Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last day in Rome - on to Naples and Sorrento


Had my last day in Rome today. I think I could have seen the highlights in 4 days, but the week I spent here allowed me to relax for a bit before heading on to the Amalfi coast. I spoke with a French-Canadian from my hostel today about some of the highlights in Naples, sounds like it should be a great time. Also looking forward to more ancient sites at Pompeii and Ercolano.
Some highlights from my last two days in Rome:
I spent an afternoon with Giulliana, a student at Grey College in Durham who is originally from Rome. The vista from the park above Piazza del Popollo was great
Last night in Rome - went to Trevi Fountain and had some Gelato with Aussies and a Colombian from my hostel
Went to the Borghese Gallery a couple days ago. They had a lot of famous works (famous enough to be recognizable even to me) - very impressive collection from Caravaggio (painter) and Bernini (sculptor)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First full day in Rome!

Had a great day! Started out thinking I was going to the Pantheon, but ended up spending all day at the Colosseum and Forum instead. Not a wasted day in any sense - really interesting stuff. I took my iPod along with some free Rick Steeves audio guide tracks. He had about 30 minutes of information in both the Forum and the Colosseum. It's the first time I've really had to think hard about what used to be there rather than what's actually in front of you. A girl at my hostel has one of those books to show you what was there before. Really interesting to see the contrast. I met some fellow travelers from China (Jin and Jen) on my way from the Colosseum to the Forum and we struck up some conversation. We ended up touring the Forum together and acting as one another's personal photographers. It was a lot to see in one day, even though it's just one small part of the city. Tomorrow - the Vatican and the Pantheon! Ciao!

^looking out from the Colosseum to the Forum^
^Beautiful memorial for Italian vets in with great views the middle of the city^
^West side of the Colosseum^
^The Chinese couple I toured with^
^The 'Stadium' in the Forum, a good example of how the ancient part of the city makes you think about what used to be there, not what's still standing^

Monday, November 23, 2009

Edinburgh!


I had my first stay in a hostel this weekend – it was a really unique experience. It wasn’t a big weekend for tourism in Edinburgh but there were still plenty of interesting folks there. There were a few folks there who had been living in the hostel for a few weeks. They had been bouncing around the UK doing odd jobs. Seems like they were having a good time. There were a few guys from Australia in town for the rugby match against Scotland (one had worked as a winemaker up in Sonoma).

The first day, I did some unorganized sightseeing with Lauren. We walked up and down the Royal Mile, went through the new Scottish Parliament, and went up to a peak that overlooks the main town. The Parliament Building was a really impressive modern style with a lot of interesting lines and colours (ßcheck out the ‘u’), especially inside.

Seats in the gallery shaped like Scotland

Some photos from the Royal Mile (bonus points for getting the reference in the first photo):

From the top of the hill:

On Saturday morning, the UC organized a tour of Edinburgh Castle. It has spectacular 360 views and heaps of history – a very impressive piece of architecture. Afterwards, we all went down to a restaurant for a Thanksgiving lunch with some Scottish folk dancing after the meal. Late afternoon, we watched the Australia vs. Scotland rugby match. For the first time in 27 years, Scotland won (after missing a deciding kick, the Australian kicker might not be let back into the country). Took a night tour of the city with Brooke and Jessica which was pretty hokey, then stayed up late to watch the Big Game.



By Sunday, I still hadn’t taken a full tour of the city during the day, so I hopped on one in the morning. Our guide was a Canadian with a passion for drama and history. It was a ‘free tour’ – the only cost was the tip at the end, which means it’s flexible for any budget. After the tour, I went over to the New Town to check out the more modern side of Edinburgh (only 400 years old).

Some observations: bagpipes don’t sound any better in Scotland; Edinburgh is a beautiful city and a great place to break in a new coat; the Scottish name places in a very intuitive, if boring way.

Now it’s back to work to crank out 6 essays by the end of term!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hadrians Wall and Halloween

I had a great day yesterday! We started out with a day trip to Hadrian's Wall. It was once the northern frontier of England under Roman control. There are some ruins of forts and turrets along its length - a perfect setting for a hike. There were some great views as the weather was some of the best I've had here:

We also came across a foxhunt:
video

That night, we got back and put on our costumes:

Here are some bonus photos of Durham from the last couple days:
To top off the great day, USC lost huge to Oregon and Cal won on a last second field goal.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Durham!

I've been in Durham for a few weeks now. I'm having a great time - the first few weeks has been a lot of meeting new people (and struggling to remember all their names), going out to town with them to a number of bars and clubs (the main differences in the party scene: going out in the middle of the week, no house parties - all bars and clubs), and trying to figure out the academic system. There are lots of nice folks on my floor of the dorm (which has a distinct scent to it). We've had a couple nights in playing poker and watching films. It's a bit like my freshman year, but with my own room in a foreign country.

I'm still getting my dose of California/American culture by watching Cal games on Saturdays and playing basketball. I'm actually playing for my college team, but as one of my teammates said, 'college' and 'basketball' both mean something different over here [Colleges are basically the individual dorm facilities around the decentralized campus. That means saying you're on a college team isn't the same as being on a college team in the US - I'm not playing D-1 ball here. It's more like intramurals. And the game is played differently here (read: not as well). haha.]

Here are some photos from around town (I'll have more of these of better quality later this year):



Crew teams row on the river that runs through town. There's an athletic facility on the right bank here with soccer fields:


The view from my college on the hill:


Here are a few photos with the other folks from Grey College

The Army Bop-


I've also been planning for my time off. During winter break, I'll be going to Italy, Switzerland, and France. Spring: Germany and Scandinavia, possibly the Benelux countries. Summer when school is out: Spain and Portugal (including the San Fermin festival in Pamplona). If you're planning on being in the same place at the same time, send me an email!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Way On Down South - Londontown

It's been almost non-stop sightseeing since I've gotten to London. I'm relaxing for the day and I figured I'd give you another update.

The best part of my time in London so far was the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum. It's something I'd never heard about before coming to London, so it was all new to me and focused on my favorite period of history. It was an underground bunker used during WWII to conduct high level British War Cabinet meetings, now open to the public. The exhibits and information are great.

The Imperial War Museum was another great highlight. Not quite as exciting because the material wasn't all new to me. A couple cool things from that:

Two British merchant marines spent 70 days in this tiny lifeboat after their ship was sunk by Germans in WWII, running out of food and water after just 34 days. Both survived.
A portable bomb shelter used during the Blitz on London:


Some of the more touristy stuff:

Westminster Abbey was really amazing - both architecturally and historically impressive. It's a grandiose monument to 3300 of the greatest Britons to live since it was built. I can't think of an American equivalent:
The clock tower and parliament were also quite impressive. I've heard that tours of the inside of the building are possible if you contact an MP:
The Albert Memorial - a huge, gaudy monument to Victoria's grief. I thought it was a bit over-the-top:
Victoria in front of Kensington Palace:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cousin Elena's Wedding in Germany

I had a great five days in Germany!

We saw Reinfels Castle at St. Goar on my first full day. It is in ruins now, but I’m sure it was pretty incredible at the time it still stood. The views down to the Rhine (or ‘Rhein’ as it’s spelled by the Germans) were great. The skys weren’t clear on our sightseeing days, but the weather was perfect for Elena and Jens’ wedding. Pictures from St. Goar (click for full size):

Once we got to Bielefeld for the wedding, we met the groom's family and caught up with the usual suspects from our side who had come across the pond. It was a multiple-day affiar - dinners and meet'n'greets, followed by the wedding and reception. Everyone had a great time - I think it shows in the photos:






After the wedding, my parents and I had an extra day to explore in the Frankfurt area. We took a trip down to Heidelberg. It was a good day trip. Like a few other cities in the region, its castle is the main attraction. This one was in slightly better shape than St. Goar:


the view down to the city:
Castle in the background in the main town square: