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! Continue reading “The Cost of Travel”
Today I was planning on visiting the Vatican Museum and related sites, but, in preparation for where I’m heading in a few stops, I ended up spending most of the morning and afternoon figuring out how to get a Chinese visa for an American citizen in Italy. Luckily, there is a Chinese visa office in Rome, and they don’t care that you’re not Italian. Unlike the Chinese consulate I once stopped by in San Francisco, this one was almost completely empty, and on my two visits there I spent no more than 30 seconds waiting for someone (the same guy, who spoke good English, both times) to assist me, so it was relatively painless, though even with rush service they will return my passport, with visa attached, the day before my last day in Rome, so I hope all goes well! In order to get the initial Chinese visa, they required plain tickets to and from China, but I am not completely sure on my plans yet, so I booked some flights, printed out the tickets, submitted my visa application, and then canceled one of the flights (within 24 hours, so no cancellation fee) until my plans solidify. After this initial visa is granted, I can use it any number of times in the next 10 years to re-enter China without having to jump through any hoops, so I’m not sure why they’re so rigorous on the initial application/entry. Probably because people intending illegal immigration might just buy a one-way ticket and they want to protect against that.
After my Visa Quest, I strolled over to the Pantheon, as it was a bit of Ancient Rome I had not yet seen, and there were a couple other sites of particular interest to me in the area. The Pantheon used to be the temple of all gods, but when Constantine converted Rome to Christianity in the 4th century it was converted into the church of all martyrs and statues of Zeus and Apollo were replaced with statues of Andrew and Peter. Like most active churches in Rome, there is no admission fee, whether you’re coming in to pray or to be a tourist, and due to it being later in the day, there was no wait to go in.
This is my last day-trip out from Rome, a day in Florence, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. After the train ride, I start my time in Florence watching a short 3D movie about Florence – my guide book recommended stopping at the place above the visitor’s center to watch this, saying it’s “often overlooked”. Sure enough, I shuffle through an incredibly packed visitor’s center to get to the stairs, go up, and find a large room with a lot of empty chairs and I watch the movie entirely alone. It gives a nice overview of the city and informs me a bit on what I should try to see. The movie is in 3D, using polarized glasses, and is pretty good, however the subtitles have horrible vertical convergence. Usually with the two images of a 3D movie, any content will appear shifted only left or right, since it’s simulating images going to your left and right eyes, but for some reason the text was shifted vertically instead of horizontally, so gives me a headache trying to focus on it. It is so bad I have to take a picture. After that, I start making my way to the Cathedral, but continue my tradition of slipping in to any open church for a moment along the way.
I arrive at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which has a fanciful facade. Of important historical note are the bronze doors to the baptistery across from it – these doors are considered the start of the Renaissance. At the time, they held a competition among all of the city’s best artists to create the most artistic doors, and this was the start of an era of strong patronage of the arts in Florence, and soon other cities as well, but all of the famous renaissance men – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc – lived or worked in Florence, at least for a time.
A day trip to Orvieto! Orvieto is a small “hill town” north of Rome an hour or so by high speed train. Called a “hill town” because the town is built atop a hill, a bit like the acropolises in ancient Greek and Roman times. This one dates back a couple millennia, but was abandoned for a few hundred years after the Romans defeated the native Etruscan people.
It’s a quaint little town with winding, slightly hilly streets, all with a lot of charm. There are a lot of cars considering how tiny the roads are – I expected almost no automobiles, it seems like a perfect pedestrian-only little city, but cars zoom by through one-way alleys. For lunch I decide to try a kind of “pizza” I’ve been seeing for a while – it has meat and… French fries… on it. And no red sauce. I’m not sure it can actually be called a “pizza”. The taste is, well, about what you’d expect. The cat who joins me as I sit on a bench seems to like it more than I do.
I make my way over to the Duomo di Orvieto – the Orvieto Cathedral, the main attraction in town due to its very fanciful facade.
I decided to stop in Milan due to, mostly, the fact that it was the cheapest flight from Istanbul, and had an express train to Rome, which was my real next destination. Apparently feeling money-conscious that day, I also booked a bed in a hostel instead of a normal hotel room. The hostel is quiet nice. They put me in a more private room with two beds and a bathroom (I booked a cheaper room with four beds), whether through accident, or benevolence, or clever planning, I do not know. To my delightful surprise, there’s no one else staying there my first night, so I have a nice, if simple, room with a private bath for about a fifth of what I usually pay for a room! The second night, however, I will get a roommate, and he was a nice Polish guy, but I decide I’ll probably stick to hotel rooms from here on out.
Milan, like most of these old cities in Italy, is gorgeous. Even the train terminal (of which my photo did not turn out) is beautiful – big, massive, stone columns and arches. Continue reading “Short Stop in Milan”
As I mentioned in a previous post, my traveling companion and I joined a 5-day tour by bus along the Aegean coast area of Turkey. Overall, it is a pretty good experience, and it is nice to have someone else plan the transportation, lodging, and food in the myriad of places we stay. It is, however, exhausting, staying only one night in each hotel (except one), spending 3-8 hours on a bus every day, and having to worry a bit about not delaying the rest of the group when we might want to explore a bit more in a particular place, or would rather sleep in.
As we board the bus, meet the other 4 travelers, and get our overview, we discover that the 6 of us are actually on 3 different tours, that happen to be sharing 4 days. Four of them had been touring Istanbul the day or two before (we had too, but not part of a tour group), and on the last day of our tour, the other 2 sets of 2 people would also be venturing in different directions, one couple continuing for another day or two with the tour group, as we get shuttled back to Istanbul. On our final leg to Istanbul, we are pretty exhausted, and our tour guide graciously skips a bit of the tour (some silk market) and delivers us directly to our next hotel in the Asian side of Istanbul, which is about 1.5 hours away from where we were initially picked up (in the European side) and where we were originally supposed to get returned to, which is great. Our tour group is very friendly and a lot of fun. All 4 others are from Australia most recently, though one was Greek and another Italian, originally, I think.
Interestingly, perhaps the tastiest meal I had in Venice was in the airport as I waited for my flight to Turkey. It was just a wrap, but the lettuce inside was so cold and crisp, the bread outside so warm and crisp, with melted cheese, or perhaps something mayonnaise-based, and warm ham inside. It was a good start to a tasty segment of my travels. Though, admittedly, all of my travels have been pretty tasty. Meals in Istanbul started with some kebabs, one of the best (and cheapest, at just over a US dollar) was at a little hole in the wall place near my hotel. At the time, I had no idea what kind of meat “urfa” was, but it was delicious.
I have returned from my trip to Turkey, and will be posting the next few blog updates a little out of order so pictures can be combined more thematically appropriately with each other. This one covers the sights seen in my first couple days in Istanbul, and a short stop in Bursa during a group tour.
One thing I read about Turkey and noticed immediately is the cats. They’re everywhere, each neighborhood has their own set of cats, which roam and live freely outdoors as far as I can tell. Most of them are quite friendly, not a one cursed at me while I was there, and a few let me pet their usually flea-ridden heads.
I met up with a friend for this leg of my journey, and one of the first things we did was take what was billed as a “sunset cruise,” but was actually the exact same thing as the “Bosphorus hop-on, hop-off water tour”, just a boat that goes to about 8 stops along the Bosphorus – the large waterway dividing the European and Asian parts of Turkey. We showed up and took an earlier boat, so didn’t actually get the “sunset” part, but it was a nice ride with nice views. Continue reading “Cathedrals and Mosques in Istanbul and Bursa”
Back in Zermatt, I start the morning with one of the cans of Mountain Dew I brought back with me from Lucerne. This made-in-Germany Dew is not quite the same as what I’m used to. The ingredient list looks different, and not just because it’s in German. Sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. No Yellow 5. That last one is very noticeable as I pour the contents of the can into a glass, and it looks more the color of brandy, and less the color of radioactive urine. Though very similar in taste, I guess I’m particular, and I’d rank this around the same as most other sodas I might enjoy – Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke – but not the precise acquired taste I have for Mtn Dew. Continue reading “Zercatts”