Sunday, June 29, 2008

siena and florence part 2

I found the picture of the flier! Haha here it is... see left. Paha. Man that is so funny. Ok so Siena. I woke up that morning, very tired I might add because I had stayed up until 4 am being Dj EG, and hopped on a bus to visit Veronika, one of my roommates in Cork who lives in Siena. 1 hour later, I was in one of the prettiest little cities ever, also frequented by several hundred more tourists, but not as bad as Florence. It was so nice to see a familiar face! Veronika showed me all around the city, so I don't really remember the names of everything because she told me them in passing, but I loved the little city! Apparently, I was going to miss one of the biggest events of Siena by a few days. On July 2nd is The Palio di Siena, which is this huge horse race where the different horses and riders represent the 17 different societies-city wards of Siena. Its been a tradition for forever, and many protest it because it follows many of the old horse racing traditions, such as riding bareback, and shooting a horse if it gets injured. Aside from this, it is still a crazy day because the whole city crowds into the city square (see left), and stands underneath the hot Tuscan sun all day, until 8 pm, when about a 6 minute horse race occurs around the dirt track circling the square (see right). Crazy. But its tradition, and a huge deal, so it attracts huge crowds with no fail. Veronika doesn't like it because she feels bad for the horses, so she said that she wasn't going to stand under the hot sun all day for it.

We walked around the city some more, and saw a really beautiful church (below), which was styled similarly to the one in Florence. The streets in Siena reminded me of the ones in San Gimignano, but they felt more traditional because they lacked the throngs of tourists. Also, the streets were quieter and simpler. But still very beautiful all the same. Also, man I could not believe the views. When you walked to the edge of the city on top of the hill, you could see out and the Tuscan hills surrounded you and faded into the distance in what looked like a scene from a movie. I can't believe Veronika got to walk past that every day. So jealous.

Also, please look at the view outside of her window (right). I couldn't stop taking pictures the whole time because I couldn't believe how beautiful it all was! It was so calm and so Italian.

I got back to the hostel that night and was so tired, that I only was Dj EG for like 2 songs, and then went to bed, officially ending my short but very fun career as a professional Dj. Haha.

The next morning, I woke up with the plan to see David, the famous statue by Michelangelo. When we got to the museum it was held in, though, the line snaked all around the building, all the way to another building, and all around that one. And the line didn't move. So, we (the 3 NY guys and me) canned that idea and wandered around the city some more. We walked up this hill and saw another really pretty view of Florence...

We walked around some more, and then decided to go to see David due to the fact that we were in Florence after all. Therefore we camped out in line, and paid 10 euro, and went inside to see what all the hype was about. I am torn. On one side, it was 10 euros to see a statue, but on the other, it was completely huge and very impressive. You can get an idea of how big it was from the picture on the right because there are people for perspective. I had no idea he was that big. Not going to lie, though, but his arms were awkwardly long. And his hands were wayy too big. This might also be why he is famous, and I'm curious as to if Michelangelo did that on purpose, or he had no idea about perspective, but I think it was most likely the first.

That night, we hung out at the hostel and watched the final of the European Cup. Spain v. Germany. I was hardcore for Spain, and was very excited they won, as were about 89% of the other hostelers there. Idk why no one really was for Germany. Perhaps it was because I don't think Spain won the cup since like 1970 something so good for them. 1-0. Was a good night. The next morning I checked out and made my way to Munich.

san gimignano

Note to dad... pizza is good in Italy, but honestly it's been really good all over Europe if you go to an Italian restaurant. By the time I got to Italy, I only had 1 piece because I was so sick of it, but it was quite good. But its hard to make a bad pizza.

The next morning, I decided to take a tour of the chianti region in Italy, home of the famous chianti wine. The really sweet hostel I was staying at (PLUS florence) offered cool tours and stuff every day. So, this is what I did. We took about an hour bus ride to the area, and had our first wine tasting at this little winery in the hills of Tuscany. We all sat under this terrace and homeboy the owner showed us the proper way to taste wine (hold it in your left, switch to the right, swirl it around, take a sniff, put a bit of it in your mouth and kind of wash it around some, then swallow). It was really awkward, but the wine was so much better after all the steps were taken, because it reaches all of the senses. We tried a white wine, a red wine, and 2 types of olive oil, both of which were amazing! I would have bought some except I am currently lugging around this giant suitcase with absolutely no more room inside of it. Two of the New York guys that were my roommates the previous night were on the tour, so I ended up hanging out with them again. We then drove to San Gimignano, a city made of towers from forever ago. We had another wine tasting, and walked around in the wine fields where the expert guy told us about their wine. It was so beautiful there, because you could see the rolling hills of Tuscany, as well as San Gimignano in the background. The top of the hill had a great view, and I took another picture of myself looking awkward in front of it (below). Not going to lie, but I am not a huge fan of these alone pictures. But it'd be even weirder to put a complete stranger in it with me, so what are you going to do.

We had lunch there outside in the winery, and we were served all types of bruchetta, as well as cheeses and fruits. It kind of felt like Macaroni Grill all over again, except this time no annoying manager telling me to push the appetizers and sell more bottled water. But the food was amazing. Especially the tomato bruchetta. After lunch, we went to visit San Gimignano, where we had ice cream and walked to the top of a tower for a pretty sweet view of the city. I hung out most of the day with these two Australian women-girls (at what age do you stop being 'girls'?) who were both traveling alone, so it was nice to see that I am not the only one traveling around Europe by myself. Then again, they were both like 30. Anway, the streets of the little town were really classically Italian, and I loved it, except for the 13513 tourists also enjoying this city as well. There must be no one in their actual hometown these days, because they are apparently all in Italy.

That night, I hung out with homeboy from New York again, and this time I actually started Dj'ing. I ended up being pretty good! We took turns mixing songs and cross-fading them etc. and the bartenders loved us so much that they wanted us to come back the next night again and they even put up fliers promoting us! Haha. Awkward. Especially since Nick (left in the picture below) gave me this horrible Dj name- Dj EG. Paha. Whatev. I took a picture of the fliers, but I don't think the picture uploaded. I will do it later if I remember. Still, though, it was so fun! I was like a legit Dj, and everyone thought we were like official and were asking us questions about drinks and making requests and everything! Perhaps I have found my new calling.

Friday, June 27, 2008

florence part 1

So getting to Florence was kind of no good. Night trains are not the most fun thing I've ever been on, but I had to take one from Hamburg to Munich to Florence. It was so hot and you couldn't sleep because they kept opening the door every hour or so asking for your ticket. I got to Florence at 6 am, and checked into my hostel and luckily they had a bed open so I could crash for a few hours. When I got up, I decided to wander around for a bit.
One of the first things I went to get was gelatto, Italy's famous ice cream. It was really good, but I think it was similar to the gelatto I've had in other parts of Europe. Still, though, ice cream shops were everywhere and they were really cool because the tops were all crazy decorated with the flavor they represented.
I grabbed a map and then started making my way around Florence. The first place I visited was the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore, and the Duomo which was right next door. The cathedral was the world's 4th largest and it was beautiful. It was built in 1296 and was covered with green, white and pink marble. Along with the beautiful cathedral was about 47,000 tourists. There are so many tourists in Italy right now. I hear more English on a day-to-day basis than any other language, even Italian. So that part was kind of annoying- it meant that everything had about a 45 minute-3 hour wait (like for example, the David statue). Crazy. The inside of the cathedral was kind of boring, except for the ceiling, which was a crazy nice fresco.

Random fact: everyone in Italy really does ride around on Vespas, or similar looking scooters. In fact, instead of parking lots, there were vespa lots instead. One of the things I have always wanted to do was ride on the back of a vespa through the streets of Italy, but I settled for a picture of the vespa lot instead.

Even though I was wearing pants, I decided to climb the bell tower next to the cathedral because I wasn't hot enough in the 90-100 degree heat and sun. This fixed my problem, and I was sufficiently whoa gross and sweaty and hot when I got to the top, all 414 stairs of it. 414 stairs doesn't sound like that much, but it was whoa enough. I would climb a million stairs, get to a terrace and take a million pictures because I thought it was the top, and then I would see an even smaller staircase to the left. Then I would climb a million more stairs, think it was the top, and then see an even smaller staircase to the left. The final staircase was whoa tight. The view from the top, though, was worth it. Florence is such a beautiful city! I think when I get home I'll put together some of my panoramic pictures and when I remember I might upload it, but for now I'll just put this one up (right).
I wandered around some more, and then called it a day because I was whoa tired.
The next day, I met my new roommates and they were really cool guys from New York so I ended up getting some food with them and then we started wandering around the city. We went to see a bit of what I saw the day before, and then we ended up splitting ways because they wanted to check out one part of town and I wanted to check out a different one-the bridge and the other side of the city. On the way to the bridge, I passed by some guy painting a giant picture of Mona Lisa on the sidewalk. I figured it was one of those scams, where a really impressive painting is already mostly done, and then the guy just like pretends to paint on it, but never really does anything, and collects tips. Turns out, though, he really was painting it because when I came back that evening, he had the hair almost all done.

But that day I walked around some more, bought more ice cream and pizza, and walked to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's oldest bridge that survived WWII. Eh, I thought the one in Prague was better because this one was just completely full of shops selling gold watches and various kinds of flashy stuff, but the one view from the bridge was really nice (above). I was getting good by this point at asking completely random strangers to take my picture because I had like 0 pictures of me in Sweden and Norway when I was by myself. On the other side of the river was a much quieter part of town, where I went to go see the Church of Santo Spirito (below left) and the Pitti Palace, which I didn't have time to go in, but was pretty from the outside. For lunch I had this really good Italian sandwhich, baguette, panini thing with real mozzarella and procuitto (sp? These computers don't have spell check so I don't know if half the stuff I am typing is correct) and it was soo good. And whoa cheaper than the main city center, where everything was overpriced for tourists. I walked back home after that and passed by some statues outside a museum, and this one looked familiar, so I took a picture of it. Turns out that it was familiar because there was a large picture of it in the hostel, but I'm not sure if it is actually famous outside of that. But it was still impressivly graphic.
That night I hung out with my roommates downstairs in the bar and one of the guys decided to start messing around with the Dj equipment, since no one was watching. One of the bartenders came around and asked him if he knew how to Dj, and he said yes (this was not true), so the bartender like came back with a case full of CDs and told him to go at it. So, for the rest of the night, I hung out at the Dj booth and watched him figure out how to mix songs, and helped him pick out music. I tried it once or twice but decided to just stick with picking out songs from the CDs. Still, it was so fun!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


So… Hamburg. Eh. I thought it was an ok city. I kind of feel like its one of those cities, though, where you have to maybe live there or stay there a long time or something to really fall in love with the city. Kind of like Cork in that there really isn’t that much to do there but its a nice city. I was glad to be with Denis because had I been by myself I would have been pretty bored. But, we had a good time just hanging out.

One of the first things we did was hang out outside by the river, and watched various street performers and then sat on the pier for a while (below). Finally it was sunny in one of the cities we visited, which was a nice change. Except, then it got cold the next day, but oh well.

One important highlight about Hamburg, Germany is that it just so happened that while we were there, there was a massive Harley Davidson convention going on. I thought that it was just an American thing, but I over heard some of them talking in German. So whether or not they were all German, Idk. But, it is important to note that they were exactly the same as I would have expected, no matter what origin. They filled almost the entire city: tattoos, leathery girlfriends with too much makeup and hair gel, mullets (I counted 7), and of course entirely pimped out Harleys. We weren’t sure exactly what they were doing there, because they kept doing these parades and rallies and stuff, but on the last day we were there there was a massive Harley ride/parade, and they all drove past, living up their mid life crisis dream. Please take a look at the viking helmet worn by homeboy…

We went to see the Rathaus (above), but didn’t go in (other than to the courtyard, see left) because we missed the deadline and then I didn’t really feel motivated to go in the next day, since i was lazy. That was the only cultural thing we did in Hamburg, actually. But we spent the rest of our time there just hanging out, shopping, eating sushi and german pretzels, and wandering around.
The hostel we stayed at was kind of lame (A&O Hostel- avoid the lame chain if you can). It was so manufactured there and I kind of just felt like a number and the staff there were either wayy understaffed or just didn’t bother attending the massive line always at the front desk. But I didn’t really care too much because I had Denis to hang out with, but it, just like Hamburg, was not really a place I would go again if I were by myself.
We did watch the Italy vs. Spain game downstairs in the hostel’s bar though because the entire city seemed to shut down at dinner time, despite the massive soccer game on tv. Good game though-go Spain!


So now that Copenhagen is my new favorite city, Gothenburg will have to be my second favorite. Or perhaps they are tied. I will have to live in both cities now to come to an official decision.
One of the first things that Denis and I did in Copenhagen was to go have a picnic in a graveyard. Sweet. It was weird to sit down in the grass surounded by famous dead people (such as Hans Christian Anderson), but apparently that graveyard was a park equivalent in Copenhagen and there were a lot of people camping out and eating lunch. According to our guidebook, it was a destination for suntans, but it was very cold and windy, so suntans were foregone. Anyway, we stopped on the way in the falafel district for some falafels and hummus and pitas and fries. Not exactly normal picnic materials, but falafels beat coleslaw and hot dogs any day. Speaking of hot dogs, though, they were everywhere. Hot dog stands could be found on every single block and had weird combinations of stuff such as this one that we had with a pita wrap, mashed potatoes, 1 lone hot dog, coleslaw, and katchup. Actually, maybe that was in Stockholm. Either way, though, hot dogs were everywhere.
Copenhagen was beautiful. Like whoa. Not in like a cliche kind of way, but it was such a nice city. The city was centered around the city hall square (right), and we spent a lot of time there deciding which way to go in order to spend our day. Also near the city center was Tivoli (right), a huge amusement park, and home of the largest carousel (in the world? Idk. left). But it was really old and really tall. We were going to go on it, but Denis didn't want to (if you read this, Denis, I take back the last sentence and maintain that it was a joint decision). Also near the center was what I decided was the ugliest bulding in the world- the movie theater (left). But now that I have gotten used to it, I change my mind. Its very ugly, yes, and would never make it in Cary, but perhaps it is not the ugliest in the world. I think that gold domed thing in Cary might top that list.
The hostel that we stayed at, Sleep in Heaven, was really really cool. They played great music and the enviornment was really chill and laid back. Denis and I stayed in one night playing chess (I won... once.) and drinking maybe the best beer in the world- Carlsberg Special. Carlsberg is brewed in Copenhagen, but this special version was darker and really really good. I hope that I'll be able to find it somewhere, but definitely one of my favorites.
We spent the next day wandering around the city. The buildings in Copenhagen were really cool- especially all the different spires. We later took a river boat tour and learned what all the spires belonged to, but my favorite was this grayish white one that were intertwining dragons on top of a trade center (I think thats right? I can't remember. Maybe an old stock exchange building. Idk.). The palace in Copenhagen was really nice as well, but we decided to save some money and not go inside.

Instead, we took pictures of the outside and went to visit the Carlsberg brewery. Compared to the Guinness Brewery (actually I think it was technically the warehouse), the Carlsberg one was much prettier on the outside but the tour wasn't as good. It looked like a palace from the front, with huge white elephants guarding the entrance, but then once inside the tour was kind of stressed-artsy. Too much drama for what was pretty much just fermentation and bottle production. Still, though, it was cool to see how the history of Carlsberg came about, and it was definitely cool to try the beer at the end. Denis tried a fancy Tuborg (or did I? I can't remember), because Carlsberg owns Tuborg, along with like a million other ones as well. I tried a fancy Carlsberg, and then we both tried one more, this time kind of a fruity one for me and a wheat one for Denis. In all, I was glad that I went, but it was crazy to think that they made something as boring as yeast fermentation into a giant tour.
Next, we climbed up a tower. I don't really know which one it was, but it was a famous tower in Copenhagen, where we had a nice view from above. Perhaps I will wikipedia it and make this more informative, but I'd rather focus on the extremely creepy dolls that could be purchased at the top (see picture). I cannot imagine who might want one of these dolls, unless maybe one was to star in a new Chucky remake, but I think something about half bear/tiger, half awkwardly joyful baby is creepy.
The next day we took the river boat tour. I think I would definitely recommend a river boat tour wherever applicable. It was really nice to just sit on the boat in the fresh air, and have someone tell me what I was looking at (in 3 very fluent and impressive languages) as we passed by. We passed by the Little Mermaid, which was one of the most famous sights in Copenhagen. It was a bit of a walk from city center, so since we were running out of time, we decided to make do with the picutures we took from the boat. Apparently poor Little Mermaid has been decapitated before, so now her head is full of concrete in order to prevent future beheadings. After the tour, we walked to the opposite side of town, Christianhaven, home of the best bakery and very nice part of town, and also home of the free town of Christiania, which will be explained later. At the best bakery ever, we bought Danishes, due to the fact that we were in Denmark and what better place to enjoy Danish Danishes? They were super good, and so were the sandwiches we bought there as well.

Then, we headed to the free town of Christiania. There is no real way to explain it, honestly. Pictures were not allowed, in order to respect those living there, but it was like the most intense hippyville ever. We had past by the river side section of the town on the tour and I took a picture of one of their cars, and that's the only picture I have that represents it. Their symbol was 3 yellow dots on a red background, and it was pretty much a do-whatever-you-want town, with crazy graffitti and crazy stuff going on inside. Cops either weren't allowed in, or were afraid to go, but they were camped right outside the town in full attire, as if they were ready to excercise a SWAT team raid. Denis and I felt really out of place walking around inside, but we tried to blend in as much as we could (putting our tourist map and guidebooks back in our bag). I tried wikipedia-ing it, but I couldn't find it online.* Basically it is a town free of laws, to some extent, and used to be really out of control back in the day, but it has calmed down a lot since then (I can't imagine what it used to be like). We kind of peaced out of their quickly, and it was weird because the moment we walked out from underneath the town's wooden archway, it felt like we were back in civilization again. Crazzzy man.
When it was time to leave, I was a bit bummed because I really fell in love with the city. Denis decided to travel some more with me, and we decided to head to Hamburg, Germany. We got to the train with about 10 minutes to spare, so we decided it was more than enough time for D to go buy some smoothies for the ride. This was not a good idea, and I do not suggest this to anyone. When the train pulled up and with no Denis in sight, I may have experienced the most stressful 6 minutes of my life. He appeared just in time, though, and we literally jumped on the train a minute before it left the platform. Once we found our seats, I calmed back down and looked forward to what would be in store in Hamburg.

* Update. I was spelling it wrong, aparently. So, here is the link:
Crazy place. Then again, no good pictures are available because it appears that everyone else was as scared to take a picture as I was.**

**Turns out there are pictures. But there are no people in them so the whole sense of Christiania is missing, as crazy as it was, so keep this in mind.***

***I've always wanted to do this astrick thing at the end of an essay or something. Sweet.