Posted tagged ‘Italy’

Great European Train Experience.

May 23, 2009

(Long delay between updates this time, just got back from some camping among other things. Hope to finish up a few half-written memories I’ve got saved before the next time I vanish.)

So you’re a backpacker, making your way across the world saving every last penny you can in the hopes of squeezing just a few more days travel outta the money you’ve got sitting in the bank. Plus there’s the entire ordeal of being able to afford to get home at some point. Now sure, you *could* in theory walk (or swim) everywhere you want to go. There was a neat video circulating around the Internet only days ago of a man who crossed China and I presume much of Australia or some-such on foot. Impressive! But me? I’m too lazy to walk that far! Do you realize how much walking that is? It’s insane. Plus I really don’t have the face for one of those ‘grizzled traveller’ beards that inevitably spread across the faces of wanderer’s everywhere, I’ve tried it and honestly think I look ridiculous. However I’m also far too cheap and, let’s face it, poor to fly everywhere, so what options do I have left?

The train, that’s what. Whether it be Eurorail or Britrail or any other ___rail, it’s the backpackers transportation method of choice. I’ve spent more time sitting on my ass bored outta my mind on trains than I dare to contemplate. Hell, during one particularly long trip I practically took root at one point and spent hours drifting too and fro between the dreary reality of this trains interior and the fantastical world that exists only within my mind (It’s awesome there, you should visit!). And in France I had the particularly entertaining experience of getting kicked off a train into the middle of nowhere all because the train I was *supposed* to take had been canceled and the only other train running that morning to my destination was of a particular brand which didn’t allow the pass I used and blah blah etc. The point it is was not fun. I can recall numerous unpleasant experience involving trains.

However not all is bad, indeed some of the most amazing moments you’ll ever enjoy, the most incredible sights and the most surreal experience are often on those amazing massive machines we call trains. And so in the spirit of adventure, allow me to recall a few of the most memorable experience I’ve had while riding upon the good ol’ train system, regardless of where or when.

-Scotland, Edinburgh-Inverness.

The Britrail train system is rather expensive but makes up for that in quality and comfort when compared to mtos other rail system. The problem however is that most of England honestly isn’t that grand to look at and what portions do sport a grand view, well, the locals also thought the view was fantastic and didn’t want a railway botching the view and so often planted trees and shrubs to obscure that unpleasant train from sight. Wonderful for the locals but miserable for those within the trains who’s view is obscured by layers of foliage. The exception to this is Scotland where the hills are free and stunningly beautiful to behold and the view is rarely obscured, leaving the trip a wonderful experience where you sit and relax in comfort and watch the Scottish Highlands as they pass by your window. Even now the lands look wild and untamed, the grass lush and the sky a mesmerizing shade of blue that leaves you breathless and wide-eyed. It’s a long train-ride and not all of it is so stunning, but what sections are more than make up for any restless boredom you might have built up. There’s just a certain rugged beauty to the landscape in Scotland that I can’t help but be impressed by and recommend for everyone to experience and see for themselves.

-Switzerland, Brig-Zurich.

This is one of the most well known ‘scenic’ train routes to such an extent that the trains themselves you’ll ride on this trip are specially designed for sight-seeing. So famous really that I was amazed to discover my Eurorail pass worked for the trip with no additional fees, something I was quick to take advantage of. At first I feared the typical crowds that come with any major attraction, but with a little patience I waited till a train arrived at such a time few other passengers boarded with me, most having crowded aboard the earlier train. So with the train all but abandoned and the weather wonderful that day, was the trip all it is hyped up to be? Yes! Absolutely yes! From the beginning to the end this is one train ride which will leave you in wide-eyed wonder with barely a seconds pause between one stunning vista and another. The Swiss alps are truly gorgeous to behold and this particular train ride grants its passengers an unobstructed and unrestricted view. Whether you stare in wonder at the massive mountains or the pristine lakes, the perfectly cut green lawns or the picturesque cottage villages that dot the mountaintops, you WILL be amazed.

-Italy, Pompei-Foggia-Termoli.

From the comfortable confines of the British rail and the famed views of the Swiss trains, we now go in a different direction to a less well known and less sumptuous experience. Riding in a beat-up single-car train among a few surly locals this train rout twists and turn amidst the Italian alps exposing view after view which will leave you amazed. This is a long stretch and likely to take an entire day, but will give you an unparalleled view of Italy as few travellers will ever see, from vast verdant farms to the wild mountainous alps and even Italian grasslands with massive hills of wheat all swaying soothingly in the pleasant Italian breeze. As wonderful as the view is however, the experience itself is what sealed this particular stretch into my mind. The rickety train, the small town train-stops you’ll encounter along the way, the locals as they ride alongside you. It all adds up to one memorable experience you’re unlikely to ever forget.

-Memorable experience in Termoli, Italy.

This is one of those stories which at the time left me endlessly frustrated but which even at the time I remarked ‘this will make for one helluva story when I get home’. Allow me to set the scenario; it’s early morning and I’ve just arrived at the train station to board a train to Ravenna. The weather is nice and although the train I board seems beat-up, this doesn’t surprise me. Italy in general has terrible trains and just as terrible service really. This morning would be the one to cement that idea within my mind as first minutes and then nearly an hour passes without the train moving an inch. No announcements are made, and even if there were they’d be unlikely to translate anything for the poor pair of Canadian backpackers aboard. Finally, impatient, I set off myself to try and find out what the blazes is going on… and that’s when I see it! A portly Italian man with a bristling beard and a pissed look on his red-flushed face push-starting the train with a long stick. Oh, you think I’m lying? Surely, you say, it is both impossible and silly. But I do not lie! You see, although the train was diesel or somesuch, it used an overhead power line in order to get that initial burst of power needed to no doubt start the engines proper. Problem was one of the connectors was failing to rise and so the train could not start. Naturally, you surmise, they’d call in a proper engineer to get that fixed, perhaps call in another train seeing as this one clearly is broken in a very fundamental way? But no, oh-no, the Italian solution? A portly sweating Italian man and a long stick. Seems like a decent idea even until you realize that power line he’s poking at is buzzing with more than enough electricity to reduce one large Italian man to a large Italian corpse. And then you are witness to the fascinating and terrifying image of one, by this point extremely pissed, Italian man pushing upwards and flinching away at the last second in a dance of electric poke-death, all to try and get the connector atop the train to touch that wire and give the engine a nice starting buzz. And yes, frustrated Italians do say ‘mama-mia’ all the time! It’d be a bit more comical were it not for the death-defying nature of the scene before me and the fact by this point boredom has seethed within me to such a point I’d be lying if I weren’t secretly hoping to see a little zap, just a little one, just enough to set the man a dancin and me laughing. But no, eventually the connection was made and the train was sent off to its destination where I’ve little doubt the next day it had to be poke-started all over again. Absolutely miserable at the time, but I was right, it’s a fun story to tell!

-Austria & Germany, Innsbruck-Munich.

There are a couple places in the world left that just seem to even now evoke thoughts of wonder and chivalry. Of armoured knights charging through mist-strewn forests and grand battles fought in ages past. One early morning departing from Innsbruck I got to see some of those places as my train twisted and turned through the mountains towards southern Germany. The mist was a perfect white that seethed as though alive amidst the forests, of magical vast mountain vistas being exposed to my view for a few brief, amazing moments before the sight is swallowed once again by that mystical white cloud. Small wood-built cottages still lingering as though sent from a time passed among the rocks and trees, glimpsed only for brief flashes before lost to sight. For a a brief stretch of time, riding along within that train, I could truly believe I were staring out from my window into a strange and distant land of wonder and beauty, mystery and glory! Truly that mornings train ride was for a stretch one of the most inspiring moments of my life, and although I cannot guarantee anyone else travelling that same route would experience the same thing, I can only say ‘go, go yourself and hope you too will get to see something akin to how I saw it that one misty mornings ride’.

-Memorable experience entering Germany via train.

Short one this, but entertaining. Everyone knows the German stereotype of big burly men with handlebar moustache and black leather caps, all but bursting forth in hairy power like some sort of terrifying bear/man hybrid no doubt designed from birth to appear in a certain type of film which I shall not mention. For the most part it’s not really true, but there was this one time… picture two men fitting the exact description above sauntering into your train cabin and staring at you with a look that seems to physically shove you back against your seat. Now picture them coming up to you, massive shadows of squeaking leather and exposed hair (So. Much. Hair! Gah!) and staring down towards you. And as you wonder if you’re about to be beaten up for some unknown crime one pulls out a badge and demands to see your passport. I’m a decent size guy, taller than most others so I’m not used to feeling intimidated through sheer size, but that was one such experience. I’d never before been asked for my passport while travelling along the euro train-line, but I was hardly in a position to say no and so I showed it to them. They hummed and stared over it, grunting then as they handed it back to me and in an anti-climactic finish simply walked away. I know, being asked for your passport by a pair of officers isn’t really that grand an experience, but still, it was one helluva thing at the time and really, why the blazes were they dressed for a cheap German porn flick anyway? Damn, I said it! They never did ask anyone else in the train car for their passports either I might add. I hope I don’t look like the criminal type, do I?

-Germany, Munich-Füssen/Neuschwanstein

Another southern-Germany thing, Bavaria, but this one a different sort of experience. I’m not really sure how to describe this one really, so I’ll let some pictures do the talking for me as the sheer majesty of the view on that train ride is of nearly indescribable beauty. These are all taken from the moving train, luckily my camera is well suited to snapping moving scenery.

Breathtaking!Stunning! –  Scenic!

Really, I can barely believe it now looking at those pictures that that was something I saw and enjoyed. That I was really there and that such places really exist outside of fantastical tales and movie magic.

-Germany, Frankfurt-Koblenz, along the Rhine River.

Germany again, what gives? Well for one the German train system is easily the best in Europe. Second, it’s a big place! This time rather than Southern Germany and Bavaria we’re talking the Rhine River. What’s so special about it? Not only are the natural vistas beautiful on their own, but… how can I put this? There are so damn many castles, palace and monuments along the Rhine that it’s almost silly. I can just picture these wealthy nobles staring out their windows from one hilltop to another yelling ‘We must build our castle bigger, more twisty towers and spiral staircase or our neighbors will outdo us!’. Even the sheer magnitude of castles and monument aside, there’s also the small picture-perfect towns you’ll pass and the pleasant ambiance to take in. It really is a fantastic trip.

That’s all I can think of for now, but perhaps later I’ll add another. There’s a particular stretch along the Italian coast that was postcard-perfect with jagged dramatic cliff strewn with wildflower and numerous small cottage dangling close to the coastal brink, but for the life of me I can’t remember where exactly this was and didn’t manage to snap any pictures to remember it by later.


Renaissance Italy!

April 24, 2009

Crowded and touristy although it may be, Florence remains one of the most entertaining cities to visit in Italy and indeed the entire world. There’s just a lingering mythos about the city which remains present to this very day, a unique vibe I’ve only really encountered in Florence.

Of all the city in Italy Florence was easily my personal favorite, let me just put it that way.

The city is stunning in so many ways, whether it be the detailed and well maintained architecture or the sheer volume of history and the abundance of ‘stories’ that have in the past and continue to flow from the glorious city to this very day.

However that wasn’t always how I felt. Upon first entering the city and finding a place to spend the night my overall view was rather dreary. One quickly becomes used to the unique styles of Italy so much that they alone cease to impress, and the city I’d been to before Florence, Pisa, had been a complete disappointment which no doubt overshadowed any initial goodwill Florence presented…

Perhaps I should actually touch on that a bit before I continue with my little mini-review of Florence. Pisa is above all else a strange sort of tourist city that both thrives on visitors and at the same time resents them with all the hatred and disgust one would normally reserve for invaders and pests. The city just doesn’t like you, that’s the vibe I got, Pisa wants you to get over there, spend yer damned filthy money, see the bloody tower, and get out as quick as you can so you can make room for the next batch of babbling fools from afar. It’s a one trick pony that thrives on the simple novelty of a tower which happens to be leaning and which has somehow become a global symbol towards Italy in general. And it is, I confess, a pretty neat tower. The problem lies in that really that the tower is pretty much all there is of note within an otherwise somewhat surly old city. Everything else is simply a sideshow to this one tower, which leans, and that’s about it! There are some neat Cathedral, a couple cool looking buildings, an old wall, and really that’s about it. It’s also worth noting the city stinks, it really does. I can only presume it still uses the old Roman sewer system in places which sounds neat right up until you have to deal with the overwhelming stench of crap and piss which floods certain parts of the city.

That’s all fine if you’re making a quick day trip out of seeing the Tower. Hell, if you’re in and out quick enough you’ll probably love Pisa! That one tower and its accompanying church and walls are really well preserved and prettied up considerably for us bloody tourists. It’s only when you stray from the path and have to wander the parts of the city you’re not really supposed to see in order to return to a dank cheap little hotel you’re spending the night in that the cities luster not only fades but peels with such drama it’s remarkable.

And so understandably I was in a bit of a darker mood when wandering Florence. Add to that some massive indigestion or stomach cramps or whatever the blazes it was tormenting me throughout the early morning and I was all but determined to hate the ever lovin crap outta Florence. This place was going down! And at first Florence did an admirable job of making me dislike it with its massive crowds and overwhelming heat (I *am* Canadian. I’m better in snow! Hell, my ideal temperature meanders between 10 and -10 depending on my mood. Italy’s weather and I don’t get along well at all really.) , plus every here and there in Florence you’ll get a foul whiff of something unpleasant not unlike Pisa but to a lesser degree. So I saw the Florence Cathedral, or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore if you wanna be fancy about it, and if you look in Google Maps you’ll find a tiny little dot in a white shirt going ‘Alright, that’s pretty cool, but I’ve seen better!’ which is me. Go ahead and look! I’m the one to the right amid the giant seething mass of tourists that besiege the Cathedral daily in an attempt to re-enact the fall of Rome to foreign barbarians or somesuch witty retort.

So funky smells (The least of which was no doubt me, have I mentioned I don’t do well in heart?), massive crowds, feelin terrible and still resenting Italy for earlier experience? Everything was right on track towards me loathing Florence with a passion in ways which I normally reserve only for Manchester, which is my most disliked city in the world and which with any luck will someday collapse into itself in an epic implosion of self-loathing.

Fortunately Florence had other plans. You see, Florence doesn’t just end with one neat attraction like certain other cities who’s name I’ve already mentioned enough in one day. No, Florence continues to thrive the more you go out and explore it! The people while still not especially nice at least don’t hate your guts and are willing to toss a smile in the direction of a kindly traveler. The city itself is gorgeous in all the ways you’ve been told Florence is supposed to be gorgeous. The parks are clean, the streets crowded but well taken care of, and there is always something to look at and enjoy. Everywhere, everywhere you look painting and statue, historic monument and quaint streets. All well maintained with that certain touch of a people who take pride in their city!

Now despite all the flattery if you spent a day in Florence eventually you will begin to get sick of the crowds and tourists. I did, so here I did what I normally do on such occasions with often mixed results. I wander off in a certain direction to see the little spots and the corners where we backpackers aren’t meant to be wandering so freely and locations in which your average tourist will never see. For me this involved a roundabout walk through some tight streets and eventually up numerous picturesque but not all that easily climbed stairs to eventually find myself at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a famous and plaza with a beautiful overall view of Florence. However again, crowds! Not as many as in the historic city below, but still crowds. So I continued onwards and soon found myself at the San Miniato al Monte Basilica (I know, it’s a mouthful!), a much smaller structure than the cities grand Cathedral, but one in which I found much more enjoyable. San Miniato not only rests atop one of the highest points in the city and offers another majestic view of the city of Florence but is also itself one of the most dramatic sights possible within the city, with its ascending stairs upwards and old walls which themselves help create a flat plateau in which numerous old graves and tombs have been built. It is humbling. The interior is dignified and, finally, much less crowded than most other sights in Florence.  It is not as showy or ‘fancy’ as many other Cathedral, but instead presents itself through smooth surface and numerous colourful artworks which cover the walls and pillars in a tasteful manner.

From there I would go on to wander parks and walk down simple but scenic streets, eventually finding my way to ‘Piazza della Calza’, which itself contained the old ‘Porta Romana’ (Why yes I am looking the city up right now on Google Maps and researching names through wikipedia, however did you guess?) which as far as I can figure was an old probably Roman gatehouse judging by the name built as part of the cities old wall. Whatever the case may be I wandered down a smaller more trendy street back towards the more central part of town, and found myself stumbling across ‘Palazzo Pitti’ the local renaissance palace and… You know what? I’m going to stop this now, trying to look up the names of everything I stumbled across that was noteworthy in Florence is exhausting. As I mentioned earlier, Florence is absolutely packed full of history and things to see and experience. Packed! That’s part of the reason I so love the city, it was one of those places I want to revisit and spend a week, a month even just wandering and seeing fully, paying special attention to the things which deserve it and soaking up the abundance of local history.

If you’ve gotta visit one city in Italy, and only one, I’d probably still say Venice because it’s so unique (Betcha weren’t expecting that huh? Go read my writeup on Venice.) but if you could see two I’d add Florence as the other city. Yes, even ahead of Rome. Although above any of those I’d say go see Pompeii… Gah! Italy is just such an incredible little boot shaped country, there’s so much to see there. Hell, even Pisa for all the crap I give it was a pretty neat city at times. Italy as a whole was just so incredible.

Oh, I know how to praise Florence best: If there was one city in which I’d want to ‘live’ in Italy, it would be Florence. My favorite city in Italy.

(By the way I’d post these more often but I’ve actually begun planning my next trip and so have been rather busy lately. On that note Lost on Planet China by Maarten Troost is a fantastic travel book, go read it! Not sure if I myself will be going to China, but it’ll be somewhere in that area methinks, more reading and research will determine exactly where. )

The Legendary Pompeii

March 19, 2009

I’ve written about Pompeii before, but I can’t help but feel I did a pretty shoddy job of it considering just how impressive the location I’m talking about is. And so I’m doing a take two on this, now with more detail and description. More of a narrative historical overview approach rather than the ‘this is what I saw and what I did from last time. Links are all to pictures I took while wandering Pompeii.

Pompeii is a small city in Naples Italy famous for being the most intact Roman ruins in the world and the remains of one of the ancient worlds most grand tragedies. It was almost two thousand years ago the volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupted and in a an event that could only be described as apocalyptic the city of Pompeii was buried in flame and ash. We can imagine it now, the sky a pitch black from ash and smoke. The cities inhabitants running, screaming, illuminated only by the dreary red of flames as ghastly silhouettes amidst the carnage. Those that don’t perish in the fires wishing they had as they are buried in burning ash as it descended from the sky like a terrible hellish snow, those unfortunate souls last moments that of choking on searing ash as they collapse to the ground in agony and perish. People and animals alike dying, being buried alive, burning. Soon not just the people are being buried, but the city itself. And as the volcanoes wrath subsides and the sun can once again be seen in the sky, nothing remains of the city that once was. It’s people, its buildings, all of it simply gone.

Time passes and the tragedy becomes a memory, then a story, then myth, and is then forgotten entirely.

The story sounds surreal, a work of horrible fiction, but that is the tragic tale behind the small city of Pompeii. It was by accident that the city was rediscovered during the building of a villa for the King of Naples and since then has becomes one of the greatest archaeological sites  in the major world. A city, perfectly preserved for almost two thousand years. Nothing like it exists anywhere else! And so archaeologists flocked to the site and began the massive dig which continues to this day as new rooms are uncovered and explored, new buildings unearthed and locations ancient and wondrous exposed to the light once again.

Of course Pompeii’s most gruesome and yet eerily fascinating claim to fame today is perhaps not so much the city itself, remarkable although it may be, but the inhabitants that once lived there. While excavating archaeologists took note of strange gaps in the ancient ash, holes and shapes they couldn’t rightly explain at first. The idea eventually came to fill these gaps with plaster and to then carve the casts from the earth themselves, preserving the shape of whatever it was that had left this odd cast for archaeologists to study. I’ve no doubt they knew what to expect, yet all the same I can only imagine the mingled emotions which much have greeted those men and women as the first of these shapes emerged from the ground. The mingled fascination and horror as they saw before them the shape of Pompeii’s residents in their final hours of agony and death. Pompeii’s ancient populace once again emerging into the light of day.

With this discovery Pompeii’s claim to fame was complete. You see as the populace was buried in ash it preserved their shapes perfectly, the ash around their still forms hardening over the years even as the bodies themselves rotted away and dissolved, leaving behind eerily detailed casts of those poor souls for mankind to once again discover so very many years later.

You can see them yourselves now if you so choose, many of these forms on display within Pompeii, sometimes even in the locations in which they were found although now preserved and protected by a glass covering but otherwise open to public view. For although Pompeii remains to this day an archaeological site of paramount importance it has also gained fame as a tourists location which anyone with the time and money may visit and admire and beyond any doubt one of the most memorable locations which I have ever visited.

The site itself is easy enough to find as there’s a train stop for the small town of Pompei, the name of the modern town which surrounds its more ancient namesake. Not a bad place itself really with generally friendly people and a nice central park that boasts the impressive visage of the towns basilica which serves the occasional religious pilgrims that visit the area. The historic town of Pompeii (Note two i’s rather than one!) lay only a short walk from that central square and can be entered via a pair of simple booths that stand guard, charging the relatively meager fee of 10 euros for entrance. It’s worth noting that by the looks of it those booths might not be standing there much longer as construction on a much more elaborate and grand entrance was in the works while I took my visit. It’s almost a pity and I can only hope that the city retains its extremely minimalistic tourism style which I found extremely appealing.

You see, Pompeii is quite literally a small town you are given free reign to wander almost anywhere you wish. Some sections are closed, most often for the archaeologists which still work to uncover and study the site or for preservation reasons, but for the most part everything is free to be seen and explored. So big is this small ruined town that street signs adorn the corners and many buildings have been given numbers and names, it is quite literally like wandering a ruined, abandoned town with little more than the ghosts of the past, some stray dogs,  and the occasional fellow tourist to keep you company. There are no fancy displays or gaudy exhibits, just ancient history left as it was found for you to see and experience.

Picture yourself walking along ancient stone roads or across worn dirt paths as you wander amidst the ancient crumbling ruins. Walking beneath arches that have lasted longer than many religions. Entire civilizations of men and women arising and falling while this city stood still in time. And now here you are walking along streets which until recently hadn’t been walked upon for thousands of years, formed of uneven large stones worn smooth and with deep ruts carved into the rock itself from centuries of horse-drawn karts being driven over them. It can make for difficult walking at times, but that’s all part of the experience. For the most part the buildings to either side are rubble, hollow walls that extend outward in strange labyrinth patterns. Crumbling murals still sometimes visible on the deteriorated walls and where floor once lay and roof sheltered now grows grass and weeds. It’s both touching and fascinating. You can tell sometimes which rooms were which; the ruins of what once was a sink in one area and another which could only have been a bedroom, adding a human touch to the mysteries around you.

Not all is ruin however. Some buildings have been rebuilt and strengthened with modern aid with new beams of wood supporting the ancient rooftop, the floors still sporting beautiful murals and paintings across the walls. And some few rare structures have survived all these years intact and can be walked within today, casting a glimpse into the unaltered state of how it once stood so long ago. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this being the Roman Bath House which still boasts some absolutely gorgeous murals and carvings across walls and roof alike as well as specially placed holes in the ceiling which cast down beams of light into places where once water would have been and people would have laughed and relaxed. Haunting. Then there’s the amphitheater and the small theater as well as various other fairly complete structures.

You may wander among the ancient grave site, down the residential avenue, along the vast green courtyard of the temple district and more! Yet for all its size there’s still more to be uncovered as another estimated third of the original Pompeii remains buried, you can see it as the ruins end with a stark wall of buildings seemingly emerging from the grassy dirt field beyond. Walls half uncovered half buried, streets that lead into nothing. There’s still so much left to be uncovered and for future archaeologists to discover (Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the vast majority of money to the site is dedicated to preservation rather than continued excavation, so it’s unlikely much more of the city will be uncovered for a very long time to come, if ever.). Indeed it’s a vast and wondrous feeling, and can at moments casts a feel of adventure which most popular tourist sites fail to create. It can just feel so incredibly adventurous to be wandering amidst the rubble, regardless of the fact thousands have been there before. A glimpse into a time long gone.

Pompeii may not be for everyone; There was a group of American tourists, I’m guessing Texan or something of the like judging by their accents, who frankly I found disgusting. Every second word a swear, spitting, kicking walls, laughing like bloody idiots as they flaunted their ignorance “What the F#%k is this? I dunno! Stupid Italians! Huh huh!” all while wandering like idiots and talking as loudly as possible. Sadly such is the norm in any tourist location, although in a location such as Pompeii behavior like that I found particularly distasteful and disrespectful. Fortunately Pompeii is so large I only saw the group twice, and the other visitors to the site were much more appreciative. I can only hope such is the norm.

You wont find a beach or any stylish attractions in Pompeii, and if you just want to see ‘the bodies’ you’d be better off simply looking pictures up online (I only took one picture, which I wont post. It felt… wrong somehow to be snapping pictures of such things.) as they are not that numerous nor will they hold your attention for long unless you’re the particularly morbid type. No, the real star of Pompeii is the town itself, and for those with a love of history or even simply a sense of exploration and a respect for the past Pompeii is one of the most grand places you might ever visit. There simply is not another experience like it!

The modern town of Pompei is small but friendly and scenic, the historic site is wondrous beyond words, and honestly the entire experience does not cost nearly as much as most would think. Pompei is easy to reach via train by Naples, a large nearby city which itself I never got to see, and the view from the train is as wondrous as I’d come to expect from Italy.  That part of Italy is particularly gorgeous by any standards.

So why not? Go. Visit one of the worlds most amazing historical sites. Pompeii is a place to be remembered!

A most unique city: Venice

March 1, 2009

If there is one city in this world that I would recommend you visit as soon as possible, it is Venice.

The reason why is as simple as it is tragic: Venice is one of the most unique locations in the world. There is no other city quite like it, not in Italy nor anywhere else. However Venice will not remain the way it is now much longer. It is only a matter of time till something happens, some catalyst of change occurs, and the city as it stands today is forever changed. Whether it be the rising waters tides as the city sinks, bit by bit, or some catastrophe we cannot predict. Maybe something as simple as a wealthy corporation deciding that ‘they’ would be the first to build a skyscraper somehow and other corporation follow suit, who knows? I do not. But no matter how resistant to change the people who live in Venice might be (And they are very, very resistant to change. Just look up the controversy over the cities ‘newest’ bridge!) change will come, and Venice as we know it now will never be the same.

And so I say go, go and visit Venice. Right now!

As I wrote above, Venice truly is unique among cities. You’ve undoubtedly heard of it and seen pictures, perhaps watched James Bond as he ran along the beautiful city streets or seen boats chase each other down its narrow waterways in the Italian Job. It’s in countless movies and innumerable stories. Venice is, well, legendary! And it is a deserved status as the city itself, glamor aside, is stunningly gorgeous and special all itself.

We all know that the city rests above water, that’s one of the cities main claims to fame: That long long ago Romans fleeing the destruction of the empire around them built their city in the farthest reaches of their lands, in the last place anyone would ever think to look for a city. And yet somehow, some way, not only did it manage to work but the city thrived and grew and now stands a marble pinnacle of wealth and power. A marble city resting lightly above the waves. It’s a fairytale come true, it doesn’t sound like it should ever have come to be! However you can go there, walk the streets yourself and see in person that this particular story is no fiction but fact. This isn’t a city where you’ll exclaim “Oh look, there’s a couple houses that stretch over the waterline, just like in the brochures!”. No! The entire city, all of it, is above the water. Venice doesn’t simply live up to the tales, it exceeds them.

The results of this strange past and design are evident everywhere you go in Venice. Because of the cities rather unusual location, where most cities grow, expand, and change over the course of years Venice, well, Venice is pretty much the same as ever. Oh sure there’s McDonald’s there now and shopping centers, tourist shops beyond counting. But those fancy new places? Either inside the renovated buildings of old themselves or standing out starkly as a strange new pimple upon the face of history as its modern design clashes with the antique buildings to either side that seem to themselves glower upon this new aberration and ignore it out of dislike. The city doesn’t just have a neat historical section or a few classical designs, the entire city is one massive glimpse into a time long gone. You glower at me, say ‘You exaggerate!’, and I do slightly for the sake of drama, but allow me to explain further.

There are no cars in Venice. You can enter the city via vehicle as there’s a bridge that extends to the ‘isle’ of Venice (The train also extends to Venice.) and presumably there’s a parking lot somewhere, but other than that? Nothing. Venice is a pedestrians paradise, a city designed for walking and traveling by foot in a way that went out of fashion everywhere else with the advent of vehicles. This helps set a particular mood for the city as you walk along its narrow streets and across the numerous picturesque bridges. It can get crowded at times, which is to be expected, but stray from the usual tourist areas and you’re likely to find yourself alone but for the sound of water gently lapping against the walkways and the antique buildings which surround you.

Ah, the antique buildings. There are many sights to see and famous locals to explore in Venice, but for the most part I found simply wandering randomly through the less crowded sections of the city to be much more enjoyable than the more famous touristy sections. Why? Because again, the entire city is a massive historical monument itself. One in which people still live and enjoy to this day. Even in the quiet little corners away from it all you’ll find unusual sights to see and oddities to explore. The sheer volume of historical church and the like is mind-boggling, ensuring that although Venice is not a very large city all things considered, you’re never at a loss for things to see and enjoy.

To add to the cities interest Venice itself also boasts a slew of its own unique personality traits. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of the Venetian masks and parties, the remarkably detailed and extravagant feathers and costumes. You’ll find many shops along the many avenue which cater towards selling these, small booths along main streets selling cheap plastic knockoffs for the tourists and the more dignified locations from which you can buy the ‘real thing’ so to speak. I found simply looking through the windows and wandering the shops which sold these to be its own pleasure as the craftsmanship and imagination which go into these projects is fascinating. Then there’s the architecture! In a city where nearly every building is historic in some way, there’s a love of flourished and embellishments which I haven’t quite seen the like of anywhere else. I can only presume it’s the locals equivalent to the more mundane ‘who’s got the greener lawn’ contest. Also remarkable is that for a city built above water, parks and gardening are amazingly common. Baskets containing herbs and pretty flowers hanging from windows, small but well kept and particularly green parks. It’s not something I’d really expected to see considering Venice’s unusual location.

Venice is beyond any doubt one of the most unique places in the world, one which everyone with a love of travel and history should see. To walk along its historic avenue, peer into the shops selling Venetian masks or to stare in wonder at the facade of a grand church before you. It’s stunning!