Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Promise to Keep

I promised all the wonderful friends who asked that I would update about my Spring Break journey, but I cannot and will not try to tell the whole entire story. I tried that with Zack over Skype, and before I was through talking about Sardinia, I could see anxious beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, and by the time I finished talking about how we missed our train to Angers because the Brussels connection was late, he was very politely hiding the fact that he was asleep.

So! In lieu of a novella, I'm going to post 2 photos and their accompanying tales from each city. S'il vous plait, profitez-vous!

NANTES & MARSEILLES (stop-over cities)
 In Nantes, there was a giant, mechanical elephant, steampunk ingenuity at its best. For a fee, you could ride it, but it moved about as quick as my sister on a school morning. We tromped all over Nantes trying to find it, and finally, there it was! A majestic man-made beast on the horizon.

We stayed an overnight in Marseilles after leaving Nice to catch our flight to Sardinia. We had a long time to wait the day of our flight, and some members of the group wanted to go see the infamous Chateau d'If of The Count of Monte Cristo fame. But I could tell that Megan wasn't too keen on the idea, and I wasn't so much either, because of the ferry fee, so we decided to split and take a day on the beach. This was our first and last sandy beach of the trip, as Nice was pebbly and Cagliari was a rainy mess. Though it was a Wednesday, lots of families were at the seaside, including these two cute little girls who remind me of my sisters.

If you remember, I got super sick the Wednesday before break. I was still sick by the time we got to Nice, and it was no fun at all. I'd get really hungry, but because I hadn't eaten anything but liquids for three days, my stomach had shrunk. I'd feel full quickly, and then hungry an hour later, and then sick an hour after that. But who do I see just a block outside the train station in Nice? A handsome Southern gentleman with a friendly smile and helpful demeanor. Yes, the Colonel himself had arrived in France. In a moment of weakness, I bought a chicken sandwich, breaking my vow to not eat American fast-food while abroad. It was surprisingly spicy, and cured me of all intestinal distress. I will not take Kentucky for granted ever again.

Okay, I know I promised only two pictures per city, but I couldn't pick for Nice. Instead of telling a story, here are three photos: Roman ruins, Veille Ville (Old Town), and the beach. Click to enlarge.

CAGLIARI, SARDEGNA (Sardinia, Italy)
 When we arrived in Cagliari (have I already told  this story?), we found a sketchy green box labled BUS that would, in theory, dispense bus tickets in exchange for euro coins. I looked at it, and intuitively knew it wouldn't work. After eating $2.70 of Liana's money, it quit. We approached the only English speaking person in the tiny airport, a tourism desk clerk, and he assured us that we could buy tickets from the bus driver. Then he called us back to the desk, because he wasn't sure the bus driver would speak any English. He wrote up this classy sign for us-- La macchina dei bigglietti e fuori servizio/the ticket machine is out of order. We took our humble sign and our 3 words of Italian (grazi, bongiorno, ciao) and stood out in the rainy, disappointing mist to wait for the bus that would hopefully take us to hot steaming plates of pasta in downtown Cagliari. It did, but we got charged a 2 euro bread tax, a 2 euro service tax, and a liter of water, because we were informed that even the locals don't drink from the tap in Sardinia.

Sardinia turned out to be a rainy, dreary mess, in what was supposed to be our tropical beach destination. I would like to direct you now to a map of Europe-- WorldEuropeCountriesMap Please note Belgium. Please note Cagliari, on the large pink island, and its proximity to Tunisia. Try, if you can, to imagine that Brussels, Belgium was much, much warmer and had 4 times the sunshine. As such, we had to amuse ourself with indoor, cultural activities. Luckily, it was Holy Week, and the Sardinians take Holy Week very, very seriously, with services and processionals every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, in traditional dress or liturgical costume. Here's a shot of a Good Friday processional during the afternoon::: Nikki and I attended an Easter Sunday Mass in Cagliari, and if I thought Catholic Mass in France was out of my element, I had much to be dissorted by in Cagliari's cathedral. It was lovely, though, and I wouldn't trade the experience.

Technically, we visited Monaco while we were in Nice, but I forgot to include it and I don't want to mess up the delicate positioning of my photos and text. Here's a shot from Monaco, where the toilets self-clean and rotate their seats, where you can park your SmartCar next to a Ferrari, where entrance to a snazzy poker tournament will run you one million euro, and where British tourists show a very unpleasant side of themselves when boarding buses.

AHHHHHHHHHHHH DREAM COME TRUE. I love, and have always loved, ancient history. I think it's probably the only childhood fascination that I haven't dropped as I've gotten older (lost contenders include dolphins, architecture, being marooned). As such, Rome was epic, despite the rain that followed us from Sardinia and deluged everyday promptly at 5:30. I already talked about my distressing (yet satisfying) incident in the Colosseum, so I won't go into that site, and I'll just say that the Roman Forum next door was full of neat surprises and much bigger remains that I could have hoped for.

I spent most of my time at the Vatican running around with my camera, breathlessly asking no-one in particular "They keep that here!?" I knew the Vatican had some sweet stuff in it, but there were so many surprises I had neglected to research! I was with Amy most of the time, and I'm sure she probably got exasperated with me saying "Woah, it's that! They keep that in the Vatican!" and frittering off in a new direction. Surprises inside: Laocoon and His Sons, School of Athens, and my all time favorite sculpture, La Pieta. Saw the Sistine Chapel, lots of other famousness, and St. Peter's Big, Beautiful Basilica. Was hoping to see more relics, maybe they keep those underground, like Dan Brown says.

Only 3 of us went to Belgium, and we were only there for two nights, but it ended up being my favorite city. It was the cleanest, the best laid-out, and the cheapest to eat in. The people were probably the nicest here, and it wasn't overly touristy, because, let's face it, a vegetable-named city isn't high on most people's bucket list. Pictured are all the Belgian specialties I ate; waffles with various toppings, frites, and delicious, delicious chocolates. Attentative (is that a francophone adjective?) readers will note that I have not listed Belgian beer, which is supposedly the best in the world, though we did go on a cheap brewery tour in the city. Each thing pictured cost about 2 euro. The chocolate on the far right was a violet-flavored concoction, delicieuse.

Wait! Before you assume that I'm being crass, let me assure you that this is something exceedingly cultural. This kitschy little fountain is the Manneken Pis, probably the most famous toddler in Brussels. He has over 800 outfits (stored in the City Museum), is on almost every postcard and keychain, and no chocolatier worth his salt (cacao?) is without a box of miniature, edible, peeing boys. I even saw one enterprising shop that had constructed a larger than life Manneken Pis that, how to put this delicately... was equipped(?) to expel chocolate sauce. The Belgians don't seem to take themselves too seriously, and that's all right with me.

Ciao, for now!

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