Tuesday, April 28, 2009

89 Days in the EU

Well, I arrived back in the US yesterday with my parents at JFK after a layover at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. We got on the shuttle train and, after some confusion, made it back to our car. Coming back I was impressed by several things: first, everything is really spread out in America. Buildings have lots of space in between them, and streets are laid out on a grid, instead of winding about all over. Second, people didn't stare at me... and I felt almost more free because of it. Third, and this was at the restaurant where we went, they don't charge money for condiments here, and things are generally cheaper. I know all this is kind of dumb, but they seemed like a big difference after 89 days in the EU (you know, one more day would have made me an illegal immigrant!)

A word on security in the US. The United States has to be one of the hardest countries in the world to get into. You have to go through security again before you even get on the plane to come here, and then you get checked again and again, even as your boarding the plane. You have to fill out a form stating your intent for entering the country, even if your a U.S. citizen, and you get questioned by the department of homeland security on the way in. So, if you want to get into the EU, you just walk in, and maybe the guy glances at your passport... America seems like the Iron by Curtain by comparison. I suppose if Europeans had ever had anything happen to them they would probably be like this too, but it just seemed strange to me.

We got back at about eleven last night, which seemed like five or six in the morning to me because of the time zone difference. It was really nice to see my whole family again, and, after a fitful sleep, I gave them the presents I had collected for them on my travels.

I spent the rest of the day walking about in the sunshine and the woods, which are another thing they don't have in Italy (woods that is, they have lots of sunshine), and here by the computer. I got several really nice goodbye messages on facebook from friends from SBI, which were nice, but kind of sad to read. It was so hard to leave all of them, and I'm not really sure what I'm going to do now.

I bought the album Safari by the Italian hip-hop artis Jovanotti at Marco Polo (my favorite airport in the whole world) in Venice on the way out, and we listened to it in the Audi on the way home. It's really quite good, and I would recommend it if you are ok with listening to music that's in another language.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

All My Friends

Well, this is just about it. I spent the day in Venice with my parents and am back at school in San Lorenzo now. In about three hours I'll be leaving for my parents hotel, and then, early tomorrow, for the airport to fly back to the States via Venice, Paris, NYC.

Last night we had official graduation, and it was really fun. Chad, Connor and I made this ridiculous music video, and then Jonathan, Pete, Chad and I performed Titanic... with no serious practice before hand I might add. It was fun for my parents to meet everyone after all this time, and they even met some people who turned out to be friends of friends (the Walties).

So, I'm not that happy about leaving all my friends here. It will be good to be back in the states again, for a while at least, but I will miss being able to travel in Europe... and most of all my friends....

This may be my last time blogging from Italy (for the present time). So here's to the last 80 some days, all the places I've gone, and all the great people I met here and along the way!

Ci vediamo.

- Andrew

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mom and Dad

Well, my Mom and Dad showed up in Italy today.

Actually, it had sort of been planned from the beginning, but it was so up in the air for so long because of money and things that I had almost stopped counting on it when I heard from my sister Maryah that they were coming for sure. So it was so great to see them again that I can't even really write it. What's more, everybody here thought they were really cool, confirming the festering suspicion that I have had for a while that my parents are in fact, really cool. They ended up going out with Samuel and Amber Spatola for coffee and made friends with them... which is almost weird, but anyways, I'm really glad to see them again. They are going to travel around by themselves for the rest of the week and then come back and pick me up on Sunday to spend the day in Venice and the leave for the States together.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

En' that's when I said to me self, heck, I'm in Ireland!

My trip to Dublin went really well! We left Marco Polo Airport in Venice Friday evening flying on Airlingus and arrived in Dublin that night after a two and a half hour flight.

The next morning, after a not quite substantial breakfast of toast at our hostel, we read about a free walking tour of the city and decided to try and catch it. On the way we walked past the tallest statue in the world, sometimes called the "Stiletto in the Ghetto" which was built to celebrate the year 2000, and in a tribute to Irish punctuality, was completed in 2003....

After a stop at Starbucks, we made it to city hall and met our guide named Clair, who was really nice and spent the next three hours taking us all over the historical section of the city and telling us stories from Ireland's tumultuous past (as she said, the Irish were good at two things: rebelling, and losing). The tour took us from the Dublin Castle,

to Christ Church,

to Temple bar, the heroin junkie district where U2 started; according to Clair,
they would play there frequently but sometimes got to rowdy and ended up getting kicked out... after they made their first few million though, they bought the place, and still own in today.

We also went to Trinity University, which was really nice.

The tour ended at a park, the name of which I can't recall and we ate lunch at a little fast food
like place along the street where I had fish and chips. After that we returned to Trinity and paid an exorbitant €8 to see the book of Kells, an early illuminated manuscript containing the four gosples decorated with Celtic imagery. We also saw the Long Room, which is a huge collection of old books and manuscripts. That evening, some of the group wanted to eat Chinese for some reason that I can't imagine... but this was my only night in Ireland, perhaps for a long time, and I wasn't going to stand for that, so the rest of our group went to a Pub where I had a traditional Irish garlic sausage with mashed potatoes, "mushy peas" and a pint of Guinness.

Later that evening, one part of our group decided to take the bus back to the airport, as our flight check in was a 4:00 AM, and we would have to sleep there, and another part, that aren't flying out until tomorrow morning went back to the hostel to sleep. Me and three others decided to take a cab back early in the morning so we could spend more time in the city. We went to this big underground restaurant with live Irish music and river dancers. It was amazing, and probably one of my best experiences this whole time. After that was over, we went back to the pub were we ate dinner and hung out there with some more live Irish music until about 1:00am when we took a cab back to the airport and spent an hour sleeping in booths at the airport McDonald's before registration opened. We flew out Ryan Air, which is the cheapest, most ghetto airline in Europe, and I was slightly worried about after hearing a number of horror stories, but it turned out to be a fine experience.

Looking out of the window after takeoff, I could see the Irish countryside, all cut of into green squares by stone walls, with mist swirling around... it was beautiful, and like Greece, it is definitely on my list of places to return to.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Off To Ireland

In an hour and a half I go to the train station to begin my journey to Dublin. The plane situation is a little crazy, but other than that, I'm looking forward to it. So, I should have a good post about it in a few days. It's kind of crazy really... I didn't expect to get to Ireland on this trip... but then, I never expected to go to Greece either, so we shall see how it turns out.



Thursday, April 16, 2009

Emersion In Aquileia

Yesterday the whole class took the day off from Theology and went to Aquileia, a town about an hour to the South. It was the oldest church legally constructed in Italy and has the most square feet of mosaics of any building in the world. It's also the site of continuing archaeological digs. One of the most significant things about the church is the baptistery, which is large enough that only an adult could have been submerged in it, which this being the oldest church in Italy, proves that the Catholic Church orginally practiced adult baptism by emersion, not infant baptism. Here is the Church:

The baptistry:

A mosaic from the floor:

In the archaeological dig beneath the bell tower:

On the bell tower:

I've been realizing this past week that the semester is drawing to a close, and while I'm certainly ready to be done with classes, I really am not looking forward to leaving the relationships I've made here, I've never really had friends who were accessible to really be friends before, and sometimes I'm afraid to go back to being alone. On the other hand, I've learned that there are certain things to be said for aloneness, some of which I'm looking forward too... so it's bittersweet really... I think I'm going to try to be more involved with people back home though.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter in Österreich

I finally made it to Austria this past weekend. Mary, Nicole and Connor were looking for somewhere to go this weekend and since we are going to be gone next weekend when the trip to Villach was planned, I suggested that we go. We did, and and ended up hitting Villach, Faak am See and Graz. Everything went remarkably well as far as transportation, and the first night we were able to get off really cheap with the hotel by sleeping on the floor, which was good. We were there for Easter Sunday, which the Austrians celebrate in a big way, and even went to a Catholic Easter mass in German. We started in Villach, but ended up spending a second day, traveling to Graz on a suggestion from our waitress at a coffee shop. The journey back to Italy was rough because it went through the night by train. This wouldn't have been bad except that we had three connections, so it wasn't ever possible to sleep much... I think I got under two hours all night. The worst part was that we made it almost all the way back - to Udine, the last stop before Casarsa, and had a three or four hour lay over. So we spent it sitting on the marble floor with the other homeless people....

Here is breakfast at the first hotel we stated at:

Villach was full of Easter decorations. Here are Connor and I:

All of us on the bridge in Villach:

We went up into the Dolomite Mountains to the town of Faak am See because we heard there was a lake there:

As it turned out, the town was mostly abandoned because the water this time of year is basically run-off from the glaciers and is only a few degrees above freezing. On top of that, most of the Lake is private and we had to walk around it for a long ways before we finally decided to just trespass onto an unoccupied camp area where we went it. The water was so cold I had to stop swimming and turn back because my body was becoming difficult to move!

At a park in Graz:

Here is the Cathedral where we went to church Easter morning:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Naxos - Spring Break On An Ancient Greek Island

A few days ago... I'm seriously losing track of time, we took a ferry out to the Island of Naxos. It was great, and definitely one of the most beautiful places I've been in my life. The coast is beautiful and covered with little cafe's and bars, and while it was tempting just to stay and hang out there the whole time, we took a trip inland, and it was one of the most worthwhile things that we did.

Naxos has been inhabited since the neolithic age and was home over time to the Myceans, the Greeksand a Venetian lord who built a castle there. (Please click the photo to enlarge - I don't have an 8.1 megapixel camera so that everyone can look at the thumbnails : )

Here is the ferry that we took to get there. It was a pretty long voyage (5 or 6 hours), and I can't believe how many islands there are!

Here is the Arch of Apollo, one of the first things you see as you approach the island.

Some Naxos sheep:

Above is a cube outside of a cafe on the water front. I'm not sure if they are actually called cubes, or if we just coined the term. At any rate, they seem to be everywhere in Greece. Below is a shotgun shell that I saw on our trip inland while walking through a path outside of a village:

The mountains at the center of the island were stunning, and well worth the somewhat nervewracking bus rise inland across roads that you would never imagine a greyhound class bus could traverse.

Lupins - the wild flowers were amazing throughout the whole island. In addition, there were also lots of bushes, palm trees and cacti:

The water of the South Agean is beautiful:

The weather heated up enough to go swimming, and it was great! That is me waving, in case you wondered... ; )

There are so many great stories that I don't have the energy to tell, like getting the most amazing 10 course traditional greek meal ever for only 10€ or running into goats in the dark the first night we were there... or the little hostel called 'The Windmill" where we stayed, or seeing shepherds inland, but as I said, I just can't right now... maybe I'll get around to it sometime.

I'm back in Athens now at the Pagration youth hostel... the entire thing is kind of crazy this time of night... we are on the third floor and as I'm writing this, about six people in various stages of intoxication have run past... the whole of Athens is kind of a party town really... although in a strange way I feel pretty safe here... there are pick-pockets for sure, Katy lost 125 euro, and a girl I was just talking to next door got her passport stolen, but as far as violent crime goes, it doesn't seem like a dangerous place. Now, for a girl, it's a bit different, and that goes for all of Greece really... I tell you what, on Naxos... I've never expirienced anything like it before. It's Yontz, me, and five girls, and they got hit on on average about 20 times a day... each. It was unreal. Kind of like Italy, but much more agressive. So... it was interesting.

Some other interesting observations about Greece:
• People honk a lot... and it's not just on the road that they apprear to be angry... they sound like their about to have a fight whenever they talk to eachother. I'm beginning to think that it's just the way they communicate though, and not so much an expression of anger.
• Contrary to what we were told be certain individuals in Italy, they don't hate Americans, in fact, they positively love Americans. As one man I talked to on the trolly told me "Americans are wonderful people, bad leaders, wonderful people... it's the same here though." And that seemed to be the opionion everywhere.
• Unlike Italy, about 90% of people speak English, and, also unlike Italy, they don't really expect you to even try to speak Greek before they will admit that they speak English... perhaps because Greek is so different from English compared to Italian, but it's generally much, much easier to communicate here. I have to say it's easier to understand the average Athenian than the average Philidelphian - and that would be Philidelphia Pennsylvania.
• Greece has Starbucks: indeed, we are only a block from Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC and TGI Fridays.
• Greece has really cheap food. When I found out that they are part of the EU, I was afraid that I might go bankrupt, but, even though they use the accursed euro, everything is much, much cheaper here than the rest of Europe (except for coffee and wine, interestingly). You can get a huge kebab for as little as €1,70.... I think the economy is bad... here, compared to Italy at least, where it seems like everyone is richer than we are, the Greeks seem about the same.
• Sunscreen is really expensive. I get the idea that it's not a usual item for Greeks, because I had to buy it over the counter at a pharmacy in a little tube for 14,90€. I think they have a conspiracy to extort us fair skinned nordics.

So... in conclusion, I like Greece very much, and while some aspects of the culture are a little over the top, it's a really fun place.

As is often the case, I'm to tired to edit this right now, so I aplogize for the many spelling and gramatical errors that no doubt abound.

- Andrew