Amalfi Coast

After three solid weeks of sight seeing in some major cities, I finally found myself some sun and a beach. I’m really enjoying myself traveling, but at times it’s not exactly relaxing. I’m finding it hard to get myself to just kick back and chill, there is too much to do and see in each city.

Amalfi Coast

So I ended up staying in the town of Amalfi for three days and then decided to head up to Sorrento for another two mainly to hit up the Island of Carpi. In retrospect, I probably should have just stayed in Almalfi the whole time and done a the Capri day trip from there. Oh well learn as you go…

As you may know the Amalfi Coast is nothing short of spectacular. The beaches on the other hand are not the best. You can see in this photo all of Capri beaches are rock and with a coast line like this there’s very little beach area in Amalfi itself and that tends to be privately owned. The hostel I was staying at had a bit of beach which was designated as theirs, but the catch was one would have to walk down 700 steps to reach it. Make that 1000 if you include the extra 300 it took to get from the house to the main road. So I either opted for the super small stretch of “public” beach which was packed with cheap bastards like myself or just ponied up the 8 to 12 euro to rent a chair and umbrella.

Capri is definitely worth a day trip. I took an boat tour around the island to see some of the key spots like the Blue Grotto. Afterwards I found out there are some great walking trails which will get you to these same key spots, but instead of being confined to the boat and seeing it for 5 minutes you can pack a lunch your towel and spend a few hours instead. If I had know about this earlier on in the day I would have definitely opted for that instead.

If you are looking for a killer beach then head some where else like Kauai or the Islands, but if you like to see views like this in with your morning coffee in hand then it’s going to be hard to beat Amalfi.

Next up Rome where I meet up with John, Jeremy, and James. I’m going to need all of my energy reserves, because it sounds like we are going to see everything in double time. I may need to hit another beach by the time Oktoberfest is over.

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Napoli…

After spending 3 solid weeks of sight seeing in London, Belgium, Amsterdam, Pairs, Florance, and Tuscany I felt it was time to relax a bit. The plan was to head to Amalfi for some beach time.

One way to get to Amalfi is to take a bus from Naples, so I decide to stop their for a night and ended up extending it to 3. I didn’t spend too much time in the actual city other than at night for food and heading out to the bar for a couple of drinks new friends I meet at the hostel (6 Small Rooms, great place to stay for cheap accommodations).

Mt Vesuvius

I made a couple of quick trips down to check out Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius. Pompeii is an ancient roman town that was buried by the volcano Mt Vesuvius when it erupted back in (look this up…).

To get some exercise, I went and hiked Mt Vesuvius hike. Unfortunately, they bus you up most of the way, so it wasn’t all that much exercise. Now it’s not exactly easy, but if you take your time anyone can make it to the top. The views of Naples and Sorrento from up here are fantastic, but the cafe/souvenirs shop at the top tend to take away from the experience.

Now my view on Napoli itself. The people seem to live in the now. They treat their city as a garbage dump and it really shows. It’s a complete shit hole, every monument has graffiti, kids are out in the Piazzas late at night drinking and smashing bottles. It tends to makes the whole city feel much more seedy than it actually is.

If you can look beyond this, you can almost see the beauty in the city. This is probably the first time since NYC where I felt I had to double back, because I made a wrong turn down an alley way and may not like what I find if I continued forward..

Anyway, if you find yourself in Naples keep your eye on your pocketbook, check out a few key sights in the city. Make an effort to get yourself a slice of pizza (it’s where it was invented), then high tail it down to Sorrento for the night where you can relax in a nicer environment.

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Toscany…

Sorry it has taking so long to get you all up to date with my travels. Looking at the date stamped on these photos I seem to be 2 weeks behind. YIKES!

Well I spent two full days driving around Toscana with Allyson and her co-workers. We visited about 4 or 5 different hill towns, some super fancy hotels, and ran though all of the bike and hiking routes for their upcoming cycling trip that they lead the following week.

Tuscany

At times it felt a bit rushed, they had 6 days of activities to familiarize themselves with in the two days. But since they had to meet with various managers to verify accommodations, walk though each town to know exactly where important stuff was located, like food, ATMs, cool art and craft shops, so they could direct their guests in the right direction. I was able to break away and explore each area on my own. Thus it really worked out well.

The trips they run may seem a bit on the pricey side, this one was 6 days of cycling and ran around $4000. But after seeing the activities they have set up for the guest, the hotels where they are staying, some of the meals that were included, and the pure beauty of the area, it would take a lot of work on your part in planning to get something as nice as this for less money. So it looks like a pretty darn good deal to me.

For example, one of the night activities the group heads over to a winery (I don’t have the name…) and learn how to make their own Peace. It’s a type of pasta, I had it that night with Cinghiale (wild boar) sauce and it was very tasty. After that they head over to the tasting room to drink test out some of the wine, with the hopes they all buy multiple cases. Once that’s over then they sit down for a super deluxe meal. Now that is just one of the nights, there are only a few times throughout the trip which they have to fend for themselves. So yeah, pretty nice indeed.

Anyway, I was able to see some of the best spots in all of Southern Tuscany. I’m sure this is going to be an upcoming destination for a cycling trip of my own in the next couple of years.

So thanks to Allyson for letting me tag along and Raphael for introducing me to Grappa!

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Firenze (aka, Florence)

Some tips from Firenze:

If you have a train ride which is going to take over 10 hours from one place to another your best do it overnight. Why?! Well you can sleep though most of it unlike an overnight flight you get your own fold out bed, albeit with 5 other people in the same compartment, this also saves your one night stay in an expensive hotel room. If you are a bit social, you may even meet some interesting people along the way… Pretty darn nice.

Firenze...
Now if that overnight trip lands you in the city say 5 hours before you are allowed to check into your hotel. Then go straight to the bathroom and clean yourself up (wash face, shave, brush teeth, change clothes, extra swipe of deodorant, etc.) Then check your bags into a locker and head out on the town.

If it’s Sunday and you find yourself in Italy then pretty much 2/3 of the city is going to be closed. So my suggestion, which is taken from a couple of girls I meet in Pairs, take one of the open top tour buses which rip though the city at mock speed. You get a pair of earphones to tune into the language of your choice and it gives you an overview of each attraction as you drive by. You can get on and off the bus at each place if you like to check it out, but I was using this to cool off, relax and check out what I would like to see in the next couple of days. If you like stay on the bus for multiple loops and listen to the tour in a different language, like Italian, you may learn a new word or two.

Okay enough with the tips for now…

I meet my friend Allyson at the train station, she was coming in from Utah and taking the train up from Rome. I’ve known her for quite some time, actually since grade school. I hadn’t talked to her since our high school graduation, but randomly got connected about 3 months ago though Facebook. Got to love geek social network software…

I wanted to take Florence in at an easy pace. We walked through Santa Croche Cathedral on the second day, had some of the best gelato in the city, and then walked for ever in the park and found a horse race track, and the velodrome which people were training on. The third day we walked though the Boboli Gardens and had more gelato, of course! We spend a lot of time just wandering though the city, and the food was just great fantastic…

I will be coming back to Florence in a couple of weeks with my friends John, James, and Jeremy (who I haven’t meet, but he’s John’s brother so we’re friends by association, right?!)

Check out more photos here.

Next up?! Tuscana: good wine, cheese, and ummm… more wine!!!

Paris Wrap Up…

I had a great time in Pairs and probably could have hung out for another few days, but it was time to move on and head out to Italy. I have finally uploaded photos from the last 3 days I was there.

Paris

I left the best restaurant to the last night of my stay. After reading Nicole’s review of Restaurant a L’Impasse I knew I couldn’t miss out. Well it took me over an hour to find the place, it’s sort of tucked down a little alleyway, but I was super disappointed once I got to the door and saw this sign! Damn, well one more thing to look forward to my next trip to Paris…

Anyone want to go?!

Be sure to check out the other photos, some great ones from the Eiffel Tower…

Paris – First day or two…

I arrived by train yesterday around 6:30PM. Once I made it to Paris Nord it took a few minutes to figure out which metro line I need to get on, but once on it I only had to go 2 stops to make it to my Hotel. I opted for a single room, after reading though some of the Hostel descriptions for Paris and some of the reviews, I decided this would be the best bet. Well it was, I am loving having my own room. The bed is super old and actually not as comfortable as any of the ones in the hostels over the past 2 1/2 weeks, and there may be a rodentiside box under the wash bin in my room, but heck it’s all mine!

Paris

Le Sacré-Coeur — more photos

Okay, well the room is in Montmartre area. Which is hilly much like SF, so last night I decided to hike up and see what it was all about. There are a ton of touristy areas, but the streets are pretty much out of Amélie, and the views from up there are amazing!

Today I was suppose to do the walking tour Rick Steves lays out, but once I made it to Notre Dame I noticed that my camera battery was dead. Plus, I noticed that running has started to irritate my right calf/tendon right around my achilles tendon… Anyway, it hurts to walk up and down stairs a bit, so I thought why not cut my losses and head to the Louvre and look at art all day..

The Louvre is HUGE… I spent over 3 1/2 hours wandering around, looking at everything from Greek sculptures, to Egyptian hyroglyphics and tombs, to paintings which include of course Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It’s really not hard to find either, you just have to look for the crazy amount of people clustered together looking at the painting from over 40 feet away behind a huge wall of glass.

I believe technology may be getting in our way of understanding why we are at the Museum in the first place. Just about everyone is running around with camera, video recorder, or just their phone and taking pictures or running video of each piece w/o even taking the time to look at it. I really don’t think your camera phone is going to take a photograph that is any better of a painting that isn’t already in a book in your local library! I guess it’s more of the social pressure to go to the art gallery then actually wanting to go, so you take pictures to say: “Hey Mom… Look I’m in front of this important part of history!!”…

Am I getting a bit jaded?! Or is my New York upbring just coming though?!

Well the Louvre is just down the way from the Champs Elysées, and if you don’t know that’s the ending circuit for the Tour de France! I took a couple of photos, but will probably hit that up again before I leave, and if not then the next time will be to watch the ending stage of the Tour…

More from Paris to come….

Amsterdam

Amsterdam. What else is there to say, but a beautiful place. It was a last minute decision to head up here, so I made my hostel reservations through Hotel World, and came up with what looked like a pretty good deal. Well the place was nice enough, clean, good enough bunk bed, and decent breakfast, and not too far from the action…

AmsterdamWell maybe too close to the “action”… The map claims it was on the outskirts of the Red Light District (RLD), but when this is only 3 doors down I would claim it’s well with in the limits of that district.

Now there’s really nothing wrong with this, it not as if the girls are causing any trouble and can be a nice little glance on your way back from dinner. Well theoretically, most of the girls on my way home may make you loose what you just ate… Maybe that’s why the hostel is not considered inside the real RLD.

The real issue is what type of people who tend to stay in this hostel. Most of them are kids who just graduated from college, who played rugby for the fun of it, and believe the only place to score drugs is in Amsterdam.

I had 4 of these guys in my room and it was as if they had never seen a beer before. I asked them, “Yo was your campus dry or something?!”, their answer, “Dude, this is Amsterdam. You want to come with us where headed to a sex show?” At that point I wished them a good time, and I hoped they weren’t talking about the shop down the street which the sign read: “4 Men on Men live shows 24 hrs”…

The other type of person? Well lets just say he’s a 6 foot creepy ass 45 year old German dude missing 5 teeth with the rest to follow in about 3 months…

Hey it was a bed for only 23 euro a night…

With that said, I had a wonderful time going to the Van Gogh Museum, The Heineken Experience (where you get 3 beers during the tour), hanging out in Vondelpark, and pretty much just wondering around the town and talking to the locals…

Ohh I almost forgot they love their bikes! There are more bikes than cars and scooters combined. I’m not kidding and they aren’t super expensive bikes, in fact the crappier the bike the better. I’m guessing because they get stolen easily, which is the only reason on would put a NYC lock on a 100$ bike. (You can read more about this in the write up Brian Wilson had done last year… And now it’s a different Brian Wilson…)

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The next destination is Paris…

Brussels, Belgium

The train ride from Brugge to Brussels was nice and quick, under an hour and only cost €12. Pretty darn good. My directions to the Hostel were not so good, I ended up wandering around for an hour in the rain trying to find the place, which was no more than 3 blocks from any point I was at one time. When I got in I was soaked and couldn’t check in for another 45 minutes. Not a good start. I decided after checking in a shower and a nap was a better idea than heading out into town. When I woke up I was ready for dinner, which as you can see with what I ordered I’m looking forward to Italy.

Atomium Brussels, Belgium

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First thing on my list the next day was to book my seats for my Amsterdam to Paris, and Pairs to Florance legs of the trip. The the train station is located right by Grand Place (Grote Markt), the town center, so that was easy enough to hit up to take more pictures of amazing Gothic buildings. Finding the popular bronze statue Manneken-Pis was not hard you just had to follow the crowd. As you can see it’s aptly named. Now why you would want to pose in front of this for a portrait as the kid is practically hitting you with his stream of water is beyond me. Hey, tourists can be funny that way…

St Michael Cathedral was pretty, but it felt a little too updated to me. Now they had a list of Royal weddings which had taken place here that date back to 1320. So it’s obviously been around for quite some time.

It didn’t take long for me to OD on Belgium architecture, so for fun I jumped on the subway and took it to Brauparck, the location of the 1958 World Expo and now a “funpark”. For the Expo they built a monument called Atomium, which has 9 spheres that represent the atoms of an iron molecule. I gladly paid the €9 to check it out and found it facinating. Each sphere had a seperate purpose, for example one was set up for children to come and stay here for weeks on end just so they could observe how they react in a child community of their own. Rather clever and strikly odd at the same time.

Day 3 was spent on me. Woke up at 9AM, went down for breakfast, then headed out for a run. All this before I went out to do my laundry which is the first time since NYC. It’s funny trying to figure out which detergent to buy when it’s all in a different language. You just have to make an educated guess, I decided that the one which had wacky colors on the wrapper probably okay to wash your colors in, and it was. I finding that I have brought too many t-shirts, I end up running out of socks and underwear far before anything else, better to note next time.

I had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I headed over to the English Bookstore to see what they had in guides for Amsterdam and Pairs. Some how I ended up also getting roped into buying 3 other books, they had a 3 for 2 sale. And now I have to read, read, read… more about my reading in a later post…

Anyway, I was suppose to meet up with a new friend I meet in Brugge for dinner, but I screwed up the meeting place. I missed out on what sounded like a killer Ethiopian dinner. Not at all happy about that. I guess my salad was tasty…

More from Amsterdam…

Brugge, Belgium – 08/20/2007 – 08/21/2007

The Eurostar train rocks! I had a table and two seats to myself. Along with a power connection for my laptop. Too bad they didn’t have internet access. The whole trip from London to Brugge only took 3.5 hours. The same amount of time it would have been consumed by fly, but with out the hassle of checking luggage and immigration, and other typical crap that comes with flying…

Brugge - Bike and a Door

More photos…

Belgium is know for it’s beer, chocolate, and good food. Well I can attest to the good beer and chocolate, for example Staminee de Garre brews it’s own Tripel and it’s SOLID. From what I have seen the food does look good, but I have been sticking to cheaper fair just because Brugge seems to be a bit of a tourist town which makes the food a bit over priced. But how can one go wrong with sausage, frijts and a tripel.

Brugge is a cute little town and it seems to be a day trip from most of the visitors. So at night this place is rather quiet, but that can also be due to me being here on Monday and Tuesday. It’s been a nice change from the busyness of London and NY…

The hostel is more like what I was expecting when it comes to hostels. I am in a room with 5 guys who are about 20 and are having a dinner of cookies and soda. NICE! Then came the shower, it was a freaking mess. Good thing for flip-flops! I hope the rest of them are more like the one in London.

Here are some more photos I have snapped over the past couple of days. Off to Brussels tomorrow.

London – Rest Day – 08/19/2007

Today I decided to hit up the National History Museum to see some Dinosaur bones. Well I made it in, but left after about 20 minutes. It was a mad house and would probably be better if I had a couple of younger kids in tow.

So I headed back to the hostel to send out some email and try to chat with the folks on Skype. Email worked as normal, but I couldn’t seem to get Skype to work with the headset I have. I may need to see if there’s something better out there, otherwise I will stick to pre-paid phone cards or just email and chat.

I meet up with Brian, Liz, and Brian’s Mother tonight for Fish & Chips and a movie. The fish & chips were spot on. Brian also reminded me that the food at the Windsor Castle Pub on Wednesday night was indeed good. And I have to agree, I think I may have been too tired to remember it, but my Bangers and Mash were top notch. Maybe I just need to get better recommendations from locals. Where is London’s Yelp!

Well I’m off to Brugge tomorrow morning. Looking forward to the Eurostar Train Ride to Brussels, apparently it get upwards of 200mph.

What no photos?! Well like I said it was a rest day…