilet in the closet-sized
bathroom. Every nook and cranny in the hostel was used, but the intimate
space made it easy to meet other travelers, which is exactly what I wanted
Happy New Year!|
Budapest, Hungary (31Dec00)
I met many people, including Marion and Natasha from the US, Kevin from
Spain, and Glenn from Poland. Everyone would gather around the kitchen
table, tell travel tales, and slowly deplete the fridge of its supply of
beers. I was trying to build up to a climactic New Years, but I think I
peaked early, probably due to thet introduction of absinthe the night
before. Relatively speaking, New Years was a quiet evening, spent dancing
until three at the giant pavillion in the city centre.
Pisa, Italy (6Jan01)|
As much as I enjoy traveling alone, it is always nice to meet up with
friends from back home. Such was the case in Pisa, where I met up with my
friends Doug, Arthur, and Lyssi on holiday in Italy.
Pisa is a small, quiet, and typical Italian town, with the exception that
it is home to one of the world's most iconic buildings, the Leaning Tower.
Lyssi grew up in Pisa, and her family still lived in a beautiful building
right in the middle of town. THey were generous to let me, a near total
stranger, straggly and dirty from months of travel, stay in their wonderful
house, with views of the tower of Pisa from the bathroom.
One of the Cinqueterre|
Manarola, Italy (5Jan01)
Meeting up with my friends, however, made me realize how far, both
physically and metaphysically, I had strayed from home. Once fully
immersed in the fast paced, rich, all consuming world of Silicon Valley, my
seven months of wandering the globe had changed me. Everything happened at
a slower pace. Free time, once a precious commodity which had to be saved
and savoured, spent carefully so as not to waste a single second, was now
cheap, and it was money that was sincere. I was no longer obligated, or
even capable to spend lavishly to make sure my free time was as pleasurable
as possible. It was an expensive week. We would go out to dinner every
night, and seeing as things were so "cheap" compared to San Francisco,
spend US$50/head on a fantastic meal with great wines which would have cost
twice as much at home.
Ceiling of the Baptistry|
Florence, Italy (4Jan01)
As much as we tried to make the most of our time, Italy did not take kindly
to people rushing through. Only in Italy could a restaurant succeed
advertising itself as "slow" cuisine, where a meal is dished out in small
installments over the course of three hours, by a staff accomplished in the
art of inattentiveness. Our one slow meal left us all arguing the fine
line between leisurely paced and lax service.
The Leaning Tower|
Pisa, Italy (6Jan01)
When we weren't trapped in restaurants, we moved quickly, spending just a
day in Florence, a city worthy of a week. With a nearly unlimited amount
of Renaissance art on show, it was quite easy to reach cherub burnout.
After our third museum in as many hours, we found ourselves wandering the
expansive Uffizi museum in a daze, oblivious to the countless
Michalangelos and Rafaels dotting the walls. We finally had to admit our
art saturation and return to what we knew best - eating.
Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II|
Rome, Italy (9Jan01)
Everyone must go to Rome at some ponit in their life. Rome is where
history comes to life, where you'll find two thousand year old monuments
interspersed amongst modern office buildings, with a tangle of buzzing
streets and roundabouts tying them all together.
The Colosseum at night|
Rome, Italy (8Jan01)
My first view of Rome was at night, at breakneck speed, as I rode around on
the back of my friend Vincent's motorbike. Vincent and I met in Bolivia,
and I was fortunate to catch him at home before he headed off to Armenia.
Inside the Pantheon|
Rome, Italy (8Jan01)
Rome at night was a surreal experience, with all the monuments glowing like
embers against the pitch black of the night sky.
I spent four days in Rome, and really only scratched the surface of the
amazing things it had to offer. I did manage to squeeze in the Colosseum,
Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Forum, and of course, the Vatican. The
Renaissance was truly a rebirth in culuture in Italy, as much of the
buildilngs and structures built during that time came from marble scavanged
and pillaged from older structures. For many years, the Colosseum, once
awash in marble, served as a quarry for other buildings, including the
St. Peter's Square|
Vatican, Italy (8Jan01)
The Vatican was larger than life, wiht the mammoth St. Peter's Basilica,
with its giant Roman phrases ringing the walls, seeming almost a
charicature of itself. The vast collection of artwork housed in the
Vatican was impossible to digets in just one visit. I spent much of my
time in the nearly deserted modern exhibits; the masses sticked
exclusively to the Renaissance masterpieces such as Michalangelo's Sistine
Chapel, and Rafael's frescos.
Rome, Italy (9Jan01)
After four days of museum viewing and gelato consuming, I had reached
marble statue overload, and it was time to move on.
Bay of Naples|
Naples, Italy (8Feb01)
Naples was the next stop on my family and friends tour of Europe, without
whose generosity I would not have been able to spend as long as I did in
I had originally planned to spend no more than a week or two visiting
my friends, Marc and Rose, but they made me feel so much at home that it
was hard to leave. I ended up staying five weeks.
My friends Marc and Rose|
Near Rocarasso, Italy (14Jan01)
Marc and Rose are friends from back home whose wedding was one of many I
attended when I was back home over the summer. Rose, a doctor fo the US
Navy, was stationed in Naples, so they will be living there for three
years. They had a great apartment in the Vomero district, and I had my
very own room. For over a month, I settled into a domestic lifestyle,
working on the computer during the day and cooking dinner each night.
Pompeii and Vesuvius|
Pompeii, Italy (16Jan01)
It didn't take long for me to develop a three cup a day coffee habit.
There were several cafes downstairs from us, and I almost lived in one of
them, Bellavia. Italians take their coffee very seriously. It is not a
leisurely event, sippped sparingly from a sidewalk cafe like in France, but
rather a short, sharp, surgical delivery of a vital drug. There are no
chairs - only a bar. You walk up, place down you receipt, and wait. Once
you are served, you must put it away in one throw and leave, freeing the
bar space for the next addict. I would usually try to slow the process by
ordering either a sfogliatelle, a scaled pastry with ricotta cheese, or a
baba, a neopolitan rum cake shaped in tiny mushrooms of sticky goodness.
Sunset at Pompeii|
Pompeii, Italy (16Jan01)
My time in Naples was really about slowing down and staying put for a
while; having somewhere I could call home. I effectively coopted Marc and
Rose's lifestyle, hanging out with their friends and joining them in
outings. I helped pay my way by cooking, as well as filling in for Marc on
the marital duties he dislilked, such as helping advise Rose where to hang
their pictures and how to arrange the furniture.
Naples, Italy (30Jan01)|
I didn't play tourist very much, only making time to visit nearby Pompeii,
but I did make it out into the city a fair amount. Naples, one of the most
densely populated cities in Europe, was not a popular tourist destination
and was known for its high crime and unemployment rates. However, it was a
wonderful city; very livable and genuine, unlike places like Venice. As
long as you weren't driving, that is. Neopolitans are some of the worst
drivers in the world. They seem to drive by their own set of rules; rules
which don't involve paying attention to lane markings or right of way.
They merge as eloquently as fans leaving a sporting event, and weave like
they're all drunk. Perhaps it is the ill affects of so much coffee and
The domestic life|
Naples, Italy (12Feb01)
I managed to land some work while I was there, designing a website for a
doctor friend of Rose's. It was quite a novel concept making money again.
Once the work was done, however, I ran out of excuses for sticking around,
and finally bid goodbye to my home away from home. Supposedly, they still
ask about me at Bellavia.
Olympia, Greece (15Feb01)
Olympia's historical significance far exceeds its physical presence.
Birthplace of the Olympic games and home to one of the most important sites
of ancient Greece, the town itself was vastly understated, consisting of
just a short section of shops and restaurants scattered along the main
road. I stayed in the one youth hostel in town, along with Lee, a fellow
American I met en route.
I started the morning with my usual routine, taking a hot shower trying to
wake up enough so that I would be motivated to go out. As I was drying
myself off, I saw what looked like a giant plastic bag full of money
hanging on the clothes hook. Closer inspection revelated it to be - a
giant plastic bag full of money; about 50,000 drachma (about US$150.) I
almost caused a riot amongst the staff of the hostel when I gave it to
them, as they seemed shocked and confused by its appearance, but it
eventaully made it to the original owner - a guest who thought they were
being clever by carrying their money with them to the shower.
Toppled columns of Temple of Zeus|
Olympia, Greece (15Feb01)
Lee and I, along with John, our roommate in the hostel, eventually ventured
out to check out the ruins of ancient Olympia. Columns are endemic in
Greek structures, and Olympia was no exception. Most of them, however,
built in short sections to facilitate assembly, had collapsed into giant
piles of marble slices, making the entire site look like a giant coin jar.
The original field where the games were held was just that - a giant field,
requiring a lot of imagination to picture what it must have been like back
in 776 BC.
Olympia, Greece (15Feb01)|
Visiting places like Greece really puts everything else in perspective;
even the Roman ruins seemed contemporary in comparison. It will be hard to
think of anything that is only a few hundred years old, like the oldest
parts of the US, as anything but brand new.
A strange tradition|
Athens, Greece (18Feb01)
The moment I walked out of the Monastiraki metro station, I was confronted
by a crazed mob of people wielding clubs, and they proceeded to beat me
repeatedly over the head... with toy clubs, that is. As I looked around
me, the streets were full of people and everyone had a giant, bright
plastic club or mallet. It was like Halloween where everyone had dressed
up like Fred Flintstone. As people walked by, they would hit each other on
the head in turn, and then laugh and move on to the next victim. Once over
my initial confusion, I asked one of my clubbers what was going on; it
seemed that it was an old tradition associated with Lent, the forty days
leading up to Easter. I really don't understand how running around in the
streets beating each other with toy clubs in supposed to deepen one's
Catholic faith, but not being a Catholic, I guess I'll never really
Delphi, Greece (20Feb01)
Once I got to my hostel, I bought my own club, and sat on the steps in
front with a group of students from Tufts, who were on break. We had a
great time, talking, drinking, and bopping people on the head as they
walked by. One of them came up with one of the most hilarious comments yet
on my trip, "It's good to know that when I'm 33, I'll still be able to
'hang out'." Damn kids.
Friends in Athens|
Athens, Greece (21Feb01)
Athens, although as historically significant as Rome, was a rather slimy
place. I felt I had to always be on my guard to prevent people from
cheating me. In one instance, a man came up to me, greeted me as if we
were friends, and invited me for a drink. I was sure he was a man who had
helped me out earlier in the day, but it soon became clear I was mistaken.
We went to a bar and ordered a couple of brandies. Something felt very
wrong. Once a beautiful woman sat next to me and started making
conversation, I knew it was a scam. She asked me to buy her a drink, and
before I could answer, the bartender had served her one. In under a
minute, she asked for another, pretending that I had ordered it for her.
It was time to leave. When I went to pay the bill for my one drink, they
said, "20,000 Dr." (about US$60!) and proceeded to pull a menu out from
behind the bar listing drinks at 5000 each. After I gave them my "you have
to be joking" look, they loweved the ransom to 11,000. I pulled out 1200
Dr, a generous amount for one drink, placed it on the bar, and said, "That
should more than cover it. If you don't like it, call the police" and
stormed out. They didn't follow. The next couple of days I would
entertain myself by following around my drinking "friend" on the street,
warning potential victims of the scam before they got hooked.
Acropolis, Athens, Greece (22Feb01)
Athens is full of interesting sites and museums, but I was nearing the end
of my European rope; I really enjoyed my experiences in Europe, but I was
really looking forward to Africa. I booked a flight to Cairo, and after
spending my last night "hanging out" with my new friends from the hostel,
sitting on a rock outcropping just outside the Acropolis, I walked onto the
place and headed off on my third travel leg - Africa.
Acropolis at night|
Athens, Greece (21Feb01)