Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exiting Western Europe...Continued

Part 2
We got into Budapest the next morning and were met at the Train station by one of Mike Huggard's friends, Reka. I had told Mike a couple days before that we were going to be in Budapest so he hooked us up with some people to show us around the city. Reka had brought along a couple friends with her and they all spoke english so that was really nice to actually be able to talk to somebody. They took us around to several of the sights including the Square of Heroes and Buda Castle. After lunch Reka had to go to class so we switched tour guides and a girl named Barbara took us around for the rest of the day. I think it was funny because we were used to walking around everywhere and just looking at the city but all the Hungarians just wanted to hop on buses and metros everywhere. We ended up doing a little bit of both. Budapest is a really pretty city but I would never like to learn Hungarian. Out of all the languages we heard I think I'm more likely to learn German than anything else. At first we had not been planning on staying the night in Budapest but because of the train schedule we figured that it would be much better to stay the night there and get some good rest.

Tuesday morning we got a train headed to Vienna and from there took a train to Prague. The only trains that went straight from Budapest to Prague went through Slovakia, which is one of the few countries that our Eurail passes didn't work in. When we got to Prague it was already evening time so we went and checked into our hostel. This hostel was the cheapest one that we stayed in on the whole trip and only cost about 7 euros a night. When we got there we could see why. It just seemed pretty sketch at first. It was pretty old and half the stuff in it was broken it seemed like. From the company that we passed when we entered Bryan and I joked that we were staying in a whore house. Once we were checked in we dropped our big packs and loaded the netbook and all of our valuble stuff, which was not much, into a small backpack and went exploring. Prague was actually one of my favorite cities. I had no expectations going into the city and I was really surprised at how beautiful it was. Just the train ride up there was really beautiful. Just like most of the cities we were in there was a river running through the middle of it. Looking out across the river and seeing Prague Castle with the sun setting behing it was really pretty. Once the sun was all the way down it was all lit up along with the old part of the city and a neat old bridge that crossed the river. Definitely good material for a romantic walk along the riverbank. If you were wondering, yes, Bryan and I walked along the riverbank... Well after admiring the city at night we went back to our hostel. There was a girl from Pheonix, AZ, staying in our room and she actually knew a Haws so I told her that it was probably my cousin. Small world.

The next morning we checked out of the hostel and went and locked our bags in the train station lockers. I had been wanting to do it the whole trip because then I could pretend to be Jason Bourne! Needless to say I felt very cool doing it. We spent the whole day going around and seeing all the old churches and we also went on a tour of Prague Castle. Later in the evening there was a stage set up in one of the squares with a couple very large screens and everyone gathered around and watched hockey. I guess it was the world championship and Check was playing USA. We didn't get there til later and I guess we got smoked so maybe it's a good thing. We had already seen everything we wanted to see in the city and our train to Vienna wasn't leaving until midnight so we just sat there and watched Germany play Sweden. Sweden smoked Germany. It wasn't even close. Well we eventually made our way to the train station and double checked that our train was leaving at the time that our book said that it was. We actually got a printout from the ticket teller that had it on there. We were kind of confused because the board said that the train we were getting on was going to Budapest but the lady at the ticket counter told us that it was going to Vienna as well....the printout said the same thing so we decided that the ticket lady was right and got on the train. Well at about 4:30 am the train stopped at a train station and a really smelly drunk man came into our compartment and started coughing all over the place. The train started going and I was like "Great, now I'm not going to get any sleep." For some odd reason our train only went for a minute, and slowly at that, before it started going back the other way. I'm guessing that they were switching some cars but I'm still not really sure. Well we were once again stopped back at the station. While we were stopped the conductor came through to check our tickets. I sleepily handed her mine and she said, "Your ticket is not valid in Slovakia." I was like, "Yeah I know. I'm going to Vienna." To which the lady replied, "If you're going to Vienna, you need to get off this train right now because we're leaving." I guess Bryan had been half asleep listening to the conversation because all of the sudden he was up and hauling his backpack out the door. I don't think I've ever seen him move that fast haha. I really am amazed at how fast both of us got off that train. So there we were sitting on the platform at a train station in Bratislava. We had no idea where Bratislava was or what country we were in. We both realized that this train actually had been headed to Budapest and that it was going through Slovakia and not going to Vienna which was weird because we had the paper with the train number on it saying that it was going to Vienna. The train we had just go off hadn't left yet so I walked over to the door and asked the conductor how to get to Vienna. She said that the train next to us was leaving for Vienna. We hopped on the new train and left about 20 minutes later.

When we got to Vienna it was about 6:30 in the morning. We couldn't check into our hostel until 9:00 so we took a little nap and then walked towards the hostel. On the way we stopped by a store and bought some goods for breakfast. When we got to the hostel to check in they did not have a reservation for us. That was odd because I had made the reservation a couple days before. I guess when I hit the "reserve" button it never went through or something. luckily they still had some rooms open even if they were a little more expensive than the ones we had reserved. That day we spent walking around Vienna. I feel like all I can really say now is that we went walking around. Nothing super cool happened or anything and we just saw some cool churches and old buildings and stuff. I had been trying to get a hold of my friend Carla who was an exchange student junior year at Bountiful High. She's from Mexico City but she's studying in Vienna because it's not safe to be in Mexico anymore from what she said. I wasn't able to get a hold of her in the morning when I tried to call her but later that night I was able to get a hold of her on skype and turns out she lived only a couple blocks away from our hostel. Bryan went to bed because it was almost 11 pm and I went out to meet her. We ended up just sitting in a cafe for awhile and talking about school, traveling, and life in general. It was really quite pleasant. I got back to the hostel at about 12:30 and hit the sack. We had to wake up early the next morning to leave for the airport.

We woke up at about 7, packed up all of our stuff, ate some toast and walked to about 25 minutes to the station where we got on the S-bahn that would take us to the airport. We got there without problem, checked in and that was that. Boarded our plane an hour and a half later and took off to Moscow. The end of Western Europe.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Exiting Western Europe... Part 1

So, starting from where I left off last time. I woke up in Florence :-) I think it was Saturday morning. We had decided to go to Venice for the day aтв take a night train from there to Budapest. We had planned to catch the 10:30 train to Venice but it was full and the next train that had spots on it was leaving at 12:10, so we made some reservations on that train. We were kinda bummed because we wouldn't be getting to venice until about 2:30 and we thought that we probably wouldn't have that much time. When we got there we immediately took off into the middle of the city with the intent of getting lost. I guess we kind of got lost but I don't think it was as bad as I thought it would be. We eventually made it across town to St. Marks square. At least I think it was St. Marks....we went to a lot of squares and a lot of places named after saints. Anyways, it was pretty much the main attraction there. We wanted to go into the basilica but we couldn't even get into the square with our backpacks because security wouldn't let us through. I guess the pope was in Venice that day or something. We decided to just drop our bags and go in one at a time and have the other person watch the bags. I went in first and it was really cool. All these old buildings that we saw were just amazing. Well I went up to go see the basilica and apparently it was closed because the pope was in town. That was too bad but not much one could do about that. I went out and found Bryan and told him what was up and that the basilica was closed. He went in anyways and looked around because the outside was really pretty.

After that, we grabbed out our lonely planed guide and with the little map started wandering around to different places. In Venice there are only 3 bridges that cross the main canal. We crossed them all. We went to a music museum and there were all these really old violins and other instruments that were probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. That was neat and we learned alot about Vivaldi and some of the other famous musicians that came out of Italy. We walked around the whole day with our packs because we didn't have a hostel to go drop them off at since we were leaving that night on a train. Our train wasn't leaving til almost midnight so we had almost 10 hours to wander the city. I think that was plenty of time actually. We saw the whole city and the only reason to stay longer was if you have an appetite for expensive food and shopping with a wallet to match.

We had originally planned on going to Budapest from Vienna but the train was going to take about 14 hours and neither of us wanted to do that. Instead of Budapest we decided to go to Munich! We arrived in Munich at about 6:30 sunday morning. We slept in the station for a few minutes and then headed off towards the church builing that we had looked up on the internet. We found it but it was just before 8 and nobody was there yet because church didn't start until 9. We took a little nap on the steps and finally somebody got there with keys to open it up about 15-20 minutes before church started. Bryan and I went down to the bathroom to brush our teeth and put some nicer clothes on. I just threw on a wrinkly white shirt and a tie with my jeans. I figured it was better than nothing. The ward was a German speaking ward but there were several Americans there and several of the Germans spoke English. One of them was nice enough to translate for us during preisthood meeting. His name was Sven and he was actually interning at Audi which I thought was pretty cool. Bryan and  were both really tired because on the train the night before, there was this big smelly guy who came into our coupe a few stations into the journey and he was super loud all night long and kept talking on his phone and just making it hard to sleep. Well one of the sister missionaries  translated for us during sunday school and I stayed awake for almost all of it. Bryan was sitting on the other side of me so he couldn't really hear the translation so I think it was a bit more difficult for him to stay awake haha. During sacrament I decided that I was going to take the sacrament and let my body sleep if that's what it needed. Well the next thing I knew, everyone started singing the closing song so it seems that I fell asleep...

After church we were talking to some of the guys there and they said that there was going to be a young single adult dinner thing that night at the building. Apparently it was fast Sunday but Bryan and I had both forgotten and had a scrumpteous breakfast of bread and apples. Well they invited us to that and there was no way that we were going to turn  down a good meal so we immediately agreed. They let us leave our bags there for the day which was nice because then we didn't have to hike around with them. We went out and walked through old town, took a nap on a bench, saw some cool gothic architecture and several music groups performing on the street. We eventually made it to the English Gardens which I guess are frequented by hundreds of nudists for the summer months so thank goodness it wasn't summer yet. We took another nap there on the grass by the river. It was really pretty.

It was now nearing the time of our dinner so we headed back to the branch. When we got there they were just fixing stuff so we jumped in and helped make it. We made Goulash which I guess is Hungarian from what they told us. When we were done helping and just waiting for it to finish cooking, Bryan skyped his mom because it was mothers day. I tried but then realized that because of the time difference my mom was still in church. We ate dinner which was soooooo delicious. I was more full after than than I'd been for the past week or two. After dinner I was finally able to get ahold of mom and wish her a happy mothers day. The guy in charge of dinner, Nathan Winder, whose family actually owns Winder Dairy, offered to let us come over to his apartment to take showers. We were both in dire need of some cleaning so after we washed all the dishes we hopped an S-Bahn train over to his place. He was really nice to let us come over and shower at his place. He's done a lot of traveling and people had always helped him out so he said just to pay it forward and led a hand to someone else. Once we finished showering we headed back to the train station to catch a train to Budapest. End of part 1. Check back for part 2. (I just can't write for this long haha)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Florence

May 7, 2011 – Saturday
                Well it’s been a couple days since I last wrote so I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember everything. Here we go. Wednesday morning, we checked out of our hostel and stopped by the store on the way to the train station to buy some yogurt for breakfast and bread and jam for lunch. Bread and jam is our new favorite. We hopped a train to Pisa and saw the leaning tower. It was only about a 10 minute walk to the tower from the train station so it didn’t take us very long to go check it out, eat some lunch and then get back to the station. I thought that the leaning tower was really cool, and there were also several old churches around it that were also really cool. It was quite different from what I had expected. I had been picturing the tower just sitting out there all by itself surrounded by sand. Instead of that, it was situated in the middle of the city, within the ancient city wall and surrounded by some other cool old churches and stuff. It was definitely worth the hour or so that we took to check it out. We did not climb up the tower because we would have had to buy tickets and the soonest we could get tickets for was about 3 hours later and we really wanted to get along to La Spezia so we could check out Cinque Terre and find our campsite that we were staying at.
                When we got to La Spezia, we had to hop a different train that went along the coast through all the cities that make up “Cinque Terre.” That was really beautiful. Our stop was in a little town called Deiva Marina. When we got there, Bryan and I were both like, “Ok, now what?” There was supposed to be a shuttle bus that ran from the train station to the campsite but we had no idea where exactly to meet it or anything like that. We wandered around and found a pay phone where Bryan called up the office and they said that the shuttle would be down in a minute. Happy day. We were only a few minutes away from the campsite by car but I definitely would not have wanted to walk it, especially with our packs on. Checking in there was a piece of cake and we were soon shown our little tent that had two cute, little beds in it. Once we had gotten settled down we realized just how hungry we were and took off to catch the shuttle back into town to find something to eat. We walked around the town, which only took about 5 minutes because it was so small, and settled on a little pizzeria. After eating there we just milled around and enjoyed how quiet and peaceful everything was. By then we decided to just head back to camp and get to bed early and plan what we would do for the next couple days. We waited for about half an hour at the train station for the shuttle bust. Then we waited a little more. Finally we decided to just start walking and hope that we would meet it as it was coming down. Well, no luck. We ended up just jogging most of the way in our flip-flops which still took about 15 minutes or so. When we got back to camp we looked at the shuttle schedule and realized that it stopped running at 7:05 and not 9:05 like we had thought. We had a little laugh.
                This whole trip, we have been washing our laundry in the sinks at the hotels that we’ve been staying at but since we’d stayed at a hostel the last few nights we didn’t have anywhere to hand up our wet clothes. We decided that since we were out here camping it would be the perfect time to do all our laundry because we didn’t know when we would have another chance. We thought about taking it to get washed but it would have cost about 10 Euros just to get it washed and dried. The bathrooms and showers at this campsite were really nice so we decided to just wash them. This we did. My hands were pretty tired at the end of it from wringing everything out but we got it all done, hung it up in on the lines in our campsite and went to bed. That night it got really cold. We had not been expecting that at all because of how hot it had been during the day. The next morning all of our clothes were still wet so donned one of my soccer jersey’s that was almost dry and we both put on our swimsuits and we took off to do some hiking.
 We took the shuttle in and got on a train headed back to Riomaggio, which is the start of the trail and the location of the main tourist office. There we bought our hiking passes and took off for the trails. The trail between the first two cities was really short and only took like 15 minutes. The short trail between the next two cities was closed, but we decided to take a higher trail that was a little longer. All of the hillsides were covered in vineyards and there were little trails going everywhere. The maps that we had were not very detailed so it took us a little while to find the other trail. Or at least we thought that we had found it. Somewhere along the line we took a wrong turn, but we decided to keep on going for a while and explore the hillside and the vineyards. It was a pretty hike and there were some good views of the sea. Finally we decided to head back because we weren’t getting anywhere and Bryan’s knee was giving him troubles. When we got back down to the town we decided to take a little break and go for a swim. Where we were at the beaches were mostly just rocky cliffs, so we got on another train for the short ride up to Monterosso where there was a beach. It was pretty hot so we laid out for a bit and then dove into the sea. The water was pretty chilly but it felt really refreshing. After we got tired of the beach we hiked from Monterosso to Ventazzio which was the prettiest hike of the day. The trail was really narrow at some parts and there was usually a really steep hill or a small cliff on the downhill side of the trail. Occasionally there were guardrails but the always seemed to be in not narrow parts which didn’t really make much sense.
That night we stayed in the same campground. We found out that they had internet so we got out the netbook and tried to find a place to stay in Florence for Friday night. The internet was really poor but we finally were able to book a place right as the battery died. We weren’t sure if it had gone through though so we had to go to the bathroom to charge the battery. Luckily the reservation had gone through so we were set. We had another cold night, but this time we were expecting it so we wore our sweatshirts to bed to stay warm.
Friday morning we caught the first shuttle to the train station and from there got on a train to La Spezia. We looked at the schedule and figured that the fastest way to get to Florence was to go back to Pisa and from there go to Florence. This we did and arrived in Florence a little after lunchtime. The city was really small, especially compared to Rome. Since we were walking everywhere we were relieved at that. It didn’t take that long to see most of the sights. We decided to take a break from art museums and went to the Museum of Galileo instead. That was really cool because it was all about science, Galileo, and how the Medici family had been involved in science. They had on display a tooth, thumb, index finger, and middle finger of Galileo. I thought that was rather interesting but hey whatever. We also went inside the Duomo, which has one of the largest domes in Europe. That was awesome. Later that night we walked up to Piazzale Michelangiolo, which was a plaza/square on a hill that looked out over the whole city. That was really pretty to see the city all lit up. On the way back, we stopped by a jazz concert that was just out in one of the city squares. Today was the first day of the Festival of Europe which is here in Florence. We’ve been pretty good with hitting festivals on this trip. The canonization of the pope and the Festival of Europe. After milling around at the concert we started back to the hostel, stopped to watch a street performer for a while who I’m pretty positive had lost his mind. He was nutty. Anyways, we got back to the hostel just before 11, skyped with dad and mom. Mom was in the Chicago airport with my new siblings about to board a plane for the final leg of their journey home. That’ll be weird to get home and have 3 new siblings! It’s way cool though. 

More Rome

May 3, 2008 -- Tuesday
                Well today was another day full of sightseeing and museum wandering.  After another breakfast of yogurt and bread with jam, we went to the Vatican. Once we got inside we were there or about 6 hours. We saw EVERYTHING! At least I hope so because I’ll be ticked if I find out I missed something. We were sitting in the Sistine Chapel examining the walls and ceiling with a book in hand to figure out what order everything went in and what it all meant. While we were sitting there we actually dozed off while staring at the ceiling. We even got to one part of one of the museums that they had to open up for us because nobody else was there. Once we got out of there we went into St. Peter’s Basilica which was pretty cool. So after spending most of our day there we got some gelato at a place called “Old Bridge” which was recommended by Momma Ray. It was pretty good. From there we headed over to the Pantheon. In the dome of the Pantheon, which is enormous, there is a huge hole right in the middle and since it had started sprinkling rain on the walk over there it was raining inside! It looked really cool to be able to look up and see the rain coming down.  After sitting in there for awhile and taking some ridiculous pictures outside, we decided to head back to the hostel and plan out the next few days and figure out where to go. Sorry these are getting way less detailed but there is only so much I can write about museums. We saw pretty paintings and cool statues. Nice. When we get back out into the countryside in a day or two I’ll probably have more to write about. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Canonization of Pope John Paul II and other happenings

May 2, 2011
Well that past two days have been quite an adventure! And this time they’ve definitely all been good adventures. Yesterday morning we ended up sleeping through our alarm which I’m not even mad about because we were both really tired and needed some extra sleep. We didn’t end up waking up until about 9:00 so we just packed up our stuff and checked out of our hotel. We walked out to the bus stop and as we were walking we realized that we should have asked what buses would take us downtown to the Vatican, but we decided that we would be able to handle it. Well we knew that there was a metro stop called Ottaviano that was near the Vatican and near our hostel. We soon saw a bus that said something like Stz. Ottavia or something. From what we could remember that was where we wanted to go, so we hopped and rode, and rode, and rode. Well after awhile we realized that we were definitely not going the right direction. We got off at Stz. Ottavia which was actually a train station way out at the edge of the city. Well we looked at the list of stops the train made and noticed that one of the stopped at St. Peter’s Square. All of this was in Italian and lots of it was abbreviated so we were partly guessing on everything we were doing. Well we hopped on and luckily our eurail pass covered the train. We got of at St. Peter’s square and followed a huge crowd of people that were all headed to the canonization mass of Pope John Paul II. We just followed them and there were soon people everywhere. Did I say that there were a lot of people? There were a lot of people.
                We pushed and shoved our way into the crowd with our big backpacks. We made it not even half a block from the river before we couldn’t get any further. If we wouldn’t have had our bags with us then we would have tried to get deeper in the crowd but it was just too tight with our bags. So that was the first part of our church for the day. Listening to the pope be canonized and all that. I actually had wanted to look up where an LDS church was the night before but we had run out of internet time before I got around to it. Back to the story. We chilled around there for a while, we actually heard them pray in English and Russian but other than that we didn’t understand a thing. After listening to Italian prayers until our hearts were full, we decided to go check our bags into the hostel. It didn’t take us long to find it once we got out of all the crowds because it was only a few blocks away from the Vatican.
                The hostel is closed for everyone from like 11-5 for cleaning and stuff but, they let us in and we dropped our bags off which was definitely a big weight off our shoulders. Feeling free and as if we were walking on air, we took back off to check out more of the city. By not it was almost noon so we decided it would be a good idea to go buy some breakfast/lunch. We found a grocery store and got some bread, meat, and cheese. Yum. It actually was pretty good…or I was hungry. Let’s settle on it being good and that I was hungry. I had a knife with me that has like a 5” folding blade on it that we used to cut the meat. This will come into play later. Feeling full and refreshed, we headed off for the Museum of Rome. That was actually really cool. It’s amazing that marble can be chiseled so perfectly into statues of people. I couldn’t help but notice that if the sculptors had used Bryan or I for their models, all of the statues would have been much bigger and stronger looking. So that was cool and we learned a lot about Rome’s history.  From there, we walked around the city more and saw some cool fountains. There are so many fountains. We also went into a church that was by near the museum in a square and prayed some more so that was the rest of our worship for the day.
                We then went down to the Museum Capitoliano and went through that whole thing. In order to go through, you had to go through a security checkpoint. Bryan went through first and the thing went ding ding ding so he took off his watch and it still went ding ding ding. He pulled up his shirt and pointed at his belt and they said that was fine and just let him go. Well I about peed myself because I just realized that I had a big knife in my pocket….I walked through and of course it went ding ding ding. What did I do? I pulled up my shirt, pointed at my belt, and said, “Do I have to take my belt off?” They said that I was fine and let me go. Phew! Museums take a really long time to go through but they sure are interesting. We saw a bunch more naked statues posing and trying to look cool. I’m pretty sure we took some photos of us that rival if not surpass their poses and chiseled features. Another thing that I realized, which I guess I just had never thought about before, is that Rome wasn’t just a place that was dug up, people have been living here for thousands of years. Emperors had been collecting art since thousands of years ago. I guess that’s obvious to everyone else but I hadn’t really given it too much thought. Well after that there was this really cool concert out on the square at the Museum Capitoliano. That was really cool. It was classical but with rock all mixed in with it. For this one song, the orchestra played and they were accompanied by an old guy with long white hair on an electric guitar. After chilling around there for a couple songs we hopped on the metro to go to a different concert. The Concerto di Primo Maggio! This concert was sooooo big. Because of that the two metro stations closest to it had been shut down for some reason so we had to walk a couple more blocks but we didn’t mind. When we got to the square I was surprised at how big it was. And the whole place was packed. This time we were able to get into the crowd because we didn’t have our big bags. Almost everyone there was drinking and smoking weed. There were bottles all over the ground. Well after being there for a bit we decided to head back to the hostel and officially check in and see if we could get some rest.
                We got back no problem and settled up our bill with the management. We’re staying here for 3 days and we had to pay it all up front. Bryan and I both took showers and I wrote up the last blog and ended up getting to bet at about 12:30. It was really hard to fall asleep though because it wasn’t very quiet and our door definitely doesn’t block out much sound. We were managing when all of the sudden three or four guys that were staying in our room got back and started talking to each other. They were from Russia but we were trying to sleep to we didn’t talk to them or anything. Anyways, we slept eventually.
Now onto what happened today. We started out the day at about 9:30 and made our way to the store to buy some breakfast. I’m definitely acquiring a taste for plain yogurt. Our first stop was the Roman Forum and The Palatino. That was really cool. More naked statutes. I you want to know more about it go read a book or come check it out yourself I guess. I’m getting tired of writing. That took several hours because of how much stuff there was to see. Oh and waiting in the ticket line took a bit of time too. From there we headed to the Coliseum and practiced some of our gladiator skills. I think we’re pretty good.  We walked a lot today. After that we checked out the chariot racing circuit just south of the Coliseum. From there we then got on a metro and went way up north and checked out a museum of Carl Billochi or something like that. From there we just started walking south, checked out the Masoleum and Trevi Fountain. I did toss in a coin over my shoulder so someday I will make it back to Rome. We also passed a bunch of other cool buildings and fountains. We ended up back at the Capilitano Museum where there was supposedly another concert but when we got there they were taking down all the chairs and equipment. It had started raining on our walk down from Trevi square so maybe it got cancelled. Then we decided that it was time to go home so we did just that. Now we’re back at the hostel, showered and mostly clean. And now I’m going to bed. Peace out world. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Where will I wake up tomorrow?

If anyone is wondering why these are so long, boring, and detailed, it is because this is my actual trip journal.Everything I write, I post. 

April 30
I am on a train headed to Rome. We hadn’t really “planned” on going to Rome until next week but late last night we decided that we wanted to go to Primo di Maggio in Rome. Primo di Maggio means “the first of May” and on that day, the biggest rock concert in Europe is held in Rome on one of the open squares. We went back and forth for a bit on whether or not we wanted to stay in Switzerland another day, go to Paris, or go to Rome and in the end Rome won. Most of the hostels were full or only had one opening available by the time that we decided on this so we booked another Marriott and plan on moving to a hostel tomorrow. Hopefully there are still some openings by the time we get there and find internet.
                So this morning we checked out of our hotel at a little after 7:30 so we ended up getting to Zurich about 20 minutes after the train left to Rome. Not to worry though, we were quite hungry and had not had time to eat anything other than granola bars for breakfast so we figured that this would give us time to do that. The first thing that we did when we got to Zurich was to go to the ticket office and make sure we were going to be able to reserve seats to Rome. Even though we have rail passes we still had to make reservations and pay a fee for the reservation. I guess almost all of the trains in Italy require reservations because they are high speed or something like that. When we found out that it was going to cost 33 Franks a person we thought, “Well shoot, maybe we’ll just go to Paris instead.” Then we realized that the reason it was so expensive was because we had to switch trains in Milan, so we were actually paying registration fees for two trains. As soon as we knew that there were still spots on the train we rushed to an internet club and made reservations for our hotel and rushed back to pay for our tickets. This time, we talked to a different person at the ticket window and she said that it was only going to cost us 23 Franks a person which was perfect because between Bryan and me, we only had about 67 Franks. We were quite happy about this because now we had about 10 Franks left over that we could by breakfast/lunch with. We were glad about that because every time one changes money here at the station they charge 4 Franks just for the transaction. Providence smiled on us and we left Switzerland with less than 2 Franks altogether.
                Our train ride down through Switzerland was so beautiful. I now have a new goal, I want to go on a bicycle tour of Europe. As we were on the train, we passed several groups of cyclists cruising along small country roads and I was inspired. I just can’t explain how beautiful Switzerland is. Once we got to the border of Italy, things really opened up. We came out of the mountains and right now we’re passing through fields and vineyards. Our excitement for the day came when we arrived in Milano almost 15 minutes late. By the time we got off our train we only had 7 minutes to catch our connecting train to Rome. We rushed as quickly as we could through the crowded platform to the board where all arrivals and departures are posted so that we could find which platform our train was leaving from. Luckily it was only a couple away from where we were at so we ran, and of course our wagon was almost down at the other end of the train so we booked it even faster and managed to get onboard just as our train was supposed to be leaving. We made it.
We are now in Rome. Since the moment we arrived interesting things have been happening. Right after we got off the train we ran into a tourist information guy. We learned from him that tomorrow the Pope is being canonized. I guess it’s a pretty big deal. I remember hearing about it but for some reason I thought that it had already happened. So because of that, there were quite a few people running around the train station. Bryan and I were both quite tired at this time. It was about 7:00 pm and we still hadn’t had a real meal since arriving. Point is that we were kinda tired. Well we made our way over to the tourist information office and picked up a map and got directions on how to get to our hotel. From there we went to go change some money into Euros. Number one thing I learned today: never exchange money in a train station. Number two thing I learned today: never hand over your money until you know exactly how much you’re going to get back. Number three: don’t exchange money, just use an ATM card and save yourself the hassle. Now you may be asking, “What makes you say that?” Well let me tell you.
Knowing from previous experience that there was a $4-5 service charge to change currencies, Bryan and I decided to just change all our money in one shot so we would only have one fee. Mistake number one. Since the rest of our trip will be spent in countries that use the Euro, I decided to exchange the rest of the money that I had which was $300 and so since Bryan and I were doing it together he matched it so we exchanged $600. I believe that it was my idea to exchange all the money there as well. We looked at the exchange rate and it seemed about what we had expected so I gave him the money. Now remember this was at a legit place in the train station, it wasn’t just some Podunk deal. He had me show him my passport and sign some little paper. He gave us our receipt and then started counting out our money. As we were looking at the receipt, Bryan and I both became really confused as to how we ended up with 300 Euros instead of the 380 Euros we were expecting. So we were immediately like, “Hold up! What kind of fee is this? Is this a flat rate or a percent?” and the guy was like “Oh there is a 4.80 Euro fee for the transaction and a small commission.” “Small commission?! That’s almost 20%” And since he was still counting out our money I was like “Whoa, we don’t want to exchange all the money.” Basically, to sum it all up, our transaction was “finished” and we were out $60 bucks a person just to change some $$ into stupid Euros. Well that immediately put a damper on the day. It’s been like 5 hours and I still keep kicking myself over how the whole thing went down. I’ll run out of money a day or two before I had expected but Bryan and I both agree that we are definitely learning the hard way how to be better travelers.
After that, we walked to the Metro station and rode it out to the end of the line, got on a bus from there and went to the end of that line, and found our hotel just a short distance from that. We checked in without a problem, dumped our stuff in our room and went out in search of food. We found a little pizza and kebab place and had some delicious kebabs. Satisfied at having a real meal in our stomachs since the airplane (Bryan didn’t even get that because he was sick and gave his meal to me), we headed back to our hotel as the clock was nearing 10:00 pm. We decided that because of the events of the day we needed to secure cheaper sleeping arrangements for the next several nights that we’re in Rome. We went down to the Lobby of the hotel and bought 15 min of internet for 2 Euros, logged onto and started checking on hostels that we had looked at earlier. Most of them were not available for all the days that we need them so we finally settled on one on Via De Rienzo called Hostel Happy World Roma. Our time was about to run out so I quickly entered in my information to reserve the beds and as soon as the confirmation page came up our time ran out so we made it just by a hair. One thing that we will have a problem with is where to put our backpacks. We really, really, really don’t want to have to carry them around all day but we do not have locks to put on the lockers at the hostel because we did not know that we needed to bring any. I guess that is something we’ll have to worry about tomorrow. It’s about 12:30 now and I’ve got to get to bed because tomorrow has who knows what in store for us.