Sunday, October 29, 2006

Venice is Sinking and I don't Wanna Swim!

For years (since grade 9 geography class, actually) I have hear Venice repeatedly framed as a decaying, dirty and unreasonable expensive city. After treading Venice's tangle of alleyways myself, I can attest that it is a sinking, decaying, water-damaged, outrageously expensive city; but its a great one! Tourism is all that is keeping this puddle city afloat (it is literally sinking, though).

Venice-pricing inhibited us from doing some really cool things, namely a gondola ride. A 30 minute ride would have soaked up more than an entire days budget for us. Gondoliers were a funny bunch. They dressed in horizontal black and white stripes and, atop their heads, they wore the standard stiff-rimmed hats. Watching the romantic, deep-pocketed couples who took the plunge, we couldn't help wonder how jail mate/Beetlejuice uniforms became synonymous with romance.

The patron saint of Venice is St. Mark. I'll give you one guess what the Basilica is called. You're right! Unastonishingly, it is named St. Mark's Basilica. It is a church unlike any church I have ever seen. It was a Western church decorated as if it were an Eastern church. Nearly every inch of the floor, walls, and ceiling told a story through Byzantine mosiacs. Yoda would have said, "Pretty cool, it was." I agree with Yoda.

In the North Transcept I prayed with two saints. To my right laid the body of St. Mark and to my front was a painting by St. Luke himself. In me stirred a sense of fellowship with these two saints. It certainly made for a memorable place to pray.

Italy and The Cinque Terre

I feel as though our blog is in a rut. The lack of comments confirms my suspicions. I am running out of adjectives and we just haven't run into any tragedies as of late that have been blog worthy. Well, unless you count the complete disregard for anything resembling a train schedule in Italy. But I suppose that was more of an inconvenience. Its not like we were in a rush to get anywhere. A near tragedy occurred while climbing over huge boulders on the breakwater from our Cinque Terre town, Manarola. I (Kristen) thought I sprained my ankle. Being the uncoordinated clutz that I am, I slipped on a rock and scraped up my knee, shin and hand. The ankle hurts much less now (whew). But a quick rinse with sea water cleaned the cuts right up and they now only hurt mildly.

So, yes, everything has been going wonderfully lately. The Cinque Terre was incredibly beautiful (honestly, someone send me a thesarus(sp?)(maybe a dictionary, too)). Five small fishing villages are strung together by a hiking trail and an(unreliable) train along the coast, south of Genova. The cliffs are jagged and the villages colourful.

As luck would have it, only the toughest, steepest, most narrow, sweat-inducing path was open while we were there. The next time I go anywhere it is going to be Saskatchewan. I can barely manage the stairmaster nevermind a steep hill of a narrow path in 30 degree weather! I must admit that the scenery was stunning. The villages looked even cooler when looked upon from above. We even walked right through an olive grove. The olives squished between my sandals and feet probably made enough olive oil for my own jar! Back at sea level, we saw schools of tropical fish loitering near the docks and breakwaters.

One of the best parts of our Cinque Terre visit was meeting up with a great Australian couple that we had met back in Switzerland. We ate gelato, discussed our travels and couchsurfing, sat out on the breakwater, swam in the Ligurian Sea, and tried to convince them to come to Canada (B&D: come to Canada!)

To really experience a culture, we have tried to become temporary locals rather than tourists. Sun-drenched Italy, though, presented us with a road block: Italians aren't fair-skinned (read:pasty) like us...they have olive coloured skin. We needed to pick out other, more imitateable visual characteristics to fit in. I (Jonathan, now) found that the best way to fit in (other than speaking Italian, which I don't) is to walk around with the buttons on my collared shirt undone dangerously close to my navel. Speaking very loudly and emotionally, while smoking cigarettes. With this, I have decided to not become a temporary local, and stick with being a tourist and outsider. Do I want to come back to Italy? Of course! To be better prepared, though, I want to study Italians in their element: what better place to do so than in Niagara Falls!

Commenting on the comments:

We should have started this a long time ago. To make up for lost time here are some long-awaited answers. The shoes and sandals (both Merrells) are great! I would recomment them to anyone. Our camera is a Kodak z612 (not a z650...oops). We (Kristen mostly) love it and are really impressed how it has held against the daily wear and tear. It takes a whole lot of pictures everyday! Italians, for the most part, have been great to us. It would definitely be a lot easier if we spoke Italian, however. So far, we love Italy, which is good, because we hear it gets even better as we go south. As for dogs and cats: they are everywhere! People bring their dogs everywhere they go; into grocery stores, on Rhine cruises, buses, trains, banks, internet cafes, name it, we've seen a dog there. Its funny too, because hardly any of them are on leashes! They must have some great dog tainers over here. They can be several feet from their owners and no one takes notice. The dogs just catch up at their leisure. The dogs also seem to be either (1)small, purse-sized ones, (2)Westies, or (3)huge and bear-sized. It is much the same with cats. The only difference is that they rarely seem to even have collars on. There are honetsly cats everywhere. They wander aimlessly, looking for attention or sprawl themselves in the middle of things (much the same as home). Each city also has at least a dozen community cats with their own shelters and food buckets. The cat/dog situation here is definitely unique...and something fun to photograph!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Cote D' Sweet and Calorie Free

The Cote D'Azur, which is the stretch of land between St. Tropez and Italy, is not to be confused with Cote D'Or, the incredible Belgian chocolate. Although, if truth be told, they are both equally satisfying. Our home base in the south of France has been Nice. Nice is nice. From there we have ventured to Antibes, Monaco, Villefranche sur Mer, Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu sur mer and Eze le Village. Nice is France's 5th largest city and a convient hub because trains actually stop here. Frequently. I was surprised to learn that the Cote used to be part of Italy up until 150 years ago. Either way, the area seems to be (to me, anyway) french: The buildings and window shutters are brightly coloured; the baguettes are crispy on the outside and flaky in the middle; we are served croissants for breakfast. This tickles with France!

Playing Nice in Nice

For being France's fifth largest city, Nice is surprisingly cute. The old town is picturesque with narrow alley-ways, colourful buildings and France's "Best Bakery" (voted in 1972). There is a wide Promenade all the way along the water called "Promenade des Anglais," literally translated 'English Promenade'. It was apparently made to make the English tourists feel more comfortable back in the day. I am happy to report that it is still effective today.

The beach is sandless. It is comprised of large, smooth, round(ish) stones. I think that it is really neat. The water (the Mediterranean (sp?)) is so clear and blue that it makes me feel as though I am on vacation (backpacking is travelling, not vacationing). The waves crash in, huge and white. When there isn't a child yelling and throwing rocks (like there is now) you can actually hear the rocks rushing down the slant as the wave retreats. A relaxing sound cd should be made from this sound...there probably already is one (minus the squealing French kid).

Antibes Antics

Antibes; about ten minutes down the coast, is where all the big boats hang out. There is, ironically, even more here than in Monaco. Some high-rollers even have their own personal cruise ships. The ships are colossal; complete with their own crew, all with matching uniforms. The view from Antibes is incredible. Because it is mostly in deep water off the coast, there is a different shade of blue. Even cooler than the water colour, though, were the jellyfish swimming in it. There were real, live jellyfish floating around in the harbour! As Antibes is less touristy, and much smaller, it was a nice contrast to a busy morning-market in Nice.

No-Rollers in a High-Rollin' Monaco

Monaco, a separate country from France, makes a statement right from the get-go: the train station has marble floors, walls and ceilings. It has underground paths that lead you anywhere in the city. Monaco is ruled by a prince. We witnessed the changing of his decked-to-the-nines guards over lunch. The streets are cute and narrow and adorned with a light-up Monaco flags. The city, umm...I mean country, is as glitzy as one can imagine. From Palace Hill the prince (and tourists) have a great view of the entire "principality" from Monte Carlo to the fancy, new port in town, Fontvieille. The manicured park had water fountains and flavourful flower gardens. Thanfully, according to strict posted rules, "Childrens play would be tolerated so long that it does not disturb guests."

All the cars are top end, the apartment buildings immaculate and the stores designer.

Rather than paying cover to enter the casino, we went the less obvious route: to the aquarium! It was in an impressive, white building, constructed as a monument in 1910, hanging on a cliff over the ocean. It had tons of tanks of bright Meditteranean fish, all described in English. The aquarium was actually directed by Jacques Cousteau himself for 17 years! The large tank in the middle was two floors tall! There was a tank of baby Nemo's, luminescent jellyfish, sharks, rays and even a sea turtle (cool, Dude!). It was the next best thing to scuba diving.

Walking the (coast) Line in Villefranche and Cap Ferrat

Villefranche is the cutest little French village on the sea. Unfortunately, cruise liners also think so. Three massive cruise ships crammed into Villefranche's tiny harbour and taxied all their occupants into the little city to trample its quiet secludedness. Still, the city has been my favourite along the coast.

From the village we walked out on the Cap Ferrat peninsula. The path was literally a cliff offering dramatic views (and ocean spray) of the waves. Villefranche could be seen in the backdrop (behind the cruise ships) as colourful dots against the bright blue sea. At the tip of the peninsula the tall lighthouse was all that separated us from the open water! We continued along the path past more incredible views, sailboats, yachts, beaches, cactai and swimmers (it is still really warm down here). We walked for about 6 hours in total, but it didn't feel like a lot. We saw scuba-divers, snorkellers, skin-divers, and fisherpeople. Everytime I turned around there seemed like there was another sun-drenched cliff and another aqua-blue tidal wave to cozy up to it. There were stone steps were you could descend down and be level with the ocean. When the big waves came in you were no longer level with the ocean. They would crash their way onto the platform and soak everyting; unexpected tourists included. We, however, enjoyed our lunch just out of the waves' angry reach.

I can't believe people get to see the Mediterranean everyday and live off the sea for their entire life! I definitely wouldn't mind hopping on one of those yachts until January...well if it were heading to Greece, that is!

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Hey Everyone! Just so you know, we have posted 4 new entries in the last few days, so make sure you scroll all the way down (well, if you want to read them all). We are updated right until TODAY! I almost dont want to leave Gimmelwald, only because then we will be behind in the updateds again!


Saturday, October 14, 2006

The One with Switzerland

They have mountains here. They're covered with snow. The sun is hot, but the snow doesn't melt. It is nice. You should visit. Bring a lot of money, though: it is an expensive country. The gondolas are particularly expensive. Suck it up. Pay the money and go up a mountain or tow. Even we did, despite being on a tight budget. It is a visual masterpiece up here and the air is fresh. Imagine, while sitting at home in smoggy North America, what fresh air is like (cottage-countryers will know) and look at our pictures. Together, that should give you an inkling of what it might be like to sleep nestled in the Swiss Alps.

The Paragraph about Luzern.

Luzern is a cute, though touristy, old city in Central Switzerland. It is based in one of the bays of a pretty big lake. After touring the town, admiring its 2 covered wooden bridges, adorned with flowers, catching a glimpse of the famous weeping lion and learning a tad about the town's history, we spent the afternoon cruising on a romantic riverboat around the the lake. The view was incredible. Mount Pilatus hovered over Luzern, but the entire backdrop was lined with equally impressive, and much more snowy mountains. There were so many sail boats taht it was virtually impossible to snap a picture without one in it. (Although I admit that they were the subject for a number of pictures as well).

One of the stops we explored was Hergiswill. They had a really neat glass museum that ushered us through the rooms with voices and displays pointing to the next exhibit. Gloass blowing is a traditional art of the area and Hergiswill Glass still employed real people from around the world to blow and form the glass. The museum ended in the glass-blowing workshop where we watched plates, vases and bowls being formed. It was so neat to see the glass coming out of the oven as a neon orange goop and then being pressed into a mold or blown and twisted into a tall vase. The oven though needed to be at least 1,000°C to melt the sand mixture. This made the workshop unbelievably hot! Glass blowing really is an art and it really made me want to buy some of their glass after learning about it and watching it being made (that's probably why the museum was free: great marketing!)

The Paragraph about Mt. Pilatus

As many of you have probably already heard, we went to the summit of Mt. Pilatus. Unlike normal people, though, instead of taking the cable car up, we hiked. Now before you start picturing us scaling mountains, I'll explain. There was a 'trail' (i use that word liberally) that was marked with little hiker-man pictures and read and white painted on rocks and trees. Unfortunately those 'helpful' painted marks mostly lead us through fields of endless cow-patties and the cows that made them (leaving us to wonder if we were on their path or if they were on ours), up slippery wet rocky hills, up grass hills, and at points up roads. Yes it was all up. Some of us are better up0hill hikers than others. Some of us didn't like dripping with sweat, while trying to avoid cow poo and going the wrong way at least once every half hour. Some of us wished we had just sukced it up and paid the annoyingly expensive fee to be whisked to the top by cable car. Others, however, claim the 3 hour sweat-fest to be (and I quote) 'a highlight' of the trip. Either way, we made it to the final lift stations at 4,600ft and took the cable car (more accurately, we were crammed like cows, swinging dangerously thousands of feet above the tree tops, supported only by a measley cable) up to the summit of Mt. Pilatus (7,000ft) The view from the top was definitely one worth writing home about. We walked through the paths inside the mountain, checking out the views and learning about the dragons that are known to frequent the mountains. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any of their patties on the way up. We lounged in the most comfortable lounge chairs since the Muskoka chairs at the cottage and ate creamy ice cream covered with Swiss Chocolate. Looking back, even some people would have to admit that the view from the top was worth the three hour hike and the following days of pain.

The Paragraph about Berner Oberland.

The Berner Oberland is an incredibly rugged region, south of Interlaken, in the heart of the Alps. We started in the valley of Lauterbrunnen. It is, by all definitions, an actual valley. Cliffs surround it, topped by three of the biggest mountains in Europe: The Maiden, The Monk and the Ogre. The Monk, in the middle, protects the Maiden from the Ogre. The valley itself is said to have 72 waterfalls! We walked through the valley(all flat, thankfully) admiring the waterfalls. Some were huge, while others, tiny streams falling out of a crack in the cliff. We then headed up 5,000ft in a cable car to Gimmelwald. Here, it is perfect. It is a traditional town of 100 people. There are cars and no grocery store. You can buy fresh milk, cheese, yogurt and bread from the locals. We are right up in the mountains, where the sky has never been so blue and the snow so white. As they say here, 'if heaven isn't all it is cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald.'

Friday, October 13, 2006

These are a few of my favourite things.. in Salzburg

Though most people from Salzburg haven't even seen the movie, and those who, have didn't like it, it actually does seem that Salzburg's hills are alive with the Sound of Music (or at least for us, tourists). The old town is comprised of a puzzle of squares. Each square leads into another, and sometimes there are secret passages skipping squares entirely! There doesn't seem to be a straight street in sight. Huge sights could be entirely contained in one square and the next square over, you would have no idea. The Saturday morning market, for examples, was lively and bustling away a few minutes from where we were, but until we rounded the corner, we hadn't a clue.

The squares differed significantly, from the huge Baraque Cathedral to Italian esque fountains, small hidden cemetaries and a parking lot concealed in the mountains. You really didn't know what was coming next (well except for teh fact that the guide book told us). We saw where Mr. Von Trapp (the real one) waited outside the theatre before he sang with the family and the fountain with the pegasus that the Von Trapp family danced around in the movie, Mozart's place of birth and an endless supply of Mozart Balls (yes, I tried them. they are chocolate!) We saw the Mirabell gardens in full bloom, a hide out for the stone dwarfs.

On our second day in Austria, we were drawn back to Germany. Hiking from Bertesgarten to Konigssee (just across the German border). We were again met with breath-taking views of the mountains. This hike led us over the quintessential 'babbling brooks', past a hefty number of Biergartens, and finally to Konigssee and its lake. Idyllic is really the only word taht describes this still lake surrounded by tree covered mountains. The Romantic couples (clearly not us) rented row boats to get a more up-close-and-personal tour of the lake.

We hiked around it for a more gross-and-sweaty type of experience. In total, we hiked 12 kms. That (to me) sounds like a lot more than it really was. Although, maybe the scenery distracted me from the passing time.

Every time (well, both times) I was in Germany, I can't help but think: man, I should have taken Aunt Karin's advice a long time ago, married a German and lived in a cute little German house with flower boxes bursting with flowers in one of the many incredile landscapes Germany has to offer. I'm kidding, mom, don't worry.

On a completely different note, being in Europe makes me realize how limited we are as unilinguals. Everyone can communicate with us because they all know english. I can say 'Danke' in German (and due to the looks I sometimes receive, I have a feeling that I am still pronouncing it wrong). It would be nice to know even a basic level of German because, let me tell you, in Germany, the signs are in German ONLY and (as we learning the hard way) Kein Trinkwasser, does NOT translate into 'CLEAN DRINKING WATER'. Believe you me.

Anyway, we have been bombarded with Maria and the Von trapps and also Mozart, but with all that they have given the world, we feel our parting sentiments are best conveyed by quoting yet another famous Austrian: 'I'll be back!'

A Run in with Reutte

Reutte has been the first city to cause us anxiety. wow! We were in this city for less than 24 hours. Do you remember the commercial for the mini? it made a comparison between the car and a small banana pepper. The basis for the comparison? Both were small, but both packed a BIG punch, so to speak.

Our time in Reutte was like a... a... a small banada pepper. It was a small stop, we were only there for 16 hours. It was a small stop, but it packed a punch. It was a painful punch, too. In a way, though, we didn't get up from it; we were picked up.

We arrived early afternoon with very little information about Reutte. `Very little` is really not bad so long as the information is reliable. Our info reported there were 50 private B&Bs in this town of 1,500. Things looked good.

There were complications. Our phone card mysteriously didn`t work in Austria (yes, it had a balance) so we couldn't call ahead to make reservations somewhere. That was onlz a monior inconvience up to this point in Austria. On top of that,it turns out that our info was highly innacurate. We walked for nearly six hours, and found 5 B and Bs. All had vaccant signs, but non let us in. We wear deoderant, I promise!

We were hungry, tired, cold and wet (did I mention it was raining?). I felt so defeated. It was getting dark and we were still towing our bags , with no place to stay. We went back to the train station, hoping to catch a train out. The last train out of the city for the night would have left us stranded in Innsbruck for over 13 hours without a train to anywhere we wanted to go.

We had no idea what we were going to do. Some of us took it better than others. We heard church bells in the distance (yes, I am aware of how corny that sounds). We followed them anyways to a littel church just outside town, and ventured inside.

As soon as we stepped in the church I (Kristen) started balling. It was so beautiful! The ceiling and walls were painted with incredible detail, and the alter was immaculate. There was literally a pool of black water forming at my feet from my tears and makeup. At first, I was crying because I was scared and frusterated, but soon it became out of relief. I somehow knew that everything would be ok. If we had to stay in the only 5 star hotel in town and not eat for a week to afford it, well that would have to do. The mass was in German, but it didnt seem to matter. I still felt comforted.

After the mass we said hello to the priest (Father Francis we learned). He (probably noticing our bags in tow, and maybe my red eyes) asked if we had anywhere to stay. When we said that we didnt, he offered us his own home! I really didnt feel like we deserved the charity. We had been so blessed this far that it just didn`t seem fair to accept the offer. He was so kind and generous, and we really had no where else to sleep. We were so incredibly thankful when he showed us the room he had to offer. We had a warm, dry place to stay and we couldnt have been happier! Father Francis insisted that we ahve breakfast with him and Maria in the morning. We are so incredibly thankful for Father Francis and Maria`s generosity. We hope that if his travels ever bring him to Canada, that we can offer the same warm welcome!

On a completely different note to the person that is STILL pretending to be Karly in the comments.

1. We already asked you once to stop, but in the chance that we were not clear enough I will ask ( a little more irritated) to STOP.

2. Do you really have nothing better to do? My advice: get a hobby.

3. There are plenty of other places that you and your fan club (which I assume is really just a one man show anyways) can converse. Find one.

4. If we have to ask you to stop again we will just disallow commments from anyone anonymous. That really isn`t fair to everyone else who actually has something worth reading.

We get excited when we see that people are actually commenting on our blog. But then when we look at the comments and they are full of "Karly" comments and "Karly" commenting from other names about how great "Karly" is, it is really annoying. REALLY ANNOYING. Thank you for STOPPING.

Sorry to all the normal people who had to read that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cuddling with Cave Bears in Hallstatt

Sound Exciting? Well, cave bears are no teddy bears, or so we found out when we toured the Dashtein Ice Caves. The bears weighed about 1000 lbs! Dont worry though, cave bears haven^t been in existence since the Ice Age, and the closest we came to thier massive jaws was the skeleton they had in the museum.

Touring the ice caves was an incredible experience. Just to get there we had to take a cable car 1365m up the mountain! Ice crystals were growing from the ceiling and sculptures from the ground. The guide says that every spring when they reopen the caves, there are different ice sculptures to see. At some points in the cave the ice is as thick as 25m! The most beautiful part of the ice cave is the Ice Chapel. Ice has formed itself into incredible ice sculptures. Some of them are hollow on the inside, while others start from a small slit in the cave ceiling and form massive spheres or domes as the ice reaches the ground!

Hallstatt itself is picture perfect. It is a tiny city (population 1,000) bullied onto the mountain side by a greedy lake and a harsh rock. The water is always calm and still. The houses are always reflecting off the lake, making it all very serene.

In the opposite direction of the caves, up a less steep (but still steep when you have to walk up it) mountain, there is a waterfalls. Water tumbles down from 2 different mountains, meeting as it falls into the major stream that cuts through Hallstatt. It may not be as powerful as Niagara, but the fact that it is actually still in a natural setting and not bombarded by tourists makes it even, dare I say, more incredible. Jonathan and I actually stood alone, level with the water falling. No people, no kiosks, no pay-per-view finders. When we were hiking back down I realized that it was so quiet (apart from the thundering water in the distance) that I could hear the sheep pulling out and munching on grass!