Day Seventeen

I have just checked in to my hotel in Vienna, and within minutes of dumping my bag in my room a train rattles under my window.

As I was walking to the hotel, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about the place. I’m not sure it’s the best location in the city, but the guy at the front desk was nice and helpful, and wearing red jeans ’cause why not.

I spent my last day in Budapest walking around again, and accidentally scamming the city out of free public transportation. I caught the #16 bus to Fisherman’s Bastion from my hostel, and didn’t see an obvious ticket machine. I got on behind a line of people who also didn’t seem to be showing the driver any tickets, so I just followed suit, assuming we pay on board. There was no way to pay on board.

At the top of the hill, I hop off and watch ohers do the same, all without paying. Huh, it was a tiny bus, maybe it’s just a free looping service.

The first thing I see stepping off the bus is the church. The colours on the roof really capture me, and I’m a little bit in love. Exchanging cash for tickets, the open archway of the church beckons. From the outside, there are no advertisements or indication (sound or otherwise) that something is going inside the church.

When I step inside, a school choir is singing and the music they’re ringing out through the chapel is exactly what I imagine Angels sound like, if they’re real. It was beautiful, really wonderful.

Outside again, and I head up to the Bastion. 

Amazing views of the city from up here. You have to pay to get onto the platform with the turrets, and there are archways in the structure on the ground floor, but it definitely felt worth it.

The parliament building was a spectacle. I didn’t see it up close during the day, just from the Bastion. However, I did go out with the hostel on a boat party on Friday night and snapped this awesome photo of it lit up from the river.

On my way home from the Bastion the bus rolls past a storefront. “House of Houdini”. I jump off at the next stop and walk back to give it a geez. Turns out it’s a little museum (read: shrine) to Harry Houdini, with a small tour and magic show with entry. I poke around and kill an hour with the brief 30 minute tour, and 30 minute (mostly cards) magic show run by a student. It was a really unexpected little find. Personally I really enjoyed it, it was lighthearted and fun, and different to a lot else I’d been doing. I wouldn’t say I’d recommend someone go out of their way for it – but do stop if you also happen across it.

Admittedly, I again caught the bus for free back down to my hostel, shitting myself the entire ride because I was finally somewhere I could read the “Bus Code” which did say there could be serious repurcussions if you were found to be without a ticket and that an inspector may board at any time. I figured I was in no further risk than I had been on the ride up, so even though I itched to get off a stop early I hung on.

Today, I went from Budapest to Vienna. After the boat party last night, I stayed up with Nicole a lot later than anticipated due to being too lazy to wash my face, and we had some pretty good deep and meaningfuls. I set my alarm for 8am so I could shower, pack, and have a good breakfast somewhere before my date with the metro at 10.45 to take me to the station. I remember waking up to turn it off like “why in hells would I set this?” And rolled over and went back to sleep. Thank christ the girls in my dorm were noisy, they managed to wake me up at 9.20 – at which point my brain flicked over into functioning mode and I ran around like crazy.

I had breakfast in the form of a slice of pizza at the train station, and then got well confused.

There were signs pointing to rows of platforms, EG: 1-5 this way, but no actual numbers on the platforms themselves to say you have reached platform 9. Then, the train sitting there didn’t have any of its identification boards turned on so I couldn’t say “oh yup this is the one to Vienna!” I ended up asking a guy wearing a fluro vest who looked like he worked there and he said, “Yup, should be the one.” Omg as if I wasn’t nervous enough. So I get on and thank Apollo the on board displays are showing our destination and I settle into a seat. At this point I realise people are looking at their papers then at the overhead compartments and back again like boarding an aeroplane. I look up to see seat numbers printed. I check my ticket every which way and can’t for the life of me figure out if I have an assigned seat but every single one says reserved. I end up just moving throughout the journey as people get on and off, switching seats for free ones for that particular leg of the trip. It works out, everyone is nice about it, and we go on our way.

Well, I found an underground pub that serves ginormous, delicious burgers and not-so-delicious apple crumble/sponge thing, and had a super long warm rainfall shower in my hotel, and I’m feeling a lot better about where I am.

Tomorrow I plan on getting a massage for my shoulders and neck because they are ailing me somewhat fierce, and then jumping on a hop on/hop off bus to get an image for the classics.

Regards,

Alex

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Day Fifteen 

Here I am again, stuck in Purgatory. It’s 2pm, and I’m in Athens airport waiting until 3.50pm for my flight to Budapest. I have already sat down and eaten, tried calling my parents twice (they really wanted to talk but alas), browsed the museum exhibit, and made my way to my gate. Good news is the flight is only 1 hour, bad news is the airport is not close to the city centre and it would appear you have to take either a taxi or 3 different buses to get there.

The hostel I’m staying at in Budapest offered airport pickup organisation, but when I emailed them about it they denied that statement. I didn’t bring it up, but gosh darnit. Googling isn’t proving to be helpful either.

I’ve just come from a stay on Crete. I thought it would be a serene beach stay but there were thunderstorms which the locals swore weren’t right for the time of year it was. It ended up being okay though, a good excuse to be extremely lazy.

I met up with two other NZ girls who are here finishing their med degree, introduced by the hotel owner, and we headed out on Sunday to explore Rethymnon. There was a little tiny museum we chanced upon and stopped to look at some ancient pots and jewellery. We went on to the walls, and had some lunch.

Lunch, for me, was unfortunate. The girls shared a vegetarian tapas menu, and I ordered Baklava. I asked how big it was (its very, very sweet) and the waiter shrugged and said “Eh.”

It was a huge piece, I ate maybe half because I felt bad leaving any more on the plate, but when our plates were cleared he still asked me if I hated it. No, no, no, no. Just so, so sweet. 

From there we did a little bit of shopping. I got roped into buying a “silver” ring for €10. $16NZ equivalent. Which just doesn’t happen, silver that cheap. He did say it was 75% off, but I think they might advertise high to sell low. To its credit, though, I haven’t taken it off since and my finger isn’t green, so it’s at least plated – or coated.

We went out for dinner, and this time I ordered a tapas menu.

I tried a bunch of different starters, pictured here, and then had 5 mains samples. Turns out their sample size I think was the “main” element from each dish just without the whizzbang of sides like roast potatoes, so essentially 5 pieces of the main part of different main courses. A lot of food, altogether. The server was hilarious, asking why Rachel would order a Greek salad in a fancy place like this, he almost seemed offended. But it was on the menu, she said she liked it, so he shrugs and admits that it is too one of his preferred dishes.

At the end of the meal, it appears to be custom for them to deliver liquor in a small flask for shots. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it tasted like vodka mixed with tequila, still clear, and advertised by the more fluent and westernized Grecians as Greek Moonshine. Wow. I turned down all further offers of this at the next places I got food from. Didn’t matter if it was lunch or dinner, it was served either way.

We got home at 10pm and I slept like a log. Waking up the next day only to do laundry, got to the supermarket, and have some food.

On my last day in Crete, I went to the Aquarium. It was really cool, with lots of cute little windows and exhibits. Some of the fish in there were HUGE! Also, there were sharks.

Once home, I did a bunch of research and plotted backwards from my concert in Netherlands, and forwards where I knew I was going from here, and found in the middle I have about 4 days free. I’m thinking of chucking in 4 days in Dublin for something more like home and just to hang out with people again, again so I don’t burn out looking at everything all the time.

I spent the evening with Stavros and Marcella, the owners of my hotel, and we chatted until about midnight. I left with a wooden tulip and a souvenir magnet from Crete, with a handwritten note from them. It was wonderful and they were 100%. Galatia Apartments in Kokkini if you’re interested.

So, Purgatory is finally over. I risked my first taxi (and accidentally got into a freelance one, not an official one) to get to the hostel, messaging Peter-from-work the entire time so I didn’t get Taken, or if I did someone would know and call my mum.

The hostel has so far been friendly, though SUPER party oriented. They have free dinner every night which is great, but that leads into drinking games in the common area, and onto pub crawls after that. Every night apparently. I do think I remember reading this but thought eh, fuck it, they have lockers, are in a good location, and have female only dorms, I’m in.

As you can see from this post, I did not go out with them tonight, and I’ll see how much I accomplish tomorrow before thinking of going out then (probably not) – I still need to allocate time to organise my money and see if Dublin works or if i need to just extend days elsewhere. I haven’t been keeping a close eye on my spending so far – it hasn’t seemed huge.

Time for some shut eye, I wonder if more checkins tomorrow will ruin me having a room to myself.

Regards,

Alex

Day Ten

It’s my birthday!!! It was officially my birthday sometime last night, but here in Italy it’s finally here, today, Friday. The day before I fly to Crete.

Today, I have booked a tour of the Coliseum including the underground and upper levels, courtesy of mum and dad by way of birthday gift.

I’m running late in the morning which starts stressing me out, and I was really hoping to avoid Termini station. It’s awfully busy, way too many people, and appears to be the main hub of the train lines, where all (tracks) lead to Rome. (Hahahaha) I do, however, require to take the train which will half my 30 minute journey by foot. I swear it was even faster than the 15 minute estimate because the train had just pulled into the station when I got down the steps.

We spend little time on the main floor of the Coliseum, turns out its quite handy Jasmine really wanted to see that on Sunday.

We go to the arena floor, I skype my parents like I promised – ’cause it’s my birthday and I’m in the Coliseum. The tour guide is really knowledgeable and if I hadn’t learnt this information a hundred times throughout my studies I imagine it would have been really interesting, but I unplugged her for most of the trip so I could focus on my bits and pieces.

Under the arena floor, it’s chilled. Some water flows around us from when Vespian drained the lake that the land used to be, and being surrounded by cold bricks from the shade it’s really nice compared to the outside sun.

We head up lots and lots of really steep stairs to get the best view. The view the plebs would have had, actually.

I think this might be my favourite photo ever taken.

I start messaging Janneke because I’m getting grumpy. I have done SO MUCH walking in the last week and my feet kill me as soon as I step out the door now. I’ve just remembered that this tour also includes the Palatine hill. So many more steps.

We cruise around Palatine Hill, I found as many places to sit as I possibly could.

Sometimes, the low angles are better for pictures anyway.

The tour ends and I head back to the hostel. Daniel (the owner) is waiting, says Happy Birthday and asks if I want pancakes for lunch. He sends me on an errand to the supermarket and we make pancakes, cheese savoury ones and jam sweet ones. It’s probably the best birthday lunch I could have asked for in Italy.

For dinner, Vyy – the evening receptionist – makes a quick curry and lets me have some. I chill out before my early wake up for my flight, and eventually head to bed.

Crete, and beach life, is so close!

Regards,

Alex

Day Nine

Today, Tivoli! A lot of people in the hostel have recommended Tivoli when chatting about places to go, luckily I had this tour booked. Hadrian’s Villa, or Villa Adriana, was one of my favourite things to study, and this tour includes entry to Villa d’Este as well, which was a minor recreation and remains in much better condition.

We arrived at Hadrian’s Villa first, and walked around a lot of ruins. The guide did an excellent job of bringing things to life for us – it can be hard to picture what used to be there.

This was a bathhouse in the Villa, a gigantic structure. It would include tepid baths, and saunas.

Here, the end of a “canal”. A replica of what you might find in Egypt as Hadrian paid homage to the different cultures the Roman empire controlled. This was also a shrine of sorts to a young boy he loved, who drowned. The faces on the statues of the gods were all modelled to look like him.

We moved on to lunch, and then into the Villa d’Este. The inside of which was very gaudy. I didn’t like the inside so much, but it is excellently preserved and reconstructed where necessary. I don’t think I’d have liked living in the decoration of that era. However, the gardens were really the showstopper.

We descended further and further into the gardens, which are terraced, and about halfway down we realised we’d have to climb all those stairs back up again.

The fountains kept getting larger and more intricate.

Until, finally, the end.

This post has more pictures than words, because what can I really say about this beauty except to show you.

Apollo, help me up these stairs. They’re not even half of them.

Regards,

Alex

Day Seven

I really wanted to do nothing today. Really, really, really badly. My feet are tired from walking, it’s been a while since I really rested and put them up. However, at this point I had already decided that Wednesday would be my rest day this week (calculating Trump being in the city, laundry day, and the fact that I had two more tours booked, both for Thursday/Friday, so wanted to have rested feet for that.)

So I buy a last minute ticket to the Villa Borghese which is supposed to just be totally gorgeous. It’s so popular that they have specific times for viewings and that includes a kick-out time.

I also need, in my bones, to see the Ara Pacis before I go. A beautiful monument that has been gorgeously reconstructed and refitted from all the pieces they can find that were once scattered around the globe in different collections.

So, the Ara Pacis first as the time slot I found available for the Villa Borghese was in the afternoon. 

I mean, look at this gorgeous thing. It was so quiet in its little glass house which protects it from the elements at a perfectly stable, constant temperature and humidity. The Altar of Augustan Peace.

I was the only youngun in there. Well, I was by myself to start. Everyone who followed was greying or completely written off, hair wise. Damn you, scholarship classical studies, teaching me these uncool things that I now HAVE to visit. The amount of blank stares from others who asked what I got up to that day… I’m sorry the Arrow Who Now?

The Villa Borghese was a longer walk than anticipated, mostly because of hills. Once there, my bag was checked in, and I waited outside for our calling card time.

The roof in the main room was just gigantic. Look at this eccentric piece of art. On a roof! Around the first floor of the Villa are a lot of statues, with the second floor being mostly paintings. A LOT of the second floor were depictions of Christ, which I quickly made my escape from.

People go on and on about the beauty in this museum, and I did find a number of items I wouldn’t have known were in there to see, but in my two hour allocated spot I was bored within 20 minutes and stretched it out to 30 so I didn’t look as ridiculous as I felt leaving so soon.

Once home, I put my feet up and got ready for the upcoming tours.

Regards,

Alex

Day Six

My first tour day. 

I kind of went a bit crazy when I was booking this trip, and booked a few tours – like an actual real life tourist on a tour bus tours – today we head to Pompei via way of Napoli.

I have no real interest in Napoli, but it’s the major city you go through to see Pompei from Roma, and the day trip tours tended to stop there anyway so I just picked one.

The tour came with hotel pickup/dropoff. When I booked the tour, it did not ask for my accomodation details, which I thought would happen in a follow up email. Turns out I have to call them to let them know, the voucher said call 24 hours beforehand, so yesterday (Sunday) I attempt to call.

A prerecorded message all in Italian. It’s a tour company that offers English guides, though, so I wait to see if it repeats everything in English. It does, only to tell me that they’re closed on Sundays. Well, that’s handy for a Monday morning 7.30am start tour. Oh, and they open at 8am.

I query with my hostel receptionist Sarah, and she follows up with an email address to try, so I send a detailed email hoping to just get one reply confirmation rather than a back and forth on a Sunday, and go about my day.

They end up coming back saying yes, they confirm they’ll pick me up outside my hostel at 6.30am. Joy.

So, I’m up and waiting outside the hostel doors at 6.28am. And 6.30, 6.35, suddenly it’s 6.45am and I’m wondering how long I wait before giving up on the whole ordeal and start demanding refunds. The bus shows up at 6.48 which stalls that idea, and we’re off.

We head South on the highway, and stop briefly at a snack bar for breakfast. We carry on further, and stop again. This time for Lunch at a restaurant booked by the tour company specifically. We get a three course meal, choice of either fish or meat. I choose the meat and get a VERY tomato-y pasta dish, a very thin (schnitzel almost?) Slice of steak with thin cut fried potatoes, and tiramisu. The pasta itself wasn’t half-bad, and everything else had really good flavours at least. Finally, though, we are on the road to Pompei.

We drove into Pompei and immediately went to a cameo workshop where they show you how they make cameo jewellery from seashells. We’re invited downstairs to look at the gallery and shop, and find that even tiny ones are €300 at least. Woojeez. I carried on looking elsewhere and found awesome, awesome statues that I wish I had room in my bag for, and looking back should have just bought one and figured ot out.

Everything is as I studied it, lordy I’m in heaven. They say don’t meet your idols in person but here I am in Pompei and everything is amazing. I got some great photos which had no people in them (thank timing and angles for that one) and it looks like I’ve been exploring alone, without the hint of another tourist.

I’m looking forward to curating the best photos for a family viewing I know they’ll want to have, and then honing down even further my favourite ones to share with ADHD friends.

Regards,

Alex

Day Five

I have discovered that Romans do not drink a lot of tea. When they do, it’s mostly herbal or fruity ones. I made friends with the receptionist at this hostel and she smuggled me in some individual packets of tea bags to hide away in my room. It’s great to be nice and friendly.

Today, I have no plans except laundry. I’m out of undies, so it really needs to happen anyway. I have also spent the last three days walking non-stop, so my feet are sick of doing that.

Sunday was my first full day in the city. I swooped in on the American I was sharing a room with and we grabbed a hop on/hop off bus tour. We stopped at the Altar of Rome, a colossal structure of marble. It was huge, and amazing.

There was a little gated entrance to get in around the front, where a lady says you cannot smoke or eat or sit on the structure. We pass through and take it all in from the base. My phone camera couldn’t get the entirity of it in from down there, so there’s no awesome photo of that.

I lay down in one of the many vast platforms to get a better angle for a photo, and a guard came running over reminding me we’re not allowed to plant our bums. I though I was safe here because there were people sitting around the edge of this platform not being told off, and the lady downstairs had specifically said steps. I was wrong. I did get the photo though.

From there we walked around the back, and surprise surprise came across an elevator that takes you right to the top of the monument. It was €7 when original entrance was free, but we knew it would be worth it.

Jasmine and I moved on, and she really wanted to see the colosseum. I already have a full tour booked for Friday (my birthday!) but entrance was only €12 and I felt bad for abducting her to accompany me when she only had a few days in Rome v my whole week. So we went in, I pretended not to be totally excited by being there, saving all that elatement for Friday, and I let her lead the way around at the things she wanted to look at. On Friday, my tour is going to include access to the upper levels, underground levels, and the reconstructed arena floor which standard entry doesn’t get you.

We started making our way to the next place, walking back to where the bus dropped us off. After 30 minutes of waiting for our “every 10/15 minutes” bus, we walked back to another stop to ask what was going on. Turns out there was a marathon in the city that morning so some of the stops were altered, and we weren’t informed, so we got on and headed back to the hostel instead, deciding now that we were over it all.

We stopped at Eataly for some dinner, and put our feet up once back in our hostel. Preparing for tomorrow’s adventure. 

Regards,

Alex