Terra Nomad

Every day is like survival. You're my lover, not my rival.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spain 2010

I booked our flights today! We fly to Madrid on Sunday, March 28th and we fly back from Barcelona on April 7th.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

European Population

There are many ways to rank cities by population:

-Strictly by the population within the city limits
-Include the urban area, but no "satellite cites"
-Include the entire metropolitan area: cities, farmland and smaller towns, defined in Europe as the LUZ (large urban zone).

Bucharest, for example, has the sixth largest population in the EU within its city limits. Expand the definition to urban area, and it drops to number 20. Expand it out to the entire LUZ and it drops to 23 on the list.

Those rankings are for the current EU, but if Turkey is admitted, all of those would go up by 3, since Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are larger by all definitions. In fact, Istanbul would be number one for city limit population at 11.1 million. London would still hold the top LUZ rank with 11.9 million.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 10

Tuesday, April 1 - Rental car to Munich Airport, Flight to Chicago, Flight home

I woke up at 8:30 to find that none of the socks I'd washed the night before were dry, so I ended up blowdrying one pair to wear on the plane. I had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the airport. I was planning to fill up the car at the last exit, but there were no gas stations there, so I ended up driving all over the town of Freising looking for gas. I stayed on the main roads at first, but ended up finding one in a residential area. Because of the delay, I checked in for my 12:20pm international flight at 11, oops. The passport checker asked me if I was coming from Berlin because I had a KaDeWe bag with me.

They served us pasta for lunch and then I started watching movies. Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium were first. They were both more entertaining than staring at a seat back, but if I hadn't been on a plane, I don't think I would have finished watching them. Then I turned to No Country for Old Men in desperation. I missed the first 5-10 minutes and wasn't planning on liking it, but I did. Back in February I saw a picture from the Oscars, and I thought Javier Bardem looked a lot like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and I guess I am not the only one. I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy next and was reminded of how similar they look. For a snack, we were served one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, smoked turkey on pretzel bread with paprika chips.

We landed at Chicago O'Hare and went through Passport Control. The guy who checked mine didn't say a word to me. He just took my passport, looked on the computer, stamped it and gave it back to me. The stewardesses told us that if we were laying over in Chicago, we had to pick up our bags and recheck them on our second flight. So, I waited a very long time for my bag, just to carry it about 50 feet to recheck it and then run onto the train to the other terminal. While on the train, I turned the network on my Blackberry on for the first time since leaving Chicago ten days ago and it started downloading 150 emails. I had to go through security again and then run to my gate only to see them closing the door to the jetway. They let me on as the very last passenger (it seems to be a theme for me at O'Hare) and I slept most of the short flight to Minneapolis. My bag was not as quick as I was and didn't make it on the flight, so United had to deliver it to my house around midnight.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 9

Monday, March 31 - Train to Dresden, Rental Car to Ingolstadt, Sleep in Ingolstadt

I had been fighting off a cough since the start of this trip, and Monday morning it kept me awake from 4am to 6am. I'd set my alarm for 7:30, but I fell back asleep until 8am. There was a train bound for Dresden due to leave the Holesovice station at 8:36 am, so I rushed to pack up the last of my stuff. I made it to the train in time and had to find an open seat since my ticket was a generic one with no seat assignment. Since this train was going back to Berlin, there were the same awesome views all the way to Dresden.

Once we got to Dresden, I knew I needed to disembark at Neustadt station to get on the S-Bahn route S2 to the airport. But I was anxious to get off the stuffy, crowded train and assumed there was plenty of transit between Haubtbahnof and Neustadt. There probably is, but I couldn't figure it out after I left the train at Haubtbahnof. I couldn't find any stops for the S2, nor could I find any routes at the station that said they went to Neustadt. I asked a few people but they didn't understand or didn't know where the S2 stopped.

Finally I walked around a tiny mall and found a stop for the S3. I got on it going the wrong direction first, but finally made it to Neustadt and got on an S2 to the airport.  The S3 had been a beautiful ride with views of museums that crossed over a river. The S2 went past some junkyards and lots of wooded areas. Once I made it to the airport, I rented a black VW Passat from Budget with automatic transmission. It didn't have a standard key, but instead you put a large fob into an ignition bay on the dashboard. No turning required, just push it in to start the engine.

After familiarizing myself with the car, it was time to drive on the German Autobahn! I exited the airport and got on the 4 to Chemnitz. Well, first I got on the 4 going the wrong direction and had to turn around to get to Chemnitz. Then I took the 72 and stopped at rest stop outside of Plaven. You have to pay 50 cents to use the bathroom, but you get it back if you buy something at the store there. The 9 then took me past Nuremburg and on to Ingolstadt, where I was staying for the night. The hotel was two quick turns off the Autobahn and I discovered that the Audi headquarters are in Ingolstadt. I ate dinner in the hotel's Italian restaurant: spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and then salmon.

Day Ten

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 8

Sunday, March 30 - Prague Day 2

March 30th was the start of Central European Summer Time (daylight saving here to us Americans) which pushes the clock ahead by an hour. Between that, my sleeping in and not hurrying much, I didn't leave my hostel until noon. I had already done most of the things I wanted to do in Prague in the previous day and a half! At Holesovice, I bought a generic ticket to Dresden for 525 kc (around $34) and then took the metro to Petrin Hill.
I planned to take the funicular up to the Petrin lookout tower, but the funicular was closed. Later I found out I could have taken a tram up to the top of the hill. Instead I walked up Karamelitska to the Charles Bridge again. This time I went across the bridge, came back over and went around to the Lennon Wall. Then I took the Metro up to the Malostranske namesti stop again. I crossed the river on Manesuv Most and walked past namesti Jana Palacha, named for Jan Palach. I got back on the Metro and headed to Palác Flora, a mall over the Flora Metro station. There I had some gelato, pondered seeing another movie and got some groceries. I decided against another movie and just went back to my hostel to surf the web for a bit.

Day Nine

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 7

Saturday, March 29 - Prague Day 1

I woke up at 8 am and took the Metro to Mala Strana and then the #22 tram up to the Prague Castle, the biggest castle complex in the world. When entering from the tram stop, you walk on a bridge over Deer Moat and past the riding school. I bought a 250 kc short ticket and a 50 kc photo permit. The short tour includes the Old Royal Palace, an exhibition "The Story of Prague Castle", St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. St Vitus' Cathedral is free and holds the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. It reminded me of Westminster Abbey, just a bit less crowded. Next I went into the Old Royal Palace, a building where Czech kings have been crowned and presidents elected. Vladislav Hall is the large hall in the center of the palace with a vaulted ceiling in a rose petal pattern. It was a cold and windy day, and I noticed that most of the buildings were cold as well. Just off the hall is the Louis Tract, where the Thirty Years´ War began and where I was asked to show my photo permit. I continued on through St George's Basilica and then followed the crowd down the hill and into the Golden Lane. The Golden Lane is a collection of small houses within the castle grounds, also famous for housing Franz Kafka for a year.

The lane is full of gift shops, and as you descend the hill towards the castle exit, you pass more gift shops. Ignore those shops and take in the city views you see while passing Daliborka Tower. After a brief stop to snack and consult my guidebook, I took the 22/23 tram to Tesco, which sounded like a supermarket. It ended up being more like a department store with a small food section. I then walked north to Old Town Square to see the Astronomical Clock that has parts dating back to 1410. It is beautiful, entertaining and rather complicated. It was still cold, so I bought a Trdelnik, which is like a strip of dough wrapped around a metal stick and grilled with sugar and vanilla. As I sat and ate it, I made conversation with a British girl. She told me about how she and her boyfriend had missed their original flight to Prague and had to buy new tickets and drive several hours to a different airport. I told her about my passport ordeal last year.

After warming up a bit, I headed towards Josefov and the Old New Synagogue, but there was marathon being held that blocked my way. I got back on the Metro and went to Mala Strana, Lesser Town. Just outside the Malostranske namesti stop is a little park area with very nice views looking back at Old Town over the Charles River. I then took the Metro over to Wenceslas Square. I was mostly wandering at this point, with no real destination in mind. I sat in the square, read and gazed up at the National Museum. A group of demonstrators passed through the square and a woman started to hand me a pamphlet. She saw my book and said, "Oh, no Czech, no Czech," and walked away. I wandered a bit and then saw a sign for the Lucerna Passage. The name struck me as familiar, so I went inside. It is basically a mall, but then I saw this statue hanging inside and realized why the name stuck out.

There were two movie theaters (Kino) in the mall and There Will Be Blood was playing in English with Czech subtitles. I kept up my tradition by seeing it (100 kc for a ticket). It was too violent of course, but I did like the storyline. After the movie, I went back to the McDonalds near my hostel for dinner and then hit the sack.

Day Eight

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 6

Friday, March 28 - Train from Berlin to Prague, Sleep in Prague

I woke up at 8:30, packed and went downstairs to check out. I had purchased a train ticket from Deutsche Bahn on the Internet, but I was not sure if it gave me a car number and seat, so I asked at the front desk. It took them a few minutes and they had to ask several people, but they finally figured out that my car number was 260 and my seat was 56. I took the U-bahn to the Zoo station and got on the S-bahn to Berlin's Hauptbahnof, which is the largest crossing station in Europe. There I got snacks for the trip and went down to the lowest platform to wait for my train. It had started in Hamburg and was going all the way to Budapest, but I was only going to Prague. It was 2 and a half hours to Dresden and most of the scenery looked like very typical Midwestern American farmland.

From Dresden to Bad Schandau there were awesome views of the Elbe river and the bluffs and towns along its banks. The train was pretty empty until the first stop after the Czech border, in Decin Piper. There were lots of places along the tracks where there were houses built close to the tracks, but with a garden or cemetery between them. Once in the Czech republic, we continued along the river and the bluffs grew into mountains and there were more farms and vineyards.

Once we reached Prague, I got off at the first station, Holesovice and looked in vain for an ATM. I walked to my hostel and checked in, only to find I had a shared room and not a private one. I left my things there and went back to the train station. This time I found an ATM and took out a thousand crowns, or around 65 dollars. I got change at the McDonald's and was happy that they had curry sauce for my chicken nuggets, but it smelled too much like ketchup. I took the metro up to the Charles Bridge and walked across it, taking at least one picture of each statue as I went across. The sun slowly set as I walked across, so the pictures at the beginning show a much brighter sky then those towards the end. There are perfect views of both the Castle and Petrin hill from the bridge as well.

Day Seven

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 5

Thursday, March 27 - Berlin Day 2

Today I went on the Discover Berlin tour from Berlin Walks, which I highly recommend for an overview of the city. Our tour guide was Jacob and we met outside the Zoo Tiergarten station. We took the S-Bahn a few stops and then saw the TV tower from far away. We went past the Berliner Dom, saw the roof of the Synagogue, and then hit Museum Island. There Jacob pointed out the bullet holes in some decorative columns, and explained how they were made during the Battle of Berlin. I think he said the Soviets made them.
Seeing the Gedachtniskirche's bombed out remains and now being in front of these bullet holes had a sobering effect on me. WWII had played out on the very ground beneath my feet. Many of the buildings and roads around me had been destroyed and rebuilt. It's one thing to learn or read about war, or even to watch it in a movie. It is quite another thing to have physical remains of a war in front of you.
We continued over the island and stood in the Lustgarten while he told us about the Altes Museum (Old Museum) and then the Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace). We then continued down Unter den Linden ("under the lime trees") past tons of buildings of historical importance and took a break in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Consruction on The Gate began in 1788, and since then it has become the ultimate symbol of Berlin's history of rule by the Prussians, Napoleon, the Nazis, the Soviets and now it's reunification. It was part of the Berlin Wall and witnessed Reagan's speech where he implored, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
After walking through the gate, we could see the dome over the Reichstag building off to the right, but turned left towards the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial is a non-square city block covered in 2,711 large concrete slabs called stele (plural: stelea or steles). They vary in height from 8 inches to almost 16 feet, and the ground slopes down toward the center. The overall effect is chaos and order coexisting. The architect stated he wanted to show a supposedly ordered system that had gone awry. It was pretty somber walking through, even though the optical effects were interesting when I was near the center. One of the pictures I took there is now the wallpaper on my Blackberry.
After we all met up on the other side of the Memorial, we walked over to the parking lot of an apartment building and Jacob told us the story of Hitler's last days. We were standing right above the bunker where he killed himself, and Jacob explained how it was all just a pile of concrete rubble now. We walked past the former Luftwaffe headquarters and over to a section of the Berlin Wall that still remains on Niederkirchnerstrasse. Here he told us the story of the Wall coming down. We headed over to Checkpoint Charlie and then up to Gendarmenmarkt where the tour ended. I was surprised to see an Obama bumper sticker stuck to the sidewalk near Checkpoint Charlie.
I took the U-Bahn to Friedrichstrasse station to get batteries for my camera. The charger was not charging them in the camera, so I had been using my Blackberry for pictures during the whole walking tour. I then walked over to the Pergamon Museum. Inside I saw the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market gate of Miletus. I climbed to the top of the Pergamon Altar and then saw a scale model of the site of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.
After that, I bought some food at a grocery store and headed back to my hotel. Tomorrow I take the train to Prague.

Day Six

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 4

Wednesday March 26 - Berlin Day 1

I got up and headed back to Kurfürstendamm. I bought the transit half of the Berlin Welcome card and then headed over to KaDeWe, a big department store. I was looking for an adapter and some food, so I went up several escalators to the electronics department. There were no adapters in sight, but I did find a wall charger (with a Euro plug) for mini USB devices. Both my Blackberry and digital cameras are mini USB, so I grabbed it. I went up one floor to the food department. Wow! I got to see the hundreds of varieties of cheeses with my own eyes. I grabbed various things and went up to a register, but the woman said I had to go to register by the soda, since she couldn't ring up beverages. Okay, I guess. The guy ringing me up by the sodas gets annoyed that I have something electronic in my basket and tells me I have to buy that down on the electronics floor. Hmm, this is less like a store than a mall. Anyway, I head back to my hotel and have some lunch.

The Welcome card is both a 48 hour transit pass and a discount book, but I have to go to a Berlin infostore to get the discount book. I stop at the one in Neues Kranzler Eck to pick it up before heading over to the Zoo. It gets me 3 Euros off the 12 Euro admission.

Inside the Berlin Zoo, I wandered around looking at the outside animals, like elephants, goats, water bucks and giraffes and then went into the Primate house. Monkeys and Apes can be fun to watch, but I always like the lemurs the best. I can see the Gedächtniskirche from the southern end of the zoo, and get a few more pictures. I finally come to the Giant Panda, named Boa-Boa. This was my initial reason for coming to Berlin, to see a Giant Panda, and nearly every vacation I take involves a visit to a zoo or aquarium. Boa-Boa was pretty underwhelming since he was sleeping. Who can blame him? Being that cute must be exhausting. The enclosure can be viewed from 3 sides so while my first few pictures just look like a pile of fur, the ones from the other sides show a definite Panda shape. There is a picture of Boa-Boa wide awake here.

The Panda exhibit was attached to the Predator building. Inside there were wolverines, mongooses, meerkats, lions and my favorite, jaguarinos. I can't seem to find the English name for them, but they look like domestic cats that can tear you apart. I went through a bird building, past the sea lions and then out to see the Polar Bears. No, Knut wasn't out. I finished off with the rhinos, tapirs and hippos. Here are lots of other people's pictures of animals at the Berlin Zoo and here is my picture of a hippo. The oddest thing about the zoo was the number of adults I saw feeding or trying to feed the animals. One man was feeding the birds some seed and a woman was trying to get the tapirs to eat hay out of her hand.

Day Five

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 3

Tuesday, March 25 - Day in Munich, Afternoon Flight to Berlin, Sleep in Berlin

I woke up and had the awesome breakfast with the pretzels again. After checking out, I walked to the Haubtbahnof in the snow and left my bag in a locker that cost 3 Euros. I went looking for a department store called Hertie's, but I couldn't find it. Instead, I went into a store called Mueller, which was like a CVS/Walgreens. I got some cough drops and Kinder Eggs, and then went back to the Hb. I got a Tagskarte(day ticket) and took the S-Bahn to the Isartor stop. I got pictures and then walked back towards Marienplatz, since it was 11:30 and the Glockenspiel goes off at noon. This time I went inside the Neues Ratshaus and took some pictures. It started snowing pretty hard and so I took refuge in an alcove in front of a men's clothing shop along with many other tourists. The Fischbrunnen fountain was right in front of me and I could see icicles forming on some of the figures, and I took a picture.

The snow stopped just before noon, as if it was giving us a break or something. I stood and watched the Glockenspiel with all the other tourists, getting pictures and video. I heard a few people speaking in Russian around the column of St Mary. After the show was done, I headed back to get my bag and then hopped on an S-8 to the Munich Flughafen (airport). I assumed the airport was the last stop on the route, but at some point I began to get paranoid that I'd missed the airport stop because I was reading and didn't see the current stops on the map I had. So, I left the train to check the map. It turned out that I was still 2 stops from the airport, which meant I shivered in the snow for another 15 minutes waiting for the next train.

I checked in and killed time reading and eating cough drops until the flight. We all had to walk down stairs and board a bus that brought us out to the plane. It reminded me of my RyanAir flight last year, but this was Lufthansa. At least we all had assigned seats. Anyway, the flight was pretty turbulent, so thankfully it was short. I got my luggage and got into the terminal, but I had no idea where to catch the bus into town. Berlin Tegel is a round airport, so I just walked one direction (counterclockwise) and finally saw a sign directing me to the bus stop. I got on an X9 and took it to the Zoo/Tiergarten station. On the way, we crossed a river twice and I started to see lots of Communist era buildings. My hotel was very close to the Zoo station, so I started walking the 3 blocks. At a busy intersection, I looked left and saw the very top of Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. It is a church built in the 1890s that was bombed in 1943. The ruins have been preserved and a new building built around it, but it's still breathtaking.

I got to my hotel and watched some Simpsons in German. After a while I got hungry, so I set out to find some food. I walked east on Kurfürstendamm and saw the church again. I went through a passage, which is like a skyway on the ground, and came out near the Aquarium entrance. It looked very Asian. I kept walking and found the Europa Center, which had signs promising food, even if it was just KFC. I ended up eating at an Irish pub, grilled cheese and Weissherbst wine. On the walk back to the hotel, I passed the Gedachtniskirche again, and this time the newer buildings were lit up. They have lots of blue glass in their walls, so they have pleasant glow at night. I got a lot more close ups of the church, even some where you can see the inside.

Day 4

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 2

Monday, March 24 - Arrive in Munich, Sleep in Munich

Once on the plane, I watched Dan in Real Life, Juno and some of Enchanted. I had already seen all 3 of them. I got some sleep, but I am not sure how much. I turned on my Blackberry at about 1:30 am Minneapolis time. All the networks were turned off, I was just using it to listen to music.

We landed in Munich and I got through Passport Control in no time. It was about 9am in Munich, 3 am back home. At the airport, I got a one day transit pass and boarded the 9:20 S8 to Haubtbahnof (the main train station). At the Daglfing stop, the train just sat for 10 minutes. There was some kind of announcement in German, and then when we reached Ostbahnof (East train station), the marquee said "Nicht er..." and everyone got off. I got on the next train, an S7 which was also going to the Haubtbahnof.

Once we got to the Hb, I had to walk a few blocks to the hotel past some sex shops, casinos and a place called "Sarah Supermaket". I was too early to check in, so they had me leave my bag at the front and go up and have breakfast. This was where I discovered the joy of Bavarian breakfast. They had big pretzels hanging there, so I had two with cream cheese, as well as some cereal and juice. I started to lose the tired feeling I had from the crappy night sleep. I went down after breakfast and got my room.

I got into my room about 11:30am and ended up sleeping until 4:30pm. I woke up and watched some tv before leaving for the Hb again. I took the S-Bahn to Marienplatz and heard lots of church bells as soon as I came up from the station. On Marienplatz is both the New and Old town halls (Ratshaus), as well as the Frauenkirche, Peterskirche and a Glockenspiel. There were lots of tourists and shoppers wandering around, and many of them had dogs along. I wandered around and found the Hofbrauhaus, traditional home to the Oktoberfest. I took some pictures of it, but didn't go inside. Instead, I got some pizza and hopped on the S-Bahn back to the Hb. As I was watching a bit more CNN, I find out it is supposed to snow tomorrow and there could be delays at the Munich airport. Great.

Day 3

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 1

Sunday, March 23 - Flight to Chicago and Flight to Munich

I woke up at 7:30 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and packed a few very last minute items. I had brunch with my boyfriend and family. My mother had just gotten back from Paris on Friday, so she had lots of postcards and stories. She also gave me a green Pashmina scarf that I was glad to have along.

My boyfriend drove me to the airport at about 1:45, since my flight was at 3:20. I found out it was delayed until about 4:05, which put us in Chicago at 5:15 or so. My connection was leaving at 5:57pm, but the gates were very close. For the short flight, I had the whole back row to myself, and I got some sleep. I also watched some 30 Rock. When we landed in Chicago, I had just enough time to check for my next gate and be one of the last people on the plane.

Thankfully I had carried my bag on the plane, since I doubt my luggage would have made it.

Day 2

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sixteen Hours

... or so until takeoff. I still have to pack a few last minute items, but that's it!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Silhouette against evening sky

Silhouette against evening sky
Originally uploaded by lizjones112

Six days until I fly to Munich, 7 days until I get to Berlin, and 10 days until Prague...

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Germany and Prague

Deutschland Praha

In about 5 weeks I will be going back to Europe, this time visiting Germany and Prague.
I am flying into Munich, flying up to Berlin, taking the train down to Prague and then another train back over to Munich. I got a flight on Lufthansa from Munich to Berlin for about half the cost of a train ticket, and since the train is over 6 hours and the flight is just over 1 hour, I am saving time as well.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Panda Trivia

There are only four cities in America that have Pandas on display in their zoos: Washington, DC, San Diego, Memphis and Atlanta. The only other cities outside of Asia with Pandas are Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Madrid. If I go through either Berlin or Vienna on my way to Prague, I'll try to see one.

There are two subspecies of Giant Pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca which is the most common, and Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis, which only live in the Quinling Mountains.

While Giant Pandas are classified in the bear family, the Red Panda is not a bear, but is more closely related to raccoons and is considered the only living member of the Ailuridae family.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Seventeen

Friday June 1

Time to head home. I was going to tube to Victoria, but I saw a bus that was headed there, so I hopped on that instead. It took a bit longer to get there, but I was still able to get a ticket for the 10:02 train to Gatwick. I grabbed a Falafel sandwich and sat down on the train. I realized I was on a local train, which made about 7 stops before finally getting to Gatwick. I got to go ahead in line for check-in since I was a bit late. There was some band in front of me in line for security and a girl asked them for their autograph. I still don't know who they were, but they all looked about 15. I hurried to my gate but it was still a long wait to board. I didn't sleep on the way home, I just watched tv and some movies.

When we landed around 4, I finally got to go through the short line at customs/immigration. They asked me what kind of food I was declaring and then I got my luggage. I called my ride, but then a guy yelled at me for using my phone. There were no signs that you couldn't use them, and I was not aware that I had to go through another customs line.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Sixteen

Thursday May 31

I woke up after not sleeping well and went to take a shower. I sat there for a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to get the water to come out of the shower and not the faucet. I finally figured it out, but I was very close to calling the front desk.

I stopped at a bakery for a croissant and juice and then hopped on the tube. I transferred at Notting Hill Gate and saw two Shih Tzu's on the platform. I got to the London Eye right at 11 and was able to get right in line to board because I had purchased my ticket back on my first day. I think the Eye was my favorite part of London. It is a giant observation wheel built right along the Thames. You get awesome views of all of London in your pod that holds like 25 people.

After that, I walked past County Hall and the Aquarium and over Westminster Bridge. I went right past Big Ben, through Parliament square and over to Westminster Abbey. There is a small church right by Westminster called St. Margaret's, and that's where Sir Walter Raleigh is buried. There are lots of other famous Brits buried in there, including the "Discoverer of Nineveh."

Inside Westminster Abbey there are many more graves and memorials: Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Cecil Rhodes just to name a few! In the Lady Chapel there are seats for the knights with helmets and swords hanging around them. I saw the coronation chair, where the monarchs are crowned and Poet's corner. At 1pm, some music started playing. I hit the gift shop and cafe for some postcards, a drink and a rest.

I headed out towards the nearest tube station and got some nice pictures of Big Ben on the way. The British Museum was my destination, but I stopped on the way for some groceries. I had a picnic in front before going inside the museum. After entering, I saw some artifacts from the discovery of Nineveh, which was weird considering I had just read about it in St. Margaret's. I also saw the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles, and a huge figure from Easter Island.

I tubed back to my hotel and watched some Graham Norton before going to sleep.

Day Seventeen

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fifteen

Wednesday May 30

I woke up at 8:20, packed everything in sight and checked out of Giovy after breakfast.
I left my luggage at the Termini and hit one of the stores in the attached mall. I got some flowery perfume for my niece and some mango vanilla stuff for myself. I always visit the zoo on vacation, but I hadn't seen it listed in any guidebooks, so had to look it up online. I got off the Metro at Flaminio and walked about a mile through Villa Borghese to the zoo and paid 8.50 Euros for admission. There is a public dog park adjacent to the zoo, and the nearest enclosure to the park is the hyenas! I wonder how many dogs go wild after hearing or smelling them. I saw a peahen with lots of chicks roaming free around the zoo, as well as two peacocks. The zoo has a big habitat built for the bears and in it they have comparison pictures of what the exhibit used to look like. It was basically just a bare room, so it's nice to see the improvement.

After the zoo I walked by the Modern Art Museum and took a bus back to the Metro, which brought me back to the Termini. I went online a bit more, got my luggage out of storage and took the same 6 Euro bus back to Ciampino. I got there about 7:20, since my flight was at 10. In the airport, I got some perfume at the duty free shop and popcorn for a snack. I didn't see popcorn much in Italy, and this package said "Popcorn not fried" and called it Air Corn. It was real popcorn though, not those puffcorn kernels.

Ryan Air started the boarding call at 9:30, changed the gate from 8 to 4 and then back to 8. I sat on the floor at times since there were hardly any chairs around the gate. Most of us ended up standing for almost an hour before getting on the buses to bring us out to the plane, so it was a mad dash for seats. It was a short flight and the line at UK Immigration looked shorter then the first one.

It was shorter, but it did not move nearly as fast. It took over an hour to get through. I had a ticket for the Stansted National Express bus, and I nearly missed the 1:05am because I couldn't find the stop. But, I hopped on just in time. When the driver asked me if I was going to Victoria Station, I said, "Si", because I was so used to saying it in Italy. At Victoria, a guy asked us if we wanted taxis as soon as we got off. I thought he was going to hail one, but it turned out he was a gypsy cab. He got chided by the police on the way for going too fast or running a red light, I don't remember. I saw the London Eye, the pickle, Big Ben and the full moon as we drove to my hotel.
I got there about 2:30am and fell into bed.

Day Sixteen

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fourteen

Monday May 29

I got a late start today and it was still rainy, so Giovanna lent me an umbrella. I waited in line for the 110 for almost 45 minutes. I decided to take the metro up to St Peter's, since I'd probably have better luck getting on there. There was a very long line to get into the Basillica so I walked down Ottoviana and shopped a bit. Then I took the Metro back to Termini and rode the Archeobus. It was still cloudy, and there isn't much to see from the Arch. bus. It's better if you get off and walk around. I went back to my B&B at about 4 and napped. I went down to check my email and MySpace, where I got a message from a guy I knew in high school. It was weird because something had reminded me of him just the day before.

I stayed in for the evening and watched some more Italian TV. One show was Strisciala Notizia, which I used my dictionary to roughly translate into "Scrape the News". It was hosted by Ficarra & Picone.

Day Fifteen

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Thirteen

Monday May 28

American Memorial Day - I had a light breakfast and spent an hour online checking my email and MySpace (and yes even playing some KOL).

Then I went over to the bus area in front of the Termini and bought a two day combo ticket for the 110 and Archeobus. The 110 is a bus for tourists that takes you around to many of Rome's most popular sites, while the Archeobus takes you out along the Appian Way. They are both hop-on and hop-off and give you headphones to listen to the multilingual recordings about each site.
On my first ride, I got off at the Colosseum and took a few pictures. I wasn't planning to go inside, but a storm hit and many of us hid in the alcoves along the outside. It was cold and street vendors kept trying to sell me umbrellas. Finally, I went inside to get out of the rain and see how long the line for an admission ticket was. It moved very fast, so I was inside but not really out of the rain. On the second floor there was an exhibit about the Roman god Eros, with sculpture, pottery and paintings. I took many inside pictures and a few of the Forum and then headed back to the 110 stop.
This time I stayed on the bus for the whole route, getting some great pictures along the way. I went up to my B&B at about 4 to change into warmer clothes and rest a bit. I went back and took the whole 110 route again, this time from the top floor. As we drove up the road just after crossing the river, St Peter's came into view. There were sun rays peeking out from the clouds over the dome, just like a cartoon version of heaven. I was euphoric. The whole concept of how far I had traveled, what I had experienced over the past two weeks and how much I really needed this trip all hit me at this point. Going to Europe had been a big dream of mine for a long time, and it had finally happened.
When the bus returned to the Termini again, I headed over to Santa Maria Maggiore and read for a bit. I then walked up to the Quirinale and got some sunset pictures. I started to walk back towards Termini, but I got lost. I found my way, but then got lost again! I finally just got on the Metro and took it back to the Termini. Right before we boarded three guys ran through the crowd. 1 or 2 of them must have been chasing the other, but I have no idea why.

Day Fourteen

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Ciao a Roma

Wow, I am here on my third full day in Rome and I still can't believe I am in Europe at all. I have taken so many pictures, I filled two 1GB cards and my 2GB is about half full. I still have today, Tuesday and Wednesday in Rome and Thursday in London.
Florence was beautiful, but frenetic. It is something else to stand in front of iconic works of art like that.
Sorrento was idyllic and gave me the 'chill out' time I needed. In Sorrento, I met a family from New Jersey at dinner and spent the next day in Sorrento with them. We shopped, talked, ate and sat by the sea. If I was ever to move to Italy, it would probably be somewhere around the Sorrento peninsula or Amalfi coast.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Twelve

Sunday, May 27

Again, I woke up at 5 and couldn't get back to sleep for a while, but at some point I did and woke up for good at 9. I went down to breakfast, which was huge and delicious, and Giovanna gave me a larger map. I took the 64 bus again, this time getting off near the Campo de Fiori which was deserted at 11am. Rick Steves has a walk in his Rome book called "La Dolce Vita" and I think he wants you to walk it at night, but it included so many things I had on my list that I did it during the day. So, I walked to Ponte Garibaldi, past the Singoga and Jewish Ghetto and looked over the river to Isola Tiberina. I then headed to the Pantheon and passed the Sacra again. It was very crowded getting in, and I saw some priests and probably other higher-ups leaving. There were rose petals sprinkled on the floor, and we all had to move towards the back so some choir pictures could be taken in the front. It wasn't nearly as crowded when leaving, and I sat in front by the fountain and rested.

I kept following Rick's walk and passed the Egyptian Obelisk that was Augustus' trophy after defeating Marc Antony and Cleopatra. The sky started to sprinkle a bit, so I went inside a mall and bought 'Wuthering Heights'. After waiting out the light rain, I headed east to the Trevi fountain. I specifically found a Spanish Euro to throw in, since it it supposed to guarantee your return to Rome. I figured, "Why not try to get Spain in on the guarantee as well?" After taking some video of the fountain, I walked north past Piazza Mignanelli and the column to the Piazza de Spagna and the Spanish Steps. I filled my water bottle and then sat on the steps reading and eating pistachios. Last on the itinerary was a walk down via Sistena to the Piazza Barberini and the Fontana del Tritone. I took the Metro back to my B&B, watched some more Italian television and fell asleep.

Day Thirteen

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eleven

Saturday, May 26

I got a bit early to pack and headed out for breakfast. I sat at a table with some girls from Utah who were attending the cooking school and ate while the Sangiovannis came out and sat around the table. We wandered around Sorrento again, looking out on the Porta again and shopping down the San Ceseare. This time we tried some Limoncello, both regular and creme! We stopped for lunch and I ordered scallops, except I didn't. When my plate came, it was Veal Scallopini, I had ordered wrong, so we asked for some fish for me instead. If it had been just regular beef, I would have eaten it, but I can't stomach veal.

I had to catch the Circumvesuviana back to Naples at 4:39 to make my train back to Rome. So, we headed back to Sant Agnello and went down to the beach. To get there, you head down a beautiful but treacherous stone ramp that goes in and out of the cliff side until you finally are at sea level. There we sat by the bay and drank soda until 4, when we took the elevator up for 30 pence each and they walked me back to the B&B. After hugging them good-bye, I hiked up to the train station and finally understood that I had been getting lost because I was exiting on the north/west, not the south/east side.

On the Circumvesuviana, I was waiting for the Napoli Centrale station, but they announced Napoli Garabaldi and it looked like the right stop, so I hopped off. I was right, but I only had time to hit the bathroom and jump on my train. It was so much easier now after riding it twice before. It was a quick trip into Rome and a short walk to B&B Giovy. I highly recommend this place, as Giovanna is a great hostess, the rooms are spacious and sparkling, and the location can't be beat. It is literally 2 blocks from the Termini. Some places it is listed as Town House Suites Giovy, but be sure you are staying on Principe Amedeo!

Giovanna insisted on carrying my bag upstairs and she brought me water, orange juice, yogurt and fruit without me even asking. I watched Shrek in Italian before bed.

Day Twelve

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Ten

Friday, May 25

I got a very late start today, waking up at 11 and not leaving my room until almost noon. I really started to feel relaxed in Sorrento, partly because it's hard not to chill out there. Everything is beautiful and the pace is pretty slow. I went back to the grocery store, got things for a picnic lunch and ate in A Lauro. I walked towards the coast again and hung out in a little park called Piazza Vittoria overlooking Marina San Francesco. The Via San Cesareo is a road filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, so I strolled through it on the way back to the train station.

It was only a 3 minute train ride back to Sant Agnello, but I got completely lost on the way back to the hotel. I took a shower and went out to sign up for dinner. Mami Camilla has a cooking school attached that offers dinner in the evening for guests. As I walked through the garden to sign up, I saw a very large Corso Mastiff named Spagi and a little Chihuahua named Lola. It was about 4 pm and dinner was not until 8, so I had some snacks and did puzzles in the common area of the hotel and then went for a nap. I slept for almost two hours and woke just in time for dinner.

I sat at a table with seven other people, five of whom were a family from New Jersey travelling together. Dinner started with an octopus antipasti, a ravioli with basil and ricotta and bass with asparagus. Dessert was an apple strudel with pinenuts, which I am allergic to, but I picked them off. The family, the Sangiovannis, invited me to walk down by the cliff with them. They had just arrived in town that day so I told them a bit about what I had seen so far. They started their Italy trip in Lake Como and had been to both Florence and Rome, so we compared notes on what we liked and didn't like. We had coffee and tea at a bar overlooking the bay and hung out on the hotel roof and garden until about 2am.

Day Eleven

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Nine

Thursday, May 24th

After breakfast at my hotel and watching a little bit of Dukes of Hazzard in Italian, I packed everything and headed to the Santa Maria Novella train station. There I bought a map of Naples and a book of short stories by Jennifer Weiner. I got some pizza before getting on the train and realized how much easier it was the second time. Basically, try to get on the right car and listen to the announcements, since they repeat most of them in English. My train was direct to Naples, but stopped at Roma Termini, where it reversed so that I was facing forward and saw quite a few mountains on the east side of the tracks. It started to get very foggy and the sky turned stormy as we neared Naples. When we arrived at Napoli Centrale, I bought my Naples to Rome ticket for Saturday. I bought it for 6:30pm, since it was only an hour and a half back to Rome and I figured I'd want to spend time in Naples before I left.

As I headed down to the Circumvesuviana, the train that runs from Naples to outlying cities, I was expecting just one route, but there are actually six different lines! Luckily I knew my train's final destination was Sorrento, even though I was going to Sant'Angello. On the hour-long ride, I got my first tiny glimpses of both Vesuvius and the Mediterranean! I also overheard some guys speaking a language that I thought sounded like French until one of them said the Russian word for good (roughly "hodoshow").

When I got off the train, I headed towards the water and ended up making a large U through Sant'Angello instead of going right to my B&B. I didn't mind though, because as I turned a corner, I saw a breathtaking view of the bay overlooking Sorrento with a huge cruise ship in the port. Mami Camilla, my B&B, gave me a sparkling clean room with a queen bed. The whole Sorrentine peninsula has these sweet smelling flowers and the smell wafted into my room!

After changing clothes and resting a bit, I used the map they gave me to walk into Sorrento, veering left to go along Corso Italia instead of the road along the ocean. I had read about two places in Sorrento,
Standa grocery store and Pizzeria da Franco and they were both on Corso Italia. I found each of them, but I wasn't really hungry yet, so I kept walking through town towards Marina Piccola. There's another great view at the top of the road just before it starts to descend towards the marina. You can see Mount Vesuvius and look back along the coast to see Piano di Sorrento and Sant'Agnello. You also get to watch the hydrofoils that head out to Naples, Capri and Ischia. I walked back into town and past Standa, which was closed now, so I ate at Pizzeria da Franco. I ordered the provolone, walnut and honey appetizer and a pepperoni sandwich. They were both great and of course I had to have some Limoncello, since lemons are such a major part of Sorrento. I got back to the B&B pretty late.

Day Ten

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eight

Wednesday May 23rd

I woke up after 9 am and grabbed a croissant and cheese from the hotel. I headed to the Baptistery and Duomo again since they are in the middle of Florence and it is easy to find everything from there. I had a 10:30 am reservation at the Accademia. It was the first academy of drawing in Europe and it houses Michelangelo's David. There was huge line for those without reservations and a smaller line for reservations. Inside, I saw Giambologna's the Rape of the Sabine Women. I assumed this was the original and the one I'd seen the day before in the Loggia dei Lanzi off the Piazza della Signoria was the copy. But it turns out this was the plaster and the one outside was the original.

I took some pictures of that sculpture and some musical instruments, including a couple made by Stradivarius! I walked into the third room and gasped a little as I saw David at the end of the hallway. I took two pictures and then a guard yelled that photos were not allowed in the gallery. There were no signs anywhere that I could see, and no guards had stopped me from taking pictures in the first two rooms. I guess they just have an issue with people taking pictures of David. When you get right up next to him, there is a very small sign that says 'no photography'. He is 17 feet tall and on a 5-6 foot platform, so if you are right next to him, you have to crane your neck a little. I marvelled at the detail in his right forearm, where there is a vein that travels out to his hand. I bought some things in the gift shop and headed back towards the Baptistery and Duomo.

My Uffizi reservation was for 1:30, so I had time to wander a bit. Ponte Vecchio is where I headed, which is a bridge over the Arno river and the only one spared by the Germans during World War II. There are small shops lining the bridge and most of them sell jewelry. On the other side of the bridge, I stopped to check my email and then headed back on Ponte Santa Trinita. Getting into the Uffizi was a bit confusing, but once inside I climbed four flights of stairs and looked at some busts of various members of the Medici family. There are tons of portraits lining the outer halls of the gallery, including ones of Machiavelli, Dante and several Ottoman sultans. My main reason for visiting the Uffuzi was to see the Botticelli room with his paintings Primavera (Spring) and The Birth of Venus. I also saw two versions of Adoration of the Magi, one by Rosselli and an unfinished version by DaVinci. The last major work I saw was Caravaggio's shield depicting the head of Medusa.

I headed back to my hotel for a nap, walking through the market Porta Rossa on the way. After my nap, I had dinner in my room and watched quite a bit of Italian television. Spongebob is still funny in Italian! While watching CNN, I saw two different ads for cities vying to host the 2014 Olympics, PyeongChang, South Korea and Sochi, Russia. Salzburg, Austria is the only other city in contention, and the final vote will be on July 4, 2007.

Day Nine

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Seven

Tuesday May 22nd

I woke up around 5am and could not get back to sleep, so I packed everything up for my train ride to Florence. I fell back asleep and when I woke up again, it was 9:20! I was planning to be on the bus by 9:30, but that plan was scrapped. I ate breakfast and my B&B host gave me some sandwiches for the train ride. He told me that the cafe car can be expensive. I hiked up to the local station and took a .90 train to the Termini. I found my Eurostar train on track 2 and just got on a random car. My ticket was for car 12, seat 96 and so I set off through the train, with my suitcase and tried to find car 12. An announcement came on that said the train was direct to Venice. Thinking I was on the wrong train altogether, I hopped off and asked a nun who was on the next car. She pointed to the car that I had just left and I saw that it was car 12. I got back on it and looked for my seat only to find that it was the first one that I had walked past when I first got on the train!

On the train I took some pictures and read an article about Second Life in Italian. When I got to the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, I bought my ticket to Naples for Thursday morning. I walked to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella and ate my sandwiches. I talked a little bit with a man who was born in Florence but lives in London now. There were some pigeons in the piazza who were in pretty rough shape, including one with a missing leg. My hotel was only 2 blocks from the station, so I walked there and checked in. Their tv had several channels in Italian, and 2 in English, the BBC and CNN.

Later, I headed towards the Baptistery and Duomo to get some pictures and then past the Bargello. They were on my way to Santa Croce, a church in Florence that has many famous people buried in it. Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Marconi and Fermi are all buried here, and there is a monument to Dante. There are tombs in the floor and the audio guide explains that people wanted to be buried there to remind the living of their mortality when they tread upon the graves. Still, they have to protect them from wear, so some of them are surrounded by velvet ropes. After I left the church I went to the Piazza Della Signora and checked out the statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Then I ambled down a main shopping street called Calzaioli and got some tiramisu flavored gelato. I finished it in front of the Baptistery and went back to my hotel to do some laundry. The lobby had a copy of Rick Steve's Italy guidebook, so I read up a bit on Sorrento and the Night Walk in Rome.

I went out again in the evening and passed a theater playing movies in English with Italian subtitles. But the only thing they were playing was "Zodiac", and I didn't want to see it. I kept walking and had dinner at a trattoria with a rather gruff waiter. I had a Caprese salad and quattro-formaggi pizza, and then went to sleep around 10.

Day Eight

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Six

Monday May 21st

I decided to do the Colosseum and the Forum today, so I left my B&B around 10:30 to catch the 64 bus. I hopped off the bus at the area known as the Sacra which was close to the restaurant from last night. It is a square block of temple ruins that were discovered in the 1920's and built in the second and third centuries BC. It is about ten feet below the current street around it, and there is a cat shelter that takes care of the stray cats that live there. Each time I passed it, I could see about ten cats just lounging or playing around the ruins. I got back on the 64 and took it to Piazza Venezia, which is at the foot of Capitoline Hill. From here I got some more pictures of the Monument Vittorio Emanuele II and then climbed up the steps to the Campidoglio, a square designed by Michelangelo. I took lots of pictures and then rounded the corner to go down the hill towards the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I filled my water bottle after waiting in line with tons of German tourists and got my first view of the Colosseum! I wandered through the forum at the foot of Palatine Hill for about an hour and finally reached the Colosseum. This area was rife with street hawkers selling sunglasses, hats, purses and other things. I sat near the Arch of Constantine, bought some souvenirs, took a bunch of pictures and had some so-so pizza.

I decided not to go inside the Colosseum until I came back to Rome the next week. Instead, I took the Metro up to the Cipro/Vatican Museums stop. I climbed several sets of stairs and got to the door of the museums at 3:20PM. They stop letting people in around 3:30, so there was really no line at all. I wandered through the Gallery of Maps and came upon the Sistine Chapel. You can take pictures in all of the other rooms, but they are a no-no inside the Chapel. You are also supposed to be quiet, but the guards have a hard time enforcing these rules. After sitting a bit and staring at the ceiling, I moved on through the rest of the museums, seeing lots of old artifacts and a few works of art. After I left the museums, I shopped on via Ottaviano and had some cannolli. I'd been to a small grocery store, so I had a picnic in St Peter's square and went to bed early. Tomorrow I would leave for Florence!

Day Seven

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Five

Sunday May 20th

I woke up to pack at 4AM, got the early bus to the other early bus to the airport. There were some nice views of the English countryside from the second bus and I got some pictures. I checked in and went through security at about 6:45AM. I got some food and big bottle of water from the Boots store and headed towards the gate. Remember that I paid a pound a minute for internet at the rail station? I found a bank of computers in the airport that were one pound for 15 minutes! I checked my email and then experienced the frenzy of boarding an airplane with no assigned seats. RyanAir does not assign you a seat on the plane, but it wasn't too crazy. We did have to walk from the gate to the plane right on the runway, and use the old-fashioned airplane stairs. I got a window seat and got the coolest views of the English Channel, France the Alps and all of Italy.

Once we landed, they had to bus us from the plane to the terminal and I was waved through immigration in order to wait at least 30 minutes for my bag. I took a 6 Euro coach bus to the Termini in Rome, and I napped a bit on the way there. At this point I realize I have American Dollars, British pounds and Euros all in coins and bills mixed up in my wallet. I put all the non Euro cash into a baggie with my passport. On reaching the Termini, I go inside to buy my Trenitalia ticket to Florence for Tuesday and get some food. Then I take the 64 bus to Stazione St Pietro and walk to my B&B. The first thing I see as I turn the corner is the dome over St Peter's Basilica. My host is very nice and I take a quick nap before heading out to see Rome.

I started by walking a few blocks to St Peter's Square, then over the Tiber River on Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II and then back on Ponte Sant'Angelo towards Castel Sant'Angello. Back over the river, I wandered around and came into Piazza Navona. Unfortunately, the Fountain of the Four Rivers was under scaffolding. I walked down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II all the way down the Monument Vittorio Emanuele II (he's a popular guy since he was the first king of a united Italy) and then backtracked to a restaurant. I had salmon and sweet rosemary potatoes. It was dark and I was tired (sensing a theme here?) so I took the bus back to my B&B, seeing some stray cats along the way. I hit the sheets at about 11PM.

Day Six

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Four

Saturday, May 19th

The first thing I did after landing in London was use the men's bathroom. I didn't realize it until after, because it was one of those single stall loos. Anyway, I start following the signs for Non-UK and Non-EU passport holders. It's a huge line and that is where I start writing this journal for the trip, starting back on Tuesday night with the flight to Chicago. At immigration, I tell the guy I'm leaving for Rome on Sunday and he says, "Tomorrow?" and I am confused for a minute. I laugh and tell him that I have no idea what day it is. I get out of there at 11:20, change my clothes and am thankful that I don't have to wait for any luggage. The Gatwick Express takes me into London's Victoria Station. At this point, I know I need to get a room for tonight, but I did not know that there was some kind of World Cup going on. This resulted in high hotel bookings and lot of loud, strangely dressed fans in all the stations. I got an Oyster card and took the tube to Waterloo station. I left my luggage there and walked out to the South Bank to see the London Eye. The lines were crazy long and I was tired, so I just waited in the ticket line and bought an 11 AM ticket for May31st, my last day in London. Back at Waterloo, I had a Chicken Korma Pasty (a curry chicken pot pie that you can hold in your hands) and paid 20 pence to use a bathroom. I used an Internet terminal that charged a pound per minute to book a room at the London Heathrow Marriott. I was very, very tired at this point, so I took the tube out to the airport, thinking I could get a cab if the hotel was too far away. I had to be at London Stansted (aka boondock central) the next morning and I knew they had bus transfer service between airports. After falling asleep on the tube and correctly guessing which Heathrow stop I should use, I got to the bus station and bought my bus ticket to Stansted. I also got a round trip Hotel Hopper so I could get to my hotel and back again. Let's see working backwards, an 8:30 am flight means a 6:30 am check-in, which means a 5:20am bus from Heathrow, so I need to get on the 4:37am bus from my hotel. I got to the hotel around 5pm, watched TV, visited the gift shop, had tea and went to sleep.

Day Five

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Three

Friday, May 18th

More like Day One
Today I flew from Minneapolis to Detroit and then on to London. My Detroit flight was uneventful, but my London flight had problems with the video system, so we had nothing to watch. There was an American guy in the row ahead of me sitting next to a British woman. He asked her about her trip and when she told him they visited Los Angeles he says, "Oh you've got to be kidding, LA is horrible!"

After dinner I got some sleep and woke up to breakfast sandwiches. We got vouchers as we disembarked because of the video malfunction, one for a free beverage and one for $50 off our next flight.

Day Four

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Two

Thursday, May 17th

I am still in Minneapolis, so I went to work today. I also booked myself on new flights, Minneapolis to London and London to Rome. I now have a $450 credit on United Airlines, because my new transatlantic flight is on Northwest. I also booked a new B&B for my first two nights in Rome. I have been packed since about Saturday and it looks like I will actually be able to leave tomorrow!

Day Three

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Monday, April 16, 2007

T minus 30 Days

I leave exactly one month from today.

I bought the Moleskine City Notebook for Rome and I have been filling it with my schedule, flight times and hotel maps. Amazon's list price is $27.95, and they try to dazzle you by selling it at $16.95. In reality, you won't find it anywhere online for more than $20 and I got mine at Barnes and Noble for under $15. If you go to any of the cities the notebooks cover, I highly recommend them.

I used Google maps to print a small hybrid map showing the route from the nearest tube or subway stop to each of my hotels. My favorite is the one for my hotel in Florence, where you can see the Duomo from the air.

Instead of staying in Naples for two nights, I am going across the bay to Sorrento. From there I can take a boat to the Isle of Capri or a bus to Positano, or I can just veg out on the beach.

I have scheduled most of my days at least as far as the major things I want to do. My 2 days in London are very, very planned out and so is my only full day in Florence. In Florence, both the Uffuzi and Accademia tend to have long lines, so I will prebook my tickets to avoid them. I will also be visiting Santa Croce, to see the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Fermi.

I am still waiting on my passport. It took 43 days after I applied for me to be able to track the application online, even though their site still says "up to 4 weeks" and some pages are even still saying the old 3 weeks. When you try to call, you are advised that they can only help people travelling within two weeks. So, I will be calling on May 2nd to expedite if I still don't have a delivery date. I should have just expedited when I applied.

The other thing that irks me about the passport process is that the site claims that some Minneapolis area post offices will take applications on weekends and that is not true. I have sent them 3 different emails asking them to correct the info, but they still haven't.

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