Friday, July 12, 2013

Oh My Buddha from Italy to Egypt to THAILAND!

It is no easy feat to find a computer or the time to spare when I'm traveling to keep you updated, so this will be a long post! The last time I wrote I was leaving Siena for Chiusi to meet up with an Italian girl I couchsurfed with in Cork, Ireland (it was lovely to see her, but 1-4pm in small Italian towns everything is closed!) Next up was Rome! My solo adventures finally came to an end when I met Thomas at the airport.

The next day we got right to the sites of Rome and took a tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Via Sacra, and all of the Roman ruins which were even more incredible than I pictured when I took Latin way back when. We then walked to the biggest  V ittorio Emmanuel monument (he unified Italy and is celebrated everywhere) then to a surprisingly beautiful church (by this point I was starting to think they all looked the same), the Pantheon (just as impressive as you would imagine), and Piazza Navona. In the evening, we met up with another Clarkie interning in Rome to wander the very hip Trastevere neighborhood before venturing into the old Jewish ghetto for a super delicious dinner (they even gave us a dairy and a meat menu), but we chose fried artichokes (their specialty).

After visiting Jewish Rome, we braved the long line and passed the modesty checkpoint to enter the Vatican and St. Peter's Church. The church's splendor and ornateness was quite a sight, but I could never imagine praying in such a place. We did climb to the top of the dome for some superb views of the city. Thomas and I wandered the city more and walked along the Tiber then headed to our B&B where I convinced Thomas to try a healthy dinner... only to ruin it with AMAZING gelato (mine was made from buffalo milk!!)

Although, we only got a taste of Rome, we stopped in Naples the next day. We were very lost searching for the oldest and possibly the inventor of pizza (the shop was established in 1870 and even Julia Roberts has been there). As we entered an American family told us someone had been shot up the street... so we ate our pizza quickly and made our way quickly out of Naples to Sorrento. Sorrento is a part of the Amalfi Coast and very close to Pompeii. In Pompeii, our terrific guide Silvio gave us all of the details. We also got some extra fun facts by following a group of Dutch students (Thomas translated for me :)). Pompeii was massive and VERY hot so we spent the afternoon on our balcony looking out at the mountains and eating baked gnocchi for dinner while watching a heated football/soccer match between Spain and Brazil.

Despite, being very touristy (especially with British), we loved the rocky beach in Sorrento and the English breakfast (I was so sick of espresso and croissants for breakfast by this point!). Unfortunately, we didn't have much time before it was time to go back to Rome. Since we were in a rush we stopped at McDonald's in Naples which was a cultural experience in itself (my salad came with olive oil, balsamic, and breadsticks). Plus, we met a cranky American couple who informed us that global warming was a hoax and that the US was turning into a socialist state... thank goodness, I live in my Northeast bubble! Anyways, back in Rome, we saw the Trevi fountain by night and spent the night with my Clarkie, Yelena.

In the morning, Thomas headed back to the Netherlands, and I fit in the Spanish Steps, Villa Medici, and  got one more pasta before I headed to ASIA!

My flight to Thailand was pretty pleasant although, it was quite an interesting experience stopping in Cairo (especially a midst the revolution going on). The Egyptian I sat next to on the plane made it sound like a little skirmish and just wanted to show me the pyramids from the plane (he couldn't see them by night though). I made it in one piece to Bangkok where I was reunited with my best friend Ashley over an exciting Thai dinner with some interesting dishes...

Despite the jetlag, we wasted no time and headed to Wat Pho (a major temple in Bangkok) first by train (which are air conditioned and definitely not made for tall people) then by water bus! Outside Wat Pho we tried Durian which tastes just as bad as it smells. Inside we saw tons of Buddhas including the gigantic recling Buddha. Also in Wat Pho is a massage school where we got our first full body Thai massage at the massage school there. After the temple we got haggled into taking a tuk tuk to the Golden Mount (touristy, but a good view of the city), the Standing Buddha, and were abandoned there since he took us to 2 stores where we refused to buy anything. By foot we walked to the massive and almost suffocating markets in Chinatown and Little India.

Already tired of Bangkok as most people told us, we took the train and a cab outside the city to Muang Boran. The site covers a few acres and contains replicas of all of Thailands major temples, buildings, and sights. We explored the area first by golf cart then by bike and were delighted by the tram loads of Thai children who were also learning about their country. Tired by the heat we took a nap by the pool before venturing out into Bangkok at night for some cheap shopping and a taste for their own red light district. Unfortunately it was a rough night, since adjusting to bottled water only was no easy task for me I was very dehydrated that night.

Once again we got out of Bangkok the next day to go to one of Thailand's many floating markets. We got a boat ride through the canal first with a motor boat then by paddle as vendors reached down from the sides or from other boats to sell us things. Since we didn't arrive at 6am when the boats are full of Thai people buying goods, we mostly got a lot of enjoyment watching all the tourists. Ashley and I did get to try some new strange fruits though. Next our tour bus stopped for some lunch then went to a tiger temple. The temple is run by volunteers and monks who care for the tigers and other animals (like deer, boars, and cows), but also entertain many tourists by letting them take photos with the tigers. We weren't sure if the tigers were sedated or sleepy since they sleep 15-18 hours a day. Regardless, it was AWESOME. Next, the bus took us to Kachanaburi to see the bridge over the River Kwai (built by prisoners during WWII).

Very excited to leave Bangkok, Ashley and I took a plane to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand the next morning. Our first day was very relaxed in the smaller and more manageable city. We also arrived just in time for the Sunday night market where we sampled many different foods for dinner and ended the day with a foot massage (everything is SO CHEAP here, it's easy to be luxurious). The next day we explored more temples around the city (already feeling Buddha overload) and had a fancy dinner for a whopping $10 (I'm in reverse sticker shock!)

The next day we left for a 3 day trek through the jungle!! However, I have to leave you here, but will fill you in soon with our jungle trek, elephant riding, and Thai cooking class. Tomorrow we depart on a LONG journey for Siem Reap in Cambodia. In the meantime, enjoy my photos:

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