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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Post-Europe not-so-tid bit

I'll warn you now, this post is going to be longer than a Slovenian mini-golf course (you'll get it soon, don't worry.) I'll do my best to put headers so you can either skip around or at least know where you stopped reading if you want to come back and finish later! There are also links to each album of pictures according to location so you can look at pictures as you read!

Europe 2007
Finally my third European adventure has come.

Days 1,2, 3: Rome - Click here to see photos of Rome
My trip began with a friend. I arrived at my hostel in Rome to find two guys in my room. One aussie was sorting photos on the table (I know, real photos, weird, what happened to digital), and one other kid who I woke up from his nap not even realizing he was there! We all got to talking about traveling and places that we've been, but I shortly had to leave to the train station to meet Sabrina, my long lost friend from Boston who is currently studying in Padova, a city outside of Venice. I invited Chris (the one I woke up) to come with me as he was around my age and seemed to have himself together. So Chris and I head out to the station and continue our conversation until we finally find Sabrina. It is a large train station (the largest in Rome) so our only way of finding each other was to meet by the giant "Gilette" advertisements. Finally, we have been reunited! The three of us made a beeline for some fat free, no cream, no flavor Italian pasta...(haha) and enjoyed a nice meal just down from the coliseum and other main roman sites. It was Chris's second day in Rome so he showed Sabrina and I around some of the sites in the area until we headed for bed. We decided to stick together cause we were getting along so well, so the next morning Chris, Sabrina, and I headed out bright and early to get into the largest line on earth: the entrance to the Vatican. We waited for a few hours and happened to make friends with the people in front of us in line, which included two students from Turin (Americans) and mothers and family, etc. So we finally get to the door and the grandmother goes to the window: "9 tickets please!" Well, as far as my engineering skills have allowed me, there were only 6 people in their group. She's buying tickets for us! (I screamed only on the inside). And these tickets are not to wally world, they are for the Vatican, one of the most visited sites in the world. Well, we did our best to thank her, and once we got in she just says "enjoy!" and leaves it at that. I enjoyed the people, so we stayed with them throughout the museum, but the generosity of this woman overwhelmed me!
Anyways, the Vatican was wonderful. St. Stephens chapel is ENORMOUS. And it's neat that you can walk across the borders to a new country so easily :). I did want a passport stamp though :(.
On day 3 we went to the catacombs first thing in the morning near the Basilica of St. Sebastian. This was one of my favorite monuments in the world. I've been trying to go to the catacombs in Paris for my last 2 visits, and both times have had a random reason for why they were closed. The tour guide was this Indian woman and she had a haunted voice, I mean, it sounded like she should be narrating a Halloween movie! Her voice made the tour that much cooler. She showed us all of the tunnels and the evidence they have found for the different uses of the catacombs. If you ever get the chance to go to catacombs in any city, do it.
Then Chris went to the hostel to do his laundry because he had already done the main sites in Rome. So Sabrina and I made our way to the coliseum, Palatine hill, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and many other sites along the way. It was a big day, but incredible! So much history to absorb in so much time!
To end our time in Rome, we walked across the city to a pizza place Sabrina had heard about. Got a chance to see some of the sites again at night time, and eventually ended up in this tiny little place in a cute little area south of the river. This cozy little pizza place was packed full of people and we found three seats at the end of a table and enjoyed some wonderful Italian pizza! What a way to go out eh?

Days 4, 5: Pompeii, Naples, Mt. Visuvius - Photos
This little excursion was only supposed to consume one precious day, but due to lack of transportation, it had to take two. Sabrina went home in the morning so it was just Chris and I. We got to Pompeii around noon. Pompeii is amazing. Everything here is so well preserved, mosaics, floor tiling, paintings, fountains, columns, homes, streets, pots...the list goes on and on. I cannot convey to you how impressed I was by this site. Not only that, the next morning I got the wonderful opportunity of climbing to the top of my first volcano! And there was even steam coming out!!! woo!! Included in the pictures are some shots of Naples, which lies at the base of Visuvius, but Chris and I only got a chance to wander the streets for a few hours.

Day 6: Florence - Photos

Chris and I made our sad parting and I continued on alone to Tuscany and northern Italy. Florence was a pleasant surprise. I spent the day mostly walking around knowing I did not have the time to go to museums. I shopped in the market, was tempted (very strongly) to buy a leather jacket, which I loved, and then made my way across the river to the Boboli Gardens and Belvedere Fortress. Some beautiful views and wonderful relaxed places just to rest and enjoy the people. It was a day of walking, and thinking, and singing, and just enjoying the simple things. Florence gets a "best of from Aaron" award for most random event of the trip (those of you from quizzing days in High School can appreciate this): I was walking around in the market and walked into this little hat shop. I'm trying on this cool grey hat and who do I see out of the mirror? Veronica Michum!! A fellow quizzer from my high school days from Yakima! I proceeded to let my jaw drop at the irony of this situation that we would run into each other on this day in a hat shop in Florence. Turns out she's studying in Malta (study abroad from WSU). She was being visited by her mother Karen and sister Katie and we talked for a few minutes. Definitely most random event award goes to Florence, Italy.

Day 7: Cinque Terre - Photos
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world. You move between 5 cute little colorful cities and between them scale up these mountains until you are high up on the slopes, lording over the cities and the ocean. It's nature in every direction when you're up there. I cannot explain it. I also did have the wonderful chance of finding the best Baccio milkshake in the entire world. It's in Vernazza if you're interested :).

Day 8: Venice - Photos

I must accept that when a person is traveling by train across Italy in 5 days, he takes a lot of trains and has a lot of changes. Well, I was bound to have my one hiccup. I arrived in Venice around 11. I had about 2 minutes of charge left in my cell phone and Sabrina had arrange my hostel for me. I figured out how to get to the bus stop while Sabrina is frantically trying to figure out what I'm doing and how she can help, hoping that I'm not dead, beaten, or lost in the middle of Venice. It was just too late to catch the 10;50 bus to my hostel. I went and found myself a snack and waited at the bus stop for one hour. I finally found the blue bus that I was told to catch which had no markings on it except that it was blue and the ride began. I had asked the driver for the Hotel Poppi which was around my stop, but I found out later that the stops are very far apart in this area (5km) so when I got off, not being careful about which stop "near" the hotel I was to use, I was on a highway on the outskirts of Venice with only street lights and a Hotel Poppi sign a ways down the road. I made my way with my rucksack to the hotel and was told that a cab would cost me 35euros at this time of night and that the bus would not be coming again. I fretted for a while and just accepted my fate and got a gorgeous room (their cheapest) in the Hotel Poppi. I took this to my advantage. I took 2 showers in my 6 hours there, made use of the ENTIRE bed during my rest (I hope) and got a chance to catch up on current events on the BBC. In the morning I was blessed with a free breakfast and got as much as I wanted as well as a free cappuccino! (Maybe I could do this more often!) But alas, the pocketbook only allowed me one beautiful hotel on my trip to Italy. :)
My day in Venice was similar to my day in Florence. I walked around, a lot. I enjoy just seeing the things, and watching the people, and stumbling upon little treasures in the nooks and crannies of the world. In the afternoon I met up again with Sabrina and she showed me some of her favorite bridges and then treated me to a delicious meal (Thanks Sabrina!!) at the water's edge. Beautiful day.

Day 9: Ljubljana - Photos
After my mishap at the Hotel Poppi in Venice I was pretty much ready for smooth sailing. I got on the train at 10:04 pm in Venice. We got to the first stop and really did stop. For a long time...and we waited...and waited...until the man came onto the train speaking Italian saying that some problem with the tracks on the normal route had caused our 2 hour delay and we'd have to go the longer way to Ljubljana. Well, there wasn't much that I could do. I spent the next 6 hours sleeping, but trying to stay awake, not having any idea how long till the Ljubljana stop and not wanting to stay on the train too long. Fortunately, the conductor remembered my destination (and probably the large rucksack on my back, my English vocabulary, and the always wonderful "tourist confusion look." After the Venice mishap I was just ready to nestle into my bed and enjoy the hostel and my first night in Slovenia. I get out of the train, the only person to get out of the train I might add, and there is nothing there. There are many unlit buildings, no people, the taxi parking spots are empty, and I had no map. What does a man do now? Well, I just started to walk. I walked for a few minutes just thinking about all of the terrible things that could happen to me in the middle of the night in Slovenia, but an shortly interrupted by the soft glow of a taxi light in a parking lot. Horray! I realize then that I am almost out of euros, but get in the cab hoping that the decreased prices in eastern Europe would be enough to get me by. I had a total of 12 euro and 12 cents in my pocket. I get to the hostel and the meter reads 12.50. I felt so bad, but the taxi driver was nice enough to accept my poor little puppy dog face for the remaining 38 cents. Now my instructions were to call David so he could let me in since it was after reception hours. But wait! My cell phone died in Venice! hmm...So once again, Aaron knows not what to do at 4am in the middle of a very foreign country. At this point I was a little flustered. I set my bag down on the sidewalk (haha) and left it there (no one was around, right?) and began my journey to find a pay phone. So here I am, walking down the streets of Ljubljana at 4 in the morning looking for a pay phone. Once again my persistence is rewarded and I find one at a strip mall a few blocks from the hostel. I get to the phone and it only takes cards. I think..."hm, dad told me never to call international with a pay phone," something every young boy should be taught. Well, I had no choice. I stick my card into the machine...It doesn't fit! I quickly realize that, like some other places I've been, you have to purchase a phone card at a shop to use local pay phones. Well, nothing is open! (I internally yelled at the machine). Then, "ding!' I see a little sticker pasted to the side of the phone that has an 800 number for international dialing. I am saved! I dial the number and get to the international operator! She gets my information and bam...my credit card is rejected. MY CREDIT CARD IS BEING REJECTED AND ITS 4;30 IN THE MORNING!! Of all days for my card to quit. I pull out my bank card...REJECTED! Well, this is just uncalled for. I hung up on the woman (I politely said goodbye) and then proceeded to call again hoping to electronically input the numbers of the cards and avoid any potential mistakes by the operators on the other end. IT WORKED! busy signal....
geez. this is just outrageous. Haven't I had enough?! With all of my might I pick my chin up and try the phone again, one last time. I can tell you this was one of the most exciting moments of my life: on the other end the phone, I hear in an irritated, groggy voice: "Dude, what are you doing." "DAVID!!!! LET ME IN!!!" He comes to his senses and decides I deserve to get into the hostel and waits for me outside as I run back to the hostel. Thanks to the heavens my bag was still there, and I finally made it to my bed in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The main attraction of Ljubljana is the castle. Recently installed is the new "Fernicular Railway" which carries weak and aged souls like David and I, up the hill to the castle. They were obviously excited about this little glass box that moves up the hill, that they posted signs about it everywhere! It was the running joke of the trip, "Where's the fernicular railway! I need it now!" Ljubljana is a very picturesque town, and the views from the castle of the Julian Alps rising over the city are absolutely stunning. A nice beginning point for eastern Europe. By the way, best kabob I've ever had: Ljubljana, Slovenia. Everyone please clap for the amazing kabob shop.

Day 10: Bled - Photos
We rented another car!!! From Tel Aviv we made a plan to drive around the Balkan states by car and picked up our car in Ljubljana. We got a free upgrade from a 2 door, no ac, probably doesn't work kind of car, to Gretchen. Gretchen is our beautiful little silver 4-door manual transmission wonder. Except David can't drive stick, so Gretchen became my woman (That's why I got to name her :)) Everyone meet Gretchen:
Anyways, we drove up to our first little mountain adventure:
Bled is a beautiful little town a few hours north of Ljubljana in the alps. It has a beautiful castle which is tightly wedged between a mountain and plummeting to its death in Lake Bled. It is perched up so high and just curves over the boundaries of safety. None the less, we made our way up the curving pathways to the castle and its amazing view of the world. The afternoon was spent hiking through a ravine carved out by a gorgeous little river and ending with a glorious waterfall under a bridge that makes the area look like Rivendell (elf city in lord of the rings). We watched the sunset over Lake Bled and then as we were walking up the hill looking for food stumbled upon a little mini-golf course. This is one of those moments when a smile comes to your face and you just look at each other and both know. I mean, who goes mini-golfing in slovenia? We do! This course was completely made out of concrete and consisted mainly of different configurations of potted plants to block your path to the hole. But there was a special hole Of all the golf holes I've seen in my life this is the best. In fact, it deserves a "best of from Aaron" and I might add, I won the hole. This hole consists of a ramp curving upwards for about 10 meters. No curves, no potted plants, just a big hill. Sounds simple right? Well, try getting the ball up with a large pack of americans taunting you from the hole behind. No, we didn't know them, but they decided to make fun of us for our inabilities to hit a ball up the hill. This hole is not one to practice accuracy as you must bring your putter about 180 degrees from the surface of the tee and swing with almost all of the strength that you and your mother have combined. David never finished the hole. After three large swings Aarons ball made it to the flat, without hitting the back barrier and rolling back down the hill. Best Mini Golf Course: Bled, Slovenia.
Our plan at this point was to drive to another alpine city Bovec from which I was going to go hang gliding from a mountaintop. So we're driving...driving...driving and then get what we assumed to be a toll road. It was our first toll road in eastern Europe so we didn't know what to expect. So the man asks us for our passports. Well, we just thought it might be custom since we have a rental car and such. We pass the kiosk and enter a tunnel. But this is no ordinary tunnel. This tunnel goes for about 15 kilometers under the Julian Alps. About midway through the tunnel David says "Dude, I think we're in Austria." Not even noticing that the man asked us for our passports, I just asked David why. "Well, the dude asked us for our passports, we're crossing under the alps, and I just saw a sign that says "Klaggenfurt." Hmm, Klaggenfurt. Not a word you hear often in the Slovene language. After accepting our fate, and the multitude of German signs in our view, we stopped at a gas station and had a little chit-chat. We decided that we'd let fate take it course. Now I've never "accidentally" ended up in a new country, so I thought I'd enjoy the experience. We go into the convenience store as we are at this point quite humored by the situation. One thing you should know about the world is that in 99% of languages if you say “mapa” or “carta,” people know what you're talking about. The woman finds us a nice map of Austria and while we're at it we decided we should probably have a map of the rest of the countries we're traveling to as well. We get back to the car and decide, what does one do with a free day in Austria? Go to Vienna! Those of you particularly astute at geography will know that Vienna is on the other side of the country from Slovenia. Well, we were on a mission, so yes, we drove the extra 4 hours to get to Vienna, Austria. David, my navigator, then pulls out our new map and begins unfolding it, foot, by foot, by foot, until our poor little Gretchen has a map spanning across the entire windshield with room to spare. So here we are with a giant map stretched throughout the car, and can do nothing but drink in the situation. I took the next moment when I could catch my breath (yes we're still laughing at this situation and the fact that we're actually going to go to Vienna, and that our map has the capacity to start a small bonfire) to call my beloved sister Emily and share with her my new found joy in "stumbling into countries."

Day 11: Vienna - Photos
Our day in Vienna was a delight. We walked around and looked at the beautiful architecture and learned some of the history of this magnificent city. Spent the morning at the Shunbrun Palace, summer palace of the Hapsburgs. The streets here are lined with musicians. Vienna, here, gets a "best of" award from Aaron. Best street performers in the world, and here is why: In no other country will a 90 pound Asian woman pull a piano out into the middle of the street and play Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." As we were deciding how to spend our evening we decided that, though we were on tight budgets, that one could not go to Austria and not enjoy some music. We ended up going to a nice show, in the Palace, of Mozart and Strauss accompanied by a ballet and opera intermixed throughout. Quite a pleasure to watch and a very appropriate ending to a day in Vienna.

Days 12, 13: Bosnia and Sarajevo - Photos
When you drive out of Croatia you pass through the passport control and customs, which contains about 15 different stations for cars to pass. You drive across no man's land and arrive in Bosnia where there is one small building in the middle of the road, which handles both incoming and outgoing traffic. There was a large traffic jam coming the other direction. Immediately upon driving into this country it was different, cheaper, dirtier. The roads were smaller, buildings weren't as nice, people were walking everywhere, and we were no longer in the European union. But after living in Nepal, or perhaps for some people, just not being concerned with luxury, I adapted very quickly and began LOVING Bosnia. This is a country where the two international words for "map" (discussed above) do not apply. I go into a gas station to get a Bosnia map and the woman just couldn't understand what we were asking for. She tried really hard, bless her heart. At first we thought “mapa” worked as she excitedly walked across the room and picked us out some motor oil. We shared a laugh and signaled her error and tried again. At the point when she said "do you have visa?" we decided that this communication barrier was too large. We made a pit stop and headed down the road. The other thing to notice when you enter Bosnia is that all of the signs change to Cyrillic letters so we cannot follow signs. We weren't exactly lost, just weren't sure we were going the right direction :). I stopped into a hotel down the road hoping that a hotel might have better luck with English. VOILA! they have a son! It was very beautiful to see this woman's joy as she quickly called her son so that he could translate for her. It used to be in Europe that only the younger generation spoke English. Well, in some of the slower developing countries they are now in this phase. The boy came out and him and I mixed our English and hand signals and he got his mother to draw the route on the map. Well, wonderful, I can read my map, I just cant read the sings! I ended up getting nowhere with directions as I was asking her to spell Sarajevo in Cyrillic...I ended up just deciding to find out if we were going the right direction, so I stuck out my arms, one in each direction and said: "Sarajevo?" The woman got very excited because we obviously had just had a communication connection. She pointed down the road to the south and we were on our way. To our great fortune, down the road at the first big junction, some of the signs turned to english, and we were saved. We made our way through the beautiful Bosnian countryside stopping to take pictures and really enjoy the drive. Bosnia gets a "best of" award from Aaron for being in the top 5 most beautiful countries in the world. Arrived in Sarajevo in the afternoon and thus begins "The real drivers ed test." Sarajevo is...slightly larger than Moscow, and with...slightly less organized streets. We got lost for a while, and if anyone has ever driven in Europe, you know what it's like to be going down cobbled streets about 10 centimeters wider than your car and probably a car coming the other direction. But, I must tell you, that I returned the car at the end of the trip scratch-less and the beautiful Gretchen I had originally received. We finally found the hostel. But in this part of the world, hostel means something more like "small room finding agency." These places just rent out rooms in random houses. So, since we had to find this house in the confusing streets, a non-English speaking man gets into the car with us. He guides me by making these annoying waving motions with his hands like just pointing one direction isn't good enough. He usually had his hands together like he was making a fish then would curve them around multiple times in the direction I was supposed to go, just in case I didn't see the first time. We wound through the small streets up to this hill and parked in this little yard on the grass and he led us into a little apartment, which we shared with two american girls studying in Geneva. The man then took out a black bag from his pants and poured about 25 keys on the bed. He then proceeded to try each key in the door multiple times until he was satisfied with a key that would work for our door, the outside door, and the door to the yard. I might say this man has an organization problem, but he probably just left his black bag of keys in the washer or something. So here we were, finally in Sarajevo, one of our key destinations on the trip, and rightly so.
We spent the evening walking through the old quarter of the city complete with car-less cobblestone streets, cathedrals, mosques, shops, and BUREK! Bureka, in Israel, is a small rectangular pastry filled with cheese or potato, or whatever. Burek, in Bosnia is another story. It's the same concept except the wrap it like a cinnamon roll and it's a very large pastry. But Burek do not quite bake up like cinnamon rolls, so to me, they look more like intestines...But I chose to have the experience and ordered a potato Burek for 2 marks and enjoyed this little delight as David and I continued to walk. We ended up at a WWII monument with a flame that is always kept burning. Not only do I enjoy the culture of Bosnia, but the history there is endless. Most recently, the 92-95 war with the Serbs, which most of us should be familiar with. You can look around in many areas in the old city and see remains of wars on buildings and streets. We spent the next day visiting landmarks and museums. Bosnia gets another "best of" from Aaron award: smallest museum in the world. Fortunately for them, there is a corner after the ticket counter. So after paying for our tickets we walked through the doorway to the museum, which consisted of one room, with some pictures and weapons, most of which could probably be spread out on an average sized dining room table without stacking. We were a little disappointed. But it was still interesting. We visited the Latin Bridge, the location of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination (and perhaps the starting point of WWI). Our last stop for Sarajevo was the tunnel museum. When the serbs had Sarajevo surrounded, the UN made a request that they get control of the airport so that they could fly in supplies to the people. This request was granted, but no military could pass through the airport, nor could the UN aid the escape of Sarejevans. The Bosnians then constructed a plan to dig a tunnel from Sarajevo to the free Bosnian territory on the other side of the airport. Their plan worked and thousands of lives were saved, more supplies were given to the people, communication could be had with the outside, and army personnel could move into the city to protect the people inside. Getting to this museum is no cakewalk. We were given a map which has some main roads on it then just has a big yellow glowing dot in the corner, a little less specific than I would like. I ended up getting quite flustered trying to find this place and ended up taking the emergency airport access road, realized my error and turned onto this dirt road leading into a small village and no signs. We get into the village both discussing how lost we are and how the tunnel museum would not be out the emergency access road and down this bumpy dirt road. Then I see a poster on someone's garage that says "TUNNEL." Now i am not only laughing, but slightly confused, as I thought that such an important museum would be filled with tourists and be very properly organized. Turns out that this museum is in the location of the exit of the original tunnel, which was built from someone's house. This family still lives in the house, so we walk up to this garage, no people in sight and a small sign says "ring bell for entrance." I awkwardly pushed the little buzzer and soon an elderly man came to the door, opened it, let us in, closed the door, and walked past us into his house. Hm...there were some artifacts around us, and we could see the opening to the tunnel. He then pops his head out and says to come in and shows a short clip about the war of 92-95 in Sarajevo. Though small and a little bit hard to find, this is a very good museum which pays great tribute to those who were killed in Sarajevo and tells a great history of the 92-95 war. Definitely deserves some applause.
We are not on our way to Dubrovnik and having a grand time this afternoon. The sun sets over the mountains, and as we drive we hit a gravel road. We should be nearing croatia. Then I think, "The highways in Bosnia are very small and not very proper for national highways, but this is a little bit absurd." We are following this little red clunker down this road and he stops, and gets out, and walks up to our car. Ok, I'm scared now. I roll down my window and he asks us where we are going after shaking both of our hands through the window (weird?). He speaks almost no english but manages to inform us that we are lost in the middle of Bosnia. Well, so much for getting to Croatia. We turn back and realize our missed turn about 90 mins behind us, and finally arrive at the border at about 2am. Bosnia is going to get one more best of from Aaron. Bosnia gets the best of for best border crossing. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the bars that move up and down, like in a parking garage, at the exit which lets you out after you pay. The little man inside the machine tells the bar to go up. Well, in Bosnia we do things differently. After examining our passports the man walked to the front of the car, picked up the bar, and allowed us through. As soon as we passed the man we both started cracking up. Best border crossing: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Day 14: Montenegro - Photos
The newest country in the world, and you could already tell by their newly built border crossing just south of Dubrovnik. The initial drive from the border to Kotor was already stunning as we drove into the bay of Kotor and saw the mountains rising over a silvery sea of glass covered with fog melting into the sky. On arriving in Kotor we realized we were out of euros and only had our remaining Croatian Kuna and Bosnian Marks, so we hurried to the grocery store for an atm and to buy our next meals. After selecting our feasts (bread, nutella, cheese, juice) we made our way back to the car for breakfast, and then a nice hike in Kotor. Kotor is a little walled city that has a fortress up on the hill protecting the large bay. Very picturesque. We hiked up to the fort (a grueling amount of steps) and overlooked the bay in all of its glory cuddling with the steep rocky mountains and red-roofed towns at its shores. After exploring the ruins of the fort we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee in Kotor and explored its narrow pathways. Our next idea was to visit another city called Cetinje, which required a very extensive series of switchbacks and took us high into the mountains above the clouds. It was glorious. The road, not so glorious as each turn you had to be afraid of another car coming around the corner because there are no mirrors and the roads are so narrow. Passing was a bit of a dance. On our way to Cetinje we decided to do some hiking. Montenegro was named by Italian speakers after the "black mountain" or "monte negro." So, what better for us to do than climb the tallest mountain in Montenegro! It normally has a road very near to its summit, but the road was too high with snow, so we left Gretchen down the road and began a long wet hike up to this peak. We were not prepared for snow, so our little toes had a little more than the hike they had bargained for. After reaching the top, our panting lungs were silenced by the marvelous beauty that surrounded us. It is rumored that from the top of this mountain, Mt. Lovcen, you can see Italy on a clear day. Most definitely you could see Croatia, Albania, and Serbia. Rather than hiking down the road like we came, we decided to just jump through the snow down towards the car. Yes, it was deep and at times up to your waist in snow, but it was more fun and saved time right?! :). At the bottom we quickly turned on the heat in Gretchen and changed clothes. The rest of the day our pants were flapping in the wind in all of their glory! Some people hang flags from their cars, we hang our pants.
By the time our toes had reached a normal temperature, we drove back to Kotor and enjoyed some beaches on the way home for sunset, and thus began Croatia.

Day 15: Dubrovnik - Photos
Dubrovnik was exactly what it was supposed to be. A beautiful walled city overlooking the Adriatic sea with white washed walls, cute cafes, and a tourist market like no other. I enjoyed it very much. We were able to walk along the wall around the entire city and see the views of Dubrovnik, 360 degrees. But what made Dubrovnik the best was the end. I am a big fan of sunsets if you haven't already noticed from my pictures, so we drove to the outermost part of the land and parked at the "Dubrovnik Palace." (It’s only a hotel, don’t get excited). We then took a nice walk through a forest and after about an hour ended up at this hill overlooking the ocean with radio towers on top. Well, I followed my curiosity and hiked all the way to the towers. To my great surprise, I found a rock, my rock, from which I could see Dubrovnik to the south and the sun to the west. It was truly a beautiful sunset. A sunset in silence, listening to the beauty of silence, with only the wind in the trees to color its lifeless calm.

Day 16: Dalmation Coast – Photos
Talk about beautiful. This was a hurried day of travel mixed with quick but satisfying tidbits along the way. We started in Split, which was not so much of a winner in my book. And quickly passed through its old city and then drove to Salona, a site of roman ruins near to Split. Interesting, but a very ruined site. Also, it was not separated from the community of people actually living in Salona. There are not well-marked paths in this little treasure so we often found ourselves wandering into someone’s yard when we thought it was a site. Well, you win some, you lose some. Once again we quickly passed to Trogir and finally found something that really sparked our interest. Trogir is a little island city very close to the mainland (connected by bridge). Another walled city, Trogir is a place to enjoy by walking and enjoying the coastal views, harbor boats, cafes, and forts. There was a very nice tower at the end of the island that we explored. We did need to keep moving though, if we were to make our final destinations. We took a nap along the water, then continued north until we reached Zadar. We found our hostel and quickly took showers (as we had been sleeping in the car for 5 nights) and then enjoyed yet again, a very beautiful, walled city on the Dalmation coast. In order to really get the full rich experience, we needed to enjoy a bite of gelato. Well, we decided that the 65 year old woman in the gelato shop had the hots for me. I asked her for a two scoop and what did I come out with? 3 scoops and an extra cone! David only got one scoop, one cone, and in my opinion, not nearly as much fun in the gelato shop as me. We watched the sunset and then treated ourselves to a nice Italian dinner. Thanks to advice from sister Andrea last year, I had gnocchi in a four cheese cream sauce..mmm ☺. Definitely a good way to end that day wouldn’t you say?!

Day 17: Plitvich Lakes – Photos
If you want to end a trip well, end it by hiking for 6 hours around a series of 16 lakes connected by endless waterfalls. Six hours spent in sheer beauty in the heart of nature. This place is extraordinary. Check the pictures, they’ll speak for themselves.

Day 18: Zagreb and home!
Thus, after 17 beautiful days in Eastern Europe, I took my train to Zagreb, hiked it to the airport, and spent the next 10 hours relishing how smoothly and wonderfully this trip went. Thanks for another amazing adventure. Life is beautiful, and we are surrounded with choices to drink it in. As I was hiking and commenting on the beauty around me I was also realizing how many places around Moscow and Boston that I have never visited. It’s a shame really. I’m learning more and more that the only way to live is to take life by the horns and tackle every opportunity. Use ever free moment to make someone smile and every free weekend to see something beautiful.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Since the weekend of March 16th, I have not had a single weekend at home, which, when I'm in this part of the world, is very exciting.
At 12:10am on March 16th Sarah, my roommate David, and I hopped on a bus to Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel and the border crossing to both Jordan and Egypt. After 4 1/2 hours of faint sleeping we slugged off of the bus and walked through deserted Eilat. We had about 3 hours to wait for the border to open, and to our great fortune, found a coffee shop open all night. This is where we nestled in for the restless hours to come while sipping on strong coffees, reading travel books about Petra, and eating small cookie delights.

The hour finally came when we could pick up our rucksacks and head to the border. We arrived at the border about an hour early, and enjoyed the time watching the sun rise up over the Jordanian mountains to the east and enjoying the fact that we wouldn't have to wait for the packs of tourists that were starting to arrive.
At about 8:30, the gates opened, and we passed across no man's land into the Kingdom of Jordan, picked up a taxi, and began making our way to Petra. But this was no ordinary cab ride. The man, rather than turning north, turned to go towards the city of Aqaba. No words were said, because we figured this man may know a little more about Jordan than us. He flipped a U-turn and pulled up behind another car, sort of in the middle of nowhere and told us to get in. Well, as innocent tourists, we still found it to be a little strange to get into a random car in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for this man, we had no other choice. It turns out that his story that they just wanted to switch the car so we could have a nicer ride was true! Fancy that!
After arriving in the city next to Petra and pulling up to our hotel, we paid the man (he was very nice to us in the car) and wished him farewell, moving on to the hotel. Now one thing you should know about Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and I would assume the bulk of the middle east, is that everyone is everyone else's brother, every shop is "my brothers shop," and somehow every middle eastern person is in the same family. Throughout the course of our 2 days in this hotel about 6 people told us they were brothers that owned the hotel. Well, true or not, they were very helpful, and very nice, young, and down to earth. I definitely recomment the "al Anbat Hotel 1" if you are ever traveling to Petra.

Petra! Photos
It is a little bit challenging to describe such a place, I must say, and I don't want to sound like a wikipedia article either, so here's a link to it, in case you want to learn more :D.
What made Petra so great for me was our guide. In most tourist sites you expect that you'll be on a tour with a group of maybe 10 people or so. Well, at Petra you pay for your own guide, which is not expensive at all. Up walks this Jordanian man wearing a keffiyyeh (Jordanian headscarf) and he just starts talking to us. Now, usually I would never notice things like this, but this man had a sparkle in his eye which was really cool! And he laughed like Santa, so that made everything about 50000x better. Anyways, he was an excellent and knowledgeable guide as well as being very fun, and told strange stories that we never quite understood the point of. He took us on a grand tour, through the valley, and up over the city on the ridge of sacrifices. From there we could see the whole of Petra and as far as little Petra (where the Nabuteans actually lived). The experience of Petra is very interesting as it combines history with current Jordanian culture, and tourism, so to speak. There are bedouins that still live in the area and they make tea around the trails, and there are women and children begging, boys riding camels, donkeys, horses, and carriages, and little coves where the bedouins still spend their time. As you walk the streets you can see so much evidence of the past that you almost feel caught up in it. I liked it so much that I got up at 5am the next morning to sneak in a 2 hour hike around Petra before we left to Wadi Rum!

Wadi Rum Photos Wikipedia :)
I never knew how beautiful the desert was until I came here. It is the filming location for "Lawrence of Arabia" if any of you are interested :). This place is absolutely magnificent in size, beauty, formation, color, and culture. There are a few bedouin tribes that still roam the area and make camp in this reserve. A nice muslim man took us on a Jeep tour through this wonderful place.
Photo courtesy of David Scaduto and Roommate Productions

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Playing catch up - March

The month of March sort of caught me by surprise. As you probably noticed it was my first large update gap. Well, the first month I was in class 4 hours a day and had the afternoons to go to the beach and pretty much do whatever I wanted all the time. The came the first week of classes and KABOOM...whirlwind of stuff to do all of the time. So, unfortunately my internet time, and tanning time, and all that stuff got pushed to the weekends. BUT, it's still beautiful, and I'm still having a wonderful time. I can also be very thankful that I've been able to travel on my weekends, and that is the most exciting part, and is therefore what I want to write about.
In March I took 2 main trips, one to the north and one to the south.

North Trip 1 - Photos
Early on Friday morning, me, David, Erin and Sarah pack our stuff up and headed to the Hilton (exotic eh?). end post.

I mean...we went to the Hilton, and on arriving, made our way to the rental car office. Picked up a cute silver 4-door and headed out the door. Renting a car is fun. After being void of simple transportation I found myself uncontrollably smiling (I know, nerdy right?) as we pumped some techno music, the wind in our hair, and the big open road.
After a few hours (yay for Israel being so small) we arrived at the northern border and found the Kibbutz (Jewish settlements based upon communal living) we were staying on and dropped our stuff in our rooms. We spent our remaining daylight driving along the Lebanese border and walking around some of the small towns in the area.
Our second day here was one of the best days I've had in Israel so far. First we drove to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve and enjoyed the swampland and many animals in the area. But the real story is the Yehudiyah Nature Reserve. Absolutely gorgeous. David and I split off from the girls in order to do a more difficult hike and spent the next 5 hours exploring such beauty, and doing one of the most difficult hikes I've ever done. We hiked into the valley three times, and what happens every time you get in a valley? You hike back out! Needless to say, my thighs were burnin' like Aunt Jemima's pancakes in Mexico, but it was well worth it. This place is filled with valleys, rivers, streams, pools, and flower covered fields. But of greatest mention are the hexagon pools. The cooling of some of these basalt formations caused the rocks all surrounding the pools to be formed in hexagon shapes, they are very neat to look at and fun to climb on. Check out the pictures to get a real taste!
The second trip of the month was Jordan, and the third trip happened the weekend just before I left for Italy! So as you can see, it got a little bit crowded, but I ain't complaining!

South Trip - Photos
The south trip was organized by the overseas students office and include a nice 3 days of hiking, eating, and swimming. Day 1 was spent hiking in the "maktesh," one of the largest craters in Israel, and even the world. It's big :). That evening we arrived at our surprisingly nice hotel next to the dead sea and prepared for a big shabbat dinner hosted by the overseas office. Let me tell you, on these trips, the like to FEED you. And that is exactly what they did, all day long, especially for shabbat. After dinner a group of friends and I headed to the local bedouin tent for belly dancing (viewing, I'm not much of a belly dancer, though I hear it's great exercise) and enjoyed a nice evening with what I like to call, the European Union. A combination of, what seems like, the entire european population in the program adopted me as an honorary member as well as Laura and Zach. So, this is the evening I spent with the European Union, watching belly dancing, eating watermelon, drinking...drinks :), and sitting on big fluffy pillows on the floor.
Unfortunately, something they like to do on OSP trips is get up really early. So around 6 they come knocking on your door so everyone can have enough time to shower and get ready before breakfast and a long day of hiking. So when we woke up, the weather was absolutely terrible. Winds whipping around and torrential rains falling on our hotel. But, for me, this was a good thing. There are 5 busses of students on this trip, but i wouldn't qualify all of these students as "trekkers." So, despite the rain, a bus and a half of people still went out to hike in the Judean desert. Well, by the time we got there, the rains had been stopped (Thanks!) and we enjoyed a dry beautiful day in the desert. (see photos) This evening was spent in the desert eating a bedouin dinner followed by a big music show put on by a group from Tel Aviv. They took us on a "tour of the world through music" playing different very exotic instruments and performing traditional dances. They were very funny, entertaining, and gymnastic :). One instrument they showed was this thing that looked like a UFO which they make in Switzerland. It's like an inverted steel drum, so when you tap it (with your fingers, no sticks) t
hen it makes this nice strong tone. I want one, so if anyone has one they don't want, or in fact, even knows what this instrument is called, please let me know!
Finally, on day 3 we hiked in Ein Geddi, an oasis in the desert near to the Dead Sea and then finally ended the trip with a nice swim in the Dead Sea. Oh how I love Israel!
As a side note, to end this all off with something we can all appreciate:
I enjoyed my first McDonalds meal in Israel on the way home :), and it tastes...just like home.
Thanks for readin!