Twenty eight hours

We had a wonderful time in Aegina yesterday. We caught an eleven am ferry over and went straight to the beach. The first beach was very touristy and was right where the ferries docked so we continued down the road where there was a little cove with some locals swimming. The water was so clear and aside from a few rocks near the shore, it was all white sand. There were a few fish and tiny hermit crabs but not much else. I did manage to find a huge sea urchin near the rocky area which I enjoyed looking at from a safe distance. The rest of the cove was like a giant, sandy swimming pool.

We had to get up at five am and leave within thirty minutes, hail a cab, and catch a bus to the airport. Even though we tried to get to bed early, there is so much traveling today that we have no choice but to sleep in planes or in the airport. By now I have gotten a lot better at sleeping in random places, just yesterday I slept on a ferry bench like a homeless person.
Our last plane was an airbus and we were very lucky as it was equipped with touch screen monitors on the back of each seat with a variety of music, TV and movies. It was the only way I survived the almost ten hour flight from Rome to Charlotte. I watched multiple movies; In Time, 21 Jump Street and part of Hunger Games. They even had a Jason Aldean album to listen to.

I’ve been on the road eighteen of the expected twenty eight hours and through three airports. It has been a running joke how I always manage to get searched by airport security and today has been no different. In Athens, the security officer made me take my Kindle out of my bag and out of it’s case for inspection. Then he took my camera out of the case, ran it through the x-ray again, then had me take the lens cap off so he could inspect it. I thought I was done after that since we only went through security once headed to Dublin. I was so wrong. At our plane change in Rome, we only had ten minutes between landing and boarding the next flight which was in a different terminal. We had to go through passport control again and when we arrived at the gate it was just in time for them to page us up for additional security checks. Landing in Charlotte, we had to go through customs which was expected. I got flagged for having some sand and seashells in my backpack, requiring additional screening. They also had us claim our luggage and re-check it; mine had been searched of course. After the customs, we had to clear security again. My carry on got flagged again, this time the agent did a chemical test on some sand graduals. Turns out I still am not carrying any weapons of mass destruction so they sent me on my way. Good thing nobody ever checked Heather…

After I get home there will be many more stories and photos to share. I appreciate anyone and everyone who reads this. It has kept me motivated to continue writing. I hope you will continue to subscribe to my ramblings after I return home and my adventures are not as grand. For now- I’m going to look for a bench to sleep on.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

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Τελευταία ημέρα στην Αθήνα (Last day in Athens)

Today is my last day on this trip, finishing up in Greece. We have been exploring the city of Athens with all the wonderful ruins. For our last day we are getting out of the city, taking a boat to the nearby island Aegina for some snorkeling.
We arrived in Athens on Saturday morning after having to wake up at three thirty am in order to catch our plane. Only an hour and a half in the air and we were in beautiful Greece. It is an hour ahead of Rome, making the total time difference ten hours later than home. Since we didn’t sleep much the night before, we spent Saturday in Piraeus seeing what was around the flat and relaxed a bit.
On Sunday we got up early and took a bus tour to the Acropolis. I had been so excited to see the Parthenon and could not wait. There was only one problem; the que for tickets was over an hour long, standing in the hot sun. That wasn’t going to work for us so we took a bunch of photos and decided to look for tickets online that evening.
We took the bus tour to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus next, which had no que. It is the largest of the ancient temples, having one hundred and four pillars, each almost fifty seven feet tall, when it was constructed. When we went to get our tickets for the temple the employee asked us if we were going to the Acropolis because we could get a ticket that included it. I was ecstatic! Then she asked if we were students. After a peek at our student id cards we had tickets to six different sites in Athens and got it all for half price (only six euros!).
Yesterday we went back for the much anticipated climb to the Acropolis. It was definitely worth it. The ruins are magnificent. I downloaded a Rick Steves audio tour that covered all the ruins. It is a free app and made the visit much more enjoyable. I had done the same for the Colosseum, where an audio tour would have cost five euros.
The tour explained to me how the Parthenon had been built to be aesthetically pleasing, their view was much different from the Romans who valued function over form. The mathematicians who worked on the design did not overlook any details. They knew that a two parallel lines would appear to bow outward; they made the foundation and ceiling dip inward, negating the effect. They did many other variations to create an illusion but I have much more to write about this section of Athens so I will save it for another post.
I must leave to catch the ferry, then my plane leaves tomorrow morning to return home. I hope everyone there is enjoying their summer- I will be seeing you soon!

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Ciao Roma

I just got done spending the last two days in Rome. It was hot and humid so I have a great tan despite my spf fifty sunblock. Rome has such a rich history, I loved visiting the ruins and learning more about the great empire. So many people lived and died on the dirt I trudged through. My favorite spot was the Colosseum. As I stood in the emperor’s box behind the cross and looked down into the bottom section it made me fill with emotions. Many wonderful and terrible things occurred right where I stood, the archways I passed beneath were the same that Julius Cesar and Nero also walked under. The Colosso is vast, which almost makes it unbelievable that the construction on it began in seventy two a.d and only took ten years to complete. Next to the Colosseum is Palatine hill which features the Palitino, an open air museum. It is one of the most ancient parts of the city and holds ruins of palaces that belonged to several Roman Emperors. My host in Rome gave me a great tip for getting around the Colosseum and Palatino. Instead of waiting in the ridiculous que at the Colosseum, the Palatino sells a ticket for the exact same price which includes both places. We only had to wait behind a couple people for our tickets.

Rome is different from the other cities I visited, in the middle of busy metropolitan areas there will suddenly be ancient ruins or archeological sites. The history here dates back so far, thousands of years, making every step one of importance.
We ended up taking an open top bus tour mainly because it was too hot and far to walk and on our second day there the transit operators decided to strike. Our host, Roberta, had already warned us that they had been having frequent strikes but always on Fridays so workers could have a long weekend. I didn’t realize it was Friday when we left the flat until we had to return when the bus didn’t show. Another traveler had tried to take the metro and it was not running either. Roberta managed to find one bus line that was running which she promptly ran in front of while waving it down and threw us on. It was a good start but we didn’t have tickets, apparently they must be pre purchased elsewhere. We took our chances, all of the cops were directing the huge traffic jam on Ri de Roma that our bus was stuck in. The second problem was that we had no idea where the bus was going and the driver only spoke Italian. I waited for a stop that had looked like a tourist stop. We found a bus tour down the street and got our day back on track. We visited the Vatican, Castle of Saint Angelo, Santa Maria del Popolo and many of the ancient sections of the city.
Italy was the country where we ate meals out the most. It was only because the food was so good. Many of the places we went did not have menus in English. On several occasions I blindly chose something or asked the server for a recommendation. I was never disappointed.
Stll a work in progress!

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The Traghetto

We finished up our Venice trip by cruising water busses all through the canals, visiting Murano to see the glass making factory and two rides on the traghetto. Riding in the water busses is a nice way to easily navigate the city but also a way to get some relief from the heat. I got some amazing photos of the buildings along the waterways and gondolas this way.
To me it was important to go on a gondola ride in Venice since they are famous for them. The problem was that they really are designed for couples as a romantic thing and they can be very expensive. It would be something I would like to do if Nathan and I come here together but not this time around. All of this was solved by a little known service Alessandra told me about. The traghetto are like public ferries with short trips across the canals. Operated by two men, they are gondolas without the brocade pillowed chairs and gold paint. The boat holds fifteen people all seated on simple benches. It only cost fifty cents per person to cross, much better than the eighty to one hundred euros for the private ones. So we took the traghetto to an open air produce and fish market, bought some fruit and took it back again. It was a fun and cheap way to get a gondola ride. The men operating the gondola were very nice. One made me laugh because he was wearing a bracelet that said “I love London” and he was telling passengers to “mind the gap” between the dock and the boat.

Venice is a city to get lost in with so many beautiful scenes around each corner. It’s a good thing because it is very easy to get disoriented. The streets are very narrow, sometimes barely wide enough to walk through. None are straight either. Additionally, many streets end into the canals or into small courtyards.
We are taking an early morning train in the morning to Rome for our next stop. Since I have to be up so early in the morning- Buonanotte!

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Buon Giorno!

Venicians are very friendly people for the most part. They greet you with big smiles and are helpful when you ask questions. We had to get directions to a laundromat so we stopped by another bar/cafe today. After a debate involving a man inside, two women, a man standing outside, and a whole lot of arm movements we successfully made it. That was after Heather walked up to a strange man on a scooter and failed in using her Spanish skills. I couldn’t figure out why he looked at her and sharply said “No”. Then we realized she didn’t ask where it was instead she told him to wash her clothes. We are getting good at this whole trial and error thing!
Our host Alessandra has been very helpful and welcoming. She made us a tray of snacks with mint water and gave us great advice about the city. We went over maps last night with her showing us the best places to eat, go on a gondola ride and catch a water bus. Turns out they have a lot of the same television in Italy, we gushed about our love for Pacey from Dawson’s Creek and the show Two Broke Girls.
When we got up this morning she had breakfast all laid out for us and even some Italian coffee ready to go. We had some crumpets we bought in Paris which we ate with some Italian yogurt and the tiny cups of espresso that are popular here. It’s more like an espresso than coffee similar to the type in Paris. Coffee in London was more like what we have in the US, made with a French press (Though I didn’t see any French presses in France).
We will be exploring more of Venice by foot today and possibly going for a gondola ride or two. Tomorrow is when we will take a water bus to the islands, Murano and Burano. Murano is where the glass making in Italy takes place with a museum outlining the history. Bravo!

City of color

I survived last night by stuffing my face in a pillow while I slept. The mystery stranger and the rest of the Italians got off the train way before us so Heather opened the window and we got a couple hours of un-contaminated sleep. We didn’t wake up until the attendant came to give back our passports. Good thing they did otherwise we would not have made our stop. Once off the train we had the task of finding our place to stay. Since neither one of us can read or speak Italian, we started walking in the direction that made the most sense, and like all walks on this trip we kept going and going. We decided to stop for food at a Bar/Cafe (as they do in Italy) and get an espresso and pastry. That was the easy part, ordering water was an entirely different issue. I tried English, tried French and had given up hope when Heather reminded me the Spanish word for water is agua which apparently is the magic one (I found out later that the Italian word is acqua). We managed to get directions from her as well and walked the whole way.
Alessandra’s flat is bright and airy, painted shades of orange, yellow and purple. We were early but her sister let us put our bags up and gave us directions for busses into the city.
Venice is hands down the most beautiful city I have been to. Everything about it makes me feel as though I’m walking through a postcard. I have some sleep to catch up on, Ciao for now!

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Adieu Paris

Last night was very busy, there were thousands of people at Champ de Mars for the fireworks display. We got there very early and got great seats on the lawn but couldn’t move without risking losing our space. One thing about Europe is that people really like smoking everywhere. Even riding scooters! I watched a man braking with one hand and smoking with the other. Anyways, this event was no different, pretty much every single person around us was lighting up.
There was a disco theme for the celebration and the tower had a giant disco ball hanging from the center. They started the show by lighting up the Eiffel Tower with thousands of fairy lights which later in the show flashed so fast that it looked like a strobe light. Whoever designed the show sure has a sense of humor about the weather, the first song that came blaring out of the stereo system was “It’s Raining Men” ( I have some history with this song too so it was very fitting). Amongst the other musical selections were; “Singing in the Rain”, “YMCA”, “Freak Out” along with some French disco songs. During the whole show there were all kinds of fireworks going off non stop. They threw a great party that was at least an hour long.

When the show was over was when the real fun began. As soon as the fireworks were done people took to the streets like a mob. They walked across streets and through intersections no matter if the lights were green or red. There had been tons of military and police inside the Champ de Mars but zero traffic control outside. Block after block of traffic was gridlocked by the mob and we watched in horror as cars tried pushing through the people. At one intersection a group of scooterists were trying to get through so one of the passengers hopped off and began pushing people out of the way. When we made it through the mob to the metro station we arrived on, the gates were closed. For about the nine hundredth time on this trip I was thankful for my comfortable Nikes because walking was our only option. Even if we could find a bus or taxi, the roads were gridlocked for miles with hordes of cars and people. Also, I was so thirsty I was about to start begging in the streets. One of the many things I learned in France was that they don’t do drinking fountains. We had run out of water earlier in the day, there were none to be found in Champ de Mars and I felt like I had smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes by this point. There was a food truck that only had soda and nothing else open for blocks. After almost 3 miles of dodging people and traffic I found a pharmacy that was open, and I ran inside only to see that they didn’t sell water or any drinks for that matter. I couldn’t believe it and was so shocked that I asked half asked and half pleaded with the man working there to find out if he sold any water. I didn’t even think to speak French, luckily he spoke English. He was by far the nicest French person we met and he explained that they didn’t sell water but he had little plastic cups and he would refill it as many times as we would like (on a side note- what kind of pharmacy is open after midnight but only sells meds?). He saved the day with two glasses of water then we were back on the mean streets of Paris. The mob had thinned out by this point and down the road we met a dog who owned a bar on Rue des Mathurins. By a fluke we managed to find a metro station that was open and got packed into a train car like sardines. Literally. That’s how the Paris metro works, it’s just too bad not everyone wears deodorant. We made it back to the flat in one piece at around two am.
This morning we had two last ventures to make; Moulin Rouge and Sacré-Cœur. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed, I thought the windmill would be bigger at the Moulin Rouge. It was still really neat to see it in person. We also ate some crepes at the counter next door. The absolute best crepes I have ever had! I got one with egg, cheese and beef and Heather got a strawberry filled one. I’ve decided it is imperative for me to learn to make such a heavenly food. C’est magnifique!
We finished the day at the Sacré-Cœur. It is located at the top of the Montmartre section of Paris, the highest point of the city. The basilica is beautiful and offers another great view of the city. There was a clown directing traffic out front and a man climbing light poles while kicking a soccer ball!
Next thing we knew it was time to grab our packs and catch our night train to Venice. The train car is very cool, the seats fold into bunk beds that are three high bunks high. I am the lucky winner of the top bunk, Heather defaulted to the middle since she almost fell out of the bunk beds in Ireland (and she was on the bottom bunk). When we got on the train I was excited that I could smile again and I wouldn’t have to speak French anymore. Then we met the other people in our train car, who all spoke Italian except the woman who looked at me and said, “Parlez-vous Français?” Here we go again… On top of that, we thought our car only had five people in it even though there were six beds. Even more exciting was that every one else seemed like nice, normal people and (aside from some slight language barriers that we were working through) everything was fine. It was such a relief from what I am used to dealing with. That’s when HE walked in. He didn’t look like much at first but he makes my stomach have butterflies and my eyes well up. What he lacks in looks he sure makes up for in stink. God help us all.
Bonne nuit Paris et adieu

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