Tuesday, August 22, 2006
I think three vacation pictures is enough for today. But stay tuned because there are many more to come. Our dear friend Skilz corrected me in the comments section about the Coluseum and the World Cup. He tells us that the World Cup takes place every four years like the Olympics. Am I the only American who didn't know this? Or does every American simply need to pay more attention to soccer? Whenever the World Cup is held, I have a feeling they won't be holding figure skating or hockey matches at the Coluseum in the near future.
I am also reviving the caption contest. All you have to do is go to the comments section, find the appropriate link and sign up for a free account. You have to use your name and password every time you sign up, but it isn't too hard. If you have an idea, don't be afraid to email me either. The caption contest only works if people participate.
So here's the picture for this week. Let the posting begin. Let's not use any bad language as my students might be reading this. But, it is a screaming baby in a dead woman's lap. There's got to be plenty of good humor about that!
This is a picture of the Amalfi Coast as seen from the ferry that took me to the island of Capris. It is just south of Naples. Regular readers will know I didn't care for Naples, but the Amalfi Coast was quite nice (which is perfectly obvious from the picture.
While I work very hard to take good pictures, I don't feel any of my work is very good. It would be mediocre at best I think. However, I do value it personally and am very territorial about it being on the internet like this. So until I figure out how to do a watermark in Photoshop, I kindly ask that you not take these pictures and use them without my permission. If this small request doesn't deter you, my lawyers and prosecutors will make you stop. They probably won't be as nice about it as I am.
(All of which reminds me I should be better about citing the sources of pictures I use on this site.)
Here is a picture of Mont Blanc from Italy. Standing at 4810 meters, or 15,781 feet, it is the highest peak in France. I think it is also the highest in Western Europe, but I'm not certain. Either way, its a big one.
Here is a picture of Cinque Terre, which is where I went hiking with my Dad. Cinque Terre is one of the best places to go in Italy, and reminded me of the Amalfi Coast, except that the houses were much more colorful. Unfortunately, I can't recall the name of this place at the moment.
Well, after 22 hours of flying and 5 hours of layover I am now back in Japan. Overall, my trip was a great one. I had a great time in Italy and Belgium and I even got to see 4 new countries: Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. So you can see my new updated map!
Overall, I thought Belgium was quite nice. It's a very laid back and unpretentious country. It isn't the most exotic or beautiful place I've ever been to, but it did have a tranquil rural landscape with productive agriculture. They make some pretty good chocolate too.
I only went to France briefly for one day, and I can't say I actually ventured very far. I only went there so I could say that I've actually been to the place. My friend Pat and I only went down there to look around and do some shopping.
I am also going to put up some of my other favorites. I am also republishing the smash hit "snake snacks" this time with the actual dog in question.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Today marks my last day in Belgium. Last night I went to a BBQ with Pat´s German friends, most of whom work around him on the NATO base. It was a good evening, with a very funny and interesting host. He teaches French and Dutch conversation lessons on the base, and also speaks fluent German and English. He also had a big boa constrictor that Pat and I got to play with during the evening. Unfortunately I didn´t have my camera to take pictures of the reptile.
Also, here is a picture of the stadium again, because most of my other pictures are inaccessible.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Since I have been here I have done a number of different things. My friend Pat and his girlfriend Heike took me to see the "Flower Carpet" which is an event that takes place in Belgium once every 3 years. Unfortunately it was raining and I didn´t get great pictures.
They also took me to see the Atomium, which is a giant 15 story tall silver model of an iron crystal. Again, the poor weather sabotaged my photographs.
Finally, my photographs were also sabotaged in Brussels at a site called the "Mannequin Pis" (yes, it is pronounced the way it sounds). For those of you not familiar with Belgium, the Mannequin Pis is a statue of a toddler urinating into a pool, and is one of the most famous sites in all of Belgium (I am not kidding). When a peeing baby is considered a national symbol (not joking here) by the people of Belgium, what does that tell you?
The day after that, my friend Pat and I drove to Amsterdam for the day. Amsterdam was a very exciting place. After getting a free map of the city at a coffee shop, we went all over town looking at the canals, parks, and all of Amsterdam´s famous sites.
I also went with Pat to an open-air museum in Belgium with his NATO summer day-camp. We had great fun.
And today, Pat and I went to the medieval Belgian city of Bruges. Like Amsterdam, it also had a canal system, although it was much smaller.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
So we sat around in this train station eating pistachios and talking about whatever, when this woman comes up and starts feeding the pidgeons little bits of her cracker. She was obviously not familiar with pidgeons, because as soon as she started feeding the two chubby little head bobbers, their entire extended families decided to join the feast. Before long, over 30 to 50 pidgeons joined the feast.
It was a hot day, and I was using my dad's towel to wipe sweat off my face as I was munching on the pistachios and beef jerky my dad brought from the USA. Soon however, as the army of pidgeons had devoured what little crumbs the woman had blessed them with, they began attacking the bag of pistachios at our feet. Much to our disgust, they certainly weren't shy about helping themselves to our meager lunch.
I tried kicking at a few of them and my Dad grabbed the towel on my lap and began flapping and waving it. He went a little crazy as one of the pidgeons, in an apparent effort to escape the fluttering of the colorful towel, wound up flying in his face! He jerked and threw the towel in the direction that the pidgeon had flown in retreat, screaming something in French at the little disease mongers.
Screaming myself, I started stomping around trying to get any of the little boogers I could. Most of them flew or ran just out of my reach, but I looked and saw my Dad's heavy beach towel with something fluttering and struggling beneath. Without thinking, I quickly ran over and began stomping on the heavy towel, crushing the filthy avian thief beneath. Within a half second I had wounded it enough to keep it from moving, In the other half second, I had crushed it.
People looked at us two Americans with very wide eyes and mouths.
So it wasn't the best day in Italy. The train was late, most of the day spent in transit. The pidgeons had stolen or defiled most of our pistachios. And to top it all off, my dad's brand new beach towel he bought in Cinque Terre had to be thrown away in a train station somewhere in Central Tuscany. We had to buy more snacks for lunch.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Because of popularity, I am adding the picture of the dog in question. This really is the dog on the boat that day. I don't know the smaller breeds very well, so if anybody knows what it is, you can post it in the comments section.
Because Italy has so many tourists, I'm learning more about French and German tourists than Italian culture and society. One thing I have noticed about the French in particular is their penchant for yippy little dogs. These dogs aren't capable of pointing, retrieving, sniffing for cocaine, or herding. In fact they don't seem bred for any task that anyone would consider economically worthwhile. But for whatever reason, Europeans, and the French in particular, seem to adore and worship these stupid things, even bringing them on vacation to the Riviera.
Today, my father and I boarded a ferry destined for Portofino (on the Italian end of the Riviera near Genoa), and an oddly large number of tourists on the boat decided to bring their beloved little canines. I'm not kidding. Most of the dogs were obviously frightened by the boat, dock, all the people and the stairs. After being seated for some time, the boat made another stop, and the crowded soon filled to standing room only.
One middle aged French couple had two little dogs, one of which looked like a pathetic mixed chihuahua/dashhund breed. Obviously the product of a breeder with a twisted sense of humor. It was an annoying little thing too. Obviously frightened and excited, it was making all sorts of pathetic shrieks and cries that perfectly complemented the screaming babies and low rythmic noise of the motors. The dog delivered a perfectly annoying virtuoso performance of irritation in a huge symphony of frustration.
Well, the ride went on for some time, with my Dad and I both exchanging looks at each other, the French couple, and the dog. It started to rain a little, and I could tell my Dad was getting a little impatient, as I'm sure most people in the boat were.
The next moment, I heard my Dad scream "Thing's peein' on my leg!!" Before I could look down to see the whiny little thing urinating all over the place, my Dad picked it up by its hind leg and flung it overboard. Just like that. My eyes tracked it for a bit, helplessly floating through space, head over tail into the Mediterranean horizon. Now, because we were on the second deck up on the roof, and because of the noise of the motors, we only heard a brief cry from the dog. No splash. The boat was going pretty fast too, so by the time it hit the water, it was probably pretty far away.
Again, before I could look or say anything, the French woman was in my father's face screaming all sorts of things in French. While French is a beautiful language, I'm certain she was saying things that weren't very nice. A number of other people around saw and started yelling things to crew members, no doubt informing them of what happened. The boat quickly slowed down and stopped after about a minute and some crew members came over and started asking my dad and the woman some questions. They quickly started yelling at my dad as well.
The boat started turning around, and several crew members had out big binoculars, in an apparent search for the dog. The boat started going slowly in the other direction, the whole time crew members and this French Woman yelling at my Dad.
Now the French couple was interesting. The woman had obviously received a very bad facelift and a complexion that bespoke of way too many martinis, cigarettes, and a life spent frying herself to a crisp in the sun. She was irate, screaming at the top of her lungs while the rest of the crew and passengers stared and waited for her to throw my Dad over. The French man however, seemed disturbingly calm, and even had a slight grin on his face suggesting that he probably didn't love the dog as much as his wife.
Finally the crew spotted the dog, and were able to retrieve it with a long pole-thing of unspecified purpose. The woman got her wet dog back and cuddled him, still uttering occasional screams at my father, who at this point is rolling his eyes and mocking every French word she yelled at him. This only enraged her further, as she threw plastic water bottles and a makeup applicator at him. Other crew were still yelling and questioning my dad. They finally got my dad and I to move away from the lady.
The shore wasn't far, and the boat was soon steaming strait for the nearest town. The boat slowed down as it approached a harbor and what was obviously not a scheduled stop. The boat stopped and the walkway extented, when some crew members ganged up on my dad and made it clear that he needed to leave. I quickly followed my Dad. We had to go to Portofino by Train.
Portofino was a nice place though, although it was kind of ritzy. It was the kind of place where the fabulously wealthy pull up in their yahts and buy overpriced jewelry and cocktails.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
So we wound up hiking back to the area. We hiked for about an hour and a half through some vinyards and olive groves clinging to this sheer cliff overlooking the West Coast of Italy. It was way too hot for hiking. Sweat simply dripped off my face, sending sweat and sunscreen cascading down my face and sunglasses to saturate the stubble accumulating on my unshaven face.
After the hike, we went swimming in the little bay in Vernazza, and I was stung by a jellyfish for the first time. It hurt! I have a little welt above my left tricep now. Fortunately it isn't too bad. Inform me of any home remedies, if you know any.
In the afternoon, I went hiking while my dad watched the ocean. We have quite a nice little communal patio from our hotel here.
I promise I will post pictures the minute I am in Belgium!
Monday, August 07, 2006
They also make a very delicious wine here that my dad has been lecturing me about.
We've spent most of this morning hiking around and then went for a swim. I found a nice big cliff that kids were jumping off of in a neighboring town. It was only about 25 feet or so, but it was fun. My dad got some pictures of me diving in. The water was nice and warm and seems pretty clean. This is definitely a cool place.
Tonight I'm going to try some lemonchello? Somebody correct my spelling.
Also, who among my readers has been to both Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast South of Naples? Anyone? Leave your impressions in the comments section!
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Hey Everyone! I have been super busy today. This morning I climbed the Dome for 6 Euros. I just couldn't resist. It wasn't as good as the Dome in St. Peter's Basilica, although it was less crowded.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
The town I had to catch a bus in to Chamonix in France was a place called Courmayer, which is much higher up in the valley, and much cooler. So while you can wear shorts and a T-shirt in Aosta, Courmayer can be much cooler, and I was wishing I had brought my pants and a mid-layer. So I decided to make a quick retreat and just took the next bus back because I was so cold and wet from the rain. Oh well.
To give everyone an analogy, imagine spending a nice Autumn day in Durango or Idaho Springs, and then going up to Loveland or Silverton. It was just too cold and rainy for anything fun.
So now, I am writing from Florence. Its great. It doesn't seem as hot as Rome or Florence, but then again, it is night time. It also seems much cleaner. Florence also seems quite a bit greener. Must be a Tuscan thing.
I will talk to you guys later.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
My plan for the day was to take one of the ski lifts up and do some hiking in the alpine meadows above timberline. Unfortunately, for whatever odd reason, the place proved somewhat difficult to navigate around. I spent 30 minutes trying to locate a couple of trails I had planned to go up, only to give up. I saw a few signs posted, but they only led nowhere! I asked around in my pitiable phrase book Italian, but nobody seemed able (or willing) to help me.
So I changed my plan and decided to go up this ski lift that according to Lonely Planet is open in the summer. There's even supposed to be a swimming pool way up at the top. But it was closed! So I had to save my pocket change and hike for 2 hours underneath a steel cable snaking its way above a clearcut gulley. Finally, I reached the top, only to hear the wonderful sounds of front-end loaders building retaining walls. Another hour of hiking uphill finally put me in the alpine meadows I had sought in the first place.
But it was so worth it! For my efforts I saw spectacular views of Mont Blanc, which lies on the French-Italian border. I could see Courmayeur, the Italian/Swiss village and 2 huge valleys to the North and South of the mountain I was on.
I did find that swimming pool, but it was also closed. Only an empty concrete hole surrounded by middle aged sunbathers frying themselves into prunes. Once I surpassed the ski resort area, it wasn't at all crowded.
Anyways, check in soon, because today I'm going to make my first trip into France and see the town of Chamonix!
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Last night, I happily left the city of Naples to go north to Valle d'Aosta, which is near the Swiss and French border. This city is much cleaner, and much more charming than Naples. The fresh mountain air, blue skies and beautiful mountain valley remind me of Durango Colorado!
But its nothing like Durango. It seems to be about half french up here. I'm hearing a lot of Italian and French. Perhaps there are just a lot of French tourists.
Either way, the mountains are beautiful, and I have been exploring the town today. The town has a good number of Medieval Churches and Castles to Explore. I think I'm gonna take it easy though, as I want to get over this cold as soon as I can.
For now, Ciào!
I have concluded that I don't like Naples. Perhaps it was the heat. Perhaps it was the fact I had a cold, perhaps it was the river of trash I waded through to cross a street. Perhaps it was the obnoxious people who would hassle me to buy their fake designer sunglasses, chasing me down the street until I yelled and threatened to hurt them. Seriously, this one guy would NOT LEAVE ME ALONE. Perhaps it was the old bag lady beggars who also didn't leave me alone.
Either way, Naples came across as an old world version of Tijuana! The buildings were definitely more European, but were obviously succumbing to the natural forces of time, wind, and decay. They were also succumbing to the man made powers of neglect, graffiti, and a slow drowning in a river of dust, dog poop, and cigarette butts. I ate dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, only to have my dinner delayed by an hour when the power went out a total of 6 times! Ahem, cough cough... deteriorating public infrastructure..cough hack hack.
The only redeeming quality to the city was the food at this restaurant, but by the time my food arrived, it was too late. My opinion of this city had already been etched in stone (or spraypainted across three railcars)
The Amalfi Coast was specacular. An ancient holiday retreat since Roman Times, it is the most charming place I have seen in Italy. Little whitewashed towns nestle between rugged limestone mountains and cliffs. Because the coastline is so steep, the houses are often built on top of one another. They burrow into the cliff sides just below a rocky Mediterranean Coast. Haphazard staircases, tunnels and passageways pour out from between the houses,buildings and churches. And the coastal road is spectacularly steep and dramatic, as it is built on top of storefronts, castles, and resorts. Transportation in this rugged area includes the one road, stairs, and boats.
I hope to include pictures soon. One day, I met some Australian travelers staying at the same place and we all went to the Island of Capri, where you can go into the Blue Grotto, a limestone cave formation of blue water. Unfortunately, due to the tides and global warming, it was inaccessible that day, so I could only get on a ferry around the island.
Evenings were spent eating pizza and watching the fireworks they set off each night for no apparent reason. The church bells also added to a very unique cacaphony of sights and sounds.
Today, I'm feeling slightly under the weather. I'm not certain why, but I have a sore throat and decided not to go to Pompeii and try and rest instead. Bummer, because I would have liked to see the Ancient Roman City buried in the ash of Mount Vesuvius. I'll just have to come back some day in the future.
Anyways, tomorrow I will be in the Alps way in the north. Should be fun if I can get over this sore throat and headache.