Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Visit to Italy (Part 3)

Hey everyone! I told you I would try to stay updated on the blog again.

This post all about the final part of my trip to Italy: Naples and Pompeii.

I took the train to Naples from Rome on Thursday morning. When I got to Naples, the first thing I could tell was that I was in a totally different place. Naples is very crowded but it seems like it is all local people. I never felt like there were any other tourists around really. After a mishap getting on the tram going the wrong way, I made it to my hostel. Hostel of the Sun is really great. My room was nice, they had an awesome free breakfast every day, and the people who work there are really cool.

However, I just really did not like the city of Naples at all. Maybe I didn't see enough of the city, but it just reminded me of all the bad parts of Asia. Over-crowded, smelly, and actually insane traffic.

I can point out some positive things about Naples though, so people don't think I'm being unduly harsh. First, as stated previously, my hostel was amazing. Second, pizza was supposedly created in Naples and it shows because the pizza is ridiculously good. Finally, the Archaeological Museum is really cool. It has many artifacts from Pompeii, including "The Secret Room", which is full of erotic art that was previously locked away from the perverse public eye, after being found during the Victorian age, until a couple decades ago. Children under 14 still aren't allowed in the room though, and 14-17 must be accompanied by an adult. Until very recently, even adults needed a reservation (free) to enter, but no longer. I just walked right in.

It must be a sign that I'm still a child at heart, because I spent 10 minutes in the relatively small room ogling at various penis-related paintings, statues, and other artwork.

Yes, even a penis wind chime... who doesn't want THAT?!

There is also plenty of other non-sexual artwork taken from Pompeii, including elaborate mosaics, coins, jewelry, many household items such as silverware and jugs, and various types of statues (both bronze and marble). The statues are simultaneously my favorite and also the creepiest thing that has ever existed. Maybe it's just from watching too much Doctor Who, but these are the kind of statues where you really don't want to blink in front of them.

All it needs is a pair of wings, and the Doctor would probably show up
The next day, I got up and took the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Pompeii. The number one thing I wanted to see in Italy was awaiting me!!

Here, I also had an audio guide tour from Rick Steves (the app is called Rick Steves Audio Europe if you want to download it, BTW). It was an overview but I learned many interesting things I didn't know before and it was a great idea to do an audio guided tour. I think you can also get audio guides from the ticket office, but of course you must pay for those.

It's wild to consider how well preserved Pompeii is considering a volcano within sight of the city erupted massively 2000 years ago. I was also impressed to find out that they were pretty advanced. They had pedestrian only streets and cross walks and fast food and indoor plumbing, same as we do today. They collected rainwater and had a massive amphitheatre and public swimming pools. I'm not sure why we have this idea that people in the past are not as smart or advanced as we are. They were far more advanced than some later points in history, like in the Middle Ages. Of course we have more advanced technology now with computers, but for basic things, I think Pompeii would rival any small city today. I don't think I would've minded living there really (as long as I escaped Volcano Day of course).

Mt Vesuvius looming large in the distance

A cross walk. Three stones meant a major road. The white things are reflectors so you can see at night

Pedestrians only barricade to keep carts and chariots out

The famous plaster-molded bodies from those who perished

A food stall counter

A bed in one of the many brothels

A brick oven... Italian food, never changes

A view onto the Forum area (central marketplace/downtown)

Inside the theater

The circumvesuviana train stop sign
These are just a few of my many (MANY) photos from Pompeii but I think this gives an accurate picture of the city. These pictures of some of my favorite of the bunch I took.

What do you think? Have you been to Pompeii (or Naples) before, and if so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

This concludes my trip to Italy! Next, stay tuned for posts about my last few weeks in France, my upcoming trip to Italy, and other plans for the rest of the year.
See you soon!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Visit to Italy (Part 2)

OK, so.... what a fail for me. I've been just 100% neglectful of this blog since I got back from Italy and I'm not entirely sure why. I have no excuses really, other than sheer laziness. I even had almost a whole week off school because of massive amounts of snow here in Normandy and I didn't update it then either.

My big news since the blog blackout is that I was finally accepted for my New Zealand visa!!! However, I decided to go home first for the summer rather than go directly to NZ from France. I'm headed over after my birthday in September instead. I decided I really needed a nice long hot summer after the miserable weather in France. I couldn't bear to leave European winter and go directly to Southern Hemisphere winter.

All I can say is I suck and I'm going to try and keep the blog updated more from here on out.

So onward to Rome!

My first day, I went to the Vatican because it was the last Sunday of the month, and thus free rather than being about 14€. I waited in line 45 minutes due to the crowds, although I actually had expected to wait longer, so it's wasn't so bad.

The Vatican is a big pretty building with lots of artwork inside it, although I'd say it's not really something I'd visit again. Most of the art is Renaissance, which is not really my style. (I know this is practically blasphemy, but they all start looking the same after a while, to me.) It's a lot of statues with broken off penises and giant ceiling paintings.

also, this creepy bastard

I was actually even a little disappointed by the Sistine Chapel because it's SO high up you can barely see anything (and definitely no details), and you can't even take pictures of it. There are guys that walk around and do nothing but say "NO PHOTO" over and over again and will try to grab your camera out of your hand if you have it out.

Thanks to Rick Steves guidebook and audio tour, I found a semi-secret exit out of the Vatican directly to St. Peter's. I say semi-secret as it's not the public exit but is intended for tour groups. However, no one tried to stop me from using it on my own (as Rick had said) and it made my entry into St Peter's super simple. When I left the cathedral, I saw a HUGE lineup outside to get in the normal entrance and I knew I made the right decision to "sneak in" the back way.

Now, in contrast with the Vatican, I found St Peter's to be amazing and VERY impressive-- both the interior and the view from the Dome. The Dome view was beautiful especially because the weather was very nice and sunny (albeit windy) that day. The stairs are killer, but they're worth it for the amazing view (and by this point I was Stair Master after all the stairs I climbed in Florence).

The interior is really wonderful as well, although there are some pretty weird things inside (weirder even than normal Catholic cathedrals... there's a body of a preserved pope on display in one area, for instance). The artwork and especially the architecture are fantastic though.

After visiting the church, I sent a postcard to my mom from the Vatican Poste next door, which was cool. They are, after all, an independent country and have their own postal service (which is supposed to be a lot better and more efficient than Italy's) and their own stamps, which have the Pope on.

The next day, I was super excited to go and see Ancient Rome. I visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate very well (it rained off and on all day), but it was still fantastic. I started at the Colosseum. If there is one thing I learned this trip, it's that tourism cards are worth the price. I definitely got my money's worth out of the one in Florence, but the one in Rome was worth every cent solely because I got to skip the ridiculously long line outside the Colosseum. If the line was like that in February, it must be horrendous in the summer so the Roma Pass is well worth investing in. It also includes free metro and bus travel for 3 days so that is a great bonus as well.

After the Colosseum, I wandered around a bit and got some lunch before making my way back to the Roman Forum. Rick Steves does a great free walking tour audio guide for the Forum. You can get it on iTunes or the Google Play store. I'm sure it sounds like I must be making money off promoting him!! But I'm not, I just really like his books and guides, even though they are more for older travelers. The Forum is wonderful and you can really imagine what it must have been like to be there in its heyday even though it's now almost entirely ruins. I was running low on time to see Palatine Hill so I didn't spend long in this section, but the view of Rome from there is great. It's clear to see why Ancient Rome's elite would've set up house there.

View of the Forum from near the Temple of Jupiter

The next day, I visited a variety of sites, mostly by walking, that took me all across Rome. I started just south of the Colosseum at the Circo Massimo metro stop. I walked to the Capitoline Hill museums, passing the Bocca della Verita, or the Mouth of Truth. You might know this from the movie Roman Holiday. It's super touristy so I didn't feel like waiting in line to get my picture with my hand in its mouth but I did snap a photo of it anyway.  After the Capitoline museums, I went on a roundabout route through Rome to end up at the Castel Sant'Angelo over near the Vatican. On the way, I saw the Trevi Fountains (pretty but way too congested and overcrowded just to be a pretty fountain; I tossed my coin in to ensure a reutrn to Rome anyway) and the Pantheon (WAY more awesome than I was expecting it to be; the dome is super impressive but hard to get photos of).

Trevi Fountain
Castel Sant'Angelo was originally built to be Hadrian's tomb but was commandeered by the Catholic church at some point. One pope even built a secret tunnel all the way from the Vatican to the Castel in the 1300s as an escape route in case the Vatican was attacked. It's now called Sant'Angelo because in 590AD people claimed to have seen the Archangel Michael on the roof, sword in hand. The interior is interesting historically (as it's been built and re-built and built onto multiple times. The very center dates to the Hadrian time period (150AD ish) but the outer parts were only built in the 1500s. The best part of the Castel is definitely the view, which is not quite as extensive as the one from St Peter's but the bonus is that you can actually see St Peter's in the distance.

On my last day in Rome, after a basically failed attempt at seeing the Appian Way, I spent most of the day just relaxing in the hostel.

Phew!! That's a long update! Next I will talk about my visit in Naples and (get excited) Pompeii!!!! After that, I will be posting about other things that have happened in the past month, including a visit to Mont-St-Michel in lower Normandy, the crazy snow weather we got the week after that, New Zealand plans, and my spring break plans to visit Germany (which is next week!). Stay tuned, tout le monde, I promise not to lag in posting again.

See ya soon!

(Photos: all belong to me; do not use without permission.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 58: A visit to Italy (part 1)

Hey everyone!! Sorry I have been neglecting this blog but I've just been having such a fantastic time in Italy and also haven't had access to an actual computer (just wifi on my phone) until recently. Right now I am in Rome for my last day here. I've been going hard the last few days with my sightseeing so I'm taking it a little easier today, although I'm headed out into the city later. It's only 1pm here so I still have plenty of the rest of the day. I'm headed back to France on Saturday morning, but first I'm headed to Naples tomorrow from where I will venture to Pompeii (and maybe Herculaneum) on Friday.

So because I'm relaxing a little bit today, I decided to update the blog with photos and stories from my trip so far. I had an excellent time in Florence (despite a lot of rain and even a bit of snow flurries!). I couchsurfed with a girl named Sara who is really great. She lives slightly outside Florence but it's only about 30 minutes on the bus so it wasn't bad at all to go into the city each day.

So first my journey to Italy was a little rocky. I flew EasyJet, which was probably my first mistake, but it was 90€ round-trip so I can't really complain too much. We were supposed to fly straight to Pisa but got diverted to Bologna for 2 hours of waiting because of a problem at Pisa airport. So I was too late to see much of Pisa before heading to Florence, although I did make it to the Leaning Tower of Pisa for half an hour.

Finally I made it to Florence, and met Sara at the train station. The next morning she had to go to school, so I went into the city on my own. I visited the Duomo (conquered all 463 of those mother effing steps!), the church and the Baptistery attached.

I also visited the Accademia museum, which houses the famous David statue by Michaelangelo. You're not allowed to take pictures of it though (why??). The rest of the museum itself is not very impressive, but of course it's a must-see if you want to see the David.

I DO have this picture of me with the copy of the David outside the Palazzo Vecchio (which is in the location where the David was originally placed), which is the best I could manage.

Next to the Palazzo Vecchio is the Uffizi. It's an art museum, and it was more impressive than the Accademia in my opinion. It's also not allowed to take pictures there, but the artwork is nice and it's much bigger than the Accademia. The famous Birth of Venus painting by Botticelli is there.

On day 2, I went back to the Duomo area and climbed the Bell Tower (Campanile), which is 414 steps. It's lovely, and has a great view which includes the Duomo in it.

After the climbing madness, I then went to Dante's House (which is not that interesting unless you are really into The Divine Comedy and Dante's life), and walked to the Santa Croce church, which has some famous graves in it, namely Michaelangelo, but also Machiavelli, Galileo, and Dante, all famous Florence residents.

Michaelangelo's grave, which he designed
 I then visited the Galileo Museum, which has many scientific instruments like old telescopes and compasses and other Renaissance science-y stuff. I found it fascinating but if you're not interested in that, you may not care much about it.

They also had THIS for some reason.... *SHUDDER*

The next morning, I ventured over the Ponte Vecchio (the famous bridge lined with gold and silver shops) to the Pitti Palace. It's a huge place that once belonged to the Medici family, but has been occupied by various people, most famously Napoleon. I saw Napoleon's bathroom! It has a huge art collection from the Medicis and the rooms themselves are artwork. There's also a costume gallery (featuring gowns from the 17th century onward), a modern art gallery (which I didn't visit), and huge gardens behind it. The Boboli Gardens must be magnificent in the summer, because they are pretty even in the winter, although it's not very fun to wander around them in a rainy/snowy mix!

View of the city from Boboli Gardens. (Note the snow-capped mountains in the back)

Some tips for Florence:
  • Buy the Firenze Card. It is 50 € but it includes all the museums and sights listed above, and also gives you free bus travel if you need it. The card is valid for 3 days, which is a good amount of time to stay in Florence. You can buy it at the Tourist Information Office in Santa Maria Novella church across the square from the train station. I figured up that I saved 16.50 € by using the card instead of buying tickets individually. Also, it sometimes lets you skip lines, which would definitely be worth it in the summer (in the winter the lines aren't bad in most places). 
  • Pay attention to the prices at the gelato shops so you don't accidentally order a 6.50 € ice cream. Ouch, my wallet.
  • It's an easy city to walk around but take a map because it can also be easy to get lost because there are lots of windy side streets. The map I got from the tourist office when I bought my Firenze Card was great. 
  • I would recommend the Rick Steves AudioEurope tours. You can download the app for iPhone or Android (which contains all of the information in one spot, for all of Europe organized by country and city; I have the android one) or individual tours to your MP3 player. He has great walking tours of several museums and around the cities. I've used them in Rome as well, and they are great.
And that's about it!

Stay tuned because I'll be writing about my trip to Rome soon! See you then. :)

Kaylin xx 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 49: Packing for Italy!

Hey guys! So I am headed to Paris tomorrow afternoon for my Immigration New Zealand x-ray appointment, and then on Wednesday morning, I am off to Italy! So, I thought I would make a packing list and share on here with some photos.

First of all, I am going carry-on only because I am flying EasyJet. They have really steep checked bag fees! I usually try to go carry-on only anyway, at least for shorter trips like this, but it is a little harder in the winter in Europe than when I went to Thailand/Cambodia last January. Nevertheless, I have prevailed! I even managed to have room to stuff my handbag in the top of my backpack, because EasyJet only allows ONE carry-on item... they won't even let you have a "personal item"! (How crappy is that? But my flight was super cheap, so I guess I can't complain... too much.)

So here are some pictures and explanation of what all I am packing for 10 days in Italy. Here goes!

All packed! The green folder on the right has all my paperwork for the doctor's appointment and my hostel reservation and train reservation information, as well as opening times and costs for sights. The green bit at the top is my handbag, which has various sundry items like a mini-hairbrush, lip balm, my wallet, etc.

Here is the inside of my outer pocket. My tablet and my converse are visible, flip flops stuffed down in the bottom (for hostel showers). I forgot my rain jacket so I packed it in here after the picture. The small very front zip pocket has my 100ml liquids bag in it.

My travel towel (purple; left), pajamas (lower middle), rain jacket (upper middle-- it stuffs into its own pocket), and my hoodie. Everything else got put in packing cubes.

I have the eBags packing cubes, and they are awesome! These two, which are the slim packing cubes, hold socks and underwear (top cube) and tights, bras, and my fold up flats (bottom).

Here's my "miscellaneous" cube. It is the small cube, from the cube pack with S M and L in it. It has my head lamp, hair ties, Q-tips, band-aids and pepto tablets, a washcloth, a sewing kit, deodorant, and some non-liquid makeup.

And here's my medium packing cube. It has all my other clothes in it, mostly shirts, one skirt, and one pair of jeggings. (See end of post for full packing list)

And here's me, packed and ready to go!

The only things I haven't packed yet are my phone, camera, headphones, and toothbrush. (I packed a travel toothpaste already.)

Full packing list: 
1 travel towel and 1 wash cloth
1 toothbrush and 1 toothpaste*
1 small bottle each of body wash and shampoo*
1 small tube of sunscreen*
1 small tube of face lotion*
Lip gloss tube*
1 small tube of antibiotic ointment (neosporin)*
1 powder compact
1 four-way eyeshadow
1 eyeliner stick
1 solid perfume tin
1 lip balm (nivea)
1 stick deodorant
Pepto tablets (for stomach ache)
Hair ties, head bands, and bobby pins
Aleve (anti-inflammatory/pain meds)
*all liquids above are in the 100ml ziploc for carry-on liquids

1 button-up top (gray)
1 hoodie (dark purple)
1 set of PJs (shorts/t-shirt)
1 button-up over shirt (plaid black and purple)^
2 t-shirts (black, purple)
1 long-sleeve t-shirt (gray)
1 3/4 sleeve "heat-tech" layering shirt^
2 light sweaters (black, gray; one is a cardigan to wear over things, one is dressier if I want to go out to a bar/etc)
1 tank top (black, for layering)
2 pairs of tights (black, gray; for layering and wearing with skirts)
2 skirts (both black; one is almost knee-length, the other is a mini)
1 pair of black skinny pants^
1 pair jeggings
1 (faux) leather jacket^
1 scarf (purple and black)^
1 pair converse sneakers
1 pair black boots^
1 rain jacket
A full amount of socks and undies for the trip
3 bras- 1 sports bra, 2 regular
My fold-up slippers/flats for wearing around the hostel, etc.
^these are items I am wearing on the plane

Camera + extra batteries
Phone + charger
Tablet + charger
USB thingies for uploading/storing pictures
Sewing kit (a couple needles and safety pins, and some purple and black thread)
Head lamp
Money belt (for hiding passport, cards, and extra cash)
Ear plugs
Extra ziploc bags
My folder of paperwork
a tiny notepad + pens
wallet with a little cash so I'm not always digging in the money belt
My green handbag for carrying around during the day

As you can see, my clothing color scheme is black and gray, with a splash of purple (my favorite color). I'm so proud of myself for color coordinating! Everything's all match-y. :D

So that's it! The full list. How do you normally pack, carry on only or checked bag? Do you think this is a lot of stuff, or not nearly enough? Let me know in the comments!

My next blog will be from Italy!!!!
See you then,
Kaylin xx

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 46: Visiting Lower Normandy- A Journey to the Past

Oh my goodness, I am SO sorry about the super delay in posting about this. I got back on Sunday evening from the trip but was busy with lesson planning Sunday and Monday nights, and have been feeling not so great since Tuesday evening when I got home from school.

I'm finally feeling better today though, and I'm finally on holiday! Today's my first day of "winter break", which is two weeks. I don't go back to school until March 4! Which means.... ITALY!! I'm leaving on Wednesday and get back on March 2. 10 whole days in Florence, Rome, and Naples and I can NOT wait!

Anyway, today I wanted to share some pictures and experiences from my trip last weekend to Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) with friends. We visited Caen, Bayeux, and the D-Day beaches nearby.

We got a great rate at our hotel in Bayeux, and it was split amongst 4 to a room, it was only 11€ a night (22€ total, for two nights)! How awesome is that? It wasn't the best hotel ever, but the beds were comfy and clean and for that price, I'm not going to complain about the spotty wi-fi or the smallish bathroom.

On Friday, we left Upper Normandy early enough to get to Bayeux and see a few things. First, we visited the British Commonwealth Cemetery and then went and saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry, and Bayeux's cathedral.

The cemetery is mostly British soldiers from WWII but also houses some from Commonwealth countries, including 18 Australians and 1 South African.

After the cemetery, we went to the center of Bayeux. In the centre ville, we went to the Bayeux Tapestry museum. They have the Tapestry displayed in one long row so you can see the whole thing laid out. It's really neat, and an audioguide explaining the scenes on the Tapestry is included in the price of admission (9€ for adults, 4€ if you're a student or can fake being a student like I did by going with people who still are students). For those who don't know, the Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William, Duke of Normandy (you may know him as William the Conqueror) and how he came to the throne of England in 1066. It's littered with battle scenes... and a surprising amount of penises, considering the Tapestry was made in the late 1000's/early 1100's.

Spot the phallus!

After seeing the Tapestry, we strolled up the street a few blocks to the Cathedral. It's impressively large and beautiful.

And the organ kinda looks like Jesus. Coincidence?

On Saturday, despite the cold and freezing rain, we headed out to see the landing beaches from D-Day. On June 6, 1944, contingents from Britain, the US, and Canada landed on the Norman coast in a major and decisive battle against the Germans in occupied France. For those of you not so much into history, think Saving Private Ryan and you've got it (the first grisly 15 minutes of the film is set on Omaha Beach, one of the American landing spots). The British and Americans each landed on two beaches, and the Canadians on one.

The beaches themselves contain some memorials, but other than on Gold Beach (one of the British landing areas), there's not much to actually see on the beach itself. On Gold Beach, some of the landing boats, along with such things as spotlights and large guns, can still be seen.

These things smell as nice as they look, BTW.

The major attraction of the D-day beach area is the American Cemetery in nearby Colleville-sur-Mer. Over 9000 American soldiers who died on, or in the immediate weeks following, June 6 are buried there. There's a fantastic exhibit about the war before you enter the cemetery itself. The entire visit is free of charge.

The cemetery itself is reminiscent of Washington DC with its neatly manicured lawns and reflecting pool. Despite being in France, the land technically belongs to the US, and I felt very at home there (which is slightly strange, considering it's a cemetery).


More America!

Last but not least, because one of our party is Canadian, we visited the Juno Beach museum center as well. It costs 7€ for adults and €5.50 for under 25's. It held lots of information about Canada just before and during the war, as well as after, in addition to things about the landing beach itself. It is a must-see for any Canadian visiting the D-Day beaches, but I would recommend it for my fellow Americans (and other non-Canadians) as well. All the people who work there are Canadian (and thus super nice and friendly), and they sell Canadian products in the gift shop too.

On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and went to Caen, which isn't far from Bayeux. We visited the Mémorial de Caen, which I believe is the largest war museum in France. It covers WWII from start to end, but also has an exhibit about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall which I found fascinating; as well as a section on political cartoons, with commentary on climate change, censorship, and human rights.

Are you my mummy?

One of the more shocking (but correct) political cartoons. It was published 16 Sept, 2001...

"Are you for or against the death penalty?"

Pieces of the Berlin Wall. I can't wait to learn more about this when I visit Berlin in April!

It's a bit pricey (€18.50 full price, €16 for students and other eligible reductions; I paid €16.50 because we had a €2 off coupon from a brochure at our hotel), but I feel it's well worth it. We spent several hours there on Sunday, and I really enjoyed both the WWII exhibit and the other ones. I thought the political cartoon commentary was particularly interesting. The cafeteria is reasonably priced, and my sandwich was tasty, but the wedge fries were horrible (cold and hard) so I'd avoid those. They also have a reasonably priced gift shop. I bought a magnet.

For logistical reasons, namely being all these spots are pretty hard to reach otherwise, I'd recommend driving to and around this area. If you absolutely do not want to rent a car, you can take a train to and stay in central Caen or Bayeux and take a tour from one of the many tour operators to the D-day sights. The Mémorial de Caen even has their own tours to the beaches. From what I can tell, all these tours are pretty pricey (around €70-100 per person), but if you're lacking a car, they're pretty much the only other way to see everything. We were lucky in that two of my friends who went on the trip had cars they had brought over from the UK and were able to drive us down, around, and back.

Aaaaand, that's all! Again, very sorry it took me so long to get this post up. Hopefully, I will be posting more often while I'm in Italy because I plan to take my netbook with me.

Stay tuned for the post coming up this weekend: Packing for Italy in the Winter!