Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The #1 Downside of Traveling Alone is...

       ... a sunburned back! After so long in rainy Netherlands and mild Scotland I was not prepared for the heat of Italy. It is hot, humid, and very sunny. I can't put sunscreen on my own back and while plenty of friendly Italian men would be happy to do it, I have suffered instead. Anyways, last time I left you, I was making my way to Glasgow. After doing my last day of cleaning at the hostel, I got a ride to Fort William and "large" enough town to have a grocery store. When I wasn't sleeping on the bus, the scenery was incredible! Especially an area called Glen Coe with phenomenal mountains. That evening I arrived in Glasgow where I was staying with three students that go to the University of Glasgow. They made me a lovely dinner before heading out for a few drinks (according to them a few drinks is a novel concept, since the Scots LOVE their alcohol). But I finally got to ride in a Hackney cab!

The next day I explored the West End and unfortunately it was my first rainy day in Scotland. I walked through Kelvin Grove Park, stopped at several charity shops (they are ALL OVER), walked through the university campus, the botanical gardens, and the Kelvin Grove Museum which included a little bit of everything. That evening we attended a stand up comedy show and for only 2£ it wasn't too bad, although there was one or two comedians who I could not understand a word they said (the accent in Glasgow particularly was STRONG). The next day I saw some cathedrals, the People's Palace (a fantastic museum all about Glasgow), and through the city center. All in all, I would not exactly recommend Glasgow as a tourist attraction, being a working class city with few attractions. The people were quite friendly and according to my host, it's the only city where someone would stab you but, then hail a cab for you and point you in the direction of the hospital. Nevertheless, I made it in one piece to Milan quite late in the evening thanks to Ryanair.

My two Italian hosts were absolutely lovely and students at the university. On my first full day, I ventured on their subway to Sforza Castle and the gardens/huge park behind it. From there I took a pretty awful walking tour. The guide's English was not so good and he was very nervous. But it was free and we walked through the historic Brera neighborhood, the incredible Duomo (massive and intricate cathedral), the galleria, and finally to the church where The Last Supper is (I did not see the painting though since it is quite damaged and you have to book very far in advance). Afterwards, I met up with my hosts again for appertivo. Appertivo is like an all you can eat buffet, but for quite cheap, includes a drink, and the food is amazing. We then walked around the city by night which absolutely comes alive especially around the canals lined with bars, cafes, and desserts (we got a not so good cannoli according to my host). The very urban and fashion oriented Milan, was all right for a day, but I was ready for the next city-- Turino!

The train from Milan to Turino took me through a lot of industrial areas, but I was greeted at the train station by my next couchsurfing host. He is Colombian and doing an exchange at the polytechnical school in Turino studying environmental engineering. We had some great conversations about his interests in water management and how he wants to preserve all of Colombia's natural resources. After making lunch together I explored the city while he was in class (most Italian universities don't finish exams until July and most of their exams are completely oral!). I walked through the beautiful Roman neighborhood, the Palace Reale, the Egypt museum (it's the second largest collection after Cairo), the old Roman gate, and along the River Po. Afterwards, Jairo met me and we climbed Monte Capucini, walked to the church containing Jesus's shroud, and finally we met with his friends visiting from Columbia for another excellent appertivo. Turino was nice, but very doable in a day.

The next day I went to Genoa (where Christopher Columbus is supposedly from). Genoa is a port city with many markets and tiny streets to wander. I didn't spend much time here, although my foccacia pizza and gelato was spectacular. Early the next morning it was off to the Cinque Terre! These are 5 small coastal villages that you can either take the train between or hike short but incredible coastal paths. Today, the area is a national park and quite touristy, but for good reason. I stayed in a hostel in the middle village of Corniglia which is perched high up on a cliff. After exploring the village, I started my hike to Vernazza where I met a Texan couple who work in the oil industry (I had a great time quizzing them on all things green). I briefly wandered Vernazza before getting back on the trail to Monterosso. Both hikes took about an hour each, but I was rewarded with fresh squeexed lemonade on the trail before finishing in Monterosso which had a rocky beach to swim and suntan in. Back in Corniglia I was rewarded with pesto lasagna and obviously more gelato (the region is known for their lemons and pesto). The next day I moved to a new hostel in another village, Riomaggiore which is one big hill. Since the trails between Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia were closed I took the train to Manarola (definitely the prettiest of the villages). I tanned on some big flat rocks (and by tanned I mean burned). I was feeling quite ambitious though and climbed straight upwards from manarola to a VERY small village called Volastra. An old Italian couple was making fun of me for being so sweaty and red, but hand gestured that I should continue on to Corniglia since it was mostly flat and downwards (and terrifying since the path was on tiny ledges through hillside vineyards). Exhausted I made it back to Manarola where I had dinner with a family from Gardener, MA who I ran into earlier and adopted me for the night before catching the last train back to Riomaggiore (this was the first time I was very grateful that the trains never run on time). [I encourage you to google image it!!]

Once again, I got up early to catch the train from La Spezia, slightly below the Cinque Terre, back to Milan; however, the trains were very delayed and I missed my connection to Verona. Instead I met 2 Norwegian girls also going to Verona, but had rented a car and invited me along. They told me how beautiful their country was (especially Bergen, the 2nd biggest city), how unfriendly Norwegians are to foreigners, and how everything was SO cheap once they were out of Norway. Once in Verona, we parted ways and I met with my new host Max. Max is from a tiny town in West Texas, but was spending the year studying in Italy. By night I followed Rick Steves walking tour to see the lovely piazzas, the duomo, the Scaligero residences and castle (they are the equivalent of the Medicis in the Verona), and the Roman arena. Ending the evening with another American student studying at Montclair in NJ with some spritzes. I finished up Verona by stopping by the super touristy Juliet's balcony and touching her statue's breast for good luck in love and climbing the Pietra castle for some amazing views. Since the weather was even hotter today we spent the afternoon with some girls from Wales at a cafe. Verona, a city filled with flowery balconies was absolutely charming. But it was off to Venice on a train with no air conditioning, oy!

Since I arrived in Venice at night, I haven't really seen anything yet, but something to look forward to in my next entry! From Venice, I will be off to Bologna, Florence, and Siena. Until then, ciao!

--Unfortunately I haven't been able to upload pictures, so they will come... eventually.

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