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France and Italy

ITALY | Wednesday, 7 May 2008 | Views [639] | Comments [3]

OK, this is going to have to be quick.  Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but it's been a series fo one night stands with little time to find an internet cafe.

We are currently in Venice and heading on to Munich.

First stop on from Barcelona was the south of France.  Avignon is an old sity, and it shows.  It's main claim to existencee is thatt the popes lived there for about a hundred years in the 1400s or so due to French politicking.  Unfortunately it shows - the old city is a relic, a corpse.  The papal palace is an uninspiring unpainted cement looking shell.  It's everything the Segrada Familia isn't.  The one saving grace is the view of the Rhone from the hill above the cathedral.

Next we went to Nice, which was nice.  Unfortunately the weather wasn't beach weather, which is fine because Nice doesn't have a beach, but rather a pebbble lined shore.  Not sure how that affects the bathing process, but it can't be comfortable to lie on.  Lucky I got my dip in the Mediterranean in Spain.

We also had a night out in Monaco.  I was surprised to quite like Monaco.  It's got a sense of style and harmony in its developments that, say, Surfers Paradise would beat to death with a stick if it saw it.  It was reminiscent of the harmony in the buildings in Stockholm.  Unfortunately the weather turned bad again when we hit Monte Carlo and I had the interesting experience of walking downhill on a marble footpath in the pouring rain in leather soled shoes.  Every 5th step was extended by a slide of a few inches and a couple of times I tried to stand still while still moving downhill.  Casinos aren't my thing and I didn't go into the Grand since they charge a EUR10 cover charge - so you've already lost before you buy your chips.  So we sat outside and drank hot chocolate and played with some Markov chains (staatisticians joke there).  One last thing that I'd never quite realised (though I'd never given it much thought) - Monte Carlo is a town in the state of Monaco.  Sounds silly to say, but I'd always vaguely assumed they were separate entities.

Next we went through Pisa and saw the leaning city with the perfectly straight bell tower in the middle (depending on your point of view).  It's OK, but it's not that great.  The tower itself has those columns and arches around it that suggest open space, but with solidd walls behind them.  It's a bit like aa building with the windows painted on.  I'm sure they did it for structural reasons, but then they didn't do somee other structural things that they maybe should have so focus people.  One fun thing I found to do is to spot someone with their hands up miming holding up the tower while their girlfriend takes an HILARIOUS photo for the guys back home.  Anyway, when you spot them, walk past and give them a high-5 on the hand they're holding up.

Sorry if it sounds a bit negative, but I was hitting the point where running on pure enthusiasm was no longer countering the sleep deprivation.  We've been working on fixing that.

Florence was better than I'd hoped.  We didn't see the real David, just the copy where the original used to stand.  But it was still amazing.  For one thing, I got to see the back.  Sounds silly, but all the photos are from the front, but the back gives the other half of the story.  With the sling going around his back from one hand to the other it makes it look even more humaan.  And his expression (although he does look like the guy from Queens of the Stone Age).  His expression of confident decision.  As one guide book put it, it's the exact moment where he sizes up his opponent and thinks "I can take this guy".  A perfect expression of the optimistic humanism of the Renaissance.  One other thing, the square is full of amazing statues, and all originals (apart from Dave).  It's a bit like Statueland.  The one of Neptune was a bit worrying though, he's surrounded by water sprites with what looks like shredded wangs (or is that a Tiawanese thrash metal band?).  Look up a picture.  It was so inspiring to be where Da Vinci (a hero of mine), Michaelangelo (like Da Vinci, except he got things done), Galileo and even Machieavelli made their great leaps forward.  The whole thing was apparently financed by the Medici lending money to both sides in the 100 Years War at 80% interest.  Nice to know such pointlessness wasn't a complete waste.

Then we weent to the eternal city (Rome).  We'd been bumped from our hotel and moved to a Sheraton golf course hotel.  $800 per night (if we were paying) and flash (birds singing outside the wondow), but a long way from town.  Luckily there was a shuttle bus thaat we were asked not to use but did anyway.

Saw the Colosseum(?) and that was nice.  I'd always assumed that the top of the outer wall had collapsed leaving it lopsided like that, but I found out that it was the whole outer wall that had collapsed leaving the shorter inner wall for the section that itn's so high.  The things you learn by going there eh?  then it was the Pantheon.  It's great.  Really liked it.  It was built (and possibly designed) by Hadrian.  It's a huge dome on a round base that is as high as it is elevated, so if the dome was continued to a sphere it would just touch the ground.  Huge space enclosed without pillars.  Round opening (occulus) at the top letting a shaft of light in).  Awesome.  Then it was off to the Vatican where we got hussled into getting a guide, before finding out that he couldn't help us jump the queue (as we'd been told by the Kumuka crew) and politely ditched him before we had to pay (good call).  Anywayy, the Vatican Museum was a good visit.  I liked the map room - a hall lined wilth large paintings that are detailed maps of every region of Italy.  I was impressed that among all this high but impractical art, the popes had included something actually useful.  Maps are cool.  The Raphael rooms were amazing, really liked the School of Athens fresco.  And we saw the Sistine Chappel.  It was pretty cool too.  The whole idea of covering a room with pictures from floor to (and including) ceiling is a bit odd.  I,m not sure if I like it or not.  On the one hand it's just really waierd to be in such a room - imagine covering your wwalls with posters leaving no space for actual wall.  Makes it hard to see where the walls end (good for pokey windowlesss cells I guess).  On the other it's an interesting effect, a bit like having a big picture window with the best view a genius could imagine.  St Peter's was also surprisingly impressive.  As you go in it looks like another church.  Then you walk uyp the aisle and find out that it's huge and has galleries (on the scale of a modern shopping centre) coming off both sides and going around the back.  It's freaking huge.  And another dome with shafts of light. 

Next day we went to the forum and hung out in the Romans' old Westfield.  Burial place of Julius Ceasar etc.  Lots of wrecked columns.  It's all been excavated down to the original depth.  Nice but hard to describe without pictures.  Trevi Fountain was also pretty cool.  Like a really cool swimming pool.  Tried to find an internet cafe but failed, hence the extra length of time between posts.  Spanish steps were not that impressive but the park att the top was a nice sit down and relax and listen to a lady busking on the piano - reallly lovely classical piano that cheered me up.

We also had a changge of travelling companions and tour leader.  It was a shame to lose some friends, but the new crew is nice.  More details on them later when I get time (and work out if I'll send any of them a link to this bblog (-:).

Anyway, today was spent in Venice.  Knowing that there was a laundromat and internet cafe near the hotel on the mainland I was a bit "Well, we'll do Venice quicklyy and then go back for washing, blogging and an early night.  So it's 8:30 now and I hope youi appreciate the effort frankly (-:).  Venice is lovely.  I prefer Stockholm for lookjs, bbut the big thing Venice has in its favour is that it has not background traffic noise (no cars on the islands).  So once you get away from the throngs of American tourists - which is surprisingly easy, they tend to stick closely to the main square and the path to the Rialto and the bus station) it is reallly very peaceful and gives you an idea of what living in a city a few centuries ago would have been like.  And we had a gondola ride. 25 euro well spent.  Didn't go into Harry's Bar and order the 15 euro Bellini (champagne and peach juice), but we have just been to the supermarket and picked up a whole bottle for 4 euro.  We'll see how we go.

Anyway, I'm finally bang up to date with the blog.  Hope you are all well.  We're off to Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris.  You'll get an update when I can find an internet cafe and a free hour.  Sorry if the quality has dropped, it's just a mad dash to get it alll down, not enough time for flowery prose (unless you think this is great writing, in which case I guess I'm a natural...yay for me).  Ciao.



Sounds like you two are seeing some marvellous places - hope the sleep deprivation issue has been addressed by now though? You're off to Munich next hey? I spent 7 months there a few years back, studying at the Musik und Theater Hochschule.

Make sure you eat plenty of beautiful fresh german bread (Sonnenblumenbrot/sunflowerbread was my fave) with butter & thick honey! Mmmmmm! Or try some of the delcious varieties of muesli they have. They even come with chocolate if you're a sweet tooth - Schokomuesli!

Yeah, germans know how to do breakfast.

Best Bavarian beer = Augustiner. All the way.

Very popular alternative = Radler (Beer & Lemonade, but it's not looked down upon the way it is in Australia!)

Softdrink = ALMDUDLER!! YEAH!!

While you're there you should try to get out to Schloss Nymphenburg (a short tram ride west of the city). I lived in a student college right near the tram stop out there. I used to go for jogs around the palace grounds in the snow! :D

Anyway, chances are you won't get to check your email (and read this) before you finish up there, so I'd better stop with the recommendations.

HAVE FUN!!! Miss you guys...

Claire Bear

  Claire May 8, 2008 10:59 AM


Heya Michael - these blogs are great - even if they are a bit rushed - good to read your side of the trip as well as Em's! just making me feel real jealous!
continue to enjoy and blog on!

  Chris Lucas May 8, 2008 5:40 PM


Hi Michael and Emma
Have really been enjoying reading some of your blogs. I will print out those I haven't read and take them on the plane with me next week. Mark and I are heading to London (to visit Roslyn then a 16 day tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco, then back to London for a few days, then home again by 25th September. Continue to have a great time. it won't be long now and you'll be back at work. Sorry didn't mean to depress you. better get back to work as I finish up tomorrow afternoon. Cheers and safe travel

  Jenny Gray Aug 20, 2008 3:24 PM

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