31 March 2011

Take Me On! - Rome [Day Four]

The Vatican Museum is free on the last Sunday of every month. I really wanted to go, so the fact that I saved myself €15 - stoked! The only thing was that hundreds of other people have exactly the same idea, meaning huge lines. Entry closed just after midday, so the only way to make sure you got in was to go EARLY! The universe was determined to make me work for that €15; day light savings was beginning Saturday evening. Meaning I lost a whole hour of sleep! The museum opened at 9am, so I decided to meet Maja at 8am at the metro station nearest the entrance. Random story - I was waiting in the metro station along when an Asian girl walks in and sits down. She gets her phone out and starts playing music loudly. Take on Me by A-ha. Then Karma Chameleon by Culture Club. All of a sudden she just starts signing... There is only the two of us down in the metro station, and I'm starting to think there is a hidden camera somewhere...

30 March 2011

All Roads Lead To Rome... The middle of Nowhere! [Day Three]

Day three started off pretty poorly, and did not improve. I woke up, once again, feeling like crap. I think the main reason is that I am just pushing too hard; huge days out walking, not eating properly if at all, and not getting as much sleep as I probably should.

So I felt like crap. I decided I should probably take it easy, maybe check out a few touristy spots, relax, take it slow. Sem suggested joining him to check out a few parks and relax in the sun. That sounded like a perfect idea, so we set off...

Along the way I asked if we could call into a supermarket to pick up a few things, as I had not eaten a that morning, and it might be cool to take some food to the park for a bit of a picnic. That was all good. Sem said he also needed to call into a bike shop quickly to pick up something, but don't worry, it's not far. No problem-o. Well, actually there was problem-o, it was a decent ride and already I was running out of puff. I just had no energy, and just generally felt like shit. Anyway, we made it, and after 15 minutes at the bike store they did not have what he needed. Sem then said that he wanted to go to a sports shop to find a tent, but it was just down the road.

Hangin' with Mr Cooper Benedict - Rome [Day Two]

I was pretty keen for a sleep in after the previous nights escapades, but I was meant to be meeting Maja, a Croatian girl from CS that was also doing the tourist thing in Rome. Maja is a cool girl. A really relaxed, friendly and an interesting person; a perfect tourist buddy! With the green machine just sitting there looking at me, I decided to jump on and cycle into town. No public transport = freedom, no queues, no crowds, no cost! I realised it was a bad idea as soon as I started cyclying - my thighs and ass were killing me! But it was now too late to take public transport, so I carried on. I made it, a little late, but I got there.

Our first stop was the Colosseum. I am sure that I don't need to tell you what it is... But what I can tell you is that photos do not do it justice. It is a huge, imposing structure, and actually very intracately designed. There was this whole underfloor area where the sets and animals were kept, with trap doors and pulleys to keep it all working smoothly.

28 March 2011

When in Rome... CYCLE! [Day One]

The trip down to Rome was really beautiful. Think rolling, green hillsides, blue skies, sun shining. A perfect day! I got into Rome at about 3:30pm and decided to make the most of the afternoon. Following my tourist map Petra had kindly given me, I made my way to the closest church. The cool thing about Rome is that all (or most) of the churches are completely open to the public. Anyone can go in and check em out, take a few photos. You would think this would be normal, but try getting in to St. Pauls in London - it costs you about £15!

The exterior of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major was fairly plain looking... But the interior? blew my mind. I have seen a whole lot of
churches in a lot of countries, but this was the next level. (I think I am going to be doing this a lot, but) I cannot explain how amazing this place was, so just check out the photos!

25 March 2011

Quick stop in Siena [Italy]

I arrived in Siena about midday, stopped in at the information centre to confirm my investigations; that there was only one hostel in the city. I was correct. And it was nowhere near the city centre. The buses ran every 30 minutes, and took about 15 minutes to get to the hostel. But it was also only 30 minutes walk. So I threw on my backpack and headed off. I might have reconsidered walking if I knew the hostel was on top of a hill!

When I got to the hostel I found a sign hanging on the door 'Open at 3:30pm'. What the ..? What am I meant to do for three hours. Checked for wifi, negitive. So I did all you can do in those situations, found the McDonalds located 50m down the road, chilled out and read my book.

24 March 2011

Penis Galore! - Florence [Italy]

A quick explanation of the title for this post; no, I have not switched teams. Florence just seems to be the world capital of statues hanging out with their wang out... Just sayin'

I arrived into Florence at about 2 in the afternoon and had a quick wander around, but my backpack was way too heavy to lug around. I decided to go to meet my host. A lie down, maybe an afternoon nap, a bit of food - it was sounding like a great idea. My host, Leonardo, is a cool guy that lives by himself in the east of the city. He was really giving and was a great host. So I met him at the bus station, and I will be honest - he looked a little... ummm... rugged. He threw my backpack in the back of his car and told me to jump back on the train and go sightseeing for the afternoon. It did make sense; it was a beautiful afternoon! But I was a little reluctant. Firstly I was HANGING! But other than that I was a little worried... I had checked out Leonardo on couch surfing and he had some great references, but to me he is a complete stranger. That bag contained my life! They say at some point you have to trust someone... So I got on the train.

20 March 2011

Getting loose in Pisa [Italy]

I arrived in Pisa at about 7pm, found my hostel and chilled for the evening. The place was clean and warm, all I needed. Most of the evening I spent uploading photos for your entertainment. I did meet some cool Canadian peeps, Logan and Jessy, in my room. It was actually Jessys birthday the following day, and they started talking me in to staying an extra night so I could go out and party with them. Having not even gone out on this trip once so far, mainly because I have been sick, it was sounding pretty good. But I wasn't going to make any promises.

The following morning I got up at 8am, packed my gear, stowed it in the left luggage, and joined a walking tour of Pisa. It was really good, but there was a bit of information overload. I learned all about Pisa's history, different buildings, the story of the tower... Pisa actually used to be a huge city, and a major European power, but mainly due to one man (a traitor!) it has reduced in size to the city it is today.

19 March 2011

Have I died and gone to heaven? - Cinque Terre [Italy]

The sun was still shining when I stepped off the train in La Spezia, and I was plesantly surprised to be greeted by what seemed like a cute little town, rather than an industrial city.

I followed the directions provided by my hostel to the bus stop, and got there with about 10 minutes to spare. Just as well as the bus after mine didn't arrive for another two hours! I dropped my bag and waited... and waited... and waited. Thirty minutes after the scheduled time I decided it was not coming, so tried to get hold of the hostel. Problem - the number I had was not working. So here I was alone in a foreign city where hardly anyone speaks English, I don't know how to get to my accommodation, I know for a fact that all the budget accommodation is booked out and it is starting to get dark. Shit. You start to feel pretty alone in situations like that.

I made my way down the street to see if I could find an internet cafe so I could get the correct phone number. I stumbled across a normal cafe, where one of the old guys spoke a little English. He was very kind and tried his best to help, but in the end he just walked me back to the bus stop I had already been waiting at. But while there he did speak to some of the locals, who said the busses were all screwed up because it was a national holiday. So I basically just had to wait.

The Menace From Venice [Italy]

Having spoken to a few experienced couch surfers, it usually it takes quite a while before you have your first bad experience. Well, not me. I am currently lying on a pull out mattress in a crazy mans kitchen. Tomorrow I get to migrate to the hallway.

It is my fault, really. I told Jean-Marc who I planned to stay with in Venice. He had heard of the guy and warned me against it. I thought, ahh, it can't be all that bad. And even when my host messaged me to ask if I would 'wrestle' (not against him, but another couch surfer) alarm bells should have rung. But the guy has about 400 positive references... Surely they aren't all liars?

So he picks me up from the station at 9pm, the conversation in the car was fine, he told me about his wrestling and why he does it and all about his couch surfing experience. After speaking to the guy for about 15 minutes I came to one conclusion; he has some very strong opinions. And some of those opinions are not entirely PC. Think along the sexist, racist lines.

18 March 2011

Quick Learner - Milan [Italy]

After some last minute wrangling I managed to secure a couch in Milan. Well, not exactly a couch, but I found a guy that was in Milan for business, in his company paid hotel room. His name was Jean-Marc, and being the awesome guy he is, he offered to share it - gratis! Problem - it is a single room and he was unable to change to a double. But not prepared to give up, we made it work. I am currently writing this first part of my Milan blog lying on a bed base. Yes, it is a little hard, but hey, it is right in the city, and FREE! And even more importantly I got to meet Marc, who is a crazy, quad-lingual, loose-as-a-goose, awesome guy. We clicked instantly.

Anyway, lets start at the beginning. I arrived into Milan at about 3 in the afternoon, and wandered out of the most crazy HUGE rail station I have ever seen. Seriously, huge. I made my way down the mammoth streets - unbelievably wide - which all seemed to be completely deserted! Immediately I got a feeling that there was plenty of money in Milan, from the high-rise hotels, to the marble arcades filled with Gucci and Luis Vuitton stores. I reached the point at which I was meeting Marc 30 minutes early, so gave him a text and settled down to wait. Five minutes later he shows up. Perfect.

13 March 2011

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous [The French Rivera]

With no accommodation, I was living on the hope that someone from the Couch Surfing community would find my message on the website and wait for me at the train station... they didn't. So I set off to find the cheapest possible accommodation for the evening. Thankfully I was somewhat prepared, having done a little research on the available hostels before I left Marseille. The best value for money - in that it was the top rated AND one of the cheapest - was the Villa Saint Exupery Beach. And it really did live up to its reviews - being one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in, and all for €16! I booked for two nights, with the hope that a Couch Surfer would save me for the last day or two.

I dropped my gear and went for a wander. About 200m from the hostel was the promenade and beach. Had I died and gone to heaven? Blue skies, sun shining, a beach that stretched forever lined by palm trees, beautiful woman and clear blue seas. What else can I say?

9 March 2011

Dodging Dog Shit in Marseille [France]

I write this post on the cheapest possible regional train, surrounded by dodgy looking characters and screaming babies. And it was still 30 euro! But I turn and look out the window at the dramatic French coastline and it doesn't seem so bad.

Just when I thought the worst was over, I come down with the flu. Out of two years working in London I rarely took a sick day (apart from bad bout of tonsillitis). And now of all times I get sick. But drugged up on cold and flu tablets, I soldier on.

So lets start where I left off last time - on a train speeding toward Marseille. The trip was uneventful, but I arrived to a beautiful blue sky and the sun shining brightly. Perfect! I met my couch surf host, Sara, at the train station and she showed me back to her flat, and my home for the next two days. Sara is Hungarian and is in Marseille participating in the European Volunteer Scheme. The best way to describe her in my kiwi vocabulary: she is awesome! Sara lives with four other volunteers in their large flat, conveniently just down the road from the station. I first met Masha, a Ukranian girl, very warm and friendly.

7 March 2011

Off to a flying start. Day One: FAIL!

An early morning wakeup call followed a very restless nights sleep. I woke almost every hour to check the time and make sure I had not overslept. After quickly pulling on some clothes and gathering my things, I walked out the door of my London flat for the last time.

With little time to spare, I quickly made my way to the rail station, and the train pulled up just as I walked onto the platform. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day. I was wrong...

6 March 2011

Walk a Day in my Shoes - Life in London

Most of my posts on here are about the trips I have taken across Europe and England, but I have not really stopped to take time and write about my day-to-day life in London. Now that my time here is coming to an end, I wanted to document this time in some form so I could look back and remember not only the amazing holidays, but the day-to-day grind.

It is funny; you often get bogged down by normal life that you do not stop to fully appreciate your surroundings. Well, it happened to me at least, and I only realised it when I decided to do this post. London is a truly amazing city, and every day for two years I walked through the heart of it. Once I got into the normality of work and routine, I kept my head down and focused on my destination. The last few weeks I lifted my head and really took in my surroundings. And I was amazed.
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