Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scotland and England

July 7, 2007 -- Belfast to Dublin -- Day 8 of tour
Sadly, today was our last day of the tour. We got going early on a "Black Cab Tour" of Belfast, where a few cabbies drove us around to important parts of the city, got out, and told us about the history of Belfast and its civil unrest. We first went to the Protestant neighborhood and walked around looking at murals. One of them was commemorating a UFF/UDA soldier who had fought for his side but was killed. I think his name was Steve McKeag. We made our way around the city and came to a large concrete wall, about twenty feet tall with another twenty feet of mesh fencing on top of that. It divides the Catholic and Protestant parts of the city; they sadly call it a "Peace Wall," as if the only thing keeping Belfast peaceful is a division of its warring factions. There was graffiti all over it, from huge murals to tiny messages of hope for peace from travelers all over the world. Judy, the woman in my group whose cousin was killed on Bloody Sunday, grimly said, "How can there ever be peace if we keep building walls?" I was moved by the brevity and accuracy of her observation. It is really amazing to be in a place that has so recently been ravaged by the shredding teeth of battle. The city is gingerly removing its bandages and revealing the shiny pink scarred skin underneath, wanting to feel safe to move forward but there is still a fear of upheaval in the air. I hope that one day, the "Peace Wall," will come down and the people can come together as one Ireland. At the end of the tour, we came to another set of murals. These were newer and many of them were protesting the occupation in the Middle East. There was a wonderful one of Dubya, sucking oil out of a straw in a battle field; underneath it read, "America's Greatest Failure."
When we got back to Dublin, we all decided to meet up later in the evening. I went back to Leo Burdock's for fish and chips; this time I got a smaller order of "fish nuggets," which sounds disgusting, but they were chunks of smoked cod, battered and fried, and they were delicious. I was nearly finished chowing down under the shelter of the somber stone walls of Christchurch Cathedral when the groundskeeper had to close the gates. Thanking him, I went across the street to the Bull & Castle pub and found everyone crammed into booths upstairs. The pub even had hefe-weissen! I got a weird look from the bartender when I asked for a bit of lemon; he must not know the joys of hefe and lemon on a summer evening. We all stayed until 1am or so, taking goofy pictures and talking about future travel plans. Texas Amanda and I got a couple of really terrible pictures together too.

July 8, 2007 -- Dublin
I slept in this morning for the first time in over a week. It was so nice. I went out walking around the shopping area and found a chic replacement for my sad canvas sad I've been toting around. It started out cute, but got so bleached by the sun it had turned a pukey shade of copper and looked suitable for a homeless person's wardrobe. I guess I am kind of homeless right now, but I don't need to look like it! After transferring my belongings and giving my old purse a new home in the trash, I went to St. Stephen's Green to read for a bit before meeting up with Tom. It started raining; I opened my umbrella and continued reading. There was a time when I would have run inside at the first few drops, but Ireland has instilled in me a permanent optimism concerning the weather. About 40 minutes later, the sun was out again. Typical Irish weather!
Tom came strolling up with Jermain, a crazy French guy who barely understands English. This makes for funny situations, because we'd say something to him, he'll nod, then do the exact opposite. We did some window shopping and sat in the pub for a bit, then it was time to meet the girls for dinner. I said goodbye to Tom and Jermain and went back to the Bull & Castle, where Nikki and Stacey (Australia) showed up soon after. As we were chatting, a guy broke into our conversation on three different occasions to tell me how awesome my tattoos are. Finally I just said, "Yeah, thanks, I know!" and smiled. Then he asked us if we were coming in for a pint and I replied, "Sure...maybe later?" with no intention of following him inside. When the other girls arrived we walked across the street to a quiet restaurant for dinner. The food was hearty and delicious. By the time we were done, we were all so tired we had no energy to go out. We said goodbye one last time and wished each other safe travels. It really was a good group of people and they made my Ireland experience wonderful.

July 9, 2007 -- Dublin to Newcastle
Oh, this morning was hellish. I had a 6:30 flight from Dublin to Newcastle, England, which meant I had to take a taxi to the airport at 4:30 because the buses don't run that early. After about four hours' sleep I was exhausted and was alseep by the time the plane took off. Next thing I heard was the pilot informing us we'd be landing in ten minutes. In a daze, I gathered my luggage, rode the metro into town, and checked into my hostel. By about 8:30 I crawled into bed and passed out. I had a relaxing afternoon; bought some groceries, chilled on the couch, read a bit. By the early evening I had regained some energy and was perusing through "The Crack," Newcastle's music and events magazine. My eyes bugged when I saw that the Brian Jonestown Massacre was playing a show, and right around the corner too! They're a San Francisco band with a fabulous mixture of early 60s rock, experimental post-punk, and the gigantic ego of their completely insane singer. I didn't even know they were still together. At first I thought, No, I don't want to go to a show alone, mopey-mope-mope boo-hoo. But then Traveler Amanda slapped Regular Amanda in the face and yelled, "Wake up, ya dumb ho! It's the Brian Jonestown Massacre, you have to go!" So I did, and it was wonderful. Bright, shining faces in the crowd illuminated the dark room with the anticipation of seeing something legendary. The tambourine player stood in front with his nose in the air and a sarcastic expression of bored condescendence on his face. It reminded me of old Patient Zero days when we were 17 and too good for the world. When I returned from the show I realized I hadn't eaten so I made some soup. Some people were playing cards in the TV room and they invited me in. Around the table was Andy (Melbourne), Wayne (from somewhere in England. His accent was so thick I couldn't understand a word he said), Kelly (England), Raisa (Canada) and Aida (Spain). We played cards for a bit then everyone slowly went to bed.

July 10, 2007 -- Newcastle
I slept in today! It was so nice. When I finally got up, I went to see the Angel of the North, a huge sculpture on the outskirts of town. It is very futuristic but has a quiet sophistication in its streamlined design. There wasn't much else to do in the area so I waited for a bus back into town. Newcastle is alive, but somber; modern glass and steel sculptures and high-rises blossom against the protests of the sleepy dirt-brown stone buildings that formed the city hundreds of years ago. In the evening, a group of us at the hostel played a bit of pool in the cellar. I brought my laptop, which acted as stereo system.

July 11, 2007 -- Newcastle to Edinburgh
I was so happy to finally be heading to Edinburgh today! The past couple days, though relaxing, were a little boring. I wasn't terribly motivated to do much sight-seeing as a combination of being tired, exhausted from traveling for so long, and looking forward to the Scotland tour. I'll be seeing plenty in the next week to make up for my sluggishness in Newcastle.
As soon as I settled into my seat on the bus, I turned on my iPod and zoned out, absorbing the scenery and meditating. I looked out the window some time later to see the sun was beaming down on train racing parallel to the roadway and beyond that were endless green acres of shimmering soft grains. The entirety of the field ruffled and shivered as though it was just a small section of silky fur on the back of a great gentle beast, snoring serenely in its nest between the distant craggy mountains past the fields to the left and the blustering expanse of ocean to the right. While my eyes lost focus on the mass of silvery-green, the importance that I was visiting the place of my ancestors finally sunk in. Something about discovering it alone and for the first time made it seem so very profound; I know who I am and I know where I came from, but seeing these ancient homelands forged all those pieces together. The homesick loneliness in the pit of my stomach that had been gnawing at me for several days now subsided, and I dreamed about the great dark sparkling seas out the other window.
Edinburgh was no less beautifully poetic than the revelations that bombarded me upon stepping off the bus and onto the cobblestones. On the old side of town, all the buildings are dark, heavy Neo-Gothic monoliths, looming over the bustling, touristy High Street and dwindling into precariously perched towers and richly detailed spires that pierce the rain-sodden grey skies. My hostel was one of these giant stone affairs. I dragged my bag and myself inside to the cozy reception area and common room. After finding my room and devouring a snack, I settled into one of the huge leather armchairs for the afternoon.

July 12, 2007 -- Edinburgh
I walked up the street to Edinburgh Castle today, past the dozens of identical souvenir shops, past the hole-in-the-wall pubs and the trendy eateries with bistro-style patio tables, past the Mel Gibson look-alike dressed like William Wallace posing for pictures. I looked at the outside of the castle, saw the 11-pound entry fee (that's 22 US dollars!!) and promptly turned around. Slightly disheartened, I slunk back past the blue-faced kilted theme park character (who was still posing for pictures), the cafes and the souvenir shops. I turned off the Royal Mile somewhere and got lost. Sometimes that's the best way to see a city. I found a couple of cool vintage shops, wandered more, and found myself at the National Museum (which is FREE, by the way. Hello, U.S.? Yeah, take a hint maybe?). There was a cool exhibit about death in Scotland including mourning practices and funeral garb. I saw a tiny metal plaque that had been attached to a coffin. The tender inscription nearly brought tears to my eyes:

"The eye finds, the heart chooseth,
the hand binds, but Death loseth."

There was also a small textiles exhibit, but not much else that caught my interest. When I got back to the hostel, a few people were going to a cafe that shows movies for free, and invited me along. The movie room was like a giant couch with tons of pillows. We watched The Butterfly Effect, which is a decent movie and was a nice escape. Later in the evening several of us went on the hostel's pub crawl. We had dinner first, then a couple pints. By the time I had gulped down my last sip of cider it was time for something else: a few of us had booked a ghost tour earlier in the day, so we split off from the pub crawl group. There were two girls from Florida (NOT obnoxious, thank goodness), an Australian girl, Matt from Philadelphia*, and myself.

*(As a side note: In October of 2007--yes, it's taken me far too long to finish typing my journal, I know--I was in Santa Cruz with my friend Erin for a day of shopping, coffee, etc. All day we'd been passively harassed by street people asking for change and such, so I'd been ignoring them. We were walking back to her car when someone in my peripheral vision reached out toward me and said, "Hey! HEY!" I shrunk away, not wanting dirty Santa Cruz street hippies touching me, but the guy started walking after me. "Hey!" he said, "I know you from Scotland!" I whirled around in a daze. Beneath the scruffy beard and wrinkled clothes I immediately recognized the piercing blue eyes and goofy grin. Flabbergasted, I exclaimed, "Matt!? What are you doing out here?" Turns out, it was the same friend from the Edinburgh hostel. He and his friends had just driven across country to work on organic farms through the WWOOF collaborative ( and were in Santa Cruz for only a couple days. It made the world seem so small to me, and I was absolutely blown away to run into someone I'd met halfway across the world. Now back to the ghost tour.)

The woman leading the ghost tour was hilarious! She was very dramatic and told us great stories and historic accounts of local murders from the last few centuries. We walked all over the Royal Mile and even got to go underground to visit old vaults where there have been dozens of reported "supernatural experiences."

July 13, 2007 -- Edinburgh to Isle of Skye
Friday the 13th, woooooo! My Scotland tour started today. Waking up at 6:30 after a late night out made it difficult to be extremely excited, but I was stoked enough. Our small group of fifteen and our guide, Budgee, has only three guys. Everyone seems friendly, but mellow. There definitely won't be any side-splitting shenanigans like on the Ireland tour. But then again, maybe those can only happen in Ireland? We drove quite a bit and checked into our hostel on the Isle of Skye.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


July 6, 2007 -- Derry to Belfast -- Day 7 of tour
As we were leaving Derry this morning, Karen put some U2 on the CD player. When the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" came on (we were all singing along of course) it had so much more meaning. I had known a bit about the protest before, but it was so cool to have heard the full story and to now be listening to the song in the city where it all happened.

"I can't believe the news today
Oh, I can't close my eyes
And make it go away
How long...
How long must we sing this song?
How long? How long...
'cause tonight...we can be as one

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won't heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the battle's just begun
There's many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
Torn apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long...
How long must we sing this song?
How long? How long...
'cause tonight...we can be as one

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Oh, wipe your blood shot eyes
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

The real battle just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday..."

Leaving Derry, we went to the coast and pointed north toward Giant's Causeway. On the way we stopped at a castle. Giant's Causeway was cool, and we got the full Irish legend behind it as well.
Tonight was our last night on the tour, though many of us are planning on meeting up back in Dublin. We all went out to the pub, where there was a cover "band," if you could call it a band. Really, it was a guy on a mic and his guitarist, who used horribly cheesy synth effects on his guitar. At one point, I looked over and saw a couple decked out in full Western gear. I just HAD to get a picture with them because they were so out of place. I walked over and asked them for a picture, to which the woman replied "Why?!?" I had to think quickly. I flashed a huge grin, then stammered, "I-I'm just so excited to see cowboy hats in Ireland!" Turns out they were English. I have no clue why they were dressed up, but I got the picture!
After leaving the pub (The Beaten Docket, or the Dock & Beaters, or maybe it was the Beaten Duck?) we went a couple doors down to Robinson's, where there was a dance club upstairs. I was having a good time because I was with friends and the dance music wasn't terrible, but clubs are just not my thing. Okay, by that I really mean that being squished shoulder-to-shoulder in a pulsating crowd and having every fiber of my being electrified with the thumping house music while watching people try to dance is my own personal hell.
On a lighter note, we did see a pretty gnarly fight; some guy was harrassing a girl when her boyfriend started swinging. At that point, the girl jumped in and broke a bottle over the offender's head. This resulted in a gushing head wound and an instant migration on my part out of the club. Karen was right when she said the Irish women are more vicious fighters than the men!

July 5, 2007 -- Donegall to Derry -- Day 6 of tour
Today we went to Derry, our first stop in Northern Ireland. On the way, we stopped in a couple scenic areas. One of them was a short hike through a boggy field to see a dolman, or passage grave. There are hundreds all over the country and they're mass graves with table stones on top. After that we stopped at a gorgeous beach. It had white sand and clear icy blue water. I waded in and the water was about 45 degrees. Any thoughts I'd had of going for a swim quickly dissolved. Later, we stopped in a small village for lunch and I found the Donegall Tweed Factory, where I got to watch a guy making tweed on a huge loom. I told him my grandma has been weaving for many years and he was so excited to hear it!
When we got to Derry, we quickly dropped off our things and met up with the guide for our walking tour of the city. Our guide, Martin, has lived in Derry his entire life and has experienced the political unrest firsthand. Derry was the city in January of 1972 where Bloody Sunday occurred; thirteen protesters were shot dead by the military. Since then, Derry has turned around and there have been several meetings and peace discussions to keep violence out of the city. It was eerie to walk through a neighborhood that was being bombed and shot at less than ten years ago. There were murals along one street, Bog View, (that was once considered the most violent neighborhood in the world) depicting scenes taken straight from news footage of Bloody Sunday. One of the people killed was actually a cousin of Judy, a Canadian woman on the tour. She never knew him, but she said she remembers watching the footage on TV with her mom and grandma. When we were walking away from the memorial, I saw the most random thing: an NYPD-themed limo! Karen had told us about the numerous bachelorette parties ("hen do's") here--the ratio of women to men is 7:1--and how the girls like to go all out and get tacky limos to cart them around town.
After the walking tour, we were all quite hungry, so we went to the local Witherspoon's (an English chain known for good, cheap food). It happened to be "Curry Club Thursday" and the curry was delicious.

July 4, 2007 -- Inish Moir to Donegall -- Day 5 of tour
We woke up early this morning for a rough ferry ride back to the mainland. From the port, we drove to Donegall, making stops along the way. We saw the beautiful Black Lake valley, the Famine Memorial (a sculpture of a ghost ship with skeletons all over it), and a nice little church where we played a game of soccer (sorry, football) in the parking lot. When we arrived in Donegall we went outside of town to our hostel, a very cool old farmhouse in the country. A 20-minute walk took us down the hill to a gorgeous sandy beach. We drew in the sand and took a bunch of silly pictures. By the time we got back we were all ready for dinner. Karen had arranged a taxi to take us into town to a homey restaurant with simple, hearty food. I got chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, which really hit the spot. After dinner, we went to a pub to listen to music. A local artist named Eunan MacIntyre was playing with his band--his own music was folky, traditional stuff, but he did several covers: the Pogues, Johnny Cash, even "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show (an awesome bluegrass band from the States that I didn't even realize anyone over here knew about!!) The mood in the pub was great all night--everyone was singing along, Heather (Canada)and Steve even got up and struggled through a couple songs.

July 3, 2007 -- Galway to Inish Moir -- Day 4 of tour
We got going a little later this morning, which was nice. We took a ferry to Inish Moir, one of the Aran Islands. The ferry there was fun and the sun was out for most of the day. We all rented bikes to explore the island. I went with Texas Amanda and MaryEllen. When we were passing the marina, the tide was so low that all the boats were sitting on the sand and pitched at weird angles. "Oh, my boat is beached!" cried Texas. We had no idea what she was talking about for a minute and I thought it was some odd metaphor. "Well I'll beach your boat!" I replied. It went on from there and turned into us developing a new insult.
Shortly into our bike ride we passed a tractor in someone's driveway. (I should mention here that our guide, Karen, has told us that nearly everyone outside of the cities in Ireland owns and/or drives a tractor. She even plays Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," one of the most annoying country songs EVER, for us every morning.) We all got lovely pin-up poses with the tractor. After the impromptu photo-shoot, we rode out to the southern edge of the island, past a beautiful windswept cemetery. It was overgrown with dune grasses; the rain-worn Irish crosses sprouted out of the ground like stone tree trunks.
By the time we got back into town we were completely destroyed by the wind and ready to be inside for a break. Just a few seconds after we stepped inside the hostel and started eating lunch, the unforgiving Irish skies opened and took a great piss on the island. We looked outside at our dripping bike seats and decided to for-go the rest of our ride.
During a brief break from the rain, I went to the Aran Sweater Market and bought a snuggly gray lambswool crocheted scarf. (I ended up wearing it every day for the rest of the tour; it's so warm!)
The hostel had a tiny, but warm and comfy, common room and lots of DVDs. When it started raining again, several of us holed up in there and spent the rest of the evening out of the driving wind and rain.

July 2, 2007 -- Dingle to Galway -- Day 3 of tour
Today we took a ferry from Dingle across the way to Galway County. On the way to Galway from the port, we stopped in several places along the coast. First were the Cliffs of Moher, impressive vertical rock faces disappearing into the frothy blue depths some 200 feet below. The view was nice, but it was bitterly cold and drizzly. While we were waiting to get back on the bus, Steve (one of the Canadians) bought a tin whistle/recorder type instrument and sat down on a bench to start playing it. Unfortunately, he had no clue how to play it and the only tones it produced were shrill, erratic notes. We gathered around and started clapping to give him some sort of rhythm, and Mike (another Canadian) put his hat down with some change in it as a joke. Steve looked like some poor guy who has reverted to begging for money so he'll stop playing and making wretched noises. Everyone walking by had looks of shocked horror on their faces as they heard the harsh sounds of the whistle. One of them even put money in the hat, then leaned down to Steve and said, "Don't quit your day job!" We all cheered and I said, "Thank you sir, now Scuba Steve can eat tonight!" We were all nearly doubled over from laughter.
Back on the bus, we drove through the Burren, an area severely affected by deforestation. With no trees or shrubs to keep the dirt there, the wind and rain have worn the land down to a smooth rocky wasteland, an empty terrain that would look perfect in an old sci-fi movie. After that, we stopped at a beach but it was so cold that no one stayed outside for long.
Thoroughly chilled, I was happy to step into the cozy hostel in Galway a short time later. I think I might be getting sick again, because I've been tired all day. When everyone had rested for a bit we walked up to a pub and caught some local music. It was two guys with guitars doing some folky stuff. Not bad, but not good enough to stay for the whole set.

July 1, 2007 -- Killarney to Dingle -- Day 2 of tour
We started out this morning at Killarney National Park, where we walked up to the Torc Waterfall. It was running full force, but the water was a weird clear brown color. Suddenly somebody yelled, "My god, the stream is full of Guinness!" And that's how we decided that all the creeks and rivers in Ireland run rich with the country's favorite stout. Next we visited Muckross House, a beautiful old estate by the lake. Everyone was goofing off and taking silly pictures; I later discovered this was the theme for the trip. After that, we drove to a small town called Dingle and visited the surrounding peninsula. There were beautiful cliffs, rocky like the coastline back home. We walked out to the most Western edge of Ireland, where we sat and listened to Karen tell us a legend about Tiernan Oge, the land of eternal youth.
At our supermarket stop, I was thinking about how nice it would be if I could make tacos for dinner. To my amazement, I found everything I needed--beans, tortillas, salsa, ground beef, etc. The hostel we're staying in tonight is over 300 years old and was used as a soup kitchen during the famine years. It stands majestically overlooking the rolling moors outside of town. There is a common room and a TV room, both filled with comfy couches and a fireplace. In the afternoon, before starting dinner, I sat briefly on the couch in front of the gently crackling fire and looked out through the rain-splattered window to the misty, windswept green hills. I felt like I was in a movie. There is a somber solitude to the moors; I felt alone looking at those forlorn knolls but not lonely in the least bit. They have a comforting vastness to them. It would be wonderful to stay for a week or so in that creaking old house with freshly painted vaulted ceilings. I took a deep breath and blinked slowly as I shook off the daydreams and returned to the TV room that was starting to buzz with activity. After dinner, we were all gathered in the TV room watching a movie when someone suggested card games, then someone else realized we really needed music. I came to the rescue with the wonderful laptop, of course. As we were laughing, playing games, and taking stupid pictures, I felt just like I was at a house party. It was nice to feel at home for once, really for the first time on this trip. Throughout this tour, we've been working on our Irish accents and tonight we were all getting a bit rowdy. Every five minutes someone would cry out in their best Irish tongue, "Jesus Mary and Joseph!" or later in the evening, "For Saint Patrick's sake!" or my favorite, "Oh, Jesus O'Brien!" I laughed so hard my stomach is still sore.

June 30, 2007 -- Dublin to Killarney -- Day 1 of tour
After a few hours' sleep, I woke up early to get ready for the Shamrocker tour, which started today. I didn't have time to get anything for breakfast, so I missed Tom (who I'm sure was still sleeping anyway). Within a few minutes of getting on the bus, the 28 of us, our guide Karen, and our driver Gerry were chuckling and cracking jokes. Karen made us all go around for introductions. Before I went up, a girl named Amanda from Texas introduced herself. Oddly, she was wearing sunglasses inside the bus. Upon closer inspection, she was wearing my exact same sunglasses! When it was my turn, I said "Hi, I'm Amanda from San Francisco, and I think Texas Amanda and I have the same sunglasses?" I put mine on and looked at her. She gasped and started laughing. "From Target, yeah?" I said. "Haha, yeah, how funny!" she replied. With a straight face, I said, "but if you lose yours, you'd better not steal mine, bitch!" Everyone cracked up. It was all jokes, stories, and historical legends from that point on. First stop was the Rock of Cashel, a castle fortress high on a hill. Nothing terribly remarkable, but the views were nice.

Next we went to Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone (legend says if you kiss it, you will get the "gift of the gab"). The castle was pretty and the grounds were gorgeous. And no, I didn't get my face anywhere near the dirty Blarney Stone that's felt the kisses of millions of people.

After that, we drove to Killarney and checked into our hostel. After a bit of much-needed chill time, we all went to dinner. It was hearty food and perfect for the drizzly cold weather. When we'd all finished dinner, we walked over to O'Connor's pub for some story-telling. This one guy played four different parts in the story about a bartender, and old man dying, and plenty of silly jokes. It was cool. When it was over most of the group stayed in the pub, but I was exhausted so went back to the hostel and went to sleep.

June 29, 2007 - Dublin
I got up at a reasonable hour this morning for breakfast, and who should I see in the kitchen but the lovely Tom! We ate breakfast with a couple Dutch girls, then Denise from Mexico City joined us. I was hoping to have someone to hang out with today, so Tom and Denise and I went walking around the city. Tom is from Brighton, and is studying Physics in Cardiff, Wales. He wanted to do something fun for the summer, so he's out here in Dublin trying to find a job for a couple months. He's kind of nerdy, but a cool dude. With his glasses and slightly wavy hair, he could play the Hugh Grant part in some terribly sappy British romantic comedy; the way he kind inhales, then exhales a cultured English accent, saying something like "Sweeeet...right then!" is absolutely adorable.
So out we went, Denise and the lovely Tom and I. We strolled along the river, down a shopping promenade, and into St. Stephen's Green. It's a large park in the center of the city packed with trees, hedges, two lakes, and a neatly manicured central garden. Upon our first few steps in the park we saw a sign for free live music. It just so happened that today's act was a pair of Irishmen doing Americana/Appalachian folk music. It wasn't until 1pm, so Denise and I decided to visit the National Museum (it's free!) and Tom went to pass out resumes to pubs and restaurants.
At the museum, Denise and I saw all sorts of Ireland's treasures and artifacts. There were ornately detailed silver crosses, a beautiful silver drum, gold jewelry, textiles from the 16th century, and the coolest thing of all--bog bodies! There were four bodies in all, their skin leathery black from centuries of sitting in the peat bogs, but still so well-preserved. One of them had a full head of hair and another had perfectly intact fingernails. Many of the bog bodies were victims of ritual sacrifice, often to celebrate a new king, and were violently murdered before being wrapped up and surrendered to the depths.
At 1:00 Denise and I met Tom at the bandstand in the park for the free concert. After a meteorologically indecisive morning and a couple of short showers, the sun came out! We all sprawled out on the slightly soggy grass and watched to duo, who were quite good. They had a sound very much like Doc Watson, or Bill Monroe. It was such a treat to hear some good simple American music (even if it was a couple of Irishmen!) but they could have use a thumping upright bass to ground their guitar and banjo.
As we were enjoying the music, a bit of paper blew into my lap. I noticed some writing on it which said this: "If I were the only fish, would you come and find me?"
I immediately looked around for any cute guys, because it sure sounded like some sort of secret admirer weird pick-up line, but I didn't see any. Tom and I decided to add to it. Underneath the first line, we wrote "If I were a fisherman, I'd come and gut you clean." At this point I was shaking with silent laughter. Just then, this dodgy-looking old guy walked up and said, "Hey, I wasn't done with that! The wind took it away." Bewildered, we handed it back to him and he gave us a disgusted look as he read our addition. "Ya ruint it!" he cried. Later, when the band was just ending their set, he walked by again and dropped the paper in front of us. He'd written more, this time a weird poem about meeting leprechauns. I have no idea what he meant by it. We looked over at him, and he was lying on the ground wrapped in an Irish flag.
We left the park then, and slowly wound our way back to the hostel. I chilled out on the computer and read for a bit. Denise and I walked down to the supermarket to get food for dinner, which was amazing. They had excellent produce, delicious homemade hearty wheat bread, frozen meals, deli counter, even tofu. In Ireland, tofu! I was overjoyed at the selection. I bought some noodles, chicken and veggies for stir-fry. When I started cooking everything later, I realized I had way too much food on my hands. As I was about to offer the excess up to the dining room, Gray and Drew came into the kitchen. I asked them if they wanted the rest of my stir-fry. They were so happy that they even offered to do my dishes. Not a bad deal!

Later on, a group of us from the hostel went out to Temple Bar to a few pubs. The nightlife here is great; most of the streets in Temple bar are pedestrian-only and filled with drunken bar-goers stumbling, laughing and yelling. One of the pubs we went into was packed with people. It was hard work to shoulder through the crowd to get to the bar and getting back to the toilets was nearly impossible. On one trip, I was trying to politely squeeze through the wall of people when I passed a group of middle-aged women. "Excuse me!" I yelled, though it was barely audible over the music and talking, and pushed around the side of the group. Obviously one of the women has no comprehension of the logistics of working through a crowd; she was ridiculously offended that I had to pass by her. "Ach, fer Godssakes! Ya stewpid c**t!" she yelled. I was appalled. That word is not nearly as insulting here as it is back home, but what she said was extremely rude no matter what country you're in. Instead of ignoring her, I decided to play a little game and make her feel bad for being so rude. In my sweetest tone of voice, I smiled, put my hand on her shoulder, and said, "I love your dress. It's very pretty!" In her shocked face, I saw something soften, then she beamed at me. I turned away, and thought, I win, bitch! I didn't see her again for the rest of the night.
We moved around the neighborhood, from one packed bar to another. Finally, we all headed home sometime after two. I said goodnight to Tom and we planned to meet for breakfast in the morning. When he hugged me goodnight, it wasn't a "I just met you and I'm giving you a polite hug because it's the thing to do" type hug, nor was it anywhere close to the "I'm drunk and I just want to have contact with you" hug. It was a sweet real hug, the kind where you don't feel the need to awkwardly separate a split-second later. "Right then...see you tomorrow," he grinned.

June 28, 2007 - Paris to Dublin
I woke up at a ridiculous hour this morning for my flight to Dublin. Just to be sure, I allotted plenty of extra time to get to the airport, because there was no way I was going to have a repeat of the BCN-Casablanca lost baggage situation! I napped a bit on the flight, but I was still tired. When I got off the plane, a light rain had just started. No problem, I thought. I can deal with a little rain. This is Ireland, after all. I got to the main bus station with no problems, but from there I couldn't figure out the bus system, so I ended up walking about a mile or so to my hostel. With my bag. In the rain. It was too hard to roll my bag, hold my purse on my shoulder, and occasionally hitch my pants up (if you know me well, you know that my pants are always falling down and I often "sell crack," so to say.), and hold my umbrella, so I put the umbrella away in order to have a free hand. By the time I got to my hostel, I looked like a drowned rat.
The hostel is cool though. It's across the street from a church, right in the heart of the Temple Bar area, in this huge old Victorian building. There's a large dining room and kitchen downstairs and a cozy living room with large windows, couches, and Persian rugs on the first floor. (Side note: in Europe and Britain, you have the ground floor, then the first floor, then second and so on. The first floor here is what we think of as the second floor. Just FYI.) After being out in the rain, all I wanted to do was sink into one of those couches. I curled up with On the Road and read for a bit, watching the rain pour down the square-pane windows.
The weird thing about Ireland is this: it will rain for about 20 minutes, then stop. The sun might come out, then it'll start pouring for ten minutes, then it'll be cloudy for the rest of the day. The weather here is very...moody, I guess. It is nice though, that when I see rain I know it'll be gone in about an hour and I'll see some sunshine. A good tip: always carry and umbrella. After I had dried out, so did the clouds and the sun peeked through. I walked down the street to Leo Burdock's Fish & Chips, supposedly the best in the city. I must say, it was pretty good. The portions were huge though--one order could feed two or three people!
Later in the evening, I was downstairs on my laptop, half-listening to a group of guys chatting behind me. I heard them talk about going to get a pint and decided to be bold and invite myself. I feel that in hostels it's alright to be a little forward and push yourself into social situations you normally wouldn't. They were friendly and happy to make a new acquaintance. Introductions were made, small talk, etc. The first guy was Tom, from Brighton, England, the second was Harry, and the third was Tyler. "Aw," I said, "I was hoping for Dick." Upon seeing his confused face, I quickly realized the connotations of what had just slipped out of my mouth and I stammered, " know...Tom, Dick, and Harry?" I blushed terribly then, but they understood what I was going for and we all laughed it off. When the rest of the group came downstairs there was John, Shani, and another guy whose name I don't remember. Shani is from Israel and is traveling by herself as well. Just then, two other guys popped their heads out of the kitchen and said, "Does anyone here know how to bake chicken?"
"I do," I replied. "Just do about 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees."
"Yeah...the oven is in Celsius," the guy said. I went into the kitchen and helped the guys, Gray and Drew, figure it out. After that was sorted, I rejoined the other group of guys and we walked down the street to the nearest pub for a drink. The guys were hilarious! Sadly, everyone except Tom and Shani will be leaving tomorrow. After the pub, most everyone went to sleep. Tom, John, Shani and I sat in the dining room talking and drinking wine. Yes, me--drinking red wine! It was actually pretty good.
I've decided to do an 8-day tour around Ireland with a company called Shamrocker that leaves on Saturday morning. It turns out Shani is doing the same one! I'm looking forward to it very much.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Florence, Naples, Amalfi Coast, Rome, Paris

June 27, 2007 -- Paris
The night train from Rome was less than comfortable. Three of the other people in my six-person cabin were fine, but there was a Pakistani guy and a Somalian guy who insisted on blabbering at each other in broken English. The Somalian guy was nice enough--he got on in Rome with his niece--but the Paki guy was irritating. He got on somewhere in Italy (it was about 11:30pm) and just as I was falling asleep he comes in chattering in French about his seat number, asking everyone where they're seat is, blah blah blah for about thirty minutes. There was an open bed and he refused to sleep in it because it didn't correspond to his ticket. Who cares! Finally, I was already grumpy from being woken up and his stupid Qwiki-Mart accent added to that grumpiness, so I said, "Monsieur! S'il vous plait! Shhhh! Je voudrais dormir!" (Sir! Please! I would like to sleep!) He gave me a perplexed look so I continued, "C'est mixte! (It's mixed!) Sleep anywhere, just go to sleep please!" The Somalian guy patted me on the arm, saying, "It's okay, it's okay." I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. Needless to say, I didn't sleep too well because we stopped at so many places. I was happy to get off the train though, and very excited to see Paris again. My hotel is in the suburbs outside of Paris--a bit of a train ride to the city, but no big deal because I'm leaving tomorrow. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that (once again!) my bank had frozen my debit card, which was especially frustrating because I was down to about 6 Euros. There was no way I could get back into town, eat something, and go to the Louvre on 6 Euros. Luckily I remembered some British pounds tucked away that I changed at the train station. I got some food and set out walking. Even though I've been to Paris twice, there is still so much to see. I felt very happy walking on the quays next to the Seine. I looked out over the river, up the weathered warm stone walls and slate roofs of apartment buildings and into the cloudy sky threatening rain and thought, "This is my city, bitches! I'm back!"
I really could live in Paris. It's so open and spacious, with hustle and bustle but I still feel safe. I decided in my afternoon there, I could see a few things and feel satisfied. After just reading The Da Vinci Code, I was curious to visit one of the smaller churches mentioned in it, St.-Sulpice. It is a beautiful church and just as the book described, with a brass line in the floor running at a funny angle to the base of an obelisk in a corner that acts as some sort of sundial or gnomon as they call it. The church had signs up denying any sort of Pagan-related significance in this odd brass line, and literature about how the book is creating doubt in the minds of Christians.
Next I realized I'd never been inside the Pantheon, which has a very cool crypt, but I got there just after they stopped letting visitors in. Not cool! At that point it was nearly 6pm (discount entry time at the Louvre!) so I headed to the museum. I re-visited the Mona Lisa and still found it only slightly intriguing. I saw some perfectly crafted sculptures in the Michelangelo Hall, including one of Apollo standing on some sort of vanquished sea creature. I made sure to visit the Asian/African/Pacific wing which houses tons of cool tribal sculptures from the Pacific Rim and Africa. They ranged from one of the Easter Island heads to a tiny clay man with and even smaller clay man inside a compartment in his chest. Kind of a prehistoric robot (yess!)
After the Louvre I decided to see the Eiffel tower again. It's very cold here right now but I am overjoyed at being out of the heat. I wish I could spend more time here on this trip, but I booked a cheap flight to Dublin and didn't want to spend even more money. With today finished, I bid adieu to what I call Chapter 1 of this trip. Tomorrow I head to Ireland and start Chapter 2: The UK.

June 26, 2007 -- Rome
This morning Lauren left very early for a flight back to London, where she works. I slept in a bit, had some breakfast, and checked out. I should have stayed at the campground a bit longer as it's cooler than in the city. I went directly to the train station to secure a bed for the night train to Paris, because 14 hours would be a long trip in just a seat! I had in wait in line in the stuffy terminal for about 45 minutes (who knows why!) but I did chat with a nice Canadian guy and a couple from San Jose. I thought about doing more sightseeing, but I just couldn't handle the heat anymore so I hung out in the air-conditioned travel lounge and read.
Yesterday I bought yet another book. I'd heard about an English bookstore in Rome and when I got there I realized I had no idea what to read. I was staring blankly at the shelves when a thin gray binding suddenly caught my eye. It was Jack Kerouac's On the Road, something that I've always had a slight interest in reading but never got around to. Now seemed like the perfect time. I got through a huge chunk of it today; I'm about half-finished. There is something about it, something in the way Kerouac describes his character's hap-hazard journeys across America that I can feel in my soul. Having been to so many of the places he describes, and ones I hold dear, like SF, LA, and the Central Valley, I know exactly what he was seeing when he passed through. I've even found myself underlining quotes, which is something I never do because it makes me feel like I'm reading the book for school and I start to dread having to analyze it to death the next day.
Of an afternoon in a motel in Des Moines, he says,

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was--I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen...I looked at the cracked ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen seconds."

I've already felt that a few times on this trip. I know who I am, but there are times when I wake in the middle of the night in some strange, steamy country where no one is speaking English and I can't even vocalize my thoughts to anyone, then my confidence wavers and I feel utterly alone, and certainly "haunted and tired with travel."
On the Road is written beautifully; I always had this impression that it was some weird beatnik manifesto, the way people tie it to that movement, but it's really just a journal. Though it's supposedly "fiction," you can tell there is a large part of Kerouac's soul in that book and that's how I feel when I'm writing this journal. I absorb so much every day that the only way to process it is to write down everything I can remember, then go back and read it over and over until it sinks in.

June 25, 2007 -- Rome
Lauren and I saw quite a bit today. We went to the colosseum where she took a tour and I visited the outside. I made my way over to the Vatican. It was unbearably hot (about 100 degrees!) and after waiting just a few minutes in line I melted onto a bench in the museum's air-conditioned lobby. The rest of the museum was pretty stuffy though, and packed with people. After about 45 minutes of wandering through room after room, stuck behind the throngs of other tourists in the narrow corridors, I met up with Lauren just before the Sistine Chapel. The workmanship was very good, yes, but I wasn't all that impressed. It could also have been because the room was stuffed with people in a way very much resembling a porrly-ventilated punk show, and I had to jostle my way through the crowd in the same manner. Still, I'm glad I saw it. In one of the rooms, there were tapestries depicting all the male babies being in Jerusalem being killed (I forget who, but someone was trying to eliminate Jesus when he was that age.)
Outside in the courtyard there was a giant golden orb in the center, but parts of it were purposefully destroyed so that it was reminiscent of the Death Star. I have no idea what the sculpture represents, but I'll have to look it up later.
After the Vatican, Lauren and I got some lasagna and visited the Trevi Fountain, which is huge. It's really beautiful because it blends natural rock shapes with skillfully sculpted marble statues and bright blue water. I wish I could have jumped in! We were both pretty tired after visiting three sites, but some gelato perked us up enough for some more window shopping. I even found some hairdye (yay!)
When I had dyed my hair, we got spruced up and went for dinner at the restaurant in the campground. There was a band playing, and the night's special was paella (better than in Spain!). We chilled for a while and watched the band play.

June 24, 2007 -- Rome
Today I moved into a cabin with an Australian girl from my dorm room, Lauren. It's still only 21 Euros per night, so for not much more than the dorm room we get a patio and our own bathroom. We headed into Rome in the late morning and walked around for a bit, doing some window-shopping. After grabbing lunch, we got tickets for a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus tour around the city. It was actually pretty cool to hear some historical background, but it was so hot that Lauren and I started nodding off. That was our cue to head back to the campground. We both crashed out pretty early. I guess my body needed it after being in the sun all day.

June 23, 2007 -- Atrani to Rome
After a bus to Salerno, I took a train to Rome with two sisters from the hostel in Atrani. Jena and Sarah are from Pennsylvania and were entertaining to hang out with. It was of course sweltering in Salerno. I was almost expecting the train to be air-conditioned, and looking forward to it (what a novelty!) but sadly, the train was about 90 degrees inside. I though, okay, when we get going the AC will kick in, right? Nope. It did turn on, but barely breathed out of the tiny vent by the window. The three of us felt like we were in an oven. It was disgusting and I couldn't wait to get to Rome.
Once in Rome, I took the metro and a shuttle to my campground. The place was still pretty warm, but at leat there was a nice breez running through. While doing laundry I met a couple of nice British girls and ate dinner with them. In addition to their group of four, there were two girls from Florida at the table. At first they were entertaining, because the two of them had shared a pitcher of very strong sangria, but they quickly got on my nerves. At the beginning of dinner we all exchanged the usual information. When I told them I was traveling alone, one of the Florida girls (Anya) said, "Oh my gawd, I could never travel alone! That would be so scary!" By the end of dinner, her comment didn't seem so odd. The only things she and her friend Holly talked about were their boyfriends, their acres of land back home, their pets/horses, etc. Then Anya started talking about her rubber ducky collection. "Oh my gawd, I am like, obsessed with ducks! My mom will order like, two dozen for me from Oriental Trading Company because she knows how much I love them!" Then Holly started going on about how her boyfriend is "like, so good" at making up names for their pets. "Like my dog Drifter, we just found him and Nick named him Drifter!"
I finally lost it when they got grossed out by squid tentacles on another girl's seafood pizza. They were passing it around, taking pictures, then Anya said, "Ew, I have to go wash my hands after touching that thing!" to which I exclaimed, "It's just food! It's the same squid you eat when you have fried calamari, and it's not dirty or anything!"
And that shut her up. I found out later that both she and Holly are only 19, which explains a lot. They're both kind of trashy, and not ugly but not attractive. I imagine that their boyfriends are short, somewhat ugly, and big NASCAR fans. They'll probably each get married in a couple years, have below-average kids and raise them on Pepsi, Chee-tos, and a healthy dose of fear of anything different. Pretty amusing, really.

June 22, 2007 -- Atrani
I had a very hard day of sitting on the beach today. Between reading, sunbathing and napping, the turquoise water provided a cool respite from the blazing sun. Unfortunately, I got a bit burnt, but it will fade soon enough. The scenery her is so beautiful and pristine, and the towns so sleepy and not too touristy. I've decided to skip the Cinque Terre. It's funny, though I've wanted to see it for years, I don't feel like I'd appreciate it after seeing the Amalfi Coast. I definitely want to go there sometime in the future when I can enjoy it on its own.
When I got back to my hostel, the girls in my room were getting ready to take advantage of happy hour at one of the two bars in town. I met them down there, where we hung out for a few hours for drinks and pizza. There were also a couple of British guys from the hostel and one British/Italian guy, James, who grew up in both Sheffield, England and in Atrani (the product of a wishy-washy drawn-out divorce, so he said) who is a lifeguard at the beach. I wisely sat on the side of the table with the guys and was therefore introduced to all of them. As I was sitting next to James, we chatted quite a bit about this and that. He said he'd seen me on the beack earlier, but didn't want to approach me for fear of seeming skeezy. I probably would have ignored him and missed the opportunity to hear his fabulous North-English accent.
Well after sunset, the group of us (about 15 or so) went down to the beach. Randomly, someone decided to start a human pyramid, which stood for a few seconds before collapsing into a pile of drunken twenty-somethings. Two other girls and a guy were playing leap-frog, but Mel (Australia) was plastered and instead of leaping she kind of rugby-tackled the others. Quite hilarious to watch. We must have been there for hours; by the time I went to bed it nearly 3am and there were still people on the beach. I'm so glad I was able to go out tonight. Everyone was in a great mood and the warm beach was the perfect setting.

June 21, 2007 -- Atrani and Capri
Stephanie and I took a ferry to Capri, an island just off the tip of the Sorrento peninsula. It's very beautiful, but so crowded and touristy, which makes me happy I'm just doing a day trip. We took a boat tour around the island and got to see several caves and the dramatic rocky cliffs. The water here is so clean, even in the marina. Near the end of the tour we were supposed to go in the Blue Grotto, a natural sea cave, but it was so busy it would have been a two-hour wait. We were told we could come back at the end of the day. After eating sandwiches, Stephanie and I wanted to rent scooters but there were none available. Very sad. Instead, we took the crowded funicular up the hill to central Capri. There wasn't much to do there besides window-shopping and avoiding the crowds, which was somewhat disappointing. We did start on a path up the hill, but it was so hot we turned around and decided to sit for a bit. We got some gelato, then went down to the harbor just in time for our boat to the Blue Grotto. When we got there we were shuttled in rowboats through the tiny entrance, which was only about six feet wide by four feet tall. My first glimpse inside made the whole day trip worthwhile.

Light reflected from outside made the water glow neon blue. One of the rowboat captains started singing opera; the acoustics of the cave were perfectly suited to his tenor. I've really never seen anything like the Grotto in my life. It felt like being inside a shimmering gem. We stayed inside for about ten minutes, then squeezed through the narrow opening back to the blinding afternoon sun. I'm so glad I made the trip to Capri; even if the town was sub-par, the cave was absolutely amazing.

June 20, 2007 -- Naples to Atrani
I am so glad I decided to come to the Amalfi Coast! It's a bit south of Sorrento and is made up of five or six little towns. The rocky cliffs and terraced hillsides are dotted with tired but brightly painted hotels, cafes and villas. The structures are so perilously placed on the near vertical rock faces that they seem they could tumble into the sapphire sea at any moment--not that the Italians would mind. It's very laid-back and comfortable here, they would just have a glass of wine and rebuild in the morning.
Upon boarding the bus from Sorrento to Amalfi, we quickly began the ascent over the mountains, winding through olive groves and overgrown vineyard estates. I looked back quickly and almost teared up at the beauty of Sorrento behind us; next to the sloping houses leading down to the sea like a terra-cotta tile glacier, a massive rock cliff rose out of the water and continued inland across the peninsula. I've never seen anything so dramatic. It was such unexpected beauty, and it was right then that I knew I'd made the right choice in spending more time in Italy.
When I got off the bus in Atrani (right next to Amalfi, only much smaller) I met another traveler named Stephanie from Melbourne. I was trying to open the cargo hold of the bus before the bus driver took off, but it was stuck. When I finally got my bag out, I looked at her and she said, "Are you going to Hostel Scalinatella too?" I guess I didn't exactly look like someone who was headed for a luxurious villa. Once we had checked in (my room, by the way, was the size of a closet and had this wonky accordian-type door...really? Kind of weird.) we headed downstairs, through the tiny piazza, and out to the beach. The sandy part was a bit crowded, so we peeked around the corner and discovered a cement platform jutting out over some rocks from the foot of the wall that supports the road fifty feet above. It had a ladder going right into the water. By the time we set our things down I was ready to swim, so I hopped in. The water here is cool, clear, clean, and the most gorgeous bright blue. Stephanie and I napped, read and swam for the rest of the afternoon.
In the early evening we walked over to Amalfi for a drink and watched the sun set. On the way back to our hostel, we stopped in the little piazza and had some fabulous homemade pasta. When we returned to the hostel Felipo, our friendly proprietor, informed me there was a bed available in the dorm room. I was happy to not have to sleep in the closet! I was just getting ready for bed when one of the girls in the room, Aspen, invited me out with everyone to the beach. I wanted to go, but I was so tired that I assured her I'd be there tomorrow night.

June 19, 2007 -- Naples and Pompeii
I met an Australian couple in my room last night, Ian and Danielle. It turned out that we were all planning to go to Pompeii early this morning, so we made the trip together. The metro actually dropped us off right at the base of the park, so that was easy enough. Even though we got there at 8:30, it was already so hot. I can't imagine starting out at 12:00 or later! I had no idea the village was so big. It was once home to around 20,000 people. Most of it is still intact or has been restored, and there are even several marble statues, columns, carvings, and an ornate altar in excellent condition. It was really cool to walk down the streets and try to imagine what it looked like nearly 2000 years ago. There were a couple plaster casts of people who were caught in the ash fall-out when Mount Vesuvius exploded. It was quite interesting to see their poses of frozen anguish and surprise. There were also several well-preserved mosaics, though not as ornate as the ones I saw at Volubilis in Morocco. The most intriguing part of Pompeii was actually the brothel. There were a few tiny rooms equipped with built-in stone beds (probably had mattresses on top). In the hallway, there were graphically illustrated frescoes showing a "menu" of sorts to the clientele. It's pretty funny that those frescoes are the best surviving ones in the whole site.
After Pompeii, I went back to the hostel. I was so hot, and all I wanted to do was lie down and read. I was doing just that when a couple of the girls in my room, Elaina (Ohio) and MaryAnne (Tennessee) invited me to the beach. I know Naples is on the coast, but it seemed like such a dirty port town that I hadn't even bothered trying to research beaches. When we got there, the water was pretty gross: algae, broken tiles and a film of tanning oil floating on top. We went in to about our knees, then got grossed out and decided even that was too much. The afternoon sun was so harsh and scorching, I could barely blink without breaking a sweat. Luckily, there was a fabulous shower with cool water on the side of the beach and it felt so refreshing.
When we'd had enough of the sun, we went back to the hostel. I took a shower, but I had hardly dried my hair before I was sweating again. Oh well, such is life in Italy. The best thing about the hostel in Naples (besides the couches, free movies and internet, clean, modern showers and fridge full of cold drinks) was that it had an attached restaurant and bar open in the evenings with a 3 Euro menu--homemade pasta, pizza, salad, antipasti, etc.! I got dinner with Elaina and MaryAnne. I had a huge plate of gnocchi with this roasted tomato/red pepper sauce and tons of mozzarella. So good! This put me into a food coma, and I went to bed soon after.

June 18, 2007 -- Florence to Naples
Upon arrival in Naples, I immediately got a slice of pizza (eggplant, yum!) then took a bus downtown. Naples is crowded, dirty, and like the rest of the Italians, nobody follows traffic laws. Kind of fun to dart in between speeding scooters and buses though. More and more I want to rent a scooter, but I don't think it's worth the money or having to navigate the crowded streets. I sat on the steps of one of the many cathedrals and watched kids playing soccer in the piazza, with traffic speeding down the narrow streets. I walked around a bit more after that, but didn't find anything too interesting so I headed back to my hostel. Luckily, the hostel has a good common room, and even has DVDs available. When I got in, a few people were watching Good Morning, Vietnam! which I've never seen and is actually a very funny movie. It felt good to veg out for a bit, lounge on a couch, and watch a movie--something I haven't done in over a month.

June 17, 2007 -- Florence
Today I caught up on my blog and some reading. I went to the Duomo again because the piazza is so pretty and has some good people-watching. I got in line to see the inside of the cathedral, but lost interest after waiting too long and went out walking again. I stopped by the Accademia, which houses Michelangelo's David. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, I realized what a waste of time it would be to wait for three hours just to see a few sculptures. I'm sure the David is amazing, but I'd rather come back to see it in low-season sometime. I got another delicious salad from the place by my hostel. After that, I read in the garden for a bit and took a nap on the grass. Such a perfect Sunday! Close to sunset, I caught a bus up the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks all of Florence. Just as the sun was setting, I got a call back from my best friend Kelly. I had called her earlier today to wish her a happy birthday, and it was such a treat to talk to her!