Thursday, October 29, 2009

Random Observations and Tales from the Road, Part I

Cable car to MontserratOur trip so far has involved some nature as well as city life. We've managed to hike around a bit, in mountains, forest, and beach. It's nice to get away from a high density of humans for a while, to take a break from being the talker. Since I'm the one with some--well, a little--knowledge of Spanish, I have to do things like ask for tickets to Tarragona at 8:46 or inquire whether the patatas bravas have mayonnaise on them (which is anathema to Rob but surprisingly popular here).

So the occasional breaks have been nice. It was especially nice on Tuesday, which started in Figueres at the Dali Museum. Figueres was a somewhat depressing town in the sense that its main attraction seemed to be the Dali Museum and little else. And then there was a highly disturbing incident at the bus station while we were just arriving to wait for our bus to Empuries (environs pictured below). As we walked up, we saw a teenage guy and girl, part of a large group of teenagers, having a verbal altercation, perhaps a spat of some sort. Then it got ugly as the guy actually smacked the girl in the face with an audible pop. She looked at him in shock and brought one hand to her nose. After a moment, another guy came to her defense or at least tried to keep more from happening, and the first guy just wouldn't calm down. Meanwhile, the girl's nose had started bleeding all over the place, and by now the station guard had come out and taken the guy by the arm. After Rob and I found a quieter spot MUCH further down the platform to sit, we noticed the police and an ambulance show up--thank god. With no small amount of pathos, this was also followed by the cleaning lady coming out with a mop and bucket.

The Ocean at L'Escala As you might guess, we were pretty glad to head out to a totally different town after that. But first, we had to survive the Bus Ride of Doom. Obviously the driver knew what he was doing, but tearing around really winding roads at extreme speeds, in a BUS, seems a little scary to me. Rob and I kept cracking up a bit hysterically when we'd careen to one side or another, which the locals probably thought was a little strange. The bus driver then dropped us off on a semi-deserted road at a stop that was little more than a sign on a pole. Fortunately, another helpful sign informed us that the ruins of Empuries were just up the road, but it was a little disconcerting at first. After only about 10 minutes' walk, we arrived at our site, which contained both Roman and Greek ruins overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking of the Mediterranean...I'm finding it continually disconcerting that the sea is to the east and not the west. Having grown up entirely on the West Coast, where the sun SETS over the ocean, I find it funny that it doesn't do so here. It's also disorienting. I keep thinking that I'm facing south with the coastline to my right, when I'm actually facing north. It's just ingrained in me to feel that the ocean is west of me.

Well, enough observations for today. (For more stories, check out Rob's blog.) Tomorrow night we're taking a night train--the so-called "Trenhotel"--to Seville, leaving at around 10 pm and arriving around 8:30 the following morning. This should be interesting. Allegedly we have our own bathroom in our cabin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuning in Momentarily

Sagrada Familia, BarcelonaJust wanted to say that I posted more photos at my Flickr page. I wanted to do a post with some random stories from the road, but after putting the photos up I am now too tired. So far, Spain has been a bit of an adventure for several reasons, not the least being my extreme stress at my rudimentary language skills, all of which seem to flee my brain when faced with an actual situation in which I need to use them. But my Spanish is better than my Italian (which mainly consists of critical memorized phrases) and so we're managing pretty well.

Barcelona is a big change from Venice, our last port of call. A very new city, comparatively, in the sense of having a lot of new growth and a vibrant nightlife; very clean and effective public transit; an easy-to-use Metro system; and a COMPLETELY INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND CRAZY train system. It seemed to make sense in theory, when looking at online schedules, but when faced with the actual chaos of the train station with its gazillion ticket windows, several different types of ticket machines for different types of trains, etc. etc., I just about had a breakdown trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. But we just rolled with it, and managed to obtain what we needed somehow.

More stories soon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Italy, Week One: Rome and Naples

Roman ForumSo I've been terrible about blogging about this trip. I know it. But even with excellent internet access here in Rome (hooray for hotel wi-fi!), I end up so tired at the end of the day that I only have energy to check e-mail, make sure nothing has exploded and keep my inbox under control before collapsing into bed.

Why so tired, you ask? I guess we're the types of travelers who have to try to use as much of the day as possible in seeing and experiencing as much as we can, since who knows when or if we might return. In practical terms, this means getting up as early as 5:45 a.m. (though usually around 6:30 a.m.) and returning to the room about nine in the evening after dinner, completely spent after walking for something like ten hours.

Store for ecclesiastical garmentsBut oh, the sights we've seen already--some of them shockingly empty of people since it's kind of supposed to be the rainy season. The only truly tourist-crowded places we've been to were the Trevi Fountain (just a quick cruise by to say we'd seen it) and the Spanish Steps (ditto). Even the biggies like the Forum and Colosseum weren't too bad. Of course, that day we got rained on three separate times, which may have been a factor in the lack of crowds. But we came prepared with umbrellas and raincoats, so mere water falling from the sky was not a deterrent. Plus, even when it rained pretty good, it was nothing compared to when we got caught in the daily monsoon while visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City, or the time we went on a rainforest hike on Hawaii's Big Island and it rained so much that the soap started bubbling out of our clothes.Marco 'n' Me

I don't think anything I can say can really do Rome justice in such a small space (and with me having so little energy) but I do love traveling to big cities, I love Roman ruins and beautiful artwork, and so far this trip has all of that. Plus REALLY tired, aching feet.