Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Planes, Trains, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

This holiday has given me the valuable opportunity to revisit some of my favourite places in Italy, and show them to my parents and aunt. But it hasn’t all been deja-vu; in fact, tomorrow we’re off to a place even I haven’t been yet. And I can’t wait.

The Cinque Terre is the Italian Riviera, and is a group of five towns, connected by Italy’s regional rail network. But this is not the most ideal way to see them. You can also take a small boat between each town, or hike between them on the neat walking trails. And it is on this route that we plan to see the five towns over the next four days.

Looking back, I can’t complain about anything we’ve done or said on this trip.

We haven’t lost anything or anyone important (bar a pair of prodigal underpants – that turned up somehow; pyjamas; a water taxi ticket; and some body spray).

We’ve stayed in a vast array of accommodation (convent, palazzo, caravan park, youth hostel, hotel, private home), all with different showerheads and toilet flushers.

We’ve eaten a variety of foods (Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Maccas), and our stomachs had to adjust. Sometimes they protested.

We’ve met friendly nuns, disgruntled railway workers, and colourful gypsies.

To this end, we've been understood and then completely MISunderstood.

To get around, we’ve walked, caught planes, trains, buses, the metro, boats, water taxis, normal taxis, a funicular, and bus coaches.

We’ve tried house wines, local aperitifs, Italian beers, and we’ve come to appreciate that ‘full breakfast included’ is a very fluid concept.

Our bodies and cameras are getting a mighty workout. This has been a holiday of sensory overloads by day, and exhaustion by night. And the next 4 days in the Cinque Terre promises more such experiences. So I say, BRING IT ON.

O Clooney, where art thou?

About an hour's train ride from Milan is the charming town of Como, home to the famous Lake and to the equally famous George Clooney.

Unfortunately George was not at home today, so we had to make do with a one-hour cruise on the water alone. But we recovered quickly, and took the funicular up to Brunate. We had to pass some pretty sprawling villas built right on the hillside, and that was pretty tough to take. All that wealth, all that luxury. And none of it mine.

We followed this up with a light lunch on the shore of the Lake, then hopped the train back to Milan.

So Georgie boy, you missed out. But we will see each other another time.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Meeting Mario in Milano

The New Look
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
While I’ve been holidaying with my family, I’ve also had to work out how to arrange my US visa for the Chicago trip. The US embassy in London wants me to come and see them on 4 and 5 October to get my visa, only to fly out to Chicago from Glasgow on 6 October. Tight deadline? You’re not kidding.

So I have been kind of tense these last few days, and my Mum thought it would be nice to treat me to a haircut. I thought it was a great idea, not only because it would be my first haircut in 6 months, but also because I knew that such pampering would cheer me up.

About a block away from the Milano Centrale train station is Mario's salon. God knows what it is really called, but Mario is the chief stylist, and the only person in the whole salon who speaks English. I showed him my passport photo, and he agreed to copy it.

He did a pretty good job actually, and I’m really happy with the cut. A bit ‘Stepford Wives’ perhaps, but that might just be the rather boofy hairdrying effort. In any case, I have to agree with Mario that the colour needs a little work. Baby steps.

Venice's Treasure Islands: Where the Euro, not X, marks the spot

Originally uploaded by bflickr.
Forgot to publish a post about the side-trip we took in Venice, out to the islands of Murano and Burano. If you’ve been to Venice before, you’ll know that Murano is the glass-blowing centre, and Burano is the headquarters of the lace-makers.

Murano was nice enough, but nothing to really write home about. The glass-blowing demonstration was impressive, but was carried out by sweaty men in greasy singlets and shorts, who didn't want to put their cigarettes out for long enough to make a colourful vase. Needless to say, I didn’t purchase anything at the demonstration workshop.

But then there was Burano. When AB and I went to Venice earlier this year, we boarded a water taxi bound for Burano, and couldn’t find it. I had originally thought that this was attributable to the bad fog on the day. Perhaps the captain of our boat simply couldn’t find the island. But based on my journey out there the other day, I’ve revised this initial assessment. As much as it pains me to admit this, I actually think that Batreg and I simply caught the wrong boat. On the trip we took the other day, I was doubly careful to check and re-check the boat timelines, and we ended up catching the boat from Venice to Lido (the beach resort area). We bummed around in Lido for an hour or so, then boarded a connecting boat out to Burano for the afternoon.

The island of Burano is gorgeous. It is a lot like Alsace in NE France, in the sense of being wall-to-wall with colourful houses (like a box of Smarties). It turns out that fishermen in the village of Burano painted their houses such colours so that when they were out fishing, they could see their houses on the shore. Nice, eh?

Burano is a great one-day getaway and is well worth the effort to get out there. Even stopping for a gelato in Lido is a good way to break up the journey. Burano is quite a Venetian treasure - if you can find it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Griswolds

Mike, Rae & Redda
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
I am a good postcard sender, and some readers of this blog may be more intimately aware of this than others.

But this particularly family holiday has made me aware that I inherited this trait from my mother. Here she is, in the middle of this pic, standing with my Dad and my aunt.

Mum's cards have been referring to our conduct on this junket, only partly in jest I'm sure, to the Griswolds. Yes, the family headed up by Chevy Chase in the 'National Lampoons' movies.

We've caught every form of transport there is, been lost on most of it, reoriented ourselves, and got lost again. We've sampled all kinds of foods, tested all kinds of beds, ran around to get wet under all kinds of showerheads, and lived to tell the tale.

Right now we're in Milan, but we've only just arrived so there is no story to tell. Yet.

Until then, this is Junior Griswold signing off.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Belinda Carlisle was right all along

Originally uploaded by dimdim.
Heaven IS a place on earth, and it is called Venice.

Arriving here last night, we are safely deposited at a B&B owned by a wonderful couple. We are not in the tourist area either, so the 10 minute walk to St Marks Square takes us past residences, local greengrocers, and tabacchi that have been selling to the locals for years.

Last night we called into St Marks Basilica for the Italian Mass, and this was a very unique experience. I did not understand much of what was being said, but it did not matter one bit. The mass was held in a small chapel area off to one side in the Basilica, and had enough seating for only about 30 people. We did not feel like we were intruding, either. After Mass, we fell out into the main square and the sight was truly breathtaking. The lights were coming on around the Square, and the orchestra at the super expensive cafe struck up the most beautiful and romantic music.

Today we took full advantage of the brilliant sunshine and took the water taxi out to Murano. Picking up some presents here and there, we made our way back to 'mainland' Venice to cross the Rialto bridge.

All in all a busy two days, but I love this place so much. Lots more fun to be had.

Have even tried a great new aperitif called 'Spritz con Aperol' - am off to have another.

Ciao for now!!

Monday, September 19, 2005

This is no time to be Assisi

assisi 35
Originally uploaded by dalem.
Made it safely to Umbria and spent a lovely few hours wandering around Assisi.

We have already seen a few Basilicas on this trip, but we agree that the Basilica of St Francis here in Assisi certainly has the WOW factor. It is worth the steep hill climb and all the stairs to get up there.

And for once the tourists shuffled through in relative silence.

The cheap and tacky souvenir shops are a bit of a dampener though.

Off to Siena, San Gimigniano and Pisa tomorrow. Phew, what a whirlwind!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Going With The Flo

Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
Made it safely to Florence, courtesy of the Eurostar rail network.

Found accommodation near the train station, but in a quiet side street. We have a room that fits all four of us (two single beds and one double) and, though the shower leaks all over the floor, I think we will be happy here for the next few days.

Spent this morning at the Accademia, catching up with my boyfriend David. Sadly I have to share him with the rest of the world, but I still thought it was important to pay him a visit. After all, he is celebrating his 500th birthday this year.

After a restorative and early lunch, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio, to browse the jewellery shops. And I mean browse. Mum promises to lend me the €780 I need to buy a brooch I like, which is nice. And also a joke.

Crossing over the River Arno, we walked up the biiiiiig hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was from this vantage point that I took this photo earlier in the year.

Now that we are substantially footsore, we are headed back to the hotel for an early dinner and rest. Tomorrow we are off to the Uffizzi, which will be more sensory overload so an early night is required.

Am loving it here, like always, and I am so pleased that my family is enjoying it too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Su e giu

We have arrived in Southern Italy and I am typing this from an English pub on the main street in Sorrento...go figure. Outside, Mum and Dad are talking to a couple from Adelaide who are on a cruise that has docked in the harbour, so we are learning how the other half lives.

We are staying in convent style accommodation and only 1 nun there speaks English. I am communicating in broken Italian with the other nun who has taken quite a shine to me. Perhaps trying to convert me, she has given me cards with saints on them, and a Catholic magazine to read. I am not looking forward to telling her I dont want to join her order. Still, the breathtaking view from our accommodation over the Gulf is making me think twice.

Off to Capri tomorrow and then Pompeii the day after. It is an exhausting trip so far, but I think that has more to do with the warm weather, comforting food, and thirst quenching local wine. Feeling sorry for us yet?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

St Peter and then some

Shine on...
Originally uploaded by boboroshi.

Have arrived safely in Rome and it was wonderful to catch up with my parents and my aunt at Termini station.

We spent today walking and walking around Romes ancient streets and seeing the sights. We have even braved the Metro which has proven to be a rather pungent experience, to say the least. Those readers out there who have been to Rome will know exactly what I mean.

I cannot fault the weather either. It was over 30 degrees Celcius today (hence the smell pervading the Metro), and I think I see the start of a suntan happening.

Spent the day doing a walking/wandering tour of St Peters Basilica and the Square. I even went into the Catacombs and saw the tombs of past Popes, including Giovanni Paolo II. His tomb, like the others, is very simple, but really elegant. The Romans even put a classy spin on death, it is just beautiful to see.

After a rustic lunch of bread rolls with mozarella and freshly-bought tomato and cucumber in the park by the Castello di Sant'Angelo, we walked to the Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi, and enjoyed a gelato stop at the Piazza Navona. Rome is most likely named The Eternal City because tourism numbers are never down. There are plenty of different accents buzzing around us, and loads of people for whom I am graciously playing 'Amateur Photographer'. I am doing a good job making fat, smelly tourists look good. You would all be proud of me.

Tomorrow I am dragging my family back on the Metro, across town to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, and the Mouth of Truth. It will be another busy day with lots of walking, but I am sure we will enjoy it again.

Well gotta run, my internet time is about to run out. Will post again soon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Italy, here I come!

Basilica di San Pietro
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
I fly out tomorrow afternoon to meet my parents and aunt at Rome's Termini station.

It will be the first time I've been back to Italy since the Pope passed away. When I left, the country was in mourning (not to mention virtual chaos), so it will be interesting to assess the mood of things upon my return.

I am so looking forward to seeing my family again too. Personally I think the only thing that has changed about me is that I can now get my hair back in a ponytail - but who knows? Perhaps my family will notice more changes that I've just grown accustomed to.

My Dad's been rather organised and is bringing his laptop with him, so the emails and blog entries won't have to stop. Can't promise any immediate photo uploads, but these will follow, as they always do.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A royally Scottish send-off

AB and I have come to Edinburgh to spend my last weekend in Scotland with Nat.

The Fates and Furies must have also smiled on me because I was able to catch up with Kate's sister Alix and her partner, Adrian - both of whom travelled to Edinburgh for the weekend from their home in Holland.

What started out as an Adelaide reunion only got more coincidental when it was revealed that Alix went to school with two guys currently living in Nat's house! Though my blog refers to this as a 'big, weird world', situtations like this one remind me just how small the planet really can be.

Yesterday gave us some rare good weather here in the capital, so Andrea and I visited Holyrood Palace, and used the services of the free audioguide (for the first time in our entire trip). We learned a lot about the Palace itself, its Royal residents, and took a walk around the beautiful Grounds in the sunshine. The ruins of the Abbey are particularly haunting, and I figure if you're going to see ghosts anywhere in Edinburgh, they will be lurking around there for sure.

Last night marked the closing ceremony of the Edinburgh Festival for 2005. The Royal Bank of Scotland had sponsored a massive fireworks display accompanied by the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. From our vantage point on the bridge (and thanks to the transistor radio of a kindly Scottish woman nearby), we got to appreciate all the sights and sounds of the show.

It was a lovely sight and afforded lots of oohs and aahs. A great way to end my time in this beautiful country.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

O'Hare and O'prah

So the move to Chicago is a reality and the airline ticket in my bag confirms it. I am flying out of Scotland on 6 October, flying 8 hours to New York, with a connection to Chicago O'Hare airport.

Need to get my US visa in the next two days, and there is some debate raging between Chicago and Washington's US Embassy about whether I will pick it up in London or Edinburgh. Given that I'm currently in an internet cafe in Edinburgh, the latter city is my preference!

But I am looking forward to the next challenge - and including a taping of the Oprah show on my new itinerary. Whoever would have thought...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bound for the Windy City

Finally made it!
Originally uploaded by looey.
Some good news to share with you all. I have accepted a job offer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Cth Government) to work in the Office of the Australian Consulate General, in Chicago.

The job is actually a unique hybrid of a PA and PR role - so it combines both of my skills areas. I will be working in a small office of about 10 people, but directly with the Consul General. I am really excited by the sorts of projects I'll be tackling in this new role.

The news is still sinking in, and it actually feels rather surreal to be visiting the travel agent and finalising flight plans to the US.

I need to be in Chicago in early October, to have a 2-week orientation period before work actually begins.

Some of you have been quite interested in how I managed to find this role. The DFAT website (www.dfat.gov.au) advertises jobs quite often, and this one was just listed there like all the rest. I wasn't going to lodge an application originally, but I figured 'why not?' and now I'm glad I did.

So I have nowhere to live, and no friends in the US, but at least I have some gainful employment and a really interesting new challenge.

Will keep you up to date as the Windy City life gets closer.