Sunday, September 28, 2008

Some things are exactly the way you expect...


Seeing the lakes of Switzerland at dawn can only be shown to others through a wide angle lens...

...and if you can imagine it, that's exactly what it looked like.

Ahh, Lucerne.

Beautiful. Much of Switzerland, I saw from the train. But one thing I did learn from being in our next city:

...on a Sunday morning at 8:00, you have the place to yourself!

Not even Starbucks is open... but in their defense, they were working on it.

There were no cars at all, a trolley only passed every 10min or so, and pedestrian foot traffic was almost non-existent except for me an my two companions.

We were being held over for 2 hours in Switzerland's capital city, Bern, and stopped by a couple of places the guidebook pointed out. There was a big clock there that had one of the biggest faces in Switzerland:

Oh, and there was another clock that was mighty fancy - the astronomical kind:

I guess they - similar to Munich - really like clocks, too. But then again, they are Swiss... the people of Munich have no good excuse.

Bern was just a very nice little town...

...that was completely abandoned on Sunday morning.

Okay, and now to switch over to the bizarre and downright weird. The guidebook mentioned a statue near the center of town. We headed that way since it was on our way back to the train station.

Well, here it is, my friends:

Yes, its a statue of a man... with children... and he's eating them.

That's Bern, Switzerland.

Moving on.

And more "hills are alive" out the window...

The train we boarded was taking us to Milan. This would be my second time in Milan this semester; however, we were going to make a slight detour just across the border in Northern Italy.

It was just a tiny town on a lake.

No, Bethany, its not on the map. It is that tiny. And just about nobody knows of it except the locals... and a friend of mine that told me about it long ago.

Oh, and the producers of the new James Bond movie - this lake will be seen!

Isola Bella on Lago Maggiore:

The overcast day and the misty mountains just added to the mystique of this place. A castle-ish palace-like set of gardens covering an island just a few hundred feet long.

The nearby city (I really should say "village") is Stresa, Italy. Full of things that just scream REAL Italy and not the gross tourist areas that permeate places that may have looked like this a couple hundred years ago...

The Isola Bella gardens were not the only gardens to speak of...

...thankfully this was more prevalent than parking lots.

Alas, we were unable to spend much time there. The next train came in slightly over one hour from our arrival and we had miles to go yet for the day.

Northern Italy was truly beautiful. If you want some good ol' fashioned scenery to just drool over...

...or take pictures of...

...I'm pretty sure the lower Alps and the mountainous villages of Northern Italy could suffice quite nicely.

So, next up:

A place you've definitely seen on this blog before - Milano, Italy.

Though, I had been there for Leap Year... there was NOBODY there! The crowds this time were almost unmanageable. We were carrying our backpacks and that is a nerve-wracking thing to do when this plaza is FAMOUS for its pickpockets. I wasn't too worried about my backpack, honestly; the LowePro is completely sealed up by zippers on the outside. I was kinda worried about Bethany and Melissa's backpacks - both standard hiking backpacks - which are MADE to be accessible from the outside and has open pockets and uncovered zippers all over it!

So we moved on out of the craziness of the hawkers and panhandlers and tourists getting their pictures taken by people who are going to ask them for money and moved on to the old Milan castle.

Same crowds, but at least the panhandlers were not as forceful.

Soapbox: HONESTLY, sometimes a place like the Duomo Plaza in Milan can be completely ruined by the gypsies and immigrants trying to force their crap on you. There are some refugee guys there that are "giving" friendship bracelets as "gifts" and they will literally grab your arm and start tying them on. Yeah, then they explain that "where they come from" friends "trade things" and they expect something in return. Of COURSE they do! Maybe you need to learn the definition of a gift!
Not only this, but as one forcibly ties one on, another guy will come up and get the OTHER wrist.
This is the kind of thing that makes people have bad experiences in places like this - Jerusalem, Athens, Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Milan, Paris, Rome... all places that are almost ruined by these people.

Just know, if any of you ever travel to these places, be prepared. You make eye contact - they have you. You pick up something they are selling - you pretty much bought it. Even if you as much as SMILE at them while trying to be polite and tell them "no" - they have you. They grab your arm - the people's elbow is the only thing that they understand after that. You don't even acknowledge their existence - THAT is just about the only way to survive it.

Think I'm being a little harsh? Well, you guys that have been there know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Those that haven't - just wait and see...


I just take pictures.

So, we moved on to the next spot... and there we would stay for the night.

Okay, well, just know that when a place says "camping hostel" don't expect a campground to be anywhere within the city limits. Granted, it was actually a MIGHTY nice place to stay for 18Euro, but 800m is a LONG way in the rain.



In a torrential downpour.

The tower is surprisingly far away from the train station... and we walked it... as sheets of rain came down. Luckily hiking backpacks and the LowePro have rain covers built in.

And then back to the train. See how crazy this day was?

But the next stop was a stop for the greater part of 2.5 days... a land of many many stairs...


And as touristy as it was, you could really see REAL Italians everywhere.

Following along in the book of tricks, we headed to the nearest thing to our hostel. St. Peter in Chains Church... where they claim these chains to be the ACTUAL chains that held Peter as he was imprisoned just a few blocks away in the Mammertine Prison.

And then the Coliseum...

...some things are exactly what you expect. You've seen them in pictures... you've seen them in movies... you've even seen them in computer games.

You see it and think, "Wow, that's a really cool thing."

Then you see it in person and think, "Wow...that really IS a really cool thing."

Some things in life you prepare yourself for and they'll let you down. We all know, I'm sure. But some things in life are better than you ever expected. Having no expectations and traveling with very little research in advance really is a great thing...

...not everybody can do it. For some people it stresses them out to have no plans. But what can you really plan in life? Sometimes things come along - the good and the bad - and change everything you thought you once knew about where you THOUGHT you were going.

I graduated high school thinking I would go be a pharmacist... along with a bunch of my friends who thought they would be doctors and lawyers and the president of the United States. How many of those - including myself - are doing what we said?

At the time, we were all thinking that success was making a lot of money... oh, and family comes in there somewhere. Then many of us began to realize that we don't want to be doctors... because we HATED it! Many of us realized that we honestly had no idea what we wanted to do... mainly because we had no idea WHY we would do anything!

Our reasons to do things soon moved from "because we want to make money and drive a Porsche" to things that "made us happy". We realized that the end result would only justify the means if the means was bearable - heck, even pleasurable!

So, now I have a bunch of friends who have majored in things ranging from foreign languages to political science to geography to elementary education and everything in between... and me in print journalism.

Why? Because we grew up (for the most part) and realized money is not everything... and honestly, it creates more problems than it solves. Therefore, we are all doing things that we could wake up each morning and feel good about going to work...


Yeah, I've branched out into the philosophical stuff - but what else is new?

More from Rome later... this post is long enough now... and I got long winded. Anticipate my next one on Monday. I'm going to be gone for the weekend... going East... far East... not quite as far east as I was the past few months... but at least to the US coast.


Stay tuned. I'll be back shortly.
~Noah D.

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