Archive for July, 2011

Italy

Huh, I just realized I never posted this trip from over a year ago. This was when I was still staying in Amsterdam with my girlfriend. It’s a small read, nothing like my bigger adventures.

Day 1-My arrival at Eindhoven airport proved to be very unpleasant. The night before, I was up until 2am working on freelance. I then was about to go to bed and wake up at 4am to catch the 5:30am train when I quickly rechecked the train schedule online, and realized that I had to catch the 3:17am train in order to make it in time to catch my 8:50am flight for Pisa, for the next train was after 7am. Arriving at about 4:45am at Eindhoven Station, I was freezing, tired, and hungry while waiting for the first bus to the airport to arrive at 7:14am. Fortunately, the rest of the journey was smooth, from arriving at the airport to taking the train from Pisa airport to Florence. Though I had no detailed map of the city, and was not willing to buy a map, I already know from experience that many hotels will have maps available for you to take for free. Using a simple hand drawned map, I made my way to a hostel.
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Along the way, I could see the Duomo looming ahead. Though I remembered studying about this church during college, it was nothing compared to seeing it in person. As ornate as the exterior was, I was really surprised to find the interior to be very plain. The hostel I originally headed to had no more rooms, but the receptionist indicated an area where I may be able to find other hostels. I eventually found one for 15 euros per night. It was much cheaper than the other hostel, but I found out later the next morning that it had no hot water! I mentioned this to one of the Italians staying in the same room and he beat his chest and roared, “Be man!”. No thanks, I’ll wait for the next place that I check into for a nice hot shower.
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The rest of the day found myself wandering the streets, encountering various sculptures and tempting foods. One of my main objectives was to find a good vantage point of the city for some evening shots, which I eventually ended up at Piazza Michelangelo. With the combination of great weather and a beautiful city, I made the tough decision to move on the next day.
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Day 2-After a 5 euro brunch, I took the train to Carrara to see their marble mountains. Unfortunately, this was the start of inconveniences for me. By the time I finished my brunch, it was overcast. The overcast turned to rain when I arrived in Carrara. Things reached their lowest when I was wandering for hours not being able to find any hotel. It was ridiculous that I already walked my way into the mountains, but couldn’t take any pictures because of the rain and it was night time. I finally found a open store selling cheese and sausages, and went in to ask if there was any hotels available nearby. Though they said there weren’t any, a nice gentleman offered to give me a lift back to the train station, where I know for sure that there was a hotel, since I previously passed by it to get a map. Checking in, I finally had the means to call my friend Jenn Hamilton, whose family was living in the next town north because of her husband’s work. With the likelihood of rain the next day, we arranged to meet at the train station in Sarzana, her town, and then decide whether to stay at Sarzana or to visit Cinque Terre.

Day 3-Complete overcast with light showers, I left Carrara for Sarzana. With a 20 minute delay, I finally arrived before 9am to see Jenn and her baby son, Logan. With her husband at work, we made the plan to visit Portovenere. But once there, the wind and rain was too fierce, so we headed back to her place since I couldn’t take any photos whatsoever, which was a shame since I saw some interesting spots that I wanted to shoot. At 5pm, the rain finally started to settle down, so Jenn gave me a tour around Sarzana. I finished the day by having pizza for dinner with Mike, Jenn’s husband. Though I’m not as close with Mike as I am with Jenn, we had some great conversations.

Day 4-Things did not look promising with the rain the next morning, but I still headed out to take the train to Cinque Terre. Most trains do not go directly to Cinque Terre, so I had to transfer at La Spezia. While waiting in La Spezia, it was raining hard and thunder can be heard rolling in. I contemplated returning to Sarzana, but I decided to stick it out. I arrived in Riomaggiore, the first of five towns in Cinque Terre, and I was surprisingly greeted by nice weather! Clouds were still passing through, so there were light showers here and there, but by sunset, the sky was almost completely clear. I spent my time in Cinque Terre going back and forth between their two eastern most villages, Riomaggiore and Manarola.
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I would have liked to visit the other villages, but I heard those two were the most picturesque, and indeed, I was very happy with my shots. Taking the train back to Sarzana, this is an excellent example of how something that appears simple and straightforward can lead to problems. I bought a direct train ticket for Sarzana, but like many trains in Italy, it was delayed, in this case, by 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, a train arrives, but the monitor made no mention that my train arrived, so I assumed that I still had to wait for my train. It turns out, I was wrong, so I had to take to next train to La Spezia, then transfer there to Sarzana. Despite this frustration, I was able to make it back to Jenn’s place to have a home cooked dinner with her and her family.
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Day 5-Parting ways with the Hamiltons, I gave Carrara one more chance. The weather was surprisingly warm as I walked towards one of their marble excavation sites. At one point, I was walking through a tunnel that was barely wide enough to accommodate the trucks hauling the huge slabs of marble. So, paying attention to the oncoming trucks, anytime I saw headlights emerging, I quickly tucked myself in these nooks that appeared on the side of the tunnels every now and then.
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After taking my photos up in the mountains, I decided to head back to the train station to arrive at Pisa. While walking, I was hoping to find a clear view of the mountains, especially during the sunset. Ironically, I finally found a spot just beyond the end of one of the train platforms. It was also a spot where the trains comes dangerously close. The grey mountains turned to a pink hue as I quickly fired off some shots before rushing to the train that just arrived.
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Compared to everything else that I had already seen in Italy, I felt Pisa barely had anything to offer, so I was glad I allocated only one night for Pisa. Since my flight out from Pisa was 6:30am the next morning, I decided to sleep/stay at the Pisa train station, then start walking from there to the airport around 4am. I wound up not getting much sleep, mostly due to how cold it was in the station. However, it was quite interesting to be in the company of other travelers, bums, and crazies.

Closing thoughts:
During my time in Europe, I couldn’t help but notice how minorities were viewed differently here as opposed to the US, especially the Africans. Jenn and I had an interesting conversation about this. From my observation, they tend to not have social interaction with the locals, rather, they only keep in company with others of the same background. And they are often seen hawking miscellaneous items that I have no need for. I feel it’s a shame to see them making their living in this way, and yet I wonder if they’re self perpetuating this. I detest gauging someone by their race, but it’s also difficult to not acknowledge that they’re acting their stereotype. I do feel that the locals tend to see them negatively. However, I don’t think they have an active hatred towards the minorities, but I’m sure they wouldn’t regard them as their equal.
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