The Cost of Travel

After traveling around the world in 80 days (or, well, 73), I have finally returned to the United States and will be avoiding any significant traveling/touristing for a while until I finish and ship Splody. A number of you probably have a few quantifiable questions, like, how much did it cost to spend 2.5 months wandering around Europe? Or, how many pictures of cats did you take? Well, herein lies the answers to those, and many other metric-driven questions!
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Stopping by Beijing

I flew to China on Turkish Airlines, with a layover in Istanbul, and I was delighted to be fed a little Turkish food on the way, reminding me of some of the great food I had a few weeks back. On the ground in Beijing, as I was leaving the international terminal, I saw a sign saying – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Respect other cultures, do not litter and preserve the environment.” Initially I laughed at the irony of this, given the reputation of the Chinese internationally, until I realized the sign was actually in the departures section, and apparently they realize exactly what their reputation is and would like to change it.

The food in China was great. Chinese restaurant food there is a lot like Chinese restaurant food anywhere. The Kung Pao Chicken was exactly what I’m used to, though there were other dishes I’ve not sampled elsewhere. The food (like everything) was incredibly cheap, multiple meals we had came to around USD$1.50 per person. Continue reading “Stopping by Beijing”

Barcelona

Why Barcelona? Some friends had stayed here a coupe months and recommended it and, well, it was the cheapest flight to Beijing, which is where I’m planning on going next, and seemed to have a good train connection from Marseille. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the last post, that train was canceled due to a strike, so I hop on a plane instead. This plane is perhaps the most cramped plane I’ve ever been in, but at least there is an empty seat nearby so I don’t feel totally squished. My hotel room in Barcelona is similarly rather small, but I’m only there for two nights, so it’s no big deal.

Upon arriving in Barcelona, I’m suddenly struck with feeling like I’m back in California – people are talking at me in Spanish! That being said, unless it’s describing entrées on the menu of a Mexican restaurant, my Spanish is pretty poor, but at least I know all of the social niceties. I do notice, however, that the primary language on all of the signs is not Spanish at all, nor English, but Catalan. Barcelona is in the heart of Catalonia, a region of Spain that is pretty distinct culturally, historically, and linguistically from the rest of Spain. During the Franco dictatorship of Spain, they were repressed, it was illegal to even speak Catalan, but since then their culture has flourished.

For lunch I check the highest reviewed nearby spots on Google Maps and get directed to a Cuban restaurant. I am a little skeptical going in, as I’ve been to a Cuban restaurant in San Jose which people raved about, and I found it pretty mediocre, but it smells wonderful when I enter and the meal I have here is amazing. If you’re ever in Barcelona, stop by the Cuban restaurant a few blocks from the main (Sants) train station!

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Marseille by Sea

I decide to take two excursions into the Mediterranean today. The first – a boat cruise of the Calanques. The Calanques is a large national park to the southeast of Marseille, home to many water-side cliffs and some natural bays in which little ports, apparently mostly hotels with beachs, have grown up.

The views leaving the port of Marseille are wonderful. I see where my hotel sits right on the shore. The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Guarde sits on a towering hill in the center of town, making it clear to me why I was so exhausted walking up there earlier in the morning. I also get some nice views of Chateau d’If and the Friouls, which I intend to visit later in the day.

Not a lot to say about the Calanques, other than it is a relaxing boat ride seeming them and it is nice to be out on the water, with beautiful views of both the park and the Mediterranean. Continue reading “Marseille by Sea”

Marseille by Land

After a long, and very beautiful, train ride up the Mediterranean coast, I arrive late in Marseille, France. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to see here, other than Chateau d’If a minor fort on an island turned into a prison which is unremarkable except that it was made famous in Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. I just finished watching Gankutsuou, an anime remake of The Count of Monte Cristo, which has a lot of references to Chateau d’If and Marseille in general, so I’m excited to be here for mostly fictional reasons, but the beauty of this part of the Mediterranean will make this perhaps my favorite stop on my travels.

I don’t see much on my first night with my late arrival, Uber to my hotel, and right to bed, however in the morning I’m greeted with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean out of my hotel room window, including the Chateau d’If on a little island in front of more of the Friouls, a small island chain and national park. I take pictures of the sunrise every morning…

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A Very Wet Day in Cinqueterre

I arrive fairly late in Cinqueterre, get checked in to my “hotel” which appears to be more of a “hostel”, my “double bed” is… a bunk bed. Well, at least I have my own room. I go out for some dinner and am delightfully surprised to be served something I have not seen more than once or twice since leaving the states – ice water! Despite the heat here, they never seem to use ice, but this particular restaurant appears to cater to Americans. The “Milanese cutlet” (chicken fried steak) is also very good.

Cinqueterre translates as”the 5 lands” – it is 5 little nearby towns in a very rugged area. My hotel is in the first of the towns, Riomaggiore. There are trails connecting all of the towns, and I hope to hike to a few of them, so I get up early, check the weather, see that it’s supposed to rain all day, and bundle up for a long hike in the rain. It is very nice being up and about the town before the tourists arrive or are out themselves, and the rain is refreshing, at least at first. I grab a focaccia for breakfast and wander through the town, seeking the trail head that will bring me to the next town. Continue reading “A Very Wet Day in Cinqueterre”

Short Stop in Pisa

On my way to Cinqueterre, I make a short stop in Pisa. I’m not sure what’s here, besides a famously leaning tower, but it was on the way and seemed like a good way to spend an afternoon! I walk through a lot of the town (the Tower is on the opposite end of town than the train station), see some quaint streets and plazas, and a bunch of the “arcades” that apparently Pisa is known for – stone arched covered open spaces for markets and such.

I cross the river and decide to try a restaurant that was recommended in my guide book. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten at any restaurant recommended by my guide book on my travels so far, usually relying on Google Maps and Trip Advisor’s ratings and reviews to choose places instead, or more often walking into random places that seem convenient. This restaurant, though, was indeed worth the recommendation. The food was even worth the 45 minutes or so it took to arrive. I’m pretty sure this was the best food I’ve had in Italy. The first course wasn’t anything particularly special, Carpaccio di Bresola con Rucola e Grana – cold cuts and some cheese, I guess. The main course, Fettuccine alla Pisana, was amazingly good. Fresh cherry tomatoes, some incredibly flavorful bacon, good cheese, and dripping with oil. Continue reading “Short Stop in Pisa”

Circumnavigating a Country on Foot

My last day in Rome, I start by attending the Papal Audience. This is an event every Wednesday in which the Pope appears, talks to and prays with pilgrims and visitors to Rome. Though free, I had to pick up a ticket the night before, which I got from the fantastic Santa Susanna American Community in Rome which is run by the Paulist Fathers, an American religious order, one of my favorites, as they’re big into education and music, who also ran the church I attended during my years at the University of Minnesota. Because it takes a while to get through security and find a seat, everyone arrives early to St Peter’s Square, and I take an empty seat next to a few people who happen to also be from California. While waiting, speakers in various languages recognize all of the large groups of pilgrims in attendance, mostly in their native languages. When going through the English-speaking groups, I notice almost all are from England, or Scandinavia, just a couple groups from the US. The Pope also arrives early and moves about between the crowds shaking hands, blessing babies, and the like. He passes pretty close to where I am sitting, and it’s neat seeing him in person. I’m glad to see this pope does not feel the need for a bullet-proof Popemobile anymore.

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Food Variety and Rome at Night

I’ve finally finished all of my day trips from Rome, and just about all of the things I wanted to see in Rome, with the exception of attending a Papal Audience, which I will do in a couple days, and attending an opera, which I will fail to do, due to tickets being sold out far in advance, and I’ve not been in to advanced planning on this trip =).

I spend time catching up on my blog posts. I’m glad I’ve been doing this as I go along, as it really encourages me to think twice before taking a photo of every interesting thing, and I think my photo collection from my trip is better for it. I do, still, take a picture of almost every meal, though. On one outing for lunch, I decide I want something non-Italian, do a search for Indian, and a few restaurants in the area pop up. I go to the first one, only to be turned away because they don’t have room for one more person. As I leave the restaurant I find another group of Americans, also turned away, also getting tired of Italian, who had just come from the other direction and let me know that the Indian restaurant over there was full too. They decide to settle for “ravioli again”, but I set off towards the remaining two Indian restaurants on my map. Continue reading “Food Variety and Rome at Night”

The Smallest Country in the World

This morning I board the Metro and head to another country. I really like the look of some of the Metro stops – underground, mostly dark, but shiny metal walls reflecting the light of trains coming from afar. Small and compact – no two-way traffic or additional trains at these stops, just big enough for one train to come through.
1292 Metro

I arrive at the entrance St Peter’s Square, which is mostly blocked off for some event, and spend a while in the hot sun waiting in the security checkpoint line to leave the country. Well, the security is to enter St Peter’s Basilica because it’s a significant and important site that has bee attacked in the past, not because I’m walking from one country into another. My audio guide tells me to “go through security, past the gaggle of backpackers in shorts being turned away for not reading the dress code, and into the square”, but it seems the dress code must have been reduced in recent years, as I don’t see anyone being turned away, and see some people in shorts inside. Continue reading “The Smallest Country in the World”