Thursday, July 14, 2005

Internet Accessibility Weirdness

Accessing the internet is weird. You'd think that any major area of population would be fully internet-accessible... but noooooooooooooo.

In the United States, almost every non-crappy hotel has internet access in the room. It might be wired access, or wireless access, or both. It might be free or you might have to pay for it. But it will be there. However, almost every US airport I have flown through recently did not offer internet access. And don't even think about US train stations. One exception was the Vegas McCarran airport, which actually offered free, unlimited wireless access.

Contrast this with certain parts of Europe. Every airport and train station had wireless internet access. But none of the hotels we stayed in in Italy or Spain had internet access. Do they just have very little business travelers? Or do business travelers not work from the Hotel room? Why do they think people on trains want to use the internet but not people at hotels? Very weird. I will point out that German hotels very internet accessible... in fact, Germany was more like the US than any other European country I've been to.

In the "information age", it can still be very difficult and frustrating to get connected. Why do we find free internet all over the US, but very expensive internet in Europe? I guess they have to fund their crazy socialist 15% unemployment schemes somehow.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Last Night in Madrid

Tonight is our last night in Madrid. We are both pretty wiped, so I imagine it will just be dinner and some relaxing, as well as getting packed to return home. We are hoping that hurricane Dennis won't mess up our flight plans, although we are flying through Miami on our way home. We'll keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't hit Miami and screw up our flights.

Last evening we went to a place for dinner and a Flamenco dancing performance, which was totally cool. The band was small, with 2 guitarists, 2 singers, and a drummer. There were 2 dancers, who I think were father and daughter.

Today we toured the Royal Palace and the Museo del Prado. The Royal Palace has 2800 rooms in, and we went through 23 of them. The Royal Family doesn't even live there anymore... it is only used for official events now. The Museo del Prado is probably one of the most important art museums in Spain as it houses the art of painters like Velazquez and Goya.

Go check out our pictures of Madrid.

Friday, July 08, 2005

La Comida de Madrid es muy Mal

All throughout this trip we've been having fantastic food, but once we got to Madrid we were extremely disappointed with the local cuisine. All of the "Spanish Tapas" places I've been to in the United States have all been excellent, but here the food is pretty gross. Everything is either drenched in Mayonnaise, or else it is deep fried and then drenched in mayonnaise. Plain mayonnaise is the salad dressing, toast is smothered in it, and deep friend anchovies are dipped in it. Pretty much all the restaurants display the same kinds of things on their menus, so I don't think we just went to a bad place. We were able to find a (totally empty) Kebab restaurant today, which was actually very good (and half the price of KFC). We'll probably be back there again.

Internet cafes are much better in Madrid than in Venice or Paris. I was actually able to just hook my laptop up and use that directly. See the Pictures of Venice and the Pictures of Paris.

Today we are just sort of tooling around the neighborhood by our hotel. We'll probably hop on a different one of those double-decker buses today, because they have 3 different routes around the city. No plans for tonight yet, but I'm still researching entertainment.

Tomorrow we will be taking a guided tour of the Royal Palace and the Museo del Prado. The Royal Palace is the largest palace in Europe, with more than 2800 rooms. Really, who needs a house that big?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Safely in Madrid

We arrived in Madrid safely on the Francisco de Goya train this morning. We have seen the terrible news about what happened in London, but we are OK here. The Spanish train is much nicer than the Italian train. I actually fit (length wise) into the little bunk, and got a good night┬┤s sleep. The restaurant was like a fancy restaurant, and quiet, very different from the Italian train.

This afternoon we took one of those red double-decker tour buses on a loop around the city. We got some cool pictures, and then walked around a bit before heading back to our hotel.

We are still sorting through pictures from Venice and Paris. We will get them up soon.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Moving on to Madrid

We are sitting at the Paris-Austerlitz station waiting for our train to Madrid to pull out. There is a WIFI point here, so we were able to check out email.

If you've already checked out the Florence pictures, we've added some more that were previously missed. There are some from the inside of the Duomo, and also there are some showing food that we ate. You can see those here. Below is me eating a dish called Gnudi, which is dumplings of Ricotta and Spinach rolled up in Mozzarella balls:

Chad eating Gnudi

And here is Michelle eating Linguini with Clams and Mussels:

Michelle eating Linguini with Clams and Mussels

Paris was fun. We arrived at the Bercy train station yesterday, but there was no baggage check there. We hauled everything down the street to Gare de Lyon, where we shoved our big bags into lockers, and just pulled out what we needed for the next day into our backpacks. Yesterday morning we visited Notre Dame, and had a quick lunch near there. Then we took the Subway over to the Eiffel Tower and looked at that for a while. I fell asleep in the Parc du Champ de Mars while Michelle was writing her post cards, leaving an interesting tan line on the front of my legs. We walked from there to the Hotel Des Invalides, where Napolean is buried. There is a beautiful garden there as well (lots of cool gardens in Paris). To finish off the day we walked up to the Grand Palace. This is under construction, but we were able to snap off a few good photos. Right next to the Grand Palace is something that looks like a Royal mother-in-law unit, called the Petite Palace. Oh, how nice it would be to have a palace so small.

Phillippe picked us up and we went back to his and Sylvie's house. After a quick shower (which was much nicer than the tiny one in the train car!) we went out to dinner. Of course, we went back to the same restaurant that they took me to before. Again, Phillippe and I had way too much wine; we were suffering this morning something awful. But the food was excellent (all 7 courses), and we had a great time visiting with Phillippe and Sylvie. Here is a photo of the group:

Dinner with Phillippe and Sylvie

Today we took a semi-private tour of the Louvre (just us and one other couple). This is really the way to go, because all the exhibit text is in French, so it would be hard to find your way around. We did the highlights like the Mona Lisa and Hamurrabi┬┤s Code. Also, before the Louvre was a Museum it was a Palace for Kings, and before that it was a fortress. You can walk around underground in what used to be the moat, and see huge stone pilings from where the fortress used to be.

Now we are on to Madrid. We did very little planning for this part of the trip, but Michelle bought a big book on Spain so we should be able to figure it out during our 13.5 hour train ride.

I haven't had time to organize pictures from Venice or Paris yet, but it will be done soon so stay tuned.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Venice Roundup

Well, today is our last day in Venice. We have seen some really cool concerts while we were here. The first, Musica in Maschera was a Chamber Orchestra and Opera Singers performing famous Opera songs. The second concert was from Musici Veneziani and they performed all 4 of Vivaldi's Seasons and Pachelbel's Canon. It was the first time I'd seen all 4 seasons performed at the same concert, so that was cool. Both groups were dressed in 18th century costumes.

Tonight we are on a overnight train to Paris. It is 12 and a half hours long, and we get into Paris at 8:30am. We dont know what we will do tomorrow during the day, but I'm sure we'll figure something out. We will be staying with friends Phillippe and Sylvie, who I met on the SCUBA boat in Australia in April. On Tuesday we will be taking a tour of the Louvre, which is supposedly one of the greatest museums in the world. After the Louvre tour we will be on another overnight train to Madrid. Neither of us has ridden an overnight train before and we don't know what to expect. What an adventure!

Also, we have posted photos of Florence and photos of Siena. Go check them out!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pictures from Rome

It is taking forever to upload pictures, but we finally got some of them up! You can check out the Photos from Rome.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Venice Rocks!

Our train arrived in Venice around 5pm, and we quickly hopped on a water bus to get to our hotel. I didn't realize Venice was actually an island where they just drove giant pillars into the ground and erected an entire city in the middle of the water. It is in the middle of a chain of islands, but of course Venice is the most busy. Our hotel made a reservation at a nice out of the way restaurant, and we had a seafood dinner. Scallops for appetizer, Lobster Ravioli and Crab Pasta for a first course, tuna and swordfish for a second course, and chocolate mousse and cream pudding for dessert. Yum!

This morning we got on a tour boat that visited some of the islands around Venice. First we visited Murano, known for its master glass blowers. I bought a really neat hand-blown chess set, and arranged for them to ship it to Colorado for me. The second island was Burano, known for its women that make cool lace items. It is also a fishing village, and has lots of really neat houses that are painted bright colors. The 3rd island we visited was Torcello. It was very quaint, and only inhabited by 80 people. Not too much to see except the big church, and there was a wedding happening so lots of people were dressed up.

Tonight we are going to see a concert called Music in Maschera; apparently the performers wear old victorian outfits and masks. It sounds very cool.

Still no access to high speed internet for posting pictures. We may just burn a CD and bring to the internet cafe and post them from here. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Fun in Florence, Summer in Siena

After getting off the train at Florence's Santa Maria Novella station we started hiking to our hotel. The hotel was only about a quarter mile from the train station, but it sure seemed like about 10 miles. The hot Italian sun was beating down on us, and by the time we reached Hotel Casci we were super sweaty and tired. But, the hotel was nice (read: the A/C worked) and so I decided to take a short (4 hour) nap while Michelle went out shopping. She finally got me awake around 8:30 and we headed out to dinner.

Florence is much more quaint town than Rome. Streets are narrow and sidewalks are smaller. The hotel recommended an EXCELLENT restaurant just down the street. I had a dish called Gnudi, which was very very good. Gnudi is a large dumpling made from Ricotta cheese and spinach rolled up inside of mozzarella, and covered with alfredo sauce. Sooooooo good. Michelle had Linguini with clams and mussels, which was also very tasty. In fact, she liked it so much that she wanted to go back there again for the same meal. Perhaps my habit of getting stuck on a dish is rubbing off onto her?

On day 2 we went to the Galleria Accademia, which is where Michaelangelo's famous "David" sculpture is. It is hard to visualize how magnificent this sculpture is, standing 16 feet tall and carved out of a single rock. The amount of detail is crazy, down to the creases in the knuckle of his hand. We sat and stared at the sculpture for at least 30 minutes, and also perused the other exhibits in the museum. After this museum we headed over to the Museo dell Opera Duomo. The largest church in Florence is called the Duomo, and most of the statues and art (including another Pieta from Michaelangelo) from this Church were moved here for better care. We grabbed some lunch, and got on a train for a day trip to Siena.

Siena is a small Medieval town southwest of Florence. It apparently hasn't changed much since the 1500s, and still retains that old-school feeling. Walking around it is easy to imagine what it was like back then. The main plaza in the center of town is called the Campo, and is actually a site for an annual horse race, with one horse representing each neighborhood of Siena. The race is on July 2nd every year, and preparations were underway while we were walking around. The weird thing about Siena is that no restaurants open before 7:30. We had planned on having an early dinner there before catching the last train back to Florence, but we would have missed the train if we waited that long. I guess it is just too hot there and the restaurant owners don't want to get all sweaty by working in the heat. We came back to Florence on the 8pm train, and just ate take-out food in our room.

Guess what we did on the day 3... yep, we went to some museums! Yaaayyyy museums! In the morning we visited the Museum of Science, which had things like Galileo's original telescopes, old sundials, instruments of medicine and electricity, and all kinds of other things. There was something like 20 different rooms and exhibits, lots of cool stuff to see. After this museum we signed up for a tour of the Uffizi Museum. The Medici family, which ruled Florence for 300 years, used this building as their office (uffizi is the italian word for office), and it was turned into a museum when the family died off. Too many paintings and sculptures to see in one day, but the tour guide gave us the highlights. The coolest ones that we saw were Boticelli's "Spring" and "Birth of Venus", but there were also cool pieces from Michaelangelo, Rafael, Donatello, and Leondardo. Yes all the teenage mutant ninja turtles are represented in the Uffizi. Right outside the uffizi is a cool bridge called Ponte Vecchio, which is a nice Kodak Picture Spot. We finished off the day by going to the Florence Symphony, who performed Mahler's Symphony #5. They did an excellent job, and the principal trumpet player was awesome.

On the last day we rested. Not really. We visited the biggest church in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. Lots of cool paintings on the walls, and of course great frescoes on the ceilings. Michelle ate McDonald's at the train station (yes, I'm serious) and we headed out for Florence.