Archive for the ‘Europe Trip’ category

Take a Breather

April 14, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

We had set a pretty detailed plan before leaving, and it packed a lot into the first few days of our break.

Rome was a weeklong whirlwind already, and even though we had two days in Venice and two in Milan, it still felt like we were rushing (notice: a pun could be made here about being American, not Russian). As we were coming in to Nice, that feeling changed.

I had never heard of it, but apparently Nice is a pretty famous European beach town. It’s right on the shores of the Mediterranean, and is full of tourists from around the EU, especially during the summer. That made finding lodging easy, because of just how many little hotels there were to support the summer crowds. Since we showed up in the off season, plenty of rooms were empty, and some places were willing to drop their prices in order to get our business.

We did a bit of looking, and found a couple really nice places that would give us a room for inside our budget. We ended up settling on the one that wasn’t across from a sex shop (there were actually a lot of these in France, I was highly disappointed). The guy at the desk was named ‘Bader’ (bah-der), and was super nice. We came in later on with chicken from the grocery store, and just so we didn’t have to eat it cold, he let use the staff microwave in the hotel employee’s break room to warm it up. Great hospitality.

Since we were stuck here for the next couple days, we rescheduled our hotel in Lourdes, and canceled the one in Barcelona. A lot like what I did as a producer for the school, I had prepared a logistics document for our trip with all the information we could possibly need, and it really paid off. It was a little sad that we wouldn’t be able to see Barcelona, but since we were in a French beach town instead of a Spanish beach town, it wasn’t too disappointing overall.

It was an interesting city. The center of town was very much designed for people to congregate, there were huge, stone-paved streets set aside purely for pedestrians, gardens, and in the town square, there was a set of 8 huge columns in the middle of the street, with sculptures of naked men in athletic poses, which lit up at night and changed colors. I don’t know what they represented, but they were kinda cool to look at. It was either really classy or just kinda funky. I never really decided which…

We walked around the city a lot. Walking to the beach, then to the grocery store, then back to the beach for a picnic… we also collected some ‘souvenir water.’

It’s somewhat of a peculiar habit, but a few years ago I started collecting water from far off, adventury places. We have some friends that live on an island off the coast of Alabama, and on one visit, we found an old bottle washed up on the beach with its cover completely intact. I used it to gather some ocean water from the Gulf of Mexico, and then put it on the shelf of my library when I got home. After that a friend brought me back some water from Hawaii, my sister got me some in Canada on her honeymoon, and the collection has continued to grow. I like having it because of how unique it is, easy to tell stories about, and you can also get it at a fairly low cost.

Of course, with all the fantastic places we were going on this trip, I HAD to get water from some key spots in Europe. The trick was getting it into containers that were small enough to be easily transportable, and wouldn’t make our luggage impossible to check at the airport. In Venice, we emptied a little bottle of mouthwash to get water from the canals, and I had also filled a water bottle at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. When we finished our picnic on the shores of the Mediterranean, we had an empty jelly jar. It was small, it was round enough to be quaint (kinda a pot-bellied little thing), so into the surf we go, and came out with the jar of water, and some pebbles and sea glass to sit in the bottom. Looking at these three containers of water, it was decided that the Trevi bottle was far too big. Luckily, a couple of the stores we had visited sold these teeny little wine bottles for really cheap, so the Trevi water was relocated to a much classier container.

We had also found a church in our explorations, so in the evening we wandered down that way and ended up at mass for the feast of St. Joseph.

I tell ya, French is such a cool language. They use a lot of sounds and mouth-shapes that Americans never even dream of! The prayers of the mass sounded so strange, I almost burst into a laugh at the beginning of mass. I definitely would like to learn French at some point, just so I can have an excuse to say words like that.

Geneva, Genova…

April 13, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

It’s just one letter difference, couldn’t cause too much trouble, right?

Milan

Milan

We woke up early to catch the commuter train out of Milan. The newly discovered limitations on our Eurail passes meant normally one free train in the morning, and one in the evening. Unfortunately, we took a little too long on breakfast, and made it to the station just barely under the wire for our 8:30 train to Genova.

When we ordered our Eurail passes, they sent us a timetable book, so we could plan our trip in advance. It was published at the beginning of the year, though, so we were warned that all the times might not be accurate.

When we got to the platform, it said 8:35 to Geneve. *Sigh of relief* we’re not late, they just changed the train schedule. Spelling seemed to change quite a bit too: what we know as Florence is spelled ‘Firenze’ in Italian, and Venice turns into ‘Venezia.’ We were getting used to the fact that if our timetable book says one thing, the train station will probably say something different.

So out of Milan we go. Annie digs into second breakfast, and Tasha and I settle into our book. Enter the conductor. This is where we discovered that Geneva is different from Genova, no matter what language you’re speaking.

Apparently, Genova is just a stop on a train going to another town (even though the timetable book said it terminated in Genova), so we completely missed the train we were supposed to get on. Instead, we were on a high speed (and high cost) train to Geneva, Switzerland.

The conductor was really nice about it, though. She let us off at the next stop (without having to pay for our mistake), and gave us the times and trains that we would need to get where we were going.

The stop in the north of Italy turned out really cool though, because while we were waiting for our train back to Milan, we hit a Basilica of the Assumption, which was really beautiful, and gave us a reminder that we had someone watching out for us.

Once we got back to Milan and took our seats on the right train, we lost our tickets.  Nothing huge. We had set them down on the seat, and the lady across from us picked them up, thinking they were hers. It ended up being a really good thing, though because as she gave them back, she asked if we had validated them (in Italian). It took us awhile to overcome language barriers, but found out that whenever you buy a ticket, you need to feed it into a machine at the beginning of the platform before the train leaves, or else you get a fine when they punch it on the train. I got a chance to run full-tilt down the length of the platform, in order to get them stamped, and we learned yet another valuable lesson about the Europe train system.

This post has been very much about our learning curve. You don’t use trains like this very often in the US, and we discovered the system isn’t quite self-explanatory. Now, don’t tell any concerned mothers that may (or may not) be reading this, but the last part of our train learning curve caused a pretty radical change of plans for the next leg of our journey.

Lourdes

Lourdes

Free or not, there turned out to be only one train that went from our area to Lourdes. It left from Nice, France at 10 am on Thursday. The problem was, the earliest we could get there from Milan was 10:45. We had a reservation on Wednesday night in Avignon, but getting from there to Nice proved even more difficult (which was pretty weird, because of how much closer they are together).

To catch our train, we decided to cancel our hotel in Avignon (we wouldn’t be able to use it anyway), and just stay the night in the Nice train station. Annie’s comment on it was “What’s a trip to Europe without spending a night in a station?” It couldn’t be that bad, my sister stayed on a bench in a German station on her way back from World Youth Day in Cologne, and on his Europe trip, my older brother actually spent a couple nights in trees after getting locked out of his hostel. Besides, everything we saw said the town was really Nice.

So, apparently the Blessed Mother had different plans (does she count as a concerned mother?)

We got to Nice without any further complications. To avoid any more complications, we decided to buy our tickets to Lourdes right away (and validate them), so that we would be sure that all the connections would work. It was Wednesday afternoon, and the guy at the counter tells us that tomorrow there would be a nationwide strike by all train and bus workers, so we wouldn’t be able to get out of Nice until Friday night.

With two and a half days to stay, we definitely needed lodging, so we struck out across the town to find a plan B.

Quick Requiem

April 9, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

Basilica in Fatima

Basilica in Fatima

Let me set the scene for this:

We had just come to Portugal, the last new country on our trip. In the next couple days, we had three long, boring plane rides that I was really looking forward to because I could use them to catch up on my blog. The laptop/phone battery was dying, so we pulled out the handy-dandy converter plug while waiting in the Fatima train station.. and it hasn’t started since.

I’m we pumped the wrong voltage into it, and the phone fried.

It didn’t charge in any of the stops since then, and now we’re back on US soil, and it’s still not working. I was hoping that I could retrieve some of the posts that I’d been working on but hadn’t posted, but to no avail. They were saved to the phone hard drive, and that can’t be accessed without power.

Long story short: it’ll take me a bit to catch back up.

It’ll just mean getting them up here before the first wave of homework hits next week. The last post brought us up to right about the halfway point, I bet we can do it no problem. Heck, we just took on Europe. 🙂

Venice 2: Hostels and Churches

April 7, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

Tasha (junior business student) was actually pretty scared about our hostel.

It was an understandable reaction. The week before, we had to run up to Dublin early and stay in a hostel so we could catch our flight to Rome. It was definitely a hostile environment.

It was in a terrible part of town, and they put me on a completely different floor than the girls. At one point, we ducked down into the kitchen area to eat together, and this guy came up to us, as friendly as possible, and told us his life story. He was a Czeck immigrant to the US, joined the marines, his drill sergeants were racist… At the same time, he was oddly interested in all the fine details of our travel arrangements. He then told us a completely different life story, and tried to get more information on exactly where and when we’d be traveling. It was enough to give the girls the willies, so we cut out of the conversation as soon as possible, and changed our travel plans after that.

It was just a bad experience. We ended up being able to switch things around so that I was across the room from the girls (they packed 8-12 beds for both males and females into a normal sized hotel room), but no one got much sleep. We tucked all our valuables into the pockets of my coat, and I wrapped it around my pillow so no one could take it without definitely waking me up in the process. We left as early the next morning as we could. No one wanted to hang around.

So, I was really hoping that was an anomaly as hostels go.

Tasha: it didn’t help much that the route to our Venice hostel took us down streets that were too narrow to be considered alleys in America. It was only 9:30 but there didn’t seem to be a soul in sight. The streets became darker and when we got to the hostel, and the outside was an instant replay of the one in Dublin… Except this one was completely dark, and no one was there to open the door.

Steve: Apparently, the hostel we had reservations at had closed, and was sending their customers to a hotel around the corner. A note on the sign gave us a new address, which brought us to a single big wooden door with a brass knob right in the middle. Inside the door was a stone staircase that curved upwards, very well lit and clean (it was just a little steep). Up the stairs and around the corner, the stairs were covered with a red carpet. At the next turn, a mirror with a golden frame hung on the wall. The farther up we went, the ritzier it looked. At the top was a young man behind a desk with a slightly bored look on his face.

Tasha: It was such a radical change from our previous experience! Steve got bonus points for picking out a great place to stay.

Steve: Apparently Venice is such a tourist-driven town that when the shops close at 10, pretty much all the sidewalks roll up (which is a funny concept, because Venice is all sidewalks! are almost no roads 😀 )

The bored guy was really nice. He pointed out where we were on a city map, and where the two or three bars on the island were, just in case we wanted to go out. He assured us that the price wouldn’t change from what we were quoted on the website, and that he would put the three of us together in a 4 bed room, so we’d only have one stranger around us while we were sleeping.

That one person turned out to be the nicest person in the world! She was an Australian vegetarian in her early 20s, who had decided to see the world. She had saved up her money and struck out across the south of Asia with her boyfriend, traveling by train and staying in hostels. She made it all the way to Holland (halfway around the world) before she ran out of money. Apparently she also lost her traveling buddy there too.

In Holland, she got a job in an Irish pub, because it was the only place where she didn’t have to speak Dutch. There’s a ‘globalized’ picture for you: an Australian girl, working at an Irish pub, in Holland.

She had some interesting perspectives about religion, and a lot of questions. Tasha and Annie conked out pretty early, but we ended up in a conversation that lasted pretty late into the night.

Basically, her biggest beef with religion was her vegetarianism.

She didn’t see the use of established religion (an increasingly common point of view), and had a negative view of it already from her mother (apparently a Jehovah’s Witness) but she said her main conflict was the fact that the commandments say “thou shalt not kill,” but christians still condone eating meat. She had met a goat in Holland, and he had so much personality that she believed he had as much right to live as any human being. She also had a couple cats that would carry on conversations with her. Since the church didn’t protect innocent beings like that, she couldn’t be a part of it.

That was an objection I hadn’t heard of before. It was interesting to encounter it.

Back to Venice, though.

It was, despite all my romantic babblings, a tourist town. You still find the same basic things: street vendors, overpriced restaurants, and crowds. We were there on Sunday, though, which meant smaller crowds and the added adventure of finding mass.

We slept late on Sunday morning (it was much needed), and toured Venice in the afternoon. Our map had all the churches in town clearly marked, and like every other ancient Italian town, there was one on almost every corner, all super ancient. The closest one had a 6:30 mass time posted on the door, so that was our target. When we got there, it was locked up tight.

Not to worry, there were three more within a couple blocks’ distance. At least one of them would have an evening mass, right?

Over the next 15 minutes, we went to 8 other churches, all the size of small cathedrals, and some within spitting distance of each other. All of them were straight up closed. Some didn’t even have signs posted anywhere on the building. Basically, 9 cathedrals had been boarded up from disuse.

We did find mass at St. Marco’s Basilica. It was beautiful: an especially ancient church, built before the discoveries that made spacious gothic designs possible, so the way it’s massive dome was supported was by arches, stacked on top of arches, with more arches on top. Every arch had a saint or an angel painted on the bottom, so they looked like they were peeking out at you from everywhere you looked, and whatever wasn’t a picture of a saint was pure gold mosaic tiles. The whole ceiling was gold, the marble on the bottom was a dark, rich brown, and the altar was surrounded with beautiful wooden statues. It was an amazing place to go to mass, we weren’t expecting to go there, but we walked in the door literally two minutes before it started. God wanted us there 🙂

We ended up with a really cool souvenir from our time in Venice: the “Jade blanket.”

I know, it sounds like an item from a video game (like “plus 2 coolness, plus 3 warmth,” but really it’s just a red airline blanket that our Australian roommate didn’t have room for anymore, so she passed it on to us. Extra blankets are alllllways useful.

That, and always knowing where your towel is.

Untold Joy from a ‘Waterbus’ in Venice

April 2, 2009

venice

By Steve Marshall, senior business student

Then we went to Venice.

This was one of the major high points on the trip for me. I’ve always dreamed of being in Venice. For spring break a couple years ago, we went to Mexico City, and got to tour a canal town. My favorite part of the whole experience was how similar it was to what I had seen about Venice. The gondolas, the gondoliers, the quaint little bridges… I couldn’t wait to see the real thing.

First we had to get there, though.

On the train from Florence to Venice, we learned something very important about our Eurail passes: they’re not blank-check tickets.

When we got them, it said “global pass: unlimited train travel for three weeks, across 17 countries.” That might make one think one could ride on the major trains in all those countries for free, since one already paid for the “global” ticket, but apparently the opposite is true. The free trains are the tiny ones, the inter-city transport, and the overnighters. The main lines between major cities cost up to 15 Euros a head, or 23 if you weren’t aware of that and had to buy your tickets on the train… 🙂

So, that means planning the rest of our travel more carefully, waking up early to get the early commuter trains, and going through more small stations. That’s all. Maybe we should read more fine print before heading off on adventures…

Taking the small trains, it was nighttime when we got to Venice. It was beautiful! I tell ya, Venice is a city that knows how to light things up at night!

To get to our hostel, the directions said that we had to take the waterbus #1. We took a waterbus!! The girls laughed at me, ’cause of how excited I was to board it. I could hardly keep from jumping up and down. THEN, we got to sit in a special section on the back of the boat, where the seats are outside, and right next to the gunwhales (sides of the ship), looking out at the water!!

Tasha: so when Steve told us about the waterbus, the first thing that came to mind was something from the magic school bus. Ya know, like a bus that’ll turn amphibian… Then I though more about it and figured it would be like the “chunnel” (the underground tunnel that runs across the English Channel). Don’t let Steve fool you though… It was just a large bargesque boat that was driven (‘piloted,’ I suppose) just as roughly as any other city bus.

I guess I’ve deglamorized it enough… 😉 the bus itself was pretty cool, I mean what other time can you worry about getting wet or sinking while on a public transport?

The train station was cool because it opened straight to the waterfront where you had your choice of waterbuses and of boat taxis as well as being picked up by more civilian craft. Honestly with as many vespas as we’ve seen in Europe I was surprised not to see sea-doos.

Another thing Steve loved I’m sure is the fact our hostel was almost completely at the other end of the bus line. It was a good thirty mins of Steve jumping in his seat talking about how its just like a bus but in water. Every stop was “special” because the boat didn’t parallel park. Instead it moved sideways until it hit the dock. Then to leave, it scraped its side moving the floating dock/busstop back toward shore and went on its way.

So Steve was beaming about this boat so much… When he tells a childhood story that he’s really excited about he’ll have a lispy little boy voice… This voice was a constant on our boat ride. We made sure he got to sit dead center in the back, right in front of the Venitian flag. I guess listening to him babble on in nautical terms is my repayment for a similar action at an airshow with him this past October.

I think that the engine was what made the waterbus the most special… Not only did the ships “captain” drive it like a school bus, the sounds coming from the engine/transmission were something like a cross between an army of stone garden gnomes running haphazardly and a gargoyle spitting out the water… One of the best parts of the boat ride was seeing Steve pretend to be the gargoyle.

Steve: I had a lot of fun 🙂

Everything in Venice was exactly like i’d imagined it, even the gondoliers: black and white striped shirts, dark pants with a colored fabric belt, and a pot belly inside the shirt. Every gondolier I saw was like that. It was magical. It cost 80 euros to ride in a gondola, though. That was definitely not magical.

The best part about the trip from the station to the hostel was that we got to see so much of the city. There are some beautiful buildings, and several ancient churches built right on the edge of the canal. Then we hit land, and got to navigate through the quaint, tiny little streets to our lodging for the night.

Adventure City!

March 31, 2009
Photography by Jacob Kelly, junior media student

Photography by Jacob Kelly, junior media student

So much is happening right now, I wanted to make sure and capture it for you before it escapes me. We just left Rome. Up until now, we’ve been traveling as part of the school’s group and on the school’s time. Now myself, Tasha, and her best friend Ann Marie are striking off into the great beyond. 🙂 Yesterday was our last meal prepared by Roman nuns. Spring break had officially started, and there was a 9:00 train to Florence with our name on it. We would spend the day exploring Dante’s city and be in Venice by the end of the night.

Our first act as independent explorers was to take the wrong bus. Then we took the wrong trolley. After a couple circles on the awesome public transportation system in Rome, we got to the train station and discovered how much bigger it is than a bus station. It’s like a shopping mall! There’s also a special amount of red tape involved in getting our Eurail passes activated. Not a real problem, though, there are plenty of trains, and we got on one by 11. I’m really glad we got a chance to go to Florence. The atmosphere is much more laid back than Rome. It was another famous and historic Italian city, but here’s an illustration of the difference in culture: 90% of the churches in Florence charge admission. Also, the shops and street vendors sell handmade belts and purses instead of rosaries and holy cards.

Funny story that connects with this: A couple days earlier, we had gone to the laundromat, and took our tour guide along, so we could show him where it was (there’s something ironic in that… 😀 ). His laundry finished drying before he got back from dinner, and so we pulled out his clothes and folded them right along with our own. He was so thrilled when he got them back that he helped us plan the rest of the Italian branch of our adventure. Armed with that knowledge, we had a pretty good handle on what to go see. We had 2 hours before our train left for Venice, so we toured the major churches, the gelato shops, and saw the famous “Hall of the Renaissance” (Salon de Cinquecento.) In art class, we learned about the difference between the emphatic Baroque style and the more restrained, serene Renaissance. In Rome, everything is baroque (basically. If it wasn’t originally, it’s been restored sometime in the 18th century, so it looks baroque).

Photography by Jacob Kelly, sophomore media student

Photography by Jacob Kelly, sophomore media student

In Florence, we got to see our first real Gothic cathedral. It was really amazing how much of a contrast it was to the older basilicas in Rome, decorated with the newer Baroque style. Three major differences: 1- the outside of Florence’s gothic cathedral is beautifully decorated in multiple colors of marble. We didn’t see any of that in Rome. 2- inside the cathedral, there were only 4 small frescoes. In Rome, it seemed like they were trying to plaster religious art across every posible flat surface. 3- the gothic cathedral is so tall! The columns are so slender, and the ceilings are so high! After going into 23 churches in Rome, all built in or before the 14th century, you kinda get used to the proportions: the higher the ceiling, the bulkier the colums. Somehow, the gothic cathedral changed that. You walk in and your eyes are drawn up into this huge open space that extends faaar above your head, BUT THERE AREN’T 10 FT SQUARE COLUMNS HOLDING THEM UP!! It felt like a miracle. We didn’t get to see too much more in Florence. We did end up going shopping there, but it wasn’t recreational spending. Tasha brought a cavernous backpack that she got about 4 years ago. In the Dublin airport, one of the straps had broken, now the other one followed suit. It was also bursting a seam (or three). In addition to that, Annie had brought a rolling suitcase, but had taken it down enough bumpy stairs (heavy as it was), that the wheels were bent out of shape and no longer rolled. With all the running from train to train that we were already doing, we couldn’t travel very long in that condition, so we found a street vendor that sold luggage. Surprisingly, we were able to grab replacements for only 23 euro dollars, total (it involved just a liiittle bit of haggling). The only other interesting thing that happened was that I got a compliment on my hat. I wear a black fedora whenever I travel, I call it my “adventure hat.” It’s a great feeling to, after a long journey, take off your hat and hang it up. Try it some time, you’ll see what I mean. So here I am, walking through an incredibly fashion-conscious city in Italy, where everyone seems to be dressed up in some way or another (most of them in something “outside-the-box”). We walked up to a crosswalk, and this guy leaning up against the building says “hey, nice hat.” then the light turned green and we were gone. I thought it was hilarious.

The Eternal City!

March 26, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

After this, I’ll work on a post for each day. There are a lot of details about the churches that are reeeally cool. 🙂

Well, Rome’s over now. Wasn’t it great?

vatican1

Artwork by Andrea Lynch, senior media student

We hit the vatican running. Almost literally. Now that it’s over, I’ve got some time to blog, and wander the streets looking for wifi so I can post it.

Our week in Rome was like the Energizer bunny: it just kept going and going and going. It was a whirlwind of a walking tour, with 4 days to cover 23 churches, and then a whole day dedicated to a papal audience and the Sistine Chapel.

I’ll be going through in more detail later, but for now, here’s an outline of our trip:

vatican-2

Artwork by Andrea Lynch, senior media student

Wednesday
– Papal Audience
(nothing real special, just his normal Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square)
– Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
(all housed in the same buildings)
– The Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain
(then we almost got locked out of our lodging)
Thursday
– Catacombs of S. Sebastian
(it was cold as a meat locker)
– S. Paul Outside the Walls
(the 4th major church. We hit ’em all!)
– S. Maria degli Angeli
(this one had been literally gutted out and turned into a modern art display)
– S. Maria della Victoria
(another Bernini chapel. Amazing.)
– S. Susanna
(from our tour guide: “that’s the American church. It’s pretty ugly.”)
– S. Carlino alla Quattro Fontana
(‘at the four fountains.’ lotsa interesting things here)

Friday
– Il Gesu
(“the church of the Holy Name of Jesus” myyyy favorite!)
– S. Ignatius of Loyola
(this one had some super cool optical illisuions in the frescoes)
– S. Mary over Minerva
(used to be a Roman temple, now it’s all about the victory of Christianity over pagan gods)
– S. Louis, King of France
(this was the first king ever to build a chapel in his palace)
– S. Augustine
(the body of St. Monica is buried here!)
– S. Mary of the Martyrs
(previously known as the PANTHEON!)
– S. Mary of the People
(it was financed by the people of Rome in 1099)