Monday, July 28, 2008

Ye Old English

I’m still not sure how I ended up here. My travels are taking me to so many incredible places I often wonder where I am when I wake up from a deep sleep. London is one of the worlds greats. I’ve been here for a week and am still finding that each day the city has something new and exciting to offer.

I’m staying with my friend Richard whom I met traveling in Costa Rica a few years back. He visited a few times in Washington and when I made the trek to Italy, I thought I should pop in and say hello. He has a place close to central London which has given me an awesome opportunity to spend some time exploring this magnificent city while saving a bit of money.

Italy was my previous experience for a few weeks and the different between the two countries are quite striking. My first impressions of London were that it seemed to be the closest place resembling America as I’d been to in a while. Organized, structure, business and face-paced were among the few words that instantly came to mind. The more I walked through the city I was quite shocked to see how big it was. It just kept going. Another amazing thing that I found about London was how many parks this city has. Not only is the city huge but it has a ton of huge parks. Most of them are all part of the Royal Park systems and are impressively well maintained giving the city a charm that makes you feel elegant and refined.

Everyone has been telling me that I came at the best possible time. The weather has been incredible. Sunny and in the 80’s almost everyday. Every park is filled with people taking long lunch breaks, skipping work, or jobless travelers aimlessly wondering the city with no reason or rhyme. Not sure where I exactly fit into that picture.

One day last week Richard invited me to play softball with his coworkers after work. I found it interesting for two reasons. One, the British know nothing about softball as they have been raised playing Cricket and other proper English sports. And two, I was impressed with how much malted beverages they were able to consume during the course of the game and still function.

The city has an energy right now that is very much familiar to me. It’s an excitement that I think only places that spend most their time under cold, cloudy skies can understand. People are staying up late, socializing, laughing, and just trying to absorb every ounce of the freedom brought by the long, warm days of summer.

Last weekend Richard took me out of the city for some fresh air and to see the english countryside. We went and met his family who live just outside London about an hour. Sunday, Richard and I went to Brighton, a summer Beach retreat for London day-trippers and weekenders. It was my first swim in the Atlantic, but people say it was the English Channel and not the Atlantic. I say whats the difference? Here is a few pictures from the weekend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Arriverdercci Italia!

Wrote: July 21st, 2008
I figure I’m about 10 pounds heavier than when I first arrived in Italy two and a half weeks ago. Yes the food is amazing. Of course I’m going miss it. There really isn’t any other type of foods in Italy other than Italian. Makes sense, but just a look around any town and you’re not going to see the array of ethnic restaurants we see in most cities around the States. They’ve definitely figured something out and they know what they like. They’ve had thousands of years to perfect food, why mess with it?

The simplicity of Italian life makes so much sense to me. It seems everything here comes in threes. Almost every great Italian food I tried never had no more than 3 main ingredients. Pasta, Ham and cheese. Pizza with cheese and basil. 3 courses for food. Antipasti, pasta and post-pasta. 3 different beverages, beer, water and wine. 3 meals a day. Coffee, dinner and more dinner. 3 hours for lunch, 3 hours for dinner and 3 hours for drinks and socializing. Go to bed at 3. I think there is a lot to be learned from this age-old land.

The images of all the elderly people sitting on benches in every little town, just watching the world move by is ingrained in my memory forever. The pace of life is slower here. Shops close in the middle of the day for a 3 hour lunch and nap break. Makes it hard to find allergy meds when you can’t stop itching your eyes and sneezing after a lunch in a giant grassy park. But that’s just the way it is. It’s Italy.

Above all, I will not forget the hospitality I was shown here. I was more than taken care of for the past few weeks. I had Italians show me Italy. Silva and her parents, Luisa and Sergio, housed and fed me for the entire time I was here. Her mom even did all my stinky laundry everyday. Every time we went out or drove somewhere, people refused to take money from me. They were so eager for me to try their favorite dishes or show me their favorite part of Italy. I made friends here I that I will keep my entire life. I cannot wait to come back.

This blog is linked with 2 different albums. One of from a trip to Lake Como and one is from a night in Milan.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quando di Roma....

I stared out the window and watched the Northern plains of Italy give way to its rolling green hills of Tuscany. My ears began feeling the pressure from the numerous tunnels the train passed through as we entered a mountainous region the closer to Rome we traveled. Old churches and houses filled the landscape and I couldn’t help but let my mind drift to remembering all the movies I’ve seen that were filmed in this area.

I’ve always thought of myself as a nature person. Not really belonging in cities or feeling the need to venture too far into massively urbanized areas. My recent travels to New York and Sydney have really begun to open my mind to how amazing cities can be. I wasn’t prepared for Rome. Almost in the same way Bali took me a week just to get over being awe-struck by how different it was, Rome took me an entire day to get over being amazed by how it was a city unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

We all know about Rome. A place home to an empire that controlled the world for over 1000 years. Modern day conveniences that we all still use were developed here. Famous artists, philosophers, scientists, Politician’s, Religious figures and military leaders called Rome home. Names like Michelangelo, Rafael, Cesar, Mussolini and the Pope have used their art and political power to influence the world from within the city’s walls.

Vatican City, technically the world’s smallest country, is located inside Rome. The Swiss guard who still wear the same uniform they wore almost 500 years ago have been charged with the duty of protecting a city within a city that holds some of the most valuable and precious architecture, art and history the world has ever seen. St. Peter himself, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, was crucified and laid to rest here almost 2000 years ago. His tomb is one of the largest churches ever built in the world, located inside Vatican City and rightfully called St. Peter’s Church.

Places like The Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, The Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican Museum and the Palatino are all found within walking distance of each other. If it’s history you came for, Rome has more than you will ever be able to handle. But if you don’t know history, you can still feel the energy radiating from the city. Old and new are constantly in your face. But here in Rome, when you say old, it’s about as old as old can get.

Even if you’ve flown from some other planet and have found yourself in a city you‘ve never heard of called Rome, you will still find it incredible. Just a walk though its brick streets and hidden ally ways, past fountains and little Italian restaurants, you will eventually succumb to the charm that this city is constantly pushing at you. Everywhere you look, people from all over the world are always surrounding you with the same look of awe in their faces as you have on your own.

Click here for Rome Picts

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quick Vino

I just wanted to throw out a few quick pictures for Y'all. One of Brad's last days in Italy, him and Silvia took me out to the country for a nice little drive to show me the area surrounding Pavia, the town Sivlia grew up. It really is like the movies.

If there is one thing about Italy I'm going to remember, it's all the old people chillin on benches. In every town there are old people sitting on benches, just watching cars and people go by and talking.

The lovely Italian couple

PS-Comming soon...Rome

Cinque Terre or Bust!

When I came to Italy, I kept hearing about this place called the Cinque Terre. I was told it was beautiful and so amazing and a "must see" for Italy. It was really the only place I actually made a point to see.

It was about a two hour drive from Silvia's parents place when we drove over the the Southern Alps and I caught my first glimpse of the Mediterranean. I just about freaked out. It was the last of the major oceans in the world I have yet to see. As we pulled in the little town where we were to park our car and start the tour of the Cinque Terre, I literally almost had a panic attack as I ripped my clothes off and made a mad sprint to the sea. The crystal-clear turquoise waters were so enticing, I really couldn't wait any longer. I ran over the pebbly beach and dove head first into the water. As soon as the warm salty water hit my lips I knew I was in the Med. I'd made it. My second reaction was a bit startling too as I realized that the Med was actually warmer water than Indonesia. I floated for an hour.

For those that have never heard of the Cinque Terre, its a series of 5 little, colorful towns built into the cliffs of Northwest Italy. Relatively unknown to the world until backpackers discovered it in the 1970's. The only way of getting from town to town was by boat or walking. They have since built a road and train network to transport tourists and residents between towns.

Before Italy I have literally met 7 Americans in the previous 7 months of Traveling. I'm not joking. But here in Italy, especially in the Cinque Terre, it's all Americans. Everywhere you go, there are Americans. It's a bit overwhelming. After not seeing people from my country for so long, I am now able to spot them from a mile away. The accents, the clothes, the way they walk, it all has a uniquely, and familiar American signature. I think its awesome.

Despite the overwhelming number of tourists here, there is still an incredible charm to the place. A uniquely Italian village...or 5 of them for that matter, set among one of the most beautiful of landscapes in the world. The food is still uniquely Italy. Apparently in this region of Italy they are known for their Panini. Every town has its own flavour of culture and food. People are friendly, the food is delicious, the colors are brilliant, the streets filled with energy and the water is turquoise and warm. A place definitely worth spending a few days. And I was fortunate enough to do just that. Enjoy the picts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When you're here, you're family

They told me that when I got here I’d be taken care of. They kept saying “when you’re hear you’re family.” I came to Italy to see my friends Brad and Silvia. I had no idea it’d be like this.

Out of any place I’ve been in the world, I have never been to a place that is this difficult to communicate with people. It seems that nobody speaks English here. All signs and directions have not a word of English. It makes sense of course because this is Italy and they speak Italian but if I’d be here alone, this would be a whole different experience. But instead, I’m family and am being well taken care of.

Door to door it was about 30 hours of traveling. Longest distance I’ve ever traveled. I don’t sleep on airplanes so it was a long couple of day. I was pretty stinky and tired by the time I got to Milan, but as soon as I arrived, Brad and Silvia picked me up at the airport and took me back to Silvia’s parents place and since then have had to do nothing but eat amazing food, meet incredible people and see one of the most beautiful places in the world. When you’re here you really are family.

Only a few hours after landing, I found myself at Silvia’s aunt and uncle’s place hanging out with a bunch of her family stuffing myself with literally the best Italian food I’ve ever had. Aside from my translators Brad (who is pretty much fluent by now) and Silvia, not a word of English was spoke. After falling over from being disproportionately top-heavy a few times, her uncle took Brad and I on a walk through the picturesque little Italian town they live in. Showing us where all the family works where they grow all their fruits and vegetables. A beautiful little town with one little café, an old church and a few really, really old houses.

I’ve been here for three days and each day, I am finding myself exponentially liking Italy more and more. It feels like everything I’ve seen in movies and TV shows. Yesterday we explored the beautiful city of Milan. We visited some old castles and churches that have seen more years than anything I‘ve ever seen. The feeling of walking up to a massive building built with such care and precision with the most intricate of details, awe-inspires as much as standing on top of mountain or sailing a massive ocean. The scale and time that it took to build all these buildings and cities is so difficult to conceptualize for me. To stand and look at something built in 1300 really boggles my mind a bit.

The second day I was here Brad took me to Venice in their little smart car. I’ve heard it was a beautiful city and a place that people should see when they come to Italy, but I had no idea I’d find it as magical as I did. I was a bit under the impression of it just being a massive tourist town, where you’d have to elbow through all the people with camera’s trying to get their Venice “postcard shot”. This was only partly true. What I found was a city that actually still functions. People live there, grocery stores, barber’s, café’s and anything people would need in any other city. The big difference in Venice and most other cities that I’ve seen anyways, is that instead of tall sky-scrapers you have 4-5 story old buildings painted in all types of pastel colors, you have streets of water instead of pavements and you have boats instead of cars.
What is it about water that fascinates people? People are always flocking to rivers, dams, waterfalls, ocean beaches and jetties. Maybe it’s just that humans have always had such a great respect for water because it one of the most unpredictable and difficult medians we’re forced to work with. Maybe because it’s something we need, but have never found that perfect balance of being able to exist peacefully for any long periods of time. I think that Venice has attempted to find that perfect balance as there is a feeling of something so beautiful and harmonious that radiates from it’s flowing streets of water and echo’s throughout it’s old colorful buildings. They say Venice is slowing sinking. One day it will be gone. An unfortunate reality to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My only recommendation is to do yourself a favor and visit Venice before it’s too late. You won’t be disappointed.

This post is linked with two different album, the Milan and Verona Album and the Venice album

Friday, July 4, 2008

Last Bali Blog

When I first arrived in Bali I met a guy named Mathias at the dive resort I was staying in. Mathias was born in Sweden, currently lives in Colorado and has spent 4 years living in Asia. We had some really fascinating conversations about the stages you go through as you spend more and more time in Asia. There were 3 stages and he said at first you go through a stage where you are completely culture shocked at the environment, people and all your surroundings that you first encounter. It’s unlike anything that we’ve seen in the “West”. I can completely relate to this feeling as I spent my first week in Bali totally awe-struck by how different this world is. Mathias then went on to describe how the next stage you go through is one of feeling comfortable, thinking that this world is not in fact that different. This is just another place and people. We have similar feelings and thoughts and wants in life. He said that in this stage, you begin to relax and feel safe, and that you begin to fit into the culture a bit. The last and third stage that Mathias told me about was the stage that you go through once you been in Asia for a while. He said in this stage, you begin to learn more about the history and people and the culture. You really begin thinking about your everyday interactions and the friends you’ve made. You soon realize that you actually are very different from these people. He said there is a line that distinctly divides the “West” from the “East”. There are certain cultures and customs and beliefs that just simply cannot make sense to us from the “West”. Mathias described this stage as feeling like a complete alien and that it’s a deep realization that this is not home and never really can be.

I’ve been in Bali for 3 weeks now. I’m not sure I reached the third stage that my friend Mathias described but I’ve kept his words in mind and thought about them a lot. Indonesia has done nothing but constantly amazing and shock me. I never have before seen a place and people like this. Maybe I’m somewhere in-between Matthias’s first and second stage but I really feel that this is the most foreign land I’ve ever been.

Bali is chocked full of tourists. In fact, I think all of Bali depends on tourism. It’s had a few terrorist bombings in this decade and that reeked havoc on their economy. Coming to Bali, I had never been more nervous to show up at a new destination. I knew it was safe and that thousands of people visit this island everyday, but for some reason I was still on edge coming here. Culture Shock? I think at kind of describes what I went though. Even though Bali is full of people from all over the world, I still was blown away by things I experienced everyday.

One thing I’ve learned about Bali is that these people are seriously “out-of-this-world” friendly. People come up to you all this time asking you to buy things. But don’t let that fool you. You can sit with anyone on this island and have a friendly conversation. Most of them even speak English which I find really remarkable. I surprisingly feel completely and totally safe here. Even my stuff, I had no trouble leaving my valuables with people at the beach to watch over or at hotels if I didn’t want to carry it on my motorbike. It was always there waiting for me. Never touched. Time and time again I head people talking about the people here in Bali. Even in the million surf movies that have been shot here, they always say “Bali is going though so many changes so fast, but the one thing that never changes, is the friendly people.” I don’t think that could closer to the truth. Their genuine attitude towards travelers and tourists have kept people coming here for almost 40 years now. Just a couple of weeks here and it didn’t take long for me to realize that whoever were responsible for the bombings in Bali, were not from Bali.

I don’t think I could stress enough how much Bali blew my mind. There inlayed an environment and people that I have never before seen. A world that had existed for 1000’s of years before people from “West” really started to explore. Where I am from and everything I’ve ever seen are worlds apart from this place. Three weeks in Bali and I feel like I have just scratch the surface to how amazing this small island in the Indian Ocean really is.

Note: The following pictures are from Kuta Beach and from a Bali “tooth-filing” ceremony that I was invited to when hanging out in a small village in the Bukit Peninsula.